DISCLAIMER: This recap of the Doom Patrol episode “Youth Patrol” contains spoilers. Proceed at your peril.
Welcome back, residents of Doom Manor! The latest outing of Doom Patrol is, hands down, its strongest of the season thus far. “Youth Patrol” is a meditation on re-parenting our inner child. When you strip away our adult meat suits, you’ll find we’re all terrified kids endeavoring to survive each day. It’s brimming with the show’s trademark sardonic, biting wit, but we also glimpse its beating heart. These characters confront their pain and trauma in myriad ways. Really, the wacky supernatural stuff is secondary to the character-driven drama at the show’s center.
Jane’s struggle with being comfortable in her skin and having bodily autonomy comes to a head when she feels guilt over masturbation. Laura finally lays bare her unrelenting remorse to Rita, and the pair take a step toward repairing their relationship. Rita confronts her obsession with youthfulness and physical beauty. Vic feels guilty regarding how he discarded his friendships outside the Doom Patrol. Cliff’s refusal to acknowledge his fear about his Parkinson’s is masked by partying as he relives his “glory days.”
While Larry isn’t subjected to the de-aging spell, he reckons with his past trauma by reliving his time as the Bureau’s experiment. Even Rama, a.k.a. Mister 104, comes face-to-face with his similarly traumatic experiences. It’s a hard-hitting episode that deftly balances levity and poignant drama.
Ready to delve into “Youth Patrol”? Let’s get to it.
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We open with Larry (Matt Bomer/Matthew Zuk) sitting cross-legged on his bed. He’s meditating, trying to reach Keeg. He spies a cabin in the woods that looks worse for the wear. Larry makes a beeline for Doom Manor’s exit. He encounters Vic (Joivan Wade), who sits outside Rita’s (April Bowlby) room while she snoozes. Larry tells Vic he found Keeg. He urges Vic to stay by Rita’s side and to hug her for him when she wakes.
Meanwhile, Jane (Diane Guerrero) lights a pipe, puts on a record and lies on her bed for a self-exploration session. Before she does this, Jane stares at the puzzle piece containing Shelley Byron’s eye. Methinks there’s something there. Anyway, she inexplicably winds up in the Underground mid-masturbation. Jane finds the other personalities waiting for her. She assumes they pulled her under because she was masturbating. So, Jane explains what she was doing without explicitly naming it.
However, the personalities claim they never summoned her. Jane arrived in the Underground of her own volition. So, that’s weird. Maybe her subconscious guilt brought her there? Listen, y’all — don’t be afraid of your bodies. Be free to explore!
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Next, Laura (Michelle Gomez) watches while Cliff (Brendan Fraser/Riley Shanahan) tinkers with his new car. He tells Laura that her giving this to him is the nicest thing anyone’s done for him. Aw. The moment takes a turn for the strange when none other than Willoughby (Mark Sheppard) is chilling in Cliff’s backseat. Willoughby orders everyone to gather for a meeting so he can explain why he dropped in unannounced. Rita finally wakes up in her room. She instantly notices the spots on her hands and the wrinkles on her face. She’s aging! That simply won’t do.
Then, Larry wanders through the woods toward the cabin, where he spotted Keeg. Overcome by visions, Larry collapses. A man approaches him, but he’s obscured by blurriness. Meanwhile, Willoughby hosts a team meeting with Laura, Cliff, Vic and Jane. He reveals that Immortus, an interdimensional deity capable of swallowing existence as they know it, will rise. However, certain building blocks are needed for Immortus to rise.
For example, Niles Caulder’s necklace (which we know Torminox stole from Dorothy last week). We learn that Niles participated in the Bureau’s Immortus project. Jane, Rita, Cliff and Larry possess a remnant of Immortus, which prevents them from aging. No need for a solid skincare routine — they look perpetually young. Willoughby claims that as long as the Doom Patrol holds fast to their longevity, Immortus can’t rise. Well, except there’s that Rita thing. It’s abundantly clear Dr. Janus stole her Immortus piece, and that’s why she’s aging.
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Speaking of, Rita rummages through Niles’ files to find a solution to her aging problem. She finds a bottle of a mysterious liquid. Unfortunately, Cliff’s entrance scares Rita, and she drops the glass bottle, breaking it. Vic, Jane, Laura and Willoughby are hot on Cliff’s heels. Suddenly, a cloud of multicolored smoke rises from the bottle debris, enveloping everyone in its expansion.
When the smoke clears, we see our gang boasting time-period-centric garb. Jane looks like a free-spirited hippie from the late ’60s; Cliff looks like a cowboy; Rita dons a 1930s outfit; Vic boasts a letterman’s jacket and braces, and Willoughby wears something from, presumably, the 1500s. While outwardly they look the same, we learn they underwent a de-aging spell and are all teenagers. However, the bottle Rita had was an untested spell, so it could have been defective.
Naturally, Rita is elated. She’s no longer aging! Sadly, they won’t permanently stay teens. They’ll keep aging backward (Benjamin Button-style) until they’re babies. Then, they’ll disappear. Thankfully, Willoughby knows a witch who can help them reverse the spell. Unfortunately, as a teenage chaos magician, Willoughby doesn’t have control of his powers yet. But look at his luscious locks!
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Meanwhile, we see Mister 104 (Sendhil Ramamurthy) sitting in a chair at the Bureau in what appears to be the 1960s, when they experimented on Larry. Larry watches from the other side of the glass. Mister 104 is ordered to kill the Bureau members who join him inside the cramped room. He must utilize his abilities. Mister 104 does as he’s bid, albeit reluctantly, and he alters the air around him to commit murder. He and Larry wake in the cabin. Mister 104 claims Keeg won’t leave his body, even though he tried to expel the little guy in vain.
Willoughby struggles to locate his spell-breaking bestie, but when he finally does, we learn she’s in Toledo. ‘Tis but a short drive there! Cliff hops in the driver’s seat while the rest join him for a road trip to save themselves. Now it’s Larry’s turn to sit in the hot seat. We see he’s where Mister 104 was at the Bureau. He’s wearing head-to-toe protection and struggles against his restraints.
Next, our gang stops at a gas station to refuel and restock on road trip snackies. Cliff muses whether he and Jane would’ve been friends in high school. Jane never experienced high school because Miranda was the primary then, and Kay didn’t create Jane until much later. Jane spots a trio of high schoolers smoking behind the gas station, as you do when you’re that age. Jane wants weed, of course. The kids are obsessed with Jane’s Woodstock chic and Cliff’s yassified robot look. They agree to lend a hand if our heroes buy them alcohol. The teens even invite Jane and Cliff to a party. Killer!
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Laura and Rita use the grody gas station bathroom. They appear to be bonding. However, Laura gives Rita a dose of reality when the latter believes they can stay in teenage form forever. An upset Rita storms out of the bathroom with Laura on her heels. Laura urges Willoughby to go ahead without them, and they’ll catch up. Jane, Cliff and Vic persuade Willoughby to attend a high school party with them. His square virgin chaos magician self reluctantly capitulates. It’s party time!
Meanwhile, the Bureau agents remove Larry’s mask, revealing his severely burned, irradiated skin. Said Bureau agents keel over, one by one. Mister 104 uses his powers to enter the room without exposing himself to radiation. He reassures Larry that everything will be okay. We see Larry and Mister 104 asleep on the cabin floor, their hands almost touching.
Our gang arrives at what appears to be a rec center, wherein the party rages in the pool area. My Chemical Romance‘s “Teenagers” plays, feeling especially apropos given the episode’s premise and Gerard Way‘s connection to Doom Patrol. The teens take a shine to Cliff. Few things are more amusing than a clunky robot wearing a cowboy hat. Vic proves he’s no square by diving into the pool, while Willoughby gets higher than a kite. After Vic’s impromptu swim, he and Jane share a joint. Jane talks about how she never experienced adolescence and high school. Is it just me, or are there sparks between these two? They’ve already shared an adventure this season. I hope the writers don’t go there, but I sense something might be on the horizon.
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Next, Jane ostensibly hallucinates seeing Kay (Skye Roberts) as the latter sits on iridescent glass shards in the pool water. Jane meets her there. She apologizes profusely to Kay for “violating” her body. Jane insists this vessel isn’t hers to do with as she pleases. However, Kay reassures Jane that they share this body. It’s as much Jane’s as it is Kay’s. This scene is incredibly touching, with Guerrero shining like the superstar she is.
Then, Jane spots Willoughby from afar. He looks very young — younger than a teenager. The botched de-aging spell continues to wreak havoc on our Doom Patrol. Jane also reverts to a younger age as Kay calls out to Willoughby. Laura finds Rita, who’s now a child, sitting at a bus stop. Laura tries to comfort Rita, who attempts to flee from her problems. Rita confesses that Rita was her best friend. They spent so much time together in the Sisterhood of Dada. But Laura’s betrayal, involvement in Malcolm’s death and her condemning the Sisterhood to a lifetime of suffering removed her from Rita’s good graces.
Laura bares her soul, divulging her remorse and how badly she feels for hurting Rita and the Sisterhood. She lives with the weight of her guilt daily, never allowing a moment to pass where she feels genuine peace. Gomez is a force of nature here. Her searing, painfully raw vulnerability is a testament to the depths of this character. She’s more than a “comic book villain.” She’s a multifaceted, messy person who contains multitudes.
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We learn the de-aging spell affected Laura from the outset, but she used her powers to transform back to her adult state. However, while she cries in front of Rita, we see her morph into a child. Child Rita embraces her broken friend. Oof. If this isn’t a metaphor for seeking human connection as our inner children, I don’t know what is. At the party, Cliff refuses to accompany Willoughby and Jane to find Willoughby’s witch friend. Instead, he persuades the teens to take the partying elsewhere. Before he departs, he tells off Jane for never asking him if he’s okay. Child Vic winds up on Deric’s (Elijah R. Reed) doorstep, much to the latter’s surprise.
Meanwhile, Mister 104 discloses his mission with Dr. Janus to Larry. He was supposed to steal Larry’s “longevity” (in this case, Keeg) to ensure Immortus would rise. When Immortus rises, they can all live in peace. Mister 104 mentions the abject suffering he and Larry endured at the Bureau as they were made to kill repeatedly. Immortus will make sure they won’t have to feel that again. Mister 104 groans in pain, and we discover his ability to manipulate and transform into multiple elements is destroying his body. If he doesn’t find a way to eliminate them, the world will be a sitting duck for a mass extinction event.
Larry doesn’t understand the Immortus stuff (he didn’t attend Willoughby’s mandatory kitchen meeting), but he vows to help M104 clamber out of this jam without resorting to violence. Mister 104 introduces himself by his real name: Rama. Suddenly, Keeg moves from Rama back into Larry. Oh, that little b. He’s playing matchmaker for these two! I ship it.
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Unfortunately, an inexplicable pair of scissors cuts an interdimensional doorway through which Larry falls. Rama dives in after him. Never a dull moment on Doom Patrol. Meanwhile, Willoughby’s Knights Templar buddies approach him and Jane. Everyone’s favorite curmudgeonly bunny is also with them. The bunny transforms Willoughby into his adult self while Jane morphs into a baby. The bunny reminds Willoughby that there’s a price to pay for her reversing the spell. We see the bunny’s eyes glow purple as she lifts her paw. She draws a purple light from baby Jane’s open mouth as if she’s sucking the life out of the infant. Could it be Jane’s piece of Immortus?
This go-round, Gomez and Guerrero are my episodic MVPs, but the whole cast delivers their A-game in “Youth Patrol.” Soul-penetrating outings like these remind me why this show is successfully exploring deeper themes that other shows in its camp can’t master. Doom Patrol truly is an underrated gem.
How do you think our misfits will maneuver out of this jam? Will we see them as babies fighting for their lives? Will Dr. Janus and the others obtain the rest of the Doom Patrol’s Immortus pieces by next week’s Season 4 Part 1 finale? Only time (and one more episode) will tell.
Doom Patrol drops new episodes every Thursday on HBO Max.
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