DISCLAIMER: This recap of the Doom Patrol episode “Subconscious Patrol” is riddled with spoilers. Proceed at your peril.
Welcome back, residents of Doom Manor! “Subconscious Patrol” sheds light on “The Eternal Flagellation,” and it’s not literal flagellating, but, rather, perpetual mental anguish. The Sisterhood of Dada subjects our misfit crew to an experiment of sorts, wherein they replace their subconscious counterparts in a painful memory. Then, they must relive that repressed moment until a breakthrough transpires.
Meanwhile, we see Madame Rouge’s rise to prominence, and Rita regains her old (New?) memories of our Doom Patrol.
“Subconscious Patrol” might be one of Doom Patrol‘s most poignant, darkly turbulent outings yet. While the show has always been a metaphor for mental health, this is the first time we actively address and explore our protagonists’ long-held traumas. It starts with the Chief’s death at the beginning of the season and our heroes’ grief.
Additionally, the episode dives down the “Does art have any significance in the grand scheme of things?” rabbit hole.
Ready to delve into “Subconscious Patrol”? Let’s get to it.
We open with our heroes as butterfly/bird hybrids, lounging on a powerline. It appears that Malcolm is, of course, in the middle (That’s where all Malcolms belong). Each Doom Patrol butter-bird flies away, and Malcolm explodes in a fury of pale blue light.
Suddenly, we see Vic (Joivan Wade) wandering into a toy store. He spots a younger version of himself with his father, Silas (Phil Morris). The store manager chastises young Vic for callously tossing merchandise on the floor. However, Vic replies he was merely looking for a Black superhero toy. According to the horrid manager, Black superhero action figures don’t exist because nobody would buy them. Sir, your racism is showing.
Silas reminds little Vic that they can’t afford to make mistakes, which breaks my heart. He persuades his son to go with General Tony, a Black general. Vic picks him up, but our Vic winds up in the toy box instead after the Vic butterfly/bird hybrid perches atop the toy shelf.
Meanwhile, Kay (Diane Guerrero) looks to be entangled in an Avenue Q knockoff puppet show with her personas as puppets. For starters, we see Dr. Harrison, Hammerhead and Pretty Polly as puppets. Jane arrives on the scene in pure, unadulterated felt. I’m having flashbacks to that Community episode from “The Gas Leak Year.”
Kay’s subconscious entraps Jane and the other personas, hence the weird kids’ show setting. Even Harry, Kay’s stuffed sheep Jane rescued from the well, is coherent and fully animated, and Jane’s butterfly/bird appears and whisks Kay away.
Then, Cliff (Brendan Fraser/Riley Shanahan) encounters Human Cliff in a memory. We get to see Brendan Fraser in the flesh in “Subconscious Patrol,” and for that, I’m thankful. Human Cliff disappears courtesy of Cliff’s butterfly/bird thingie. Our Cliff heads inside at the eager behest of Bump Weathers.
Later, Larry (Matt Bomer/Matthew Zuk) wanders into an elegant church, and he finds Pre-Negative Spirit Larry donning a snazzy suit for his impending nuptials. Like those before him, Pre-Negative Spirit Larry vanishes and lands in Doom Manor; Kay, Human Cliff and General Tony already await him.
Rita (April Bowlby) cheerfully breezes in to get the subconscious crew up to speed. These versions of our Doom Patrol have been plucked from repressed memories and materialized in the real world, while the real gang remains trapped in their respective memories. It’s all part of The Sisterhood of Dada’s Eternal Flagellation.
Soon, the world will reconcile with the deepest, most painful parts of themselves, and everyone can comfortably live as their most authentic selves.
So, now Rita wants the subconscious folks to help her find Laura De Mille and bring her to heel.
Next, we see Rita in 1949 at The Brotherhood of Evil, and she’s spying on Laura De Mille (Michelle Gomez) while the latter chats with Brain and Monsieur Mallah about destroying Niles Caulder. So, Brain and Monsieur Mallah want Laura to travel to 2021 to steal Niles’ inventions, returning them to 1949 and “creating” them before he does. Nothing smacks of evil more than plagiarism.
Monsieur Mallah bestows Laura with “Madame Rouge.” Thus, a villainess is born.
Our Larry encounters his mother in his painful memory, and we see her urge him to ignore his desires and marry out of duty to his family. Larry says the things he suppressed all those years ago on his wedding day. He always felt “invisible” around his mom, which plays into his Negative Man persona.
Then, Puppet Jane and the other personalities turn on Harry, effectively demolishing the talking stuffed animal. Vic, now residing inside the toy box that once housed General Tony, encourages his younger self to be a kid.
At Doom Manor, Rita persuades our subconscious group to make a pitstop at The Sisterhood of Dada’s fog-enshrouded headquarters.
Past Rita finds Laura decked out in her time-traveling digs, preparing to sojourn into the future to steal Niles’ creations. The pair verbally spar over the choices they’ve made over the years, and Laura unwaveringly asserts she did what the Bureau of Normalcy asked her — she classified metahumans as weapons. That is until the Bureau sacked her.
Laura hits Rita where it hurts by wondering aloud whether art can genuinely save the world. Can The Sisterhood of Dada’s poems and dances bring peace to all?
Present-day Rita escorts the subconscious crew through the fog, only for the group to lose their collective nerve and flee.
Bump Weathers surprises Cliff with a massive racecar cake complete with a sultry dancer springing forth from it.
General Tony composes a gigantic blanket fort to protect the subconscious folks while riding out The Eternal Flagellation. Human Cliff brings beer and chips, so that solves the food/beverage conundrum!
Past Rita disguises herself and infiltrates the Bureau, wherein she finds Laura’s time machine and hijacks it. Suddenly, her former memories with the Doom Patrol return in full force, much to her dismay. It’s nice to see the episode address Rita’s pervasive shame and past traumas since everyone must endure suffering.
Cliff’s sexy dancer reveals that a little girl sits alone in a car outside, meaning Cliff’s daughter. He sees the swirling vortex courtesy of Sachiko, and it sucks him in. He lands in Larry’s memory, rescuing his friend.
Meanwhile, Pre-Negative Spirit Larry and Human Cliff unearth their deepest traumas. General Tony mentions how young Vic “honored his father more than himself,” so the subconscious gang utilizes the moment to take care of themselves. Human Cliff launches into a monologue about how terrible of a father he was to Clara. Fraser delivers a sweetly vulnerable and captivating performance here.
Then, Cliff and Larry find Vic and bust him out of the doll box. They jump through the spiral vortex into Kay’s subconscious to rescue Puppet Jane. Pretty Polly laments their situation, citing Jane’s messes incessantly affect the other personas. Dr. Harrison vows that Jane won’t jeopardize the Underground again, and her foolhardiness won’t put them in harm’s way.
Next, Puppet Jane, Cliff, Larry and Vic soar through a vividly colorful, rainbow-filled vortex in Cliff’s racecar cake. You know, standard Doom Patrol stuff.
This show never fails to make me gleeful.
So, our crew mingles with their subconscious selves. Perhaps Sachiko’s vortex appeared because they were on the brink of a breakthrough. Larry and Pre-Negative Spirit Larry have a heart-to-heart, and both agree to “let love in” and maintain that duty to themselves. It’s a beautifully acted scene by Bomer.
Suddenly, Larry’s butterfly/bird appears, and Pre-Negative Spirit Larry vanishes. Human Cliff and Cliff reveal their greatest regret — casting fatherhood aside for drugs and women and not feeling a thing when looking at Clara. Human Cliff reminds Cliff that, at some point, the partying must stop. After hurling a few “f**k yous” at each other, Human Cliff disappears.
General Tony confronts Vic, asking him, “Who protects us?” Funnily enough, Dr. Harrison asked that same question a few episodes ago — it’s a general query for this season. After exposing Vic’s neverending quest to be perfect and say the right things (something I can relate to but not because of racism), General Tony urges him to have fun. Find his happiness. Joivan Wade deftly gives us a visceral, raw peek inside Vic’s psyche.
Vic asserts that he didn’t want a soldier; he was a child at the time. His butterfly/bird appears, and General Tony vanishes. Puppet Jane shares her findings with Kay regarding Harry’s statements — according to him, Kay doesn’t want her personas around anymore.
Kay divulges that Jane causes her pain. She wants to survive without Jane and the others, and Kay confesses her wish that Jane would die. Jane’s butterfly/bird enters the fray, signifying that it’s time for Kay to go. After her departure, Puppet Jane reverts to her regular self.
In a rage, Jane destroys the blanket fort. Nobody does torturous pain like Diane Guerrero.
Our quartet notices the fog is gone and hopes The Eternal Flagellation is over. The group returns to their previous locations before the Dada hullabaloo. Clara (Bethany Anne Lind) finds Cliff with her credit card and Ginger on his laptop, and she voices her belief that their arrangement isn’t working out.
Jane walks through a desolate Underground and encounters Kay (Skye Roberts). Jane acknowledges Kay’s earlier comments and hopes they can all work through this rough spell together. Kay reveals the other personas are gone.
Larry visits the space parasite in the woods and goes into full-on Papa Bear mode.
Silas wakes up Vic, who’s on the operating table. The synthetic skin surgery was a huge success, and Vic looks like his old self again. Cyborg no longer!
Finally, Rita tracks down Laura De Mille in the present, and what happens next remains to be seen.
Everyone fires on all cylinders performance-wise in “Subconscious Patrol,” especially Fraser, Bomer, Wade and Guerrero. It’s a joy seeing Fraser and Bomer, particularly, interacting with Robotman and Negative Man. Watching Fraser hurl expletives at himself is something I never knew I needed until now.
I’d say the Doom Patrol digging up painful memories and examining their traumas was the stronger arc versus the Rita/Madame Rouge storyline. However, discovering that the “monster man” Rita encounters in Purgatory is Malcolm is a pretty nifty reveal.
“Subconscious Patrol” masterfully doles out cliffhangers, from the persona mass exodus from the Underground to Vic’s synthetic skin procedure. I can’t wait to see how both of those plot points unfurl in the final two episodes of the season.
New episodes of Doom Patrol are available to stream Thursdays on HBO Max.