Meet the strangest heroes of them all.
Warning: Full spoilers for the episode below.
The weird thing about Titans (apart from the fact that it’s a series where Robin says “F*** Batman!”) is that the series often seems more interested in laying the groundwork for spinoff series than it does cementing its own lineup and status quo. Two weeks after the series introduced Hawk and Dove, we now have an episode that essentially serves as a backdoor pilot for the upcoming Doom Patrol spinoff. That scatterbrained focus doesn’t necessarily do the show any favors, but this episode does at least make a strong case for the next big series to debut on the DC Universe app.
In addition to being the first episode to feature Ryan Potter’s Beast Boy for more than a minute or two, “Doom Patrol” introduces several other major players in this new shared universe. We meet Dr. Niles Caulder (Bruno Bichir), Robotman (Jake Michaels with voiceover work by Brendan Fraser), Negative Man (Dwain Murphy) and Elastiwoman (April Bowlby), members of a super-team whose only purpose seems to be consuming huge quantities of food and helping Caulder perform his mad science experiments.
The Titans themselves were definitely overshadowed by the guest stars this week. Dick and Kory were basically shuffled off to the side, with their search for Rachel basically serving as a way of keeping them occupied for a while. On one hand, it’s a perplexing choice to take a detour like this so early into Titans’ lifespan. Imagine if Arrow had busied itself setting the stage for The Flash in its fourth episode. Is this really the time?
On the other hand, the Doom Patrol themselves are so enjoyable that you almost cant blame writer Geoff Johns for wanting to skip to the good stuff. This is a very different breed of super-team, one whose members are more concerned with the day-to-day challenges of managing their respective conditions that fighting crime or saving the world. The Doom Patrol are basically DC’s answer to the X-Men, and that’s something this episode leans pretty heavily into.
With any luck, the Doom Patrol spinoff may wind up being a more X-Men-worthy series than either of the actual X-Men shows on the air. Legion is great, but it’s off in its own, weird little world. As for The Gifted, that series runs into the same problem the early X-Men comics so often did. What’s the point of telling a story about heroes who are hated and feared by the outside world if they’re all attractive and can easily pass for human? No one is going to accuse Cliff Steele or Larry Trainor of being normal when they walk down the street.
The result is an episode that deftly straddles a line between B-movie horror and tragic character study. Johns and director John Fawcett give this episode a kooky flavor all its own, whether it’s the outlandish depiction of the Doom Patrol and their powers or the grim machinations of Dr. Caulder. It’s interesting to see Caulder played mostly as an antagonist here, and that bodes well for the upcoming series. In a lot of ways, this is a much more traditional take on the source material than the Titans themselves, and it’s nice to know there’s more range to this particular DC Universe than just “darker, more violent versions of familiar characters.” This episode’s greatest strength is in how it makes a strong case for the Doom Patrol spinoff, and that series could wind up being the single biggest selling point for the DC Universe app as a whole.
Above all, it’s the casting that helps the Doom Patrol make such a strong, immediate impression. You really get a sense for the tragedy fueling these characters. With Cliff and Larry, it’s all the more impressive considering these are characters who are fully covered by their costumes at all times. Both Michaels and Murphy are great about using body language to make up for the lack of facial expressions. It’ll be interesting to see how well the Robotman costume holds up when the character starts appearing in more action-oriented scenes, but for now it’s a faithful translation of a distinctive design.
There are a few elements of the Doom Patrol that could stand to be fine-tuned. Robotman’s voice being a big one. It was exciting to learn Fraser had been cast in the role, but his voice is so tinny and muffled as to be almost unrecognizable. Bichir’s performance as Caulder is also something of a mixed bag in terms of performance and portrayal. Bichir captures the sinister nature of the character, but there’s little warmth to balance things out. Bichir’s thick accent may be partly to blame there. Though that’s one area where the spinoff will be making changes. Timothy Dalton is apparently taking over that role going forward, suggesting that Caulder is getting a big overhaul.
It’s not entirely fair to say that this episode plays out as a side-story from the main Titans storyline. For one thing, it finally gives Beast Boy the attention he deserved. This is a character who bridges the gap between the Teen Titans and Doom Patrol franchises, so it makes sense to introduce him as a hero torn between two opposing worlds. And by the end of this episode, it does feel as though the main four characters have made some significant progress. They’re finally united in one place and pursuing a common goal. More importantly, Dick experiences a major step in his journey from embittered vigilante to superhero mentor. I do think it would be a good idea for Titans to cool it with its fixation on side characters for a little while, but the simple truth is that the debut of the Doom Patrol has resulted in the best Season 1 episode so far.