REVIEW: Doom Patrol, S1E2 – Donkey Patrol

The most surprising thing about “Donkey Patrol” is that it managed to top Doom Patrol‘s charming, quirky and chilling series premiere. But from the moment Mr. Nobody (Alan Tudyk) allowed the “pretentious title sequence” to begin, it was clear the show wasn’t planning on backing down from its sharp-tongued premise.

When you’re gone from the episode but you still show up everywhere.

The premise, in this instance, was how the team reacted to Chief (Timothy Dalton) being sucked into the giant gaping hole that swallowed up the entire town while Mr. Nobody waxed poetic about the reddit sub dwellers who presumably made up the largest portion of the viewing audience. Jane (Diane Guerrero) dived in after her father figure without a second thought and promptly disappeared, Rita (April Bowlby) blamed Cliff (Brendan Fraser) for trying to be a hero, and Larry (Matt Bomer) just blamed himself before trying to escape the town altogether. Those attempts to leave Cloverton for greener pastures were just about as successful as Sisyphus’ attempts to roll that rock up the hill. It was a comedic exercise in futility, and one that established how powerful the energy being inside Larry was, even if the gag ran a bit long.

Over on the streets of Detroit, a robbery in progress was interrupted by Victor Stone (Joivan Wade) in perhaps his most iconic entrance to date, via a snarky ATM that goaded the thief into committing a felony before capturing him. His suave approach to heroism was quite different from his father Silas’ cold and calculated one, and flashbacks clarified just how deep the divide in their dynamic ran. Those same flashbacks also cemented the connection between Victor and Niles, who genuinely believed Cyborg would be more at home with the Doom Patrol, which meant that Vic was ready to head for Cloverton as soon as he heard the news about the town.

These two stories converged over a donkey, as aptly hinted by the episode’s title, and Jane was soon spat back out into our dimension in the middle of Cliff’s complaints about Vic being a “monday morning QB.” An excellent zinger, but one that does Victor a disservice when he winds up being exactly the kind of de facto leader that Doom Patrol needs while Chief is absent. His ability to connect with one of Jane’s younger personalities, Babydoll, shows that off rather nicely. Speaking of Jane, the episode revealed much more about her vast underground of personalities via footage of her sessions with Niles and Cliff’s discovery of her map. Why does she need such a deep reservoir, and what is “Katie” hiding so fiercely? What is she so afraid of? “Donkey Patrol” doesn’t provide an answer regarding her mysterious backstory, but it certainly wants us asking those questions. Even if it sends a flamebird after us the way Jane did to Vic and Cliff when they probed just a little too far. The ensuing one-sided fight led to perhaps the coolest special effect of the night, mostly because of its elegant simplicity: Jane’s words, sharp enough when they’re spoken, became literal swords that threatened to slice Cliff in half before Vic locked her away.

King of saving the day and talking to Babydoll.

While Lucy Fugue and various other personalities were raging inside, Rita and Larry came to the conclusion that the donkey was a door to the world that had trapped Chief and the rest of the town – though Rita was much more reluctant to explore said possibility than her partner. Nevertheless, her kind heart got the best of her and she put her stress-induced blob powers to good use by entering the donkey with them only to accidentally suck Larry and Vic into the vortex with her. It’s at this point that “Donkey Patrol” became everything that Titans‘ episode of “Asylum” could have been. Rita, Larry, and Victor were alternately tricked by their best dreams and tortured by their worst nightmares. The sequence also called into question the narrator’s omnipresence, though he of course argued that he was spitting nothing but facts. Did Rita have a child? Did Larry blame himself for his lover’s death? And were Victor’s last memories of his mother nothing more than programming? Even the triumphant moment of Larry’s negative being rescuing them from their alternate dimension felt ominous with Mr. Nobody’s words chasing after them.

Back at the house, Cliff put himself through his own form of torture by equating Jane with his own daughter and facing her wrath in the process. His heartfelt truth cut through her anger, though, just as the other three were confronting their biggest burdens. And so every character was put through the ringer one way or another, but they all came back stronger and more united that ever. Vic even felt empowered enough to turn his father away and remain instead as a guest at the Doom Manor, while Larry felt safe enough with his negative being to set them free for the night with a sticky note suggesting some ground rules. And yet, “Donkey Patrol” painted over that hopeful ending with a frightening depiction of Cyborg holding Chief’s body while the rest of the team was sprawled out around them in deadly stillness, all courtesy of the Hangman’s Daughter. Will Jane’s underground be the key to preventing such a vision from coming to life?

Doom Patrol drops new episodes every Friday on the DC Universe streaming service.