Even though DC Universe’s Titans is primarily an origin story about the series’ titular outcasts, it’s also a jumping off point for the Doom Patrol, another group of superpowered social misfits, who are the stars of yet another upcoming live-action show. Last week’s episode of Titans gave us our first look at the Chief’s team of heroes and...well, suffice to say that they’re nothing at all like the Titans in term of their unique family dynamics.
One of Titans’ strong suits is just how well-paced each episode manages to be, despite also being almost unbelievably packed in terms of plot development. Over the course of the season’s first three episodes, each of the respective Titans have quickly come together from different parts of the world, all thanks to a mysterious prophecy that revolves around Rachel Roth.
Rachel, it seems, is the key to ushering in the apocalypse, and two groups wishing to either bring about the end times or to prevent them are hellbent on getting their hands on the girl to achieve their goals. For Rachel, obviously, neither of these groups have her best interests at heart—because whichever side of the prophecy they’re trying to come out on the other side of is likely to end in her death. Rachel’s been hunted and on the run as she fends off people trying to capture her, and she struggles to understand her own supernatural abilities that more often than not manifest in dark, terrifying ways.
During her journey, Rachel’s found allies in Dick Grayson, a hyperviolent detective who has a particular affinity for protecting young people being abused by adults, and the amnesiac Kory Anders, who soon learns that she’s actually been tracking Rachel for years. Both Dick and Kory feel the innate need to keep Rachel safe—and, knowing that they themselves might not ultimately be able to, they reason that it’d be a good idea to bring her to the nun-run orphanage she was adopted from as a child.
The moment Kory and Dick leave Rachel at the orphanage to hunt down more information about their young ward, the nuns do exactly what all creepy nuns do in stories about teenaged girls with magical powers. After drugging the girl, they strap her to a table and wheel her into a secluded, sparse room that only locks from the outside “for her own good.” Trapped, Rachel realizes that she may very well die in the room, and her dark alter ego manifests itself with a destructive force that damn near destroys a huge portion of the building.
As Rachel takes off into the woods in a panic, an unnaturally large unkindness of ravens (or a “treachery,” if you prefer) blackens the afternoon sky, confirming everyone’s suspicions about Raven’s apocalyptic potential. But rather than rushing headlong to focus on that part of Titans’ larger plot, “Doom Patrol” slows things down to spend some time in the past with Beast Boy, the member of the Titans who’s had the least screen time thus far.
It’s explained in a flashback that two years before the events of Titans, Garfield Logan (Ryan Potter) nearly died from mysterious disease he contracted somewhere in the Congo—a fate he only narrowly escapes thanks than experimental treatment administered by Dr. Niles Caulder (Bruno Bichir). To Caulder, “The Chief,” people like Garfield offer an opportunity to push the limits of modern medicine. In return for saving his life, Garfield joins his cadre of other medical anomalies in a secret hideout—a hideout Garfield invites Rachel to after suddenly running across her path in the forest. Though Rachel is initially hesitant to follow Garfield for fear of what she might do to him, she’s swayed by his willingness to be open with her about his ability to transform into animals and his insistence that he’s not afraid of her.
The Doom Patrol’s headquarters is something like a cross between Charles Xavier’s school in upstate New York and the Crain manor from The Haunting of Hill House. The digs themselves are quite nice, but from the moment that Rachel sets foot inside, you become keenly aware that the people living there aren’t just different, there’s an element of horror to them. Garfield’s room is decked out with every video game he could ever possibly want, but when one of his roommates lumbers down the hallway to inspect who he’s taken too, the teen pushes Rachel into a nearby closet, trying to keep her hidden away.
Brendan Frasier’s Robot Man steps onto the scene as, well, a man in a can. His clunky frame is rusted and rugged and not at all the kind of mechanical body you’d imagine doing super heroics as he drags Rachel and Garfield into the living room. As Robot Man chews the teens out for breaking the Chief’s house rules, the bandaged Negative Man (Dwain Murphy) enters to announce that dinner is almost ready and, like Garfield, feels that Rachel might as well join them to eat. Unlike Garfield, who presents as more human than not, both Negative Man and Robot Man’s powers have obvious physical complications that make it largely impossible for them to live public lives.
Rita Farr (April Bowlby), the final member of the Doom Patrol, is revealed to spend much of her time sequestered in her room, only coming out sporadically when she feels up to it. Before we see her in her classic human guise, Rita’s introduced as a heaving, pulsing, almost cancerous mass of cells tucked into her bed.
In time, everyone in the house sits down to eat and Rita makes a surprise appearance in all of her Old Hollywood glamor. As everyone digs in, the Doom Patrol explains their respective origins and how, under the Chief’s guidance, they’ve all come to somewhat control their different abilities. But again, Titans telegraphs that Doom Patrol’s heroes aren’t really living with superpowers, exactly. Instead, they’re debilitating conditions that have effectively ruined their lives.
Throughout their conversation, Robot Man repeatedly bemoans the fact that he no longer eats or has any of his former olfactory senses, something that prompts Rachel to bond with him by describing sensations to him that he doesn’t experience anymore. Similarly, Rita also reveals the difficulties of her condition (albeit accidentally) when her face begins to melt mid-sentence, something she’s deeply embarrassed and ashamed by. It’s in that moment that you really get the body horror energy that’s sure to play a major role in the Doom Patrol series, but things quickly shift when the Chief bursts into the room announced and unexpected because of an emergency that requires everyone’s assistance.
Here, Rachel gets a first-hand look at the kind of “work” the Chief does, and you begin to get the sense that for all the good he’s done for the Doom Patrol, there are elements to his methods that are somewhat dark and perhaps unethical. At first, the idea is subtle, but when the Chief agrees to let Rachel stay with them specifically because he’s interested in running tests on her to discern the nature of her abilities, the episode switches gears yet again and suggests that the girl may in fact be in danger with them.
“Doom Patrol” comes to a head in a showdown between Garfield, Rachel, and the Chief that ends in a brutal twist of events that gives Gar a reason to finally join the reunited Titans full time—and sets a dark stage for Doom Patrol’s premiere. What the episode lacks in plot development for Titans itself, it more than makes up for with ample amounts of world building for the rest of the DC Universe, and promises that the rest of this cinematic world is ripe with potential to explore different, dynamic genres.