Doom Patrol showrunner teases how season 2 explores 'generational family trauma'
It's never easy being the Doom Patrol. The team of superpowered misfits got put through the wringer in season 1, dealing with Nazi puppets, a swarm of living butts, and a reality-warping supervillain terrifyingly voiced by Alan Tudyk, to name a few. But even after surviving all that, these poor suckers still don't get to relax. Season 2 of Doom Patrol launched with three new episodes on the HBO Max and DC Universe streaming platforms this week, and when it begins, all but one of the Doom Patrol members are shrunken down to the size of ants.
Even after they fix that problem, they find others waiting for them. First and foremost is the arrival of Dorothy Spinner (Abigail Shapiro), whose ability to materialize her imaginary friends in real life can turn either cute and funny or horrifying and violent. But there's also the revelation that all the Doom Patrol characters are so messed up (with their robot body, split personalities, rubber skin, and the rest) because they were victims of experiments by Niles "The Chief" Caulder (Timothy Dalton) to try and prolong his life precisely so he could look after Dorothy, who's his daughter. Everyone is still wrestling with that knowledge.
In the wake of the season 2 premiere, EW caught up with Doom Patrol showrunner Jeremy Carver to discuss Dorothy, the Chief, and what to expect from the rest of the season.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Going into season 2, what did you want to explore that you didn't have the time or opportunity to get into in season 1?
JEREMY CARVER: One of the things we were really interested in doing with Doom Patrol from the get-go was diving into the pasts of these characters who have lived so long to see how they became this way. We got into that a little bit in season 1, but we were excited to have nine or 10 more episodes to go even deeper and, to be blunt about it, see even more of what was screwing these people up over the years. Part of that was what Niles Caulder did to them. A lot of it is the same stuff we all deal with: generational family trauma. That's what season 2 really starts to delve into. When we look back at our characters' lives, whether they were children or had children of their own, they were either on the receiving end of trauma or dealing out their own trauma. We had an interesting time walking our characters through each of those scenarios.
There are scenes in the early episodes of Larry [Matt Bomer/Matthew Zuk] going to his grown son's funeral, and Cliff [Brendan Fraser/Riley Shanahan] trying to connect with his daughter. They made me think about how so many superhero stories are about young characters, or even characters like Batman whose inciting motivation is revenge for something done to their parents. But on Doom Patrol most of the characters are older than usual — Cliff's about to be a grandparent! This show is not just about fixing what was done to your parents, but what was done to your kids, sometimes by you. What do you like about inverting that dynamic?
Sometimes the greatest struggles each of our characters have is finding the will to get out of the bed in the morning. All that scar tissue built up on our characters is very exciting from a story standpoint, but it's also a different way of approaching the superhero model. No matter where we go — and we go to some pretty crazy and absurd places, like a pack of marauding butts — nothing is more daunting than what they're staring at in the mirror every morning. This idea is rooted in the Doom Patrol comics, where it takes the most marginalized and ostracized superheroes to handle the oddest and most bizarre incidents. Who better to take on people like Mr. Nobody and Dr. Time?
The Chief is playing a different role in season 2. In season 1 he was the big MacGuffin: He was missing, and all their adventures were connected to trying to find him, because they all thought he was this great guy who had helped them. Now in season 2 they have the Chief back and he's around all the time, but their relationship to him is fundamentally different. Now they see him as someone who hurt them instead of helped them. What did you like about flipping the Chief like that, and bringing a different side out of Timothy Dalton's performance?
It's an incredibly emotional vein to be hitting in terms of where everyone stands on him. When you take away the head of the family, as it were, it forces everyone to own their own s—, which goes to one of the underlying things of the season: You gotta grow up. Adult or not, you gotta grow up. That's behind the idea of them starting out miniature-sized in the first episode. You gotta get big! That's the undertaking they're all doing throughout the season.
With Timothy, it was a lot of fun to give these characters more layers. How do you remain remotely sympathetic after you've revealed your true self? And if not sympathetic, how do you remain compelling? I think he's done all that and more in season 2. He didn't have to play the joke the entire season, as it were. We're all in on it now, which makes for more exciting places to go with him.
A big factor in the Chief's story line is the arrival of his long-lost daughter, Dorothy. Her situation feels kind of similar to Jane [Diane Guerrero], in that they both have these superpowered personas to deal with trauma. How did you go about introducing her into this cast of characters?
Dropping Dorothy into the mix was a big challenge. We were trying to bring in a character that was somewhat different from our team in that she has suffered every bit of trauma that everyone else did, and yet she manages to wake up every morning with this bright, shining smile. That's the kind of thing that's going to make someone like Jane (or Hammerhead) throw up their pancakes when she walks into the kitchen. How do you balance that? One of the ways we did that is, in our alone moments with Dorothy, we realize just how much she's struggling like the others to keep the worst parts of herself bound and controlled. Then we have Jane, who does see similarities to Dorothy and goes to take Dorothy under her wing in the early episodes. The relationship between Dorothy and her imaginary friends and Jane and the personas that live in the Underground does become one of the most complex and even fraught relationships of the season.
Cyborg [Joivan Wade] is a bit separated from the rest of the team this season. Can you talk about the woman he meets and what she brings out of him as season 2 kicks off?
Cyborg has some unresolved issues this season. He takes off for his hometown of Detroit for a while to try and get some help, and joins a support group with a woman by the name of Roni Evers [Karen Obilom]. This relationship turns out to be both really good and really bad for his recovery. One of the main questions of Cyborg's season is which path he's going to choose. The woman he ends up seeing, Roni, is a very complex character, and I don't want to spoil too much, but in many ways she is much wiser to the world than Cyborg is. That goes to our larger approach to Cyborg in the show. Our show is a pretty self-contained thing, but he's the one character who exists outside of our show. So we've been given a lot of flexibility to take on what I refer to as the lost years of Cyborg. Who was he before he became this Justice League member, you know? In our mind, what are the life lessons that are being absorbed by this youngish man on the path to eventual greatness? It's a pretty tough lesson he learns this season.
Doom Patrol (TV series)