The thing about being an adult is that you forget how much it sucked to be a kid–all kinds of weird, confusing feelings. When Rita finds her youth slipping away by the hour, a misapplied de-aging spell forces the crew to confront all that stuff at once. Spoilers follow for Doom Patrol Season 4, Episode 5, “Youth Patrol.”
After a week away from Doom Manor to visit Dorothy and Danny the Street, it’s back to Doom Manor where Rita is still comatose after being sucked into a simulation of her lifetime of movies meant to extract her immortality. When she awakens, she finds out she’s living in her worst nightmare. No, she’s not stuck in her movies still. She’s also not stuck being immortal. She’s aging.
Of course, that means it’s wizard Willoughby Kipling, the guy who shows up when John Constantine is busy (or just being held hostage by his publisher’s editorial team, which is quite literally why this character was originally created). While the team is formulating a plan to stop Immortus, though, Larry goes off in search of his electro-child Keeg, and Rita ransacks Doom Manor’s basement looking for ways to restore her youthful appearance–only to unleash a de-aging spell on herself, Willoughby, and everyone else.
This, of course, gives the Patrol the chance to act like a bunch of idiots, which is one of the show’s greatest strengths–like that time they got turned into zombies and got their own zombie subtitles. Or when they got infected with little pink guys who help them make terrible decisions. Or when they got sucked into a pocket dimension inside a farting donkey.
But even when the Patrol is stuck in idiot mode, they always find a way to dig some truth out of their characters. As the characters rapidly de-age, their ability to stay on task and operate based on logic is even more hampered then usual, and it’s not long before Cliff and Jane convince the crew that it would be cool to go to a party for just a little while. If there’s any place designed to play on peoples’ insecurities, it’s a teenage party. It’s like a minefield of faux pas opportunities, body horror, and feelings.
The High School Experience
Victor, despite being a ripped dude who used to be a superhero, remembers high school as a place where he felt pressure to excel and where he was not given the freedom to make mistakes. Cliff, meanwhile, reverts to his ‘popular’ high school self, which is less of a popular guy and more of a guy so desperate to be liked that he’ll do or say anything.
Jane has the most unique experience of the core team; as just one of Kay Challis’ many personalities, Jane quite literally doesn’t have a childhood to revert back to–not mentally. She’s a separate person from Kay, but Kay only made her (or, as Jane says, shit her out) as an adult. At the same time, Jane has been struggling with her role in Kay’s life and in her own life. Having smoked probably a little too much–though not enough for this to be a hallucination–Jane walks across a series of glowing tiles in a swimming pool, where Kay sits, quietly playing.
Jane tries to apologize–she feels deeply guilty for having sexual feelings about anyone, even herself in what she views as Kay’s body. Kay tells her, though, that the body belongs to both of them. Jane’s freedom to exist as the primary personality exists because she’s the best suited among them to both handle reality and live in harmony with the other personalities; Doctor Harrison is too controlling, Miranda is too selfish, Hammerhead is too violent, and so forth. Jane, despite her struggles, is the happy medium. By taking Jane back to her non-existent teenage years, she has the opportunity to experience some of the feelings and growth she never got to have.
For Rita and Madame Rouge, the moment acts as a sort of freedom to be emotionally vulnerable in a way they normally aren’t. The much younger Rita–played by the same actress who portrayed her younger self in seasons 1 & 2–is able to express her feelings of inadequacy in comparison to Rouge, and the betrayal she continues to feel from losing her as a friend so many years ago. Rouge pours her heart out; having kept her adult form this whole time while everyone else is reverting, the shapeshifter is unable to hold onto that image anymore and reverts as well, with the two crying into each others’ arms.
Larry, meanwhile, is stuck in a room with the apparent villain we met at the end of the episode before last, Mr. 104, played by Sendhil Ramamurthy in his second live-action DC appearance. Last time we saw him, it was as Bloodwork on The Flash. Mr. 104 is a villain from the comics who can take on the properties of any element.
Most of this storyline happens in dreams, with Mr. 104 and Larry trading places in dream logic, watching as the Bureau of Normalcy experimented on them. Both seek peace and freedom from that terrifying experience, but have gone about it in very different ways. This storyline is more explicitly plot-focused, but Ramamuthy is once again playing a character who doesn’t stand firmly on the side of good or evil–he just wants to deal with his condition and live a normal life. Mr. 104 works with the Doom Patrol at times in the comics, and it seems like that will likely happen here.
We get some insight into Mr. 104’s history, and edge closer to learning who and what Immortus is and what it wants. In the comics, again, Immortus is generally portrayed as an extremely aged man in a military uniform, but Doom Patrol‘s willingness to get weird means that we could be seeing anything.
Having a mission for the crew unifies the disparate plotlines here; as Immortus seeks to extend its life, the members of the Doom Patrol are fighting against age in different ways–parenthood, sisterhood, internal honesty–and either trying to heal or actively resisting it.
Also, a rabbit sneezes on Kipling to turn him back into an adult.