Doom Patrol and the Emancipation of Rita Farr

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With a name like Elasti-Woman I guess we shouldn’t be surprised at how malleable Rita Farr’s life has been.

If you’re following Doom Patrol, you know that the latest turn in the former starlet’s life came at the end of last month’s “Bird Patrol,” where we learned Rita was behind the Sisterhood of Dada’s strange plan—a mind-bending event known only as “The Eternal Flagellation.” (I won’t lie, I first misheard that as “Eternal Flatulation,” which would’ve been on-brand for Doom Patrol.) To help make sense of the latest developments in Rita’s life, let’s take a look at how we got here.

The narration during the first act of “1917 Patrol” laid most of it out perfectly. As Rita’s life flashed before her eyes, she realized that she has never taken control of her own destiny. Everything that has happened to her has been a result of her mother, Niles Caulder and various others. This echoes a conversation that Cyborg and Robotman had later in the episode about being the hammer or the nail. Rita has never been the hammer, and the revelation breaks her.

Remember when Rita tried to remake herself as the Beekeeper last season? She was unable to stop Roni Evers and it caused her to question everything. This was followed by the death of Niles in the season three premiere, which perhaps more than anyone else in Doom Mansion, really sent Rita spiraling. The opening of “1917 Patrol” gives us new context to why Rita was so shaken by the Chief’s death—she now has to be her own hammer. Niles had been like a father to her, albeit one with questionable parenting methods. Heck, Rita was probably unintentionally drawn to Niles because he shared some of her mother’s qualities. Both were driven and did morally corrupt things in the interest of “helping” Rita.

Everyone on the Doom Patrol coped with the Chief’s death in their own unique way. Larry finally made his cosmic pilgrimage, Jane worked on healing Kay, Cliff embraced grandfatherhood, but Rita seemed more lost than ever. It was as if she was a small child who had lost her parents, leaving her alone in the world. This was already daunting, and then she found the key Niles left for her. Not only was she now in charge of her own destiny, but she was expected to be some kind of leader.

Meeting Laura De Mille was a revelation. In many ways, Laura is the woman Rita wishes she was. Even with her time travel amnesia, Laura was assertive and confident. Like Rita, Laura also had the power to change the shape of her body, adding to the interesting parallels between the two women. Rita might not have realized it, but it was Laura who wound up changing her destiny forever.  

Maybe all Elasti-Woman needed was a push. When Laura laughed at Rita’s dreams of being a time traveler, something in her snapped. It’s interesting that after facing annihilation at the hands of Mr. Nobody and the Candlemaker, all it took was some teasing from a woman Rita had just met. Was Laura the straw that broke the metaphorical camel’s back, or did it take someone like her to finally push Rita to take control?

Whatever the motivation was, Rita stole the time machine and traveled back to 1917. As we saw, the journey caused her to lose her memories, which freed her of all the baggage that had been holding her back. Rita takes on the name “Bendy” and finally begins to live her life free of regrets. Sure, it’s just a job in a mailroom, but she has friends, she has purpose, and she isn’t afraid to fight for what she wants. Just look at how she changed the dynamic of lunchtime in the workplace. Forget Gertrude Cramp, forget Rita Farr, and forget the Beekeeper—Bendy is Rita’s true self, and under that persona, she was finally able to blossom.

For us, this was just three episodes, but for Rita this was decades of her life. As we see in “Bird Patrol” and “Subconscious Patrol,” Rita’s time with the Bureau of Normalcy takes her into 1949, which means she spent at least 32 years living as Bendy. Consider this, she has now spent more time with the Sisterhood than she has with Cyborg. We may think of her as having allegiance to the Doom Patrol, but when you put things in a chronological perspective, her siding with the Sisterhood shouldn’t come as a surprise.

As Bendy, Rita was able to control her body in a way Elasti-Woman never could. She also had a romance with a fellow Sisterhood member named Malcolm, one that lasted for decades. Consider how a three-decade romance might change a person, then consider what it would be like to watch that person die. Is it any wonder that Malcolm’s murder pushed Rita to become a villain?

Okay, so maybe it isn’t fair to call Rita a villain, since the Eternal Flagellation is invasive rather than destructive, but she doesn’t seem to be on the Doom Patrol’s side. She mentions seventy years of suffering, which raises some questions about what she’s been up to since she and the time machine stopped in Codsville. Did she remain in the past until it caught up to the present, or did she use the time machine to return? Either way, she has been away from the Doom Patrol for decades, and during that time she found happiness, romance, purpose and finally became herself.

When we see Rita (or Bendy) throughout “Subconscious Patrol,” everything about her is different. Seriously, look at the way she walks and how she talks. Rita’s time as Bendy changed everything about her. Rita Farr used to live in the past, longing for her glory days, but it took an actual trip to the past for her to really come alive. The question is, will her newfound confidence as Bendy save the world…or destroy it?
 

Look for a new episode of Doom Patrol every Thursday on HBO Max. Want to get in touch with your inner bird? Visit our official Doom Patrol series page.

Joshua Lapin-Bertone writes about TV, movies and comics for DCComics.com, is a regular contributor to the Couch Club and writes our monthly Batman column, “Gotham Gazette.” Follow him on Twitter at @TBUJosh.

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