Director – Salli Richardson-Whitfield
Writer – Eric Dietel
In a series that has offered so many peculiar and grotesque scenes, this week served up a new level of weird. Being a man that prides myself on a strong constitution, my limits were certainly pushed. Due to the actions of one Ernest Franklin, aka The Beard Hunter, the boundaries of good taste were crossed. And, I loved it! A departure from the original comic book depiction of the character, the performance of Tommi Snider was a joy.
A slob of a character residing in his mother’s basement, he is activated by The Bureau of Normalcy. His mission? Find Niles Caulder. Easier said than done, his particular set of skills provided him with an edge. Able to tap into a person’s essence by consuming their facial hair (yes really), Beard Hunter belies his appearance and is a potent force. Easily one of the best guest appearances in a show that has given us plenty (Kipling, Mento, Von Fuchs), Franklin easily infiltrates Doom Manor. Timewise, this is set alongside the events of last week, meaning only Rita and Vic are in the land of the living.
Beard Hunter’s interactions with the odd couple are gold. Comedy gold, that is. Whether salivating over an errant facial hair of Vic’s or besting him in combat, everything was played for laughs. Hopefully further fixes of the man with the follicle fetish are coming, but his ambiguous fate at the end of the episode means it remains to be seen.
The other main narrative thread of the episode concerned the backstory of Niles Caulder. This was the episode that gave Timothy Dalton the most dramatic heavy lifting to do, and the greatest 007 of them all did not disappoint. Initially kicking off in 1913, we find Caulder and a colleague in the wilderness, working for The Bureau of Oddities. Tasked with locating a mysterious creature, this is a very different Caulder than previously depicted. Less hardened, more idealistic and able-bodied. Seemingly unburdened by the baggage of the ensuing years, this Caulder seems to be a man that collects Oddities for intrigue rather than gain.
Due to an encounter with the local wildlife, Caulder finds himself alone and injured. Rescued by a primitive local female named Slava, a lady with a beard that wouldn’t be out of place in The Greatest Showman. The plot then stretches out over the next few years, as Caulder recovers under her care and gradually falls in love with her. Slava’s connection to the creature Caulder was tracking and her own longevity are soon made apparent, prompting Caulder to make a difficult choice when given the option of returning to his old life.
The ambiguity surrounding Niles here is intriguing. So many questions are there to be asked. Is the secret to his own ageless nature tied into Slava? In protecting her from the Bureau, how does that shape his motivation going forward? Are his actions in collecting the members of the Doom Patrol both old and new driven by a need to protect them or something less altruistic that serves his own agenda? In his exchanges with Morden, Niles virtually gives Morden permission to do whatever he wants to the team as he refuses to give up Slava to him. He steadfastly refuses to give Morden the satisfaction of breaking him down. Is it his blind arrogance or is he playing the long game?
The aforementioned ambiguous fate of Franklin also ties into the possible explanation of Slava’s ultimate fate. A creature in the basement that will give all kinds of different interpretations depending on your viewpoint. Either way, this wildly inventive series is doing a masterful job of drip-feeding the information to the viewers. Certainly next week should see things start to take form even more, hooking us in for the ride towards the season finale.