Welcome to the wonderful world of Grant Morrison and flatulating donkeys.
Yep, that's Doom Patrol. And if you thought last week's premiere was weird, you ain't seen nothing yet. "Donkey Patrol" goes deep into the Grant Morrison era of the Doom Patrol. In fact, I'd say it's not weird enough. But then, we've only at the second episode. I read somewhere Willoughby Kipling is supposed to appear. And if you thought Constantine on his own series and Legends was too anti-hero and seedy, wait until you get a load of Willoughby. He's Constantine with more of Constatine's rough edges.
Also, I had my doubts about whether the creative team could a) embrace the weirdness of Grant Morrison, and b) do it justice. They have, and they do. Probably the success of Deadpool's two movies helped. Having a fourth-wall breaking narrator who is also a character in a story has probably been done before Deadpool, but Deadpool is the current gold standard--love him or leave him--of wacky comic book adaptations these days. And Doom Patrol rises to the challenge.
Again, the creative team isn't going as far as Morrison went. But I'm not sure anyone other than Morrison can do Morrison. If anyone can do the Scissormen, and Redjack, and the Men From N.O.W.H.E.R.E, and Sleepwalker, and the Quiz, and the Tearoom of Despair, and Danny the Street, and Flex Mentallo, then the creative team has shown that they can.
What was so weird about "Donkey Patrol"? We pick up where the premiere left off, with the proto-Doom Patrol staring at the void swallowing the town of Cloverton. And Mr. Nobody on the bus narrating, and the straight-laced Niles asking, "Who are you talking to?" Mr. Nobody takes the bus into the void, and Jane dives in after it. Then it closes, taking the town with it.
Then we cut to a scene of a woman in Detroit being robbed by a man. And the ATM playing with the robber's mind. It's a bit confusing, but it turns out Vic Stone aka Cyborg (Joivan Wade) is cybernetically interacting with the ATM to "talk" to the robber via text and keep him distracted so Vic can take down the robber and his lookout. Vic then hears about the destruction in Cloverton, remembers meeting Niles a couple of times in the past, and goes to Cloverton to find out what's going on.
This whole first stretch of the episode is filled with DC Comics Easter eggs. We hear about the Justice League, and the Flash, and ARGUS, and Bruce Wayne. As well as Grant Morrison creations like the Ant Farm. Which DC continuity is Doom Patrol a part of? Who knows. Take your pick: there's a lot of them.
Rita and Larry go back to Doom Manor rather than get involved. Cliff chases after the donkey and runs into Vic as he captures it. The donkey spits up Jane apparently to lure the Doom Patrol in. Which is the kind of trap that is TV tropish but doesn't make sense, either at the moment or in retrospect. The proto-DP are already not looking for Niles (Rita and Larry) or clueless on how to do so (Cliff), so luring them into the donkey to threaten them to not look for Niles by releasing the one person (Jane) who wants to rescue Niles seems self-defeating. It's the kind of non-coherence that works in Morrison stories (Mr. Nobody is less a villain than walking chaos) and comics books in general, but weak sauce on most TV shows.
We then get a tour de force by Diane Guerrero as Crazy Jane, who zips through a number of the personalities: Hammerhead, Baby Doll, Penny Farthing, Scarlet Harlot, The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter, Flit, Katy, Lady Fugue, Silvertongue. Vic tries to get her to bring out one of the "ones who remain hidden", Katy, from "the Underground" since Katy saw Niles in the other dimension. Which if you're not familiar with the comics, the Underground (subway station) is how Jane organizes her mental construct and keeps her personalities more-or-less organized.
Katy goes berserk, flying and emitting energy blasts and turning into Lady Fugue, who can fire electrical blasts. Vic and Cliff manages to lock her up, and we get a touching scene of Cliff trying to make her a PB&J sandwich like he made for his daughter, the one he thought was dead but isn't, and now doesn't want to ruin her life by approaching her in his current robot body.
But that's mostly enough with Easter eggs, and backstory, and introducing Vic and the full-blown Crazy Jane. Now we get down to the real craziness as Vic realizes the donkey's mouth is a keyhole. He basically guilts Rita into blobbing out and getting into a garbage bag to load her in, and she enters the donkey's mouth. Rita gets sucked all the way in, and Larry and Vic get pulled in as well. They find themselves in another dimension filled with photos on crosses of the Cloverton residents. Mr. Nobody starts narrating, telling them to move it after he narrates them moving. He splits them up into fantasies: Rita is on the set of her award-winning movie, Larry is in his jet living up his flying experiences. Vic is reliving the lab accident that disfigured him and killed his mother because Mr. Nobody knows Vic won't fall for illusion embellishments and has gone right to the torture.
Eventually Larry releases the energy creature and it shatters the dimension. That restores Cloverton to normal, returns the trio to reality, and blows up the donkey. Vic's father Silas (Phil Morris) shows up and tells his son to focus on his career plans of becoming a Justice League member in five years, but Vic would rather stay and find Niles.
Rita is in her room telling herself she's a star. Larry consciously releases the energy creature for the first time after leaving it a note saying they have to establish some ground rules. This after an earlier scene where Larry tries to leave town on a bus but the energy creature keeps leaving his body, rendering him unconscious.
Pretty much everything clicks in this episode that didn't click last week. Vic makes a surprisingly strong addition to the 80s Morrison DP that he wasn't a member of in the comics. He's still a bit redundant with Robotman around, but the creative team plays on that by staging it as a young-versus-old conflict: the old-school robot versus the new-school one.
Rita wasn't part of the Morrison DP, either. I like her here turning her nose up at the weirdness the DP gets sucked into, her haughtiness and "I am the star" attitude, and the underlying fragility. I'm still not big on this version of Negative Man compared to Rebis in the comics. But Matthew Zuk does the physical performance well enough, and that's a big part of the character since he's wrapped in bandages most of the time.
Cliff is still the "everyman" of the team, although, again, he seems to share that attitude to some degree with Vic. Brendan Fraser plays it off pretty well, though. He's more of an old-school cursing-and-swearing sort of guy, while Vic is more... millennial? Something like that.
Timothy Dalton doesn't get much to do. Alan Tudyk is the guy you'd go to if you can't get Ryan Reynolds, and that's what the creative team did. It helps he's given fourth-wall-chewing dialogue and good lines. Like his response to the aforementioned Niles question, " Grant Morrison fans, Reddit trolls with DC subscriptions, and the three new fans who stuck around after the donkey fart." Or his opening line: "This is a story about four couch potatoes and oh, my God, I should be drinking for this." Followed shortly thereafter by, "Let the pretentious title sequence begin." The only thing better than fourth-wall-breaking dialogue is fourth-wall-breaking dialogue that takes down the pretensions of the superhero TV industry.
Doom Patrol is DC's Legends of Tomorrow taken up to the next level of irreverence, humor, and trope-poking. If you like Legends, I don't know if you'll like Doom Patrol. Morrison is an acquired taste. If you don't like Legends, I'd strongly suspect you won't like Doom Patrol, either. So if you're not watching, find it somewhere and give it a try. If you are watching, good for you. Just be warned there's likely s more wackiness to come. If nothing else, we've got lots of foreshadowing to Crazy Jane and the Underground and her personas and what led her to fracture into 64 different personalities. At the very least, I'd say the creative team has read the Morrison comics. On shows like Arrow and The Flash, it seems like they're reading the wikis and mining for Easter eggs.
But that's just my opinion, I could be wrong. What do you think?
Oh, apologies for the relative lateness of the review. I get a family vacation one weekend a year, and late February is the weekend. It probably won't happen again for a year. But never say never.
Written by Gislef on Feb 25, 2019