"Cult Patrol" – Doom Patrol S01E04 Review

Ah, there's the Doom Patrol I know. By which I mean the full-bore Morrison wackiness of his era of the comic book. Which means we get Willoughby Kipling (what one reviewer dubbed "Nonstantine"), the Dry Bachelors, the Little Sisters of Our Lady of the Razor, Baphomet, the Decreator, and the Unwritten Book.

Or to put it another way, it's the semi-magical weirdness of Doom Patrol we rarely get in DC's Legends of Tomorrow but really can't be found anywhere on American TV because it's Grant Morrison, baby. Which by comparison makes Neil Gaiman and his works like Neverwhere and American Gods (starting this Sunday) look sane and rational by comparison.

Mark Sheppard, Doom Patrol S01E04

Before we get into the main review of "Cult Patrol", the other beauty of the whole thing is they cast Mark Sheppard (Crowley on Supernatural, Sterling on Leverage, Badger on Firefly, and a whole lot more) as Kipling. Which is not a casting I thought of but is obvious in retrospect. If Constantine is the natural role for Matt Ryan in the DC TV main-network universe, then Kipling is the natural part for Sheppard.

So who is Kipling, and why do we care? First, we get years of birthday celebrations for Elliot Patterson (Ted Sutherland). Elliot is raised by two increasingly creepy parents in Salt Lake City, seems to have no life outside of his home, and every year has more words tattooed on his skin. Eventually, his father warns Elliott he was born to destroy the world rather than save it. The mother, Martha, (Lilli Birdsell) cuts her husband's throat and Elliot runs up to his room.

Then we get Kipling in a motel room listening to alarm clocks ring. A bunch of zombie-faced nuns with enormous straight razors cut their way into his room and he banishes them into a book of children's poems. Then he goes to Doom Manor to find Niles, where the team (still not called the Doom Patrol) are having another of their already-interminable arguments about whether they're a team or not. Vic wants them to be a team, nobody else is interested.

Kipling explains he needs a penny Niles has to summon an oracle, Baphomet. Baphomet is the ghostly head of a blue horse, and sings about how Elliot is in Salt Lake City. Kipling creates a mystical portal and sends part of the team through. They get Elliot and bring him back, and Kipling explains the Unwritten Book is tattooed on Elliot's skin. When the Cult of the Unwritten Book that Martha belongs to reads it, it will summon the Decreator which will unmake the world.

Nonstantine then casts a cloaking spell using hot sauce and rosary beads, and sends Robotman and Jane to Babia, Spain, where a priest has stigmata that serves as a gate to the ghost city of Nurnheim. They have to sew the stigmata shut with Janis Joplin's dental floss, or bring the priest back so Rita can do it. Jane doesn't take well to priests, and when she attacks him, the priest accidentally teleports them to Nurnheim. Jane switches into the new easily-surrendering persona of Penny Farthing, and Robotman gets cold-cocked by a Hoodman with a taser-like staff.

Meanwhile, Larry learns from an old video the Negative Being sustains itself on torture. He's kind of depressed by that, and ends up convincing Elliott to kill himself to end the fact he's a threat. Rita talks Elliot down. The cult arrives and sends in the Dry Bachelors (made of dead skin and unsent letters). Vic and Kipling fight them. More of the Bachelors attack Larry, and the Energy Being tears them apart. The Hoodmen arrive, and Kipling shoves Vic at them so he can escape, because Kipling is a superstitious, cowardly lot of crap in a trenchcoat.

After Rita breaks Kipling's rosaries, the Little Sisters find her and Elliot. Kipling arrives and Rita finally does something super-power-wise by elongating her arm and shoving him against the wall. The Little Sisters take Elliot out onto the front lawn, read him, and the Decreator's eye pops up in the sky.

In Nurnheim, Martha is now the high priestess, Mother Archon. She plays mind games with Robotman and Jane, showing them what they are and what they see themselves as. A human brain on the floor and a young scared girl. Basically, neither they nor Mother Archon do much of anything.

And that's it for episode four of Doom Patrol. If there's a lot in the above to unpack... well, that's Grant Morrison-era Doom Patrol for you. It may not make sense in retrospect. I'm not even sure it makes sense as you're experiencing it. But there you are.

The funny thing is, it's not full-bore Grant Morrison writing. I've read his Doom Patrol comics (the Decreator Saga is Vol. 2, #31-33), and they're available in trade paperback. What is in Doom Patrol here is only about a third of the weirdness of the comic books. There's no sign of the Embryo Stains, or the Never-Never Boys, or the Mystery Kites, or Fear the Sky and their question mark-shaped blades.

The comic book story is also a bit more... Americanized. Or TV-ized. Or something. So the Unwritten Book in the comics is referred to only as "The Boy". Or the Fifth Window. Here his name is Elliot and he has feelings and regrets and beliefs and depression. That ties into Larry and Rita, who are going through their own bouts of questioning their heroism and depression, and having generally lousy lives.

Matthew Zuk, Doom Patrol S01E04

Doom Patrol is also TV-ized because we get the ongoing subplots of most of the main characters. Vic gets a brief conversation with Kipling about how he's standing up for himself. But the focus is on Robotman: still dealing with his lack of a human body and the daughter who he hasn't seen in years. Rita: being kept out of discussions by Vic because she told him she doesn't want to be part of a team. Larry: learning the Negative Being subsists on torture. And Jane: apparently traumatized by a priest in her younger years, causing her to manifest multiple personalities.

We get all of this in great detail, to the point it's probably about a quarter of the episodes. And they're still searching for Niles, who Vic has narrowed down to being in one of potentially 37 other dimensions. Mr. Nobody doesn't appear at all.

"Cult Patrol" is an offshoot of the main series. As much as there is a "main series". Some reviewers I saw compared it to Titans, which went off on occasion to tell us stories about Hawk & Dove, and (ironically) the Doom Patrol, and Jason Todd, and Wonder Girl. The difference, as I see it, is at least this episode of Doom Patrol, while off shooting, still keeps the focus on the core team. Kipling is an interesting character, but it's not an entire episode about him with Cliff, Jane, Larry, Rita, and Vic being shoved into the background or omitted entirely.

Also, Doom Patrol is about the entire team. Cliff, Jane, Larry, Rita, and Vic all get roughly the same time. Compare to Titans, which seemed to be 50% about Dick Grayson, 25% about Raven, 24% about Starfire, and 1% about Beast Boy. Even if Doom Patrol becomes the all-Cliff Show for the remaining 11 episodes, they'd couldn't get to 50% about just him.

So, if you're into characterization of the mains, "Cult Patrol" has plenty of characterization of the mains. If you're into Morrison-era Doom Patrol, "Cult Patrol" has plenty of that. If you're into Mark Sheppard, "Cult Patrol" has plenty of that. If you're into general metaphysical weirdness, "Cult Patrol" has plenty of that, too.

Mark Sheppard, Doom Patrol S01E04

It's almost a perfect episode. The major problem is they're often shouting out explanations in the middle of the fight scenes, or with mediocre audio, or giving explanations in speech. In a comic book, you can devote panels of word and thought balloons to explaining stuff. For instance, if you don't catch Kipling's explanation that the Dry Bachelors are made out of unsent letters, you might wonder why envelopes go flying everywhere when they die.

The other thing is that... well, it's Morrison. So it doesn't make much sense. Or rather it has its own internal sense unique to Morrison. Why does the Cult of the Unwritten Book have humans, and Dry Bachelors, and Hoodmen, and the Little Sisters, all in one cult? The after-meeting socializers must be interesting. Why do the Dry Bachelors have to be made out of unsent letters? Mother Archon says she "ascended" to become a ruler of Nurnheim. Who ascended her or how did she ascend on her own?

Like they sing on Mystery Science Theater, "Then repeat to yourself, 'it's just a show, I should really just relax'." Take my word for it: it's not going to make sense no matter how much you break it down. That's a downside on a lot of shows, including superhero shows like most of the CW stuff excluding DC's Legends. I'm guilty of it myself on occasion. Doom Patrol is neither rational, not TV-ized irrational. It's weird and illogical and doesn't follow any sort of coherent pattern. The show presents non-linear characters in a non-linear world dealing with non-linear things.

But that's just my opinion, I could be wrong. What do you think?

Written by Gislef on Mar 9, 2019

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