Doom Patrol: Cult Patrol

"I am being a good person and you are absolutely ruining this moment for me."

The Doom Patrol takes a break from the season's over-arcing plot for their first side quest.

Things get weird.

Indeed, things getting weird appears to be kind of the point this episode. Case in point, at about the end of the first act our heroes are in need of a bit of exposition regarding what the hell is going on. This is delivered to them by a light blue spectral horse head named Baphomet, who has a railroad spike driven into her forehead and speaks entirely in light jazz.

Also, nothing she says seems to explain much of anything, but honestly, I could have listened to her sing all day. Please, DC Universe, on the off chance that you're planning on continuing to exist, give Baphomet a spin off series.

Back when he was rebooting the new series of Doctor Who in 2005, Russell T. Davies was asked why he chose to make the second episode of the series so extreme in terms of 'wacky, future-y, sci-fi shenanigans.' His response was  that you might as well let your audience know right out of the gate how far the show is willing and able to go. He was telling the prospective viewers, 'Look, here's just how crazy things are probably going to get from time to time. You're either in for it or you're not.'

It's hard not to see this storyline in the same light.

The pacing and storytelling are all leaning so far into the deliberately, overwhelmingly bizarre that it's clearly a deliberate (and effective) way to put the viewer into the exact same headspace as the characters. At regular intervals we even have different characters say variations of 'So, we're just not explaining anything this week then?' The irony to this is that they do actually explain things pretty clearly, sort of. It's just that the explanations come late and are buried beneath more and yet more layers of surreal imagery and affectation.

Let's lay out the core plot that we actually have here, once you strip the strange away. There's a cult that worships the 'De-Creator,' which is the shadow cast by the first light, as created by god. Which is sort of the same concept as Amara, over in Supernatural, so just think how much stranger that season could have been. The cult wants to summon what is basically 'anti-god' to end the universe. To do that they need one specific teenager who can mystically bring that about. Our heroes have to protect the kid to stop the cult from bringing the apocalypse.

That's not overcomplicated, that's pretty much half of the YA novels currently in publication and at least two seasons of Buffy. But instead of taking the usual approach of introducing the general concept and then adding in the details, Doom Patrol throws us and the team directly into as many details as possible for the express purpose of making it as overwhelming as possible. So we're confronted right out of the gate with the Little Sisters of the Razor (great gigantic prop straight razors for them by the way. Those must have been fun to build.) And the Dry Bachelors. And stigmata priests in Spain who need Janis Joplin's dental floss. And magic pennies which lead to knife wielding cult-moms who can only be stopped by the judicious application on rosary beads and sriracha.

It's gleefully insane. It reads like a 12 year old who's drunk a six pack of Red Bull and is sitting down for his first attempt at Clive Barker fan-fiction. And it completely works. Because the hurdle that this episode needed to get over was, 'will the audience buy us breaking away from the search for The Chief to tell other, unrelated stories' and by hitting the team with this tsunami of 'what in the name of sweet, sparkly Jesus is happening??' turns out to be a fantastic way to make the answer to that a resounding 'yes.'

Being this deliberately obfuscated is definitely a risk for a young show, but as Russell T. Davies argued, if you're going to go for it, you go for it.




Bits and Pieces:

-- The character of Willoughby Kipling, in case it isn't obvious to the casual observer, exists because they weren't allowed to use John Constantine for this storyline in the comics. This is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, any chance to see Mark Sheppard is a net positive, and he really seems to be enjoying leaning into being Constantine revved up to eleven or twelve. On the other hand, having Matt Ryan show up in Doom Manor would have made my entire year.

-- It's interesting that April Bowlby's Rita Farr has become the character I'm most interested in. This is probably due to both the fact that she's bringing a lot of interesting nuance into what could easily be an irritating character – witness the way she points insistently to the floor when demanding that Elliot help her pick up rosary beads – combined with the fact that she wasn't in any of the versions of the comic I read and so she's all new to me.

-- They're being a little heavy handed with the 'Cliff is transferring his feelings toward his daughter onto Jane,' but then the show openly acknowledges it, so I'm not too bothered.

-- It is really nice how Cliff constantly accepts Jane's condition for what it is and doesn't try to 'fix' her.

-- Cyborg is really trying to make them be the Justice League. It's good that the rest of the team is so disinterested in that that they aren't even bothering to argue the point with him.

-- The fact that Larry and Rita have been friends living together in this house for 50 or 60 years gives an interesting depth to their interactions. Rita's 'Jane has Cliff. Who do I get?' really affected me.

-- The way they staged the rescuing of Elliot from his mom through the rip in space as almost a non-event way a really good usage of the show's time, as well as being pretty funny.

-- So the Chief was deliberately stressing Larry out so that the Negative spirit could get out. What did it mean by 'torture'?

-- Thank you, Rita, for pointing out that jumping from the second floor wouldn't kill Elliot, just probably break a limb. I was thinking the same thing.

-- And so we end on the cliffhanger that the Doom Patrol totally failed and the De-Creator has come. Also, Cliff and Jane are stuck in a snow globe which is also a lost mystical city. You know, as happens.



Quotes:

Elliot: "Mom?"
Mom: "Yes dear?"
Elliot: "When do I get to save the world?"

Willoughby: "Dear Caulder, you wanker. I need my penny you nicked. Because the world’s about to f**king end. Again."

Cliff: "Wait. What do you mean 'him'?"
Willoughby: "The book's a person."
Rita: "That makes no sense."
Larry: "And where is this book?"
Willoughby: "Baphomet will tell us."
Cliff: "Who?"
Willoughby: "The oracle. She’s coming."
Cliff: "Is anything going to make sense today?"

Cyborg: "We do not kill kids!"
Cliff: "Or burn books! He’s both!"

Cliff: "I’m stuck in Nurnheim, and I don’t even get to yell at Hammerhead!"

Rita: "This world is a beautiful, horrible place."




I can totally understand if this episode isn't everyone's cup of tea. They've taken a risk that the benefits of deliberately maxing out the feeling of confusion will outweigh the detriments of making some viewers feel like they aren't invited to the story. You're not going to win that bet with every viewer.

In this case, however, they kept everything just on the right side of feeling explicable that it held together for the kind of apocalypse you're not going to get just anywhere.


Eight out of ten singing horse heads.

Mikey Heinrich is, among other things, a freelance writer, volunteer firefighter, and roughly 78% water. You can find more of his work at the 42nd Vizsla. He wants credit for getting through this review without rehashing the whole 'Utilitarianism versus Categorical Imperative' debate.

3 comments:

Mikey Heinrich said...

A Brief Person Note -

This review was delayed a couple of months, as I've been dealing with some serious depression for the last few, which finally brought me down to 'staring at the wall waiting for it to be time to go to bed to start the whole cycle over again.'

I'm fine. I'm doing lots better. I only mention it because I really want to encourage anyone dealing with the same to reach out to someone. Even though the thought of even picking up the phone is exhausting and you'll have thought of twenty reasons why you shouldn't call before you even dial anyone's number.

Also, stigmatizing mental health issues is bullshit and I don't want to contribute to that kind of thing. That's all.

Happy New Year, to all and particularly to sundry.

Billie Doux said...

Mikey, I'm so glad you're feeling better. And btw, you can always call me. I've been through more than one gonzo spell of depression myself.

This sounds like a fascinating episode, btw.

Mikey Heinrich said...

It's a great episode. I suspect it probably works just as well if you watch it cold with no prior knowledge, as part of the deal is to be as confusing and weird as possible.

The next episode is called 'Paw Patrol'. And that's currently my favorite thing about the show.