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Doom Patrol: Undead Patrol

"I’ve got loads of important shit for us to do."

This episode is just delightful.

Let's be clear right from the start, in case anyone was unclear on this point.

Michelle Gomez is a freaking treasure.

There are a lot of different factors we could discuss when looking at why Doom Patrol works as well as it does. But it seems undeniable that one of the show's greatest strengths is the way it consistently sets up outlandish, pulpy, or flat out ridiculous events, and then shows our heroes reacting to them in the most pragmatic, emotionally straightforward ways possible. That's the entire joke in the scene in which Cliff is shown to be just randomly cold calling doctors and telling them the whole insane story of his human brain in a robot suit but possibly having Parkinson's disease as if it was the most normal thing ever and being surprised when they hang up on him.

Similarly, it's also the joke at the heart of Willoughby's secret plot for Niles' decapitated head. We've seen him go to the effort of digging up his friend's body, decapitating him, running off with the head, re-animating said head using golem-magic, and then instead of the expected dark and nefarious deeds for which we kind of expect him to need the head, he just wants to use it as an elaborate ploy to find out if his crush likes him back. Oh, and his crush is a disembodied magical horse head with a railroad spike in her forehead and a sexy French accent which she uses to sing prophetic light jazz.

This fundamental aesthetic of absurdist elements being treated as completely prosaic is right at the heart of what makes the show work, and is also what makes Michelle Gomez' Madame Rouge the ideal antagonist for them to play off of. She's just so completely unflappable, whether she's being insulted, upbraided, or handed petrified dragon's piss, she just accepts it all at face value.

A brief side note at this point. Despite the fact that this episode seemed to reveal that her name is Laura De Mille, I'm going to continue calling her Madame Rouge for the moment. All the promotional material referred to her that way, and I don't entirely trust the reveal of 'Laura' just yet. I haven't seen further than this episode yet, I may revise this opinion based on any further information.

The thing about Michelle Gomez is that her insanely specific presence and level of talent sort of works against her. Or at the very least sometimes doesn't do her any favors. She's so good at comedy, and sinister, and sinister comedy, and absurdism, and is so shockingly stunning to boot, that it's really, really easy to not notice that she's also a first class dramatic actress. Her speech to Niles about how she doesn't believe that it would be possible to forget that you aren't a good person is perfection from beginning to end, and I challenge anyone to find a flaw in her performance. She breaks my heart. The only thing that would top that scene would be if an actress of equal talent came in, saw her heartbreak, and offered her a cookie. And oh look, April Bowlby is here to do just that.

So, the Doom Patrol has come down with a case of the zombies. But being the Doom Patrol, they of course take it in a completely novel direction and deliberately undercut the horror movie atmosphere by having the zombie dialog subtitled and revealed to be the exact same banal, kitchen sink sort of discussions that they'd be having anyway. Sure, the lighting, the camera work, and the physical actors performances are all nailing the Romero aesthetic, 'Braaaaaiiins,' but thanks to the captioning we know that they're really just debating whether or not we've decided to call Madame Rouge 'Shannon.' Excellent payoff of that running joke, while we're on the subject.

The script also does a lovely job of juggling the various internal problems that the characters are working through. Madame Rouge doesn't have her memory, so of course she follows up the one clue that she does have; the phone call that Rita failed to answer seems tied to her arrival, so she goes to check into that. Rita, similarly, recognized Madame Rouge's flight suit (if not Madame Rouge herself due to that pesky shape shifting) from the person that locked her in the cabin to die a few episodes back. So of course she's sticking to Madame Rouge like glue until she can learn more.

Cliff, as we've already discussed, is trying to finally face and deal with his possible illness, but the interesting twist here is that he's managed to convince Jane to deal with her issues as well. She tries at first to make something beautiful out of her pain, per her dead grandmother's advice, but ends up venting her feelings at creepy Bob Ross fan art in a moment that's simultaneously visually ridiculous and emotionally devastating.

Which leaves us with Larry, and here's where the episode plays a very clever slight of hand. Larry has begun vomiting up blue goop, which he interprets to mean that now that the Negative spirit has left him his body is finally getting around to dying. 'Oh ho,' we're supposed to self-congratulatorily think, 'He doesn't understand that it's really a symptom of the fact that they're all turning into zombies!' But then we end on the reveal that this was a massive fake-out, Larry is still vomiting because... he appears to be pregnant! I don't know where they're going with this twist. Personally I hope they're going to transform him into Rebis from the Grant Morrison run, but we'll have to wait and see. Really well scripted twist, though.

Larry actually leads us to a discussion of the episode's couple of flaws. All of which I feel churlish bringing up, but it is sort of my job. Cliff tells us repeatedly that they're all turning into zombies because they were sprayed with vomit by Not-Rowena the Night Nurse while escaping the afterlife last episode. Except that Larry is the first one to start scratching and the first one to exhibit zombie-ness and he wasn't with them at the time. This could all be a perfectly legitimate misdirect regarding why they were turned into zombies, but usually they do a good job of being clear when something is being left deliberately unclear for the time being and this time it felt like they thought they had explained the zombie-ness perfectly well.

Even more churlishly, I kept wondering how exactly the biology of all this was affecting Cliff? His metal body really shouldn't be vulnerable to rotting zombie-ness, should it? And the cure for zombie-ness was eating Niles' brain. And... um... how exactly did Cliff manage to do that? I know, I know. It doesn't really matter. It's a good enough story that the internal inconsistencies don't really hold it back. But I did wonder.

And the third and final point of churlishness, they really needed to remind us somehow who Darren was before the big reveal. I hate complaining that a show is giving the viewers too much credit for being able to figure things out on their own, because shows almost never err in that direction, but it took me a surprisingly long time to remember who he was and what happened to him way back in season one. Ah well. It was all made up for by just how little respect or interest anyone on the team gave to poor Darren. He was desperately trying to villain-monologue, and no one could even be bothered to ask what his wife had been upset about.

So, jokes that are incredibly funny, great character work, solid set up for further developments, and the reveal that Madame Rouge and Niles have sinister history which might set her against the team as the season progresses. Plus an epic Zombies versus Were-Butts battle sequence. I'll take that. Particularly when it results in a zombie were-butt. That had to be Darren, right?


Bits and Pieces:

- I was a little surprised to realize just how many Doctor Who alumni were in this one. Timothy Dalton, Mark Sheppard, Michelle Gomez, and Joivan Wade can all boast multiple episodes. Wait... does this mean Diane Guerrero can be the next Doctor? Oh my God, can we please have Diane Guerrero be the next Doctor???

- The interpretive dance that Madame Rouge does in the light of the projector was haunting and strangely beautiful.

- I was so hoping that Niles was going to remain as a head in a jar for awhile. The speaker sewed into the mouth meant no tedious CGI lip-synching, and there wasn't even any need for the tradition 'hole through the table' gag to make the head disembodied. Ah well.

- I adore how ridiculously specific Willoughby Kipling's magical ingredients always have to be.

- Michelle Gomez and Mark Sheppard were clearly having a ball working together in this one. I bet they were a blast on set.

- There's absolutely no earthly reason for a were-butt to howl, but I'm so glad they did. Also, Zombie Jane fighting off a were-butt by trying to bite it looked perilously close to certain interpersonal activities that one might find video of on the internet if one were into that kind of thing.

- Maybe it's just because he's always been a giant douche, but I just can't bring myself to care about Silas' plotline or the whole reveal that he could have used synthetic flesh to save Vic after the accident. Didn't he lose most of his organs in the accident as well? Synthetic flesh wouldn't have helped with that. And can we please move on from the 'Look what a monster you turned me into' plotlines?

- It's a little strange that after everything these people have been through they still have difficulty accepting that time travel is possible. You all were literally eaten by a painting and chased by sex ghosts. But time travel is a bridge too far? Come on.

You can't tell me that these two aren't having just the best time ever.

Quotes:

Jane: "So, are you gonna tell us who you are, or does someone have to jam a foot up your pee-hole?"

Jane: "Why are you looking for Chief?"
Madame Rouge: "Can’t remember that either. But when I think of him I am filled with an overwhelming and immediate urge to punch him in the face."
Rita: "That’s him."
Cliff: "Yup."
Jane: "Word."
Larry: "Sounds about right."

Cliff: "I don’t know, things were a little hairy around here two weeks ago. Kaiju candle-demon on the loose. You might wanna go back a little further."
Madame Rouge: "Right. Well, I shall go back three weeks, then."
Larry: "Ooo, yeah. This place was lousy with sex ghosts around then. I don’t recommend it."
Vic: "True."
Cliff: "That’s right."
Madame Rouge: "Well, four weeks?"
Everybody: "No, no, no."
Madame Rouge: "OK, well how about five?"
Vic: "Hell no."
Madame Rouge: "Seven? What about seven? Give me seven. Anyone for seven? You want to give me seven?"

Cliff: "Cyborg’s not really my buddy. I don’t know why I said that. He’s more like this lesser version of me that lives in my house."

Madame Rouge: "Do you have a question for me, or is your neediness some kind of holistic condition?"

Willoughby: "This way, Solomons Grundy."

Darren: "Do you have any idea what it’s like to be attacked by hundreds of butts?"

Niles: "It’s OK. I love you, Jane. I want you to eat me."


Parts of this are a little muddy, and some of it is a little unclear, but what's here is just so much fun and so moving during the final montage that I don't have the heart to criticize it too much.

Eight out of ten examples of creepy Bob Ross fan art.

Mikey Heinrich is, among other things, a freelance writer, retired firefighter, and roughly 78% water. You can find more of his work at the 42nd Vizsla. If you'd like to see his raw notes for this and other reviews, you can find them at What Was Mikey Thinking.

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