Doom Patrol, Episode Five: “Paw Patrol”

Last time I mentioned how closely “Cult Patrol” was drawn from the Morrison/Case comic book version of this storyline. With the second half of this story, the TV series branches off in a completely different direction. The starting point is mostly the same: the team has failed to stop the summoning of the Decreator and the world is, piece by piece, being unmade. In our visual effects filled era, the TV series has things being unmade in Thanos-like bursts of embers, rather than just not being anymore. Also in the comic it wasn’t just people and things being decreated, but words as well. Eliot, the now read Book, is among the decreated.

I haven’t mentioned the cockroach yet. There’s a cockroach on the streets of the Cloverton who gets deliriously with religious ecstasy every time the End of the World is nigh. Don’t know what’s up with him yet…

Mr. Nobody doesn’t want the world to end any more that the others. In the pocket dimension where he’s holding him prisoner, Mr. Nobody and the Chief make a deal to work together to stop the cult. Mr. Nobody’s narrative powers are not so great that he can just erase the Cult from the ongoing story, but he can change the past – that is, give Jane an extended flashback sequence to set up a scheme to thwart the Decreator. This is kind of like the technique that some story-based roleplaying games use, where a player can justifying doing something if they can narrate an appropriate incident in their past.

Dr. HarrisonWhat we learn is that back in 1977, while Jane was hospitalized, her mind-controlling persona Dr. Harrison, prompted by the voice of Mr. Nobody, convinced her fellow inmates to form their own cult, which would arise in the present day as a counterpart to the Cult of the Unwritten Book. Did Mr. Nobody “change” the past? Or did had these events “always” happened anyway? The question is moot really; Mr. Nobody exists in a perspective outside of Time as experienced by the characters “in” the show – just as we do as viewers. That’s a very Grant Morrison idea. Dr. Harrison is a persona from the most recent incarnation of the Doom Patrol comic, written by Gerald Way in 2017. I’ve read some, but not all, of these current Doom Patrol books, so there could be more references to them in the TV show that I am not catching!

I’m not going to outline all the time/space/continuity/canine convolutions involved in this scheme. I do have to note that this flashback sequence take place in 1977, where we see the punk-rocking Jane appearing the same age she is today in 2019. So Jane in the show is at least in her 60’s. This fact is emphasized when we meet, in the present day, the members of the cult she created back then. They are all appropriately aged while Jane/Dr. Harrison remain unchanged. Again: I don’t know what’s up with this.

In addition to the flashback shenanigans, Mr. Nobody gives The Chief temporary freedom to visit and rally the team to do their part in the present day. Or at least a simulacrum of The Chief, who is able to walk without his chair. His presence is a much needed boost for morale, since, as usual, they are not doing well as the world burns away around them. Rita needs his support after what she considers her failure to protect Eliot. He gives Larry a nudge that he needs to stop torturing himself and try harder to come to terms with the Negative Spirit. He’s kind hard on Vic though, as the young superhero insists on an absolute distinction between good and evil. For all the advice and solace The Chief offers, one can’t overlook that he consistently holds back information that he decides people “aren’t ready” for.

BaphometAnother small but entertaining twist the show gives events is their version of the oracular Baphomet, whom the comic portrays as a bleeding horse head with a spike in its forehead. Spike and head are in the TV show, but the horse is a glowing, blue-furred chanteuse who flirts with The Chief. She may be the first overall pleasant character who has appeared in the series so far.

Back in Nurnheim (which The Chief seems to have known was inside a snow globe on his desk) Cliff and Jane are released by the Archons — and why not, nothing they know of can stop the End that is coming. Their relationship is not in a good place. I am aware that there are issues in gender politics when I talk about Jane in the show. As a middle-aged male I know it can be problematic if I come across as telling a young woman she should “smile more.” Jane and the other personas have a lot to be justifiably angry about. As we see in this episode she has suffered layer upon layer of trauma, mostly from men, even after her nightmare childhood. What I wonder about is narrative contrast. In the Morrison/Case comic book, when Jane was manifesting, she was a pleasant person with a lot of nuance. One assumes that was her main role: to be a normal, if quirky, personality to interact with the world. When it became necessary for another persona to take over, to handle a threat or express an emotion beyond Jane’s ability, it was all the more shocking, with a bigger impact. In the show almost every scene with Jane is about her being angry. Or rather, as I keep mentioning, it’s Hammerhead who is on stage. Hammerhead, I’m noticing, has a scar on her lip as visual sign of her presence. Cliff makes reference to their growing friendship, specifically with the Jane persona, which is true to the comics, but the scripts have given us little of any of that. It’s mostly been Cliff and Hammerhead swearing at each other.

After the four decade old scheme finally pays off things start popping back into existence. I miss an idea from Morrison/Case, that the Decreator was not stopped, but immensely slowed down. It will continue to unmake the world, but take a very, very long time to do it. That Dr. Harrison’s cult involved summoning a Re-Creator, supports why most everything gets restored – but not all. Much to Rita’s loss, it appears Eliot is not coming back (for reasons not explored).

When the plot is wrapped up, The Chief must return to Mr. Nobody’s domain. There is true despair in his face as he is forced to leave the others. Caulder seems to authentically care about them and is concerned over their fate. If anything, my concern is that the TV show’s Chief is overprotective and unwilling to let his charges “grow up,” as much as he claims he wants them to. As a parting “gift” Mr. Nobody messes with the narrative flow of time and causes Vic’s cyber weaponry to overload, damaging his body. An emergency repair and SOS alert button powers up, but Vic frantically insists that it not be activated. Cliff ignores his wishes and uses the signal, against his consent. It’s mentioned that the signal alerts Vic’s father, which is understandably annoying, but it is unclear why Vic reacts with such terror.

Larry has a nightmare of seeing his wife suffering from burns or boils on her face, which she blames on him. This is the second such vision he’s had suggesting some yet unrevealed incidents in his past. Finally Jane gets a last message in her head from Mr. Nobody about finding the “Doom Patrol” much to her puzzlement and a reminder to us that those words haven’t yet been mentioned within the show.

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