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.

Doom Patrol, Episode Four: “Cult Patrol”

The Doom Patrol TV series lists a “Special Thanks” to many of the various creators who have worked on the comic, including Grant Morrison and Richard Case. That’s the only credit I’ve seen for them in the series. The plot of “Cult Patrol” is so far the one most directly based on their comics, issues 31-33 of Doom Patrol Vol 2.

KiplingIt was typical of Morrison/Case that their stories would cut away to short scenes of events happening far away from the main story. Sometimes several issues would go by before we saw how these puzzle pieces fit into the bigger picture. This is how we are introduced to Willoughby Kipling. Long story short, Kipling is a degenerate pastiche the DC urban magician John Constantine. The story goes that even before Constantine started appearing in feature films and TV series, he was ruled off limits for Morrison/Case. So they produced Kipling in his place. His TV incarnation isn’t quite the drunken vagrant as his comic book original.

Another sequence brings in The Cult of the Unwritten Book, the first external challenge the team has faced. The TV script makes the wise choice of adding more relatable human elements to the Cult. Making the living Book into Elliot, an actual named character from a psychotically dysfunctional cult family leads us to care about him, and be concerned about his emotional connections with the others. He’s not much more than a plot device in the comics.

But while Kipling is uncovering The End of World, the others are dealing with their usual issues. Larry struggles with just how to clarify his relationship to the Negative-Spirit. The Spirit itself is trying to lead him to evidence of The Chief’s previous, secret, attempts at communicate with it. Cliff wakes up to find Baby Doll snuggling with him, to his confusion and Jane’s fury — or rather Hammerhead’s. Again it’s a situation where there’s no real distinguishing between Jane and Hammerhead. That encounter is another element inspired from these issues of the comic, where Baby Doll manifests and hugs Cliff, though the emotional consequence is embarrassment rather than rage.

Cyborg is still prodding them all to look for The Chief. With his holographic projectors and talk of “known other dimensions” it feels like Vic stepped in here from some other actual superhero series (which he largely has). He mentions “37” universes, which surprised me, since putting the number at “52” would have been the obvious comic book reference. Jane objects to Vic’s attempts to organize them as a ‘team.” His intent is to unify them to work towards a common goal; he’s just doing a pretty bad job of it.

Kipling then barges his way into the mansion looking for The Chief and the gang must decide if they trust his apocalyptic warnings. Kipling sells himself as big in the field of “international weirdness.” That’s a Morrison phrase I always liked, with its suggestion that the crazy situations the Doom Patrol face are going on all the time, behind the more conventional exploits of supervillains and alien invasions that make up the comic book world. Vic’s backs up Kipling as a known “Chaos magician,” which is a nod to Grant Morrison directly, since he is a practitioner of chaos magic himself and even includes the comics he writes as part of his spells.

Sorcerers and wizards are staple characters in comics, even in titles that are ostensibly science fiction rather than fantasy. A reader often wonders why a character such as Zatanna, whose powers seem only limited by what she can say backwards, doesn’t just solve any current problem with a single spell. So it was fun to see Kipling being to pull off a sequence of magics (usually involving some enchanted pop cultural detritus) that smooth over multiple plot challenges. It gets things moving, is easier on the show’s budget, and let the story focus be on the real issue: what to do with The Book, Eliot, once they have him. Our characters don’t have to be heroes to object to Kipling’s suggestion of just killing him then and there. Protecting him from the inevitable onslaught of the Cult is not something they are ready for though, even with the more seasoned Cyborg and Kipling around. It emphasizes again the point that these people are not heroes, never signed up to be heroes, and probably shouldn’t be allowed to take on such responsibilities.

Sending Cliff and Jane (or rather Hammerhead) to block the entrance of Cult into our world from their base in the mysterious city of Nurnheim is a pretty optimistic plan and you have to wonder if Kipling just wanted them out of the way. Things don’t go well for them, unsurprising. Hammerhead finally expresses that her current rage at Cliff comes from his violent behavior at Fuchtopia. Her argument that her violence has a purpose while Cliff’s does not, has some validity — it’s what Hammerhead as a persona manifests — but they both acted in deadly self-defense when attached by Von Fuchs drones. And then just after accusing Cliff of toxic masculinity, she loses control, attacking the priest they came to help. Hammerhead reacts with violence, either verbal or physical, to anything that is a threat, that triggers fear. It’s not really her job to explain or justify (just as it is Penny Farthing’s job to express apologies and resignation). Each persona is a focused aspect of the splintered core personality. The Cliff/Jane relationship is something we’ll keep looking at closely, though I feel sometimes the scripts are not quite living up to the intended relationship arc for these two.

Much of the discussion between characters has to do with heroism and sacrifice. While Vic is someone who’d sacrifice his life to save the day, Kipling is more inclined that to achieve the greater good an effective person might need to sacrifice virtues of honor, mercy, and truth to get the job done (and he insists The Chief is such a person too). After the show’s most traditional superhero scene yet – Kipling and Vic slashing and blasting through baddies – Kipling also shows he’s willing to sacrifice teammates as well, abandoning Vic to the Dry Bachelors while he slips away.

Larry attempts to talk with Eliot, who still assumes the gang must be heroes, but empathy is not is strong point. His platitudes and lack of grasp of Eliot’s situation only anger him. The Negative Spirit has something else to offer: choice. It gives Eliot the opportunity to make his own decision.

It looks like that decision is going to be self-sacrifice, until he encounters Rita. Vic had dismissed Rita as having no heroic potential, but she seem closest to developing into one: she really wants to save Eliot for himself, not out of obligation or even to “save the world.” We also see her use her unusual nature as a “superpower” for the first time: stretching her arm to stop Kipling. Despite having the codename “Elasti-Girl” Rita rarely did that in the original comics, and then only by developing the ability to selectively enlarge her hand. Unfortunately, they can do little when The Little Sisters slash their way through reality to carry off Eliot.

Back in Nurnheim, Cliff and Penny Farthing have, not surprisingly, fallen into the clutches of The Archons of the Cult. The show takes the humanizing of the Cult a step further by promoting Eliot’s parents into this role, rather than have them be admittedly creepy puppets. The Queen Archon has plenty of weapons to use against our heroes: their already distorted perceptions of the world. Cliff’s tendency to see Jane as his daughter is forced on him, as well as his belief that he is anything more than a disembodied brain. Jane’s most hidden point-of-view is that of the core personality of Kay, the one hides behind all the constructed personas. The final reveal of perception is for us: that Nurnheim exists within a snowglobe on The Chief’s desk.

Meanwhile Eliot has been “read” and the Decreator stares down on them all…