After nearly getting killed on a couple of small missions, clearly the Doom Patrol is ready to face the end of the world, right? It’s a steep learning curve in their business. This one is going to get weird and remember, this is Doom Patrol we’re talking about. “Cult Patrol” is weird even by their standards.
We begin 17 years ago in Salt Lake City. A seemingly normal couple celebrates their baby’s first birthday. Sure, it’s a little weird that there’s a big eye enfrosted on the cake, but kids are into stuff. From the preview, I thought this might have something to do with OMAC’s Brother Eye, but I see now that it’s a different design. Then we see his seventh birthday and he’s got a lot of writing on his arms and they make him pray. Twelfth birthday, more writing and a more elaborate prayer. He asks when he gets to save the world. And now the present day. It’s his 18th birthday and he’s covered in runes. Mom steps out of the room and Dad tells him to run – he’s not the Savior and he’s going to end the world. Mom comes back in and slits her husband’s throat. Elliot runs upstairs and mom tries to get him.
Cut to a scruffy guy in a trenchcoat with dozens of clocks. His name is Willoughby Kipling, though we won’t learn that for a bit. He’s played by Mark Sheppard of Supernatural and Doctor Who. He’s in Reno, recording his thoughts about the Cult of the Unwritten Book. There was just an incident in Spain where a priest spontaneously displayed stigmata. Then all the clocks go off and Kipling recites an incantation. Energy pours from the priest’s hands. Three demonic nuns tear through Kipling’s walls but he finishes the incantations and sucks them into a book.
Cut to Flashback Cliff Steele. This is before he’s rich and he’s just a guy with a cranky baby. He picks her but sees his reflection as Robotman and then wakes up as successful Cliff. His daughter asks to take a nap with him and they curl up, and then modern Cliff awakes to find Jane curled up next to him. It’s not remotely sexual, but she wakes up as Hammerhead and starts screaming at him.
The Negative Spirit cues up a tape where Caulder is talking to Larry about Cheryl, his wife. It re-enters Larry’s body to wake him up and he sees his past self talking to Niles about John. He turns off the tape, angry. Cliff follows Jane and asks why she was in his room. Hammerhead says that was Baby Doll and she made a mistake. Also, all of the personalities are angry about Paraguay.
Cyborg hosts a briefing. There are 37 dimensions and the Chief could be in any of them. So he’s trying to map the known universe but these muttonheads can’t stay on task. Rita’s mad that she wasn’t invited to the briefing. Vic is pretty dismissive of her and she leaves again. Later, Rita yells at Larry for not standing up for her. She just wants somebody to support her. And then Kipling shows up, wandering the halls and yelling for Caulder. The Cult is on the march and he needs help.
The explain that the Chief is gone and Kipling tells them that the world is ending and he needs a coin that Caulder stole from him. Eventually, everybody just hangs around to watch him. So he tells them about the Cult of the Unwritten Book – they’re a doomsday cult that believes once the book is finished, the Eye will be summoned and the Decreator will unmake the world. Cliff: “Who is this guy? Is he somebody’s uncle?” As he finds Caulder’s collection of coins, he goes on to say that the Little Sisters of Our Lady of the Razor paid him a visit. And that’s how he knows the book is almost done. Also, the book is a person. He drops some of his blood onto the coin to summon Baphomet. And then a spectral blue horse emerges from the table. She sings about the Cult to the tune of “Horse with No Name” and confirms that the book is nearly complete and Elliot is in Salt Lake City. This is a weird one, guys?
The Patrol debates whether to get involved, and Cliff doesn’t think they should stop looking for the Chief just because “some Mr. Bean guy shows up”. Vic dismisses Rita once again, saying he knows she won’t want to help. But he confirms that Kipling’s story mostly checks out. Larry: “I don’t know if I trust Kipling, but I believe the horse head.” HA! They finally agree to help. Kipling uses a cigarette made of Michelangelo’s ashes to burn a rift into the air. Jane, Vic, Cliff, and Rita pass through the rift. Seconds later, they come back through with Elliot and Cliff is yelling over and over “Close the portal!” Elliot’s mom follows them through with her knife and Jane knocks her back so Kipling can close it. I love that those four took off running from a suburbanite with a knife. Two of them are made of metal!
Kipling puts a cloaking spell on the kid and then explains they have to kill him. He fires up an acetylene torch. Vic: “No! We do not kill kids!” Cliff: “Or burn books, and he’s both!” HA! Vic insists there has to be another way to stop the book from being read. Kipling sarcastically says they could close the gates in Nurnheim and then cure cancer and that Nurnheim thing sounds pretty reasonable actually. Except that it’s the ghost of a city and the gates are actually stigmata, and the longer they’re open, the more assassins are unleashed. They could sew the wounds shut and end this, and Jane admits she can sew. So Kipling sets her up with Janet Joplin’s dental floss and warns everybody not to be idiots and get it done. Oh, he’s hooking up with the wrong team. Cliff and Jane volunteer to go, although Vic tries to make it his mission. Kipling chews his last piece of knowing gum, which tells him where Nurnheim is. Jane, as Flit, teleports herself and Cliff to Spain, where we saw the priest. As Hammerhead, she tells Cliff that what he did in Paraguay freaked out Jane. It freaked Cliff out, too, but they’re just not on good terms.
Vic tries to seal the mansion physically while Kipling sets up magical wards. Vic asks Larry to guard the kid, and Rita’s insulted because Larry wants out just as much as she does. Jane and Cliff find the church where the priest is babbling. Hammerhead’s freaked out by the church and instead of stitching the stigmata, she tries to kill the priest. And then the light pours out of his hands and they find themselves in Nurnheim. Something that looks like snow but isn’t covers the ground, and the building all look like set dressing – like giant Monopoly houses. Cliff is pissed that Jane couldn’t keep it together to save the world, and as he yells at her, she reverts to another personality. Penny Farthing apologizes timidly, with a British accent. Cliff hates every minute of this. And then a creature in a red robe appears. I believe he’s a Hoodman, if I remember the comics correctly. Cliff asks Penny Farthing if she’s ready to fight and she says “Yes, sir” and joins the Hoodman. HA! Then another Hoodman sneaks up and blasts him with some energy. They carry Jane and Cliff away on a cart.
Kipling sets out some rosary beads while reciting “Love Me Do”. He says “Hard Day’s Night” is a stronger ward, but he can never remember the words. Kipling calls the team “jarringly incompetent”, which is… not wrong. Vic and Kipling argue science vs. magic and then Kipling says the Niles Caulder he knows would kill the book in a second. “You’re young. You can afford to be a little stupid.” Elliot talks to Larry about his parents and how they were his only friends but now he doesn’t know if they even loved him. Elliot threatens to kill himself and then the Negative Spirit leaves Larry’s body and lets Elliot go. It sets up another video of Larry talking about John. Hey, now is not the time, guy. Larry panics, but then, on the tape, the Spirit leaves Larry and Caulder addresses it directly. Be built something that will let the Spirit communicate with him. Either it doesn’t work at first or we just can’t hear the Spirit’s answers, but when the Chief asks how it sustains itself in Larry’s body, the answer is clear as day. “Torture”.
Rita packs up again, complaining about Vic, but then she finds Elliot sitting in the window. He’s threatening to kill himself and she calmly notes that it’s a two story building and he wouldn’t die in the fall. Also, he’d have to die and be burned. Rita is great. She talks him back into the house and tells him “this world is a beautiful, horrible place. It’s spectacular. You don’t need the burden of ending it.” And she just asks him to let them try to help.
Jane (seemingly as Penny Farthing) and Cliff wake up inside what looks like an unfurnished church. The Archons, a man and woman who look like elaborate clowns, address them. Cliff realizes that they’re Elliot’s parents and we see that the one of them is clearly dead, with a slit throat. Mom talks about the Decreator and the gift that comes from nonexistence. She laughs when Cliff threatens to stop them. “We put a spell on him, with weird spit and everything.”
The rest of the Patrol, including Elliot and Kipling meet up in the foyer and things start to rumble. Vic sends Rita to the basement to protect Elliot and Larry to guard the hallway. Rita slips on some beads that are part of the protection spell and they fall apart, so she and Elliot start trying to reassemble the strand. Vic turns his right arm into a sonic cannon, which is my favorite Cyborg thing, and Kipling pulls a flaming sword out of nowhere. The first wave is the Dry Bachelors, assassins made of dead skin and letters that were never sent. They explode into those letters whenever Vic or Kipling kills one. A bunch get past and attack Larry. The Negative Spirit releases and blasts them to oblivion. Elliot panics over the beads and Rita remains on task.
Vic’s cannon runs out of power, so he just starts punching. The Bachelors run, but only so the Hoodmen can attack en masse. Kipling apologizes and them tosses Vic to them. Then he goes to the basement and pulls out his sword to attack Elliot. Rita stretches her arm across the room to pin him against the wall and it’s an awesome moment. She used her powers in a cool way! Kipling insists that they have to kill Elliot, and Rita is not having it. A new kind of attacker breaks through the wall and takes the boy. Vic releases an ion burst that destroys the Hoodmen.
In Nurnheim, Mom says they’ve won and Cliff just keeps insulting her. She talks about perception and suddenly Cliff is human again. That’s how he sees himself. Jane sees herself as a fractured mess of personalities. Mom shifts reality to how they see one another, so Cliff appears all covered in blood like in Paraguay and Jane appears as Clara. And then she shows them their true essence. Cliff is a brain on the floor and Jane is a scared child. And then we pan out of Nurnheim to see it’s in a snowglobe in the Doom Patrol mansion.
Cultists begin to read Elliot and the eye of the Decreator opens up in the sky. The Patrol gets outside just in time to see it and that is the END. Of the episode. Not of existence. not yet, at least.
–Just a few quick things since this is a multi-parter. This is an adaptation of a story from Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol run. Some of it comes directly from the comics, but also the comics didn’t have Cyborg or Rita and Larry was vastly different, so it’s playing out in a different way. I’ve forgotten a lot of specifics, but I also want to see it happen on TV and not spoil it by refreshing my memory.
So, if Willoughby Kipling seemed kind of familiar, maybe you’re familiar with John Constantine? And no, they didn’t swap him out because another network has the Constantine rights. Morrison actually wasn’t allowed to use John in the comics (at the time, Hellblazer was only sold to “mature readers” and Doom Patrol was still general audience, and DC would not allow cross-pollination), so he created Willoughby Kipling as a stand-in. I think you could do a team book full of just the Constantine stand-ins that DC writers had to create. Mark Sheppard is really fun in this episode – I like him and it was good to see him with my favorite freaks.
One last thing I’ve been thinking about – Vic is really mean to Rita, right? Disappointingly so. But she told him before the donkey excursion that stress activated her powers and I wonder if he’s trying to put her in a constant state of readiness. We saw her use her powers in a normal way this week, and I think Vic might have riled her enough to help with that. It’s still unpleasant, but there’s some mileage to the idea that the one legit superhero in the group is acting in this heightened way.
See you next week for more surrealist superheroics!