The Doom Patrol went from another obscure hero team to a collection of utter weirdness a while back. Much of this was from the writing of Grant Morrison, who excels at the odd and unusual. “Cult Patrol” is drawn mostly from his time on the book, with a few adaptations. Rita and Jane were never on the team at the same time, for example. But the core of this episode is Morrison’s work.
The show opens with a birthday party for a very young child. This show being what it is, you know things aren’t to go either normally or well. Time passes, there are a lot more birthdays, until he’s a teenager. That’s when things take a turn, and the party turns into something horrific. Then, in Reno, we meet Wiloughby Kipling. Kip, as he goes by, fights some strange creatures and narrates the peril from the Cult of the Unwritten Book (a writer and reader’s worst nightmare), and we see some unusual happenings in Spain.
Back at the house, Cliff wakes up from a nightmare in confusing circumstances. Larry wakes up in his own strange situation, while Cliff tries to get some answers out of whichever one of Jane he’s dealing with. Cyborg hasn’t given up on trying to run this group like a more conventional superteam, which doesn’t work so well. Most of them are bored by his briefing, and Rita disputes the word “team” as applied to them. Cyborg was actually a bit surprised that Rita showed up at all, and was very condescending to her. Later, Rita isn’t pleased Larry didn’t back her up, but their argument is interrupted by Kip showing up, searching for Niles Caulder.
With the team gathered, Kip sounds incredulous that Caulder never told them about the Cult. The trait of Cliff having the most “normal” reactions to the weirdness continues as he tries to work out who Kip is. As Kip explains what’s coming, Cliff wonders if anything is going to make sense today. Kip summons an oracle that’s…unique. The team steps away to debate what they’re going to do. Jane isn’t really buying into this, and Cliff agrees. Rita once again proclaims they aren’t superheroes, while Larry asks some practical questions. What Cyborg has been able to find actually backs up at least some of Kip’s strange tale. Reluctantly, the team decides to go along with Kip for now.
The chaos magician does a strange ritual and sends Cliff and Jane to retrieve the Book, which, of course, isn’t what it sounds like it should be. They make it back, Jane deals with some unwelcome company, and Kip does some protective work for their new arrival. Kip has a plan to prevent the Cult from succeeding, but no one likes it. The magician sarcastically suggests an alternative, but the team surprises him by going for it. Jane volunteers some surprising information, gets a special something from Kip, and she and Cliff go to find and shut the gates, which also aren’t what they sound like, while the rest of the team stays to guard the Book.
Flit handles their transportation issues, and, as they try and find their goal, Cliff tries once again to get to the bottom of Jane’s issue. Back home, the team splits up for their various tasks, including more strange requirements from Kip. Rita argues more with Larry, who points out he isn’t being given a choice in a lot of what’s going on.
For a team to really succeed, they need to know each other. This one doesn’t, and that really works against Cliff and Jane as they get where they need to be. Cliff tries to stay on task, but Jane is having issues and gets drawn into a side-rant. They end up someplace else, Jane changes again, and their experience can aptly be summed up by Cliff’s complaint as they get captured.
Kip does more of his seemingly random preparation, and offers a realistic, if not reassuring, assessment of their chances. Cyborg and Kip show they not only have different disciplines for their power, but different attitudes about combat preparation. They have a very real talk about what’s coming and what they might have to do. They also have very different experiences and impressions of Caulder. Larry is on guard duty down in the basement, and voices his dislike of the word hero. Larry offers some advice, and then gets set up for a surprise once again by his energy being. This time, it gets his attention, and Larry watches a recording of a far earlier interview with the Chief.
Rita psyches herself up to leave, but encounters something on the way out that stops her. In spite of herself, she offers some help. She doesn’t exactly give a rousing pep talk, but it’s an interesting perspective on things. Cliff and Jane recover and confront a new threat, or at least a new opponent. The Cult’s goal is one of those things I never understood as a motivation, and Cliff argues with the big bad. They make an ominous statement that leads us back to the others.
To no surprise at all, there’s dissension in the ranks. They argue over approaches and what to do, and then the monsters start coming. Cyborg and Kip gear up differently for the coming conflict. Rita manages the difficult trick of both doing something heroic and making it all about her. The attackers are more strange beings, and leave behind unexpected remnants as they are beaten. Larry and his other still aren’t exactly on the same page. Kip decides desperate measures are called for, and doesn’t make any friends as he goes ahead. Rita manages an effective use of her powers for the first time in the series. Cyborg does his own desperate gamble in his fight.
Cliff argues with their foes about what’s going on and calls them out on a major failing. It’s bad when Cliff, who is hard on himself as a rule, judges he’s better at this than anyone. He also has a point. The villain forces Cliff and Jane through some changes, and seems to really rattle Jane in the exchange. Back at the house, the episode ends on a cliffhanger as the team doesn’t manage their mission and things get so much worse.
What I liked: Kip is played by Mark Sheppard, who you might know from Doctor Who, Firefly, and Supernatural. He’s never the star, but always does a great job. This episode plays to the more absurd and freakish elements of Doom Patrol history. Honestly, that’s not my favorite kind of story, and got me to drop the book when it was being published, but they do it well here. I really do enjoy Cliff as the lens of “What the hell is going on here?” Rita did the right thing in spite of herself. I think Larry got more from watching that recording than we did, which makes me wonder what we missed.
What I didn’t: I think he’s being written this way on purpose, but I’m finding Cyborg annoying more than anything else. I really don’t like Rita most of the time, although she’s a lot better this episode. They make zero progress toward finding the Chief in this episode, which is supposed to be their focus.
I thought it was an ok episode. I’ll give it a 3 out of 5. The next one should be interesting.