Posts Tagged ‘Ted Sutherland’

The fifth episode of the DC Universe original streaming series Doom Patrol is many things — the conclusion of the “Cult Of The Unwritten Book” two-parter, the return of Alan Tudyk’s Mr. Nobody and Timothy Dalton’s “Chief” Niles Caulder (well, sort of, and only temporarily — but he comes in for more screen time than in any installment to date), a wild and inventive departure from its Grant Morrison/Richard Case “source material” — but first, foremost, and always, it is Jane‘s story.

Diane Guerrero’s “Crazy” Jane is the heart and soul of this one, as we get the most detailed look yet into her troubled and mysterious past and tantalizing hints that, as bad as what we see is, what we don’t yet know is surely even worse. The puzzle of what the “Paw Patrol” title is all about is eventually solved here, but the puzzle that is Jane — well, that’s going to take considerably more “unpacking” to resolve. That ism assuming it’s even possible to do so.

From her 1970s punk rock days to her stay in a particularly sadistic psychiatric facility to the origins of her powers to her first meeting with The Chief, this is a journey  through Jane’s past — but it’s a past in flux, one that’s changing on the fly. Mr. Nobody and Caulder have forged an alliance to stop The Decreator, you see, and it involves some serious chronological fuckery — in fact, this is the most “timey-wimey” story to appear on TV screens since the most self-indulgent period of Steven Moffat’s tenure on Doctor Who, but fortunately it’s far less annoying.

That’s probably because Doom Patrol head honcho Jeremy Carver hasn’t been entrenched in his position long enough to develop any excesses yet, and is still committed to story and character development over and above putting his “signature” on his work, methinks. Certainly he’s giving his writers a fair amount of freedom — Shoshana Sachi, who scripted this episode, takes things in a remarkably different direction than long-time fans of the comic will be expecting here, incorporating a persona and plotline for Jane loosely based on the most recent iteration of the comic by Gerard Way and Nick Derington into the proceedings, but in service of an entirely new and novel resolution to a story almost three decades old. I’ll refrain from specifics and “spoilers,” let’s just say that to stop a cult, sometimes you need to start a cult.

For fans of the other characters, rest assured — they’ve all got plenty to do here, too. April Bowlby’s Rita Farr shows a hitherto-unseen maternal streak, Matt Bomer/Matthew Zuk’s Larry Trainor gains some new perspective on how to resolve his shared-body standoff with the so-called “Negative Spirit,” Joivan Wade’s Cyborg learns the limits of his leadership abilities and his own techno-physical form, and Brendan Fraser/Riley Shanahan’s Cliff Steele exhibits some real vulnerability when he believes his — hell, all of our — days are numbered. Director Larry Teng gets some grade-A performances from his guest cast, as well, with Mark Sheppard turning it supremely pitch-perfect work as rogue occultist Willoughby Kipling and Ted Sutherland wringing a hell of a lot of emotion out of limited screen time as literal “Word Made Flesh” Elliot Patterson. This is a show with amazingly strong scripting and cinematic direction, but it’s the acting that really has been selling things so far, bringing all the goods home.

My one criticism, and it’s a slight one, is that the cliffhanger is maybe a bit too multi-faceted and may even be a case of the show biting off more than it can chew, but the series hasn’t missed a beat yet and has, in fact, more than exceeded expectations every step of the way — so I wouldn’t bet against Carver, his cast, his writers, and his directors pulling off everything that’s foreshadowed in the final few minutes here. Plus, Curtis Armstrong’s Ezekiel the Cockroach gets to make another appearance. What’s not to love?

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Goddamn. I mean, seriously.

It’s no secret that I’m a tremendous fan — nay, admirer — of Grant Morrison and Richard Case’s justly-legendary run on the Doom Patrol comic book, but if you put a gun to my head (and some readers over the years have been, I’m sure, tempted to do just that) and forced me to name a favorite single storyline from their era, I’d probably have to say the one colloquially known as “The Cult Of The Unwritten Book,” so-called because that’s the name of the villains they go up against, a suitably freakish bunch of nihilists who are waiting for the flesh of a certain unwitting sap to literally finish writing itself, given that it’s been manifesting a tattooed “unholy scripture” upon its own surface, in the form of arcane symbols, for quite some time now. Once this unwritten book is, in fact, written, the cult’s intention is to read it and, in so doing, summon forth The Decreator, a shadow of the Big Bang itself tasked with undoing that which its counterpart once did. Fuck the end of the world — The Decreator’s out to wipe out all of existence.

In the comics, the team is joined by “de-frocked” Templar Knight/freelance occult detective Willoughby Kipling — think John Constantine only not cool (Morrison had, in fact, originally wanted to use Constantine for the story, but DC editorial put the kibosh on it as his involvement would run counter to some things taking place concurrently within his own series) — and after a harrowing visit to the cult’s home turf of Nurnheim, a shadow realm that exists within a snow globe, the combined forces of “The World’s Strangest Heroes” and the world’s most annoying magician result, not so much in stopping the destruction of all things, but in slowing it down to the point where nobody can really be bothered to notice what’s happening.

I never never could have imagined, way back in 1990, that I’d ever see this utterly bizarre, mystifying, and singular tale adapted into a big-budget TV production, and yet, here in 2019 —in a world that, I humbly submit, is probably every bit as weird as Nurnheim itself — it’s actually happened. It’s called “Cult Patrol.”  And it’s not just “good,” it’s sensational.

A few liberties with the so-called “source material” have been taken by “showrunner” Jeremy Carver and his script writers, Marcus Dalzine and Chris Dingess — Kipling (magnificently brought to life by actor Mark Sheppard) and Timothy Dalton’s Chief are old acquaintances, the “recipient” of the unwritten book is a Salt Lake City teen named Elliot Patterson (Ted Sutherland), while the actual leader of the cult turns out to be none other than his own mother (Lilli Birdsell) — but a good number of scenes are lifted directly from the page, and those that aren’t offer intriguing new takes on this old story (that, in fairness, most viewers have probably never read anyway) that make it unpredictable all over again while fitting in with the various ongoing “story arcs” of the series as a whole. In short, though, the basics are intact, and when Brendan Fraser/Riley Shanahan’s Cliff Steele and Diane Guerrero’s “Crazy” Jane (who spends most of this episode in her defensive-to-the-point-of-offensive Hammerhead persona) end up in an astonishingly well-realized version of Nurnheim, shit — I was over the moon.

Who knows? I might have loved this story too much, and for too long, to write anything approaching an “objective” review here.

Still, if director Stefan Pleszczynski had screwed anything up, I’d be the first to object, and he doesn’t. The performances of the cast are strong, with April Bowlby really coming into her own as Rita Farr, Joivan Wade playing his de facto leader role as Cyborg to a proverbial “T,” and Matt Bomer/Matthew Zuk’s recently-developed “what the fuck?” persona for Larry Trainor all meriting special mention — Cliff and Jane may be the heart of this particular episode, but it’s not like everyone else is just given “filler” material to pad out the runtime. Everything’s essential, everything’s part of a whole greater than the sum of its parts.

My one gripe — and it’s a small one — is that when The Decreator makes its appearance, “Chicken Little was right” is a lot better line to announce its arrival than “Maybe I should have gone with A Hard Day’s Night.” That’s seriously all I’ve got though — other than that, this is some seriously flawless television. We’ll see how part two shakes out next week, but top marks for all involved so far.

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This review, as well as all others around these parts, is “brought to you” by my Patreon page, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics. Lately, a lot of politics. Your support there not only helps to keep it as a going concern, but also ensures a steady supply of free content both here and at my fourcolorapocalypse comics site. Joining up is cheap, and I make sure you get plenty to read for your money.

Oh, here’s a link :https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse