Sunday 18 August 2019

Crackpot cult and its crazy defector deserve each other

Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

Scientologists at War

Sunday, Channel 4, 9pm

Big Brother

All week, Channel 5, 10pm

The Return of the Rod Squad

Monday, Setanta Ireland, 10pm

Mark 'Marty' Rathbun was once a top-level Scientologist who claims to have converted Tom Cruise to the 'faith'. When he fell out with Scientology's chief, David Miscavige, his was the biggest defection the cult suffered.

So Monday's documentary about Rathbun and the covert war he was engaged in with his former friends was always going to provide a rather bizarre peek into the minds of some of the most genuinely deluded and unpleasant people you could ever hope to avoid.

In Rathbun's case, however, the reason he split and formed his own Independent Scientology movement was because he felt Miscavige muscled in on his and Tom's friendship, whining: "He actually tried to denigrate me a little bit in Tom's eyes. It was crazy. Miscavige had to try and undermine me in front of Cruise."

Now, as religious schisms go, forming a breakaway church in a fit of pique that your boss stole your famous friend is hardly up there with rows about transubstantiation.

Rathbun, it turns out, was their chief enforcer – a Grand Inquisitor now seeing his own house being stalked by people using the very tactics he had trained them in.

So it was hard to share his righteous indignation at the way he was being treated as the programme followed him and his wife through a series of rather odd cat and mouse encounters with Scientologists.

There was no real criminality from the Scientologists, while Rathbun's attempts to paint himself as some sort of courageous religious dissenter was rather undermined by his constant whining about how Miscavige didn't give him the job he wanted.

As the whole thing descended into farce, the viewer was left with a few conclusions. For starters, nobody forces you to join a cult and you deserve anything you get if you sign up.

But as Rathbun ramped up the accusations and the church responded in equally petty kind, one thing became clearer than anything else – they really do deserve each other.

Q If Big Brother has any purpose, then it must surely be to remind the viewer that no matter how much their own lives suck, at least they're not as intellectually bankrupt as the contestants in the house.

In fact, a brief viewing during the week was enough to prompt one question – who is being experimented with here, the contestants or the viewers?

It's as if the people in the house are aware that the zeitgeist has long passed them by and there is a strange apathy about the whole thing.

One of those in the house is an actor called Michael from Cork, whose job is to mess with the other people.

A Cork man who can't be trusted?

That's racial stereotyping, that is.

Q When he last graced our TV screens 10 years ago with The Rod Squad, Roddy Collins (left) was ahead of his time.

Here was a real life David Brent with crippling Tourette Syndrome and an unshakable, some would say quite insane, belief in himself.

Now he's back on Setanta and Rod goes around shouting and cursing while achieving precious little.

There was one touching moment in the opening episode, when we saw the tea lady who makes the players chicken soup, paid for out of her own pocket, because she doesn't want them to be cold.

It's people like her who keep clubs of all codes running around the country, but sadly for her, and indeed Collins, this is one story that doesn't have a happy ending – the club withdrew from the league due to financial constraints a year ago.

Irish Independent

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