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‘Doom Patrol’ S01E13: ‘Flex Patrol’ (review)

S01E13 — The Doom Patrol tries to restore the memories and abilities of Flex Mentallo, while Rita confronts her self-doubt and Larry realizes how tied he is to the Negative Spirit.

There’s a real danger in getting your hopes up for something, especially when it deals with pop culture, specifically when it deals with geek/nerd/comics culture (see the first season of TITANS and, apparently, this season of GAME OF THRONES).

I have never been so completely satisfied with 50 minutes of television like I was with this week’s DOOM PATROL.

There was a lot…A LOT…going on, and information came quick as every major character (even the Animal Vegetable Mineral Man) had a spot on the show, except Niles. Just about every dangling plot thread you might have thought about this season was resolved, so let’s get into it.

At the center of the episode is the Man of Muscle Mystery, Flex Mentallo. Ever since Danny The Street hipped Cyborg to his existence, Flex has been a bit of a mystery, but an integral part of the plan to find Caulder.

Now, unlike the Doom Patrol comic, I have read Flex Mentallo, and what I find interesting about this take…and there are a lot of things…is how different, but how faithful, his small screen counterpart is. It’s such a well crafted character that you could see TV Flex coexisting with comic book Flex in a meta kind of way (in some ways, that’s kind of the beauty of Morrison’s writing…and one of the biggest headaches).

Flex is a Charles Atlas cartoon come to life, and I doubt Charles Atlas was this wholesome. For a guy who is practically naked, there is nothing but charm and class. He’s genuine, and in a lot of ways, the casting of (and subsequent performance by) Devan Long is the most inspiring casting since Tyler Hoechlin as Superman.

In fact, I would totally understand it if Long auditioned for Superman, didn’t get it, but stayed on Berlanti’s short list. He clearly gets the weirdness of the show, but also the innocence of Flex. Flex Mentallo is not really a person; he’s an idea. Or, if you prefer, an ideal. At least in the comics, that’s how he’s presented; an advertisement come to life. As a product of his time, he stays firmly in that era (seen best whenever he points out that Cliff, “…sure does swear a lot.”) in which he was created.

He could easily, EASILY, be a campy cartoon character, but where Long excels with his portrayal is in embracing even the corniest aspects of the character (because, let’s face it, flexing and posing is extremely corny) while injecting a lot of heart and soul. When he’s reunited with his long lost wife, Dolores, and his memory comes back (and even when she gets snaptured…yes, apparently Thanos has reach into the DCEU), I found myself smiling like an idiot because the moment, through virtue of performance, was earned. I have doubts that Flex will return next season, but Long would be a great addition to the cast.

I’m going to give Cliff the TL;DR treatment by simply saying that his enthusiasm over winning was a great bit, and his reaching out to Jane, offering to be a friendly ear, was possibly the “coming full circle” moment he’s been waiting for.

Vic and Rita…I don’t know why these two work so well together.

Maybe it’s because they both (as a celebrity superhero and movie star, respectively) understand the idea of a public face that hides real feelings (but I feel like everyone understands that, to be honest).

Vic didn’t kill his father, but Silas is in critical condition. Vic obviously feels guilty, but it goes deeper than that; he was “chosen” by Mr. Nobody and has called off his fight and quest to find the Chief. This is a big deal because remember who Cyborg was when he showed up; the famous superhero of Detroit who was a shoo-in for the Justice League. We all read comics, or have in the past. We know that heroes never quit. For Cyborg to stand down…this is a major moment for him, and Rita realizes this.

Rita is met by ED FREAKIN’ ASNER, a patient in the same hospital, and is given a pep talk, so to speak.

He basically tells her that she has to make peace with her past in order to move forward. She sees an unattended baby carriage, the one we’ve seen a few times this year, and she reveals to him that she was, in a roundabout/non-explicit way, a pimp for Hollywood producers. One of them goes sour, and her guilt has consumed her all these years. With this absolution, she realizes that the entire team needs to do this, and Asner is revealed to be Mr. Nobody.

Now, this moment, and the coda at the end, make me wonder exactly what Nobody’s motivations are. He pushed Cyborg to the point that he quits, but he inspires Rita to fight on. He crows about finally having a superhero team on the show, and I’m left wondering what the point he was trying to make is; does he want to be defeated?

Finally, Larry and the Negative Man. Typically, when the two are separated, Larry passes out, but mysteriously, since last episode, Larry and the Negative Entity have been operating independently from each other. We find out in this episode that this comes at a cost; Larry’s body, age and condition start to catch up to him. He’s dying. He releases the Entity, willing to sacrifice his life for the Entity’s freedom, but when the spirit is given the choice, it comes back to Larry. Ever since Larry has started to really understand the spirit, the two have given each other a lot of space and are learning to coexist.

For a little bit there, I thought that the Negative Man was some kind of embodiment or projection of Larry’s love for John (Bowers), but we found out that wasn’t the case (in Frances Patrol). However, it seems as if there is a growing affection between the two. I’m not sure if it’s just a morality tale of being gay and accepting yourself, or if it’s supposed to be an actual relationship. It’s funny because I thought Larry’s story came to its natural conclusion, but it seems there’s more onion to peel.

Will you watch the next episode?

C’mon. We got two more to do and this show has been reliably fantastic.

NEXT WEEK: S1:E14 –  PENULTIMATE PATROL

 

Vito Delsante is a comic book writer, graphic novelist, editor, letterer, and the co-creator/writer of STRAY with Sean Izaakse, and THE PURPLE HEART with Dean Haspiel and artist, Ricardo Venâncio. He’s written for DC Comics, Marvel Comics, Image Comics, AdHouse Books, and Simon & Schuster, among others, and his stories have been reprinted in other countries. He lives in Pittsburgh, PA with his wife, Michelle, his daughter, Sadie, his son, James, and his pitbull, Kirby.  You can find him online at incogvito.com and you can follow him on Twitter @incogvito

 

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