Doom Patrol: Flex Patrol

"Looking the other way should be so much harder than it actually is."

There's something about Flex Mentallo's costume that really resonates with me. I just can't quite put my finger on it...

We're moving into the home stretch for season one, so it's last call for cleaning up any lingering character arcs or hidden tragic backstories. Cleverly, that last minute twist lets us know that that was the point all along.

We pick up right where we left off at the end of 'Cyborg Patrol,' with the team still inside the Ant Farm and looking for a way out. This is probably a good point to talk about my only real criticism of the episode – the walking back of last episode's shock ending. When we last saw our heroes, Vic had lost control of himself and beat his father to death thanks to Mr. Nobody's hallucinations. Like I mentioned in my review of that one, the whole hallucination plotline was fairly muddy which undercut the effectiveness of that ending, but it worked for what it was. If nothing else it was a brave moment for the show to take Vic to that dark a place.

But now it turns out they're not that brave, because now we find out that Silas is still alive, and Flit helpfully teleports him, Vic, and eventually Rita to the hospital to get medical attention, feel bad about what happened, and provide emotional support, respectively.

I understand that this was a move to get Vic to get some alone time to resolve his feelings about his father and Grid and tangentially get Rita an opportunity to deal with her Big Guilty Secret, but it really feels like a wimp-out on what was a brave and interesting story turn. It would have worked better if the question of Silas being dead or alive was at least raised at the end of the previous episode, but then I can't really criticize this episode for the failings of the previous one, and so here we are.

Ah well.

So, we have a lot of emotional closure to deal with here, and I applaud the decision to use as a catalyst for that closure a big muscly man wearing only a tight pair of jungle print briefs.

Look, I'm allowed to enjoy things. I can't be all highbrow every week.



Seriously though, the introduction of Flex into the mix really works well to tie together the ongoing search for the Chief while providing a big explanation for Larry and the Negative Spirit's backstory. His presence provides an interesting cohesion to what should feel like a lot of disparate character developments. At the start of the episode we see Flex being captured by the Bureau in 1964, and I thought to myself, 'Oh, Larry was there around that time, I think. I wonder if they met?' Which was of course exactly what the episode wanted me to be thinking at that moment.

From that moment on the episode really belongs to Rita and Larry, as they each face a major sin of the past. Rita confesses to an elderly stranger not just that she procured young actresses for a producer to sleep with, not just that this led to one of those actresses committing suicide when she fell pregnant, but that immediately after that she got a big part in a film and was able to just turn away and ignore what had happened. Karma caught up with her of course, as this was the thing Mento read in her thoughts that led him to dump her, and the movie in question was the one where she had her accident and gained her powers, but never before has Rita allowed herself to own up to those actions and judge herself for what she did.

Paired with that we learn that Flex did indeed meet Larry in the Ant Farm back in the 60s. Not just that, but Flex could absolutely have rescued them both and gotten them free, but Larry was too busy feeling sorry for himself to reach through the hole in the wall and unplug the wires holding Flex back, resulting in Flex, Larry, and the Negative Spirit being stuck there being tortured. In Flex' case for over fifty years. No wonder the Negative Spirit was blaming Larry for 'torture' earlier in the season.

Those are some huge reveals, and it's a credit to everyone involved that it didn't begin to feel like a cheesy soap opera. The inclusion of the clips from 'Secret Hearts' – an actual cheesy soap opera – just underscores the chance they were taking. The inclusion of 'Secret Hearts' is clearly deliberate just to make that point. They even include the same location that Rita is currently in.

And poor, poor Flex. Fifty years of gradually having his grip on reality transferred over to a stupid soap opera, being forced to forget the love of his life, finally remembering and finding her only to have her turn to dust in his arms. Heartbreaking. I'm not sure exactly how the Bureau would have been able to implant an 'If you find Flex again you'll disintegrate into your component carbon molecules' as a post hypnotic suggestion in Dolores, but it was moving enough that I don't feel like I need to know the mechanics of it.

And then we get that major rug pull at the end. Ed Asner's supportive elderly stranger was in fact Mr. Nobody in disguise, and the whole thing was an exercise in getting the members of the Doom Patrol to confront and get over their respective pasts so that they can be a proper superhero team and focus on doing superhero stuff.

That's obviously a huge twist, and the image of Alan Tudyk gleefully wearing DC and Doom Patrol branded merchandise is just a delightful way to pull it off. It calls into question everything we thought we understood about Mr. Nobody's motivations. He's not just trying to scare them off of looking for Niles so that he has Niles for whatever reason, he's actively shaping them into a functioning team. Why? What is he actually after? It's a great reveal that leaves you with plenty to think about while waiting for the next episode. There should be a mandatory week's wait before you can stream the next episode.



Bits and Pieces:

-- I'm pretty sure room 721 was on the other side of 722 when Vic was in it last episode, wasn't it?

-- The opening, literally sepia toned, flashback to Flex' glory days in the 60s was wonderful. I'd watch a whole spinoff of that, and not just for the outfit.

-- Was anybody else a little touched by how happy just getting the tiniest victory made Cliff?

-- Back in the early days the Negative Spirit would have died if left outside of Larry. Now it's the other way round, thanks to Larry's body not aging. That was a nice way to metaphorically express them coming to terms with one another as equals.

-- It was interesting that Flex could hear and understand the Negative Spirit, and actually thought of the spirit as his friend, not Larry. That helps me feel better about Flex hearing the imaginary Grid dialogue last time.

-- I like that they didn't overstate it, but it was a nice touch that the Negative Spirit went back to get Flex because Flex was his friend. We didn't know that at the time.

-- Flex was trapped by the Bureau by being sucked inside a kitten. We've all been there, am I right?

-- Flit was surprisingly helpful and task oriented.

-- Whatever the DP was paid for this ep, it wasn't enough. The shot of Flex blowing all the electric lighting in the mansion after Dolores vanished was stunning work.

-- Another fun cameo from Animal-Vegetable-Mineral man.

-- Diane Guerrero gets the showier stuff (and does it amazingly well) but April Bowlby just continues to impress more and more every episode. I'm becoming a big fan.


Quotes:

Jane: "Sorry if I missed the subtext of your incredibly blunt directive. Why don’t you mansplain it to me."

Flex: "Who’s Flex Mentallo?"
Cliff: "You are."
Flex: "Am I?"
Cliff: "God DAMN it!"

Flex: "I don’t think so, Scrap."
Cliff: "I still have that thing on my head, don’t I. Jane, can you help me out with this?"
Flex and Jane: (Laughter)
Cliff: "You just ripped the ‘S’ off, didn’t you."

Jane: "Look, shitbag, I’ve known the chief for 50 years, and if he had died I would have noticed."
Flex: "Well, not if his identical twin brother replaced him."
Cliff: "Whoa, say what now?"
Flex: "His name was Nic. And their mother had to give him up at birth to a gypsy woman. So the Chief never knew of his existence."
Jane: "… the fuck?"

Jane: "Take off your clothes."
Cliff: "Jane, I don’t think we can ask him t…"
Flex: "Okay."

Newscast: "Thankfully, Larson was only shot in the minerals, and is expected to make a full recovery."

Ed Asner: "We have to own our mistakes. No matter how horrible."



This is very much a 'wrap up the character stuff before the big finale' episode, but it's a great example of the type. Only the backtracking about Silas really bugs me, and that's more of a criticism about the previous episode than this one.

Eight out of ten cameos by Race Car Legend Cliff Steele

Mikey Heinrich is, among other things, a freelance writer, retired firefighter, and roughly 78% water. You can find more of his work at the 42nd Vizsla.

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