There was a time when superheroes were genuinely super, a time when magic rings were found in Christmas cakes and words of power were spelt out in alphabet soup. It was the time of Flex Mentallo, Man of Muscle Mystery – capable of altering the world around him by flexing his mighty muscles in tune to the secret vibrational wavelengths of the universe.
Then he was captured by the Bureau of Normalcy, held a prisoner in the Ant Farm, and was never heard from again… until now. The Doom Patrol has rescued him in their attempt to free their captured teammate Cyborg. But getting Flex’s mind back on track will involve subtle psychology, old soap operas and lots of ice cream.
Meanwhile, as Cliff and Crazy Jane attempt to bring Flex back from the brink, Rita tries to console Cyborg at the hospital and continues to come to terms with her dark past. As for Larry, he’s dying… but he’s alright with that, viewing it as making amends for his inability to take action in the past and free the Negative Spirit that dwells within him. But… is any of this drama what the fans really want?
The fact is… you can’t judge a book by its cover.
Flex Mentallo, the living embodiment of mail-order Charles Atlas-style dynamic tension, embodies the essence the Doom Patrol perfectly. His powers are ridiculous and fantastical, his origin a mix of the wonderous and the horrific, and he’s having a few problems getting on track regardless of whether or not he’s even real. With almost enough done to establish the core characters of this series already, it makes sense to bring Flex in at this point and he’s an absolute gem in every scene – whether played for comedy or tragedy.
From the superficial image of super-heroism he physically presents to Flex’s various mental states over the years, his portrayal is the result of a wonderful combination of writing, directing and acting. It sums up how this show can get things right, even though the concept seems so wrong on the surface.
As you’d expect, this episode covers a fair bit of ground with Rita, Larry and Cyborg too – since each of them is forced to face their personal problems. Cyborg’s inner turmoil is the kind of melodrama where you wish somebody would just slap him and tell him to get his head out of his ass and use some common sense. Rita getting the chance to confess to some of her past sins, by contrast, is drama played to perfection and April Bowlby delivers a truly outstanding performance. Then there’s Larry, and to continuously see his pattern of mistakes and poor choices play out is fascinating.
Plus, for viewers who relish intentional bad acting, there’s a brief glimpse of Brendan Fraser’s hapless Cliff Steele hamming it up on a soap opera. It’s a delight to see him give his comedic talent a workout again, even if the joke is a little too on-the-nose and played a little too broad.
But with all the drama (and melodrama) going on, is this really the show that fans hoped it would be? After all, isn’t this a superhero show?
Don’t worry. Mr. Nobody’s got you covered… right? Just when this episode starts to tread a little too far into overblown angst-ridden X-Men territory, it piles on the brakes as needed.
Sadly, Mr. Nobody’s breaking of the fourth wall again is his most painfully obvious yet, especially given his clothing – although he still does a decent job of simultaneously promoting and skewering the show, the viewers and the critics. But while the show tries to pat itself on the back for how clever this is by having it both ways, and viewers are presumably meant to defend the show as it exists, it’s hard to criticize his criticisms of this episode and the series in general. The truth is that he’s kind of right – the show does have faults, sometimes glaring ones. His comments are pointed, but the Mitefall! episode of Batman: The Brave And The Bold were far sharper.
Ultimately, this is still a fantastic episode of Doom Patrol regardless of the flaws. It’s a slow, plodding journey, and it won’t get anybody’s pulses racing; yet it’s also got plenty of little highlights along the way, and does a brilliant job of laying some of the last pieces of groundwork for the series as the season draws to a close. For those with patience and who are enjoying the ride, this should be perfect. For those who don’t and who aren’t, it’s their loss.
Doom Patrol - Flex Patrol
Slow burn, but the rewards are worth it!