And if last’s season Danny the Street episode didn’t feel like it was ripped straight from a 1990s issue of Doom Patrol, this week will remove all doubt — this show not only respects the old comics, it amplifies its rebellious spirit.
In fact, rebellion seems to be key to Dorothy’s (Abigail Shapiro) story and is a repeated theme with Danny on the show. The notion that Danny needs the energy and freedom of his “Danizens” feels like something pulled directly from a Grant Morrison or Gerard Way issue of Doom Patrol, but it apears here with such delightful gender-fluid playfulness that you can easily forget just how often the show can hit you with some emotional wrenching ideas; like the things Rita (April Bowlby) discovers during her … well …
Let’s talk about Flex Mentallo (Devan Long) for a moment. Since we didn’t do Brief Thoughts for Doom Patrol consistently last season, we never had a chance to praise Long’s performance as the Man of Muscle Mystery. He brings such a four-square, mid-20th Century heroic charm to a part that could very easily lean to the more meta aspects of his comic book story. In fact, Flex’s lack of complication makes him very different to the other characters we’ve met — and that’s even considering the tragedy he is, presumably, still processing somewhere in his body. But instead of focusing on that, the episode gives us some wonderful interactions with Dorothy and Rita just as the party is beginning. Flex’s innocence makes those scenes sing as much as Bowlby and Shapiro’s continued mastery of their characters. Hopefully, we’ll see Flex again a few more times before the season ends.
But Flex has a purpose this week: to get Rita off. The whole thing starts with some good reasoning on her part. If she can train her body to respond like his, then she can be a stretchy hero. It all goes askew when she realizes the last time her mind went blank was when Flex caused every on Danny to accidentally orgasm. The point was to find the clarity Flex accesses while blanking his mind, but the experiment unleashed a repressed memory from Rita’s terrible childhood and a Sex Demon looking to birth a baby whose cry would destroy the world.
Seriously, is there any plotline more Doom Patrol than this?
For added authenticity, we get a drug-addled Cliff (Brendan Fraser), a guilt-ridden Larry (Matt Bomer), Jane’s (Diane Guerrero) other personalities learning how difficult it is to navigate the world, and Maura Lee Karupt (Alan Mingo Jr.) offering some sound love advice to Vic (Joivan Wade) and the audience. Seriously, the whole thing about sticking with a consistent source of love is the exact sort of positivity we need in the world even as Karupt acknowledges how tough it still is for less binary people.
For all the positivity this episode contained, though, Doom Patrol is the most emotionally grueling of the superhero shows out there. and despite the party, there’s still plenty of heavy stuff like Larry’s guilt and Cliff’s admission that he gets lost in his head. But the darkest element by far is the continued taunts of the Candlemaker — particularly because its not above using the truth to push Dorothy closer to making a wish.
He was right. Danny was a prison for her and, clearly, that reality was stunting their recuperation as Niles (Timothy Dalton) openly considered putting Dorothy back in the doll factory. It’s telling that Danny finally felt themselves once they admitted to Dorothy the true nature of their friendship.
Also, the fact we get this much depth from a sentient, gender-queer multiform which used to present themselves as a street tells you a lot about Doom Patrol as a television program — it’s confident it can pull of this material and, so far, it has yet to falter.
Doom Patrol streams Thursdays on DC Universe and HBO Max.