Warning: Full spoilers for Doom Patrol Season 1, Episode 12 below. If you need a refresher on where we left off, here’s our review of Season 1, Episode 11.
One of the major points of frustration with DC’s Arrowverse shows is they struggle to do justice to their large ensemble casts. Apart from Legends of Tomorrow, those shows invariably have at least a couple extraneous characters who would be better off cut from the running altogether. Doom Patrol has never struggled with this problem. The series maintains a pretty small, tight roster despite featuring an actual, honest-to-goodness team. More importantly, the writers seem utterly devoting to servicing character before plot and ensuring that every member gets their due. This week, it’s Cyborg’s turn.
Despite being the relative weak link in last week’s installment, Vic is given ample room to shine this time around. Here he found himself at the mercy of the Bureau of Normalcy, an organization which still poses a serious threat despite its setback in “Danny Patrol.” The Bureau serves as a fitting antagonist for a series that’s so fundamentally built around the idea of embracing the weird and different rather than hiding it. They represent the exact opposite of everything Niles Caulder and hist team stand for. The fact that the Bureau is also like a bad 1950’s suburban satire come to life just makes it all the more entertaining a foe. It’s not every sinister organization that keeps an army of sentient butts locked away in its prison.
Admittedly, the basic plot fueling this episode wasn’t terribly memorable or innovative. How many movies and shows have we seen play the “heroes get captured by the enemy before revealing they planned on getting captured all along” card? That robbed the plot of some of its urgency, as it never felt like our heroes were in any real danger for the majority of the episode. Nor did the plot focus much on Larry’s reaction to being trapped in the same hellhole that took decades of his life from him already.
Fortunately, the Bureau infiltration made up for that in other ways. The writers clearly had a lot of fun cutting loose with both Jane and Cliff. We got to see Karen rear her manipulative head again, and Cliff’s inability to accept his own lack of useful skills is hilarious. These two were at the heart of most of the funniest moments this week. And there’s something to be said for the fact that this is the first time we see the team acting as, well, a real team.
Plus, we got our first real glimpse of Flex Mentallo (Devan Chandler Long), or as he currently prefers to be called – Prisoner 722. I feared we weren’t actually going to see Flex in the flesh this season, but there may yet be room to do something significant with the character before the finale.
But the real success with “Cyborg Patrol” was Cyborg himself. As a Cyborg fan, this series has been a huge breath of fresh air. DC has seemed at a loss for how to properly handle this character for years. The decision to elevate him to Justice League founder status in the comics was well-intentioned, but removing all that preexisting history with the Teen Titans was too great a sacrifice. He’s become a boring and aimless hero. And given how much his DCEU portrayal draws directly from those same comics, he isn’t faring so well on the big screen, either. Until this series came along, Teen Titans Go! was really the best showcase for Cyborg.
Doom Patrol has captures a lot of what these other projects miss about the character. It’s not about Vic’s connections to the Justice League or the New Gods that make him interesting. It’s the fact that he’s an ordinary kid with profound daddy issues who struggles to maintain his grip on humanity after being granted a new lease on life. This episode really cements the show’s strong take on Vic Stone. Where once he seemed like the team’s steady, guiding force – the one Doom Patrol member who actually has his life reasonably together – we know now that couldn’t be farther from the truth. He’s consumed by guilt and paranoia and the fear that his father views him more as an intriguing science experiment than a son. And we saw that family rift culminate in the most horrific and tragic way possible here.
That climactic scene where Mr. Nobody pushed Vic over the edge really helped end the episode on a strong note. Joivan Wade delivered what was easily his most gut-wrenching performance yet as a wounded man first lashing out at and then mourning the death of his father. That scene is also another valuable reminder that Alan Tudyk can be just as effective a villain when he leaves comedy at the door and opts for cold sadism instead. That scene helped raise the stakes leading into the final three episodes of the season and gives this team all the more reason to band together against an enemy hellbent on driving them mad.
While the basic plot of “Cyborg Patrol” is pretty straightforward, the execution is where this episode shines. There’s plenty of entertainment value to go around, as our heroes declare war on the Bureau of Normalcy and another major character makes their debut (albeit briefly). But Cyborg’s journey is what fuels this episode. His emotionally charged struggle culminates in a gut-wrenching climax, one that shows just how serious and terrifying a threat Mr. Nobody truly is.
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