As Breaking Bad draws to its close, internet folk have deployed millions of pixels to dissect its meanings. All of which attention the show richly deserves. However, I haven’t yet seen an article describing what the show has meant to me, and to writing for television, so I’m going to write it now.
The Monarch finally has his prey, Dr. Venture, where he wants him. After much deliberation over a long list of choices, he decides to use “the bell.” Unfortunately, Rusty is, apparently, partly deaf due to years spent on his father’s jet. Meant to be used as a marital aid, he instead becomes a cockblock.
“The Devil’s Grip” has four major protagonists: Sgt Hatred, Col Gentleman, the Action Man, and The Monarch. Two of these characters are decidedly minor in the Venture universe, another is an arch turned guardian and the last is a straight-up villain, the villain of the series. Their stories are intertwined in this episode around the theme of “regret.” Hatred regrets giving up his job as guardian, but is then moved to rescue Dr. Venture by his default-setting of “soldier.” The Action Man regrets not living a more square life and is moved to action by the presence of Hank in his life, Col Gentleman just plain regrets, and The Monarch starts at a place of ultimate power (for him) and slowly slides toward regret. Regret, in this episode, leads to nostalgia, a form of homesickness, and leads in all cases to comings home. “The Return Home,” in all cases, is not presented as a retreat but as a gesture of healing, a symptom of wisdom, a reassessment of each characters’ place in the universe.
Brock’s mission is now “to save Ghost Robot,” which seems big of him, considering that he doesn’t seem that attached to Ghost Robot, considering that no one seems that attached to Ghost Robot, really. Brock’s passion here is for his work, his job, the job for which he has forsaken his family, the Venture clan, for SPHINX, which has been destroyed by his foster father figure, Hunter Gathers. Brock’s job is his family, and it’s the only thing he’s good at. He can’t win at love, he’s backed away from being a father, he’s distant with his work brothers (he even steals one’s wife), but his job is everything to him, an all-or-nothing proposition, even when “the job” is nothing more than invading a nightclub to rescue a robot from an awkward date.
The Clue Clown wields his question mark for good reason. We were only just introduced to his existence, and now he’s gone, leaving nothing but questions. Who was he? What did he stand for? What were his hopes and dreams? Those might be questions too silly to ask of a farcical one-joke supervillain, but the funeral of the Clue Clown is treated with a somberness rare for a Venture Bros death. We barely knew the Clue Clown, the script seems to say, but then, how well do we really know anyone? The death of the Clue Clown sends a whole tributary of minor Venture characters into a whirling tailspin of reflection, sober and otherwise. And, like all funerals, it provokes death’s opposite: lust. What better protest against death could there be than the seeking of carnal fulfillment? In this case, having the lovers seeking their carnalities in bodies of metal.
While Hank, Dermott, Gary and HELPeR act crazy to get themselves committed (what could possibly go wrong?) Rusty and Hatred go searching for By-Golly Gulch, using a hover-tank and a smartphone. A lot of the characters in The Venture Bros are in desperate search of a dream, but Rusty wants to find Teddy with a GPS. And, since By-Golly Gulch is a nonexistent fairyland, he is doomed. The important thing, though, is that Rusty, who’s always found the whole alter-ego thing to be a stone drag, a blight on his life, is so in need of an alter ego that he’s created one – in Teddy, who, for the purposes of Rusty’s narrative, doesn’t exist. Rusty is going to rescue Teddy, who he sees as a version of himself, from the clutches of evil. This, the narrative implies, is what happens when a man doesn’t do the normal thing of dressing up in a costume and affecting a colorful persona: one sees people where there are none, no matter how obvious it is that they are not there. Read more
When reasonable people gather to discuss Batman, at some point someone clears their throat and says “Well you know, according to some schools of thought, Bruce Wayne died the night his parents died; from that moment on he was Batman, and ‘Bruce Wayne’ became the mask.” This is certainly a compelling argument with a subversive impact, but it only works if we proceed with the supposition that Bruce Wayne is completely insane. A sane man does not assume the personality of a night-time crimefighting vigilante and relegate his “getting by” personality to that of a billionaire businessman.
And, of course, there are people who would argue that, yes, Bruce Wayne is insane, that The Bat has taken over and subsumed his personality like Norman Bates’s mother. After all, Batman has always been a comic about insanity, far more than any other superhero title. The only thing that all Batman’s villains have in common is that they are stark raving mad. As a matter of fact, George Clooney once pitched a Batman movie to Warner Bros where it would be revealed at the end that, a la Sucker Punch, it is Bruce Wayne who has lived in Arkham Asylum all these years, fighting his never-ending war on giggling psychopaths from the confines of a padded cell.
All of which brings us to tonight’s Venture Bros episode, “Momma’s Boys.”
What does Dean Venture, protagonist of this episode’s b-story, want? He’s chafing under the mantle of being a Venture Brother and all that entails (tagging along on life-threatening adventures, being cloned repeatedly, having a negligent father and a child-molesting guardian, etc) and, what’s more, he’s a teen-aged boy going through all the teen-aged-boy things teen-aged boys go through: rebellion against his parents, discovering his own identity, girl problems. Hank, on the other hand, seems to have regressed. His Destiny strength-suit gives him power, but it’s also, as Rusty points out, just another dress-up costume like the Batman getup he had when he was 10. (Note: I’ve had a 10-year-old son, who wouldn’t dream of dressing as Batman. For him it was Gordon Freeman or nothing. He even bought a crowbar. He named it “Whammy.”)
Wikipedia informs us: “On October 20, 1968, Jackie Kennedy married Aristotle Socrates Onassis, a wealthy Greek shipping magnate, who was able to provide the privacy and security she sought for herself and her children. The wedding took place on Skorpios, Onassis’s private island in the Ionian Sea, in Greece.” We now know that Jonas Venture, Sr and the rest of the original Team Venture were at the wedding. Jonas had spent the afternoon diving for treasure and then sped off with the boys to get drunk and experience some high society. In other words, “fortune and glory.” Of course, the seeking of fortune and glory necessitates the abandonment of Jonas’s son Rusty, the protagonist of our current narrative. Rusty, playing at being Theseus, “slays the Minotaur” (HELPeR wearing steer horns), and Jonas chides him for not learning “the classics.” The story of Theseus is, of course, about as classic as tales go, indicating that Jonas hasn’t been paying attention to Rusty on a couple of different levels.
In order to gain access to Rusty’s basement, the Monarch and Dr. Girlfriend undergo a transition unlike any other: they become improvisers. The man who dresses as a butterfly says he’ll “just wing it” when they get to the Venture compound. I wonder what their vague, ill-conceived plan was before the Monarch accidentally revealed his “Beaver Inspector” t-shirt? It’s a good measure of how little Rusty thinks of the Monarch that he doesn’t recognize their distinctive high-nasal/low-guttural voices. Improvisation is surprisingly effective, and a stark contrast to the Monarch’s earlier acid-magnet attack, which telegraphed his intent so strongly that Gary could decipher it from a mile away.