The Venture Bros: “Hostile Makeover” part 2
Brock’s reappearance as the Ventures’ bodyguard very much indicates a fresh start for the series. And yet no fresh start in the Venture-verse is without casualties. In this case, Brock’s reinstatement means reassignment for Sgt. Hatred. A nobler character would take the change in stride, but Sgt. Hatred is not a nobler character, and the sight gag alone of the cut between Brock, above, and Hatred, below, is indicative enough of the two men’s characters: Brock is cocksure, respectful and upright, and Hatred is hunched, defeated and whining. He not only doesn’t take the setback easily, he refuses to take it at all, and stays on as the Venture’s unassigned stalker-bodyguard, sneaking around the Venture building and spying on the other security forces, looking for errors, echoing the more comic tension between HELPeR and the J-bots.
(On a more meta level, how cruel is this world, where Hunter S. Thompson is still alive in a cartoon, but David Bowie is not?)
The Pirate Captain’s storyline advances as he steals Brock’s tranquilizer gun and sneaks off to the elevator for some tranq time, and Rusty’s first job for Brock is to take the new X-1 on a job that, we assume, is of the highest priority. The beat is given considerable build-up and mystery. What super-science-billionaire issue does Rusty have on his mind?
Here is where Rusty’s want for the episode is revealed: with all his wealth and all his access to the cutting-edge city of tomorrow, with a brand-new life lying at his feet just waiting for him to pick it up and use it to move forward in his life, Rusty takes the second half of “Hostile Makeover” to go downtown and pick up a speed-suit he ordered 20 years earlier. It’s one thing to hang onto the past, but Rusty’s actions here suggest that he’s incapable of moving forward at all, that even with the opportunity of a clean break and a new life, he still insists on dragging the past into the present.
Meanwhile, Dr Mrs The Monarch confers via computer with her fellow members of the Council of Thirteen. Phantom Limb describes the Guild as “a pathetic rabble of third-rate has-beens and never-wases,” a fine sentiment coming from someone whose last team of villains included a toaster and a shoe. Dr Mrs The Monarch’s new position as political catbird-seat-holder, and the only member of the Guild with any measure of emotional intelligence, now faces the responsibility of creating a dynamic coalition of villains that will put the Guild back on top. That political leadership, less than 12 hours old, suddenly now puts her in a precarious moral position: in order to woo more powerful villains to the Guild, she must accept the sexual advances of Wide Wale, a gigantic gangster who is the Kingpin with a blow-hole.
Dr Mrs The Monarch’s new, precarious position puts her at odds with her husband The Monarch, who, in sharp contrast to his wife’s upward political trajectory, is currently found playing “Go Fish” with 21 with a deck of cards he found in a wall. He is so far out of the arching game that his choices for invading the Venture Building involve either the six o’clock PATH train into the city or a ride from his Mexican handyman. It seems like long ago and far away since 21 possessed his own Nissan Sentra.
Hank, meanwhile, while pursuing his goal of “being cool” (tonight’s plan: spying at naked women from his penthouse balcony) gets some much-needed mentoring advice from Brock, who has been derelict in his Hank-mentoring duties in recent seasons. Justin Bieber, Brock declares, is not cool; Steve McQueen is cool. What he means is that the cool man pursues his own vision of himself, but Hank, of course, ultimately takes Brock literally and (in a clip not included in the episode) ends up imitating the dress of Steve McQueen. But then, Hank has always been the Venture Brother with the shakiest sense of identity. And after Brock left and was replaced by Sgt Hatred and Dermot as role models, how can one blame him?
Sgt Hatred, now stalking the Ventures as part of his unwillingness to accept his dismissal, spies the Monarch and 21 heading into the Venture building in security outfits. Given the genuine opportunity to save the day by apprehending the Monarch, Hatred, instead, notes only that the two bogus guards are improperly groomed. His seething ego bruised by his displacement, he can only focus on the job he’s lost, not its function, ie “protecting the Ventures.”
Dr Mrs The Monarch’s plotline reaches the thick of it as she is sent into the lion’s den to be seduced by Wide Wale. Arriving as an ambassador, she learns that she has been pimped out to Wale by Phantom Limb, who has already offered Wale a seat on the Council and offered Dr Mrs The Monarch as a kind of signing bonus. This is political chicanery at its most foul, and Dr Mrs The Monarch is faced with a troubling (and disgusting) ethical choice: engage in sexual relations with Wale (whatever that entails, no pun intended), or endanger her position of power on the Council. If she lands the Wide Wale, she’s a hero, but she’s also a whore. If she stomps out in a huff, she loses everything.
As the show heads into its climax, Hank spies from his penthouse what he thinks is a woman drowning and sets about what he thinks will be a daring rescue involving a grapple gun, while the Monarch and 21 get inside the Venture building only to be frustrated by both the security checkpoint in the elevator and their inability to faze the Pirate Captain with the Monarch’s tranq darts, which, far from knocking him out, only fuel his addiction.
The Crusader Action League, going against orders of “paying customers only,” attempt to rescue Hank as his attempt to rescue the “drowning woman” (who is revealed to be only a gill-woman, perhaps a consort of Wide Wale) instantly crash-lands before he can even get across the street. Warriana, thinking that Hank is an innocent child thrown off the Venture building by an evil villain, vows to rescue the “man spawn” and immediately gets her invisible-geese-driven chariot clotheslined on Hank’s grapple-gun cable and crashes into the Monarch’s handyman’s (“Henchman Numero Uno” now) handyman van.
Stars & Garters, misinterpreting Warriana’s mishap as a supervillain attack, calls more Crusaders to action, and he and Fallen Archer take on Brock. Not only are the Crusaders heroes for a price, they spend their time beating up the one man whose actual job it is to protect the boy they’re supposed to be saving.
Into this melee comes the house’s J-bot, who takes it upon itself to “subdue the intruders,” which suggests that the question of this episode is really “Who shall protect the Ventures?” It’s a job that Sgt Hatred, the Crusader Action League, Brock and the J-bot all want, and it is perhaps fitting that they only end up fighting each other for the position, while the Ventures do absolutely nothing to protect themselves, actively putting themselves in harm’s way time after time. Meanwhile, the one genuine attempt to attack the Ventures, by the Monarch and 21, stalls out in the elevator, a victim not of efforts of bodyguards but of common security technology and a drug-addled pirate.
(HELPeR would love to join in the fray but is defeated by a short flight of stairs.)
Hank, plummeting to his death, is rescued by Night Dick, who is a cross between The Spirit and Ghost Rider, a hybrid that seems to end up somewhere in the emotional vicinity of The Question (or perhaps the Question’s forerunner, Mr. A, who eventually got morphed into the ultimate super-psychopath Rorschach).
Wide Wale, meanwhile, moves to seal the deal with Dr Mrs The Monarch. Again, the contrast is drawn between political power and emotional intelligence as Wale sees himself as clearly more desirable than the measly “level 6” Monarch, while Dr Mrs The Monarch is more concerned that the Monarch, who is, after all, her husband, might be jealous (not to mention sexually humiliated at a particularly vulnerable moment in his villain career).
As the plot winds down, the Monarch and 21 call off their invasion of the Venture compound (utterly oblivious to the riotous melee happening upstairs) and are stopped by Sgt Hatred, who clocks the Monarch with his pistol as he walks out the door. Not because he thinks he’s foiled the Monarch, by the way, but only because he’s angry about the sloppiness of what he thinks is Venture Security. So, to recap, we have Sgt Hatred, Brock, the J-bot, HELPeR and the Crusader Action League, all of whom want the job of protecting the Ventures, and all of whom utterly fail at the task (with the exception of Night Dick, who actually manages to save Hank from certain death, against the orders of his boss Stars & Garters). When Dr Mrs The Monarch swoops in to pick up the Monarch and 21, Hatred hands them over to her without any understanding of who he just arrested.
As a side note, mere minutes have passed between Wide Wale’s indecent proposal and Dr Mrs The Monarch’s appearance outside the Venture building. Either Dr Mrs The Monarch didn’t yet seal the deal with Wale, or else Wale is an exceedingly efficient lovemaker.
UPDATE: As often happens in the complex world of the Ventures, there was one more layer to plot that, even after two careful viewings, nevertheless escaped my notice. As several readers point out in the comments, Wide Wale’s indecent proposal to Dr Mrs The Monarch is, after all, not sexual in nature. Rather, Wale wants exclusive arching rights to Rusty, displacing the Monarch in a way that matters more to him than having sex with his wife. What that means to Rusty, of course, is that his new-found billions only bring him new-found problems, a situation that our late poet Notorious BIG once elucidated.