The Venture Bros “Maybe No Go” part 1
One of the most potent themes of The Venture Bros involves the question of the value of popular culture. Is it worthless garbage manufactured by corporations to distract people from the horrors those same corporations inflict daily upon the world, or is it a kind of magic, or both, or neither? The show might be a kind of a family saga, but it is also very much about the entertainment that reaches us when we are children. That entertainment, the shows and comics and commercials that hook us when we’re young, for better or worse, informs who we are as adults. It contains lessons about life, but also trains us to be consumers. I don’t think any episode of Venture Bros addresses that aspect of the theme better than “Maybe No Go.”
Out in the desert, the A-story of the episode begins with Billy Quizboy and Pete White experimenting with putting mouthwash in cookie dough (presumably for a cookie recipe). This experiment is taking place in their ancient trailer, under the broken neon sign advertising their company Conjectural Technologies. Obviously, business has been slow since the Ventures moved to New York, and no worthwhile inventions are coming down the pike.
Into this threadbare idyll comes a Truckasaurus operated by Augustus St. Cloud, the creepy collector of classic pop-culture memorabilia who has taken it upon himself to arch Billy Quizboy. “To the Quiz-Cave!” exclaims Billy, and we next see the opening titles to what I take to be an imaginary kids’ show starring Billy and Pete “The Pink Pilgrim,” done in the Hanna-Barbera style of the 1960s. The question is, if the show is imaginary, who is imagining it? My guess is Billy, who has lived too long in the shadow of Rusty Venture, who, even though he’s miserable because of it, once had his own TV show when he was a child. In taking on St. Cloud as an arch, Billy is, in his own way, getting out from under Rusty’s shadow and “getting his own show.” The entertainment of Billy’s childhood got into his system so completely, he’s willing to risk everything for a chance to join the party, as it were, and become his own super-science crime-fighter.
His fantasy is involved enough that, the next time we see him, he and Pete and their robot assistant are in the aforementioned Quiz-Cave, in their super-hero costumes, struggling to defeat the Truckasaurus attacking their trailer. The interesting thing about the scene, and the “Quiz-Cave,” is that, unlike, say, Batman and Robin going to the Batcave, where they analyze clues and hop in the Batmobile, the Quiz-Cave is entirely defensive in its effect. Even in his fantasies as an adventurer, Billy’s tendencies are inward.
The Truckasaurus, it turns out, is a mere distraction. Under this noisy cover, St. Cloud has stolen from Billy and Pete what appears to be a red rubber ball. Only a red rubber ball, but to Billy and Pete it’s “the holiest of holies” and “the source of all our powers.” The question of what exactly this ball is and what is its worth becomes the linchpin of the A-story.
The B-story plot involves Brock settling into his role as the Ventures’ bodyguard after many seasons away (and after their move to NYC). As with Billy’s story, Brock’s plot centers around objects that are granted mystical powers they may or may not deserve. For starters, Brock’s gun, which Rusty is surprised to see him wearing at the breakfast table.
We touch only briefly on Brock, who has a gun but needs coffee, before moving to Rusty, whose story will form the relatively-minor C-plot to the episode. Rusty’s problem is that he’s running the V-Tech corporation into the ground in record time. With billions to spend and possessing not an ounce of business sense, this isn’t a problem for Rusty, who claims only to be “gettin’ slappy” with the industrial empire his brother left him in his will.
The D-plot (this is not as complicated as VB scripts get) focuses on The Monarch’s frustration on no longer being able to arch Rusty. His own wife, for political reasons, has edged him out of the arching game just when he’s at his most vulnerable. To tie this together with Billy’s and Brock’s plots, we could say that the Monarch, in his pursuit of Rusty, is also clinging to something that, most likely, has little intrinsic worth beyond its personal value to the protagonist. Odd that Rusty remains the Monarch’s obsession when his wife is still with him, still loves him, still has her hot body, and is still eager to have sex with him. There is genuine, real bounty for the Monarch right in front of him in his own home (such as it is), but he still clings to his dubiously-valuable dream of arching Rusty. To make matters sicker, the Monarch ends up using sex the way St. Clair uses his Truckasaurus — as a distraction to cover a theft; in this case, having his lone henchman steal information from his wife’s computer, to see who is in front of him in line to arch Rusty.
An E-plot finds the Pirate falling to pretty desperate measures to get his tranq fix, in this case climbing into polar-bear enclosure in a public zoo. In its way, the Pirate’s addiction to tranq mirrors Billy’s attachment to his red rubber ball, Rusty’s attachment to his own failure and the Monarch’s attachment to Rusty; they’re all distractions (distraction being a key word in this episode) that keep the protagonists from self-examination. Which makes Dr Mrs The Monarch’s pleading with her husband all the more affecting: she argues, like a grownup, that her plan for him will pay off in the long run, but the Monarch can’t take his eyes off the thing that’s obsessed him since childhood: arching Rusty. (“Childhood obsession” is another watchword of the show.)
As we re-join the A-plot, it’s the next morning (after Pete’s teeth-cleaning appointment) and Billy and Pete are ready to storm St. Cloud’s uber-nerd fortress. Billy doesn’t want to use his flying car because of the possible damage to it, and he only has one other super-hero-like trick up his sleeve: a grapple-hand. The grapple-hand, we quickly learn, is useless, and, once deployed, cannot be reeled back in. Instead, it trails around after him for the remainder of the episode. “Failure” is the 72-point-font headline of Venture Bros themes, and here the useless grapple-hand trailing behind him, limp and sad, is a visual metaphor of Billy’s failures in so many arenas of life.
Brock’s plot now momentarily intersects with the Pirate’s plot, as Brock comes back with coffee and the now-tranqed Pirate. The Pirate almost shoots himself with Brock’s newly-acquired gun, but Brock forestalls the payoff of his Chekhovian prop.
The Monarch’s next step is to pay a call on Redusa, a minor supervillain living in a run-down bungalow in Patterson, New Jersey. As low-rent as Redusa is, she’s still ahead of the Monarch in line to arch Rusty. There’s no indication given that she has any ambitions to arch Rusty, or even who Rusty is, but that’s immaterial to the Monarch, who tranqs her anyway when she refuses to sign his waiver (and receive a collectible pen — again, the props keep the imagined value of the fantasy alive).
Which brings us back to the A-plot. Billy and Pete get “captured” by St. Cloud and are forced to wait in his bathroom while he showers and explains his evil plan. The red rubber ball, we learn, is a prop from a Duran Duran video. Either that, or it is the source of all Billy’s powers and “the key to human history.” Or, like Schrodinger’s cat, it can be said to be both at the same time. Whichever it is, it is obviously important to Billy or else he and Pete wouldn’t have come all this way to get it (although, given the weird arching obsessions of the VB cast, they don’t really need an excuse to form bitter rivalries with supervillains; any excuse will do). The fact that the prop seems to be a key artifact of Billy’s past is echoed by St. Cloud using the Henrietta cat puppet from Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood as a shower mitt. Our obsessions form when we’re children, often tied to trauma. How many adult’s passions are tied to the TV shows they watched as kids as their parents neglected them, or fought in the other room? How many imaginary friendships were born from those glowing happy faces on the TV screen, with their easily-defined virtues and vices and their easily-solved crises? Given enough trauma, those shows form an identity more real than the one one is granted at birth. And St. Cloud’s use of a prop from the most idealistic and tender children’s show as a tool to wash his genitals makes him truly monstrous.
We briefly check back in on the Pirate’s story, and find him chained to Hank’s bed. Hank and Dean come in and recite a version of Renton’s withdrawal tips from Trainspotting. Again a ritual, with attendant props: the buckets, the tomato juice, the DVD, the kitten. The only thing missing is a link to the Pirate’s childhood obsessions. But then the Pirate is trying to break a habit, not indulge one.
We then whisk away down to Little Italy, to find Wide Wale snarfing down krill and meeting with Fallen Archer, all-too-aptly named, as we find that the Crusader Action League is, in fact, a scam run by Wale and the New York chapter of the Guild to provide “protection” from the Guild itself. It seems like yet another plot, but will eventually reveal itself to be the bad-guy plot of Brock’s defend-the-Ventures B-plot.
Wale’s Crusder scam is admirable: supervillains provide superheroic protection to their super-science archenemies, making it so the supervillains of the Guild don’t have to arch anybody: they can just charge their enemies for superhero service that never has to be employed. Again, a distraction, and a prop of dubious value, to keep everyone involved from examining themselves.