The Venture Bros “What Color is Your Cleansuit?” part 4

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Sgt Hatred, in his second-act low-point, finds himself bound to a St. Andrew’s Cross and whipped, something his BDSM-loving ex would have understood. Martin has now transformed into his final mutation and assumes the position of, ironically, liberator, forcing Sgt Hatred to come to terms with who he really is (in a scene, for us old people, lifted and inverted from the 1977 miniseries Roots — The Venture Bros is nothing if not free-ranging in its references). Spoiler alert, Sgt Hatred’s given name is “Courtney.” While only developing breasts now, it seems Sgt Hatred has had a feminine side all along, and now the villain-turned-good-guy must wait to be rescued like a common damsel.

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Dean, in order to impress Thalia, comes to challenge the mutated Martin while Rusty, true to form, falls asleep with mere hours to go before deadline. Rusty’s task, the reader will recall, is to solve the genetic-mutation problem with the interns (although, again, no one seems concerned with the horrible deaths of the Green Class). And so we come to learn of Paulo Salazar (not that Paulo Salazar), another scientist who tried to solve the riddle of genetic mutation but instead became another Brundlefly. It’s not enough that Rusty has both a father and a brother he can’t live up to, it now appears that complete strangers are lining up, retroactively, to set unreachable goals for him.

Unreachable for Rusty, but not for Dr. Girlfriend, who steals Salazar’s formulas to give the Monarch his own super-mutants, an act that gets the Monarch so turned on he forgets all about 21, getting his super-villain mojo back.

Meanwhile, Billy Quizboy and Pete White break into Augustus St. Cloud’s lair to steal a piece of equipment Rusty sold to him earlier to finance the setup of the Palaemon Project. Unbeknownst to them, Augustus has been boning up on his supervillain skills and now has a Magneto-inspired costume and his own albino sidekick (copying his rival – shades of Edward Nygma in Batman Forever; is St. Cloud secretly in love with Billy?). Billy and Pete don’t get far (even with the Staff of Ra to use) before they’re eaten by a plant from the 1957 movie Voodoo Island, which St. Cloud mistakenly identifies as the 1956 movie Voodoo Island (foreshadowing!), but that’s not what worries me, what worries me is the idea that the movie Voodoo Island featured real man-eating plants.

Back at the Venture Compound, 21, now calling the shots, gets status updates from the parts of his team that haven’t been eaten by plants. The reports range from “hiding” to “soaking bunions.” Billy’s c-story now takes center stage as St. Cloud reveals his master plan, to beat Billy in a pop-culture trivia contest. For a show that revels in pop-culture trivia, is steeped in it, St. Cloud is a special kind of supervillain, one whose villainly is constrained entirely to making sure his nemesis knows how much pop-culture trivia he knows. In a way he is the show. (He’s also bought HELPeR from Rusty, a final act of indignity for poor HELPeR.)

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Back at the Venure compound, Dean finds himself in a storyline straight from Campbell 101 – the young man who wants no part of his society is now forced to defend that society from invaders. So while Billy undergoes a mental challenge, Dean undergoes a physical one – and, in the weirdest twist yet, both win. That’s an odd precedent for a Venture Bros episode, that a protagonist succeeds in a way intended, much less two, but “What Color is Your Cleansuit?” contains a number of such victories. It’s an oddly positive episode, considering the mutations, mass-murder and cannibalism that goes on.

In fact, no sooner have Dean and Billy won their challenges than Rusty attains his own goal: he learns that his ray-shied is finished. It’s going to be used by a race of mutants to destroy the world, but that’s a side-note for Rusty. 21 drives home the point by saying “Working for you and the Monarch, it’s like the same thing.” Indeed, with heroes like Rusty around, it’s unclear who is the supervillain in this dyad.

The episode reaches its climax as the Monarch invades the Venture compound in the middle of the mutants’ Ewok-like end-of-the-world celebration. Dean, initially confused about the whole end-of-the-world thing, gets on board when he realizes it will fulfill his romantic goals with Thalia. Like father, like son – each achieves his goal, each is blind to his goal’s repercussions.

21, now calling himself “SPHINX commader,” teams with Billy and Pete to stop the Monarch from sending mutant butterflies into the E-den, and abruptly fails. Not coincidentally, as he slides down the side of the bio-dome, his SPHINX shirt rides up, revealing his “HENCH 4 LIFE” tattoo. Like Sgt Hatred, his tattoo reminds us that an identity is not an easy thing to shed.

The Monarch, in his moment of triumph (everyone wins!) finds his plot upended by his own second-in-command, Dr. Girlfriend, who presents Paulo Salazar himself (not that Paulo Salazar) and reveals that Salazar, once a Brundlefly, has succeeded in reversing his own mutation. Dr. Girlfriend has succeeded where Rusty could not – she has cured the mutants and stopped the end of the world. The Monarch, expecting to triumph with evil, instead triumphs with good. Salazar is redeemed and for once a story set at the Venture compound doesn’t end in a horrific bloodbath.

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Rusty remains a buffoon, thinking that it was his slapped-together concoction of drugs that reversed the mutation. He gets off scot-free for his parenting crimes, getting a free ray-shield, the approval of his brother JJ, and the satisfaction of believing himself to be a scientific genius. Dean, meanwhile, having been roofied, can’t remember the events that stemmed from his rebellion against his family. Will he continue to advance, or must he go back to being a dork? Meanwhile, back in the cocoon, the Monarch, heavily drugged, confesses his love for Dr. Girlfriend and adds that she is his “best friend.” He seems to finally moved on from losing 21 and is ready to move forward. Everyone advances, if only a little, in “What Color is Your Cleansuit?” reminding us that, if cartoon characters can change, maybe we can too.


25 Responses to “The Venture Bros “What Color is Your Cleansuit?” part 4”
  1. Derek says:

    With respect to the unusual number of “victories” in this episode, and especially in light of the fact that Jackson and Doc are on record saying that one of the major themes of the show is “failure,” it should be noted that Dean’s victory is lost to a drug-induced amnesia. Every victory is undone, each one it’s own kind of failure.

  2. RY33 says:

    Really? You wrote a four part critique of the season premiere of “The Venture Brothers”? Who does that? I mean I love this show but seriously…go outside and play. Take a walk. Watch another TV show for fuck sake. I mean if I watched the episode why would I need someone else to write a critique about it?

    • Todd says:

      I don’t think of it as critique, it’s analysis. The Venture Bros is one of the richest texts in American television at the moment and analysis reveals much that’s interesting. I’m also working on my own show, so it’s instructive to see how VB scripts are built.

      Besides which, I live in LA, there’s nothing to do outside.

      • Sion says:

        I already saw the episode and I enjoyed reading your analysis a lot. The Venture Bros. is easily my favorite show of all time, and I think about it a lot. When I was out shopping for tonight’s dinner, I switched the bruschetta cheese from Parmesan to Asiago because I was thinking about season 2 Phantom Limb– no joke!

      • Geoff says:

        Point of Order:

        I, a visiting Texan, found Griffith Park and Runyon Canyon to both be fun (and free!) outdoor locales during my time in LA.

        But yes, other than that, there is nothing to do outside.

  3. kijunshi says:

    Hello! Nothing valuable to say, frankly, but I just want to note that I love your reviews and I’m so happy you make. them. Please do the rest of season 5!! I am looking forward to it, and will comment if I can add anything more than your thoughtful analysis 🙂

    • Todd says:

      The plan is to do Season 5, and, if I can keep up the energy, go back and do the episode I’ve missed from Seasons 1 and 4. Then maybe compile them into an ebook, if there’s any interest in that.

  4. zack says:

    Hey Todd!
    I’m a long time Venture fan and though this is my first visit to your site, I can say you’re doing something worthwhile. Our culture through media especially, isn’t used to experiencing a show that EVOLVES! It’s an ever growing storyline that introduces new plot-twists and characters at just about every turn. Not to mention, it is a ‘rich’ amalgam of information/pop culture references; I concede, I do NOT understand every reference as I’m a mere 30 years old, so I greatly appreciate your analysis.

    From filmmaker to filmmaker: Hats off and keep up the goodness!

    I will be back for more…

    • Todd says:

      I don’t catch every reference in The Venture Bros and I’m 51 years old and a friend of Mr. Publick’s.

  5. Sion says:

    Isn’t Dr. Mrs. The Monarch on equal footing with The Monarch now, instead of being his second in command?

    • Todd says:

      I think they have a marriage.

      • Bonzo the Fifth says:

        Specifically, per the Guild of Calamitous Intent in the episode “Shadowman 9: In the Cradle of Destiny”, they have a ‘Duoship’, which I assume means that she’s a co-villain, not a subordinate or hench-wench of the Monarch, but a supervillain in her own right, now, as she was when she was formerly Lady Au Pair, before her downfall.

  6. Mark says:

    Great analysis. I esp. liked the final line. Nice homage.

  7. Fredboat says:

    Dean triumphs with “The way of the Indian” which seems to come out of nowhere. But the subtext, I think, is in that his knowledge of this obscure practice surely came from his learning bed. The knowledge he rejects and resents as useless in the “real world” ended up being the key to saving the workd and also to helping him score that elusive french kiss.

    Also in parallel is that the “way” of a brutalized and effectively destroyed civilization becomes the weapon that saves the civilization that destroyed the former. This is just as the “way” of learning that destroyed Dean’s chance at make-outs ended up saving his make out chances I’m the end. Two failed “ways” triumph, and indeed, we see a lot of failures triumphing in this episode.