Venture Bros: Assassinanny 911

I have received numerous requests to analyze this episode of The Venture Bros; now that Season 2 is out on DVD it seems like a good enough excuse to do so.

Sexual tension and examination of sex roles is always a feature of The Venture Bros, but the sexual tension in “Assassinanny 911” rises to the level of sexual hysteria, even outright sexual panic.

Take the cold opening.  In a flashback, Brock Sampson reports for duty to Col. Hunter Gathers.  In short order he is jumped, pinned to the floor and threatened with all manner of phallic objects — a knife, a baton, and a jutting, thrusting cigarette holder (later, Col. Gathers will remark on how “big” Brock is –as well he might).  What does Brock want in the scene?  To be “made a man” — or re-made as one, anyway; as Col. Gathers puts it, a “Frankenstein.”  In the context of this episode, to “be a man” is explicitly to kill.  Once Col. Gathers has dominated Brock, stabbed him, destroyed his identity (with that phallic cigarette holder, no less) and knocked him down with his baton, he ejects himself from what turns out to be an aircraft of some kind, the shape of which one can only imagine.

The first “proper” scene shows Brock 20 years later, now “mothering” Hank and Dean, combing their hair, removing invisible smudges from their cheeks, as his one-time foil/crush Molotov Cocktease looks on in disgust.  Mothering, she feels, is not fit work for Brock — Brock is a man, which is to say he is a killer — this is opposed to Dr. Venture, who fusses about clothes, and Hank and Dean, who are mere boys.

Now that the Cold War is over, Molotov wants to consummate the flirtation that was begun with Brock 20 years earlier during a Paris stakeout.  That stakeout ended with Brock being pinned down to a bed with knives in a flaming hotel room (and is apparently not the same time that he took her left eyeball, as Molotov escapes unharmed).

But Molotov is not about to get what she wants, for Brock has been called away on a mission and has asked Molotov to babysit Hank and Dean.  The mission (an assassination, a killing — his “old” male identity) is just a piece of gruntwork for Brock, who finds his new role as nurturer and caretaker much more rewarding and, let’s face it, more challenging.  Challenging as in Manaconda (another phallic symbol), who leaps out of the X-1 fusillage (another phallic symbol), is killed by Molotov (who, for the purposes of this episode, is the male, ie “killer” presence), and turns out to be, as Dean notes, “Womanaconda” (thus underlining the episode’s themes and foreshadowing the surprise ending).

Brock doesn’t exactly drag his feet on his way to meet his contact, he’s not that kind of guy, but neither does he have patience for the spy-spy rigamarole of his briefing — the spy biz has changed too much since he was in it, it’s no longer a “man’s world” — Brock tosses out the gadgets and weapons from his kit, muttering “gay, gay, useless…” as his briefing officer tries to tempt him with a unthreatening-looking pen(is).  (In case the gay subtext in this scene is not strong enough, it is noted that Brock will get the next part of his briefing from, er, “Captain Swallow.”)

(Side note: when Brock opens the case file to see that his target is Col. Gathers, the file is, in fact, printed backwards.  Is this a mere technical glitch, or are Jackson and Doc hinting at a “backwards” nature of Col. Gathers’ personality?)

Once Brock is gone, Molotov turns herself to her task of “turning Hank, Dean and Rusty into men.”  This involves shooting at them with a machine pistol and getting Hank and Dean to try to kill each other.  (There is, on top of everything else in the show, a puzzling dwelling on the wounds of Christ — Brock is stabbed through the hand by Col. Gathers, and Dean is stabbed through the foot by Hank with a pen[is]cil.  Are Jackson and Doc suggesting that Christ was not a “real man,” as he was not a killer but rather a healer?)

Once Hank “kills” Dean (or so he crows, having wounded him), he believes himself to be a “real man.”  The ability to kill gets mixed up in Hank’s mind with the desire to have sex with Molotov — one gives rise (so to speak) to the other, in spite of the fact that the object of Molotov’s affections, Brock, is a killer but no longer wants to have sex with her.

Rusty, for his part, believes his “mature” status gives him an edge over the boys (“mature” here meaning “stealing the neighbor’s newspaper for the double coupons”), while Dean, as ever, is just confused and hapless.

On the way to his rendezvous with assassination (shot from the phallic submarine in an even-more-phallic torpedo), Brock remembers his training and partnership with Col. Gathers.  The phallic symbols (sharks, spearguns, oxygen tanks, the Eiffel Tower, baguettes [“don’t eat that!  It’s C4!” — indeed]) and sexual confusion (Col. Gathers’s cross-dressing) abound as Col. Gathers explains the finer points of assassination etiquette — “no women, no kids.”  Minutes later (literally, as the “clock” in the lower left-hand corner of the screen indicates) Brock finds these rules tested as he attempts to bed Molotov and finds himself bedded instead — it seems that he could kill Molotov if he wanted to, but is restrained by his code of assassin’s honor.

Back at the Venture compound, Molotov finds herself doing some “mother” work, perhaps in spite of herself — we see her with a very un-assassin-like bag of groceries (bought with Rusty’s double coupons?).  Her single “motherly” gesture is not wasted on Hank, who becomes filled with Oedipal rage when he sees his new “mother figure” become “friendly” with Rusty and the “real man” urge to kill becomes intertwined with the urge to have sex with Molotov.

(One wonders if having a motherly presence in the Venture compound would be in any way a good idea, as the sexual dysfunctions compound themselves so quickly with the mere presence of a female.)

Brock, on his mission, shows how not-gay he is by bedding a native woman, who shops from the Bond Girl catalogue — thus signifying her as a “real woman” — a purely sexual object who comes complete with six-pack and easy-open bikini-top.  The “native woman” is a lover, not a killer, not, essentially, a “man,” like Molotov.

By the poolside, Hank drowns as Dean chats with his own foil/crush, Triana.  Molotov must perform the ultimate non-assassin act, bringing Hank back to life with mouth-to-mouth resusitation.  Both boys suffer from swollen swim-trunks in this scene — Hank’s from his mouth-to-mouth erection, Dean’s from having his pockets fill up with water.  Hank, we see, is at least physically ready to have sex with a woman (although he is pointedly not mentally ready — when his erection is pointed out, he panics, saying his “pants are haunted”).

There is a nice double climax (so to speak), twin Apocalypse Now parodies, as Hank turns his murderous Oedipal rage on Rusty and Brock confronts his target.  Hank, for his part, grabs his crotch and swings his phallic sword wildly as Brock is confronted with Col. Gathers’s ultimate truth.  Brock is shocked with what he finds, but he should not be: he has come to the same conclusion, in his own way.  Brock has found value in life outside of killing (ie being “a real man”).  Col. Gathers has taken the notion to its logical conclusion, and in the context of The Venture Bros has struck on a solution that would satisfy even 

— he has escaped the dead-end role of “real man” by becoming a woman.  As the surgeon makes explicit, Col. Gathers started as Brock’s Frankenstein father and ends as his even-more-Frankenstein mother.

Brock returns home, lesson learned.  The episode ends with Hank’s melancholy as Molotov drives away, suggesting that, for him at least, this struggle is not yet over.

Discussion of the other episodes of Season 2 of The Venture Bros can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

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33 Responses to “Venture Bros: Assassinanny 911”
  1. noskilz says:

    Is it that Brock doesn’t want Molotov or is it that he doesn’t Molotov under the conditions being her mercenary sidekick would involve?

    The manacconda/womananacconda – Gathers connection didn’t strike me at all until you mentioned it, but I can be rather thick at times.

    • Todd says:

      Is it that Brock doesn’t want Molotov or is it that he doesn’t Molotov under the conditions being her mercenary sidekick would involve?

      Good question. From the way he packs her off at the end, it looks to me like he’s kissing her off for good — that part of his life is over, now she’s the one with the sex/death problem.

      The manacconda/womananacconda – Gathers connection didn’t strike me at all until you mentioned it

      It didn’t occur to me until I was typing this up, but there is otherwise little reason for the beat to be there.

  2. World Affairs Corner

    In the text of the episode, it is noted that Cocktease agreed to this assignment, in part in exchange for several pairs of American jeans. (Later, she is seen hoarding toilet paper.) The gender confusion issues play themselves out on an international stage– Cocktease, once a proud Soviet Russian, is emasculated by both the general decline in lifestyle quality during the Soviet era and the total collapse of the basic ideology of her government, her life blood, (not to mention the post-Soviet economic collapse) and is force to suck of the American teat for basic sustenance. The result? The new “real man” Vladimir Putin, former KGB man, crusher of the opposition, reviver of the old Soviet anthem melody, and the last defender against the U.S. sphere– friendly visits with our own “real man” not withstanding. If recent events are allegedly telling, Putin may even be able to give people like Cocktease work again.

  3. I always enjoy your annotations. Esp. when it comes to the Venture Brothers.

    I picked up the Office (US) Season 2 & the Venture Brothers Season 2 (on sale now!) the other day.

    I am gonna have a fun weekend.

  4. Not Linked:

    “Guess Who’s Coming To State Dinner”

    Also, a note about VB Season 1: Does it bear analysis in the same way that S2 did?

  5. teamwak says:

    What do you make of the haunted burial ground? If laughed so hard with that, and the haunted trunks scene. lol

    • Todd says:

      The Apache attack is very funny of course, and showcases two wonderful performances — Warburton’s delivery over the phone beforehand is priceless, and Rattazzi’s “…of course” when being introduced to Molotov Cocktease is irreplaceable.

      Of course, the Apache attack ties in with my nice little theme not at all. It and Manaconda seem to be there to show that even Brock’s “new” identity as “mother” is still fraught with peril and weirdness.

      • randymonki says:

        I just wonder what Brock considers “Weirdness and Moral Ambiguity”, if he considers Manacondas, Apache ghosts and Venture Clones a sane alternative. ;;>.>

  6. craigjclark says:

    I find it telling that this episode — with its gay/not-gay subtext — comes right before “Fallen Arches,” in which we’re introduced to the show’s first major (and unashamedly out) gay character, the Alchemist. (Steve Austin and Bigfoot don’t count since they’ve only been in one episode plus a wordless cameo in the Christmas special.) I wonder where he fits in the show’s overall psychosexual makeup.

    • Todd says:

      To be fair, I don’t think Brock is trying to be homophobic when he calls his gadgets “gay.” He’s a high-school football player, he would use the word “gay” to apply to anything he feels is unmanly.

      • craigjclark says:

        I’m not saying he was being homophobic in that specific instance, but there is much to be said for the notion that that attitude is homophobic in nature. There are plenty of words that already mean “bad” or “stupid.” Adding “gay” to that list just reinforced the notion that being gay is “wrong.”

        • Todd says:

          You’ll get no argument from me on that count.

        • dougo says:

          But “gay” doesn’t just mean “bad” or “stupid”, it’s more nuanced than that. “Unmanly” comes closer but is not quite a synonym. It would be nice if there were a non-offensive word that meant what Brock means when he says “gay”, but I don’t know of one. (“Lame” is close, but that’s not exactly P.C. either…)

          • craigjclark says:

            What about “fruity”?

            • dougo says:

              I think that’s verboten too.

              • craigjclark says:

                Somehow I didn’t think that would fly.

                • Todd says:

                  Cartman says “weak,” which was a new one to me, and doesn’t sound right coming out of Brock’s mouth.

                • Anonymous says:

                  “Genderplay” certainly fits within a gameplan that this whole series follows. While I can’t really go for the automatic red-flag against “gay” usage as negative here, I can agree it is a kind of signal, where one recalls a real TV viewing audience accustomed to usage on TV shows in more demeaning ways. Yeah it could be reworked. But the beauty of VBs is that gender and sexual-relations are so full-on, in your face, and no cautionary tales in the end, but invitations to imagine something else… well, following and trying to identify with – what, two clones, a robot or two, a secret-agent, a transgendered CIA officer, and so on, some potentially closeted cases, and so on, it is also sort of hard to just ask for rethinking a term as Brock using it just is absurd-funny, not derogatory, as to whom/what he addresses with the term. Viewers watching and seeing the world he is in, know it is FLAMING most of the time!

  7. toku666 says:

    I won’t ever be able to hear “the minute God crapped out the third caveman a conspiracy was immediately hatched against one of them” enough.

    So true, so true.

  8. karen_strang says:

    a solution that would satisfy even karen_strang

    Don’t bet on it.

  9. mikeyed says:

    in spite of the fact that the object of Molotov’s affections, Brock, is a killer but no longer wants to have sex with her.

    Umm, first season, “The Incredible Mr. Brisby”, brock totally wants to have sex with her, but is also totally foiled by “the Cold War.”

  10. Anonymous says:

    The VBs have such rewarding details, like that heart-shaped eyepatch, which must cause her to lack perspective, due to love. She probably doesn’t need to wear it, but does, a souveneir intended to just keep things more difficult for her.

    The VBs angle is so rich due to the term “love” kept in play, the same term jacksonP signs-off on his rare blog entry. It is that sole term so clearly placed without irony, that differentiates it from the terrain it works within American TV. As has been pointed out, this ain’t your old Johnny Quest series, but the flotsam of it after the years pass by and the Quests age, literally and figuratively. The narrative-threads are pulled out of (at least my) generation’s childhood tv viewing patterns, to form a new more complex pattern in which one detects the workings of dystopia that seems uncanny, thus somewhat alluring, if not familiar.
    As opposed to CNetworks “birdman” et al parodic voice and usage of cartoons past, VB is a synthetic narrative (fitting for the tale of two Clones at the heart of the name) that intends to be a narrative, and not a commentary on narratives only.

    With the totalizing TV viewing memory turned inside-out as it were, or upside down, resited onto a first-order reading of psychoanalytical terrain, people ARE wearing costumes like that, they DO call themselves that – and can discuss it as a viable option – they ARE super-agents, the VBs ARE clones, and so on. It leads to new concepts to work on – what does one keep secret in this world where everything is worn not just literally on the sleeve, but IS the sleeve half the time. Love?
    How do yo talk to a 5th? 6th? cloned version of a son, about their hysterical-secret-agent mother. Or about sex/procreation. And so on.

    We see from this episode, Brock is positioned on the borderline, like the boys alleged-biological mother, a guard who got too close – but Brock knows his role. A notion of a certain male and a humanity fantasy. He is required to watch at the same time adapt, and keep trying to bridge past and future. His father-figure/Trainer tried, but in a world of power, did it for ego, a narcissistic search for his “true” self but in fact, to be able to say he has been BOTH man and woman. It was a different concept of love, a self-love.

    Brock would bridge the past and future, because simple reason: he honestly cares, nurtures, possibly really loves in a familial way these boys. It’s the last job he will have and he wants desperately to make some sense out of it for him, redemption, as life, as the rest of the agencies that made sense for him, are just decommissioned, transitioned to other tasks, or belonging to conflicts that no longer exist, or their ideologies don’t at least.

    Every task he gets seems to leads him to discover even further, what he knew of old standards, old trustworthy guiding missions or lights, is other, big “o”.

    What a great show. Keep posting on it please!

  11. heathyr1158 says:

    Your episode discussions are way better than the audio commentary. They often get off topic. A lot.

    • humdrumtown says:

      Ah, but they are funny in their own way. 😛

      • heathyr1158 says:

        I agree…I just don’t come away feeling like I learned much about the episode and it’s development and whatnot. *shrugs*

        • Todd says:

          I agree that the VB commentary does not provide a textbook workshop on story or animation development, but it does provide an oft-hilarious window into the minds of messers Publick and Hammer, which is perhaps more valuable in the long run.