Venture Bros: Fallen Arches

Often I will watch an episode of Venture Bros more than once to catch the asides and subtexts; this is the first time I had to watch it twice just to sort out all the plot strands.

In your typical well-written 22-minute TV episode, there will be an “A” story and a “B” story, ie: Homer quits his job while Lisa works on a science project.  Often the two stories will link up towards the end of the episode, but not always.

In “Fallen Arches” I found an “A” story, a “B” story (with its own sub-plot), a “C” story, a “D” story, an “E” story and, incredibly, an “F” story.

The “A” story is: Dr. Orpheus has, for some reason, vaulted from the backwaters of “down-on-his-luck necromancer with no job renting Rusty’s garage” to “leader of superhero team with his own private island.”  Apparently he, like Rusty, was once quite the thing, but, like many men, found himself burdened and diminished by marriage, fatherhood and responsibility.  Wife gone (why is unclear, although at this point of the show literally anything is possible) and daughter of age, he suddenly “qualifies” for an arch-villain, to be supplied by the Guild of Calamitous Intent.  (Why the Guild exists, how it operates, and why Dr. Orpheus suddenly qualifies is unclear, but I’m sure time will tell.) He gathers up the members of his old team, The Order of the Triad, and auditions arch-villains.

The “B” story, I would say, is Rusty and his Walking Eye (glimpsed in the season 1 titles, it now has its own plot-line).  He’s built a useless machine and is bitterly frustrated when no one recognizes its brilliance.  Rusty also takes time out (because the episode is, apparently, not plot-heavy enough) to chat with Dean about the birds and the bees, a chat that leaves neither one any more enlightened than before.

The “C” story involves the Monarch’s Henchmen and their attempts to, on what apparently is a slow day in Monarch-land, branch out into supervillainy themselves.  Comedy ensues.

The “D” story involves a homely prostitute and her sad misadventure at the hands of The Monarch, who, after receiving his pleasure (whatever that is), turns into some kind of Thomas Harris villain on her and forces her to undergo a series of life-threatening tests in order to leave his cocoon.  An Edgar Allan Poe quote is thrown in for good measure.

The “E” story involves Hank and Dean solving the Mystery of the Bad Smell in the Bathroom (and the disappearance of Triana). 

The “F” story involves Torrid, who looks like a cross between Deadman and Ghost Rider, his misadventure in the bathroom and his attempts to impress Dr. Orpheus and Co., bringing the plot full-circle.

The title is “Fallen Arches” but it could have just as accurately been “False Impressions,” as each character in the episode is trying to impress someone, and often failing.  Rusty wants to impress his family with the Walking Eye but fails, so instead tries to impress the Guild creeps auditioning for Dr. Orpheus instead.  This works to some degree, but not without Rusty debasing himself with his Whitesnake-music-video/Tawny Kitaen “washing the car” vamp.  And finally Rusty must face the fact that he has impressed no one in his house, that his inventions, his career and his life is a failure, even while Dr. Orpheus is in re-ascendency.  The auditioners are desperately trying to impress Dr. Orpheus and company, and mostly desperately failing.  The Henchmen want to impress some ideal, invisible female and get nowhere near even failing.  The Monarch wants to impress the prostitute and does, in a way, but probably not in the way he’d like to.  Dean wants to impress Triana but fails to even get her attention, although he does succeed in impressing Hank, later in the show, with his ability to actually solve a mystery.  Finally, Torrid succeeds in impressing Dr. Orpheus by kidnapping his daughter, although how exactly he accomplished that, and how she ended up on Dr. Orpheus’s private island, is left unclear.  I’m unfamiliar with Lady Windermere’s Fan but I’m willing to bet its plot revolves around someone trying to impress someone else too.

Who is not trying to impress anyone in this episode?  Well, Brock is perfectly comfortable in his skin and doesn’t care about impressing Dean with his abilities to deliver Wilde.  He’s just as happy to kill Guild villains in a tux as he was to kill them while naked a few weeks ago.  The prostitute doesn’t seem too concerned about impressing the Monarch although she gives it the college try.  Dr. Orpheus’s team seems quite self-effacing and comfortable with themselves, and Dr. Orpheus, with his newfound status as superhero, himself seems more confident and relaxed in this episode than ever before.  Triana, of course, is a goth chick and so is genetically incapable of trying to impress anyone.  Sadly, Dr. Girlfriend is briefly reduced to trying to impress Dr. Orpheus as the hastily-considered Lady Au Pair.  It doesn’t take much for her to regain her self-esteem however, Jefferson Twilight’s mention of her deep voice is all it takes.

Any one of these plot lines would have been enough for most shows.  This episode had the breathless pace of the Christmas special but was twice as long.  It makes me wonder, aloud, what a Venture Bros feature might be like.  Could this kind of pace be sustained over 90 minutes?  Would there be 18 different plot lines?  Would it be like It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, but funny, and short?

The Guild exists, apparently, because all superheroes require an arch-villain.  Otherwise how would we know they’re heroes?  It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that the Guild is financed by superheroes themselves.  My son Sam understands the concept and he can’t even read; he knows that Dr. Octopus fights Spider-Man, Mirror Master fights The Flash and Sinestro fights Green Lantern.  When he sees a character he doesn’t know, before he asks “What does he do?” he’ll ask “Who does he fight?”

Reagan understood that every superhero needs an arch-villain, and so does George W. Bush, although Bush made the poor decision to go for the “better Bad-Guy Plot” instead of going after the real villain.  The American people have begun to understand that if you’re Superman, you fight Lex Luthor, not the Mad Hatter.
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23 Responses to “Venture Bros: Fallen Arches”
  1. rjwhite says:

    The impression I got with the Monarch/hooker/gauntlet thing- I think that’s what the Monarch and Dr. Girlfriend did when they had sex, that’s part of the whole routine for them- That’s why the henchmen were so matter of fact about it.

    Also- I think in the Trial of the Monarch last season, Orpheus was promised an arch-villain by the Guild.

    It just struck me again last night how immature all of these people are and how truly dangerous some of them would be if they weren’t constantly occupied by these little games they constantly play out with each other.

  2. ghostgecko says:

    Man, am I glad you wrote this up, I was too preoccupied with death threats to pay it the attention it deserved. It is such a Doc script – the man’s a genius with little character moments.
    Didn’t Dr G mention being Lady Au Pair way back in season one, when she was a bad guy on her own before working with Limb? Hmmm.

    • eronanke says:

      She was Lady Au Pair and then Queen Etheria (with that horrible see-through white outfit), I believe, before joining the Monarch. We learned this in “Trial of the Monarch” last season.

  3. edo_fanatic says:

    It’s not just a show, it’s an experience. The monarch part was amazing…it’s almost as if he’s slowly becoming The Minotaur!

  4. catwalk says:

    i luuuved this ep switching from plotline to plotline!
    i wouldn’t like it nearly as much if you do it every time out,
    but one maniacal riff-fest every so often is a riot!

    andalsoplustoo, the walking eye-washing thing is totally
    the chick washing the car in cool hand luke.

  5. ayrn says:

    I didn’t realize there were so many tightly-nested subplots because the whole episode seemed very natural and never felt forced or too “crowded” like some of the Simpsons episodes that tried to tackle a massive-character story. I was happy as a clam to just ride along and let each character take their moment, play out a decent arc and tie up in interesting ways at the end. It’s like a magic trick or good technical theatre: I didn’t realize there was so much going on until you walked through it.

    Plus I’m a major fan of Dana Snyder and having him show up was just awesome.

  6. kokoyok says:

    Why the Guild exists … is unclear

    I don’t think it’s so much that every superhero needs an archvillain, rather, I think it’s how The Alchemist puts it: he needs the publicity to gather support for his private projects. That, and a bit of exercise.

    Which in a way addresses how Rusty gets the money to maintain his research (a huge compound, jet fuel, etc.) when he’s not having rummage sales. I imagine it’s a lot easier to get a grant for developing a cure for AIDS when you’re a celebrity fighting for the forces of good as opposed to, oh say, a middle-aged hermit fiddling with alchemy.

  7. eronanke says:

    Orpheus’s wife left him for a young necromancer we learn in “Eeny, Meeny…”

    I adored this ep and laughed out loud a great deal.
    Anyone want a Moppet? is my new favorite quote.

  8. megachef says:

    I thought it was interesting that Hank thinks of Triana as a grown-up. What did he say to Dean? “Every time we find a mystery, you run and get an adult!” Even though they’re roughly the same age, Triana doesn’t act like . . . whatever Hank and Dean act like, and isn’t “childish” enough to be a kid adventurer.

  9. craigjclark says:

    It’s interesting that you say the main theme of this episode is the attempts people make to impress other people because the two films I rented and watched yesterday — Samuel Fuller’s Forty Guns and Cowards Bend the Knee — also had that as a running theme. Dr. Venture, in particular, seems to be growing extra weary of constantly living in his father’s shadow — and that’s the one person he’ll never be able to impress. Sad, really.

  10. rennameeks says:

    The “F” story involves Torrid, who looks like a cross between Deadman and Ghost Rider, his misadventure in the bathroom and his attempts to impress Dr. Orpheus and Co., bringing the plot full-circle.

    “Misadventures in the Bathroom” sounds like a great future episode title. 😀

    Was going to post about the connection to the Trial of the Monarch, but it’s already been covered. 🙂

    Great insights on arch-villains making their superheroes who they are just as much as their powers do. That’s something that every writer should be aware of, even if they’re not writing about superheroes.

    • Todd says:

      Bruce Timm, when creating the Superman animated series, complained that Superman villains tend to be “guys in suits” while Batman villains are the most amazing, ridiculous, flamboyant, surreal characters in comics, and I think that explains a lot about why those characters work the way they do. The Joker is a concept that anyone can understand, Lex Luthor is harder to grasp.

      This and more will all be sorted out in the massive Justice League piece I’ve been working on for weeks now.

      • gazblow says:

        This and more will all be sorted out in the massive Justice League piece I’ve been working on for weeks now.


      • rennameeks says:

        That makes a lot of sense, since Batman’s pretty much defined by his costume and gadgets. Even though he was spurred on by his parents’ deaths, that was Bruce Wayne’s motivation for donning the suit in the first place. The Joker, however, wouldn’t know that he’s Batman’s arch-nemesis because of that. It weakens their rivalry.

        Come to think of it, Batman’s enemies are all equipped with “wonderful toys,” just like Batman himself. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a single one who actually has superpowers. They’re all just insane people in costumes (including Bruce, though he uses his insanity for the forces of good). That explains a lot.

        This and more will all be sorted out in the massive Justice League piece I’ve been working on for weeks now.

        Would that be the same piece that we spoke of earlier? 🙂 Or something else entirely?

  11. mcbrennan says:

    c’mon… let’s really put these jokers through some changes

    One of the things I most admire about Venture Bros is that not only do our friends at the Astrobase pack this level of story into 22 minutes (!) but that they do it in such an effortless way that the average viewer doesn’t even think about it. There’s no struggle to keep up (as in Lost, which I do enjoy); nothing so Byzantine that it can’t be followed by a casual fan. The main brush strokes are broad enough so that anyone can enjoy them without worrying about hidden themes or concurrent storylines, but for those in the mood for something extra, repeat viewings are rewarded with rich detail, context, added dimension.

    Another thing I admire is that all these stories had their own backstories–even the henchmen’s jet pack subplot. Each of them revealed truths about the characters and added dimension to things we already knew. Look at the story of Dr. Venture’s walking eye–from that one development we learned (or re-emphasized) that Dr. Venture is now actively grooming Dean as the heir, and actively thinking of Hank as a moron. We learned that Dr. Venture developed the “walking eye” without knowing why he was doing it–it was only when Brock and Dean suggested potential uses that he retroactively pencils in some selling points. (Also, the walking eye was of course seen in the credits–and something similar existed in Jonny Quest as well. Since we know that Dr. Venture inhabits roughly the same universe, we have to wonder if he copied the damned thing out of desperation. If he’s still alive, Benton’s gonna be very cross.)

    And talk abut storytelling economy: In 8 seconds of screentime we learned (or can realistically extrapolate) that Dr. Girlfriend has left Phantom Limb, left her “Queen Etherea” suit behind and in desperation has reverted to her even earlier identity, Lady Au Pair. Which failed, causing her to run off in humiliation, abandoning her murderous moppets to the cruel vicissitudes of tiny unemployment. Fallen “Arch”es indeed.

    The “reason” the Guild was formed is a fascinating question–especially when you consider that (thus far, anyway) there’s no similar formal organization for the “good guys.” And while you’re right–all superheroes do require an arch-villain–it’s interesting to note that the only formal superheroes really presented on VB, the Impossibles, don’t seem to have a costumed nemesis. Sure, Orpheus has some formidable skillz, and I love his new “team”…but there are a lot more Monarchs and Underbheits and Phantom Limbs than Richard Impossibles and Captain Sunshines (or the charred remains of Wonderboy for that matter…)

    I’ve been working on an essay about the presentation of unusual/alternative sexualities (perversions? sounds kind of uncharitable) in Venture Bros, starting way back in the pilot with a little fellow called Otaku Senzuri. In thinking about why the Guild exists, and watching the “interview” process play out in “Fallen Arches”, it struck me that in its hilarious way the Guild/superscientist matchmaker thing plays out almost like a BDSM “munch”–where two “dynamics” get together, talk to each other, decide on a “partner”/”adversary” that’s a good match for what they’re into, then later act out their roles in a predetermined way that gives everybody the thrill they’re after. They need each other for it to work; otherwise they’re just standing around in costumes feeling weird and useless. I’m sure the similarities are probably unintentional but it really made me laugh to wonder what the Monarch’s “safe word” is.

    The way Jackson and Doc so methodically unravel their characters’ secrets and motivations, the painterly way they explore and explode the universe they’ve created–it’s exactly the kind of “anti-veneration” that was so revolutionary and so powerful in Alan Moore’s Watchmen. Without discounting its humor and its fun as a twisted adventure show, I think Venture Bros is the worthy spiritual successor to Watchmen, a kind of more funny and more hopeful (but equally literary and human and at times ruthless) answer to the same questions. I hope one day they do get the chance to tell a feature-length story in this universe. I think they’ve got plenty to say. They deserve the big canvas.

  12. mcbrennan says:

    Okay, a brief addendum…

    Scale and proportionality are important in every conflict, every prearranged bit of theatre–whether in the Venture Bros universe or in our own. The “orientation video” said as much when discussing the benefits of the Guild. Reagan had Gorbachev as the embodiment of the Soviet monolith (which may not have existed in that form, but people believed in it.) The scale worked. Bush strikes wildly at imagined shadows in the dark while the villain of the piece runs free. It’s bad storytelling as worse government policy. Plus, heroes are defined as much by what they will not do as what they do. In some ways it’s what distinguishes good from evil. In Bush’s “story”, he’s done (or tolerated) many many unconscionable things in the “name” of freedom (and at least putatively in the name of his particular God). It would be very difficult to root for Superman if his tactics or results were more or less the same as Luthor’s.

    And one wonders why Bush can’t catch the real bad guy after five years. Is he even trying? Or do they just need each other politically?

    I hope you’re right, I hope people do catch on. And soon.

    Oh, hey, Superman’s another alien wearing clothes. My theory still holds water. Benevolent aliens wear pants. Evil aliens go commando, or worse.

    Also, god bless Dave Vanian and Captain Sensible, but Plastic Bertrand’s “Ca Plane Pour Moi” is infinitely superior to “Jet Boy Jet Girl” even though they’re literally almost identical. It had to be said.

    • Todd says:

      Re: Okay, a brief addendum…

      Thank you for this. Again, you shame me with your analytical skills.

      The sexual angle of the hero/villain thing doesn’t even seem farfetched, considering the weight given to Monarch’s storyline in this episode. I had been scratching my head over this for a couple of days, wondering how the Monarch’s torture of the prostitute fit in with the audition of the supervillains, but now it all makes total sense, especially with the inclusion of Dr. Girlfriend in the auditioners.

      Your thoughts on Superman’s tactics will be further examined in the Justice League piece that’s taking me too long to write.

      On the thought of aliens “going commando,” I’m reminded that Superman, like most superheros, does wear underwear, but wears it outside his tights.

      • mcbrennan says:

        Re: Okay, a brief addendum…

        Oh, your analytical skills are plenty impressive, and in fact your comments always help me see things I missed and give me a much better take on things than I had on my own. I just hope you don’t mind me coming here and babbling on and on like this.

        After you wrote this I was thinking about the Monarch’s evolution lately, from the inept bumbler of the pilot to the crazy psycho Thomas Harris villain we saw in “Fallen Arches.” I’m fascinated to see where they go with this, whether he’ll go back to the earlier ineptitude or continue to be a maniac (or both). Regardless, Jackson’s performance as the Monarch is veering into the dangerously unhinged psychopath realm of Frank Gorshin at his best.

        I had a whole train of thought about whether Superman is in fact wearing Superman Underoos, but it hurt my head. Besides, I think Jor-El is already embarrassed enough by the whole prancing-son-in-tights thing. “Why don’t you go get a nice ice condo on Earth, Kal…go find a nice bald man and ‘battle’ him. Because Krypton is…um…about to explode! Yeah, that’s it! Could blow at any minute. Very dangerous. Don’t forget your spit-culing iron…yeah, great. So long. Say hi to Lance Bass for me.”

        • Todd says:

          Re: Okay, a brief addendum…

          Perhaps you’ve already read my thoughts on Superman and his relationship with Jor-El.

          • mcbrennan says:

            Re: Okay, a brief addendum…

            I had not read that prior to today. You know, that’s an excellent story idea and it would have made a fantastic Superman story. The Superman “franchise,” at least on film, has always been handled like the James Bond series, in that it seems like the producers/studio never wants to do anything even remotely revolutionary no matter how dated or threadbare the basic premise becomes. They want it modernized but only superficially, like a fresh coat of lacquer on a rusty ’74 Pinto. Your idea would have been so much more interesting than what they eventually did. And honestly? You shouldn’t give up on that story. Even if you don’t tell it in the Superman universe, the basic idea could be told in a different setting with equally compelling results. Not to go back to this topic again, but you could make a case that Venture Bros is telling “reinvented” or “elseworld” Jonny Quest or Doc Savage stories with impressive results. There’s no reason you couldn’t do something similar, and who knows where it would lead. Don’t let institutionalized calcification and corporate timidity squash an idea that great.