Venture Bros: Ghosts of the Sargasso

Hands down, my favorite episode.

Why?  Starting with the head-spinning Bowie intro (what is it with these guys and Bowie?  Except that Bowie always had the air of a Bondian super-villain about him) (seriously, why hasn’t Bowie been made a Bond villain yet?  Chris Walken has, Jonathan Pryce has, why not Bowie?), then moving from 1969’s “Space Oddity” across the pond to 1969’s “Scooby Doo” and the ghost pirates.  Having young children, I’ve seen the ghost pirate episode of “Scooby Doo” several times now, so this parody has especially sharp teeth for me.

Then there’s things like the treatment of the colors in the “1969” footage, and the quite-subtle dirt and scratches on the film, not over-played, not drawing attention to itself, beautifully done.

But mostly, it’s the script, or rather, the plotting.  I think this is the most tightly-plotted of all the episodes.  All of the episodes use the collision of “exciting adventure” and “prosaic real-life” to produce laughs, but usually they do it in terms of “adventure that doesn’t happen.”  The assassination attempt fails, so the henchmen have to wait around in the yard.  The torture victim has a medical condition, so the torture has to be put on hold.  It’s about dashing expectations.

But here, there’s an actual adventure.  Rusty is actually going to try to do something (retrieve his father’s spaceship), and his actions have consequences (unleashing the ghost of Major Tom).  Meanwhile up above, the ship is taken over by “ghost pirates,” who turn out to be real pirates. 

Now there’s a twist!  Ghost pirates that turn out to be not part of a real-estate scam, but REAL PIRATES!  Even if they’re lame pirates, they are actually still real pirates, and they even manage to get the better of Brock.

And then there’s Brock.  Brock, who specializes in getting out of impossible situations, gets out of a doozy here.  I’d like to think that the actual fight with him and the pirate henchmen, where he clubs one to death with the body of the other, while the other’s arm is still up his ass, was filmed but cut, and exists somewhere in a vault.  But that’s probably only a dream.

Two actual exciting events going on, Rusty stuck at the bottom of the sea, slowly dying, and Brock turning the tables on the pirates above, PLUS Hank actually turning into a capable action hero (with coaching, of course), all played out in an exciting, albeit highly comic cutting style.

Then the REAL GHOST shows up, and by this time we’re so off-balance, we’re ready for anything.  So when it turns out that the ghost isn’t interested in killing anyone, hurting anyone, or really doing anything but re-living its dying scream over and over again, PLUS there’s the great bring-back of “The Action Man” from the pre-credit sequence, it’s just too laugh-out-loud, alone-in-your-living-room funny.

The ending, where Brock simply tears the ghost limb from limb and tosses it overboard, reminds me of the old Jack Handey “Deep Thought:”

“If trees could scream, would we be so cavalier about cutting them down?  We might, if they screamed all the time, for no good reason.”

This is, of course, the casual cruelty that I’ve mentioned before that gives the show its misanthropic bent.  We start the show with a real (if comic) tragedy, we produce the screaming ghost of that tragic figure, and there’s that moment of actual pain and anxiety where we feel that ghost’s pain.  The tragedy of the past is literally brought to the surface and shoved in our faces.  And how shall we deal with it?  Dr. Orpheus’s plan doesn’t work.  And the ghost doesn’t want to hurt anyone.  But it won’t stop SCREAMING.  So let’s let Brock tear its head off and throw it overboard.  Good riddance.

Pirate Captain: “Well, we could have done that.”

Question: They call Dr. Orpheus for help, but then in the episode where they first meet Dr. Orpheus, Hank (or Dean, I can’t remembe their names) says to Punkin that they’ve recently battled ghost pirates.  Did they battle ghost pirates twice, and why were we denied that episode?
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8 Responses to “Venture Bros: Ghosts of the Sargasso”
  1. greyaenigma says:

    Maybe we’ll see the first pirate battle in a flashback in the second season. Who knows?

    Bowie has always struck me as more the shadowy figure on the threshold. Even in Labyrinth, where he’s definitely the antagonist, he’s more a force of chaos. (Avoidance of responsibilities personified? Hey, he’d make a good Bond!) In Fire Walk With Me, Into the Night, The Hunger — he’s steppping out of what should be a traditional role and making himself ambiguous. He’s a sympathetic bad guy, or a shadowy good guy.

    I somehow managed to see Scooby Doo as a child myself, so my memories of it are vast, if a little hazy. As someone mentioned in a previous post, the the Venture Brothers are probably battling ghost pirates all the time. Or maybe he was making it up to impress a girl!

    Rusty plight reminds me of Coulton’s “See You Hell“, and vice versa.

    And yes, I completely love the opening to this one, as well as the character concept of The Action Man.

  2. Anonymous says:

    As Jackson Publick once explained: yes, the Venture clan once faced ghost pirates in the past, and that’s what Dean was referring to. But those were real ghost pirates, unlike the fakers we saw in this episode.

  3. eronanke says:

    We talked about continuity in the last post, I believe. 🙂

  4. robolizard says:

    David Bowie’s songs are beautiful melancholy in the realm of fantasy, seeing the pain in a beautifully fantastical situation and certain moments in the show, for example when Doc Venture sees an illusion of his towering father aboard the sattelite in ‘Careers in Science’, have a similar quality.

    That man… an amazing man…

  5. robolizard says:

    It should also be noted that ‘The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou’ also has a deep thematic connection to David Bowie, and it is again about a quiet silent moment that takes place in a world best described as more or less fantasy.

  6. rennameeks says:

    Since everything else has already been covered, either by the original post or by comments, this will be brief.

    Dean was the one who told Triana about the ghost pirates.

    I love the “dashing expectations” paragraph. *That* is why this show is so awesome! 😀 (All right, so there are many other reasons, including Brock’s daring butt-cheek escape, but that paragraph sums up the heart of the series right there.)