Venture Bros: Handsome Ransom

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What does Hank want? Hank wants a father. Rusty is as close to a biological father as he’ll ever get, but Rusty has no interest in acting the role of father to Hank (Dean, it turns out, is a different story). Hank loves and idolizes Brock, who is now gone, replaced by the obnoxious, overbearing Sgt Hatred. Hank states outright that Hatred is not his father, and he refers to Rusty as a "honky" (which, to be fair, he is).

As the episode begins, Hank and Dean are being wrapped up in cocoons by The Monarch’s "Mechapillars." (Inside another cocoon, the Monarch’s flying one.) A cocoon is usually a vessel of transformation, but the ones encasing Hank and Dean seem to be intended to kill them. Hank attempts a transformation during the episode, but ultimately goes back to being what he was. Or, perhaps, he’s reached a new understanding of who he is — he is, with all the flaws that implies, his father’s son. (It’s safe to say that, for all the time the Monarch spends in his cocoon, he’s already done transforming. His metaphorical cocoon is the fantasy of costumed villainy he refuses to leave.)

Hank is so desperate in his search for a father, he heads blindly into the open arms of Captain Sunshine, the impossibly sunny, positive-energy superhero who is either a gay child-predator, or else is the most misunderstood superhero in history.

It’s clear what Captain Sunshine wants — he wants his beloved Wonderboy back. Wonderboy is, of course, dead, so that’s not going to happen. Captain Sunshine then wants to replace Wonderboy, with, well, apparently with whatever young, good-looking boy who comes along, in this case Hank.

What does The Monarch want? The Monarch wants ten million dollars, from Rusty. This surprises everyone, including Dr. Mrs. The Monarch. The Monarch, I guess has transformed, temporarily, if only into a standard-issue kidnapper. Why does he want $10 million? His stated reason is that, since he seems incapable of killing Rusty (even with Brock gone), he’ll drain his finances instead. But I suspect that the Monarch has fallen victim to the typical supervillain foible of overspending. You build a giant floating cocoon, you build some robot caterpillars, you staff your operation with dozens of henchmen, all of whom need to be clothed, fed and entertained, well of course, sooner or later you’re going to have to hold somebody for ransom. In the end, your villainy ends up as a vicious circle — you have to commit evil acts just to finance your evilness.

What does Rusty want? He doesn’t really want Hank back, but he kind of has to, for the sake of appearances. Poor Rusty, he’s always stuck doing things for the sake of appearances. If it were up to him, he’d putter in his lab all day, turning out one bad super-science project after another, spending his life trying to emerge from his father’s shadow, ignoring the boys he’s resurrected god knows how many times, leaving their rearing to the bodyguard du jour. But no, he’s constantly being dragged into situations where he must deal with costumed villains and embark on wild adventures. In that way, he is kind of a classic father, who’d rather be left to tool around his den, but is forced to attend little-league games and school plays.

I like the Monarch’s ill-phrased threat to Rusty, that his sons will ride the rainbow bridge to Valhalla. First, Captain Sunshine’s logo incorporates a rainbow. Second, Valhalla, for those un-versed in Norse folklore, is where warriors go when they die. In Valhalla, the warriors get up every morning, fight all day long until everyone is dead, then do it all over again when they wake up again the next day. On both counts, the Monarch is more correct than he intends. Hank is going to ride the rainbow bridge, after a fashion, and both Hank and Dean live in a kind of Valhalla, where, after each death, they are able to wake up again the next morning and do it all over again. (Of course, that part of their reality has been dealt a serious setback recently.)

(Hmmmmmm. David Bowie is The Sovereign, Duncan Jones is David Bowie’s son, Hank and Dean are clones, Duncan Jones makes a movie about clones…hmmmmmmm….)

I love the way Captain Sunshine bursts into the Monarch’s cocoon just in the nick of time to save Hank and Dean, and then doesn’t. No, the superhero is there only in pursuit of his own vengeance, it’s a mere coincidence that there are teenage boys there to be saved. And even then, he doesn’t save anyone except as an afterthought, after his own agenda has been served. And even then, he only saves one of the teenage boys, the one who, for whatever reason, reminds him of his dear departed Wonderboy. The other teenage boy, Dean, he leaves behind. Why? We’re not told. Nor, indeed, do we learn why Dr. Mrs. The Monarch lets Dean out of his deadly cocoon, except that she probably felt embarrassed by the whole thing.

Captain Sunshine is so blind in his pursuit of a replacement for his lost Wonderboy that he "rescues" Hank, leaves behind Dean and apparently doesn’t ask either of them who they are or what they’re doing hanging upside down in the Monarch’s cocoon. If he had done so, he would have learned that they were brothers being ransomed to their father. Although he defines himself as a crimefighter, he doesn’t ask the most basic questions about crimes being committed. He’s after one thing and one thing only: a teenage boy to replace Wonderboy.

There are, of course, parallels between Captain Sunshine and the late Michael Jackson. His house, like Jackson’s, is designed to evoke the entrance to Disneyland (I wonder what Brisbee would have to say about that). Like Jackson, his motives regarding young boys are highly suspect, but people turn a blind eye to them because of the otherwise beneficial things he brings to society.

What are Captain Sunshine’s motivations? Everyone, including his own Watchmen-like crimefighting team, think he’s a child predator, and if you fall south of the Watchmen’s standards of decency, I think it’s a safe bet you’ve fallen pretty far. Setting aside questions of Sunshine’s predations, it’s clear that he’s motivated by love. A twisted, misdirected love, but love nonetheless.

Or is it mere loneliness, or narcissism? There’s a void within Sunshine, one he cannot fill, since the object of his love is dead. (Next thing we know, Sunshine will be asking Rusty to make him a clone. Start cloning people and it will never end.) After all, Sunshine doesn’t love Hank, he doesn’t even see Hank, really. He certainly doesn’t know who he is, or even bother to find out. Hank is "a teenage boy," one will more-or-less do as well as another. Sunshine’s loneliness has driven him to kidnapping and child-endangerment. It never occurs to him that Hank is an individual. He is an empty vessel waiting to be filled with "Wonderboy" (and maybe a little Sunshine). That’s more than narcissism, that’s sociopathic behavior.

Sunshine is motivated by his twisted love of a dead boy, while Rusty is motivated by appearances (barely) and the lack of desire to part with money (much more) and the Monarch is motivated by the possible gaining of money (and then keeping said money). The whole ransom plot reminds me of The Big Lebowski, which has a ransom plot that involves fake kidnappers and fake money sent to retrieve a fake victim who is not only not kidnapped, but is completely unaware that any of this is going on. The Monarch doesn’t have Hank, Rusty doesn’t have the money, and Hank is off in a squeaky-clean version of the Batcave in a room even more childishly decorated than the one he has at home.

What is Hank worth? To the Monarch, $10 million. To Rusty, not much — he’ll do the work to get the $10 million back, but not to rescue Hank. To Sunshine? The world, but only if Hank is no longer Hank. What is Dean worth? To Rusty, a teeny bit — he’ll take him if he’s standing there, but he’s not going to break a sweat going after him. To everyone else, not much at all. What is a taxi driver worth? To 21, the price of cabfare (but not with a tip), to The Monarch, nothing.


15 Responses to “Venture Bros: Handsome Ransom”
  1. yesdrizella says:

    I assumed that Captain Sunshine left Dean behind because he didn’t know Dean was there. Dean was wholly cocooned when Captain Sunshine arrived, but Hank’s face and shoulders remained visible. What I never understood was why Dean didn’t just tell Rusty that the Monarch didn’t have Hank once he was released. He had to have realized his own brother was no longer here once he was freed from that cocoon prison.

    I’ve really enjoyed Hank’s growth this season. His little speech at the end was perfect. Though it’s too bad that his first kiss had to be from someone who could be a pederast (and then you have to wonder how many first kisses he’s had, which is just as troubling).

    On a fan level, I’ve enjoyed Kevin Conroy’s voice acting since I first watched B:TAS in 1992, and I loved getting to hear him freak out.

  2. Very interesting points brought up about what certain things truly mean to certain characters–kind of brought the episode full circle for me.

    (Hmmmmmm. David Bowie is The Sovereign, Duncan Jones is David Bowie’s son, Hank and Dean are clones, Duncan Jones makes a movie about clones…hmmmmmmm….)

    I totally thought about this when I saw Moon earlier this year.

    The whole ransom plot reminds me of The Big Lebowski…

    It did for me as well. Glad someone else felt the same way.

    Can’t wait for the “Perchance to Dean” write-up. That was my favorite episode so far this season. Episode four…not so much. I’m pulling for Brock to show up in episode five.

  3. mimitabu says:

    i really liked this episode (i also really liked moon; great playing-with-expectation, i thought really spectacular dialogue and acting, and it ended at just the right moment). i liked it for weird reasons though.

    i liked it because it was so wrong. not wrong like bad or mistaken, but wrong like “this isn’t how it’s supposed to be.” it’s something that elicits an emotional response… whenever i think of this concept, i think of irma vep, one of my favorite films. the overwhelming impression i got throughout that movie was “hey, this scene isn’t supposed to end like this,” or “wait, that character isn’t supposed to be the one doing this.”

    apologies if this comment doesn’t make much sense; livejournal ate my first attempt at it, so i’ll pretend that, if this doesn’t make sense, that version did.

    this episode seemed like a little representation of everything that’s wrong in the ventureverse in s4. here’s a somewhat disorganized list of wrong things in the episode:

    the monarch, trust fund baby who has no concept of the value of money, holds the venture kids for ransom (an act that itself is wrong, as evidenced by everyone’s shocked response to it).

    doc venture goes to the only fuck-ups he knows less likely to have any money than him, and they have the money.

    sgt hatred (a pedophile and arch villain), as a substitute for brock who was himself a substitute for rusty (as a father figure to the boys), is tasked with saving hank from captain sunshine (a superhero pedophile).

    hank is getting psyched about moving into a house/bedroom even more childish than his own, while escaping that life seemed to be his largest motivation for awhile now.

    the plot of this episode happened already, but before it was dean in hank’s role, and underbeit in captain sunshine’s role.

    hank, of course, is substituting for wonderboy.

    i’m sure there’s more, but everyone here is in someone else’s role, which i think is weird and cool. i don’t know how much my appreciation lines up with doc and jackson’s actual intent, but that doesn’t really matter i’d say.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I loved that Sunshine’s team spends the night reporting the news and the day fighting crime. I also loved Captain Sunshine’s initials when he’s not in costume (“Chuck Scarsdale! Hide or we’re gonna be on the news,” indeed).

    Bringing the idea of “cocooning” and “transformation” full circle, it’s interesting that both Hank and the Monarch try on the Wonderboy outfit. And when the Monarch does, he falls victim to that old trap of trying to kill the hero with his secret energy source, leading to a kind of transformation into a competent hero once again for C.S.

    -Le Ted

    • gdh says:

      I love that they have two sportscasters just to have a spot for everyone on the team. And that Ghost Robot’s secret identity is Weatherbot 5.

  5. Shit, I think we missed this one… couldn’t find it (belatedly) on Adult Swim’s fancy new video site.

  6. misterseth says:

    I liked your fine analysis of this episode (among others of course!) Here’s some things I noticed…
    As soon as CS ‘rescues’ Hank, he forcibly apprehends the Monarch and ‘drops’ him off into prison, a la Superman I, where he is subsequently released(citing lack of due process. It’s sad when a supervillain has a more clear understanding of the law than the ‘heroes’)
    The concept of sidkicks seems to be explored in general, from the allegeged homosexuality between Batman and Robin, placing said sidekicks in harms way, and the death (of which he recently ‘recovered’) of Jason Todd, the second Robin. (one wonders why the Monarch killed him in the first place)

  7. medeaspes says:

    I thought this episode was more highlighting the rejection theme that has always been a part of the series, but bringing it into clearer focus.

    Hank so far this season has been rejected by his best friend/surrogate father Brock; rejected by his real father Thaddeus; rejected by Dean (thanks to their father insisting on “grooming” Dean as his protege, the boys are spending less time together); rejected by Dermot (when the chips were down, Dermot left Hank to just go home to his mom); and finally meets someone who had the promise of giving Hank all Hank ever wanted (only son, his own room, action and adventure), only to have that person reject the idea of Hank as anything other than being Wonderboy 3 made living again.

    This season just seems to be driving home the extreme isolation all these characters are living in. Saddest, and best, season so far!

  8. Anonymous says:

    Sunshine’s intentions were intentionally ambiguous

    The episode was more about exploring the creepy undertones of the hero/sidekick relation (and how they’d appear in a more real world) than it was about saying “Oh yeah, Batman was doing Robin”.) They went to great lengths to leave the truth ambiguous and there were “perfectly reasonable” explanations for everything that made Sunshine look like a molester:

    – The lube was for the uniform.

    – Hank let him think he was an orphan (“Your mom must miss you” “I don’t have a mom” “Then your dad” “I wish!”)

    – As somebody else pointed out, Dean was fully cocooned. Hank was not. Like most people in the Venture universe, Sunshine’s deeply oblivious. He didn’t pick the brother that suited his tastes, he picked the one he saw.

    – The Super Gang (reminded me more of the Super Friends way more than the Watchmen) may have been more disturbed that he was putting another kid in the line of danger. Though, their concern seemed a little too much on what Hank’s likely death would do to Captain Sunshine than for Hank.

    – When the Monarch accuses him at the end, Sunshine’s horror can be taken a number of ways: is he terrified that he’s finally been found out? Is he disgusted that those urges do exist within him? Or is he just oblivious to the way the outside world views him and is shocked, disgusted, and offended at the mere suggestion?

    • jvowles says:

      Re: Sunshine’s intentions were intentionally ambiguous

      I think Sunshine is oblivious to his own desires and urges, even though he acts on them.

      He’s so busy doing his best to be a perfect superhero, juggling a duel identity, and dealing with his own grief, he doesn’t have much time for real introspection. And he’s so used to sublimating parts of his own personality that there is probably a real, fundamental disconnect in his brain. He’s lying to himself and he probably doesn’t even realize it — and add in the guilt and you’ve got a patented recipe for self delusion and trademark Venture Bros failure.

      The parallels between Hatred and Sunshine are pretty interesting, too. We found out in another episode that OSI has made an effort to brainwash the badness out of Hatred, or at least to help him suppress his pedophilic urges. Hatred — who has generally been portrayed as one of the more genuinely decent (and very nearly competent) people on the show, despite his past transgressions and screw ups. It’s clearly meant to be a tricky dichotomy, because the pedophilia is SO at odds with the rest of his manner. Remember, he WAS an OSI agent (allegedly a deep cover mole for the Sovereign), but he could well have been a double agent….

      Still I have to wonder: how on EARTH did he get this assignment? Rusty no doubt half-assed the decision, but on the other hand a recovering pedophile trying to go legit might very well be the world’s most careful caretaker of teenaged boys, especially with OSI keeping tabs. And Rusty has seemed slightly more connected with the boys, though that might change the minute the clones are ready. Still, this show is all about bad decisions, right?

    • Anonymous says:

      Re: Sunshine’s intentions were intentionally ambiguous

      Actually the lube was for the slide. Hank slide right down while the unlubed Monarch got a bad case of saddleburn.

  9. Anonymous says:

    “He is an empty vessel waiting to be filled with “Wonderboy” (and maybe a little Sunshine).”

    This is one of the most unsettling sentences I’ve ever read.

  10. craigjclark says:

    My favorite thing about this episode was the fact that, apart from being able to fly, Captain Sunshine’s main power appeared to be the ability to give people mild sunburns.

  11. noskilz says:

    Does the Monarch really care about the money as money? He doesn’t really sound like slinging around millions is a problem when asked about how much the mechapillars cost. Isn’t one of the recurring pokes at comic super villains that they throw vast amounts of resources around for often disproportionately small gains?

    And could it be that Rusty does care about Hank, albeit less than Dean, but really hasn’t had anything resembling that amount of money cross his path in a very long time, if ever. Maybe he hasn’t redone the compound because he barely has enough to maintain what’s there.

  12. Anonymous says:

    There were two aspects to this episode, that set it in my mind apart from the general tone of VB, and that was how the characters Monarch and Hank work out in the end:

    Hank refuses his father’s command to leave with him, to first try to explain something to Captain Sunshine – that in effect, maybe he’s (Captain S) not dealing well with this latest traumatic incident of losing Wonderboy, and … well, should somehow. Why does Hank have to explain now, and in such a blatantly clear, without innuendo or allegory or such, way. For a brief moment, he offers an analysis of “Sunshine” and “Superheroes” above his supposed place in life thus far (since the last episode and this one, we see him identifying with such comic heroes as well – and what is their role but to “guide” him?) Of course, being Hank, he then screws the moment up by asking for a good word to Batman.

    Monarch, on the other hand, seems more like the same character who raped the robot of Venture back in the (1st season?) episode with the yard sale, where he tells Dean who discovers him in action, that the robot should get checked for STDs or some such. Now again he ramps up his gleefully perverse side when he goes up against Captain S. literally shouting and taunting him with what seems like the vulgar clear analysis of the underlying sexual / power relations between these costumed sidekicks, villains and heroes. It’s odd considering how much innuendo usually works in these episodes. Why does Monarch have to shout it out, so stridently this episode?