Venture Bros: Home is Where the Hate Is

The Venture Bros continues to mine the deep vein of the theme of Identity in ever-more subtle and intriguing ways. “Home is Where the Hate Is” is much lighter in tone than many VB episodes (adult put “Viva Los Muertos!” on right afterward, a real shock to the system), but as skillfully crafted as any.hitcounter

In this case, the identity in question is the Monarch’s (the Monarch is quickly becoming the protagonist of this show). The Monarch has given up arching Dr. Venture and gotten married to Dr. Girlfriend; this should have been a positive change for his sense of identity, abandoning his old grudges in order to become a loving, integrated costumed supervillain. But here we see that he’s having second thoughts about his decision.

Marriage, the Monarch finds, brings with it duties and responsibilities he hadn’t anticipated. He’s not comfortable in his new home in a town called Malice (not to be confused with Alice), he’s not comfortable with his wife’s past love-life (that is, her old identity), he’s not comfortable with her attitude toward henchmen (Dr. Girlfriend wants to be a mother to hers, the Monarch prefers to be an autocrat to his — hardly a surprise, with a name like The Monarch). He looks around at his new situation and feels like a rebel who’s sold out to The Man. This house, this neighborhood, this lifestyle, this isn’t what he wanted. He doesn’t want to “pick an arch” out of a facebook, arching is something you have to feel. He’s obviously regretting his leap forward into “respectability.” He’s become a cog.

Sgt Hatred, on the other hand, seems perfectly comfortable with his life as a company man. Perhaps a little too comfortable. His notion of arching, involving questionaires, welcoming parties and baskets of home-grown okra, doesn’t sound like arching at all — it is, plot-twists aside, a development of “business.” Supervillainy in the VB universe is always, in some form or another, a kind of cosplay, and what good is cosplay if it’s “just business”?  (“You put the ‘pro’ in ‘protagonist,’ says Hatred to Rusty, and he means it as a compliment.) Hatred blithely goes about his shows of villainy while feeling no ill will toward Rusty or anything in particular, while the Monarch seethes and rages against the slightest slight.

“Home is Where the Hate Is” takes a closer look at the business of arching than we’ve gotten as of yet. What is this institution of arching and how has it come to be this way? In the cosmology of The Venture Bros, it seems that super-science is like God and supervillainy is like Satan: the latter exists so that we may better recognize and understand the former. Supervillains, it seems, are a natural outgrowth of super-science — create wonderful works of technology and, voila, a costumed freak will emerge to arch you. The fact that Rusty (grudgingly) accepts this indicates that the institutions of super-science understand and condone The Guild and its bureaucracy — it is, somehow, a necessary part of doing business.

The Guild has reduced arching to a business, but The Monarch understands that arching is driven by hatred (if not Hatred). Or perhaps “victimhood.” Victimization plays a strong role in the VB universe and may be what best ties Rusty and the Monarch together. Rusty feels like a victim for being born in his father’s shadow, he feels like a victim for having a more-successful brother, he feels like a victim for being saddled with Hank and Dean (whom he calls “the buzz-kill boys” in this episode). He has made his victimhood his identity, which may be what really keeps him from developing as a human being. He uses his victimization as a crutch or a fall-back position: “The General doesn’t want to buy any of my inventions because I was born in my father’s shadow.”

(At the start of the party game, Sgt. Hatred announces: “Everyone has the name of a famous person pinned to their backs.” That isn’t just the groundwork for a game, that is the essence of the entire show, boiled down to one sentence. Everyone on the show feels like they have someone else’s name pinned to their backs like a “Kick Me” sign, whether it is the name of a parent or an arch-enemy or a better-known member of their community or their younger selves. Everyone in the VB universe lives a reduced life in some way, no one is capable of reaching their full potential, because of that name pinned to their backs. In a way, one can admire Sgt Hatred for seeing this commonality for what it is and embracing it — so what if he can’t really live up to the name tattooed down his front? There are other things in life, like a loving wife, a thriving vegetable garden and an interest in lawn care. He has found a way to live outside his chosen identity — could The Monarch ever do likewise?)

The Monarch, on the other hand, seems, perversely, to be most comfortable when victimized. He grouses as he looks through the Guild’s Facebook and bickers with Dr. Girlfriend about her past, but only comes into full bloom when able to shout defiance, whether he’s feeling aggrieved about a life-long grudge or cheating at a party game. Like Rusty, he’s most comfortable as a victim because it keeps him from facing his “adult” duties of marriage and career: “I can’t be a loving husband because Sgt Hatred cheats at Charades.”

Both Rusty and The Monarch resent the responsibilities that come with their identities. Rusty resents his sons, The Monarch resents, well, pretty much everything. With identity comes responsibility, and in the case of “Home is Where the Hate Is” the themes of Identity and Responsibility are put into comic relief with the b-story of Hank and Dean’s hijinx with 21 and 24. 21 has a responsibility toward 24, his friend, but is given the responsibility of watching after Hank and Dean, which he resents: his identity as a friend comes into conflict with his identity as a henchman.

21’s problems are multiplied by an internecine conflict with The Moppets. Essentially a case of sibling rivalry — Mom’s kids don’t get along with dad’s kids — The Moppets are resenting their pending identity shift from Dr. Girlfriend’s henchmen to The Monarch’s henchmen. And while Kevin and Tim-Tom don’t make very good victims (pushy, knife-wielding dwarfs seldom do), they do hold their identities dear and harbor a grudge against their opposite — which is, of course, really a grudge against The Monarch, the man who took their “mother” away from them.

The plots of both the A and B stories of “Home is Where the Hate Is” come together, as all good comedy plots should, with everyone taking off their clothes. When Sgt Hatred invites The Monarch to strip down for a soak in the hot tub, he’s being more than just a bourgeois suburbanite, he’s asking The Monarch to shed his identity, assuring him that he will be happier and more comfortable for it. Of course, neither he nor The Monarch can fully shed their identities: The Monarch keeps on his cowl, and Hatred cannot shed his tattoo, which literally spells out his identity. Maybe that’s why The Monarch and Sgt Hatred can’t fully relax in the hot tub while Rusty seems quite at home: Rusty has no costume to shed, only clothing.

Meanwhile, off in the hedge-maze, 21 and 24’s lives are saved by shedding their costumes, losing their identities, as The Moppets, in their infantile sibling rage, literally mistake the clothes for the men. 21 asks Hank why he and Dean also took off their clothes, and Hank seems genuinely baffled as to his reasons. We know the reason, of course: thematic unity. Hank and Dean, of all the characters in the VB universe, carry the heaviest burden of identity troubles, even though they don’t seem bright enough to ever articulate their anxieties in any meaningful way (as Dean amply demonstrates in his conversation with 24, a conversation about — what else? — identity).

Dean advises 24 to “follow your dream”, but in the closing moments of the show we are given the dark side of that advice: Sgt Hatred, so comfortable in his identity, is shown pursuing an agenda of child molestation. There are, the episode reminds us, some dreams better left unfollowed.


26 Responses to “Venture Bros: Home is Where the Hate Is”
  1. “Everyone on the show feels like they have someone else’s name pinned to their backs”

    Well put — Sgt. Hatred’s Official Enemy is supposed to be Rusty, but he’s considerate to the point of irritation and admits that he’s really out to get the Monarch. 21 & 24 are supposed to hate the Venture Bros., but they team up to take down the real threat: their new partners, the moppets.

    Instead of villain versus hero–the way it’s supposed to be–it’s villain versus villain, so there’s kind of a twisted purity in the Monarch’s genuine hatred for his archrival.

  2. pseydtonne says:

    If Rusty resents his buzzkill progeny, why does he bother to regenerate them? He has invested major effort into having clone backups of his sons so that he can incubate replacements. This is deep codependency. If he didn’t have those prophylactic bags of meat, he’d have no link to reality.

    Dang… now I’m thinking way too deeply about the Venture Brothers. I thought I only did that when I was baked, not when I’m wrapping up my work week.

    • Anonymous says:

      Doc and his kids

      For all that Doc complains about the burden the boys present, I think he NEEDS them. He’s defined by his relationship to his father, and as such, he needs to be a father himself, in order to a) outdo his father and prove himself superior, by being a better parent — not that he IS doing this, just that he thinks he somehow CAN — and paradoxically b) ruin his kids’ lives just as his own was ruined, because his dad is dead, and he’s gotta take that repressed anger out on SOMEone.

      — N.A.

      • pseydtonne says:

        I don’t think he could ruin their lives, unless keeping them from growing up is enough (which it probably is).

        He keeps them in a 1960s cocoon that even his tenant’s daughter doesn’t get. It must cost a lot of money to keep two teenage boys from hitting puberty: their voices never drop, their brains never switch to thoughts of independence, they revere their father and their bodyguard.

        His father may have kept a similar reality protection on him, but college fucked that up. He never really gets out of that moment where his dad died and his then-abusive roommate (now his bodyguard) drops out to join the military. He perpetuates his father’s legacy instead of realizing–

        –he’s got a giant lab down there! He should be king of the hill with his cloning and incubation technology! He may be somewhat of a home body but jeeze, what a home! Other things must happen in the background if he can still sustain that life while not really working and keeping that complex of a home.

  3. laminator_x says:

    Best line: “Who the heck is ‘Jaquelyn Onasis?'”

    It is perhaps telling that as one of the most grounded and effectual villains, Dr. Girlfriend is completely oblivious to the fact that her identity is copy. Even for her though, a little seed is planted that her name and her marital status (a huge part of most womens’ identities) are not in harmony.

    Ironically, during her time away from the Monarch, she was [b]Queen[/b] Etheria for a while.

  4. jdurall says:

    Two comments:

    – Your review of the last episode indicated that there’s almost no such thing as a “traditional” VB episode. I’d almost call this one exactly that, despite the slight shift of POV to Monarch over Rusty. It advances continuity slightly, involves all of Team Venture , and doesn’t utilize any unusual framing techniques or lengthy flashbacks.

    – I’m disappointed that they finally provided a conclusive explanation for Dr. Girlfriend’s voice by depicting her as a 3-pack-a-day smoker. I enjoyed them keeping us in the dark about what exactly her secret was. I feel like the character has sort of lost something… but I’m sure they felt the joke had run its course.

    • laminator_x says:

      Yes and no. That’s Sgt. Hatred’s supposition, but he’s hardly authorative. She sounded just the same as an undergrad. We still don’t know what she told the Monarch in that capsule.

    • Anonymous says:

      Dr. Girlfriend’s voice

      I don’t think the smoking caused it. The year she gave for starting (assuming she wasn’t lying to the Monarch) corresponds fairly closely to the year she was in college, apparently “studying” with Mr. Fantamos. We know in that flash back she had a deep voice, so it’s doubtful that just a few months of smoking would do that.

      Of course, all these theories require a lot of assumptions, most of all that people are actually telling the truth. There are a lot of lies in the Venture Bros. ~ Ytoabn

  5. blake_reitz says:

    Last episode’s post, there was mention of The Secret, and how it related to the Guild’s washed corporate villainy. This episode, Monarch burns a copy of The Secret previously owned by Phantom Limb.

    I was hoping that we’d get more on why St. Hatred left the OSI or/and how he joined the Guild this episode, but I suppose they can’t all be flashbacks.

  6. Anonymous says:

    They all have someone else’s name pinning them down indeed. And yet as well, so many of the characters have distinctions, semi-official or just odd (Dr. Girlfriend is a great one) and as well legit enough titles that they seem to require, to live up to in varying degrees of course. These evoke semi-distinction or priviledge – as Killinger sternly reminded the Union in last episode when he corrected them: it’s “DR Venture… It’s Dr, Monarch, Sargeant, Professor, the Guild, and maybe even foreshadowing with “Dean”.

    So I thought it odd, the Venture Bros is so centered on “love”, relations and finally, identity, why then would “Hatred” itself, only amount to the status of a Sargeant. Surely “Major Hatred” at least, and it has a ring to it.

  7. teamwak says:

    Man, that was genius!

    Nixon on the walls, Jam references, and more funny lines that I can shake a stick at!

    Hard to choose from “Ive re-opened my pancreas”, “Who the hell is Jaquelyn Onasis”, “Your still not getting the point”, and “I thought that was some guy in a cat suit”

    This show just gets better and better! 🙂

    • blake_reitz says:

      Man, I forgot about Nixon! I wonder if he was a full-time member of the guild, what with his picture and Killenger’s note that he gave him a his first power tie.

  8. mikeyed says:

    You forgot to mention the Pac-Man conversation, at which I laughed ridiculously hard at, because I found it really weird that we actually had that conversation no more than a week before the show’s first airing. I thought I just had to point that out, cause it made me suspicious as to where the jokes are really coming from…

    • zqadams says:

      The funny part is that the scanner’s sounds are, in fact, taken from Pac-Man…it’s just that they’re from the oft-maligned Atari 2600 version (specifically, the “eating a ghost” noise).

      God, I’m a dork.

  9. mimitabu says:

    “(At the start of the party game, Sgt. Hatred announces: “Everyone has the name of a famous person pinned to their backs.” That isn’t just the groundwork for a game, that is the essence of the entire show, boiled down to one sentence. Everyone on the show feels like they have someone else’s name pinned to their backs like a “Kick Me” sign, whether it is the name of a parent or an arch-enemy or a better-known member of their community or their younger selves.”

    with that in mind, i thought it was sort of beautiful how the monarch completely disregards the name pinned to rusty’s back. the monarch is more or less the only important character in the show who really doesn’t give a shit about rusty’s father. he once comments about jonas something like “now there was an archrival!” but it’s crystal clear that he’s not arching doc for any reason concerning jonas. the monarch is strangely the only one who can looks at t.s. venture as t.s. venture, not as someones son or father. i suppose he sees him as “my nemesis”, but i sort of get the impression that, for the monarch, the role doesn’t define doc, but how he feels about doc necessitates the role (and shouldn’t that maybe be how roles work?).

    sure, doc and the monarch are perpetual children trying to avoid the responsibility of living in the world, but the monarch seems to be one of the few (if only) people in the vb universe who believe in some sort of authentic identity that transcends externally supplied roles. for some reason, he “knows (loves) the real venture”, and fixates on it. i think his obsession with venture is a rebellion not just against responsibility, but also against society defining your role.

    that’s why i like the monarch so much i think. he’s the real rebel(:. when he talks to phantom limb about arching insurance or even talks to lawyers or guild higher-ups about deciding his fate, he can’t bring himself to give a shit. the monarch is very punk rock, though he is also consumed by hatred.

    i know i’m sort of contradicting the (rather obviously right) idea that the monarch revels in being made the victim, but i think opposing larger structures could be the (noble?) flipside of that perverse trait. dr. girlfriend says early on that the monarch and doc “have a lot in common”. yet, the monarch is a rich kid whose plane crash thrust him out of the establishment and into a fantasy make-yourself world, while doc’s entire life is defined by pre-established states of affairs. i think the monarch identifies and sympathizes with some sort of authentic rusty, and in a strange way wants to save him. or something. or maybe looking for “authentic selves” is itself a pathological avoidance of responsibility and integration into life.

    • pseydtonne says:

      Would you say The Monarch is the John Lydon of villain kind: all background but no musical chops, well researched but uninterested in the scene that results, has followers but doesn’t really notice them?

      • mimitabu says:

        sounds good to me, though of course john lydon has (arguably) made a lot of interesting art, while the monarch hasn’t done much of anything. also, lydon is much more self-conscious of his individualism than the monarch. the monarch is strangely un-self-conscious about such things. too busy being angry i suppose.

  10. kornleaf says:

    I like how your conversation on identity here can relate to the “scooby” episode where the boys stumble onto the room-of-clones and just kinda forget about it.

    anyway, where can i see that script?

  11. zqadams says:

    Something that just occurred to me is the significance of the Manta Claws (Claus?) conversation. I think it sums up the Monarch’s entire problem with the Guild; he, being a trust fund dilettante who created his costumed identity just to get laid, is frustrated with the revelation that the rest of the Guild are, with a few exceptions, as lame and plastic as him if not more so (since he at least worked hard to build a genuine enmity with Venture).

    • Todd says:

      But we could say that Monarch came by his identity “naturally”, ie via a childhood trauma — he’s not faking his identification with butterflies, he really feels it — as one would have to, I guess, to put on that outfit.

  12. mcbrennan says:

    That’s Entertainment…

    I’m a little tired so forgive me if this lacks my usual flawless coherence. I absolutely agree about the identity theme, but what really struck me about this episode, especially upon a second viewing, was this overwhelming theme of victimization and of impotence, especially sexual impotence but impotence in general. Here is the evil of great historical villains reduced to toothless country-club garden living, locked behind bars of their own making. The Monarch, setting fire to his cuckolded marriage bed and fantasizing not about his wife but about Rusty. Sgt. Hatred quite openly saying he’s “gone soft” and shooing the boys away per his pedophile restraining order (and what kind of supervillain honors restraining orders, anyway?) Both the Monarch and Rusty exposing themselves in the hot tub, with Rusty weirdly claiming his equipment was an inheritance from his own father (oddly contrasted with Dean’s recurring nightmare about giant-spider Rusty “stealing his penis”.) The terrible, all-powerful bomb at the base of Rusty’s spine that, when detonated, makes barely a bubble. The henchmen–great big guys–running from two tiny, ruthless little men who control their lives, whose soundtrack is the insatiable, remorseless appetite of Pac-Man, and they can only escape by stripping down naked? (What, henchmen don’t wear underpants? And Hank joins in why?) And Sgt. Hatred–furious that the Monarch’s henchmen had stolen his equipment–reinforces the cuckold vibe with the Monarch as he describes in torturous letters-to-Penthouse detail what he’ll do–or not do–now that Rusty’s his to “arch”. I can’t pretend to know what all was going on there, but clearly sexual identity and sexual potency (or impotency) is a big part of these characters’ identities, and the divide between victims and perpetrators is pretty stark.

    Early in the episode Sgt. Hatred reassures Rusty that he knows the difference between “arching” and “real life”. So what, then, is all this just orchestrated cosplay to give each side a sense of importance or meaning? These are power-exchange relationships, then? What was Sgt. Hatred’s checklist but the kind of pre-scene negotiations and setting of limits that BDSM partners engage in?

    erm, so I’m told. ahem.

    But yes, good and evil mingle here at a casual party like a BDSM “munch”, as they did in several other episodes where it seems strangely like their usual roles are on hold. Whatever kind of culture exists between these two sides, that power-exchange dynamic (however you want to define it, sexual or otherwise) has to be a huge part. It’s a huge part of anyone’s identity. And VB‘s long history of exploring “alternative” sexualities is clearly far from over.

    One thing that interests me is how very very bored and very very angry both the Monarch and Rusty seem to be at this dynamic. Rusty still gets off a little on the attention–it gives him the illusion of importance as it gave the Monarch the illusion of power–but they both seem completely sick of the games. The Monarch finds being the new king of the supervillains as empty as Rusty feels about being the boy-wonder superscientist. It’s almost as if being “successful” is ultimately as empty as failure. There’s something else missing, a hole that can’t be filled. A father’s approval? A mother’s love? A higher purpose? I don’t know. But I’m fascinated to find out.

    ps: that “famous names pinned to their backs” thing was brilliant, and your analysis pointing it out doubly so.

    • mimitabu says:

      Re: That’s Entertainment…

      i agree that the monarch and rusty’s boredom and anger at the state of things is very interesting and seems to be very central. i’m wondering if they’ll shake things up by the end of the season(s), or just end up deflatedly impotent in the face of it all. while i would understand and accept a tone of disappointment, i reallllly hope that the monarch does something like go on a killing spree or try to take over the guild or something ridiculous.

      i want more action in the venture bros., not because i don’t like muted stories, but because i think the burning need for it inside the monarch and (probably) rusty is so palpable that it’s contagious. what a horribly written sentence.

  13. autodidactic says:

    this life you’ve chosen for yourself

    One little thing that hit me in particular is how Brock just breaks the hell down and informs Rusty that this is the life he’s chosen for himself, which of course Rusty denies, blaming his father for dumping a “hot cup of responsibility” into his lap. Even if Rusty’s complaint is legitimate and this life would have found him no matter what path he chose, he still is going through all the motions of someone who never even considered, for lack of a better phrase, an “alternate lifestyle”.

    • Todd says:

      Re: this life you’ve chosen for yourself

      Well, that goes hand in hand with Rusty’s sense of victimization. Sure, he didn’t ask to be born Rusty Venture, but his insistence on feeling helpless and resentful all the time about his lot is very much “the life he chose.”

  14. Anonymous says:

    grown-up responsibility

    I have to post anonymously because I have no Live Journal account. Still, I’ve read this blog since it was mentioned at The Mantis-Eye Experiment. I also have to post this into 2 arbitrary parts because my comments were too long. Excuse me for that.

    I’m kind of surprised others haven’t read more into the choice of location for this episode. What better place for angry, victimizing failures than suburbia? OK, a gated community, but it’s still suburban. Even though this one has a paper delivery boy with a robotic face, and other strange elements juxtaposed within a familiar setting, the people living in it succumb to all the trappings of suburban life.

    I agree that we’re seeing new sides of how these things (i.e. Dr. Venture’s victimization as well as The Monarch’s) play out, but I’m curious about the nature of responsibility and what it means to be “a grown-up.” Self-actualization, fully realized ambition, and success are linked with people like Dr. Henry Killinger and Phantom Limb, both of whom take advice from “The Secret,” which is a kind of New Age bible. Hatred seems to be content, having found alternative lifestyle options outside of being hateful. But he still can’t change the fact that he’s a pedophile and, well, all the non-hateful things he’s into are really just the conventions of suburban living, e.g. lawn care or a pet cat (although one of unusual size). Is that accepting responsibility, or is it just conformity? His wife is non-existent, but maybe there’s not a deeper message there, and his contentedness is also a ruse. It’s a means to mask for his hatred for The Monarch. He doesn’t victimize but he’s as trapped in this world of lawn care, awkward social gatherings, and robotic paper boys as The Monarch. It’s hard to tell if he genuinely enjoys the company of others or if it’s all a disguise (partly because we still know less about him than Rusty and Monarch). And so his new neighbor, the one with the mansion and floating cocoon (wasn’t that a great image?) is immediately his rival. What could be more suburban than that?

    I might be too hard on Hatred, since has found ways to enjoy simple things in life, e.g. relaxing in the hot tub and gardening. He deserves credit for that, but I don’t want to give him too much because this is The Venture Bros. and nobody’s successful or happy without a dark side. Even Byron Orpheus, one of the nicest characters on the show, seems to show more love, care, and attention to Dean and Hank than Triana. That’s partly because we haven’t seen much of the personal life of the Orpheus family, but also because Orpheus is uncomfortable dealing with and understanding his daughter.

    • Anonymous says:

      Re: grown-up responsibility

      So I wonder if “being an adult” on this show is really just about how responsible (i.e. careful or methodical) character’s are in planning and executing their deceits and ambitions? Even the moderately good guys (e.g. Jonas Jr.) are co-dependent on Jonas Sr. or the empire Jonas he built for success, while others are only respectfully responsible when it benefits them. Todd made the connection between New Age ideology and “personal fascism” and that seems to sum up “responsibility” as seen on The Venture Bros. nicely.

      The most successful character, as far as a good and selfless sense of responsibility or “being an adult” goes, is Dr. Girlfriend. She’s the only one besides Hatred trying to embrace her new roles sincerely. In this episode alone she tries to be a good wife, socialite, and mother figure. Unlike the followers of The Secret, she’s taking on responsibility as a means to care for others without loosing herself in the process. She has secrets and she lies, but lying about cigarette smoking is fairly unimportant considering the manipulations perpetrated by others. Plus, Sheila responds to her husband’s burning of the bed and other stuff that could be sold to buy new stuff with an admirable amount of patience. She knows there’s a deeper issue and she wants to hear it (the one explored quite well by others here).

      The Henchmen and Moppets became bickering children, and thinking of them as such makes it understandable that 21 & 24 would ally themselves with the sons of their former sworn enemy. The Moppets appear to be in their own Freudian world (they won’t let any other man have their mother) and Dean has dreams that echo Rusty’s dream about Jonas Jr. stealing his dad’s penis, which was attached to Rusty. Thus we have sibling and neighbor rivalries, disharmony in families of all types, and parties for acquaintances and neighbors who really loathe each other. Who knew supervillains could represent suburban life so well?

      In the future, I hope to see an episode focused on Triana and her relationship with her dad and her friends. She seems to be turning into a self-destructive teenager with her own father issues (speaking of people who have famous names strapped to their backs). Also, will her friend from Victor Echo November follow through on becoming a supervillain?