Venture Bros: I Know Why the Caged Bird Kills

In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare wrote “the course of true love never did run smooth,” and while this episode of The Venture Bros shares much with that play, including star-crossed lovers and magical spirits, I doubt Shakespeare could have ever come up with a path to true love involving Catherine the Great, Henry Kissinger, a haunted car and a refugee from American Gladiators.

As with any love story, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Kills” has two protagonists, The Monarch and Dr. Venture.  Both protagonists have love problems (to say the least), but for the moment, neither protagonist can pay attention to them.  (Typically for this show, the Monarch’s plot is active, with him trying to solve his administrative problems, while Dr. Venture’s plot is passive, with him merely trying to get rid of his immediate problem so that he can go back to his life of steadily increasing failure.)

The Monarch’s attention is taken up by an immediate problem, that his plans to attack Dr. Venture are failing.  His henchmen (at least 21 and 24) believe that the problem is one of armament (which is absurd, as the attack shown at the top of the episode is the most well-armed and effective in The Monarch’s history).  Meanwhile, Dr. Venture is being harrassed by a vengeful Oni.

Meanwhile, The Monarch is visited by a mysterious stranger, Dr. Henry Killinger and his magic murder bag.  The Monarch, impressed with Killinger’s organizational skills, allows him free access to his staff and secrets.  In no time at all, Killinger has an elite staff of Blackguards in cool suits and has completely re-organized the Monarchs’ operation (Literally, in no time at all.  Killinger does all this in the time it takes for Drs. Venture and Orpheus to walk from the library to the parking lot).

Henchman 24, suspicious of Killinger’s intentions, refers to him as a “sheep in wolf’s clothing,” and while that sounds like a mere malapropism, it’s actually a key line in the episode.  Because we see that, in each plot here, love comes disguised as hate, tenderness disguised as threat.  Myra shows her love for Hank and Dean by kidnapping them, 21 shows his love for the Monarch by bringing in Dr. Girlfriend to infiltrate and assault the cocoon (and ends up falling in love with her, but that’s another story).  I will also argue that the Monarch’s obsession with and attempts to destroy Dr. Venture also constitute a kind of love, one paralleled by Myra’s obsession with and attempts to destroy Dr. Venture’s family.  (It also occurs to me that Henry Kissinger was the inspiration for Dr., ahem, Strangelove.)

And then of course there is Dr. Killinger, who turns out to be not a malevolent figure of doom but a magical spirit of love and reconciliation (would that his real-life counterpart turn out similarly), and the Oni turns out to be working for him.  Killinger is shown to be a fat, male version of Mary Poppins, which, again, seems completely lunatic on the face of it, but underneath has a deep thematic resonance with the rest of the show.

The protagonist of Mary Poppins, lest we forget, is not Mary Poppins but rather the father.  What does the father in Mary Poppins want?  The same thing as Dr. Venture — to have someone, anyone besides himself take responsibility for raising his children.  A key difference between Dr. Venture and Dr. Benton Quest is that Race Bannon is assigned to be a bodyguard for Dr. Quest’s son Jonny, Dr. Venture has hired Brock to be a bodyguard for himself; the boys’ safety is never anywhere on Dr. Venture’s list of priorities.  Brock, the much better parent of the two, seems to take on the boys’ safety himself, but only to the extent that it’s usually too much trouble to clone them again.  If the boys die, well, there’s always more where that came from.  The father of Mary Poppins at least hires a nanny; Dr. Venture is content to leave that job to an inadequate robot and the “lie machines” that talk to them in their sleep.  The father in Mary Poppins, of course, learns his lesson and re-centers his life around his children; Dr. Venture, I fear, will never learn that lesson.

The theme of this episode is the course of true love, but there is a sub-theme of misguided rescue.  Hank and Dean, out practicing their driving skills, happen upon a stricken woman, who turns out to be a deranged ex-girlfriend of Dr. Venture.  They set about rescuing her, but end up being taken captive by her.  Later we will find that she feels that she is “rescuing” them from Dr. Venture.  The henchmen misguidedly try to rescue the Monarch, and even take turns rescuing each other at different points of the episode.

Of the episode’s short-circuited love affairs, the most elliptical is the one between Drs. Venture and Orpheus, which seemingly ends with Dr. Venture hysterically accusing Dr. Orpheus of coming on to him, then mysteriously seems to begin again when he, minutes later, casually suggests that they watch pornography together.  This rocky, contentious relationship is presented as a contrast to the other “true loves” of the episode.

In an episode rife with parallel scenes, Brock and Helper are given a nice pair where, in one scene, Brock attempts to educate Helper on the subject of Led Zeppelin, and in the next, Helper is educating Brock on the poetry of Maya Angelou.

The advice Dr. Orpheus gets from Catherine the Great’s horse is never revealed — but given the circumstances, that might be for the best.

(Strangely enough, although Myra’s story is explained away by Brock, her own version of events makes more sense.  In her version, she rescues Dr. Venture’s life during the unveiling of the new Venture Industries car, and later the two of them have sex in that same car, and it is that car that the Oni chooses to haunt in order to bring Dr. Venture to Myra.  So perhaps Brock’s story is the inaccurate one after all.)
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28 Responses to “Venture Bros: I Know Why the Caged Bird Kills”
  1. laminator_x says:

    Myra’s tale would certainly explain Hank.

    • ghostgecko says:

      Yeah, I’m gonna have to go with Myra as being the one telling the truth here. After all, she knows the boy’s real age and a lot more details about their lives than some random crazy woman would have. And since the death/cloning thing seems to come with some retrograde amnesia she’s done this a couple of times before.

  2. greyaenigma says:

    Killinger and his Magic Murder Bag may be my favorite (secondary/tertiary) character yet. And the expressions (and costume) on the early Monarch were fantastic.

    I did get the impression that Myra was the one telling the truth (albeit a very unstable truth). She seemed unusually crazy for an OSI operative, but falling for Dr. Venture may have been the first symptom of this, rather than simply the cause. Also, she had her kids ripped from her, and was locked up, possibly without a just initial cause. Time and Venture have not been good to her.

    Don’t forget the love Brock has for the kids, as emphasized in Assasinanny 911. He also pulls off his most impressive feat yet in this episode. How do you practice that??

  3. dougo says:

    So is Brock lying or does he just not know (or suspect) because he wasn’t around at the time?

  4. craigjclark says:

    Your observations and analysis never strike me anything less than astute. Here’s a question for you:

    Did it seem like the editing on this episode was a little tight, like it had so many scenes and so much information to cram in that there wasn’t any room to breathe between the cuts? Even “Twenty Years to Midnight,” with its insane amount of cross-cutting, didn’t seem this harried. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, because it definitely helped propel us through the story, but there were many cases where scenes were cut right on a line as opposed to another character’s reaction to the line.

    • Todd says:

      The editing did not seem harried to me, quite the opposite, I’m consistently impressed with the amount of plot and sheer information they’re able to pack into a 22-minute episode while still having it feel loose, jazzy and human.

      The only exception I would point to would be the Catherine-the-Great scene, which I’m guessing at some point went on long enough for the horse to actually deliver some advice to Dr. Orpheus.

  5. toku666 says:

    I think Myra is Brock’s sister, by the way.

    Just throwing that out there so I have something, somewhere to point to and say “I said it!”

    • rfd says:

      This set something off in my brain so I had to go check it out. Doesn’t seem like the case.:

      Hunter: Samson, Brock. Born Omaha, Nebraska to a single mother. Half Swedish, quarter Polish, quarter Winnebago! You lost your virginity at fourteen and have one brother and you enjoy motorcross. The Brock Samson you knew and were is dead! Happy birthday, Frankenstein! You’re OSI’s baby now. Are you prepared to do whatever your country asks of you?

      Although, maybe we’ll see Brock’s brother! Or maybe it’s Rusty! (dun. dun. DUNNNN.)

      • toku666 says:

        I’m standing by what I said, knowing full well what Gathers said about Brock.

        • rfd says:

          And when the truth comes out, I shall salute you for being the first one to have called it!

          • toku666 says:

            Heh heh. I’m not at all feeling righteous, it’s more of a feeling that anything can happen with that show, and I had developed the sister hypothesis before “Assassinanny 911” as the most likely reason for Brock’s new-found familial emotions.

            But you’ve given me food for thought. Red hair comes from Scandinavia… Hmmmm…

            • rfd says:

              I’m not really conjecturing, just goofing off. For the most part, I try to avoid falling into all the theories and guessing to avoid becoming one of THOSE FANS. Sometimes I fail miserably, of course – particularly after a new episode airs. The struggle to be cool is an uphill battle, my friend, and I think I have a long way to go.

            • ayrn says:

              It seems like the world of Venture Bros. keeps getting further and further folded in on itself. It’s fun to have most of the major players be ex-college acquaintances – and that even pokes fun at some of the more ridiculous acts of interconnectedness in the comic kingdom – but it seems like the world keeps getting a lot smaller. Finally seeing Myra and having new characters like Dr. Killinger and Triana’s friend helps a lot with that. For that reason, I’m hoping for the not-a-sister direction, just because it opens things up a little further.

  6. mr_noy says:

    It has been noted before that the Ventureverse, though rife with daddy issues, is conspicuously short of mother figures. The writers seem to have rectified that with Season 2. So far we’ve been introduced to three very different mothers: the loving Sally Impossible, the controlling Mrs. Manstrong, and now Myra who, though affectionate towards the boys, is far too unstable to be a good mother to them.

    Personally, I believe Myra’s version of events, even though the boys themselves don’t seem entirely convinced (and who could blame them?). Doc could have told them the truth years ago, but to do so would be to acknowledge yet another mistake in a life defined by failure. That his own sons are a constant reminder of that mistake, doubtlessly, fuels much of his resentment towards them. Another great episode from Mssrs. Jackson and Publick.

  7. ayrn says:

    Is there a Star Wars line in every episode? We got the search your feelings line in this one.

  8. monica_black says:

    I’m thinking that Brock’s story is innacurate and it also seems to have to do with Dr. Venture wanting someone to raise his children.

  9. urbaniak says:

    My understanding is that the character of Dr. Strangelove was based not on Kissinger (not yet a national figure at the time of the movie) but on the government scientists Wernher von Braun and Edward Teller.

    • Todd says:

      This is true, and yet Dr. Killinger redecorates the Monarch’s headquarters to recall the war room from Dr. Strangelove, so he’s aware of the parallel even if the real Dr. Kissinger is not.

  10. ajsnavely says:

    There is really no reason why both Myra and Brock’s stories can’t be true. She can be an OSI agent who had an affair with Rusty when he was 24. She got pregnant, and had Hank Dean. (Who came from her body. IT IS NOT OOOGY!) She then leaves OSI and joins American Gladiators, went crazy and committed herself. Brakes out and torments the Ventures. So you see, both stories can be true. From a certain point of view.

  11. gazblow says:

    I would like to point out the excellent voice work of newcomer to the Venture universe, Joanna P. Adler, who despite our long years of acquaintance, has for the second week in a row had me gaping at the credits screen when I learned she played Myra (last ep she was Mrs. Manstrong which also faked me out).