Venture Bros: The Better Man

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What does Dr. Orpheus want? Dr. Orpheus has brought his Triad to some sort of desecrated cathedral, to stop Torrid from opening a portal to Hell. When The Outrider, Orpheus’s romantic rival, steals Orpheus’s thunder and takes care of the Hell-portal problem, Orpheus wants to prove to his ex-wife (or maybe only himself) that he is a "better man" than the Outrider.

What about the other members of the Triad? Jefferson has his own troubles: he’s preoccupied with the fact that, for all his skill at beheading Blackulas, he’s still not actually a magic guy. What Jefferson wants is to prove to himself, somehow, that he is a "better man" than he suspects. Meanwhile, Al seems to want only a "better man." He worries about his appearance briefly, but otherwise he’s completely man-crazy — particularly regarding the Outrider, with whom he develops a huge sexual infatuation.

What does Triana want? Triana doesn’t "want" anything in particular, she’s a passive protagonist in this episode. She glances askance at Dean’s advances, then stumbles upon a Triad conversation, then walks into her magic closet when bidden to, then takes advice from The Master, the shape-shifting entity who lives inside her closet. (Funny that Al is gay, but it’s The Master who lives in the closet.)

What does The Master want? The Master is a kind of supernatural life-coach. He coaxes, teases, chides, hints, berates and insults in order to get his disciples to improve their lives. Strangely, his advice, for a supernatural being who lives in another dimension, is rather practical: he tells Orpheus to kick the Outrider’s ass and stop whining about it (that is, "be a better man"), and he tells Triana to become a sorcerer because, frankly, there’s more money in it.

What does Dean want? Dean wants Triana, that’s clear. What does he do to get her? Not very much — he crashes and burns after an abortive, pathetically lame attempt. What does he plan to do with her should he get her? He has no idea. To help him both with acquiring Triana and understanding what to do with her should he ever get her, Dean also tries to be a "better man."

Unfortunately, he turns for help to Hank, who isn’t much of a "better man" to Dean. If anything, he’s taken on the worst aspects of Dermot, his darker self. He’s grown self-aware, ashamed of his young age, eager to break free of the family manse, but with no plan and no wisdom to support his choices. He’s boastful, proud, smug and ignorant. There’s no indication that he’s ever spoken to a girl and he confuses gays with transsexuals, but he presents himself as "the better man" to Dean.

What does The Outrider want? In terms of this episode, it seems that The Outrider wants only to police the Second World. If he desires hearth and home with Dr. Orpheus’s ex-wife, he doesn’t show it here — I don’t think he mentions needing to get back to her once. The dichotomy of Orpheus and Outrider forms the tension of the episode: who is the better man, the one who keeps his talent in check for the sake of protecting his family, or the one who risks everything, including his life and soul, for the sake of protecting the world from otherworldly demons?

What does Dr. Venture want? Dr. Venture wants to lie on the couch. He’s tired of Dr. Orpheus and all his hocus-pocus shenanigans, he’s ready to call it a day. In a curious way, this makes him a "better man" than in previous episodes. Here, he continues to show sincere fatherly interest in Dean, and doesn’t commit one cynical, heartless, craven act — a big step forward for Dr. V.

What does Billy want? Billy wants to belong, somewhere, seemingly anywhere. Whatever he does at Conjectural Technologies, it doesn’t seem to be enough to make ends meet, and I don’t think Pete White has done a day’s work in his life. His life in the trailer seems to be at a dead end, he’s spent more time this season tied up in a sack or getting raped by Sgt Hatred. Billy wants to be a member of the Triad, he believes that will make him "a better man."

What does Torrid want? If his actions are any indication, his goal is "to open a portal to Hell." He succeeds in this twice. I’m as unclear about Torrid’s motives as Orpheus is, but it would not surprise me if, somewhere in Torrid’s psyche, there was a need to prove himself "the better man" in spite of his ability to walk around on fire.

Everybody has a "thing" in this episode. I mean, everyone always has a "thing" in every episode, but in this episode they actually pause to note it. Radical surgery is Billy’s "thing," killing Blackulas is Jefferson’s "thing," being gay is Al’s "thing" (as opposed to his "dingus"), Orpheus having a mystic Master is his "thing." Everyone has an identifying activity, one which either ties them down or defines them (which, depending on your philosophical bent, can amount to the same thing). The "things" they cling to, much like the "boys’ adventures" the previous episode’s bunch of neurotics clung to, are the very "things" that prevent them from being "the better man." Again, transformation is the key. Without transformation, everyone is stuck in their identities, and they they cling to their identities out of fear of transformation. Only the characters willing to step out of their identities can move forward. Thus, Orpheus can now let Triana leave his protective custody and pursue her destiny as a sorceress, Jefferson can now hold his head up high as a magical being, even if his magic is severely limited, and Dean can, reluctantly, let Triana go as well, now that he’s convinced he can talk to other girls and acquire a more worldly knowledge of the opposite sex.

The Outrider, on the other hand, loses his "thing" when Billy pries the Eye of Osiris from his trepanned skull. He can no longer travel between the worlds, now he will be the settled-down family man Orpheus was at the beginning of the episode. He travels via a horse with flaming eyeballs, but otherwise he’s just another suburban dad taking his teenage stepdaughter home to her mother.

Achievement vs Domesticity is the theme of the episode. Orpheus is confounded at the idea that he, the better man, has lost his wife to the Outrider, merely because he possesses the flashier talent. Orpheus has led the quieter life, staying near Triana and providing her the most "normal" life he can (in the context of this show, Triana might as well be Marilyn Munster). Billy longs, seemingly, to escape the domestic life he has with Pete for the danger and excitement of the Triad, Hank hankers (sorry) to put home behind him and discover a world he’s clearly not ready for, and Rusty appears to have given up achieving anything at all for an autumn of hanging around the house. No wonder the Master horrifies Triana with a nightmare vision of her future domestic life with Dean — he wants to go make something of herself, not sit around making mutant babies with Dr. Venture’s milquetoast son.


45 Responses to “Venture Bros: The Better Man”
  1. kleenexwoman says:

    being gay is Al’s “thing”
    On one hand, I’m pleased that Venture Bros. has so many queer and ambiguously gendered characters. On the other hand…there are already enough gay characters whose entire characterization revolves around their sexuality. I hope if Al shows up again, that’s not his whole shtick.

    • Todd says:

      I’ll admit, I was a little confused by Al’s one-note man-crazy routine in this episode. The script takes care to show Hank be incredibly ignorant about gayness in order to convince us that the show is not homophobic, and yet sex is practically the only thing Al talks about.

      • jvowles says:

        ….So what? Boy’s allowed to have horny moments.

        Al’s shown other sides in other episodes, and he’s not a major player in the show as a rule. He’s always been presented as compassionate, and he’s had a tough breakup with his ex, so perhaps this is indicating he’s over it and ready to have a relationship.

        This time around, what he wants is a guy to crush on. Who are we to judge?

        • gersonk says:

          And most of his activity this week didn’t revolve around sex, just helping the Triad out. Heck, later in the episode he was willing to bash The Outrider’s head in with a rock (Previously he wanted to bash that Star Wars character they manifest with a shovel – frankly, I think he just talks a good game when it come to compassion.)

    • laminator_x says:

      Al’s an interesting one. While he was a bit one-note here, in the past he’s shown a much more mature perspective on the whole hero-villain charade that seems to get played out in VB. When Orpheus “put the band back together,” Al had been attempting to find a cure for cancer. For all his mildly-flaming sass, he was living humbly and actually devoting his time and mystical powers to making the world a better place.

      Similarly, he was bored by chasing after Torrid in “adventures” that amounted to little more than elaborate cosplay, but was happy to get back in the game when people’s lives were on the line.

      Al knows the score and has his priorities much straighter (so to speak) than most of the characters on the show.

      • blake_reitz says:

        I always thought his mature views on the whole cat and mouse, hero and villain games was interesting, considering that Dana Snyder usually voices nigh-sociopath jerkasses.

    • yesdrizella says:

      I don’t think there are really that many? AFAIK, Al is the only queer character with a reasonably healthy sexual expression. King Gorilla is a rapist, Dr. Z is a closet case and Hunter reversed his sex change. Though I could be forgetting someone, I did just wake up a while ago.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I thought that the “Did Triana call?” scene, where Dean wakes his dad on the couch, was remarkably poignant. Something about him asking such a normal question and having an ordinary conversation with his old man made me feel optimistic about the little weirdo. That, combined with Triana letting him down without breaking his heart, gives me hope that things might turn out all right for all of them, down the line.

    -Le Ted

  3. pseydtonne says:

    In case I haven’t mentioned this, I am in love with your analyses of Venture Brothers episodes. They reinforce my feeling that this show is some of the best writing in America, that each episode is worth dissecting as a way to honor its glory.

  4. jbacardi says:

    Nothing to do with the overarching (no pun intended) theme, but I continue to be amused at how the writers keep throwing classic rock references in- Outrider was the name of a late 80’s album by Led Zep’s Jimmy Page…

    • Anonymous says:


      Holy hole-in-the-donut! I fergot about ‘Outrider’ — before I ever heard of Led Zeppelin, I’d seen the stacks and stacks of ‘Outrider’ on vinyl, unsold, at my local mall. Cartoon character Brock Samson’s love of Led Zep and Chuck Klostermann’s Perfesser Kool-style essays have done so much to improve Jimmy Page’s latter-day reputation. For years, though, all that came to my mind upon mention of ‘Jimmy Page’ was that David Coverdale team-up cash-in and ‘Outrider’ — its slick b&w photo cover blurring the evidence of the onset of Page’s early middle age — in vast piles at Sam Goody’s.

      Rockie Bee

      • jbacardi says:

        Re: Outrider

        It’s not a terrible album, though- it does have its moments. It just really wasn’t what Zep fans wanted to hear from their hero at the time, and the multiple vocalists employed varied wildly in quality. I own it, but rarely listen to it…

  5. gersonk says:

    Rusty isn’t that much nicer this week, just more passive. He’s got maybe five lines (apart from the episodes where he didn’t get a line, has he ever had a smaller role?) yet he manages to cut Dean down twice. Once intentionally behind his back (complaining about his apple head collection), and again accidentally to his face (I don’t think anybody’s ever called you).

    His only really active moment this week was zinging Orpheus (“Maybe you forgot to plug it in!”)

  6. I think the most important question left from this episode is whether or not what The Master said about Dean being unable to have normal kids is true. Because if that is true, Dean is destined to fail. He will never have the chance to escape the life of super-science that has filled his father with self-loathing and a feeling of victimization at the hand of his own father, Jonas, for choosing this path for him, because Dean won’t be able to have his own progeny without super-science.

    Also, I like Triana’s line to her dad, which I think was really a line to the viewer, “I’m just going to mom’s. I’ll see you all the time.” The character’s not going away; in fact, I think she could play a much more important role if she actually becomes a sorceress and, you know, becomes useful instead of just hanging around the compound.

    We’re seeing so many characters start to realize their potential: Triana, Dean, 21, and to a certain extent Brock and even Dr. Venture (in the sense of him becoming more of an actual parent). The question becomes whether, and if so, for how long, Doc and Jackson will allow this period of growth to continue before the group as a whole relapses into its previous cycle of failure.

    • Todd says:

      The Master’s agenda is indeed mysterious. I would not put it past him to mix lies with truth in order to achieve his ends, whatever they are.

    • popebuck1 says:

      The destruction of the backup army of Hank and Dean clones seems to have been a major catalyst this season – not just Hank and Dean, but everyone is “growing up” and moving on, much more so than in previous seasons.

  7. rickj says:

    I found the episode to be very odd when compared to other Venture Brothers eps. It felt like, by the end of the episode, most of the characters “learned a little something about themselves.” For a show that’s about failure, most of the characters actually succeeded. Triana, Dean, Orpheus and Jefferson discovered something new and positive about themselves. Heck, I’d even give half a point to Hank because between episodes, he’s been going out into the real world and trying to hang with normal kids. (Sadly, he did appear to have failed at it and only spent time with Dermot. But I’d give him an A for effort.)

    • charlequin says:

      This season so far is all about showing the characters actually adapting and changing after years of stasis, so it made sense to me that we saw that effect rippling beyond the Ventures specifically (in this episode, applying to Orpheus and Triana.)

      We’re not even quite half way through the season, though; I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop.

    • Anonymous says:

      I also felt a point could go to seeing Hank asking Al about something relating to sexuality, gender etc.. All the chiding of his knowledge aside, the catch is, and importantly for sexuality and discovery – he doesn’t act with shame as his guide. He is blissfully open to just ask.
      To be fair, he was actually following a healthy way to understand something pertaining to sexuality, but he went about it blundering with an ill-educated language, which isn’t his shame as much as should be his fathers. Growing up with those cassette-education pods can’t have been helpful in learning about sexuality. Hank 1) earnestly tried to ask about something he had questions about 2) when questioned back, he was earnest in his response that he was ashamed of his ignorance (“Sure! All the time”) That’s in a certain way good news, in that he is self-observant enought to note that. It promises a quick learning-curve if someone would bother with him.

      – Arthur F.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Let’s not forget the revealing scene at the mall, with the three boys, as Dermot was there too and shockingly giving actual sensitive advice to dean, even “normal” advice to Dean, to go and just try with this new girl he met at the bus stop – that he’s not married or something.

    to paraphrase: Hank: “Did you just give good advice?”
    Dean: “yeah…someone check to see the temperature in hell”

    and that at the moment the portal to hell was indeed being opened up.

    – Arthur F.

    • blake_reitz says:

      I was quite relieved to see that Hand and Dean know that Durmot is full of shit. And having been friends with people like Durmot in the past, it’s nice to know that they can be friends with him while knowing that.

  9. I gotta admit I’m kinda sad at Triana leaving. I got a real kick out of the idea that the proverbial Girl Next Door is a saturnine goth chick.

    (And a continuity question: will the revelation of “true love” from “Eeney, Meeney, Miney… Magic!” be something that will be referenced to again, or handwaved away?)

    • ndgmtlcd says:

      Oh, she’ll come back. But not as a saturnine goth chick. She’ll have gone through Hogwarts.

    • Anonymous says:

      Yeah I was wondering about the true love thing…I suppose it depends on your definition really.

      Seems to me that the Master has never given outride, clear advice to Orpheus before, so why should we expect him to give it to Triana? I think he was just setting her on her correct path, and it won’t be what anyone expects.

      -Cheb Ghobbi

  10. greyaenigma says:

    I’m increasingly wondering about the Master’s motives. He seems unremittingly cruel, and it’s strongly implied in this episode that he actually resides in hell.

    On the other hand, maybe he’s just a jerk.

    Dr. Orpheus, meanwhile, is increasingly becoming my favorite person on the show.

    • It seems to me that The Master is, as Todd says, sort of a “life coach.” He seems to want to help these characters achieve their desired ends. He just chooses to do so in a very negative way.

      Though if you ask me, his being bluntly honest is the best way to make his point. He’s trying to get people to change their lives. Most people won’t change their lives just because someone tells them to. The best way to get them to do that is what he did with Triana; make them aware of the potential horror of the path they’re traveling (I love Dean, and see a little of myself in him, but dealing with him as an emotionally stunted adult would be difficult), then provide an alternative. It’s actually a classic marketing strategy, most often seen in negative political ads (“Candidate A wants to do all these horrible things; vote for Candidate B so that doesn’t happen”).

      As for why he’s so negative with Byron, I’m more at a loss. I guess he wants to help Dr. O without straight out telling him what to do (forcing Dr. O to figure it out for himself), so he has to be a little dismissive.

      • greyaenigma says:

        We just have no way of knowing whether the direction he’s steering them in is really what’s best for them. Motives aside, we don’t even know whether he really has special insight: was his complaint about a headache really a clue? Are Dean’s genes really messed up? Certainly possible, but we don’t actually know, and usefully vague prophecy has long been a tool of those who pretend special knowledge of the world for their own ends.

        • True, he is sort of an enigmatic character, but that doesn’t mean he’s necessarily malicious. We have no idea what his intentions are. All we can do is judge based on the results so far. At every turn, he’s been helping people achieve goals, or giving people a friendly (well, actually, mean-spirited) nudge in the direction of self-actualization. How this benefits him in any way is anybody’s guess, but he’s been nothing but helpful (if a bit of a pain in the ass) to this point, so there’s no inherent reason to distrust him.

          It is interesting to note, though, that the only other person who shares The Master’s shape-shifting ability happens to be the leader of The Guild. Could be coincidental though.

  11. mcbrennan says:

    A couple of things here. “The Outrider” character is closely modeled on “Mystery”, the pickup/seduction artist (and “mentalist”/magician) whose techniques are at the core of what’s called the “seduction community”–which uses a combination of psychological warfare (for lack of a more delicate term) and “illusionist” showmanship techniques to quickly seduce anyone of their choosing. I’m sure they’d phrase it more elegantly. For me it seemed like the episode was at least partly about seduction and its consequences. The Outrider talks about how he wanted what Orpheus had, his wife, career, etc, but didn’t want to do the work–and so was seduced into taking a radical shortcut. Very much Mystery’s game. Clearly Al is in the seduction mood, though he gets nowhere. And Triana is most definitely seduced into sorcery by the Master. Was the Master’s vision of Triana’s future with Dean accurate? Or was he manipulating her for his own reasons?

    Also, at the mall, Hank makes various direct references to Mystery’s “game” techniques to “help” Dean in his approach to the ladies at hand–the “set”, “peacocking”, the “neg” and so on. Even though he shows some growth, Dean remains more or less sweet and clueless about such things–and I think there’s the core of it. The Outrider has found that all his flashy techniques are ultimately empty–he got what he wanted, but it’s Orpheus’ love, compassion and nobility that saves the day. He’s definitely “the better man” here, and I think we see the parallel in Hank and Dean–Hank using Mystery/The Outrider’s techniques, Dean reliant mostly on his inherent Orpheus-like goodness of heart. Hank may get more tail, but ultimately–hopefully–Dean will have the more meaningful life. For what that’s worth.

    • . . . I completely missed the “Mystery” elements of the Outrider. I believe you’re dead on target.

      Even though he shows some growth, Dean remains more or less sweet and clueless about such things–and I think there’s the core of it.

      Heh, indeed:

      “Oo! Can I pet your pussy?”
      “… there’s no irony in that, is there.”

      Dean is a sweet and clueless chick magnet. Let him grow a little spine and confidence and he’ll be a force with which to be reckoned.

      (And BTW, Triana’s stunned reaction was perfectly rendered.)

  12. i loved this episode! just because im so attached to all the characters. I think Triana and Dean were especially great. I like seeing Deans growth and there’s some social skills hope in there! I like how Triana wasnt portrayed negatively for “dumping” Dean, (girl characters who put guys in the friend zone so often are) it was a really sweet scene. Hank is going about things in an awkward way, but he also is seeming more and more like a normal teenager to me, less of a Johnny Quest parody and more like a kid trying to figure things out. I LOVE that he said that he is ashamed of his ignorance, because he seems like he’s trying to rectify it, even if it is insanely awkwardly. It would be worse if he was willfully ignorant. Overall the whole episode was pretty hopeful in tone compared to the rest of the series. Maybe the younger generation will make it out of the bad loop of sadness yet!

  13. Something occurred to me.

    The Master called in Triana to advise her to “set that kid free” – to allow Dean to let go of Triana. To help her make her decision, he gives Triana a glimpse of a rather unsavory possible future with Dean (despite the fact that showing her a future would allow it to be changed, and that “the love of a good woman can do wonders”).

    The Master frequently gives advice with the apparent knowledge that a very different outcome will come from it. (He advises Orpheus to kick the Outrider’s ass, apparently knowing that Orpheus would end up rescuing him instead.)

    In the end, Triana didn’t have to “break his heart”, Dean broke up (so to speak) with her. Triana didn’t have to do anything at all. Presumably, the omniscient Master would have known that that would happen – even if Triana hadn’t spoken to the Master and wasn’t heading off to live with her mother, Dean would be the one to end things between them.

    In which case, the Master wasn’t actually trying to give her the wherewithal to allow Dean to let go of Triana, he was giving Triana the strength to let go of Dean.

  14. What does The Master want? The Master is a kind of supernatural life-coach. He coaxes, teases, chides, hints, berates and insults in order to get his disciples to improve their lives.

    I wonder if there is any relationship between The Master and the other life-coach in the series, Dr. Henry Killinger