Venture Bros: The Doctor is Sin

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This episode opens with what I think is a first for the show: a topical political joke. In the middle of the desert, Dr. Venture pulls up in his hovercar to some itinerant Mexican workers and asks if they want $50 a day to work on his compound. I have to assume that this is a comment on John McCain’s speech a while back where he mentioned that Americans would not work for $50 (an hour) picking lettuce. The significance of this joke in this episode won’t become apparent until the post-credit coda.

After offering the Mexicans jobs for which they are absurdly unqualified, Rusty zips off in his hovercar and passes an iPod billboard. I puzzled over this for a minute or so: is The Venture Bros somehow connecting American joblessness, Mexican infiltration of American jobs, high-tech employment and Steve Jobs? If so, what is the statement? Is it just that even here, in the desert where itinerants gather to look for work, there is ample evidence of the carefree, glamorous life promised by American high-tech prosperity? Is the image the Venture Bros version of this? Is America truly the Great Satan, luring immigrants with promises of sexy high-tech glamor, just as Dr. Killinger is a Satan luring Rusty into a life of supervillainy with his promises of strong identity and dynamic self-actualization?

Perhaps, but as I looked at the image again I realized that the silhouette on the billboard is that of none other than Rusty’s brother Jonas. The shot, seemingly a throwaway gag, actually propels the plot forward. Rusty is in the desert looking for cheap labor, in order to impress General Manhowers, in order to compete with his brother Jonas. Whew! That’s a lot of baggage for a second-long shot of a billboard to carry.

(Jonas’s black silhouette against the purple background also segues nicely into the silhouettes of the Venture boys’ legs against the red of the opening titles.)

As the show begins, we see the dead Manasaurus being taken off the electric fence by Brock. This is what Brock has been reduced to by the Monarch’s renunciation of his arching of Rusty: once a bodyguard, he is now a clean-up crew. The Monarch has altered his identity, now everyone he affected will need to change theirs as well.

(Not that the Monarch was ever really a threat to Rusty. I can’t remember — does Rusty even have a clear understanding of what the Monarch wants, or is the Monarch merely a distracting irritant to him?)

Rusty, feeling the pressure of forging his own identity, arranges to meet with General Manhowers to show off the compound and hopefully pick up some orders. This information is gotten across in his phone conversation with Jonas, a nice bit of expository writing that compresses the important plot information into an elegant character beat emphasizing Rusty’s rivalry with Jonas.

Note the contrast between Rusty’s company and Jonas’s. Each brother has a staff of oddball misfits, but Jonas’s team operates with smooth efficiency while Rusty’s gripe and quarrel — or so it seems, until Jonas mis-handles his hold button and we see that he, too, is plagued with personality conflicts and incompetent personnel.

(Bonus: it’s always nice to see a scene of

  talking to himself.)

Rusty puts on a Potemkin Compound display for General Manhowers. I understand why the weak-willed Dr. Orpheus would go along with the play-acting, but seeing his gloomy teenage daughter Triana happily pretending to be a receptionist (in powder-blue lipstick) seems odd at first. But it makes the eviction of her and Dr. Orpheus all the more of a slap in the face.

(Of course, we find out later that Triana performs her roles under protest, and she throws in a jab at the writing staff for good measure.)

As Rusty shows off his new identity of “efficient super-science-guy” to General Manhowers, his old identity of “loser supervillain magnet” keeps re-asserting itself. His tour is interrupted by an attack from a supervillain whose name would be, if I had to guess, Four-Armed Falcon, and his pride over his newly-refurbished walkway is undone by his neglecting to staff, or even dust, the R.O.C.C. This all ties in with what we shall see, the political message of the episode, namely that Rusty, in pretending to be a hot-shot leader, has focused all his energy on presentation and none on substance. Just as Bush spent all his energy focused on putting on a flight suit and printing up a MISSION ACCOMPLISHED banner, and none on figuring out how to prosecute his war properly. Appearance over substance is a hallmark of the Bush years in all aspects of American society I’m afraid, and Rusty is no exception.

Just as General Manhowers leaves, unimpressed, Dr. Killinger arrives. The connection of Killinger to Mary Poppins is made again, as is the connection to Satan. I myself would never have made a connection between Henry Kissinger and Mary Poppins, but even if I had, I wouldn’t have made a connection between Mary Poppins and Satan — but the connection does exist, mainly, that both Mary Poppins and Satan each arrives on the scene bidden by earnest request, in writing. Oddly, Killinger breaks this rule and shows up at the Venture compound seemingly of his own volition.

Killinger, already a wonderful character, is here given a full-on multi-dimensional treatment. He is both a soulless murdering machine of cruel vengeance and a delicate, warm, even fussy, agent of encouragement and wonder. In skull slippers.

He warps Rusty’s mind, true, but he also does provide a service, does he not? His advice may lead to evil, but it starts out as essentially positive: be your own hero, slay the image of your father, take back the dignity stolen from you by your brother, etc.

(The David and Goliath metaphor employed in Dr. Killinger’s hallucinations is, perhaps unintentionally, altogether apt. In the Valley of Elah, the pipsqueak David was able to slay the giant Goliath by virtue of what was, in the Bronze Age, new technology, the slingshot. The Philistines had swords but David, applying then-advanced physics to an old idea, was able to best the dominant weaponry of the day with a much smaller, more portable new device. How appropriate that Killinger advises Rusty to be the David to his technology-king father’s Goliath.)  UPDATE: My scholarship on this point is well-intentioned but flawed — see comments below.

Killinger’s interactions with the other characters develop thus: to Rusty he supplies positive messages of self-actualization, to Brock he takes away identity and replaces it with a reasonable monetary profit, and to Hank he dispenses advice that, unless I miss my guess, is a barely-changed page from The Secret. So we see that the language of self-actualization masks selfishness, selling-out and, eventually, a kind of personal fascism.

Rusty, of course, eventually realizes that Killinger is not turning him into his father — he’s turning him into a supervillain, no better than the costumed freak Brock had to take down off the fence at the top of the episode. His dreams of success, driven by his awe of his father and his envy of his brother, will lead him to be the thing he most despises — or at least is most irritated by. Rusty, for the first time in my memory, commits an actual moral act in this episode — he turns down success in order to keep his soul, and thus restores not only his old identity of failed loser but also the identities of all those dependent upon him.  By committing his first moral act, Rusty, ironically, genuinely changes his identity — he becomes a moral person instead of a showy capitalist.

And the political message? Killinger, agent of the Guild, avatar of Nixon, symbol of Satan, appears in the sky alongside General Manhower. They are, story-wise, the same person, which is why one appeared as the other went away. Rusty’s desire to “do well” for the General (and thus land lucrative war-profiteering contracts) is directly related to his desire to renounce his identity, out-do his father (calling W!) and beat his brother (calling W again!). Rusty offering the Mexicans the John McCain deal only underlines the point. We as a nation find ourselves in the summer of 2008 at a crossroads: shall we continue to renounce our national identity of imperfect democracy and pursue appearance over substance, glorifying in our supervillainy as our old friends are evicted and bought out, or will we tell the Killingers of the world to fuck off?

(Killinger quotes As You Like It at the close of the show, as Manhowers suggests that we can “read more about” this “in the Bible!” Is Manhowers hoping to do a deft bait-and-switch between Shakespeare and the Bible, or does he just not know the difference? I also note the exceptionally large number of other Biblical references in this episode — the serpent and the apple, Cain and Abel, David and Goliath, etc. Perhaps I’m thinking too small, and the entire episode is actually a biblical parable — or perhaps the reference is yet another dig at Republicanism, that political mode of thought that is always prepared to cite the Bible to cover up whatever evils it engenders.)

Comments

88 Responses to “Venture Bros: The Doctor is Sin”
  1. jdurall says:

    Awesome commentary, for an incredible episode!

    I have very little to add other than please, please, please keep these going throughout the season.

  2. richaje says:

    Love your commentary as always – especially on the Venture Brothers. But I had to quibble with your “new technology” interpretation (every once in a while I get a chance to use my archaeology studies): the sling was an older weapon than the sword (slings are neolithic of origin, swords are bronze age). And also, fwiw, the David stories are generally considered to be set in the Iron Age, not the Bronze Age.

    Sorry to indulge in a little Byron Orpheus behavior, but I rarely get the opportunity!

    • Todd says:

      Oh well, there goes my credibility as a Biblical commentator.

      So is the Iron Age after the Bronze Age? And if the Philistines weren’t using swords, what were they using?

      • richaje says:

        At the risk of serious Orpheus like behavior (my excuse is that I just finished watching two games from the Euro 2008 championship at our local pub) – the basic progression goes Old Stone Age (Paleolithic), New Stone Age (Neolithic), Bronze Age and then Iron Age. They had swords in the Bronze Age (in the Levant that is basically 3000 BC to 1200 BC), I had to write enough about them when I was doing my thesis. However, the technology of a sling is even older.

        FWIW, the sling is a herder’s weapon (easy and cheap to make), while the sword is the weapon of an aristocratic warrior (expensive and difficult to make).

        • Todd says:

          So then David’s move is the inverse of what I said: he’s employing the “people’s weapon” against the weapon of the state. Noted.

          • richaje says:

            Yep. Killinger advises Venture to be the loser who takes down his well-equipped “superior”.

            • schwa242 says:

              Much like Rusty and his dad in that his father’s technology was superior in its day, whereas Rusty’s is now considered to be older and inferior.

  3. catwalk says:

    so is killinger ‘helping’ dr. venture with the intent of bringing him over to the dark side, as it were? or do his best intentions simply go awry, as when his japanese spirit buddy dragged rusty and gang into a quest for love when rusty’s ex-bodyguard kidnapped the boys?

    • fireriven says:

      Here’s what I saw:

      Killinger rehabilitates super-villains and helps them find what they’re missing in their lives. Rusty’s situation looked so much like the typical set-up of a fledgling super-villain that it called to Killinger and he carried out his typical M.O. (as inverted Mary Poppins! Yay!).

  4. urbaniak says:

    “Many are caught up with being a die-hard political party member. They refuse to go outside their party affiliation, and will vote strictly party line, regardless if they know their candidate is supporting abortion, same-sex marriages, and other issues they may not really support in their hearts. The Bible says: ‘to thine own self be true.’ If you can’t trust yourself when making crucial decisions that will affect you, and others for years to come, who can you trust?”

    -Conservative columnist Kaye Grogan, 2004

    • richaje says:

      Hamlet, Proverbs, what’s the difference? ๐Ÿ™‚

    • schwa242 says:

      Back in my gothier days (black makeup, 45 minutes on the hair) someone at a gas station mocked my appearance and told me I was going to hell. Thinking I was being clever at the time, I responded with, “If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out.” Her response was, “Is that Shakespeare or something?”

    • rennameeks says:

      Heather: It’s just like Hamlet said, “To thine own self be true.”
      Cher: Hamlet didn’t say that.
      Heather: I think I remember Hamlet accurately.
      Cher: Well, I remember Mel Gibson accurately, and he didn’t say that. That Polonius guy did.

      Clueless, 1995

  5. jbacardi says:

    …figuring out how to prosecute his war properly

    Not to be presumptuous, but do you mean execute instead?

    I’m all for prosecution in context of speaking of Bush, though…

    • Todd says:

      Prosecute:

      “2. to follow up or carry forward something undertaken or begun, usually to its completion: to prosecute a war.”

      Although, when it comes to Bush, I would enthusiastically support both prosecution and execution. We already know how fervently he supports execution, even of the mentally retarded, a group which surely includes himself.

  6. mimitabu says:

    “He warps Rusty’s mind, true, but he also does provide a service, does he not? His advice may lead to evil, but it starts out as essentially positive: be your own hero, slay the image of your father, take back the dignity stolen from you by your brother, etc.”

    i LOVE the writing in this episode. as for the “he does provide a service, does he not?” i think there’s a huge parallel between killinger and satan in paradise lost. it’s no accident or fault of william blake that people have been sympathizing with satan in that book for years, some going so far as to call it a tragedy with satan as the hero (i’d argue it’s absolutely not that, though). the beauty of satan and killinger is that, yes, they’re each a liar and a trickster, and, yes, their motivations are Just Bad and our perspective has full access to seeing how objectively Bad they are, but when you look at what they say and do, you genuinely have moments thinking, “well, he’s right, isn’t he? what’s so wrong with (such-and-such)?”

    it’s different than sympathizing with a villain like the monarch. it’s more like sympathizing with the monarch’s desire to kill rusty–and not like “man if i were you, I’D want revenge too!” or even like “it’s Justice to kill rusty!” but rather “wow, maybe everyone involved would be better off if you got your way.” i think it’s actually very rare to find a villain as seductive as satan or killinger, though capitalism sure provides fodder for it.

    and the always present “rusty becoming/escaping his father” stuff is getting great now. what’s going on with it in this episode? is it really the case that opposing jonas venture makes one a super villain? when rusty refuses to be a super villain, is he expressing that he wants to be his father? playing all the positions off each other in this setup is reallllly interesting to me(:.

    i think jackson has elevated the writing in the venture bros. with this episode. it’s not really a new direction, but i think he’s very directly dealing with themes that have been present throughout… and doing so… unironically is the word that keeps coming to me, though i don’t know if that’s right. i’m super impressed when i see writing that says point blank “i’m dealing with some themes here, you may want to think about this,” no excuses or jokes (about that at least), but then not being heavy handed. it’s a balance that’s surprisingly difficult to pull off, and rare.

    • Todd says:

      Let’s not forget that Lucifer means “bringer of light.” Although Paradise Lost was written by Milton, not Blake. Unless you’re saying that people have been sympathizing with Satan all this time because of Blake’s illustrations of him.

      Satan in Paradise Lost has a legitimate beef: he wants to know who died and put God in charge. He wants to give God’s secrets to humanity so that they can see the world for what it is, not just take God’s word for it. The apple falls from the Tree of Knowledge, and Satan’s temptation of Eve stems from his desire that humanity might be as gods. God, of course, the Old Testament God anyway, is a vengeful, spiteful, jealous asshole, and so banishes Satan for his presumptions.

      Killinger, on the other hand, doesn’t have a similar larger goal — does he? If he is the Satan of the Guild, who is God? It seems to me he sows only discontent, pitting son against father and brother against brother.

      And of course Milton’s Satan has a point, which is what makes him such a great character.

      • mimitabu says:

        unless i’m misremembering, a professor of mine attributed the reading of paradise lost with lucifer as hero to blake, though i’m positive that reading would be popular in the modern day whether blake ever read the book or not.

        satan has a beef, but you can recast it as pride. he’s basically a hater, saying “he has a nice car (ie rules the universe), why don’t i have a nice car?” but ultimately he just wants to externalize the hateful chaos within himself. there’s loads of (now somewhat forgotten by me) places in the book where he contradicts himself based on who he’s talking to; if you look for it, milton adds more and more evidence that satan is more or less “just bad”. any beef he has is an excuse to oppose good things.

        but the beauty is that most of what he tempts eve with is, by our standards, completely valid–but we can still see the evil involved. i don’t know how clear i’m being(:.

        i don’t know if killinger has a larger plot, but i believe orpheus that killinger is just flat out the devil. he promises capitalist comfort, correctly identifies deeply personal wounds of the characters and shows seemingly healthy ways to overcome them, but really he’s my favorite kind of villain–he just wants to do evil. it has nothing to do with him, or a grudge, he just is evil.

        (: just like i think capitalism is flat out evil, but i sure like being able to type this on my laptop.

        sorry to go on too much about paradise lost (i can get carried away with it). i’d argue that satan has a point, but he doesn’t mean any of it. what could be more dangerous than someone telling you stuff that resonates completely with you, but who only really cares about hurting people?

        • mimitabu says:

          p.s. all the smile faces are coming from the fact that i’m biting off so much more than i can chew with these comments(:. it’s like, “hey i have a point to make. it relies on a relatively idiosyncratic reading of paradise lost, and numerous assumptions about a character in a show that just aired last night. here it comes in a paragraph or two, expect total clarity!”

          regardless, i just think there’s really cool things going on with killinger and the episode as a whole, writing-wise. that’s all i’m trying to get across, convincing paradise lost readings or otherwise.

          • Todd says:

            I’ll take your word on Paradise Lost — you’ve obviously read it more recently than I have.

            • mimitabu says:

              it’s been about 5 years, but it’s really stayed with me because i liked it so much. (: regardless, “what satan’s motivations REALLY were” requires an inherently idiosyncratic interpretation, which is why i felt a bit ridiculous commenting. it’s a work of enough importance that there’s been more than a little scholarship and argument done, so walking into a conversation throwing around PL is a bit silly, but hopefully i made some kind of point. i type too much.

              i do wonder if my own limited perspective causes me to think the type of villain killinger is is rare, though. i don’t remember too many villains where a) they are evil, no question, b) the stuff they say and do looks to be really positive, so c) i don’t know if i can reconcile (a) and (b). sure, there’s sympathetic villains, villains with a valid beef, but the more i think about it, the more i can’t think of anyone besides lucifer and killinger.

              but, i’m not very well-read. i obsess over what i do read and see, but it’s tough to gauge rarity of certain things. am i crazy here about killinger? it’s like, “maybe all the vb crew should be doing what he’s advocating, even though he’s evil, and a lot of the stuff he’s saying is also evil.” and as for what he wants, it must be either power/control or raw evil. but he wears those cute slippers.

  7. kornleaf says:

    I have been having a hard time vocalizing what my problems actually are with “the secret,” it always rubbed me the wrong way and i was never sure why, even when my crazed ex-girlfriend and her mother sat me down to watch the crude video. Now i know;

    “Killinger’s interactions with the other characters develop thus: to Rusty he supplies positive messages of self-actualization, to Brock he takes away identity and replaces it with a reasonable monetary profit, and to Hank he dispenses advice that, unless I miss my guess, is a barely-changed page from The Secret. So we see that the language of self-actualization masks selfishness, selling-out and, eventually, a kind of personal fascism.

    • schwa242 says:

      A friend of mine compared “The Secret” to Satanism… not the devil-worship variety but the self-centered the-universe-is-here-to-please-me type.

  8. dougo says:

    Just as Bush spent all his energy focused on putting on a flight suit and printing up a MISSION ACCOMPLISHED banner, and none on figuring out how to prosecute his war properly.

    You know, it did cross my mind that Killinger is somewhat Cheney-like. (Although really it’s Cheney who is a cheap knock-off of Kissinger.) But now you’re making me realize… George W. Bush was arching Saddam Hussein!

    By the way, I thought Killinger was meant to be a Kissinger parody, but now we learn that he gave Nixon his first power tie. Does that mean that Killinger is Kissinger? Or are they both manifestations of some sort of cosmic puppet-master archetype?

    Or, more mundanely, I’m wondering if Killinger’s grandfatherly attention to the Venture boys might indicate that he actually is part of the family, perhaps Myra’s dad. Which maybe explains why he has to wear the mask, so he won’t be recognized? What else could be going on with that?

    It’s like “Lost”, every answered question just raises many more questions…

    • jbacardi says:

      George W. Bush was arching Saddam Hussein!

      Without trying to be all conspiracy theory here, I’ve always had a feeling that the main reason Bush the Younger seemed to be so obsessed with bringing down Saddam (no matter what it took) was because of the early 90’s embarrassment that Hussein dealt Bush the Elder and his Desert Storm, and this was Dubya’s unstated goal- to get payback for Papa.

      • Todd says:

        That may have been the way Cheney and co. sold the idea to Bush, but I can’t believe it was his motivation — it would imply that he honors his father, which would make him at least a glancingly moral person.

  9. blake_reitz says:

    Something that came to mind this episode, and applies to the previous episode as well: Are characters starting to break out of their cycles of failure? In the last episode, Monarch and Dr. Girlfriend “win” rising up in the guild, getting a new base of operations, with really only an embarrassing tribunal (or a crucible!) and a costume malfunction getting in their way.

    Here, Rusty is on the verge of success. You say he’s on the path to becoming no better the the Manosaur, but that just looked like some punk. Killinger seems to be setting Rusty up with backing, Venchmen included. And I don’t know, maybe if Rusty did drop the pretense of goodness, the self-imposed illusion of becoming his father, he would be a threat to match even Limb. Or maybe he would still be a failure.

    I agree with this being Rusty’s first moral act. I cannot think of a single thing he’s done that comes close to this. A success, maybe, turning down evil for maybe the first time in his adult life?

  10. schwa242 says:

    I was actually surprised by how this episode ended. Until the ending, I was convinced that the season was going to go off in a new direction with Rusty as a supervillain, at least for a few episodes. Without an arch-nemesis, it would have killed the two birds of his lack of purpose and the nuisance of however many contenders to the Monarchs position with one stone. With a sling of course.

  11. greyaenigma says:

    I am eagerly looking forward to finding out more about Killinger’s actual motivations and and goals.

    Maybe his whole purpose of this episode’s activity was actually to drive Rusty to make the moral choice of not arching his brother, much as his apparent ultimate goal when we first saw him was to reunite The Monarch and Dr. Girlfriend.

    • popebuck1 says:

      I’m in your camp – I thought Killinger’s whole schtick was that he seems to be an ultimate, all-powerful force for evil, while actually accomplishing good. He seems to be Satan, and it turns out he’s really Mary Poppins.

      • greyaenigma says:

        Yeah, but then I watched the episode again last night with that in mind. He disintegrates a few guys (who might have been evil, but still…) and his training of the boys is… disturbing.

        I’d still like to think his ultimate goal is for good.

        I went back and watched the first Killinger episode on DVD, and he does appear to be an Agent of Love. But then I listened to the commentary and even the show’s creators say they have no idea, so I’m probably overthinking it.

  12. What I’m trying to figure out is what Rusty re-rebirths into.

    After entering Killinger’s crucible, he emerges naked, ready to claim a new identity. After he turns down the good Doctor he is again naked, presumably reborn again.

    What strikes me about Rusty moral act isn’t that he actual committed one, but rather how he agonizes afterwards about whether he is a bad person. It actually seems to haunt him. Figuratively and literally stripped, he is forced to confront himself and is appalled to find himself lacking.

    Does he simply resume his old self? Rusty seems to have successfully exorcised his feelings of inadequacy in relation to his father and the resultant inability to succeed. Will Rusty use his new-found guilt to continue his addiction to failure?

    I am again impressed at how deep and well-thought THE VENTURE BROTHERS is.

    • Todd says:

      Especially when you consider how absurd and peculiar it is, how ridiculous and flat-out bizarre it is conceptually.

      I think this is probably one of the best-written episodes so far.

  13. toku666 says:

    Mega-nerd alert:

    This is not a challenge, but a sincere question: is there contextual evidence that Killinger is an agent of the Guild?

    • blake_reitz says:

      The only evidence that I can think of is the contract he shows Rusty, the one about to be signed in blood. It’s got the guild logo on it.

      • Todd says:

        I had to have a quick finger on the pause button, but yes, he’s offering Rusty a Guild contract.

        • I think that is a standard supervillain contract which just happens to be administered under the Guild and Killinger would be a mere contractor.

          Then again, that Guild video from Season 2 mentioned other dens of villainy…

  14. mcbrennan says:

    I remember last season when “Viva Los Muertos” aired–the episode where Rusty creates “Venturestein”–I was struck by how dark it was, and how his actions were far more overtly evil than any of the show’s villains. I really like that this episode faced that darkness head-on, and forced him to face it.

    I see the biblical references and (in the real world) I recognize Kissinger for what he is. But I’m really conflicted about Dr. Killinger, because despite his namesake I don’t see much real evidence that he’s evil or a “villain”. In his previous appearance he basically served as matchmaker for Monarch and Dr. Girlfriend and (intended, anyway) peacemaker between Monarch and Team Venture. Satan tries to get good people to turn evil; Killinger only wants you to look in the damn mirror. In this episode, his only casualties are three labor union kingpins, an occupation with a long history of corruption. Thus far, anyway, I see Killinger more as a kind of totem, spirit guide, whatever, helping people to see who they really are and what they really want. None of his statements have been overtly false or wrong or misleading; Samson was wasting his life cleaning up dead Manasaurs, and the boys have needed a reliable advice-giving parental figure for years. He’s pointedly gained nothing personally from his interventions. He was overjoyed when the Monarch and Dr. G worked it out, disappointed when Rusty recoiled from his obvious destiny. But that’s all. So far, I believe Killinger is strictly a values-neutral force for reason and truth. If he was a real person, he would have a self-actualization book, DVD and PBS special that would rake in huge pledge bucks. Killinger is way less evil than Wayne Dyer.

    I don’t see Rusty’s rejection of Killinger’s contract as a moral act. Well, okay, it’s sort of moral in the “well, this is what I think I’m supposed to do to be a good person” sense, but I think it’s more cowardice. Killinger showed him exactly who he is and what he wants. Almost every episode of this series shows Rusty as exactly the villain he nearly became in this episode (in the pilot, he skinned the boys’ dog alive, ferchrissake). Rusty has been a villain, he excels at amoral behavior, he is the Monarch with a worse costume. When presented with the mountain of evidence from within and without, he was shocked, he recoiled, he couldn’t go through with it, which to me is failure again, another in a long series of refusals to accept his destiny or live up to his potential. “Am I a bad person?” By even posing the question, he’s “reborn” and has a chance for redemption. But will he actually change? I’m skeptical. Almost every single one of Rusty’s inventions have in some way or other been an affront to “morality”, decency, even God. If he gives that up, what’s he gonna do to pass the time? Who will he be then?

    I’m also skeptical of the very concept of a “moral act” in this show’s universe. Nothing has been established in this show to present the guild in any material way as “less moral” than the superscientist side. The most “successful” and “good” person in this setup is Jonas Jr, and what does he do for a living? He’s a freakin’ defense contractor–one whose first earthly act was to try and murder his brother. What happens if Rusty “arches” him, somehow destroys his ability to make weapons for the military? Would that act be “good” or “evil”? The boys at Conjectural Technologies are relatively benign, Orpheus seems to mean well (though, um, dark arts, hello), Hank and Dean are too young to know better, but otherwise, none of these people have any moral high ground. Samson’s a professional murderer for the state. Richard Impossible is a sociopath (and a mute, apparently). Brisby–oy. Even H.E.L.P.eR was as much a killbot as a nanny before his weapons went offline. Maybe Rusty’s refusal to turn professionally “evil” marks a new moral high ground. Maybe the differences between good and evil in the VB universe will now be elucidated. But I think there is no clear moral center here. There’s only success or failure, embracing the self or running from it. And I think he ran, same as always.

    • Anonymous says:

      Brava!
      –Ed.

    • I’m also skeptical of the very concept of a “moral act” in this show’s universe.

      What about Rusty’s decision not to kill Jonas in the Season 1 finale?

      • mcbrennan says:

        You’re right, that was probably his high-water mark. And interestingly, his decision in this one is along the same lines, since ultimately, “arching” his brother (if done with Killinger’s usual efficiency) would theoretically lead to killing him. Rusty definitely feels a connection for his brother that he doesn’t share with anybody else on the show. Maybe not surprising considering the show’s title or the fact that Rusty carried him around for 40 years and quite literally gave birth to him. It’ll be interesting to see where that goes.

    • mimitabu says:

      orpheus isn’t so much a practitioner of the dark arts as he is (according to him) a keeper of order in the cosmos. and a necromancer, apparently-_-.

      but his moral hunches haven’t, as far as i can remember, been wrong, and he is very much a moral man whether you see that to mean “tries to keep order and make sure rules are followed” or as “tries to prevent people from being hurt” (i imagine those are the 2 most popular visions of morality nowadays).

      i’m fairly sure that the killinger of “the doctor is sin” is evil. the strong case you make against this sort of leads in to the lucifer/killinger parallels i wanted to make in an earlier comment. in paradise lost, satan tries to get people to turn evil (like you said) by revealing to them their true nature, informing them of the potential for self-actualization and free choice, and then ultimately getting them to choose something evil (like killinger). killinger’s great power (and what makes him so interesting to me) is that his ideas and methods are compelling.

      “In this episode, his only casualties are three labor union kingpins, an occupation with a long history of corruption”

      mm, they’re shown to be plainly corrupt. we do not sympathize with them. then he murders them because they would get in his way.

      “Samson was wasting his life cleaning up dead Manasaurs,”

      samson also has established a family in doc and the boys, and made some introspective progress with doctor o. killinger gets him to look away from these bonds, to devalue all of his defining actions up until now (protecting the ventures), cutting him out of the family by making him pay rent, then silences him by paying him off with tax advice.

      the interesting thing here is that samson does come out ahead on his taxes. killinger isn’t really giving bad advice, but he’s also taking away samson’s identity.

      “and the boys have needed a reliable advice-giving parental figure for years.”

      so he fills dean’s mind with 80s capitalist cutthroat nonsense and apparently has hank kill a man. again, it might do dean’s confidence some good to develop a capitalist mindset… but can “if you want something, go out and take it!” be advice telling dean venture to look in the mirror? would he be happy exploiting people? is capitalism itself good (considering the context of the rest of the episode, i’d imagine the answer is not an unqualified ‘yes’).

      i think killinger is keying into certain bits of lack or wounds in each character’s psyche, getting them to focus on them, then urging them to make the wrong choice.

      i agree with you completely about rusty at the end of the episode though. i suspect he’ll just go back to how he was.

      i also agree that there’s little moral order in the venture universe, with the guild acting more honorable than super scientists (while both murder henchmen and bystanders, sell arms to the government, etc etc). i think morality just kind of pops up whenever people are feeling it, which is pretty realistic actually (or it pops up when orpheus is around, which is not so realistic).

      “But I think there is no clear moral center here. There’s only success or failure, embracing the self or running from it.”

      i think this episode may very well be morally exploring a state of affairs where “there is only success/failure, embracing/avoiding the self.” it’s saying, “hey, maybe THIS IS self-actualization. is it really ‘failing’ to not be THIS?”

      • mcbrennan says:

        I agree with pretty much everything you’ve said. Especially with Orpheus. He is definitely the moral center (and I adore him); my point was only that by “conventional standards” (Judeo-Christian standards anyway) a guy who cavorts with dark arts and can resurrect the dead is typically not scored as a “good guy”. Of course Orpheus is. But it’s that duality (he was introduced by Hank as “a Dracula!”) that is so pervasive in VB, and I’m not sure which “side” I’m supposed to…erm, side with.

        “If you want something, go out and take it” would be pretty dubious general advice…unless you were a wishy-washy kid incapable of making any bold decision on even the tiniest of matters. I took it more as being romantic advice (ie “make a move on Triana) than business advice, pushing Dean towards (sexual) maturity, but who knows. Likewise we don’t actually know Hank killed that disloyal thief. But Killinger only puts the knife in his hand, giving him the power of decision, and presumably the option of mercy. What actually happened is up to Hank.

        I do see the evil, or the potential for evil, but I just can’t overlook the Mary Poppins reference. The Pรบka-esque nanny that came to straighten out a troubled household, help those neglected and more or less parentless children find their way. I think the Killinger character is exactly what he seems–a balance between the values-neutral or even “evil” realpolitik of Kissinger and the generally noble, good and honest intent of Mary Poppins. Killinger does make a bit of mischief (as she did) and may be a little dubious here and there, but the core of the thing (in this episode, anyway) is this–Rusty is the most objectively evil character on the show and he has been since the pilot. He’s Ayn Rand crossed with Dr. Mabuse…with a little Gilligan and Kurt Cobain thrown in to make sure he’s hamstrung by self-sabotage. Killinger doesn’t want him to be any more evil than he already is, he just wants him to acknowledge it. He can’t do it because it would mean committing–in blood!–to something, and Rusty can’t commit to anything but diet pills (even the boys are easily-replaceable and easily forgotten). God forbid he should find his calling and be successful at it.

        You’re absolutely right, by our moral standards the Lucifer/Killinger connection is very strong (and the tag definitely supports that). But the axis of the VB world doesn’t turn on good and evil, it turns on success or failure…and failure’s way, way ahead.

        • dougo says:

          Likewise we don’t actually know Hank killed that disloyal thief.

          And anyway, didn’t Hank already kill a pirate on Brock’s instructions?

          • mcbrennan says:

            And from a mortal-soul standpoint, does that even count? Since it was *spooky voice* a different Haaank

            I think it would actually take a Kissinger to sort out (and quickly and ruthlessly dismiss) the massive moral and spiritual ambiguity in Venture Bros. Oh Jesus, did I actually just call him into being? Now I am doomed.

            • Anonymous says:

              It’s been a weird week

              been seeing NIXON IN CHINA, and the clarity of character inherent in the Kissinger now-archetype is seductive…

              • mcbrennan says:

                Re: It’s been a weird week

                It is seductive. Without getting too far afield of Venture Bros, not too long ago I was lamenting to a friend that I frequently set lofty personal goals for myself and then get sidetracked by sudden family emergencies, the needs of loved ones, etc, and my friend said “yes, but I think you’re a better and happier person for it.” I found that an odd reaction, but it rang true. Even in this nutty materialistic/achievement-based society, I think some part of us views someone capable of the ruthless clarity and cold logical pragmatism of a Killinger (or his real-life doppelganger) as a monster, even as we secretly wish we could (bring ourselves to) emulate it. Freud supposedly said “all men are great in their dreams”, but given the ugly things that must necessarily be done to achieve that level of greatness, perhaps it’s for the best that Rusty–and the rest of us–never quite get there. Maybe the beauty of dreaming a thing will always be greater than the harsh reality of having it.

                Then again, that could just be a convenient rationalization for staying in bed till noon. Who knows.

        • Anonymous says:

          “The Doctor Is Sin” doesn’t necessarily refer only to Dr. Killinger. It applies just as well to Dr. (Rusty) Venture.

          With this reading, his refusal to embrace his own evil and his symbolic rebirth at the end of the episode leave his identity all the more shattered.

          But, of course, if Dr. Venture’s true identity isn’t Sin but Failure, then at the end of the episode he is made whole — and Dr. Killinger’s program of self-actualization has actually succeeded.

          –Ed.

          • Todd says:

            He is awfully polite in defeat — for Satan. Considering all the time and effort he put into Rusty’s case.

        • mimitabu says:

          (belated response) the more i think about it, the more i think i’m almost swayed towards viewing killinger exactly as you do. you make a strong case(:.

          i was just thinking, i wonder if, in the motherless world of the venture bros., they’re putting forth the idea that someone with the heart and intentions of mary poppins but the values-neutral methods of kissinger are what’s necessary to fix how messed up everything is. it’s an interesting idea. i’m looking forward to seeing how they develop everything further.

          • mcbrennan says:

            you make a strong case(:.

            Now I just need you to sign this contract in blood…

            I hope we see Killinger again. I think part of the reason I couldn’t see him as overtly evil despite all the signifiers is how much of a sweetie he was as a matchmaker in his last appearance, almost as if the signifiers were there to throw you off the trail. And besides, if Killinger works for the guild, he works for Bowie, and Bowie is many things, but evil? Only during the mid-to-late 80s, and only if evil is judged by the number of zippers on your parachute pants. Now Falco, there’s some serious malevolence. But I digress.

            So far, VB is a motherless world, and what’s more it’s pretty much a fatherless world too, and a world where old values and dreams are useless or broken or forgotten or derided (cf the noble Dr. Orpheus). In that void, everyone’s come up with these costumes and games to pass the time and try to work out what’s right and wrong and forget how lost and scared they are. It’s kind of a cosplay Lord Of The Flies. And as funny and brilliant and clever as it is, at its heart, it feels lonely and sad. And it’s no wonder that someone like a Killinger, with the trappings of parental authority and caring, can carry a lot of influence. It’s also no wonder that Brock and Rusty ultimately rebel against him and reject him, too.

    • Todd says:

      Oh Cait —

      I fear for your soul. You are an evil person.

    • selectnone says:

      I remember last season when “Viva Los Muertos” aired–the episode where Rusty creates “Venturestein”–I was struck by how dark it was

      Don’t forget the “Joy Can” in the first season’s “Eeny Meeny Miny Magic”, built around a haunted orphan-heart…

      In this episode, his only casualties are three labor union kingpins

      I’ve seen Batman: The (original 60’s) Movie, they’ll be fine, they just need rehydrating!

      • mcbrennan says:

        Excellent Batman: The Movie reference. I would pay good money to see Killinger wrestle a shark while climbing a Bat-ladder.

        And also an excellent point–do we know those three dudes are irrevocably dead?

        I shudder to think where Rusty got that orphan heart. Even Killinger doesn’t traffic in orphan children’s body parts–come on, he’s a rank amateur next to Rusty’s evil. Evil may be the only thing Rusty was ever good at.

        • I shudder to think where Rusty got that orphan heart. Even Killinger doesn’t traffic in orphan children’s body parts–come on, he’s a rank amateur next to Rusty’s evil. *Evil may be the only thing Rusty was ever good at.*

          You know, that may have been the point of the episode.

  15. No one mentioned one of the best lines of the show. After Killinger slits Rusty’s hand to produce blood to sign the contract Rusty says:(this is from memory) “We’ve got enough blood here to print a Kiss comic book!”

    Geez…. just how much of a geek am I that I got that?

  16. selectnone says:

    I thought the Mary Poppins parallel (or just reference) was pretty obvious from his umbrella-bound exit in his first episode ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Killinger is the kind of character who, no matter how everything pans out at the end of the episode, intended for that to happen from the very beginning.

    Rusty’s backing away from Ze Dark Side could provide many positive strides towards Doc K’s shadowy goals, whatever they might be.

    For example, the Arching profession might be invigorated and given more evil purpose by having more actual good-guys to oppose.

    (not that T.S. is ever likely to be a shining example of morality and competence, but hey, baby-steps…)

  17. Anonymous says:

    Just curious

    Isn’t it possible that Killinger wanted Rusty to make his “moral” decision at the end? I don’t totally see Killinger as a malevolent being.

    In his first appearance, everything he did was really just a facade under the guise of getting Monarch and Dr. Girlfriend back together. And I feel the exact same thing happened in this episode. I think Killinger arranged the whole scenario so Rusty would make the exact decision he made at the end.

    Killinger comes off as an almost romantic fixer upper type of character, like a modified deus ex machina. If you think about it, Killinger put Rusty back on the right path . . . in a way.

    • rennameeks says:

      Re: Just curious

      Isn’t it possible that Killinger wanted Rusty to make his “moral” decision at the end? I don’t totally see Killinger as a malevolent being.

      [snip]

      If you think about it, Killinger put Rusty back on the right path . . . in a way.

      I agree, Killinger isn’t a malevolent being. He was simply offering Rusty the most practical and productive option he could see available to him. Rusty becoming a supervillain would give his life purpose, and he wouldn’t be competing with his father’s (or his brother’s) success anymore because he’d be on a completely different path. He’d even be a GOOD supervillain, at least with Killinger’s assistance.

      But that’s not what Rusty ever wanted. He IS a good man and rejects the temptation of villainy on his own, without any assistance. He would rather be a failure and be himself.

      Killinger told Rusty that he fears success. Maybe this near-brush with soul loss will get him off his lazy butt and start putting things together. Rusty tends to kick back a lot and let his dad’s old success carry him, and anything he makes himself doesn’t work or causes more trouble than it’s worth. But what if Killinger is right and Rusty’s inventions fail because if he succeeds, he will be forced to compete with his father? Right now, Rusty’s constant failures are “safe,” because he’s not really trying. But if he was truly trying to succeed and failed, that would crush him under Daddy’s boot more completely than ever before.

      The real question is, is Rusty willing to try? CAN he overcome this fear on his own, without Killinger’s magic bag of tricks? Hopefully we’ll find out this season.

      • Todd says:

        Re: Just curious

        Killinger isn’t Lucifer, he’s an efficiency expert!

        • rennameeks says:

          Re: Just curious

          Yep! And ol’ Doc V would be more efficient as a supervillain than superscientist, at least at this point.

          I wonder how far Rusty would get if he stopped trying to be everything he’s not.

        • Anonymous says:

          Re: Just curious

          Here is what I am trying to say.

          Killinger wanted Rusty to make that exact decision at the end. He didn’t necessarily want Rusty to become a supervillain at all. Rusty did acknowledge himself and he made a decision at the end, and apparently it was Rusty’s first moral decision. I agree with that.

          However, I think when Killinger first appeared all the efficiency expert thing was a fosh. A parody. As it was in this episode.

          What did Killinger do in his first appearance? He got Monarch and Dr. Girlfriend back together. He bound Rusty to the oni demon in hopes that Rusty would meet Myra again and RECONCILE with her! To get them back together. He and the oni were regretful when that didn’t happen, but he said something to the effect of “oh well at least he was able to find his boys.”

          So all the efficiency crap he apparently executes was all a clever play a ruse, all of it was elaborate to reach the desired or moral outcome. Maybe he is a little more neutral than that. But Monarch and Dr. Girlfriend finally reconciled. Monarch finally put aside his vendetta and arching of Venture. And Rusty looked within himself and looks to be going down a better path hopefully.

          I get all the liberal crap about, “we need to tell all the Killingers to fuck off this November to save the country with Barak Obama.” But I dunno, I don’t think Killinger is like a John McCain, George W. Bush etc. He did confront Rusty, and Rusty made the right choice. However, based on Killinger’s first appearance I think Killinger really wanted Rusty to refuse the supervillain gig.

          And Killinger, I don’t see as Mephistopheles or Satan. Because Satan does not seduce you with power and then get you back together with your girlfriend or family, and then just leave from your life and then get you to finally stop whining and make a decent choice about yourself. I think that’s what Killinger really did.

          However this could all change at the drop of a hat, if something else shows that Killinger is master planning something even more sinister and the righteously moral decisions he’s played in are a part of that.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Rusty = Faust

    This is Faust with Killinger as Mephistopheles. Ultimately Rusty will not sell his soul to gain the world though. Thus at the end of the story we see him naked a symbol of the loss of material wealth. He has enough humanity to know to ask the question. You have to have a soul to do soul searching. It’s Rusty’s own vanity and selfishness that has led him to this place. I think this story show’s he’s unwilling to let it drag him over the edge though. It will be interesting to see if his sense of self evolves from this experience.

    • Todd says:

      Re: Rusty = Faust

      The difference between Killinger and Mephistopheles is, of course, that Mephistopheles promised but did not deliver until the name was on the dotted line. Killinger spent a lot of time and effort proving he could do what he claimed, then lost the job anyway.

      Which makes me think that Killinger is less like Mephistopheles and more like a Hollywood screenwriter.

  19. Anonymous says:

    you think too much

  20. mikeyed says:

    I just have a question…

    What is the one scene with the Venchman that lies, so Killinger gives Dean a dagger to right his wrong with a reference to? I thought you’d know…

    Amazing dissection.

    • Todd says:

      Re: I just have a question…

      It’s not coming to me right off the top of my head, but it sounds like something from the old testament. Or The Godfather.

      • Anonymous says:

        Re: I just have a question…

        The *third* Batman movie reboot, BATMAN BEGINS.

        Liam Neeson, extra, C. Bale, knife.

        • Todd says:

          Re: I just have a question…

          Was there also a Burton Batman reference in this episode? It would be nice if it hit the entire Batman-movie hat trick.

  21. st_rev says:

    The one thing that seems clear about Killinger is that he is deeply wise, unlike almost every other character in the series; the only exceptions that come to mind are the Alchemist and Orpheus’s master, and the Alchemist doesn’t come close to Killinger in this respect.

    This makes it very hard to figure out Killinger’s true motivations, simply because he seems to be playing several moves ahead of everyone else.