Venture Bros: The Invisible Hand of Fate

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Part-way through my third viewing of “The Invisible Hand of Fate” it occurred to me that The Venture Bros is a show so wide-ranging in its conception and subject-matter, so ambitious in its scope, that there is, for all intents and purposes, no “typical episode” of the show. A show like Scooby-Doo, or VB‘s inspiration Jonny Quest, were, of necessity, the same show over and over again, but while The Venture Bros. repeats and strengthens themes and motifs and plot devices, it also repeatedly upends audience expectations to the point where you can tune in and be confident that your concept, whatever it is, will be blasted.

“The Invisible Hand of Fate” may be a “flashback” show, but it’s not like “Shadowman 9”, it doesn’t repeatedly flash-forward again to a static dramatic situation. It’s closer to something like a prequel, an episode where we find out a little more about how certain characters got to where they are today. I’ll admit, the story of Master Billy Quizboy was not a narrative I felt I had a burning need to know, but “Invisible Hand of Fate” pretty much blew me away.

So Billy injures himself in the bathroom of the trailer he shares with White, and suddenly remembers his past, which seems to take place at the intersection of Magnolia Street and Quiz Show Boulevard. Billy is, apparently, a brighter-than-average prodigy whose life-plan involves attending MIT and becoming a super-scientist like his boyhood idol Rusty Venture. He is, of course, thinking of the Rusty Venture of TV, not the balding, pony-tailed lout currently drinking himself to the floor of an empty bar. Billy, like many in the VB universe, is a decent-enough freak with big ambitions, heading for disappointment, disillusion and failure.

Billy’s brilliant career as a quiz-show prodigy is undone in a moment by one “Todd,” the quizzee to his left. As a life-long watcher of televisual “Todds”, I have often noted that any character named “Todd” is either presented as a lazy-eyed, buck-toothed moron or an over-educated, uptight Poindexter. I congratulate The Venture Bros for somehow managing to combine both of these archetypes in one Todd — a buck-tooth, lazy-eyed, over-educated uptight Poindexter.

White tries to console Billy with a line about how the “invisible hand of fate” has brought him to this point, but of course nothing could be further from the truth. Billy might have had the wrong answer in the quiz show final, but it was White who turned him into a cheater for the sake of ratings, ruining both their lives and leaving them inextricably linked for the rest of their lives. On the other hand, it appears that White cheated for Billy out of a sense of camaraderie — “we freaks have to stick together” — so his actions could be seen as rooted in affection.

(Which leads me to wonder — are White and Billy lovers? Do I even want to know?)

Billy and White flee the quiz-show world and the episode takes a left-turn so abrupt that it looks like an out-of-order reel-change. The sudden G.I.Joe parody O.S.I., with the strike team that dresses like the Village People and the hyper-violent shenanigans with Sphinx, the Cobra-like evil organization they fight, is so bizarre, so astounding, such a strange confluence of references and influences that it resists easy interpretation — for me, anyway — and probably deserves an entry all of its own.

The already-complicated Venture Bros world gets more complicated when we learn that the Guild were the bad guys on “the old Rusty Venture TV show.” So, wait — in the world of The Venture Bros, Rusty Venture is a “real person,” and was also the star of a TV show, which either was or was not a dramatization of his “real life”? That is, did Rusty Venture really have adventures with his father and also star on a TV show about his own life, which was only tangentially related? And was the Rusty Venture TV show a cartoon show? That is, would the animated Rusty Venture in The Venture Bros. look different from the “Rusty Venture” character in the Rusty Venture TV show? And does that mean that when we see Rusty in boyhood flashbacks, we’re seeing scenes from his “real life,” or scenes from his TV show?

To make things even weirder, we see Jonny Quest’s bodyguard Race Bannon at O.S.I. HQ torturing someone who, I’d guess, was a minor character on Jonny Quest but my computer monitor could not bring into sharp enough focus to identify. Also at O.S.I. HQ we meet two young men, a blond and redhead, who bear suspicious resemblance to Hank and Dean Venture, albeit with personalities reversed — the blond is a squeaky-voiced nerd while the redhead is a broad-shouldered meathead. The significance of this I await to be eventually revealed.

Billy and White arrive at an “underground quizzing match” (nice thing about a Venture Bros plot, “underground quizzing match” is one of the least unusual story point) that seems to be hosted by, of all people, Andy Kaufman stand-in Tony Clifton.

We see that Billy is, in fact, a natural in the quiz arena — he rattles off the answer “the Magna Carta” with nothing but a date to guide him. (I’m guessing that the episode was written well before the recent Supreme Court ruling that was a blow to Bush’s attempts to repeal the Magna Carta, but resonance is resonance.)

“The Invisible Hand of Fate” also takes time to fit in what appear to be two non-sequitur, stand-alone comedy scenes: Brock and Hunter Gathers playing the cow game on the road, and the whole “nozzle” scene. This development seems new to me, but I’m sure more alert viewers will correct me.

Billy and White arrive at the Venture compound just in time to see Rusty’s “bodyguard” Myra being tased by security forces. I puzzled over this odd piece of brutalization against a woman until I realized that the scene is probably there simply to explain why Rusty is in need of a new bodyguard. In any case, Rusty spurns Billy and White and another of Billy’s childhood dreams is crushed — he finds out that his role model is “a total dick.”

Billy’s next quiz meet turns out to be a dogfight, which Billy loses. I like how he’s disqualified because White enters the ring, not because he isn’t actually a dog. His relationship with White at an impasse, Billy gets off the back of (his own) moped, coincidentally at the exact spot where he and White will one day share their trailer.

(Oh wait, I just realized, it’s not coincidentally at all — Billy leaves White at this spot, which is why White places his trailer there — all out of love for Billy.)

Billy is picked up by Brock and Hunter, who press him into service spying on Professor Fantomas, who is doomed, of course, to one day become Phantom Limb. (“Fantomas” being, of course, a reference to this guy.) Billy is nervous about becoming a spy, but finds that he is welcomed as a freak in Fantomas’s class, even as he is overwhelmed by studies.

Billy’s roommate commits suicide (or does he) and Billy goes to see Fantomas in his office. He’s let in by one of my favorite characters of all time, the Guy Scraping The Name Of The Office’s Previous Occupant Off The Door. This character shows up in two of my favorite ’90s movies, Seven and The Hudsucker Proxy, although I can find no direct reference to either of those movies in “The Invisible Hand of Fate”. In the office when Billy walks in is the episode’s only other female character, Dr. Girlfriend, who is at this point calling herself “Sheena” and apparently trying to win favors from Fantomas. Sheena, it will not surprise the reader, is a punk rocker.  (UPDATE: Apparently the name is “Sheila”, not Sheena.  Mea Culpa.)

Fantomas, we learn, was quite impressed with a paper Billy has written, which we later learn was actually written by Stephen Hawking. So Billy has, again, advanced in his cause through unintentionally cheating. He is always a pawn in someone’s game, a victim of good intentions — White’s love and Hunter’s rabid patriotism.

Hunter believes that Fantomas is a member of the elusive Guild, and as the episode develops it seems that, indeed, he is. The question I have at this point is, does Fantomas know that he has been bankrolled by the Guild, or he is he, too, a pawn? Has the Guild orchestrated this entire bizarre, convoluted plot in order to turn Fantomas into Phantom Limb and bring him into the Guild? Is the Guild the “Invisible hand” of the title? Or is the episode asking for a less ironic interpretation, is this wild, complicated plot actually a heartfelt, earnest exploration of the strange, twisted byways that sometimes shape our lives and, more importantly, our narratives?

(Brock says that he and Hunter “think” Fantomas killed Billy’s roommate because he was “getting too close,” which leaves enough room for me to guess that they are, perhaps, wrong.)

Brock and Hunter browbeat Billy for his naivete (honestly, how could he not see that his professor with the withered limbs is a threat to national security and a member of an international criminal organization? Wake up, Billy!) but Billy fights back and escapes, runs to Fantomas to make a clean breast of it.

He shows up just in time for the experiment that will change Fantomas’s life. What he does not know is that he, in his ignorance and foolishness, will inadvertently create a supervillain. This is, in fact, Billy’s only real act in the episode — to clumsily give Fantomas the power he needs to become Phantom Limb.

Billy, traumatized, is trundled off by O.S.I. to a memory-wipe program, Hunter is sent to Guam and Brock is booted from the O.S.I. to be assigned to bodyguard Rusty (as he recently got rid of Myra, his old bodyguard). The beefy Dean double makes a pointed Don Quixote reference I’m still puzzling over, then reveals himself to be a member of the Guild (or so it seems). Which seems to indicate that the Guild has, indeed, quietly orchestrated this entire improbable scenario.

Last week I noted that the iPod billboard with Jonas on it in silhouette next to the line of itinerant Mexicans reminded me of this famous photo. Almost immediately, I regretted making the comparison, certain that I was reaching, seeing things that weren’t there. Then, this shot turns up in this week’s episode, reminding me that it is, apparently, impossible to look too deeply into an episode of The Venture Bros.

In a bookend scene, Billy awakens from his unconsciousness to find White, Brock and Rusty gazing down at him with what looks like real affection. But is he among friends? These people, in one way or another, ruined his life.

(Emphasis is placed on Billy’s twitching mechanical hand, a hand that matches Fantomas’s own artificial limbs in design. Is Billy also, one day, going to develop an evil hand?)


72 Responses to “Venture Bros: The Invisible Hand of Fate”
  1. sean_tait says:

    OSI & GI JOE

    This is just trivia upon trivia, but “GI JOE: A Real American Hero” (the specific GI JOE comic/toyline/cartoon parodied in the episode) began as a pitch by Larry Hama for a SHIELD spin-off series. I wonder if Publick & Hammer were aware of that?

    For that matter, I think the painting in Professor Fantomas’ office was of his nefarious namesake (and presumed ancestor) and not a “science-hero” at all. The original Fantomas is in the public domain, after all.

  2. The beefy Dean double

    I believe that’s a young Sergeant Hatred.

  3. laminator_x says:

    Phantom Limb Double Reference

    While the name and painting point to Fantomas the evil French thief, the description of being the heir to an ancient family of heroes is right in line with his ongoing riff on The Phantom.

    This brings to mind the idea that in the Venture-verse, might the 19th-century Fantomas also have been part of the Phantom line? I read to much into it I think.

    • selectnone says:

      Re: Phantom Limb Double Reference

      The shape of the mask and the Awful Lot Of Purple For A White Guy certainly appear to be references to that Phantom.

    • dougo says:

      Re: Phantom Limb Double Reference

      Wasn’t there a lingering shot on a portrait of Hamilton Fantomas’s costumed forebear?

  4. rjwhite says:

    Also, I believe I saw a brief walk-by from the Steve Austin-esque Sasquatch lover in the O.S.I. sequence.

    • Todd says:

      Darn tootin’.

      • rjwhite says:

        You know, at first I was almost a little put off by the interconnectedness of just about everyone, even more than was revealed at Sorayama’s funeral last year, but it just feeds into the whole larger thing of these people just playing their bizarre little games with each other for decades and keeping the rest of the world a bit safer for occupying themselves in their own little arrested development sandbox.

        I mean, how dangerous would these people be if they actually tried and succeeded? It’s the old “If you have the money to build an elaborate mechanical suit, why are you robbing a bank?” deal.

  5. heathyr1158 says:

    In the office when Billy walks in is the episode’s only other female character, Dr. Girlfriend, who is at this point calling herself “Sheena” and apparently trying to win favors from Fantomas.

    I could have sworn she was going by “Shelia,” the name she gave in the season 2 finale. At least that’s what the captions told me. It’s not like they haven’t been wrong before, though.

    The beefy Dean double makes a pointed Don Quixote reference I’m still puzzling over…

    The other O.S.I.s didn’t believe the guild was real, so Brock and Hunter were merely chasing windmills. That’s what I got from it.

    Billy’s roommate commits suicide (or does he) and Billy goes to see Fantomas in his office. He’s let in by one of my favorite characters of all time, the Guy Scraping The Name Of The Office’s Previous Occupant Off The Door.

    Did you notice that Dr. Impossible’s name was being scrapped off? Too bad Colbert isn’t coming back….some Impossible/Phantom Limb banter would be awesome.

    Which seems to indicate that the Guild has, indeed, quietly orchestrated this entire improbable scenario.

    David Bowie is a diabolical genius!!

    • Todd says:

      I wonder if Professor Fantomas was Dr. Impossible in an earlier draft.

      • drshoggoth says:

        Probably not, unless they foresaw Colbert leaving very early. Remember, the episode “Victor Echo November” features three different origin stories for the Phantom Limb. All of them are wrong, of course, but all of them have Master Billy Quizboy in them as an assistant.

        • heathyr1158 says:

          Or maybe just an “f— you” to Colbert?

        • Anonymous says:

          But there was one that was right!

          The Monarch said in Victor Echo November that Phantom limb tried to accelerate his muscles to “cooler than guys like me” He was wrong about Billy’s hand but correct about how he got his phantom limbs

      • blake_reitz says:

        I can’t help but wonder, if Fantomas knew he was being bankrolled by the Guild, could Dr. Impossible have similar ties? We don’t know exactly when he performed his failed experiments that transformed his family into their current state.

        Wait, new idea! Say Richard was also bankrolled, but unaware of the Guilds true intentions. Maybe the Guild goes around and funds mad scientist experiments like Impossible’s and Limb’s, so as to sabotage them and create “the Doctor Doom origin” over and over again. Impossible might be in with the Guild, or a failure who’s arrogance made him an independent (if not a “hero”).

        Also, the Guild being undercover and replaced by Sphinx (almost certainly a cover for the Guild, IMO) has kind of a strange resonance with the “dark” (or bronze or brass or whatever) age of comics and nerd culture. For a while, the supervillians were forgotten (or reworked), and replaced with garden-variety murders and terrorists.

        And when are we going to find out how Rusty’s dad died?

      • Nope…but Impossible did have a scene in an earlier draft, in which he was seen packing up his office, having just been fired from the University for dating a student named “Sally,” which gave Fantomas the head chair of the science department. One of Fantomas’s students had ratted him out. The scene was cut for time and because Colbert was writing his book and was unavailable. At that point we still thought we’d be getting him back later in the season, though.

  6. piehead says:

    “Dr. Girlfriend, who is at this point calling herself “Sheena””

    Sheila, wasn’t it?

  7. jbacardi says:

    It’s amazing to me that VB can be so relentlessly cynical and negative, and yet so constantly watchable and interesting. Don’t get me wrong, there are moments of warmth and positivity, usually of a twisted kind, but it’s a bleak view of humanity that Publick and Hammer are giving us. Usually this is offputting to me, but here, it’s just great…well there was Dirt, but that’s been canned, so it’s Venture Brothers only from now on to fulfill my paradox requirements!

    I know I’ve seen that nozzle scene before, but I don’t remember the particular episode. Anybody else, or am I just nuts? Wait- don’t answer that.

  8. autodidactic says:

    Quick little historical nod I caught during the O.S.I. sequence:

    • mr_bix says:

      There was also an Abu Ghraib reference.

      The funniest thing about OSI is that it implies that the Office of Secret Intelligence split from the CIA to become the superscience arm of the government and uses that fantastical technology to the same ends as its counterpart. Reminds me a bit of Jon Ronson’s “The Men Who Stare At Goats” (which, oddly enough, I discovered through an interview with Jackson Publick), where a new-age inspired manual was the basis for modern, severely painful weapons and psychological warfare.

  9. greyaenigma says:

    It’s funny, it never even occurred to me that the Rusty Venture Show would be anything but animated. But the idea of a show explains a lot about Rusty’s behavior as an adult — all those friends everyone remembers him with — could they merely be the co-stars he never saw? Does that mean that there’s an actor who played Rusty, now also in very different adulthood?

    I wondered a lot about the timing in this episode. Sheila and Fantomas seem to know each other, but later on, when Phantom Limb… er, reveals himself to Dr. Girlfriend, it seems to be many years later. He’s well established as an evil villain, she seems to have settled on a look and personality.

    Then there’s Myra — did she already have the kids at this point? Assuming she actually was their mother. (Or was Dr. Girlfriend…?)

    Finally, looking at that billboard… Is that the Impossible family driving away from the home that seems to be denied White and Billy?

  10. greyaenigma says:

    Pondering the old Rusty Venture show also makes me wonder — is this the reason The Monarch is obsessed with, and therefore arching Dr. Venture? Does he resent Rusty’s “perfect life” with his father (if not parents) not realizing that Rusty wasn’t enjoying that life himself?

    And how many of those memories Rusty has of his own childhood were actually his own? We know he got to play on Gargantua 1, but maybe he never had most of his own adventures.

  11. Anonymous says:

    what about the lynndie england osi soldier posing on top of naked sphinx soldiers or was that too obvious.

  12. catwalk says:

    i’d always gotten the impression that the referred show was a sort of early reality/re-enactment show, a kind of ‘wild kingdom’ meets ‘survivor’ with possibly hidden cameras.

  13. The already-complicated Venture Bros world gets more complicated when we learn that the Guild were the bad guys on “the old Rusty Venture TV show.” So, wait — in the world of The Venture Bros, Rusty Venture is a “real person,” and was also the star of a TV show, which either was or was not a dramatization of his “real life”? That is, did Rusty Venture really have adventures with his father and also star on a TV show about his own life, which was only tangentially related? And was the Rusty Venture TV show a cartoon show? That is, would the animated Rusty Venture in The Venture Bros. look different from the “Rusty Venture” character in the Rusty Venture TV show? And does that mean that when we see Rusty in boyhood flashbacks, we’re seeing scenes from his “real life,” or scenes from his TV show?

    It seems that Mssrs. Publick and Hammer may be fans of THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI.

  14. fireriven says:

    I’m wondering how far the Guild’s non-involvement clause with Rusty Venture extends. In “Are you there, God? It’s me, Dean,” we find out there’s an entire clause in the Guild handbook called the Rusty clause that allows for cessation of hostilities in the face of medical emergency. Also, the Guild never approved of the Monarch’s arching of Dr. Venture, right?

    Apart from showing up at his house to do arching interviews for Dr. O and trying to kill him on the orders of the future-traitor Phantom Limb, the Guild seems to stay out of Venture’s way as much as possible. I figured that was another reason the Guild-involved OSI officer sent Brock to be Rusty’s security blanket– Brock was getting too close to discovering some hard evidence on the Guild and Venture is supposed to be as far away from current Guild activities as possible.


    • laminator_x says:

      I don’t know about total avoidance, Baron Unterbheit seemed to be after Doc as well without any sort of Guild reprisal.

      However, the two Guild agents who were overseeing the Order of the Triad’s enemy auditions mentionned some sort of treaty or accord having been signed at the Venture Compound in the Jonas Senior days.

      • I don’t know about total avoidance, Baron Unterbheit seemed to be after Doc as well without any sort of Guild reprisal.

        Well for Unterbheit, it *was* personal (although it turns out not to be Rusty’s fault at all).

    • catwalk says:

      i don’t know how much credit to give the guild…

      did they, from within osi, engineer a scenario that would bring an ill-equipped billy quizboy into the sphere of fantomas in order to create the very villain that would one day attempt an absolutely hostile takeover from within. did the guild-ed osi eliminate stevie, putting billy in a position to sin by omission, resulting in the payoff of their investment in fantomas (presuming their covert investment from behind legitimate organizations)?

      is david bowie an evil super-genius puppetmaster?

      • Todd says:

        I don’t know about the first question, but the historical David Bowie has revealed himself time and again as being an evil super-genius puppetmaster.

  15. blake_reitz says:

    Other thoughts:

    Is the Guild’s involvement in OSI the reason Hunter left, and is currently on their to-kill list?

    If that is Sergeant Hatred, was he perhaps allowed to go public along with the Guild? Maybe the Guild actually bought out OSI, in a totally mundane “government contracts” kind of way.

    Mike Sorayama gets namechecked in this episode, as his robotic designs are behind both Fantomas and Billy’s robotic limbs, another Guild/OSI connection. Might he be more involved then we thought?

  16. mr_bix says:

    “The Invisible Hand of Fate” also takes time to fit in what appear to be two non-sequitur, stand-alone comedy scenes: Brock and Hunter Gathers playing the cow game on the road, and the whole “nozzle” scene.

    The first is just Brock and Hunter relieving their boredom while following Billy, but the second is interesting. Fantomas/Phantom Limb points out that Billy’s hand is “based on a Michael Soriyama design” (another example of Billy cheating, since Soriyama probably DID design his hand).

    As we saw in the first season, even though he was a complete emotional failure, Soriyama seemed to be pretty successful. He had designed robots so advanced that they were indistinguishable from real people, and this episode implies that he landed a government contract with OSI as well as excelling in his studies (as opposed to Rusty, who never finished college). So, even at the highest level of superscience technology, when everything is working perfectly, it still reeks of failure and pointlessness.

    The pointless calibration sequence the nozzle goes through is probably also a comment on the hollowness of OSI’s bureaucracy. Just as the Council of 13 put on the appearances of a dramatic trial (but have no idea how to actually run one), OSI has the nozzle because, well, isn’t scanning everyone who comes into the base with an ominous, high-tech piece of machinery supposed to be part of what a covert government operation does? Hunter himself admits he has no idea what the nozzle’s purpose is, but shrugs it off as “standard procedure.”

    • mimitabu says:

      it also helps sell billy’s discomfort with brock and hunter. not that we’re unlikely to buy someone not being cool with being forced to be a spy, but i think the nozzle scene fits right in with several scenes illustrating why billy has the emotional reactions he does. the nozzle is, for our purposes, aimless psychological torture.

      as for the machinery does, could be something to do with the camera eye billy has. you wouldn’t think “standard procedure” applies there, but the OSI probably tears out mad people’s eyes and replaces them with cameras, so you never know.

      this episode is so big and crazy i can barely comment on it. worth rewatching several times, definitely.

      i’m fairly sure the guild stepped in to stop hunter and brock from finding out more (seems relatively unambiguous). maybe they sent him to venture because it’s a “rookie assignment”, maybe they have ulterior motives for getting brock with doc, or maybe they (‘they’ being whatever force in the OSI made the choice as to where brock goes) have righteous motives and send brock (an exceptional agent) because the job is so hard (drove the last agent crazy).

      (deleted and reposted due to horrible typo)

    • Todd says:

      Hunter is so unsure of the nozzle’s use that he doesn’t even get to the word “procedure”, he runs out of words after “standard.”

  17. After all the talk about religion in last week’s episode I thought for sure you’d explore the “He Died for My Sins”, the crucifixion of Fantomas or the Vitruvian man.

    The entire episode is about how Billy and Fantomas are freaks trying to find a way to break into the world of the normal (as opposed to Hunter and Brock who are somewhat normal people trying to break into the world of the freaks).

    The Vitruvian man is the famous drawing by Leonardo DaVinci of the perfectly proportioned human form arms and legs extending outwards in a way that resembles crucifixion- Fantomas’ experiment not only holds his arms and legs out this way, it also is an attempt to grow into the perfected proportions the drawing represents.

    When Fantomas disappears in the explosion, Billy laments that he died for his sins. But what sin? Surely, the sin of cheating. But maybe also the sin of striving to live a life that isn’t yours to live.

    • Anonymous says:

      invisible hands

      in re: “the invisible hand of the title”: you know, Phantom Limb has invisible hands….

    • For illustration, the Vitruvian man, proportions that neither Billy nor Fantomas can claim:

      • Todd says:

        I missed the reference to the Vitruvian Man because Fantomas’s machine was too close to the one Syndrome uses to torture Mr. Incredible. My loss.

  18. rennameeks says:

    Assorted thoughts:

    – Yes, the former Dr. Girlfriend’s real name is Sheila.
    – White definitely has a thing for Billy, but it doesn’t seem to be mutual. Billy at least is still concerned with “tasting the flower of a woman,” at least according to season 2 (Escape to the House of Mummies Part II). White’s “I knew it!” regarding Billy’s apparent virginity seems to imply that they aren’t lovers….of course, on this show, assuming things can be dangerous.
    – I’m surprised that no one has drawn a comparison between the end of Revenge of the Sith and this episode, with Brock bringing Billy to White out in the middle of the desert. Is this the aforementioned breaking of the No Star Wars references rule or just a wild coincidence?
    – On the subject of “TV Todds,” Todd Manning is a rapist, child abuser, and former Death Row inmate. Hey, at least he’s not one of the other archetypes, right? Getting back to VB, I wonder if quizboy Todd was a sly, obscure tribute to you….or just another wild coincidence.

    • Todd says:

      In other words, they’re breaking their “no Star Wars references” rule all over the place.

      • rennameeks says:


        I personally don’t mind either way. It’s one thing to have witty dialogue references and another to have a quiet visual one. I think they can get away with the latter and still be true to the spirit of the vow.

  19. mcbrennan says:

    Part one of a nine-part response…

    I always liked Master Billy Quizboy, but I’m with you in that I never really expected—-or cared-—to see an entire episode devoted to his “origin story”. And jeez, was I an idiot for thinking that. Lost does this well, but for my money Venture Bros does it better—-taking the backstory of some seemingly tangential character, making it the heart of the show, and in doing so, changing everything we thought we knew about everyone in the VB universe.

    It’s overwhelming to even begin to map out all the themes and revelations in those short 22 minutes. Those brief OSI scenes showed us a group of “good guys” that were responsible for atrocities from Abu Ghraib to that infamous Saigon VC execution, that they’re wholly owned by the very forces they’re supposed to be fighting (The Guild), and on top of that, they’re mean-spirited, provincial, infighting nitwits who brand outsiders and “freaks” as automatically evil. Even in their own ranks–there’s this amazing line where the flamingly gay “macho” Tom-of-Finland-culture OSI crew attacks Hunter Gathers for being effeminate/transgender—-an all too common internecine prejudice in the LGBT community—-marginalizing Gathers as a professional and personal laughing stock. In one line! Talk about economy.

    This whole episode seems to be asking serious questions about the nature of truth, especially truth via television. There’s Tony Clifton, a fictitious creation of an even more fictitious television star. There’s the brutal recontextualizing of the G.I. Joe sequence and the televised news events therein. There’s the quiz show scandals and Pete White’s phony TV persona. And there’s this Möbius strip Rusty Venture show—-starring, at least according to Billy’s lunchpail, the actual Rusty Venture—-presenting a heroic TV version of Rusty that was either a fraud or an unbearable ideal that led to his booze-and-pill-addled child-star downfall (and as you note, it calls into question the very reality of young Rusty’s life). Add that to the fact that much of this episode depends on Billy’s all-seeing video-recorder eye, and its dodgy, unreliable TiVo hand. And that Professor Fantamos was partially destroyed, or turned into a monster, by that camera, at the moment that Billy loudly and repeatedly rejects “cheating” (and the OSI) and embraces his own inherent honesty. He may not be equipped for the (I apologize in advance) dog-eat-dog world, but in that final-Jeopardy moment, Billy embraces his nature and lets the truth fly. It’s no wonder the government tries to erase his memory.

    (Another question–with Race Bannon a brutal blood-soaked torturer here, and Jonny and Hadji in pathetic straits in the previous episode—I have to wonder, was Jonny Quest also a TV show in the VB universe? It makes no less sense than a Rusty Venture show.)

    With all these Nick Fury/SHIELD references, I was really hoping to see Jim Rage, agent of S.H.A.V.E., but I suppose there’d be legal issues. Can you get sued for dropping in a homage to yourself?

    (to be continued because I cannot shut up)

  20. mcbrennan says:

    And now, the conclusion of this very special episode of “Misfits Of Science”…

    “But is he among friends? These people, in one way or another, ruined his life.”

    They did. For me, anyway, the people who ruined your life but somehow love you anyway are usually called “family”. And I think that’s what this episode was about—the way these families-of-choice (and otherwise) came together. And salvaging something meaningful and rare and valuable out of what looks like utter defeat. Maybe it’s just me, but between this episode and Rusty’s repudiation of “success” in the last, I feel like I’m seeing a new direction, a counterargument to the pervasive nihilism and hopelessness of failure. I think this has come up before, the TMBG lyric “No one in the world ever gets what they want, and that is beautiful…Everyone dies frustrated and sad and that is beautiful…” In this one, at least, it definitely was. None of these people ever got what they wanted from life, nobody set out to go down this road and it looks like failure as conventionally scored. But the results belie that. Here’s Brock getting “demoted” to a situation that will change him from a murderous killing machine to a loyal family man…and murderous killing machine. Here’s Pete and Billy—-platonic or otherwise-—finding a love for each other that will bond them for life. Here’s Hunter Gathers being ridiculed and exiled, and set on the road to that thing he really wanted for his whole life. Even Phantom Limb, so worried about failing his own father/family, “accidentally” became that thing he most wanted to be. Now if we could just get that poor long-suffering Myra some help.

    When the desert flowers bloom as Brock drives past, towards his new family, it was an honest, touching and completely unironic moment. No failure here–this may be my favorite episode of the series.

    • Todd says:

      Re: And now, the conclusion of this very special episode of “Misfits Of Science”…

      I got that the episode was about “family” in the way you described it, but missed the critique of the life lived on/through television — which also, it seems, is derived from Magnolia. Well played, madam.

      • mcbrennan says:

        It’s safe, it’s safe!

        Like the saying goes, even a broken clock is…um, something involving Morris Day?

        It’s trivial, but I also meant to point out something else about Billy and the way his arc veers towards honesty/truth: I think Billy was intentionally throwing the game on that Plantagenet question because he was tired of cheating. He never misses a question in any of the high-pressure Fight-Club quiz matches, or anywhere else for that matter. There’s no way he’s going to confuse Richard III and Louis XIV. They’re centuries apart and from different countries. I think he was looking for an out, to get back to an honest life like his hero Rusty Venture. Until that Todd guy had to ruin it for him. Todds. Yeesh.

        Also, in keeping (sorta) with the TV theme, White’s playing video games on the TV when Billy’s memory resumes and he lays him out (initiating the flashback) with a Playstation upside the head, and he comes to rest right in front of the set. And Myra, as I recall, was a former star of American Gladiators.

        Also, I’d give good money to know exactly who Race Bannon’s torturing, but I looked at it again (on a dinky TV) and–my god, I think that’s a Marathon Man reference! And Killinger’s on the other side?

        Also, is Brock the only straight guy in the OSI? Bannon, Gathers, the Village People…

        • Todd says:

          Re: It’s safe, it’s safe!

          Well, presumably Brock is straight.

          I don’t see evidence to support Billy trying throw the match — he wants to get into MIT and he has placed his faith in Quiz Boys to get him there. This ties in with the Quiz Show aspect of the plot, the idea that, of all things, a quiz show scandal stopped America in its tracks for a period of time. Imagine! Something on TV not being true! It blew people’s minds. Just as America was profoundly disillusioned by the $64,000 Question scandal, Billy is devastated to learn that he’s been played for ratings — and the fact that White is trying to “help” him out of a sense of solidarity gives him no comfort whatsoever.

          • mcbrennan says:

            Re: It’s safe, it’s safe!

            Yeah, you’re absolutely right. He’s completely shocked when the answer he wrote–which turns out to be incorrect–is magically replaced with the “right” answer. Plus, I was undermining my own thesis about the significance of TV-life in this episode. I forgot that reaction scene. In my defense I have a splitting migraine. Should have quit while I was ahead.

        • dougo says:

          Also, is Brock the only straight guy in the OSI? Bannon, Gathers, the Village People…

          And Steve Sommers too!

    • Anonymous says:

      Re: And now, the conclusion of this very special episode of “Misfits Of Science”…

      That was absolutely lucid mcbrennan. This episode means alot to me as well.

  21. Anonymous says:

    “This is, in fact, Billy’s only real act in the episode — to clumsily give Fantomas the power he needs to become Phantom Limb.”

    And isn’t it Billy who in last season told the backstory of how Phantom Limb came into being? Which was rendered a bit differently.

    “Goldilocks. This is Caspar. Little Nemo has fallen out of the bed.”

    That line before the title sequence, a perfectly skewed Venture Bros encapsulation of what lies ahead in this epsiode.

  22. Anonymous says:

    The Guild

    Man, my mind is going nuts with the possibilities. Allow me to bore you with them.
    The first problem we have is that if the Guild in this time frame is nothing more than a myth, then how could Dr. Venture Sr. be famous for signing accords with the Guild way back when, and how could there be a “Rusty’s Clause” in the Guild handbook.

    My theory. There are two evil organizations. Sphynx and the Guild. The guild was arching Dr. Venture Sr. in various ways, but didn’t want to be revealed yet. They wanted a chance to eliminate the competition first. Therefore, they signed an accord with Dr. Venture Sr., in exchange for some limitation in their evil ways, the Guild would only be portrayed on the Adventures of the Ventures, or whatever Rusty Venture Cartoon show there was. In other words, Dr. Venture Sr still fought them, but no one would know the full truth of how much.

    Meanwhile, the Guild secretly infiltrated the O.S.I. with a man who in the future will become Sergent Hatred (you’ll notice that the name of the OSI officer who “reassigns” Brock is french for Hate). From there, the Guild uses the OSI to eliminate their rival evil group, Sphynx. Thus leaving room for the Guild to eventually take over.

    As for Phantom Limb, I believe he was in the dark, and I also don’t believe there was some massive conspiracy. We’ve already seen Jackson Publick come on and say that a student of Phantom ratted out Dr. Impossible so that Phantom could take the science chair. If that student was Pussy-face, then his “suicide” might have been the Phantom’s way of cleaning up loose ends. Of course the Guild would be interested in a man with a family history of costumed-villiany. So, they use a public face, the Guild of Collegiate Investors, in order to give Phantom the means to experiment and become physically capable of villiany. They didn’t predict the ineptitude of Billy or the results of the experiment.

    It would be consistent with the Venture theme of ineptitude eventually leading to good. Billy’s lack of intelligence indirectly lead to the Guild nearly being taken over.

    ~ Ytoabn

    • Todd says:

      Re: The Guild

      Or Pussy-Face could have been killed by Dr. Impossible for ratting him out.

      • Anonymous says:

        Re: The Guild

        I dunno, even though Dr. Impossible is evil, I wouldn’t think he’d go that far. If Dr. Impossible truly wanted a revenge killing, he’d go after Phantomos.

        Of course once you go there you could even go so far as to say Dr. Impossible somehow messed with Phantom’s Muscle Regeneration machine to try to kill him, but that would be baseless sepculation

  23. blake_reitz says:

    Just watched the “The Doctor is Sin” again, and realized something about the guild: The state pays for henchmen. In the present day ventureverse, the Government is willing to support super-villainy, showing just how far the guild has come since the 80s (or 90s or whenever).

  24. Anonymous says:

    The “prototype”

    I’m pretty sure that the guy Race Bannon’s torturing is either a Sphinx agent, or one of the snakemen who will eventually (indirectly) contribute to his death in VB season 1.

    I’m surprised no one’s picked up on the whole question of the “prototype,” which may explain a lot about Myra’s craziness and the boys’ origins. So White sells Billy on going to work for Doc Venture, explaining that Rusty has a big project, a “prototype,” which he’ll need assistance with.

    When we next see Rusty, he’s having a flipped-out Myra tased and escorted from the premises, shrieking about her babies, while Helper cradles infant Hank and Dean.

    When White and Billy arrive at the Venture compound, Rusty’s unbearably smug — even more so than usual, I mean. He’s crowing as if he’s enjoyed a recent triumph — and he has no more need for lab assistants.

    I think the boys WERE the prototype. I think they’ve been clones all along. I think Rusty mingled his own DNA with that of Myra’s and gestated up a pair of twins. That would explain why Myra thinks they’re her kids, and why Doc thinks Myra’s got no claim to them.

    There’s one thing that may or may not torpedo this theory, though. Previous to her abrupt removal from the Venture compound, we only see Myra’s face on Rusty’s comm-watch. She could have been pregnant with twin boys… or perhaps not.

    — N.A.

    • Todd says:

      Re: The “prototype”

      Well, she wouldn’t have to be pregnant to have twins, not in the VB universe.

  25. noskilz says:

    The GI-Joe spoof,while very venturey, also reminded me of the way one often later discovers the history one got in elementary school is rather heavily bowlderized and selectively edited, which can be rather awkward when the less flattering or glossed over material starts turning up in later years. I don’t know if that angle was their intention, but I have to wonder what Hunter Gathers would make of John Stockwell’s 1987 account of some of what caused him to leave the CIA:

    “I had been designated as the task-force commander that would run this secret war [in Angola in 1975 and 1976]…. and what I figured out was that in this job, I would sit on a sub-committee of the National Security Council, this office that Larry Devlin has told me about where they had access to all the information about Angola, about the whole world, and I would finally understand national security. And I couldn’t resist the opportunity to know. I knew the CIA was not a worthwhile organization, I had learned that the hard way. But the question was where did the U.S. government fit into this thing, and I had a chance to see for myself in the next big secret war….

    I wanted to know if wise men were making difficult decisions based on truly important, threatening information, threatening to our national security interests. If that had been the case, I still planned to get out of the CIA, but I would know that the system, the invisible government, our national security complex, was in fact justified and worth while. And so I took the job…. Suffice it to say I wouldn’t be standing in front of you tonight if I had found these wise men making these tough decisions. What I found, quite frankly, was fat old men sleeping through sub-committee meetings of the NSC in which we were making decisions that were killing people in Africa. I mean literally. Senior ambassador Ed Mulcahy… would go to sleep in nearly every one of these meetings….”