Venture Bros: Pinstripes and Poltergeists

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What does the Monarch want?  The Monarch wants what the Monarch has always wanted: he wants to "win" in his arching battle against Dr. Venture.  Never mind that Dr. Venture barely seems to know that the Monarch exists, and gives no thought at all as to his motives or reasoning.  For that matter, never mind that the Monarch hasn’t really thought through what it means to "win" against Dr. Venture, or what he’ll do after he’s "won."  The Monarch wants so badly to "win" against Dr. Venture that he makes a poorly-thought-out alliance with a fellow villain who actually wears a bathing cap with devil-horns on it.  "Faustian bargain" is evidently not a phrase with which the Monarch is familiar.

To accompany him as backup while he goes to see Monstroso (the lawyer dressed as a devil), the Monarch needs Henchman 21.  What does Henchman 21 want?  Well that’s a little more complicated.  Henchman 21 wants to serve the Monarch (that is, to be a good henchman), but he also wants to get a leg over with the Monarch’s wife, Dr. Mrs. The Monarch.  In addition to those conflicting desires, 21 also has a problem regarding his dead best-friend Henchman 24, who is now appearing to him as a ghost.

24 has many compelling and helpful bits of information for 21 — he gladly spills all he knows about the afterlife and the demiurge.  The question is, is 24 real, or only a figment of 21’s imagination?  If he’s real, then we would do well to sit forward and take note of his observations from the afterlife.  If he’s not, then those observations are merely the wanderings of 21’s mind, a story he tells to comfort himself.  Myself, I’m not so sure 24 is a matter of soliloquy, although the show seems to indicate it by having the Monarch refer to 21’s habit of talking to 24’s skull as his "Yorick routine."  The reference is absurd yet resonant: Hamlet’s father’s ghost is either real, which means that Hamlet would do well to heed his advice, or else he’s a figment of Hamlet’s imagination, which means that Hamlet acts stupidly and arrogantly through the rest of the play.

But 21 does not act stupidly throughout this episode — rather the opposite.  Although hindered by his lust for Dr. Mrs. The Monarch and his habit of talking out loud to 24’s ghost, all his actions in this episode are well-intuited, dynamic and forceful.  If anything, 21 currently outranks the Monarch in skills and intuition, crazy or not.  He seems to have put his fan-boy/collector past behind him and embraced the costumed-villain life: he even has "Hench Life" tattooed on his belly.  When 24 chides him about starting a cult with his new-found knowledge of the afterlife, the jibe falls sideways: what’s the real difference between starting a death-cult and becoming a costumed villain?  How is one crazy and the other sane?

On the other side of the narrative we have Brock Samson, again, finally.  What does Brock want?  Brock wants to kick ass and chew bubble gum, and he’s all out of bubble gum.  Brock now works for SPHINX.  SPHINX, as I remember, was once known as the "bad guys" to OSI’s "good guys."  The staff of SPHINX has, apparently, been eliminated, and their organization has been taken over by ex-OSI agents.  What does SPHINX want?  SPHINX wants to do what OSI was designed to do: fight bad guys.  Specifically, they exist, as far as I can gather, to put the hurt on bad guys who don’t join the Guild, who don’t "play by the rules."  It takes a group of focused maniacs to take down groups of focused maniacs.  It’s one thing to have plan to destroy the world, but come on, rules are rules — you can’t just go around destroying the world without involving the Guild.  Which makes SPHINX a kind of parallel ally to the Guild, or a shadow-version of OSI — they both exist to keep harm from the "real world" — that is, the world you and I live in — but they take different routes to get there.

The theme of this episode is "action vs bureaucracy."  The "old way," in the vocabulary of the episode, is direct action, the thrill of confrontation and violence.  The "new way" involves paperwork and legalese.  Lawyers and bureaucrats have taken over the worlds of both "good guys" and "bad guys" in the Venture-verse, taking everyone unawares.

The Monarch, acting in the manner of the "old way," is content to construct a giant mechanical hand to turn Dr. Venture into a marionette.  Monstroso, acting in the "new way," finds much more effect in the filing of a zoning ordinance.  Likewise, OSI, according to Hunter Gathers, has been taken over by bureaucrats who have lost the thread of why anyone gets into super-science costume work in the first place — to work out various psychological problems through the application of colorful violence.  The Monarch gleefully signs his deal with Monstroso, so eager to finally "win" over Dr. Venture that he doesn’t realize that his victory will be no fun at all.

(Monstroso repeatedly offers the Monarch a cigar.  Given the "Floyd-hole" reference of a few episodes ago, I assume this is a nod to "Have a Cigar" from Wish You Were Here, Pink Floyd’s parable of music-business Faustianism.)

(Speaking of the Faustian aspect of the show, 24’s ghost demands that Woodrow Wilson and Speedy hype him to Helen of Troy, who was, of course, Faust’s great love.)

It takes 21’s quick thinking (and/or counsel from 24’s ghost) and newly-adroit physicality to fulfill his desire to serve the Monarch and defeat the "new way."  He’s now a man of action, the Monarch’s Brock.  The ripples from his new-found competence echo through all the cocoon — he shows the Monarch how he’s been double-crossed, he gets within reach of Dr. Mrs. The Monarch’s breasts, he saves the day (for the Monarch as well as Dr. Venture), he shows himself to be a match for Brock (rather like the Judas Priest fan who became the band’s lead singer).  21’s competence, I would argue, also puts the Moppets in a bad light, which leads to Dr. Mrs. The Monarch’s disillusionment of them, which leads to the return of the Monarch’s libido, which is at least as important to his mental health as arching Dr. Venture.

Dr. Venture, meanwhile, as usual, has no idea that any of this is happening.  He’s more concerned with finding SPHINX secretly camped out in his compound.  In spite of his near-total ignorance of the episode’s plot, he’s still miles ahead of the show’s title characters, who wander into the middle of the final act like children awakened from sleep, and then exit the same way.  The next time we see Hank, he is literally a child awakened from sleep, awakened to find that Brock, his beloved father-figure (I noticed that Hank, in addition to wearing Brock’s jacket, has a model of Brock’s car on his shelf), has returned.

What does Billy Quizboy want?  Billy wants to belong, anywhere.  He was willing to join the Triad earlier, now he’s getting his chance to live in the Venture compound.  He’s finally being taken seriously as a super-scientist!  Pete White, meanwhile, seems content to be regarded as a fraud.  "We don’t ‘do’ anything," he shrugs, giving away the nature of Conjectural Technologies, a company that produces wonderful new technology — in theory.

What does Billy get?  A memory wipe — his dream of belonging not only unredeemed but removed from his mind.

To underline the notion of the thrill of violence in a lawyer-choked world, the episode boasts, for the first time in a what feels like a while, four or so genuine action set-pieces, all of which thrill and amaze.  Brock has been missed.


26 Responses to “Venture Bros: Pinstripes and Poltergeists”
  1. blake_reitz says:

    Monstroso and the targets of SPHINX also provide an interesting look into the crime world of the Ventureverse. Monstroso might be fond of the “new” method of taking down opponents in a lawyerly manor, but his demeanor is old-school mobster. I suspect that he’d rather not deal with the Guild at all, and would be far more content to be a Wilson “Kingpin” Fisk. But the profits of dealing with the Guild (protection from authority, etc) outweigh the childishness of having to wear a tiny devil hood (which is about the least work possible work one could put into a supervillain costume). Even his men are just muscle, thugs, who only have to wear their masks while in the presence of Guild members.

    Brock and SPHINX on the other hand, are busy fighting at the edges of supervillainy, taking out baddies who won’t stay in the self-contained bubble of OSI vs. Guild hijinks. And Monstroso is bumping up against that barrier, using his supervillain connections not to work out psychological problems, but to make real world gains at the cost of others.

    Also, poor Billy! This season’s been rough on the guy. He’s been kidnapped, mind-wiped and molested, and still not accepted in any group (exception of Pete White). But Hunter also notes that Billy is the only one really worth mind-wiping. Maybe because Hunter can see just how close the Quiz Boy is to becoming a full-fledged supervillian (He is skilled enough at “experimental surgery” that he’s been kidnapped several times). I have a hunch that if the Guild offered an invitation, he’d jump at the chance.

    And it’s great to see how far 21’s come along. It would be nice if he joined up with SPHINX, as they’re the closest thing to real superheroism the show has to offer.

  2. ndgmtlcd says:

    A legal eagle dressed as the devil? Genuine Brock action? What seems like a well crafted and well assembled plot? All that’s missing is a bit of true science fiction (or the “looser” speculative fiction found in a masterpiece like “Dr. Quymn, Medicine Woman”) and it sounds like a perfect Venture Bros. episode.

  3. spiralstairs says:

    I’m curious to see if “real life” villainy like Monstroso will play a bigger part in future episodes. In a sense, it’s almost the same thing as OSI v. Guild. You can’t really raze someone’s compound to the ground. You need the law to be on your side. It’s playing make believe. They just wear suits and ties instead of capes and leotards.

    Personally, I’m pulling for 21 to go the way of supervillain. Might have said that before, but that’d be pretty boss.

    • I don’t know. 21 didn’t seem all that into the henching in the first place, and now that he doesn’t have someone tying him to that lifestyle, he seems to be moving towards the good-guy side of the equation. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him either a) start moonlighting as a SPHINX operative while still working for The Monarch or b) replace Hatred as bodyguard for the Ventures.

      I just find it strange that 24’s demise seems to be the best thing that’s ever happened to 21. In that sense, 24 is 21’s version of the Hank and Dean clone slugs. 21, like the boys, have been forced out of their holding pattern and are beginning to move forward. Granted, still talking to 24, whether he is an actual phantasm or not, is something that could become a problem, but having an imaginary friend is one of the more mild psychoses as far as the Venture-verse is concerned.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Really loved this episode. In the case of 21, his change matches completely with the overall feel of this season, where certain characters are concerned with transformation, therapy and suggest coming to terms. There’s a new VB universe being shaped, which I imagine will be making sense in the last episodes for the season. The Monarch seems more and more anachronistic in this – he seems like a fool now, and 21 able to take over his whole set-up.
    The skull of 24 recalls Hamlet, pointing out the Bard’s plots always have had a psychological dimension, but it connects to the slash between death/vanity, or “vanitas”. 21’s skill is in having a total recall of celebrity perfumes – a double-empty sign – the ephemeral connected to the disposable consumer celebrity culture. He doesn’t care about smells, he can associate celeb with product title – the manufacture of desire, the packaging. 24 wants to use this skill to win bets, to get his fellow ghosts to put in a good word for him with Helen of Troy – nuff said there. Especially if it is all 21’s narrative in fact. 21 looks to the breasts of Dr.MrstheMonarch and has a flashback to himself as a young child, accidentally discovering an image of naked breasts in a illicit magazine.
    21 makes decisions regarding the vanity/vanitas. He moves from obsessive comic scifi his fan-boy/collector past, through costumed vilain-henchman as you say “to work out various psychological problems through the application of colorful violence” and taking a decision in this episode, he reaches an implausible height – first fighting Brock an then alone alongside Brock. And in the latter, both are wearing no one’s uniform but their own – Brock in his black tshirt and 21, importantly, shed of the Monarch hench costume, unmasked, and appearing comfortable in a way as his true self — a fanboy of Star Wars – only raised to a whole new level – an aware adult – supported by the fact he can now inflict some real damage with it.
    So I think 21 manifests 24, as he needs a narrative for his life to make sense and go on after the trauma of seeing 24 die, so perhaps he decides to let the skull “talk to him”. By doing so new alignments occur that he / we couldn’t have imagined before. He was smart in how he reacted throughout, like taking the phone, etc.. where indeed, Dr.MrstheMonarch IS rubbing up close to him and complimenting his work as a henchman. The once-favored moppets are realigned accordingly to menial tasks – cleaning the bathroom no less. Monarch does get a newfound erection from that. And so on. 21’s decision to literally have a narrative, is driving the world around him in this episode. Monarch treats him more equally – he has become his “Brock.”
    It’s fine borderline between cosmic and comic, and 21 is right in the middle, in constant transformation in this episode which already has the feel of a VB plot on steroids, including as you mentioned 4 genuine action set-pieces.

    – Arthur F.

    • blake_reitz says:

      That’s a good point on 21’s Star Wars getup at the end. I wasn’t quite sure why he switched outfits, but this makes sense.

      • noskilz says:

        I’m kind of hazy of jedi matters, but in Tag Sale You’re It, there was that sequence where he refers to 21 as his padawan when he thinks he’s going to lightsabre Brock. Could 21 be a little like Brock’s apprentice of late?

        Or maybe Monstroso is a little like a Rancor (The Return of the Jedi) that has to be dealt with to rescue the Monarch (although Monstroso is more like Jabba and the Rancor rolled in one.)

        Or maybe he just likes the look.

        • blake_reitz says:

          Well, Tag Sale, You’re It was the last time that 21 tried to act like a Jedi and Brock said “Boo.”, so maybe that’s it?

          • Yeah, that whole sequence where he opens with, “Ah, Brock Sampson. At last we meet,” to which Brock responds, “Do I know you?” is taken verbatim from Tag Sale–You’re It! I guess it’s sort of a way of showing 21’s growth; before, he was a kid trying to use an awkward teen’s weapon of choice. Now he’s fist-fighting Brock f*cking Sampson, and almost keeping up.

  5. craigjclark says:

    Here’s the biggest question of all, though: What does Shore Leave want?

  6. I’ve been wondering for some time about the truly dangerous villains in the Ventureverse, and how they’re handled.

    It’s called the Guild of Calamitous *Intent* (and not the Guild of Calamitous *Action*) for a reason …

  7. quitwriting says:

    First up: there is a nod to Hank and Dean getting mind-wiped as well, seeing as how Rusty actually starts to tell them about being clones and their mother.

    I think in this particular episode the real focus on the plot is about recovery and the betrayals that come along with the process that ultimately leads to a better existence.

    You see Monarch, finally willing to try some other avenue of henching that may even be considered “adult”. It’s not about the costumes and the spectacle, which is what children often mistake these things for. It’s about getting the job done, which is something he’s sorely lacked focus upon in the past. And there’s some betrayal involved, as always. But the betrayal winds up working very much to the Monarch’s favor in a lot of ways. He’s forced Venture to notice something he’s done; in fact, Venture spends the entire episode shvitzing about it.

    Brock couldn’t really reach his full potential as a hero until he was utterly betrayed by his former colleagues in every possible way. From pretending to be uber-conservative Christian warriors to having their junk chopped off (and reattached), you can’t help but think that the entire thing was done simply for the benefit of pulling in Brock and opening his eyes to the real world so that he can get beyond being a mere bodyguard.

    21 may be crazy and using the spectre of his dead friend 24 to give him insight and knowledge, but 24 as much as admits that he’s pretty much becoming adept all on his own and that he’s doing it by himself. The training wheels are coming off. And in learning that, he’s being forced to accept that he’s a capable person (he faced Brock Goddamn Sampson in hand-to-hand combat and lived!) and that 24 really is dead and he’s on his own. Which is a betrayal of his subconscious, which created the “ghost” just as a coping mechanism. He’s learning to get beyond the death of not just his friend, but his old, pathetic self.

    Dr. Mrs. The Monarch is learning to get beyond, too. In her harsh treatment of Tim-Tom and Kevin in the episode, she shows that she no longer needs them to feel secure in her role as Dr. Mrs. The Monarch. When she originally brought them in, they felt to me like a crutch. Monarch seemed to treat her very much as a Henchman with tits, rather than as a genuine partner in crime. So the moppets were brought in as a reminder to Monarch that, while she may be here with him right now, she can always leave at any point and start henching for herself, again. While in some ways her second-string status remains the case, she seems to be accepting that sometimes… marriage is compromise. Sometimes, Monarch is just going to unilaterally make a dumb-shit decision. She can either complain and leave, or understand that it’s just what’s going to happen when she throws in her lot with Monarch.

    Billy the Quizboy has been getting over absolutely nothing. He’s, if anything, the whipping boy of the entire series. Poor little guy. When he finally snaps, it’s going to be bad. I wouldn’t doubt he’d be one of if not the most effective villains of all time. Pete, of course, will be the first against the wall.

    Hank and Dean aren’t featured very prominently in this episode.

    Rusty is being forcibly reminded, however, that his ultimate goal in life is do-gooding, whether he likes it or not. He’s a hero, one of the good guys and for better or worse that’s the path he’s going to walk. The government reminding him of such may have originally been a ploy by the Monarch to rob him of his life, but it’s forcing him to face the truth of his situation. A betrayal by his long-time friend is thrown in his face, and he’s forced to accept that he’s living in a wider world. The ramifications of this and whether or not it actually penetrates to his conscious mind remains to be seen.

    But that’s my take on the whole thing. Then again I’m just some random slob on the internet. What do I know?

    • Anonymous says:

      “Brock couldn’t really reach his full potential as a hero until he was utterly betrayed by his former colleagues in every possible way (…) you can’t help but think that the entire thing was done simply for the benefit of pulling in Brock and opening his eyes to the real world so that he can get beyond being a mere bodyguard.”

      Yes, or beyond and onto being simply “a man”, which in turn allows him to be part of the new collective SPHINX. All these characters appear to have to “open their eyes” through attempting to solve what amounts to riddles – even if these are no longer about solving, but more like justifications for life (after all, the group only inhabits the empty trappings of a vanquished SPHINX). So here’s the SPHINX, one of the prime symbols in myth and psychoanalysis (the one, who as a gatekeeper, poses the riddle to none other than Oedipus, which his simple answer – “man” – allows him to become Hero-King) is now just one of many dead franchises to option. Not unlike the Guild itself seems to have become, self-perpetuating the bureacratic remnants and trapped in meaningles heirarchies, rather than re-interpreting the founding beliefs, or their larger cosmic implication. It’s all their fathers story, not theirs, and they are just running the business.

      That fits to the Venture compound, which already holds the equivalent to pyramids, the monuments built in this case to honor the past ruler, Jonas Venture. In a sense, Rusty runs around in their secret catacombs, make use of the treasures entombed in the after-life, and in fact, dealing with the science of re-animation, never caring to question what seperates “man” from “clone”. That “pyramid” is now joined by the discovery that there is hidden away on the property, a SPHINX, which like always, serves as a guard, and whose motives as well as costumed members are like riddles waiting for some kind of (ab)solution.

      Odder still, in both this Pyramid, and particularly in this SPHINX, the paradox is that monuments as well as riddles, demand narrative, with memory and collective experiences to operate, and to draw upon. But in fact both share one characteristic, that they try to wipe memory out selectively, even if under some “rationalisation” to – what else – keep secrets secret. The SPHINX is either selectively instilling suppressed memories or pure amnesia, or as Brock puts it, the individual members are busy “giving up something” – literally a seminal portion of their character, their proof of “being” man rather than masquerade, all in order to serve this collective.

      Which makes me curious as to the last scene, and Brock, back at the Venture compound, eating his cereal, in his old clothes…

      Arthur F.

  8. metalman9 says:

    Brock 21 and Dermott

    Is it possible Brock had his mind swiped and “forgot” about SPHINX? In season 3, 21 and 24 were chasing Dermott and Hank. 24 tackles Dermott and asks who he was, and in a funny Volley of this question Dermott reveals that he is Brocks son. Skip ahead to pinstripes when Brock and 21 attack Monstroso, (hopefully 21 wasn’t in over his head) is it possible that 24 told 21 about Dermott, and that this info was revealed to Brock? and Sphinx mind wipes Brock, explaining why he was in the kitchen when Hank came in for a snack? ( or maybe Brocks mentoring of 21 in combination with learning of Dermott, makes him realize the importance of being a parental figure in the compound)

    21 is likely become a supervillain, or hero. either case it would be cool if his super power is to commune with 24. (and this new ability is what is making him go crazy. and not that he is crazy thinking he sees 24.

    • metalman9 says:

      Re: Brock 21 and Dermott

      or to add a twist Monstroso in pure lawyer form, steals 21s thunder right before 21 tells Brock about Dermott. Monstroso was hired as the lawyer to get alimony from Brock and Monstroso uses this info to bargain for his life.

      • Re: Brock 21 and Dermott

        We don’t know if Dermott is for sure Brock’s son. That was one of the points of speculation that Doc and Jackson were trying to cultivate (though as it turns out, more people seemed concerned with who Dermott’s mom was). I’m leaning towards him not being Brock’s son. As 24 said, “Then I don’t think I would have caught you so easily.” He doesn’t seem to have any of Brock’s inherent physical prowess, and his knowledge of anything remotely Brock-like is dilettantish at best. The only thing that they seem to share is blond hair. Of course, I’m assuming at least some impact of a person’s nature as determined by genetics (as opposed to it being all determined by environment), but if he was actually Brock’s son, I would expect him to be more, you know, Brock-like.

        Also, even with Brock now seeming to be a friend of Hunter again, I doubt he’d be relaxed enough to not notice any attempt to wipe his memory, and I don’t think any of the Sphinx characters we’ve met to this point would be able to physically overpower him and force him against his will.

        • Anonymous says:

          Re: Brock 21 and Dermott

          good point, but like DR Venture not accepting Hank, then maybe Dermott is his son, just not the son Brock would have accepted. Then again it could be all a ploy of his mom to collect child support.

          • Re: Brock 21 and Dermott

            Like I said, it’s one of the questions that Doc and Jackson tried to get people to ask. I’m not saying he couldn’t be Brock’s son; I just personally doubt it.

            Also, what’s to say that, given that Dermott is Brock’s son, that Dermott’s mom would come looking for him for alimony? I’m not fully up on alimony law, but isn’t the idea that it is payments to support the child’s upkeep for as long as he is a minor? Dermott seems to be a little older than Hank (though this may be an effect of him being far more socially developed, which, when comparing to Hank, is fairly easy to achieve), which would put him at 17 or 18. That would basically mean that Dermott’s mom would get money for at most a year or so (unless they allow you to backlog payments, either all the way back to birth or for a few years depending on some sort of statute of limitations; though that would seem to be more punitive than anything else, as any money that would be owed from the past obviously can’t be used to rear the child retroactively, and probably won’t, past a point, be spent on the child now).

            And perhaps a more important point: does Brock actually make any money? From what I can tell, he’s been living off of the various people/organizations he’s been working for since we’ve been watching him. We know from “Victor. Echo. November.” that he has petty cash, enough to cover a double date for Hank and Dean, but what’s his actual salary? Does he even have enough money for Dermott’s mom to demand some? This is a question that I never thought about until now, and I’m becoming fascinated by it.

  9. Anonymous says:

    love reading everyone’s ideas, as always. here’s a decidedly non-analytical gripe i had when watching the episode… when 21 asks 24 to help him when he’s storming the compound, 24 tells him that he is not a poltergeist and cannot manifest physically in any way to assist his buddy. yet, in the final scene of an earlier episode, we saw “ghost 24” crossing the venture brothers’ names off of 21’s death list. what gives?!

  10. Anonymous says:

    Insidious Returns

    So, here’s something that’s a bit of a lonnnnng ago callback, to Season 2’s Hate Floats. The Monarch has just broken out of prison, out to reclaim his kingdom and queen from the Grand Insufferable Prick. He manages to elicit the aid of only two henchmen, 21 and 24. As to the whereabouts of the others, 21 mentions that most of them left to join up with… let’s hear it… Monstroso’s gang.

    So, Monstroso, at this point, has a past of screwing over the Monarch. In fact, Monstroso could be the very manifestation of “screwing over the Monarch,” which 21, aside from maybe rubbing snack on his costume and neglecting certain details in the “bungling” era, has so thoroughly avoided. I didn’t get a chance to check it out, but I wonder if the Monarch’s name is even on his list of “people who killed 24.” The last person pictured as having the detonator was the Monarch, who represents everything that 21 wants to become. It’s working out so well this season that I can’t help but see little Gary’s heart crushed, only to get replaced by a nuclear cosmic engine of hate. Perhaps he’ll emerge from the cocoon a far more terrible and terrifying figure than anyone could predict.

    • Anonymous says:

      Re: Insidious Returns

      I don’t think the Monarch was on that list. It had the Moppets, OSI, Brock, Happenstance etc. Who crossed out the venture brothers and moved 24’s skull across the room is the bigger mystery. The hand seen crossing off the Ventures was wearing a yellow Monarch henchman glove, but it seems like there is more to it than that.

      We know that the remote detonator was used to kill 21, that it was left in the throne room during the Season 3 closer by Dr. Mrs. Monarch, and that the Moppets weren’t on the battlefield at the time. At the end of Season 3 the Moppets seemed the most likely suspects, but now seem completely defanged by 21’s rise to power, the Monarch’s hatred of them and Dr. Mrs. Monarch’s disapproval of them. Perhaps there’s something more sinister going on in the cocoon, another usurper pulling the strings in the limelight.

      Hopefully it’s Dr. Killinger.