Venture Bros: Showdown at Cremation Creek, Part I

As this is the first half of a two-part episode, any attempts at analysis are bound to be premature.  But what the hell.

The theme tonight seems to be “commitment.”  In the A story, Dr. Girlfriend wants a commitment from The Monarch, while in the B story, Dr. Orpheus wants a commitment from The Alchemist.  The Monarch submits to Dr. Girlfriend’s desire, The Alchemist isn’t so sure.

In the C story, Phantom Limb pledges commitment to The Sovereign, then immediately goes back on his word.  This cannot end well.  The Sovereign is a spooky distorted head in a TV set; one would do well not to cross him.

Both Henchman 24 (or is it 21?) and Brock wish to commit to tattoos.  Both attempts are abortive.  In the henchman’s case, the abortion is voluntary.  This foreshadows the abortion of Dr. Girlfriend’s attempts to get through her wedding to The Monarch.  Both the tatoos and the wedding are commitment ceremonies.

A note on The Monarch’s and Dr. Girlfriend’s relationship: if it continues along the lines it is, it’s doomed.  It cannot end happily.  These two have issues, and I’m not talking about dressing up in costumes and living in a flying cocoon.  Dr. Girlfriend wants a commitment, but she wants The Monarch to change who he is in order to get it.  This is a common and tragic mistake.  Dr. Girlfriend wants The Monarch to give up arching Dr. Venture, but that is all The Monarch knows.  He only defines himself in opposition, he has no positive identity.  If he’s not arching someone, what is he going to do with himself?  Dress up in the costume, fly around in the cocoon and — what, exactly?  What kind of a way is that to live?  And once his identity is taken away, how will he maintain his appeal to Dr. Girlfriend?  What is her attraction to him after all?  He’s a whining, petulant, fussbudget.  She must be attracted to him for the command and drive that he possesses when arching Dr. Venture.  Take away his hatred and his plans for destroying Dr. Venture and what will come to the fore?  Where will he direct his energy?  Dr. Girlfriend (Dr. Wife?  Dr. Life-Partner?) makes the classic mistake of gutting her relationship when she thinks she’s solidifying it, a rare manipulative misstep for this otherwise canny woman.

(Incidentally, this may answer a question from last week.  Why wasn’t The Monarch present during the raid on the Venture Compound?  He apparenly had a hot date with Dr. Girlfriend in their seedy motel room.)

Dr. Orpheus is disappointed with the Order of the Triad.  Jefferson Twilight seems okay with going along with arching Torrid, but The Alchemist is wavering in his commitment to costumed arching (his comment about being “disguised as a paunchy gay man” is a telling moment).  The team cannot even perform the Man-Mound without the two lesser team members griping about it (and no wonder — The Alchemist, being the shortest member, should be at the top of the mound, not Dr. Orpheus — what are they thinking?).  Dr. Orpheus wants to have a “practice session” (another kind of commitment ceremony), which The Alchemist derails by bringing a treat that Jefferson is susceptible to (thereby demolishing Jefferson’s commitment to sobriety).

While The Monarch is commiting to Dr. Girlfriend by promising to marry her, the henchmen are proving their commitment to The Monarch by capturing Dr. Venture and his family.  (Strangely, the henchmen, while ever loyal, are beginning to show signs of independent thought — they gripe about hench-life out in the open now without apparent fear of repercussions — could this represent a more democratic atmosphere around the cocoon?) 

Later, Hank and Dean are each becoming seduced by the henchman lifestyle.  Hank is attracted by its juvenile, play-acting dress-up side while Dean is interested in the technical aspects.  In fact, Dean shows more interest in the flying cocoon than he’s shown in his father’s projects in two seasons.  Thematically, these storylines don’t exactly fit: one does not, after all, commit to being a child or a sibling, one is simply born that way.  One does, however, commit to being a “Venture Brother,” and if they can be attracted to the hench-life, can the end of the Venture-brand line of adventures be far behind?  (At the moment Hank puts on the “evil Hank” beard, he is distracted by the henchman’s alarm clock, a Rusty Venture clock of all things, with Jonas’s voice calling for Rusty to “wake up.”  Is Hank experiencing an awakening of a sort by donning his henchman garb and his “evil Hank” beard?)

In the middle of all this, Dr. Venture has a revelation: Dr. Girlfriend is Charlene, the woman who turned him into a caterpillar (I know that everyone reading this knows that, I just enjoy typing phrases like “the woman who turned him into a caterpilar”).  And so he does something rather alarming; after an adulthood filled with grumpily harumphing at the whole costumed-arching lifestyle, and at The Monarch in particular, he goes ahead and does something that cannot help but actually make him a genuine enemy of The Monarch.  So while The Monarch has hated Dr. Venture all this time for no reason at all, Dr. Venture, on the day The Monarch has vowed to stop arching him, has given him something to really arch about.

The special surprise guest at the wedding is, of course, David Bowie.  Which prompts the question, what does David Bowie represent in the Venture Bros cosmos?  If the theme of tonight’s episode is commitment, then Bowie, chameleon without peer, would seem to represent the pinnacle of non-commitment.  Bowie’s career (and by “career” I mean from 1969 to 1980; I can’t account for the ensuing 26 years of fitfully entertaining product, which puts Bowie more into the “squandered potential” theme of the show) was founded on what we might call “success through transformation.”  So then we ask, well, who in The Venture Bros has succeeded through transformation?  We could say that The Monarch has succeeded through transformation, if you can call what he does successful.  The butterfly is the ultimate symbol of transformation, the ugly creeping worm that becomes the beautiful floating flower.  And now he is contemplating another transformation, from arch-villain to, what, house-husband? 

Well, at least it’s a step: Rusty and Brock have both refused to transform at all, they have both remained stuck in their adolescent mindsets for over twenty years now, Rusty with his frustration and curdled dreams and Brock with his devotion to Led Zeppelin, which even the butterfly-dressed Monarch puts down as juvenile.

Or maybe the Bowie reference is not to transformation but to masks: many of the characters in Venture Land wear masks, but Dr. Girlfriend has gone through more then most.  Is she, like Bowie, a chameleon, or does she just not know who she is?  First she’s Lady Au Pair, then she’s Etheria, now she’s Dr. Girlfriend: who is she “really?”  Is there a symbolic weight to chameleon David Bowie “giving her away” at the wedding (and quoting “Modern Love” before the ceremony)?  Does this represent Dr. Girlfriend’s farewell to masks, to false identities?  Will we (and perhaps she) now find out who she “really is?”

(I see that David Bowie’s henchmen, at least for the road, are Iggy Pop and Klaus Nomi.  A formidable team — but where are Fripp and Eno?  Are they more of a “brain trust,” perhaps, that Bowie keeps in a vat of viscous liquid hooked up to electrodes, or does Eno outrank Bowie at this point?)

(A commenter on urbaniak‘s blog suggests that David Bowie is, in fact, The Sovereign.  There is evidence to suggest that this is so.  The Sovereign, after all, lets slip to Phantom Limb that he “has a wedding” to get to, and we see no distorted, floating head at the wedding.  Unless The Sovereign is Sgt. Hatred, or Miss Littlefeet, both of which seem doubtful.)

UPDATE: Another aspect of Bowie’s work occurs to me, his deep and abiding belief in space aliens.  In “Space Oddity,” space seems to be quite empty and lonely, but from Ziggy Stardust through Young Americans’ “Somebody Up There Likes Me,” he turns to the idea of invaders from space as Earth’s only salvation.  (It’s not an accident that Ziggy’s band is called the Spiders From Mars.)  His interest seems to have peaked with The Man Who Fell to Earth, but the appearance of genuine alien Klaus Nomi as a bodyguard suggests an exciting new avenue exploration in the Venture universe.
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43 Responses to “Venture Bros: Showdown at Cremation Creek, Part I”
  1. eronanke says:

    1) Squandered potential? David Bowie? The two do not go together in my universe. 80s Bowie, with hits like “Let’s Dance”, “China Girl”, and “Fame” are still amazing and relevant today – not to mention one of the greatest Bowie hits of all time, (even though it’s a collaboration), “Under Pressure” in 1981. 90s Bowie is a little more under the radar, but still produced innovative singles like “I’m Afraid of Americans” with Trent Reznor, lead singer of Nine Inch Nails, (whom I am not a fan of, but appreciate for his masterful and often poetic lyrics).
    2) Do you not remember the Bowie reference from the “Brisby” episode from last season? Bowie there lost a panda to Mr. Brisby in a trivia competition- a scary thought! At any rate, it was HE who hired Molotov to get back his panda, at any cost, showing him ruthless enough to be The Sovereign, but I don’t believe Molotov is an agent of The Guild, so one cannot be sure. Seeing him at the wedding, giving Dr. Girlfriend away, is, however, a sign that he, at the very least, has a history with her, and definitely suggests that, due to *her* past, he has one with the Guild.

    • Todd says:

      1. I have all of Mr. Bowie’s albums, and many of them do gain with repeated listens. I recommend having them on your iTunes “shuffle” mode. A draggy Bowie album from the 90s can sound sparkly and vital when taken out of context. And while I very much enjoy Let’s Dance and Tonight, one must admit that Scary Monsters is kind of like a “final exam” for Bowie, a good-bye to daring, restless experimentalism and a hello to the confident, solid professionalism of the 80s. “Fame,” a wonderful song, is not, unfortuneately, 80s Bowie.

      2. I certainly do remember the Bowie reference from “Mr. Brisby.” It haunts me to this day. I expected him to show up to the wedding with a panda instead of Iggy and Klaus.

      • eronanke says:

        What about the soundtrack to “Labyrinth”? C’mon, that album rules. (I wish I was being facetious).

        Anyway, I wish they had referenced the Panda as well. It almost seems strange that they didn’t; Jackson and Doc are usually really good about internal references.

        Well, what have you.

        PS- Aren’t you in LA? It must be EARLY where you are. DAAAMN.
        PPS- Oh, man, and how experimental can you get when you duet with Bing Crosby? The Little Drummer Boy *still* blows my mind, not to mention the skit beforehand when the made it seem like Bowie thought Crosby was a butler. (?!)
        PPPS- I agree with you on “shuffle” mode, but I pretty much have everything on “shuffle” mode.
        PPPPS- of the song “Heroes”, do you prefer the English, German, or French version?

        • Todd says:

          Labyrinth is one of those Bowie records that has not yet made the jump to digital media in my collection. I do have a vinyl copy not ten feet from my desk, but you know how it is; am I really going to get up and cross the room in order to hear a handful of 80s Bowie songs?

          PS — I am in Santa Monica, which is even more westerly than LA. It is, indeed, early here. I tend to work at night. So for me it’s actually quite late.

          PPS — Morrissey also tends to work well on shuffle.

          PPPS — Of versions of “Heroes” (or “”Heroes,”” as it should be properly billed, I guess), I probably prefer the album version. Although the 1999 King Crimson lineup does a wonderful version as well, on the album Heavy ConstruKction.

          There is, of course, a story behind that version. Robert Fripp, as I’m sure you know, played the soaring, scorching guitar on the original recording. He was not available to tour with the album (as documented on Stage, so Bowie hired up-and-comer Adrian Belew to handle the guitar parts live. Belew listened carefully to the recording and painstakingly replicated the part. Years later, when Fripp was thinking of reforming King Crimson, he went to Belew and asked him how he ever managed the feat. He explained that the part on “Heroes” was never performed live in the studio, but rather spliced together from different solos recorded over many days. Belew, Fripp said, had managed to perform a solo that Fripp himself was unable to perform, which, in Fripp’s view, more than qualified Belew for a place in the new Crimson. And on Heavy ConstruKction one may hear both of them performing the number.

          • eronanke says:

            Labyrinth is KEY. I do hope you would encourage your children to form a love of Bowie early by forcing them to watch it AGAIN and AGAIN.
            PS- OIC
            PPS- Morrissey makes me weep. I guess I’m just not emo enough to like him.
            PPPS- I prefer German, if only for the reason that it sounds so much more desperate than the other versions- a pleading version, if you will. “We COULD be Heroes!… Just for one day!” So sad. I think it kinda embraces a lot more emotion, espec. the Deustchkrieg at the time.

            Also, a very hip German teacher played it for us in class and had us translate it as a quiz. A+, baby!

          • dougo says:

            I recall a similar story about someone who learned to play the guitar solo from the Beatles’ “And Your Bird Can Sing”, not realizing it was double-tracked. I don’t think whoever it was was hired for George Harrison’s band, though.

      • kornleaf says:

        damn, should have read the comments first
        but still, it seems bowie is important in the venture brothers mythos

    • rfd says:

      And on Bowie references, what about the entire intro to Ghosts of the Sargasso?

      • eronanke says:

        Good call. He does seem awfully omni-present in the VentureWorld…

        • rfd says:

          JP has mentioned before that he’s a huge Bowie fan. I can certainly relate – the first chords of Ziggy Stardust at 14 (?) and I was hooked. I’m sure devotees will agree that the man is not quite human. He’s very much something else; some sort of otherworldly mystical creature – perhaps the alien he loves portraying so well.

  2. mcbrennan says:

    “Dr. Life-Partner” may be the funniest Venture Bros line never to appear in the show. At least it hasn’t appeared yet.

    I think it’s a testament to the level of story here that both the opening and closing credit sequences had to be dispatched to fit it all–and it still took almost literally every frame. I don’t think I’m anywhere near able to understand everything without seeing how it plays out in part two, but I was especially fascinated by the boys’ development–Dean’s sudden scien-tastic interest in coccoon metallurgy and anti-matter engines, Hank’s sudden beardy interest in villainy.

    Fripp and Eno are obviously Watch and Ward, who are either Guild Strangers or Henry James characters in their non-musical hours. Or both. I was beyond delighted to see Klaus Nomi get a cameo. Perhaps even more so than Bowie, last year’s documentary “The Nomi Song” suggested Nomi was a genuine costumed super-something with no apparent “self” beyond the character.

    Questions of transformation (or stubborn refusal to transform) are obviously at the center of the thing. Bowie, butterflies, women with dubious histories. There’s Hunter Gathers at least; despite Brock’s pointed remarks in this one, someone in the Venture Bros community took a poll last week and fully 90% of respondents believe Dr. Girlfriend is merely a lady with an ungodly deep voice (the “Jackie Kennedy” theory), rather than…well, you know (the “baboon uterus” theory). Either way, I wish I had a couple of murderous moppets to do my evil bidding every now and again.

    I think in keeping with the spirit of The Prisoner I’m going to guess The Sovereign is Jonas Venture Sr. and/or Rusty himself. Not that they’ve ever made a single Prisoner reference that I’ve caught.

    • eronanke says:

      “The Prisoner” was a show that I got to catch in repeats in the late 90s. It still makes me crawl into a foetal position going “wuh? who? but why?…”

    • greyaenigma says:

      If you understood what was revealed at the end of The Prisoner, you’re a better space alien than I. I don’t think Rusty could pull off the Sovereign (for the opposite reason I don’t think Bowie would), and while Jonas is an appealing thought, I do wonder how he would get into the wedding — the man is ten feet tall!

      Of course, it’s possible he’s in disguise (transplanted brain?), in which case he could be nearly anyone. One of Dr. Fiancée’s Bridesmaids-at-Arms, even.

      • gdh says:

        Them bones, them bones, them dry bones

        I like to pretend the final episode of The Prisoner never happened. I’m content to just re-watch the 10 or so great episodes and leave it at that. I’m quite curious to see what they’ll do with the upcoming remake though.

      • mcbrennan says:

        Well, I don’t think I’d use the word “understood,” but I have an interpretation of what happened at the end of The Prisoner. The long and the short of it is that ultimately, the only thing powerful enough to keep one prisoner is one’s self, your own dark fears and impulses. And the only way to escape is to confront them face to face. But then again, at the very end, McGoohan ends up at his old flat in London, same butler, same automatic door, suggesting he’s traded one kind of prison for another. Intentionally ambiguous, and brilliant and insane.

        I have a theory that Jonas Venture is only ten feet tall in people’s memory. That in real life he’s probably like 5’6″ or something, so he could in fact sneak in. If he’s not the Sovereign, I’m hoping it’ll turn out to be either #24 or Evil Hank.

        • Todd says:

          Well, one’s father is always ten feet tall from the point of view of his child.

        • greyaenigma says:

          That interpretation seems likely. It seems like they could have made that point without an hour’s worth of psychodelia, but hey, it was the 60s.

          The 10 feet tall thing was a reference to Rusty’s dream of Jonas. I think he even has a ucid moment where he says something like “wait — you’re not ten feet tall.”

    • craigjclark says:

      Awesome icon!

      I’ve been patiently waiting for Nomi to appear ever since he showed up in the big “rogue’s gallery” picture on Jackson Publick’s LiveJournal. Of course, I thought he was going to appear in a flashback since he died in 1983, but seeing him alive and well and acted as Bowie’s bodyguard was perfect. Too bad he didn’t get to sing, but that hiss would tell anybody to back off.

      • greyaenigma says:

        Re: Awesome icon!

        It’s weird — when I first saw that rogue’s gallery, I had no idea who Nomi was. I’d since been exposed to the idea of him, so I recognized him immediately. Then I just happened to look at the character panorama this morning, and there he was.

      • mcbrennan says:


        If an 18-inch tall abdominally-absorbed fetal twin can escape from the dominant twin’s stomach after 40 years, immediately fly an atomic jet with one gimpy arm, build a cybernetic attack vehicle out of a stove, nail down half a billion on defense contracts and get the hot chicks, reanimating a deceased Klaus Nomi should be child’s play. I love the terrifying possibilities in the VB universe. Yeah, next time he’d better sing, though Urbaniak is likely to rupture a vocal chord if he tries it.

        Interesting that no one’s commented on Bowie’s other guard, who was not Joey Arias but apparently a one Mr. Iggy Pop, meow. Somebody call Betty Ford, looks like he’s using again.

        • craigjclark says:

          You’re welcome.

          “Keys of Life,” indeed.

          And yes, I picked Mr. Osterberg out as well. Quite coincidentally, I just recently picked up the two albums — The Idiot and Lust for Life — that he made with Bowie in Berlin in the late ’70s. I had been waiting for them to come out with remastered versions since the last time that was done was 1990, but I finally could not wait any longer.

  3. greyaenigma says:

    It wasn’t clear, but would Dr. Wife be content with The Monarch arching someone else? She didn’t say to give up arching”, just arching Dr. Venture. Which, if Rusty were only aware of it, would give more fuel to his somewhat deluded fire. (Which is an important question — just how deluded is it? I think she felt mostly pity for him, but it was a remarkably strong pity to betray the wishes of the man she loves — and her boss.)

    The Sovereign didn’t seem as smooth as Bowie should be. I like the theory that Bowie could be in charge of the guild, but would he act like that?

    Finally, it was a little stunning to see all those great C-list characters disposed of in the beginning. Was Phantom Limb always that ruthless, or was this a sign that he had simply snapped? And were those Guild resources he was using? Unless he managed a coup, it’s hard to imagine the Guild not coming down on him like a ton of moths.

    • Todd says:

      Was Phantom Limb always that ruthless

      Last time we saw him, he was selling stolen paintings to pornographers. Not so ruthless. I think the shotgun murders are simply misdirected sexual energy, as he is unable to have Dr. Girlfriend.

      • greyaenigma says:

        As I was driving in to town this morning, “Jesse’s Girl” was on the radio, and I noted how shallow and naive the narrator seems: “I’ve been funny, I’ve been cool with the lines; ain’t that the way love’s supposed to be?”

        Seems appropriate to the Venture lovers, even if they’re not cool with the lines.

      • One can see it as shooting deadly sperm, use his idenitity as a man to threaten the monarch, and using another machine to replace a body part. In a sense the cultural facade is meant to mask more of his lackings as a romantic…

  4. ayrn says:

    Where is Baron Ünderbheit? And Hector?

  5. amara_anon says:

    21 was the one getting the tattoo.

    I was surprised how easily the Monarch seemed to get over arching Dr. Venture. He went a month, and then when the Venture family was there in the cell, he was horrified, not ecstatic. He even went as far as to thank them for helping him out, instead of fuming about breathing the same air as his enemy.

    Of course, what’s the show if Monarch doesn’t arch Venture? They’ve gotta keep them connected somehow. Or take the Monarch in a new direction (arching Phantom Limb maybe).

    • greyaenigma says:

      Of course, Phantom Limb could start arching Dr. Venture, particularly if he starts to believe that Rusty stole Dr. Love Object away from him. (Regardless of how likely that actually is.) While I think Rusty wouldn’t be able to cope with PL arching him, it would be kind of fun to have two Urbaniak-voiced characters as nemeses. (Not to mention Jonas Jr.)

  6. zqadams says:

    All this brilliant insight and theorizing, and all I can do is point out which Monarch henchman is which. 🙁 21=Gary, pudgy geek who dresses like Kevin Smith and lives with his mom. He’s the one who wanted the ink. 24=tall, skinny weirdo.

    At this point, I think one of the most interesting subplots that’s popped up repeatedly without going anywhere is 21 slowly coming out of the Monarch’s shadow…kind of. In “Powerless…” he theorizes about taking over the cocoon and going into business himself as the Viceroy, then retreats to hoping to hear from the boss. In “Hate Floats” he’s the one who gives the sales pitch to the new crew (albeit with 24 as a planted shill). And in “VEN” he comes out and says he could do a better job of being an archvillain than the Monarch. Granted, his costume is a jumpsuit pinched from a children’s game show and his entire purpose in arching seems to be a way to get women to go to bed with him, but even this is a huge step up in ambition from where he started. In “I Know…” he’s the one who recognizes that Killinger is a threat to his way of life and the Monarch’s career, even if he’s paranoid and delusional about it. Even after 24 has a sit-down talk with the good bad Doctor and comes over to his way of thinking, 21stands firm in his objection and tries to fix it. Unfortunately, though, his attempts to cement the Monarch/Venture war end in Dr. G’s ultimatum. And now, he and his buddies have gotten hammered and done under his direction what they could only dream of under the Monarch (we don’t know how the family got captured in “Are You There…?” but for some reason I can’t imagine that the Legion of Goon were anywhere near as effective as they were here). It’s clear that, while he doesn’t really have the instincts to be a Phantom Limb-level threat, Gary has at least SOME initiative and talent for the game, at least the watered-down version peddled by much of the Guild. With a little equipment (no doubt stolen from another Guild member) he could, at the very least, give Torrid a run for his money.

    One last point: I wonder where King Gorilla was in the opening hunt. It seems kind of unlike PL to kill those who were loyal to the Guild and not the one man who helped the Monarch against orders.

  7. ghostgecko says:

    >>>we see no distorted, floating head at the wedding.

    That’s an intersting interpretation. I assumed it was because he was incorporeal, or Phantom Limb had intercepted him in an unpleasent manner before he arrived.

    I quite enjoyed Iggy Pop as a bodyguard. I see it’s 70’s era Iggy – he was a lot scarier back then. Now he looks like my granddad. If Bowie can bring Nomi back from the dead, he ought to look into getting GG Allin, too.

    Man, it’s going to be a long week.

    • Todd says:

      I assumed it was because he was incorporeal, or Phantom Limb had intercepted him in an unpleasent manner before he arrived.

      Well, I think The Sovereign has a distorted, floating head-thing for the same reason the Wizard of Oz had one, as a disguise. I don’t seriously believe that The Sovereign is a distorted, floating head.

      It does occur to me, however, that “Sovereign” is almost a synonym for “Monarch.” Make of that what you will.

      • ghostgecko says:

        Maybe he’s King Gorilla. King = Sovereign.

        • Todd says:

          In some ways, The Venture Bros could be called Doctors and Kings.

          In the “Doctor” category, there’s Dr. Venture (3 of them), Dr. Girlfriend, Dr. Orpheus, Dr. Killinger, Dr. Impossible, Dr. Septapus.

          In the “Kings” category, there’s The Monarch, The Sovereign, King Gorilla, Brock Samson (Samson being a Biblical king), Hank (there were six King Henrys in British history).

          And I’m sure more would turn up if I gave it a moment’s thought.

  8. kornleaf says:

    don’t forget the episode with the panda that was stolen back for bowie, or the episode that took it’s dialog from a bowie song…