After revisiting last week’s premiere and recap, I’m considering that I may have come down unfairly on this new season. Place-setting is bound to be tedious, especially in a show that tends to deliver at least five plots and 20 awesome one-liners in every episode, but last week’s premiere managed to introduce a new Venture home base, Guild council, characters that may hail from The Tick's darkest timeline, and an occasionally recognizable incarnation of New York City right after Season 5 annihilated touchstones like the Council of 13, the Venture compound, and J.J. I appreciate this daring venture into uncharted territory (and I swear that pun wasn't intended).
This week’s episode opened with Augustus St. Cloud (mercifully) interrupting Billy Quizboy and Pete White's doomed attempt to improvise mint chocolate chip cookies. Shortly before they have to suspend and reschedule the day's arching, St. Cloud reveals that he has absconded with a red rubber ball used in a Duran Duran music video. When Pete and Billy present themselves for capture, St. Cloud makes them wait while he defiles everybody's memories of Henrietta the Cat. My memories of Mr. Rogers are sketchy at best, but it was still a relief when St. Cloud finally tied them up and started monologuing. Invoking music-subculture logic that sailed over my head, St. Cloud's villainous speech somehow persuades Billy to sign over Conjectural Technologies in exchange for the ball.
Although I’ve always liked Billy and White, I've never found their arch-relationship with St. Cloud compelling. St. Cloud manages to be both uninteresting and annoying, and some days seems to function as little more than a vehicle for shoehorning pop culture references. But apparently his aesthetic – "eerie, sterile, and vaguely menacing" – references early synthpop and the New Romanticism about which he held forth at such bewildering length (thanks, Wikipedia!).
Back in Manhattan, Rusty’s corporate misadventures are making headlines; it's only a matter of time before he (or Hank) wind up on the show's equivalent of TMZ. I never thought I'd say this about anything Dr. Venture did, but his reasoning...makes sense. It's shocking to discover that he's actually committed to super science, and that most of his failed endeavors are the result of moonshot thinking instead of straight up attempts to scam the government out of lucrative military contracts. It doesn't even matter if this is a retcon – I'll run with it. Once again Dean is the voice of reason at the family table. Like his sympathetic kitten, Dean is too adorable to make it out of this season intact, but his hopes for reconciling his history and his future are palpable and endearing.
This episode also detoxes the Pirate Captain, complete with an homage to that incredibly creepy scene from Trainspotting. The Pirate Captain’s detox also has one of the greatest meta lines in recent memory. “Where am I, hell? Or a children’s show that takes place in hell?” Who among us hasn't asked this question? No, seriously: In children's stories, lessons learned once open the way to happy endings. I love The Venture Bros. because even though it looks like a children's show its characters are too warped to learn anything. Like ours, their lives are mined by the mundane pressures of history, family, youthful bad decisions, other people, and (mostly) habit. Like us, Dr. Venture and Co. detonate these mines only to reassemble, rearm, and rebury them. These people are frequently absurd and occasionally despicable, but their tendency to repeat self-destructive patterns is familiar. Like most of us, they don't know any other way to live; they just get to repeat their mistakes with much cooler toys.
On the other side of the Hudson, The Monarch plots to circumvent Wide Wale's appropriation of his One True Arch. His passion for arching Dr. Venture is skewing into an ugly kind of entitlement, and his refusal to see the big picture – and his willingness to risk his own career, his wife’s, and the survival of the Guild – is petulant and maddening. Dude, I find myself hollering at the screen, can you just give your demonstrably loving and competent spouse some time to iron this s**t out? Go for a walk! Get Netflix! Take the PATH train to a f*****g museum and figure out how to add butterfly wings to antique weapons! But to not avail. After skeeving out 21 with makeup sex negotiations, The Monarch forces his last remaining henchman to conduct some corporate espionage on the competition.
Speaking of which, we find out in this episode that Wide Wale’s pre-villainy name was Chester Ong, and that he had a brother named Doug. Sound familiar? It should – Doug Ong was the pre-super-scientist name of Dr. Dugong, the new arch briefly and disastrously assigned to The Monarch in Season 3. That Dr. Dugong's surviving brother stands between The Monarch and Dr. Venture is a refreshing admission the show's done this plot line before, and a hint that it won't end the same way.
It remains to be seen whether Wide Wale is interested in avenging his brother’s death; from what we've seen so far, his arching seems motivated primarily by profit margins. (Unless he has some resources or exploits the OSI doesn't know about, those payoffs are probably how he maintains his Level 10 archvillain class. St. Cloud has already demonstrated the Guild is not immune to generous contributions.) It's a pretty good bet Wide Wale survived his encounter with the polar bear, and I'm looking forward to seeing more from the Crusaders Action League as pressure from his corner mounts.
Stray thoughts and idle speculation:
- Check out the Pirate Captain’s shirt. One way or another, hallucinogenics always culminate in dolphins and rainbows.
- “You can’t put mouthwash into cookie batter!” I don’t care how many flame wars I incite, but Thin Mints are the only remotely appetizing way to combine chocolate and mint.
- “I mean, what kind of supervillain lives in Paterson, New Jersey?”
“Yeah, you’re one to talk.”
“Please. Newark trumps Paterson.”
- So has St. Cloud's unqualified victory over Conjectural Technologies terminated their arching contract, or will he follow them to Manhattan? If the latter, is St. Cloud also angling to arch Dr. Venture indirectly (and compete with Wide Wale and The Monarch)?
- The exchanges between St. Cloud and the Quizboy team were so packed with references that I wound up spending more time poking around a series of Google rabbit holes than actually watching their scenes. Yes, the man whose arms exploded is real. No, it is not necessary for you to Google him too.
Are you done cringing? Yeah. I did try to warn you.
- Cafix is also real. Apparently a lot has happened since the last time I left the house.
- Would the geology of Newark would actually support the cavern beneath The Monarch's new headquarters? Because the swampy substrate of my old North Jersey hometown would have flooded the hell out of that basement.