I pondered this week’s theme like an undergrad staring down a 5,000-word essay before realizing it was literally spelled out in exquisite cursive on the board in Dean's classroom: “Persona, Mimesis, and Prosopopoeia.” Translated from the academic circumlocution, this week’s episode was all about masks, about whether it’s possible to reconcile the selves we are, the selves we want, and the selves we wear.
Spoiler alert: The short answer is probably “no.”
When last we left our intrepid pro- and antagonists, they were trying (with one exception) to go straight. The ConVenTech crew was working on salable (if outlandish) inventions. Dean started attending non-bed-based classes, Hank showed signs of finally slipping from creep mode into the earnest awkwardness of adolescent courtship, Hatred was a reasonably effective rent-a-cop, and Brock was approaching something like work-life balance. Dr. Mrs. The Monarch and the rest of the Council of Still-Not-Quite-Thirteen have done little more than explore permutations of Robert's Rules of Order. Even Wide Wale's nascent coup adheres more or less to a conventional corporate playbook, his villainy more Kingpin than Killer Whale.
That exception? The Monarch, of course. While everyone around him is trying to go straight, he’s going sideways. Instead of filling out paperwork or working on his Villain Level in the Guild, the Monarch has assumed a new masked identity that so effectively camouflages his own that everyone has begun to mistake him for Thaddeus Venture. As much as I’ve criticized its potentially negative impact on a heretofore fabulous marriage, I have to concede that this approach demonstrates a commendable level of self-awareness. While ConVenTech struggles to pass as a reputable R&D department and the Council of Still-Not-Quite-Thirteen conceals its uncertainty in bureaucratic foot-dragging, while Hatred imagines he can live as a civilian and the boys play at being just kids in the city, The Monarch wastes no energy pretending a straight life is possible for people like him. He didn’t get into this racket for benefits or prestige or a solution to an accidental DNA splice. He’s a weird-ass supervillain because he doesn’t know how to want to be anything else. His new Blue Morpho mask is a literal, removable means to an end that does not compromise his sense of self. Everyone else can throw themselves into the machinery of bureaucracy or super science, but The Monarch will be devoured by a machine of his own construction.
The Monarch doesn't start ahead, though. Dr. Mrs. The Monarch was sufficiently provoked by the date night fiasco to express frustrations previously held back to spare her husband's feelings. And although we know Blue Morpho has been out and about, the requisite secrecy effectively means The Monarch has been idle on the villainy front. And Dr. Mrs. The Monarch raises a practical point: Even if Blue Morpho and Kano manage to knock out the competition, The Monarch will never qualify to arch Venture as a Level 4. (Of course, according to the logic of this more corporate universe, all The Monarch really needs to do is commit corporate espionage/sabotage until Venture’s rating falls within a more attainable range, but that would be boring, and we will not dignify the possibility with further discussion.)
Dr. Mrs. The Monarch is right to be frustrated. What seemed like a promising career move has turned out to be scutwork in middle management. The interminable and apparently daily meetings she attends only assign her more thankless work, this time tying up the loose ends around Haranguetan's untimely demise. Although retrieving the body from VenTech Tower is more or less routine, Dr. Mrs. The Monarch is about to find out that informing his surviving spouse will be anything but.
Once the Guild departs with Haranguetan's corpse, ConVenTech must deal with the failed God Gas experiment’s aftermath among the living. Brock stumbles home from Warriana's nursing a monstrous hangover but with his dignity more or less intact. Billy, however, is not so fortunate: he wakes to find himself an Internet celebrity. As White's video goes viral, the Pirate Captain attempts damage control on the evening news, but the program host is an unrelenting Alexis Warrington, Warriana's alter ego. The whole mishap costs VenTech 50 stock points and the closest thing they had to a viable submission for the Science Now conference: apparently performing science is not the same as doing it.
If only cloning weren’t illegal, Rusty could present Hank and Dean at the conference as evidence of his laboratory bona fides. Whatever a casual bystander might think of them, s/he’d never guess they were cloned iterations of two kids who’ve gotten themselves killed more times than their father can count. Both boys have acquired a kind of anonymity in the city; Hank has to disguise himself when Wide Wale dines at the restaurant where he picked up his first job, but Dean basically blends in among the other undergrads at Stuyvesant. I hope next week deals with him discovering that his philosophy professor was the civilian alter ego of yet another supervillain in line to arch his father.
Whether he connects these pieces or not, Dean is not the only character dealing with “unknown unknowns.” Even before her spouse’s shenanigans collide with her Guild duties, Dr. Mrs. The Monarch has been ambushed with suspicious camera footage, the demand of an unspecified favor from Wide Wale, and a widow who is pitiable and terrifying by turns. Moved by Battleaxe’s grief (and perhaps also feeling a little guilty about her earlier spat), Dr. Mrs. The Monarch agrees to help retrieve the Haranguetank from the impound lot – the same lot from which Blue Morpho and Kano are headed to liberate the Morpho Mobile. The Monarch avoids being unmasked by his wife by the narrowest margin before Battleaxe’s attempt to avenge her husband meets its own untimely end in the VenTech lobby, conveniently and unintentionally neutralizing Obstacle #2 on the Guild’s Fiends & Family plan. Dr. Mrs. The Monarch arrives in time to witness the conflagration and draws the same misguided conclusion as Billy did at the Blue Morpho’s first appearance.
If you're not the kind of nerd who pauses cartoons to read throwaway jokes on blackboards, the show does state its thesis outright, via Professor Nidaba:
“All great things must wear terrifying and monstrous masks in order to inscribe themselves on the hearts of humanity.” – Nietzsche, of course
Many of these characters would probably admit to a secret desire to “inscribe themselves on the hearts of humanity,” but almost every mask in this episode falls short of monstrous. Designed poorly or worn badly, masks intended to terrify wear instead as comical or grotesque. But what if we let the masks fall? Being uncompromisingly yourself is its own trap. The Monarchs’ chance encounter at the impound lot has left both staring into abysses of uncertainty. They’d do well to take a page from Freddy – if you stare into the abyss, don’t blink first.
ODDS AND ENDS
- “Whaddya say we take this unsanctioned teamup back to my place and make it official?” Brock and Warriana 4eva! Unless she’s using him to get the scoop on VenTech. But she doesn’t seem like the type. Does she? I want so badly for him to get a slice of happiness that my mind keeps considering the darkest universe.
- The rest of Think Tank’s interrupted Nietzsche quote is “The true man wants two things: danger and play.” BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE: “For that reason he wants woman, as the most dangerous plaything.” Oh, Think Tank. I can’t say we weren’t all disappointed with your arching. Maybe Our Man Bashir would have been more amenable to your charms.
- Two of the three costumed villains drinking at Ye Olde Battleaxe auditioned for The Revenge Society in Bright Lights, Dean City.
- Possible reasons the Guild Council considers for Blue Morpho’s return: ghost ninja, time tunnel, and hallucination. Also maybe that some new guy is wearing the costume, but that would be silly.
- Dr. Mrs. The Monarch’s inbox raises so many questions: What did a little birdy tell CopyCat? How is it that even Phantom Limb’s recipes manage to sound oily and unappetizing? Who administers the Guild’s cloud storage and spam filter?
- WHAT KIND OF SUPERVILLAIN DOESN’T LOCK THEIR LAPTOP?!
- This week, in real-world references: Evelyn Wood Reading Dynamics, Joseph E. Haynes, and the King’s Indian Defence.