In astrology, eclipses signal change. Lunar eclipses in particular mark "endings or culmination points." And in the action-packed penultimate offering of the season, the prominence of the lunar eclipse can't be an accident. The chickens are coming home to roost, and soon. I can't begin to speculate about how next week's season finale will play out, but it's safe to say that folks are in for some awkward revelations and even more uncomfortable decisions.
"A Party for Tarzan" starts at the end before doubling back to explanatory flashbacks from 21, The Monarchs, Dr. Venture, and (briefly) Dr. Z. We finally learn how 21 wound up henching for The Monarch (he was mistaken for Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell in a botched kidnapping) and that his first credited kill was actually a serendipitous accident (when Arch du Jour, Professor Vibrations, keeled over before he could kill a captive 21). Although 21's youth at the time he joined up with The Monarchs goes some way toward explaining his loyalty, this week's solo job might finally push him to take whatever (in)action is advised in Blood on my Hands, Grief in My Heart: 21 is conscripted to murder the Doc Ock-ish Wandering Spider while The Monarch “thwarts” laser-wielding hemorrhoid specialist Dr. Heine. The division of labor is designed to increase The Monarch’s arching level while diverting suspicions about the Blue Morpho’s identity farther from home.
Next we hear from Dr. Mrs. The Monarch, who recounts the Council of Still-Not-Quite-13's latest meeting regarding the Blue Morpho's ongoing villain-killing spree. Wes Warhammer's untimely demise has finally moved the Council to action, kind of. They’ve appointed a task force – The 5.5, composed of Dr. Mrs. The Monarch, Phantom Limb, Dr. Z, Red Mantle, and Dragoon (the 5) plus Watch and Ward (the .5) – to address the Blue Morpho threat. Aside from the catchy name, the task force doesn't have much in the way of a plan or even information. The Council meeting reveals the Blue Morpho was a vigilante registered with neither the OSI nor the Guild, a “junkyard dog” who performed off-the-books dirty work for Jonas Venture. When Watch and Ward offer to retrieve old Guild files concerning his eventual neutralization, Phantom Limb retorts that the Sovereign destroyed those records, and with them the identity of the party who collected the Guild bounty on Blue Morpho’s head.
Another flashback is nested in this one, as Dr. Z reminisces about a youthful dalliance with Billie Jean King. Only after a night of “tender passion” did “Billie Jean” reveal herself to be a disguised Blue Morpho in Jonas Venture’s employ: Could it be that the Sovereign was impersonating the Blue Morpho, or that he actually was the Blue Morpho, and therefore The Monarch’s father?
While the Council dithers in the quibble-zone that precedes its final act full-on panic, Dr. Venture is delivering some approximation of a lecture/pep talk to his bodyguards, business partners, and sons. In his flashback, we see him crashing a "swanky party" with Billy and White, presumably to court potential investors. They discover that Chris Lambert – who really does bear a passing resemblance to Ted Danson – is in attendance, and Dr. Venture manages somehow not only to make his acquaintance, but convinces him to join the ConVenTech crew at the penthouse for a lunar eclipse party. Disappointed at Enzo’s unworkable timeline for a new tuxedo, Rusty swipes the Blue Morpho suit (previously deposited by 21 for de-Gowanusing and re-Kevlaring). Thus he comes to be standing on his roof deck, admiring the eclipsed moon and musing on our smallness in the cosmos, when Wide Wale urges Dr. Mrs. The Monarch to take out the Blue Morpho. In an impressive feat of narrative legerdemain, the flashback threads of Dr. Venture, Mrs. The Monarch, and 21 coalesce into a meditation on free will that just skims their side of the fourth wall and rides a bullet straight into the Blue Morpho suit jacket.
The source escapes me, but I have a dim memory of Joss Whedon arguing that a certain character in Serenity died to raise the endgame’s stakes: One crewmember death opened the possibility of others. It’s a testament to The Venture Bros.’ audacity that Dr. Venture’s death seemed plausible. That Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick came within a hair of killing The Monarch last week perversely strengthened my conviction that they’d actually pulled the trigger this week.
But who can pull that trigger, or refrain from pulling it, in the moment that matters most? If you’ll forgive a final nerdy reference, manipulating the weather is easier than recognizing when to let the weather be. This season has explored the limits of judgment and will, particularly of the ability to recognize whether a situation demands action or restraint. For the past seven episodes, The Monarch has charged into a series of questionable decisions with potentially disastrous consequences, heedless of his last henchman’s increasing reluctance to participate. ConVenTech has lurched from one wide-eyed miscalculation to another, squandering J.J.’s accrued financial and social capital. The Guild dawdled in bureaucratic irrelevance before swinging suddenly into panicked (and wrongheaded) motion, goading Dr. Mrs. The Monarch into action against her better judgment. It’s not clear to me whose judgment prevails in the Pine Barrens and whether anyone is attached to the arachnoid apparatus 21 buries in the woods. Only time – and there’s precious little left – will tell.
As we approach the season finale, I’m surprised to discover how emotionally invested I’ve become in these characters. I have complained on and off about this season’s deliberate pacing, which sometimes felt like way more plodding exposition than the show typically asked viewers to endure. But “A Party for Tarzan” demanded I reconsider my kvetching: Are you impatient for new developments, or dreading them? Do you really want to see how far The Venture Bros. is willing to go?
The answers to the these questions, of course, are Absolutely not and Bring it on. Not that it matters. The cold knot in my stomach demands I tune in this Sunday. I won’t presume to speculate what that says about my judgment or my will.
ODDS AND ENDS
- Sympathetic Kitten Watch, resumed: No sign of Sympathetic Kitten, but Dean says hello to the resident furball sprawled on Enzo’s counter.
- Battleaxe survived her trip into the abyss!
- Did The Monarch really just stop Dr. Heine from treating hemorrhoids with lasers, or did I miss something?
- Note to The Monarch: Aggressively occupying multiple seats on mass transit is. Not. Cool.
- Dr. Venture thinks that looking directly at a lunar eclipse can hurt your eyes. If you want to tempt fate yourself, the next total lunar eclipse visible in North America will take place in January 2018. Be sure your viewing glasses and any headgear are covered with a healthy layer of eclipsium.
- One of the Berzerk-related deaths 21 references is documented, but the other may be apocryphal.
- The Ruddy Bottom Doc-tail: Grenadine, tomato juice, and rum. Dr. Heine would approve; the Geneva Convention maybe not so much.