Oh my stars and garters, that was FUN! As much as I have truly enjoyed learning new words and exploring character motives, I did miss watching these guys trade blows and blow shit up. This week’s offering was an eventful return to form for everybody’s favorite subversion of our childhood dreams.
The episode opened with a classic Introduction to This Week’s Villains, “ten of the most ruthlessly self-involved…on earth.” I’m pretty sure this insufferable cadre is meant to channel artists and pop culture icons from the 60s and 70s. Were my Art History notes not consigned to my parents’ garage (along with collegiate turns of phrase like “paradoxical immutability and plasticity of time”) you might be subjected to speculation about their identities, but that’s a job for readier eyes. Anyway, like the other Season 6 villains before them, they don’t survive the episode, and the collective is practically a side gag considering how much happened.
For starters, the Ventures (père et fils) blow off Brock’s warning about the threatening film delivered to their doorstep that morning. Getting arched was old hat before they came to New York, and they’re not about to let it compromise a date (Venture fils) or a round of Team Fortress 2 (père et Hatred). Dr. Venture’s insistence of playing one last round before going up to the panic room provides the window This Weeks’ Villains need to set up a Doom Factory in the VenTech penthouse, complete with pop art, pay phone, illicit substances, and a film studio.
In sharp contrast to the Doom Collective’s decadence, the Guild continued to demonstrate its signature restraint – in other words, to be utterly ineffectual. Dr. Mrs. The Monarch has set up a temporary office front parlor, trapping 21 in the Morpho Cave for the duration of her fruitless conference call with the Council of Still-Not-Quite-13. She fails to persuade the Council that the Blue Morpho is sufficiently dangerous to merit a Guild response, and Phantom Limb discredits her theory further by insinuating that Dr. Mrs. The Monarch’s judgement is impaired by her husband’s obsession with Dr. Venture. In spite of the evidence, the Council votes to warn the community of organized villainy with posters. Posters. Because everybody takes those so seriously.
To add insult to injury, Dr. Mrs. The Monarch winds up sitting most of this episode out. After being cornered and nearly unmasked by his wife last week, The Monarch has learned caution. He tranqs his wife with a Blue Morpho dart to keep her out of play while he crosses another competitor off the Pyramid of Peril. Still shaken by his role in Haranguetan’s death, 21 insists on a nonlethal takedown of Wes Warhammer, and Blue Morpho and Kano embark on a plan to demolish the Doom Collective’s empty lair. Blue Morpho very nearly goes down with the ship, spared only by defective fuses in his 30-year-old grenades. For a moment – only a moment – it seemed the show might actually kill The Monarch, but there’s no way he’s getting off that easy.
Tonight is also the night of Hank's date with Sirena, and neither Hank’s outfit nor the series of improbable scenarios he stages to impress her can diminish this subplot’s charm. Although she’s too smart to buy Hank’s casual heroism, Sirena is sufficiently charmed by the pastiche and his guilelessness to suggest they blow off their dinner check (“son of a ditch!”) and take an unsanctioned dip in the Hudson. Thankfully, my fears that Hank might mimic his father’s oily advances were unfounded, and he is refreshingly startled when Sirena kisses him. The happy shock feels earnest, and earned, and their courtship has all the promise of love too young to know better. I want so much for this to play out well, but neither the Guild nor the OSI seem inclined to consider young love, and surely it’s only a matter of time before fate, parents, or other unfortunate circumstances intervene.
Dr. Venture also has a date tonight, with what is probably the most anticlimactic arching the show has given us to date. I’m inclined to agree with 21’s assessment of the Doom Collective’s style (“It’s a little too ‘oh look at me I’m so clever’ for my taste.”), but it is effective. Hardened against property invasions and threats of bodily harm, Dr. Venture is uniquely vulnerable to Warhammer’s brand of arching. Despicable behavior and questionable parenting aside, Rusty is a tragic figure. Forced to have an “interesting” life before he was capable of processing its implications, he was manipulated, exploited, and misled by nearly every adult responsible for his mental and emotional well-being. Is it any wonder that Dr. Venture grew up into an emotionally stunted hot mess? Nothing could possibly live up to the life he was told he was living and the life he was promised.
Warhammer’s arching exploited this cognitive dissonance. A technique that was maybe intended as a simple distraction, or to produce material for blackmail, tapped a vein of childhood trauma and longing. Warhammer describes Rusty as fascinating, interesting, attractive. Who wouldn’t want to taste the illusion of a self seen and appreciated for its own sake? To imagine your gravity is charismatic rather than implosive? After spending his formative years as a prop in his father’s Truman show, groomed to perform distress and enjoyment in the face of real danger, Rusty’s seduction is instant and complete. So it's poignant that he gets to believe someone asked him to perform as himself, only to discover that instead of stealing his childhood, Warhammer & Co. is making off with his prototypes. Fortunately Dr. Venture is so inured to disappointment that the hurt registers only briefly before he snaps back to his jaded, grousing self. At least this time – when Chekhov’s grenades go off at a convenient moment – he has the satisfaction of watching his tormentors go up in flames.
Now, as we head into the home stretch, the stakes have been raised. Initially I’d assumed (for no good reason) that the worst-case scenario for an unmasked Blue Morpho would be organized villainy’s equivalent to disbarment. It only occurred to me this week that the Guild's penalty for villain-killing might be death. If the Council gets to vote on a punishment, both Phantom Limb and Wide Wale have strong motives to advocate for execution. Based on her reaction to the Blue Morpho's activities so far, I'm not even sure Dr. Mrs. The Monarch would vote nay. Whatever happens, I hope 21 and those sweet crazy kids make it out of this mess alive.
ODDS AND ENDS
- This week’s title is a riff on It Happened One Night, a romance about a reporter who hooks up with an heiress on the run, and one of the few films to sweep the Best Picture/Director/Actor/Actress/Screenplay Oscars. I can’t vouch for it, but based on Brock’s endorsement I may have to watch Troy.
- The Doom logo is a callback to Warhol’s Brillo boxes. Like many drunk ideas, Exquisite Corpse is rarely as entertaining as its players hope it will be.
- Just in case it didn’t seem possible for VenTech’s stock to tank any more, that footage of Rusty exploring something more “come hither kittenish” is bound to get leaked and outstrip views of Billy’s God Gas hangover.
- Proposed motto for Newark: Still not as gross as the Gowanus Canal!
- The self-help book 21 is reading is the same as the one Rocco tries to recommend to Brock: Blood on My Hands, Grief in My Heart.
- The Monarch blows off 21’s “PTSD nonsense” repeatedly; will this resolute lack of sympathy become the wedge that convinces 21 to switch allegiances or get out of the henching business entirely?
- The blackboard in Hank’s room shows a heart containing the initials “H.V. + S.O.”