Gary Fischer has PTSD.
It all started out as a lark: Put on a costume and become a minor background character in a comic drama. Certain death may have been a workplace hazard, but was that any worse than awaiting a more mundane demise in a cubicle? Hench life seemed like a good deal until a freak explosion killed his best friend and fellow henchman 24, his bosses lost their team and flying cocoon, and Gary found himself trembling in the Pine Barrens on the wrong side of the one line he thought henching would keep clear of.
Gary has killed. Unwillingly, but repeatedly. He killed because henching means doing what you’re told, because he has nowhere and nothing else to be, because the Monarch is his boss – and in a weird sad codependent way, the closest thing either has to a friend. But Gary Fischer never wanted to be a killer, and now he’s losing sleep.
The Rorqual Affair begins on the same morning as last week’s season premiere, but on the other side of the Hudson. Haunted but indecisive, Gary continues to serve as the Blue Morpho’s faithful sidekick Kano – at least, he would, if the insomnia and the night terrors didn’t make him miss his cue. He sprints down to the Morpho Cave only to discover the Morpho Mobile is MIA. While Gary struggles into his costume on a deserted PATH train, screaming at his out-of-radio-range boss to abort the mission, the Blue Morpho taunts Wide Wale with the misplaced confidence of a man who didn’t bother to make sure his sidekick was awake before sauntering into his opponent’s lair. In short order, Rocco pins him to the floor and then ties him to the chair where Hank will find him at the end of the premiere.
Further south, the anti-vigilante Guild Task Force holds a contentious meeting in a borrowed classroom. Councilwoman Sheila (also but perhaps soon formerly known as Dr. Mrs. The Monarch) has asked Guild members to suspend arching for their own safety until the Blue Morpho is captured. Revolt seems imminent until Red Death (still voiced by the inimitable Clancy Brown) commands the room’s attention. He will bring them the vigilante, living or dead, in exchange for a seat on the Guild Council. Unbeknownst to the assembly, Red Death already knows who they are, and they owe him a favor.
Shortly after the meeting, the suspended villains throw a Halloween mask on a homeless guy and stage a “capture” on Rat Island. Phantom Limb argues for letting the proles think they’ve won, no doubt to further undermine Sheila’s authority (as if it weren’t bad enough that he argued against suspending arching for everyone’s safety even as the Blue Morpho turned most of the Pyramid of Peril into a body count.) To add insult to injury, Wandering Spider’s widow slaps Sheila (literally and figuratively) with responsibility for her husband’s death. Gary tells Sheila “You did NOT deserve that!” and she’s about to find out just how fucking true that is.
He takes her back to the house and comes clean. Don’t give her that bullshit about it being for her, Gary. She knows the Monarch too well to think he did this for anyone but himself. Of course he’s behind this whole goddamn debacle. Of course he’s Wide Wale’s prisoner now. And of course, of fucking course, neither of you jackasses stopped to consider that surviving Wide Wale’s wrath would only qualify the Monarch for a Guild execution. When Sheila demands to know how any of this was even possible, Gary opens the hidden basement to show her – a water heater. The Morpho Cave is gone. Now she’s really done sitting through half-assed explanations.
Hat in hand, she approaches Red Death with a proposal: If he will help them get her husband out of this alive, she will help him secure that seat on the Guild Council. (I was surprised to discover this wasn’t a raw power play; Kate is on her husband to retire. A seat on the Council means a pension and more time for child-rearing.) With Red Death on board, Sheila lays out her plan. The first step will be to break into one of the OSI’s dummy corporations.
After a routine (if deadly) infiltration, Gary and Red Death trade game day rituals and souvenirs while Sheila pores through file cabinets. Red Death produces a ticket stub from Movie Night on Gargantua-1, an event so legendarily ill-fated that even Sheila takes notice. “You were at Movie Night?” she asks incredulously. Back in the 80s, some cocky young Guild villains decided to take Gargantua-1 hostage. The plan was on track – until an unknown party* opened the bay doors, launching both real and counterfeit members of the station crew into the vacuum of space. Red Death recounts the mission in blood-curdling detail; it may have been a spectacular failure, but he did get to see some of Sharky’s Machine. Sheila hands Red Death a file – a target, to be delivered alive. They will meet back at Wide Wale’s later in the evening.
*Totally the original Blue Morpho.
Until they do, the Monarch has to sit through a good old-fashioned expository beatdown. “As hard as it is to believe,” Wide Wale begins, “I wasn’t born half a fuckin’ whale.” Determined to be useful to his big brother, Chester Ong stole an art shark and hooked himself up to a “molecular redistributor,” with predictable origin-story results: Both brothers absorbed parts of the lab’s marine specimens. Chester became Wide Wale, and his brother Dougie became a mutant super-scientist dedicated to curing human ailments with marine biology. Several seasons ago, the Monarch blew off poor Doug’s head for the crime of not being Dr. Venture. Wide Wale recognizes the voice of the man who killed his brother. It is the one trait that distinguishes him from the man originally suspected of sporting the blue mask.
Tophet Tower is fast becoming the place to be. While Gary (back in costume as Kano) and Sheila prep for their rendezvous with Red Death, Hank appears as Enrico Matassa. Our parallel storylines converge on the room where Wide Wale urges Hank to pull the trigger on his prisoner. While Hank’s hormones and moral compass wrestle for control, Gary bursts in to remind him that “Enrico Matassa is a lover, not a fighter!” For now at least, Gary has spared Hank from the guilt that plagues his own nights. Wide Wale snatches the gun back, but before he can avenge his brother, Red Death makes another of his showstopping entrances. Tied to his flaming steed is Dr. Dugong, scared out of his wits but very much alive. When Wide Wale seems mortified by Dr. Dugong’s poor opinion of his life choices, the Monarch snatches an opportunity to escape by passing off the day’s events as a harmless round of Cops and Robbers. I can only imagine how Gary feels in that moment, considering that his career choice rested on the misplaced conviction that hench life was a multi-generational game of Cops and Robbers with better costumes and nonlethal weapons.
Showing incredible restraint, Sheila manages not to kill or divorce her unmasked husband on sight. Then the rumbling begins as VenTech Tower struggles to uproot itself from the street. As if that wasn’t strange enough, the missing Morpho Mobile swoops toward the shuddering edifice, and a figure dressed as the Blue Morpho emerges from the car to greet Jefferson, the Alchemist, and Dean. (Presumably Drs. Venture and Orpheus are still inside trying to reason with what remains of Jonas.) While everyone else tries to understand what the goddamn almighty fuck is happening, the Monarch pumps his fists victoriously. Who the fuck cares what it means? This apparition puts him out of the doghouse!
If last week was a meditation on the horrors visited upon us by others, this week was about the horrors we commit. Left alone with our impulses, without the grounding influence of people who see us clearly and call us on our bullshit, what do we become? Without his brother to impress, Wide Wale degenerated into a coarse mobster. Without 24’s grounding perspective, Gary became Ishmael to the Monarch’s Ahab, a guilt-ridden Macbeth to his Venture-obsessed Lady M. Without Venture to arch, The Monarch’s obsession destroyed his henchman’s life, his and his wife’s careers in villainy, and his marriage. And without Queen Etheria to soothe his ego or the Sovereign to restrain him, Phantom Limb threatens to undermine what remains of the Guild of Calamitous Intent. Only Hank escapes this fate, and only because someone recognizes Enrico. When he comes to his senses, Hank can’t remember why he’s there, but he remembers who he is.
This week, our characters shuffle through masks like schizophrenic channel-surfers, heedless of how this destabilizes their identities and lives: Gary/21/Kano/Viceroy is losing his ability to compartmentalize all the characters he has been, collapsing in slow motion into a singularity of trauma. The Monarch/Blue Morpho very nearly got himself killed and may be this close to getting his ass dumped. Although she stays in one costume, Sheila/Dr. Mrs. The Monarch/Dr. Girlfriend/Queen Etheria/Lady Au Pair must juggle the roles of Councilwoman, wife, dealmaker, and special agent in a high-stakes rescue operation that could cost her everything. Her victory only serves to highlight the impossibility of reconciling the conflicting demands on her loyalties. Instead of horror, Sheila seems on track for tragedy. Didn’t anyone ever tell her that the things you do for love are gonna come back to you one by one?
- “I think I left my penis in the bathroom. Can I go get it?”
- “My only skills are brick-throwing and frog-being!”
- “I dressed’a’myself like a juggalo, sir!”
STRAY THOUGHTS & IDLE SPECULATION
- Gary’s nightmare Blue Morpho speaks with the Monarch’s voice but bears the original Blue Morpho’s broad, chiseled jaw.
- The decaying wallpaper at Morpho Manor is studded with very 70’s butterflies.
- Rocco learned to tie really good knots when he was dating Angie from Lyndhurst.
- “Hai ucciso mio fratello!” is legit Italian for “You killed my brother!”
- The OSI dummy corp is called…Dummy Corp.
- Red Death calls his game day socks Steve & Dave KillSock.
- Apparently “Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS” is a thing.
- Wide Wale doesn’t like to open his mom’s emails because she sends all those cat videos.
- A reliable source informs me this episode is an extended riff on Jaws.
- Phantom Limb is just the sort of petty asshole to sabotage Sheila’s career to get revenge for her leaving his sorry poser ass. Last season he talked the Council out of taking the Blue Morpho threat seriously. I hope his skullduggery backfires soon.
- Could someone else’s presumed-dead father have returned?
- Reminder: Monarch’s supervillain origin story begins when “his parents’ private plane crashes in the Pine Barrens shortly after taking off from Newark Airport.” We never see the wreckage or bodies, and the Monarch never expresses any curiosity about the source of his massive trust fund.