The VenTech lab, after dark. A blue flicker. A PZZT. Maybe a brief smell of ozone. The Guild shipped a teleporter pad to VenTech Tower, and one by one, members of a Blackout Team flick into the closet. Their team leader has barely finished reviewing the plan when their target wanders into their clutches clad only in his Walter Whities. Before you know it, Watch and Ward are welcoming Doc to Meteor Majeure and sedating him. That’s Part I of the plan done. Now all the blackout team has to worry about is Part II: securing bodyguard Brock Samson so that he doesn’t retrieve Doc from their custody. The team leader is confident: Brock’s one guy. They’re a whole blackout team. Against one guy. How hard could it be?
On another plane of existence, Hank traverses a frozen wasteland with a highly inappropriate mustache and an only slightly less appropriate cape. The pack of razor-toothed clockwork dolls that greet him are followed by Action Man, who has been here – in a furry brown costume that could make him a Catchman or a wookie – since his stroke several months ago. They quibble about their spiritual and pop cultural location: Are they in Hoth Heaven (Hank) or Barbarella Purgatory (Action Man)? As they cruise in a levitating sled pulled by a skate (or a stingray, don’t @ me), Hank has to account for his arrival in Action Man’s post-stroke world. Action Man calls him out for indulging an obsession almost literally to death. In his own inappropriate way, he warns Hank against being as creepily obsessive as his dad: After all, their mom had to move away and change her name after she made the mistake of smiling at Doc at a party.
For the first time in a while, Brock is not thinking of any of the Ventures. He knows the Guild has Doc, but he’s confident that before Doc sees any real danger, Brock will be able to send them a message that will persuade the Guild to return him. By the time it’s the team leader’s turn to teleport back into the storage closet, everyone who preceded him is dead. In under a minute, Brock has broken the team leader’s windpipe, extracted the size of his team, and administered a field tracheotomy. Once he knows the Guild has Doc, he has an excuse to hunt for the first time in ages. And he intends to enjoy it. He takes out one or two more guys on his way to the PA, and you can hear the glee in Patrick Warburton’s voice: “Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for accepting this suicide mission. Your target, one Brock Samson, has been really bored lately and will enjoy the shit out of this. Each one of you fine soldiers will be sacrificed for his amusement.” Welcome to the festivities. You’re all gonna die.
Doc’s kidnapping isn’t the only thing happening on Meteor Majeure tonight. It’s not even the main event. That honor belongs to a dark rite performed in deep red robes and intoned by the Council against the beating of ceremonial drums. This is the night the Guild will confer the long-awaited rank of Level 10 Villain on the Monarch and his Henchman. In keeping with Guild tradition, this bestowal will occur via a ritual reenactment of the founding grudge of organized villainy, that harbored by Saphrax against Emperor Flavius and supported by Saphrax’s loyal henchman, Alatheus. Dressed in steampunk suits (in peculiar contrast to the Council’s more medieval European vibe), Gary and the Monarch move through scripted tableaus in Saphrax and Alatheus’ saga. The rite seems on-script until Phantom Limb announces that Gary has won independent status as a Level 4 Villain. Gary is confused, and the Monarch is peeved. How dare they suggest he share the limelight of his “tenning”! This is HIS night, damnit!
He’s not the only one tasting the anticlimax of disappointment. Brock loses several kills to poisoned teeth. Hank’s magic land-skate-sled ride is interrupted first by Action Man’s lecture on not being a creepy stalker and then by a wampa. And Dean’s evening with Sirena has ended with him keeping watch over his brother’s hospital bed.
While the doctors were stabilizing his brother, Dean wrote a list of confessions. Now he confesses to every betrayal he can remember: Breaking toys and stealing chocolate bars. Mocking Hank for liking a song he secretly liked too. Envying Hank’s ability to be unashamedly Batman in public. It’s only now that they’re together long enough for him to tell Hank that H.E.L.P.e.R. has a brother and their father is a clone, or that Dermott is their half-brother (by the woman Hank lost his virginity to). And then, finally, Dean reaches the final and worst reason he’s “a crap brother.” He slept with Sirena. Not because he was in love, but because he was young and confused. All he really wants is to bridge the gulf that has been spreading between them since their last days at the Venture Compound. He wants it to be how it was, just them against the world, against supervillainy, against their dad. That world may have been terrifying, but it was also vastly simpler. Dean is a comic book character learning to live an ordinary life, floundering in the non-life-threatening complications of the normalcy he thought he wanted.
Hank remains inert. Deep in his astral “ComaTown,” he and Action Man find themselves hanging from the ceiling of the wampa’s cave. Hank decides to try seducing the wampa for their freedom, but instead they are rescued from certain doom by a blast from Phineas Phage, who is now winged and grafted onto an AT-AT. Phage blasts them free and hauls them aloft. When he mentions sighting a pool of goo, Action Man demands that Phage take them there. The goo could be the Matmos or the Force or midichlorians, but when Hank gets there, he sees a gateway. After distributing parting gifts (an oil can for Phage and a kiss for Action Man), he dives in. “If I don’t come back, I’m either awake or extra coma dead!”
Back on Meteor Majeure, Team Monarch seems to be approaching the end of the rite at last. The Monarch has fished the rock out of a log full of poop, Gary has made the Bridgekeeper look, and the Monarch has bedded the Emperor’s wife. Dr. Z hands the Monarch a real sword. Tonight, his archenemy is fully and truly at his mercy. When they close the tent flap behind him, the Monarch could kill Dr. Venture, consequence-free. But after an unspecified interval, he emerges with a clean sword, declaring that he has decided to let his prisoner live, and that moreover this whole ceremony has been a colossal mindfuck and the Guild Council is a bunch of dicks. He is done with this twisted-ass shit. To his surprise, Gary’s done too. He never wanted to be a villain; he has a HENCH 4 LIFE tattoo! They’d rather be friends outside of villainy than loners within it.
The councilmembers exchange approving glances. Gary and the Monarch have passed the final tests: The Monarch let his archnemesis live (and so the grudge blossoms into a career), and both villain and #2 chose each other over the game. Just as the two of them are basking in the Council’s unexpected congratulations, Watch and Ward interrupt the festivities. Brock’s message has arrived as a pile of bodies and a bloody note, and Doc’s return is now all that stands between them and certain death. But before they leave, Watch can’t contain himself. He has to share the results of their blood analysis, and the Monarch’s tenning is tainted forever by the revelation that he and Doc share a father.
Back at the medical center, the night nurse is waking Dean. Hank has disappeared. Dean sprints out the door, but his brother has eluded him. Hank gets the last word of the episode. He is embarking on a journey of self-discovery. As…The Bat.
For a few moments this week, it seemed like Team Monarch, Hank, and Brock would get their fairy tale endings. Brock would get his first killing spree in a while. Hank would get to live his dream of having all the seductive charm of Lando Calrissian. And Team Monarch would finally ascend to the hallowed ranks of Level 10 Villainy. But in classic Venture Bros. style, Brock is denied several kills. Hank kind of winds up relying on a winged apparition to get him where he needs to go. And Team Monarch is thwarted in their own ascension to Level 10-hood, first by Gary’s apparent promotion and then by Watch’s unsolicited revelation.
And anyway, fairy tales are dangerous things. They’re not romances with just and happy endings. They’re bloody accounts of avarice, cunning, crime, and retribution. They’re cautionary tales about the fragile scaffoldings of need and debt, about the necessary and corrosive fictions that bind the tenuous thing we call human society. They’re about the gulf between what we want and what we can get, what we think we want and what we wind up with. In fairy tales, happy endings just mean you made it to the last page. But although our characters are nothing if not survivors, they’re also just aware enough not to be happy about it. They know there should be more to life than this, and each in their own way is beginning to feel their way there.
There was an odd and poignant note of hope in this season finale, even as adulthood shifts these characters’ understandings of loyalty and family and identity. The finale’s loose threads feel less like the cliffhangers of previous seasons than the suspense of ordinary, if momentous, life decisions: What happens if I marry this person, or leave them, or take this job? Who am I, and who am I willing to become? And who am I willing to be to those around me? They’re not fairy tale questions, and they don’t have fairy tale answers.
But I suppose there’s no reason you can’t answer them in spandex.
- “Llama bacon is ridiculous!”
- “So Heaven is The Empire Strikes Back!”
“No, Purgatory is Barbarella!”
- “You’re not Matthew Broderick! Just put your hand in there!”
- “That guy looks like a shoebox with eyes!”
- “So I’ll seduce the wampa and then sell you out to the Empire!”
- “If I don’t come back, I’m either awake or extra coma dead!”
- “That kid has moxie.”
“That kid has undiagnosed Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.”
- “I’ll find myself even if I have to look in”
STRAY THOUGHTS & IDLE SPECULATION
- Apparently Brock’s been laying low for so long that an entire crop of Guild foot soldiers managed to graduate to Blackout Team without knowing who Brock Samson is.
- The Saphrax Protocol is full of gross-out gags, cheesy zingers, and downright liturgical call and response. My personal favorites were the chorused “Oh, no, he didn’t!” and “Alatheus: Father of Made You Look!”
- Hank probably still doesn’t know that his dad’s a clone or that Dermott’s his half-brother.
- Poor Hatred. He just can’t seem to make himself a family.
- Just in case you thought this show’s references couldn’t get any more obscure, Saphrax and Alatheus were real Visigoths. According to the historical account, Emperor Flavius didn’t fare so well.