Did you hear the one about the miracle? It goes something like this:
A man – a pious man – goes to a house of worship. He is, by his God’s definition, a good man, god-fearing and law-abiding. And every week he prays to win the lottery.
He prays this prayer for weeks, months, years. He prays so constantly that God cannot help but hear, so unwaveringly that God is moved to answer. And so one day the angels tear a rift in heaven so God’s voice may reach the earth and answer the prayer of the pious man:
“ALL RIGHT, JUST BUY THE DAMN TICKET ALREADY.”
We think we want miracles. We dream of magic bullets. But consider that metaphor: All that separates miracle from catastrophe is whether it happens to us or to someone else. Miracles push us beyond the limits of our understanding; faced with the Great Unknown, most of us will accept unexpected convenience instead.
This week’s first miracle occurs courtesy of The Monarch’s dad, whose unexpected (and unwelcome) appearance thwarts Scaramantula’s nefarious plans for Team Venture. Neither The Monarch (in the present) nor Jonas Venture, Sr. (in the flashback) seems particularly enthused about the Blue Morpho. Although he’s thrilled enough to conceal the new lair from his wife, The Monarch has no compunctions about kvetching over the corniness of the cave or the possibility that his father was (ugh!) a superhero. To add insult to injury, Blue Morpho’s comic only lasted for six issues, and was weak material even in Jack Kirby’s hands.
The next miracle is Hank’s, and it is not that Brock breaks down and agrees to supply him with anabolic steroids. While Brock hauls a collapsing Dean to a water fountain (I’d say this gag evokes traumatic memories of high school phys ed, but our teachers left us where we fell), Hank has a chance encounter with Sirena Ong. Wide Wale’s daughter is sick of her security detail and charmed by Hank’s attention, and it’s only a matter of time before the two of them are exchanging tips on bodyguard evasion.
Soon afterward, Brock and the kids return home (an unconscious Dean slung over Brock’s shoulder), skirting the pit left by last week’s subterranean invasion. Down below, Rusty, the Pirate Captain, Billy, and White are considering the possibilities for their new speculative engineering division. Rusty swings between enthusiasm and peevishness as he and Billy quibble over the parameters of ConVenTech’s new partnership (yes, I coined a celebrity couple name for them and no, I am not ashamed). Nobody wants to be stuck with the drudgery of inventing tomorrow, so they settle for the drudgery of raiding JJ’s old files. Shortly after Billy discovers and breaks an old vial, Dean finds himself the victim of yet another Venture miracle.
The Guild’s Council of Still-Not-Quite-13 is facing down its own bureaucratic slog, welcoming Wide Wale to its ranks and voting to readmit Phineas Phage and luckless-in-love Vendata should either ever resurface. In true committee fashion, though, the Council has made no further progress with regard to new members. As soon as the meeting wraps up, Dr. Mrs. The Monarch calls her husband to confirm he’ll attend that evening’s fete and to ask that he bring a bottle of wine. Both she and 21 appeal to “that Monarch charm,” but 21’s less friendly definition proves the more accurate one.
In keeping with the Godfather theme, Wide Wale’s party celebrates his daughter’s birthday, but aside from hosting the council meeting he doesn’t seem to be inclined to grant any favors. I almost can’t blame him, since this is a busy bash. While Dr. Mrs. The Monarch deflects a lounge lizard’s attempts to score her and/or a seat on the council, Sirena chafes under the constraints of being a mutant gangster’s kid, Red Mantle rekindles an old flame with Redusa, and Hank and The Monarch converge on Wide Wale’s penthouse bearing, respectively, a clam pizza (really?) and a shattered bottle of wine.
What follows is an artfully plotted and executed setup that positions Wide Wale to lead a NY coup of the Guild Council. After Wide Wale excoriates The Monarch for showing up in costume, Copy Cat (the lounge lizard) offers to loan The Monarch a suit before tranqing him with one of his own darts, stealing his costume, and impersonating him at the Venture penthouse. This gambit drives the final wedge between The Monarchs, ensuring that they will wander into Wide Wale’s traps without the mutual support that carried them through the Guild trial in Season 2. Dr. Mrs. The Monarch, clearly operating in good faith, reminds me of no one so much as Catelyn Stark on the eve of the Red Wedding. (If he turns out to be in on the plot, Phantom Limb will be Roose Bolton; let us all hope he hasn’t managed to reproduce as well.)
However, Wide Wale-der Frey can’t plan for everything, and remains blithely unaware that one of the Venture boys has infiltrated his home to ask Sirena out on a date. Although its practical application is pretty narrow, Hank’s boy adventurer life has left him uniquely prepared to court a supervillain’s daughter. I am looking forward to seeing them ditch their respective security details even if exploring a whole new world is likely to end with one or both of them being kidnapped.
Once again, my favorite character moments involve Dean; Brock’s exasperated affection will resonate with anyone who has witnessed poor decision-making in younger relatives. He wants to help Dean develop common sense even though he’s not even sure what that would look like for a fragile, sensitive kid living such a bizarre life. He settles for introducing him to the concept of spin just before the nanobots take control and force some frantic CPR, a takedown, and a panicked call to Dr. Venture. I very much doubt Dean realizes ConVenTech utilized the nanobots to secure his admission to Stuyvesant University, and suspect we’ll all be heartbroken when he finds out.
As the boys come of age, The Venture Bros. seems to be growing more deliberate, and more willing to dedicate time to place-setting. But this, too, is a sign of growing up; the title notwithstanding, most of this episode’s movement is not miraculous but incremental, the small steps that make larger things (im)possible. I’m rooting for some characters to come out ahead of others, but this show is too adult to let everybody win. That’s one joke the cosmos never plays.
Stray thoughts and idle speculation:
- Sympathetic Kitten Watch: No sightings this week.
- If Brock had been my bodyguard, I might’ve gotten into Princeton after all.
- “Geez, Dean, your essay reads like a suicide note. You gotta turn down the gas a notch, Sylvia Plath.”
- There are two versions of the Stuyvesant University seal. On Dean’s application folder, the motto reads “Sic transit gloria | Nihil sanctisne (So passes the glory | Nothing is sacred).” On the school logo shirt sold on Titmouse Animation’s page, the college seal reads “Passus sum cum | Ligneo cruris (I suffered all | With a wooden leg).” (All English via Google Translate.)
- There’s a whole TV Tropes page dedicated to nanomachines, but these nanobots called to mind “The Empty Child” (Dr. Who) and “Parasites Lost” (Futurama).
- The artifact Wide Wale stole from VenTech is on display in his foyer.
- The Blue Morpho’s Green Hornet-based sidekick Kano will eventually defect to Team Venture. I hope we get to see when and how.
- This week, in things that are actually real: 1947 Monfortino wine, whale lice, and candiru.