Do you ever meet two people and struggle to understand how two sets of such diametrically opposed values could coexist, let alone become a friendship or relationship? That’s how I felt for much of “Arrears in Science.” It seemed hopelessly naïve for Don Fitzcarraldo to have become friends with the narcissistic, venal, shameless Jonas Venture – but of course, he only saw what Jonas wanted him to see until it was too late. Everyone did. He was a canny sonofabitch with a hero’s jawline who corrupted everything he touched. He cheated friends, family, employees (and briefly, death) of nearly two lifetimes’ worth of moral debts while making it look like he was doing them a favor. And he would have gotten away with it, too, if not for those lousy kids. How fitting that a man of such epic and destructive appetites was finally undone by monsters of his own creation.
“Arrears in Science” is a revelatory roller coaster, a look back in anger at the man who loomed over Rusty Venture in Season 1’s “Careers in Science.” Past and future, human and machine, memory and propaganda collide, and the resulting conflagration burns away the last shreds of Jonas Venture’s mask of heroism. The naked truth below should surprise no one who’s been paying attention. Jonas used his “friends” the same way he used his son, exploiting their vulnerabilities to shore up his image as a Great Man. These casual betrayals rippled across Guild and OSI history, reshaping the world of super-science and organized villainy and rewriting the history of a family he pretended to help.
He must have known as soon as he met Don Fitzcarraldo. Handsome, wealthy, and polished, Don was an apparent equal: someone with whom he could compare cardigans and exchange toasts over country club-esque picnic lunches, someone with a pretty wife and a hidden hero cave. A dedicated family man with a penchant for heroism, Don was everything Jonas appeared to be. Jonas must have known instantly that he’d be able to use him. So he captures a moment of weakness on tape and uses it to blackmail Don, then further humiliates him by fathering his child and extracting his sidekick as payment. The Guild may have known that the Blue Morpho did Jonas’ dirty work, but they didn’t know why. The Blue Morpho wasn’t loyal; he was trapped. For Jonas’ purposes, one was much the same as the other.
Given such profoundly craven tactics, it’s no surprise that Jonas’ first impulse at the end of “The Venture Bros. & the Curse of the Haunted ProBLEM” is to run away. He’s stopped only by his own hubris; when an old friend appears, he assumes it must be to help him. Because why would anyone come to the great and powerful Jonas Venture unless it’s to give him what he wants?
This was a pretty goddamned optimistic assumption. After the events of “Bot Seeks Bot,” what remained of Vendata began to recover memories of his life before robothood. Four months ago, he picked himself up and started walking to his home in “New-Ark.” His arrival – our third and final return to the morning of “The Curse of the Haunted ProBLEM” and “The Rorqual Affair” – is the day’s linchpin, the catalyst for the epiphanies – and losses – that conclude The Morphic Trilogy. Sensing that Jonas can fill the gaps in his memories, Vendata (formerly known as Venturion, the Blue Morpho, and Don Fitzcarraldo) tracks him (via phone book, natch) to VenTech Tower. Once there he connects to the ProBLEM, and the Blue Morpho and Dr. Jonas Venture convene in a virtual reality which shifts between Jonas’ study and the sites of their various shared memories.
Jonas barely gives the Blue Morpho an opening to ask for help before launching into an expository reminiscence about his ProBLEM afterlife. After space cadets Hank and Dean failed to parse his Morse Code, Jonas tried to send Gargantua-1 home – which she proceeded to do spectacularly. (It was probably optimistic for him to think a functional landing dock would be awaiting Gargantua-1’s return at all, but assuming someone is waiting to welcome him with open arms seems to have been Jonas Venture’s schtick.)
Back in meatspace, both Doc and the Guild struggle to understand what the almighty fuck is happening. In the VenTech Tower lobby, Team Venture admits that Vendata used to be the Blue Morpho: After his fatal plane crash, Jonas retrieved his body and revived it as the Robocop-esque Venturion. (How many more horrifying secrets are Team Venture keeping? I demand flashback scenes of ALL OF THEM.) Eventually Jonas lost interest in his “achievement.” Venturion assumed some of HELPeR’s less savory duties until the day he malfunctioned and Kano ripped his head off. Just outside, Dr. Z picks up the thread, recounting how he pilfered Venturion’s remains and transformed him into Vendata.
The Guild also takes this opportunity to bicker with Brock over custody of the Blue Morpho. Brock covers his inability to re-enter the building by pointing out that the Blue Morpho turned out to be a former Guild Councilman, and that anyway the Guild blew their claim by breaking into OSI’s Dummy Corp. Before anyone can see Red Death and Dr. Mrs. The Monarch exchange uneasy glances, the NYPD rolls up to clear the area. It’s the night before the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade. (Bonus gag: Sgt. Hatred is responsible for VenTech’s float.) Mistaking this lull for an opportunity to neutralize the “imposter” Blue Morpho, the Monarch hauls 21 across the street to retrieve their butterfly costumes for a good old-fashioned Venture arching.
He would have done better to follow his wife to the Broadway-themed diner around the corner where the Guild and Brock are connecting the dots and negotiating next steps. Red Death turns out to be a regular; the server recognizes him from his early arching days, when he and a clique of young villains used to meet there weekly to talk shop. Those coffee klatches birthed the plan that became the Movie Night Massacre, a routine (if unsanctioned) space station invasion that went sideways when a still-unidentified party opened the bay doors and killed almost everyone aboard, including Jonas Venture. Both Red Death and Jonas suspect Vendata/Blue Morpho, but in Jonas’ virtual study, Don seems genuinely startled by the accusation. He insists he would have remembered doing something that drastic.
As if the lobby situation wasn’t chaotic enough, this also turns out to be the day Rodney/Action Man is fated to suffer the stroke Dr. Orpheus predicted for him in “Past Tense.” Thinking fast, Pete White liberates the shrink ray from its display case, resizing Team Venture for escape (and a cockroach for transport). Sensing an opening, two opportunists with more in common than one of them knows swoop in. Speaking through Rusty’s communicator watch, Jonas demands Billy kill the Blue Morpho and replace his brain with Jonas’. Before Billy can finish refusing, the Monarch plunges in to demand possession of what he imagines to be a life-model decoy of his dad.
His arrival short-circuits everyone’s plans: The Blue Morpho recognizes his son, Jonas sees his one shot at immortality slipping away, and the mask comes off. Transfigured with rage, he traps his friend’s body (chassis?) in tentacular wires while strangling his virtual form. Rusty gets tangled in the kerfuffle and the Monarch hops on, desperate to identify this strange robot who knew his given name. They careen down the lobby escalator, through the building’s broken façade, and into the night sky – until Vendata’s boot jets run out of gas and everyone plummets to earth. Doc and the Monarch land on the partially inflated Rusty Venture float, but Jonas and the Blue Morpho, still locked together, suffer a much harder landing.
The Monarch has just enough time to run over and recognize – and be recognized by – his father before what’s left of Vendata gives up the ghost. (Jonas is dead too, hopefully for good this time.) The Monarch has just lost his father even more suddenly, violently, and senselessly than he did the first time, but when the Guild congratulates him, he has to run with it. His father’s death may have saved his marriage too, because whatever well-deserved ass-kicking Dr. Mrs. The Monarch had prepared for her wayward husband is going to take a backseat to helping him work through this. (That post-traumatic timeline will get even longer if he realizes that his life and Rusty’s are linked in a way neither of them could have imagined or chosen.)
It’s hard to imagine where The Venture Bros. is headed from here. Jonas Venture built an empire on other people suffering the consequences of his decisions. But consequences are debts, and “Arrears in Science” called them in. Now his two surviving children face a choice: Will they take this opportunity to break free of their pasts, or will they dig deeper into the Guild and OSI’s eternal game of Cops and Robbers? Neither Doc nor the Monarch have ever really explained why they do what they do: Both just seem resigned to burying their anxieties in super-science and supervillainy. Maybe the best anyone can hope for is that Doc will release his own children into the “normal” world, letting them to decide for themselves whether they want to inherit the sins of their father. With Jonas Venture truly dead, maybe Doc might be able to give Hank and Dean the Rumspringa he couldn’t imagine for himself.
Or maybe history will repeat itself. This time as farce.
- Jonas’ dirty work: “I need you to make the Mirror Miser…disappear.” “I need you to seduce Dr. Z.” “I’m fresh out of plutonium!”
- “The man was a genuine cy-bore!”
- “Holy crap! They’re gonna get eaten! You suck, White.”
- “Wi-fi, Dad. We call that the wi-fi.”
STRAY THOUGHTS & IDLE SPECULATION
- The back of Jonas’ issue of Epoch Magazine has an ad for the 1987 Nissan Stanza…in powder blue.
- So what did happen to the Morpho Cave???
- Is the deal between Red Death and Dr. Mrs. The Monarch off the table now? Will The Monarch be offered a seat on the Guild Council? Will Red Death make it his life’s mission to arch one or both of them?
- Jonas Venture died on 4/9/1987. And I believe the Blue Morpho didn’t do it. My money’s on young Bud Manstrong.
- OSI wants Jonas Venture’s head for…reasons. This will end well.
- How can the Order of the Triad afford a place with a Dr. Strange window if they’ve had to shack up at that dump down I-25?
- Kano once told Doc that he took a vow of silence because he “took a great man from his world.”
- The Fitzcarraldo residence in Newark is based on a real Newark mansion.
- Not to be That Guy, but that was the wrong FBI warning for a 1987 VHS tape.