Spoiler Bros.: The Unicorn in Captivity

It begins with an apple. It always begins with an apple. How else to open a cautionary tale about knowledge and power?

The apple in question is the first to survive ConVenTech’s attempts to develop viable teleporter technology. When it pops from its starting place onto the companion teleporter pad, its dimensions and molecular composition shockingly intact, Doc is ready to move on to human testing. Although Billy protests, the Pirate Captain moots the argument by wandering unthinkingly onto one teleporter and materializing on the other. Doc’s triumph is complete: The captain’s survival (minus his breakfast) is proof they’re ready to go to market. After years of thankless toil, Doc will finally collect his long-awaited Nobel Prize and the big fat royalties that will allow him to retire to Spanakopita under a pile of money and women.

Consumed with euphoria, ConVenTech doesn’t spot Tiny Eagle, who reports their success to his team just before his unfortunately timed escape ends with a sodden crunch between Brock’s fingertips. When Brock reports the security breach, Doc blows him off. Having finally achieved something Significant and Cool in the annals of super-science, he has no interest in hearing who might be coming for his newest invention. This leaves Brock no choice but to haul Doc down to the hidden floor of VenTech Tower where OSI’s Dummy Corp took up residence in the wake of Red Death and Councilwoman Dr. MTM’s raid on their previous location. General Hunter Gathers confronts Doc about his invention’s potential to overturn entire industries and destabilize the national economy. When Doc refuses to see the problem, Hunter cuffs him to a chair and leaves him to take a conference call from a collection of Guild-Council-like silhouettes. This secret order extends an invitation to join their ranks in exchange for a promise that Doc will bury his invention. To sweeten the pot or make themselves seem more accessible, they invite him to a party which just happens to be taking place that evening. So he can meet them “in the flesh.” Oh, yes, this will end well.

Tiny Eagle’s reconnaissance did reach his team before his untimely demise. Their plan at the ready, all they need now is a replacement lookout. Councilwoman Mrs. The Monarch has pulled some strings to secure the spot for her (ungrateful and recalcitrant) husband. This could be a plum gig for him; as bounty for the teleporters, the Guild is offering a full EMA level. If he can pull this off, a single mission can edge the Monarch that much closer to arching Doc. Reluctantly, he acknowledges the wisdom of his wife’s plan, and the good Councilwoman dispatches him to Copycat’s apartment in Tophet Tower.

There he meets the rest of the team – Dot Com, Tunnel Vision, Presto Change-O, Ram Burglar, and Driver X – and Copycat breaks down the plan: They’re going to tunnel into ConVenTech’s lab from the subway, disable the security systems, and abscond with the teleporter. The Monarch is dismayed to hear he’s taking lookout duty: Not only is that way beneath him, but he’s not wearing his flying wings. He ducks into the bathroom to call Gary, who’s giving construction manager Manolo boxing lessons in the Morpho Cave. The most reliable #2 in the Guild packs the wings, a cover story, and a MetroCard. However, even the most reliable #2 in the Guild can’t get from Newark to Midtown in the scant hour left before the heist begins.

Right about now, Brock drives Doc to the shadowy secret order’s party. It took me a moment to recognize the winding cobblestone driveway leading up to the Cloisters, but I the setting clicked just in time for me to be scarred forever by the scene within: After being welcomed by creepy identical footmen in 18th-century French garb, Doc ascends a narrow stone stair to reach the most dispirited orgy imaginable. Masked but mostly naked people cavort listlessly in a medieval chapel that multiplies the echoes of their obligatory and unconvincing cries. Doc indulges only a moment’s start before approaching someone of apparent rank (unlike many of the attendees, he’s actually wearing a robe) to ask if they’d spoken earlier.

The one thing the orgy does show (aside from the obvious, which I could happily go without seeing for the remainder of The Venture Bros.’ run) is how much Doc has grown since we first met him. Season 1 Rusty would have jettisoned his stated purpose nearly immediately to drop trou and a sleazy pickup line on the nearest unoccupied woman. But Season 7 Rusty is so focused on the future of his invention that he registers the varied and exotic sexual escapades unfolding before him only as an indication that he may be overdressed, and the masks only as a complicating factor in his attempt to meet with the council. Seeking the consolation of all people who arrive awkwardly alone at a party where they don’t know anyone, Doc bellies up to the bar and helps himself to a canape. He enjoys an apparently delectable mouthful until the bartender tells him it was “only the finest orphan sashimi.”

Cannibalizing orphans turns out to be a bridge too far, even for someone who was not above powering a wish-fulfillment machine with their souls. Doc’s revulsion bares his moral compass, even if the bar is so low that it stops just short of eating orphans. He can be indifferent to the suffering caused by his choices, but he can’t really enjoy it. Doc’s never been able to fully eradicate the rogue streak of humanity in his heart, quite possibly because he never really wanted to. This ugly, callow, jaded man still carries the core of a boy who jumped on a grenade to save his dog. And it was for this core that I was rooting as a horrified Doc fled the chapel for a nearby fountain, desperate to wash the taste of orphan from his mouth. He’s almost found relief when he looks up to see another…reveler rinsing himself off. Of course. So unknown hosts invited him to an orgy for which he was overdressed and emotionally and physically unprepared, at which he consumed part of an (extra virgin) orphan, whose taste he washed out of his mouth with some fat rich dude’s penis-rinsing-water. In the grand tradition of events Doc has been hauled to against his will, the night just keeps getting better and better.

He finds some relief in a friendly and familiar voice which he can’t place behind the elaborately feathered white mask that muffles it. (If we’re being honest, her voice should have been the first big tip-off for this episode’s reveal; even if the good Councilwoman worked these parties in her youth, any invitations she accepted now would surely include her as a guest rather than a worker.) When their conversation is cut short but the arrival of another masked, robed figure, the “mystery woman” invites Doc to meet her in the tapestry room in 20 minutes.

All too happy to oblige this alluring voice, Doc chills a bottle of bubbly, undresses, and awaits his promised assignation below a unicorn tapestry. But she is not the one who meets him there. The figure, clad in a red robe and gold mask, greets Dr. Venture with the title of the tapestry under which he is outstretched: The Unicorn Is in Captivity and No Longer Dead (yes, medieval titling was a bit on the nose). Doc catches the metaphor but misses the implications of the title’s second half, arguing that he’d prefer freedom. This forces his would-be captors to articulate how thoroughly Doc has misunderstood his options. As far as the unicorn is concerned, the alternative to captivity is not wilderness but certain death.

Suddenly the room is filled with robed masked figures. Doc is surrounded. The red-robed figure offers him a choice between two doors: “The Lady, or the Tiger?” Behind the first, the woman who invited him into this trap, stunning, silent, and still masked. Behind the second, a terrifying apparition, also masked, wearing gear that promises death by bladerape. Doc must choose: Fuck, or be fucked. The first choice, and the last. Dominate or submit, and in pleasure or in fear, lose sight of the framework that debases your humanity and reduces you to choosing between using or being used.

Doc’s personal growth since his father’s death is no match for this promise or this threat. Rusty remains the same hot mess of trauma, abandonment, and unrequited love, and the choice between seduction and destruction, all for a single invention, is too much for him. He relinquishes the promise of real change, of well-earned fame and fortune, of a retirement to the only place on earth where he’d ever known a safe and uncomplicated happiness for his own witches’ sabbath. More than the theft of his childhood and the truncation of his adulthood, Doc’s tragedy is his weakness of character. Conviction is a luxury he’s never been able to afford. Instead, he has survival instincts, which drive him to make the only choice everyone involved in this grand manipulation knew he would make: Sex over knowledge, satisfaction over peace, pleasure over agony.

Of course, because this is The Venture Bros., the promised pleasure isn’t even real. The unicorn has been captured by a VR simulation. The stimulation – such as it is – is real, in that some kind of physical contact (eww) is happening, but Doc has effectively traded everything he ever thought he wanted for a phantom intimacy. And to add insult to injury, Doc’s choice is, unbeknownst to him, mooted by events at VenTech Tower. The invention he wanted to protect has fallen out of his hands.

The heist started well, went sideways, and then turned successful, for certain values of success. First, Brock made an unexpected appearance in the lab to collect the teleporter pads. Before the team could resolve that complication, Copycat – who was running a double cross – triggered an emergency evacuation system to move the teleporter pads to the panic room. The team was a decoy, set up to fail while Copycat & Co. made off with the prize. Gary valiantly tries (and fails) to alert his boss, but this failure of communication thwarts Copycat anyway. While the Monarch swoops in to create a diversion that will draw Brock away from the lab where Presto Change-O, Tunnel Vision, and Ram Burglar wait to collect the booty, he gets knocked sideways by a helicopter piloted by one of Copycat’s doubles. The impact knocks him onto Doc’s bed just as the lockdown activates the panic room sequence.

The Monarch’s ungainly arrival in the panic room coincides with that of one of the teleporter pads. The other was snatched in transit by Presto Change-O. While the heist team dithers about whether to call it good with just one teleporter pad, Sergeant Hatred charges toward the panic room with gun drawn. When he fires, the bullets activate the field and emerge from the companion pad, striking Ram Burglar. He might have survived if he hadn’t fallen just so, landing head-first on his pad and dropping a grisly surprise onto the Monarch’s lap. He doesn’t have much time to process this development, though, because now Copycat’s double-cross team of dupes is airlifting the panic room out of the penthouse.

On the ground, Gary has just reached Dot Com in the getaway van. (Driver X – another Copycat clone – makes a strategic exit.) Presto emerges from a nearby manhole and just manages to toss the teleporter pad into the van before diving back into the action. For his trouble, Brock stabs him in the head, an end both sad (Patrick Warburton just killed Mark Hamill!) and deeply satisfying (because if any character was designed to be an annoying one-off, it was Presto Change-O). Gary has too much experience with Brock to stick around, and when he floors it, Dot falls out, leaving Gary alone with the teleporter pad.

Copycat 3 has almost delivered the payload to Copycat Prime when Hatred nicks the helicopter that is tossing around a very uncomfortable Monarch and a surprisingly durable teleportation pad. Pilot Copycat abandons ship, leaving the panic room to plummet into the sculpture below. At the sight of rapidly approaching concrete, the Monarch throws himself on the mercy of his teleporter pad, which delivers him terrified but unscathed into the passenger seat of Gary’s getaway van. Startled, Gary loses control, tipping both of them – and Gary’s teleporter pad – over into the subway entrance. Just then, the second pad falls out of the open panic room. Never ones to waste an opportunity, Gary and the Monarch grab their prizes and hop an approaching train before the OSI can intercept them. It seems the Monarch is one unicorn that has found a way to flourish in the wild – but maybe that was only until he gave Doc a real reason to hate him.

QUOTES

  • “Save it, hobbit Oppenheimer!”
  • “Aaand now my erection’s completely gone, thank you.”
  • “Let’s say you grace the world with this technological brain fart of yours…”
  • “Well now, doesn’t that just put a turd in our soup?”
  • “Your cover story is that I shit myself.”
    “Hey, you make a cover story embarrassing enough and nobody questions it.”
  • “Get a nerd laid and they think they’re masters of the universe.”

STRAY THOUGHTS & IDLE SPECULATION

  • Manolo doesn’t look particularly enthused about Gary’s training. Is he grooming him to replace Gary as the Monarch’s #2 so he can finally leave hench life behind?
  • This is the highest Guild operation body count we’ve seen in a while, at least for characters with speaking roles.
  • So…was the silhouette conference call also part of the ruse, or…?
  • Obligatory shout-out to Mark Hamill for voicing Presto Change-O and one of the Illuminati, and to Toby Huss (best known as Artie from Pete & Pete) for voicing Copycat!
  • Did Presto Change-O remind anyone else of She-Ra’s Madame Razz?
  • The unicorn tapestries are real, and really at the Cloisters, and I can very nearly promise you can encounter them in an orgy-free environment.
  • PSA for this week: Turn down any invitations that involve the phrase “in the flesh.”

Trish Reyes

The cake is a lie, but I haven't let that stop me yet.

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