Spoiler Bros 009 – The Venture Bros & the Curse of the Haunted Problem
Over two years after pausing at an almost heartwarming intermission, The Venture Bros. has roared back with a breakneck Season 7 premiere. At last, it seems, Jonas Venture Sr.’s chickens are coming home to roost.
When last we left our intrepid pro(and anta-)gonists, they were unwinding after a failed joint attempt to neutralize the elusive Blue Morpho. In classic Venture Bros., style, it was a family moment that felt both earned and ominous: In a universe defined by callowness, loneliness, and failure, nothing this lovely can last.
And so this season we open in flashback, to the desert survey JJ led two years before to salvage Gargantua-1. A menacing stone gargoyle-demon-looking thing leers at the recovery proceedings, but JJ dismisses his team’s concerns about it. Men of Science Don’t Believe in Curses! Curses Are Superstitious Hokum! And Anyway Dad’s LEGACY! Pleased to discover that the panel with the PROBLEM light survived the crash, JJ installs it as one of the many Venture Industries artifacts on display in the VenTech Tower lobby. Thus he will continue the long family tradition of making choices whose long-term consequences will become a problem for someone else to clean up.
This time, that someone turns out to be his brother. Back in the present, aggressive, noisy, and pointedly personal midnight computer malfunctions plague Dr. Venture, Dean, and Brock. Dr. Venture’s alarm clock and TV refuse to be turned off. Dean awakes to find the word “PROBLEM” scrawled across his belly from the inside. And even Brock – who, let us recall, does not blink when mummies leap out of the X-1’s landing gear – flees wide-eyed from tooth-chattering spectral manifestations. (H.E.L.P.E.R. is vomiting rats. Poor H.E.L.P.E.R..)
Meanwhile, Hank has refined his sneaking-out game enough that his family only clocks his absence when he fails to join them in the panic room. While Dr. Venture, Dean, and Brock bicker about the ghost in their machines, Hank is visiting Sirena Ong – you know, his dad’s arch’s daughter. Their courtship has begun, sweetly and haltingly, to enter a physical phase, which is to say Hank is beginning to maybe think about entertaining the possibility of following Sirena out to first base. (I wonder if he still thinks his pants are haunted?) However, romance hits a wall when Sirena’s bodyguard Rocco spots Hank’s hat in her room. When Hank reports to Vincenzo’s for that day’s shift, he finds himself out of a job, a hoverbike, and a girlfriend. Not entirely deterred by the Whale Lice who roughed him up, Vincenzo gives Hank a final heart-shaped pizza for his lady love.
Hank stomps home, raving about the injustice of it all. But after a pep talk from Sergeant Hatred, he come up with exactly the sort of plan Brock might have detected and thwarted if he weren’t sleep-deprived and scared out of his wits: After using the pizza to drug his henchmen, Hank breaks into Wide Wale’s apartment. Costumed in a white suit and an implausible Italian accent, Hank offers his services in the guise of “Enrico Matassa.” Impressed, Wide Wale offers “Enrico” an opportunity to initiate himself into the ranks: He hands Hank a gun and shows him to the pool room, where the man who will be “Enrico’s” first victim is tied to a chair. The Blue Morpho has been captured and unmasked, and Hank is characteristically in way over his head.
Back at VenTech Tower, Dean is consulting with Dr. Orpheus’ astral form. Against his father’s orders – Doc continues to insist that they are merely experiencing technical difficulties, which should be remedied in no time by resident VenTech IT guy Pete White – Dean has phoned a friend. While Orpheus (followed shortly in the flesh by the rest of The Order of the Triad) grills Dean about unnatural happenings (and Doc about unaccepted friend requests), Pete White and Billy Quizboy troubleshoot the mainframe (in a creepy basement, natch). In addition to speaking “a patois of DOS, Pascal, and Fortran,” the central computer has started playing the theme from Sharky’s Machine. Whether you want to call it a hacking (Pete) or a possession (Orpheus), someone or something has taken control of the tower’s systems.
The mystery invader turns out to be a little of Column A and a little of Column B. While The Triad’s séance rouses the spirits of Venture Industries’ victims and Pete deploys his patented “CyberSnooper,” Billy pops round his mom’s for a bite of dinner, regaling his mom and the original Team Venture about his hellish day at work. When Billy mentions the theme from Sharky’s Machine, Colonel Gentleman springs into action, tranquilizing Rose and hauling everyone else back to Manhattan. Their Uber crashes into the lobby just as our protagonists pry open the PROBLEM panel, which Dr. Orpheus has identified as the source of the disturbance. Jonas Sr.’s head is wired into the machine, utilizing VenTech Tower’s equipment as a replacement nervous system. Apparently, Jonas Team Venture to install him in the PROBLEM (short for PROgressive Biological Life Extension Module) upon his death. Suddenly, an axe-wielding Pete White charges up from the basement. Before anyone can stop him, Pete has severed Jonas’ hard line to his building-wide nervous system. The building shudders and an unholy wind howls through the lobby. Orpheus cries out, “It’s trying to…RUN AWAY!” Does he mean Jonas’ ghost is trying to flee, or did he stop mid-sentence to warn everyone else to flee?
Either way, The Venture Bros. has returned with showstopping horror. This is a fitting genre choice: Horror is what happens when you rile ghosts and dabble in the unnatural. It makes the air cold and the lights flicker and the butler vomit rats. It leaves piles of bodies in its wake. And the profoundest horrors are the ones we recognize, the rotting things waiting for us under the floorboards and inside the walls. Waiting for us to come home. The final frontier of horror is its birthplace: Family. When an eldritch horror spatters you with someone else’s blood, you can wash it off. But you can’t scrub who you are. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten Rusty Venture’s name: not the family name that buoys and dogs him, and not the childhood name he can’t seem to shake. Rusty is his father’s son, that means – either through his own actions or his father’s – there will always be another horror lurking around the corner. This time it’s his dad, in the flesh (some of it anyway), the first horror and the last, returning to visit yet another trauma on the child he warped.
- “By your logic, Clippy the paper clip haunts me every time I try to write a letter.”
- “Or maybe your stomach is begging you to stop this vegetarian nonsense. Come on, eat a bacon, Dean!”
- “Okay, Dad, I’ll hook up with cousin Salvatore with the lazy eye and we’ll pop out a bunch of flipper babies!”
- “It’s scare-a-Brock spooky!”
- “I’m home! Please tell me you’re all decent this time.”
ODDS & ENDS
- Of course JJ replicates his dad’s retrograde colonial dynamics.
- Considering Jonas Sr.’s taste for child labor and Rusty’s predilection for powering devices with the souls of orphans, Doc should be the last people to deny his home could be haunted. Maybe Doc resists calling Orpheus because he doesn’t want to get lectured about orphan souls and ethics in super-science. Again.
- Jefferson Twilight’s new wheels are christened the Blood Vessel, with a license plate to match. A now-deceased Blackula in Illinois knew how to roll.
- Hank’s pronunciation of capisce hurts me.
- A selection of the ghosts haunting VenTech Tower: tribal ghosts seeking the return of a mask (which is currently in Wide Wale’s possession), victims of the Venture Millinery fire (caused by unsafe working conditions and possibly a zeppelin), and Scamp One, the first dog to die on the moon.
- Sergeant Hatred has put a lot of work into his tour guide patter, and he never misses an opportunity to use it.