The Venture Bros. Review: “Maybe No Go” (season 6, episode 2)

The Venture Bros., "Maybe No Go"

There’s nothing I love more than a great show proving me wrong.

Last week, I said this:

“Hostile Makeover” doesn’t even pretend Dr. Venture is going to succeed. His very first order of business, it seems, is to fire absolutely everybody. Who are these people? He doesn’t care. What did they do for Venture Industries? He’s not interested; he just doesn’t want any of his money going to them. The new phase of his life has only just begun, and he’s taken active steps to ensure it won’t go anywhere.

This week, I happily admit that I fell into Doc and Jackson’s trap. We’re so conditioned to seeing Dr. Venture behave atrociously to people — with incredible short-sightedness and destructive selfishness — that we can see a couple of seconds of him writing on a whiteboard and read an entire season’s arc into it.

And, hey, good. The character work on this show in general — and with Dr. Venture in particular — has been sharp and sturdy. It’s almost impossible to view anything anybody does in complete isolation as a solitary moment; it always informs or is informed by who they are.

It helps the comedy to land and it ends up advancing their stories. Simple gestures or clever lines get to be both small delights and important gears in an increasingly complex (and impressive) machine.

Here’s where else it pays off: the subversion of those expectations.

Dr. Venture writing on the whiteboard as part of a montage was a very important choice of delivery. Because we didn’t hear anything, we assumed the worst: Venture’s a fucking idiot. Now we find out that that isn’t quite the truth. Sure, perhaps he still is one, and the collapse of VenTech likely still looms, but there was a method to his madness.

See, Dr. Venture isn’t going down without a fight. He’s a failure, everybody in his life sees him as a failure, and the newspaper gives over its front page to making it clear that the entire world sees him as a failure…but there’s still a part of him that doesn’t want to be a failure. That believes he’s not a failure. Or, at least, that his failure can be redeemed.

He fired the staff not because he didn’t want to pay them (the ultimate solution, it turns out, is actually to maintain two staffs), but because he wanted to start fresh. He has something inside of him. Something to share with the world. He just needs to get it out. He’s hoping, like Doc Brown before him, to see that headline change. It might still be a bad idea, but it’s an idea. He was in the shadow of his father and lived in unfair comparisons to him until his brother — a talking fist sticking out of an oven — showed up…and then he lived in his shadow and was compared unfavorably to him, too.

Dr. Venture has something to prove.

He’ll never be admired like his father, or brilliant like his brother. But he has something, whatever it is, he’s convinced that he has something, and he fires the staff so that he can rebuild it in aid of his own vision. It’s actually…admirable.

Last week, Dr. Venture was silently portrayed as an asshole. This week he opens his mouth, and we learn he’s a visionary.

Rusty’s back.

In fact, “Maybe No Go” plays like an extended response to “Hostile Makeover.” Whereas nothing happened last week, so much happened this week. Whereas last week was all rising tension, this week things go…really well, actually. For everybody.

That latter point is the most interesting, and most unique in a show like The Venture Bros., which makes a point of picking at the flaws and weaknesses of every single character, so we’ll get to that one in a bit.

First, the lighter side of things: the plots. The Pirate Captain kicks the dart monkey. The Monarch and Gary (who seems to be back to calling himself 21) attempt to eliminate all obstacles between them and Dr. Venture. Wide Wale launches an attack. Hatred and Brock team up for a thrillingly adorable defense of the tower. Billy and Pete square off against their nemesis. And all of these things had a beginning, a middle, and an end. “Hostile Makeover” felt overstuffed and a bit aimless, but “Maybe No Go” takes the same amount of material and weaves a much tighter, more satisfying tapestry.

The main story seemed to belong to Billy and Pete, which is good, because last week I wrote St. Cloud off as a go-nowhere character. And…maybe I’m still tempted to. We’ll see where things go, but this at least proves he can be part of an episode without dragging it to an irritating halt.

Their plot was one hell of a lot of fun. I remember back when “The Invisible Hand of Fate” aired; I was disappointed that we didn’t get a Billy and Pete version of the title sequence as we did for The Monarch and Dr. Girlfriend in “Shadowman 9: In the Cradle of Destiny” or Dr. Venture and Jonas Jr. in “Powerless in the Face of Death.” We got one here, and it was more than worth the wait.

Billy Quizboy is one of this show’s finest creations, and he’s high on a very long list of very fine creations indeed. His tragedy is a relateable one, and one as ripe for comedy as it is drama.

Billy is one of the few truly capable individuals in the show’s universe…and nobody takes him seriously. While other capable individuals — notably Brock and Dr. Girlfriend — rise through the ranks, earning more respect with every episode, even from their adversaries, Billy languishes. He lives in squalor. He’s mocked and belittled by his friends.

But he’s a skilled surgeon, as well as deeply intelligent and tragically loyal. His struggle to be accepted, admired, and understood has fueled several of the show’s best moments, and came to an incredible, bittersweet head in the hugely underrated “The Silent Partners.”

That episode was one of the few times that the show gave Billy a triumph. This week ends with another. After a long, emotional walk home, the invisible hand of fate gives Billy a boost forward. The “boy genius” did what he felt was right, though all earthly logic was against it. Fortunately for him, a larger, cosmic logic was on his side…and he and Pete are summoned to VenTech, presumably to front the company’s new speculative engineering department.

It’s a sweet moment at the end of an episode that’s almost wall to wall with them. In fact, I’m not sure The Venture Bros. has ever been this generous to its characters before. The Pirate Captain cleans up. Dean proposes the solution that could save the company. HELPeR doesn’t have to cope with a resurrected J-Bot. The Monarch and Gary find a path forward…in the basement. Wide Wale is swiftly and easily repelled in his assault.

And — seriously guys, this was adorable — Hatred and Brock got along. Decades of animosity between the two gave gentle way to a mutual respect. Brock’s always had the ability, but, for once, Hatred had the intel. They worked together, smiled together, and went out for a beer together. It was a more natural fit than I would have guessed possible, especially after last week just about seemed to position them as rivals for the season.

The Venture Bros. is the only show I know that can take a Swedish murder machine and a reformed bad-toucher and turn their mutual jump from a building into a disarmingly sweet denouement. When they fell, most of my concerns about season six fell with them. Even through my concerns last week I knew I was in good hands, but it sure is nice to see that confirmed so quickly.

I’m going to leave you with a couple of questions, which I hope will engender discussion. No wrong answers; I’m just curious what people are thinking.

First: what’s the primary difference between Wide Wale and Monstroso? They dress similarly, they’re both huge, they’re both powerful businessmen…is there a reason we subbed out one for the other? I’m not complaining, I assure you, but it’s not like the switch from The Monarch to Sgt. Hatred in season three. In that case there were (multiple) story reasons, and the massive change in character was important to the show. In this case it feels a lot like a character we’ve already seen, and I don’t know quite why we bothered promoting someone new.

Second: what was in the basement? I’m guessing the original Venture clone farm. I have a reason that my guess is so specific, but I’ll keep that to myself for now. What do you see under those sheets?

And, what the hell, third: are you feeling incredibly stoked for the rest of this season? Because holy shit did I just get invested.

4 thoughts on “The Venture Bros. Review: “Maybe No Go” (season 6, episode 2)”

  1. There’s a nice motif here, variations on a theme of whether or not value exists independent of people assigning it (the ball, the mask, a place in line, heck, Dr. Venture as a failure to the public vs. Dr. Venture as *the* guy to arch). I think I needed to read your thoughts on Billy’s struggles to understand why he valued the ball so highly, which in turn let me finally articulate for myself the difference between him and St. Cloud. They’re both collectors. Billy assigns value to cultural artifacts because they’re related to his own experience; St. Cloud is only interested in them because people like Billy think they’re valuable. He’s the seller on eBay who prices items ridiculously high to brag that he has them. It really speaks to me as a guy who spent too much on a knockoff of a knockoff of a Madballs toy last month.

    I think, plot-wise Wide Wale is there to hate the Monarch when it’s discovered that he killed his brother Doug. I *suspect* they’re building a Batman thing here: a cave in this episode, and from last week, I’m personally hoping that the girl with gills is Wale’s daughter and we’ll get a Talia al Ghul thing with her and Hank. As far as differences, have we even established much about him other than 1) power, 2) fish, and 3) dead brother backstory?

    1. Man, Billy’s little speech after they take their ball and go home…I’ve been thinking about it ever since. It was funny and ridiculous — and it led to the GORGEOUS “cross that bridge” visual punctuation — so it’s not like I overlooked it at the time, but thinking on it now, it just gets more…beautiful.

      It’s this…really odd, really perfect concept of pop-chaos theory. There’s a time machine, and there’s a prop from a largely forgotten music video, and the stakes really couldn’t be lower. We’re not traveling through time to kill Hitler, save JFK, or fuck up Edgar Allen Poe’s life. Those are things with enormous historical implications, and those are the things we usually explore with time travel stories…

      But for Billy…man. On the one hand, who cares if a video never gets recorded, or a band never sings some particular song?

      On the other hand, Billy cares. And Pete would care. And so would you. And so would everyone.

      As many regrets as the guy has in his life, it’s the fact that the album he lost his virginity to would never be recorded that hits him. It’s the fact that his best friend won’t have that haircut anymore. It’s the stuff that makes his life what it is. When he lives with so little, everything he does have means so much.

      Pete would still have some ridiculous hair style. (He even tried a few alternatives in St. Cloud’s bathroom.) Billy would still have lost his virginity. But those things wouldn’t be the same. They’d change. These things that matter to him wouldn’t disappear, but they’d be different, and he needs them to stay the same. These small constants that he knows he can rely on CAN’T be different, because then they wouldn’t be his anymore. His memories of these things would be different, and then they’d no longer be his memories.

      It’s ridiculous and yet it’s so fucking HUMAN. We think about all the things we’d like to wind back the clock and change, but what if someone else wound back the clock and stopped Bob Dylan from recording that one song that spoke to me in high school and changed who I was? What if the song playing when I had my first kiss was on a different album and I kissed to something else, instead? Big things, small things, anything that changes changes the memory. It’s not MY memory any more. Even if it ends up being better, it’s no longer mine. Or yours. Or ours.

      For someone as passive as Billy is, this has to hit a thousand times harder. (The best joke in “The Invisible Hand of Fate” is that no fate is involved whatsoever; he’s openly manipulated and coerced by everyone he meets, shoved along their paths for their reasons because he doesn’t resist.) He doesn’t live his life…life happens around him. And the few occasions that life led him somewhere nice are that much more important to him. He can’t lose those…because, if he does, what does he have left?

      It was a nice speech (sir), but I’ve been replaying it in my head ever since, and it gets a little sadder every time.

      I fucking love this show.

    2. I do not think “hoping” is necessary for the girl with the gills. 99% sure that was the building Hank was looking at during the … “climax” … of the first episode. She’s Wale’s daughter, I’m sure of it. I’d think, on a narrative level, it’d be super weird if she WASN’T.

  2. Third Q: Yes. It’s still setting up the pieces and I’m thrilled to watch it unfurl.

    Second Q: The mansion was Venture’s previously, right? That’s what leads to the “Old Venture Cloning Farm” guess? That house has had a lot of history (as well as looking like the house in Fight Club) but it definitely had more of a Batcave feel to it than it might have if they were going for cloning facility, for me. There’s various cases and what look to be computer terminals, and I’m sure one of the covered things is a vehicle. There’s even some in the water. I’d need to rewatch all the other mentions of the house to be sure, but why was Phantom Limb there? It won’t have anything to do with the Revenge Society, obviously, but did Hamilton have a connection to this house? I dunno. But I can only thing of anwful things coming from The Monarch having access to clones of Dr Venture.

    First Q: Well, I think Monstroso had too much baggage/connection to them to be workable in these “new” surroundings. Obviously I keep wanting to say “and he’s dead” but that’s never stopped anyone in this show before. We also didn’t get much of a look at his overall organisation, so maybe the New York Crime Boss look isn’t quite what they were going for with him. He seemed far grander in scale than Wide Wale. Maybe it’s just as simple as “they wanted to”?

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