The Venture Bros. Reviews: “A Party for Tarzan” (season 6, episode 7)

The Venture Bros., "A Party for Tarzan"

There are few things on television more satisfying than a great episode of The Venture Bros. For the second week in a row, we got one.

I really love how thoroughly season six is making me feel like an ass for ever doubting it. In fact, “A Party for Tarzan” makes me wish I voiced one of my earlier concerns…and that’s significant, because I only wish I voiced it so that I could look more like an ass.

See, last week gave me plenty to talk about, and I ended up removing a tangential complaint from that review before publishing. Here was the complaint: the one-long-story approach of the sixth season meant that we couldn’t get a format breaker.

What’s a format breaker? Well, that’d be something like “Escape to the House of Mummies, Part II.” Or the jolting, abrupt chronological shifts of “Blood of the Father, Heart of Steel.” Or the longform detective fantasy of “Everybody Comes to Hank’s.” Or…erm…this very episode.

With one big plot to tell across eight episodes, each of which seems to pick up directly from the end of the last, I didn’t see how we’d break format, and that was disappointing for two reasons. Firstly, because the format breaker is a great injection of variety into a show you believe you understand. Episodes like that are often remembered, after all, for their novelty if for nothing else. They stand out, and they make you pay attention. They’re telling stories that are so important, they redefine the very experience of watching the show. It’s a bit of narrative trickery that elevates — cheaply or not — the material contained within. It makes it feel like an event.

But, secondly: not getting a format breaker would be disappointing simply because The Venture Bros. is so. Damned. Good at them. Look at my examples above. Toss in “The Trail of the Monarch,” “Shadowman 9: In the Cradle of Destiny,” “The Invisible Hand of Fate,” “The Lepidopterists”…and, man, it sure does look like you’re compiling a list of the best things the show’s ever done, doesn’t it?

The one thing I figured season six could do to break format was give us an episode full of tiny stories in which Dr. Venture indirectly disposed of a parade of antagonists…with a little help (seen or unseen) from The Blue Morpho. It’d be a way of thinning out the web of arches and sub-arches within a compressed timeframe, allow for a quick joke or two with each, give us the big, important moment that should stick in our minds, and then move on. A sort of condensed season in one episode. Don’t worry if you think that’s a lousy idea; I’m in no danger of being invited to write for the show.

Instead, and with unexpected placement just before the season ends, we got “A Party for Tarzan.” And holy cow, I think I’m in love.

Granted, it worked its way immediately into my heart with a flashback of Gary (Fisher!) getting kidnapped on his trip to Washington, D.C., the third and clearest piece of that puzzle. Just about any time the show hurls us back in time, I know it’s with good reason. (See also: the original Blue Morpho stuff, and the abbreviated reign of Turnbuckle’s terror in this very episode.)

That flashback ended, but we found a new narrator. Now we follow Dr. Girlfriend’s thoughts. Later we’ll follow her husband’s. And Dr. Venture’s. And they all crisscross and weave a story that’s neither very complex nor all that important. The shifting narrators and jazzy interludes give the episode a weight that it might not deserve, but which it still absolutely earns…culminating in a brilliant cross-section of fragmented narration as the bullet sails toward Dr. Venture’s heart.

We know he won’t die. He’s our main character. He won’t die. We learn in the episode that the Blue Morpho’s suit is lined with Kevlar. He won’t die. The trigger is pulled. He won’t die. We follow the path of the bullet. He won’t die. We watch him fall lifeless to the ground. He won’t die.

We know he will not die.

…and yet, it matters.

It matters because the episode promised us that this story matters. It matters because the disparate perspectives twist together toward this moment, drawing our attention artfully along with them. It matters because in a season that seemed to go nowhere this story went somewhere.

And once we get there, we know he won’t die…but we feel connected to the moment.

And the episode toys with us. The Monarch narrates the brief aftermath of Venture’s death (a sequence that reminded me of Phantom Limb’s excellent, shocking monologue at the start of “Bright Lights, Dean City”) just long enough that we start to wonder.

The episode pulls back, as it must, but it doesn’t feel cheap. It feels like a joyous end to a playful installment of a truly great show…an installment that flirted with death, and even pulled the trigger, but found itself alive after all, refreshed, buoyed by a big band tune and swept forward, for another week at least, along the greater story that is life.

My god what a fucking great episode.

“A Party for Tarzan” really does just feel happy to be alive. There’s got to be a certain thrill for Jackson and Doc inherent in the fact that this parody of Jonny Quest is wrapping up a sixth season in a new city, with its original characters grown and evolved almost beyond recognition, genre pastiches having long given way to extended character meditations, a dense universe of backstories, histories, agendas…

Look at how far the show has come, how beautiful it looks now, the kinds of actors they can attract to voice one-off characters, the literal world of possibilities stretching out ahead…

Life is pretty great, isn’t it? One day it will have to end…but today was not that day. You wake up started and sticky, but you can get right back on your feet and walk away.

Is there any reason to be happier than that?

I have more that I want to say about the season as a whole, but I might as well wait until next week, so instead I’ll work through a few lingering thoughts and questions.

For starters…does anyone else find it odd that Phantom Limb was forgiven so quickly and welcomed right back into the fold of The Guild? And aside from a single note of concern (unless I’m forgetting about another) The Monarch isn’t even too concerned about the guy spending so much time with his wife. As much as I love that character, I don’t know if this season has any idea what to do with him, and Jackson and Doc are just sticking him on the Council because he’s one of very few recurring villains who survived the massacre in “All This and Gargantua-2.”

Speaking of surviving villains: please never, ever kill Dr. Z. In fact, if The Venture Bros. must end, give us a Dr. Z. spinoff. Words cannot express how much I love that guy.

Speaking of “surviving” villains: how’s everyone handling Gary’s feelings of guilt? It was a bit uncomfortable to watch him this week while The Wandering Spider begged for his life. (I mean that in no way as a criticism…it was appropriately weighty, and effectively dark.) Do we think he let The Wandering Spider survive? If so…will that go anywhere narratively? It’s not like he was tasked with taking out a familiar face…

Gary’s arc is an interesting one this season, and I definitely was not expecting it. Commenter / Battleaxe regular Casey said a few weeks back that he didn’t really understand why Gary signed back up with The Monarch at the end of season five…and I think that’s a valid question, especially considering how hard season four worked to provide him with a fresh direction and a sense of personal ambition. Sure, season five crushed those things several times over, but that doesn’t mean the return feels natural.

Here, though, with Gary fretting over the lives that he’s taken — and his boss pressuring him into taking more, this week for the sole purpose of keeping up appearances — I think we’re experiencing another great arc for the character…even if it’s one that required a bit of inelegance up front.

Some folks elsewhere have mentioned that Gary’s taken lives before and it never bothered him — the therapist in “Self-Medication” and Short Division in “SPHINX Rising” come instantly to mind — but there are dozens of reasons that one death might hit harder, and in a very different way, from another. Remember, even super killguy Brock faced this crisis himself in “Viva Los Muertos.”

I don’t know. Maybe it’s a cheat. It doesn’t feel that way to me…but if it feels that way to you, I suggest you push through anyway and let yourself take the ride, because The Monarch losing his own murder machine has some serious story possibilities…and Gary being put through the emotional wringer yet again could lead us absolutely anywhere.

Gary’s such a great character to kick off the Goodfellas-style narration, too. The Venture Bros. is populated entirely by normal people living abnormal lives…the stuff that comic-obsessed dreams are made of. Gary may have been kidnapped, but he also got his wish. As far back as he can remember…

And, okay, I liked this episode and all, but what the fuck is Wide Wale doing? What’s his angle? He was dying for arching rights to Dr. Venture, but then subbed them out to other villains. Those are getting rubbed out, which gives him a reason to finally take action, but all he wants to do is have someone else snipe the guy, I guess. And a few episodes ago he was investing a lot of time and energy in working Dr. Girlfriend and The Monarch against each other, but to what end? None of those manipulations had anything to do with The Blue Morpho, nor are they tied in any way to the attempted assassination here.

It just seems…odd. Every season so far has a secondary antagonist (one: Underbheit; two: Phantom Limb; three: Sgt. Hatred; four: Monstroso; five: Augustus St. Cloud; six: Wide Wale) with The Monarch being the main thorn in Dr. Venture’s side, but with this one, I have absolutely no idea what’s meant to be happening, or why he’s even involved with what I do know is happening.

Yes, we have one more episode, but so far…fuck this guy.

Anyway, hooray! I got to end a review of a great episode on a really sour note. Go me! I made myself mad!

Well, as long as I am upset, let me just say that if Doc and Jackson don’t make the end credits song available to us they’re the most horrible human beings who ever lived.

Thanks for reading, everyone. I have absolutely no idea what will happen in the next (and last) episode of season six, but for the first time I’m excited by that prospect rather than worried. Good on you, “A Party for Tarzan.”

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9 thoughts on “The Venture Bros. Reviews: “A Party for Tarzan” (season 6, episode 7)”

  1. We don’t really know what Wide Wale is planning since we only get snippets about him. Logically Rusty killing his arches is bad for business but perhaps there was something subtler going on in that scene? Wide Wale clearly doesn’t give a shit about Rusty. He took his arching rights to sting the Monarch and I think, perhaps, he was goading Dr. Mrs. to kill Rusty because A) he’s The Monarch’s one true passion and B) It would sting even more if his wife pulled the trigger. But perhaps I’m putting a layer of depth there that wasn’t intended? Or perhaps not!

    Anyway, apparently the creators said they tried to make this episode the season finale at the last minute but there were too many continuity issues. I think next week’s episode is just going to be a fun romp but it won’t advance the story in any meaningful way. I think whatever Wide Wale’s ultimately planning will be left to the future special/Season 7 premiere.

    And here’s the song from the end credits:

    http://pokemusic.bandcamp.com/track/ding-ding

    1. Don’t forget that Wide Wale’s brother was Douglas Ong; for me, everything that Widewale and his crones have done this season (the arching rights, the Copycat stuff, goading Sheila to kill Rusty) has been about him getting revenge against the Monarchs for what happened way back in ‘Tears of a Sea Cow’.

      1. I hadn’t but it’s still not clear if he has an actual plan since, right now, it seems like he’s infrequently menacing the pair in a more subtle and underhanded manner. Though it’s only been a couple of weeks since they moved to New York.

  2. It’s not quite as “out there” as some of those other episodes you mention, since the show has been flitting about between these points of view the whole season. Being narrated by each different POV is cool, but it’s not as strange an outlier as “Hanks” or a story about Hitler the Dog. It’s about as strange as it could get, since, as you mentioned, it would be hard to go TOO out there being that this is more Chapter 7 than Episode 7, but damn was it punchy, well paced and (as usual) well acted.

    One aspect of the Ventures living in New York that seemed to be subtly highlighted was how the family itself is growing apart, now that there’s actual people and places for them to interact with on a daily basis. Rusty was all alone on that rooftop, with Brock off… doing his thing with Warriana, Dean deep into his college stuff and Hank… Well, Hank’s Hank. But the idea that the closeness and involvement this family had was more a product of them all living in the remote, sequestered Venture Compound, making it only really a family of circumstance. Once the environment is no longer holding them together, the fragile bonds they have seem to weaken, go slack, and they drift apart. I don’t know if it was necessarily something I should be taking from THIS episode, rather from this season as a whole, but Rusty alone on that rooftop, as we saw what others were doing when he was about to be killed, really made it seem like what’s really been at stake this whole time, for the Ventures at least, has been their family. With no viable threat to keep them focused on each other, no event or challenge coming their way, and with the boys becoming adults and “venturing” out into the real world which is, now, right at their doorstep, it just added a tiny sense of melancholy to Rusty’s plight, that he’s a terrible father (he’s an AWFUL father) but not because he dislikes his kids. He just was never equipped to do it. And while BEING an awful father he has still put Dean (and Hank?) into a better place each for being their own men than he really had the chance to. But it’s cost him his relationship with them. And he was about to be killed up there, and Dean and Hank would have been sad… But they’re pretty much at a place where it wouldn’t really have mattered to them, overall. They’d still be themselves, they’d keep doing what their doing (it works better for Dean than Hank, obviously but I don’t know how much more can be done there with or without Rusty).

    Was good seeing Monarch’s old costume too. The furry/fuzzy one. And complaining about his costume to Gary? Is it the first time he’s complained about being The Monarch? He’s been the wingless, crownless, costumed vigilante for long enough now to value it’s trappings, and to see the negatives involved with his previous persona. It’s odd. He is the one character who has never deviated from who he is. He was down for a while in Season 2, and he’s faced hard times, but he’s ALWAYS been THE MONARCH! before being anything else. But now he’s complaining about his “stupid crown” and cawing about how cool the Morpho suit is. Have you ever felt doing something in a different way was stupid, pointless, less good than your current way, and tried it, only to see how much better it is? I would like to see The Monarch adapt aspects of The Blue Morpho into his persona, instead of changing entirely, but… this season might be the last we see of The Monarch (the guise, not the man) for a while.

    1. “the idea that the closeness and involvement this family had was more a product of them all living in the remote, sequestered Venture Compound, making it only really a family of circumstance.”

      Great comment overall, but I need to single that out as the saddest, most insightful thing I’ve read about this episode. You’re right in a sense that you could pull that lesson from the whole season, but I think it’s more suited to observe here than you’re giving yourself credit for. That sad, lonely moon…Doc alone. Brock disinterested. His kids on their own little tangents. His only two friends in the world keeping each other company rather than him (what a loaded sentiment…)

      He’s got literally nobody. Sure, he didn’t die, but that could easily have been the moment of his death…and was framed in such a way that we’re meant to view it through that filter even if we know better…and he would have been alone. His final moments in life would have been spent with nobody. They all have better things to do than to be with Dr. Venture…and now he’s dead.

      The Monarch’s bait-and-switch summary at the end of the episode brought this just about to mind for me. Sure, I knew he wasn’t dead, but if he WAS dead…how fucking sad is it that on his own show so full of rich, interconnected characters nobody would even be with him when he died? I’m glad I didn’t think too much about that, though, because you ended up saying things far better than I would have. Thank you.

      I think you just nailed it perfectly. It’s like last week when Brock orders everyone into the panic room…only nobody’s around. The family’s not contained. They _can’t_ act like a unit anymore, because they all have the room to stretch their legs and do what they’re doing. Previously they could just lock down the compound. Now Hank’s on a date, Dean’s at school, Hatred’s in the hospital, Brock’s…you know. They’re all over New York. Tragedy strikes, and what happens? Well, somebody dies alone. That’s what.

      The entire nature of tragedy has been redefined. And, potentially, that’s a pretty incredible thing for the show to do.

      Unrelated, but I realize now that I didn’t include “OSI Love You” in my list of format breakers, because I’m a fucking idiot.

      1. Maybe you ARE a fucking idiot, Phil, but, dammit, you’re OUR fucking idiot.

        And for the record, Thank YOU for bringing this show to my attention. So rich and detailed and wonderful. I’m really looking forward to next week’s finale, and then binge watching the whole season to really filter it. Delicious.

        1. Remember next week’s finale is only a finale in name and not in content! Much like Season 5’s “The Devil’s Grip”.

          1. Right? You know I still haven’t watched S5 all the way through followed by Gargantua 2? As it was meant to be? How am I only just now realizing this? I look forward to doing the same with S6 & whatever the “meant to be the season finale” ends up being

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