I wonder if this season will play much better as one long story than it will as a series of episodes. So far, it’s difficult to judge them on their own, individual merits, and that’s both worrying and thrilling. It’s worrying because we have three episodes so far that don’t tell a complete story in their runtime. But it’s thrilling because, if the plates are kept spinning, we could end up with something incredible.
It’s too soon to tell, but unlike “Hostile Makeover” these unresolved plot-threads hold some very clear potential. I’m a bit disappointed that the closest thing we had to payoff was Dean painfully urinating some nanobots down the toilet, but this week’s chapter in the elaborate setup of season six is…well, pretty promising.
The title refers to Dr. Venture’s digging through his brother’s old, abandoned projects with Billy and Pete, but we’ll get to that shortly, because the more interesting story thread, for my money, is the (proper) introduction of Sirena Ong. We met her briefly in “Hostile Makeover” — with a strong implication that she was related to Wide Wale — but didn’t learn anything for sure except that she had gills.
Now we get a better sense of who she is: a stubborn, spoiled young girl who — like Hank and Dean before her — is stuck in a life that she doesn’t especially want. Her station is defined by her father’s station, in true, tragicomic Venture Bros. tradition. And when she finally gets to interact with an outsider, she falls more for what Hank represents — escape, freedom, rebellion — than who Hank really is.
Their brief exchange on the veranda (ending with one of the few times Hank’s managed to pull off something genuinely cool, even if he’d already mindlessly gloated about running away from stupider henchmen than her father’s) was probably the highlight of the entire episode. And, in keeping with Sirena’s perspective, it wasn’t because of what it was, but rather because of what it represents.
Hank’s romantic dabblings have given us two of the show’s all-time best episodes: “Assassinanny 911” and “Everybody Comes to Hank’s.” I’d have a difficult time articulating why those two episodes managed to be so emotionally disarming, even though Dean’s dabblings (mainly with Triana) were unquestionably more relateable and true-to-life, but seeing another such story get queued up like this is very exciting to me. The show has worked wonders with the premise before, and I have total confidence that it can do so again.
In fact, Sirena’s introduction provides Wide Wale with a clearer identity as well. Previously I wasn’t sure why Wide Wale existed. I didn’t know his joke — aside from being some degree of sea creature — and I especially didn’t know why he seemed to be taking over Monstroso’s role in the show, as we already had a hulking, powerful businessman in the rogue’s gallery.
Last week RaikoLives pointed out the obvious, and then he pointed out the second-most-obvious: “Obviously I keep wanting to say ‘and he’s dead’ but that’s never stopped anyone in this show before.” Which was basically my thought process, too. If Doc and Jackson need a character back, they can bring a character back. In this case they didn’t…and I honestly wasn’t sure why. Especially since his replacement was so similar.
Sirena helps make it clear that Wide Wale is more of a Godfather figure. Which, yes, that’s certainly been alluded to already, but her birthday party — which is clearly just a party for her father’s organization and powerful friends, while she sulks in her room and is repeatedly forbidden to have any fun — cements that as the direction the show is taking with him. Monstroso was a businessman, and so is Wide Wale. But though they’re both villainous, one’s business is a little more legitimate than the other’s.
Interestingly, the show really seems to be leaning into the Italian jokes lately. Wide Wale is a Mafia don, Serena is a spoiled princess, Hank works at a pizzeria, Scaramantula returned for the opening scene (along with some shots at the Italian automobile industry), we had that whole scene with The Ambassador a couple of episodes ago…I’m not complaining, but I find it an intriguing coincidence. I wonder why so much Italian humor is clumping together, especially when it’s generated from a pretty wide range of characters and contexts.
I do also kind of love the fact that Hank has a menial job. The squandering of the fortune a few weeks ago seems now like it just happened so we could get some jokes along those lines. Yes, wasting money he didn’t earn was a very Dr. Venture thing to do, but last week and this week we see members of the family bringing money in as well, and that bodes ever so slightly better for their future.
Whew. So, what else? Dean got some nanobots shoved up his creepy dog dork, which was…fine, I guess. I got excited when Billy dropped the test tube because it’s been a while since “strange Venture technology” played much of a part in an episode, but I don’t know that it went anywhere. I’d assume we’d see more such nano-shenanigans in a later episode if they weren’t flushed away at the end, so I guess we got a weird scene with him and Brock and that’s that.
Then we had an interesting twist on the periodically rocky relationship between The Monarch and Dr. Girlfriend. I’m glad they didn’t go the easy — but admittedly natural, especially considering her new clout — route of simple jealousy on his part, because that’s territory we’ve explored several times before, but they instead gave us a fairly satisfying, complex subterfuge that positions them both as pawns in somebody else’s game.
It’s good, and it gives the rest of the season a lot to work with, but best of all it employs a new character who immediately gives us a sense of his utility; there’s no way anybody can watch this episode and not instantly think of a dozen ways the show can use Copy Cat.
This is the kind of thing I was concerned about in “Hostile Makeover.” With all of the new characters introduced there, there was very little sense of what they’d be good for. (Apart from one or two “This is kind of like that” jokes, which are fun, but which are no substitute for characters who are interesting in their own rights.)
Copy Cat’s personality just seems better developed, and his power offers story opportunities that no other character’s does. I’m looking forward to seeing more of him. And he wasn’t the only new character who screams with potential…
I’m speaking, of course, of Blue Morpho. Oh, man, am I speaking of Blue Morpho.
It’s a short scene, but a crucial one, as not only does it reveal what was in The Monarch’s basement — Blue Morpho’s old hideout — but fills in some dark backstory both actively and passively. Actively because we’re outright told that he’s The Monarch’s father. Passively because…well…we’ve already met The Monarch’s father.
Yes, Vendata gets namedropped here, and that’s no coincidence. Back in last season’s best episode — “Bot Seeks Bot” — Vendata was very, very strongly implied to be The Monarch’s father. Here, now, we can piece together more of that as-yet-untold story:
Jonas Venture Sr. was rescued from Scaramantula by the guy…only to violently grab and threaten him. Gary tells us that they later became friends, which is borne out by the photo in “SPHINX Rising,” in which we see The Monarch and his parents with Rusty and Jonas. The man was then presumed killed in a plane crash — along with his wife — but was actually resurrected by Jonas as Vendata.
That’s…a pretty sad character arc, and the more we learn about it, the sadder it’s likely to get. But that’s all more than The Monarch knows; for him, the worrying thing is that he may have hero DNA in him. Which is a nice detail, because we’ve long known that Dr. Venture has more than a little of the villain in him. Lines get blurred, roles are reversed, one character is revealed to be another.
“Faking Miracles” is a fun episode, and it sets up a lot of things that the rest of the season can play with…but I have to confess, I’m a bit nervous. Last season was only eight episodes long. Season four was split into two chunks of eight episodes each. I don’t know how many we’re meant to get this time around, but if it’s only eight, we’re going to be at least at the halfway point before “promise” can become “fulfillment.” That’s a bit worrying.
At the very least, we know we’ll have fun along the way…but The Venture Bros. has always been more than just “fun.” It’s hilarious, and heartbreaking. It’s frivolous, and profound. It’s cruel, and sweet. It’s parody, and sincere. It’s bombastic, and contemplative.
It’s a longform experiment in opposites, and it’s a very successful one. I’m not writing season six off by any means, but I am looking forward to seeing the pendulum start to swing back.