Holidays rarely live up to our expectations. I think that’s why they’re such mixed experiences when you’re an adult. The anticipation remains (at least it does for me), but there’s also the realization that the bigger that anticipation, the greater the odds of disappointment. Christmas will never bring the gift that will change your life. Halloween has no contractual obligation to provide you with ghosts, ghouls, or goblins. It takes eight hours or more to prepare a Thanksgiving dinner, and then twenty minutes later all you’ve got are the leftovers. For a kid, moments always last forever. Being a grown-up means being constantly aware of how things end. Doc “Rusty” Venture is perpetually stuck between these two poles. He can’t have the happiness of not knowing the consequences, and he can’t get the more mature pleasures that come from becoming a responsible part of the world. He’s frozen, weak, impotent. But even he deserves a win every now and again.
In “Spanakopita!,” he (sort of) gets one. This is quite possibly the happiest we’ve ever seen grown-up Rusty get, and for once, it has nothing to do with delusions of grandeur or expectations of sexual conquest. There’s Greek island, see, and every year, they have a magical festival called Spanakopita. As Billy points out, that’s actually the Greek name for spinach pie, but on the island, it’s excuse for all kinds of games and celebration and what-not. It’s one of the few places left on Earth where Rusty can go and, however briefly, feel like he’s welcome. Everyone’s always delighted to see him, and no one’s haranguing him about falling to live up to Dad’s legacy. The whole thing is some kind of a con, it has to be. The name is ridiculous, nobody’s ever heard of the festival before, there’s no internet access on the island, and besides, this is Doctor Venture we’re talking about. Nothing good can come to this guy without a long list of reservations, many of them humiliating, most of them costly, and a few of them life-threatening.
The episode succeeds, then, by having it’s pie and eating it too. Because yes, there is a secret behind the wonder that is Spanakopita, just like Sgt. Hatred (and, really, any viewer with half a brain) suspects. But it’s also really about trying to make the poor, lonely little kid still stuck in Rusty’s heart a little bit happier. I’ve been trying to find a good term to describe the mood behind this half hour, a mood that runs through a lot of my favorite episodes of the show (this one isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty swell), and the best I can manage is something like “optimistic pessimism,” that feeling that, yeah, you’re pretty much screwed, and you’re never going to stop being a loser, but at least you can have some fun with it. Those feelings of inadequacy Rusty got from having a square-jawed, too-perfect asshole of a father? Those probably aren’t ever going away. And it’s not like Spanakopita (are you drinking every time I write that? You should. It make the prose dance) turns him into a super-hero. Billy mocks St. Cloud for challenging Rusty to fight for the crown of the festival—Rusty is, after all, the
Spanakopita champ—but St. Cloud still manages to almost cheat his way into a victory.
But that’s the price you pay for needing validation so intensely you’ll rest all your hopes on a three day, made-up holiday. (Well, okay, most holidays are.) There’s a nice bit when Hatred, his suspicions becoming more and more intense with each new example of sketchiness, calls Brock to ask for advice; Brock says, basically, “It makes Doc happy, just let it go.” (He also ignores the fact that he fathered at least two kids on the island. A lot of terrible fathers on this show.) There is a conspiracy here, but it’s a benevolent one, albeit driven by pragmatism as much as kindness. The locals, led by a man named Georgios, once found themselves in a dire situation, driven to robbing a rich man’s boat in order to support themselves and their families. The boat they picked happened to be Jonas Venture’s boat (he was off fighting the dastardly L. Ron Hubbard), and they grabbed a trunk with Rusty inside when they made off with the loot. Seeing the kid so lonely and afraid, Georgios made up the festival of Spanakopita to cheer him up, and to keep him quiet while waiting for a ransom exchange. Pragmatism mixed with kindness is about as much as you can hope for in this world. And even better, when Rusty came back as a grown-up, miserable and looking to recapture some of that old spinach pie magic, Georgios and the others played along. They bilked him for all he was worth, sure, but they gave him a good time for his cash.
That seems about ideal in the Venture-verse. The only development I’m not quite sure on is the continued presence of Augustus St. Cloud, Billy’s Droopy-voiced ultra-rich nemesis. Strip him of his nerdery, and he’s a Hanna Barbera villain. That’s probably intentional, but at some point, a one-joke character needs to either develop, or disappear. St. Cloud has played the bad guy in two episodes this season already, and the show has used him the same way both times. Hardly the end of the world, but he’s the least interesting part of “Spanakopita.” There’s potential; in his way, St. Cloud is just as pathetic as everybody else, he just has enough money to keep finding ways to pretend he isn’t. And really, we’re so early in the season, this could easily be going somewhere. So far, though, he’s just an irritant with a funny voice. Here’s hoping he gets better or goes away soon.
- It’s great how neatly Billy and Pete have been fit into the show’s main ensemble. This isn’t a new thing, but with an episode like this, they make a perfectly acceptable substitute for Hank and Dean sitting on the sidelines.
- Speaking of, Hank is still wearing the Countess’s body armor. Love that kid.
- Bubo the mechanical owl is from Clash Of The Titans. The original version, ie, the only one worth watching.
- “Quickly, Pee Wyy, use your parkour!” -St. Cloud
- We need more Brock. I get why he’s in the background, but Patrick Warburton’s delivery on “Why you calling me, man,” about killed me.
- The flashback to Jonas Venture and his team fighting the evil L. Ron was great, as was the reminder of just how much a dick the guy could be. He beats the shit out of Rusty’s kidnappers just because that’s the alpha male way. (Nobody touches his stuff.)
- There’s an Albino Code. That could be useful.
- “There’s always next year, right?” “No [bleep]ing way.”