The Venture Bros.: “The Devil's Grip”
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The Venture Bros.: “The Devil's Grip”

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The Venture Bros.

“The Devil's Grip”

Season 5, Episode 8

Here we are at the finale, and as Venture Bros. finales go, this is pretty low-key. Sure, the Monarch’s cocoon blows up and a member of Jonas Venture’s action team dies, but the death happens in flashback, and it’s not like the cocoon got a lot of screen time this year. Since the Monarch, Gary, and Dr. Mrs. The Monarch all survive the crash, the event plays more like another in a long line of incidental catastrophes; carefully engineered by the writers so that it makes logical sense (in this case, Sgt. Hatred is trying to get revenge on Gary when one of the moppets lies and tells Hatred Gary has betrayed him), yet without the greater resonance that the show’s best moments so often achieve. The chaos is well-orchestrated, and will hopefully lead to some interesting developments in the shows next season (which, please god, won’t take another two years to make), but the explosions and fire and the hurting and the oy lady probably won’t stick in the memory very long. As usual, there’s signal in the noise, and the resonant beats come when you least expect them. All the cartoon violence and crude humor is a great way to get past our defenses.

“The Devil’s Grip” briefly toys with refusing to answer the question raised by last week’s cliffhanger: namely, what the hell happened to Doc “Rusty” Venture? When we last saw him, he’d been crushed by an over-sized mirrorball, and this week kicks off with Hank and Dean waking up apart, having been separated by Sgt. Hatred in order to protect the boys when Doc goes missing. Dean is sent to Tangiers to live with Colonel Gentleman, while Hank goes off to room with Rodney the Action Man, who’s currently residing in a Boca Raton retirement community. It’s a potentially big shift in the show’s status quo which only lasts for the running time of the episode, and exists mostly to show how different members of Jonas’s super science squad are handling their retirement. Colonel Gentleman is, as has been previously established, living with a male lover a third of his age, and slicing up any idiots who try and pick fights with him in bars; he’s also obsessing over the number of times Salem the Cat appeared on Sabrina The Teenage Witch (the cat, not the puppet), and wants Dean’s to help put together his memoirs. It’s not the happiest life, and Gentleman is aware of that, and intentionally or not, he presents Dean with a possible future, an old man clinging to a dream of the past.

Action Man is more cheerful. While he and Hank start their time together by burying the remains of Paul Entmann who was crushed by one of the risers of a rocking chair, Rodney has his sights set on the present. He enlists Hank’s help in winning over one of the locals (a sweet old lady who turns out to be Billy Quiz Boy’s mom), and it goes swimmingly, largely because both man and young adult man seem to have the same basic approach to life: enjoy the hell out of it. This is true of Hank especially, and if part of this season has been seeing how Dean deals with the fall-out of learning his super science origins, just as important has been realizing that Hank’s goofy enthusiasm actually puts him far ahead of nearly everyone else on the show. In many ways, Dean’s mopiness and stress are easier to relate to, as they seem like the only sane response to the Venture-verse. The whole place is like wandering into Comic Con and not being able to leave; there are strangers everywhere in bizarre costumes, too much noise, too many smells, the food is overpriced, and now matter hard you try, you almost never end up getting where you want to go. But sinking into despair, and dwelling on the inconvenience and humiliation, isn’t going to change things.

If there’s a lesson to be learned from this season, it’s what was evident in the first episode: The successful ones are the ones who embrace who they are instead of fighting it. (For the sake of this argument, let’s ignore Sgt. Hatred’s pedophiliac tendencies; the show has largely swept them under the rug, and I can’t imagine anyone involved wanting Hatred to go back to chasing kids around.) Gary was a joke of a henchman, but while he’s not exactly transitioning into full Brock mode these days, he has struck out on his own and established himself by hanging out in the woods around the Venture compound. The fact that Hatred knows exactly where to find him when he decides he needs help rescuing Doc is a joke, but when it comes time to infiltrate the cocoon, Gary is the one who knows what he’s doing. When the Moppets overhear Gary and Hatred’s plans, they set out to pit them against one another, but Hatred is the only one who falls for the trap. Gary actually faces down a Moppet and, convinced that the little monsters were responsible for Henchman 24’s death, turns the rest of the Monarch’s men on his enemy. He’s no longer the schmuck who walks into their traps.

While all this is happening, the Monarch is trying to torture his old enemy, with mixed results. Doc Venture survived the great mirrorball crash with some moderate maiming, but Dr. Mrs. The Monarch patches him up before the horrors can begin, per Guild regulation. The scene between Mr. and Dr. Mrs. The Monarch reminds us once again how solid their relationship really is; no matter how frustrated she might get with him, she still loves him, and one of the keys to that love is that they both fully engage in their villainy. They share many of each other's interests, and they enjoy what they do, even when it involves dressing up as the dentist from Marathon Man but failing to overcome Rusty’s halitosis. Dr. Mrs. The Monarch tells Rusty (who, oblivious as ever, asks her for a handjob) that he better convincingly suffer when the Monarch goes to work, or else she’ll make him really hurt. And the Monarch seems to need the assist. His efforts are stymied either by his apparent incompetence, or by the Doc’s built-in resistance to pain after years of suffering at the hands of his and his father’s enemies.

This all builds to a fun twist, and one that dovetails nicely with the episode’s biggest revelation. The Monarch’s ineptitude is on purpose, and his real purpose, which he reveals to his wife after Rusty heads for home, was to break Rusty’s spirit with the pathetic depth of their situation. Rusty isn’t a hero; he can’t even get murdered by his enemies properly. It’s hard to tell if this revelation is the truth, or if the Monarch is trying to cover for his failure (although Dr. Mrs. The Monarch buys it readily enough), but either way, it sets up that dichotomy that so often drives the show. Do you accept the truth about your life, no matter how embarrassing and meager? Or do you keep pretending otherwise, and hope nothing breaks through your self-delusion?

We won’t get a clear sense of how Rusty handles the aftermath of his kidnapping (although he has been slightly more grounded this year, friendships with talking bears aside), but we do see how at least one other character handles a stark revelation: while the Ventures and friends are holding a funeral for Dr. Entmann at the Venture compound, Dean finally breaks down and tells Hank that they’re both clones. To Dean, this knowledge is painful, confirming his deepest, darkest fears about his own validity and place in the world. To Hank: “That is awesome.” While it’s not always possible to find the bright side of things, Hank’s optimism is a healthy, even enlightened way to approach the world. For a long time, Hank Venture looked like the dumb part of the Venture equation, a nice kid whose failure to fully grasp what was happening around him kept him in a perpetual state of Pollyanna-ish bliss. But the truth is, he knows what’s going down, and while sometimes it upsets him, he’s still doing his best to have the time of his life. After a season this good, who can blame him?

Stray observations:

  • Team Venture has a unique way of saying goodbye to fallen comrades: first they piss on the grave, and then the youngest of the team takes a dump to “fertilize” the earth. It’s gross, but Hank’s enthusiastic “You’re gonna love this!” to Dean wouldn’t be as funny if it wasn’t.
  • Billy’s been telling his mom that he and Pete are gay lovers, because that’s easier to explain than the truth.
  • The scene with Dean and Rodney putting the moves on Rose is pitch perfect; Hank’s cheerfully awful attempts to sell teenage slang made me laugh hard enough to have to rewind and rewatch. “Hey old man! I was just playing my bass at a volume that’s unreasonable!” and “Will you get me some money to buy records with clear warning labels?” both killed me.
  • While Colonel Gentleman is telling his life to Dean, we get a quick flashback to an old Team Venture fight: “Prepare yourself to fight your crushes!”
  • As chipper as Hank is, even he doesn’t enjoy the nursing home: “This whole place smells like Dinty Moore stew.”
  • “You simply nail a man’s balls to the chair, where’s the poetry?” -the Monarch
  • “I can safely promise I won’t get involved with a six year-old.” -Dean
  • Any plot threads you hope get picked up next season? I want more of O.S.I.’s fight against the Guild, I think.
  • “Who the fuck is Gary?” -the Monarch
  • It’s still impressive to me how Hammer and Publick took two seemingly one-note characters (Hank and Dean) and managed to make them the best two characters on the show. Let’s hope we won’t have to wait too long to spend more time with them.