In last week’s episode, Dean told Hank he was tired of being a Venture brother, and it turns out he wasn’t kidding; when Doc is called off to the jungle to deal with the revolutionary behavior of an old experiment, Dean refuses to go along for the trip, choosing instead to hang out in his room listening to music with the shades drawn. He gets a few scenes after that (including a nice closer that has him fixing poor H.E.L.P.eR.), but he’s used sparingly throughout. It’s an interesting choice, given that he’s the most dynamic member of the cast at this point, but what’s even more interesting is how much his basic disdain for everything that’s going on underlines the rest of the episode. The Venture Bros. has always had characters willing to call each other on their bullshit, but there’s something about Dean’s approach that manages to call just about everything into question, in a way that doesn’t damage the show at all; it really just adds another level of comedy, because while we’re watching Rusty and Hatred and Hank (as the Bat) face off against a group of genetically engineered freaks looking to create their own self-sustaining community away from the mad scientists who built them, we know Dean is back home, sick to death of all foolishness. That level of self-awareness makes everything feel just a little more real, somehow. And that makes it funnier.
And this is a funny episode, jam-packed with stuff to the point where it practically demands multiple viewings just to make sure you catch all the references. You could argue it’s too much, but that approach has become the standard aesthetic for the series, and when it has a good underlying structure, the messiness helps generate terrific comedic momentum; in fact, it becomes a joke in and of itself, riffing on the way these characters live in a world so full of insanity that they never really have to stop and think about all the sadness behind it. (Which is another potentially fascinating angle to Dean’s arc, really. He didn’t just say, “Fuck you” to the Outrider; he said “Fuck you” to all of it, and now he actually seems invested in trying to get his shit together.) For the most part, “Venture Libre” uses its speed to its advantage, without ever losing sight of the characters at its core, from Sgt. Hatred’s re-engagement with his horrific past, to Hank’s discovery of the bat within, to Rusty being, well, Rusty. He seems to have settled into a peevish-but-not-completely-an-asshole groove; I wonder if we’ll see anymore developments for him like what happened in “The Doctor Is Sin,” or if this is pretty much how he’ll be for the duration.
Still, there’s some lumpiness. As potentially interesting as Hatred’s dream is, it’s a sub-plot that’s introduced with no real pay-off; Hatred tells Rusty he thinks he belongs with the rest of the freaks, and then ends up leaving anyway. This could all come back in a later episode, and it’s neat to get some back-story on Hatred that doesn’t involved pedophilia (I mean, he does attack a kid after getting the super serum, but that probably wasn’t sexual?), but here, it’s a not-terrible moment that just sort of hangs there. Worse is the strange appearance of Congresswoman Marsha Backwood, a mildly amusing caricature who shows up mainly to give the script a way to wrap things up. Which is funny, sure (Rusty’s “I got this” after Marsha blows up is great), but her presence doesn’t really add much otherwise, and it points up one of the minor running flaws of the show: Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer don’t always know how to end things. The post-credit gags are often swell, but a lot of the time episodes just seem to get to the end of their run-time and just sort of stop. Considering the flurry of action that usually builds up to these climaxes, the abruptness, while rarely episode-killing, can be deflating.
That’s the case here, but thankfully, the rest of the half hour is rich enough enough that it’s not a huge detriment. The return of Venturestein, introduced back in the second season’s “¡Viva los Muertos!”, is a great deep cut (he’s a former henchman of the Monarch that Brock killed and Rusty brought back from the dead and sold to General Manhowers, who also appears in this), and the idea of a political organization for all the genetic freaks of the world, based off the teachings of Che Guevera, is clever enough that you kind of wonder why no one’s done it before now. (Maybe they have!) The cast of monstrosities Venturestein has assembled, combined with the boats full of new recruits that arrive at the episode’s conclusion, makes for a good excuse to bust out the pause button on your DVR. Of the ones I caught, I’d say the feral Oompah Loompah and the Human Centipede were my favorites.
Where last week’s premiere had him sticking to the service industry, this week finds Hank in full ass-kicking mood; again, we find characters on the show finding ways to be heroic that don’t betray their fundamental absurdity. So when faced with a seemingly predatory pterodactyl (it’s actually a pteranodon, you monster), Hank jumps ship with what he thinks is a parachute, but turns out to be a jetpack. One inadvertent visit to a field of coffee beans later (which is nicely set up in the opening scene, when Rusty refuses to allow Hank anymore coffee), and Hank’s wired up on caffeine and driven to become an avenging angel—Jungle Batman, who deals handily with the freaks at the Venturestein compound, before confronting Venturestein himself. The two stare each other down, and then Venturestein slowly, reverently, covers his face with a Batman mask. Batman!
It’s hard to find any fault in an exchange like that, especially when it leads to Hank rescuing his father and Sgt. Hatred and driving them to the beach in a Crabmobile he apparently constructed out of his jetpack and the hollowed out corpse of fallen enemy. We’re only a couple episodes in (not counting the Halloween entry), and while “Venture Libre” isn’t quite as great as “What Color Is Your Cleansuit?”, it’s rock solid, full of great action setpieces and nods to continuity that never entirely overwhelm the central message: outcasts of the world, unite! It’s too early to say if this will be a running theme throughout the season, but once again, we have our protagonists managing to be fools and heroes while remaining entirely in character. That’s a nifty trick. P.S. Batman!
- A quick call-back, but a nifty one: Rusty complains about Hank getting wired up on dark chocolate and spending the whole night building murphy beds around the compound, and a few minutes later, while trying to find supplies to fix H.E.L.P.eR., Dean gets hit by one of Hank’s constructions.
- Speaking of H.E.L.P.eR., the joke with Rusty calling for his help, and the robot not showing up until the very end, was okay, but seems like something we’ve seen before?
- How did the music sound on the aired version? The score was great as always on the screener, but the sound mix was off; in the beginning especially it was hard to hear some of the dialogue.
- U.R.G.H.: United Regressed Grotesque Humanity
- “We have zero infrastructure!” -one of Venturestein’s followers, worried about the potential influx of new recruits