We’re getting a little personal with this week’s classic Venture Bros. recap. Yes, this is the episode introduces Dr. Killinger and has one of my favorite visual gags in the history of the series. But that’s not why “I Know Why the Caged Bird Kills” is significant to me. No, this episode contributed to me getting dumped several years ago. Now, this episode was either part of the reason, or else what it represents is the entire reason. We may never know.
If you don’t care about my backstory, skip ahead to the recap. And there is no reason you should care about said backstory. But dammit, this is something I occasionally think about, so I’m putting it here. Cut to 2007. I had been going out with a woman for quite a while. Weirdly, though, she never wanted to meet my friends. I didn’t push, because I don’t like meeting new people and this gave me an out on meeting her friends. Anyway, this relationship was largely based on me trying to impress her for years, and then having to live life as the more impressive version of myself that I presented.
And then, after I’d reached the point of being kind of miserable and hating myself because of having to keep this Better EJ, she decided to hang out with my friends. And it was super awkward. But my friend Sam really tried to include her, even when the conversation turned to Venture Bros. He was explaining a scene in this episode to somebody who hadn’t seen it, and he says “So, Dr. Venture is being followed by this Oni…” and then, realizing that this probably meant nothing to my girlfriend, turned to her and said “An Oni is a floating Japanese ghost head demon”, and then went back to his story as if that explained everything. Which mostly proves that Sam is very considerate of his listening audience, but she seemed irritated by the whole thing. As if being exposed to silliness (and also awesomeness) was a waste of her time. And two days later, she broke up with me.
Since this isn’t therapy, I won’t get into my takeaway from that whole thing. But still, this episode is a weird mix of nostalgia and relief and maybe regret. Though I should point out that I am presently a hundred times happier than I was in that relationship, but there were some rough times in between. None of this has any bearing on the episode, but this is the first time I’ve watched it in five and a half years without feeling a little bit sad.
“Get that security tape! I want a Quicktime of my minty fresh entrance posted on my homepage by tomorrow!” – The Monarch
The Monarch attacks an office building, dispatching cubicle dwellers with butterfly darts and explosives. Then he realizes it’s not the secret Venture Compound, but actually an accounting office. So they leave. Cold open!
–This is just a nice little throwaway before the plot, but it’s good to see the Monarch actually being dangerous. He hasn’t engaged in proper villainy for a while at this point. By the way, the episode title comes from the title of Maya Angelou’s autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. There isn’t any kind of thematic connection, aside from a throwaway reference to Angelou. It’s just a funny title.
“OK, I’ve reviewed the video of the attack on Venture. What happened? Why did we suck? How can we not suck in the future?” – Henchman 24
Doctor Venture goes to see Orpheus. After a trip toJapan, he’s being followed by an Oni (a Japanese demon). Orpheus tries to remove it with tongs, which send the Oni into a panic, throwing Doc around the room. So Orpheus goes to consult with the Master. 21 and 24 make a presentation to the Monarch and the other henchmen about weaponry. They seem to think ice skates will make the crew more deadly. A masked man with a German accent shows up at the back of the room and offers to be the second in command. Dr. Henry Killinger. (“And this is my magic murder bag.”)
–Yes! Dr. Killinger! Obviously, he’s based on Henry Kissinger (and is kinda sorta confirmed to actually be him later on). I love this character, and I use the phrase ‘magic murder bag’ more than is seemly. I even have a duffel bag with the Killinger logo. I am proud of it.
“Roll, Hank! Tuck and roll! Protect your limbs!” – Dean Venture
Dean and Hank are driving around the Compound on a test track. Driver Dean is extremely cautious, while Hank is encouraging him to do something cool. They come upon a broken-down car and assume it’s a test Brock put together, since they don’t really get traffic inside the Compound. They find a woman laying in front of the car, and when they try to help, she sprays them with gas, knocking them out. Orpheus visits the Master, who’s taken the form of Catherine the Great’s horse.
–I was exactly as nervous as Dean when I learned to drive, so I totally relate here. And hey, H. Jon Benjamin returns as the Master! This time, he’s accompanied by his “partially lovely” assistant, Miss Many-Face. And yes, there’s a legend that Catherine the Great died when her horse fell on her. Because she was underneath it. Because, you know. It is not actually true, but it’s one of those things we all accept. (Orpheus actually points out that it’s a legend.) Also, yes, we are actually watching a horse being lowered on to a woman for sexual purposes. Venture Bros. everybody!
“What are you guys…uh… into there?” – Brock Samson
Killinger begins updating the Monarch’s operation with new and more formidable henchmen. He streamlines the control room staff by killing anybody who doesn’t look useful. At the Compound, Brock looks for the boys and spots Doc and Orpheus walking together, following the Oni. Since he can’t see the demon, it looks like they’re just staring into space and holding hands. Orpheus explains the situation, and Brock isn’t convinced at all. Doc stuffs the Oni in the trunk of the car, which he thinks solves the problem. It does not. The Oni drives off, dragging Doc behind.
–Brock cracks me up in this scene – since we don’t see the Oni while he’s around, it really does look like Doc and Orpheus have lost their minds. To his credit, he’s pleasantly indulgent of them.
“Jock rock, my ass! Listen to those lyrics! It’s all about love and longing… yes, and hobbits, too. It’s a metaphor.” – Brock Samson
In the cocoon, 24 is openly rebellious and disrespectful of Killinger, so Killinger decides to have a moment alone with the henchman. The Oni brings Doc and Orpheus to an old motel and stops. Orpheus interprets this to mean they’re supposed to spend the night, which Doc thinks means that Orpheus is trying to get him “in the sack”. Brock and HELPeR track the boys while arguing about Led Zeppelin – the signal leads to a dumpster, where Brock finds their communicators attached to a bomb. A message flashes “The boys are mine”, and Brock realizes that “Myra’s back” just before the explosion.
–Brock arguing with HELPeR is always a favorite scenario, especially since HELPeR speaks only in beeps that Brock and the Ventures can understand. It’s a very Star Wars thing – Brock and HELPeR are Han Solo and Chewbacca in these scenes. And J.G. Thirlwell did a heck of a job creating a Zeppelin soundalike for this bit. I think they’ve only licensed songs twice in four seasons, and Led Zeppelin is well outside their budget. Actually, the band isn’t even named in this scene – between the music and the Hobbit reference, it’s pretty clear what they’re talking about, though. I don’t know if there’s a legal reason why they can’t mention the band in a scene where they’re using a soundalike, but I like it because it sounds more natural. If they’re talking about what they’re both hearing, there’s no reason for Brock to identify it. It’s like starting a scene with “As you know…”
“Don’t knock or anything. It’s not like I live in a cocoon with eighty guys and no women so there’s no chance that I’m masturbating.” – 24
Hank and Dean wake up in a dingy room, tied up on a mattress. A middle-aged woman in a leather catsuit, the aforementioned Myra, greets them and tells them that they’re safe now, because they’re “with Mommy”. In the cocoon, 21 gets in to see 24 by telling the guards he’s there to administer the prisoner’s medication. (“It’s a suppository. You know, up the butt.”) 24 doesn’t need to be rescued though, because he’s comfortable and feels better after talking to Killinger. (“He even cured my herpes.”) 21 is convinced that he’s brainwashed. Back with Hank and Dean, the woman tries to convince them that she’s their mother. The boys aren’t convinced, mostly because she seems crazy and tied them up.
–Given that we don’t know anything about the boys’ mother, there’s no reason to believe the woman in this scene isn’t telling the truth. But more on that later. This scene also indicates that Sgt. Hatred touched Hank and Dean inappropriately, the first indication of his pedophilia. Remembering this scene makes Hatred’s role in Season Four even more uncomfortable, by the way. It’s better not to think about it. Also, Myra quotes Empire Strikes Back in this scene. I don’t usually note Star Wars references though, or else we’d be here all day.
21: “You can silence me, but there will be others! Semper Fidelis Tyrannosaurus!”
KILLINGER: “It’s Sic Semper Tyranus. You said ‘always faithful terrible lizard’.”
21 sneaks into Killinger’s bedroom to steal the magic murder bag. He’s discovered, both because he’s loud and because he tried to incapacitate Killinger with silly string. The guards take him away. In the motel, Doc apologizes to Orpheus for his outburst earlier, and it’s super awkward until they agree to go halfsies on a “skin flick”. In the cocoon, the guard reveals himself to be 24. 21 is still sure that everybody’s brainwashed though, so he runs away. Meanwhile, Myra tells Hank and Dean her history with Doc – she was his first bodyguard, assigned by OSI. Eventually, they fell in love and the boys were conceived. Hank and Dean are understandably grossed out.
–Much of Myra’s speech (and accompanying animation) comes straight from The Bodyguard, only with the genders swapped. Everything she says seems plausible right now. At this point, though, you’re right to question why OSI is so keen on making sure the Ventures have a bodyguard. WE’LL FIND OUT! But not until next season, so don’t hold your breath. Also, in her story, the Monarch is shown in his original costume from “The Terrible Secret of Turtle Bay”. Whether this makes her story more or less plausible is up to you. I still don’t think that episode is canon, but this scene would be set maybe 17 years ago. I’m willing to believe that the Monarch had a different costume then, but he still dropped out of the Venture’s lives at some point, because Hank and Dean don’t recognize him in “Dia de los Dangerous”. (I am inappropriately obsessed with whether or not “Turtle Bay” is in continuity, and I apologize for that detour.)
HELPeR: (series of beeps)
BROCK: That’s beautiful, HELPeR. What is that, Shel Silverstein?
HELPeR: (series of beeps)
BROCK: Well, I don’t think Maya Angelou was talking about this chick. She’s as deadly as they come. And if she hurts those boys again, I’m gonna take her down permanently this time.
HELPeR: (series of beeps)
BROCK: No, not Maya Angelou.
In 24’s Stanza, 21 talks to an unseen person, explaining that they’re the Monarch’s last hope, before digressing into a ramble about spin art. The passenger is none other than Dr. Girlfriend, who has reluctantly agreed to help. Going the other direction is HELPeR, who rescued Brock from the bomb and is using his rotor blades to fly the two of them to the boys, following Myra’s tire tracks. After a time cut, we go to the motel where the Oni, still in the car, backs into the building over and over, waking Doc.
–I love the Brock / HELPeR interactions in this episode. And note that Brock refers to Myra hurting the boys “again”. There’s definitely an unrevealed history.
DR. GIRLFRIEND: “Are you as good at fighting as you are at talking?”
21: “Hell, no. Look at me.”
It’s morning, and Myra is still ranting to the boys. She tries to breastfeed them and then introduces them to a group of cats – their “brother and sister”. An alarm goes off, and she leaves the room with a shotgun. Cut to Orpheus ringing the bell at the front desk to check out. Myra goes out to argue with him, and then spots Doc in the car. She flies into a rage, pummeling Orpheus. Doc is blissfully ignorant. In the cocoon, 21 and Dr. Girlfriend run across a hallway armed with security lasers. Dr. Girlfriend gets through it with some gymnastics, but 21 triggers the alarms with his first step. She manages to kill the guards, and then leaves 21 behind.
–Yep, everybody was in the same motel all this time! That’s a nice reveal. Myra tells the boys they’re nineteen, but they argue that they’re sixteen. What they don’t know is they’ve lost a few years from all the cloning. (Short version – the clone slugs age at the same rate as a human. Doc didn’t start the cloning process until the boys were a couple of years old. Assuming all of the existing slugs were started at the same time, whenever Hank and Dean die, they start out again at the exact same age. But they lost a few years the first time they were replaced because the originals were older than the clone slugs.) Also, there are a lot of cat references with Myra– not only does she have five cats, but there’s her PSSYKAT license plate. Her outfit is sort of like the one Catwoman wore in Batman Returns (minus the mask), too. I sort of think she’s based on actress Sean Young. She was up for the role in Returns, and when she didn’t get it, she went a little nuts, including making talk show appearances in a Catwoman costume. Also, this is one of those episodes where it’s totally cool to have a crush on a cartoon character. Dr. Girlfriend kicking ass in this scene? Ridiculously sexy.
DR. VENTURE: “Dean, tell this lunatic that my lawyer has advised me not to communicate with her.”
DEAN: “My Dad’s lawyer has advised him not to communicate with you.”
Myra ties up Doc and puts Hank and Dean in the backseat. She knocks out Doc with the butt of her gun just before Brock arrives. Myraruns over Brock and HELPeR, then circles back to finish the job. Brock stands with his back to the car, holds his left arm in front of him and holds his right arm off to the side, so just before the car hits him he jumps up, and crashes through the windshield. He lands in the driver’s seat on top of Myra, his arms already in appropriate driving positions.
–The bit with Brock is one of my favorite visual jokes. It’s so hard to explain, but when he lands in the car with his arms already in position, it’s a great payoff. In this scene, Doc mentions Myra burning their house down, which establishes a little history. (And if it happened when Hank and Dean were babies, before their memory was backed up, it explains why they don’t know her.) And check it out – she does the same “Ten and Two” mantra while she drives as Dean did earlier in the episode. She might be telling the truth.
“Love is not private. Love is to be shared. I have locked you in. Neither of you may leave until you have reached compromise. Good luck, and may love show you the way.” – Dr. Henry Killinger
In the cocoon, Killinger explains to Monarch that there’s no reason to kill Venture when they could have a summit. And then Dr. Girlfriend arrives. Killinger hands the Monarch flowers to give her, and then locks them in the room until they can work out their differences. He floats away on an umbrella.
–Yeah, he went from Kissinger to Mary Poppins, just like that. I really like this, because it implies Killinger’s whole reason to be there was to reunite the Monarch and Dr. Girlfriend. His methods and motives are mysterious indeed!
“Alright, so I f***ed her! What of it?!” – Dr. Venture
Brock explains to the boys that Myra used to be “Powercat” (another cat reference!) on American Gladiators, and she’s just a nut obsessed with Doc. He almost lets it slip that the boys are clones, and he and Doc do a bad job of covering it. Finally, Doc admits that he had sex with her. In the tag, Killinger summons the Oni from the trunk and they fly away together.
–The fact that Doc had sex with Myra almost guarantees that she’s the mother – based on what we know of his sexual history, he’s been in a dry spell that coincides with the nineteen years the boys have been alive. There’s more evidence in future episodes, but I think Myra really is the mother. (Also, though they don’t say it in the episode, the credits have her full name as “Myra Brandish”.) And it turns out, the Oni was there to reunite Doc and Myra, and was working in concert with Killinger. That delights me to no end. It’s an episode all about love!
Man, this is a fun episode. It gives everybody something to do, all of the plots have a satisfying resolution, and it sets up the season finale. But first, we’ve got one of the best standalone episodes ever – I’ll see you here for “Viva los Muertos”.