The Venture Bros. season finale was surprisingly anticlimactic, but not in a bad way. Last week we met most of the Council of Thirteen, Dr. Venture apparently died, and an unholy alliance was introduced in the closing seconds. Every other season finale has involved a giant battle and mass carnage. This time, Hank and Dean hung out with elderly men and a bunch of characters took a look at what they were doing with their lives. And you know what? It was great. It’s the perfect way to wrap up this season. By the way, don’t worry about Doc. It’s not even a spoiler to tell you that he’s fine, since nobody within the show even thinks that he’s dead. Poor little Entmann, however, isn’t so lucky. Let’s get to “The Devil’s Grip”!
“You were my pal, and you were my friend.
And your weird body, to heaven I send.
When you were massive and full of size,
You gave me counsel because you were wise.
Saying ‘Action Man, take it down a notch.
Stop just thinking with your action crotch’.
When you were shrunk down to a little mole,
You were able to swim laps in a little bowl.
Now you’re dead, because of my chair.
I had no idea you were there.
When I rocked back in repose,
You died and began to decompose.” — Action Man
The episode opens with Dean waking up on an abandoned airstrip in the desert. He’s got a couple of suitcases, and there’s a note pinned to his chest. It’s a note from Sgt. Hatred explaining that their father died, so he drugged them and had HELPeR bring them to their new homes. He explains that the Monarch most likely has Doc’s lifeless husk, and now they have to live with their godfathers. A jeep pulls up just then and Colonel Gentleman welcomes him to Tangiers. Then we see Hank, who’s living in a Boca Raton retirement home with Action Man. It’s kind of hard to believe Doc would pick those two lunatics, but he probably prepared his well decades ago, back when he was still in denial about some things. He doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who’d keep things like that updated.
Super short opening musical sting!
At the home, Action Man buries a shoebox – he tells Hank it’s Entmann, “the first of Team Venture to go”. First, I’m not reading too much into that statement, though some people think it means Jonas is still alive. To me, Jonas isn’t part of Team Venture. It’s like… remember when DC published Batman and the Outsiders? If they said one of the Outsiders was going to die, you wouldn’t think it would be Batman, because he’s not an Outsider. The very title sets him apart. More importantly though, poor Entmann! You may remember him as the tiny guy in Season Three’s “What Goes Down Must Come Up” and “NowMuseum, Now You Don’t”. He was a really funny character. But at least he still keeps that up because Action Man reads a eulogy to him in the form of a poem, and reveals that he accidentally crushed Entmann with his rocking chair.
By the way, way back in Season One, Orpheus got in a fight with Action Man and told him the date of his death, only two years away. More than two years in Venture-Time have passed since then, but as of this episode, Action Man’s wife has passed. Continuity Cat says that since Orpheus wasn’t specific, he was telling Action Man the date his wife would die, which is so much meaner.
Anyway, Action Man pees on the grave, which is Venture tradition. He commands Hank to “drop ’em and squat” since the youngest has to fertilize the ground to symbolize new life. Well, that is an ignoble end for Entmann.
Over in Tangiers, Gentleman instructs Dean on dining etiquette in a crowded restaurant. Dean protests that he’s pretty sure his dad is alive, because he has seen the show. A big dude in a beret recognizes Colonel Gentleman and comes over to pick a fight. Gentleman sends Dean away to pick a song on the juke box, and then Gentleman says he’s only going to use one thumb. And then he pulls the blade out of his walking stick and cuts the guy’s arm off. As the guy writhes on the ground, Gentleman cuts the thumb off of the severed arm and uses it as a weapon to gouge the guy’s eyes out. Colonel Gentleman is nuts, guys.
“Did you just cock your stick?” — Sgt. Hatred
On the Compound, Gary is camping out. He hears somebody approach and threatens to shoot. With the stick he’s holding. It’s Hatred who explains that the Monarch has Doc and he needs Gary’s help. They make fun of each other for being fat but agree to team up. At this point, Hatred seems pretty sure that Doc is alive. Clearly, he just sent the boys away to keep them safe. I think he’s viewing this as more than “Oh, the Monarch is up to shenanigans again”.
At the Monarch’s house, the Monarch brainstorms different kinds of torture to his offscreen wife. Dr. Mrs. The Monarch has something she has to finish – we see that she’s bandaging Dr. Venture who is alive, conscious, and apparently only suffering slight injuries. Well, that was dealt with quickly. Guild rules forbid the torture of anybody with untended injuries, so she’s fixing him up to comply with bylaws. Doc is really calm about the whole thing, and says that the Monarch won’t actually do anything. Dr. Mrs. agrees that he’s not very good at it, but demands that Doc play along. Then she pops his hip back into place, which is the first thing that seems to bother him. I love this whole bit – they just completely undercut the cliffhanger and then take away the stakes. Even Doc’s not worried about what’s going to happen. It’s such a crazy approach to storytelling, and it delights me to no end.
“Show tunes? If I play them backwards, will they make me want to try reefer cigarette marijuanas?” — Hank Venture
In Boca Raton, Action Man plans to use Hank to help him pick up a woman at the home. Hank, and this is amazing, is wearing a Shallow Gravy t-shirt with the sleeves torn off, but it’s still tucked in. HA! Anyway, Action Man starts a conversation with Rose. She doesn’t seem interested in talking to him, but he talks about how he lost his wife and best friend, and now his son is hooked on rock and roll. And then Hank comes over, trying to seem threatening – he talks about playing his bass at an unreasonable volume and record albums with clear warning labels. It is another scene of Hank being absolutely hysterical, which is kind of the theme of this season. My favorite is when he throws the horns and just says “Loud rock music!” Rose is scandalized and tells him to fight the devil’s grip (title!) with show tunes. Hank agrees that he’s been wrong about everything and Action Man is the best father ever. He invites Rose to dinner, and that is a successful wingman maneuver.
It’s going to come up later, but Rose’s voice sounds really familiar. I ascribed it to the fact that it’s Doc Hammer doing a lady voice, but within the show itself, she’s supposed to sound familiar. More to come!
Colonel Gentleman assigns Dean to watch every episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch on VHS, note the time code whenever Salem appears and also keep track of “whether it’s that crappy puppet or the actual cat”. It’s clear this is very important to him, and I laughed so hard at this. Once Dean is done, he gets to take dictation for I, Gentleman, the third installment of Gentleman’s “autobiographical thrillogy”.
GARY: “It might still smell like soup.”
HATRED: (sniffs the uniform) “That’s horrible! What is that?”
Hatred and Gary sneak aboard the cocoon and into Gary’s old room. The cocoon just hovers above the Monarch’s house these days. Gary’s in his Season Four Henchman costume – the modified one he switched to after 24 died. Looking around, he’s touched to see that the Monarch got him a t-shirt from the Guild’s “Calamity Conference”. Hatred rounds up the weapons while Gary thinks about how Doc never bought him a t-shirt. They agree that neither of them really has a particular cause any more, and Hatred explains that he just likes fighting. He just needs somebody to point him in the direction of something to fight. Awww. It’s kind of this sad moment between these two guys who’ve realized they’re supporting characters in their own lives. And both of them can make the case that Doc doesn’t appreciate them at all. As much as Hatred seems to care about the Ventures, it’s still just a job. That was never really the case for Brock, who only bugged out when his whole world fell apart. Anyway, Hatred finds 21’s original outfit to wear as a disguise, and the rescue mission is on.
In the Monarch’s house, he and Dr. Mrs. have switched into Japanese robes and kabuki facepaint. The Monarch’s look is heavily based on Ming the Merciless from Flash Gordon. I assume Dr. Mrs. has a costume from the movie too, but it doesn’t looks as familiar. Her headpiece actually looks like it’s from Phantom Menace, and I don’t want to think about that any more than you do. The Monarch stretches to get limber before the torture begins. They head to the basement, only Doc has been blindfolded so the effect of the costume is lost. That’s the beat they use to lead into the commercial!
“We Westerners know nothing of torture. We simply nail a man’s balls to a chair. Where is the poetry?” – The Monarch
After the commercial, the torture begins. The Monarch lowers a large bell over Doc and sets it to ringing, which he believes will crack Doc’s bones and drive him mad. When the bell starts ringing, we cut outside to see Flying Squid (that’s a wrap on Bill Hader for Season Five!) complaining that he pays a lot to live in a gated community only to have some loser crank up a Mike Oldfield album. Hee! Back in the basement, we see that the bell did nothing – Doc cheerfully reminds the Monarch that he spend most of his childhood in a supersonic jet. After a dirty look from Dr. Mrs., Doc tries to fake pain but a disappointed Monarch just makes a note that the bell sucks.
Suddenly, we’re in a flashback. It actually looks like it’s a scene from Rusty Venture, which is how I assume Colonel Gentleman’s memories look. It’s Gentleman, Action Man, and Humongoloid (Entmann in his giant incarnation). They’re bloody and exhausted, surrounded by corpses in an arena. It’s their old enemy Brainulo (from “Now Museum, Now You Don’t”) making them fight. He says their greatest battle is yet to come, and Action Man says they’ll never fight each other. And then Brainulo stops and realizes that would have been a better plan. HA! Instead, he’s making them fight their crushes. We’re introduced to a mind-controlled Triple Threat and Jass (who Gentleman describes as “a blade of sexual energy”). Also, there’s nobody for Humongoloid. I don’t think we’ve seen either of these characters before, but “Jass” is such a weird name I wonder if he’s supposed to be an actual famous person from the era. Or maybe I’m overthinking two background characters who don’t even speak. Anyway, the flashback is interrupted by a doorbell (which the flashback characters respond to), and then we’re back in the present. Colonel Gentleman stops dictating to play with his dog and then tells Dean that he’s going to have to have it out with Kiki (his houseboy / lover). Back in Boca, Hank and Action Man work out a deal – if Hank can help Action Man seal the deal with Rose, he’ll be rewarded with fifty dollars cash, a Stingray bass, and a ride home. They mark their agreement with a Team Venture salute, the first cross-generational one we’ve ever seen.
“W-T-F*ck are you doing? You made me hit a guy on my softball team.” — Gary
In the cocoon, another Henchman mistakes Hatred for 21. I love that, because they don’t look at all alike. Like, they don’t even have similar builds. Hatred is like a foot and a half taller, for one thing. And the guy recognizes him from the back, so it’s almost like they recognize one another by uniform, all of which appear to be identical. It’s just a weird detail, but it makes me laugh. The guy complains that the Moppets have taken over, and Hatred tries to do a 21 voice, which is also amazing. The real 21 knocks the guy out while he’s distracted. Also, I have a hard time calling him “Gary” when he’s back in costume. Anyway, they split up – Hatred’s going to the cell block and 21’s going to check out the bridge. As they leave, we see that Tim Tom was listening in on the other henchman’s communicator.
Let’s check in on Doc! He’s strapped into a dentist’s chair with his mouth propped open. The Monarch plans to torture him with dentistry, but he can’t deal with Doc’s garlic breath. (“How can you even stand having that be your mouth?”) Back at Colonel Gentleman’s, he’s having it out with Kiki while Dean tries not to listen. Gentleman throws Kiki out. He does that a lot. Immediately after, he sits down to dictate a list to Dean – “Colonel Gentleman’s List of Things Not To Do”. The first one is not to get involved with somebody 1/3 your age. Dean dutifully agrees not to get involved with a six-year-old. This turns into Colonel Gentleman getting sad about his life, and this is not a character who should work for an emotional scene. And yet, here we are.
Back in the cocoon, Hatred searches the cell block for Doc only to run into Kevin and a couple of armed henchmen. Kevin says that Doc’s being tortured by the Monarch and 21, and this whole time 21’s been playing Hatred for a sap. Which we know isn’t true, and there’s not even a strategic advantage to the lie. Kevin is just mean and awful. He instructs the henchmen to dump Hatred out of the garbage chute. Just after that, 21 gets to the bridge where Tim Tom is waiting. He tells 21 that Hatred sold him out (Freaking Moppets, man!), and it’s all over. A squad of henchmen rush in to take down 21, but 21 announces that it was the Moppets who killed 24, and that’s enough to get the henchmen to pull their guns on Tim Tom. Of course, it was implied in “From the Ladle to the Grave” that it was actually the Monarch who was responsible, but 21 doesn’t know that. And even if he does, it doesn’t matter. He’s been waiting to play this card for a while now, and the Moppets have it coming.
MONARCH: “Just be happy you don’t have dwarves trying to take over your life.”
DOC: “You haven’t met my brother, apparently.”
In the Monarch’s house, he’s got Doc strapped to a table with a buzzsaw aligned to cut him in half, only he can’t find the extension cord. Finally, he gives up and unties Doc. Doc thinks somebody came to rescue him, but the Monarch explains that nobody showed up to help. And then the two just sit down and talk. Both of them feel like failures, and both saw the person they trusted most leave them behind. Monarch mentions that his wife is going to become his boss (She’s apparently taking the Council seat), while Doc mentions that his archenemy is now his bodyguard. They both just seem defeated. (Monarch: “Can you even call it a home, or is it just a box full of memories?”) Monarch finally sends Doc away, and asks him to break some stuff so it looks like an escape.
In Boca, the dinner is not going well – Rose thinks she and Action Man are too different. Also, she calls him a junkie. (He says that was just the Super Solider formula. Which is probably the same thing Sgt. Hatred took. And CaptainAmerica, for that matter.) It’s all falling apart, and suddenly Hank figures out why Rose’s voice seems so familiar. He asks her if she has a son named Billy. Yes, it’s Billy Quizboy’s mom! (Or Billy Whalen, as she probably calls him since that’s his actual name.) She says she hasn’t seen him in years and doesn’t know where he is. So Hank invites Rose and Action Man to the Compound so they can have a nice reunion. He’s good!
Doc trudges home sadly, and is briefly surprised to see Hatred’s Hovertank go flying in the opposite direction. Hatred screams about Gary’s betrayal. (It’s the “a reckoning is coming” scene from the trailer.) And then we see the Monarch, looking at that childhood picture of him with Rusty. Dr. Mrs. rushes in to tell him that Doc escaped, but the Monarch says he let him go. And then he claims that what he really broke was Doc’s spirit. He gloats about crushing Dr. Venture. Dr. Mrs. is into it, so they hit the bed. I really think this is the Monarch saving face – there’s nothing he said to Doc that wasn’t true, and if anything, he’s the one who actually seemed worse off. I feel like Doc was feeling more sorry for the Monarch than for himself. And just the fact that the Monarch is still looking at that picture – his heart’s not in it anymore, but he can’t bring himself to admit it.
“Gary, I still hate you, but you got to get out of there. Evacuate, man!” — Sgt. Hatred
Anyway, 21 walks in right them and announces that he’s home. Then Sgt. Hatred arrives and demands that he surrender. He accidentally fires a missile into the cocoon which catches fire and crashes into the Monarch’s house. A lot of stuff blows up on this show, but when the cocoon burns to a crisp, it looks bad. Like, it’s not an explosion people walk away from. Hatred leaves, hoping he’s not in trouble. We cut to the bedroom, where the Monarchs and 21 are alive in the rubble. The Monarch just asks “Who the f*ck is Gary?” and then we go to the end credits.
In the tag, the Monarchs and 21 move into the house where the Monarch grew up. It’s a dump, and it actually sort of looks like Don Draper’s childhood brothel from the last shot of Mad Men this season. There’s no way they would have had time to pull that off, though. Then, were back at the Compound. Everybody’s in their suits to give Entmann a proper burial. Hatred goes on and on about how he was betrayed. Rose is very proud of her son and his husband. (As Billy explains, he didn’t tell her that he and Pete were a couple, but he didn’t deny it and she gave them wedding presents.) While Action Man and Colonel Gentleman agree to move in together, Hank sits down to talk to mopey Dean. Hank wants to know what’s wrong, and Dean finally tells him what he learned – they’re clones. Hank thinks that’s awesome – “I’m some kind of super-cool, probably magic Highlander cyborg clone”. He reminds Dean that it’s great to be a Venture, which gets a smile from Dean. And then they call Dean over to poop on the grave (Hank: “You’re gonna love this!”), and the last shot of the year is the statue of Jonas Venture pointing to the stars, overlooking a tiny little grave. The final Titmouse “chirp” of the season goes to Colonel Gentleman.
So, I kind of think that all of the other henchmen (and the Moppets) died in the cocoon crash. That’s why there’s nobody else moving into the house at the end. It’s far from confirmed, and on this show nobody’s dead until you see the body and sometimes not even then. Ideally, you need to see their head separated from their body. Still, the cocoon crashed and then burned up. Everybody is not OK!
Poor Sgt. Hatred thought he had a friend, even though he and Gary spent the season crapping on one another. I really like Sgt. Hatred, especially the way they’ve tried to make him a positive force on the show, even when he’s not good at it. He’s really emerged as sort of a big-hearted guy who would like for everybody to be happy. Which is sort of at odds with his proclamation that he just likes to fight, now that I think about it. Maybe that’s just the way he wants to think of himself – a guy without a cause, a guy who’s basically a weapon. But deep down, he wants to be Uncle Hatred. I’d buy that he was just doing his job, right up until he thought Gary betrayed him and his feelings were hurt. And then you have to think, this is a guy who tried to commit suicide when his wife left him. Sgt. Hatred is a mass of feelings. He thinks he’s Wolverine, but he isn’t.
As for Doc and the Monarch, I actually feel like Doc is in a pretty good place. One thing about Rusty is that he’s sort of accepted things. When he and the Monarch were commiserating at the end, none of this was a come-to-Jesus moment for Doc. He recognizes that his life didn’t turn out the way he wanted, and he’s doing the best he can with it. To me, that was a much sadder scene for the Monarch
I noted this in the premiere, but for most of this season, the Monarch has been stuck in Season One. Jackson and Doc have this perverse habit of messing with the fans. When Kim got really popular off of one appearance, she disappeared and then they wrote her out of the show offscreen. And when Dean got to be the more popular of the Ventures, they had him spend a season moping while Hank got awesome. There’s a significant contingent of viewers who want things to be the way they were in Season One – Doc and Brock take the boys on an adventure, things go awry, and Brock has to kill a lot of people. In actual fact, that wasn’t really what happened in Season One – that describes maybe three episodes. There are more episodes that happen immediately after an adventure. But everybody remembers “Ghosts of the Sargasso” and wants that to be every episode.
Unlike most animated shows, Venture Bros. features characters who are aging and maturing. It’s impossible for them to go back at this point. Brock Samson is not the same guy that he was four seasons ago. Neither is Doc. Or the boys. And especially notGary. You couldn’t do that kind of episode now. And the Monarch’s been through a lot – he’s evolved as much as anybody. But you started to see it last season, where he just went back to crafting deathtraps for the Ventures. It’s like his midlife crisis or something. As a result, he’s seemed increasingly out of step with the rest of the show. Look at how everybody else has treated him as a minor annoyance. An attack on the compound doesn’t even warrant an episode – Gary and Sgt. Hatred turn him away with a sniper rifle. And in last week’s “Bot vs. Bot”, Brock actually leaves Doc with the Monarch because “What’s he gonna do?” Season One, that wouldn’t have happened. Season Five, everybody knows it’ll be OK. As a stand-in for the disenfranchised fans, the Monarch either has to accept change or become increasingly irrelevant. And this episode was about him accepting it. He doesn’t know how he fits in anymore (that picture really bothers him), but he’s going to try and figure it out.
Gary is the one who kind of breaks my heart. I was so happy that he’d given up henching and tried to start over. But nobody really gave him a chance. Doc didn’t even acknowledge him, Hunter and OSI treated him like a nuisance – only Brock and Hank were decent to him. Ultimately, the Monarch is the closest thing he has to a friend. (Which neither of them realized until they were separated.) He didn’t get to be the hero he wanted to be, but I think he’s realized that life with the Monarchs isn’t about evil – it’s about being a family. He might actually be better off with the Monarch, but I wish the good guys had given him a chance. The guy tried so hard. And then you have that line where the Monarch doesn’t even know his real name. Geez. And this is where he’s better off!
And then there’s Hank and Dean. I’m going to write more about Hank next week, but I love the way this wrapped up. Dean reacted like an actual person would in his situation, and Hank ended up reminding them that their world plays by different rules. Being a clone isn’t a crisis of faith – it’s awesome! I think Dean’s going to be OK, and I think that scene played out really well. I especially like that, to Hank, their relationship hasn’t changed at all. Dean had a tough year, but they’re still Team Venture.
The only problem is that we have a long wait before we get into the Council, Killinger and the Revenge Society, the fate of all of the henchmen, and the Monarch’s backstory. There’s a part of me that wanted a big Phantom Limb vs. the Council story, but that’s not where the season headed. I think we’ll get there, and despite the big reveals that happened throughout the year, Season Five was about the characters figuring out where they fit in the new world. Some of them aced it (mostly Hank), and some are still struggling. This season blew up a lot of the mythology we’ve long accepted, and while I really want some answers and a big fight, I’m happy that the season ended with Hank and Dean talking their problems out and the Monarch getting a new start.
I might have more to say when I’ve had time to think, but while I’m absolutely delighted with the season, this wait for new episodes is going to be rough.