Anybody need a good cry? Well, this week’s Venture Bros. should be able to accommodate you. Just wait until they get to the end – it’ll bust you up. This week, we learn all about Billy Quizboy’s tragic past and the part he plays in the origin of the Phantom Limb. We’ll also see baby Hank and Dean, and the first appearance of a (now) major character. It’s a good one! So let’s settle in for “The Invisible Hand of Fate”.
“Billy, I don’t care how big it is. I don’t want to see what you made in there.” – Pete White
The episode begins at Conjectural Technologies. Billy Quizboy is sitting on the toilet and sees the roll is empty. There’s a fresh toilet paper roll, but it’s too high for him to reach. He stands on the sink, slips, and falls to the floor. His robot hand twitches, and suddenly Billy sees a flood of memories before his eyes. (Well, eye.) He staggers out into the living room and tells White he remembers “Everything”. Pete knocks Billy out with the Playstation and calls “Goldilocks”.
–Our second flashback episode of the season! No need to get into the specific details of the memory flashes now, because they all appear in the upcoming episode. But, man, those are a lot of familiar characters…
“Some of us can’t make our heads smaller with makeup, OK?” – Billy Quizboy
The story begins on the set of a Jeopardy!-style game show, Quizboys. The host is Pete While, only with black hair and flesh tone. The three contestants are all children, and one of them, Master Billy Whalen, is our Billy. He’s younger and has both hands and both eyes, but it’s him. Billy’s the reigning champion, and in his contestant interview explains that he’s going to go to MIT and become a superscientist just like his hero, Rusty Venture. Cut to Doc (starting to go bald but rocking the pony tail) watching the show in a bar and ordering a Suffering Bastard. Myra Brandish calls on his wrist communicator and complains that she can’t be his bodyguard if she can’t be close to his body. Back at Quizboys, we see Billy writing “Louis XIV” on his screen for the final round. But when his answer is revealed, it reads “Richard III”, the correct answer. One of the other contestants calls him out as a cheater. Back in Pete’s dressing room, Billy bemoans his fate. He didn’t want to cheat, but Pete forced it on him. That’s when Pete reveals that he’s also a “freak”, wipes off his makeup and removes his wig. He explains that he and Rusty Venture go way back and that Doc is going to need some lab assistants. They steal a moped from the Quizboys set and drive off.
–Well, now we know how Billy met White. This is all based on the actual Twenty-One scandal from the 50s (dramatized in the movie Quiz Show). Once again, we’ve got Myra serving as Doc’s bodyguard, too. So these flashbacks probably happen at around the same time as “Shadowman 9”.
“The Village People called, and they want go f***ing kill yourselves, you prancy bastards!” – Hunter Gathers
Musical number! There is what appears to be the theme song to an OSI cartoon, and it’s a dead ringer for the old G.I. Joe opening. They’re seen fighting SPHINX in ludicrously violent ways. Then we cut to the OSI helicarrier. A gang of soldiers who look like the Village People are celebrating. The sailor, Shore Leave, stops to make fun of Brock Samson and Hunter Gathers. Brock agues that they’re the ones doing the real spy work, trying to prove that the Guild is still around. A young agent runs up with a telex for Gathers, who’s excited that they “got one”.
–OK, this OSI song is amazing. Watch it, then watch the G.I. Joe opening. Destro even shows up in the OSI theme! There’s also an allusion to the famous Eddie Adams photograph of a Vietnamese soldier shooting a man at point blank range, and an Abu Ghraib reference. The agents we see during and immediately after the song somehow manage to look like both the Village People and also actual G.I. Joe characters. In fact, Shore Leave makes his first appearance here and looks exactly like Shipwreck. Shore Leave clearly gets on Hunters’ good side, because they’re working together throughout Season Four. In fact, between SPHINX and Shore Leave, this bit pretty much sets up the season. We also see Race Bannon (from Jonny Quest and the “Ice Station Impossible” episode) and Steve Summers (from “Home Insecurity”) at OSI headquarters. Neat!
By the way, since Billy’s not involved in this scene, it’s clear that we’re seeing an omniscient view of events rather than his memories. This works because Billy’s unconscious in the present, so he clearly isn’t reminiscing. Hear that, Steven Spielberg? The Venture Bros. – not cutting the same corners as Saving Private Ryan since 2008! (And check out Brock’s awesome 80s rat tail!)
“Oh! Cemetery! You lose all your cows!” – Brock Samson
Billy and Pete arrive at an underground quiz competition – apparently there’s a circuit of back alley quiz shows all across the country. Billy is terrified, but he dominates, and a montage shows the two cleaning up at competition after competition. Cut to Brock and Hunter driving through the countryside. To pass the time, they’re keeping track of who has more cows on their side of the road. Pete and Billy arrive at the Venture Compound, just as OSI is escorting a manic Myra away. They eventually have to taze her, right in front of Doc. With all the excitement over, Doc turns the two away. Despondent, they head to another quiz to make money. Only it’s a dogfight, not a quiz. Billy is quickly mauled.
–So, there’s some foreshadowing when the kid at the first competition tells Billy that they take your hand if you cheat. Also, when Myra is led away, HELPeR is holding baby Hank and Dean. First off, adorable. Second, we’re back to the idea of HELPeR as mother figure. Third, this does lend credence to the idea that Myra really is the boys’ mother. Her tenure starts before the boys were born and ends after, Doc admits to having sex with her, and it doesn’t seem like she’d let anybody else near him. It’s not confirmed by any means, but I think we can assume that’s the case until any revelations contradict it.
I also love how seriously Hunter takes the cow-counting game. He’s a great character.
HUNTER: “Congratulations, lad! You’re now a fully matriculated student of State University.”
BILLY: “Oh. I… kind of wanted to go to MIT.”
HUNTER: “And I wanted to be born with big, beautiful tits! Make some lemonade with this, will ya?”
Pete and Billy leave on their moped. Billy has a towel wrapped around his head with blood covering his left eye. His blood soaked jacket covers the stump of his left arm. They argue – Billy blames Pete for all his troubles and leaves. Brock and Hunter pull up and offer him a hand. A short scene has Pete, in the present, arriving at the Venture Compound with Billy. Back in the past, Billy wakes up in a sterile room. He has a robot hand and still has two eyes, though the left is badly bruised. A soothing voice explains that they’re engaging the nozzle. A nozzle extends, calibrates, and withdraws. Brock and Hunter enter at that point. They explain that they need Billy to infiltrate the Guild, since his profile would make him a perfect supervillain. They’re going to send Billy to State University to investigate a Professor – Professor Fantomos.
–Well, now we know how Billy lost his eye and hand. (It’ll be explained later, but his left eye was replaced by OSI – he lost the real one in the dog attack.) Interesting that the Guild were used as villains on the old Rusty Venture show. Now they’re believed to be fictional, so they’re hiding in plain sight. The photo of Fantomos has him younger than when he appeared in the earliest “Shadowman 9” flashback – he hasn’t gone gray yet. We’ve already established that Doc Venture, Pete, Brock, Underbheit and the Monarch were classmates at State University, and Richard Impossible was a professor there. Now, we’ve got Phantom Limb as a professor after that point, and Billy also attending. Think we can get one more cast member in there? Also, Fantomos looks exactly like Hans Gruber from Die Hard. Note that his last name was previous given as “Fantomas”. Presumably, he’s undercover at this point. Or somebody wanted to make a Fantomas movie and they had to stop using the name.
In “Victor. Echo. November.”, everybody seems to think that Billy and Phantom Limb were connected somehow. Looks like that’s correct! (Also, that episode established that Billy doesn’t remember what happened to his hand.) And finally, Hunter’s line about “big, beautiful tits” references his first appearance in “Assassinanny 911”, when he actually gets gender reassignment surgery. His wish came true!
“There are no free hands in this business, son.” – Hunter Gathers
Billy arrives in Fantomos’ class, where he’s immediately nicknamed “Quizboy”. Looking around the class, Billy sees just how many of his classmates are mutilated or deformed in some way, and he’s happy to finally belong. Arriving back at his dorm, he finds that his roommate has hung himself. A panicked Billy meets with Brock (undercover as a football player) and Hunter (undercover as a cheerleader, though still with the stubble). They assure him he’s doing a great job. They reveal his new eye is a camera and his hand stores all the data he collects, and they send him back in there. He goes to see Fantomos, who’s meeting with a student named “Sheila”. When she speaks, she’s clearly a young Dr. Girlfriend. It turns out that Stevie was Fantomos’ lab assistant, and now he needs a replacement. He was impressed by Billy’s paper, the paper that Billy never got around to writing. Fantomos rolls up his sleeves to reveal robotic limbs. When he pulls off one of those arms, we can see he’s got a tiny, stunted arm underneath. He’s designed a machine to fix his body thanks to a grant from the Guild of Collegiate Investors. And Billy has plenty of time to help, since the roommate of a suicide automatically gets a 4.0 for the semester.
–Yep, Dr. Girlfriend when to State! In this segment, Fantomos confirms that he’s descended from literary villain Fantomas, and we also get a look at his real limbs. He wasn’t born with his, well, phantom limbs. He was born with tiny ones! And, of course, the Guild of Collegiate Investors is later confirmed to be the Guild of Calamitous Intent. When the initials GCI turn up, you know it’s them. I’m not clear on why they’re funding Fantomos’ research, but this is clearly a weird time for them. I would love some more backstory, I’ll tell you what. Fantomos recognizes Billy’s hand as a “Mike Soriyama design” – Mike was Doc’s other roommate, as seen in “Past Tense”. And for the truly obsessive, Brock is wearing the same number he wore when he was actually on State’s football team as a student – 27.
“I never wrote my paper! I spent the night explaining the dead Stevie in the closet to the campus policy!” – Billy Quizboy
Billy reports back to Brock and Hunter – he doesn’t think Fantomos is their guy. Brock tells Billy that they were also working with Stevie, and they think Fantomos killed him because they were getting too close. Hunter also explains that they had Stephen Hawking write Billy’s paper. Billy smacks Brock in the crotch and sucker-punches Hunter, then runs for it. He meets up with Fantomos and tries to explain that he cheated – Fantomos isn’t interested, because he thinks Billy’s talking about the quiz show. He straps himself into a machine that’s intended to grow new limbs for him. It seems to work, until he needs Billy to check the core sequencer – the thing he wrote his paper on. Billy admits again that he didn’t write the paper and runs to shut down the now out-of-control machine. Just before it explodes, it pulls out Billy’s camera eye. When the smoke clears, Fantomos is nowhere to be seen.
–Well, look at that! Billy is indeed involved with the Phantom Limb’s origin, just like everybody speculated last season. Unintentional joke – the subtitles have Hunter’s mention of the Bilderberg Group as the “Build-a-Bear Group”. Hee!
“Colonel Gathers has been transferred to Guam, effective 0700 this morning. Your windmill-chasing days are over, Sancho Panza.” – Sgt. Heine
In OSI headquarters, Billy (now with an eyepatch) is handcuffed to a chair. Sergeant Heine dresses down Brock and reveals that Hunter has been transferred to Guam, and Brock has a new assignment. Billy is to be a guinea pig for psy-ops division. Cut to Brock, driving his charger to Pete White’s trailer. Pete is a wreck. In a montage, we see Heine put on a pair of Guild cufflinks, while Brock brings a duffel bag to Pete. A student finds the smoking, limbless body of Fantomos on a hill near the campus. When he gets close, Fantomos kills him with his now invisible limbs. Brock leaves, and Pete opens the duffel bag to find a peacefully sleeping Billy. Then Brock heads off to his new assignment – the Venture Compound.
–And there we go. I love how sweet this whole thing is – Brock liberating the mindwiped Billy, Pete’s obvious affection for the little guy. It ties a lot of the characters together in ways we weren’t aware of. Even better – Sgt. Heine is a pre-evil Sgt. Hatred. (“Heine” is French for “Hatred”.) We’ll get into why the Guild might have wanted Brock on the Venture detail later. I love that detail, though. Actually, until the rewatch, I forgot how nicely everything comes together. This is such a good episode!
“You sons of bitches!” – Billy Quizboy
In the tag, present-day Billy wakes up to see Doc, Brock, and Pete watching him. They all seem happy that he’s OK, but he immediately attacks Brock. Pete knocks him out with the Playstation.
–While it’s not immediately clear, it seems to me that Billy retains his full memories from this episode forward. It just won’t be referenced for a while. But my favorite joke in the whole episode is that Pete brought the Playstation with him, as if that’s Billy’s weakness. He can’t just hit him with anything, it has to be a Playstation!
Well, that sure filled in a lot of backstory. I love this episode. Billy is one of my favorite supporting characters, and the episodes that focus on him are generally pretty great. Next week, we get back to the present and introduce one more major character. Join us next week for “The Buddy System”.