OK, I promise not to litter this recap with true stories of failed relationships. Instead, we’ll just get to the meat of this swell Venture Bros. episode. It’s actually the first episode that I ever saw, which prompted me to immediately buy the DVD’s and learn everything about the show. It’s also the only episode to be written entirely by a guest writer. That’s right, Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer don’t have writing credits on this one. Instead, it’s Tick creator (and occasional Venture co-writer) Ben Edlund! So how did Mr. Edlund do? Let’s check out “Viva Los Muertos” and find out!
“I’ll chalk your little strangle tantrum up the surprise resurrection. And the adrenaline enema. And your basic criminal nature.” – Dr. Venture
We see the cold open in first person perspective as one of the Monarch’s henchmen participates in a failed attack on the Venture Compound, right up until Brock snaps his neck and he dies. After the opening titles, we’re still in first person perspective as Doc reanimates his corpse. When the henchman catches sight of his Frankenstein-like image in the mirror he lashes out and Brock beats him to death. (Again.) He wakes up once again, this time with the top of his head replaced with that of another henchman. (“Why is the top of his head African-American?”)
–This is a really strong opener – the first person gimmick is nicely done. It’s rare that there’s a full assault on the Venture Compound. This might actually be the first one that we’ve seen. And seeing it through the henchman’s eyes allows them to get right to the story without a lot of setup for Doc trying to reanimate dead flesh. That seems beyond his capabilities as a failed super-scientist, but the shift in perspective lets the details happen offscreen. God move! Also, 21 calls the henchman “Tex”, which is a reference to the M*A*S*H episode that was told from the perspective of a solider namedTex. And finally, one of the henchmen Brock kills in the opening is from “Powerless in the Face of Death”. Remember the thug henchmen that Monarch couldn’t control? Apparently at least one of them stuck around until now.
“Ah, but we two souls have shared a cheese sandwich more than twice, and the stitched-together quilt of your stony silence forms a tapestry of quiet desperation.” – Dr. Orpheus
A van pulls up to the fence surrounding the compound. What appear to be middle-aged versions of the gang from Scooby-Doo announce their intentions to investigate what they think is an abandoned military base. The Ventures eat breakfast with the newly christened Venturestein, who’s terrified of Brock, given that Brock killed him twice. Orpheus stops by to inform Dr. Venture of a get-together he’s hosting, berate Doc for resurrecting the dead, and also notes that something seems to be wrong with Brock – that “tapestry of quiet desperation” mentioned above.
–OK, so that is clearly the Mystery, Inc. van, only painted over to mask the logos. And these character are all mash-ups of the Scooby Gang and notorious names from the 60s and 70s. The Freddy character, Ted, is based on Ted Bundy. Velma, now “Val”, is Valerie Solanas (the radical feminist who tried to kill Andy Warhol). Daphne has become Patty, based on the brainwashed heiress Patty Hearst. And Shaggy and Scooby, aka Sonny and Groovy, have become David Berkowitz and his dog. Berkowitz, better known as the Son of Sam, was a serial killer who claimed his dog gave him orders. In this version, the dog only talks to Sonny, and the rest of the gang think he’s a lunatic. The characterizations work really well, too. Val hates men, and much of her dialogue comes directly from Solanas’ SCUM Manifesto. Patty is clearly an unwilling participant, and Ted is almost likeable but also terrible. Their scenes also use actual Hanna-Barbera backing music and sound effects, which makes it all a bit surreal.
“Little Jorge knows the satisfaction of a job well done, and so can you! Just watch and listen carefully, and soon you’ll be ready for a career in bonded servitude.” – Average Joe
Searching the Venture Compound, Ted, Val, and Patty spot Dr. Orpheus and decide they’ve uncovered a ‘Dracula factory’. While Venturestein is in a Learning Bed (studying child labor), Hank and Dean spot something outside the window and head out to investigate. Doc gets an order from the military for multiple Venturesteins. In the hangar, Brock practices his knife-throwing and can’t get anywhere near the target. Just as Venturestein escapes from the bed (yelling “prostitute”), Brock shows up at Orpheus’ door, admitting he’s a tapestry of quiet desperation.
–I love the way that every time Doc invents something, his first thought is to sell it to the military. He doesn’t bother inventing things that don’t have value as weapons. And note that he crosses “Beat God at His own game” off his to-do list. Orpheus complains about getting Hector Molina’s junk mail – he appeared in “Powerless in the Face of Death” as a former member of Jonas’ Team Venture.
HANK: “A hippie!”
DEAN: “We’d better follow it!”
HANK: “And how!”
Orpheus begins the gathering by introducing Don Rio Imposible Isabanco, noted Shaman. Orpheus proclaims it to be a night of “healing and human oneness”, and Brock starts to have second thoughts. Doc calls Brock on the communicator and asks him to kill a bunch of people to fill the military order, but Brock refuses. Ted, Val, and Patty run across Venturestein, while Sonny and Groovy catch sight of Hank and Dean and run away in a panic. At the party, Orpheus passes out Dixie cups full of Death Vine extract, which is supposed to allow one to shed their ego and repair their spirit. Sonny and Groovy find their friends, and Sonny explains that he saw “those kids”, and in a flashback we see that Sonny and Groovy killed Hank and Dean two years ago, and Ted helped dispose of the bodies.
–The flashback is really gruesome. This wasn’t included in the montage during “Powerless in the Face of Death”, since neither Doc nor Brock witnessed the deaths. And of course Hank and Dean wouldn’t recognize Sonny, since their memories are backed up in the Learning Beds. They never remember the day they died – only up through the last time they slept in their own beds.
“Yeah, he was just this guy. Guy in a butterfly suit who got in over his head, and I could see it in his eyes that if I let him get away this one time, he’d never come back. But then I also thought, y’know, kill him.” – Brock Samson
At Orpheus’ gathering, the group sits in a circle. Each man has a bucket in front of him. Brock talks about killing that last henchman and feeling guilty about it. Don Rio follows up with a horrible story about having sex with a fish. And then everybody starts vomiting from the Death Vine extract, and Brock goes on a hallucinogenic journey in which he rides a dolphin naked. Meanwhile, Doc realizes that Venturestein is missing.
–It’s nice to see Brock’s lifestyle weighing on him – it makes him more than a one-dimensional killing machine. This actually helps set up a new path for him that we’ll see play out in the future. (I’m making it sound like a more dramatic shift than it actually is. He still kills a bunch of dudes!) And the bit where he’s riding a dolphin naked? That’s based on one of David Bowie’s tattoos. (On his thigh, I believe. Why do I know that?)
“You’re going to special ops Heaven…. The G-Man Valhalla! There’s trim and guns everywhere. And we eat steak flavored clouds and poop secrets!…. You’re a tool, boy. A tool! Built for a single purpose by United States of shut your third goddamned eye for a f***ing reason! You can’t teach a hammer to love nails, son! That dog don’t hunt!” – Hunter Gathers
Dean and Hank run into the Groovy Gang, who are presently stealing Doc’s tools. Ted freaks out when he realizes those really are the kids they killed two years ago. He pulls a gun on them, and the boys run. In Brock’s dream, the dolphin preaches the virtues of empathy until it’s hit with a harpoon. Brock sees the giant naked (female) body of Colonel Hunter Gathers. Gathers takes Brock to his bosom and ascends, telling him… well, the quote above. Brock wakes up, yelling “Don’t Hunt” and charges through the doors and out into the Compound.
–It will take a smarter man than myself to unpack the symbolism here. Though, clearly Brock is having a hard time with the fact that his father figure became a woman and (arguably) betrayed his country. I don’t know, man. I barely have my own stuff figured out, you know?
“Now get upstairs, you little Indians, and wash off all that chicanery. Macaroni and cheese tonight!” – Dr. Venture
The Groovy Gang chase Hank and Dean into the room where the clone slugs are preserved in tubes. Hank and Dean kind of shut down when they see hundreds of versions of themselves, but just before Ted shoots them, Venturestein walks in and chases them away, slipping on a Hank clone and strangling Groovy in the process. Brock, still dazed, wanders into the room. He bends Ted’s arm backwards so that he shoots Sonny, then Brock beats Ted to death. That’s when Brock snaps out of his daze and sees the boys. Doc arrives in the room just in time to see all the carnage. He yells at Hank and Dean for spoiling their Christmas present (“A whole big army of you”), and sends them off. In the tag, Brock takes Venturestein (wearing Hank’s Batman mask and holding Groovy’s severed foot) to see a prostitute.
–Fantastic! With all the craziness (and the last of the Hanna-Barbera sound effects), the thing that stands out is how concerned Brock is about the boys. And Doc manages to put things to rest pretty smoothly. Though he also considers pulling the life support cord on all of the clones, just to have enough bodies to fill the order. So, you know, not a great dad. (But check out Season Four’s “Assisted Suicide”, which addressed the guilt he feels for all the deaths his boys have suffered.) Note that Val and Patty survive and manage to get away – remember Hunter’s maxim, “No women, no kids.” Also, because I like to show off, I’ll note that Sonny’s last words (“I’m so cold. So f***ing cold.”) are Snowden’s last words from Catch 22.
What’s surprising to me is how well this episode fits in with the rest of the season. This is the only episode entirely written by a guest writer, and last time Edlund co-wrote an episode is was the weird and out-of-place “Guess Who’s Coming to State Dinner”. In fact, Hank and Dean seeing the clones will come back in a big way in Season Three. This is Edlund’s last episode to date, but he’s been working on one show or another ever since. (Currently, he’s over at Supernatural.)
Great episode all around. And next time, we’ll be looking at the first part of my second favorite episode ever. That’s right, it’s finally time for “Showdown at Cremation Creek”!