I keep a safely guarded opening in my heart of hearts all week long, ever patient to fill that special hole with the latest installment from our pals at Astrobase Go. Dedicated readers will remember my slightly under-whelmed reactions to the last two episodes, but I loyally accepted those chapters into my special hole with the good faith of a steadfast partner who knows that love is not always perfect. Tonight, I felt totally rewarded for that faith, and completely thrilled by the performance. We were treated to a slew of old familiar faces such as the Lepidopterists, Captain Sunshine and Ghost Robot (R.I.P.) We also got to see some seriously low behavior from Rusty via his dirty talk to a Teddy Ruxpin rip-off, as well as some beautifully self-reflective softness as his true feelings toward Hank were expressed. The comedic pacing has risen back to the quick-punch level I have come to expect (I love you, Watch and Ward! You bring tears of mirth to these jaded eyes! Never leave me!) I would be remiss not to point out obvious nods to Dr. Strangelove in this episode, further showcasing that no primary source is safe from parody. Above all, I was reminded once again that my love for this show is based not only on its brilliance and creativity but by its ability to resonate with my own passions. In this particular episode, I was impressed by the following themes: comic books, queer pride and anti-institutionalism.
Comics: The classic formula of forcing heroes and villains to set aside their differences to solve a larger problem is well-worn comic territory. Consider all the times Magneto and & Co. have had to work with the X-men in order to prevent some larger catastrophe befalling all the known universes and their alternate dimensions. Homage was thusly paid to this archetypal configuration by having the O.S.I. work with the Guild to collect the agents of S.P.H.I.N.X., the Revenge Society and a few other rogue costumers to form a power-house think-tank. I’ve always loved when the bad guys have to work with the good guys; it serves as a sobering reminder that they are all, in fact outcasts—two sides to a coin, yin & yang pieces of the same freak entity which cannot exist without the other. I don’t totally understand, though, why General Treister was in control over the whole operation; where was Sovereign Bowie? Other, more subtle comic book gags included Brock’s dismissal of Tiger Shark; nobody has any kind of respect for Canadian super-teams (Alpha Flight, anyone?) And maybe this is a stretch, but I picked up on a tiny nod to Warren Ellis’ Transmetropolitan when Brock mentioned gnawing off his own arm in order to escape from Robin and her teats of tragedy. Lastly, we had the Hulk and Transformer masks worn by Sgt. Hatred and Hank during their fake interrogation of Rusty.
Queer pride: As a queer fan, I’ve always appreciated when a story has more than one token homo. We’re here, we’re queer, and we want a more balanced portrayal of our existence in modern media! Venture Bros. does well for us in that respect by including multiple nuanced & outed gay characters. For my part, I think I’ve been hard on Shore Leave previously (no pun intended, honestly), having found his sassy affectations to be stereotypical to the point of being uncreative. Tonight, however, he was fantastic. He showed depth, strength and poise, and his verbal smack-down of Pete gave me cause to snap my fingers and emit a genuine “Oh, Damn!” Doc Hammer has called Billy and Pete “failed heterosexuals”, but tonight they seemed a lot gayer than usual. In the past, the idea that Pete might be closeted seemed too obvious—one can be effeminate (to the point of wearing pink tights, even) without being gay—but Shore Leave’s accusation coupled with Pete and Billy’s escalating power-struggle and squabbling has me wondering when they’ll make-out already. We already know from a past episode that Pete “doesn’t take many trips down south” (Escape to the House of Mummies, part II) Perhaps his distaste for cunnilingus actually stems from a suppressed preference for man-parts.
The anti-institution sentiment: I noticed this attitude pretty heavily in the previous episode, and tonight it was reaffirmed. The O.S.I. + Guild think-tank failed to produce any results; big government and army intelligence failed! Meanwhile, back at the death camp, the prisoners liberated themselves. This was a huge victory for the little guy; a people’s revolution in the face of imprisonment and death, orchestrated by henchmen and sidekicks. Even the main antagonist turned out to be henchman. As it ended with a song, you could tell it was the music of a people who would not be slaves again.
Review by Lola Wickerman, Junior Writer – The Venture Bros. Blog