03 December 2009

Swear not by the coffee mug: A Venture Bros. Review

I already know that you used to be a pedestrian. -- Hank, to Sgt. Hatred

A single, short sentence can describe "The Revenge Society": Two powerful Venture Bros. antagonists meet in a spectacular rematch. This episode has enough jokes and pop-culture references to stand on its own, but following the plot really requires background knowledge from past seasons. The two enemies, Phantom Limb and the Guild of Calamitous Intent, figure prominently in Seasons 2 and 3. (Viewers who haven't seen either the Guild or Phantom Limb should pause and click here, where I've delineated their intertwining histories.)

The years since his failed attempt to control the Guild have been unkind to Phantom Limb. Haggard, underweight and perhaps insane, the Limb has renamed himself Revenge. More to the point, he's lauched another attack against the Guild, kidnapping two members of its Council of 13. With Red Mantle and Dragoon under his control, Revenge and his "Society" -- Chuck the toaster, Lady Nightshade the single high-heeled pump, and Wisdom the coffee mug -- go after the Orb.

The Orb, you'll recall, is a softball-sized doomsday device that the Guild and the OSI built decades ago, when they were still a single organization. Since late in Season 3, its has sat quietly in Rusty Venture's personal safe. Alerted to Phantom Limb's intentions, the Guild sends entire military units to the Venture compound, ostensibly to protect the Orb.

For the first time, the Guild has directly attacked Rusty Venture.

In the end, of course, Phantom Limb reaches the compound, gets possession of the Orb and tries to use it. It fails, of course; and anyway, the Guild is ready for Phantom Limb's move.

That's pretty much the plot. Fortunately, "The Revenge Society" relies more on its complications to work.
  • Our beleaguered friend Billy Quizboy returns, this time forced to do Phantom Limb's bidding. After surgically turning Red Mantle and Dragoon into a two-headed man, Billy spends most of his time in a sack, helplessly hoping for his release.
  • Red Mantle and Dragoon don't take the surgery well, constantly bickering even though they have to share the same body. Their inevitable pun takes us to the closing credits.
Red Mantle: Two heads are better than one.
Dragoon: What does that have to do with anything?
Red Mantle: Nothing. I've been wanting to say that all day. I got sick of waiting for an opportunity.
  • Sgt. Hatred tries to build his relationship with the Venture Boys, with middling success. Dean has become his Alcoholics Anonymous-type "sponsor" in his struggle to overcome his pedophilia. Meanwhile, Hank slowly gains respect for Hatred as the two of them eventually lead the compound's (ahem) defense against the Guild attack.
  • The Sovereign, leader of the Guild, turns out to actually be David Bowie. As a hilarious conversation with his lead henchmen, Watch and Ward, reveals, Bowie's secret identity is well known within the Guild. To defeat Phantom Limb, the Sovereign uses Rusty and Dean Venture in a ruse that might contain a bit of truth (as well as background music from Richard Wagner).
  • Watch and Ward, ever the Guild's amusing analogues to the Monarch's 21 and 24, contribute their usual wit.

There's a nasty note in the coda. I was initially angered to see Billy waking up in Sgt. Hatred's bed. It looks as though something very bad has happened to him. On the other hand, "The Revenge Society" exposed an implicit scene from last season's "ORB" -- the apparent murder of Rusty's great-grandfather by his bodyguard --as a lie. Billy may yet prove to be wrong. Either way, the coda should serve as a clear signal that Sgt. Hatred's pedophilia isn't a joke anymore -- if it ever was.

Score: 93/100. It's nice to see old friends, and old enemies, too.

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