16 February 2010

Our doubts are heels: A Venture Bros. Review

Hank:  Wait.  Did you just give good advice?
Dean:  I gotta go check the temperature in hell.
Dermott:  You can both blow me.

Dr. Byron Orpheus may be head of the mystical Order of the Triad, but he's also a doting father who often goes too far in protecting his teen-aged daughter from the world.  Despite that, Triana Orpheus manages to remain the most level-headed character in the Venture Bros. milieu.  When these two likable characters show up in a VB episode, that's usually a good thing.  As well as it has gone, Season 4 was still missing Byron and Triana.  Beyond soothing that concern, "The Better Man" gives Dr. Orpheus the spotlight.

The plot revolves around "the Second World," home to unsavory demons and the hapless souls they torture in perpetuity.  Torrid, arch-enemy to Dr. Orpheus and the Order, has opened a portal to the Second World, and a Cthulu-like being has emerged from it.  After easily escaping whatever control Torrid had over it, the monster proves to much for the Order to fight.  It falls to The Outrider, who had been chasing the creature, to send it back home, rescue the Order, and close the portal.  The incident especially embarrasses Dr. Orpheus, whose wife left him for The Outrider years ago.

Determined to outdo his rival, Dr. Orpheus attempts to create a portal of his own, but his efforts only meet with more humiliation.  To solve his problem, he must to return to the scene of his original defeat.  But first, he must leave Triana's closet, which doubles as his means of reaching The Master, his former teacher.

That doesn't work too well, either.  Her curiosity piqued by an awkward conversation with the Triad, she enters the closet... and meets The Master.  She's met him several times before, but those earlier meetings all ended with her memory wiped.  This time, The Master allows her to keep her memory.  At his urging, Triana reconsiders the plans she had for her future.

Meanwhile, Dean Venture, who has always had a crush on Triana, is also assessing things.  His twin Hank has pointed out that, since his relationship with Triana has really gone nowhere, he might as well seek other girls.  The boys go to the local mall, where, in a hilarious sendup of dating manuals, Hank "teaches" Dean "the ropes."  (The fact that Hank knows nothing about dating doesn't stop him.)  Later, they run into Hank's friend Dermott, con-artist in training, who offers Dean some truly useful advice.  The rarity of truth-telling from Dermott isn't lost on the twins.  But like Triana, Dean has just felt his life taking a new direction.

Meanwhile, back at the site of their first defeat, Dr. Orpheus isn't the only member of the Triad who's been plagued by self-doubt.  Jefferson Twilight has always wondered why, without magical powers of his own, he even belongs in the Triad.  Before he can return to those thoughts, the portal opens again.  Torrid and The Outrider emerge from it, engaged in a fight that devastates both men.  Torrid is banished back into the portal, but The Outrider is in a poor state, too.  The battle forces Orpheus to realize that his rival isn't all bad, and should be saved.

With the help of Billy Quizboy, the Triad attempts to revive The Outrider.  They establish contact with The Outrider, who admits that he once idolized Dr. Orpheus.  Orpheus is grateful to hear that, but now he realizes that everyone is now trapped in Hell.

Everyone, that is, except Jefferson.  It turns out that he does have a magical talent.  It's a small talent, but it's the only one that allows the Triad, Billy and the Outrider to escape.  It's a minor struggle, but Jefferson gets the saves... and a huge ego boost.

But the episode's coda belongs to Triana and Dean.  We'll never know how much romantic love they had for each other, because both of them have now outgrown it.  They will probably remain friends, but the time has come for them to move on.  Her father is moving on, too.  Having conquered the demon of jealously that had haunted him, he's ready to finally let Triana face the world on her own.  It's a poignant scene in a series that usually lives on mockery.

I've left out most of the humor that colors our heroes' efforts.  Dr. Orpheus takes a lot of mocking from both his cat and The Master, who appears in the form of his rather well aged ex-wife.  And leave it to a Dana Snyder-voiced character like The Alchemist to invoke a ritual that's disgustingly hilarious.  It's disgusting and it's funny.

Grade:  99/100.  This could be an enormous turning point for the series.


Matty Boy said...

When does the second half of the season start?

Abu Scooter said...

According to Adult Swim, the restart date is (tentatively) 22 August. That's a long wait, but they were still producing Season 4.5 episodes as recently as last December.