The Venture Bros.: ORB
I’ll confess that I was fully prepared to write a three-star review after the episode finished. (I know, I know…I deserve to be shot.) I watched it with two friends who seemed to love it…and while ORB had some great moments, I came away from it feeling kind of empty. I figured three stars was perfectly fair for an episode that spent so much time setting up a mystery that it didn’t actually solve. And, on top of that, the ending with Brock being run over was so…well, let’s just say I couldn’t even decide if it was meant to be a cliffhanger.
Actually, that about sums up my initial feelings about the episode as a whole. Is this a cliffhanger? What is the Orb? We still don’t know. Is it meant to be resolved next week? Or ever? Is Brock’s termination going to be resolved, or was it just some kind of decent-but-not-great throwaway gag? An awful lot of backstory was revealed and the strange and mysterious Orb was set up narratively to hold an enormous significance to our characters…so why didn’t this episode go anywhere?
Here’s how I planned to end the review: I was going to point out that my three-star ranking was actually an average, based on the fact that we still don’t know where this particular story is heading. If the plot continues into the next episode, then this one should be judged as setup only, and therefore probably deserves four stars. If it did not continue—and was just sort of abandoned the way the Sgt. Hatred plot was abandoned earlier in the season, ORB would deserve something like two stars. The three-star ranking, I thought, would be a perfectly fair middleground.
Then I watched it again so that it would be fresh in my mind.
And you know what?
This puppy is five-star material all the way. It’s just that you might not realize it at first.
The reason it might be difficult to judge ORB on your first viewing is that you are destined to be swept along by the plot, from beginning to end. The entire episode is a series of riddles being unraveled, and Team Venture grows, person by person, to accommodate a wider range of expertise. The riddle of Orb (what it is, what it does, where to find it) is kicked off by Billy Quizboy, who has spent decades of his life analyzing the old Rusty Venture cartoon show for clues. Clues to what? It’s never made explicit, and the fact is that Billy probably doesn’t know either. He just knows he wants there to be some message hidden in the show, and he won’t rest until he proves himself right. (More of a loving acknowledgment of the obsessive Venture Bros. fans than a shot at them, I’d say.)
Sure enough he finds a vital clue that puts a treasured item—whatever it might be—in New York, and he and Dr. Venture take off in immediate pursuit. Meanwhile Brock finds a set of recorded instructions that reveals to him the true nature of his assignment with the Venture family; not only is he there to protect them from harm…he’s also there to destroy Dr. Venture if he tries to activate the Orb.
I think you can see why I might have wanted some kind of resolution here. The Orb is assigned such significance that it literally means the difference between life or death to our main character, and we are asked to re-evaluate the entire nature of Brock’s status as bodyguard. For the episode, then, to end with Dr. Venture locking the Orb away and Brock being run over by his own car, it’s difficult to ask any other question than, “What the hell just happened?”
A second viewing, however, takes a different shape. After all, you already know you aren’t going to get to see the Orb in action. You know that for all the fuss kicked up about it, nobody is going to die and nobody is in any danger. You know that the riddle will be solved, and how. You are free, therefore, to concentrate on the episode itself, and pick up on a lot of things you missed the first time around…or, at least, the things that seemed less important than they really were.
Because the heart of the episode isn’t about the Orb. It’s about Dr. Venture coming to terms—in a more direct way even than Killinger managed in The Doctor is Sin—with his childhood, and with the two very different halves of his own life. It’s about Billy Quizboy finally getting to live his dream of being a boy adventurer. And it’s about Brock…well, let’s leave Brock for a moment; we’ll get to him soon enough.
Dr. Venture dons his old adventuring outfit for the trip to New York. Why? Well, it’s safe to say that it’s only because Billy—caught up in the excitement of adventure—pressured him to do so. And so, for the first time since he was a boy, we see Rusty Venture in his iconic green-and-yellow striped shirt and shorts. (Billy’s boy adventurer costume, I have to admit, is better left uncommented upon.) And, yeah, he might be a bit grouchy for most of the experience, but toward the end, as they work their way closer to Orb and as Rusty begins to solve some of the clues for himself, he can feel the old rush again. He remembers why he used to like being a boy adventurer. And, maybe for the first time ever, we see that he really is a decent guy on the inside.
Somewhere in his life, something went wrong. Something caused Rusty to rebel against his own legacy. But here, forced to face it again (alongside Billy’s contagious enthusiasm), Rusty remembers what it was like. And he admits to himself (a gorgeous, heartfelt moment) that even though Jonas might have been a lousy father, he was still an excellent scientist—a sentiment that means he trusts his father’s judgment enough not to activate the Orb. A small gesture on Rusty’s part, yes…but for him to effectively say that he trusts his father—even so many years after the man’s death—is a gigantic step forward for the character.
And joining Billy—however reluctantly—for the Team Venture salute? Talk about a defining moment. I don’t think we’ve ever seen Rusty give that salute…at least not in his adult life. And you know what? He wanted to. As hesitant as he might have seemed…he wanted to do it just as much as Billy did.
Sure, Billy might be a little poorly-informed about the life of a boy adventurer. After all, all Billy did was watch the cartoon and collect the memorabilia while Rusty was the one in real danger. But, maybe, sometimes you need an outsider to show you who you really are. See? Orb or no Orb, it was a self-contained story after all. Go, Rusty Venture.
And Brock? Well, it’s less easy to call Brock’s story “complete,” but I think it’s clear that the life he’s led is finally catching up with him. Remember his awakening last season in Viva los Muertos, in which he was forced to face a reminder of his ruthlessly violent lifestyle? He’s certainly seemed less inclined to action since then. (In fact, I’d argue that his sparing of Hunter in Assassinanny 911 factors into this as well…he’s re-evaluating his actions…thinking them through, and making his own decisions.)
Well, in this episode he confronts Kano, who apparently served as Jonas Venture’s bodyguard, and I think it’s clear that Jonas’ death at Kano’s hands (for attempting to activate the Orb) is causing Brock to reconsider his lifestyle even further. After all, Brock stands and cracks his back and pops his joints twice in this episode…he’s never done that before. Why twice in this particular episode? Do you think, maybe, they’re trying to tell us something from a character standpoint? I’d say so. Brock Samson is a hero, in some way, to nearly every character in the show. He’s a seemingly unstoppable physical force. And yet, when nobody’s looking, he needs to take a moment to pop his joints back into place. He’s getting older, folks…and he won’t be unstoppable forever. He’s starting to realize that, and we should, too.
If you look at this as a story about Billy living his fantasy, Rusty forgiving his past and Brock questioning what it means to be Brock, then you’ve got yourself a damn fine, absolutely perfect half-hour of television. But if you let yourself get tricked into believing that the episode is really about the Orb for which it’s named, then you’re going to be disappointed. (And remember, folks…the episode is not named after the Orb at all…the title is in all caps: the acronym for both “Operation Rusty’s Blanket” and “Orders Regarding Bodyguard,” each of which imply a very different focus for the story altogether.)
So what happened here? Why, I fell into Doc Hammer’s trap. He gave me a classic “solve the riddle/discover the prize” plot and I fell for it, forgetting I was watching The Venture Bros. and not the old Rusty Venture cartoon show. In the Rusty Venture show, the Orb would have been activated. There would have been consequences. We would have seen good triumph over evil.
But in The Venture Bros.? No thanks. We don’t need anything as hollow as “good” and “evil.” We’ve got something much more interesting.