The Venture Bros.: The Family That Slays Together, Stays Together (Part One)
Ah, the two-part finale. It’s a Venture Bros. staple by this point. (Even season one concluded with a two-parter in all but name.) This is the event that the fans have been waiting for. There seemed to be a unanimous agreement that the show was building toward something big in the finale, but with a season as varied as this one, it was impossible to predict just what it would be.
Would it have to do with Brock discovering that Dermott is his long-lost son? Would it involve The Monarch arching Dr. Venture again? Would the Moppets make their power play against The Monarch? Could it be that, maybe, with all the flashbacks this season, we’d close on some big historical reveal? Whatever happened to Sergeant Hatred? Isn’t it about time for Phantom Limb to step back into the action? So much happened this season (and so much didn’t happen) that there was really no way to know where the show would pitch its finale.
And so we’ve ended up with an episode that takes for its main action (at least so far) a brand new problem: Brock’s termination from the Office of Secret Intelligence.
First of all, watch this episode on the adultswim.com site if you can—it contains an extra two minutes (or so) of footage. Evidently this additional scene (which opens the show) was delivered to the network to air as an extended teaser for the two-part finale. Adult Swim, in their infinite wisdom, decided instead to cut this footage into a much shorter teaser…this time a teaser for the full, uncut teaser which could be found on their website instead. Hm. (Anyone care to link to the Mr. Show Convoluted Network sketch?)
The two extra minutes, I feel, really help shape the episode better. While the “twist” is intentionally obvious (Brock Samson’s severed head sailing across the Venture hangar gives it away hilariously early) it sets up The Monarch’s eventual raid on the compound as being better planned and more rehearsed than usual. Thanks to the events of The Lepidopterists, The Monarch has arching rights once more, and this additional scene makes all the difference: he’s planning it better. He is not going to squander his opportunity. Without this scene, the episode makes no distinction at all between this particular raid and any other that had come before. The scene promises that—maybe…just maybe—The Monarch is going to be more successful this time around. Without the scene, no such promise is made, and the tension is significantly decreased.
Oh well. It’s missing from the episode as aired, but the scene will no doubt be included on the DVD…hopefully edited into the episode proper.
Episode proper? Oh yeah…I should probably talk about that a bit, too. It involves the termination of Brock’s employment with the O.S.I.—which, as you might guess, isn’t going to be a simple process. (Hell, it’s not even a simple process determining why Brock has been terminated. Here’s hoping part two gives some better explanation than this episode did.) The organization has sent three of the world’s deadliest assassins to take care of him…but, as adventure-cartoon logic dictates, they will be squaring off against him one by one and not simply surrounding him and pulling a trigger.
We are all familiar with the basic, natural structure of this particular kind of story: the first assassin encountered is going to be very easy to subdue. The second assassin is going to be tougher than the first, but will still go down without too much hassle. It’s the third assassin that will dominate the show; this is the struggle that will provide the show with its tension, and this is the one that will, basically, be the focus of the episode.
The Family That Slays Together, Stays Together toys with our expectations of increasing-difficulty by having Brock go man-to-man with the most difficult and resilient assassin first; the last two are dispatched relatively easily. The fact that all three are done away with by the episode’s end is surprising in itself; it’s a cliffhanger, after all. I expected at least one of the three assassins to survive until next week, if only to delay the feeling of relief that must come when Brock is no longer in danger.
Let me take a moment to express how much I hate cliffhangers.
When you are watching a show on DVD or something, it’s not a big deal; you can watch the resolution right afterward, or the next day, or whenever you like. But while a show is on television you are at the mercy of program schedulers, and more often than not, the cliffhanger is just an excuse to ramp up enthusiasm for the following week’s installment.
Is enthusiasm a bad thing? No, of course not. But there are right ways to go about generating it, and wrong ways. This episode’s cliffhanger demonstrates the right way: the main problem of this episode is resolved (meaning no false carry-over of unnecessary tension) but Brock clearly isn’t out of the woods yet. The question of “What happens next?” is here both valid and well-earned. We are nervous about Brock’s fate because we have no way of knowing what comes next…the show did not have to resort to a Batman-style “Our heroes are dangling upside-down over a pool of acid…tune in next week to find out what happens!” copout. The main story continues into unknown territory, but we are not denied a feeling of resolution.
Last season’s cliffhanger, I’m sorry to report, was a lot cheaper. Phantom Limb interrupts The Monarch’s wedding ceremony in the space between the words “I” and “do,” and we had to wait until the next week to know the result of both the wedding and the attack. The additional tension was unnecessary…resolving the wedding wouldn’t have interfered with the tension generated by the attack, but we were denied resolution until the next episode. (Arguably until the next season!) This way—the Family way—is much more satisfying.
It’s very difficult to talk much about this episode because…well, the story isn’t finished. A fuller appraisal rests on the shoulders of part two. For now all we can do is speculate. Which isn’t to say that part one is without its share of great moments.
For starters, we finally meet Holy Diver (a real treat for commentary nerds like me), and his “partner” Sky Pilot. Their elaborate (and completely unnecessary) powering-up sequence had me dying. Likewise, Hunter’s lapdance for a visibly awkward Brock (and Venture’s oblivious flirtation!) was just unbearably funny. We also had some great Monarch material (when is The Monarch not great?), and Dr. Venture trying to relax in the tub was hilarious. (His response to Brock dragging a shredded and bloodied body into the bathroom: a scream, some vomiting, and no followup questions whatsoever. Perfect.)
On the more emotional side of things, we had a great scene in which Brock tells the family to go on without him…and then tells the boys that he never loved them. The hurt in their faces (and, in a moment, on Brock’s) made me a little misty-eyed, I have to admit. We know Brock loves them, but he has to tell them otherwise, or else they won’t leave him behind. Deserting them is the only way he knows to protect them. It was a brilliant, wonderful moment.
And on an interesting note, Brock utters a short, thankful prayer after he dispatches the second assassin. Despite this episode’s shameless playfulness with religion (in the form of Holy Diver and Sky Pilot), we get an unnervingly sincere prayer of gratitude. Brock knows he is in real danger—coupled with his silent acknowledgment last week that he won’t be unbeatable forever, he is genuinely grateful for having been spared.
Before I end this supremely meandering review, allow me a moment to offer up a prediction of mine that didn’t come true: I was certain that The Monarch would dress up as Dr. Venture and murder Sergeant Hatred.
Hatred, thoroughly distressed by the thought that his wife is planning to leave him, refuses to leave Venture’s bathroom until his arch enemy returns and kills him. Since Venture is away for the foreseeable future—and since the physical similarities between Venture and The Monarch have been long speculated upon among the fans—I was sure that The Monarch would don a spare speed-suit and do the deed himself.
Actually, that might be a potential spoiler, since, by this episode’s status as cliffhanger, there’s always next week.