The Venture Bros.:
Home is Where the Hate Is
Season three trundles along with an episode that brings Sergeant Hatred (a very minor--but memorable--character from season two) properly into the Venture fold. He's even given the supreme honor of being crowned Dr. Venture's new arch-enemy. This is definitely a welcome development as Hatred is shaping up to be the important secondary villain for the show that Baron Underbheit never quite managed to be. Unfortunately the episode itself--while good--is the first one of the season that isn't great.
Now let's go through this one piece by piece, because I was so confused by my initial response to the episode that I had to watch it again to decide whether or not I liked it.
For starters, this episode seems to give an ultimate shape to the season that is to come. And, honestly, this happens not a moment too soon. Out of the previous three episodes two of them cast an eye backward and the other one spent the whole time jogging in place. This is episode four and our first taste of forward momentum. Some relationships are changing, and others are struggling. The Monarch is frustrated both by his inability to arch Dr. Venture and his continuing discomfort with Dr. Girlfriend's sexual history. And Sergeant Hatred comes along to cause him even more misery by usurping arching rights to Venture...whom he intends to treat like a king.
Ah, okay. So now we kind of see where the story is going. This episode (as was pointed out by the person with whom I watched it) was necessary. And yet the content just seemed a bit...unsteady. Having rewatched the episode I think I'm able to pinpoint where these feelings of mild dissatisfaction are coming from.
The entire opening sequence with Hatred arriving at the Venture compound and introducing himself as new arch rival is just...well, it's perfect. It's absolutely everything The Venture Bros. should be. It's hilarious, mundane, preposterous, brilliantly scripted and flawlessly acted. It's a classic sequence...everything the Manhowers sequence from The Doctor is Sin should have been.
I should take a moment here to commend Jackson Publick on his portrayal of Hatred. Brendon Small (of Home Movies and Metalocalypse fame) was unable to reprise the role for season three. Initially I had misgivings about the recast, no matter how necessary it obviously was. But Publick manages to infuse Hatred with a perfect seething throatiness that keeps every line of the character thick with an aural snarl. And yet--exactly as Publick managed from the start with The Monarch--Sergeant Hatred is endearing. He really comes across as somebody's big rough-housing uncle...sure, he could pull you limb from limb, but he loves ya, little guy. (The fact that Hatred manages to be even somewhat likeable after we are reminded that he's a convicted pedophile is a feat that only Hammer and Publick could pull off this well.)
Hatred is played as a sort of doddering old bumpkin who flits between burning an ominous H around Hank and Dean with a laser cannon to getting excited by the lushness of Dr. Venture's lawn. He's an adorable brute, and his idea of a good joke is to shoot Dr. Venture in the stomach with a handgun. (A top ten Venture moment if ever there was one...) Hatred has a lot to live up to, after all. Venture fans were raised by the show's creators to be picky, and in addition to interviewing with Dr. Venture, he also spends the first section of the episode interviewing for our acceptance, as an audience.
It's not an easy thing to shift the focus of a show from one major character to another, but the rise of Hatred is handled very well here, and the welcome party that he throws for Dr. Venture (to celebrate their status as enemies) is, again, pure Venture gold--at least on the whole.
The party games are excellent and well-observed, Dr. Venture's irritatingly-repetitive turn in charades being a painfully funny highlight, and the brief scenes that take place in Hatred's other rooms (his pathetically personalized den area, for example, or the room into which Brock retires to watch a crossbow documentary on PBS) capture perfectly both the look and spirit of that vague sort of sad loneliness you experience in other people's homes...those times when the attempts at quiet coziness end up feeling coldly incorrect. Again...lovely, perfect, gorgeous stuff.
And yet--and yet--the episode features two significant misfires...namely the henchmen/moppet subplot, and the attempt on Dr. Venture's life. In the former, the only real highlight is Dean Venture's attempt at cheering up a wounded henchman 24, a la Patch Adams. Well, actually, there's another highlight involving dueling Pacman impersonations in a hedge maze. Pretty hilarious, actually.
But otherwise, it's kind of underdeveloped, and by the time you get to the end you have to wonder at least a little why they bothered.
The other problem with the episode, involving a small explosive being affixed to Dr. Venture's spine, seems penciled in, and very weak. It went nowhere (unless you count a climactic fart joke as "somewhere") and actually didn't seem to make much sense. I guess the water in the hot tub caused it to fizzle out? Somewhere in that assassination plot there was a good ending waiting to be found. The problem is that it never was.
So what you have is an episode that started brilliantly, proceeded perfectly, and then got mired in two heavy-but-pointless energy-sappers at the end that make you almost question your enjoyment of what came before. With an ending that weak, it's hard to admit you could possibly have liked the episode that gave it to you.
But I did like the episode; it only seems weak because it ends on a wet bubbling fart instead of an explosion. And I look forward to seeing what comes next. It was a more than deserving entry in the continuing Venture saga, but it's also the first episode of the season that wasn't out-and-out great...and that's bound to be a natural disappointment.
Jane Austen could have written this episode.
Well, no. No, she couldn't have. But it's the sort of thing she might have written about. Kind of. Give me a minute and I'll explain.
We all know that Jane Austen wrote about rich people doing rich things in rich places. Parties and to-dos took up a significant portion of her work. But perhaps what she was most interested in was the idea of social connection, something that Home is Where the Hate Is is all about. Okay, so people aren't trying their best to act within the boundaries of social niceties (take Sgt. Hatred's penchant for underage males, or The Monarch/Dr. Venture's lack of inhibition at displaying their "inheritance," as Rusty so bluntly put it), but the inherent themes of Jane Austen are clearly on display in this episode.
Still not convinced? Take the town of Malice itself; compare it to an estate from a Jane Austen novel...and then replace all the characters with supervillains...and then move the estate to a gated community in Middle America. But, you know, after you do all that the end result should look something like Malice. Maybe. If you squint a little.
How about the party that takes up the entire episode? What do you suppose the overarching theme is for those scenes? If you answered "Who is arching whom," then you are correct, and you win Sgt. Hatred's unending love and affection.
Sgt. Hatred is arching Dr. Venture, but what he's really doing is trying to torment The Monarch for robbing him blind all those years. The Monarch just wants to get back to arching Dr. Venture, but can't because of Guild law. The complexities between characters here are similar to the same sort of conflicts in Jane Austen...and, y'know, every other author in history. But for the moment let's all pretend it's exactly like Jane Austen.
I'm not much of a Jane Austen fan; I think her writing is brilliant, but her books as a whole usually don't interest me. And maybe that's what the problem is with this episode: good writing, but it's good writing about subject matter that is slightly subpar. The episode doesn't feel right, even though it has all the markings of success: Dr. Venture, the Monarch, Brock. Something's missing.
Okay, so the Jane Austen thing doesn't work perfectly (if it works at all), but it makes this good episode sound more sophisticated than it really is. Plus, it's just kind of fun to imagine Austen writing about pedophilic supervillains, cups of "scalding hot responsibility" and killer midgets with five o'clock shadow.