The Venture Bros.: Tears of a Sea Cow
Sometimes it’s nice to have a Venture Bros. episode that just wants to be funny. Sometimes it’s very, very nice. And Tears of a Sea Cow is the way to do a funny episode without losing respect for the series’ overall themes and mood. It’s a story that intentionally goes nowhere, and yet it fits perfectly into the larger arrangement of things. And it begins, as all good comedy should begin, with a dugong being shot in the face.
Remember the opening sequence of I Know Why the Caged Bird Kills? We have a slight reprise of the main idea here…The Monarch is engaged in one of his “thrilling” invasions, but whereas Caged Bird was played seriously and dramatically (until brilliantly undercut by Henchman #21 announcing that they’ve raided the wrong address), the opening to Sea Cow is nothing—wonderfully nothing—but comedy. The Monarch’s frustration at the lameness of his new Guild-appointed arch-enemy is played against Dr. Girlfriend’s textbook enthusiasm in what has to be one of the longest and most successful comic runs in Venture history.
Absolutely everything about it is hilarious; my first time watching I missed at least a third of what was going on because I literally could not stop laughing. A lesser show would have gone for one big joke and milked it for the entire scene; The Venture Bros. layers the comedy by giving us an unending series of small ones, hilarious character moments, and a wonderful new (if immediately doomed) character in Dr. Dugong.
The Monarch enters Dugong’s lair with his wings trailing impotently behind him…he’s trying to treat his new arch-enemy seriously, but he can’t. Dr. Dugong is impossible to take seriously, and the only time he shows any real passion for what he is doing occurs when Dr. Girlfriend suggests he think of Dr. Venture…at which point The Monarch walks straight up to Dugong and murders him, in cold blood, with a laser cannon.
And that’s just the first two or three minutes of the show. The rest of the episode might not live completely up to the rapid-fire comedy of the opening sequence, but it comes pretty damn close, I have to say. There are lots of classic Venture moments here, all centering around The Monarch’s secret assault on the Venture compound while Rusty and Brock are away at a science convention.
Hank and Dean have stayed behind, however, and Hank’s new friend Dermott (in his first appearance since The Buddy System) is present as well, camping out in the back yard with Hank while Dean stays inside “doing science.”
I’m slightly confused by Dermott’s presence here…but only slightly. In The Buddy System, at least the first time through, I had similar feelings. Why was he there? He was obviously upsetting the normal balance of things, but he seemed to get an awful lot of screen-time for a non-villainous side character. When the episode ended we learned that Brock was (very likely) the boy’s father, and suddenly everything clicked—his screen-time is justified, and, if anything, made more precious.
But here there is no such big reveal (nor should we have expected another one so soon) and so his presence is mildly confounding. He doesn’t have an impact on the plot, really, and though he gets a few good moments there’s not really enough to make his presence seem natural.
Reviewing Tears of a Sea Cow I think I understand why he is here: eventually Dermott will have a major role in an episode (or multi-episode arc) before too long, and we’re going to want to know that, since his initial appearance, he’s been hanging around the compound—at least intermittently. Even though he has very little to do here, it’s important to establish that he didn’t just disappear after meeting Brock. He wants more. He is (or at least the writers are) building toward something.
One excellent thing that happened with Dermott, however, is that he was sort of “revealed” to operate by the same logic of the Venture universe after all, after having seemed to stand apart from it in The Buddy System. Henchman #24 refuses to believe he’s a friend of Hank’s until Dermott mentions that he couldn’t outrun the henchman because he had a cigarette lighter hidden up his ass. Henchman #24 replies, “Okay, now I believe you’re Hank’s friend.”
And speaking of Hank, the boy seems to have his own (potentially very dangerous) awakening at the end of the episode. Henchman #21 (whose budding friendship with Hank, I have to say, is becoming more adorable every time we see it) explains to Hank that the boy must be some kind of immortal, what with all the times 21 has personally seen him die. Obviously we know this is due to Dr. Venture cloning his boys, but neither 21 nor Hank know this, and though Hank is skeptical, he recovers from a tranquilizer dart under the delusion that this is evidence that he cannot be killed. A strangely chilling moment in an otherwise greatly comic episode, and I hope it pays off down the line.
So why have I been avoiding the main theme of this episode? Not sure, really. Maybe I just wanted to get a few other things out of the way first, or maybe it’s because it’s such a good insight into the show’s heart that it deserves to be saved for last.
The Monarch’s trouble taking Dr. Dugong seriously as a rival has less to do with Dugong than with The Monarch himself, whose hatred for Dr. Venture flows so naturally (and satisfyingly) that he can’t see any other kind of hatred as anything more than a pale imitation. And what this episode makes indirectly clear is that The Monarch’s hate is, in itself, a very real kind of love.
It’s even presented as though The Monarch and Dr. Venture are old lovers rather than old rivals, and that The Monarch is having just as much trouble living without Venture this season as he had living without Dr. Girlfriend last season. Love and hate might be opposite each other on the emotional spectrum, but The Monarch clearly has a flawed concept of each, causing them to overlap confusingly. Even he doesn’t understand the hatred; all he knows is that he feels it, and that he feels it strongly, and that he must follow his heart.
The love/hate overlap is illustrated in no better place than when The Monarch discovers G.U.A.R.D.O. (from Home Insecurity) being rebuilt in Venture’s lab—a robot with Dr. Venture’s face on it. And what does he do?
Well, he strips down and has sex with it. What better way of combining those two conflicting emotions than in a forced act of sexual brutality? The robot, for all intents and purposes, is unwilling—it’s an act of disrespect and selfishness. But it’s also intercourse, traditionally a physical manifestation of love between two people. Obviously sex in the real world is more complicated than that, but The Monarch is behaving here with the Venture-bot in a manner that’s more rape than anything…and yet isn’t quite rape enough that it’s without love.
Extremely complex stuff here, folks, for a man in a crown giving a robot chlamydia.
Oh, one final observation: when we first met G.U.A.R.D.O. in Home Insecurity, the reason he became dangerous to the family was that Venture stopped working on him halfway through, not having programmed the “Friendly File” before leaving him alone. Here Venture is rebuilding the robot and…again stops working on him halfway through. It’s amusing how little Rusty learns from his previous mistakes, even (perhaps especially) when his family’s lives are at stake.
In fairness I’d say this episode deserves something like a 4.5, but I’m much more comfortable rounding up than rounding down, especially when the post-credits sequence (in which The Monarch begins arching Venture’s brother) promises so much.