Tonight’s Venture Bros. asks a simple but unexpected question: what happens if Doctor Venture actually came up with something good? One of the core principles of the series has always been Rusty’s basic ineptitude. He may walk the walk and wear the speedsuits of super science, but he’s never been able to live up the legacy of his father; that failure, and the way he’s refused to acknowledge it and try and build some kind of new life, is one of the character’s defining traits. And yet he’s never been hopeless, either. In some ways, his inability to follow in Dad’s footsteps has been more blessing than curse—at the very least, he’s done less damage to the world than Jonas managed, and his relationship with Hank and Dean has some small chance of being not entirely awful.
Putting that aside, “The Unicorn In Captivity” takes into account the fact that Rusty still occasionally knows what he’s doing; brings in Billy and Pete, who have their moments of brilliance; and lets them make a breakthrough that could theoretically revolutionize the world. In the opening minutes of the episode, we see the result of what looks to be months (or at least weeks) of work: a fully functional teleportation device. After managing to send an apple through without mangling or cubing or Brundleflying it, and then doing the same for the pirate captain, Rusty and the others are ready to take their discovery public. It’ll ensure their places in the history books, put VenTech back in the black, and maybe, finally shut up that constant nagging voice that keeps telling our hero he’s a loser.
That’s not a bad starting point, and the story that follows has its high points. But while “Unicorn” is, in its way, just as tightly plotted as everything else so far this season, it also crowded—as though even tight plotting can only go so far before the chaos becomes unavoidable. More, there’s a certain mean-spirited vibe running under everything. It’s not enough to ruin things, and really, this borders on another “it’s a matter of taste” issues, but for parts of the episode, I found myself wishing I was watching something else. Not because the episode was actively bad, but because it turned into the sort of murderous Rube Goldberg machine that I have a hard time enjoying.
That machine is entirely centered on the group of would-be villains that the Monarch joins to try and swipe Venture’s new teleportation tech. Again, the show demonstrates its ability to come up with plausible parodies of classic comic book characters, although the inspiration seems a little thinner than usual this week. Of the bunch, only Copy Cat and Presto Chango make much of an impression, and that’s probably more due to screen-time than anything else. Cat is a Dean Martin type who can make copies of himself. Presto Chango is a Plastic Man variant voiced by Mark Hamill basically doing a goofier riff on his Joker voice. Ramburglar, Dot Comm, Tunnel Vision, and Driver X (who’s actually just a Copy Cat in disguise) round out the rest.
Some of these characters have appeared before, but given the episode that follows it’s doubtful that many of them will appear again. Copy Cat could’ve maybe survived the explosion, and we don’t see Tunnel Vision actually die (although given Brock, he’s almost certainly dead); Dot Comm just gets dumped out of the back of a van and into OSI custody, so Brock probably didn’t just murder her. But Presto Chango got a knife in the face, which is hard to come back from, and Ramburglar got shot and decapitated via teleporter.
It’s not as though either are worth mourning for, but their disposability, and trying to get laughs out of their deaths, isn’t the most fun I’ve ever had watching this show. The caper has a double-cross and a surprise ending, but apart from seeing Monarch and Gary get away in the end with the device, this just lacks… spark, I guess? Copy Cat’s betrayal should register, but it doesn’t, and the whole time I was mostly wondering why the Guild would send these idiots to steal something so important. (Although I have a theory about that, which I’ll save for the strays.)
Meanwhile, OSI is trying to convince Doc to make like the transporter never happened. This is an old idea, although it’s reasonably clever to use in this context; much like the gasoline pill of legend, the idea is that any invention so powerful that it could fundamentally change the world overnight gets shut down by the powers that be to avoid substantial damage to the status quo. It’s up for debate just how powerful the OSI is, which sets up the second half of Doc’s story: an Eyes Wide Shut-style orgy party (down to the costumes and music cues) where he’s presented a choice between joining the elite or getting fucked to death by a dude with a knife on the end of his steel strap-on. (Or is it a sheathe? I never know and it’s too awkward to ask.)
Honestly, the only part of this that really worked is the post-credits reveal that this whole thing is a virtual reality put on by OSI (including, ugh, a hose to give Doc the illusion of fuckery). Sad to say but at this point, riffing on the Eyes Wide Shut orgy is actually less clever than just showing a regular orgy, and the suggestion that Dr. Mrs. the Monarch is “in disguise” at the party (allowing for an even, er, deeper dive into EWS than most parodies bother with) put a bad taste in my mouth. (Ew.) The fact that it’s all a fantasy at least makes Dr. Mrs.’s appearance easier to understand, but still doesn’t improve the generally uninspired vibe of the whole scenario.
Maybe that’s my real issue. Apart from twist of having Rusty invent something good, most of this feels like going through the motions. Pretty much everything seems to exist solely for the purpose of getting that teleporter into the hands of the Monarch, and I’m excited to see what happens next. But getting there was, at best, only half the fun it should’ve been.
- It’s entirely possible that Copy Cat’s motley crew (including Tiny Hawk, who Brock kills in the opening minutes, setting a tone and also necessitating the Monarch’s involvement)(also, I just got that pun) is the best the Guild had to offer. But I wonder if they were set up to fail; you’d think the Guild would be just as interested in maintaining the status quo as the OSI? Given that the only high up Guild member we see in the episode is Dr. Mrs. the Monarch, and that we never hear her opinion on the subject (just that she wants the Monarch involved), it’s hard to know who’s playing whom.
- Rusty calls Billy “Hobbit Oppenheimer” at one point.
- “It’s for your own good.” “That’s what the Nazis said!” “No, they didn’t.” “...I thought you were gonna say you were just following orders.”
- I wonder when the VR trip actually started. Presumably from the moment they locked him into the chair?
- Mark Hamill also does a voice for the illusory “secret cabal that runs the world,” because if you’ve got Mark Hamill around, why not use him?
- “Get a nerd laid and they think they’re masters of the universe.”