It’d be hard to come up with a more perfect celebrity for Rusty Venture to idolize than Christopher Lambert. A mediocre film actor who starred in a handful of high profile ‘80s movies before moving settling into moderate obscurity, Lambert is hardly the epitome of Hollywood cool; yet his low-rent mystique is an ideal fit for the show’s loving adulation of misfits, oddities, and loose ends. The Highlander movies that provided the man with the closest he’d ever come to celluloid immortality are largely terrible—even the first is really just a certain kind of 12 year-old boy’s dream of what a movie should be. But that’s the point. While Lambert may not be a household name, he’s more successful and better loved than Rusty will ever be, and he’s achieved that success through same pop cultural detritus that has defined Rusty’s entire adult life.

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“A Party For Tarzan” isn’t really about Christopher Lambert—I think I’d need another viewing or two before I could sort out a thematic throughline, if there even is one. The episode might be saying something meaningful about the systems people build around themselves to create meaning in their lives, and how those systems can ultimately defeat us. Or maybe it’s about how easy it is to get locked into goals without stopping to think of the cost of those goals, or of our larger place in the universe around us. Or maybe it’s really just an excuse to do some fun interlocking narration and slight-of-hand plotting, all of which may not necessarily add up to much, but is still a lot of fun to watch.

I’m tentatively leaning towards that last assessment right now, but I enjoyed the hell out of “A Party Of Tarzan” regardless of its intentions. We get some backstory about how Gary became one of the Monarch’s henchmen (got kidnapped as an over-sized eighth grader, never looked back), and learn about why all these complicated arching ratings were created in the first place. (Way back when, a nobody of a bad guy assaulted the Venture compound, and goaded Action Man into shooting him.) Gary narrates the former, the Monarch the latter, and while there’s no obvious reason as to why we need explanations for things that’ve been accepted parts of the show’s lore for a while, it works well enough. The half hour in general has a feeling of weight behind it, and that weight, even if obviously part of the gag, is enhanced by the voice over work.

It’s also enhanced by the cold open that has Dr. Mrs. the Monarch shooting Rusty with a sniper rifle. There was no real fear that Rusty would actually die, but a hook is a hook, and there was enough low level suspense running throughout the half-hour to keep things moving. The show has always had a genius for razor sharp pacing, and tonight’s episode was no exception. There’s an impressive amount of story crammed into these thirty minutes, and none of them really feel short-changed. We see the Monarch more or less triumphant, we see Rusty losing yet again (although not for the reasons he thinks), we see Gary struggling with his mission, and Dr. Mrs. taking a shot that ultimately has no real effect on anyone.

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If there’s anything holding me back about this episode, it’s that last part. There’s a lot of build up here without much consequence (unless Gary actually did kill the Wandering Spider and didn’t just bury his mechanical legs in the woods, which I doubt), and it’s hard not to feel a little cheated that the show yet again teased at something meaningful before shrugging it off as a goof. It’s not that I wanted Rusty Venture dead, god forbid. But this series is capable of surprising depth and melancholy when it wants to be, and there hasn’t been a lot of that going around this season. I’m appreciating the plotting even more than I usually do, if only because it’s so clearly building towards something, but the longing behind the gags is largely gone.

Still, it made a few brief appearances tonight, and the more I think about it, the more I’m inclined to run the risk and rate this as one of the stand-outs of the season so far. It’s stylish, inventive, and neatly told, and if it may not add up to more than the sum of its parts, well, maybe that’s the point. Maybe all the nonsense and the aspirations don’t ever add up to much, and you’re better off enjoying the night sky, provided you’re wearing a bullet-proof suit.

Stray observations

  • One of the Monarch’s early plans: trying to make the name “Venture” illegal. I don’t think he knows how laws work.
  • So, the original Blue Morpho dressed up as Billie Jean King to seduce Dr. Z. They had a lot of very intimate sex. I’m not sure if this is going to go anywhere, but I’m hoping it’s just a weird one-off gag?
  • “Christopher Motherfucking Lambert.” -Rusty (I like how the show subtly acknowledges Lambert isn’t all that much. No truly famous person would accept a party invitation from a man in a speed suit.)
  • “Unless the name of the drink includes the ingredients, I can’t make it.” -Hank
  • Wanting to impress Christopher Lambert, Rusty returns to Enzo the tailor to get a new suit made. This is really so he can steal the Blue Morpho outfit when he realizes he can’t get the suit he wants overnight, but I’m intrigued by this “Patriarch.”
  • So, the Guild had Blue Morpho killed in 1976, and Blue Morpho was working with Jonas Venture behind the scenes, as previously established. I’m wondering if this ever going to tie back to the Monarch; I’m also wondering if this is somehow going to lead to an explanation for the Monarch’s hatred of Rusty. (I doubt that last one, actually. It’s funnier if he hates him just because.)

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