I’d be hard-pressed to imagine something closer to the platonic ideal of a late-season Venture Bros. episode. All “The Inamorata Consequence” is really missing is some obscure, vaguely janky film references; the closest we get is a discussion about the true nature of James Bond’s gun in From Russia With Love. (Not, I should stress, a janky film.) Apart from that, the half hour has everything we’ve come to expect from the show. The lore-building, the squabbling between “heroes” and “villains,” the fixation on rules that only barely covers the petty jealousies and tempers of a bunch of hot-headed loons, a deep dive into the show’s past for an unexpected reveal, and that final grace note of emotion that gives the whole thing just a bit of weight. It’s good; the season overall has been excellent so far, and this continues that trend nicely.
The set-up: the second Treaty of Tolerance Summit between the Guild of Calamitous Intent and OSI, to be held at the Venture Compound—which is currently in a state of on-going decay and disrepair—and presided over by… wait, this can’t be right. Doc? Seriously? Thanks to his father being the man who started it all, Doc “Rusty” Venture has been tasked with preparing opening remarks and moderating the negotiations as the two groups work towards a new balance of uneasiness between them. The talks break down almost immediately, as both sides refuse to bend to the others’ demands, and the exchanges quickly become heated. At one point, Phantom Limb and Shore Leave fight each other wearing swim fins and inner tubes. Because, see, the compound used to have a swimming pool, and Jonas Venture made specific rules for dealing with grievances.
None of this is exactly surprising (well, okay, I didn’t call the flippers), but it’s fun to see the subtext come this close to breaking out into text. Anyone who’s ever spent considerable time with nerds (raises hand, points at self, nods sadly) will recognize this kind of pettiness. Not that nerds have a monopoly on being inflexible twerps, but so much of this is familiar to me from years in high school spent playing Magic: The Gathering and refusing to bend on even the slightest point. When you funnel natural aggression and animosity into complicated systems, the idea is to try and get rid of the negative energy in a productive, or at least not actively destructive, way. But it’s not a one-to-one system, and the more you put into it, the more likely you are to get people screaming at each other other timing rules or just what a “level 5 arching” really constitutes.
So it’s not a shock when things get heated. What is unexpected is that Rusty is the one to ultimately calm everyone down. Just as things appear on the verge of getting out of hand completely, he has an epiphany: “I get it. I suddenly get it. You’re children!” Which, under the circumstances, is more or less accurate. (You could argue that Dr. Mrs. The Monarch is more mature than anyone else in the room, but the fact that she still willingly engages in all these absurd systems rather than, I dunno, going and getting a real job, doesn’t exactly speak well of her sanity.) As if that wasn’t enough, he gives a speech about growing the hell up and learning how to compromise, and it… works? It’s a good little rant, far more impressive than the speech he gave at the start of the proceedings, and a nice win for the character.
The thing is, on reflection, it makes sense that Rusty would be the only person around (apart from maybe Dean, who ducked out earlier and is having his own adventure) who would see through all this nonsense, because most of his adult life has been about trying to reckon with the ridiculous, insular, and psychologically toxic world his father left him. He’s still selfish and insecure and absurd in his own way, but unlike the others, he recognizes the absurdity of all the costumed heroics and at least has some aspirations towards leading a regular life. In the context of normal, adult world he’s a joke, but at least he recognizes the pointlessness of taking what is basically just a bunch of adolescent dress-up too seriously. The show has never shied away from mocking Rusty for his hubris, so it’s nice to give him an unexpected, but entirely in-character, victory.
That becomes even more important considering what Dean learns when he discovers a mysterious red H.E.L.P.eR. model living in Ben’s house. Ben, if you’ll remember, was a former associate of Jonas’s who helped develop the genetic engineering technology that made the Hank and Dean clones possible. His only appearance was in “A Very Venture Halloween,” the episode where Dean learned his and his brother’s true nature; and while he’s off on vacation this week, it’s only fitting that Dean should come back to his house to inadvertently discover the truth about his own father.
The backstory on H.E.L.P.eR. MOD 2 (voiced by Rhys Darby, who is perfect) is clever: the H.E.L.P.eR.s were originally designed to benefit mankind, but when mankind turned on them, they were recalled, with only Red here surviving (and getting some extra bits) thanks to Ben’s interference. The nooks and crannies of the Venture-verse, and the show’s ability to keep finding new and unexpected minor tragedies in even the smallest of places, remains impressive. Darby is endearing, and Dean’s efforts to bring him out into the world—only for him to immediately retreat—are a terrific microcosm of the struggle most of the characters on the show seem to be facing at one point or another.
Then there’s the discovery that Rusty is, himself, a clone. It’s not a stunning revelation; it’s more the sort of twist that, once explained, seems so obvious you wonder why you didn’t realize it before. (I’m sure many of you did.) And yet I love how it works to give Dean and Rusty a small grace note at the end of the episode. The two are struggling with typical father/son stuff; it’s magnified by the super science around them, but the fundamental conflict is one that parents and offspring have been dealing with for ages. So it’s sweet that Dean has a chance to realize, if only briefly, that his dad is more like him than he would usually care to admit. Out of all of these lunatics, Dean has the best chance of getting out, growing up, and maybe having something like a sane life. He probably won’t; but then again, who does?
- The closest thing to a weak element in the episode is the subplot of Hank running into Dermott (who’s working for the OSI now) and the two of them spying on a clandestine hook-up between a Guild agent and an OSI recruit. It’s far from bad, and I like how much of the season has been about checking in with the show’s past (of course Dermott would end up working with OSI), but Hank’s extended fantasy sequence, while charming, feels like a well the show has been to a few many times. The added reveal that Agent S464 has “PP” on his belt is interesting, at least once you get past the extended punning; he’s a mole for “the Peril Partnership,” a group that was only mentioned briefly, once, in “Every Which Way But Zeus.” (Yes I had to look that up.) Again, this is all good stuff, it’s just not quite as great as everything else.
- “Eat it, Lincoln!” -Rusty
- “Inamorata” is “a person’s female lover;” I’m assuming the title refers to Agent Kimberly McMannis discovering S464’s secret.
- “To New Zealand? I don’t belong there.” -H.E.L.P.eR. MOD-2
- “You’re shoving your hand up my ass and telling me it’s Jim Henson.” -Shore Leave