Venture Brothers: Radiant Is the Blood of the Baboon Heart
This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.
Warner Brothers Discovery provided a copy of the movie for review and all photos. If you wish to see my prior thoughts about the series, click here.
Why do we want kids?
It’s easier to answer why we have them. Biology. Genealogy. Happy and unhappy accidents. What about the desire, though, when separated from the heat and drive of sex?
Immortality, some Greek poets answered. The Homeric Hymns, some of the oldest verses in the western world, sing of Eos, the goddess of the dawn, and her human lover Tithonus. Distraught by his mortality, she begs Zeus to shield him from death – death, but not time. After dementia overcomes him—“the unutterable gushes forth from him” (ῥεει ασπετος)—she locks him away in a tower. Thereafter, she never makes the same request and has lots of children with her future boyfriends. It’s the best way to live forever.
I think Jonas Venture Sr. entertained this philosophy until it inevitably bored him, and therein lies his son’s peculiar form of trauma. For every successful project Jonas had, there were ten half-baked ones. Rusty was like M.U.T.H.E.R. or Vendata or anything else the Great Man didn’t have time to fix: just another attempt to stamp his Charles Atlas face and trademark “V” on the world.
You can survive or even thrive under garden-variety neglect. A boomerang parent, one who returns to tinker with you every once in a while, is arguably much worse.
The face of paternal concern.
It’s always been difficult to guess Rusty’s thoughts on his own parental duties. Radiant Is the Blood of the Baboon Heart opens on what should be a parent’s nightmare scenario: Hank has gone missing, and the Office of Secret Intelligence is desperate enough to shake down random New York alleys. Following via body-cam footage from an O.S.I. control room, Dean’s catching the vapors. Meanwhile, Rusty’s lounging in his pajamas. “Why do they always have to be pre-dawn, these raids? I mean, what’s wrong with a nice pre-noon raid, like a brunch raid?”
He seems more interested in the product rollout of an “Amazon Echo” virtual assistant. He seems poised to achieve a respectable success story similar to his brother’s or father’s.
Of course, he also insisted on blinging out the components and making it in the shape of H.E.L.P.eR.’s severed head (“It’s an homage!” he tries to explain to the blubbering original). It now costs more to make than to sell. He tries to wear his responsibility and still ends up copying his dad’s junk.
Jonas was always about the next new thing. Until he overestimated a friend’s forgiveness on a movie night, that forward inertia enabled him personally and professionally. Rusty’s a man of the heart, always looking back and tripping over the future.
I do, too. I’m the guy who talks about Eos and Tithonus in a review of a direct-to-video superhero movie.
Cruisin’ for blaculas.
In my defense, Baboon Heart brings up the subject of Greek myth on its own, and that’s because we’ve reached that point when the heroes join the stars in the night sky. Time to become history. Rest assured that this is the end.
Venture Bros. now has the smoothest gradient of story consistency I’ve ever seen in a television show, and that includes The Wire. Normally, you can take apart seasons by the joints, see where writers adopted their best formulae and fled from poorly received ideas. “Hitting its stride” is especially common in television discussions. The early episodes lack technical polish, but the commitment to each story beat never falters. Like I said, everything matters.
That sense of overall cohesion, however, comes at a price. Fans of Firefly and its Serenity follow-up will recognize it. No movie can replace a full season.
Visually and conceptually, it feels substantial and sumptuous. One sequence recreates the eye-popping wonder of a splash panel. Another uses a Bic 4-Color pen so ingeniously that it could become the foundation for a Netflix anti-hero. It runs for 84 minutes and does right by its characters with every second.
Still, it’s dead set on wrapping up. No new pieces. Its cast and additions to the Venture mythos are smaller than, say, All That and Gargantua II. The stakes aren’t the biggest in the show’s history and the “cuts” aren’t the deepest.
Gary’s back in the hot seat and Monarch’s battling red tape.
But they’re the best. They’re the right ones. They’re the most Venture. Fans who remember the O.R.B. will recognize it.
While I’m normally agnostic about physical media and precious with my bookshelf space, I’ll always keep this show there. Whenever I feel the suffocation of the moment—this industry’s inexplicable cancellations and volatile trends—or believe that I can never carry my own brainchildren to term, I’ll return to this herculean labor. For every story, a desire is deep within me somewhere.