It was never supposed to be The Monarch.
In the early pitchbook for The Venture Bros., there were already several supervillains included as possible antagonists for Team Venture. Baron Underbheit and an early draft of Molotov Cocktease appear in the show’s opening credits. Phantom Limb, Girl Hitler, and Chairman Wow would all later appear. Otaku Senzuri came from the idea of a reoccurring “Suspicious Ninja” background character that would appear randomly but not really affect the plot. Unused characters like the Pants Golem of 7th Avenue (the defender of New York’s Garment District) and Army Joe (Brock’s brother, a “renegade, psychotic super soldier who spouts paranoid conspiracy theories and jingoistic catchphrases”) never showed up.
Sure, The Monarch was included in this original rogues’ gallery, but he was no means the primary antagonist. The Monarch concept is just a pun — the same word is a type of butterfly and a type of ruler. Butterflies are almost completely harmless to most creatures, so the idea of someone dressing up as one to threaten someone is laughable.
Heck, even the concept of Dr. Girlfriend hints at how inessential the Monarch should have been. She was originally created as a floating sidekick to every supervillain that came after the Ventures. She would partner up, arch, then decouple when the episode was done. Once again, her name was her joke and that was it.
However, like in most things, pure laziness won out in the end. Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer admitted that when they were breaking down a story that featured a villain-of-the-week, they would eventually sub The Monarch in as said villain. They’d already established him as a character, so, instead of having to come up with a new reason for, say, The Pants Golem of 7th Avenue to have Team Venture tied up over the Amazon River, they’d just put The Monarch in and call it a day.
The Monarch’s reoccurrence – as well as the plan to keep Dr. Girlfriend tied with him – changed the show’s mythos in a massive way. Of course, the more The Monarch appears, the more his antagonism with Doc gets deepened. His character develops. His relationship with Dr. Girlfriend – now Dr. Mrs. The Monarch – becomes more important to the two villains. He being a potential brother of Doc becomes a thing. Other villains, such as Baron Underbheit, take a backseat. Phantom Limb gets tied into both The Monarch’s and Dr. Girlfreind’s backstories, therefore becoming more than a one-note joke. Perhaps due to an uncanny physical resemblance, The Monarch becomes the mirror image version of Dr. Venture we know today.
“Mid-Life Chrysalis” was written third but originally aired eighth during the show’s original run. According to Jackson and Doc, they worried that the audience wouldn’t have had time to emotionally connect with the characters by episode three. And both these episodes are emotional – we get looks inside both Doc and Brock for the first real time here. In the previous two entries of the show (not including the pilot), Doc and Brock are pretty one-note. Doc’s the jaded scientist and Brock’s the guy who flies into rages and kills people.
In this episode, those things that define these characters are taken away for the first time. With his license to kill revoked, Brock is set adrift from the world he knows. After years of being a secret agent able to act with a degree of impunity, Brock doesn’t know how to react when the Nighten’Ales bartender gives him guff for his mullet. His immediate instinct is to knife the bartender, but without his ability to get away with it, Brock breaks down. He doesn’t even have his fierce loyalty to the boys by this point in the series. Murder defines him so much that all of Brock’s memories are of him brutally attacking previous villains.
On the other hand, Doc has defined himself as “Rusty Venture, son of the late Dr. Jonas Venture” for so long he doesn’t know what to do now that he can no longer coast on his former fame without it being pathetic. With Doc’s arrested adolescence, he was permanently situating himself at a point where his life was just about to begin. It was okay for him to fail because, in his mind, he was still starting out, still getting free of his late father’s giant shadow. Once his illusion is broken, Doc comes crashing hard into middle age. All he has to show for his life up to this point are two kids he can barely stand, a house full of his father’s old junk, and a bodyguard that only cares if he lives or dies because he gets paid to.
As far as partnerships that aren’t going as smoothly as hoped, there’s The Monarch and Dr. Girlfriend. Three episodes in, cracks in their relationship are already showing. The Monarch’s petty jealousy rears its ugly head when he assumes the worst about Dr. Girlfriend’s tryst with Doc – a tryst, may I remind you, he set up and he seemed to “enjoy” watching.
- Brock’s license is the first appearance of the O.S.I. General Treister is mentioned but not seen. Gen. Treister’s son would later appear as a child when Sgt. Hatred’s unfortunate side-effects come out.
- This is the first we see of the Ventures’ living space. Doc’s bedroom is straight out of a ’70s nightmare while the kitchen has a nice mid-century modern design if a bit too industrial.
- When Brock flashes back to other times he was able to kill, one of his memories is similar to a scene in Jonny Quest when Race Bannon kills some “filthy savages.” Doc Hammer was shocked by how racist that original episode was.
- During his call with Dr. Girlfriend, Doc has a copy of Lolita half-read on his bed. Somehow, this doesn’t surprise me in the least.
- Doc orders a Rob Roy at Nighten’Ales (which is a location we surprisingly come back to a lot during the show’s run). In later episodes, Doc would order more unconventional and more disgusting Doc-tails.
- The Monarch’s plan was to turn Doc into a full-sized moth and zap him with a big bug light. So now you know.
Doc: “Pretty dead in here. Not a whole lot of talent…”
Brock: “Doesn’t get jumping until 11. And you know, on a Friday…”
The Monarch (via headset): “That’s it, precious. Make him think you’re interested. Now, twirl your hair. Good. Now, run your finger around the rim of your….excellent! Just like that! You’re doing great, pumpkins.
Doc: “So I didn’t catch your name?”
The Monarch (via headset): “Oh crap! We never planned for this contingency! Quick, make something up!”
Hank: “Holy crap, what happened?”
Doc: “Apparently, this is the reward I get for years of screwing with super science. In short, I pissed in God’s eye and he blinked.”
Hank: “Golly, does it hurt?”
Doc: “No, but the poking does. Let’s stop that now.”
Dr. Girlfriend: “You two actually have a lot in common.”
The Monarch: “Yeah, we do now.”
Brock: “What are you trying to tell me, little man? You don’t like Zep?”
Doc: “I will remember these last few days with you as the happiest of my life. Aside from the caterpillar part, that is.”