Soft disclosure, or a hard pass? In last week’s So I Married an Axe Murderer review, I speculated why Mike Myers might choose to return to comedy now, almost a decade and a half since his last effort, and considered the context of his picking the conspiracy subject – when it has never held greater currency – yet flipping the malign elite control on its head to present a positive secret society. That he was an identified visitor to Langley didn’t really make such a great case for his approaching the material with autonomy. But what if The Pentaverate is actually a White Hat exercise, making the case for those working behind the scenes getting the world – or globe, ahem – to a point where the bad guys are sent packing? With accompanying filthy language, flatulus and foreskins.
Netlfix Exec: Well, we’ve tried to give Mr Myers creative licence, but again, he abused that privilege.
It’s surely no coincidence that The Pentaverate presents us with a “nice” secret society influencing world events in the same week Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness presents us with a good Illuminati influencing alt-world events. Even the response to their existence is the same: “The Illumi-what-i?” asks Doctor Strange; “The Penta-what-the-fuck?” queries prospective new member Skip Cho (Ken Jeong). At this stage, no one would entertain the idea – comedically or seriously – of such a secret elite organisation as anything other than evil, so it follows that something else may be going on. If so, it would put The Pentaverate in the company of several recent productions that tentatively suggested a reaction against the prevailing Hollywood trend (Dog, The Batman). Which isn’t to suggest Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is other than woked up to its giant flying eyeballs.
The Pentaverate must never be exposed!
The Pentaverate also identifies the Illuminati as real (“Both Beyoncé and Jay-Zed are part of it, sadly. But don’t worry, they’re double agents”) and gives an explanation for a bad guy joining the good guys in the form of Myers’ Murdoch-like Bruce Baldwin, former Australian mogul of media empire The Tabloid Group (“Because sometimes you need a thief to catch a thief”). The suggestion that Black Hats have switched sides or are being utilised by the White Hats has been common to the current (post-Q) era. As for the Pentaverate faking members’ deaths, well at some point pretty much everyone seems to have been mooted as still being alive and working for the White Hats (JFK, Jack, Di, you name them). And lest you think this is much too involved, Myers clearly follows all this stuff.
Bruce Baldwin: But more than likely, if you’re still here, you’re looking for scientific proof that there never was climate change.
As a means towards such a conclusion, I was curious if Myers would offer a statement intimating that Climate Change – identified throughout as the issue that needs an immediate solution – was a hoax. It didn’t need to be an outright declaration, as that would have been unlikely (at this stage). Lo and behold, he did (above). Along with significantly greater referencing of conspiracy subjects than most MSM output is willing to broach. You might argue that comes with the territory, but there are so many inversions here (of those giving “authorial perspective” shown to be lying) that it would be a broad assumption to assume he’s dismissing them as he ticks them off. What Myers most certainly isn’t doing is offering a consistent take in terms of allusions, as that would get in the way of the paramount irreverence.
Rob Lowe: You’re joining the Pentaverate at an exciting time. When we no longer use scalding. Or maiming, but of course if you’re a traitor, we will put your fucking head on a pike.
In the final episode, Skip – now revealed as a bad guy – even tells intrepid Canadian news journalist Ken Scarborough (Myers) “Reilly lied to you. The Pentaverate’s a bad organisation”. And he may have a point. It will shortly, after all, transfer Ken’s soul into supercomputer MENTOR (“It goes beyond Artificial Intelligence because it contains a human soul”), in the ultimate act of “benign” transhumanism. The group has all-seeing eyes everywhere, even when it makes great strides for diversity in the final scene (amusingly, the only whiteness in the room is the heavenly-Apple décor): “More representative. More inclusive. More nice”.
Jeremy Irons: When you hire Jeremy Irons you get a bespoke performance. Not just any old shit.
And as Jeremy Irons (as Jeremy Irons, providing narration duties, sort of like an upgraded Little Britain’s Tom Baker) observes “You know, I really question the idea of being nice, as they just piked poor Higgins”. One might take this as an allusion to those the White Hats have reputedly acted punitively against, like Guantanamo Hanks and his promise he’d never stop killing.* They also engage in MKUltra (“I’m just an actor who’ll have his memory wiped after this video…” reads Rob Lowe) and clearly don’t “dedicate themselves to solving the world’s problems. Things like food insecurity, microplastic pollution, clean water, sex trafficking”.
Hobart: You faked the Moon landing.
Patty: With the help of Stanley Kubrick, of course.
Add to that faking the Moon landing, and the – thanks to diversified top ranks – success in putting up an orbiting shield “protecting the Earth from the Sun’s rays, lowering global temperatures by four degrees” may not be so benevolent at all. A look at their roll call of members suggests some less than reputable choices: Darwin, leading light of the evolution lie; Donald Rumsfeld was rejected, but presumably not because of his political views; Jonas Salk (polio vaccine, see below); future member Billy Eilish.
There’s also Colonel Sanders, a hangover from the Pentaverate’s So I Married an Axe Murderer incarnation as an out-and-out evil organisation; “The Colonel and I were able to thwart that millennium bug. Y2K was real”. Hobart (Keegan-Michael Key) is a nuclear physicist developing cold fusion (the nuke lie is not addressed here). Jason Eccleston (Myers channelling Harry Knowles), developer of MENTOR, was a Musk-esque transhumanist. The Pentaverate Hall of Achievements include Galileo’s telescope (space lie), and Guttenberg’s moveable type (recorded-history lie) and the polio vaccine (allopathic medicine lie).
The organisation’s official origins are somewhat opaque too. Solving the Black Death via identification of its transmission by fleas on rats; there’s an obvious case of fabricated history (Myers doesn’t address stolen history per se, but MENTOR offers the opportunity to revise history, which effectively happened post-1700 with the addition of a thousand years to the timeline, so forget about an actual 1342, less still the “scientific” explanation for the Black Death).
Travelling the world via a secret underground railroad, the Pentaverate wear grotesque ritual masks and hold secret annual conferences at The Meadows in Switzerland (do the same luminaries attend the evil elite organisation conferences, then?) It’s “Part celebration of their achievements, part announcing what impending global catastrophe the Pentaverate are going to tackle next. Kind of like Davos, except it’s secret and there’s an orgy”. Attendees at their latest event include: Greta, Bill Clinton, Elon Musk, George Bush, the Queen (NOT dead in this fictional account), Macca, Bono, Bill Gates, Jane Birkin, Obama and Robert Downey Jr.
Further, the MENTOR concept – besides the living soul bit – sounds massively flawed, since Bruce describes it as a way to combat the concern “that the bad guys would use the Internet the same way I used the tabloids, only a million times worse”; “we’d be able to beat the Internet by having a universal set of agreed upon facts” because it “calculates the probability of the most accurate version of truth”. Okay…
Bruce opines that “we got Internet clickbait conspiracy theories and other opiates for the idiot masses addicted to smart phones and tablets” (he later doubles down on this, suggesting such users get what they deserve as they “give away privacy online to be mildly entertained… Give away personal data just to have it weaponised against them”). It’s basically a more seamless Snopes. The sales pitch suggests the buyer can create their own version of the truth – “You didn’t get enough votes to win an election? Sure you did… Led a massacre of your own people? With MENTOR you can prove that it actually didn’t happen” – is pretty much the way things already work, right down to scrubbing the Internet of records.
Away from the Pentaverate’s debatable ethics, we have the show’s analysis of the conspiracy theorist. As noted, Myers is evidently interested in the conspirasphere himself, whether or not he buys into (some of) its theories or maintains a Jon Ronson-esque aloofness. Ken is a well-meaning sceptic (“It’s just the conspiracy stuff that sounds like a load of balloon juice to me”), but Anthony Lansdowne (Myers) is an avowed truther, who is repeatedly pilloried for his extreme views… by those who are part of a conspiracy.
Anthony: You know my name?
Bruce: Of course, I do. You conspiracy nuts were the easiest people to control. You’re not a free man. You’re a slave to every conspiracy theory that says there’s another keeping you down… took your job… your tax dollars… your culture… your country. There is no other. You’re why the American dream passed you by.
Bruce scoffs at how easy it is to manipulate him (above), while Reilly (Lydia West), the Oxbridge-educated – and therefore already intrinsically privileged – member of the Pentaverate’s Fimbra Manus, so the secret society equivalent of being recruited by one of the intelligence agencies, tells him “I think you might be addicted to conspiracy”. She responds to his outlandish theories with legitimate, state-approved (because they’re historical) ones: “No, I mean like the Tuskegee syphilis experiment”. Actually, she has a legitimate point when she tells him “They get you hooked on the fake ones to distract from the real ones” but the ability to parse which is which – Bruce created disinformation, he tells us – is most definitely not for someone who takes the cautionary centre ground.
Reilly: Anthony, do you think your obsession with conspiracies is a substitution for real human connection?
Anthony: (thinking for a moment) No, not really.
Because, in actual fact, Anthony isn’t proved to be wrong about anything here. Well, maybe “Birds aren’t real” (which triggers, rather pertinently, Reilly asking Ken “Have you ever seen a baby pigeon?” I guess they could have picked koala bears, zebras or gorillas for the same conversation). Reilly is dismissive when Anthony mentions Pizzagate (because it has been “officially” disproved). Anthony tells us “Well, I used to be addicted to QAnon, and then I went to QAnon-anon. But I found out even that’s a hoax”. This too is officially (MSM, therefore Netflix) invalidated; where former believers now assume it’s a hoax, that’s really about the amount of time trusting the plan has taken, rather than it being proved a hoax.
Anthony: Bonus points if you can get the vials of adrenochrome. That’s how those paedos get their rocks off.
The main surprise in that sense is Myers mentioning Pizzagate, QAnon and adrenochrome (twice: “Did you catch them sucking each other’s blood? Did you grab any adrenochrome?” Myers’ fellow countrywoman Celine Dion also scores a mention). Sure, Anthony has “Straight Outta Roswell” on his van and is concerned (re Ken) “You’re being probed in your no-no hole!” but there’s little outright mockery here. Myers has the Pentaverate send the Climate Change mirror into orbit at the end, but he also earmarks Flat Earth at the start (the Flat Earth Alliance convention stall has a banner proclaiming “Earth is not a spinning ball”), and Anthony confirms his approval: “Hey! That Flat Earth is flat. You know it” The five-dollar-bill gag points to less humorous money-related ones with the all-seeing eye (of providence) in the pyramid and the removal of the second crossbar on UK pound signs. And Hillary’s emails are mentioned three times (“30,000 emails just disappeared?”), one of them as Anthony’s parting shot (“But what about her emails!”) Anthony may have hygiene issues (“Soap? That’s all propaganda from big soap”), but he isn’t a nut.
Rex Smith: I’m going to tell you the truth that you not going to get from the fake-news Hollywood elites with their black helicopter chemtrails, from deep-state FEMA camps that hide Hillary’s emails about Benghazi, written in the ancient language of the snake people, the Illuminati.
Other conspiracies warrant a mention, including those touted by Rex Smith above. At the Area 52 bar, you can buy a cocktail called a Chemtrail or simply have water “with or without fluoride”. Freemasonry is mentioned (“Oh, uh, you’re the Masons”). And FIFA. No Trump, except on a Tabloid News Group publication’s cover. Time travel, in passing (“What if there was a time machine, and I just looped around…”) Russia as a punch bag for ills (“Every time poison is mentioned, it’s always ‘Blame the Russian. Blame the Russian’”; they also sit at table 666 at the auction). There’s even Luciferian moral relativism courtesy of Higgins, explaining why he gave up being a Hollywood stuntman (“Heroes became ambiguous. Who’s the good guy? Who’s the bad guy?”)
Then there are the references. Some on the random side, as you’d expect. Masks concealing identity, and the Eyes Wide Shut’s ominous theme. The Matrix (Red pilled and blue pilled). Kill Bill (Ironside’s siren). Game of Thrones’ moon door. Shrek. Face/Off. The Six Million Dollar Man bionic sound effect. The Prisoner’s The Girl Who Was Death (“You have been drugged”; “So have you”) Stranger Things (“In 1984, four small boys meet a girl name Eleven…”) Other entries in Keegan-Michael Key’s filmography (“What will be the choice? Will it be Key or Peele?”) Full Metal Jacket brainwashing drill. 2001’s music and computer shut down. Cheers. Gwyneth Paltrow’s vagina candle. Plus, the theme tune is Orbital’s The Box.
Saester of Dubrovnik: I am the maester’s saester. The master is my braester. This is a disaster.
I guess I should address the salient aspect. Is The Pentaverate funny? Sporadically, yes. Myers has hit upon several great characters here – Alex Jones-alike Rex Smith, Rasputin-alike Mishu Ivanov, who comes armed with idiosyncratic inflection (“cunt” for count, “fuck us” for focus). But most of his personas are just “okay”. Jennifer Saunders, whom I’m guessing knows Myers from Shrek 2, is the surprising scene stealer, indelible as the Maester of Dubrovnik, notably in her back and forth with Anjo and Ergo based on Myers’ favourite wordplay tricksiness (and his most favourite: rude wordplay: “So if I maester-bate, will I go blind?”) Saunders only relinquishes the same when she reverts to standard Jennifer tones after her Saester of Dubrovnik is shot.
Key plays off the various Myers to appealing effect. Jeong, whose hyper-crazy schtick has worn a bit thin between The Hangover and now is funny, but he also wears on the nerves. Debi Mazar, West, Maria Menounos (trapped in a TV) and Myers regular Rob Lowe offer solid contributions (moley moley moley Fred Savage, freshly cancelled, is nowhere to be seen). Jeremy Irons is titanic too. And Sasquatch taking an enormous shit, not once but twice, had me in stitches.
Reilly: Why would you cut off their heads?
Bruce: Two reasons: shizzies and gizzies. At least I didn’t cut off their cocks. Actually, I did. Then I sewed them back on.
But such crudity brings me to my main objection. I’d argue Myers’ forte is PG-13 humour; imposing limits on how far you can go often makes a comedian more creative in how they go. So while both the Netflix censor scenes are funny – one of which becomes even more suggestive with all the swearing cut out; another finds the beta-tested Fix-Pix, set to eliminating Myers’ weener, identifying many that aren’t there, and missing many that are – as is much of the wordplay and misunderstanding – “Big Dick’s Half-Way Inn”; “It’s even bigger and hairier up close”; “I’m in Nuts Deep” – I’d prefer there was a little less of Myers’ potty mouth.
Reilly: How can Netflix be okay with this?
As a six-parter, The Pentaverate doesn’t outstay its welcome, which is something. The longest episodes are about thirty minutes and the shortest twenty. Where it principally goes wrong is that it doesn’t give us another Shrek or Austin Powers; you’re looking to the Myers sketch characters on the periphery, rather than a main one to carry you along. I don’t think we should hold our breath for a Septaverate.
First published by Now in Full Color on 07/05/22.
*Addendum 05/09/22: I guess you’re quite likely to promise never to stop killing if you’ve been taken over by a Vril parasite, rather than simply being good ol’ Tom Hanks.