This season’s move to New York promised lots of new plot and character developments, and The Venture Bros. has delivered. The Guild Council hasn’t made it to Thirteen, but they have spent the season confronting the challenges of a stagnant organization struggling to redefine itself. Brock and Hank have found love, Dean is going to school, 21 is learning to assert himself, and even Dr. Venture shows signs of growing into something more relatable than a warped, crotchety former child star. This episode didn’t wrap up the season so much as it promised even more goodness to come, whenever that happens.
Following their near-fatal missteps in Party for Tarzan, the Guild Council has determined that (1) Dr. Venture is not the Blue Morpho, and (2) they lack the resources to neutralize the Blue Morpho on their own. They enlist help from the OSI, which agrees to an off-the-books operation in exchange for some unspecified compensation. This brings back Hunter Gathers, Shoreleave, and Snoopy, and it’s grand fun to see the OSI gang together again.
The joint operation is a trap using Red Death – the next arch on the Blue Morpho’s Pyramid of Peril – as bait. The Guild-OSI teams set up shop at the Venture penthouse, ejecting ConVenTech and the boys for the night and replacing them with decoys recruited from the sting teams. We’re only shown Hank and Dean excavating their old kerchief and sweater vest to disguise Watch and Ward, but this tease pays off in a laugh-out-loud tableau when Red Death finally arrives. The decoy gag – which features Hunter in Dr. Venture's old pink speedsuit and Phineas Phage as spider H.E.L.P.e.R. – should feel self-indulgent, but it plays as an oddly plausible tactic and a reminder of how far the show and its characters have come since their inaugural season.
Neither the Guild nor the OSI are aware that The Monarch already made his first move against Red Death earlier in the day, only to be disarmed by nothing more than simple recognition and a well-placed compliment. Although terrifying in appearance and (occasionally) demeanor, Red Death is too affable and professional to escalate to armed confrontation. Instead he encourages The Monarch to learn to compartmentalize so he can achieve something like work-life balance.
This fruitless first attempt does provide The Monarch with intel on his target, and he considers more indirect tactics. He returns home to find 21 seething over two cold plates of spaghetti and meatballs. After sniping ungratefully at his car-washing, supper-making, and generally long-suffering henchman, The Monarch describes his impromptu encounter with the competition and enlists 21 in a plan that probably won’t culminate in their vaporization. Shortly after Red Death leaves an impossibly Beaver-esque domestic scene for the night's arching, The Monarch and 21, disguised in Guild coats, roll up to the house and urge Mrs. Red Death to hunker down at her mom’s house until further notice.
Meanwhile, Shoreleave (disguised as Season 1 Brock) has taken the boys out for a night on a vanished town and Dr. Venture has accepted a dinner invitation from Billy's mom. I expected this dinner to be disastrous or at least painfully awkward. I don’t care much for Jonas Venture Sr. and tend to think of Action Man and Colonel Gentleman as the boorish keepers of a corrosive legacy. But this dinner is unexpectedly homey, with a warmth that felt earned as the characters broke bread over traumas received and inflicted. Every person at that table has seen and done some fucked up shit, and Rusty and Billy probably aren’t the only folks at that table who’ve lost essential parts of themselves along the way. Before they call it a night, Col. Gentleman urges Rusty not to be a stranger. These people care about him in their own damaged ways, and sometimes that’s the most you can hope for from family.
Back at VenTech Tower, the Guild-OSI operation appears to be proceeding as planned: Red Death makes a stunning entrance (finally, a real professional!), the Venture decoys act appropriately frightened, and Brock nails the best takedown of the show’s history, but the Blue Morpho is a no-show – until Red Death receives an ominous phone call. Too smart to be stymied for long, he blasts open the Morpho Cave only to discover that his wife and child are unkidnapped and The Monarch/Blue Morpho needs a seasoned villain’s perspective on his Venture obsession. It’s easy to see why Red Death is so universally admired by the Guild and the OSI: a true master of his craft, he makes flawless execution look effortless – and he’s a class act to boot.
Shortly before Red Death heads out to pick up fresh corn chips for his kid, 21 admits that he hasn’t been able to bring himself to kill the remaining arches on The Monarchs hit list, and has instead been secreting them – alive – in the Morpho Cave’s men’s room. This is the grisly scene that opened the episode, and which escalated until Maestro Wave cannibalized The Termite. Red Death graciously offers to dispatch the last survivor and dispose of the bodies; like I said, the dude’s a class act.
I’ve referenced a pervasive sense of dread all season, and this episode left me wondering whether it had been misplaced. I was convinced that The Monarchs might break up (or worse), VenTech might implode, Wide Wale would mount a coup, and Brock and/or Hank might suffer a heartbreak. None of these fears have come to pass – yet. Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer have admitted that they ran out of episodes before they could finish the current story, which will continue in Season 7; this episode isn’t “a finale so much as a year plus pause in your viewing pleasure.” But honestly, this mid-story pause is a relief. The wait between seasons is long enough without spending it on tenterhooks. If you're new to the show, we just wrapped up Season 6 – of a show that premiered in 2003. Yeah, I can’t wait either.
ODDS AND ENDS
- So much amazing voice talent this season! Red Death is voiced by the excellent Clancy Brown, who has worked everywhere but most memorably in Carnivàle. His wife was Cristin Milioti, who also voices Sirena Ong; she was devastating in the second season of Fargo. John Hodgman (a gentleman and a scholar [I’ve met him – trust me], and a fan of the show) returned to deliver several lines as Snoopy. Even though they weren’t in this episode, Nathan Fillion and Jeffrey Wright merit obligatory shout-outs for the Brown Widow and Think Tank, respectively.
- Brock, Paper Scissor: Brock is either cheating or he genuinely doesn't know the rules, and Shoreleave is either too easily persuaded or too good a friend to call Brock out. Brute force is not always the answer, dude.
- This season has had so many shots of the Limelight Marketplace that I was reasonably sure it would turn out to be some kind of lair or weapons installation. I was almost as disappointed as Shoreleave to discover it was just a mall.
- The sniping was unwarranted, but The Monarch has a point: Who eats supper?
- Red Death’s compliment of The Monarch felt like a more artful deployment of the tactic Wes Warhammer used on Dr. Venture in Tanks for Nuthin'. Both Dr. Venture and The Monarch share a need for fame, and this subtle parallel was a nice touch.
- Billy's coy references to "feeling blue" baffle and irritate Dr. Venture, who either has no idea what he's talking about or has been unable to convince him that he is not, in fact, the Blue Morpho.
- And now our Sympathetic Kitten Watch is ended, but this week in adorable continuity the chalkboard in Hank's room still has a heart containing “H.V. + S.O.”
- “We have villain sign!”
- What did the Guild give the OSI in exchange for their help with the Blue Morpho trap? Will a favor be called in next season?
- In addition to encroaching on his exclusive arching rights, The Monarch killed Wide Wale’s brother. So what’s his next move? Will he try to get The Monarch out of the Guild – or worse?
- Dr. Mrs. The Monarch has had it up to here with this Blue Morpho guy, and she’s out for blood. Will she unmask him before she kills him? If she does, will she kill him anyway?
- Will we hear from Red Death again? Does his once-a-year arching count, or does he get another opportunity to arch without being bait for the Blue Morpho?
- Will Rusty follow up with Kano and discover the identity of the original Blue Morpho? If he does, will we find out how The Monarch’s dad died, and who collected that bounty?
- Characters I’m hoping to check in with in Season 7: Molotov, Dr. Orpheus, Triana, Jefferson Twilight, the Alchemist, and (yes, even) Dermott.
Thanks for reading!