After the tightly-plotted highs of the season’s three part opener, “The High Cost Of Loathing” slows things down… a bit. The episode is still jam-packed with stuff, following the adventures of the Monarch, Hank, Dean, and Rusty as they go about their various routines, intersecting in some places and not intersecting in others. It doesn’t build to quite the same high as last week’s entry, but that’s neither a surprise nor a criticism. This is the sort of half hour that does the necessary work of re-establishing the current status quo, and setting up what’s going to be important for the rest of the season. It may not have a high concept holding it together, but it helps ensure that the reality of the Venture Bros.—the impression that these people are all going about their lives even when we aren’t watching them—persists, and it’s damn funny to boot.

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Really, if there’s any serious criticism I could make here it’s that everyone’s doing more or less what you’d expect. The Blue Morpho odyssey finally reached its comic-tragic conclusion, but the Monarch is still doing the same thing that got him into trouble in the first place: desperately trying to earn the Guild’s approval so he can go back to arching Rusty. That makes sense on a character level, but it’s kind of a disappointment on a narrative one—all that time and effort, and really nothing has changed. Hopefully the Monarch has learned his lesson and will follow the proper channels to get himself back on Doc’s bad side, although that might not make for the most dynamic storytelling.

The Monarch going through the same motions adds to the continuity between this season and last; it’s been a couple of years in our time, but everything we’ve seen so far in season 7 has more or less directly followed from what happened in 6. And while I was disappointed to see Monarch back in the same hole, I like the sense of continuity overall. There’s a strong sense of world-building here, and it speaks of the show’s transformation from a collection of vignettes to something more connected and consistent. Of course, the mythology and the lore has always been a concern on the series; one of the most important, and tragic, jokes is how much all of these characters are fixated on the past. But there’s a coherence here that’s at once limiting and kind of fascinating.

From that perspective, the Monarch’s determination to keep doing the same old shit is more of a feature than a bug. (Oh god, that pun wasn’t intentional I swear.) He’s not the only one stuck in a rut. Rusty is still trying to hold on to Ventech; his big power play this week is to introduce a rip-off of his brother’s hover belt. It’s maybe my favorite gag in an episode full of good jokes: a riff on the opening of Hudsucker Proxy that has Rusty bolting down a table and diving through a window, only to float back up to everyone’s amazement—before succumbing to the massive bleeding caused by the lacerations from, uh, diving through a window.

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The consequences of his attempt to show-off have him hospitalized for the rest of the episode, which gives Hank a chance to try and bond with him later; it also means he’s out of the house when Hank decides to make some spare cash by operating his very own B&B. This takes a turn for the violent when Sgt. Hatred and Brock get alerted to strangers in the building without knowing the context, although we don’t see if the poor innocent tourists get killed or not. (I’m hoping not, but y’know, the odds aren’t great.) While the Monarch kicks things off, Hank and Dean are probably the real focus here, with Hank trying to spread his wings a bit after Dean goes to college. Both boys are frustrated with their father: Hank, because he doesn’t think anything he does will ever satisfy his old man; and Dean, because Rusty is determined to make his (slightly) nerdier son into a spitting image of his old man.

There’s something deeply tragic about Dean—hilarious, and tragic. Out of everyone, he’s the closest to actually being aware of how mucked up his life is. He’s still mopey and dorky and helpless with women (Sirena kisses him briefly at the end of the episode, and the boner joke that follows is pretty cringe-inducing), but he’s just clever enough to realize how ridiculous it all is, albeit maybe not clever enough to ever actually escape. He arrives at college to room with Jared, aka the Brown Widow (still Nathan Fillion), and immediately finds out that despite his intentions, his dad has signed him up for a ton of science classes. When he tries to drop them, his advisor, Professor V. Von Helping (son of super-villain Von Hellfire) convinces him to change his mind. Which leads to Biology class, and an unexpected confrontation with the Monarch.

“The High Cost Of Loathing” plays out ultimately more like a piece of a larger story than anything conclusive in and of itself. Which, as I said at the start of the review, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There are good jokes throughout, and everything is rooted in a gratifyingly strong sense of character and place. It sets everything in motion, laying the groundwork for any number of potential conflicts (Hank vs. Dean over Sirena is something I’m kind of dreading, but we’ll see), and works as a pleasant reminder that this show can be good even when it isn’t throwing out super-hero gags three layers deep. Good character stuff, nice table-setting, and there are jokes about David Lynch’s Dune. What’s not to love?

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Stray observations

  • In addition to Fillion, “Loathing” also has Gary Cole as Dean’s idealistic-with-a-temper professor. Always good when the show can get more voices on it.
  • This is all set two months after the opening trilogy.
  • I like how much of the Monarch’s opening dream is centered on Gary being a badass.
  • Dean gives the Monarch a million dollar check to get rid of him, which seriously ups the Monarch’s standing with the Guild.
  • Many thanks to Drew for his excellent review of last week’s episode. It was a good one!

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