I’d assumed the second part of the season seven Venture Bros. two-parter (which is arguably only a “two-parter” because the first episode ended with “To Be Continued”) would explain how Wide Wale got ahold of the Monarch in his Blue Morpho costume; but I hadn’t expected the whole episode would be focused on the Monarch’s group, including Gary and Dr. Mrs. The Monarch (who I should probably just call Sheila from now on, because the lady deserves a name), before tying back in briefly with last week’s plot and ending on yet another cliffhanger. In retrospect, this was pretty dumb of me. The show’s cast at this point is so big that it takes two whole episodes to really catch up with everyone, especially considering how much the Monarch and Gary dominated the show in season 6. And given how intricate the show’s narratives have become, spending another twenty or so minutes backfilling plot before ending more or less at the same point as last week is less a disappointment than a pleasant reminder of just how much stuff is going on, and how well it all fits together. More a journey than a destination, that sort of thing.

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As journeys go, this one isn’t bad, but it’s a good reminder of just how much clutter the show had built up over the course the season. We jump between Gary, Sheila, and the Monarch, and you’d be forgiven for not catching every reference as it flies by. To briefly (briefly) catch you up: after the Monarch discovered that his father was the original Blue Morpho (a “hero” who used to work alongside Jonas Venture), he and Gary started playing dress up in order to get rid of Rusty Venture’s other arches—basically the Monarch had been downgraded by the Guild, and was trying to find a way back to being the enemy of the man he hates the most. Depending on how you look at it, this plan either went spectacularly well or backfired horribly; villains started dying, sometimes by accident, and sometimes not. Now Gary has a guilt monkey on his back (deservedly so), and Shelia is in charge of the Guild’s efforts to track down the scourge of the mid-level bad guys—the irony being, of course, that said scourge is her husband, a fact she finally learns in “The Rorqual Affair.”

It’s a clever conceit, albeit one that’s maybe a little too dark at times. The fact that Gary apparently flat out shot a dude is a lot to take in, as was the reveal at the end of last year’s season finale that one baddie had murdered a bunch of other baddies just so he could eat their butts. Tonight’s episode has the Red Death (still voiced by the excellent Clancy Brown; the show’s reliance on a handful of actors to do nearly every character just gets more distracting to me by the year, so it’s nice to have some new blood, especially when it’s someone as talented as Brown) kill a bunch of OSI guys. That plays better than the butt-eating and Gary-murdering, if only because the Red Death really should be a dude who kills people, otherwise there isn’t much joke there. And really, balancing the goofy ten year-old costumed theatrics against real world consequences is a key part of the series’ dynamic, showing how no matter how many rules and systems are in place to prevent it, the real rage and violence that underlies these systems is going to break through occasionally.

Whether or not The Venture Bros. always manages that balance is up for debate, although this episode turns out to be surprisingly merciful; while those OSI guys are definitely dead, the climax relies on the return of someone who was apparently murdered way back in season three. While the revival of Dr. Dugong (last seen getting his head blown off by the Monarch in “Tears of a Sea Cow”) isn’t quite as deep a cut as the Problem machine, it’s still pretty deep, and having two episodes in a row specifically referencing the show’s past suggests a possible theme for the season going ahead. The good doctor doesn’t have the same emotional resonance as Rusty finding out his dad’s head is alive and in the building, though, and comes across more as a clever way to tie in two sea-themed characters (Dugong is Wide Wale’s brother) than as anything more resonant.

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The same can be said for the episode’s multiple nods to Jaws. It’s a surprisingly shallow cut for the series, and while the specificity of the riffs is decent, Jaws is such well-worn territory at this point that it never really rises above the mildly amusing. It feels a little churlish to complain about something that’s this fast-paced and entertaining, and I got a mild charge out of seeing Gary dressed up like Hooper, or watching them re-enact the Brody-getting-slapped scene with the wife of the villain Gary apparently shot. (Shelia is the one who gets slapped.) It’s not bad. It’s just, there’s no pay-off that I could tell (apart from the sea-themed Wide Wale and Dr. Dugong), and the generality of the reference is such that it lacks the personality that the show’s best references have. At one point, Red Death does a version of Quint’s Indianapolis speech, this time about events on Gargantua One, and while the speech does have some important lore info, it mostly just reminded me how clever the Sharky’s Machine joke is—and that joke is multiple seasons old at this point.

More effective is the reveal that Hank’s big play last week was as misguided as one would’ve expected; the only reason Wale’s goons were unconscious was that Shelia knocked them out, and everyone—literally everyone—saw right through his “disguise.” Having Hank getting by on optimism and not much else feels like a course correction I didn’t realize I needed, and the big finale, which has Wide Wale finding his brother alive and then desperately trying to convince him that everyone is “playing” is cute. Nothing at the Venture building is actually resolved, but there is the excellent double final twist of having the building apparently come to life, and the “real” Blue Morpho arriving on the scene (driving the Blue Morpho-mobile that Gary was missing earlier), could lead to something interesting down the road. Again, a totally fine and entertaining half hour, and well-paced; and if I sound a little begrudging in my praise, IGNORE ME.

Stray observations

  • Points for, as far as I can tell, never actually telling us that this takes place before and during the events of the previous episode.
  • The villains of the Guild are not happy at being asked to temporarily quit arching. “What, do you expect me to get a job at Tower Records? There are none. Also I’m made of ectoplasm.”
  • The extended mockery of the Blue Morpho “disguise” is good, no question.
  • Is it just me, or was the Monarch/Rusty back-and-forth in this episode (courtesy of the Monarch’s dream, which was another Jaws riff) almost… friendly?
  • “I wear the same socks every time I kill. I call them Steve and Dave Killsock.” -Red Death (is it weird that it makes me nervous every time he’s on screen? Not because I’m afraid of him, but because I’m afraid for him.)

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