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Well huh. I hadn’t realized “Red Means Stop” was a season finale until roughly halfway through the episode. There were bits and pieces that suggest the situation has reached a new peak: the Guild teams up with OSI to take down the Blue Morpho; Dr. Venture’s lasted arch, the Red Death, is the most dangerous of the bunch so far (but surprisingly well-adjusted in some ways); and the Monarch and Gary finally meet a bad guy they can’t inadvertently murder. All of these elements represent a certain raising of stakes and shifting of the status quo. Hell, there’s even a creepy secondary story that ultimately shows what Gary’s been doing with all those Rusty arches we haven’t seen.

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Yet the end result is a bit deflating, isn’t it? All that build-up, and nothing is actually resolved. Dr. Mrs. The Monarch still doesn’t learn the Blue Morpho’s identity, even as she swears future vengeance. The Monarch isn’t officially arching Rusty yet, although Red Death does tell him he should murder the Ventures and move on with his life. Rusty’s still ensconced in the penthouse his brother left him, and Hank’s presumably still dating the daughter of the villain nextdoor. The show’s seasons rarely end on definitive closing moments (even the death of Hank and Dean at the end of season one turned out to have an escape hatch), but this is more laid back than most.

But hey, maybe I’m confused, maybe we’ll get another hour long episode six months from now that ties off everything with a bow. For right now, we judge what’s in front of us, and by that measure, “Red Means Stop” is fine, I guess. More or less acceptable. Not the worst the show’s ever produced, but definitely not the best. Even if it wasn’t the finale, this would be slightly underwhelming. I don’t want to get overly hyperbolic; there were some good laughs. But even those were intermittent, and once again, the lack of urgency robbed the humor of a good part of its energy.

Red Death was cool, though. Any time you can get Clancy Brown on your show, you should do that, and his vacillations between comforting paternal authority and psychotic rage were one of the half hour’s best repeated gags. Although man, a Taken joke? I don’t mind reference humor, but that gag’s five years past its sell by date, and it’s not even used in an illuminating or unexpected context to boot. Maybe the best part of Red Death was the Monarch and Gary’s awed reaction to him; there’s something about watching them geek out that I find endlessly charming.

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But man, speaking of old references, did it seem like a lot of the bits this week were just lifted from earlier episodes? Or else just random as hell. Watching Rusty hit on Dr. Mrs. has lost what little charm it once had. The OSI characters are even more cartoons than usual, and the super-hero/super-villain antics lack much of any satirical bite. Here’s another story of Rusty’s horrible childhood, and while it’s distinctive enough, it mostly just serves to remind us how normalized everything’s become for him. He cringes, but the sense of trauma, the understanding that this kid suffered some pretty horrific abuse at the hands of his so-called hero father, is more or less gone. It’s a gag now.

For random jokes, the pissing in the sink bit was odd. Like, I guess the implication is that the Monarch and Gary are turning into college roommates or something? The tone here feels off, in a clumsy, ramshackle way I don’t often associate with the series. It’s not disastrous, but it’s not great either.

This whole season, I’ve been worrying the show had lost its mojo. I thought for a while I’d been wrong, and that this new, more serialized approach would lead to greater rewards. But if this is the end result, I’m not sure why they took the time. There’s a fondness to the show now, a kindness, which I like, but if that kindness means sacrificing all narrative umph, maybe the Ventures would be better off mean.

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Stray observations

  • Using a Saw parody to show how Gary’s tried to keep the various arch villains alive over the run of the season was certainly a choice.
  • Billy continues to believe that Rusty is Blue Morpho. Which is a cute idea, but there’s no pay off to it.
  • “He needs me to feed on your butt.”
  • “If I were a woman, I would never stop calling you.” -the Monarch to Red Death
  • Anyone else surprised and relieved that Red Death made it? The man does have a family, after all.

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