Another around-the-house episode—well, it's a couple houses, really, and there's even a tree fort thrown in there, but after the seemingly epic pace of the first two episodes this season, last week and this seems more interested in slowing things down a little and riffing on the characters and their well-established hang-ups. But while I was a big fan of "Perchance To Dean," I was initially not really feeling "Return To Malice." Too many of this kind of episode, one that doesn't really give us any new characters or surprise us with new insights, and the show starts to feel a little sluggish. Venture Bros. doesn't need huge story arcs to survive, but it benefits from balancing the low-key with sharper, more thematically cohesive eps. Still, "Malice" pulled it around in the final minutes, and while I hope next week's episode is more pointed, this was pretty good.
We've been skirting around the edges of how 21 dealt with the death of his compadre at the end of last season, so it's nice to finally get some information on what's going on with him. 21 and 24 were always reliably entertaining, the wise-asses who know a little too much for their own good, and his odd metamorphosis into a periodically uber-competent henchman gave "Malice" some of its strongest moments. Admittedly, that competence only goes so far. He does whip the other hench into shape, and hire a new, seemingly fancy cook for the Monarch and Dr. Mrs. the Monarch, but the Monarch has a terrible allergic reaction to some of the fancy food the cook provides, and spends most of the episode looking like Edward Norton decided he wanted to destroy something beautiful and/or butterfly related. 21 successfully kidnaps Hank and Dean, but subjects them to the weakest Chinese water torture on record.
It's the mixture of driven accomplishment and inability to succeed that's been pushing the show since the first season, and Venture could've benefited from a little more time with him. I loved the revelation that he's still having the same conversations he always used to with 24, only now it's a monologue, since 24 is just a skull. And I loved the brief flashback to how he handled his grief in the wake of the death of his only friend. Given how much the series plays around with chronology, I'm surprised we didn't see more of this flashback. The LARPing section in particular seems like comedy gold.
I think my biggest problem with "Malice" is that I'm still not really warming to Sgt. Hatred. He gets his share of good lines ("Good morning, Mr. Sleepy Kill Me!") but the combination of ick factor and not really being able to get a bead on him makes him less interesting to me. I can deal with him in small doses, but he's no Brock. And really, Brock's absence is keenly felt in episodes like this one, because it helped to have somebody who was actually really good at his job to contrast with all the miserable wretches surrounding him. Losing him when the boys need protection the most makes dramatic sense, but so far this season hasn't done a whole lot with that tension. Hatred makes a poor replacement because he's simply too close to the character types of Rusty and the Monarch—we need that contrast back.
I did appreciate some of the quieter moments of the ep, though. Venture Bros has always been oddly sincere, and there were a few scenes tonight that really used that to their advantage. Monarch's final conversation with 21 was the sort of honest, grounded interaction the show excels at, weirdly emotional without every seeming mawkish, and Rusty and Dr. Mrs. The Monarch's chat outside the Observatory was even better. Rusty has actually benefited from not having Brock around, because he no longer looks quite so pathetic by comparison. He makes one mild, clumsy pass at Dr. Mrs., but while she dodges it, he doesn't leave the conversation humiliated.
To sum up, this had its moments, but I'm hoping next week hits harder. This is the sort of thing that always plays better on the DVDs, really.
- So, who the hell put the check-mark on 21's list?
- "24 died in a car intentional."
- "If anyone knows the rules about abducting boys from their beds, it's old Sgt. Hatred!"
- Man, are Dr. Mrs. the Monarch's boobs getting bigger?
- "Is there a non-musical, mostly nude version of Oklahoma!?"
- All chaps are butt-less.
- "I hate everything. Seriously."