Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer’s animated sitcom is one of the finest shows ever to air on Adult Swim, and even though I love Rick and Morty a disturbing amount I’d say that this is better. Originally starting off as a spoof of animated fare like Johnny Quest it quickly became far more layered and fascinating, a study of failure, love, life, ambition and ego, and all of the characters have developed in intriguing and unpredictable ways over the years
Whilst slightly disjointed this has been one of the very best seasons of The Venture Bros., with perhaps only season 4 being oh so slightly better. Beginning with the resolution to season six’s story arc featuring the Blue Morpho, this year has mostly centred around The Monarch’s attempts to regain his standing in The Guild of Calamitous Intent, whilst Rusty’s been doing the super scientist thing (for once actually succeeding when he builds a teleportation device), Dean attempting to break away from his father’s obsession with making him in to a younger version of himself, and Hank has been romancing Sirena, the daughter of supervillain Wide Wale.
Last week’s episode ended on the cliffhanger that Dean and Sirena have been seeing each other, with an injured Hank discovering them in bed together. The season finale, entitled The Saphrax Protocol, continues on from that as we learn Hank’s now in a coma, with a distraught Dean by his bedside. Meanwhile The Guild kidnap Dr Venture, leaving a group of agents to distract Brock who relishes the chance to kill each and every one of them, and the Monarch is awarded Level 10 villain status, at least if he can succeed in the various trials the Guild sets him.
It’s an episode which is almost perfect, and I don’t say that lightly. And now that I’ve said that I’m not sure why I included the word almost, but I suppose it doesn’t feature The Order of the Triad and as they’re three of my favourite characters it would have been nice if they’d been able to pop up even if it was for a brief cameo. But that’s the only incredibly minor thing I could suggest as there’s so many fantastic elements to the episode, it moves the plot forward whilst resolving a lot of strands that the previous seven episodes had built up, but also reveals some of the mysteries that the show has set up since the beginning, including the identity of Hank and Dean’s mother and whether or not The Monarch and Dr Venture are actually related.
There’s also some beautifully surreal moments within Hank’s coma dream, as he teams up with The Action Man, a member of Jonas Venture’s original Team Venture who had a stroke several episodes ago and is also in a coma himself. Imagining himself as Lando Calrissian in a mix of a The Empire Strikes Back and Barberella influenced world, visually it’s stunning and the ideas it plays with constantly made me laugh, there’s so many highlights but when The Guild member Dr. Phineas Phage turns up (having been put in to a coma himself after a transporter accident) and is part At-At it’s a truly hilarious moment.
Also incredibly fun is the ridiculously daft ceremony that The Guild puts the Monarch through, including a Flash Gordon inspired moment where the Monarch has to put his hand in to a tree trunk supposedly containing a dangerous beast, and when it appears that Gary is elevated to level four supervillain The Monarch amusingly shrieks “What the (bleep), this was my party!”. And there’s genuine tension as he’s given a sword and the opportunity to murder Dr Venture, which made me wonder if the series really was going to shake things up – especially after it was revealed that Rusty was a clone himself in a recent episode. The Monarch’s rejection of the idea is a great one, showing his best side as he realises that destroying his arch-enemy would make him miserable, telling The Guild to go (bleep) themselves, whilst Gary turns down his promotion, which it turns out is what they wanted all along and The Monarch’s level 10 villain status is confirmed.
The episode also features some of the funniest dialogue of the season, including Hank’s realisation that he needs to grow up, saying to the Action Man “What’s more grown-up that jumping in to the Matmos?”, who wryly responds “I don’t know mortgage, prostate swelling, child support payments”. Indeed the whole sequence is superb, where Hank then suddenly acts like he’s in The Wizard of Oz, uttering “I think I’ll miss you most of all” before kissing The Action Man on the lips, and after he leaves them The Action Man admits “That kid has moxie”, only for Dr. Phineas Phage to respond “That kid has undiagnosed Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder”.
Other highlights are Brock’s need for “a whizz break” mid-massacre, Sergeant Hatred’s attempts to get past the receptionist at the hospital to see Hank, claiming that she’s “Moriarty to his Sherlock” (as an aside it’s great to see Hatred do something fun for once this season, he’s been a tad underused and I enjoyed him a lot in this episode), whilst Dean’s list of things he feels guilty about is full of gems, including the fact that whilst he lied at the time he really did love Hank’s 98 Degrees cd.
As a season finale it’s amazing stuff in general, packed with some shockingly beautiful moments, extremely funny segments and for once there’s no real downside for Dr Venture, Hank, Dean and Brock. Sure Dean has to cope with his betrayal of his brother, but he also gets to let off some steam and reveal all of the things he’s struggling with in his life. And I was greatly relieved when it came to Hank’s eventual fate, there’s been speculation all season that Rusty’s poor parenting and Dean’s treatment of him may lead him to becoming a supervillain, but somewhat joyously the opposite occurs, as he wakes from his coma and realises he needs to try and find himself, and in a homage to Sam Raimi’s Darkman the very final shot reveals him wearing his Batman mask again for the first time in far too long.
The Venture Bros. has sometimes been quite a bleak series, Dr Venture has never really recovered from his hideous childhood whilst Hank and Dean had to come to terms with the nightmarish fact that they were both clones, and many times The Monarch has screwed up his life and sunk in to depression over events and risked screwing up his marriage, so it’s enormously pleasing for it to end on a high note – and even if The Monarch is horrified by the news that he’s Rusty’s brother, the previous episode suggests all will turn out well in the end. Due to Publick and Hammer being involved with many aspects of making the show it only tends to air roughly every two years, which can be a little frustrating, but if it means the series is this great than I’d have no issue with them taking three, four or even five. But no more than that, I have my limits after all.
You can watch the episode on Adult Swim’s site.