The standard line has always been that The Venture Bros is a show about failure. I've mentioned it enough times in these reviews that just typing that seems old news, and it's not like Jackson Publick has been shy about using the phrase in interviews. There was plenty of failure on display in tonight's "Operation P.R.O.M.," the final episode of the bifurcated fourth season, and the series' first hour long episode. Dean can't pretend Trianna is his girlfriend anymore. Doc Venture couldn't make it with a prostitute without the help of some extra-sciencey Spanish Fly, and even that didn't work out so great. Brock lost the one woman he probably loved, after she dumped him for a supervillain (and then proceeded to go over a cliff with that supervillain and explode). 21 lost his dead best friend, and then essentially dumped the Monarch. The Monarch ruined the prom in the lamest way imaginable. Etc.
But "P.R.O.M." also had those moments of minor transcendence that I believe are equally as important to the series as all the missed connections and humiliations, those beats where the ridiculous and the downtrodden are allowed, for a few moments at least, something roughly approaching dignity. Most of the jokes were great, and while the episode was as frenetically paced as all late period Venture Bros episodes tendto be, the extended length helped every subplot get a decent amount of breathing room. Plus, centering the story around Hank and Dean's home-school prom (a concept so cringe-worthy it could power a whole season of Freaks And Geeks) gave all the craziness a solid home base to come back to. Not every plotline ended up at the Venture Compound, but most of them did. While I doubt many viewers had to endure the indignity of watching their father make (unsuccessful) passes at an escort while an albino played DJ, the idea of awful romantic mishaps experienced under colorful lights and underscored by dance synth pop is something most of us can latch on to.
All right, storywise: while Rusty is trying to put together the best dance possible for his boys (and hopefully get laid in the process), Colonel Gathers and some of the S.P.H.I.N.X. boys take Monstroso to O.S.I. While drugged, Monstroso revealed some pretty key intel about Guild spies mucking around in O.S.I. business, and Gathers plans to swap the comatose villain for immunity for his men. 21 decides he's had enough of 24 and Baba Ojoe's influence, and buries 24's skull on the Venture compound; while he's there, Hatred shoots him during a game of sniper with Shore Leave, so 21, through a not-that-complicated series of events, winds up at the Venture prom. Monarch and Mrs. the Monarch crash as well, bringing Princess Tinyfeet with them—turns out she left Hatred because she was super into bondage. Then Molotov Cocktease, who had infiltrated S.P.H.I.N.X., grabs the real Monstroso's body, and Brock gives chase. Oh, and during all this we find out that Trianna is seeing a vaguely Edward-from-Twilight looking guy (Hank dubs him a "cripster"), which bums the hell out of Dean.
Most of this is the usual comic shenanigans, but "Operation" was helped immensely by the extra time (which honestly flew by; fingers crossed they can do a couple more eps this long next season). The major characters were given enough space so that not every piece of dialogue out of their mouths was a punchline or exposition, and that slight boost of characterization made the byzantine plotting seem more meaningful than it otherwise might have. The show pushed the gross-out button further than I can remember in a long time, with an extended routine on just what a "Rusty Venture" actually was (Brock's answer sounded like the right one, if there really was a "right" one), and it paid off. In general, this just seemed looser, a little more experimental, and for once, the plotting didn't take over the show.
It wasn't perfect. I'm not so much sure about the sight of Princess Tinyfeet with a ball-gag stuck in her mouth—there was something very creepy about her dead-eye stare, and while I get that part of her joke is that she's never had a speaking line on the show, it's not really that funny anymore. Besides, with its added focus on the ensemble, it was hard not to notice how much of a boy's club the show really is. Aside from Mrs. The Monarch, women are all unobtainable objects of desire, the source of constant rejection and misery. Given the nature of the series, it makes sense that unrequited love (or lust, or whatever) would be a regular event, but it's kind of odd that Molotov Cocktease was the only non-married female involved in the super-hero business, and as far as we can tell, she's dead now.
Really, though, the good here was so good I don't feel bad grading this a full on A. 21's stumbling realization that he's actually much happier with the good guys than he is getting roped up in the Monarch and Mrs. the Monarch's terrifying personal lives was amazing stuff, the resolution of a story-arc that's been running the whole season and the sort of resolution that I never would've seen coming but once it arrived, made perfect sense. While I've never been overly invested in the show's mythology (I think the various politicking of Guilds and Leagues and what-not is ridiculously complex by design), the idea of the Colonel being left in charge of O.S.I. while the cancer-ridden General floats out into space has a certain brilliance to it. I love Hank's unquenchable enthusiasm for everything. And, in arguably the most direct, down-to-earth subplot of the ep, Dean had his heart-broken. I expected there would be some reconciliation at the end. I don't think anyone would buy Trianna and Dean as a couple, but I figured he'd apologize for freaking out at her, and they'd be friendly again. Instead, we got a goofy KKK sight-gag, and Dean delivering what might be the first major curse he's said in the show. It was a nice moment of non-learning that felt more honest than a reconciliation would have. Sometimes, when people are giving you the best advice in the world, you're going to tell them to fuck off. Sometimes it's the only thing you really can do.
- Well, that's it for this season. Hopefully we won't have to wait too many years for the next one.
- "Don't worry, Cowboy Dracula."
- Aw, Trianna's friend Kim has given up being a supervillain, and is instead all "Christian-y." That's sad.
- "Dude, I'm not a good guy." "Oh yes you are. Now scoot."
- The variety of the possible definitions of a "Rusty Venture" was nothing short of astounding. Even bleeped, I'm amazed they got that on air.
- "You think he even knows how many double entendres that was?"