This Venture Bros. review contains spoilers.
The Venture Bros. Season 7, Episode 4
“Don’t you know you can’t hide from your own shadow?”
The Venture Bros. is no stranger to heavy storylines that are often at risk of collapsing under their own weight, but this season’s introduction, “The Morphic Trilogy,” is certainly the most egregious example of this. Now that the series has gotten these lofty plot machinations out of its system, The Venture Bros. can return to what it does best: drowning its characters in self-doubt and fear.
“The High Cost of Loathing” begins two months after the bonkers, earth-shattering events of “Arrears in Science,” which is just enough time to let those events sink in and breathe. In spite of this grace period, most of the show’s cast are now aimlessly lost while they attempt to structure the next phase of their lives. This jump forward into January and the new school semester are meant to mark the official start to the show’s seventh season.
The “Morphic Trilogy” was originally intended to be the capper to season six, so it’s telling to see that this season’s focus is once more on identity and who we are versus who we think we are. Furthermore, as this episode’s title slyly implies, in addition to identity issues there are financial woes that also plague many of the show’s central characters. Even in the high-paced worlds of arch-villainy and superheroics, when it rains, it pours.
The episode finds a sturdy foundation with how it decides to juxtapose the Monarch’s attempt to rebuild his life as a big league villain with Dean and Hank’s separate efforts to establish a life outside of their father’s hefty reputation. Dean’s path has him finally head off to college and pursue a life of alleged independence, while Hank’s journey concerns his search for approval, both from his father and from outside sources. All of these storylines juggle the episode’s spotlight, but it’s the Monarch’s plight that really pushes the narrative forward.
It’s almost alarming to see just how much of a comfort it is to begin an episode with a good old-fashioned cold open where the Monarch pulls off some meaningless heist. What’s great about this sequence is that it’s been so long since we’ve seen this sort of wanton villainy from the Monarch and it’s thrilling to witness just how much his operation has upped their game over the years. He even now has a solid grasp on his Death’s Head Panoply.
However, because this is The Venture Bros., of course the show pulls the rug out from under the audience only to reveal that this efficient machine of maliciousness is merely the Monarch’s daydream. A lot of time has passed, but he’s still more or less operating at the same level of efficiency as when the series began. The more that things change, the more that they stay the same.
That being said, the Monarch has been bogged down in obligations and boring bureaucracy for ages that it’s deeply freeing to see him be able to act without any of that holding him down, even if it’s just in a fantasy sequence. The same can be said for the complicated history and mythology that The Venture Bros. has been building through the years. Now that much of that has been put to bed, the series is able to have some fun and get back to the basics in a lot of ways, too.
The Monarch has successfully shed the skin of his alter ego, the Blue Morpho, but his grand return to arching as the Monarch is considerably bumpier than he’s anticipated. His audit to determine his EMA level and future funding, but more importantly to figure out if he qualifies to arch Dr. Venture, does not go well. The news that his grading comes in at a 5 is gutting for everyone involved. Without the Guild’s full support the Monarch turns to more conventional forms of assistance, but he still comes out empty.
His failure to get a bank loan quickly turns into an improvised robbery, but he can’t even properly pull that off due to the Brown Widow’s presence. It doesn’t matter if it’s fiscal issues or villainy matters, the Monarch experiences failure across the board this week. These rejections don’t do much for the Monarch’s already fragile ego, but it’s surprisingly Dean who’s able to deal him the most brutal blow. Dean’s biting question to the villain, “Why do you even do this? Do you even know anymore?” swiftly cuts to the Monarch’s core and emphasizes everything that haunts him this week.
At the same time, it feels like this question could be directed at Rusty and hold just as much weight. Rusty’s struggles with a flailing Ven-Tech and his direction for the company nicely parallel the reinvention that the Monarch tries to create for himself. Rusty’s problems don’t become too central, but it’s appreciated that the episode still checks in with where he’s at. Plus, Dr. Venture’s bold presentation during the company’s strategy meeting is one of the funniest moments of the episode and still highlights how out of place he is in this role as CEO of a mega-corporation.
The Monarch and Dr. Venture may be lost in self-doubt, but they’re not alone, as two other individuals who are just as distraught are the Venture Brothers. Dean is finally off to Stuyvesant University’s campus and his absence means that Hank gains quite the bachelor pad in the process. The series makes an interesting decision to put Dean and Sirena at the same college and have them share classes, but it creates yet another organic way for this trio of characters to strangely cross-pollinate each other. Moments where Hank comes to visit Sirena on campus will naturally double as excuses to have Hank cross paths with Dean again, while their characters are still allowed to (finally) progress and mature.
Hank’s lack of enrollment in school means that he needs to instead find a source of income. This new obstacle doesn’t consume Hank greatly in this episode, but he still wastes no time filling the newly vacant space in his home with disoriented Air BnB’ers. Hank may have found a temporary solution to his money problems, but with Sirena now at school, Hank struggles to find time alone with her and figure out how he fits into her life. Not only that, but someone that Sirena actually does get plenty of time with is Dean and a meager, sweet friendship slowly begins to blossom there.
I honestly don’t need to see this season pursue some Hank/Sirena/Dean love triangle. It feels like the show is better than that at this point and can put something more challenging together. That being said, if this season slowly pulls apart Hank and Dean and pits them against each other, like miniature versions of Rusty and the Monarch, then I am all for this.
In fact, Hank eventually arching Dean perfectly mirrors the Monarch’s decision to arch Rusty. A love triangle may be a flimsy way to ignite all of this turmoil, but the results would be well worth it. Hank joining the Guild would make for a powerful, poignant close to the season. It also perfectly reflects the theme of how these characters are not their parents, with Hank’s possible rebellion from Rusty no different than the verging paths that Rusty and the Monarch took based on the actions of their fathers.
On the topic of parentage, it’s significant to note that Brock is the one that helps Dean move into his dorm, rather than his father. It’s not like Rusty has ever been super affectionate with his children, but Brock’s helpfulness here does in many ways also reflect on the fact that their bodyguard has been more of a father to them than their actual dad. The sadness of this isn’t lost on Dean and he laments how nobody seems to care about the fact that he’s gone off to school, something that should be seen as a huge milestone.
Brock tries his best to shield the boy, but there’s no protection from the fact that Rusty has signed Dean up for a bunch of science courses without his consent, basically forcing him to ill-fatedly walk down his father’s footsteps. A glorious moment of synchronicity takes place when Rusty ends up in the hospital and is sorrowful that Dean doesn’t come visit him. The two are far more similar than they care to admit.
Dean also learns that his college roommate is Jared, the Brown Widow, which acts as a nice way to bring back this unusual character. It also feels like a better decision than introducing a completely new character to share space with Dean. The show has created such a rich tapestry of supporting characters that it’d be irresponsible to not find new contexts to incorporate them into and expand on their roles.
As it stands, Dean and Jared are the perfect odd couple, which is enough on its own, but if some sort of actual friendship blossoms between them things could become even more interesting. He’d definitely be a unique foil for Dean to bounce off of, especially if you were to then throw Hank and Dermott into the mix.
Perhaps the most powerful scene in the episode is Dean’s meeting with Dr. Victor Von Helping/Hellfire, even though it’s only a few minutes long. The science professor’s scenes with Dean are incredibly moving and they’d still carry plenty of emotion even if he didn’t share the same complicated, painful history as Dean. At the moment it feels like Dr. Von Helping’s mentorship to Dean is genuine and that there aren’t ulterior motives, but you never can be too sure with The Venture Bros. It should make for some complex material if someone besides Dean’s father is able to get him excited about science and if that threatens Rusty at all. It would at least explore a new facet of their relationship.
It’s a smart idea to bring another super scientist into this universe and it’s honestly surprising that the show hasn’t gone all-in on the Dr. Doom stereotype before. It also never hurts to have more Gary Cole in anything that you do. Coincidentally, Von Helping also happens to be the Monarch’s new arching target, which has the Monarch’s identity crisis collide with Dean’s in a rather chaotic way that nicely brings the episode full circle. Back when this series began, it definitely never looked like one of the Monarch’s arching schemes would be foiled by Dean’s checkbook.
“The High Cost of Loathing” is an impressive Venture Bros. installment that feels like the true start to this season, with some exciting, challenging plans in mind for its characters. There’s no shortage of humor in this episode and the season already finds plenty to do with Dean’s no school setting. The episode succeeds in the typical areas, but what’s especially enjoyable about “The High Cost of Loathing” is how it finds common ground amongst this eclectic cast and frames them all as survivors who persevere. The Monarch’s wife may tell her husband that “Monarchs never quit,” but the message just as much applies to all of the show’s characters that are lost in flux this season.
The mature character development that this episode sets in motion is highly enjoyable and there’s a nice balance between the humor and action, but this show’s gorgeous animation just needs to be singled out one more time. The wide shots of the Venture Compound that show off the full range of the home in its total ‘70s retro glory are just stunning. So much effort goes into the background and design details of this series and in a show that has such an insane mythology and incredibly funny writing, it’s important to also give this other staggering accomplishment its due.
“The High Cost of Loathing” continues this season’s brilliant run of episodes. Hopefully what’s to follow only expands upon all of this rather than crumble under the pressure of these changes. Now Dean, just promise to remember to knock on your dorm room door in the future so we all don’t have to be subjected to Brown Widow’s “personal time” again. Being roommates with Seth Brundle would be less weird…
Daniel Kurland is a published writer, comedian, and critic whose work can be read on Den of Geek, Vulture, Bloody Disgusting, and ScreenRant. Daniel knows that the owls are not what they seem and his perma-neurotic thought process can be followed at @DanielKurlansky.