This The Venture Bros. review contains spoilers.
The Venture Bros. Season 7 Episode 8“Gentlemen, the spider has taken the fly…”
If the seventh season of The Venture Bros. is remembered for anything, it will definitely be that it’s the year that finally provided answers on some of the series’ oldest and most important questions. At the same time, the show’s seventh season has become unusually focused on the inner workings and machinations of the Guild of Calamitous Intent, even more so than the actions of the show’s actual heroes.
The season started with a healthy dose of Hank and Dean as they faced challenging crossroads in their lives, but the two Venture brothers practically feel like afterthoughts in contrast to how much attention the Monarch and the Guild has received. The evil association has received a level of insight that the series has never even come close to achieving with the OSI. This is very much the Guild’s season and “The Terminus Mandate” keeps that train of maliciousness chugging forward.
Previous episodes from this season have seen the Guild receive upgrades and advantages, but this installment has them put all of those skills to use when they take on their sworn rivals in battle. Not a physical battle, mind you, which is just one of the unexpected ways in which this episode adds to the Guild’s lore. There has been a slow trickle of changes to the Guild’s rules and legislation ever since the Sovereign exited the picture. Now that the organization is being run a lot more “by the book,” it allows a bunch of forgotten Guild legislature to come back into play.
For example, apparently the Guild has an important rule—the terminus mandate—where council members have to eventually give up their arching ways under certain extreme circumstances. This episode explores this surprising moment of turmoil and even though it feels a little manipulative that this new rule essentially comes out of nowhere, it leads to the development of a powerful, cathartic story.
With the Guild’s Council of 13 essentially in shambles (the Council of 5 would be a lot more apt at the moment), the remaining members turn to the Guild’s original charter for guidance. The doctrine states that the remaining council members can form a new council, but they also must retire as active villains as a result. This leaves Dr. Mrs. The Monarch and the rest of the council at a real crossroads that forces them to think about their futures. Accordingly, this culminates in all of the council members receiving one final opportunity to take on their arch-nemeses before their retire. This is their final evil hurrah.
This conflict gives “The Terminus Mandate” a straightforward trajectory, but it’s not exactly clear why Dr. Mrs. The Monarch can’t just rewrite the Guild charter in the same way that the Sovereign did to avoid this unfortunate situation that they’re caught up in. The fact that they’re all traditionalists who want to respect the Guild’s original intentions still works in and of itself, but it does feel a little flimsy as far as reasons go.
Even outside of Guild bureaucracy, this important decision also causes unrest with Dr. Mrs. The Monarch’s marriage. The whole argument boils down to classic issues like career versus family and it’s satisfying to see the full weight of these choices weigh down on every aspect of these characters. It’s easy to forget that at one point Dr. Mrs. The Monarch was The Monarch’s number two, but through the years she’s experienced a career that even puts his illustrious accomplishments to shame.
They’ve gone down different, albeit similar, paths and the events of “The Terminus Mandate” push this to the extreme. Their relationship takes on yet another new wrinkle and is forced to adapt, just like everything else in this show.
One of the most impressive aspects of “The Terminus Mandate” is just how many characters the episode throws into the mix and that it’s still able to give them all their moment to shine and some fresh backstory. This episode’s cast of characters isn’t quite at Infinity War proportions, but it’s pretty high, yet the episode doesn’t feel overcrowded or rushed.
The “final arching” storyline is a smart way to bring all of these eclectic characters together. What’s most interesting is that these final arches that the council members carry out are based on pivotal events from their past. This results in a number of flashbacks that shade in compelling, unseen moments from these villains lives (like Dr. Mrs. The Monarch’s tenure as Lady Au Pair—oh how I don’t miss those murderous moppets).
“The Terminus Mandate” does fall into a bit of a pattern with how each council member reminisces over their glory days and then sets out to deal with this, but the unique ways in which each of these villains choose to exact their revenge keep the episode from falling into a rut. The most satisfying of these is perhaps Phantom Limb’s high stakes confrontation with Hunter Gathers. The encounter is dripping with machismo and dread, but it turns into a literal dick-measuring contest.
In my opinion, Phantom Limb has always been one of the greatest characters on the series (the character’s psychosis-fueled “The Revenge Society” remains one of my all-time favorite episodes) and this means of reconciliation is perfectly on brand. That being said, Red Death continues to be the dark horse candidate for the season’s best character. He chooses to style his means of revenge after the classics and he finds a deep amount of honor in an evil act as traditional as tying a victim to train tracks that harkens back to the good ol’ days of villainy.
These long-brewing rivalries all carry varying degrees of impact to the audience, but one that’s certainly not taken for granted is Dr. Z’s relationship with Action Johnny. Dr. Z’s flashbacks provide more fantastic insight into the character and are some of the strongest of the lot due to their heightened cartoonish nature. As farcical as Z’s past may be, his reunion with Johnny is tender and sweet in a way that speaks to the idea that to arch someone is also to love that person, in a way.
Also, if The Venture Bros. can devote an entire special to Hank and Dermott’s band, Shallow Gravy, then we should absolutely be able to get a special that solely focuses on Red Mantle/Dragoon’s efforts to arch Home Improvement’s Richard Karn. We deeply need this.
As Dr. Mrs. The Monarch and company attempt to get their affairs in order and say goodbye to the past, Dr. Venture is occupied with a much more innocuous struggle—the one going on within his pants. Coalescing through all of the villainous backstory is a ridiculous sex romp that Rusty’s gotten himself caught up in. It’s even better that Night Dick tells Rusty about this black widow as a precaution, yet his warnings only entice Dr. Venture on what an ego boost this will be.
Rusty’s misguided, oversexed exploits with this black widow are completely unnecessary, but would it really be a season of The Venture Bros. without Rusty totally succumbing to his raging libido for an episode? Besides, he has to make up for last week’s virtual reality illuminati orgy. This super scientist needs some physical reality sex!
It’s pretty damn funny to see Hank, Dean, and Brock’s attempts to get Rusty to try to date regular women as opposed to a scenario where his life is potentially on the line, but it’s the black widow nature that interests Rusty! “This is a woman that seduces rich men for a living,” he beams. The threat of death doesn’t seem to bother him in the face of no holds barred sex. It also allows him to get a hilarious primer on the many ways in which a black widow may attempt to murder her sex prey.
Underneath all of Rusty’s sexed up actions lie a fragile ego that simply wants some companionship without the fear of rejection. It certainly helps that there’s an emotional core to Rusty’s story and underneath the broad, desperate comedy is a man in pain. Overall, Rusty’s story really doesn’t need to be apart of this episode and it doesn’t so much receive resolution as it just drunkenly passes out on itself. However, it makes for some lighter material to help break up the heavier Guild content. It provides a perfectly fine balance in tone for the episode, but finding a story that could have better utilized brought Hank and/or Dean wouldn’t have hurt.
“The Terminus Mandate” amounts to an episode that really examines the co-dependent relationship between heroes and their arch villains as well as the therapeutic nature of this bond. It shines a light on some areas that can typically be overlooked in this series, like who these characters are without their counterpoints. In a season full of exceptional episodes, “The Terminus Mandate” packs a slightly weaker punch than some of the other installments from this year.
That’s nothing against “The Terminus Mandate” and more a commentary on the very high quality that The Venture Bros.’ seventh season has achieved. This may be one of the more expendable episodes of the season, but it’s still a very fun, entertaining entry. This is almost certainly the calm before the storm that happens in the season’s final two episodes.
Oh, and get ready for a ponytail-less Gary! We’re officially through the looking glass here, people.
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, that Psycho II is better than the original, and he’s always game to discuss Space Dandy. His perma-neurotic thought process can be followed at @DanielKurlansky.