This The Venture Bros. review contains spoilers.
The Venture Bros. Season 7 Finale
“But let me ask you, what IS family?…”
This season of The Venture Bros. was about Malcolm “The Monarch” Fitzcarraldo’s journey. Over the course of the season he’s fought, clawed, and climbed his way back to the top. Yes, this season also gave Rusty Venture and his family plenty of focus, but this finale proves that this year was really the Monarch’s story. Rusty is literally just used as bait in this finale. When a seismic reveal is dropped during the episode’s final seconds, it’s the Monarch’s reaction that gets attention. Rusty’s response isn’t even featured. But why shouldn’t the Monarch get such attention? He is, after all, a Venture brother…
The Venture Bros. is no stranger when it comes to deep cuts from pop culture and history. “The Saphrax Protocol” pulls from the history of Gothic figures, Saphrax and Alatheus, and uses it as the foundation of this finale. Saphrax was the “first man to turn a grudge into a career” and a major role model for the Guild—he ostensibly was the first Guild member, or at the least, legitimized what they do for a living.
Furthermore, as the Guild explores this Gothic past further, they also make the connection that if Saphrax was the first villain, then his partner, Alatheus, was the first henchmen. This history lesson on the Guild’s formation is wonderful, but it also sets up the important ritual that the Monarch and Gary—the modern Saphrax and Alatheus—are about to undergo.
What initially looks like a story about sibling rivalries actually turns out to be about the formation of evil, its deep roots in history, and the nature of friendship–not hate. Especially when the Monarch and Rusty’s complicated connection comes to light. “The Saphrax Protocol” covers a lot of ground and isn’t interested in wasting any time. It’s an incredibly busy, fast-paced episode that begins with a major kidnapping that gets the ball rolling and then never reduces that speed. In that sense it’s the perfect bookend to the season’s electric premiere that operated with much of the same purpose and intensity.
The Monarch is at last ready to accept his right to become a Level 10 villain and the process is all deliciously steampunk and cloak and dagger. The pageantry and ceremony behind this trial make it feel more like a session of Dungeons & Dragons mixed with a pastor’s sermon rather than a top-level Guild ritual.
The trials that the Monarch and Gary have to endure to claim this honor are all a lot of fun and feel like continuations from the Creep’s lawn dart madness from the prior installment. These tests range from the deceptively simple and gross, to severe mental manipulation. The Monarch and Gary maintain a firm grasp at what’s at stake and seem ready to embrace this new beginning that awaits them. Gary even faces a serious promotion when he’s offered the opportunity to quit henching and become his own villain. Henchman 24 would be so proud.
For a moment it looks like the Monarch and Gary are headed into uncharted territory with their decision, but it turns out their actions only make them closer to Saphrax and Alatheus. This isn’t about killing your rival, it’s about never-ending torment and blood allegiances of hatred. The Guild is a pretty vindictive bunch, and so are the Monarch and Gary, but they’re also partners. It’s so satisfying to see that the Saphrax trial is just as much about the Monarch and Gary’s bond as it is about their Guild promotions. Their friendship is just as fundamental to the series as Hank and Dean’s bond.
This episode continues to use the entire history of Saphrax and Alatheus as a parable for the Monarch and Gary’s journey. However, while Saphrax was able to eliminate his rival, the Monarch’s final test is to see if he can do the same thing and finally murder Dr. Venture—something that becomes even more difficult and incestuous to Saphrax’s own history. This is a real opportunity for the Monarch to put all of his disastrous baggage behind him and at last move on and become the amazing villain that he’s capable of becoming, but it’s a major hurdle for him to get over.
It’s doubtful that anyone watching this actually believed that Rusty would die in this episode. This steals a little of the impact from the conclusion, but it’s still an unexpected twist in the end. Even before this big decision gets made, “The Saphrax Protocol” lets its two complimentary storylines that involve the Guild and Dr. Venture’s camp dovetail together on Meteor Majeure with extreme precision.
After Rusty finds himself kidnapped courtesy of the very teleportation device that the Monarch stole from him, Brock comes to his rescue and his rampage against the Guild’s Blackout Team is deeply cathartic. It’s crazy to think that Brock was at one point a fairly one-note character who only went on bloody murder sprees. Now, at the end of the show’s seventh season, this commanding trait only gets to reveal itself once this year, but boy does it make up for the lengthy wait.
Brock’s shogun-inspired rampage through the VenTech Compound is one of the most violent, intense sequences from the entire series, but after such a break from Brock’s “ways of expressing himself,” his actions hit even harder here. “The Saphrax Protocol” is fully aware of this and tries to push Brock’s mission as far as possible. He announces to the Blackout Team that he’s been extremely bored lately, but it’s clear from how over the top he goes with his executions that this is the most fun that he’s had all year. It’s the release that he needs.
All of this may be a fairly simple dissection of Brock, but with a season that’s juggled so much, it’s just nice to see him get such focus in a finale that largely revolves around other characters. It’s hard not to smirk through his extreme actions, but it also provides a large action component to a finale that’s more psychological than physical.
It’s also rather hilarious to see him constantly get bummed out over how these Guild members keep taking their own lives rather than face his means of torture. That being said, the visual of a growing tally of cyanide-poisoned Guild members that steadily get teleported to Meteor Majeure is very entertaining.
As the Monarch’s season-long arc through the ranks of the Guild comes to a thrilling head, the same principle and dynamic that he shares with Rusty is also communicated through the microcosm of Hank and Dean’s relationship. Hank and Dean come into their own and receive the same clarity that the Monarch does here. This epiphany is even reached by similar circumstances, where they truly learn something about their other half.
This finale decides to initially approach Hank’s story as a mystery, where there’s a large gap between him catching his girlfriend in bed with his brother, and the “purgatory” that he’s in now. He’s in such denial over who he—and Dean—have become, that his psyche dresses him up as Lando Calrissian. Hank finds a surprising partner in the form of Action Man, who joins him on this surreal adventure.
This all turns into a deeply thought out comparison between The Empire Strikes Back and Barbarella that’s much more fun than it deserves to be (seriously, matmos versus midochlorians is freaking brilliant). It may also be the largest Star Wars detour that The Venture Bros. has ever done. It’s also very easy to picture Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick having this exact argument countless times over.
Even minor moments through this coma vision quest yield big results. Just watching Hank and Action Man travel via space manta rays while they bicker is a stunning sight to take in. You almost forgot the many layers of absurdity that all of this is steeped in due to how well the series naturalizes this image. The answer to this madness is that both Action Man and Hank are in their own respective comas (yet they’re both unaware of this), and so they continue to argue over which of them has invaded the other person’s purgatory. Matters get even more twisted when Dr. Phineas Phage also incepts this coma-share and joins their weird purgatory internal journey.
As Hank goes through this radical form of self-discovery, Dean experiences a similar level of reflection, but in a much more grounded way. The crestfallen brother reminisces on 98 Degrees, Bop It Extreme, and a whole history of 124 other brotherly white lies. Dean’s apology starts from a very silly, inconsequential place, but eventually culminates in sincerity and regrets over how these once inseparable Venture brothers have increasingly splintered apart…
“The Saphrax Protocol” soars with the honesty found in Dean’s admission to his brother. He doesn’t love Sirena or even want to date her. He acted out like this to get closer to his brother, in a weird way. It’s a flawed, human response, but it’s so much better than if Dean tried to tell Hank how he and Sirena were actually soul mates. This is the rock bottom catharsis that they needed to understand how much they’ve drifted apart.
It’s also no different than the extreme situation that the Monarch has to get into with Dr. Venture in order to finally figure out what he wants out of life. Life can be messy and hard and depressing. It’s not always mecha-shivas and “finger v’s.” It’s taken these wide-eyed Venture brothers a long time to learn this, but it makes for a pretty incredible moment of character development. It’s goddamn beautiful. If the Monarch and Rusty could have opened up like this when they were teenagers, then maybe they wouldn’t still be locked in combat in their older years. Also, it doesn’t hurt that the whole end is a big riff on Darkman, too.
This is a season of The Venture Bros. where everybody has struggled to accept the people that they’ve become–or are trying to become. The Monarch’s journey over what it is to be evil, Hank’s internal journey to figure out his family and pull himself out of his shock coma, Brock’s journey to wipe out those that are a risk to Rusty, and Rusty’s journey to face the music over his inventions.
On some level, you could even say that the same self-discovery is reached by Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer themselves, who have not only turned out what’s arguably the show’s best season, but it also feels like this year is full of more character insight and understanding of what this world represents than ever before. I’d never try to argue which of the two is the Saphrax and which is the Alatheus, and honestly it doesn’t matter, but their journey is no different than what these other binaries experience.
“The Saphrax Protocol” is nearly a perfect finale to this season, but there are still a few minor shortcomings. A lot of weight is put in the discovery that the Monarch and Rusty are brothers, and even though this is news to the characters within the show, the big moment falls a little flat for audiences, especially when it’s the final moment that the season chooses to go out on. Viewers have suspected this for a long time and this season’s “Morphic Trilogy” confirmed those suspicions. This would be a more powerful moment if we didn’t know everything that we already did.
Furthermore, I definitely thought we’d get more on Bud Manstrong, Sharky’s Machine, and the full events of Gargantua-1’s “movie night.” It felt like that chapter from Jonas’ life may even be a recurring motif that’s returned to this season, but it hasn’t even been casually mentioned since it’s appearance in the premiere.
Surely there will be more on this in season eight, but if there was anything else that could have made this finale even better, it would have been tying everything back to that hanging mystery. All of the Sgt. Hatred and Stuyvesant University receptionist material also falls pretty flat and could be removed to little consequence. I understand why it’s there, but it really offers little to the episode.
A lot happens in “The Saphrax Protocol,” but it all goes by so quickly and barely feels like it has a chance to breathe. The series has so often delivered two-part or super-sized finales and while this entire season has been so connected that it’s understandable why this approach wasn’t taken this year, the restrictions of the regular-sized episode are definitely felt. There’s a lot of story to get through and while it’s all engrossing, a little more time would help the story out. In spite of how much goes down here, the finale also strangely all feels like prologue to what’s to come next and the series’ next stage.
The Venture Bros.’ “The Saphrax Protocol” is a series-high that caps off a restorative year for the show. We may be well into the 2020s before we get more Venture goodness, but this will stand as the important season where everyone stopped being Venture brothers and became Venture men.
Oh, and Bobbi St. Simone is Hank and Dean’s mother. Now find a new question to bug Jackson and Doc about for the next seven seasons.
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.