It’s a wonder that Venture Bros. ever attained the cult success it has, given episodes like season five’s premiere “What Color Is Your Cleansuit?” Not that it was a bad episode, or even a good episode—it was fantastic—but rather that it was about the most insular thing they could have returned with. Venture’s last proper season ended in November of 2010, and even the most obsessive fan can hardly be blamed for wanting to ease back into things. The premiere was a mini-feature, with an epic scope and a mythology all its own, but it began immediately after season four’s end, with little attempt at catching up the audience. In other shows, that wouldn’t be important, but in Venture, constant change (growth is rarely the correct word) is one of the key themes, and anything approximating a status quo was thrown out the window seasons ago.
That difficulty, though, is also paramount to why Venture is such a brilliant show. Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer’s vision for it is so uncompromising that fans who enjoy that sort of thing can revel in its dense world with no handholding. This is a show that excised its most popular character, Brock Samson, to a peripheral role without a second thought. Imagine Community only giving Abed screentime every third episode, and it’s easy to understand what makes Venture different from the rest of television. As with the best fan fiction, of which Venture has always in a way been, the show is made for the creators, and if other people like it too, that seems like just a bonus.
So It’s not too long before “What Color Is Your Cleansuit?” gets past wrapping up previous events and moves into a new story. Rusty Venture still owes his brother work, but as usual is both too lazy and too disinterested to do so himself. He assembles an army of color-coated, intentionally henchmen-reminiscent interns to do it for him, with no regard towards the ridiculous safety hazards this work entails. Those hazards turn out to include mutation, and his three classes of interns each suffer a different dire fate: the white ones gain another pair of arms and grow telekinetic and mental powers, the orange ones grow Thing-esque carapaces and super strength, while the green ones, umm, well seeing as they’re Rusty’s favorites, the episode says it best: “Student Green is made out of people!”
Once he finally realizes what’s happening, Venture responds, kind of, and also gets assistance from Billy Quizboy (whose spends most of the episode dealing with his new nemesis Augustus St. Cloud) and Pete White along the way. That being said, the real solution comes from Dean, who heads inside the interns’ compound due to prodding by a female intern, and the Monarch/Dr. Mrs. Girlfriend. Venture has increasingly relied on these multi-stranded storylines, but this worked even better than it usually does here because of the extra length—previously this has had to play out in multiple episodes.
The most impressive feat pulled off in “Cleansuit” was the way it managed to create a new, strange mythology within the Venture universe without taking away from its established characters. This world-within-a-world concept gave the episode a unique feel that still felt natural within the show. How effortless this seemed spoke to one of the show’s strengths, the fact that it can so easily go anywhere and do anything but so long as it hits the same tone as everything else in Venture, any disparate part can fit in.
This was also another episode to bring in the question of what is it that makes one person a “villain” and another a “hero,” as explained by Henchman 21 when he tells Rusty, “Don’t take this as an insult, but working for you and the Monarch: it’s kind of the same thing.”
Publick and Hammer have spoken a lot in the past about the role of failure in Venture, but a theme that’s always been just as is the role of selfishness. Rusty and the Monarch are so similar, as noted by Henchman 21, because they both only care about themselves. The Monarch has become more empathetic than his enemy, though, because he does truly care about one other person now: his wife. Rusty still only cares for himself, but this is true for nearly all of the superheroes in the show. Rusty wanted to stop the mutants because of what it meant for him, not because he cared about the hundreds of dead interns. We’ve seen so many characters change throughout the series, but Rusty is the same intransigent jerk now as he was on the first episode, and I think one of the questions this season may be whether he can move forward with the rest of the cast. That he turned in a successful product to his brother makes this seem like a possibility.