Is there a show on TV that requires wiki-hunting as intently as The Venture Bros.? The Adult Swim series’ gargantuan compendium of characters, forever morphing and changing their hues, coupled with the fact that it’s technically been on the air since 2004, means it’s always been easy to forget exactly what’s going on in the Venture-verse at any given time. Even if you’ve been following since the very beginning, good luck remembering each character’s current alignment when more than two years routinely pass in between new seasons. The political machinations of Game of Thrones pale in comparison to the dozens (or hundreds) of minor supervillains on The Venture Bros. ... any one of whom might suddenly prove to be of great significance, years after their initial appearance.
Case in point: Just about everything in the first two episodes of season 7, “The Venture Bros. & The Curse of the Haunted Problem,” and “The Rorqual Affair.” In vintage Venture fashion, these 60 minutes of TV completely flip the script on long-entrenched Venture continuity, yet again adding hidden layers of meaning to older episodes, in shocking fashion.
But although these revelations are significant, they’re hardly unexpected at this point. The Venture Bros., as a series, has gradually drifted away from an anchoring in what could properly be called “comedy.” There are occasional jokes in these episodes, and the usual plethora of pop cultural references, but one rarely gets the sense that laughs are the top priority—and they haven’t been for quite a long while. As The Venture Bros. has progressed, it has instead become plot, character development and sheer storytelling complexity that have superseded humor; a seeming drive to create a final product that represents a Gordian knot of an animated universe. Sometimes, these efforts pay off in satisfying ways that enrich the narrative. Other times, they feel like unnecessary complications for the sake of opacity, building a wall around an insular fan base of rabid die-hards—the Venture cult, if you will. Perhaps this is exactly where Rick and Morty will also find itself, seven seasons in?
The point is, the experience of watching The Venture Bros. today, highlighted by the first two episodes of season 7, is a conflicted one. It’s easy to get wistful for earlier seasons that focused more on gags and a broad satire of Saturday morning cartoons, but one must also acknowledge the breadth of the story that Jackson Publick & Doc Hammer continue to tell. Do they have a true ending in mind, you might wonder? It’s hard to say. The way that The Venture Bros. tends to repeatedly loop back in on itself like an ouroboros, it perpetually feels equally likely that an ending might be right around the corner, or far over the horizon.
Regardless, both of these episodes have their moments, and form the first two parts of a story triptych that will conclude on Sunday, Aug. 19. The premiere, “The Venture Bros. & The Curse of the Haunted Problem,” focuses on the Venture clan in New York, where J.J.’s former headquarters (which now belongs to Rusty) appears to have become possessed by a demonic presence, replete with lots of The Exorcist references. As one would no doubt expect, Doc calls in Orpheus and the Order of the Triad (against his will) to assist with the mystical problem, which leads to the summoning of a variety of spirits—I particularly enjoyed the reference to “the victims of the great Venture Millery fire of Nineteen Aught Seven,” suggesting that the Venture family has been to blame for constant laborer deaths for at least a century. The disturbances are eventually revealed to revolve around the good old “Problem Light,” salvaged from the wreck of Dr. Jonas Venture Sr.’s Gargantua One spacecraft, first seen literally 14 years ago in the series’ second episode, “Careers in Science.” The source of the true cause for the haunting, as revealed by the members of the original Team Venture (Kano, Col. Gentleman and The Action Man) is appropriately hair-raising, and downright shocking in its implications about the late Jonas Venture Sr. I must admit, I did not see this one coming.
“The Rorqual Affair,” meanwhile, deals more heavily with a simultaneous entanglement between The Monarch, still moonlighting as The Blue Morpho and eliminating competition to arch Dr. Venture, and Wide Whale, who takes him prisoner. All manner of characters ultimately get roped into a big, complex caper here, from Dr. Mrs. The Monarch and Gary, to Hank (in disguise as “Enrico Matassa”, Red Death, the Council of 13, and more. Along the way, there are some important revelations on minor characters from several seasons back, clever observations about the nature of domino masks and how they’re not very practical for hiding superhero identities, as well as countless references to Jaws. Why the plot of this episode drew the mind to Jaws I have no idea, although I can certainly appreciate the wording of “Guild, as you know, means fellowship.” The episode ends with yet another Blue Morpho-related twist, and the implication that the two stories will collide in the third and final installment of the trilogy.
The Venture Bros. season 7 begins Sunday, Aug. 5 with a midnight premiere, and will run 10 episodes, with a season 8 already confirmed to follow. Will these be the final seasons of one of Adult Swim’s most venerable and ambitions series? Should they be? As the series mythology grows ever deeper and more labyrinthine, and the task of wrapping up loose ends becomes more difficult, let’s hope Publick and Hammer have it in them.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and O.G. Team Venture member. You can follow him on Twitter.