5.9

Venture Bros. Review: "The Devil's Grip" (Episode 5.08)

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<em>Venture Bros.</em> Review: "The Devil's Grip" (Episode 5.08)

It seems like the long-awaited return of Venture Bros. just began, yet already the season comes to an end. Essentially this was a half-season of the show, with Jackson and Hammer already working on a sixth, but despite the extremely high quality of everything we’ve seen until now, it feels slight. A lot of that, unfortunately, comes from last night’s finale, “The Devil’s Grip,” which has the unfortunate honor of being the only less-than-excellent episode in the season. Rather than leaving us wanting more, it was a finale that ended with a shrug.

Unsurprisingly, Rusty survived the disco ball accident at the end of “Bot Seeks Bot,” which leaves him in the Monarch’s clutches. That’s fine and all, but this is a situation that we’ve seen before, and as usual the Monarch is unwilling to do any real damage to Rusty—even his claims at doing psychological damage seem vastly overstated, as Rusty’s already about as psychologically damaged as he (or anyone) is going to get. This plot goes nowhere, and the way it treads water points to a particular problem for Venture. The show is unwilling to kill Rusty off, yet at this point the rivalry between him and the Monarch no longer makes sense. He should be dead or it should be done, and the status quo just doesn’t make enough sense to be satisfying when pushed against even the slightest amount. “The Devil’s Grip” orbits around that issue, and a result it sort of cheapens everything else. The complete lack of tension may be intentional, but that doesn’t mean it works.

For instance, it’s not as if Rusty hasn’t been in peril before, so Sgt. Hatred sending Hank and Dean off to their godfathers, the most prominent members of the original Team Venture, felt contrived. I’m generally thrilled when Venture gives more screen time to its supporting characters, but in this case that contrivance barely led anywhere either. Sure, they both ended up back at the end of the Venture Compound at the end of the episode, but does that actually mean anything? Otherwise, it was just some random shenanigans. Entertaining shenanigans, to be sure, but they still felt a bit like wasted time.

The one storyline that did have some real consequence to it also didn’t quite work because it relied on a character acting uncharacteristically stupid. Sgt. Hatred and #21 team up to rescue Rusty, which makes a sort of sense, but once inside they become split up. At this point, both are confronted with one of the Murderous Moppets (aka The Pupae Twins), who claim that the other betrayed them. What doesn’t follow is that Sgt. Hatred believes the one who speaks to him, causing him to soon bring out his tank and blow the entire cocoon onto the Monarch’s suburban house. Hatred’s just not that dumb. I appreciated the scene where #21 finally got his revenge on one of the Moppets, but the way it interacted with Hatred never worked out that well.

Not even the episode’s denouement could whet our appetite for more Venture Bros.. Why should the audience really care that The Monarch and Dr. Mrs. The Monarch have to move? The more interesting part of the Venture universe, with the Investors and the Guild of Calamitous Intent, were completely missing. While it’s clear that the show’s creators have an overarching story arc at play here, the season ends not by reminding us of it but instead dwelling on the parts of Venture that, at present, are working the worst. I didn’t hate “The Devil’s Grip” by any means, but this season has for the most part been excellent until now and it was a radical drop-off in quality. Their show’s sense of humor still hit all the right notes, but for once the plotting and world were at odds with it, not to mention themselves.

On the plus side, it should be a lot shorter time before we see more Venture, and it’s clear that seasons five and six of the show were made to be a pair. It’s just unfortunate for things to end on such an odd misfire from a show that, regardless of its wild experimentation, is still one of the more consistent comedies on television.