'The Venture Bros.' Reveals 21's Origin Story, Explains the Guild's Level System

As the Guild of Calamitous Intent gets fleshed out, the series' satire matures

The Venture Bros. has been uncharacteristically focused on rapidly moving its plot forward this season, so Sunday’s episode — in which nothing much happened — was a relief. The episode featured effective voiceovers from Henchman 21, Dr. Venture, The Monarch and Dr. Mrs. The Monarch, each weighing in on the season’s central scenario as it stands. The Monarch is still moonlighting as Blue Morpho, his wife doesn’t know, and Dr. Venture, as always, is unaware of how many super-villains are killing each other just to get a chance to “arch” him.

The episode’s quick flashback to 21’s earlier days in henching were great for several reasons. First, we got a confirmation that The Monarch’s plans to bother Dr. Venture were always as stupid as they seem now. Second, we were able to reconnect with The Monarch and 21 as likable characters, the only baddies the audience ever wants to see pursuing Hank and Dean Venture, given that they’re incapable of hurting the boys. The most fun scenes in the show’s earlier seasons involved The Monarch and his crew treating Brock Samson and the boys like celebrities, instead of nemeses. The smartest thing the show ever did was frame its characters as meta-characters who are aware of their own weaknesses and strengths. The flashbacks and overlapping narrators in this week’s episode underscored that original conceit, making the action comedy satirizing action comedies into something that felt both ruthless and heart-felt.

Exploring and complicating its world of villainy has made The Venture Bros. into commentary on politics, bureaucracy, and ethics. We recently learned that the Guild of Calamitous Intent had allowed Wide Whale to delegate his evil-doing to a pyramid of lesser villains, using the Guild’s “Fiends and Family Plan.” Developments like these are a return to what made The Venture Bros. feel new in the first place; it’s not just a Robot Chicken-style takedown of popular nerd culture, but an emotionally honest world of characters who try to accept their roles as villains or heroes, but constantly, and comically, fail to perform.

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