Well, it looks like Venture Bros. is on hiatus again, after a season of ignoring conventional storytelling devices (not that we’re complaining). The sixth season we all waited years for came to an end last night, not bothering to wrap up any of its storylines. But it did introduce a new villain. The finale’s odd, indefinite tone has a lot of fans confused, and hoping against all odds for an un-promised second half of the sixth season to appear in the fall. Or maybe, since the show gave us an hour-long prologue special to kick off its six season, fans have reasoned, The Venture Bros. might close this season with another special, just to bookend the whole thing.
What are we left with, after these past eight episodes? No one important found out that The Monarch (Christopher McCulloch) is Blue Morpho, Dean (Michael Sinterniklaas) did basically nothing all season, Hank (Christopher McCulloch) went on one date with a supervillain’s daughter and it wasn’t mentioned again, and The Monarch got 90% of the way to his final goal: killing all of the villains currently in line to arch Dr. Venture. Why stop now?
Red Means Stop, last night’s episode, didn’t really bring anything in any of the show’s plot-lines to a head, but it did introduce the first legitimately scary villain in the Ventureverse: a Red Skull lookalike called “the Red Death,” whom we first saw as he supervised his daughter (also a red, skinless creature) on the playground. What makes the guy frightening? Unlike all of the show’s other villains, he isn’t in the business of arching for fame, and doesn’t want to climb the Guild of Calamitous Intent’s proverbial ladder. He has what he calls a “problem” — his insatiable thirst for killing people — which he manages while being a responsible father and husband. Again, The Venture Bros.’s improved animation style this season allows it to pull off plot developments it couldn’t quite too in previous years: when The Red Death remembers a particularly juicy kill, his eyes glow and the lighting around him darkens. It’s funny, because he’s usually talking to his wife or to The Monarch, but it’s also creepy in a way The Venture Bros. hasn’t attempted before.
Even a tired Taken joke like the one in the clip above isn’t enough to undercut the Red Death’s effect, possibly because he’s voiced by Clancy Brown from Carnivale, who also performed as Mr. Krabs in Spongebob Squarepants, and most memorably as Lex Luthor in many Superman animated programs.
Now, The Red Death wasn’t the only tonal shift in the finale. We were also given a Saw gag, which involved a desperate man keeping himself alive in captivity by eating the raw butt meat of his fellow prisoners. In the episode’s final moments, we realized the Saw-style bathroom was 21’s holding cell for all the super-villains he and The Monarch had compromised, which lent a disturbing undercurrent to an otherwise wacky joke. Those weren’t just anonymous butts being eaten; they were the bodies of villains we had already been introduced to, in the season’s earlier episodes. The Red Death killed the last one of them off with glee in his eyes, and the season simply ended.
We return, then, to the aforementioned question: why bring back The Venture Bros. after several years, only to leave all of the interesting new plot-lines lying limp on the floor? It’s likely the show will be picked up again by Adult Swim, but teasing loyal fans seems like an odd move on the show’s part, especially after it spent several months trying to convince current Adult Swim fans of its continued relevance. Has it strayed too far beyond its original conceit, like Weeds did in its death throes, or is it banking on a series renewal that will allow it to address each of this season’s admittedly fascinating developments?
If The Venture Bros. ends here, it will be a terrible shame. If last night was a launching pad for the second half of season six, another long special, or even a seventh season, hooking us with new villains and revitalized animation may be the smartest thing the show has ever done.