Welcome to Calamitous Intent, Comics Alliance’s weekly reckoning with The Venture Bros, in which Betty Felon and Elle Collins, longtime fans of Adult Swim’s most complicated half hour, discuss and clarify the latest episode.

In this week’s installment, “Red Means Stop,” the good guys team up with the bad guys, the world’s most terrifying supervillain is also the friendliest, and something weird’s going on in the secret bathroom. “Red Means Stop” was written by Doc Hammer and directed by Jackson Publick.



Elle: I’ve mentioned before that I’m not always into this show when it only seems to be referencing one thing at a time, so I was really skeptical about the Saw riff that this episode opens with. But the “guys chained up in a rundown bathroom” subplot soon went in an enjoyably weird direction, and then resolved in a way a liked a lot. So I ended up being retroactively in favor of it.

Betty: Yeaaah, I really don’t care for the Saw movie franchise (plus the movies feel a little too recent to be comically outdated and a little too outdated to be comically topical), and the opening scene made me iffy for the finale. The episode moves onto Gary and The Monarch discussing their plans for the night regarding Red Death, the next villain in line to arch Dr. Venture. Gary is apprehensive of attacking Red Death considering his previous death toll, while The Monarch decides to proceed on his own, under the pretense that Dr. Mrs. the Monarch and the rest of the Guild are sequestered. It was unclear to me if The Monarch explicitly knew that Dr. Mrs. the Monarch & co. were planning to ambush the Blue Morpho though?



Elle: I got the impression he didn’t know that. I’d like to think that the Monarch would be smart enough to stay home if that were the case, and even if not I think he’d discuss it with Gary. But of course we realize (I think for the first time) in this episode that the two of them have been very active offscreen, taking down a bunch of villains we never even heard about (if not exactly killing them). So it makes sense that that they’re considered a serious enough threat at this point for the OSI to be willing to team up with the Guild to take them down.

Speaking of which, I loved that scene of the meeting on the bench with everyone trying to talk in code. And I’m a big fan in general of how nobody puts up with the Phantom Limb’s pretentious crap anymore.

Betty: I really love how Phantom Limb is universally unbearable to both the Guild and OSI. I also really enjoy how both organizations need to team up to trap the Blue Morpho because he’s a threat and he’s really messing up the status quo of both the villains and the heroes.

The scene cuts to a shot of The Monarch in civvies, trying to chat up (and murder) Red Death while he watches his daughter play in the playground. Of course, The Monarch ends up being quite charmed by Red Death’s kind and businesslike demeanor and he’s apprehensive of his original plan to attack him. Red Death explains to The Monarch that he’s able to compartmentalize his personal life and his professional life, and limits his villainous activity (while satiating his rage) to one day of the year. Gary and The Monarch instead decide to disguise themselves as Guild agents and inform Red Death’s wife that he has been compromised and that she needs to go to her mother-in-law’s house, making Red Death think that they’ve been taken hostage and that he just needs to give up his spot as Dr. Venture’s villain for his family.



Elle: First of all, I love that Clancy Brown is voicing the Red Death. It’s not even exactly stunt casting, because this is a totally different kind of supervillain from Lex Luthor, who Brown famously voiced in the DC Animated Universe, but Brown’s just so great. He does beautiful things with the dichotomy between Red Death’s friendly family man side and his demonic persona. I enjoyed his character a lot and I hope that maybe if a year passes in-universe in the three-to-five actual years it takes to get another season of this show, we might see him again.



Betty: I knew I recognized that villainous charm! Red Death was really great, and I liked how willfully cooperative he was with everyone in this episode. Meanwhile, members of the Guild and OSI take over VenTech to stage their trap for the Blue Morpho, which involves diverting the Venture family away from the building while members of both organizations dress up as stand-ins, including Watch and Ward dressed up as “classic model Hank and Dean” (kerchief and sweater vest).

Side note: the chalkboard in Hank’s room had a large heart that said “HV + SO” and it’s adorable.

Rusty is spending an evening with his extended family of Conjectural Technologies and the remaining members of the original Team Venture, which includes of an embarrassingly heartbreaking flashback of Rusty’s boy adventurer years. Billy continues to make it obvious that he believes that Rusty is the Blue Morpho, while Colonel Gentleman reveals more of the history (and deaths) of the original Blue Morpho and Kano.



Elle: I honestly expected to learn more about the original Blue Morpho’s secrets in this episode, so when Gentleman started talking I got excited, and when he was done I was like “That was it?” But I guess Hammer and Publick are still saving a lot of reveals for the final season in 2037 or whenever.

I was both amused and unsettled by Colonel Gentleman and Action Man’s obviously decades-old argument about whether or not Action Man was justified in killing a baby that he claims was a werewolf. But meanwhile back at VenTech, Red Death is attacking on a flying horse, and the OSI and Guild snipers are really hitting it off.



Betty: The entire vibe of the OSI and the Guild bonding and collaborating reminds me of that brief scene from season one, where The Monarch’s henchmen and Baron Underbheit’s henchmen bond over their similar origins and adventures. It feels like OSI x Guild summer camp, especially with the snipers having heart-to-hearts, while the staged attacks quickly dissolve into a game of water volleyball after the Blue Morpho fails to show up.

Instead, The Monarch uses the Blue Morpho voice modulator to call Red Death and threatens to hold his family ransom, to which Red Death counters with a threat that he will find them and kill them. Red Death follows through on half of his plan, but after confirming that his family is safe, he insists that The Monarch explain his side of the story (and presumably, his alter-ego as the Blue Morpho). Despite his original murderous threat, Red Death is incredibly empathetic to The Monarch’s struggle to renegotiate his identity as The Monarch/Blue Morpho in relation to his role as Dr. Venture’s arch-nemesis.



Elle: Yeah, Red Death is clearly a guy who understands the need to find balance in your life. Which for him is the balance between being a really great guy with a good family and also being a horrifying murder-monster once a year. So it doesn’t surprise him when Gary reveals that he’s been locking supervillains in the Morpho Cave’s bathroom in their underwear instead of killing them.

Which didn’t work out so well, since it turns out that Maestro Wave has lost it and started eating the other villains’ butts. Like, as meat, not in a sexy way. But of course Red Death hasn’t gotten to kill anyone this year, so he’s more than happy to deal with that problem. Now all the Monarch has to worry about is that his wife has sworn to personally kill his alter ego. But that’s some drama for next season, which will hopefully come before the mountains crumble into the sea.



Betty: The big reveal of the Saw scenario was great. I’m also kind of relieved that Gary didn’t turn into a reluctant murderer while he was moonlighting as Kano; it’s clear that the accidental death of Haranguetan affected him to the point where he couldn’t kill the other villains and decided to imprison them instead, even if it inevitably lead to Maestro Wave murdering the other villains himself.

Since The Monarch and Red Death have come to a mutual understanding, perhaps the next season will present a Monarch who will further channel his energy as the Blue Morpho? Perhaps The Monarch will further reevaluate his identity crisis and how it’s affecting his marriage? Or maybe Red Death will be a really cool guy and just sign over his arching rights to Dr. Venture and let The Monarch feel whole again? Could The Monarch's anguish over every day he doesn't get to arch Dr. Venture be an allegory to how Venture Bros. fans feel in between seasons? We can only hope that these questions will be answered in the next season of The Venture Bros.


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