The 60-minute Venture Bros. finale wasn't only the best TV episode about a $500 homeschooled prom held in an airplane hangar, it was probably the most satisfying episode yet. I'll wager a "Rusty Venture" on it.
It's sometimes hard to write VB recaps given that the show's middling episodes are still head and shoulders above most other TV shows. Season 4.5 never gave us a flat-out bad episode, but certain episodes — such as "The Silent Partners" and "Bright Lights, Dean City" — felt stifled by the show's 30-minute limit. Furthermore, this season overutilized certain characters at the expense of others. Billy and Pete White were in every episode, whereas leads like Doc and the Monarch got the short shrift.
Why was "Operation P.R.O.M" so damn enjoyable? The hour-long format gave the show's myriad subplots room to unfold. In the course of 60 minutes, the episode ricocheted from 21 quitting the Cocoon (and joining SPHINX) to Dean's realization that he's lost Triana to Brock's last stand with Molotov to Hunter Gathers' new appointment as the Head of OSI. The episode also brought back second-stringers like The Dark Rider (whom Brock refers to as a "cowboy vampire") and the mail lady Hank has a crush on. I love how they turned a blink-and-you-miss-it gag into Hank's attempt at amour:
Hank's failure with the surly postal worker sums up the two motifs that ran through this episode: failure with women and the unshakability of old routines. Proms have the symbolic cachet as transformative events — students are on the cusp of becoming adults, and the evening holds the fugitive promise of a sexual awakening.
Given that Venture Bros. is about failure, almost every single man on the show A.) strikes out and B.) falls back on old habits. Hank freaks out the mailwoman, Dean alienates Triana, and — after a heartwarming "Go, Team Venture!" — they concoct a harebrained plan to win the young Ms. Orpheus back by dressing Dean as a
goth ghost. Doc, who spent his prom being made fun of by radical feminist Andrea Dworkin, hires a coterie of escorts for the chaperones. The scene of Doc explaining his failed prom night with Dworkin while ordering a bunch of discount escorts truly sums up how irrevocably fucked his relationship with women is. It is a sight to behold:
We later discover that the escorts are Molotov's Blackhearts in disguise, and that they will kill everyone at the prom should Molotov (and her new comatose beau Monstroso) not make it out of the Venture compound. Here, Doc's failure is a boon, as his experimental Spanish fly turns all of the escort-assassins into Brundleflies. His unshakeable failure saves the day, his inability to do anything right keeps him alive and sexless. Similarly, Brock tries to become an honest man with Molotov, ends up killing her and Monstroso (off-camera), and finds comfort in an old habit: slaying people with his Bowie knife.
Hell, the episode closes with a goose-pimply montage set to Pulp's "Like a Friend," a song about failing at relationships and the comfort of routine. Jarvis Cocker and the Venture Bros... could there ever be a pop cultural pairing more devoted to the spectacularity of failure?
The failed relationship undercurrent affected a bunch of other characters. 21 — he's completely deflated once he learned that his dalliance with Dr. Girlfriend wasn't totally bad-ass (the Monarchs are proud swingers, as all good supervillains are). 21's rebellion is weak sauce; he can't escape being goofy old Gary. Sgt. Hatred reunites with Princess Tiny Feet, but she's voiceless, chained, and gagged. It's unclear if her lack of agency is self-imposed (she is a kink) or just the Monarch's ploy to ruin the prom.
At the end of the night, the only couple to a find love and move on are Al and Shore Leave — for the prom, they patch up their rocky relationship that left Al homeless and brainwashed. For a show about the boys' club exploits of spies and super-scientists, it's fitting that a gay relationship is the only one to go anywhere. The fact that the show packed all this subtext into 60 minutes along with 15 or so character arcs (and a 5 minute gag about Rusty Venture being both an icon of the gay community and the name of a hyper-lewd sex act) is a testament to how insanely good this show is.
We don't know when The Venture Bros. will be back. Hopefully Rusty's mention that his own show was canceled when the "Thundarr lead-in couldn't pull the numbers" isn't telling of its destiny. If this was the very last VB episode we ever see, it was supreme entertainment and thematically on-point. Boys don't become men, women transform into monsters, and the guys must all team up to fight the monsters. It's Johnny Quest ad infinitum, and the magical ladies only last until midnight.