Two years and one music video later, The Venture Bros. made their return to basic cable with "A Very Venture Halloween," a special the show's masterminds proclaimed would hearken back to the heartwarming Halloween specials of yesteryear. Was it a veritable It's The Great Mecha Shiva, Charlie Brown? Not exactly, but it was a frequently funny (and extremely welcome) episode nonetheless. Spoilers ahead.
Ever since Hank's discovery last season's that Dermott is more than the underachiever next door, the show has been parcelling out life-shattering revelations to the boys at a steady tack. This time around, it was Dean's turn to learn some hard truths — namely, that he was but one clone in a long line of clumsy, dead clones.
How did he learn this? By stumbling across the "haunted" house that abuts the Venture Compound's potter's field. Yes, for their entire lives, the boys were oblivious to the fact that their dad's cloning expert buddy Ben (voiced by J.K. Simmons, modeled on Jeff Lebowski) lived around the corner.
I really enjoy the ongoing gag of how sprawling and poorly maintained Doc Venture's property is — remember how oblivious they were to the S.P.H.I.N.X. headquarters and Dr. Paul Entmann? Also, the mass grave on the Venture property really reflects the Venture clan's cavalier attitude toward death (Jonas because of scientific inquiry and pulp derring-do, Rusty because he's an asshole).
One can imagine Brock perpetually out there in the backyard with a shovel, joylessly burying the umpteenth dead henchman to wander into the Compound's defense grid. (The Venture men's causal acceptance of death extends to the boys — says Hank to Dean by episode's end, "Hey, I thought you died.")
The show's now focusing on the boys' transition into manhood, and reality's dropping some truth bombs on the naïve duo. But unlike idealistic Hank — who eradicated the memory of losing his virginity to his half-brother's mother using S.P.H.I.N.X. technology — Dean's bearing the knowledge that he's Dean #16 (I think) alone.
Dean's decision makes sense and adds a welcome dollop of complexity to each brother. Hank's a S.P.H.I.N.X. agent in training, but his success as a human being depends on unflappable and completely demented bravado. Dean on the other hand has been the meeker of the two, but his decision not to share this sanity-smashing secret with Hank reflects both his understanding of his unhinged brother and some downright grizzled emotional strength. He also has a natty black speed suit and a new haircut. New haircuts are always signifiers of character development.
Similarly, Ben's explanation of why the boys are being cloned constantly gives the ever-callous Doc further depth. Rusty could afford to be dismissive with the boys (and go on drug-fueled journeys of self-discovery) because he could always brew up a new batch. This is a completely messed up way to raise your kids, but at least Doc cares. With Rusty, the lowest common denominator is all you can ask for. What else would you expect from a guy whose childhood was so screwed up he tortures trick-or-treaters with laser cannons? Also note his half-assed, uncomfortable attempt at parenting with Dermott. "Ring the doorbell" is the best he can do considering his guilt and general incompetence.
As far as the episode's B-plot went — Orpheus' magical coffee klatch with The Outrider, Tatiana, and the two-headed councilman, among others — that was good for plenty of gags, especially the Outrider's toast-obsessed Cenobite trick. But the obvious comedic elements notwithstanding, the deus ex machina that was The Master in the form of Santa Claus felt tossed in to wrap up the zombie anarchy and get around network time restraints.
Venture Bros. head honchoes Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer have mentioned that this episode falls in the middle of Season Five's continuity. This episode is too steeped in the show's mythology (and ends too abruptly) to stand alone as a Halloween special, but it makes for a tantalizing apéritif of what's to come in 2013. And hey, the boys now have a new relative who's a naked, ball-obsessed, genetically modified hominid! That's the best Halloween miracle a boy adventurer can ask for.