“I know who my enemy is.”
That hole in the lobby of Venture Tower is really racking up a body count. Assuming Battle-Ax and Think Tank (voiced by the incomparable Jeffrey Wright of Boardwalk Empire fame) both bought it in that crash, that’s three shots, three kills for Chekov’s unusually enormous gun. It’s an accretion leading directly toward a clear endgame pitting Dr. Mrs. The Monarch, her husband and his midlife crisis, and an unwitting Dr. Venture against each other. As serialized, self-contained plots go it’s pretty serviceable, especially considering how much work has been pumped into fleshing out the Monarch family dynamic. Rusty seems to be more a plot device than a character in this situation, his mistaken identity a way to draw out the conflict between husband and wife.
Brock getting, well, Brock’d by Warriana is a good table-turn. His rapturous “I LOVED IT” when she truth-lassoes him after he claims to want nothing more to do with “butt stuff” is likewise delightful, a way for the show to develop Brock as a character without about-facing his psychopathic machismo. The Monarch and 21 trying to get the Morpho Mobile out of impound is likewise fruitful, boasting the episode’s strongest brick gag the Monarch’s revelatory “Ohhhh” when he sees the grabber arm in action. Still, there’s precious little introspection there considering he’s lost all the trappings of his identity as a supervillain. Would the man who showered in his cowl really be so quick to abandon his army and his cocoon, to not even consider rebuilding? It feels strange, as does the lack of discussion when Dr. Mrs. The Monarch spends most of the episode in the company of woman whose irresponsible supervillain husband met a bad end. That’s rich character material just lying untouched, y’know?
Watch and Ward giving Rusty the runaround with the Guild help desk is more tedious than amusing, and the juxtaposition between it and Brock’s and Think Tank’s not-especially-dynamic fight in the background feels too easy. It also brings to light the fact that the show doesn’t really have the grasp to do as much with the Guild’s on-screen workings as it reaches for. Sure, arcane bylaws and bizarre hobbies are funny, but when that’s the whole joke the artifice it supports starts to look kind of flimsy. Likewise, the byzantine status quo the Guild is apparently designed to enforce is funny, sure, but it doesn’t lend itself well to, well, changing the status quo. It feels like The Venture Bros is a show in the middle of an identity crisis, caught between its desire to be a long-running, mythology-heavy character study and its desire to be an arc-based, serialized goof-off. The core cast is stagnating while isolated strong elements propel the series forward.
The episode has an ace in the hole when it comes to Think Tank. Jeffrey Wright’s hammy line reading makes his every word a treat, and his nervous befuddlement when Rusty reveals he doesn’t play chess is delightful. It’s pretty funny to watch people who feel like the mere acting out of conflict is a tangible goal fall flat on their faces when they can’t even pull off having a fight. It would be a real bummer if Think Tank met his end on the front bumper of the Harangutank, but I’m guessing we’ll see him again. ‘Tanks for Nuthin’ may still display many of the weaknesses that have dogged seasons 5 and 6 (the spectacular ‘All This and Gargantua 2′ aside), but The Venture Bros pitching a bad game is still a damn sight better than most anything else in its league.