The Dilemma of Competence in The Venture Brothers

Venture Bros

Eagerly awaiting the future season 5 and watching a friend burn through the previous seasons, a thought occurs. Spoilers for season four, by the way.

The showrunners state repeatedly that the primary theme of the show is “failure”- the collapse of the space age and all our cultural idealism from that era. They’ve maintained this theme steadfastly through all four seasons- but there’s a catch: maintaining the “ideological purity” of the theme often requires the show to derail, sideline or sacrifice it’s strongest characters. It also introduces an implicit competence ceiling that all characters must stay below or immediately be written out of the piece.

Dr. Mrs. The Monarch can never leave to start her own villainous empire- despite the fact that most of the Guild recognizes her ability. Brock hit the competence ceiling and needed to be shunted toward SPHINX in order to downplay his presence in stories. 21, after two seasons of growth and development, has now also hit the ceiling and needs to be diverted- he’s too powerful to remain aligned with the Monarch but like Sheila probably can’t be allowed to branch out. (he’s also the only char so far with a purely upward character arc, which is interesting as he’s the literal Ascended Fanboy- is he the secret heart of the show?)

Hunter is now back at the OSI wheel, but this isn’t actually a competence reward; this is actually him hitting the ceiling as SPHINX might just be getting a little too good at what they do and now the organization itself needs to be undermined (surprise! It really was just OSI after all, a clever way of reintroducing the original Guild/OSI stalemate). Rusty, Jr., an actually competent scientist, gets marginal screentime and his abilities are sidelined to his daddy issues. Professor Impossible also has had major flaws introduced to destroy his competence.

The show has a tendency to create side chars that grow too strong snd overwhelm the central core (Rusty will never change; Hank and Dean constantly hit the ceiling and have to be mindwiped every couple of episodes to negate any serious development) and it’s sort of sad to watch the slow growth of several of these characters sideline into a dead-end alley with a pit full of knives opening underneath them.

You could say that’s just television, though: the status quo is king. People mostly watch television to see familiar characters in the same shapes we first met them in: at the end of the day “normality” has to return, whatever wacky hijinx went by in the past 30 or 60 minutes.

Still, you have to wonder what the world of the Venture Brothers would be like if that competence ceiling were shattered…