[WARNING: The following review contains some minor SPOILERS.]
In many ways, “The Saphrax Protocol” feels like a throwback to the early seasons of The Venture Bros. This is not only in how it has a story that is largely focused upon The Venture Family and The Monarch but also in how it deals with the recurring theme of nostalgia and the roles we all play in the pursuit of an idealized past.
Case in point. After spending the better part of two seasons trying to get out of the shadow of his super-scientist father and going so far this season as to move into the dorms of his college and drop all but one of the classes his dad picked out for him, Dean tearfully confesses that he misses the simpler times when it was just him and his twin brother, Hank, facing a world of weirdness together.
This statement is simultaneously a sweet sentiment in the wake of a tragedy, a snarky acknowledgement of the fan complaints that The Venture Bros. has featured increasingly less of The Venture Bros. in recent seasons and a reinforcement of the show’s core ideal of being a show about failure, as Dean fails in his resolve to build a normal life for himself. There is a great deal of irony that Dean seems to serve as a cautionary tale against the pitfalls of nostalgia and idealizing a past that wasn’t nearly as great as you remember it, which lies buried amid visuals lifted from Barbarella and The Empire Strikes Back, as two fans (Hank Venture and The Action Man, in this case) argue as to which is the greatest space fantasy movie of all time.
This sequence itself is the sort of scene which the early seasons of Venture Bros. reveled in. Forget the implications that Hank and The Action Man are somehow sharing a psychic head-space after they both go into a coma. Don’t think about why Dr. Phineas Phage shows up as a hybrid of an AT-AT Walker and Pygar The Angel when he’s never seen Barbarella. (Neither has Hank, for the record – he thought he was on the ice planet Hoth when he woke up in… ah, but that would be telling.) Just revel in the references and the characters arguing with each other.
That’s the beauty of “The Saphrax Protocol.” It tickles our nostalgia bone with an old-school sequence of Brock Samson slowly taking down Guild soldiers with an efficiency to put The Predator to shame even as it makes a case for how important it is to grow up, leave the past behind and look to the future. And there lies the final irony – the future this episode will most make you look toward is the one in which Season 8 of The Venture Bros. is readily available for viewing.