Sunday, June 23, 2024

Adventure Time Split Bubblegum in Half to Create Dr. Gross and Minerva

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Two weeks have now passed since Adventure Time’s “Islands” miniseries aired. If you haven’t seen it, what are you waiting for?! “Islands” is Adventure Time at its very best. The last four episodes, in particular, rank up there with anything the show has ever done. The story, the characters, the emotion, it all made for highly emotional and satisfying miniseries even better than Stakes the season before. Stop reading and go watch. Go on. I’ll wait.

For those who did watch, you probably came away loving Minerva and Dr. Gross. Both played hugely important roles in the miniseries. Minerva, of course, as Finn’s mother, a mystery we’ve wanted the answer to since season freaking 1, but she also played a very important leadership role for the humans Finn finds. Doctor Gross plays a similar leadership role among the humans, though in a different capacity.

They don’t have a lot in common with each other. However, you start to notice someone they both do share quite a bit in common with. In fact, if you combine the skills and personalities of Minerva and Dr. Gross, you start to realize something; they’re Princess Bubblegum. They’re like someone took Bonnibel and split her defining characteristics in two. And I don’t think that’s an accident.

Princess Bubblegum’s Two Halves

Let’s start with Dr. Gross.

Dr. Gross is introduced before “Islands”, in season 7’s two-part “Preboot/Reboot” finale. She runs a lab/menagerie where she creates and houses hybrid organic creatures from wildlife in Ooo. The facility is packed with advanced technology. Within seconds of meeting Finn and the gang she sings a song about using science to improve organic beings and help them reach their potential, like she has the creatures in her menagerie.

When she leaves her suit and reveals herself, we see that Dr. Gross has also done extensive work on herself as well. She is now “human plus.” Calling her human at all is a stretch. Her body is basically a robot with skin stitched over it. Her cybernetic parts can split her arms in two, her legs in three, and form a variety of tools. She holds deep her beliefs about using science and tech to improve life. In her opinion her “mods” are no different than glasses or a pacemaker.

During “Islands” we see that she held a similar role among the humans on Founders’ Island well before this first appearance. She educated and trained Seekers whose job it was to bring back those attempting to escape the island. Part of this education included “lessons” where young children received the equivalent of injections to make them bigger and more muscular. These children all had cybernetic implants like Susan Strong, and this is how she became so brawny.

This morally ambiguous obsession with science sounds familiar, huh?

Adventure Time made Princess Bubblegum’s affinity for experimenting clear in the very first episode, when she accidentally created sugar zombies (yeah, it was every bit as weird as that sounds). Over the past 7 seasons her scientific interest has been one of her defining characteristics. She created the Candy Kingdom and its residents, as well as numerous guardians to protect it. She always seeks new ways to protect both her people and her kingdom.

Like with Dr. Gross, some of these methods threaten to go too far. In particular she shares Dr. Gross’s intense worry over the extinction of her people. After her near-death experience at the hands of the Lich in “Mortal Folly/Mortal Recoil,” she begins taking numerous measures to try and preserve the Candy Kingdom. Some of these methods closely resemble Dr. Gross’s methods. “Goliad” even sees PB create her own hybrid creature meant to rule in Bubblegum’s place if she were to die.

Goliad reflected the darker side of Peebs and after some terrible education from Finn, became a tyrant. Bubblegum had to create another hybrid with Finn’s DNA in order to stop it.

Keep doing you, Stormo.

Besides her experiments on living beings, she also goes to great lengths in her obsession with preserving her kingdom’s future. Season 8 had her sending candy into space to colonize new planets…by invading and growing inside of organic beings. She has also set up spy equipment in neighboring kingdoms, as well as her own. “Graybles 1000+” shows a future where a gigantic Prize Ball Guardian keeps the residents of the Candy Kingdom inside prize balls.

Bubblegum’s willingness to use extreme protective measures very much matches up with Dr. Gross’s desire to save humans through her “improvements.”

She also uses her own “mods” for her citizens, friends, and even her enemies. She created new arms for Finn both times he was dismembered. When Ricardio’s second appearance nearly killed Ice King, she created him a new heart.

princess bubblegum ice king heart
Sometimes PB is just the nicest person.

Both Dr. Gross and Princess Bubblegum share an intense love and reliance on science which dominates their lives. They are defined by it. It’s how they explain the world around them. Even Bonnibel’s magic powers as the current Candy Elemental only began reaching their potential when she applied scientific thought to them.

That’s not to say PB goes so far as Dr. Gross. Our good Peebles usually doesn’t force her experiments on unwilling subjects, after all. Mostly she does so with Flame Princess. Seems like most of PB’s worst moments come with Flame Princess, doesn’t it? Dr. Gross serves a glimpse of what Princess Bubblegum would be if she cracks. Perhaps she’s our look at the Bubblegum who eventually builds the Prize Ball Guardian. Right now Bubblegum still maintains a bit of morality and good intention which restrains her worse tendencies.

And that leads us to Minerva, who strongly resembles the side of Bonnibel which cares deeply for her citizens and will do almost anything to protect them.

Side note: Finn’s head is wackadoo.

Minerva is a Helper, with responsibilities mostly revolving around medical help when we first see her. While only briefly seen, this represents the doctor side of PB. Her strong sense of right and caring resembles Bonnibel’s. She helps Martin against all the rules of the island because it is right. Princess Bubblegum, of course, does the same constantly.

Surface level, I know. Where the good stuff comes is with her life after meeting Martin.

Besides serving as the moment where we see Minerva’s strong sense of personal justice and morality overtakes her loyalty to the rules of Founders’ Island, meeting Martin also sets her down a very familiar path to those who know Princess Bubblegum. You could say something of a resemblance exists between Minerva/Martin and Bubbline (yes, it’s canon). In both cases you have a person with a strong sense of responsibility falling for something of a slacker. In both cases the aftermath of the end of the relationship sent Minerva/Bubblegum down a work-obsessed path revolving around their citizens.

After she lost Martin and Finn, she threw herself fully into her helper role as a virus created by Dr. Gross overtook the humans. While other Helpers died from the virus she tossed her own care aside and worked herself to exhaustion and illness. In order to help everyone on the island, she eventually sacrificed her body to upload her consciousness into enough Minerva-bots to help everyone who could possibly need her.

By the time Susan brings Finn to Founders’ Island these Minerva-bots are everywhere. They appear to help with everything from medical emergencies to crossing the street. They can be anywhere quickly and the humans rely on them almost like parental figures.

When Finn finally meets his mother (or rather her consciousness within a computer), she wants to protect him by uploading him into the computer with her. She has seen the simulations of his attempts to leave the island, and how it will lead to his death. He refuses and tries to convince the other humans to leave. This leads to Minerva’s most drastic measure; her Minerva-bots project a light cloud into the sky capable of uploading the consciousness of everyone on the island.

Sounds an awful lot like the Prize Ball Guardian, doesn’t it?

The similarities between Princess Bubblegum and Minerva post-Martin are substantial. Both seek distraction through responsibility, with their dedication in large part owed to a desire to never again feel the loss they did when their loved one left. Both feel an inescapable burden to help those under their care. Bubblegum’s entire life focuses on the protection of her citizens. This responsibility fuels her determination to preserve her kingdom that so resembles Dr. Gross. She helps her citizens however she can.

Including straight whooping your butt.

Sometimes this involves a kingdom-wide surveillance program with cameras in bedrooms. Or maybe she just cuddles them because they need lots of love and personal attention. PB even feels responsible for citizens who leave her. When Lemongrab returns and blames her for his loneliness, she freaking creates another Lemongrab for him. When they cannot feed themselves, she creates an unlimited candy supply so they won’t starve.

There is also a strong comparison to be made between Minerva’s decision to upload her consciousness into the Minerva-bots and Princess Bubblegum’s creation of Goliad.

In both cases a fear of death, and specifically the consequences their citizens would face, is responsible for their actions. They even both made the decision because of a sickness. Minerva was likely to die because of Dr. Gross’s virus, and was probably the only Helper left alive. Princess Bubblegum had recently suffered possession by the Lich which left only enough of her left to be reconstructed as a thirteen-year-old. Fear of dying led both to take steps to create something filling their roles if the worst came to pass.

Minerva very much represents the caring side of Princess Bubblegum that keeps her from descending to Dr. Gross’s immoral levels. However, both have shown moments where their desire to help takes them too far. Hopefully the return of Marceline to her life will help PB where Minerva had no such help. I worry it will not.

Not to keep harping on “Graybles 1000+” but we do see Marceline is still in Ooo. Does Bubblegum live with her in domestic bliss while managing her new Prize Ball Guardian? Maybe. I don’t feel much better about the future of Ooo even if they do.

What Does It All Mean?

So hopefully by now the strong similarities between Bubblegum and both Minerva and Dr. Gross have been made clear. So now what? Who cares? TV shows create parallels between multiple characters all the time. What does it matter if Princess Bubblegum is a Steven Universe-style fusion between Gross and Minerva? It is part of that whole themes thing we love to talk about so much. What does it matter here?

Where it matters is the timing. There is a reason Adventure Time introduced Gross and Minerva now. What reason? For that I refer back to the Prize Ball Guardian. Assuming Bubblegum is the one who builds it, it’s the major thing we know will one day happen which ties her to both Minerva and Gross. The Prize Ball Guardian fulfills the parts of her personality connecting to both of them. With the end of “Islands” we may now know the circumstances which inspire the Guardian’s construction.

Circumstances which also tie back to Dr. Gross and Minerva.

At the end of “Islands”, Minerva takes control of and shuts down the island Guardian preventing anyone from leaving Founders’ Island. Humans can now return to Ooo. While Dr. Gross may have last been seen aboard her exploding lab, it stands to reason that she will return as well. Both have spent their lives fearing the outside world and securing the future of humanity. Now they will introduce possibly the most volatile ingredient yet to an Ooo already on the edge.

Adventure Time has spent multiple seasons hinting at another apocalyptic war. Just this season we’ve seen how Princess Bubblegum treats something to that effect as inevitable. Why else would she so recklessly send candy to colonize other planets? PB has done a lot to anger other kingdoms. She played a role in Flame Princess’s imprisonment as a child and has angered her multiple times since she was freed. In “Jelly Beans Have Power” she also upset Slime Princess, who has a large number of tanks at her disposal.

The kingdoms of Ooo have started gearing up for war. Probably the only thing holding them back is the obvious superiority of the Candy Kingdom. Soon that superiority will be challenged by an equal force led by similar mindsets.

What happens when humans return to Ooo?

I know a “humans return and everyone goes to hell” plot point sounds cliché. And I don’t necessarily think such a violent event occurs within the show’s timeframe. Adventure Time’s ending seems most likely to revolve around the Elementals, Finn, and the Lich. We know Ooo eventually faces another extinction, though, or at least some type of mass abandonment. I can’t help but think the humans, and specifically Dr. Gross and Minerva, were introduced to explain how.

Minerva will eventually come to Ooo, or at least her consciousness. Dr. Gross will return as well. They will represent a challenge to Candy Kingdom superiority. The Candy Kingdom will similarly challenge humanity. It’s inevitable. Both sides will think exactly the same. Princess Bubblegum will want to protect her citizens the same way Minerva will. She will feel the same threat to the future of candy people that Gross feels towards humanity. Both sides will react the same way because they will have the same mindset.

Eventually PB’s science becomes more extreme, like Dr. Gross’s forced experiments have. Eventually she puts all her citizens in the Prize Ball Guardian, a decision resembling Minerva’s Light Cloud. And eventually Ooo looks like an abandoned wasteland.

There’s always the possibility that I put too much stake in the future seen during “Graybles 1000+” and none of that happens. The Graybles episodes have always felt like half-canon episodes. Retconning this future or ignoring it would be simple enough. Even more likely is them leaving all this to theory. Adventure Time may be an influential, boundary-pushing show, but it is still a children’s cartoon, guaranteed to end on a happy note.

I think Dr. Gross and Minerva are a little too intentional to mean nothing.

Images Courtesy of Cartoon Network

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