Thursday, June 20, 2024

Semi-Successful Juggling Act on Adventure Time

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Adventure Time is back for the last time in 2017 as Season 10 continues. That’s right, Season 10, because we’re back to retroactively rearranging the episodes. What was originally intended as Season 9 is now number 10, meaning that “The Wild Hunt” did end up being a season premiere after all, and these four new episodes are S10 E5-8. Anyway, we’re still getting the same number of episodes, so eight more after these, plus that Minecraft crossover one that’s happening for some reason. Always so much fun to try and keep up with Cartoon Network shenanigans, but onto the episodes now.


The first one of this bunch is an episode about Finn’s seventeenth birthday. He’s celebrating with some of his closest friends in the Candy Kingdom when a mysterious Green Knight shows up at the party and challenges him. Finn, now 17 and more confident than ever, accepts and tries his best, but the Green Knight cheats and wins the first round of birthday games before letting Finn win the second one. In the final round, the knight reveals himself to be Fern (shocking, I know) and defeats Finn. Before he gets carried away and kills his “twin”, Uncle Gumbald, who’s been disguised as the knight’s horse along with Lolly and Chicle, stops him. Gumbald gloats and attacks Bubblegum, but Marceline scares him off and so the intruders leave a devastated Finn behind on his worst birthday ever.

One of the things that the episode delights in is showing us how confident Finn is and how he feels like he can do everything, now that he’s in his late teens. It becomes painfully clear that he still has a long way to go, and so Gumbald’s goal to defeat PB’s champion is achieved. It’s not so much that Fern defeated Finn once and for all, but rather that he proved he can and that he wouldn’t be afraid to kill his human counterpart. This introduces a new problem Gumbald has to face if he wants to get to his niece, and that’s Marceline. Now, this is where the episode and the last season in general becomes a little messy, because it involves a super sped up way of Gumbald trying to get to PB’s “champions” and doesn’t add up. Since this relates to “Marcy & Hunson” as well, I’m going to talk about this in the end with the overall thoughts of these four episodes.

Oh, Finn

As far as “Seventeen” itself is concerned, it’s a mixed bag. On the one hand, it’s always nice to get a more Finn-centric episode where we get to explore his weaknesses — even if he has suffered enough and this child should be left alone at this point. But on the other hand, the episode had really awkward pacing for AT, and you get the impression that they were trying to save money and resources by using just one main setting for the whole episode. What should have felt like an intense battle between Finn and Fern and Gumbald’s triumph ended up feeling almost like a filler episode. All we have at the end is PB knowing that her family has returned, Finn being broken (again), and Gumbald knowing about the obstacle that’s Marceline. There’s a very brief moment when it seems like we’re going to have Bonnie and Gumbald debate the ethics of their choices, but it’s gone in a second because the episode only has 11 minutes to spare and this is right at the end.

Ultimately, the main problem of “Seventeen” is the main problem of Season 10 so far: trying to cram so much into only a few episodes that none of the ideas fully work out.

That being said, “Seventeen” was entertaining as a Finn episode and had some minor gems. Huntress Wizard being one of the few people at the party is not only shipping fuel but she also provided some of the episode’s best comedic moments. The support that Finn gets form his friends is always heartwarming to see, and heck, even Ice King’s last-minute appearance was delightfully bizarre and a worthy note to end on. Of course he would dress up as Finn’s ex, of course he would. And don’t think I missed that sneaky handholding Bubbline during the Happy Birthday song. This wasn’t a bad episode by any means, just one that could have used more than 11 minutes, a lot more.

Ring of Fire

Tree Trunks is headed to the Tiny Animal Kingdom behind Mr. Pigs back to meet Randy, her first husband. Randy only wants his grandmother’s ring back but instead, Tree Trunks goes down memory lane to think about all her marriages and the adventure in her life. Eventually, all four of her husbands show up, Randy gets his ring back from the third husband, Wyatt, and Tree Trunks and Mr. Pig both realize that past adventures don’t compare to their life together with Sweet P.

When I first heard that one of these last 12 episodes is going to be about Tree Trunks, I was slightly disappointed. Surely she already got her fair share of screentime and her story was done in “High Strangeness”, but no, here comes “Ring of Fire”. Despite the fact that Season 10 is running low on episodes and time and that this episode could have been dedicated to something more substantial…I can’t help but like it. “Ring of Fire” is a nice reminder of what AT was for most of its run: a combination of short episodes that are equal amounts funny, bizarre, and thought-provoking.

“Oh no, Mama, you’re sad!”

Tree Trunks has always been something of a wildcard. Looking back at her episodes, she always provided the inexplicably weird humour and she got better at it as the years went by (or maybe I just got used to her, who knows). What we originally assumed to be a sweet old elephant lady who likes to bake apple pies turned into a polygamist with intergalactic relations and a backstory that is second only to the main characters’. “Ring of Fire” easily could have felt like a last desperate attempt to make the audience finally care about a minor character, but instead it doesn’t try too hard. It just builds on what we already knew and retrospectively makes Tree Trunks a more interesting and multi-faceted character.

The complete story of Tree Trunks and her husbands is one I never knew I needed until “Ring of Fire” came along and now I’m not sorry that one of the final episodes focused on it. Each husband represents a different kind of relationship: Randy is the childhood sweetheart, Danny is the flame who wasn’t what he seemed, Wyatt was the pitiful adoring kind who needs to be pampered, and finally, Mr. Pig is the calm and slightly boring but stable partner. Honestly, there’s a lot to be explored here and Adventure Time crammed a lot of different dynamics into 11 minutes. Wyatt, in particular, had a fascinating relationship with Tree Trunks.

“Rings of Fire” is definitely the least important episode out of these four in terms of relevance to the overall plot but it’s still fun and a worthy final act for Tree Trunks. Who would have thought that this was where this tiny elephant was going, or rather where she came from, but it all just makes sense. Not to mention that there’s something delightful about Polly Lou Livingston using the exact same voice and tone for 18-year-old Tree Trunks as she does for the middle-aged one, and I’m really glad to know that there’s a Tiny Animal Kingdom in Ooo.

Marcy & Hunson

In order to get Finn a new sword, Peppermint Butler summons Hunson Abadeer to get some Nightosphere magic. Taking it as a free flight to Ooo, Hunson is not in a hurry to go back and wants to visit his daughter, but only after Pep But binds his powers so he can’t hurt anyone. The visit to Marceline’s house doesn’t go too well and it gets worse when Hunson finds out about his daughter’s concert that he insists on attending. Unbeknownst to everyone, Cousin Chicle is set on sabotaging Marceline and uses Hunson to wreck her show. Despite everything, Hunson stands up for his daughter and almost gets beaten up by ghosts in the process, but the new Night Sword helps save the day and Abadeer turns out to be not so bad a dad after all.

Hynden Walch is voicing that ghost, btw, in case it wasn’t obvious who this song was about

I’ve been talking about “Marcy & Hunson” ever since it was announced so it should come as no surprise that I was most looking forward to this episode. And it didn’t disappoint, even though it has more of the same problems that “Seventeen” did. Let’s get the criticism out of the way, shall we?

The Chicle side of the story made little to no sense at all. The introduction of Marcy as an obstacle to Gumbald in “Seventeen” was sloppy enough, but at least this time it was Chicle trying to do something about it and getting some screentime. But what exactly was his plan? Identifying Hunson and Marcy’s weakness is not a bad move, but then his great plan was to embarrass Marceline and make her be ashamed of her dad. Unless he was actively trying to get Hunson and then Marcy killed by the ghosts, but that moment was so quick it didn’t seem worth it. The overall point is that we needed at least one more episode with father and daughter to patch things up as well as the addressing of how PB’s family was planning on dealing with Marceline, so the two got combined and we got this. It didn’t do much since Marcy was far from being defeated and/or incapacitated by Chicle’s shenanigans, so the Gumbald storyline didn’t move forward all that much.

Luckily though, the other aspect of the story didn’t suffer too much, and so we still have a neat little episode to tie one of the last loose ends up when it comes to Marceline. Hunson hasn’t appeared since Season 4 and even before that he was only in one episode, so suffice to say it’s rare that we see the ruler of the Nightosphere. The reason for his return is valid as well—Finn does need a new sword after the Grumbo incident after all. And even though he does try to pull some soul-sucking shenanigans, Hunson’s intent from the get-go is to see his daughter again. The amount of times he messes up in this short period of time is truly amazing, but he does try his best. He never wants to offend or embarrass Marceline, it just happens by virtue of him being an awkward dad who hasn’t spent nearly enough time with his daughter lately. Plus keep in mind that he’s literally Satan, so all things considered he’s not doing so bad.

That’s just the thing, Hunson really isn’t so bad. There’s an interesting tendency to portray him as absolutely evil in fanfics and especially AUs, but as far as father figures are concerned in AT he’s not half bad. Simon was quite clearly the man Marcy considered to be her actual guardian and a better parent in many ways, but Hunson always tries to make amends. It didn’t work out in “It Came From the Nightosphere” and “Daddy’s Little Monster”, but kind of did here.

The contrast with “Son of Rap Bear” and the Flame Royals is another thing to consider since in that episode Flame Princess realized that her dad is never going to try as hard as her to repair their relationship. In the case of the Abadeers, Marceline has all but given up on Hunson completely when he proves that he does care and wants to try again. It takes her a while and Hunson still needs a long way to go, but this relationship is far from being lost and turned out to be a lot better than, say, the one between Finn and Martin.

Not so bad a dad after all

Apart from the unnecessary Chicle meddling, “Marcy & Hunson” was a satisfying end to this particular aspect of Marceline’s storyline. Many references to earlier seasons, mainly Season 2, confirmation that Simon got Hunson to look after Marcy after he left, and even some not so subtle Bubbline hints. I mean, I was always going to mention the sweater, the song, the last scene at the diner, and then there’s this dialogue:

Hunson: So, what’s my little monster up to these days? Is she still all goody-goody? Still half-vampire? Started dating anyone?
Finn: Yes, yes but no then yes again, and… maybe?

The First Investigation

Kim Kil Whan asks his dad and uncle to investigate their old house, the Joshua and Margaret Investigations office. Finn and Jake expect the house to be haunted by the ghosts of their parents but what they find is a sequence of strange occurrences that lead Finn to meet their baby selves, and Jake to witness his own birth and therefore find out the truth about it. The cause of these rips in time is revealed to be Clock Bear, a creation of Dr Gross. While Finn resets the clock and sends a message to his parents back in time, Jake meets his alien dad who takes him… somewhere. To be continued.

Based on the reaction these four episodes have received so far, “The First Investigation” is the fan favourite and it’s easy to see why. It’s fun and heartwarming with a mystery and a cliffhanger that promises something big to happen. It’s nice to see Finn and Jake go an adventure together, like in the good old days, and the fact that they are uncovering their own past in the process makes this all the more enjoyable. Name one thing sweeter than Finn using Clock Bear’s mess to tell his parents he loves them one last time, go on. And the way he plays with baby Jermaine, Jake and Finn is adorable, if a little dangerous.

It was inevitable that Jake would some day find out the truth behind his birth, if anything then “Elements” and “Abstract” made it clear that this is something we’re going to have to deal with. Now he has seen what happened and agreed to leave Ooo with his alien dad and it could all potentially lead up to the series finale. I was a bit disappointed when Jake’s physical transformation back to normal took only one episode right after it happened, but this is the chance to explore what all that means and how he chooses to make sense of it. How all of it is going to come together for the last couple of episodes? Who knows, but “The First Investigation” was a great example of a story that’s allowed to breathe on its own and yet contribute to the overall plot that’s moving forward exponentially faster.

Closing thoughts

“Ring of Fire” and “The First Investigation” were both perfectly fine episodes on their own with the latter opening a whole new can of worms, but it’s the other two episodes that are in need of a little more discussion. “Seventeen” and “Marcy & Hunson” are both connected to the Gumbald storyline in some shape or form so let’s talk about that and where it’s going.

To start with: “Seventeen” is the first episode when we see Marceline engage in a fight that’s not hers (e.g. the Vampire King) and it doesn’t work. I’ve always wondered why Finn and the others don’t just ask Marcy to come over and help when they fight powerful villains like the Lich, since the half-demon half-vampire with various superpowers would be my choice of fighter. But it made sense to exclude Marceline from big fights like that, because a) she’s always been morally grey compared to the heroes and b) involving her would mean cutting the battle short. She’s just too powerful and so not using her as a weapon is for the best. Here, however, we see her trying and failing to break the invisible shield, which implies some mad science on Gumbald’s part, but then her transformation alone is enough to scare him away (”for now”). As much as I love Marcy protecting her gf best friend gal pal Bubblegum from her messed up family, it just doesn’t really work.

The reason we still have it in there is so that Gumbald has a reason to back off and not settle the score with PB just yet. We also get Cousin Chicle trying to mess with Marceline in “Marcy & Hunson” for this reason. It is continuity, I’ll give them that, but nonsensical continuity. My one problem was that they should have had their own episode without the reminder that PB’s family is a threat, or if you insist on one of them wanting to sabotage Marcy, at least make it a better attempt. Chicle’s plan did nothing but draw the attention away from the complex father-daughter relationship going on and caused a minor conflict.

I want to like Gumbald as one of the final antagonists, I really do. “Bonnibel Bubblegum” was beautiful, with retcons and all, and there’s so much potential in exploring the relationship Bonnie has with the family she created. I’m not against Gumbald wanting to get Finn and Marceline out of the way first either but if you want to do that then go all the way. “Seventeen” was more successful because with that episode the main focus was the Finn and Fern battle, but “Marcy & Hunson” had a whole other story going on that was only weakened by the interference.

So where is all this going? Are we getting a family feud in these last episodes? Will Jake’s alien dad help them with the Gumbald problem? What’s up on Mars? Are we going to beat around the bush until the end of time or will Bubbline finally be confirmed? Who knows.

In any case, it’s always good to have Adventure Time back on air and it wasn’t any different with these four episodes. All of them were fun in their own way and full of great moments, but the need to combine individual episodes with the overall storyline is having negative effects on pacing and exploration of minor themes. Here’s hoping that next year we’ll have more cohesive storytelling and finale that does the series justice.

Images courtesy of Cartoon Network

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