Sunday, June 16, 2024

“And living so merrily”: The End of an Adventure

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After more than eight years and 280 episodes, Adventure Time has come to an end in a 45 minute long epic finale. Come and grab your friends because we’ll go to a very distant land one last time and look at how well the episode “Come Along With Me” did in ending one of the most iconic cartoons of the decade.


The episode begins with the framing device of Shermy and Beth the Pup Princess (voiced by long-time fan Willow Smith). The two friends find Finn’s mechanical arm while trying to mess with the Prize Ball Guardian and decide to ask the King of Ooo about it. No, not that King of Ooo, but BMO. A 1,000 years after it happened, BMO recounts the tale of the Gum War and “the end” to Shermy and Beth.

After the events of “Gumbaldia”, both Princess Bubblegum and Uncle Gumbald summoned their allies to join the war. Finn and Marceline are trying to talk PB out of going to war but she sees no other way and so the two forces meet on the battlefield. As one last desperate effort, Finn tries to solve the situation by using his nightmare juice from “Orb” on himself, Jake, Fern, Bonnie, and Gumbald.

Love bazooka!

What follows is a nightmare sequence somewhat similar to the one we’ve seen in “Orb”. Instead of intense foreshadowing, though, the focus is on letting go of the past. PB has her own subconscious fight with Gumbald while Fern attacks Finn, and Jake invites Jermaine to the mix so he doesn’t feel left out. He also has his own nightmare section about the pups but eventually finds Finn’s Vault of repressed memories. The Vault serves as proof that both Finn and Fern have the same torments and so Fern agrees to confront them together with Finn. They kill the grass creature that was holding the Finn Sword’s consciousness hostage, but this also means that Fern’s body is falling apart.

Bonnie and Gumbald had their own nightmare trip in which the roles from “Bonnibel Bubblegum” were switched. It was now Bonnie whose dum dum juice turned on her and who was forced to watch Gumbald build the Candy Kingdom without being able to help with its problems or do anything intelligent. The experience makes her apologize to Gumbald for what she had put him through. He offers peace in return, only to be tripped by Aunt Lolly. He was going to turn on PB yet again and got juiced again, but Lolly is serious about peace and the idea of two Candy Kingdoms co-existing. This marks the end of the Gum War, but BMO isn’t done with his tale just yet.

Just as the armies are leaving, Normal Man flies right out of the sky and announces that they “donked up real bad”. The sky darkens and GOLB appears as the embodiment of chaos itself. Magic Betty used Maja the Sky Witch’s magic as well as her own to summon GOLB, hoping that harnessing this energy might help her bring Simon back. GOLB is too powerful though and creates an Eldritch Abomination out of Gumbald’s soldiers. PB sends the Banana Guards away to save them but the main cast stays behind to fight. The combined effort of the Gumball Guardians and Gumbald’s/Lolly’s Cake Warrior holds the monster off for a while but one of the Guardians gets transformed as well and the other dies. The original gets ripped apart by Marceline when it almost kills PB but they seem unbeatable. They head to Ooo and destroy everything in their wake, including the Tree Fort.

Meanwhile, Normal Man tells Ice King that he’s the only one who can convince Betty to stop this and send GOLB back. Ice King tries but can’t help but be his wacky self, which only enrages Betty. She causes Maja to supercharge and explode and she gets blown into GOLB’S mouth along with Ice King. Finn jumps after them but they can’t escape from GOLB. He’s breaking them down layer by layer, turning Ice King back into Simon and Magic Betty into Betty. They’re reunited but still being digested by GOLB.

Back on the outside, BMO comforts Jake after the destruction of the Tree Fort by singing him “Time Adventure”, and Bonnie and Marcy pick up on the fact that this hurts the Eldritch Abominations. They encourage the others to sing as well, fighting GOLB’s chaos by harmonizing with each other. This allows Jake to reach into GOLB for Finn, Simon, and Betty, but she decides to stay behind. Since the Ice Crown was also broken down into its original form of granting wishes, she wishes for GOLB to be gone, for Simon to be safe. The only way to do that is for her to fuse with GOLB, leaving Simon and Ooo behind. The Ice Crown is also left behind and transforms Gunther into the Ice Thing since he wished to be more like Ice King.

Without the grass curse creature, Fern’s body finally gives up after GOLB is gone. He makes Finn promise to plant the seed he leaves behind at the Tree Fort and that becomes a new tree in place of the old, with the Finn Sword in it. A 1,000 years later, Shermy and Beth go back to the tree and pick up the sword while a montage of Ooo’s residents is playing and the Music Hole sings the “Island Song”.

And the butterflies and bees

First and foremost let’s talk about how “Come Along With Me” fares as “The Ultimate Adventure”, the final episode to a long and colourful series. The short answer is that it does well: it manages to include so much of what made Adventure Time great and reference the past greatness while also being its own story and conclusion. It was strange watching such a long episode of the show that’s been doing 11-minute slots so well for all these years, but it worked. You could feel how the story beats still matched that of standard episodes in the first half, but by the time GOLB appeared it all flowed pretty well.

I’m actually glad that the Gum War was only half of it if even that. I love how Bubblegum’s arc came to an end and Gumbald’s storyline has always been interesting but also very rushed. It would have been a shame to have him as the ultimate big bad as his character has only been around for about a season and the very end needed something… bigger. The conclusion of Gumbald trying one last trick and having it turned on him again was a bit baffling at first but it fits the theme of the episode and gives Aunt Lolly a chance to co-rule with Bonnie. The nightmare sequence was shorter than expected but still well done and overall, Gumbald was an excellent final foil to Bubblegum.

Gumbald or not, the ultimate threat was not the Gum War but GOLB. Arguably GOLB could also have been built up more adequately and over a longer period of time, but considering that his first appearance was in “Puhoy” in season 5, that’s still pretty early. Granted, it only became clear that GOLB was a malevolent and dangerous entity in “You Forgot Your Floaties”, but his presence int he finale wasn’t about GOLB himself as much as it was about what he represents. As chaos itself, GOLB threatens to destroy the whole of Ooo because Magic Betty summoned him because she thought she could control chaos.

That’s the moral of the Gum War, though. Bubblegum thought that war was the answer because she was left with no other choice. Finn knew that that would only bring chaos and more destruction and could potentially go on forever. Marceline knew what the last great war, the Mushroom War did. As she said in “Stakes”:

Everything repeats over and over again. No one learns anything, ’cause no one lives long enough to see the pattern, I guess.

It was only when Bubblegum felt what Gumbald must have that she realized she had to take a different path. But Magic Betty has been so obsessed with fixing Simon that when Finn inspires her to keep on fighting no matter what, her obsession drives her to one of the most powerful entities in the universe. Chaos itself appears in Ooo because they fell out of balance and because Betty’s obsession knows no limits.

Ironically, it’s also GOLB and its digestion of Betty’s magic and the Crown’s madness that makes her see how chaos is not the solution. It’s also ironic and bittersweet that she does manage to save Simon from the Crown in the end, as well as saving Ooo from GOLB. Her sacrifice is full of implications, like how GOLB might not be pure chaos anymore and how obsessive persistence was the solution, though at a great cost.

Eh, you know… they kept living their lives

What’s great about this episode is that it gives us a huge battle full of action and drama and a great adventure, because how else would you end a show titled Adventure Time? But it manages to give us a conclusion without really concluding much, striking the balance between open-endedness and resolution. The huge battle happens, yes, and as BMO puts it, it was pretty much the end. But it also wasn’t, as Finn, Jake, PB and everyone else kept living their wacky lives in Ooo. We might want to know more, just like Shermy and Beth, because all these characters we’ve grown do continue to have more adventures. But if we had to put an end to the story (and that we did), I’m glad it happened here.

Most characters and arcs had satisfying conclusions. There are a few questions that feel unanswered and sure, these last few seasons had to get through a lot of plotlines really fast and that messed with the pacing, but this note was the best possible to end the show on. Finn faced his demons and grew as a person, even helping Fern in the end. Jake is still not the perfect dad to the pups but he tries his best and is getting better at accepting his own age and limitation. Bonnie gave up some of her control and accepted help and humility. Marceline let go of the past and got the people she lost (Simon, Hunson, Peebs) back in return. Simon can now grow old and die on his own terms. Sure, that last one is especially bittersweet with the loss of Betty and there are quite a few dark things about the Ooo of the future (more on that in a bit). I still wouldn’t call this a bittersweet ending because it’s simply not an ending. It is, in a way, but not quite. Everything stays.

Okay, THIS was truly sad

Going back to the Marceline quote above, the theme of “Come Along With Me” fits perfectly with that of the show’s best episodes – debatable, of course, but “Stakes” was definitely one of the highlights. The Gum War and the threat of GOLB did mark the end of something but the residents of Ooo kept on living. The story continues even after another 1,000 years. Everything ends and then begins a new, everything keeps repeating and people keep on living. Just as how the cycle of violence was hinted at in regards to the Gum War, the cycle of life in general is a cosmic truth in Ooo.

My best friend, Fred… Phil?

Let’s not forget the framing device of the episode either. We’re introduced to Shermy and Beth the Pup Princess as they live in what’s presumably Ooo in a 1,000 or so years, based on episodes like “Lemonhope” and “Graybles 1000+”. There’s such a plethora of references here, from the duo living in Marceline’s cave house to all the stuff that’s in BMO’s house. But it’s not so much the references that catch the eye but the fact that BMO is now King of Ooo and Marcy doesn’t live at the cave anymore and Sweet P is apparently a giant wandering around Ooo with Finn’s Demon Sword?

This framing gives the finale two stories: the one of the Gum War and GOLB and the one of Ooo’s future. Like I said, this future has been hinted at before but now we see unexpected characters from the past (Sweet P and BMO) and notice the absence of expected ones (like Marceline and Ice King as the Ice Thing – though this latter turns out to be Gunther anyway). “Graybles 1000+” was one of if not the absolute darkest of the series, and this last portrayal of the Ooo of the future doesn’t shy away from the earlier implications. The new title sequence is full of minor details that help us understand the current state of Ooo, but really, the colours themselves are enough to tell us that this is a – literally – bleaker version of Ooo.

It’s not like the end of BMO’s story doesn’t have enough darker undertones as it is: Fern dies and so do countless guards and soldiers, Betty merges with GOLB, the Ice Thing might not be Simon but it’s still coming and Simon himself will have to live with the loss of Betty forever. The future then hints at a Candy Kingdom that exists solely inside the Prize Ball Guardian that our new duo wants to take down for some reason and also at the death of even immortal characters. To be fair though, maybe Marceline didn’t want to live yet another 1,000 years and that’s fair, but even if her absence implies a peaceful death, other aspects are still darker.

Then there’s the huge implication of BMO being the ultimate unreliable narrator. The fact that he’s all alone as the King of Ooo is sad enough, but that he calls Finn Fred and then Phil is telling about how Shermy and Beth can’t rely on him to tell the truth. With this knowledge, everything about the finale could potentially be questioned. The montage of the “Island Song” might be heartwarming, but there are definitely some darker things hidden here for those who want to delve into that and theorize about the future of Ooo.

I’m gonna drink the red

Before I wrap this up, let’s talk about the Ancient Psychic Tandem War Elephant in the room. A certain kiss happened during the finale that we’ve all been waiting for and it simply wouldn’t feel right not to talk about it. Instead of making a joke about the kiss being that of LSP and Lemongrab (which was awesome by the way), I’m going to jump to finally writing it down: Bubbline is canon.

As someone who’s been waiting for this since first discovering the show in late 2012 and wrote about what Bubbline meant to me and why my only wish is for them to be canon, I’m overjoyed. In fact, I think I’m still overwhelmed by it all and it hasn’t really settled yet. It’s also a general feeling of content. Of course it happened, it had to. Not to take this for granted because that’s a luxury we cannot, as of yet, afford, but it just had to. And I’m so glad it happened in such a natural way where it felt right for both characters and didn’t distract too much from the main story but still got its fair amount of attention. Also, Marceline and Bubblegum living their happy girlfriends life with Simon and a baby Pep But? Amazing. Them having girls nights out with LSP, Slime Princess and Phoebe? Goals.

I don’t want to go a rant about the two of them right now because this is about the episode overall and I feel like I have been covering their journey and the path that lead to this. Don’t worry, I don’t think I’ll ever shut up about Bubbline and especially not now that it’s real and happening and all the subtext has been validated and this is why it feels important to give this its own section. I will stop right now, though, because this is a quadruple length episode that had many highlights apart from that sweet queer representation and we’ll have plenty of chances to discuss it further. So speaking of, a couple of highlights from the episode in general before I say my final goodbye:

  • Lemongrab and LSP, both the individual and the shared scenes
  • “Un-make me”
  • Finn’s mom and the humans returning
  • Goliad and Stormo still doing their physics showdown the Candy Kingdom
  • Marcy’s vampire essence coming out when she rushes to protect Bonnie
  • Jermaine
  • Cosmic Owl
  • Simon and Betty and the ambulance
And this, of course

It seems unforgiving when a good thing ends

I would find it hard to imagine how else AT could possibly have ended. We got a conclusion but also reassurance that the story is never really over. We got closure for our favourite characters and the landmark show of the decade went out with an emotional bang. And, true to its legacy of darker and deeper themes, it ended with a slightly bleaker and unnerving vision of the future.

How do you end a show like Adventure Time? One with so many intense and wonderfully strange stories to tell, but one that also had so many longer arcs to offer. Well, this is how. The fact that “Come Along With Me” managed to include such a vast amount of references and tie up so many loose ends while also staying true to the show’s earlier atmosphere is just astonishing. The later seasons did feel rushed and offered some less than satisfying closures, but this final episode is about close to perfection as we could ask.

The best thing about “Come Along With Me” is that I don’t feel sad. Sure, I got choked up quite a few times while watching it and there’s a profound melancholy about the thought of Adventure Time ending. This final episode is not about that melancholy though, it’s about the end but also the message that it’s never really over. You couldn’t possibly end Adventure Time definitively and so of course we are left to speculate about certain things and imagine what happened next. And yet, the show is over, it did get a satisfying conclusion. So instead of being sad, I’m simply content and satisfied. One of my favourite shows might be over but guess what: the fun will never end.

Images courtesy of Cartoon Network

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