Sunday, June 23, 2024

From the Nightosphere to the Lich

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It’s time for a new season of Adventure Time (AT), new adventures, new characters, and overall a new tone to the show. In many ways, Season 2 felt more like the kickstarter than Season 1 did. We still have randomness and standalone episodes, but the hints to a bigger arc and to general continuity are there. It seems that AT decidedly found itself in this second season, and it shows.

I’m aware that it’s a bit of a risky move to call this season’s episodes in general ‘more quality’ than the first 26. What I mean by quality in this case is the flow of the episodes, the plots, the animation and the way at least some of them are connected. You’d still be absolutely fine to watch whatever episode you want to out of the 52 so far, with the exception of the first two-parter, the finale of this season. But now we have the feeling that it’s worth watching this show regularly, there’s a sense of something bigger building up.

Let’s take a quick look at all the episodes, although I already have the feeling that I’m going to spend way more than one or two sentences on certain ones. Take the very first one for example. “It Came from the Nightosphere” is our first introduction not only to Marceline’s dad, Hunson Abadeer aka AT’s version of Satan, but to a new side to her character as well. In Season 1 she was the troll who turned out to be not so bad after all, but it’s a new season now so it’s time to slowly but surely explore the Vampire Queen’s past. Many fans consider this to be the real start to Marceline’s character, as she sings her first proper (and popular) song, the “Fry Song”, and shows her more vulnerable side. Not a big surprise when you consider that this was the first episode storyboarded by Rebecca Sugar, since then creator of Steven Universe and, some would say, of the Marceline we know and love today. The mother of Marceline in more ways than one, along with the current showrunner Adam Muto, brought us an exciting episode that is the perfect start to a brand new season.

The next few episodes turn it down a bit and set the fun but not groundbreaking tone that’s true for most of the episodes. “The Eyes” is almost completely focused on Finn and Jake and what they do under pressure, but of course there’s a twist at the very end. “Loyalty to the King” is one of those Ice King centric episodes where he continues his quest to find a wife, this time around as the ‘Nice King’. It’s one of those where he acts jerkier, but at the end you still kind of feel sorry for him. “Blood Under the Skin” is the power of embarrassment and a lesson for Finn, while “Storytelling” is him trying to make a sick Jake feel better by fabricating a real story for him. All of these episodes could have been S1 ones, but compared to the first couple of episodes you can feel how these were made with more experience. The plots are nothing special, but the execution is what it’s all about.

Jake, no

“Slow Love” is perhaps the most bizarre of this season, and unfortunately it also means that it’s one of the weakest. See the image above, it’s just plain weird. “Power Animal” is the first in a long line of episodes that seems to be torturing poor Finn for torture’s sake, as if the guy’s not been through enough already. “Crystals Have Power” might sound like a Steven Universe episode, but it’s actually the first episode that picks up where an earlier one ended. That’s right, it’s Tree Trunks time again, and also time for a Joshua and Jermaine guest appearance. “The Other Tarts” is when Finn tries to be smart as well as heroic and it goes horribly wrong, except it’s AT so the real horror is more about the implications. It’s an episode that represents the direction they are heading very well, in that it’s light enough so that everyone can enjoy it but also has heavy undertones that people can pick up on if they want to.

“To Cut a Woman’s Hair”, apart from boasting one of the best title cards, is another high for the season. Not high as in “It Came from the Nightosphere” or finale high, but raising the bar for standard episodes high. In its 10 minutes it twists your expectations as many times as possible, and how can anyone resist dropping their jaw upon seeing Finn’s hair? Especially considering that it’s the first time. What a reveal. Compared to this, “The Chamber of Frozen Blades” is a slightly less interesting one, focusing again on Ice King and Finn and Jake’s ninja phase. “Her Parents” is our first look at Lady Rainicorn’s parents, which again makes you think twice about prejudice. “The Pods” follows this line somewhat and starts unpacking AT’s so far heavy good vs. bad binary opposite.


“The Silent King” explores the aftermath of an adventure, while “The Real You” is not really an adventure at all. It’s all about Finn trying to be someone else to prove himself to Bubblegum as chaos ensues. Yep, there are a lot of Finn and PB undertones going on in this season, although it’s mostly pining on Finn’s part and not nearly as over the top as we’ll see in Season 3. “Guardians of Sunshine” is again completely different, in fact, it’s the first episode with a different animation. Different animation, same tone.“Death in Bloom” on the other hand is a bit different, it’s our first glimpse at Death, AT’s Underworld and Peppermint Butler’s darker side. It’s literally a trip to the land of the dead to get back the soul of a flower, and it’s so perfectly Adventure Time.

Next up are three very strong episodes, which further help with establishing this new, more consistent AT. “Susan Strong” is a big one for new and old fans alike, it was a key episode back when it first aired and as of the end of Season 7 it’s more relevant than ever before. As Finn wonders about being the last human, the titular character and her… tribe show up, and the mystery that surrounded them then is still present in the latest episodes. Who is Susan Strong? We still don’t know, but they established such an interesting and unique character here that we are still patiently waiting for the answer, eager to find out about her and what’s left of humanity.

Oh no, she is precious

“Mystery Train” was a delight to watch for the first time and it was just as good to see it again. It’s Finn’s birthday and Jake surprises him with a train trip, which turns into an Agatha Christie-esque murder mystery. It’s one of those few episodes that don’t have much to offer in terms of the ‘bigger picture’, don’t have either PB or Marceline in them but are still very dear to my heart. That’s a feat, peeps. Maybe it was easier for this episode because the one before caters to my continuity and the one after to my specific character focused needs.

“Go With Me” is my personal favourite of the season, it’s a no-brainer. Originally, it was overshadowed by “It Came from the Nightosphere”, but since my first watch of the season I’ve become unashamed Bubbline trash, as you do. And even if we put aside the fact that this is basically a prologue to the Sugarless Gum saga, it’s just generally such a fun episode. I can even accept that most of it is either Bubblegum and Finn or Marceline and Finn ship tease, it’s still always uplifting to watch Marcy the troll use Finn to annoy PB. What a twit.

Bonnibel, huh? I see

“Belly of the Beast” is probably the weakest episode of the last episodes, but that says a lot about the standard because even this one is an amusing tale of bears living inside a giant. “The Limit” is more interesting in that it explores the limit of Jake’s stretching powers. Just how far can he go? It’s always nice to have an episode that explores logical questions, even though a show like Adventure Time, where sentient candy people exist wouldn’t need to. It doesn’t even feel random, as going through a labyrinth would require Jake to test his powers. Additionally, it’s the first appearance of the Ancient Psychic Tandem War Elephant, because that’s also a thing in the Land of Ooo.

Now, “Heat Signature” would be episode 26 of the season, but originally it was meant to be the 24th and on the DVD it is listed as such. No wonder, because as enjoyable as it is, the first two-parter deserves to be the finale. I watched this episode after “Mortal Folly” and “Mortal Recoil”, but for the above reason, I’m going to talk about this first. So, remember how Marceline was established as the troll in Season 1, and the “It Came from the Nightosphere” guided her character in a different direction? Well, because we can’t just drop the establishing character moment just like that, here we have another episode exploring how Marcy loves screwing with others.

In a way, “Go With Me” also touched upon this, as Marceline’s advice to Finn was just to annoy Bubblegum, but it was more subtle. Here we have her trick Finn and Jake into believing that they’ve been turned into vampires, just for the amusement of herself and her ghost buddies. It’s all fun and games and she has no problem laughing at the expense of her friends. What “Heat Signature” does differently than the episodes before however, is that it has Marcy realise that she’s gone too far. When her ghost friends turn the joke into a sadistic game and almost kill Finn and Jake she sobers up. Well, it’s still not as much of a heroic moment as Finn would have expected, but as of the end of this episode we have a clearer understanding of Marcy’s true character. She does like to mess with others and a 1,000 years spent as a vampire did create a questionable morality, but she’s not actually evil, just a jerk a sometimes. It’s not the most important Marceline episode by a long shot, but it does help connect the Marcy from Season 1 to the one in later seasons, it steers her character in a different way. Job well done.

Now all Season 2 needs is a fitting end, and oh Glob, does the first two-parter in the show’s history deliver. “Mortal Folly” and “Mortal Recoil” are what ultimately help establish Adventure Time as a show that’s more than a series of bizarre standalones, it’s a finale that should have happened in Season 1, but better later than never. The second season in general was more consistent and meaningful than the first one, but the finale is what really sets them apart and what helps the next season be even better. If “Heat Signature” is what helped to once and for all give direction to Marcy’s character,  then the “Mortal” episodes are what turn up the volume and give the whole show a new direction.

Perhaps the most obvious reason why these two episodes manage to do that is that they properly introduce the Lich. This is perhaps where I should put the first spoiler warning of these Adventure Time reviews, although from now on it will pretty much accompany everything I write about the show. Not everything I’ve written so far was exactly spoiler free, but I’d like to think that it wasn’t too much for anyone who hasn’t seen the show yet but might want to in the future. If you’re considering watching it and don’t want the details to be spoiled, then I think this is the point where I tell you to stop reading this. I hope what you’ve read so far was enough to convince you. Now that that’s out of the way, back to the episodes.

The final two episodes make it clear that the true antagonist of the show, the one that Finn and Jake and all the other residents of Ooo need to fear was never the Ice King. As creepy as his tendency to kidnap princesses is, it’s mostly just annoying and he’s clearly more pathetic than threatening. And that entire line is basically what he is in these two episodes, nothing more. The Lich, on the other hand, is a truly terrifying villain, with ending all life as his sole goal. He’s far from the layered character that the Ice King is already becoming, but somehow, in this case, I’m fine with this antagonist that has such a simple goal. The Lich is a great antagonist because he’s simplistic, because all he wants is to destroy and there’s no stopping him. The character design helps, too.

Sleep well, kids

Out of the two episodes, “Mortal Folly” is definitely the more intense one. It doesn’t waste much time and introduces the Lich right on. The waving snail, appearing in every episode but only playing a semi-important role in “Storytelling” also gets to shine. It’s through this silly easter egg that Ooo’s most horrifying character breaks loose, and from then on it’s up to Finn and Jake to save everyone, as per usual. But this situation is not like everything else we’ve seen so far, the stakes are higher and the consequences direr. When rewatching the episode I was literally on the edge of my seat, and that wasn’t my first time watching it, I knew what would happen. But the pacing of the episode is brilliantly done, you feel just as frustrated with the Ice King for delaying Finn and Jake as the heroes themselves do.

In a way, the chase after the Lich gets resolved in the first episode. Finn defeats him with the power of l-liking someone a lot (which ultimately sets up the romantic shenanigans of Season 3), but the story doesn’t end there. Ice King was bothering the main characters throughout these two seasons and even more so in “Mortal Folly”, but his silliness causes all the problems of “Mortal Recoil”. After he attempts to kidnap Princess Bubblegum, he lets her go as he’s touched by Finn’s victory over the Lich. This also means almost killing her and results in the Lich possessing her.

“Mortal Recoil” is all about our heroes slowly discovering that there’s something very wrong with PB, who almost dies twice in these twenty minutes. In the end, the Lich is still not entirely gone and PB’s life could only be saved by reducing her biomass and therefore her age (that’s how it works in Ooo, okay), meaning she’s 13 now, just like Finn. This and the looming presence of Snail Lich makes for a cliffhanger and very different end to a season than what we saw with the first one. This marks the beginning of a tendency for proper season finales and the beginning for a new kind of Adventure Time.

When asked, a good portion of AT fans recommend that people only watch a few key episodes from Season 1 and then jump straight into Season 2. While I wouldn’t say that Season 1 is not worth watching, I do believe that it’s perhaps better to start with this one. Season 2 captures the essence of Adventure Time much better and it gives you an idea of what it’s going to be like later on, and it’s also easier to see why people would be hooked seeing this rather than the first 26 episodes. The best is still yet to come, but Season 2 is a solid restart to the series.

Images courtesy of Cartoon Network

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