Season 2 of Adventure Time gave a new tone to the show, especially with its gripping finale, and now it’s time for a whole new season with a surprising amount of holiday specials and continuity. It’s time for Season 3 to further develop the characters, elaborate on the backstory and redefine what a standard episode is.
It all begins with “Conquest of Cuteness”, which is admittedly a much weaker start than that of Season 2. Instead of dealing with last season’s cliffhanger, Season 3 kicks off with a complete stand-alone episode that doesn’t do the other ones justice. It is by no means a bad or unenjoyable episode, just mediocre, and all things considered, this season deserved more than a mediocre start. “Morituri Te Salutamus” is more interesting in that has AT’s newfound darker undertone while being an excellent adventure. Now that’s more like it, although this is still what we could have seen in the previous seasons.
“Memory of a Memory” is what provides us with substance. As a Marceline episode it had a higher chance of being a more pivotal episode anyway, but even going by what I call the “Marcy standard” this one is high up there. As a whole it’s exciting, but the details provide us with so many crucial points. As the whole story is about Marceline’s past we learn so much about her in just 10 minutes. One moment it’s the Mushroom War and the first appearance of Hambo and the next it’s Marcy living at the treehouse with her jerk of an ex. “It Came From the Nightosphere” was our first glimpse at Marceline’s past, with Hunson showing up and all that, but “Memory of a Memory” really kicks off this huge journey of exploring the life of the Vampire Queen, step by step.
Poor “Hitman” is an alright episode about the silliness of Ice King and his developing relationship with Finn and Jake, but because it’s between “Memory of a Memory” and “Too Young”, it might as well have never happened. Because, while the third episode continues the exploration of Marceline’s character, the fifth finally deals with the situation of a 13-year-old Princess Bubblegum. A hugely important and excellently paced episode that introduces Lemongrab and fuels and tears down the “Finnlegum” ship all at once. It is a cute story for the two of them but as soon as PB is back to normal [reveal heading=%image%Click to reveal] (”18″ apparently, even though she’s like more than 800 and it’s such a shame the show itself didn’t confirm that) [/reveal] the ship sinks. Not completely, not just yet, which is one of the more frustrating issues I have with Season 3 and AT in general.
“The Monster” is a long time no see moment for the viewers and Lumpy Space Princess. We saw her as a hobo back in “Heat Signature”, and now the reason gets addressed. Although she’s back with her family by the end, this sees the beginning of LSP’s personal arc of growing up. It might not be as serious as Finn’s or as tragic as Marcy’s, but it’s still a fun one to follow. “Still” is another look at Ice King and his relationship with our heroes, and this time he’s being more creepy than ever. All these Ice King episodes make more sense in hindsight, after having seen “Holly Jolly Secrets”.
But before that it’s “Wizard Battle” time, which is Abracadaniel’s intro and another look at how Finn has a serious crush on PB. My biggest issue with the episode was how PB was more than fine with wizardry, so even though I claim that this season is what begins the heavy continuity, they clearly didn’t have her later character development in mind.
And after all this is an episode that began as a complete standalone, a silly one-off but became an enormously popular aspect of the show. It’s genderbending time with “Fionna and Cake” as we have our first look at the Land of Aaa and how our favourite characters would look and act like if they were of another gender. It’s an exceptional episode in many ways, from the designs to the voice actors, the genderbent characters are brilliant, and the story itself is a very clever build up to the final reveal. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that “Fionna and Cake” and the whole genderbending idea is the best part of Adventure Time, because come on, that’s taking away from all the other genius moments, many of which happened this season. It is brilliant, but I believe we should treat it as a special episode (as well as later genderbent ones) so we don’t forget the awesomeness of the regular episodes.
The best example of this awesomeness comes directly after the special episode.
“What Was Missing” is your ordinary Adventure Time story, with a fun quest, a moral to the story, the main characters fooling around and some nice songs. It’s pretty standard for AT, except that it’s so much more and it happens to be my personal favourite for many, many reasons, but I’m not going to deny that the main one is Bubbline. This episode, oh Glob this episode. Ever wondered what’s with the hype around Marcy and PB? This is where it all started. That and so much more. I’m going to do my best and contain my excitement, but writing about “What Was Missing” always gets out of hand.
Let’s get our obvious reason as to why this episode is one of the best out of the way. Rebecca Sugar and Adam Muto created such a wonderful dynamic in 10 minutes that was full of all the potential in the world and became the Bubbline ship. Even though Marceline and Princess Bubblegum interacted onscreen last season in “Go With Me” and it was established that they know each other, that wasn’t much to go off of.
“What Was Missing” doesn’t exclusively focus on their relationship (like other episodes do later on in the series), but somehow it still does. From the very beginning there’s tension between the two characters that seems out of the blue and yet it’s so natural that it becomes a subplot to the Door Lord. And it definitely becomes much more prominent than Finn’s crush on PB. As if Marcy’s rock ballad “I’m Just Your Problem” wasn’t enough to fuel fan’s theories as to what had happened between them, the very end with PB and The Shirt™ is the ultimate catalyst. We see just enough of their dynamic to get that something happened, but don’t see enough to truly know the extent of their past relationship or the causes of their falling out. It is the perfect set up for the Bubbline saga, with a balanced subtext so that it could be aired in 2011 but it was obvious to anyone willing to see it. It was the birth of the beautiful journey that is exploring and building their relationship.
Even if we put all of this aside, “What Was Missing” still holds many pleasant surprises and still deserves a special place. It was the first episode to get Finn, Jake, PB and Marcy, aka the later “Stakes” squad, all together and we got so many precious moments thanks to this choice. (Side note: BMO was also there, but seeing as his character only got important as of Season 4, he didn’t do much here.) Finn’s “What Am I to You?” song sums the overall dynamic up so perfectly. It’s also an episode that’s simultaneously trying to convey a good old moral of the story but is also subverting it, not to mention how it can all be enjoyed even if you don’t want to think about characters and their relations too much. It’s such a solid episode guys, I just can’t get enough of its perfection. I think this was what really, ultimately got me into AT, although I did watch it out of order so there’s that.
Moving on before I dedicate all of the remaining words to the blessing that is episode 10, 11 is “Apple Thief”, another Tree Trunks story. It speaks volumes about Season 3′s continuity that this episode features a recurring character and introduces another one, who will prove to be rather pivotal later on. Better yet are the two Halloween episodes, as Season 3 is one for the holiday specials. Both are loose sequels to previous stories but both are even better than the originals.
“The Creeps” follows the events of “Mystery Train”, where Jake set up a murder mystery for Finn’s birthday. This time around it’s another mystery in a mansion, but one that seems to be more serious and deadly. “From Bad to Worse” goes even further back and revisits the story of the very first episode, “Slumber Party Panic”. That’s right, the candy zombies are back, and with PB having been bitten it’s up to Finn, Jake, LSP and Lady to cure the Kingdom. Both episodes are excellent on their own, viewed as sequels or Halloween specials, they are genuinely creepy but not overly. And special shout-out because “The Creeps” not only picked up a story but had a Shoko cameo two whole seasons before the big revelation of who she is.
“Beautopia” continues this trend of newfound continuity, but of course a Susan Strong episode must do that. It’s the continuing mystery of what the hell is up with her and the “hyoomans”. It’s also a great one for twisting your expectations, but that’s just your standard AT. “No One Can Hear You” is what maybe should have been the real Halloween episode, as it is not only incredibly creepy, but also the most disturbing story the show has produced yet. The implications and the explicit scenes are all highly sinister…I honestly don’t understand why this episode is not that controversial. It’s not Season 1 weird and it’s not “I Remember You” depressing, it’s just deeply disturbing. But I guess that’s good?
Luckily the show doesn’t dwell on this feeling because next up is “Jake vs. Me-Meow”, one of those few that you can almost dismiss. It was a young fan’s idea after all, but that also makes it special, and so much lighter than the previous episodes.
“Thank You” is another holiday special, shockingly enough it was made for Thanksgiving. One of the most solemn episodes, this one barely features any dialogue and only has Finn, Jake and Ice King as minor characters. It’s a truly beautiful story, a bit of a relaxing one, only to be followed by “The New Frontier”. Banana Man and the Cosmic Owl make an ominous appearance as the show begins exploring fate and the bigger picture, long before Orgalorg and the Comet. But back to the feels with yet another holiday special, because not long after Thanksgiving comes Christmas and that means “Holly Jolly Secrets”! It’s a two-parter to double the fun and to make the silliness and the fun last longer before Adventure Time delivers its first heavy blow, as far as tragic backstories go.
I would say spoiler alert, but you’re reading a review of the whole season at your own risk, aren’t you? And I don’t think anyone could get here and read all of this without already knowing about Simon Petrikov and how this particular holiday special ends. But fine, spoiler alert: “Holly Jolly Secrets” is the most depressing Christmas special you’ll get, apart from Black Mirror’s “White Christmas”. For the most part, it’s a funny story about how Finn and Jake are after Ice King’s evil secrets and how clueless the latter is, but in the final minutes, we see the true secret that the videotapes hide.
“Holly Jolly Secrets” is a good old traditional Christmas special in many ways. It has references to Rudolf and by the end creates a truly Christmas-y atmosphere without really saying that this is supposed to recreate the holiday. At the very end, the vast majority of characters gather around to celebrate together and ultimately we’re left with a warm feeling. But at the same time the big revelation is clearly the point of the two-parter, Ice King’s, or rather Simon’s backstory. How he was a normal human who was driven mad by the Ice Crown and now is the pathetic man we all know. The story will be elaborated on in later seasons, but for Season 3 this was just the right amount of information to let us know that the Land of Ooo is not all magic and sunshine. It was just what this season needed.
Based on previous Marceline episodes you would think that the season’s last one focusing on her would also drop a drama bomb, but “Marceline’s Closet” is actually the least interesting episode for her so far, at least from a certain point of view. Sure, we get a song that’s actually really depressing if you listen to the lyrics, and we even have a sneaky little piece of foreshadowing. But compared to the likes of “It Came From the Nightosphere” and “What Was Missing”, “Marceline’s Closet” didn’t add much to her character. If anything, it was more about Finn and Jake anyway. Not to say that that’s bad, after that Christmas special we needed an episode like this.
“Paper Pete” is another lighter one about the power of imagination and “Another Way” is what I call the prototype of the Finn-centric episodes of later (5-6-7) seasons. As per usual, there is a moral to the story but it’s twisted and left ambiguous in the end, classic AT. Following this is “Ghost Princess”, an episode about, well, Ghost Princess. Not always, but sometimes Adventure Time gets these minor character exploring episodes just right, and this is one of those. It’s an incredibly fun standalone with just the right amount of weirdness so that we still know it’s AT. “Dad’s Dungeon” is an insight into Joshua’s life as the saga of Finn’s swords begins. The sword he gets in this episode is his third one, but the first that actually matters in the overall plot. It’s also interesting to see how Jake is willing to go against Joshua, his dad’s wishes to protect his bro Finn, and how Joshua viewed Finn. It’s a bit of a family drama hidden in this grandiose adventure of dangerous quests and demons, which is what makes Adventure Time so good at the end of the day.
The finale once again ends the season on a fitting note. “Incendium” is the first episode of another two-parter and so the end of season cliffhanger is guaranteed.
Season 3 was one for romance, especially compared to the previous two seasons, and so the last episode builds on this romantic arc. That romantic arc is, of course, the saga of Finn’s hopeless crush on Bubblegum. I am biased when it comes to this pairing in a romantic way, biased against it to be more precise, but I have reasons apart from my Bubbline trash soul. One of my major reasons is that it was never going to work, so why bother in the first place? Think of it as Mako and Asami from The Legend of Korra: it is a beyond precious brOTP, but trying to make it work romantically is just a waste of time. Fortunately, with AT it wasn’t really a waste, as it helped Finn get to the place where he is as of the end of Season 7. But oh Glob, the journey there was long.
Right from the start “Incendium” makes it clear that this is going to be all about how Finn feels about PB. Or rather, how he feels about the fact that she doesn’t feel the same. The only time PB showed romantic interest in him was in “Too Young”, but even that’s debatable and rather creepy, to be honest. That leaves “adult” PB, who seems to care more about science and her kingdom than dating (Marcy would know).
Having realized this, Finn starts wallowing and Jake, the good brother he is, starts feeling sorry for him. His quest to find Finn a new princess leads him to the Fire Kingdom and eventually Flame Princess, who is, simply put, the best aspect of the whole romantic ordeal. By the end we’re left with a new character, who might or might not be evil, and Finn has a new crush, finally.
The whole Finn and PB aspect was a necessary evil for me, as we needed to elaborate on it after the hints we had in previous episodes, and it also made space for development.
Thing is, I do like “Incendium” but not on its own, I like how it furthers the plot and helps steer the characters in a new direction. As an individual episode, it’s “alright” category, with highs such as new Rebecca Sugar songs and lows such as, well, the wallowing. But I guess that is a pretty good end to this season, that had so many brilliant character moments and heartfelt songs. It is better than the previous one so we can definitely see the quality of the show rising, but it’s still missing that something that made Season 4 even better.