Let’s just jump straight into it and put it out there that Season 4 is one of the best seasons, if not the best. It has those truly deep implications that Adventure Time became famous for, fantastic character moments and impressive world-building. It’s definitely more serious in many ways than the previous seasons, turning the volume up to eleven and not wasting much time with skippable episodes. It’s also not as complicated as later seasons, which the show was criticized for later on, so it’s like the almost perfect balance. I wouldn’t say it’s AT at its very best because surrounding seasons are just as enjoyable, but Season 4 is definitely a strong one. Nothing will be the same ever again in Ooo after this one.
It begins with the second part of a two-parter, after Season 3′s cliffhanger. “Hot to the Touch” is the first proper story with Finn and Flame Princess and it is the perfect kickstart to their complicated relationship. As Finn keeps chasing after his newest crush, FP is confused and hurt. In retrospect, they honestly couldn’t have had a more fitting introduction, although it did focus a lot more heavily on Finn than it did on Flame Princess, but we’ll have different episodes later on. It was especially interesting to watch Finn struggle with being a hero and also liking this girl, who is a pure force of destruction. It’s obviously a bit wacky that they have this “love at first sight”, but the relationship is far from being an easy ride without complications. The conclusion that they are elemental opposites is not one that’s going to be the major focus of their romance, but at least something to go on.
“Five Short Graybles” is taking it easy in comparison, as the first graybles episode. It established these anthology episodes as short stories centering around different characters with a common theme, and also the breaking of the fourth wall. Cuber appears for the first time, and as innocent as it all is, this is also an impactful episode. “Web Weirdos”, however, the episode that follows might be the least important out of all the Season 4 episodes. While it does have a pretty cool message, it’s one of the more disturbing ones, and definitely not for arachnophobes. I’m tempted to follow this with a GIF, to show why I’m saying that, but I’m not that cruel. “Dream of Love” is the return of Tree Trunks and Mr. Pig, who turns into a more important character than he originally seemed like. Because it is Tree Trunks the story turns unexplainably weird and ends with an elephant and a pig being desperately in love, but hey, what else were you expecting.
“Return to the Nightosphere” and “Daddy’s Little Monster” form another two-parter about Finn and Jake’s journey to the Nightosphere and their quest to find Hunson Abadeer, Marceline’s dad, so that he could tell them how they got there. It’s a good old in medias res where we learn more about the details along with our heroes, while also exploring AT’s own version of literal hell. Hunson’s return, as the leader of the Nightosphere, was a more than pleasant surprise, because a) he’s interesting as a character and b) he helps us learn more about Marcy. Their dynamic is one that still needs to be explored further in the show, as to this day this is Abadeer’s last appearance. What he does in it is prove that he does care about his daughter, he’s just really horrible at showing it and is expecting her to follow in his footsteps, without considering what she wants.
In the end, he is a jerk, but not as much of a jerk as could have been, which sets up a familial dynamic that just begs to be dealt with more. There’s more to these guys than just unfairly eaten fries and these episodes prove it, I just wish that we had more than this. It’s also the reason why I don’t really get why people always write Hunson as the ultimate worst dad ever in fanfiction. Sure, he could be better, he is AT’s own version of Satan after all, but especially taking that fact into consideration he’s not all that bad. What we can see in both “It Came From the Nightosphere” and “Daddy’s Little Monster” is that he’s trying, in his own way. And apart from this relationship, the two-parter also deals with the friendship between Marceline and the boys. They go to great lengths to help her, even Jake, who was more than unsure about her for a long while. The very end with both of them protecting her and Finn turning into Satan to help his friends is especially sweet. I love people caring about Marcy.
“In Your Footsteps” is exactly how you take a standalone and make it crucial to the overall plot. It’s an episode about a bear who wants to be like Finn, but then wants to be Finn, basically replacing him, which obviously leaves our hero upset. In the end he still feels sorry for the bear and gives him the Enchiridion, so that he could be a hero on his own. A sweet tale, but what a twist at the end, with the bear giving the Enchiridion to Snail!Lich. What a way to include a plot point that will be the catalyst of the finale. “Hug Wolf” on the other hand is not the most exciting in terms of plot, but one that starts Season 4′s trend of “how to imply heavy stuff and hide them under not so subtle allegories”. This time around it’s all about so called hug wolves and Finn being one of the victims, but all of it is eerily similar to the rape allegory that we usually see with vampires. As TVTropes puts it, “ “Hug Wolf” is an entire episode of rape metaphors”. Kids’ show, am I right.
Following is “Princess Monster Wife”, which is less subtle with everything that it does, including the last minute implied suicide of the titular character. Before that is an entire episode of Ice King being creepy and stealing his favourite body parts of princesses to create his own perfect wife. The result is what one would expect, a monster whose sight makes our heroes faint immediately. What’s tragic about the story is that this creation seems to have her own mind and feelings, which are of course hurt whenever someone points out how she looks like a monster. Even worse is that despite that Ice King genuinely seems to think that she’s beautiful, and for perhaps the first time in the show he seems to love someone without being creepy about it. That’s why the de facto suicide in the end is so bittersweet, even though Ice King does revert back to a jerk when he finds out about it.
“Goliad” doesn’t let you have nice and fluffy experience either, it’s the first episode that really lets us see the consequences that the Lich had on PB. After she almost died, was possessed, and almost died again she feels like she needs to address the fact that she’s not actually immortal. Seeing how the Lemongrab attempt to appoint a successor went, she creates Goliad. She is supposed to be immortal, all-knowing and the perfect leader for the Candy Kingdom, the only problem is that she proves to be too smart for Finn and Jake’s leadership lessons. How Goliad becomes a terrifying tyrant in minutes is especially thought-provoking keeping Bubblegum’s Season 6 arc in mind. This is when the show started addressing that the ultimate Princess is really not as nice as everyone would assume, and that shows through the idea that Goliad is basically PB’s essence, just like Stormo is Finn’s, which is why he’s so heroic and selfless. Excellent way to show that PB is not over her trauma and to kickstart a whole big arc for her.
“Beyond this Earthly Realm” is what happens when Adventure Time has a reason for going weird, “wizard eyes” being the reason in this case. Visually impressive and another layer to Ice King’s character, but also somewhat of a breather after “Goliad”. “Gotcha!” is some LSP silliness with great moments from the Princess of Lumpy Space herself, and a great message about inner beauty. After these two comes “Princess Cookie”, which is again a heavier one with the show’s most obvious allegory. Through the titular character, AT introduces a bold trans allegory, and although I don’t think I could be the judge of that, I think it did handle the subject matter well. It turns even heavier towards the end with another implied suicide (attempt) and the Candy Kingdom equivalent of a mental hospital, but it also gives some never before seen depth to Jake. I feel the show has this tendency to sometimes ignore him for the sake of giving Finn more development and using Jake as a mere comic relief, but here it’s the opposite.
“Card Wars” is the introduction to the game Jake is obsessed with, which leads to some impressive visuals, but above all it’s the story of true friendship. “Sons of Mars” is the first in the Mars saga, which is something that I never really could understand, to be honest, but maybe now. It’s making Magic Man a much more pivotal character while also introducing space travel, Glob Grod Gob Grob, and space Abe Lincoln. On the other hand, “Burning Low” is an episode I can totally get behind. As one of the best non-Marcy episodes, it destroys the idea of a love triangle between Finn, Flame Princess and Bubblegum before it could even begin and shows us how PB doesn’t have time for this bullgunk. The scenes between FP and Finn are all sweet, contrasted with how the boys behave towards Princess Bubblegum throughout the episode. Thinking that she’s jealous, they disregard everything she says, but they should have known better than to underestimate Bonnibel Bubblegum.
Even if she was jealous (which is hard to imagine in the first place, considering how she rejected Finn), she would still have better things to do than to try and break Finn and FP up. Instead, she has genuine reasons for being against the relationship, one of them being science and the other the safety of the whole world. We also see towards the end the lengths she would go to to keep Ooo safe from this explosive romance, a glance into how PB’s rationality can turn into cold cruelty. But that just shows how the episode is definitely not about some petty love triangle, despite what you might have thought upon seeing the title card. What I love about “Burning Low” is that it finally subverts the whole romance subplot and establishes PB’s stance on it, while also developing the relationship between Flame Princess and Finn without additional drama.
Even though one of the graybles was about BMO and their mirror friend Football, “BMO Noire” is the first real BMO-centric episode, and considering just how many episodes they’ll have later on, it was about time. In Season 1 BMO was just a background character, and then they gradually became more and more prominent. Season 4 is still not the time to truly explore them and their origins, but at least we have this episode, which combines noir and AT humour. “King Worm” is kind of similar to “Beyond this Earthly Realm”, just turned up to eleven with the visuals and the weirdness. It is a dream episode, and most shows let those pass even if they don’t make any sense. With a show like AT, when not making sense and being weird are cornerstones, a dream episode results in a total mind blow. “King Worm” does have a plot, it brings back the giant worm of “Evicted!” and has him keep Finn in a dream while draining his life energy. After a few classical “a dream within a dream” scenes, Finn realizes that he has to escape by turning it into a nightmare, which guarantees some thought-provoking moments. What “King Worm” also has the liberty to do as a dream episode is throw all the references it can in 10 minutes. Shout outs to previous episodes and foreshadowing to upcoming ones are everywhere, including a vision of Farmworld!Finn and Shoko. It gets incredibly bizarre.
Fortunately, the next episode is more down to Earth. “Lady & Peebles” has Lady Rainicorn and Princess Bubblegum as the main characters as they look for the disappeared Finn and Jake. Seeing their relationship is delightful on its own, but we also get to see the badassness of both, and by the end this episode is what ultimately makes PB a Damsel out of Distress. Sure, we’ve seen her tougher side before and not long ago I was praising her appearance in “Burning Low”. But “Lady & Peebles” leaves us with absolutely no doubt whatsoever that PB has no time for anyone trying to objectify her. This is mainly thanks to the fact that she beats the returning Ricardio into a pulp while giving him a The Reason You Suck speech. This comes directly after a very creepy and suggestive scene that once again makes you question how the show gets past the radar. Also special shout out to Lady for her bizarre Korean sentences (seriously guys, watch translation videos) and for putting up with everything despite being pregnant.
“You Made Me” sees the return of the Earl of Lemongrab and the previously hilariously awkward character takes a dark turn. Ask any Adventure Time fan and they’ll tell you that the Lemongrab stories are Tree Trunks level weird, but more on the disturbing end of the scale, and with every single episode that feeling only increases. This time Lemongrab complains that he doesn’t have any citizens of his own, and so to make him stop watching her own ones, PB bribes three hooligans to move in with him. Many rounds of electroshock therapy in the reconditioning chamber later Bubblegum decides to make another Lemongrab instead, finally understanding that her creation is just simply not capable of caring for other candy people. Yes, that’s right, electroshock and reconditioning chamber, I know. It’s all kinds of messed up and only the very beginning of the Lemongrab saga.
“Who Would Win” pins Finn and Jake against each other in a rather violent sequence of events, but as always, broness prevails in the end. “Ignition Point” is the 100th episode of the series, and it celebrates with the bros going on a mission to the Fire Kingdom, a mission to get Flame Princess her candles. More importantly, it features conspiracy against the Flame King and Finn desperately wanting to believe that just because evil is in FP’s nature that doesn’t mean that a really nice hero guy, someone like him, couldn’t change her. It’s more of a setup than anything, but fun enough as the 100th episode celebration. “The Hard Easy” is definitely a breather after quite a few heavier episodes and before the final few of the season, so much so that there’s not much to say about it. “Reign of Gunters” is a day in the limelight for everyone’s favourite penguin. It’s perhaps unfortunate then that the most intriguing parts of the episode are not really about Gunter, but rather Ice King’s trip to Wizard City and PB’s solution to the problem.
So overall there were heavy standalones, great continuity and lighter episodes, but that all changes with the last two. Both turn Ooo upside down in their own way and it’s mainly thanks to them that there’s no going back to the show’s earlier tone after Season 4. The first of these episodes is of course “I Remember You”, which has the second highest IMDb score (only topped by its sequel episode). Fans of the show don’t need any sort of introduction to “I Remember You”, everyone is painfully familiar with the plot. So because everyone knows already that it’s about the big revelation that Ice King, aka Simon Petrikov and Marceline used to know each other, let’s talk about the details of the episode. The true beauty of “I Remember You” is not necessarily the fact that it did make this connection between two main characters who have never met onscreen before, but how it made that connection.
Realizing what it is about is a slow process, despite the many signs throughout the episode. Even when watching it for the first and without knowing anything about the history between Simon and Marcy, the viewer could guess where it all is going in the first few minutes. The moment Marceline says “I told you not to come around me” you could guess it all. But “I Remember You” is not about the big plot twist that the Simon Petrikov we only found out about a little more than a season ago took care of a young Marceline, so you don’t want to guess it and just get it over with. It’s ten long minutes of your heart gradually breaking with every frustrated sigh Marceline makes, every clueless look from Ice King and every clue that hints at the whole truth. By the time you see Simon give a young Marcy Hambo at the end, you don’t care that this is another confirmation of the Mushroom War, at first you might not even care about the revelation of Hambo’s origins. All that matters is that Ice King and Marceline are singing together a beautifully heart wrenching song (courtesy of Rebecca Sugar, as always) and that “oh Glob, he doesn’t remember, how can he not remember”.
The more you rewatch “I Remember You” the more perfect it is, and not many shows can say that they have an episode like that. The timeline makes more sense each time, Marcy’s whole attitude makes more sense, from her desperate little “no” in the beginning to her disgusted face during “Oh, Bubblegum”. She’s the one person in Ooo who’s actually glad to see Ice King, but she’s so conflicted about it because he’s not the person she knew and she’s definitely not a person he knows, and you can get this all through the animation and Olivia Olson’s voice acting. In many ways, this is such a solemn episode, when where you don’t care about the weirdness and the other wacky characters, all that matters is this personal tragedy between two very old and very tired souls. It’s without a doubt, objectively one of the best episodes of not just Adventure Time, but of Western animation.
You’d think it would be hard to top that with the final episode of the season. Somehow the finale does manage to do so, not emotionally but in many other ways, and it turns out to be a more than admirable end to Season 4. It is one that rewards you for keeping up with the show as it leads Adventure Time into a whole new territory. This episode is the reason why you actually have to be a regular viewer in later seasons to properly keep up with the plot, and although many people didn’t like that, we’ll have time to discuss that when talking about Season 6. For now let’s just say that “The Lich” literally opens up a whole new world. Well, the Lich does. Well, the Enchiridion does.
It all starts with Finn’s dream about the cosmic owl, the bear, Billy and Snail!Lich, and then it escalates into a quest for the crown jewels of Ooo. The best scene of all is, of course, that with PB, when she’s just casually mutilating her newest subjects (as you do) and Finn’s determination to get her jewel gets out of hand. You see just then how desperate he is to impress Billy, who is not Billy at all, but the Lich himself. Before he can fully realize he just helped the Lich in his quest to end all life in not just Ooo, but all of existence, him and Jake go after him. The season ends on a giant cliffhanger, where we’re left in the Farmworld with a lot more questions than answers. “The Lich” is one hell of a ride, the fitting end to one hell of a season.
Season 4 truly turned up the volume to eleven. It opened up the space for many different interpretations with various episodes while also building and building the show’s mythology. I would argue that in many ways this season is the defining one for the show. It’s before seasons got longer and more complicated, but after the “weird for weird’s sake” era, bang in the middle of character development and thought-provoking episodes. Season 4 is one you can enjoy whether you’re a regular fan or just someone who likes to see one or two episodes. This is the Adventure Time that everyone praises and this is the reason why all fans swear that it’s more than a silly little kids’ show.