Thursday, July 18, 2024

A New Era of Adventure Time

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The end of Season 4 set up everything Season 5 needed. It literally opens with the second and third parts of the adventure that the previous season began, and in those two episodes the whole universe of Adventure Time gets redefined. As of Season 5, it’s not just about the Land of Ooo anymore, it’s about exploring multiple realities and events that happened prior to the Great Mushroom War and right after. Not that there was any doubt about that during Seasons 3 and 4, but it’s not just about a boy and his dog and their silly adventures anymore.

“Finn the Human” doesn’t waste any time dwelling on what happened during “The Lich”, it introduces Prismo right on and before long we’re already in the Farmworld universe. Finn wished for a world where the Lich has never even existed, which also happens to be a world where he lives with his parents, Jake is not a magical dog and in general Earth is mostly plain old Earth, not the magical land we got used to. The Mushroom Bomb never went off, preventing the Lich from ever existing, but also preventing the Land of Ooo from existing.

It’s actually great that the first episode doesn’t solely focus on explaining why Finn’s wish resulted in what we call the Farmworld. We can figure it all out based on what a shockingly different Marceline tells Finn. This is also why it was convenient that “I Remember You” aired just before “The Lich”, we don’t need any explanation as to why Marcy is guarding Simon’s skeleton. Instead, we get Farmworld!Finn in action, as he tries to keep his family safe and fights the local gang. A surprising amount of familiar characters appear in different shapes, like Choose Goose. It kind of makes you wonder where the equivalents of characters like Bubblegum and LSP are, but obviously, there’s no time to properly explore this whole new universe.

“Jake the Dog” is partly the consequences of Farmworld!Finn becoming his universe’s version of the Ice King and partly Jake chilling with Prismo and later the Cosmic Owl. It’s kind of a waste of time when you just opened up a whole new universe, not to mention all the other potential there thanks to the Enchiridion, but at the same time, these scenes were needed. This whole plot was getting heavy as it was, this was AT’s first real shot at doing something this big, so it’s good they didn’t overdo it. The audience had enough to think about as it was, with Ice Crown possessed Finn, regular half-demon Marceline (dead by the end) and Lich!Jake. Hence why the solution in the end is rushed and doesn’t feel earned, but fear not as this was not the last we saw of the Farmworld and definitely not the last attempt at expanding AT’s universe.

After the heavy start “Five More Short Graybles” were there to help the mood. This time around the theme would have been the five fingers, but since no one has five fingers in Ooo it’s actually the five basic tastes. “Up a Tree” is the quite unremarkable story of Finn trying to get his frisbee back from the residents of a giant tree, so it’s lucky that a more interesting episode followed. “All the Little People” is a shade thrown at shippers and the exploration of Finn’s weird fantasies, now that he’s in the middle of being a teenager. This is exactly what worked so well in Season 4 and so the show is building on that. It’s an episode that just begs to be overanalyzed, but I think for us right now highlighting the two aspects mentioned above is enough.

“Jake the Dad” is what fans have been waiting for ever since it was revealed last season that Lady’s pregnant, and the time has come for the puppies to be born. It would have been more than weird for Finn to lose his fellow adventurer in the middle of the series due to him being a dad now, so it’s only in this one episode where we see Jake be a proper dad. It’s all about irrational fears and being overprotective, but his kids grow up in just a couple of days so there’s no need to spend more time doing that. This episode becomes bittersweet in retrospect, as we see just how sad Jake really is to have missed out on being a dad. Using the “they grow up super fast” excuse to get Jake being a dad with responsibilities issues out of the way could have been viewed as a cheap move, but fortunately, later on we’ll still see episodes centered around him and his children.

In “Davey” Finn gets tired of being a popular hero and disguises himself, which could have turned out horribly and it would have made an interesting plotline, but I guess that wasn’t meant to be. I guess if I have one main problem with this otherwise very enjoyable episode is that this issue never comes up again, and that’s just wasted potential. “Mystery Dungeon”, however, fulfills potentials we’ve never asked for. It pairs up 5 of the most unexpected characters: Lemongrab, Ice King, Tree Trunks, Shelby and Neptr. Naturally, weirdness ensues, but by the end, you can’t help but feel like these five actually make a pretty good team. It almost makes sense that Ice King would handpick them, just like you know nothing else makes any sort of sense at all in the episode, but it almost does, and with this particular set of characters that’s enough.

Most countries cut this out, I wonder why

“All Your Fault” jumps on the Lemongrab train while it’s still around and continues the saga of the Earl, or Earls. We shouldn’t forget how PB made Lemongrab a twin and now they live their miserable lives together, using the candy Bubblegum left them with to create life instead of consuming it. Their strange need to give life to candy doesn’t stop until one of their “children” has a literal change of heart, but the story remains disturbing nonetheless. That can be said for everyone single story including Lemongrab, but as they go on the episodes get gradually more and more concerning. On the one hand, there’s the PB aspect, how it is kinda her fault, as the title card suggests, and on the other, there are the Lemongrabs themselves.

“Little Dude” is somewhat lighter, although still full of deep implications to wonder about. It showcases how the show has learned to include continuity, as the entire plot happens because of Ice King’s quest two episodes prior. “Bad Little Boy” could also be called an episode that builds on previous ones, as it is the continuation of the Fionna & Cake saga, as well as the first case of Marceline actively seeking Ice King’s company. That leads a Fionna & Cake fanfiction from Marceline’s point of view, so there’s obviously quite a lot of fun stuff going on here. First of all is the way Marceline views Marshall, therefore herself, and how the whole episode is basically just ship tease between Marshall Lee and Fionna. I’m not going to get into the shipping part because personally, I’m not particularly interested in Aaa’s romantic shenanigans, so the parts that are worth noting are how Marcy basically views Marshall as a jerk and how suddenly Prince Gumball becomes even more useless than he was before, and is particularly unpleasant towards Marshall. What can I say peeps, this is post-”What Was Missing” but pre-”Sky Witch” Marcy.

“Vault of Bones” is FP’s only major appearance in this part of the season, but at least it’s a rather good one. It explores the differences between Finn and Flame Princess and allows the latter to do things her way for once, and the episode actually makes a point of letting Finn know that just because FP doesn’t do things his way she won’t automatically turn evil. “The Great Bird Man” sees the return of Xergiok and explores the idea of just how much people can change. There’s the undertone of needing to suffer before someone as awful as he was can become truly selfless and kind, take that as you will. The episode, as per usual, is not trying to actively shove a moral down your throat and the ending is left for interpretation.

Don’t look so upset Finn, bae’s having fun

The next episode is an obvious big one, the only one topping “I Remember You” on IMDb and in general. “Simon & Marcy” also happens to be the last Rebecca Sugar episode before she left to create her own successful show, Steven Universe, as if the pressure on the story wasn’t big enough to begin with. With a title like this (which makes it obvious what the episode is going to be about) and with the reception the above mentioned “I Remember You” received, the bar was set high indeed. I’ve talked about how the brilliant thing about the Season 4 episode was that you didn’t know for sure what was going to happen, even though you could have guessed even at the beginning, you just didn’t want to accept it. With “Simon & Marcy” it was time to say that yeah, this happened, and see, this is why it really is tragic.

I have to admit, the first time I saw “Simon & Marcy” I was kind of disappointed. I knew even Rebecca Sugar can only do so much in under 11 minutes, but I still felt like something was missing. The problem is that when it first came out, the hype surrounding the episode was enormous and when that happens the result can easily be underwhelming. Looking back now and rewatching it as a part of writing these posts I feel different about the episode. In my opinion “I Remember You” is still the better, more effective episode, but “Simon & Marcy” is undoubtedly amongst the greatest of the series. The framing with Marcy, Ice King, Finn and Jake playing basketball is perfect, and then the story itself builds on what the big revelation of Simon and Marceline knowing each other established.

We’ve never seen so much of good old Simon Petrikov or young Marceline before, this becomes the story of two separate tragic backstories intertwining and becoming even sadder. Tom Kenny does an absolutely brilliant job portraying Simon and then blurring the line between him and Ice King, his performance is always excellent but especially here, thanks to this special scenario. By the end comes a time when you hear it in his voice that he’s gone too far, even based on that you’d know that Marcy has started losing Simon to the crown and there’s no stopping that. “Holly Jolly Secrets” made sure you’ll never look at Ice King the same ever again, but what really hit the whole backstory home was this episode. We actually see just how kind and warm Simon was and therefore it’s even more heartbreaking to see Ice King almost a thousand years later.

As for Marceline, she’s the other big victim of the crown, although indirectly. Fortunately, present-day Marcy has reached a point where she can more or less accept Simon’s current state and treat him as if he was still the guy who looked after her, but for a millennium she had to live with the knowledge that her only good father figure went completely mad partly because he was trying to protect her. But perhaps this is where the difference between “I Remember You” and “Simon & Marcy” lies: the former was more and more tragic by the minute and by the end it was a sobfest (the good kind), while the latter is still the same heartbreaking story but in a new light. I guess this is also where my original expectations for the episode were wrong, I expected it to break my heart and leave it with no hope whatsoever, because that would have been following from where “I Remember You” left off. Instead, “Simon & Marcy” is awfully, unironically sad, but it does have hope in it. As I mentioned, the framing of the story is that of a grown-up Marceline actively seeking Ice King’s company, and even though her heart must break every time he makes it clear he doesn’t have a clue what she’s talking about, she sucks it up and still stands by him. She still calls him Simon, let’s him be silly and is the only person in Ooo who genuinely seems to enjoy being around him, which must warm even that icy heart. So “Simon & Marcy” is the story of a 7-year-old girl and 47-year-old man trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world, but it’s also the story of two very old souls living on and finding each other again.

Well that was heavy, let’s lighten up a bit, shall we? “A Glitch is a Glitch” takes care of uplifting the mood, as the first episode that’s fully animated in a different style. You might remember how back in Season 2 they tried out a different style for an episode, but this one doesn’t hold anything back. As the only completely CGI-animated episode, “A Glitch is a Glitch” is a special one with a story that, like with other guest animated episodes, is not considered to be part of the canon. Some people have criticised the episode for being such a huge shift from the tone of the previous one, but there you have it, it’s not even canon. It’s rather silly anyway, even by AT standards, as the plot involves Ice King putting a virus into Ooo’s matrix so that PB and he would be the only people left, forcing her to finally go on a date with him. As I said, huge shift from feeling so sorry for him last episode, but sometimes you need these. Especially when both the previous and the following episodes are so damn heavy.

“Puhoy” might not be as important to the overall continuity of Adventure Time as “Simon & Marcy” was, but it’s still an episode that leaves you feeling so many emotions, most of which you weren’t asking for when watching a show that’s supposedly just for kids. Finn is having a mini-crisis because his girlfriend didn’t laugh at one of his jokes, so he goes and has some alone time in the pillow fort Jake had built. Blink and before you know it Finn is living in world hidden behind this fort, marrying a pillow girl, having children, still looking for a way back to his old life but ultimately deciding to live out the rest of his days with his new family. Blink again and Finn is a teenager again, back in Ooo, and even FP is laughing at his jokes. If sounded ultra weird, don’t worry, it is. “Puhoy” is an episode that is begging to be overanalyzed, but at the same time it can also be brushed off as just your usual AT soul searching. Many theories accompany the story as everything is mostly left to your interpretation, so have fun with trying to make sense of “Puhoy”.

“BMO Lost” is a more straightforward episode that continues building BMO’s character as more than just a video game console. It explores how they do under pressure and how sensitive they are despite being a robot. It’s a heartwarming story with a bittersweet end, although in the very last minute it does get the regular AT treatment and becomes bizarre instead. “Princess Potluck”, at first glance, is a story that could have been included in Season 1 or 2. Ice King is mad for not having been invited to a putlock, and being his usual petty self he tries to ruin it. The thing that makes this fit into Season 5 more is that Princess Bubblegum did invite him, he just didn’t know. Thanks to this “Princess Potluck” becomes the story of how more and more people are trying to make an effort to be nice to Simon, now that they know about his past, and so what would have been a silly but fun adventure in earlier seasons gets a heartening twist.

“James Baxter the Horse” is different in a way that it doesn’t get a twist, it remains a standard but enjoyable story. It’s followed by another breather, “Shh!”, where Adventure Time makes the best out of the two main characters barely speaking. It is a bit silly and not just compared to the seasons deeper episodes but in general, although there’s no doubt that you need episodes like this every once in a while. It’s good that “The Suitor” comes next though, to give some substance to the show. It’s an episode that addresses PB’s lack of interest in dating, which could have gone horribly, but fortunately, it didn’t. Meet Braco, who was literally born to court the princess and when he finally gets to meet her he just can’t seem to take the hint that she’s only interested in him from a purely scientific point of view. Through him, the story becomes that of hopeless infatuation, where Braco goes to ridiculous lengths to impress Bubblegum, who all the while is working on getting rid of him. She does it in a sweet but pragmatic way (classic Peebs), she creates a robot clone of herself whose only purpose is to love the now monstrous Braco. The implications on both ends are scary, what with Braco turning to dark magic and disfiguring himself to have a chance with PB, and the clone being the ultimate solution to the problem. “The Suitor” also served as a reminder that PB doesn’t have time for romance when she has an entire kingdom to love and look after, which is a concept that will come back to haunt her (and us, “Varmints”, am I right?).

“The Party’s Over, Isla de Señorita” starts out ridiculously and reminds you why you found Ice King to be annoying before the whole Simon deal, but it all turns out to be a sweet story about him helping someone else for the sake of helping them. He’s still pathetic in his “breakup” with Bubblegum, but it’s clear that he’s starting to grow as a person and that Simon is not completely lost. “One Last Job” is a glance at what Jake used to be like, the return of Tiffany, and Jake Jr.’s first major appearance on her own. It says a lot about the episode that Jake is the most responsible character in it. “Another Five More Short Graybles” is what it says on the tin, but this time it’s getting deeper and has real consequences as far as the bigger continuity is concerned. For starters, the theme is the five stages of grief, Jake Jr. appears yet again to remind her dad how immature he is compared to his kids and the story of the Lemongrabs takes a very dark turn after their innocent fooling around turns into the embodiment of the anger stage. Just a silly little kids’ show, right. The grayble episodes so far have been relatively light compared to the tone of these later seasons, but even that’s changing.

“Candy Streets” takes back from that, as an LSP episode it’s yet again on the lighter side, as Finn and Jake fool around playing detectives and the crime itself turns put to be just the usual Lumpy Space Princess drama. “Wizards Only, Fools” is somewhere in between these really damn dark and light and unimportant episodes. It finally pins Bubblegum and magic against each other and it couldn’t have been more perfect. The whole episode is Starchy being too stubborn to accept science and asking for magic, but it’s also Peebles being too stubborn to accept magic and doing everything in the name of science. Even Finn, Jake, hell, even Abracadaniel realise how everything would have been so much easier if PB wasn’t so damn headstrong, but alas what can you do. It’s a great story for her, stubborn personality and morally ambiguous and all.

This is where I cut this, as the first part of Season 5 ends here. It’s a double season with double the fun, and even though this first half had plenty of Wham Episodes and made it clear that from now on it’s gonna be a different Adventure Time, the second half will take it to a whole new level. Season 5 built on what Season 4 established and literally expanded the show’s universe. I would say that this half of Season 5 actually had more breathers than Season 4 did, but most were needed to balance out the rest of the episodes. These 26 episodes were the start of a new era in the show’s history, and a pretty solid start at that.

Images courtesy of Cartoon Network

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