Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Martin the Dad and Other Complications

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Season 5 of Adventure Time ended with a cliffhanger that guaranteed the major plotline of this following sixth season. Not only that, but it left a legacy to live up to, which you could say that Season 6 did. You could also say that this was the season where AT temporarily lost itself.

It all begins with a two-parter again, and what a heavily impactful story it is. “Wake Up” builds on the previously established Prismo and Lich storyline and brings back both. It’s mainly a build-up to the second, more action-packed one, but one can appreciate “Wake Up” even on its own. “Escape From the Citadel” is the final defeat of the Lich (is it, though?) while also being the beginning of the Martin the Dad saga. It’s entirely set outside of Ooo, except for the last minute, which sets a precedent for the whole season.

By the end, I got the feeling that Season 6 was more eager to explore outer space and cosmic forces than the good old shenanigans of Ooo that we are used to. Hence the inclusion of the Citadel, and intergalactic prison. The defeat of the Lich is somewhat underwhelming, considering how this character kickstarted the real tone of the show and kept urging the series to improve. Still, the choice to keep the character in the form of a giant baby, therefore transforming him into another new character was an interesting one, and it still holds promise.

More important than this was the introduction of Martin Mertens, Finn’s biological dad. The guy’s lucky that he had Joshua to raise him as his human father turns out to be an utter disappointment, a plot twist that I suppose was unexpected after the hype around Martin. Finn spends the majority of the episode trying to get close to him, get answers, get to know his dad, but all Martin does is prove that he’s selfish, exploitative human garbage who couldn’t care less that he has a son. Finn doesn’t give up, because that’s not what he does, and his reluctance to let go literally results in the loss of his arm. The fact that something was going to happen to Finn’s right arm has long been foreshadowed, from the Farmworld universe to Shoko, but it’s still a rather shocking scene as he desperately holds on and all his dad wants to do is escape from his own son. It’s more than tragic, and the only real consolation we have, along with Finn, is that Jake is still there, his real family, and by the end they are back to Ooo.

“James II” is a break from this family drama and instead takes us back to the Candy Kingdom. Season 5 spent a lot of time developing the characters of Finn and Princess Bubblegum (PB), and Season 6 is even more so about their journey. That being said, “James II” is not as shocking and crucial in terms of PB’s arc as “James” was. In fact, it’s a much lighter take on the story. Even PB herself takes a moment to just sit back and laugh at the incompetence of her own citizens instead of worrying about it. It still ends with her giving the new Jameses the order “go to the wasteland and never come back”, so we are reminded of what Bubblegum is actually like. It is a nice reminder, mind you, since she had another, rather inexplicable and random damsel in distress moment.

“The Tower” takes us back to the main storyline of the season. Finn is depressed without his arm, and his sadness and hurt manifest into a “telekinetic electro-emotional prosthesis” so that he could build a tower into space and tear his dad’s arm off to replace his missing one. There’s clearly something wrong with this plan (how are you going to breathe in space, dummy), but that doesn’t stop him. What I love about this episode the most is how Jake and PB take different sides. Both want the best for Finn, but Jake thinks that he should listen to his heart because he’ll surely end up doing the right thing. Bubblegum, on the other hand, is actively trying to stop him. Both end up being right in a way, but it’s ultimately PB who helps Finn calm down by letting him beat her up while she’s dressed as Martin, which shows him that it doesn’t help. PB’s black eye does make this scene a bit disturbing, but it’s also a relief to see that Finn didn’t let revenge, one of the nastiest goals out there, corrupt him.

At least neither meant any ‘arm, and I’m going to the Nightosphere for that pun.

“Sad Face” is another episode away from the drama, and it’s one of the most unique ones. The entire episode is about previously unknown characters, one of them being Jake’s tail no less. It gets a bit artsy, it gets a bit sad, it gets a bit rewarding, and at the very end you’re just standing there like “what just happened”. I’m still not entirely sure what to make of “Sad Face”. All in all it is something completely different, and it does seem to have worked.

Something I understand even less of is “Breezy”, because let’s be honest, it’s the story of how a bee (voiced by Ashly Burch, which makes it better because she’s the Arcadia Bae herself) fell in love with Finn’s flower arm and grew him a new one out of honey. And he and LSP had sex, possibly? What? Yeah, exactly.

“Breezy” is one of those episodes that I’m not even going to pretend to have understood. The majority of it does make some sense, if I really want to believe it. It’s the story of how Finn tries to get over his sadness by making out with princesses, and although we do have two particularly creepy cases, one with a character who is PB and Flame Princess mashed together and one with LSP, it’s kind of okay? He’s 16 and sad, and it’s also been established that he’s prone to make mistakes, especially when it comes to romance. The Breezy side of things, well, bees and flowers, what can you do. When it comes to the very end with the honey arm and PB holding Finn’s Sword though—that I just can’t get into. So what just happened? I honestly have no idea. This is a show with the official target audience of kids aged 2 to 11, by the way.

Moving on, not that the next one is any less confusing and bizarre. “Food Chain” is one those guest animated ones that doesn’t necessarily count as canon; it’s more to have some weird fun and have a more obvious lesson for the kids. It’s just a really, really strange one. The fact that Finn and Jake sing the aria of the Queen of the Night as they are transformed into birds doesn’t make it better. Or does it? I don’t even know anymore.

“Furniture & Meat” is a more standard episode where Finn and Jake’s wealth get acknowledged. They are off to the Wildberry Kingdom to spend all their money, but things soon escalate as Jake starts acting like everything and everyone can be bought. There’s a moral to the story, but by AT standards it’s almost too obvious and superficial. At least we saw Wildberry Princess again, this time more badass and ready to defend herself.

“The Prince Who Wanted Everything” is a brand new shot at a genderbent story, but it falls far behind the more successful predecessors, “Fionna & Cake” and “Bad Little Boy”. This times it’s from LSP’s perspective, and as amusing as it is to see her exaggerated characters, the whole story fails to bring back Aaa the way the two previous episodes did. What a shame, too.

“Something Big” takes us back to Ooo and reveals what Maja needed The Shirt™ for. It’s an amazingly action-packed episode. No wonder it was originally going to be made into an Adventure Time movie. It works in 11 minutes too, but there’s clearly a lot more potential in the whole invasion of the Candy Kingdom story than what was realized. At least the Ancient Psychic Tandem War Elephant gets to shine and begins a whole new journey with a comatose Maja.

In “Little Brother”, it’s time for Shelby to have a brother, who then goes off to have great adventures deep inside the Tree House. It’s an entertaining one-off episode, although it would be good to see more of the little brother in the remaining episodes.

“Ocarina” is Kim Kil Whan’s opportunity to shine. After Jake Jr. got her chance, it’s all about another one of Jake’s puppies. He proves to be somewhat of a jerk as he buys the Tree House and sells it to random people, all in order to get his dad to work and grow up. He does turn out to have good intentions, and Finn and Jake move on as if nothing had happened, but I can’t help but cringe at this episode. On the one hand there’s the understandable need of Kim Kil Whan to have a responsible and mature father. On the other, his desire to force Jake into that gives off wrong vibes. Then there’s the fact that, after dealing with money in “Furniture & Meat”, now AT introducecsthe idea that everyone needs to grow up and get a job someday. It ends with saying that Jake won’t do that, no matter what, but the spell has already been broken.

It used to annoy me that cartoons never address issues like how characters get their money and survive if they don’t have jobs, but let’s be real, these shows are not about that. At its core, television is about escapism, so who wants to see that in their favorite cartoon? But now, Adventure Time has addressed it, and it’s the one thing it probably shouldn’t have, if you ask me. Explore how Jake is irresponsible and immature compared to his own children, yes, but in a way that “Another Five More Short Graybles” did.

“Thanks for the Crabapples, Giuseppe” is one of the most unique episodes, perhaps even counting “Sad Face”. It’s a day trip with wizards like Ice King, Abracadaniel, and Life Giving Magus. The end makes for the perfect AT comical plot twist, and the story generally has a chill but fun feeling to it. “Princess Day” is the start of a new friendship between Marceline and Lumpy Space Princess. For such a drama heavy season you’d think Ice King and Marceline would play a major role, but as we saw, the former is just having fun and “Princess Day” is the only major appearance of the latter.

“Princess Day” is an episode that should have happened sooner in the series, but better late than never. As Marcy and LSP hang out and pull pranks on Breakfast Princess it becomes apparent that these two work well together. Though it can be argued that they bring out the worst of each other. Marceline goes back to her old prankster self and LSP becomes even pettier and more dramatic, although by the end they both admit that they’ve gone too far. The situation could be problematic if I really wanted it to be, but personally I’m just glad that “Princess Day” gave us this unlikely friendship. Bonus points for Marcy originally wanting to hang out with PB and for them casually texting each other.

“Nemesis” is the final confirmation that yes, Peppermint Butler is basically a dark wizard and not someone to be messed with. It does get a tad bit too disturbing in the end, when even Pep But admits he’s gone too far, but apart from that there are many interesting aspects to consider. Like the meeting that was held presumably against PB, who was spying on them the whole time eating popcorn, but got worried and thought she was the dark one they were talking about. There’s also the fact that Pep But does turn out to be the real dark one, but he stays loyal to Bubblegum in every way. As we saw in Season 7, it’s not just because she’s the princess. There might well be hidden intentions behind his loyalty, but I like to believe that he just respects PB that much.

It’s too late for that, been since Season 3

“Joshua and Margaret Investigations” is the first proper look at Finn and Jake’s parents. Both Joshua and Margaret are delightful characters on their own, but the episode is mainly important because it serves as an explanation as to where Jake gets his shape-shifting powers from. No surprised that Season 1′s explanation was not the truth. After so many others got their chance to shine, it’s back to Finn and Jake (and BMO) in “Ghost Fly”, an amusing but unimportant episode overall. “Everything’s Jake” is not much different, and although there are some fascinating theories surrounding it, it’s definitely not the best way AT has ever presented a concept.

“Is That You?” is the first major episode in terms of plot since “Breezy” (or, arguably, “Something Big”) and it more than makes up for the time spent with standalones. It’s time travel and paradoxes and Prismo’s plan to survive, despite having been killed by the Lich. Around halfway through, I began wondering if I was still watching Adventure Time or if I started Doctor Who instead without noticing it, but nope, AT all the way. Just a really far-stretched example of the possibilities when you can travel between dimensions and time itself. No wonder it all results in Finn’s past self literally becoming his new sword. Well, actually, that is extremely weird, but just roll with it.

“Jake The Brick” is a extremely highly regarded episode both in terms of fan and critical reception. It’s basically AT’s version of a wildlife documentary. There’s no denying that it’s a unique episode. My personal favorite scenes are those where almost every single resident of Ooo makes a cameo to listen to Jake. From Betty to Lemonhope, everyone appears, and there’s plenty of sneaky foreshadowing to catch. “Dentist” is less solemn but more crucial in terms of the bigger picture. That’s mainly thanks to the return of Tiffany, as he and Finn make an unwitting duo. In a karmic twist Tiffany disappears, but that doesn’t mean this was the last we’ve seen of him.

“The Cooler” is easily the best episode of this half of Season 6. Part of that my personal bias when it comes to PB-centric episodes, but it’s objectively amazing. “Earth & Fire” had some scenes with Flame Princess and Bubblegum, but “The Cooler” properly explores the dynamic these two could, and actually do have. Flame Princess is proving to be a great ruler in many ways, and so she asks for PB’s help instead of attacking the Candy Kingdom, as her brother suggested. We find out some interesting details about the Fire Kingdom, but the point of “The Cooler” is not necessarily that. It’s how PB delivers the low blow of asking Ice King to freeze the Fire Kingdom (killing some citizens in the process) just so she could deactivate the Fire Giants. She tries to justify her actions by saying that it was a safety measure for the good of her own kingdom, but the episode clearly frames it as a cold and ruthless move. FP has no choice but to give her The Reason You Suck Speech.

Ouch, what a burn

Phoebe handles the situation with surprising dignity (that is, after she was tricked into destroying the sacred artifacts of her ancestors) and perhaps that’s what gets PB to reconsider how she does things. PB’s road to becoming less of a tyrant and more trusting begins here, even if it’s a long, long road, and she’ll make many more mistakes before finally taking FP’s words to heart. As the episode shows, she definitely needs to do something, because she really has gone too far. It’s staggering to compare these two princesses, which is what the episode does in a subtle but brilliant way. All in all, “The Cooler” is a big character moment for both of them.

As an end to this part of the season, there’s “The Pajama War”, a much lighter story that lets both the audience and the characters chill for a bit. It’s mainly about how both PB and Finn need a break, so they escape for a bit from the Candy People, who cause mayhem without Bubblegum’s guidance. The episode does a great job of showcasing just how much PB is needed in the kingdom. It comes in handy after “The Cooler”, because we see that yeah, what she does is messed up, but there’s a reason for it. All she’s ever done was to protect her citizens, and during “The Pajama War” she gets a well-deserved few moments off.

Same goes for Finn, who’s been through enough with his dad and arm, not to mention the tragedy that is his romantic life. Surely there’s the aspect of the Candy Kingdom being absolute idiots, but apart from that it really is a satisfying and relaxing episode. Glob knows that Bonnie and Finn deserved this before they face the rest of the season’s events. Plus, special kudos seeing as there was no awkwardness because of Finn’s previous crush. This was them hanging out as friends, as people who both needed a little getaway.

This is a surprisingly nice note to end on, as far as this first part of Season 6 is concerned. There is a huge imbalance if we look at the tone of the episodes, we go from the really heavy beginning to mostly A Day in the Limelight episodes. In fact, Finn and Jake barely appeared as main characters throughout these 23 episodes. The second half will be somewhat different, with another major storyline being introduced, but that’s not to say it will help make Season 6 more consistent. Or more importantly, more consistently good.

Images courtesy of Cartoon Network

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