Friday, June 21, 2024

“Islands” is Adventure Time’s New Emotional Rollercoaster

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Season 8 of Adventure Time continues just like Season 7 after the first few episodes, with a character-focused miniseries. In Season 7 it was mainly about Marceline in “Stakes” and her history with vampires, which made sense since she’s been a fan-favourite and her own miniseries was a long time coming. I had more doubts about “Islands” when it was first announced, even though the solving fo the human mystery was greatly anticipated. The thing is, Marceline is a tetragonist, so for her to get her own miniseries makes sense, because otherwise only two or three episodes per season focus on her. With “Islands” however it was Finn in the centre, and as he is the protagonist of Adventure Time anyway it seemed a bit odd to give a separate miniseries to him. Now that I’ve actually seen all eight episodes (twice) I know it made perfect sense, and that the problem was that I thought “Islands” would be similarly structured to “Stakes”. In reality, this new miniseries, although tied to show’s continuity, is its own story that’s nothing like anything we’ve seen with AT before.

The Invitation

The opening episode of this eight-parter is very much a setup where not an awful lot happens apart from the very beginning of the journey. That’s fine, when you have eight episodes you can spend the first one like this, and although I would say that Season 8 in general doesn’t use its time as well as previous seasons did, “The Invitation” does realise that it has 11 minutes to explore the beginnings. A human transport ship arrives in Ooo and heads towards the Candy Kingdom, burying all the “mutants” (i.e. everyone apart from Finn) on its way. When it does meet Finn it gives all the information it can about him, but before Finn can ask questions Jake destroys it. Cut to PB tinkering with the ship and Susan’s memory getting triggered by it, the ship ends up being the reason why Susan and Finn decide to go and find out where it came from. Well, the catalyst of all this was actually Dr. Gross randomly appearing in the Season 7 finale, but now our heroes decide to find out what that was about.

As Jake decides to accompany them we get some really sweet goodbye scenes between him and the puppies and Lady Rainicorn. Finn says goodbye to Fern, and in a heartwarming scene he asks his grass double to be the hero that Ooo needs while he’s away. Finally, just before they depart Bonnie and Marcy also say goodbye to the travellers, stressing not only the fact that they are totally married but the importance of the friendship they all share. PB in particular makes sure that Finn goes on this journey knowing that he should come back safe to Ooo, which is another crowning moment of heartwarming. Even the fact that they made such a big deal out of saying goodbye to their loved ones proves that this adventure that Finn and Jake are going on is going to be different than all the ones before. As they board the H.M.S. Sugar Spit and leave the land of Ooo, Finn gazes into the horizon.

Whipple the Happy Dragon

With the second episode, “Whipple the Happy Dragon” the journey itself starts. When I first watched it I thought for a moment that several episodes would be about going to the islands, but fortunately this is the only one. It’s all about crossing the sea and meeting the titular character himself, Whipple. It’s another Adventure Time take on deceitful perceptions, as Whipple is being hunted by a ship full of people saying he’s annoying, which, the islands squad agrees, is just plain rude. Of course, it turns out that he really is annoying, so much so that BMO shows up and reveals they stowed away just to tell him to shut up. The result is that Whipple destroys the H.M.S. Sugar Spit and Jake has to be their boat from now on.

The episode plays with the idea of sea hallucinations as Jake thinks he sees Margaret and Joshua and Susan sees Frieda in an awesome moment of foreshadowing. This all leads to the team and Jake in particular wanting to give up and turn back, but Finn gives an emotional speech as to why finding the humans is so important to him. Whipple shows up again, this time to say he’s sorry and help the team get right to the islands. Thanks to this move the journey itself gets sped up and so this ends up being the only episode focusing on the trip itself. Seeing as this episode ended up a kind of a filler it’s lucky that we don’t have any more episodes like this. It wasn’t a bad or boring story at all, it was undoubtedly needed to make the “Islands” story complete, but that story needs to keep on going.

Mysterious Island

The third episode is the first one featuring one of the mysterious islands, so it’s only right that it’s titled “Mysterious Island”. I wrote a note to myself saying “Finn-centric”, but we’re talking about the protagonist of the miniseries who also happens to be the protagonist of the whole show, so that’s not saying much. It’s more that Finn is the only main character who has a bigger role during the episode, as he was separated from the others after Whipple got them to the islands. He lands on this strange island where giant animals live and the weather is crazier than even in Ooo. Eventually, he meets a bear named Albert, who almost eats him but a human, Alva stops him. The interactions between Finn and Alva are highly amusing as neither can understand the other, for Finn is speaking English and Alva Swedish. Let’s not get into the discussion about how either of these languages survived a thousand years of the post-apocalypse and how, of all people, a Swede would speak English.

The point is, Alva shows Finn a tape about a time when loads of humans lived on the island, but one by one they disappeared and died thanks to the extreme weather and the animals. Not a very lighthearted backstory and one can’t help but feel sorry for Alva that her sole companion nowadays is a bear who can’t speak (but at least seems to understand her). Finn somehow gets Alva and Albert to help him find his friends and sure enough they bump into Jake in the end. This only leaves BMO and Susan, so the brothers set off to find their two friends and the other islands. “Mysterious Island” started hinting at what happened to humanity and introduced one of the islands, and although it still wasn’t as impactful as the later episodes will be, it’s a start. It also had excellent comedy going on, although the “Susan is smelly” brick joke was kind of random.

Jake looks like this, apparently

Imaginary Resources

The third episode ended with a cliffhanger of BMO seemingly being on the Moon. “Imaginary Resources” quickly corrects that actually, BMO is just on another island but with a “Better Reality” set on, the post-apocalyptic version of VR. It soon becomes one of the more bizarre episodes, even by the show’s regular standards “Imaginary Resources” turns it up to eleven thanks to his virtual reality setting. The avatars are the most disturbing ones, especially BMO’s. The story itself is the show’s take on the good old “is it it real though” question, but true to Adventure Time we get a somewhat new and balanced perspective. BMO wants to stay on this island while Finn and Jake go and look for Susan, and the two obviously don’t like that decision so Jake destroys the whole system. This not only has consequences for BMO but the humans using it too.

Because yes, there are hundreds, possibly thousands of humans using this Better Reality system and all love it just as much as BMO does. They get angry when Jake ruins their version of reality, although they can’t do much besides throwing empty threats at him and crawling after him. They are basically just shells, but as they don’t need their physical bodies it is understandable. When the Better Reality continues running all the humans decide to go back to their old lives, and BMO nearly does too, but ultimately says they’d miss Finn and Jake too much so they go with them to look for Susan. The episode raises a lot of interesting issues and ends up being something almost out of Black Mirror, with the question of choice being in the centre of everything. Because this is a theme for “Islands” I’m going to talk about this in detail at the very end so we can compare it to Founders’ Island.

Hide and Seek

As we enter the second half of the miniseries things really start to get going. Episodes 6 & 7 are actually flashback ones, but they still add more to the story than perhaps the previous four combined. “Hide and Seek” is the story of Susan, or rather Kara, and how she trained to be a Seeker on one of the islands. After the Whipple incident she ended up on the same island, and she explores the ruins of the city she grew up in her memory, along with her knowledge of English resurfaces. We find out about her past along with her, how Dr. Gross used to be her teacher and how she had an Experimenter girlfriend called Frieda. What we don’t find out about just yet is how she ended up in Ooo without most of her memories, but that story’s coming too. “Helpers” reveals that she was sent to Ooo by Dr. Gross to look for Martin and Finn, and somehow lost her memories in an accident or something of the sort.

Dr. Gross more or less explains the history of humanity in a conveniently packaged “Founder’s Song”: after the Mushroom War the humans left the part of the Earth that now is known as Ooo and went on to live on an archipelago. They built a new society where everyone had a role, like how Frieda is an Experimenter, developing technology, and how Susan, who was known as Kara previously used to be a Seeker. Seeker’s had superior bodies in order to able to catch the Hiders, those who wanted to leave the islands and look for a new life. The Guardian is also there to stop the Hiders from leaving, a giant robot that aims to protect what’s left of humanity. Starting to sound a bit like Brave New World yet? No wonder. The episode ends with Kara regaining all her memories, and that includes her remembering how she unwittingly stopped Frieda from leaving the island. Dr. Gross developed the mind control sort of thing that made Kara stop her friend and that years later made her want to kidnap Finn.

Gal pals stargazing

Min & Marty

As if seeing little Susan and finding out about her relationship with Frieda wasn’t enough, here comes the second flashback episode. In “Hide and Seek” we saw Finn’s biological mother for the very first time, along with a much younger Martin Mertens, and “Min & Marty” is all about exploring the shared history of those two. Minerva Campbell, Finn’s mom was a Helper, aka doctor, who was responsible for healing Martin after he attempted to escape with a couple of Hiders. Well, actually, as we come to realise in the first couple of minutes, Martin was merely tricking Hiders into thinking that he can help them leave the island, when in reality he was doing it for the gadgets they offered and then turned them in before they could leave. Classic Martin Mertens there.

Except, “Min & Marty” almost manages to make him likable. They didn’t make the mistake of having him be a completely decent and honest man here because that would have been unbelievable after how he behaved towards Finn in Season 6. It’s still the Martin we can recognise by his pettiness and it comes as no surprise that he spent his days conning people before he met Minerva. But he did meet her, and despite everything the two seem to have developed a genuine relationship. Despite being Martin’s complete opposite when it comes to interactions with other people, Minerva somehow found him to be charming and gave him a chance. If their first scenes weren’t enough, the montage makes sure that you love these two by the time they have Finn. There was no stopping the end of their story though, but somehow the episode humanised Martin enough that he was a good father in his last moments with his son.

Martin didn’t want to abandon Finn, he was actually saving him (and himself) from his own past and the people he had wronged. He didn’t think his plan through and so the Guardian almost killed both of them, but amazingly, Martin managed to stop it. He promised to come back for Finn, he wanted to let Minerva know what happened but he failed. Finn ended up in Ooo and found by Margaret and Joshua, while Minerva was left on her own, left to wonder if Martin left with their son on purpose. Martin himself somehow ended up in the Citadel and became an intergalactic criminal and major douchebag, a lot worse than he ever was before meeting Minerva. What he told Finn in “The Visitor” wasn’t strictly true, he wasn’t born on a boat and Martin didn’t leave him because he was called on a mission, but knowing what really happened it kind of all makes sense. Nothing that we’ve seen in “Min & Marty” excuses Martin’s behaviour towards his son when they meet again, absolutely nothing, but if possible, it all becomes even more tragic. He could have been a decent dad…


The last two episodes of the miniseries are the big ones. “Helpers” is Susan taking Finn to see his mother, but even she didn’t expect to find Founders’ Island in a condition like this. Minerva, as the only Helper remaining after a disaster Dr. Gross caused, made her conscience transfer into numerous “Minervabots” who now help maintain order and keep what’s left of humanity safe. These humans don’t necessarily look like Finn and others anymore and are still kept on the island by the Guardian, so they are shocked to see that Jake can not only talk, but also stretch into any shape or form. “Mutant”, they call him, which admittedly he kind of is, and this all leads to the Minervabots taking him and Finn into custody.

Finn finally gets to meet his mother but in a way that he hoped. Minerva doesn’t exist as a human anymore, she’s more like and AI these days. Oh, and now that she got Finn back she doesn’t want him to leave, ever. Dramatic cliffhanger aside, it’s actually completely understandable that she would say this. There’s also a Susan and BMO subplot going on, but it’s mainly Susan’s. She notices Frieda in the crowd and follows her into her toy shop, but hesitates to talk to her. Even though it wasn’t technically her fault that Dr. Gross made her stop Frieda, she still feels guilty and doesn’t know what her friend would do.

He is a mutant after all

The Light Cloud

It all continues in the last episode, “The Light Cloud”. Finn tries convincing his mom that Ooo is not all that bad and that the other humans could also go and explore it, but Minerva still believes that no one should leave the island, Finn included. Her son thinks otherwise and goes on to try and talk to people about the importance of free will and their own choices, your usual dystopian speech. When people, including the previously apathetic Frieda start listening to him Minerva panics and activates a Light Cloud (obvious parallel to the “Stakes” final “The Dark Cloud” there). This would mean uploading everyone’s minds on the islands to a server, just like Minerva now exists there. She means well, but the issues with this need no explanation. This is some PB in her darkest moments level stuff, which is another thing that’s probably completely intentional.

Finn manages to convince Minerva that that’s not necessary by showing her another bunch of his memories, after having shown her dangers of living in Ooo. This time he shows his mother that he grew up to be a sort of a Helper too, a hero who helps all those in need. This helps Minerva realise that she needs to let her son go and the other humans too, if they want to go, because Ooo can’t be all bad if it transformed her son into a Helper. Based on the DVD release, Finn and the squad spent three more months on Founders’ Island before deactivating the Guardian and returning home. The other humans who wanted to go change their minds, but there is still the possibility that they might one day end up visiting Ooo. As for Susan and Frieda, they take a different route and are off to make new memories together outside the archipelago. Thanks to the Better Reality goggles Finn has one last conversation with her mother before he says goodbye and goes back home.

Utopian islands

Now that the episodes are out of the way let’s talk about the bigger picture here. “Islands” introduced many fascinating themes and ideas, among them is Adventure Time’s take on utopias. Utopia, a term coined by Sir Thomas More is mostly used to refer to “an imagined place or state of things in which everything is perfect”, and has the opposite, dystopia, “an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one”. From More through George Orwell to Suzanne Collins, you get the idea, especially how most utopias tend to turn into dystopias. The concept is nothing new and the show does recycle many ideas, like the roles people are given and Minervabots, but “Islands” ends up creating its own unique version.

“Stakes” proves to be the prequel to the journey of the humans. In the first miniseries we found out that plenty of humans survived the Mushroom War and were hiding from vampires in what would later become known as the land of Ooo. Marceline hunted the vampires down, protecting the humans, but despite her best efforts Two Bread Tom and the others felt like they needed to leave. After Marceline became the Vampire Queen they left, finding the islands and creating a new human society. Founders’ Island is presumably is the one they first inhabited and started building. Two Bread Tom even has a statue on one of the islands, as seen in “Min & Marty”. The Founders Song explains how the Guardian was built and the Seekers trained to keep people from leaving the islands. As Dr. Gross says, the islands didn’t always look so lush, and I think it’s safe to say that the humans experimented a lot with the weather and the elements to get there, hence the condition that Alva’s mysterious island is in.

There’s the question of the Better Reality island and what’s the deal with that. Would people like Dr. Gross really let a good portion of humans spend their lives playing with a VR system instead of contributing to society? There must be something special about that particular island and the VR people. Jake jokingly refers to the pods these humans are in as “the coffins of the future” in “Imaginary Resources”, which is the point that most works of dystopian fiction try to get across. Technology will be the downfall of the human race, we won’t be able to distinguish between what’s real and what’s not, all that junk. It is a valid concern, but Adventure Time takes a more nuanced viewpoint and validates the people who want this Better Reality. BMO doesn’t end up staying because of the close relationship they have with Finn and Jake, but the question whether the Better Reality is actually better or not is left hanging in the air. Or, more accurately, it’s left for everyone to decide on their own. It’s your choice whether you condemn this version of the future or not, just like it’s the humans choice to stay with their VR.

That is the central theme of the islands and this post-apocalyptic human society, and indeed the central theme of utopian/ dystopian fiction in general. I’m talking about the question of free will of course, and how that’s the main message of the miniseries when it comes to this aspect of it. In “The Light Cloud” Minerva almost takes freewill away from all the humans (although arguably she already had) but her son convinces her not to. Finn’s motivational speech doesn’t make everyone wake up and run to Ooo and see the world, rather it makes them aware of the choice they have and Minerva lets them have it. With the destruction of the Guardian there’s nothing stopping them from becoming “Hiders” anymore, and even though they don’t go with Finn, the point is that they could. As he puts it, “as long as they’ve got the option” it’s fine. The could choose to go with Finn and they chose not to, at least for now.

This central message is crucial when we consider the whole Hiders and Seekers system. The Seekers, Kara included were brought up believing that they are helping the Hiders from getting hurt, but in reality they were taking away their free choice. Intellectuals wanting to explore and the system not letting them is another age old trope in dystopian fiction and again it gets handled well. I feel like there would be more to explore with this particular idea, but we get the point and it’s good that AT is being subtle enough. Well, for the most part, with the exception of the whole re-education thing, that’s just flat out Nineteen Eighty-Four. Even though that quick scene we see of Hiders going under the process doesn’t seem all that bad, the title alone calls for some seriously messed up implications. Frieda probably went through re-ed herself, which would explain why she’s apathetic and a bit miserable when Susan reunites with her, why she lost that spark she had when she tried to escape. In an ironic twist of fate, the Hiders were the actual seekers, seekers of knowledge and adventures, while the Seekers and everyone else were just hiding from the outside world.

Yeah no kidding

The main reason why many feared the world outside the archipelago is the Mushroom War and the mutants that were born from it. No wonder the transport ship and the Founders’ Island citizens were so against creatures like Mr. Cupcake and Jake, even though we know that they are harmless. The thing is, when Minerva talked about the epic mistake of Dr. Gross that resulted in her getting thrown out of the islands and the reduction of the population, she mentioned how it was the worst thing that happened to the human race in 300 years. The Mushroom War happened 1,000 years ago and the vampire infestation not long after, so there’s a huge piece of foreshadowing there. What happened to humanity 300 years ago? I’m in no doubt that the last two seasons of Adventure Time will answer that question, and that means that we haven’t seen the last of humanity just yet.

Mertens family

On a more personal note, let’s talk about the Mertens family. “Islands” wasn’t just the story of humanity but of Finn’s past and present, how he finally gets to know his origins. That does include the fate of the humans but more importantly, it involves him meeting his mother and us finding out about Min & Marty. I’m very glad that the show didn’t fall into the trap of making Martin all nice and decent because that would have made it hard to believe that he would grow to be so callous towards Finn, but the whole Mertens family aspect was still heartbreaking.

Finn still didn’t get closure on why Martin had to be such a jerk to him, but in a way we did. As I said, there’s no excuse for his behaviour, but at least now we can pretend that he was just ashamed and didn’t want to face his old life. Seeing as everything was going fine and how the Mertens family was actually happy, it’s not a surprise that he doesn’t want to think about how he screw it all up. He still remains and incredibly selfish and utterly pathetic character, but now that we saw how it could have gone differently it also hurts to see him like that. Thanks, “Islands”.

With the appearance of Minerva, Finn can at least get closure on that part. Despite how she’s an AI now with tyrannical tendencies, Minerva loves Finn very much and can be a further inspiration to him as he continues helping people and being the hero Ooo needs. The fact that Finn chose not to stay with his mom but to go back after we got what he was looking for speaks volumes about how much he’s grown. PB expressed her concerns about his journey back in “The Invitation”, but the thing is, she didn’t need to worry because this Finn that we know now is so mature and good at heart. Theoretically, he could go back to Founders’ Island and talk to his mom again, but he got a kind of closure that he never would have in Ooo.


Overall impact

As fascinating as the utopian/ dystopian aspect of “Islands” was, it felt distant from the general show. We’ve known that this is a post-apocalyptic setting since the earlier seasons and as the show went on we found out more and more about the show, but it’s always just been Ooo. Now that the show ventured to the islands and the question of humanity it felt heavier than it’s ever been. I enjoyed it, but I feel like it’s good that we had a separate miniseries to deal with this instead of it being part of the general story for these last two seasons. That being said, I am sure this is not the last we’ve seen of the islands and humanity and that in some way the archipelago and Ooo will become connected to each other.

The other major impact that the miniseries had is the one I talked about above, the one on Finn. It will be wonderful to see how Finn acts in these last two seasons post-”Islands”. It’s a bit of a shame that we’ve yet to see the true impact that “Stakes” had on Marceline, but I sincerely hope that it won’t take that long for us to see the impact of “Islands” on Finn. Well, not just Finn, it would be good to see Susan and Frieda again, as well as other characters and elements of the miniseries, but we’ll see how it goes. The point is that “Islands” is a beautiful climax to Finn’s character development, so much so that I’m not sure where we go from here. There are still almost two whole seasons to go, so we’ll just have to wait and see where he’s going.

Random thoughts:

  • Finn’s new sword is simple yet cool. It would be interesting to see how long this one lasts, or if it will have any significance at all.
  • Could some episodes of Season 8 focus on Bubblegum, Marceline, and Fern together, please? Based on the interactions they had in “The Invitation” these three should definitely have at least one episode to themselves. Finn and the others were gone for long enough to have some episodes deal with how things were at Ooo in the meanwhile. Bubbline helping Fern find himself, yes please.
  • I’m still not over the fact that Alva speaks Swedish and only Swedish. At least I realised it is Swedish when she rolled the tape and I was very proud of it, although as someone who actually tried learning the language it really shouldn’t have taken me that long.
  • Jake acts like a dad to BMO in “Imaginary Resources”, is this his way of making up for his lack of interaction with the puppies?
  • Further proof of the islands’ dystopia: the background posters in “Hide and Seek”. “Unity”, right, that’s the answer.
  • Susan and Frieda had about the same amount of homoerotic subtext as Bonnie and Marcy do in every episode they are in, and by the end they basically pull a Korrasami and go exploring together as girlfriends. I just wanted to point this out. Also the fact that Bonnie and Marcy should totally follow in their footsteps. That’s all.
  • The flashbacks Finn shows Minerva are all very interesting, just the fact that he chose to show these moments of his life to his mother. There are some where I don’t see the significance, but most of them are really sweet.
  • Minerva mentions how Finn should just leave the role of the hero of Ooo to the grass guy or the vampire lady. Well, Finn kind of did leave it to Fern, but one does wonder why all-powerful Marcy never really participates in big battles. It was okay in her Chaotic Neutral ways, but as of “Stakes” we’ve seen how she can pull her weight if she wants to.
  • The very first scene with the girl playing and warning her doll not to go outside the castle as it’s dangerous is the perfect parallel to Minerva’s concerns about Finn going back to Ooo. Not to mention the parallels between the last scenes of “The Invitation” and “The Light Cloud”. Just give me all the parallels.

Images courtesy of Cartoon Network

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