Friday, April 19, 2024

Meet Uncle G, Ooo’s Final Enemy

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Adventure Time returned with four new episodes once again, the “Season 9 premiere” that didn’t really end up being the premiere after all. Instead, these are episodes 15-18 of this last season. Considering the fact that three out of these four episodes dealt with the new and most probable final antagonist, PB’s Uncle Gumbald, therefore starting a whole new mini-era, it really would have been more fitting to have these as the first episodes of Season 9. But this random messing with the season-structure can’t stop us from enjoying these remaining episodes.

The Wild Hunt

Right off the bat, the first episode deals with Finn’s trauma and guilt over Fern’s death, but Princess Bubblegum needs his and Jake’s help with a banana-like fudge monster that’s been terrorizing the Banana Guards. When the time comes for Finn to slay the monster, he hesitates and sees Fern pleading with him not to kill him. The monster leaves a beaten up Jake behind, so Finn runs after it and bumps into Huntress Wizard, who’s also hunting the monster. She understands Finn’s mental block but also wants him to get over it, so when they find the “Grumbo” monster and Finn once again hesitates, she throws herself in harm’s way, knowing that Finn will save her. Finn gets around his hallucination of Fern by imagining that Fern is actually asking for his help, and he successfully stops Grumbo. At the very end, it turns out that Grumbo was 100% artificial candy flesh, made by none other than Uncle G himself.

Much like with “Abstract” and Jake’s transformation, the show didn’t waste any time to put an end to Finn’s internal struggle with killing Fern. That’s clearly because they don’t have a lot of episodes left to work with, although just like with the case of Jake, it would have been nice to linger a bit on this issue and then have a solution to it. It’s a shame that in this last season the real-life constraint of only having 30 episodes to work with affects these crucial character moments, and at the very least I’m hoping that we will see more of Finn’s guilt when he sees Gumbald’s Fern creation that was teased at the end of the episode.

Not that I want Finn to suffer, but “Three Buckets” did such a good job of conveying just how traumatized he was after the incident that it wouldn’t make sense to just leave it at this. Even though it is said in “The Wild Hunt” that it’s been a month and we see just how deeply scarred Finn is, one episode still is not enough to deal with all the implications.

That being said, “The Wild Hunt” is a good episode for Finn and his guilt; the entirety of it focuses on him and how he could move on. Huntress Wizard’s return was a pleasant surprise, and she turns out to be the best person to help Finn, even if it wasn’t only up to her that he could slay Grumbo in the end. Their romantic tension is also addressed but in a somewhat weird way. Are we actually going for this relationship, or was this another step towards what “Flute Spell” established, that “exceptional beasts like them cannot fall in love”? I feel like Finn’s romantic life is yet another issue that’s going to have to be addressed directly in these remaining episodes. Then again, his scenes with Huntress Wizard showcased his maturity while also focusing on his guilt-ridden conscience.

The Uncle Gumbald part of the episode also fits into the category of “trying to resolve things a bit too fast”, but that has more solid in-universe reasons behind it, rather just being an excuse to leave “The Wild Hunt” on a cliffhanger that will only be addressed in later episodes. Uncle G connects three out four episodes here and he’s presented as the last big baddie, the antagonist for Season 9, so it makes sense that he would appear in the last scene of what was intended to be the season premiere—just like he appeared in the “Season 8 finale”.

Always BMO Closing

BMO and Ice King pair up to work as a door-to-door salesman in a trenchcoat, but what seems to be an innocent adventure soon gets out of hand. BMO’s confidence in their skills leads them to Uncle Gumbald and his ziggurat, where Uncle G buys Finn’s baby teeth for a silver cup. BMO is delighted with the sale, Finn is upset over the loss of childhood keepsakes, and Jake says it’s all fine unless the guy who bought them was a mad scientist. Surely enough, Gumbald is exactly that, and uses the teeth to make baby Finns who can then defeat the original. BMO saves the day by selling the boys a couple of sledgehammers that they can smash the baby teeth Finn with. After they clean up Ice King leaves and Gumbald confesses that he shouldn’t have used baby teeth.

I hate to say it this, but “Always BMO Closing” feels rather silly and pointless. This close to the end of the series every episode should matter in some way or another: they should either add to character or the plot in a significant way. Was this a Season 7 or even 8 episode with a different villain pulling the strings I would be more forgiving, but the way it is “Always BMO Closing” just wasn’t a good episode. I know that in a way it’s not fair, just because the end is so near I can’t have unrealistic expectations, but considering that all the other episodes managed to stay relevant I don’t think it’s being too harsh.

The irony of it all is that the only thing saving this episode from being pointless is the fact that Gumbald is a major character in it and that we see more of him and his plans. We explore his plan to take Finn down so he can get to PB and his skills as a scientist, with the end lampshading how he’s not a particularly clever one. The Gumbald part of the episode is something, but it could have been much more without the BMO and Ice King side of things and vice versa.

Ice King was the best and most underappreciated part

The major flaw seems to be that “Always BMO Closing” tried to do two things, and only gave 50% to each as a result. The other side was BMO and Ice King of course, and even the premise if so promising that it’s a shame not much came out of it. These two have come so far since “President Porpoise is Missing!” and that episode wasn’t even that long ago. There was so much potential to explore with the two’s dynamic and how they came up with this idea in the first place. But no, we must jump to Gumbald and his plans. Adventure Time can normally deal with multiple storylines per episode so I’m not sure where this one went wrong…just that somewhere along the way it did.

Listen, it wasn’t exactly bad. The humour was as on-point as always, especially the little that Ice King got to do and Jake’s lines. Even Tree Trunks managed to be more traditionally funny instead of just being bizarre. The fact that BMO and Ice King went on this adventure together is sweet in itself, as well as Finn and Jake’s reaction. Despite all of this the episode feels like it’s lacking direction and that the only real reason we had it was so that PB could later discover the silver cup. It could have been a BMO and Ice King episode or it could have been a Gumbald episode, but it tried to be both and as a result failed at doing either part properly.

Son of Rap Bear

Finn takes Flame Princess to her first Clam Rap party, where everyone notices that she’s quite good at rapping. Toronto, King of Ooo’s former assistant, pretends to be a talent agent and gets FP to sign a contract that says that she either defeats Son of Rap Bear at a rapping battle or loses the Fire Kingdom to Toronto. Phoebe is determined to defend her kingdom and find something to rap about, so she travels around with Finn and goes on adventures, but later realizes that these things don’t make her interesting. Instead, she goes to meet her dad, the new “Chipmunk King” to see if they can be a family again.

While the former Flame King is not exactly evil anymore, he also doesn’t seem to care enough about FP to even try to apologize. He ends up attending the rap battle by accident and gives Flame Princess something to rap about: how pathetic the Flame King really is and how she doesn’t need him. She also doesn’t need to prove anything to Toronto or anyone else, and the Fire Kingdom can’t be taken from her because it’s not really her property. She wins and even her dad admits that she wasn’t half bad at rapping.

Woah there

When I first watched “Son of Rap Bear”, I thought it was the odd one out and the least interesting out of these four episodes. Now that I’ve seen all of them twice I changed my mind and I stand by what I said about “Always BMO Closing” being the weakest one. This third episode might not be connected to the overarching storyline of Gumbald and his plot against PB, but that doesn’t mean that it’s unworthy of being one of the last AT episodes. “Son of Rap Bear” is exactly the type of episode that we’re going to need going forward if the show wants to tie its loose ends up.

Instead of everything being about Gumbald and the bigger picture, “Son of Rap Bear” was about character, and about Flame Princess in particular. With so few episodes left and so many characters to give a proper goodbye to, Phoebe good a decent deal with an episode that has her as its protagonist and resolves her storyline by giving her closure on her most intense and toxic relationship. I do wish Finn had a bigger role and that the episode discussed his past relationship with FP as well as how much it’s developed, but maybe we don’t need more of that. Instead, we got a perhaps final scene between father and daughter, and one that gave Flame Princess a much-needed realization.

Parent-child relationship in Adventure Time have been portrayed with delicacy and care, showing all kinds from loving but complicated (Jake and his kids) to bittersweet and heartbreaking (Simon and Marcy count here as do so many others). When it comes to the Flame King, he all but tried to murder his own daughter, so it doesn’t exactly come as a surprise when he’s still a jerk just a less obvious one, but understandably it still hurts Phoebe. What’s great about this is that Flame Princess has developed so much that now she can face this reality and calmly say that she doesn’t even need her dad or his approval, she has her kingdom and she’s going to be a much more responsible ruler than he ever was. Girl doesn’t need random adventures to make her interesting or awesome, nor does she need her dad to have a family.

“Son of Rap Bear” shows that apart from resolving this one last big storyline, AT also needs to deal with its characters. With episodes like “Marcy & Hunson” coming up, we’re guaranteed to get more of this, perhaps even without the silly garnish. The rapping part was clearly not the best aspect of “Son of Rap Bear”, even if did provide some comical moments and cameos. “Son of Rap Bear” wasn’t even about the titular character, it was all about putting a quiet but fitting end to Phoebe’s character, and we don’t need Gumbald for that.

Bonnibel Bubblegum

After seeing the silver cup that BMO traded, Bubblegum thinks back to 800 years ago, back when it was only her and Neddy and she wanted more people like her, she wanted a family. She tells her friends the story of Uncle Gumbald, Aunt Lolly and Cousin Chicle, and how their betrayal turned them into Punchy, Manfried, and Crunchy, respectively. It’s only after the story that she realizes that the silver cup is indeed Gumbald’s and that he’s back.

“Bonnibel Bubblegum” is quite clearly the most crucial episode to the plot, even if it is a flashback episode. The writing was the strongest here, with brilliant one-liners and spot-on comedy. The episode was off to a good start when PB said that “families are tricky” and the others reacted like this:

If only Jake knew.

The story itself the Bonnie tells is, ironically enough, bittersweet through and through. Following the flashback from “Bonnie & Neddy”, this story is about what happened 800 years before the present, and how PB was trying to survive with her brother in a world that would later become Ooo. We are once again reminded that Adventure Time takes place in a post-apocalyptic world, but no one needs to say anything about that because the setting says it all. After this depressing beginning comes Bonnie’s idea to make some new family members so she and Neddy have someone else apart from each other.

“I know you don’t care, and that’s fine, but… I need to be around people like me.”

Everything that Bonnie does in this episode is so true to her character it’s no wonder the episode is named after her. The reason why she creates Gumbald, Lolly and Chicle and how she behaves with them were perfectly in line with what we’ve been learning about Peebles throughout the seasons. Hell, there’s even place for Mr. Cream Puff, who was said to be something like PB’s boyfriend back in “The Vault”; here we see how he was made by Gumbald to distract Bonnie and how she didn’t like that at all. All those past references to “Great Uncle” Gumbald are acknowledged and in the end, it even turns out that Gumbald has been in the show since the very first episode, just as Punchy.

When it became clear that Gumbald would be the last great villain that the heroes of Ooo have to defeat I was skeptical. It seems like these past episodes are trying so hard to set him up as the big bad and that begs the question: why not start the setup sooner? But “Bonnibel Bubblegum” answers that question, indirectly at least. The missing poster of Crunchy in “Always BMO Closing” and the episode “Skyhooks II” have already hinted at something like this happening, but “Bonnibel Bubblegum” confirmed that Gumbald only (re)appeared recently, since prior LSP’s spell of transformation he was stuck in the form of Punchy. Turns out the biggest consequence of “Elements” wasn’t Jake’s or Sweet P’s transformation, but rather the return of Gumbald and his “family”.

Meet the family

Speaking of “Elements”, one of my main complaints about this episode is that it doesn’t even acknowledge PB’s role in what lead to LSP having to save Ooo. It wasn’t her fault, granted, but based on “Jelly Beans Have Power”, one would think that Bubblegum feels at least a tiny bit guilty about what she almost did. Then again, there’s still time to explore her reaction to that, maybe in an episode where she learns that Gumbald is back because of that elemental mess. It just seems odd not to deal with this separately before diving into the inevitable confrontation between niece and uncle.

The other issue that might be huge or irrelevant, depending on your point of view, is the amount of retconning going on in this episode. Adventure Time is no stranger to the concept of a Cerebus Retcon; in fact, it has a whole Cerebus Syndrome. In all fairness, with a first season like the one AT had a little retconning is necessary, and it resulted in many of the most beloved storylines, such as the shared history of Marceline and Simon. That being said, they went all the way in “Bonnibel Bubblegum” without even thinking to look back. Those random mentions of Uncle Gumbald from early seasons? Yeah, they were totally intentional and they all make sense now. Various German phrases? Here, have loads. And best of all, three (four, counting Mr. Cream Puff) random Candy Kingdom citizens from the very first episode, “Slumber Party Panic” are actually crucial to both Bonnie’s life and the final storyline.

When it comes to characters like Crunchy, who tried to usurp PB not once but twice in previous seasons, a revelation like this comes off as if it was planned. Even if it hasn’t been building up since the very beginning, it’s been there for at least a few years. But Manfried and Punchy? I do believe it’s been in the plans since Season 7, maybe 6, but not earlier than that. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily take away from the narrative value of this episode and the whole storyline, but I feel like a line of “a little too much” was crossed here with the Cerebus Retcon.

Still, retcon or not, “Bonnibel Bubblegum” still ended up being a fantastic episode that explained a lot form the past and foreshadowed the future. Even the elements with PB could be called a retcon, because let’s be honest, she wasn’t meant to be a tyrant back in Season 1, but I don’t mind this aspect as much. Bubblegum’s true colours have been showing for a while and we had several episodes where other characters called her out and she got a reality check. This episode was more about going back to the beginnings and exploring why she developed into a ruler like that, and it really did all make sense. Plus you could say that Gumbald started all of it by calling her “Prinzessin” and causing her trust issues.

Closing thoughts

The four episodes work better if you consider them to be the premiere of Season 9 like they were intended to be. The downside to that is that you also have to keep in mind that these are part of the last 16 episodes, which makes “Always BMO Closing” go from mediocre to unnecessary. Other than that, we have a solid beginning to the Gumbald storyline, but hopefully we’ll also get more episodes like “Son of Rap Bear” before the end comes.

In general, the episodes felt a bit darker than the show usually is, and make no mistake, Adventure Time can be dark, but this time around the humour didn’t mess around, we had some heavy stuff in there. There were a few shout-outs to Season 1, like the “… Time” card, which felt nice and wasn’t nostalgic for the sake of nostalgia. It will be interesting to see whether there’s more of this tone and references to come in the remaining of the final season, or if this was just for the first four episodes.

Regardless, it was nice to have AT back and these four episodes should give fans enough to think about before the show returns…well, whenever Cartoon Network decides it should. Until then, what are the bets that “Marcy & Hunson” will be Marceline’s last major appearance?

Images courtesy of Cartoon Network

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