Unpredictability has become one of Adventure Time’s greatest strengths as it grows, and “Sad Face” showcases the series’ willingness to tread down unexpected story paths. Graham Falk had written and storyboarded just two episodes before this week’s, “Shh!” and “Root Beer Guy”, and those were exemplary installments with vastly different storytelling styles. “Shh!” was a mostly silent episode that used the relationship between words and pictures to create humor, and “Root Beer Guy” veered away from Finn and Jake to tell an emotional story about one soda-man’s mid-life crisis.
“Sad Face” is Falk’s strangest episode yet, breaking down one evening in the life of Jake’s tail, who travels to a nearby flea circus once a month when Jake’s sleeping to perform as Blue Nose the sad clown. Yup: Jake’s tail joins the circus this week, and his tale is one of creative captivity, the potential of the artist, and sacrificing one’s pride to benefit a friend. Carrying on the tradition of silent film clowns like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, Blue Nose doesn’t speak at all in this episode, and rather than doing traditional jokes, he performs abstract pieces for an audience that doesn’t appreciate his unique perspective.
Blue Nose first takes to the stage with a fruit cart containing a pile of oranges. While arrhythmic music plays in the background, one of the oranges rolls off the cart and reveals a small bee-child marionette, which Blue Nose dances with before it has a heart attack and dies. The crowd doesn’t understand this unusual meditation on the briefness of life and the preciousness of any moment of joy, and buries Blue Nose under trash while the ringleader brings out the next attraction: a chipmunk named Goralina. She is a wild animal that can’t be chained, and when she breaks free from her shackles in the ring, the crowd goes wild. She’s “a big sad dollar sign,” so despite the ringleader’s past promises to Blue Nose, he won’t let Goralina go until the clown can deliver an act that brings in an equivalent amount of pennies.
Any time an episode of Adventure Time is about creating art, I assume that the writer is saying something about the process of creating this series. So what’s the message behind “Sad Face”? Blue Nose’s quest to bring his message to the masses doesn’t read with the audience, so he’s forced to appeal to the lowest common denominator in order to make his voice heard. Before this series could get to the point where it has the freedom to tell more experimental stories, it had to build up an audience with broader humor. That explains the simplicity of the early episodes of Adventure Time, which featured a young boy and his dog and a princess and an evil king because are basic fantasy concepts that would appeal to a wide audience, thus making it more likely that Pendleton Ward’s idea would be picked up by Cartoon Network.
If the ringleader wants to see cash before he frees Goralina, Blue Nose will put his creativity to the side to make the audience laugh. He goes on stage where there’s a wooden chair with a whoopee cushion under the seat and a wooden table with a bottle of seltzer, and he delights the audience by making fart sounds, getting sprayed with seltzer, and destroying furniture. The creepy orchestral music is replaced by hip-hop-style record scratching and tail-booty shaking, and Blue Nose’s plan is successful when he’s gifted with a wave of coins to free Goralina. The ringleader was lying, though—he plans to put Blue Nose and Goralina together, an unacceptable arrangement that forces Blue Nose to get aggressive and break Goralina’s shackles.
Blue Nose’s frown becomes a smile when he sees Goralina escape just before the sun rises, and when day breaks, he slinks back to his owner. As he heads back home, the episode revisits all the locations of the story, providing a fun little recap of the evening’s events before Jake’s tail snaps into place and wakes the dog. The hilarious conclusion has Jake finding Blue Nose’s small fedora before wiping paint off his bum, which he sniffs before tasting—while BMO and NEPTR watch from afar and exclaim, “Neat!” They’re totally correct. That was neat.
Jake’s tail is still Jake, so we can assume that the adventures of Blue Nose represent a part of Jake’s psyche that isn’t being satisfied at the moment. Much like how dreams are the product of subconscious issues, Blue Nose’s monthly excursion is a result of his desire to break free from his responsibilities and indulge his artistic side. Based on his regular trips to Prismo’s place, Jake has been trying to pave his own path away from his family, which includes Finn, Lady, and the pups, but he’s not going to completely abandon his old life to explore his future. Instead, his tail ventures off once a month to live a life of wild abandon.
- I love that NEPTR and BMO are robot buddies that hang out at night.
- Can anyone name the voice of the ringleader? This episode’s credits didn’t list him specifically and I can’t find it online. Whoever he is, he does a great job this week.
- “Too much artsy, not enough fartsy. We talked about this, clown!”
- “You’re gonna have to lose the fancy shmancy stuff and give the people what they want. Got it?!”
- “The old Blue Nose magic.”
- “Aren’t you glad we came back for the second show?”
- “I wanna see how many boxcars this gravy train has on it.”