I’ve been recently rewatching Adventure Time from the start, and the series really took an upswing in quality once it started to flesh out the history of Ooo and its inhabitants. It was an enjoyably imaginative cartoon before that point, but once the past came into play, the relationships between characters began to strengthen, and the stories became more complex. “The Vault” is a huge mythology episode, flashing back to the early days of the Candy Kingdom when the Gumball Guardians were under construction, Peppermint Butler was just a toddler, and rivers of nuclear waste were still being paved over with delicious candy.
This journey to the past occurs when Finn plays BMO’s new “Regression Simulator,” a program Jake downloaded to help Finn reveal the trauma that he’s locked up in his mental vault. Whatever is being kept in there is causing Finn to have horrific nightmares about a green mutated woman attacking, causing him to sleepwalk downstairs and make a general mess of things. Finn understands that he keeps these difficult memories locked away on purpose and doesn’t want to confront his past, so Jake tricks him with a video game, hypnotizing his best friend so that he can relive the death of one of his former selves.
“The Vault” is an incredibly metaphysical episode of Adventure Time, dealing with reincarnation, atonement, and ghosts to tell a poignant story about how the past can haunt us in unexpected ways. During his hypnosis, Finn opens the vault door and sees his past selves—a comet, a butterfly, a bubblegum-like pink substance—before being thrust into the shoes of Shoko, a one-armed girl who rides a chubby white tiger and steals treasure for the Bath Boy Gang. The name Shoko means “auspicious child,” ironic considering the character’s lousy luck, which includes having her parents trade her arm for a computer when she was a child. Seeing this past version of Finn establishes a sense of continuity between the two characters; they both share an adventurous, energetic spirit, and Shoko’s lack of an arm continues to suggest that Finn will lose an arm in his future.
The spirit of Shoko/Finn is consistently abandoned by its birth family, befriended by an animal, and in danger of limb amputation, and understanding Shoko helps put Finn’s actions in perspective. Specifically, Shoko’s relationship with Princess Bubblegum informs Finn’s attraction to her, establishing a spiritual reason for Finn to be so obsessed with the candy woman he betrayed in a past life. When Shoko is forced to steal Princess Bubblegum’s amulet for the Boss of the Bath Boy Gang, she makes her way to the Candy Kingdom to befriend the princess before snatching the loot, and her actions are the root of Finn’s trouble.
Princess Bubblegum proves to be an easy person to get along with, listening to Shoko when she talks about her tragic past and offering compassion to make up for what she was denied as a child. All the citizens of the Candy Kingdom are PB’s children, and she loves them all equally (except for Mr. Cream Puff, who is like her boyfriend). That’s why she’s paving over the rivers of nuclear fallout from the Great Mushroom War and building the Gumball Guardians, who will keep the kingdom safe in the future. Everyone is still very young at this point; PB hasn’t realized that a boyfriend is a bad idea for someone in her position of power, PepBut is just beginning to walk, and the Gumball Guardians haven’t settled into their largely inactive positions stationed on the walls of the kingdom.
Shoko beats up a Bath Boy Gang member to prove her worth to PB, but she doesn’t have to try so hard around her new friend. After she helps PB finish building the Gumball Guardians, Shoko is surprised with a new arm, PB’s gift to her for being such a great companion. The prosthetic couldn’t come at a worst time, and Shoko is forced to choose between keeping PB’s friendship or losing her life for not stealing the amulet. She chooses the latter, swiping the amulet while PB is sleeping under the Gumball Guardians’ watch. The decision costs her both her friendship and life when a blast from a Gumball Guardian sends her into the river of nuclear waste surrounding the castle, mutating her into a slimy, bug-like creature that dies shortly after crawling out of the green ooze.
Shoko is the same creature that Finn was haunted by in “The Creeps” and “King Worm,” providing an answer for one of this show’s long-running mysteries. Learning this information reveals what Finn has to do to stop his sleepwalking night terrors, and he calls up PB for a late night meeting, where he destroys the floorboards of the treehouse to uncover her old amulet from Shoko’s decayed body. (He also calls her out for being way older than 19, but that’s a topic of discussion for another day.) It’s a sweet way to end a sad episode, but the way Finn’s fantasy image of Green Woman Shoko contrasts with the Skeleton Shoko at the base of his home reminds the viewer of this story’s morbid undertones.
Finn is haunted by the sins of his past life, and in order to live a more comfortable existence, he has to live out the final wishes of his dead former self. Once he helps Shoko atone for her sins, his vault feels a little lighter, and while that’s not the typical kid’s show lesson, it’s a lesson that will prove valuable for Finn when he’s an adult. Finn already knows that he needs to atone for any wrongdoings he commits, but what “The Vault” teaches him is that he needs to address the things in his life that scare him. Keeping things in the vault ultimately has a negative effect on Finn’s mental state, and the only way for him to stay healthy is to leave the mental door unlocked. If it means more episodes like this one, hopefully he’ll continue to venture into the hidden recesses of his mind.
- Paul Scheer voices the Bath Boy Gang Boss, and he’s a natural for the silly, overblown dialogue of this series. The character is basically Andre from The League, a smarmy creep who thinks he’s way cooler and smarter than he really is.
- Anyone else wish Madeleine Martin had voiced Shoko? Isabelle Furhman does a great job, but it would have been a great touch to have Finn’s former female self voiced by the same person that voices Fionna.
- Like Finn, Shoko is a total prankster, as evidenced by her handing PB a duck instead of a tool during the Gumball Guardian construction.
- “It’s alright. It’s only like the fifth room you’ve trainwrecked this month.”
- Boss: “The leader’s got some magic omelet, you know? The kind you wear around your neck?” Shoko: “I think it’s pronounced amulet.”
- “Pretend my finger’s a knife.”