If the last few episodes of Adventure Time (which have been short on daredevil feats and long on Jake and Finn instructing other characters on their relationships) struck anyone as being a little short on adventure, or, at least, action, tonight’s epic two-parter went a long way toward making up for it. It was a rip-roaring affair, overflowing with visual ideas, exuberance, dark humor, flying monsters that looked like talking butt cheeks, and parental issues. At its center was a question we’ve all had to face at some point, from one side of the generation gap or the other: How does a daughter reconcile her need to be independent and her need for her father’s approval, and how does a father find the right balance between wanting to see his child do what he thinks is best for her and being proud of her no matter what she decides is best for herself? I like to imagine that the script started out as a rough outline by Lena Dunham, but that she passed it along to Pendleton Ward after the tests on the CGI for the butt-cheek monster came back looking cheesy.
It begins in medias res, with Jake and Finn waking up in a cell in the Nightosphere, with no recollection of how they got there. Finn, being open-minded, takes in their surroundings and speculates that they might have done something wrong, but Jake shoots that down on the grounds that they’re the good guys. Luckily, Jake has recorded the activities of the night before on his camera phone, but he has no way of watching the video, because in the Nightosphere, outlets are hard to come by. So the two them, liberated from their cell by a guard whose shift is over and who has no intention of waiting to see if his replacement is going to put in an appearance, stumble through a goofed-up Hieronymous Bosch landscape—complete with a Charon-like ferryman with the face of a plague doctor who isn’t carrying anyone in his boat and isn’t really going anywhere; he just likes to row over the heads of the sea of sufferers packed into the dry river bed—to demand some answers from the dark lord himself, i.e., the ruler of the Nightosphere, i.e., Hunson Abadeer, i.e., Marceline’s dad (nicely voiced by a very dry Martin Olson).
The pieces come together slowly and in seemingly random order, but the gist is that Hunson Abadeer thinks it’s time for Marceline to take the reins of power from him, and though he tries to put a brave face on her indifference to the family business (“I know you’ll come around eventually. Or maybe you won’t. You’re an independent woman.”), the frustration has finally driven him to desperate measures. He gifts her with an amulet that, once she puts it on, transforms her into a lunatic, slavering demon huge and mean enough to lord it over all the other demons, making her the automatic boss of the place. Jake and Finn only begin to suss out the truth when Marceline summons up what must be her last recesses of—what? “Humanity” can’t be right. “Less than absolutely horrible, total murderous evil”?—and, for their own good, casts them out of the Nightosphere and orders them to never return. They do, of course, after Finn has shape-shifted into a gross demon, and Jake has disguised himself by constructing a mask out of a paper plate.
Aside from the always welcome sight of Marceline’s dad in his underwear—having handed off his job, he swiftly adapts to a retirement-age lifestyle that looks like a nonstop series of raids on the refrigerator—the high point of the second half may be Finn’s stirring up insurrection in the demon ranks by means of a freestyle “political rap.” “Government! Where it went! Farmers market! Ride bikes! Get on it! Geodesic domes!” he sputters. “I never thought of it that way before!” cries a demon. The whole thing was a spree, as if the animators were rewarding themselves with a binge after a couple of episodes that were more John Cassavettes than Sally Cruikshank. By the end, Marceline’s dad seemed genuinely contrite for having tried to override his daughter’s free will—a major act of love and accommodation on his part, considering that the failure of his plan meant that he was going to have to put his pants back on and leave the kitchen—and even seemed to be regarding Finn with true respect and affection. Picking up on this, Marceline told Finn that she didn’t want to hang out with him anymore. That was probably just an easy gag for the fadeout, but the thought of it still made my heart seize up a little. Sometimes this show is almost too coldly sophisticated for a soft man like me.
- Jake and Finn hitch a ride with a creature who tells them, “Get in my flipping belly and I will transport you. My insides are inhabitable. I will not digest you.” That speech has “I’ve heard that one before!” written all over it, but it turns out the dude is on the level. I just wish I could tell whether “flipping” is meant as an expletive or a boast about something else his belly can do.
- Hunson Abadeer says that the Nightosphere is “sustained by chaos.” Someone at the Cartoon Network who’s looking for a new official motto for the channel should grab that phrase and run with it.