Family plays a big part in the holiday season, and while Adventure Time’s final new episodes of the year aren’t connected to the holidays, they’re exploring topics that will likely come up during the festivities of the next couple weeks: sibling rivalry, tension between parents and their children, the ache of past memories. The overarching plot of this season is rooted in family dynamics as Princess Bubblegum’s devious relatives, the Gumbald clan, try to take over Ooo with the help of Finn’s evil twin, Fern, and these episodes advance that larger story while illuminating other relationships in the series, both major and minor.

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The funniest line of these four episodes is also the saddest, and it informs each chapter in a different way. In “Ring Of Fire,” Sweet P tells Tree Trunks that he has the perfect life, and when he asks if his mother if she feels the same way, she starts to cry. Sweet P is alarmed that his mother is sad, but Tree Trunks replies: “No no, sweetie. That’s just something that happens when grownups think about their lives for too long.” The weight of time is heavy in all of these episodes, and it influences characters in different ways. For Tree Trunks, she’s considering whether or not settling down and starting a family killed her rebellious spirit, and this episode takes her on a trip down memory lane that makes her appreciate her current life.

“Ring Of Fire” is a showcase for Polly Lou Livingston’s delightful voicework for Tree Trunks, and the episode mines a lot of comedy from her deadpan line delivery, which doesn’t change at all over time. Whether she’s a recent high school grad, a pirate queen, or a powerful shipping magnate, Tree Trunks always sounds the same. In the past, Tree Trunks was always looking for the next adventure, which was why she took on so many personas and married different men at each stage in her life. This episode gives us the background for Tree Trunks’ past marriages, and revisiting these relationships helps her put her life in perspective and shows her what is really important. In the episode’s very sweet conclusion, Tree Trunks realizes that she was always searching for adventure, but couldn’t tell the difference between good ones and bad ones. She was a leaf in the wind blown about by her whims, but with Sweet P and Mr. Pig, Tree Trunks is on solid ground and she’s satisfied.

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In “Seventeen,” the Gumbalds terrorize PB because they were stuck in their Candy Person forms for so long, and they resent her for their extended imprisonment. The episode has an even deeper connection to time given that it’s about Finn’s 17th birthday, and growing up is intrinsically tied to the passage of time. With each new year comes new promise, especially in those late teen years when you leave adolescence behind and head into adulthood, but Finn’s disastrous birthday teaches him a hard lesson: growing up can really suck. “Seventeen” starts as a riff on the Arthurian legend of “Sir Gawain And The Green Knight,” with a mysterious green figure crashing Finn’s 17th birthday celebration and gifting him an axe. The only catch is that Finn has to decapitate the knight to get the weapon, and he does so, assuming that this is all a Jake birthday prank. It’s not, and the Green Knight wants his own turn to strike a blow at Finn, who can’t magically reattach his head. Finn instead offers a competition to settle the score, but Finn doesn’t realize that he’s being played this entire time by Fern and the Gumbalds.

There are some very fun action moments in this episode, specifically when Finn and the Green Knight play Coconut Shy. The initial sequence of Green Knight transforming his arm into a slingshot is already really cool, but then we get a second perspective from Huntress Wizard, who uses her special Huntress Vision to catch Green Knight cheating. He splashes some green slime on the ball just before he throws it, and when the ball bounces off the ground, the slime comes off and becomes a little creature that controls the ball with a thin string, swinging it around so it hits all the coconuts. By the end of this episode we discover that the Green Knight is Fern and his horse is actually a vehicle containing the Gumbalds, and they successfully ruin Finn’s big birthday celebration. It’s already Finn’s worst birthday before BMO and Jake bring out the birthday cake, and out pops Ice King in Marilyn Monroe drag to make this event even more of a nightmare.

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“Marcy & Hunson” has Hunson Abedeer trying to make up for past awfulness by reconnecting with his daughter, and even though he continues to be horrible, he does make some progress by sticking up for his daughter at her concert. “Simon & Marcy” gave me lofty expectations for any episodes dealing with Marceline’s relationships with father figures, and “Marcy & Hunson” doesn’t come close to those emotional highs. It’s a cute episode, but also the slightest of these four, telling a straightforward story about Hunson doing the bare minimum to inch his way into his daughter’s good graces. And he only gets in those good graces after remedying a mess he caused in the first place. The episode is loosely tied to the Gumbald plot—Finn gets himself a new Night Sword and Cousin Chicle fuels the heckling at Marceline’s concert—but it’s mostly about an oblivious parent thinking he’s being helpful and supportive when he’s really a big nuisance.

I just watched A Ghost Story earlier this month, and was surprised by just how much “The First Investigation” reminds me of David Lowery’s film. They both look at the connection between time and spirits within a specific space, crafting ambitious, twisting narratives based on the idea that spirits are freed from chronological constraints. Unlike A Ghost Story, there’s a concrete cause for the haunting in this Adventure Time episode: a Clock Bear that has escaped from Dr. Gross’ menagerie. The bear has spilled a bunch of time, turning Margaret And Joshua Investigations into a place where past, present, and future bleed into each other, and the only way to stop the haunting is to wind the bear back up.

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Finn and Jake find themselves part of this time loop when they are asked by Kim Kil Whan to investigate a potential haunting at their parents’ old place of work, and revisiting this location from their childhood makes them look at Margaret and Joshua in a new life. For the first time, Finn starts to think about how their parents were people who gave up on their old dreams to raise a family, which ties this episode to Tree Trunks’ story. Finn interacts with the past more intensely than Jake. He plays with baby versions of himself and his two dog brothers, and when he realizes what is going on, he decides to leave a message to his parents in the past letting them know how much he loves them. Joshua and Margaret think this is just a random ghost, but the message makes Finn feel like he’s accomplished something important.

The most important thing about this episode is that it shows Jake his true origins when he sees himself burst from Joshua’s head, and he barely has time to process this information before his shapeshifter dad appears and takes him away from Ooo. Finn has no idea where his brother has disappeared to, and I’m intrigued to find out how the plot with Jake and his father will tie into the drama currently unfolding on Ooo with Fern and the Gumbalds. These episodes offer a more grounded perspective rooted in personal relationships, but the ending of “The First Investigation” suggests that the series is going to take a cosmic turn in the future.

Stray observations

  • Fashion highlights of these episodes: PB’s Little Orphan Annie get-up in “Seventeen,” Tree Trunks’ pirate ensemble and ’80s executive realness in “Ring Of Fire.”
  • I don’t know who wrote Marceline’s latest song, “I Want To Slow Dance With You,” but I really love it and want to seek out more music by this person. The guitars sound very Mitski-esque. Hunson sucks even more for interrupting this song.
  • My favorite environmental detail in these episodes is the broken mirror in Margaret & Joshua Investigations with a note inside that reads, “You look great.”
  • I am very glad that Huntress Wizard is part of the core group because Jenny Slate’s voice work is so great. She has a talent for capturing the humor of fantastic dialogue while still maintaining high dramatic stakes.
  • I’ve got a feeling that Finn’s new Night Sword is going to cause some problems. Stop using cursed weapons, Finn!
  • Green Knight: “How do you like them coconuts?” Finn: “I hate them coconuts.”
  • “A greasy pole?! It’s hard enough climbing a not greasy pole!”
  • “If I only some kind of superhuman robot arm. BAM!”
  • “You can’t tell from my face but I am smiling triumphantly.”
  • “This sword is also cursed. But it has a compass in the hilt!”
  • “It’s over, Randy. I’m a wild child.”
  • “I’m no melon baby. I’m a majestic womb baby!”

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