Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Adventure Time: “King Worm”

Illustration for article titled Adventure Time: “King Worm”

The most common criticism I’ve heard about Adventure Time is that it’s “weird for weird’s sake.” It’s a legitimate comment, but like Community, episodes of Adventure Time fall on different points of the weird spectrum; some installments, like “Burning Low,” are relatively straightforward stories with just a hint of wacky. “King Worm” is not one of those episodes. Trapped in a dream by a massive mind-controlling worm, Finn must find the bug and break it in order to escape, but a series of exceedingly bizarre obstacles stand in his way. “King Worm” is one of series’ most random episodes, and this is in a season that includes an appearance from Martian Abraham Lincoln Jesus. Being in a dream allows the writers to do whatever they want without any explanation, meaning characters and environments change suddenly and constantly, leaving the viewer as confused as Finn.

When a hyper-weird Adventure Time is successful, it manages to have some sort of foundation in a more personal issue, like challenging parental expectations in “Escape From The Nightosphere” and making sacrifices for others in “Son Of Mars.” “King Worm” lacks that pathos until the end, and even then, the sequence of Finn tackling his greatest fears as they crawl out of his belly button is still more focused on bizarre imagery than emotional depth. Yeah, this is a children’s show that isn’t trying to offer insights on the human condition, but when there isn’t a strong emotional hook, “weird for weird’s sake” starts to become a more pressing criticism.

If you happen to have any hallucinatory drugs lying around, “King Worm” is the time to do them. Want to see a princess made of fire with mouths for eyeballs? How about a bearded human face that shouts “Satori!” (a Buddhist term for “enlightenment”) on the back of a peppermint man? This episode offers those strange visuals and more, including a sword that turns into a shark and giant monsters made of stuck together Gunther penguins. The story may not be very engrossing, but the visuals are certainly striking, and this episode puts the show’s off-kilter design sense on full display.

In order to find King Worm, Finn needs to follow smaller worms, essentially doing what fanatical Adventure Time viewers do when they try to find the hidden worm in each episode. When Finn and Jake run into their Dad, he knits the King Worm into being as a psychedelic image rotates in the background, and they follow the King Worm up a mountain until they find its frozen body and smash it. The two wake up, but Finn is still suspicious that he’s in a dream, suspicions that are confirmed when he pinches Jake and his friend melts into nothingness. This dream within a dream within a dream trap is how the King Worm steals the life force from his victims, and the only way to defeat it is for Finn to let his subconscious fears grunk up the dreamscape.

Longtime fans will get a kick seeing the fears that emerge from Finn’s mind and belly button, ranging from the Ghost Lady from “The Creeps” to the Clown Doll from “Another Way.” The most telling fear is when Princess Bubblegum hangs out with the Lich but refuses to explain why to Finn, instead saying, “You wouldn’t understand… you’re too young.” As Finn begins to explore his more emotional fears, he has a stronger effect on King Worm, ultimately scaring himself until the worm wrinkles up like a raisin. It’s a sudden end to an episode of random quick turns, and the story ends up feeling insignificant in the end, as most dream stories do.

Stray observations:

  • This is the first time I’ve taken note of Finn’s nickname for Peppermint Butler, and I will now be referring to him as “Pep But” in these reviews because it’s hilarious.
  • Who wouldn’t want to get caught in a storm of little Lumpy Space Princesses?
  • So how many kids are going to have nightmares because of that melting Jake sequence? That’s pretty disturbing.
  • “Makeout dreams? Niiice.”
  • Finn: “Well, lets catch it with… some big ole legs!” Jake: “Well, that’s kind of boring for me ‘cause that’s my normal power, you know.” Finn: “Then you get…birds!”