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

Adventure Time: “Wake Up”/“Escape From The Citadel”

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(Warning: BIG spoilers ahead.)

Cartoon Network deserves some major kudos for this promo, which stands out in the world of aggressively obnoxious children’s TV advertising by taking a more melancholy approach to selling Adventure Time’s sixth season premiere. This is a commercial that is specifically targeted at adults thanks to the music choice, as kids likely won’t pick up on the significance of using Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s In The Cradle” to promote the first meeting of Finn and his birth father. The song foreshadows the dynamic between Finn and Martin when the two finally meet in the second episode of tonight’s double-header, and of all the commercials for this premiere, this one does the best job reflecting the mood of the story its advertising. (My favorite moment in the promo is when Jake asks Clockface for the time, which coincides with the lyric: “When you comin’ home, daddy, don’t know when.”)

This show moves at a rapid pace, but I wasn’t expecting a father-son reunion to happen immediately after the reveal that Finn’s birth father is alive. Bringing Finn and Martin together is a brilliant way of starting the sixth season with a bang, and the developments of these two episodes dramatically alter the series’ status quo to give this season an added boost of momentum from the very beginning. Every so often, there comes a moment when Finn is forced to mature in order to deal with a new obstacle in his life—most recently, he’s had to reevaluate his expectations for romance after ruining his relationship with Flame Princess—and he does some major growing up once he discovers what his father is really like.

Before that reunion can occur, Finn and Jake need to make their way to The Citadel, and luckily they have an extremely powerful wish-master to help them. Kumail Nanjiani’s delightfully low-key Prismo returns in “Wake Up” to help Finn and Jake find their way to the prison planet where the universe’s most notorious criminals are encased in pink blocks of ice, guiding them through the steps of committing a cosmic crime that will gain them entry to The Citadel. Nanjiani’s soft, smooth voice is perfect for a character that is so laid back he’s completely flat, and his casual delivery of ominous lines helps keep the tone light as the material gets heavier.

The stakes are higher than ever in these two episodes, so the writers balance all that drama by making the comedy sharper. Prismo’s explanation of The Lich’s role as a universal agent of death is paired with goofy cutaways to Grob Gob Glob Grod taking selfies on The Lich’s catatonic body, and emphasizing humor during the scenes in Prismo’s time room makes the end of “Wake Up” hit harder when that comfortable atmosphere falls into chaos. Other great comic moments in Prismo’s time room include the aforementioned bit with Clockface, which cleverly uses the novelty character’s appearance for a quick joke, and the exit of the Cosmic Owl, who hastily packs up his Card Wars set when he hears Jake going over cosmic crimes that would get them into The Citadel. (He’s not going to wait for Jake to consider killing a cosmic owl.)

With each new season, Adventure Time delves deeper into its characters to show new sides of their personalities and prevent them from becoming stale or one-note. Meeting his birth father is a situation that Finn can’t deal with by swinging his sword at a bad guy, and he’s unsure of how to move forward after learning about his father’s existence. He wonders if his father didn’t raise him for a reason, creating fantasy scenarios that would require his dad to abandon him in the forest; maybe his father was captured by thieves and forced to work as their slave? When he finds out that The Citadel is a prison, the optimistic Finn assumes that his father is the warden, and Finn’s reluctance to draw negative conclusions about his absent parent sets him up for major disappointment when he finally meets Martin.


A recurring theme of Adventure Time is children having considerably stronger moral characters than their parents, and Finn joins Marceline and Flame Princess as the latest person to discover how despicable his father is. Jake convinces Finn that it’s worth finding his dad so that he can discover if he has any genetic risk factors or allergies, and he’ll also get the chance to see what he’ll look like as an old dude. “I guess it would be O.K. to meet him,” Finn responds. “Just to know what I’ll look like.” But like his female companions, seeing his father in action gives Finn an example of what he doesn’t want to become when he grows up.

In order to gain access to The Citadel, Finn and Jake are asked to retrieve a sleeping old man and bring him to Prismo. It turns out that Prismo is actually this old man’s dream given form, and by waking the man up, Finn and Jake commit a cosmic crime by ending the life of a wish-master. As Prismo prepares to give up his existence, he surveys his time room and ponders what could possibly go wrong, a question that is immediately answered by The Lich waking up, shaking Prismo’s human form, and jacking Finn and Jake’s entrance to The Citadel. (Peppermint Butler and Death should not have been allowed to take selfies on The Lich.)


Every Adventure Time fan needs to read Maria Bustillos’ hugely entertaining and incredibly thorough profile of the show’s creative team, offering an in-depth look at the philosophy, personality, and process of the show’s writers, animators, and producers. The piece delves into the complexities of the story and the show’s value as a piece of visually captivating art, revealing the benefits of Cartoon Network’s current approach to program development, which cultivates new works from bold young voices that are given freedom to experiment with the form. These two episodes are a celebration of the world Pendleton Ward and his team created over the last five seasons, featuring a wide array of characters and addressing themes that are a fundamental part of the show’s DNA.  

While “Wake Up” is a riveting start to this story, everything is amplified in “Escape From The Citadel,” an episode that is philosophically dense, emotionally resonant, and completely gorgeous. The scope of the plot is just huge, offering a deeply personal narrative in Finn and Martin’s meeting while establishing huge stakes for the future of this series when The Lich frees The Citadel’s prisoners and unleashes ancient evil on the universe. Much of Adventure Time’s appeal stems from that delicate balance of relatable emotional storytelling with spectacular fantasy action and character-based comedy, and all three of those elements are turned way up in “Escape From The Citadel” to make it one of this series’ most exhilarating chapters.


This show has an impressive record when it comes to guest voices, and Stephen Root does exceptional work as Martin, playing a pitiful deadbeat dad who has no qualms about abandoning his family at the first opportunity he gets. He’s a character that is only interested in helping himself, and he doesn’t shift his priorities one bit when he meets his son.

Martin: Now where’d you guys park your Skyskipper? This place is coming down quick, and I’m talking quick, like zip zip, like wow, like boom boom wow.

Finn: Oh, we—we don’t have a Starskipper.

Jake: Also: Finn’s your son.

Martin: What?! No Starskipper!?

Jake: (Coughs loudly.) I said: ‘Finn’s your son.’ He came a long way to meet you.

Martin: Oh. Son. Hey, good for you, kid. In others news, I still gotta get out of here, and the ground is melting.


Martin is the kind of person that should never have kids, an immensely selfish individual who can’t understand how his actions impact those around him. He doesn’t care about how his reactions will affect Finn, he just cares about getting out of this situation as quickly as possible. When one of The Citadel’s Guardians vaporizes the flesh on Martin’s leg, he briefly shows some paternal affection to Finn so that his son will grab some Guardian blood and heal his leg with that “good nooch,” but once he’s healed, he immediately tries to get far away from his son.

In one of the episode’s most tragicomic moments, Finn asks his father why he was abandoned in the forest, and Martin replies: “Oh. I mean. Heh. You know me. I’m a funny guy!” With that last line, the music switches into a goofy melody that offers a discordant twist on a more retro cartoon sound, which helps reflect Martin’s immense immaturity. Wearing a one-piece swimsuit with giant cone shoulder pads, Martin looks completely ridiculous, and his appearance is just one of the indicators that the space convict does whatever the hell he wants. Martin is a cautionary tale to Finn, showing him what he would have become without the strong moral foundation imparted on him by his adopted parents. But because Finn is young, he carries a shred of hope that he can change his father’s ways, and that idealism ends up costing Finn a valuable piece of himself.


“Escape From The Citadel” addresses some seriously intense subject matter, from parental abandonment to the universe’s inevitable descent into utter darkness and despair. After freeing all of The Citadel’s prisoners, The Lich comes after Finn in a chilling sequence that explores the darker themes of this series, specifically the idea that death and destruction are always lingering on the horizon, waiting for the right time to envelop the world.

“You are alone, child. There is only darkness for you, and only death for your people. These ancients are just the beginning. I will command a great and terrible army, and we will sail to a billion worlds. We will sail until every light has been extinguished. You are strong, child, but I am beyond strength. I am the end, and I have come for you, Finn.” 


It’s a haunting speech that is even creepier thanks to Ron Perlman’s gravely voice for The Lich and the evocative staging by writers/storyboard artists Tom Herpich and Steve Wolfhard, and they achieve a fascinating combination of terror and hope when Finn touches The Lich with Guardian blood and starts a grotesquely stunning transformation that strips the villain of his power by making him a giant baby.

While Finn is dealing with The Lich, Martin is trying to flee The Citadel with a group of ancient space villains, and no matter how hard Finn tries, there’s no way for him to keep his father from running away. Finn is literally holding his father back with all his might, and in his effort to stay connected to his only biological relative, Finn discovers a new level of power. As he tries to hold down the disconnected spore his father is riding, Finn’s leaf arm explodes in a visual reminiscent of Akira’s Tetsuo, revealing that the Leaf Sword is good for more than just a sharp blade.


Unfortunately, Finn’s plant arm can’t withstand the might of a black hole, and in one of the biggest moments of Finn’s life, his right arm snaps off at the elbow. Yes, Finn finally loses his arm in this episode, and when some Guardian blood hits the stub, it spawns a flower instead of new flesh and bone. It’s unclear if this means Finn still has the abilities of his Leaf Sword, but no matter what, Finn’s life isn’t going to be the same after this.

This episode is full of harsh realizations for Finn; his birth father isn’t the hero he hoped he would be, and his body isn’t as invincible as he previously believed. This may feel like a major loss, but at least Finn can take comfort in knowing that the threat of The Lich has been taken care of. The episode ends with Tree Trunks and Mr. Pig discovering a giant one-horned baby in a basket on their doorstep, and when Tree Trunks exclaims, “This changes everything!” it doesn’t feel like an exaggeration. This premiere does astounding work setting up a new landscape for Adventure Time’s sixth season, proving that this show isn’t afraid to take risks as it expands its scope to create a more experimental, complex cartoon.


Stray observations:

  • Tonight’s episodes make excellent use of Shelby, who scores major points with his GF by wishing for Prismo to give her a pony. He’s also the only person show a significant emotional reaction when Finn loses his arm, shedding the tears that Finn and Jake won’t let themselves cry.
  • Finn and Jake jumping across asteroids making “pew!” sound effects with their light pens is the perfect way of capturing their juvenile spirit. 
  • Finn and Jake’s reactions to Martin getting his leg vaporized is such a great way of showing how these characters react to a situation where their lives are legitimately at risk.
  • I love the bacon and apple motif of the Tree Trunks/Mr. Pig household.
  • This weekend at Wondercon, Cartoon Network released a clip from an upcoming episode written, storyboarded, and directed by anime visionary Masaaki Yuasa, who was given complete creative freedom. Watch it below and delight in the utter insanity.
  • “Denise, we have concluded you are an interesting and conventionally hot woman.”
  • “I’m so scared right now.”
  • “Aw yeah! Mo’ playaaaas!” M. Everett Walsh is so funny as the Cosmic Owl.
  • Cosmic Owl: “You guys want to play some Card Wars?” Jake: “No.”
  • “Man, I’ve gotten a lot hairier. But also…balder? Tell me how that makes any sense. I look like a big ole hairy raisin.”
  • “Huh. I thought I’d have more stuff by now.”
  • Finn: “Do you think maybe he’s criminal, too?” Jake: “Well, it had crossed my mind.”
  • “Do me a favor and get me out of here, huh? This fire smells crazy!”
  • Jake: “Just promise me: if both my eyes get fried off, you’ll fry yours off too.”
  • Finn: “What? No.”
  • “Rub some of that sap on my leg there. Make sure to get it into the chicken wing hole.”
  • “Couldn’t fix the boot, too, huh?”
  • “Gotta run to the store!”
  • “Over here, fellas! Next stop: Candy Kingdom. Previous stop: This weird place.”