What time is it? It’s Adventure Time once again as the Land of Ooo and its colorful characters return for Season 8. Wait, no, that’s how it was supposed to be. Thanks to some good old network meddling the structure of the show is retroactively different now, so these five new episodes are actually episodes 10 to 14 of Season 9. That’s right, AT is already in its ninth season in the new order, where Season 8 began with “Broke His Crown” and ended with the “Islands” miniseries.
But fear not! This doesn’t mean much in terms of how many episodes we have left until the end, and as it is right now there is no coherent planning to how the episodes are being released anyway. My guess is that that the last two episodes of this bunch were meant to be part of a season finale, but what does Cartoon Network care about that. Anyhow, Finn, Jake, and company are back for five new adventures, so let’s take a look.
Right at the end of the “Elements” miniseries LSP transformed everyone back to their purest forms, and for Jake that meant becoming like the shape-shifter that impregnated Joshua, his dad. Finn promised him they would find a way to fix it, and so the very first episode following “Skyhooks II” deals with Jake’s transformation.
Everyone around him is reluctant to accept his new look. BMO is terrified of him; Finn keeps hinting at the fact that something is wrong and needs to be changed; Rootbeer Guy doesn’t even realize it’s Jake he’s talking to. Even Lady Rainicorn, who is otherwise accepting of his new form is trying to change his skin color back to the good old yellow to make Jake feel better. Jake himself is in denial, insisting that he’s the same inside. But when he meets Jermaine in a disturbing dream and realizes that his other brother has changed since they last met, he decides to meet him in person.
Jake goes to see his brother, hoping that he’ll see the same Jermaine he was used to, only to find what he had seen in his dream. Jermaine doesn’t hate abstract art anymore, in fact that’s all he’s doing nowadays. Jake struggles to understand this seemingly sudden change. Jermaine helps him see that they’ve both changed. In fact, they are constantly changing, which is just a part of life that needs to be accepted and not denied. Jake transforms back into his old self once he realizes that even though he is still the same old Jake, he himself has changed and can’t avoid coming to terms with that any longer.
“Abstract” does an excellent job of highlighting just how well Adventure Time can handle deeply personal stories and teach lessons in a way that’s not forced or in your face. True, Jake’s speech was less subtle than the show usually is but the episode still carries great sincerity and treats its characters with respect. It was about time we got a Jake centric episode that focused on him as his own person, not just as a brother or father. Adventure Time is primarily about Finn growing up, but Jake needs to grow up as well. He goes through a lot changes along with his brother. As beautiful as it is to see them embark on self-discovery missions together, it was nice that this time it was Jermaine who helped Jake instead of Finn.
I’m somewhat disappointed that Jake returned to his dog form by the end for multiple reasons. I was hoping that he might remain blue and five-eyed for the rest of the series. It would have been a considerably riskier move but ultimately something that I think would have made sense. “Elements” focused quite a lot on fixing things and whether there’s a need to fix them. It all ended with Finn promising Jake to fix this very situation, but because of what happened during the miniseries it was arguable whether Jake needs fixing at all.
Immediately on the heels of that we get this episode, which is focused on change and coming to terms with the people we are becoming. Yet the ultimate conclusion is that Jake goes back to his old self as if nothing had happened. I can’t help but feel dissatisfied, and that it somehow undermines the message of the previous arc.
Jake does say he’s “different yet the same” at the end and the real point is that he went through great development thanks to this experiment. But I still believe that he could have kept the blue shape-shifter form. The fact that he goes back to his old self is especially underwhelming considering how short his other look lasted. He wasn’t blue for one whole episode, as “Abstract” comes right after “Elements”.
Considering that AT has been more than willing so far to stretch out storylines, waiting years before picking up an abandoned character or plot point, this decision feels out of place. It might be because the show doesn’t have many episode left or because everyone was eager to get back to the old, well-known character design (and don’t forget the marketing department). Whatever the reason might be, it doesn’t undermine how sincere and touching “Abstract” was, but I do feel like I was cheated out of an even bigger and more heart-warming conclusion. I sure do hope we’ll see more moments like this from Jake, otherwise the choice to transform him back will feel like an attempt to avoid the consequences of a brave and bold decision.
In the second new episode, BMO shows up at Marceline’s house to help her with the vampires. Poor little robot doesn’t know that half a year has passed since the events of “Stakes” happened, so instead Marcy asks them to recover data from an old USB drive while they catch up with what’s been going on with each other. BMO tells the story of “Islands” in their own interpretation that includes a Regular Show reference and Ted, a cat with legs on his back. Marceline follows with a puppet show about “Lollipop Girl” and “Rock Star Girl”, two best friends who were torn apart when the potato headed “Blue Tranch” came into town and cursed everyone.
As Marcy’s sad story gets a not very believable ending, the data recovery finishes. BMO shows Marcy that the USB had pictures of her and her mom on it from before the Mushroom War. Instead of telling BMO the real story behind the pictures, Marceline asks them to make one up. BMO tells the tale of the Moon Lady and how she didn’t get to spend enough time with her best friend, a little girl.
“Ketchup” is by far my favourite episode of this new bunch, and that’s not only because of my blatant bias when it comes to Marceline. Sure, that’s part of it, but “Ketchup” managed to top everything else by being just as good at character exploration as “Abstract” while lacking its questionable conclusion. On top of that, it’s the perfect way to bring all three miniseries together in an episode as well as introduce guest animators to a canon story.
“Ketchup” is stunning on so many levels and the visuals is only one part of it. BMO’s first story has “emotional truth” to it and a childlike, soft tone with random characters and occurrences. It lacks substance (and Susan) but gives us an insight into how BMO processes the world around them as a robot built to play with children and help them grow. BMO’s playfulness prevails over the deeply disturbing stuff that actually happened to the adventurers during the “Islands” miniseries.
The second story is the longest and most important, as it tells us what happened right before the “Elements” miniseries took place. In her own way, Marcy tells the story of how Patience made Bubblegum embrace her elemental self and lead the whole of Ooo into being a four-way pizza. Did she really resist the spell at first? Did she really confront Patience about turning Bonnie and everyone else back to normal? And did she really explode into stardust? We’ll only know the answer to one of those questions for sure.
BMO’s story had little to do with what actually happened in “Islands” so it only seems right to take what Marcy said with a grain of salt, even if it does sound more believable if you look past the obvious exaggerations and interpret it so it fits what could potentially have happened in Ooo. That’s what’s great about Marcy’s story. Those who want to see a prequel to “Elements” in it can, but those who don’t want to take it seriously are also right. Personally, I enjoy thinking about Marceline fighting off the spell for long enough to confront Patience and desperately trying to save Bonnie from becoming a candy monster, only to realize there’s no hope and slowly give in to becoming Marshmeline. But, you know, each to their own.
Another brilliant thing about Marcy’s story is that you could, if you want to, interpret it as not only the tale of what happened prior to “Elements,” but also what happened before Finn came along. Marceline’s wording is vague enough and the setting bizarre enough that you could choose to see it as her talking about the fallout that happened between her and PB. Sure, the “Elements” version is the more obvious choice, but I’d like to think that part of it was about how Marcy felt after she and Bonnie started growing apart stopped talking to each other. We might never find out what really happened so I’m grabbing what I can here. After all, the main point of the episode is Marceline coming to terms with her past, just like Jake came to terms with change.
Throughout the years we’ve seen the various coping mechanism the Vampire Queen has developed to keep herself safe after the thousand year long suffering that was her life. “Ketchup” finally sees Marceline come up with a healthier and more honest way to cope. Throughout the series Marcy has moved on from five of the most hurtful events of her life: she got closure after Ash stole Hambo from her; she confronted the Vampire King; she’s closer to Bonnie than ever before; Ice King is part of her life again; and she even talks to her real dad, occasionally. One of these days she might even accept that Ice King might never become Simon again. There is an episode titled “Marcy & Hunson” coming up so that relationship is also going somewhere.
The point is, at the end of “Stakes” Marceline said that she finally got to grow up. So far we didn’t get to see that, but “Ketchup” gives us a more mature and emotionally responsible vampire. She still processes what happened through a rather childish puppet show and makes up a random ending so she doesn’t have to deal with what really happened. Plus she asked BMO to make up a story about her mom so she didn’t have to talk about her. But all of what happened in “Ketchup” is still progress for Marceline.
Marceline’s way of telling her stories and coping was also significant because she partly did it for BMO. These two have been good friends in the comics for years now, but the comics aren’t the same level of canonicity as the show and these two haven’t been interacting much on screen. “Ketchup” changes that and presents us with an adorable friendship that’s as odd as it gets (I mean, really, a robot and a vampire) but is still sweet and surprisingly harmonic. Marcy enjoys BMO’s point of view and BMO encourages her to go for a more entertaining and less factual way of storytelling.
The height of their dynamic is BMO’s second story about Marceline and her mom. The robot’s innocence and fairy tale-like view is just what Marcy needs to embrace her feelings about her childhood in a way that doesn’t overwhelm her. From pairing these two together to the animation to the excellent tie-ins, “Ketchup” is truly the best of these recent episodes.
Fionna and Cake and Fionna
It’s back to the Land of Aaa in the newest genderbent episode, but not quite. When Ice King reads his new fanfiction about Fionna and Cake at the library the real Fionna shows up and tells him that he got it all wrong. She proves she’s right by showing a tape of her and Cake discovering a coffin, but she refuses to play all of it at once. Ice King gets her to play the whole tape after he invites her to stay with him in the Ice Kingdom. On the tape, it’s revealed that a mummy was in the coffin, and it turned out to be the Queen of Ooo.
Ice King realizes that just as the Queen was pretending to be a mummy, his guest is also a mummy in that she’s not the real Fionna. She turns out to be just an old lady who intercepted the signal of the Fionna and Cake story she had on tape and was looking for more. She pretended to be Fionna, hoping that Ice King would have more than his written stories. The episode ends when the fake Fionna realizes that she really was the mummy, the liar of this story and that she’s not worthy of the “real” Fionna. Ice King just goes to sleep, dreaming about the Fionna and Cake adventures beamed into his head.
The ultimate twist is this last part. Early on in the episode Ice King said he got his ideas thanks to this beam, “same as everybody else”, and at first it seems like yet another bizarre thing Ice King would say due to his insanity. The twist, as well as the signal the old lady intercepted suggest that there’s more to Fionna, Cake, and all the other residents of Aaa than being the in-universe genderbent fanfiction of IK.
Could it be that Fionna and the others really exist or existed in the past? Are their adventures a TV show from before the war? Could it be that Ice King’s creations are not actually his? “Fionna and Cake and Fionna” poses a lot of questions and answers none, opening up a new storyline for the show to resolve in its last season. Thanks to this episode, we can be almost certain that there are other genderbent episodes coming, in some shape or form.
But that’s just it, isn’t it? In some shape or form. Thing is, these genderbent episodes are the shadow of what they used to be. When “Fionna and Cake” first aired it exploded in the fandom, instantly becoming a fan-favorite that created a whole new world both within and outside of the series. Five minutes of research will tell you that the majority of Adventure Time fans really like the genderbent version and some even prefer to play with the idea of Aaa’s characters.
When “Bad Little Boy” came along after the long wait people were more excited about the world of Fionna and Cake than ever. Since then the quality of these episodes has been slacking. “The Prince Who Wanted Everything” wasn’t the continuation that many were hoping for, and “Five Short Tables” disappointed many as well, although personally I liked that one. Throughout “Fionna and Cake and Fionna”, though, I kept thinking that the genderbent episodes just aren’t what they used to be. Even looking at the title you’re able to tell that something is old news here.
Watching “Fionna and Cake and Fionna” I felt like we’ve had at least 10 genderbent episodes apart from this one when in reality it’s only been four. That’s how strong the feeling that there’s not much more to be done with this was. And that’s not even necessarily true, there are endless possibilities when it comes to the genderbent story, but it’s arguable whether there’s any that wouldn’t feel forced. Is there anything new Aaa can offer, apart from a parody of the series and a little playing around with character perspectives?
“Fionna and Cake and Fionna” feels like the episode that recognized this problem and tried to solve it by introducing a twist to the story, making you question whether there’s a lot more to Fionna and her world than you originally thought. The problem is, it didn’t invest me in this new mystery. I’m actually hoping that there’s not much to it because time is running out for Adventure Time, and I would much rather spend what’s left exploring Ooo than Aaa, Finn rather than Fionna. The genderbent episodes were fun but perhaps it’s time to put an end to them. I’ll wait and see where it’s going, of course. All I can say for now is that the episode itself was okay with a few memorable lines and Ice King as his pathetic yet loveable self, but it’s definitely the weakest out of the five.
The first part of what was intended to be a season finale, “Whispers” sees Finn and Fern find a very scared Sweet P who’s been having bad dreams about the Lich and being haunted by the Farmworld Lich’s hand. The hand is trying to awaken the Ooo version of the Lich in Sweet P. Finn goes after it into the subway station where he thought he defeated it the first time around. Before the Lich can throw him in his well of evil, Sweet P saves the day by resisting his darker self and stabbing the hand. Fern, who was supposed to look after Sweet P, feels like he’s messing everything up and can never be the better Finn unless he is the only Finn.
“Whispers” is the return of the Lich and ultimately the end of this King of Evil. How permanent that end is, who knows. Finn himself points out that no matter what the Lich just keeps on returning. Since in “Crossover” the hand was scattered throughout the multiverse and Sweet P only destroyed the one in Ooo, there’s a good chance that this wasn’t the very last we saw of AT’s ultimate antagonist. There’s also Sweet P himself, who seems to have overcome his previous, evil self, but with the majority of Season 9 remaining we might see more of that later on, too. If not, then this is the second cliffhanger of “Elements” that’s been resolved in these five episodes, next to Jake’s form. The third one would be Ice King’s crown and the fourth Betty’s new life on Mars.
I’ve always admired how the Lich is presented as a villain in Adventure Time because he’s always scary and never boring. With the number of times that he magically returned in some way or another and, as Finn once again pointed out, how blatantly evil he is, it’s a wonder that AT pulls this off is a feat. The show itself points out the problems an enemy like the Lich would have, how simple his goal is, how he lacks a good motivation, and how he just conveniently keeps on returning.
But they can do that and still get away with it because the Lich is still terrifying. You believe that his single-mindedness is what makes him a truly great enemy to Finn. The Lich is the one true antagonist of the series, so I doubt that we’ve seen the last of him or that the very end won’t feature him in some way.
Apart from Sweet P and the Lich, the episode focused on Fern and how he feels inadequate when compared to Finn. His initial jealousy takes a darker turn when he decides that he needs to be not only Finn to be loved and good at things, but the only Finn. This is the part of “Whispers” that’s the set-up for the next episode and what makes it a more or less two-parter. “Whispers” did a good job of portraying all the little things that made Fern come to such a drastic conclusion, although I feel an opportunity was missed here to have the Lich be more involved in Fern’s betrayal.
“Whispers” is a plot heavy episode that resolves one of the major storylines (at least for now), but its most important aspect is what it does for Fern’s character and the development of his storyline. In a way, it’s an underwhelming episode for a villain like the Lich, but as I said, I doubt that this is the end. Instead, we’re just postponing the eventual and ultimate end of the Lich and instead focusing more on Finn, Fern, and of course Sweet P. It suffers from being the build-up episode to something bigger in the following one and potentially something even bigger later on, but it does stand on its own as a solid episode with classic AT humour.
Following the events of the previous episode, Fern is practicing his Finn imitation while secretly planning on getting rid of the original. They go on a dungeon adventure together, and even on the journey towards the ziggurat it’s clear that Fern feels frustrated about being like Finn, but not quite as good. Finn is oblivious to it all and genuinely enjoys being close to his semi-doppelganger. Even when Ferns locks him inside a chamber he’s reluctant to accept the truth and admit that he’s been betrayed.
When he finally does, his new arm comes to his help. PB built in various functions, and he’s only just discovering them, just in time to escape and confront Fern about what he was planning on doing. The two fight and Finn accidentally commands his arm to kill Fern, leaving him traumatized once again. While Jake and BMO comfort him, a stranger collects what’s left of Fern in a bucket (the stranger might or might not be PB’s Uncle Gumbald).
Fern going full on evil twin is not where I expected the show to be going, but it was believable and done in a heartbreaking way. The episode’s greatest strength is how it shows Finn’s side of things throughout, from his love for Fern to his anger and finally his regret. “Three Buckets” even has him admit his abandonment issues, showing how much he’s grown. To truly crown it all, the episode traumatizes him yet again. At this point, I really appreciate the animation. AT’s style is quite simple and most of the time it’s the voice acting that really gives life to these characters. In this instance, it was the animation that conveyed just how shattered Finn is.
As for Fern, well, we know he’s not really dead and that he’ll come back. What he is right now, who knows. At various points, we see his eyes flash. It’s an indicator that it’s more the grass curse part of him in control than the Finn part, as the end of “Whispers” suggested with the puppet imagery. This is yet another storyline that keeps escalating and will have to end before long. I trust that AT is going to be able to pull that off, I just wonder if all this build up towards Fern’s character was worth it.
I already watched “Three Buckets” twice, and what I gained from the second time (apart from realizing what the title is referring to) is that this really is Finn’s episode. We’ll have to see where Fern is going and who or what he’ll be when we next see him. But ultimately, where this takes Finn is much more important and the reason why this episode worked for me. Adventure Time is excellent at putting its protagonist through hell, as much as I wish it would stop doing that.
That’s it for now, Season 8/9 of Adventure Time with five brand new episodes. Even the weakest of them, “Fionna and Cake and Fionna” was enjoyable and proposed interesting ideas. Apart from that, we had character explorations, character development, and closure on some stories plus the beginning of some new ones. Overall I’d say the show is keeping its quality up and everything is set for an amazing last season that’s hopefully going to be satisfying for most, if not all fans.