Finn is armless. Princess Bubblegum is wearing her iconic pink dress. Finn’s lost another sword. We’re off to a familiar start to Adventure Time season 8.
“Two Swords” doesn’t pick up right where the last episode of season 7 left off, but only by a technicality. At Princess Bubblegum’s behest, Finn finishes the story of what happened on the beach with Susan and the mysterious grass creature. It becomes Grass Finn, the product of the Finn Sword and the grass-octopus-spider. Grass Finn has no idea he isn’t the real Finn Mertens, and is distraught when Finn and Jake chase him off.
Here, Adventure Time touches on one of the themes they do best — identity issues. Watching ‘Grass Finn’ struggle with his muddled memories, sense of self, new body, and rejection from his family is not easy. It’s also left ambiguous to what degree this Finn really is Finn: yes, he has all of Finn’s memories, and also (a copy of) his soul, now attached to a grass body. Yet there’s someone along for the ride… a grass spider that may or may not be an evil curse. It’s currently unclear how aware Grass Finn even is of its presence, and what control it has. It’s not even clear if ‘control’ is the right term, since at this point, they may be symbiotes, functionally the same being now. Still, there is something very ominous about its whistling, and whatever it’s planning probably won’t be fun for either of the Finns.
Do No Harm
Has Finn finally gotten the comeuppance on his father he deserves? Because Finn — our Finn, the “real” Finn — has come out on the other side of his altercation with his father, the comet, and the Universe a more grounded person. A Finn who put himself between his friend and the Vampire King because the latter had surrendered would not wantonly wail on his father.
But Grass Finn would.
Finn’s grass clone beats Grassy Wizard badly. Grassy Wizard, who happens to look, sound, and act a lot like Martin Mertens, down to the flippant attitude toward creating life. Even though he seems to regret going so far, as “Do No Harm” concludes, Grass Finn is not Finn. He is Fern the human, and he steals bikes.
Meanwhile, the other Finn grapples with feelings of guilt, and channels his heroic nature into a related pursuit: healing. Ultimately, he figures all his patients would have been better off without him, and that being a doctor’s not his calling (though, maybe it would go better if he got some actual schooling first). It’s a reminder to Finn that there are different ways to help people, and that he can’t take too much of the blame for the people who got hurt in the aftermath of Susan’s mind-controlled rampage.
Also: this episode is just really flippin’ funny. Jake’s continued awkwardness towards his not-brother. Fern casually cutting off a grasstroll’s riddle with “The answer was probably time, right?” Literally everything about Doctor Princess. (Who isn’t even a doctor, that’s just her first name. Is she even a princess???)
When Jake and Lady Rainicorn first had pups, it honestly seemed like a wasted plot point — something built up, but then explained away in the course of an episode for the sake of not impacting the show’s status quo. Thankfully, the writers have been doing more and more with Jake’s extended family, and it works wonderfully.
Kim Kil Whan is a well-respected forest real estate agent, and his squirrel and bunny employees seem to really enjoy working for him. I don’t blame them; the K.K.W. Enterprises Picnicathlon seemed like a great time. After their fairly lost three-legged race, KKW asks his father for help with his own parenting problems: Jake’s granddaughter Bronwyn’s grades are slipping badly and Kim Kil Whan is worried.
Jake snoops and finds out Bronwyn has been moonlighting as a thrashtastic skateboarder. She’s popular with her fellow Youths, who think Finn at 16 is “so old.” When Grandpa Jake shows up, at first, he joins in on the fun, shapeshifting himself some gear (I don’t think a helmet made of your flesh is very safe, Jake) and showing off his own skillz. But when he delivers Kim Kil Whan’s message that they’re both worried about Bronwyn’s “financial success,” she changes her opinion on Jake’s coolness.
And Jake can’t handle that. He needs to be cool. Especially in the eyes of people he cares about, like his supercool granddaughter. I mean, as her simple pocket decal hinted at, she can turn herself into lightning and teleport in that form. Shapeshifting into an old tree and an equestrian statue is cool, but it’s not turn yourself into lightning cool. Sidenote: Kim Kil Whan’s similar ability to teleport in and out of rainbow-light is also awesome. The combination of Dog-Shapechanger Alien-Rainicorn-Bear DNA is delightful to see play out in the freeform silliness that is Adventure Time.
It’s frustrating to see Jake behave so immaturely, to be so blinded by his own insecurities that he hurts his own granddaughter. He doesn’t really end up learning a lesson, but at least he does end up accidentally helping both Kim and Bronwyn to realize their own.
Literally the fourth ever episode of Adventure Time was “Tree Trunks,” which got its entire humor from taking the sweet, naive personality of a stereotypical grandmother, and then plopping it into the surreal strangeness of Ooo. This is the theme that has continued to be at the core of almost any Tree Trunks episode, but appropriately “High Strangeness” really cranks up the strangeness.
Tree Trunks, it turns out, is a mother. No, not just to Sweet Pea, the loving mortal reincarnation of the Lich, but also four alien hybrid children. She discovers that Princess Bubblegum’s fireworks display is actually a cover for probes being sent into space, and her alien offspring are put in the crossfire. Naturally Tree Trunks goes on a crusade to overthrow the tyrant Bubblegum, reveal the truth, and save her family, complete with glittery protest signs.
Except, of course, that Peebs wasn’t actually trying to murder the aliens. In fact, she wasn’t even aware they were there (and it’s always satisfying to see PB’s ego get taken down a notch). The rockets were simply part of her continuing attempts to secure immortality for herself/her people, by seeding candy colonies throughout the galaxy in case Ooo faces yet another apocalypse. It’s strange, uncomfortable, and also oddly sweet.
Also sweet is the kind of (mostly one-sided) partnership PB and Tree Trunks create, with TT’s alien partner agreeing to help the candy colonies find suitable homes. Unfortunately, this journey will take the aliens far away, and the pair will not see each other for many decades. Before the alien leaves, however, Tree Trunks gets to introduce them to Mr. Pig, a symbolism of the union between these two disparate worlds.
Also, this may possibly be one of the first canonically poly relationships in western animation, so. That’s a thing.
Horse and Ball
As far as Adventure Time episodes go, “Horse and Ball” certainly isn’t one of the most obviously weird. There’s no animation shifts. No difficult-to-decode symbolism. No otherworldly dream sequences. No surreal, existential lore.
Nonetheless, it is still very, very odd.
When James Baxter the horse — introduced in the episode “James Baxter the Horse” — has his rubber ball popped, he falls into heavy depression. BMO and Jake set off on a quest to find him a new one, while Finn tries to cheer his idol up. No amount of pampering or special food seems to do the trick, however, because it isn’t the physical trauma of the accident that’s affecting James. It’s not even the loss of the ball itself, but rather, what it represented: his ability to bring a smile to the faces of the residents of Ooo.
James Baxter the Horse is named after James Baxter the famous animator, who recently appeared at CalArts and mentioned he helped animate some of “Horse and Ball”! Perhaps, during the very unusual-slash-awesome dance scene?
Jelly Beans Have Power
In all seriousness, Adventure Time’s subversions of the ‘four elements’ set-up continues to be delightful. Slime Princess has become an instant expert in her power, gleefully tossing slime everywhere (and rubbing the ability in PB’s face). Princess Bubblegum is irked, not only because of the blatant boasting, but because it’s triggered something of an existential crisis. PB has always been a staunch scientist, not rejecting magic as fake, but rather viewing it as another expression of natural laws, and being frustrated by the mysticism and ceremony wizards built around it. Now she finds herself an actual embodiment of that mysticism. “I ignored crucial data about myself,” she says.
Ultimately, Princess Bubblegum discovers that the two parts of herself might not be as contradictory as she had assumed. She connects with a past embodiment of the Candy Elemental, who advises her to unlock her potential by “walking in her own shoes.” And while it is undeniably silly to watch a sugar man explain how candy is “one of the building blocks of life,” it is nevertheless epic when Bonnie applies real-world science about the chemical composition of candies to cause spontaneous soda explosions to protect her kingdom.
The biggest mystery this episode leaves us with is Patience St. Pym. Her motives remain a mystery. We know she wanted to survive the nuclear armageddon; we know she wanted to reach her full potential as an elemental. She seems obsessed with helping her other elementals reach that same goal — is it because she harbors delusions of companionship, or some darker endgame? Does she just have a big ol’ crush on Peebs? Regardless, she has researched them thoroughly, is comfortable manipulating them, and is more than prepared to harm innocent bystanders in the process. Factor in her continued relationship (?) with Ice King, and that very ominous lipstick mark she left on Princess Bubblegum’s portrait, she’s shaping up to be the villain of the series finale.
Next week we continue Adventure Time season 8 with Islands, the 8-part miniseries that will finally answer one of the series’ biggest mysteries: what happened to the humans?
Author: KK Bracken & Laura B
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