Image: Cartoon Network

I have no idea what the logic is behind putting four new episodes of Adventure Time on a Sunday night (and Emmy Sunday, no less), but Cartoon Network’s scheduling is so all over the place that I’ve long given up on trying to discover a method to the madness. Rather than doing four separate reviews, I’ve decided to explore how these episodes function as a single session of television and what they showcase about the series. Lumping the episodes together in one evening suggests that they are united by a common thread, and that thread is Uncle Gumbald, the evil mastermind who has manipulating events from behind the scenes. By the end of the night, we know Gumbald’s origin story and the role he played in the development of both Princess Bubblegum and the Candy Kingdom, and the first two episodes give glimpses of his villainy as he attacks his enemies with different mad scientist creations.

The evening begins on a heavy note with “The Wild Hunt,” which delves into Finn’s trauma after wiping out his evil doppelganger, Fern, in “Three Buckets.” In “The Wild Hunt,” Finn is racked with guilt after killing Fern, and he finds himself unable to deliver final blows in battle because he keeps seeing Fern’s face, begging to live. This prevents Finn from fulfilling his duties as a protector of Ooo and specifically the Candy Kingdom, which is currently being terrorized by a giant banana-fudge-sloth monster named Grumbo with a hunger for banana guards. Teaming up with Huntress Wizard, Finn embarks on a quest to take down the Grumbo, but he needs to come to terms with Fern’s death before he can actually play the hero.

With “The Wild Hunt” and “Son Of Rap Bear,” we have personal stories about characters having to sort through their emotional baggage in order to overcome mental blocks. Huntress Wizard doesn’t know Finn and Fern’s whole story, but she does have a solid handle on the situation. She realizes that Fern was headed down a dark road, becoming a dark mirror of Finn that needed to be taken care of in order for Finn to become a better version of himself. This isn’t enough to convince Finn to take action, though, and she can only reawaken Finn’s killer instinct by putting her life on the line, throwing herself at the Grumbo because she knows Finn will pull through and save her. And she’s right. Put in a position where he doesn’t have the time to envision Fern’s face before striking, Finn rushes to the rescue and slays the Grumbo. He needed something to jolt him out of his funk, and Huntress Wizard’s help comes at the perfect time because Uncle Gumbald has many more monsters to throw Finn’s way.

Image: Cartoon Network

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Lives aren’t on the line in “Son Of Rap Bear,” but Flame Princess could lose her kingdom if she doesn’t overcome her feelings of resentment toward her father. After spitting mad heat at a clam rap, Flame Princess is entered in a rap battle against Son Of Rap Bear, who has absolutely no regard for his father’s well being. Flame Princess is in the opposite position, and she really cares about her dad despite him giving her absolutely no reason. Flame King is one of Adventure Time’s many awful fathers, and when his daughter approaches him to repair their bond, he completely ignores her efforts.

Flame Princess thinks you need a lot of life experience to be a great artist, but she quickly learns that a messed up family situation can be just as helpful. She bumbles through the first round of the rap battle until she sees her father in the audience, and while it’s his support that gives her the motivation to beat Son Of Rap Bear, I also think Flame Princess’ deep-seated rage toward her father is what gives her rhymes extra power. Unlike her opponent, Flame Princess loves her father even though he’s always finding new ways to frustrate her, and that inner tension is where art thrives. With “Son Of Rap Bear,” we see how Adventure Time has expanded beyond its main cast and created complex relationship dynamics for the supporting characters that are given room to change over time. Flame Princess has grown so much since she first appeared on the show, and her drama with her father is a major catalyst for her continuing evolution.

I was hoping for more of a Glengarry Glen Ross pastiche when I saw the title for “Always BMO Closing,” but instead the episode takes a more general look at BMO as a salesman, partnering with Ice King to sell junk to the citizens of Ooo. It’s the lightest of these four episodes, but also the slightest. There’s some fun slapstick comedy in Ice King being forced to navigate environments from inside a giant coat that has zero visibility and it’s always a treat to see BMO try on a new identity in his constant quest for self-discovery, but there’s not very much substance to this story. The other three episodes have some sort of deeper emotional conflict to enrich the overall silliness, but this chapter doesn’t aim for any profound message as it details BMO and Ice King’s sales high jinks.

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Image: Cartoon Network

“Always BMO Closing” uses BMO and Ice King’s partnership to advance the Gumbald plot when the salesmen get lost and find themselves at Gumbald’s secret hideaway, where they make their biggest sale by unloading a bag of Finn’s baby teeth. Those baby teeth are turned into raging baby Finns that Gumbald sends to the treehouse to attack the heroes, and while they are all destroyed with sledgehammers, the baby Finns have Gumbald taking his fight directly to Finn and Jake’s home. Gumbald is becoming more bold, and in “Bonnibel Bubblegum,” we discover why PB’s uncle is so fixated on messing with the sweet candy world she’s built.

Gumbald might be called “uncle,” but he’s actually one of PB’s early candy creations, part of a trio of gumball people she brought to life 800 years ago so that she and Neddy could have a bigger family. The opening scenes of the “Bonnibel Bubblegum” flashback highlight the post-apocalyptic wasteland that was Ooo in the years following the Great Mushroom War, and seeing a family photo in an abandoned home tugs on PB’s heart strings and makes her long for more substantial companionship. As much as she loves Neddy, he’s not an especially engaging partner, and she wants family members that can help her rebuild the world and hold an actual conversation. But instead she ends up creating a monster.

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Gumbald is a greedy opportunist, and while he also has ideas for expansion, he’s far more interested in personal gain rather than improving the entire world. He quickly starts thinking of their family as a lifestyle brand, and his plans for a new community are built around ways of making him wealthy. PB isn’t interested in this at all, and she eventually realizes that her efforts to create a family for herself have severely backfired. At first, she thinks she can have a new family by assigning roles like uncle, aunt, and cousin to new beings, but without an affectionate foundation, these roles end up creating a power structure that works against PB.

Image: Cartoon Network

Gumbald assumes he knows best because he’s the uncle, but PB understands that he’s just another experiment that has gone out of control. Gumbald poisons his wife and son and transforms them into his first candy employees, but before he can complete his evil plan, he’s doused in the poison and transformed into a giant bowl of punch. This ends up sending PB down a new life path, and rather than creating a family, she decides to create a kingdom that she can watch over as the reigning princess. She can’t risk another Gumbald, so she makes sure that her new creations understand that they are subservient, which, as we’ve seen in past episodes, introduces all sorts of other problems with the politics of the Candy Kingdom.

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With “Bonnibel Bubblegum,” Adventure Time is in full-on mythology mode, taking advantage of this world and its characters’ centuries of history to explore loneliness, the need for companionship, and asserting authority when it’s challenged. This story has the biggest scale of the four episodes, and having all these chapters in the same evening shows just how wide the scope of this series has become over time.

Stray observations

  • The rapping in “Son Of Rap Bear” is delightful, but my favorite musical moment in these episodes is the brief scene at the start of “Alway BMO Closing” with Finn and Jake making an impromptu song from slurping coffee and crunching cereal. It’s a very pure Adventure Time moment.
  • There’s some very slick animation for the Grumbo sequences, especially that final sequence when Finn finally takes it out. The animators have fun playing with the monster’s proportions to create some cool movement.
  • During Flame Princess’ life experience montage, she takes an underwater voyage and sees what appear to be pizza-based manta rays. I would like to see more of this underwater pizza ecosystem.
  • It turns out Crunchy and Manfried are actually PB’s cousin and aunt after they were transformed. That’s a fun little retcon.
  • “Death is no laughing—(slips on banana peel).” I have a soft spot for physical comedy being used to undercut dramatic moments, and this is a really great example.
  • “Can’t believe I unloaded that branch. It wasn’t even our best one”
  • “Mysterious sentinel, you have a lovely home.”
  • “These baby smashing hammers are great!”
  • “The Iceman leaveth.” Who’d have thought an episode of Adventure Time would reference both David Mamet and Eugene O’Neill?
  • “I thought I was the Glob of rap, rivaled by none. But I’m more like bubble wrap ‘cuz she smashed me for fun.”
  • “You brought a peashooter to a technoharpoon fight?”

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