Earlier this month, Rolling Stone shocked the Adventure Time community with a profile of Pendleton Ward that revealed the series’ creator had stepped down from his position as show-runner in the middle of season five and has been working on the show solely as a writer and storyboard artist since then. The fact that the show didn’t experience any sort of dip following Ward’s self-mandated demotion is a testament to the strength of the infrastructure built by Ward and his esteemed team of collaborators, and Adventure Time is stronger than it’s ever been in its sixth season. Because this news came out while the series was on hiatus, I didn’t get the chance to say something:
Thank you, Pen.
Serving as creator and show-runner on this series as it grew from a passion project to an international phenomenon has taken its toll on Ward, but he’s given the world something truly unique and utterly engaging in the process. I’ve greatly missed Adventure Time over the last two-and-a-half months, because it’s the only show that really makes me feel like a kid again when I watch it. And that’s saying something in a TV season that has a huge crop of shows about superheroes I loved growing up. Adventure Time is a show that radiates pure, youthful joy, but there’s a confidence and maturity in the craft that elevates it above the typical children’s TV fare.
“Ghost Fly” is Adventure Time at its simplest, a story about Finn, Jake, and BMO encountering an enemy within their own home and teaming up to take it out. That enemy is the titular insect spirit, whose physical form is exterminated when Jake hits it with a fly swatter after the bug takes a sip from his soup. The bug has unfinished business, and it’s not going to stop haunting the tree house until it gets its fill of soup.
Unfortunately, the soup remains in its pot, “alive” in that it is still fit for consumption, so the fly can’t drink it. The fly needs something to knock that pot over so that it can kill the soup by spilling it on the floor, rendering it “dead” and making it fit for spiritual consumption. To do that, it terrifies the residents of the tree house in hopes that the commotion will lead to the soup eventually finding its way out of the pot and onto the floor. The haunting begins with some amelodic ’30s jazz and a creepy clapping chimp toy, and builds to a point where Finn is possessed and forced to do his best Jeff Goldblum impression when he becomes a human/fly hybrid.
The character development this week comes courtesy of BMO, who has a secret murderous side that he hides behind his adorable shell. We’ve received peeks at BMO’s dark side in the past, but the writers go further than ever this week when they actually have BMO kill Jake, and BMO gets really excited about it. Using the skills he learned from a Karate Magazine, BMO stops Jake’s heart so that he can become a ghost and fight the fly in the spirit realm, ensuring the appearance of Jake’s ghost by leaving unfinished business in the form of a joke with an unrevealed punch line. (That’s a great way of undermining all this death stuff and keeping the tone light.)
After sacrificing many of the spirit residents of the “low-level dead world” to the raging, scythe-wielding fly, Jake eventually knocks over the pot of soup and ends all this trouble by giving the insect what he wants. The bug begins to ascend to a glorious new plane of existence before Jake crushes it again, and then Jake is pulled back to the land of the living by a relieved Finn and BMO. Except BMO isn’t quite as happy as he may sounds. We heard real excitement in BMO’s voice when he believed that he had killed Jake, and he doesn’t have the same pleasure in his voice when Jake comes back. You could say his tone is down right hesitant.
“Ghost Fly” isn’t a particularly substantial episode of Adventure Time. It doesn’t offer much in the way of character development and there are no ties to the larger stories of this season, but that also helps it stand alone as a special Halloween event rather than the return of the sixth season (which will hopefully be announced soon, please god). There’s nothing explicitly Halloween-y beyond the central ghost villain—and it’s not like Adventure Time hasn’t featured ghosts in the past—but with the hiatus and the holiday, “Ghost Fly” becomes a perfectly timed special event.
This could easily be an episode specially developed for Cartoon Network’s Halloween week, but it also wouldn’t feel out of place if it aired at any other point of this season. The show juggles so many genres that it’s done horror plenty of times, and the limited focus on Finn, Jake, and BMO makes it a throwback to a time when the series had a smaller scope. If you’re someone that hasn’t watched Adventure Time in the past, “Ghost Fly” is a great entry point, and for longtime fans, it’s a reminder of the things that made us fall in love with the show in the first place: the interactions between a human boy, his magical dog, and their living video game console.
- During the hiatus, I received a copy of Abrams Books’ The Art Of Ooo, a stunning hardcover coffee table book that dives very deep into the production of this show. It’s an incredible resource for fans that is immaculately designed and thoroughly researched, and it features an introduction by Guillermo Del Toro to make it a little more high-brow than the usual coffee table book about a Cartoon Network show.
- I hope everyone has been watching Steven Universe while Adventure Time has been on hiatus, because these last few months of episodes have done some great work developing the character dynamics while expanding the mythology of this show. I’m eagerly awaiting some Crystal Gems in space action. Also: that show is beautiful.
- I love the profile shot of Jake screaming when he sees fly-Jake. It has a very old-school, Rocky & Bullwinkle-style line that you don’t see much of in today’s cartoons.
- How to stop a man’s heart with karate: 1. Focus Chi. 2. Stop a man’s heart.
- Great Peppermint Butler cameo this week, particularly his high-altitude leap from the treehouse window.
- What do you call a bear that only attacks guys named Paul?” Does anyone know?
- “I’m sorry you were born a fly and I had to kill you. You disgusting, disgusting creature.”
- “How’d you do it, Rusty? How’d you shake them otters?”
- “I killed Jake! Yay, BMO!”
- “Is this some kind of low-level dead world? That’s a bummer.”
- “Shouldn’ta tried to kill me, son!”