Gunther does not like Princess Bubblegum. Back in season four’s “Reign Of Gunthers,” Gunther used one of Ice King’s magical objects to create an army of penguins and attacked the Candy Kingdom, an angry overreaction to Ice King’s overreaction when Gunther touched a hairbrush that was reserved for PB. Gunther’s resentment for PB hasn’t gotten much attention since then, but it’s the major driving force behind Gunther’s actions in “Hoots,” which sees the penguin forming a dream-relationship with the Cosmic Owl in order to sabotage PB’s future.
“Hoots” is an episode about what people do for love: Cosmic Owl shirks his responsibilities as a prophet to gain Gunther’s favor, and Gunther manipulates a naïve, lonely man to put events in motion that could bring Ice King closer to her. The majority of the story focuses on Cosmic Owl, continuing this show’s expansion into the lives of less prominent supporting characters, and writers/storyboard artists Kent Osborne and Andy Ristiano have a lot of fun interpreting his sad domestic life in a cosmic landscape.
The episode opens with Cosmic Owl flying home to a motel in the stars, where he eats “Instant Oats and Mice” heated on a spiral galaxy hotplate and spends his nights playing board games by himself when he’s not making people’s dreams come true with his presence. He’s not thrilled by the routine of his life, but he finds something to be passionate about when he sees a pretty ladybird with prominent butt feathers and instantly falls in love. He becomes infatuated with the mysterious woman, and eventually tracks her down and brings her to his home, unaware that she plans on using him for his supernatural abilities.
When the show has a skilled performer like M. Emmet Walsh playing Cosmic Owl, it makes total sense to give him an episode that spotlights his ample talent. A lot of this episode is about grounding the experience of a character that has “cosmic” in his name, and Walsh does great work finding the emotional honesty in a story about a space owl prophet falling in love with a homicidal penguin. Initially, Walsh’s voice radiates melancholy, which is quickly replaced by dreamy affection when he sees Gunther. Cosmic Owl is a full for love, and that brings out a bumbling sweetness in Walsh’s performance that makes it easy to believe that Cosmic Owl could be manipulated. He would do anything for someone that makes him feel this way, and he takes Gunther into PB’s dream even though he recognizes that he’s probably being used.
The dream version of Gunther is a more humanoid ladybird than her physical self, likely influenced by the humanoid appearance of the women that grab Ice King’s attention. Dream Gunther also has a soft voice and wide vocabulary, essentially making her everything that physical Gunther is not. In dreams, Gunther can be the type of person that Ice King would love, but when she wakes up, she’s a squat little bird that can only make honking sounds. She can’t change that (at least not yet), but Gunther can try to take out the competition, which is why she takes advantage of Cosmic Owl to enter PB’s dream.
The Cosmic Owl’s presence makes dreams come true, so when Gunther melts the citizens of the Candy Kingdom and knocks PB to her death, it spells potential doom for the future of PB and her domain. Cosmic Owl understands the repurcussions of Gunther’s meddling and immediately expels her from the dream, but the damage has already been done, both in terms of PB’s future and the relationship between Gunther and Cosmic Owl. Gunther wakes up in her crib and is given a bottle to soothe her bad dream, and feels a moment of serenity when she looks outside and sees a shooting star. She could have had happiness if she gave up on her obsession and embraced Cosmic Owl’s love, but this isn’t just about love anymore. Gunther wants to make PB suffer, and the episode ends with Gunther breaking from that serenity to throw her bottle out the window because she needs some way to release all this pent-up anger and aggression.
As Jake likes to repeat, it’s important to take note of when the Cosmic Owl appears, and his presence in different dreams this week suggests some interesting things for the future of the show. There’s PB’s dream, which suggests bad things for the Candy Kingdom, but there’s also Finn’s dream, which has the show’s hero caught between Martin and Sweet P. Could this season be building to a team-up of the show’s biggest villains? Why does it look like they are all getting along? Could this mean that Finn will be swayed to the dark side? Osborne and Ristiano poke fun at Adventure Time fans and critics that ask these questions by having Finn ask Cosmic Owl about the specifics of this prophetic dream and whether or not this is a literal or symbolic representation of the future. What does it all mean? The viewer, like Finn and PB, will have to wait to find out.
- “Hoots” features a subplot where Jake has made a bet with Shelby that involves Shelby diving into Finn’s stomach while he’s sleeping to retrieve Jake’s class ring. It doesn’t get much attention, but the image on the title card gives us a peek at Shelby’s experience in Finn’s body.
- I love the added owl “who!” sound effect whenever Cosmic Owl says “who” or makes a prominent “oo” sound.
- Prismo has a new lady friend, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we learned more about that relationship down the line. A Prismo spotlight means more work from the delightful Kumail Nanjiani, so I’m all for it.
- Board games in Cosmic Owl’s motel room: Ultimate Checkers, Solitaire Adventure, Baron vs. Baron vs. Baron, Fight! Or Fight!, One Man Party, Schadenfreude, Solo Musical Chairs, Miz Biz, Castle Kill-More, Spreadsheet Mania.
- “Butt feathers.’
- “You don’t got time to waste on my class ring, or bets with Shelby, or stomach-fishin’!”
- “You haven’t even asked me about my banjo lessons. They’re going great!”
- “Oh, is that a weenie?”
- “It’s O.K. to feel manipulated, right?”