Adventure Time’s fifth season has had quite a few episodes spotlighting new characters, but “Rattleballs” stands out as a particularly exceptional debut, introducing Finn to a robotic gumball machine with a significant tie to Princess Bubblegum’s dark past. Featuring hilarious voice work from Rainn Wilson as Rattleballs, dynamic action sequences, and a story that expands on Ooo mythology, it’s an episode that delivers on multiple levels, but most importantly, it uses the new cast member to expand Finn and PB’s characters. In his role as sensei, Rattleballs teaches Finn how to direct his overflowing energy into something positive, and the gumball machine’s work ultimately brings him face-to-face with his creator, exposing more sins from PB’s past while giving her the opportunity to redeem herself in the present.
After last week’s episode, Finn has a new sword and a revitalized drive to protect and serve the Candy Kingdom, no matter whom he irritates in the process. PB has to suffer the brunt of this, but eventually, she catches on that she can demand Finn leave her alone by using the power of Princess’ Orders, so she sends him away to relax. He heads out to the junkyard, where he acts out little scenes of himself and PB using pieces of garbage, but the little plays nearly cost him his life when a piece of falling automotive debris almost crushes him. His life is saved by Rattleballs, who chops the car in half and immediately makes himself Finn’s new favorite person by showing some sweet sword moves. Finn wants to learn from this mysterious gumball machine, and despite an initial rejection, Rattleballs eventually buckles because Finn won’t leave otherwise.
Training is an integral part of the hero’s journey, and now that Finn has a fantastic new weapon, he needs to learn how to use it. Rattleballs’ teaching session takes the form of three lessons: learning how to block eggs, running through an obstacle course, and sitting on a mini BBQ full of hot coals. Once Finn makes his way through those challenges, he can learn the shadowless thrust, giving him the ability to cut with such precision that he eliminates all wind resistance for a super quick strike. Finn is going to be much more proficient in battle now, but he still has a while to go before he’s a master swordsman. (In another bit of Finn’s robot arm foreshadowing, Rattleballs tells Finn that he’ll be a master if he trains this hard every day. For 10 years. And gets a robot body.)
After Finn’s training is complete, he learns about the events that led to Rattleballs’ current junkyard situation, revealing a new piece of Candy Kingdom history that paints PB in a very negative light. Rattleballs was part of an elite police force of gumball machine robots created to protect the Candy Kingdom after the Banana Guard proved to be hopelessly inefficient, but those new soldiers were too good at their jobs, eliminating threats permanently and without prejudice. With the kingdom free of crime, some of the Gumball Guard officers became vagrants while others rallied around a shared love of violence, creating a secret wrestling subculture where they could act on their aggression. Eventually, PB discovered their underground activity and decided to decommission the Gumball Guard once and for all, crushing all of them into small black blocks that lived on as minimalist furniture. Only Rattleballs escaped, saved by a sudden glitch in his programming that gave him free will.
Finn’s duty to his princess means that he has to tell PB that Rattleballs is alive, even if he promised his teacher that he wouldn’t, and when PB and the Banana Guard show up at the junkyard, Rattleballs is forced to fight for his survival. The direction for the fight sequences in this episode is really sharp, making Rattleballs look especially badass in action, a character quality that nicely contrasts with his monotone, nonthreatening voice. In general, the animation in this episode is very slick and detailed, with direction that emphasizes the scope of the story. This episode feels big, largely in part because of the meticulous, sprawling backgrounds, and the ending gives the impression that things are only going to expand.
Rattleballs quickly wipes out the Banana Guard, but only injures them, showing PB that he’s more than just a killing machine. She has the opportunity to make up for the unjust deaths of Rattleballs’ brethren by sparing him, and she takes it, making Rattleballs the Candy Kingdom’s protector against the shadows, working with Finn to eliminate future threats from the darkness. It’s nice to see PB’s character finally move closer to karmic balance by doing a good deed this week to counteract all the bad she’s guilty of, and hopefully, this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Rattleballs. With Finn gaining the Grass Sword and a powerful new ally, it seems like Adventure Time is building to something big, but it’s impossible to predict what will happen on this series. “Rattleballs” does great work building a sense of foreboding for that mysterious future event, building on the momentum of last week’s episode as Finn continues to hone his abilities in preparation for what’s to come.
- Why isn’t Jake in this episode? “Jake said I was acting bananas about the whole thing and wanted no part of this.” Got it.
- Princess Bubblegum is totally dressed like Endor Princess Leia in Return Of The Jedi during the flashback sequence.
- Captain Root Beer Guy is sticking around and that is awesome.
- “I don’t eat muffins. I am a robot.”
- “I have found peace in meditation, gardening, egg throwing.”
- “Thank you, princess. That’s marginally better than hiding in a dump.”