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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Adventure Time: “The Cooler”

Illustration for article titled Adventure Time: “The Cooler”
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Your scheduled Adventure Time review will begin right after I listen to the “Food Chain” song 100 times.

Finn and Jake have a brief cameo in “The Cooler” reprising this hummable little ditty on one of Princess Bubblegum’s many video screens, and it just reminds me of how great Masaaki Yuasa’s episode was earlier this season. But it doesn’t play any part in this episode beyond that short callback. “The Cooler” is a story about the relationship of Flame Princess and Princess Bubblegum, two women who are responsible for the wellbeing of entire kingdoms, and are forced to make decisions based on that responsibility. When the magma at the core of the Fire Kingdom begins to cool, Flame Princess needs to find a solution in order to save her quickly weakening citizens, and she turns to Princess Bubblegum for help during this crisis.

But Princess Bubblegum has no interest in helping. She’s orchestrated this entire event to gain access to the Fire Kingdom’s most powerful weapons: the sleeping Fire Giants, ancient protectors of the kingdom. You see, Princess Bubblegum planted a camera in Cinnamon Bun’s face that has been recording the meetings of Flame Princess and her royal cabinet, and Bubblegum knows that Flame Princess’ brother is itching to attack the Candy Kingdom. So in order to protect her territory, Princess Bubblegum employs the Ice King to freeze the Fire Kingdom’s core, and then offers to help Flame Princess find the solution to this problem.

Princess Bubblegum has steadily become a darker character over the last few seasons, and this episode directly addresses that by showing how she spies on and manipulates others in order to get what she wants. Once Bubblegum has access to the Fire Kingdom’s secret store of powerful relics, she can steal the Fire Giants’ energy sources, leaving Flame Princess at a major disadvantage if there’s ever a conflict between the two kingdoms. And she almost gets away with it except her bag catches on the side of one of the giants and rips open, revealing her betrayal to Flame Princess.

This incites a major fight between Flame Princess and Bubblegum, giving us more examples of the badassery Flame Princess is capable of when she really lets loose. (It’s not quite as awesome as her moves in “Frost & Fire,” but she does turn into a raging flame monster, which is pretty cool.) Flame Princess going into berserker mode actually works in Bubblegum’s favor, though, as she destroys nearly all of the Fire Giants in her fury. After getting knocked out by a raincloud grenade, Flame Princess says what everyone is thinking and tells Bubblegum that she’s a bad person with something seriously messed inside her, which clearly strikes a nerve because Bubblegum ultimately leaves the Fire Kingdom one giant for future use, just in case.

I can’t help but see Princess Bubblegum as a metaphor for the United States in this episode, with her proclivity for secret surveillance and political deception in the name of homeland security. Princess Bubblegum doesn’t see herself as a villain; she’s just doing what she needs to do to minimize threats against her kingdom. She has a secret shed filled with monitors where she watches people who don’t know they are being recorded, but she believes that she’s doing it in her kingdom’s best interest, so it’s not an issue. In her own words: “I’m PB. I spy on everybody. No big D.”


In a country where citizens’ internet activity is tracked by the FBI and surveillance drones fly over city streets, it’s easy to feel like the government is the enemy, but the powers-that-be probably have Princess Bubblegum’s mindset. Their actions are justified because they are in the name of homeland security, along with any preventive operations performed in other countries. But the difference between the U.S. government and Princess Bubblegum (well, one of many differences) is that the government is a large group of people whereas Bubblegum is operating on her own. You’re not likely to see a big change of heart from the government, but Flame Princess’ words have a significant impact of Bubblegum’s behavior.

In the episode’s closing scene, Princess Bubblegum realizes that spying on everyone maybe is a pretty big D, and she pulls the plug on her secret surveillance operation. The shot of Bubblegum standing in front of her giant wall of monitors like Watchmen’s Ozymandias is extremely effective at showing the scope of her operation, and when all those screens go blank, it feels like a real turning point for the character. We’ve seen her put her ethics to the side in order to achieve her goals in the past, but in this moment, she decides to forget about her personal agenda and respects the privacy of others. When she locks up the door to her surveillance shed and flips the sign that reads “Do Not Enter,” it’s not a warning to others, but herself. She needs to discover how to be a better person, and unlocking that door won’t help.


Stray observations:

  • I wonder if we’ll ever see that last remaining Fire Giant in action. My gut tells me we probably will.
  • Flame Princess sings the history of the Fire Kingdom this week, and her song is nowhere near as catchy as the tune from “Food Chain.”
  • Flame Princess’ name is Phoebe. So her name is Phoebe Flame? Phoebe Fire? Either way, it sounds cute.
  • I love Flame Princess’ outfit this week. She looks so grown up!
  • “Whoa! I’m losin’ a lot of weight! Calorie control and exercise are the key. But I don’t do any of those things so this is weird.”
  • Aunt Agnes: “Perhaps everyone can form into a big love hug to stay warm.” Flame Princess: “That’s ridiculous, Aunt Agnes.” Aunt Agnes: “I’m not that smart.”