What in the world was that? Lemongrab episodes tend to be some of this show’s hardest to process, and “The Mountain” continues that tradition with a very strange story about the newest incarnation of the character, who was stitched together by Princess Bubblegum back in “Lemonhope, Part Two.” It’s an especially abstract chapter that presents some very cool visuals but leaves a lot of the plot open to interpretation, which can be viewed as both a positive and a negative depending on your perspective.
On one end, it’s thrilling when Adventure Time gets weird and confusing because there’s something to be said about the fun of getting lost in something that is extremely visually stimulating but mentally perplexing. I may not know what’s going on, but I’m enjoying the trip because the imagery is so different from what I spend the rest of my day looking at. On the other end, I still wouldn’t mind knowing what’s happening, and “The Mountain” is so outside the box that it loses a strong narrative throughline.
But maybe the viewer is supposed to create the throughline. The episode provides the dots, and the audience connects them after absorbing the information. That’s certainly something Adventure Time has done in the past with some of its trippier episodes, and it’s a bold move for a children’s show. Kids’ programming is often made as simple as possible in order to appeal to basic comprehension skills, but this series embraces complexity and trusts its audience to keep up. Some of the more mature subject matter probably flies over the head of younger viewers, but they’re still engaged because of the bright colors and silly jokes and quick action. And even if they’re not fully processing the serious stuff, they’re still being exposed to some really heavy ideas that other children’s shows avoid.
The heavy idea this week? Existential crisis (I think). Sewn together from the parts of two different people and stuck in a neverending routine, Lemongrab is trying to form his identity and find meaning in his life, and the Mountain of Matthew offers those things through “the ecstacy of ego death.” The mountain strips you down to your pure essence, which is then absorbed by Matthew, the mysterious being that is waiting for the second age of terror when he will emerge in his final form and restore the world. If it sounds confusing here, the episode doesn’t make it much clearer,
“The Mountain” is written and storyboarded by Jesse Moynihan and Sam Alden, and Alden is yet another distinct voice of the alternative comics scene making the jump to Adventure Time. (In fact, both of these men released comics last year that ended up on The A.V. Club Best Of 2014 list: Moynihan’s Forming II and Alden’s Wicked Chicken Queen.) Alden’s comic-book work is full of subtly expressive characters and lushly rendered environments, not unlike the work of Moynihan’s “Astral Plane” collaborator Jillian Tamaki, and you can see his influence in the intricate design for the titular setting and the hallucinatory visuals of the episode’s second half.
Like “Astral Plane,” there’s a very smooth flow to the animation this week, and familiar visuals like Jake shapeshifting have more grace than usual. Instead of cutting between scenes, there’s greater bleed between moments, especially later in the episode when Finn and Lemongrab get into some psychedelic shit. When they enter a mirror within the mountain, Finn and Lemongrab are placed on top of giant versions of themselves, coming face-to-face with their own reflections. This turn of events leads to some bizarre imagery, especially with Lemongrab, and Moynihan and Alden have a lot of fun toying with perspective and form during these sequences.
“The Mountain” has some great visual moments, but ultimately the story doesn’t land as well as the series’ more recent experimental episodes. Like a lot of Lemongrab chapters, it feels a bit too random, and the lack of direction makes it harder to connect with the narrative. And yet, there’s an undeniable appeal in that strangeness. I had to watch this episode a few times in order to process what exactly was happening, and while I never managed to get a strong grasp on what the creators are trying to say, I was consistently entertained during each viewing.
- What role do Flame Princess and Cinnamon Bun have in the story? They’re rehearsing some kind of dance routine. Maybe it will come into play later?
- I love that Lemongrab literally has slaves hiding everywhere so that he doesn’t even need to walk from one place to another, he can just just be carried.
- I want a Finn cake. Those are probably delicious.
- “Give me a peek on there. This is pretty much just a tube.”
- “‘Beaucoup spookoo,’ you say?”
- “He could be messing with crazy mystic power at that mountain. It’s like seeing a baby playing with dynamite.”
- “But you, plucky adolescent. You have way cray beeswax.”
- “Goodbye from my grease body into the blackness, where only my pure essence can go!”
- “Infinite stairs are unacceptable!”