Graham Falk is one of the most reliable creators in Adventure Time’s line-up, consistently delivering episodes that are clever, heartfelt, inventive, and full of contrast between light and dark story elements. He also always writes and storyboards alone, giving his chapters a style and tone that is distinctly Falkian. “Cherry Cream Soda” is the sequel to Falk’s season 5 episode “Root Beer Guy,” and like its predecessor, “Cherry Cream Soda” is a tense, thoughtful exploration of a tangential character’s emotional turmoil and relationship drama.
Circumstances have changed dramatically since the soda spouses’ introduction; Root Beer Guy died at the end of last season’s “Something Big,” and Cherry Cream Soda remarried. She’s been married to Starchy for two months, but she’s still not over the loss of her former husband. She’s plagued by nightmares of Root Beer Guy’s death, and every morning she thinks Root Beer Guy has somehow returned and is in the shower when it’s always Starchy. Her current husband thinks she should be done grieving by now, and he pressures her to finally bury Root Beer Guy’s remains, which causes all sort of new complications when the burial ground is struck by lightning that brings Root Beer Guy back to life as a Dirt Mug Zombie.
The episode begins as a somber look at one woman’s ongoing mourning of her dead husband and her inability to acclimate to a new life she’s trying to build for herself, and while it takes a fantastic turn, that doesn’t distract from the episode’s emotional focus. That surge of fantasy does change the nature of the interpersonal conflict, but Cherry Cream Soda’s reactions are always grounded in reality thanks to Anne Heche’s performance. Heche is an exceptional voice actress (see: her rich voice work for The Legend Of Korra’s bad-ass matriarch Suyin Beifong), and she brings significant gravitas to this story about a grieving glass of soda caught between her current husband and her undead ex.
Heche has to deliver some ludicrous lines because these characters live ludicrous lives, but she brings honest sentiment to the oft-ridiculous dialogue. “You were zapped by Darren the Ancient Sleeper, your dome was cracked, your root beer soaked into the ground!” Cherry Cream Soda cries when she meets her undead ex-husband. “I buried your remains in a mason jar, which is now your head!” It’s very silly, but Heche fully captures Cherry Cream Soda’s panic and confusion to give the moment dramatic weight. Granted, we’re still talking about a love triangle made up of two sodas and a mustachioed chocolate malt ball, so Heche doesn’t get too serious with her performance, but she makes it easy to relate to Cherry Cream Soda’s turmoil.
By bringing back Root Beer Guy, Falk changes Cherry Cream Soda’s story from one about coping with grief to one about reconnecting with a past lover. The sodas were literally created to be together—as detailed by the adorable flashback to Bubblegum pouring Root Beer Guy and Cherry Cream Soda into existence and immediately naming them husband and wife—but they’re different people now. Root Beer Guy tries to force himself back into his old life, only to discover his old life isn’t there anymore. Now gifted with freaky zombie strength, Root Beer Guy inadvertently damages Cherry Cream Soda and Starchy’s home as he searches for a stuffed bear, a clever way of showing how Root Beer Guy’s rash attempts to prove his affection to his ex-wife are destructive to their new relationship.
Cherry Cream Soda moved on, and she’s not going to tear down what she’s built with Starchy just because her ex-husband comes back from the dead. Instead, Starchy tears it down by becoming a jealous maniac hell-bent on sending Root Beer Guy back to his grave, revealing his true colors to his disgusted wife. Already envious of Root Beer Guy’s memory in his wife’s mind, Starchy becomes homicidal when her ex-husband comes back, completely ignoring Cherry Cream Soda’s emotional stake in this conflict to pursue his own selfish agenda. Rather than maintaining the bond he already had with a wife that is committed to him, Starchy fixates on crushing the one she has with her ex-husband, and that choice ends up costing him his marriage.
Root Beer Guy never considers Starchy a threat, but he doesn’t know how to get Cherry Cream Soda to see him the way she used to. With the guidance of Jake and Lady Rainicorn, Root Beer Guy realizes that it’s not about getting back to where he and his ex-wife used to be, but moving forward from a place they’ve never been. Cherry Cream Soda agrees, and after breaking up with Starchy, she tells Root Beer Guy that wants to get to know the new person he’s become. It’s a very sweet ending that sets up a new path for a couple that was born married, and it’s a surprisingly mature approach to the relationship considering the characters are a cherry cream soda and a cup of dirt housing the undead spirit of a root beer.
- Music and color are used very effectively to establish mood and atmosphere in this episode. The ominous electronic music creates an undercurrent of dread throughout, and the color palettes explore different levels of contrast to evoke specific emotions. The palette is dull before Cherry Cream Soda buries her husband’s remains, reflecting her detachment from the world while she grieves, but everything brightens up when Root Beer Guy is put to rest and the healing process begins.
- The Candy Kingdom is looking pretty grim and dilapidated. Is that Falk reflecting the character’s emotional state in the environment, or is it evidence that the kingdom is falling apart under Princess King Of Ooo’s reign?
- This episode makes me want to watch some Suyin Beifong scenes from Korra. Here are two of the best ones.
- “Nope. Starchy. You do this every morning.”
- “We can’t all be a cute little character with a cute little straw stickin’ out of our cute little head.”
- “That seems macabre. But sweet.”
- “I’m with Starchy. I mean, we’re legally married. You’re legally dead! Not that I want to sound obsessed with legalities, but I am a lawyer.”
- “Starchy knows all the fresh widows in town, and Starchy chose you! Starchy wuuuvs you!”
- “He didn’t bite you, did he?”