Wander Over Yonder, in the end, is a wacky cartoon. The penchant for serious, serial arcs these days seem to really have gotten a lot of fans upset with the show’s slow, seemingly random batch of episodes after “The Greater Hater,” and “The Rager/The Good Bad Guy” will probably really drive them crazy. These episodes are absolutely bonkers, but also represents some of the best “pure cartooning” not only on the show, but in animation today (there’s a reason “Gift 2: The Giftening” got an Emmy nod). Wackiness can be hilarious but also annoying, so it’s a extremely tough line to balance on, but Wander Over Yonder nails it nine times out of ten. Wander tests your patience, not only with the slate of episodes, but also with what viewers can visually handle–but that’s because they’re confident that they’ll make that wackiness work every single time.

That’s primarily because Hater is such a great, perfect character for the antics. Craig McCracken is on record as saying that Hater is essentially the show’s real protagonist, and it’s through the more absurd episodes do we really see the kind of character Hater is. Someone in the comments once mention that Hater is essentially a teenager in a villain’s body, and while I understand that idea, I’m not sure if I’m one hundred percent on board with it. Hater is just… Hater, a vicious, evil creature who just also happens to want to party, have cool friends, and destroy his enemies on his terms. Hater is a cartoon character through-and-through, a living entity that exhibits layers of behavior that can’t possibly exist in reality, but nevertheless possesses depths and nuances to those nonexistence behaviors.

“The Rager” is as insane an episode as it comes. It contains a hilarious sequence where Hater tries to catch his captors in the midst of a party but never does, yet Wander gives it the extra clever visual kick by slick, instant editing. It’s little clever moments that gives this show an edge over other current animated shows, kind of like that thing Wander used to do in the first season where he would have whole, complex conversations with himself while playing different characters (something that I kind of miss). There’s no “logic” here–just the pure enjoyment of the animated frame, and the pleasure of watching such a diverse, familiar cast of animated character act within it. It’s about enjoying what you see, about enjoying the sheer visual display, whether its something minute (like how Peepers rubs his eyes in frustration) or something crazy (like Hater’s ship exhibiting the characteristics of the events on board).

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As for the episode itself, Hater just wants to celebrate his run of interplanetary victories after capturing so many world leaders. Following from his desires from last week’s “The Cool Guy,” we know that Hater really wants to have fun, and this time he could have it on his terms, save for the fact that it’s so late–so his torture/execution festivities will have to wait until tomorrow. Meanwhile, Wander and Sylvia is there, calming down the prisoners by throwing the titular Rager, which of course Hater wants to attend. The episode is essentially just a technical, comical marvel; take your pick of your favorite, funniest moments (my favorite has to be Hater’s failed anti-party, with a Watchdog on his death bed as an attendee–who then runs off to Wander’s superior party somehow).

Yet there is an interesting moment at the end, when Hater’s terrible disguise is knocked from his face. His true self is exposed, but as things are at their most awkward, Wander begins to chant a variation of the Watchdog’s constant call to Hater. “Schmate’s great, so chillin’” makes Hater smile, and perhaps we’ve got a bit of some insight into how Hater works. I hesitate to say that he just wants to be loved, mainly because that’s too easy of an answer, but he does want to be noticed, to be acknowledged, and he was able to achieve that through a disguise–a disguise that, really, was just few letters and a bizarre accent away from the real Hater. It’s cartoon logic, and we have to treat it as such, but it doesn’t make it any less complex.

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If “The Rager” places Hater right up against his dream, then “The Cool Bad Guy” places him right up against his nightmare. Seeing his greatest, beloved idol–the powerful, maniacal Major Threat, he of infinite telekinetic powers–suddenly turn into a peace-loving hippie not only destroys the image of his idol, but also brings to light the real truth that there indeed will be no escape from Wander’s appeal. It’s difficult to assess how Major Threat fits in the overall group of villains–particularly with Dominator around, since Threat was once the number one villain, yet there’s never been any mention of him–but again, it’s cartoon logic, and who’s to say his presence won’t have an effect on things to come?

One of the reasons I emphasize the cartoon logic of the show is that the sheer threat of evil is too expansive and ridiculous to consider in real world terms. The closest analogue would be probably The Venture Bros., but as that show delves into the human cost and trauma of failure within a Hanna-Barbara context, Wander Over Yonder delves into the fantastical, the absurd, the wacky. So, yes, it’s silly to watch Hater’s increasingly desperate ways to turn Threat back to the dark side, but it’s true to his character. Similar to Screwballs Jones was to Wander, Threat’s current state is Hater’s future doppelganger–if Wander can wear down someone as evil as Threat to change sides, than Hater has no chance. That’s why Hater tries so hard to make him turn evil: he needs to know for himself that Threat is at some level still evil–that Hater can indeed overcome Wander’s friendliness. Hater succeeds to change Threat back, which ends up making Threat overtake Hater’s ship and planets–which Hater stops by dressing up as Wander and pretending to be him–which Threat was (in a way) planning all along since Threat was faking the entire thing.

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It’s a vicious irony, compounded with that final scene, in which Threat claims that his annoying do-gooder was named Tumbleweed, giving Hater a momentary reprieve… only to imply quite strongly that Tumbleweed is indeed Wander. (Clearly he couldn’t handle all that irony since his head exploded.) It’s interesting that both episodes had Hater dressing up in outfits, having to “be” someone else to confront both his most sought out pleasures and his most hated foe. They’re all reflections of the crazed villain himself, so really, he doesn’t have to worry about turning out like Threat. Hater is a much different person than the green alien; the question is, what kind of person is he really?

STRAY OBSERVATIONS:

  • In “The Rager,” Sylvia and Wander are shocked, literally and figuratively, to find that Hater has a new force field. Is that a small sign that Hater may be learning? Is this a good thing or a bad thing?
  • Sylvia, apparently, is a huge fan of karaoke.
  • The “mustard or mayo” line was from “The Picnic,” way back in season one. It’s not only a nice callback, but it’s also a follow-up to the line Wander says in “The Greater Hater,” about Wander not being his real name. While I don’t think Tumbleweed is his real name either, this does imply that Wander has been doing this for a long, long time.
  • “The Battle Royale” is coming next week, which is going to answer a lot of questions. What is it that Wander has with Hater/Threat that he can’t quite get with Dominator? Is there a reason or is that the joke? We’ll see.
  • “Reflections” of Hater/Wander seem to be a big theme this season. Let’s see if this holds.

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