What is art? Who can be an artist? How do you foster the growth of an artist? “The Thin Yellow Line” answers these questions in the context of a zany story about Finn and Jake tracking down a Banana Guard graffiti artist, which develops into an exploration of artistic talent and how an oppressive authority figure can stifle it. Finn and Jake infiltrate the Banana Guard to apprehend a guard who illegally paints a mural on public property, and Finn is initially the one who believes the artist should be punished for his work. Jake sees the beauty in the vandalism, but gets sucked into an imagined conspiracy when he goes undercover, and the two bros end up switching positions on the street art issue by the end of the episode.
“The Thin Yellow Line” is the Adventure Time debut of KC Green, the cartoonist behind webcomics like Gunshow and He Is A Good Boy (he also draws BACK, written by Anthony Clark), and he has a big influence on the visual style of this episode. It’s reminiscent of early Adventure Time chapters in the way Green’s specific visual aesthetic bleeds into the show’s general look, and his influence can be seen most heavily in the exaggerated facial expressions, which add more detail than usual to make the characters look like they were pulled from an early ’90s Nickelodeon cartoon.
This is especially evident with Jake, and the malleability of his face allows Green to really accentuate the movement of Jake’s eyebrows, eyeballs, nose, and mouth while also playing with the size of these facial features in relation to the rest of his banana-shaped body. Green co-writes and co-storyboards with Emily Partridge, and while I’m not sure what the division of labor is amongst the two, the facial close-ups read so strongly as Green’s art that I’m inclined to believe he handled the majority of those. (See also: Finn’s face when he ponders if Banana Guard #16 is the street artist he’s looking.)
The Banana Guards have always been depicted as incompetent, but this episode suggests that they’re just incompetent at the thing they were created to do: serving as police officers for the Candy Kingdom. Finn and Jake are easily able to infiltrate the station during the changing of the guard because it’s a complete mess. Their process is as sloppy as the changing of the guards at Bucking Palace is sharp, and after immediately breaking formation by falling all over each other, the Banana Guards continue to humiliate themselves when they’re covered in cream pies being delivered by one of their equally clumsy colleagues. It’s a delightful bit of slapstick comedy that establishes just how inept these guards are the most basic functions of their job.
The Banana Guards aren’t good at performing their assigned duty, but they do it anyway because they live in fear of the “divine and terrible” Princess Bubblegum, who they believe will imprison them or destroy them if they get out of line. Banana Guard #16 (voiced by TV On The Radio lead singer Tunde Adebimpe) tells Finn about the Banana Guards’ conception of PB when Finn suggests that he should show his art to her, and #16 paints her as a malevolent, relentless authority figure that crushes anyone that stands against. Not even PB’s own brother is safe from her wrath, and it’s easy to understand why #16 and the rest of the Banana Guards have these beliefs.
As we’ve seen in the past, PB has done some really shady things in the name of keeping her people safe, but we’ve also seen how recent experiences have changed her. The Banana Guards haven’t been offered that insight into PB’s growth, so they continue to obey her out of fear while pursuing their artistic impulses in secret. This view of PB was flawed from the start, and the Banana Guards don’t comprehend that creating art isn’t necessarily an act of political rebellion (although it can be). There’s no reason for them to keep their talents hidden except for the idea that there’s a tyrant waiting to punish them if they don’t do exactly as they’re told; that wasn’t really who PB was in the past, and it’s definitely not who she is now.
The change in PB’s character can be seen in the shift in her wardrobe, and as she’s matured over the course of the series, so have her clothes. She looks very professional in her brown skirt suit this week, but she softens up considerably depending on whether or not she’s wearing her jacket. She comes face-to-face with the image of her old self when Colonel Candy Corn presents her with his creepy bubblegum statue of the princess, and the first thing she does is hide it with her brown suit jacket. She wants to erase the frightening image of herself shared by the Banana Guards, and by shedding that businesslike jacket, she makes herself more approachable to her subjects, who are eager to show her their various talents.
PB has to forcefully foster an environment that accepts and encourages creative expression, but once she does, the banana artists come bursting out of their peels to show the world their abilities. This introduces a new insecurity for Banana Guards that don’t have any artistic skill, but PB reassures them that that is a totally O.K. situation as well. Anyone can be an artist, but not everyone has to. What matters is that artists are given the opportunity to create and take pride in their work, which is what PB provides the Banana Guards this week.
- This episode is dedicated to the memory of Mandy Long, an artist I am unfamiliar with, but based on this episode, I assume she was a person that motivated others to pursue their artistic talent.
- “Great play!” reads the poster for LSP’s domestic drama Summer Showers, which still hasn’t closed. Congrats to LSP, Tree Trunks, Viola, and the rest of the Summer Showers team for the long run!
- My favorite visuals this week: Jake’s flesh-watch, the Banana Guard gym, the creepy “I love you” puppet, Jake’s contorted face when he hears the hidden jelly bean horse for a second time, the melting Princess Bubblegum statue.
- Finn: “That’s illegal!” Jake: “And beautiful!”
- “C’mon bro! Just 10 more reppies.”
- Banana Guard: “We caught the crime-inals.” Banana Guard: “Oh, I just got that!”
- Banana Guard #16: “She’s amazing. And she’s flippin’ scary!” Finn: “But nice!”