“The Wanders” and “The Axe” are perfectly fine, fun episodes. They’re as wildly chaotic as the ones preceding them, with enough ridiculous visuals that would make anyone laugh. I don’t know if they feel substantive, though. Not that they need to, but part of what made the past few episodes so great was that, in addition to being hilarious, they had a clear focus. They explored and/or subverted the main characters and their worldviews, whether they were reaffirming them or condoning them. We got to see, for example, Wander face a version of his unhinged self (“The Boy Wander,”) or Hater struggle between his ego and his attempts at conquests (“The Big Day,”). Tonight’s episodes focused the “sidekicks,” but in a round-about way–through their relationships with their partners (sidekicks is in quotes because Sylvia and Peepers are as much the leads as Wander and Hater are), which kind of muddles their individual stories as well as overall ones.

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There’s a potentially great story worth exploring in “The Wanders,” in which Wander runs off into a magic cave that splits him into over four hundred versions of himself. It provides Sylvia with two core dilemmas–whether she can handle the sheer amount of work needed to cull all those Wanders together, and whether she wants to, since the Wander that always runs off is her most hated aspect of her friend. Yet the episode feels like it hamstrings itself. The set-up–that all of Wanders parts have to be put together or he’ll disappear forever–doesn’t follow through. Wander can’t move from his frozen spot until Sylvia returns the “running off Wander,” but he’s somehow freed despite a part of him (helpless Wander) still on the loose? From a plot perspective, it just doesn’t make sense, especially since a number of the Wander-parts are less facets of his personality and more just visual gags (gangsta-rapper Wander?).

There may be something to that though. The theme of the episode (both episodes, really) is accepting all the aspects of a person, flaws and all; not only does Sylvia learn this lesson, but Wander as well. The quote about Wander helping people because he knows what it’s like to feel helpless suggests a way deeper backstory concerning who Wander really is as a character, along with Wander not being his real name, and his history with Screwball Jones. That genuinely heartwarming ending (Sylvia delivering “helpless Wander” to her friend, Wander’s deep appreciation on gaining back “the most important part” of him) could function as the base of an episode all on its own, but combining that sentiment with Sylvia’s overall quandary messes with the flow of the episode. Essentially, there are two ideas here that could function on their own; forcing them together, while understandable, creates an episode that just feels unfocused.

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“The Axe” struggles mostly because the storyline–fire the associate only to later realize how much he/she is needed–is as generic as it comes, and it’s almost impossible to do anything new with it. Hater and Peepers are in fine form as they go up against an evil sandwich, which is broadly funny in an absurd kind of way. Props should also be given to the episode for playing to, but then defying, expectations: after Hater fires Peepers, the montage of him conquering planets is just a giant delusion since he, you know, never established a standing army or built up an infrastructure. It’s well-executed irony, and that a sandwich knew way more about that than Hater gives the irony a nice, comic twist.

Yet it kind of feels like the episode doesn’t quite commit to that absurdity. Sure, the idea of a sandwich being a better villain than Hater is comical, but it’s played a bit too straight–that sandwich has a massive armada and a million henchmen. Is he as legit a villain as Dominator, Awesome, or Screwball Jones? The episode doesn’t say. Nor are we provided with any more real insight into Hater and Peepers; sure, Peepers is the bureaucratic tactician that Hater needs so Hater can “do what he does best” (basically just unload badassery on his enemies), but we knew that already. “The Axe” more or less tells a fairly trope-y story in a really funny way, without doing anything new with it or providing any new details into what makes Hater and Peepers click.

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But despite those misgivings “The Wanders” and “The Axe” are perfectly functional. Sylvia shows a lot of cleverness in rounding up the Wanders (the excessive “No” signs being a classic animation gag), and a lot of heart in comforting the helpless Wander, showcasing a truly soft side we don’t get often to see, a side that not only Wander brings out, but a side that Sylvia genuinely wants to have. And there a lots of amusing moments in “The Axe,” namely portraying Hater’s planetary takeovers as romantic flings. “The Wanders” just lacked character focus and plot clarity, while “The Axe” mostly was trapped with a cliched plot and the lack of any new material between Hater and Peepers. They feel like palette-cleansers–nice and easy episodes between major series plot events, but with the next set of episodes not airing until late September, it going to suck waiting for the next Wander meal.

STRAY OBSERVATIONS:

  • I finally got a chance to watch the one minute Wander Over Yonder shorts, and they’re so great. There’s a lot of little details in them that these episodes somewhat lack, like Hater’s utter insistence on the perfect execution and Wander’s subtle knowledge of what really drives his not-so arch-nemesis. I think my favorite moment is Hater trying to find the right notes on the guitar.

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  • In “The Wanders,” when Sylvia returns ”helpless Wander” to her friend, Wander not only tries to leave the cave without that part of him, he noticeably recoils from that part of himself. It’s a small detail that speaks volumes, suggesting that deep, deep, deep down inside, Wander might actually loathe the very reason he spreads happiness. It’s such a powerful, complex idea, but with Sylvia’s primary problems overtaking the episode, it just feels incomplete.
  • Is swimming in skeleton bones the new swimming in gold coins?

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