“President Porpoise Is Missing” is a strange episode of Adventure Time. It has a simplistic plot reminiscent of the kinds of stories told in the show’s early seasons, but it also tries to get across a fairly heavy message by devoting attention to a small supporting character, something the show has done more and more frequently as it grows over time. Unfortunately, the narrative isn’t quite strong enough to adequately carry a message about the importance of companionship in the face of inevitable death, and while there are some very fun gags and surprisingly tender moments in the episode, it’s a scattered chapter that fails to come together in a cohesive whole, which is ironic considering it features a song about things coming together to make a whole.
The set-up and resolution of this episode are very abrupt, and writers/storyboard artists take significant shortcuts to get the story going and finish it off. Banana Man just happens to be in Finn and Jake’s treehouse when Finn mentions they should ask him to use his submarine to look for President Porpoise, and Ice King is also there so that he can force himself into the mission and eventually get paired up with BMO. It’s a very quick way to assemble the cast, but it’s also pretty lazy and makes the appearance of the other characters feel very random.
Osborne and Alden recognize the faults in this set-up, so they make light of it by continuing the scene after Finn, Jake, and the rest of the group leave the treehouse, showing how Finn and Jake’s home is secretly used as a hangout for various citizens of Ooo. Marceline, Starchy, PB, and others all appear from the different parts of the room once the owners are gone, and while it’s a funny sequence, it also introduces a lot of unnecessary questions that are never answered. Why is everybody hanging out at Finn and Jake’s? Why do they keep it a secret? The tableau created by all these home invaders is entertaining, but the writers have to bend a lot of logic to make the bit land.
The resolution of the President Porpoise plot is very underwhelming, and it turns out he was just on a three-day vacation that no one remembered. That aspect of the episode ends up feeling very arbitrary, and while it’s possible that writers/storyboard artists Kent Osborne and Sam Alden are commenting on how politics can get in the way of action and politicians are generally dimwitted, it’s a stretch to apply larger meaning to this shallower aspect of the narrative. The last scene of the episode tries to bring Finn and Jake’s thread together with some of the deeper elements of the other plots, but Jake’s final sentiment is an odd one to end the episode on. As he and Finn sit in the S.S. Inquisitive, gradually running out of air on the bottom of the ocean, Jake says: “You know what, bro? I’m glad you’re here. ‘Cause dying together sucks a little less than dying alone.” It’s a line that stems from the episode’s theme of companionship, but it ends the chapter with a sharp tonal shift that doesn’t jive with the rest of the narrative.
Despite the title, the search for President Porpoise isn’t the A-plot of this episode, which is primarily a spotlight of Weird Al Yankovic’s Banana Man, who returns to Adventure Time for the first time since he saved Jake from death in his “The Comet” cameo. In his last major appearance, “We Fixed A Truck”, Banana Man expressed his desire to find a long-term companion, and he finally finds one when he takes Finn and Jake under the sea in his submarine, the S.S. Inquisitive. While Finn and Jake are held back from their search thanks to Vice President Blowfish’s interference, Banana Man heads off on his own to find President Porpoise, but he’s not alone for long.
Representative Cybil, a pink fish that serves on the head council of the Democracy Of The Ocean, joins Banana Man and fulfills his longing for affection when she kisses his space helmet, and her proactive, silent nature is the perfect fit for a man who has difficulty instigating action and communicating with others. The reason he’s in Finn and Jake’s home at the start of the episode is because he gets lonely and likes to hear the sound of other people talking, and once underwater, he talks about how it feels like everyone got an instruction manual for how to talk to people except him.
There’s no talking involved in his quick courtship with Cybil, and once she kisses him, he knows he’s found his other half. This swell of emotion manifests sonically: first in a gleeful scream that turn into a wild screech, and then by a much softer song Banana Man sings about two halves making a whole. Like the song in yesterday’s episode, Banana Man’s tune heightens his emotional state in that moment, but instead of feeling BMO’s loneliness, Banana Man is feeling true companionship for the very first time. It’s a fairly simple tune (like BMO’s yesterday), but there’s some clever imagery in the lyrics, and it’s a treat to have Weird Al singing on this show.
The strongest of the three plot threads in this episode is the one with the smallest stakes, but BMO and Ice King’s imaginary submarine adventure ends up being more thrilling than Finn, Jake, and Banana Man’s real one. The pairing of BMO and Ice King makes a lot of sense considering their childish points of view and their affinity for retreating into fantasy worlds, and Ice King is immediately sucked into BMO’s charade when he starts pretending that he’s in a submarine to distract Ice King from getting on the real submarine.
After tackling the crime noir and western genres, BMO crafts a naval war story for Ice King and himself, and they form a strong bond as they face a series of fictional dangers. BMO and Ice King’s war buddy dialogue is very funny, and it’s especially exciting to see their shared fantasy represented in the animation as the episode progresses, depicting events with a vibrant neon palette to reinforce that this is all happening in the characters’ minds. According to the scenes that accompany Banana Man’s song, BMO and Ice King are two halves of the same whole, and hopefully future episodes will continue to explore the dynamic between two characters that fit each other like a cup in a movie seat.
- James Urbaniak does great voice work as Vice President Blowfish, and the exaggerated fury and anger in his performance is a great fit for a character that has an extreme physical reaction when he’s agitated.
- The best part of Finn and Jake’s story is the sequence where Jake’s claustrophobia forces him to get smaller and smaller until he’s tiny enough to hang on the ridges in Finn’s fingertip. I wouldn’t mind seeing more of a nearly microscopic Jake. I also wouldn’t mind seeing microscopic Jake, because you know that would look really cool.
- Finn is super clumsy in his bulky underwater suit, which makes for some fun moments of physical comedy.
- “Look at how small I am!”
- “You’re not allowed to puff out in the Court of Food!”
- “Boy, when I first signed up for this adventure I just wanted to see pretty mermaids. But now I realize it’s all about the camaraderie of my fellow sailors.”
- “O.K., everyone who thinks these guys should go away raise your fins or claws or whatever.”
- “National politics don’t really represent my interests.”