Hey welcome to Static Thoughts, the third of my media review shows because I'm a glutton for punishment. More to the point Static Thoughts will be the banner I use to talk about TV, both current and completed. Here on Static Thoughts you’ll find reviews, retrospectives, top 10s, recommendations, think pieces, and whatever else I see fit to write relating to television. Now that we’ve finished the introductions let’s jump into our opening subject: Adventure Time.
Adventure Time is a cartoon network animated series that has just concluded its 6th season. Despite a lot of dislike for the modern stable of cartoons Adventure Time has managed to rise above the usual suspects to gain both popular success and critical acclaim in the realm of 21st century animation. The show revolves around Finn, the last human boy on Earth, and his brother/best friend Jake, a sentient talking dog that can shape shift. Though initially more of a basic adventure show, as the title stated, Adventure Time has shifted into this surrealist meditation on a cavalcade of subjects. Most impressively Adventure Time has made this change without really sacrificing its aesthetics or youth oriented storytelling, integrating the more philosophically minded aspects of the show into the overarching stories of the seasons.
A big part of what’s made this successful is that Adventure Time is one of the first show to come about after the advent of fan theories about child oriented cartoon material. I’m referring to the bafflingly gargantuan array of theories and concepts people concoct to add a darker and more meaningful tinge to kid’s shows they liked when they were young. Stuff like the theory that all the kids on Rugrats are actually dead or Doug is a metaphor for mental illness or any number of similar ideas you might find on Cracked.com’s After Hours. In the case of Adventure Time the darker aspects and origins are furrowed right into the conceptual DNA of the series. For instance, from the show’s genesis the fantastical setting of ‘The Land of Ooo’ was always intended to be an incredibly distant form of Earth after our world was devastated by a nuclear war. Adventure Time’s decision to embrace darker concepts so fully into its universe and character without resorting to bludgeoning the audience with overly dark narratives has helped make it such a favorite among audiences and critics.
What I want to talk about in this review is the overall arc of season 6 of the show. I won’t be going too in depth into the details of the arc, just a broad outline with my critical lens more focused on the deeper themes and ideas that inform the story, however there will be spoilers so consider yourself warned. Said story is firmly rooted in questions of creation, responsibility, abandonment, change, and even the very nature of why we exist in the universe. Though there is a narrative structure that yokes the various arc episodes together they’re more thematically linked than anything else. The arc begins with the opening two-parter; ‘Wake-up’ and ‘Escape from the Citadel.’ These episodes are where Adventure Time introduced the character of Martin, Finn’s incredibly manipulative and criminal deadbeat dad. This is where the arc’s central theme of the absent creator comes into play, not only did Martin abandon Finn as a child he abandoned all of Earth, for seemingly no reason whatsoever.
Even Finn falls prey to the role of absent creator when he abandons the life he inadvertently created at the end of the episode, starting the trend of episodes featuring Finn in a darker place after the events of the opening two-parter. A lot of the issues that follow up episodes ‘The Tower’ and ‘Breezy’ explore are tied into last season’s arc and Finn’s loss of confidence in his heroic philosophy after breaking up with Flame Princess. Finn has been previously defined by his dedication to problem solving, even during times when things aren’t broken, but after that dedication cost him his relationship he’s been far more hesitant. That’s why the driving theme of ‘The Tower’ & ‘Breezy’ is one of Finn’s acceptance of things, rather than actively trying to change them, simply rolling with the punches and moving on, showing shades of his distasteful dad.
So far all these episodes are narratively tied into the discovery of Finn’s dad Martin, but with the episode ‘Evergreen’ a new aspect of the season arc is introduced. This is the episode where the creators introduced the idea of the Catalyst Comet, a devastating comet that impacts the Earth every 1000 years, bringing with it an agent of change. ‘Evergreen’ focuses on the first comet impact and the attempts of elemental wizard Urgence Evergreen to avert it. This is where themes of stagnation and forced change enter the story. Evergreen’s quest to avert the comet is more about avoiding change for his own sake, the same selfish ends that informed Martin. At the same time he’s depicted as cruel and abusive to his servant Gunther, a dinosaur he mutated and basically enslaved to love him regardless of his cruel actions. The episode reaches a climax when Gunther tries to become his negligent creator and in so doing leads to his own insanity and the destruction of his entire world. This is the genesis point for a major theme about how absent, negligent, or abusive creators leave behind their greatest flaws in their creations, and how easy it is for those born of this process to be subsumed by those inherited flaws, echoing Finn’s struggle with being consumed by a similar dismissive apathy to his dad Martin. We see this theme again in subsequent episodes like ‘Gold Stars’ or ‘Orgalorg,’ where the flaws of a creator emerge to derail or threaten the life a character has crafter for themselves.
The other major element of this episode has to do with Evergreen’s relation with his servant Gunther. A running theme of the episode is Gunther’s desire to learn magic and Evergreen’s refusal to teach him, his inability to perceive of Gunther as anything other than the servant he created him to be. This theme pops up again in the penultimate episode ‘Hot Diggity Doom,’ in which long time supporting character Princess Bubblegum is forced to give up control of the kingdom she literally gave life to. The emphasis of this theme is meant as the inverse of Finn’s arc, focusing on the effects of creators who cannot accept that their creation has matured beyond their original vision.
Both of these themes meet a head in the season defining episode ‘Astral Plane.’ The episode’s climax features Glob, the omnipotent creator of a Martian super society, sacrificing himself to save his creation. The entire episode is Finn’s meditation on the role of creators and creations and how these relationships define life but it’s Glob who extols the ultimate virtue on the subject. “It’s not enough to simply create something,” go Glob’s last words “for example, what would be the point if I was to just let my super society go to butt?” In both word and deed Glob lays out the season’s guiding ideology; that as creators we have a responsibility to nurture our creations while accepting that they will inevitably grow beyond us.
This is the significance of the season finale, in which Finn confronts the impending Catalyst Comet itself. Upon confronting the agent of change Finn is presented with the choice of returning to Earth to continue his guardianship of the world or to join the comet in absolute freedom from the constant chaos of Earth. It’s the ultimate realization of the season’s arc, the choice between accepting responsibility over a creation we ultimately can’t control as well as trying to avoid the flaws of our own creator or to embrace those flaws and abandon our creation because it no longer suits the desires that original birthed it.
Finally to complete the idea, Finn chooses to stay with the world he’s put so much effort into protecting despite the heartbreaks he’s endured while his father Martin chooses to leave our reality forever. However, this act is the only one by Martin not informed by selfish ends, instead it parallels Glob’s sacrifice from ‘Astral Plane.’ Martin leaves this reality not out of fear or material gain, he’s already rich thanks to a previous episode, he leaves because he knows that he has no place in Finn’s life. He accepts that his presence only serves to hold Finn back and so, decides to let Finn go and move beyond him. It’s his only act of acknowledgement for their bond as father and son, which is why Finn actually feels closure at his Martin’s departure rather than emptiness or resentment. That is the ultimate thesis of Adventure Time season 6, that even though we all owe it to the things we create to nurture them eventually we have to accept that our creations must move away from us to grow and that eventually all we will have left to offer them is our absence.