The TV Room: Adventure Time Season 6, by David Bax
This season of Adventure Time was the one during which we, the viewers, learned that Pendleton Ward was no longer running the show. But instead of derailing without the creator in charge, the integrity of the world and characters Ward put in place allowed the show to expand without losing sight of its center. Occasionally handing the reins to guest artists from the world of indie comics gave us wonderfully bizarre one-off episodes like the recent “Water Park Prank” or the instant classic “Food Chain” from earlier in the season. But no matter how far afield some episodes went, season six never forget that this was the story of a human boy navigating teenagedom with his magical dog in a post-apocalyptic, supernatural world.
Season five ended with Finn learning that his father was still alive and season six wasted no time introducing him. Unfortunately, the boy raised by crimefighting dogs was disappointed to learn that the dad he’d always longed to know was an amoral, self-interested jerk. Though he’d lived as an orphan as long as he could remember, Finn suddenly found himself truly disconnected from the notions of himself he had subconsciously harbored. This gave Adventure Time the set-up for a season that would explore identity in deep, metaphysical and hilarious ways.
This season also went darker than ever before. There has always been a streak of black humor to Adventure Time and the suggestion of “mushroom wars” that led to the end of Earth as we know it and its eventual reemergence as Ooo certainly isn’t a cheery backstory. Yet, nothing compared to where season six went, starting with Prismo’s self-sacrifice in the first episode, “Wake Up,” and then Jake’s later coming to terms with it in “Is That You?” Jake muses about his friend’s death, “I remember feeling like someone had peeled the layer away from my brain and my reality was no longer anchored to any point of reference and I had to fight to keep from being crushed under the weight of an unforgiving new paradigm of ultimate reality.” In an even bigger bummer, this was also the season where the episode “Graybles 1000+” gave us a glimpse of the distant future, reminding us that Ooo is as transient a period of the planet as Earth was.
That doesn’t mean the series’ writers didn’t get to have the usual fun. Adventure Time has always made time to expand their world with a healthy number of episodes that focus on previously minor players. Finn and Jake’s worm buddy, Shelby, got his own episode. Or rather, his rear end did, as it was severed and then became its own, new worm who battled rats beneath the treehouse. In another installment, we learned about Peppermint Butler’s mastery of the dark arts. And in one of the season’s highlights, we spent a couple of workdays (or nights) with the Cosmic Owl while his tragic loneliness was exploited to diabolic ends.
Still, identity reigned as the major theme this year. Paradigms, like the one Jake mentioned, shifted. From the first season, Princess Bubblegum was always the older girl unable to return the younger Finn’s affections. In “Pajama Wars,” we see that Finn has moved on and that the two are becoming good friends. This kind of casual, realistic change in fundamantal character relationships is rare even in prestige dramas, much less cartoons. Still, the real identity issues were both more intimate and more expansive, exploring the philosophical and metaphysical realms. In “Everything’s Jake,” Jake literally journies inside himself to a world he doesn’t recognize. And in “The Mountain,” possibly one of the weirdest episodes in the history of television, Lemongrab, the despotic ruler of a kingdom made entirely of deformed clones of himself, discovers “the ecstacy of ego death” and defeats a malevolent, sentient cloud thing by allowing it to consume and then be corrupted by him. Or something like that. I don’t entirely understand it, nor could I accurately explain the episode where Magic Man and Betty enter each other subconsciouses.
All of these ruminations come to a head in the finale, when Finn, floating through space like Sandra Bullock in Gravity, is given the choice to either return to Ooo or give up his corporeal self and live a different kind of life on a different plane. Now he must make a decision about what his identity really is and will continue to be. He chooses to go back home, having invested enough in his “meat life” to want to carry it through. It’s an inspiring allegory for the choice we all can make to life our lives with purpose. It’s also a promising basis for season seven.