Adventure Time: Season Two

Adventure_Time-1920x1080

Television * Pendleton Ward * Whimsical Post-Apocalypse * 2010

Synopsis

The second season of Adventure Time is a season of growth and evolution. Whereas the first season is bright and new and fun, the characters are still a little brash and a little one-dimensional. The structure of the show is of the adventure-a-week variety, and there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of continuity. Season two retains some of those characteristics, but we can see plenty of growth in both how the characters interact with each other and in how narrative and world-building are handled within the show. Now, as far as I’m concerned, season three is where the show truly hits its stride (and doesn’t really stop being excellent, despite some overreach in season six… but that’s not for a while yet), however, even early on in season two we can see what the show is aspiring to be.

While there isn’t really a narrative arc that covers the entire season, that’s not really what Adventure Time has ever been about. The show is, at its core, a story about a boy growing up, his heroic aspirations, and his relationship with the fantastical world around him. Season two brings a birthday, so as of mid-season he’s 13. As the series progresses, Finn’s age matters. Not unlike the Harry Potter series, as time passes and the characters grow older, they are faced with more responsibility and more of life’s weight. However, here in season two, life is still mostly bright and fun with a dash of awkward tween moments. Episodes consist of Finn battling perhaps the most frightening thing for a young teenage boy (embarrassment) to existential wrestling with the mystery of Finn’s origins to trying to find a date for a snail.

The notion of mystery, of both the world and its inhabitants, is perhaps the most compelling aspect of the storytelling in season two. There are many ancillary details that are brought up with little context to provide much in the way of exposition, yet they are still intriguing. What was the Mushroom War? Why would dogs and rainacorns be fighting? There is more to this strange world than what’s on the surface; we’re introduced to the Nightosphere, we meet Death in the (very metal) Deadworld, and then there’s Susan Strong, who seems human but maybe isn’t. Why does Princess Bubblegum speak German? Who knows! None of these details are ever really forgotten by the show. There is very little chance the show’s writers had clear plans for future plotlines surrounding some of these things, so it’s heartening to see later seasons calling back to things that happen here for context. Events that occur are important and tend towards permanence, all of which lend the Land of Ooo an authenticity that’s hard to come by in fantasy fiction.

This is not to say that there are no greater plots at work here. Season two ends with the introduction of the Lich, one of show’s true villains, and tells a larger story with consequences that ripple throughout the entire series. While they lack some of the gravitas of certain later episodes, “Mortal Folly” and “Mortal Recoil” hold their own as an early example of the stakes Adventure Time is willing to play with. Meanwhile, all of the charm and joy of the show seem to grow and expand with every episode prior to the season’s two-part capstone. The look of the show continues to improve, the voice actors continue to get more comfortable with their characters, and the music continues to avoid being obnoxiously twee and manages to charm my cold, ancient heart. Oh, and Maria Bamford is a national fucking treasure. I will fight anyone who says otherwise.

PB

Turns out I might have a cartoon crush on Princess Bubblegum. Shut up.

Discussion

Perhaps one of the best shifts that season two takes away from the initial run of episodes is the move towards more subtle characterization. The initial idea behind the show was to invert the usual clichés of fantasy heroic fiction. All of the tropes are present, the hero, the sidekick, the princess, and the bad guy. However, here the hero is twelve and kinda dumb, the sidekick is impulsive and goofy, the princess is by far the most competent person in the kingdom, and the villain is sad and hilarious, but not much of a threat. That’s all well and good, and if the show was content to just use those inverted tropes for the sake of silliness and fun that would have been totally fine. Yet it is clear as soon as season two that these characters grew in the estimation of the writers and artists. They quickly begin to move beyond simple inverted clichés (which, in their own way, would still be a cliché) and grow into singular characters in their own right.

Let’s take a look at Marceline the Vampire Queen, because she’s a good example of what I’m talking about when I say an inverted cliché can grow into a strong character. Also I like Marceline. In season one, Marcy is introduced to the show in a couple of episodes where she is presented as a scary evil vampire only to have that notion inverted. Marceline isn’t evil, just mischievous and, you know, fun. Season two builds on this right away with “It Came from the Nightosphere,” in which Marcy and Finn are hanging out and jamming. The episode centers around Marceline’s relationship with her father (voiced by Marceline’s actual father, which is a nice touch), which turns out to be troubled. Of course, this being Adventure Time, Marcy’s dad is a soul-sucking demon who immediately goes on a rampage. However, the action of the episode in almost incidental to Marceline’s daddy issues. She might be 1000 years old, but she is depicted as an eternal teenager. Moody, impulsive, and prone to sulking. Despite that, she still wants to make her father proud. However, she must be able to do so on her own terms. Meanwhile, she’s not above donking around Ooo and hanging out with 13 year old goofballs.

Don’t forget we also have Finn himself, who is running full-tilt into puberty and all the uncomfortable awkwardness that comes with it. If Adventure Time is about any one thing, it’s about growing up and figuring things out. Season two gives us episodes like “Blood Under the Skin,” were Finn gets goaded by a bully into seeking out fancy armor only to get more and more embarrassed as the episode progresses. Tweens are easily embarrassed, you see. There’s “To Cut a Woman’s Hair,” in which Finn needs to talk a princess into parting with a lock of hair and consequently learns that talking to ladies can be difficult. In “Go With Me,” Finn gets embroiled in a romantic quagmire with Princess Bubblegum despite having non-romantic motives. All of these episodes center on Finn attempting to figure out how to have relationships with those around him, and how to sort out advice from those close to him. Jake means well, but misunderstands Finn’s 13 year old desires. Marceline likely acts in self-interest in misdirecting Finn to pester P.B. for personal reasons (the relationship between Marcy and Bubblegum is first hinted at here, but grows to become a source of good character moments and gross fan art on the internet). Between the two of them, Finn is confounded and ends up embarrassed and flustered. Because he’s thirteen. All of which illustrates where Adventure Time’s heart is. It’s an honest look at very real situations that come about as we grow older, but set in a vivid fantasy land where you have to watch where you step because every other object is a sentient being.

Marcy and Finn

Marcy & Finn, pallin’ around.

All of the quotes

“Why did she leave? I put so much cool stuff in her little prison.” – Ice King, “Loyalty to the King”

“Good luck exposing your soft, vanilla-strawberry skin to the elements, dork!” – Sir Slicer, “Blood Under the Skin”

“I think she wants you to nurse, dude!” – Jake, “Blood Under the Skin”

“Is this the family axe? Did you turn it into some kind of lute?” – Hunson Abadeer, “It Came from the Nightosphere”

“A team whose sport is stop-your-dad-from-suckin’-souls… ball.” – Finn, “It Came from the Nightosphere”

“So I popped his head like a cork and said ‘that’s what I think about expanding earth theory.’” – Hunson Abadeer, “It Came from the Nightosphere”

“Oh my Glob, you guys. Drama bomb!” – Lumpy Space Princess, “It Came from the Nightosphere”

“Yeah, I diagnosed this horse with whacked-out poo-brain like five minutes ago.” – Jake, “The Eyes”

“Do. Doo-doo. I’m gonna kick that horse in the bottom.” – Finn, “The Eyes”

“I’ll be back as fast as I can. I won’t let your guts blow outta your face!” – Finn, “Storytelling”

“Bad computer! Now go sit in the corner and think about your life.” – Jake, “Slow Love”

“Jake! Nooo! You’ll get slimed… or grinded on!” – Finn, “Slow Love”

“Where… is… Finn? Does he have a pumpkin?” “Monkey watermelon?” – BMO and Jake, “Power Animal”

“That’s bizonkers!” “Yes, but the engineering is sound.” – Finn and Gnome leader, “Power Animal”

“Come on, man, Tuff Guy contest me. Got what it takes to rip it?” – Jake, “Crystals Have Power”

“Ha! You didn’t mash my potatoes! You didn’t even make me cry into my pillow silently for thirty minutes.” – Finn, “Crystals Have Power”

“Tree Trunks, you’ve gone bananas with crystal power!” “Finn, it’s not sexy for a king to call his queen bananas.” – Finn and Tree Trunks, “Crystals Have Power”

“Homies help homies. Always.” – Finn, “Her Parents”

“Being poked in the buns and laughed at was not in the plan. NOT in the plan.” – Finn, “Her Parents”

“A graveyard? Yes! There’s got to be a hairy princess in there who doesn’t think I’m hitting on her!” – Finn, “To Cut a Woman’s Hair”

“Ninjas ain’t real for nothin’ nohow.” – Flambo, “The Chamber of Frozen Blades”

“We blew it man, my plan sucked! It sucked all along! I was blinded by my own hoo-bris.” – Finn, “The Other Tarts”

“This cosmic dance of bursting decadence and withheld permissions twists all our arms collectively, but if sweetness wins – and it can – then I’ll still be here tomorrow to high-five you yesterday, my friend. Peace.” – Tart Toter, “The Other Tarts”

“Uh-oh, someone is gonna do a quest for a frog!” – Jake, “The Pods”

“Really? We have to do the bean quest?” – Jake, “The Pods”

“Glitter on its own could be evil. But with rainbows? Over my dead body.” – Finn, “The Pods”

“If there’s not a king to tell me to not start a riot, I could start a riot then.” “No rules, baby! Start that riot!” – Goblins, “The Silent King”

“Jake, why do the insides of you smell like vanilla?” “Oh, a wizard put a curse on me.” “Huh. Neat.” – Finn and Jake, “The Silent King”

“And the great question endures. Who would win in a fight between Nietzsche’s ubermench and Mandroid? The answer is Werewolf Queen. It’s always Werewolf Queen!” – Professor Worm, “The Real You”

AT library

The hardest adventure of them all. Knowledge.

“No, those spit bubbles were as fragile as my old perspective of reality.” – Finn, “The Real You”

“I know, I know. It was double-butt for real.” – Finn, “Guardians of Sunshine”

“Say hi to Death for me when you see him. He lives in the castle made of light.” – Peppermint Butler, “Death in Bloom”

“Kiss of Death, baby.” – Death, “Death in Bloom”

“I’ve never even met any other humans. If I think about it too much I get all soul-searchy and weird.” – Finn, “Susan Strong”

“You can’t eat the ones who talk. They’re special. They got aspirations.” – Finn, “Susan Strong”

“Startchy’s a Beezlebub!” – Startchy, “Susan Strong”

“My birthday wish is vengeance!” – Finn, “Mystery Train”

“Heh, you said ‘fun’ so much it sounds weird now. Fun. Funnnn. Fuunnnnn.” – Finn, “Go With Me”

“’Cause Jake said couples night has weird kissing requirements and romantic initiation rituals and whatever else.” – Finn, “Go With Me”

“All my favorite foods are dead. They cannot procreate in little food beds.” – Finn and Jake, “Belly of the Beast”

“No. To survive my bears need a phat party club to grind in.” – Party Pat, “Belly of the Beast”

“This place is yoga balls huge!” “Yoga balls aren’t that huge, dude.” “Look, I can’t analyze everything that comes out of my mouth.” – Finn and Jake, “The Limit”

“Hey man, watch it. I think that’s my nerp, but all stretched out.” – Jake, “The Limit”

“Okay, well you can take your weird body issues and tuck them someplace private.” – Jake, “The Limit”

“I didn’t tell you to flex out!” – Jake, “Video Makers”

“Mmm, check please!” – Shelby, “Video Makers”

“What if we turn evil? I’ll have to start wearing cologne.” – Finn, “Heat Signature”

“I should never have pranked you so perfectly.” – Marceline, “Heat Signature”

AT lich

Probably don’t listen to that guy, Finn.

“I’m sorry I punched you in the ball.” – Finn, “Mortal Folly”

“This is it, the ultimate power against evil. The power of… liking someone a lot.” – Finn, “Mortal Folly”

“This is our first fate of the world deal.” – Jake, “Mortal Folly”

“Yo, dude, what’s all that biz?” “Uh, bleach, lighter fluid, ammonia, gasoline. I don’t know. Lady stuff… Plutonium.” – Finn, “Mortal Recoil”

“What’s her condition, Dr. Ice Cream?” “She’s totally gross over 90% of her body. The other 10% is crazy nasty.” – Dr. Ice Cream, “Mortal Recoil”

“But I wasn’t sure it was real. Because when you have stanky old wizard eyes sometimes you see things that are real, and other times it’s like crazy crazy crazy in your face all the time. *sigh* All the time.” – Ice King, “Mortal Recoil”

“Imma set her free with my like-like sweater!” – Finn, “Mortal Recoil”

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