Television * Diana Lafyatis/Cole Sanchez * Hoo Boy… * 2018
I knew I was in trouble when I saw the title.
Adventure Time has been winding down for quite a while now. The show’s production – and its overall popularity – probably peaked with season five, which spanned the years 2012 through 2014. Keep in mind season one was in 2010 and we’re now finishing up season ten, and along with it the series itself. Please don’t ask me how Cartoon Network production schedules work. The way the network has dealt with this show is mystifying at best. On the one hand, they’ve been atrocious concerning the production and airing of new episodes. The last few seasons have been feast-and-famine situations in which months go by without a word and then suddenly there’s a full week of new episodes and then nothing for four more months. I don’t blame anyone for falling off the show because there was no way to reliably keep up. On the other hand, though, Cartoon Network has allowed Adventure Time to basically do what it wants and end on its own terms. Very few TV shows are given this opportunity and the amazing, talented team at Adventure Time made the absolute most of it.
It occurs to me that beginning this with a relatively dry look at how TV networks operate is my way of building a wall between me and the raw, beating heart of this beautiful fucking masterpiece because holy shit, it was perfect. “Come Along With Me” encapsulates everything Adventure Time has been and has become over the years. It was lovely to look at, as colorful and joyous in its visual style as ever. It was smartly written and cleverly worded. These things are expected. Above and beyond this was the creative team’s ability to craft an ending. Most importantly, they rightfully identified that such a wide and diverse and detailed world doesn’t actually “end.” These characters don’t just stop existing simply because stories aren’t being actively written about them. As BMO puts it towards the end of the episode, these characters keep living their lives. That said, important storylines and character arcs are paid off in a series of beautiful scenes which all work so well because they’ve been thoroughly earned over the past eight years. They’ve managed to balance the need for a sense of conclusion while still leaving plenty open to viewer interpretation.
In a moment, I’ll talk about the episode proper, but I need to prepare myself because this is just going to devolve into hyperbolic praise and bittersweet exclamations. That’s going to happen because of what this silly kid’s show has meant to me over the last few years. I’m not the target demographic that Cartoon Network envisioned when it first aired the show in 2010, you know? I didn’t even start watching until 2012, just as season 5 began. I was 33. The show immediately resonated and since then I’ve evangelized about it to anyone who’d listen. At this point I don’t even bother to hedge my statements: Adventure Time is my favorite show, full stop. It reawakened in me the joy of creativity and discovery and, of course, adventure that I was afraid was declining to the point of not existing any longer. But then here’s this ridiculous, exuberant, expressive, completely bonker-banana-beans cartoon, and it’s like this tiny light flickered back on. And over the years, somehow, it’s been consistently getting better and deeper while still being unafraid to try new things. Adventure Time has been one of the few consistent good things of the last few years, a constant reminder that life harbors joy and love in spite of a horizon of ominous, swirling darkness. Okay, now the actual episode.
So, back to that title. “Come Along With Me,” is, of course, the title of the song which plays over the end credits of all 283 (!!!) episodes. It is a very sweet little song, nice and chill, and I’ve never really thought much more about it, considering how many times I’ve heard it. So of course that’s going to be the title of the final episode, and of course that’s the song that’s going to play over the final minutes of the episode, and of course I’m going to cry like a small child who just rescued a baby bird only to watch it die in a shoebox. Because that sweet little song is a reflection of the spirt of the entire show, which looks forward as much as it looks to its past. “Come Along With Me” plays out as the episode ends in a montage of future adventures, the continuing lives of beloved characters. Therefore, the waterworks. I’ll add here that it takes some effort to make this cynical husk of humanity cry, and I’m pretty sure it’s the first TV show to do it. Like, the last Harry Potter book, the chapter “In This Haze of Green and Gold” in the final Dark Tower book, and, uh, that might be it? I’m repressed is what I’m saying.
The thing about “Come Along With Me,” the episode, is that it manages to do everything that makes Adventure Time special without seeming like it’s pandering or wallowing in its own history. However, it is simultaneously paying off several years’ worth of storylines without getting bogged down in exposition. That, of course, is something that the show has always excelled out. Unfortunately, it also means that unless you’re pretty much caught up, the ending won’t be quite as impactful. The episode begins as the Candy Kingdom is on the brink of war. Princess Bubblegum, fierce and magnificent, is lost in her role as a protector of her people and her kingdom. Therefore it is up to her Knight, a young man whom we have watched grow over the years, Finn the Human, to convince the Princess to stand down and avoid an apocalyptic war.
The method Finn uses to accomplish this is deeply weird, which is a hallmark of the show. Essentially, Finn puts the leaders of both parties to sleep and leverages their unconscious imagery to bring them to their senses. I won’t even try to describe what the hell I just watched, but it’s Adventure Time at its strangest, which is not a bad thing. Eventually, Princess Bubblegum stands down because Finn – who is desperate to avoid the same violence he used to revel in – was able to impart some empathy onto her. PB – who, if you’ve ever read one of my Adventure Time articles would know, is my favorite character and forever cartoon crush – is at heart a good person and is eventually able to admit when she’s wrong. For a hot second it appears that disaster has been averted. At this point, “Come Along With Me” kicks up another gear, and Betty shows up to wreak havoc upon the Land of Ooo.
I don’t have the time or space to get into the tragedy of Betty and Simon. Suffice to say that the history of the Ice King is one of the more affecting storylines in the Adventure Time mythos, and its climax coincides with the final minutes of the entire series. In her last ditch effort to restore Ice King’s sanity, Betty has lost her own mind. She has summoned Golb, a being of immense chaotic power, and horrible things immediately start to happen. These are truly apocalyptic forces, and again, there are simply too many instances of foreshadowing to get into here, but all of the imagery the show employs in this episode resonate with meaning. Meanwhile, the inhabitants of Ooo attempt to come together in an effort to repel the attack of pure chaos. They fail, and it is heartbreaking to watch. Yet at the same time, the characters, and the relationships they’ve forged over the last eight years, shine through.
In the end, music saves the day. BMO sings a lovely little song (written by Rebecca Sugar, who worked on the show in its heyday and left to create Stephen Universe, a show I should probably watch) which ends up hurting Golb. He’s pure chaos and discord, so harmonies mess him up real good. Yes, they thwart evil with the power of love and music, but it’s not as pat as all that. Adventure Time has never shied away from harsh realities, after all, and this is no exception. The music doesn’t actually drive Golb away, and in a desperate attempt to save Ooo, Finn, Betty and the Ice King end up in its weird gullet and are slowly being digested. The music weakens Golb enough so that Finn and IK – who has been reset back to Simon – can escape, but Betty thinks she can banish the monster once and for all. She is wrong. Betty ends up merging with Golb and leaving Ooo forever, leaving a devastated Simon behind to endure the aftermath. It’s a tragic ending to a tragic character, and at no point is the reality of the situation watered down or dulled. It just is.
Maybe that kind of thing isn’t the reason some people came to Adventure Time for. Of all the glowing articles I’ve read after the airing of “Come Along With Me” (all of three days ago) there’s always a contingent of people in the comments voicing their preference for when the show was more lighthearted and carefree. And that’s fine, of course. Things should be more lighthearted and carefree when you’re 12, which is the age of Finn at the beginning of the show. By the end, though, he’s 17 and has gone through some heavy things over the course of the five years Adventure Time portrays. In that way, it’s a similar journey to that travelled by Harry Potter. If it were up to me, I’d much rather hang out Finn as old H. Potts can be a real drag sometimes. Finn, after all, was very rarely angsty and is always down to party or chill and play video games. Anyway, my boy Finn seems likes he’s in a pretty good place at the end of the series, and I’m glad the writers resisted the urge to shoehorn in a romantic subplot where he’s concerned (although he could do worse than Huntress Princess, for sure).
Look, I could ramble on about this episode forever. There are moments of pure joy (PB and Marceline, finally) and moments of pure silliness (LSP leaning in for a selfie with Golb is an all-timer) and of course moments of pure devastation (the aforementioned Betty and Simon biz). It was weird and joyous and sad and exhilarating and did pretty much everything I needed to close out one of my favorite things. I’ll miss the excitement of seeing that new episodes are coming, but honestly, it’s the right time to end. There are an infinite amount of new stories to tell from the Land of Ooo, of course, but I’m perfectly fine letting those stories go untold (or play out in my head). The worst thing to happen to some of my other favorite shows are that they’re allowed to go on for too long. The classic case being, obviously, The Simpsons, which we should all be fondly remembering as the best show of the 90s instead of somehow still on the air. Adventure Time, thankfully, will never have to worry about becoming some kind of unholy shell of itself. Rather, it can live on as an established landmark of animation (283 episodes!) as well as a personal favorite. I love the world of Ooo and its ridiculous, endearing inhabitants more than almost any other fictional realm I can think of, and it’ll be something I’ll return to for the rest of my life. I’m lucky to have it.