„Or maybe I’m just normal again.“
It has been a while since I’ve checked in with Adventure Time, and that’s a pity: the series has been on a roll lately. With a startling ambition to sensibly extend its boundaries (and cast) on an almost weekly basis, Adventure Time has become so much more than the fun but somewhat plain show it started out as. „Betty“ is a great example of that – the episode that finally answers the long-standing question of what happened to the significant other of the Ice King could have easily been just a great stand-alone episode, but Adventure Time instead opts to make it change the show“s scope once again forever.
A ritual to summon the evil magician Bellanoche goes awry and ends up sucking out all magic of the present wizards – including the Ice King. He is transformed back to his former self, Simon Petrikov, with only little memory of what has transpired during the long tenure as the Ice King. One thing he does remember, though: he needs to find Betty, the woman he loves…
Spoilers from here onwards.
A children’s show?
Among all the shows I watch, Adventure Time’s format is unique in that each episode only lasts for roughly 10 minutes. The show has made of virtue of it, with adventures mostly being quick and entertaining, having narrative shortcuts often underscore the show’s tendency for random tidbits and goofy humor. „Betty„, however, is an episode that is anything but lighthearted, and as such is one of the rare cases in which the time span of an episode cannot quite encapsulate every beat „Betty“ wants to hit. As a consequence, several scenes just feel a few seconds short, without taking its time to really hammer home its emotional impact.
This may be by design – Adventure Time is, after all, primarily a kids‘ show, and only secondarily attracts an adult audience. It is a balance that is not always easy to maintain, and „Betty“ certainly displays the friction between the two shows that this one show tries to combine – on the one hand, Simon Petrikov’s quest for his sanity is a deeply tragic story that has just been enriched with yet another entry that furthers the predicament of the Ice King; on the other hand, „Betty“ is a wild and imaginative adventure that features a cool new character kicking ass.
There are a lot of contrived events happening in this episode, such as how conveniently Betty enters the present time or how easily she is able to defeat the Bellanoche (although, to be fair, he is said to be „anti-magic“, which does make sense to only be bested by a non-magical being). What also bugged me a little was just how much of a non-issue it was for the titular heroine to not only travel one thousand years into the future, but all of a sudden be thrown into an Earth on which talking dogs and magicians and flying carpets are perfectly normal. Ultimately, however, none of these things matter much to the episode’s quality because it is so deeply grounded in the show’s mythology, and the many answers „Betty“ delivers are so incredibly satisfying that the inconsistencies or improbabilities of the episode can easily be waved off as part of the show’s randomness, despite being somewhat lazier than the show’s usual contrivances.
The story of Simon and Betty.
That said, „Betty“ is an amazing episode, and the more I think about it, the better it gets. Chief reason for that is the afore-mentioned problem with the episode’s timing. So much happens within mere seconds of each other that it is difficult to process – and one wishes the show would take its time to do that itself. Instead, Adventure Time lets the audience ponder over the significance of that kiss that was a thousand years in the making, or just how much it means that Marceline lets go of her beloved stuffed animal Hambo in order for Simon to see Betty again, and perhaps most significantly, Simon’s decision to let Betty restore his crown to safe his life.
„It’s my time, Betty. I don’t wanna be the Ice King again!„, laments Simon, and in an actually rather dark tone for the series (as ever masked by the bright colors and the fun interpretation of Death), is almost welcoming the grasp of death. He remembers the Ice King’s actions as mere impressions, and yet he is clearly tormented by what he has become, and what he has been for such a long time. Ironically, though, he lets Betty try to restore his insanity, in the hope of one day being united with her once again. Adventure Time does not dwell long on it, but Simon implies that it is this belief in love that affirms his humanity, and thus needs to make this sacrifice in order to atone for what has become of him and what grief he caused Betty. Death threatens Simon’s sanity won’t be restored until the sun blows up – I guess that means Finn, Jake and friends have a new goal for the intermediate future: find a way to destroy and restore the sun.
With Betty Grof, Simon Petrikov’s former fiancee, the episode successfully introduces yet another compelling character to Adventure Time’s ever-expanding roster. It makes sense that she is not the most flashy character the show has ever done, with her being human and all (woah, Finn is no longer the only known human being on Earth!). The animation was a little uninspired, but Betty made more than up for that with a surprising dedication for the Ice King. When Future Simon tells her he never saw her again after his first stint with the crown (during what is probably the episode’s most poignant moment in an episode full of them), Betty wonders where she would have gone without him – and answers it with a decisive step through the space-time continuum.
It is certainly one of the most perplexing and surprising moments of the show so far, and yet one that fits so perfectly well with the lore – it really begs the question of just how much of the background story of these main characters had been in place from the get-go, and how much is just made up by the creative team as they come up with new stories. So far, it has either been an impressive exercise in patience, or a perfectly executed filling-in-the-holes. Either way, the decision to have Betty enter the present time line is both a very poignant chapter in the story of the Ice King as well as an exciting prospect for future episodes. Betty’s re-emergence in Simon’s/Ice King’s life has a staggering amount of ramifications, most prominently of course having a new character around whose main goal is to find a „loophole“ to lift the crown’s curse. Marcy will be her ally, naturally, but even Finn, Jake and Gunther are now among the people who know that beneath the Ice King’s insane quest to abduct princesses lies the desire to find the girl that had gone missing one thousand years ago.
With all the changes and progress Adventure Time has undergone in the past 10-15 episodes, it really feels like the show’s golden age. When the show first started showing signs of evolving, it did so mainly by having Finn slowly but surely hit puberty. Finn’s exploration of who he is and what he wants is still an integral part of the show, but the show has started to show more and more interest in other inhabitants of Ooo. Many of the newly introduced secondary characters are able to pop up at any time without notice, but none of them have shown as big of a legacy or potential as Betty, an impressive feat for a character that before this episode has only been alluded to. Given the poignancy that „Betty“ delivers in such an intense and frequent fashion, though, Adventure Time is looking like it is perfectly capable of handling this newly established facet with grace.
– So, there was a bit of hype surrounding Betty’s voice actress, Lena Dunham, the creator and main actress of Girls. I thought she did a good job, but not an astounding one. I do hope that this casting does not prevent Betty from frequently (or at least occasionally) returning, though.
– So, judging from the book Simon and Betty co-authored, „Mystic Rituals and their Space-Time Applications“, is it safe to conclude that there was magic a thing before the Great Mushroom War took place?
– Sometimes I do wonder whether I am watching this show wearing biased Adventure Time-goggles. This episode’s storyline had a ton of plot holes, and I’m sure I’d complain about it. However, the show does not only care less about them than most of the serialized dramas I watch, it also deals with them in a more lighthearted way – it just goes with them, sometimes underscored with a character commenting on it.
– Death is driving an invisible bus with a cassette player – with Death apparently being invisible to everyone but Simon in the first place. God, how do people come up with this stuff? Genius.
– Opinion time: I really don’t like the visual character design of Betty. To me she seems to be just missing the endearing qualities that Finn and Simon have.
– I never realized before that the word ‚carpet‘ consists of ‚car‘ and ‚pet‘, a kind of fitting combination for a flying carpet.
– „You lose, Simon – sorry, man.“
Conclusion: 9,0 of 10 points.
Adventure Time reveals one of its most anticipated mysteries – and „Betty“ does not disappoint. A pity the episode is not longer – ten minutes are not nearly enough for this fascinating and ambitious episode.