„Was that you or was that me?“
And thus concludes Adventure Times gargantuan Season 5. I cannot stress enough just how impressively the show has expanded its scope from a funny yet extremely episodic show to one that enriches its characters, story and plot with almost every episode in a meaningful way. Not all too surprisingly, the season finale brings us another huge and interesting plot development, even though „Billy’s Bucket List“ cannot quite match the emotional intensity of the prior episodes.
Billy is Finn’s great idol, but died some time ago. Together with Billy’s ex-girlfriend Canyon, Finn discovers the hero’s unfinished bucket list, and vows to finish it for him. One of the items on the list: „Tell Finn that thing.“ Gee, thanks, Billy…
Spoilers from here onwards.
Old fears die easy.
Going into this episode and knowing about the episode’s title, I fully expected a moving tribute to the titular fallen hero, possibly inspiring young (and old) viewers to create their own bucket lists and then go out there and experience the wanted adventures. That is what a bucket list is all about, after all – motivating oneself to live pro-actively and actually do things before it is too late. No one can do it alone, not even the greatest heroes of them all – and so it is left to Finn to complete Billy’s list. However, „Billy’s Bucket List“ does not contemplate too much about regrets or things that were left undone – instead, the show adopts the story with a happy-go-lucky attitude. That’s fun, but not as emotionally resonant as I had hoped it would be.
It appears to me now that I went into the episode with false expectations, nourished by the lingering impressions of the spectacular „Lemonhope“ – an episode that would not let go of me for days. The most recent Adventure Time episodes have all leaned more towards the thought-provoking side of the show, but „Billy’s Bucket List„, I would argue, has more of a vintage-vibe to it. (Isn’t it impressive that such a thing even exists for a show that is not even 4 years old?) For once, the main story line has enough space to breathe so that it can allow itself to get side-tracked at times – the hilarious rap battle („That was pre-written! So obvious!“) and the encounter with the whale (?) being examples of how this episode avoids feeling cramped. As a result, the episode can amp up its goofy humor, for which one doesn’t have to look further than the entire first scene.
Still, „Billy’s Bucket List“ is not just fun and games – it’s just that the thing we (and Finn) learn, the episode’s moral lesson, is only introduced in the latter half of the episode. Finn learns that he must conquer his fear of the ocean in order to cross off the last item on the bucket list, but six minutes in, the episode cannot muster enough steam to really explore this issue. Nor does it try to – after all, the show had already dedicated an entire episode to Finn’s attempts to overcome his dread of the ocean (in season 1’s not-so subtly titled „Ocean of Fear„). Back then, Finn could only temporarily vanquish the Fear Feaster, with the episode ending with the words „And so fear is forced deep within the soul of a hero. Conquered… at least for now…“ Three years later, the show finally delivers the payoff.
Finn manages to kill the Fear Feaster in this episode (thanks, cursed sword!), but not because he has learnt any lesson in this particular episode. Instead, the episode shows how Finn has grown in the past 3 years, and as a consequence of that growth, is now a boy that not only has the courage to face his fears, but also knows how to do so. „Billy’s Bucket List“ is an episode about personal growth – not one can attain in a matter of the 10 minutes an Adventure Time episode spans, but one that develops slowly and gradually, one that takes time and hard work – and then pays off handsomely. Finn is faced with the Fear Feaster for only a fraction of the time in „Ocean of Fear„, and yet is able to deal with it easily. He is stronger now, way less reliant on his best friend (thus explaining Jake’s absence in most of the recent episodes), and has somewhat learnt to better take care of himself – oh, and the help of a cursed sword doesn’t hurt either.
It surely is no coincidence that this foe of the show’s early days is brought up again and easily dealt with at the end of Adventure Time’s most ambitious season to date. The characters have matured, and so has the show. Finn remembers how not to let the Fear Feaster guide his moves – by knocking himself out with a plank – from back in the day, and he does it in such a determined way that the naysayer barely has a chance to catch up with him, let alone talk him out of it. Similarly, the show has become much more steadfast with its characters, has introduced prolonged character arcs and barely made any missteps for quite a while – in fact, the last real dud I can think of is „Another Five More Short Graybles„, and that’s about 8 months ago. And with a similar confidence as the show, Finn vanquishes the Fear Feaster for good. With the abundance of newly introduced and intriguing characters, the show does not need to shy away from killing off characters, continuing Adventure Time’s trend to keep evolving.
A hero’s journey.
Whereas the story about fear manifesting itself from Finn’s bellybutton ends, new storylines are set up for the next season. Finn’s cursed grass sword is one of the more obvious ones: while his previous swords were merely tools, the grass sword clearly has a mind of its own, and in almost every episode featuring it draws attention to its dangerous nature. Finn has always had a tendency for some violence – but cutting off a fairy’s head (even if it is not dead)? More importantly, it is questionable whether it is actually Finn who slays the Fear Feaster – just prior to the mortal strike, Finn smacks himself on the cheek and then acts all surprised. Is the sword taking control of him? It has served Finn well so far, but considering all the hints that have been dropped in previous episodes about Finn losing his arm at some point in the future, it sure is a point of concern.
And then there’s the big bombshell that „Billy’s Bucket List“ drops on us: „that thing“ Billy wanted to tell Finn turns out not to be a throwaway gag after all. Finn’s dad (dubbed „Dad the human“) is alive, imprisoned in the ominous Citadel – apparently a prison situated in some wacko parallel universe. I’m not sure how I feel about this plot development – part of the adventurous nature of the show stems from the fact that Finn does not have any authority figures in his life other than Jake, who has been sidelined to emphasize that Finn has to take the important steps in his development all on his own. I also feel like Finn has never really yearned for a father figure, and so I wonder how these news will affect our hero.
What Finn, however, has always pined after, is an idol – maybe his father can be a hero, just like Billy. The question of just what it takes to be a hero has always been one of Adventure Time’s protagonist’s main concern. Billy had served as a mirror for Finn before, with Finn trying to emulate his hero – also shown in this episode’s flashback, in which a star-eyed Finn marvels at Billy beating up some thugs (or just innocent people, who knows). But this time around, Finn does not just try to imitate his idol – he becomes like his idol. Fulfilling the bucket list and helping Canyon find some closure are deeds done for the people, not to fulfill Finn’s dream to become a hero – which is why he ultimately becomes a hero. The parallels between the two becomes more apparent as the episode progresses, and when Billy finally recognizes Finn’s maturation (cf. Finn conquering fear), he is finally able to move on and fade away. Let the new generation of heroes take over. And leave him with one last gift – that of family.
– Adventure Time will be back in April. Good news, y’all: seeing that there is actually a demand for Adventure Time reviews other than the ones featured on the A.V.-Club, I’ve decided to write about the show more frequently, possibly even on a regular basis (depending on how busy I am).
– „Lie on my back in the ocean. Just float.“
– I made sure to freeze-frame Billy’s bucket list, fully expecting to find some sweet Easter eggs stashed in there. Surprisingly, the items are not laugh-out-hilarious, but instead try to strengthen the bond between Billy and Finn: „fix up an old car“ and „learn how to play flute“ are not inherently funny lines, but are things Finn has already done himself – now also including the motorcycle ride with Canyon and floating in the sea. So next time you see Finn „punch a jerky camel“, don’t be surprised.
– Rap Bear’s lines were truly… mystical.
– Theory time: Billy intended for Finn to stumble over his bucket list, to make him face his fears and become the hero that Billy formerly was.
– When Billy admits that „love is weird“ is not „that thing“ from his bucket list and then simply says goodbye and begins to vanish, I had one of the greatest laugh-out-loud moments I’ve had in front of the screen in a long time. That was just golden.
– „I love rap music, but only when it’s good rap.“ I love how this line mocks the pretentious attitude of some music lovers out there, basically expressing zilch except that they have good taste in music.
– I tend to take notes for episodes I am going to review. Adventure Time is only a quarter the length of shows I usually write about, and yet I am very hard-pressed to note down everything the show makes me feel and think. Adventure Time is just so incredibly dense, particularly because its out-there nature just lends itself to use characters, situations and arcs metaphorically.
– SPOILERS (you have been warned): rumor has it that Finn will in fact lose his right hand in season 6. I still can’t wrap my head around how they could potentially do it in a kid-friendly way, but it isn’t completely out there. After all, characters have died in this show before (Billy).
Conclusion: 8,0 out of 10 points.
„Billy’s Bucket List“ is not one of the show’s finest examples, but it sure is a pleasing and entertaining way to end this amazing season.