„You are strong, child, but I am beyond strength.“
Coming off its best season yet, Adventure Time doesn’t pull any punches with its 6th season premiere. The two-parter „Wake Up„/ „Escape from the Citadel“ is the most audacious and gruesome episode of the show’s entire run, and it will be hard-pressed to ever produce such a mightily mythology-heavy, premise changing episode again. To top it all off, the season premiere is an entirely heart-wrenching episode too – making it a strong contender for becoming Adventure Time’s signature episode.
„Wake Up„/ „Escape from the Citadel“ follows up on the cliffhanger courtesy of „Billy’s Bucket List„: Finn’s dad is alive, and he’s at the Citadel, the universe’s (or some universe’s, I guess) top prison. In order to get there, Finn and Jake have to commit a „cosmic crime“. All seems to go reasonably well until the nemesis of all life, the Lich, shows up, and thwarts their plans…
Spoilers from here onwards.
Let’s cut right to the chase: Finn finally loses, as has been foreshadowed for a long time, his arm in the most emotionally devastating way possible, by virtue of trying to hold on to his elusive (that’s entirely an euphemism) father. If you’ve read the spoilers, you knew Finn’s arm was going to be gone by episode 6 of this season, and yet nothing could have prepared me for losing it in an episode that is already so incredibly heavy on mythology. Prismo’s death, the Lich’s neutering, the introduction of Finn’s father, the discovery that Dad the Human is just the worst – the season premiere was already filling its quota of delivering on new background information and new revelations, and then the unthinkable happens: Finn’s hand just snaps off.
What an audacious move. I have often wondered how Adventure Time was going to pull it off – it cannot outright frighten its kid audience by having Finn wallow in pain, and yet just randomly transforming it would have completely undersold the heavy implications. By desperately trying to hold on to a father that doesn’t want him, Adventure Time perfectly underscores this monumental change with some heavy emotional strain on Finn’s part, and I can’t stress enough just how heartbreaking it is. Seeing Finn stopping entirely in his tracks, with sad curves forming below his eyes, with even Jake being unable to cheer him up (hey, they just defeated the most evil being in the universe!), and only Shelby being able to emotionally process the tragedy just yet. It’s an ingenious move, a trick the show employs frequently: minimize the tragedy on-screen, let the audience connect the dots. A crying earthworm looks perfectly cute, as does the silly flower that blossoms out of his stump – but damn, this boy just lost an arm. No, Jake, it won’t „be okay, dude“.
It’s remarkable how the loss of Finn’s arm not only works as one of the show’s most earth-shattering moments, but also as a metaphor. Finn is entirely torn apart by the revelation that his father had been rightfully imprisoned in the Citadel, probably for being the biggest douche in the universe, whereas he just looks like a grown-up version of his jolly, righteous, good-natured son. Finn did not expect that at all (and neither did I), instead hoping all his life that he was left in the woods for good reason. In „Wake Up„, Finn pretends to not be sure whether he should meet his father, when in fact he has been dying to get to know him. Finn is not the boy that usually lies in his bed after midnight, fully clothed, contemplating about things. And Jake is the buddy to set him on the right track. It’s so lovely to see Jake tell Finn all the alleged reasons to meet his father (to learn about allergies etc.) when it is clear he just wants to quell Finn’s doubts. Too bad Finn ends up being right, but he didn’t really have a choice: otherwise, how many more sleepless nights would he have lain awake?
When Finn musters up the courage to ask his father about their time, he blushes big time – indicating that he is convinced his father loved him dearly. Turns out, though, he didn’t. „Hell, you know me – I’m a funny guy.“ Maaan, Martin is just the worst, and saying that he doesn’t quite remember why he abandoned his child shows just how little he has thought about his son. „But hey, daddy’s back!“, he smiles, as if his past crime didn’t matter. Even worse, though, he does not mean he is back for Finn, but for himself, now free to do anything he wants – which does not include Finn. Martin is not interested in getting to know his son, and it is easy to see how he left Finn behind because he was „too much work“. All he sees in his son is a way to get out of the Citadel.
It is to Adventure Time’s credit that the show does not sugarcoat this development, but dramatizes it by having Finn literally try and fail to hold on to a father that escapes all sorts of responsibility. But Dad the Human means even more to Finn than that: Finn is also looking for people of his kind – humans. While not being the only other human being in Ooo (Betty!), Martin would have, could have, should have been the one that Finn can have a relationship with – one that might mentor him, and guide him, and teach him things that a magical dog can’t. Yet Martin entirely thwarts those expectations, not becoming the major relationship person that Finn was hoping for, instead shattering Finn’s hopes and dreams, and leaving him with a stump instead of an arm. Martin will make for a great villain in the upcoming season, seeing that he is so different from other villains like the Lich: he is not all too powerful, but just hits the right notes to destroy Finn from the inside out, with every fiber of his being.
The Lich’s return.
„Wake Up“ is arguably the more traditional, more random, and less devastating episode of Adventure Time, but still is an amazing episode in its own right. It starts out with an array of sight gags too numerous to list: Grob, Gob, Glob and Grod flirting with a nymph (whose hair is literally water), Grob, Gob, Glob and Grod taking a selfie with the Lich, Party God chilling with the Cosmic Owl, Clock Guy wearing a wrist watch, and even Death being afraid of the Lich. But late into its story, the episode makes a sudden turn when the (literally) 2-dimensional Prismo is revealed to be a dream of the old man Finn and Jake just abducted, and needs to be put to sleep for 1000 years in order for Finn and Jake to get to the Citadel. Almost predictably, the Lich turns to life and seizes the opportunity – and less predictably, actually kills Prismo.
I laughed out loud when Prismo declared „Poof, I’m a goner – and thus ends mighty Prismo„, but my joy soon turned to ashes when his words were actually followed up. It’s an apt preface to the even more emotionally fraught „Escape from the Citadel„, but is quite the stunner in its own right. Prismo was such an inventive and fun character, and it’s a shame to lose him – I love the Cosmic Owl’s look, but character wise, Prismo was just the more chill dude and had such a great chemistry with Jake. It is harrowing to see Prismo be killed in such a cruel and gruesome manner – obviously scared and unhappy with the turn of events, highlighting just how big of a villain the Lich is.
There is a real sense of danger emitting from the Lich throughout the 2nd episode, and Adventure Time does a great job with depicting him as a seriously frightening villain. As soon as the black flames start being thrown left and right at the Citadel, it becomes hard to imagine how our two heroes are going to defeat the Lich, particularly as it turns out Dad the Human is of no help at all. Soon enough, the guardians of the Citadel are overwhelmed and killed, and the Lich has the time to devote his attention to his two mortal foes in a haunting dream sequence (or something like that). His speech is maddeningly beautiful, and really gives a sense of just how powerful he is. Major kudos to the voice acting of Ron Perlman here – Adventure Time’s voice acting is always top-notch, but his „You are strong, child, but I am beyond strength. I am the end.“ sent shivers down my spine.
Generally speaking, Adventure Time always has to come up with inventive ways how to show Finn’s capability of heroism in a world in which Jake is an entirely overpowered magical animal, while Finn is just a 15-year-old boy. I was particularly intrigued by how Finn and Jake were going to get out of this mess, and I’m happy it did not include a sudden turn-around by Martin. Instead, the laser goo (or whatever the heck that white goo is) that earlier helped regrow Martin’s leg turns out to be the perfect weapon against a being that is beyond strength, and it’s an entirely satisfying twist. I particularly love how the Lich is not quite dead yet, but neutered for the time being – and thus sidelined for further stories some time down the road.
But for the time being, all attention shall be devoted to our Finn the Human, who never has suffered more loss before. Defeating the Lich gives him a slight relief, but it cannot make up for what this adventure has cost him. Even I can still hardly believe Adventure Time has finally done it – but at the same time, I recognize the immense story potential this brings forth. In that sense, the duo of „Wake Up“ and „Escape from the Citadel“ is not only one of the show’s best episodes to date, but also a great harbinger for what is to come in the future, and cements Adventure Time as one of the best shows currently on air. I cannot wait to see more of the fallout of Finn’s lost arm – if the last two minutes of „Escape from the Citadel“ are any indication, we are in for an amazing season.
– Welcome to the season 6 reviews of Adventure Time. These reviews will now be a regular feature on this site, though I hope to be a bit more concise in regular reviews. Disclaimer: since I usually won’t be able to catch the live airing, I will probably be half a day late with these reviews, but will try my best to deliver them in timely fashion.
– When the white goo engulfed Finn’s arm at the end, I was so sure it was just gonna grow back, and then a mere flower blooms out of his arm. What a devastating consolation price, and yet what a gorgeous image. Also, the close-up of the stump made me shiver. Favorite shot of the entire episode, though: Finn falling into the water, briefly giving us time to comprehend what we’ve just witnessed.
– Treetrunks was just getting divorced, but now is going to raise a child instead.
– „You ever wondered what happened to make a place all wrecked up like this?“ – „No.“ I love how this sort of parodies the tendency for protagonists of mystery shows such as Lost to not just ask the questions the audience has. In Adventure Time, the withholding of information is just explained via disinterest of Jake, not because the action prevents them from asking those questions – moving along.
– It’s interesting to note that it ultimately wasn’t the sword’s fault Finn lost his arm. The sword, turns out, is actually a benevolent one, amplifying Finn’s strength to make him able to hold on to what is dear to him. I wonder whether he’s going to learn how to sword fight with the other hand – or get some sweet artifical extension that will help him fight. (I guess one could check out „Puhoy“ for that – that’s the episode in the pillow universe in which an adult Finn already has a menchanical arm.) Oh, and Jaime Lannisters sends his regards. Oh my god, I can’t believe I just went there.
– I wonder whether they will adjust the opening sequence accordingly. They have never done so before, but I feel like the loss of the hand would be worth being reflected in the intro.
– „Ooh, gross. Pedal to the medal!“ – Martin’s reaction to Finn’s dedication. Man, I hate this guy so much.
– I think what I love best about Adventure Time is how the show is always moving forward without needing to. It could still be the fun but limited show of the first season and still be popular with kids, but it doesn’t. Instead, it has the courage to kill off popular and promising characters such as Prismo and the Lich in its quest to reinvent itself. The show has no creative need to be so bold, but it is, and becomes all the richer for it.
Rating: 10 out of 10 points.
„Wake Up“ and „Escape from the Citadel“ bring forth major changes to Adventure Time, and does so in marvelous style. Stories that are heavy on mythology are inherently interesting, but the season premiere also packs an enormous amount of emotional gut punches, and as such turns out to be the show’s most devastatingly beautiful episode.