„It’s time James takes his eternal nap.“
After the entirely tremendous „Escape from the Citadel„, Adventure Time comes up with its first real stinker in a long time. „5.42 James“ had already been a pretty lackluster episode, but its follow-up is even worse: few jokes, an uninspired plot and a lack of an emotional hook make „James II“ an underwhelming entry in the show’s otherwise stellar recent history.
James XXVI heroically sacrifices his life to save Princess Bubblegum’s life – sorta. When PB decides she is done with cloning James and enlists Finn and Jake to clear out his house, they discover that James has only been faking his death – and instead been collecting medals for bravery. PB is not amused…
Spoilers from here onwards.
I hate being harsh to this show, particularly after spouting last week to just about everyone who was in earshot how Adventure Time has become one of the best shows on air right now, but this episode really makes me doubt my own words. „James II“ feels in many ways like it came from an earlier season. While it does use the continuity of an earlier episode, it employs a heavy-handed flashback to do so, instead of having things evolve naturally. Thankfully, I must say – I wouldn’t have wanted any Jameses poke around in other episodes, and it looks like I won’t have to be scared of it in future episodes.
I’m very disappointed to see the episode just glance over Finn’s arm stump without dealing with the fallout of last week’s episode. I didn’t require this episode to heavily bemoan the loss of the arm, but seeing Finn having adjusted to it all that easily just felt off. No small sad glance at it when climbing the wall, fighting off the enemies or clapping hands – Adventure Time is not usually a show that is neglectful, but here the drama of the most defining moment of Finn’s entire life is not only put to the side but forgotten entirely. The show is doing the ambition it showed in the season premiere a great disservice here – I feel like the show is missing out on a lot of dramatic material. I’m not saying they should show Finn wallow for weeks on end, but acknowledging Finn’s feelings just in the slightest would have gone a long way in showing us that the show actually cares. In „Escape from the Citadel„, they showed Finn’s devastation in a quiet, melancholic manner that would not scare children away – here, they failed.
But even apart from that, „James II“ fell almost entirely flat for me. There were some moments of Adventure Time’s signature brilliance, such as a willow that’s actually weaping, or the banana guard that screams „Aah! Can’t fight!“ and stabs himself after making sure nobody is watching, or even the Jameses buying gloves in the glove shop, only to lose them a mere seconds (because, you know, they don’t have hands). But between those moments, there was a lot of uncharacteristic wheel-spinning. The look-alike gag was overused massively, as was the stupidity of… basically everyone involved. Side-lining Finn and Jake was a mistake, since that meant the idiotic banana guards were in charge. The banana guards can be fun in small doses, but basically hit the same beats all episode long.
The same goes for James himself, quite frankly a one-note character that should not have two entire episodes dedicated to him. Maybe it’s a silly criticism to level towards a show whose primary audience are children, but: James is annoyingly childish. The entire episode feels strongly geared towards children (PB’s explanation of cloning notwithstanding), and it drags down the quality significantly. Usually, the show manages to address adults and children alike, and that’s the reason I am watching and reviewing this show in the first place, but „James II“ only appeals to me in small chunks.
The episode feels rushed, as I can see several interesting ideas being undeveloped. Consider, for instance, how James II is collecting all the medals and proudly owns them, whereas the other Jameses refer to the medals as theirs – wouldn’t their social structure have been interesting (if it wasn’t for James‘ one-note character)? Or how about the fact that James was making PB clone him because he felt lonely – but at some point became too self-entitled and just kept doing it, even when there were already many friends there? Or how about the banana guard leader’s „realization“ that everything would be easier if they all just had the same names – isn’t that one of those fun one-liners that actually has some melancholic implications? I feel like these characters‘ naive approach to the individual vs community debate could have lead to a somewhat meatier episode, for instance. As is, there is just too little subtext in all that is going on in „James II„, an episode that is focused much more on goofing around – a kind of goofing that I just didn’t connect with.
I did find the end of the episode satisfying, though. The original James was a hero, and since his clones are made of the same stuff (quite literally, in fact), they save the day. It’s not a too surprising ending, but it most definitely does the character justice: it acknowledges his heroism, but also just how annoying he is. In that sense, James is not unlike Lemonhope (from the two-parter „Lemonhope„): they are the heroes of their respective episodes without being all too likable. But whereas Lemonhope’s journey was guided by a strongly melancholic and emotionally satisfying undercurrent, the emotional heart of „James II“ is just as empty as the titular character’s head – and that’s a shame, because usually, Adventure Time can do better.
Even more bla:
– I loved the moment the lead banana guard showed the photo to the others. All the banana guards went „Oooh“ – including the leader!
– „Remember me…!“
– Loved Finn’s casual kicking of the orphans. Doesn’t Jake look slightly reproachful when he safely heaves them over the wall one by one?
– Slightly sloppy animation this time around. The orphans were just randomly standing around (yeah, may be intentional), but what looked particularly boring is how the banana guards surrounded the Jameses.
– I think I am quite biased towards this episode, having unrealistically high expectations from the recent run of series highs (particularly „Lemonhope“ and „Escape from the Citadel„), but I also think this episode is legitimately bad. I’ve been trying to get my friends to watch this show – I feel like if I showed them this one, they would decide to stay away. Also, I’m somebody who is looking for emotionally satisfying stories rather than just goofy humor when watching Adventure Time, though the show is of course at its best when it does both at the same time.
Rating: 4,0 out of 10 points.
„James II“ is a real dud. Not only does it fail to address Finn’s loss of his arm, it is also pretty mediocre in its own right. There could not have been a poorer follow-up to the show’s pivotal 6th season premiere.