„YARG, my arm!“
After a very lackluster outing („James II„) last week, Adventure Time snaps right back to its familiar high quality: „The Tower“ deals with the aftermath of the season premiere in a way that’s both imaginative and emotionally resonant.
Finn is tired of the dorky replacement arms the princesses have given him, with every clumsy movement a reminder of how his father abandoned him for a second time. Like any young hero, he decides to try to deal with it in the easiest way possible: by seeking revenge…
Spoilers from here onwards.
When I heard of this episode’s concept, I immediately thought of South Park’s episode with a similar premise, „A Ladder to Heaven„: children building an improbably large tower to reach the sky. It’s a great metaphor, and really captures how children’s imagination works. With Finn being 14 or 15, however, the episode stretches credibility just a tad, as Finn’s maturation process has been one of the main narrative driving engines of the show as of late, whereas the tower-idea would fit better to the child-like protagonist of the early seasons – after all, it really does not make sense to build a tower to get to some guy floating around in space ship somewhere out there. Regardless of that, the ingenious concept and the stellar execution – the depiction of the tower is absolutely hilarious and makes for some great screen caps, see the picture above – manage to form the basis for a great episode.
The episode also provides the appropriate amount of heart. I was critical of last week’s „James II“ because it failed to show how Finn has been affected by the season premiere, and I’m very glad „The Tower“ makes up for that in grand fashion – in fact, the episode makes „James II“ look like it belongs to an entirely different era of episodes, and maybe it should have indeed just aired two months or so later. „The Tower„, meanwhile, finds a great balance to deal with the lack of an arm without making Finn mope around all day long. The show has fun with Finn’s useless replacement arms (love the sausage arm, by the way!), but doesn’t shy away from including an underlying sadness of how Finn has lost something he can’t replace. Calling it Finn’s „favourite arm“ is a throwaway-gag, but actually shows how both Finn and Jake don’t actually think it’s a joke.
Being a surreal cartoon show, Adventure Time can utilize wacky plot devices to externalize our protagonist’s emotional strain, and Finn’s incorporeal arm is exactly that. The episode weaves a neat arc of Finn coming out with his feelings, being overwhelmed by them and eventually being redeemed and coming to terms with his hatred with the help of his friends. There’s some tongue-in-cheek humour when PB provides a scientific explanation for the manifestation of Finn’s desire to have revenge on his father, but even without it Adventure Time would have gotten away with introducing this convenient and super-powered arm, largely thanks to the well-executed character arc.
The episode does become a little unfocused when Finn encounters Carol, the cloud woman – an admittedly pretty imaginatively conceived character. I love how she advises Finn to „run away and never stop hating your own life!“, but her backstory of being water that didn’t want to be swum in feels a little convoluted. After that, though, „The Tower“ snaps right back to playing according to many of Adventure Time’s strengths: some sublime visual metaphors (as when Finn briefly imprisons himself within the tower, his face looking outside through an empty brick slot), some innocent humour with BMO (*waves*), some reminders of how the world of Ooo is built on the ruins of a lost world (Candy Kingdom has a fallout shelter!) and of course a neat moral lesson at the end.
I was a little freaked to see Finn physically try to take his father’s arm – luckily, Finn doesn’t have the strength to for the time being, but with the theory that his flower arm is the remainder of the grass sword, I wouldn’t want to take my chances. I’m glad Finn didn’t get to encounter the real Martin in this episode – it would have been both contrived in this episode’s story as well as taken away some of this character arc’s magnitude. The loss of the arm is Adventure Time’s biggest gamble and greatest narrative undertaking, after all, and it’s not something that can or should be resolved within the matter of a few episodes. As is, the show is doling out the process of accepting the loss and learning to move on, with the pace of „The Tower“ being spot on.
What I often find a little lackluster about several Adventure Time episodes are their abrupt endings, and „The Tower“ has one of those of which I just don’t quite know what to make. It’s mostly well paced, as there is plenty of time to deliver the episode’s message in a cohesive manner: Finn learns that his anger won’t make his hand grow back, and the tower of revenge is consequently toppled. I love how they topple the tower with this single piece of wood, and that the show doesn’t just forget that there’s a massive tower standing.
On the other hand, the episode fails to show how serious the damage Finn and Jake inadvertently cause in the Candy Kingdom. Will the damaged castle be of importance – and more importantly, did Princess Bubblegum just lose an arm, and will it be dramatized? I’d guess the show would try to avoid this kind of repetition, but then again PB’s scream is pretty clear as to what it could mean. Now, the ambiguity may certainly be intentional, but it does take away from the episode’s resonance. If there’s a punchline or a new and important revelation, the episode ends with a plain notion of what it wants to stir in the viewer. When it can’t decide, as in the case of „The Tower„, we can’t conceive expectations as clearly, and thus the effect is diminished. It’s a bit of a shame, since both of this episode’s ending beats – the tower falling over (funny), and the damage they cause to the Candy Kingdom and PB (possibly tragic) – are great by themselves, but too much at odds with another.
Even more bla:
– I’d like to think my English is pretty sound, but shows like Adventure Time do challenge me when they use language creatively: if there is something more to Jake’s talk of „lemon heart“ than, um, a heart shaped like a lemon, then it completely went over my head. It’s an interesting oddball compound regardless. though.
– I love how PB „quarantines“ the tower, with the help of a banana guard that soon falls asleep.
– Aww, the roe!
– Weird: Jake’s shopping bag shows the Earth being whole, even though it hasn’t been so since the Mushroom War. Bags don’t usually last 1.000 years.
– I particularly love the shots of the landscapes that have some major parts missing. They look absolutely beautiful, I hope they stay like this and we’ll see them again some time!
– Adventure Time hasn’t changed its intro despite Finn losing his arm, and I’ve come to realize that this is actually a new beat the show is hitting: there is now an air of sadness to see an innocent and adventurous Finn fist-bump Jake or raise his hands for the series logo. All of a sudden, the intro has an entirely new layer of meaning, an entirely unexpected yet spectacular feat.
Bottom line: 8,0 out of 10 points.
„The Tower“ is the Adventure Time episode that should have followed the season premiere – appropriately deals with the aftermath of Finn’s loss of his arm, and does so in a very engaging way. The episode is a little uneven at places, but also features a resonant story and some very memorable visuals.