„I love dad and everything, but I’ve only met him twice.“
One of Adventure Time’s more unusual narrative decisions was to introduce the offspring of one of the protagonists a couple of seasons ago, yet have them grow up off-screen and remain firmly in the background. It has marked Jake as some sort of jerk extraordinaire, rarely acknowledging this darker side of his. „Ocarina“ tackles this issue, but is hesitant to earnestly confront Jake with his negligence once again.
Family reunion! Usually, Lady Rainicorn raises their five children alone, but daddy Jake finally makes time to visit them. His son Kim Kil Whan has bad news for him, though: he has legally obtained the tree house Finn and Jake live in, and he has no intention of letting them off the hook – soon, Finn and Jake share their house with dozens of other inhabitants…
Spoilers from here onwards.
Jake’s defining quality is his stretching ability, making him the perfect problem solver in pretty much any situation. A big evil monster? Jake could turn into a dog twice its size. A small corridor? Jake could just shrink himself. A locked treasure box? Jake could just crawl into the key hole, enlarge himself – and voila, the chest would be cracked open. It’s a deus ex machina the show can employ pretty much any time it wants, but frequently lets Finn take the limelight instead. Usually, that’s because Jake lets him, trying to be a responsible brother that makes sure his bro matures by learning how to take matters into his own hands. Sometimes, the show just cops out of using Jake as the ultimate answer in order to create tension. When the conflict rages on the personal side, however, even Jake’s overpowered magical abilities may be at a loss.
„With great power comes great responsibility“, Spiderman once taught us, yet what does too much power do? In the case of Jake, it results in negligence. It really is a great character attribute, because it means the show can express its carefree nature on a constant basis in (literally) very varied forms, but also because it directly stems from Jake’s capabilities and his place in the world. Jake is so powerful that he can pretty much do whatever he wants, which for him mostly means hanging out with Finn. He could be superman, he could be the hero Ooo needs right now, he could use his great power to fight crime and save the world – instead, he uses it to raise his step-brother in a relaxed atmosphere.
That’s fine. Nobody has the right to ask Jake to dedicate his life to the greater good, that is Jake’s own decision. However, it is also his decision to date Lady Rainicorn, and even more so to father children. This is a responsibility he chose, and one he would now have to adhere to. The fact that he doesn’t in the slightest is a result of him not being used to having such responsibilities – in fact, Jake is one of the physically best-, but emotionally least-equipped Adventure Time characters to raise a child, let alone five. He leaves it to Lady Rainicorn, who so far seems fine with it – but his children most certainly notice and feel their father’s absence and the negligence they are treated with.
It is commendable of Jake to at least assume responsibility while raising Finn, but his complete absence in his children’s childhood – intensified by their rapid aging, of course – is clearly leaving a mark on them, which causes the tree house ownership trouble of the episode to begin with. It could be argued that Jake’s carefree nature also affects Finn in a negative way – „Wanna rob a bank or something?“, asks a clearly clueless, to which Finn thankfully reacts with doubt. But when Finn suggests to get a real job for once, Jake is clearly at a loss – a job? Oh, that’s boring, Jake is powerful enough to not need a job. A regular income is for the weak, after all, right?
Jake’s laziness is often played out as a joke, and it’s great to see „Ocarina“ reflect on the downsides of his attitude to life for once. While most of the episode is fine but not great, the ending is very affecting, despite being somewhat predictable. The stakes are once again delightfully high, with there being a real chance of Finn and Jake losing ownership of the tree house thanks to Adventure Time’s established ruthlessness in changing the status quo, but the tree house storyline is merely the hook on which the abandonment issue hinges, and the revelation that Jake’s son has become what Jake should have been to him – a responsible family man – strikes some great emotional notes.
Unfortunately, it is only a half-hearted attempt. While the episode becomes genuinely affecting in its last moments, Jake’s redemption is not wholly earned, instead being a half-assed attempt to win their tree house back. Had the ocarina been a valuable gift that came from the heart, the episode would have ended with Jake’s acknowledgement of being a bad dad, of not seeing his children grow up, but most importantly of seeing what his son was really getting at. Instead, Jake pulls out a pure Jake-moment, in which he gives Kim Kil Whan a hand-crafted, basically useless stone ocarina. It slots right into the humour Adventure Time is rightfully renowned for, but is also such an underwhelming refusal to have Jake mature. The episode sells the ocarina as a genuinely sweet gift that moves Kim Kil Whan to forgive his father and hand him their tree house back – instead, the (beautifully chosen) object becomes the epitome of Jake not realizing his son’s plight, which he is still forgiven for.
It really is too bad – the ocarina could have been the perfect symbol for Jake’s growing awareness of his duties as a father. In actual fact, the gift is a reminder that Jake will remain Jake, for better or worse. That’s fine by itself, but does not go well with the son’s sentiment at the end to just let it go and let Jake live however he wants, because he has caused a lot of discontent among his offspring. It doesn’t, however, change the fact that the ending depicts a beautiful, almost tragic reversal of roles – the child has to take care of his father, trying to teach him some life lessons. In a Hollywood movie, the father would be the antagonist, the drunkard that fails his family – here, however, Jake still remains one of the show’s heroes. It surely is an issue the show will tackle earnestly one day, and I am looking forward to it – „Ocarina„, however, testifies that Jake is not ready for it yet. The ocarina would have been the perfect opportunity to show that there is more to Jake’s denial of responsibility than meets the eye – alas, that is not the case yet.
Even more bla:
– Due to time constraints, there will be no Adventure Time review next week.
– Okay, I really don’t understand how Jake could duplicate himself, since that goes against everything we have learnt about him so far. Any suggestions in how to explain mini-Jake jumping out of the gift box?
– Marceline’s new bass is hilarious! I do miss her absence, though, this has been her first appearance in season 6 – and it’s a cameo, at that.
– „Yeah man, it’s tough, I’m a tough kid.“ – Finn, justifying his idea to sleep on the ladder.
– This episode utilizes a great continuation from „Furniture and Meat“ with their sudden lack of dosh. I always highlight such things, because I think the show’s willingness to embrace its past for future narratives is one of the reasons why the show’s mythology is as strong as it is.
– „Oh, you know, dad is… distractible.“ I really dislike with how much glee Jake says „We’re REAL late!“, as if it’s something to be proud of. Shame on you, Jake the dad!
Rating: 7,5 out of 10 points.
Finn and Jake’s quest to regain possession of their beloved tree house confronts Jake with his responsibilities as a father in a touching way, but „Ocarina“ refuses to provide meaningful character progression.