“You got a death wish, Johnny Truant?”

American Horror Story: Coven – “The Replacements”

The best episodes of American Horror Story are designed to leave your head spinning. They burn through plot faster than the first two seasons of Homeland combined, and throw as much insane shit as possible at you, hoping something will be ridiculous enough to make you overlook any deficiencies or less-than-tasteful moments.

So when the camera panned in on Kathy Bates’ Madame LaLaurie sobbing in front of a television showing Barack Obama giving a speech, unable to accept that there could possibly be a black president, I knew “The Replacements” was kicking into classic AHS mode, and it didn’t let me down.

So much kooky stuff went down in “The Replacements,” the most grounded plot was the one about a frankenzombie. Zoe visits Kyle’s mother (Mare Winnigham, recently giving a brilliantly campy turn on the turdnugget Under the Dome), who’s smoking a lot of pot and generally very depressed. After having his wounds healed by Misty Day in her Stevie Nicks-soundtracked swamp shack, Zoe comes to take Kyle home, and leaves him on the doorstep like a package. Kyle’s mother is relieved, but becomes concerned when he won’t speak, and even more concerned when she sees his penis in the shower and realizes it’s not his. Oh, yeah, it seems Kyle’s mom was sexually abusive, masturbating him while he lies in bed and trying to convince him no girl could ever please him like her. In his first real act of agency, Kyle finally lashes out, beating her head in with a trophy, leaving her there for Zoe to find when she comes over later for dinner. (NOTE: my cable cut out for a good twenty seconds or so right after Zoe found the body, so if something happened after that I didn’t catch it. Sorry.)

Cordelia and her husband Hank are still trying to get pregnant. It seems the sexy blood magic from last episode was unsuccessful, and when she visits her doctor, he tells her that she can’t get pregnant at all. Her blood work was very disturbing, and makes it impossible. She visits Marie Laveau to ask her to perform a voodoo spell, one creepily played out for us that involves two ounces of semen, a ridiculously hot pepper, and Cordelia rubbing goat’s blood into her vagina. Oh, and $50,000. But when Fiona agrees, Laveau laughs in her face, telling her that she’ll never perform a spell for her, not only because they’re from different tribes, but also because Laveau and Fiona are arch-enemies. Cordelia is shocked to learn that Fiona has visited Laveau at all.

And speaking of Fiona, she too visits a doctor (a plastic surgeon) who tells her that her blood work is unsettling. It seems her body is literally shutting down, and she knows what this means. In the cold open, we learned that when a new Supreme emerges, the former begins to waste away, and Fiona knows that’s what happening to her. (She also slit the former Supreme’s throat while Spalding watched.) After Madison and Nan visit new uber-religious neighbors Joan and Luke Ramsey (Patti LuPone and Alexander Dreymon, respectively) and accost Joan’s delicate sensibilities (and fling a knife at her and set her curtains on fire), Joan visits Fiona, bringing a Bible and telling her of the horrible things Madison’s done. Fiona finally realizes Madison is the new Supreme, and takes her out drinking, eventually revealing Madison’s true nature to her. Fiona gives Madison the same blade she used to slit the former Supreme’s throat and begs Madison to do the same, but she resists, and in the struggle, Fiona–in a twist I saw coming the minute the struggle started but loved all the same–slits Madison’s throat instead. Of course, Spalding stands in the doorway, handkerchief ready. “This coven doesn’t need a new Supreme,” Fiona opines nonchalantly, “It needs a new carpet.”

And then, there’s Queenie. Madam LaLaurie has had a difficult time adjusting to the modern world, especially the non-enslavement of black Americans, but Fiona assures her that she will not tolerate racism, and forces LaLaurie to be the house’s maid and tend to Queenie’s every want and need. But when the two are in the house alone, Queenie requesting peach cobbler and telling LaLaurie about her desire for love, who should come aknockin’ but the Minotaur himself. LaLaurie breaks down and tells Queenie what she did to the man and begs for Queenie’s help. Queenie agrees, gets some of LaLaurie’s blood on a rag, and uses it to lure the Minotaur away from the house. Out in the shadows of the yard, she tells the Minotaur that she understands he was only acting out of love, and asks him to love her as well. She begins to masturbate in front of him, and he moves behind her, rubbing his horns gently on her face, but suddenly grabbing her and dragging her away.

So, yeah, pretty bonkersawesome. Wacky plot twists, bizarre character moments, big, campy acting, these are ingredients that go into great episodes of American Horror Story. But what really put me at ease in this episode was a lessened focus on the magical race war. Even the scene showing the voodoo spell Cordelia asks for is allayed by Angela Bassett’s reactions to Cordelia’s request. The show also gives a peek at what’s really going on in these stories, and it seems less about a magical race war than about the oppressive white witches receiving comeuppance for their actions. It’s a much more interesting angle than just pitting the two tribes against each other, and the show doesn’t seem interested in questions of guilt, only punishment. As I’ve said before, the oppressed defeating the oppressor is a long-standing trope in fiction, and it makes me feel better about the racial elements of Coven knowing that’s the direction it’s going.

Lots of insanity, great performances, and too many Dutch angles to count all contribute to the first truly strong installment of American Horror Story: Coven. Patti LuPone is a fantastic addition to the cast, and the unexpected death of Emma Roberts’ Madison puts a fun new wrinkle into the plot. Of course, there’s no way she’ll be dead for long, which makes it even more exciting. Coven is finally kicking things up a notch, and it’s all the better for it.

Stray Observations

  • Ghoul Tunes: With all this talk of Minotaurs, it’s Poe with “House of Leaves.”
  • Seriously, the directors for this show bust out every single trick they can. The amount of different shots, angles, and filters in any given scene is dizzying.
  • Nan doesn’t do much in this episode except brag about how much she gets laid, but that’s okay because that scene was fantastic.
  • This was the first episode of Coven that’s made me laugh heartily out loud and throw my hands up and yell “What?!” at my television, and on a base level, that’s all I really want out of this show.
  • More Lily Rabe please.
  • Speaking of, let’s get Frances Conroy back in this mother as well! Her bizarro mix of Hagrid and Professor Trelawney was amazing.
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My body’s a zombie for you

Man, the Barbershop movies have taken a strange turn.

American Horror Story – “Boy Parts”

In my “Bitchcraft” review, I talked about the problematic nature of American Horror Story: Coven‘s view on race, and it seems that things aren’t looking to necessarily change as the season progresses. I don’t know if I’ll ever be 100% on board with that aspect of Coven, but the show is committing to it, and for that I do concede some… respect is too strong a word, but appreciation. Commitment has always been what brings American Horror Story together at its most insane, so maybe it will work here.

But man, the concept of a magical war between two sets of witches, a war where the two sides just happen to be blacks versus whites, is crazy unsettling. Part of what makes it so unsettling is that it’s difficult to tell which character we’re meant to empathize with. Depending on the point of view, there are two distinct revenge stories at play, with Jessica Lange’s Fiona in the middle, kicking up the dust. We’ll see where things go, but for now this part of Coven is skating by on the performances from Angela Bassett and Kathy Bates, and not even they can keep that ship afloat forever.

Fortunately, the rest of the episode was appropriate bonkersawesome (to steal a phrase): Zoe and Madison sneak down to the morgue, where they bring Kyle back to life by sewing up a bunch of different, well, “boy parts”; Cordelia’s trying to get pregnant but is having difficulty, so she and her husband (she has a husband, apparently) get freaky in some sexy blood magic to help the process along; Misty Day returns and helps Zoe heal the frankenzombie; and Nan gets annoyed by how loudly Madame LaLaurie is thinking, so she unties her and sets her free.

Floating through it all is Fiona, eating fried chicken in front of her tied-up Madame LaLaurie, brainwashing two detectives who come to ask questions about the bus flip, throwing Zoe and Madison up against walls, and confronting Marie Laveau herself in her, ugh, beauty salon. But Lange plays it all like the pro she is, dancing around like she did to “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” in “Bitchcraft.”

The rest of the cast also puts in good work, especially Lily Rabe and Emma Roberts. Roberts’ schtick is a little difficult to parse, but it’s starting to come together, and it seems like a perfect fit for American Horror Story. Gabourey Sidibe and Jamie Brewer only get a few short scenes, but are both great. And Kathy Bates and Angela Bassett are poised to steal the show from Jessica Lange at any given moment.

After a shaky start, “Boy Parts” sees Coven getting back on track, and while I’m still apprehensive about the racial aspects, for the rest of it, I couldn’t be more pleased.

Stray Observations

  • Ghoul Tunes: This week it’s the song that gives this review it’s title, “My Body’s a Zombie For You” by the Ryan Gosling-fronted Dead Man’s Bones.

  • Super short review, but I’m just trying to get this thing up before the next episode. Whoops.

Agency

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Homeland – “Game On”

“Now’s the time for patience. Don’t force the pieces, store them away.”

Homeland has never been known for its subtlety. When a show uses and abuses plot the way Homeland does, it loses that option. But when Saul says these words to Fara midway through the episode, they’re not just for her, they’re for the audience as well. But how can a show that burns through plot and flies by at breakneck speed expect its audience to be patient? It took nearly four hours for the third season to play a single card from its hand, and when compared to seasons one and two, that’s a lifetime. Season three of Homeland has slowed to a snail’s pace to draw parallels, to parse out plot in increments so small they’re not difficult to miss. Even when we’re given a(n extended) glimpse of Nicholas Brody, it floats in a plotless expanse. But in the closing moments of “Game On” there’s a spark, but it births a phoenix, a force of life or death, and which it becomes is yet to be seen.

But before we reach those final moments, we must go back to the pieces. Carrie is finally released from the psych ward (after being denied release at her hearing), and is scouted once again by Franklin. She refuses his offer, but finds her life hampered by the Justice Department. With no car, no money, no help at all, Carrie is left stranded, and finally agrees to the meeting with Leland Bennett, a lawyer for with ties to same Iranian terrorists who carried out the attack on Langley. After promising that they can keep her out of the hospital, Carrie agrees to give his client information about the CIA.

Dana helps Leo escape from the psychiatric facility, the two of them going on the run in Jessica’s car. But the outside world is dangerous for Dana, as well, where people recognize her face and realize who her father is. They end up at a graveyard, next the headstone of Leo’s brother, who Leo reveals committed suicide, and the base where Nicholas Brody was stationed before his deployment. Jessica and Mike meet with Leo’s parents and the police, where Leo’s parents accuse Dana of being a bad influence because of her father. Mike begins investigating, and learns that Leo was only in the hospital because of a plea bargain. The police believe he killed his brother, but wouldn’t charge him with homicide if he was committed.

Saul and Fara continue to track the money, leading to a mildly confusing series of revelations involving futbol and money laundering, all tied back to Caracas.

And in the final moments, Carrie visits Saul at home, where it’s revealed that Carrie is going triple-agent, getting in with the Iranians in a grossly elaborate operation to help Saul take them down.

“Game On” was at its best when focusing on Carrie. Director David Nutter gave the scenes of her trying to navigate the world after being released from the hospital a claustrophobic intensity reminiscent of season one. Claire Danes pulls back throughout, leaving the chin acting for the final scene, and instead playing her steely resolve, a side of Carrie we haven’t seen nearly enough of this season. The scenes between Saul and Fara were fine, though the explanations were convoluted, and with so many different names flying around it became difficult to pick apart what was happening, though the cut aways of the actual laundering operation helped immensely, and there was no very awkward scene of Saul yelling at Fara for her headscarf.

And then there’s Dana and Leo. I’ve been a staunch defender of Dana Brody from day one, but I’m already bored with Leo, and adding the possibility of psychopathy doesn’t help. I’m still overly worried that he’s going to leak her nude photos (especially after he threw her phone out of the car), which would be a terrible plot direction, and Sam Underwood brings almost nothing to the role, coasting on the same half-acting he used in the last season of Dexter. Morgan Saylor is still fantastic, and her monologue at the base was a great piece of acting, but their portion of the episode went nowhere, and handing off the baton to Jessica and Mike didn’t really help.

“Game On” could be a game-changer for Homeland season three. It could also be the episode everyone points to as the moment it all went to hell. It’s impossible to say, but if the final moments are any indication, we might be headed back for the Homeland we know and love.

Stray Observations

  • Was that the guy Carrie had the one night stand with way back in season one?
  • Also, VIRGIL!
  • So are Saul and Fara going to find Brody once they start investigating Caracas? Seems obvious, but Homeland rarely takes the obvious route.

In the garage

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Adventure Time – “We Fixed a Truck”

One of Adventure Time‘s core concepts is rebuilding, like the Land of Ooo, forming from the husks and ashes of the Great Mushroom War. Adjacent to that is the idea of creation, like the Candy Kingdom, which Princess Bubblegum brought to life with sugar and science. Adventure Time is fond of externalizing these ideas into mechanical creations, and often uses these externalizations to probe into secondary characters, such as NEPTR, Ice King, and Flame Princess. “We Fixed a Truck” is the next episode in this psuedo-series, bringing back “Weird Al” Yankovich’s Banana Man to, as the title suggests, fix a truck.

Banana Man is the most mechanically-minded person Finn and Jake know, so when Finn finds the titular truck while out and about, he’s the one Finn, Jake and BMO call to help fix it up. Banana Man first appeared all the way back in season three in “The New Frontier,” and having him (and “Weird Al”) back is a treat. Like previous episodes that revolved around building things, there’s a musical montage set to an original song sang by the guest, and “We Fixed a Truck” finds a way to get in a second montage set to the same music as Ice King’s Manlorette Party. These montages are one of Adventure Time‘s great strengths (same with original songs), and since the episode is very light on plot, it doesn’t feel overcrowded or rushed to have two. I’m also a huge fan of the Manlorette Party music, and seeing it used again years after being first introduced was an unexpected and fun touch.

In the middle of the night, BMO decides to do his own work on the truck, and tunes in to the local radio, where Starchy hosts a Rush Limbaugh-esque radio show spewing conspiracy theories about Princess Bubblegum having been replaced by a lizard person. Banana Man shows up, and opens up about his loneliness. BMO takes note, and when the gang gets the truck up and running the next day and takes it out for a joy ride, BMO and Jake encourage Banana Man to flirt with the cute Banana Guard they see outside the Candy Kingdom.

And this is where things get, well, a little weird. One of the key things that separates Adventure Time from it’s companion Regular Show is structure. The structure of any given episode of Adventure Time can vary wildly, while Regular Show is much more consistent: Mordecai and Rigby engage in normal activities that suddenly escalate immensely in the third act. “We Fixed a Truck” borrows this structure, and as the gang drives into the Candy Kingdom, they see Princess Bubblegum being chased by an angry mob who heard Starchy’s show and believed his lizard person theory. And in a twist that actually made me gasp, when the gang saves Bubblegum, a suspicious BMO uses a ladybug to reveal that Bubblegum actually has been replaced by a lizard person, who the gang must then fight, even if it means losing their truck in a blaze of glory.

This revelation raises some interesting questions, both within the show and about its message. There’s been some discussion, at least since the beginning of the season, of Bubblegum’s move towards darker, more sinister behavior. Is it possible she’s been a lizard person this whole time? It could make sense narratively, but would also raise some issues. First is that the real Bubblegum was wearing the same outfit and hairstyle as the replicant, and never revealed when she was replaced, making it difficult to know how long the replicant had been ruling instead. Second, if this reveal was meant to answer some of those questions, it feels odd to give it such short shrift, especially in an episode with two musical montages. The question about message is less involved: in a world of magic and near-limitless sci-fi, it’s easy to accept that someone like Bubblegum was replaced by a lizard person. The decision to present it as a crackpot conspiracy theory, however, seems to pose that maybe, just maybe, those crackpot conspiracy theories might not be totally wrong. This being Adventure Time, any answer is possible, but it’s nice to see the show drawing from present-day scenarios again.

“We Fixed a Truck” is another fine, if not spectacular, installment in the back half of season five. It’s liberating to be free of Finn’s relationships problems for a while, though that shouldn’t mean the show shies away from more character development. But musical montages, the reappearance of Banana Man, and some great BMO moments make “We Fixed a Truck” a solid episode all around.

Stray Observations

  • “Oh it’s just my luck/oh it’s just my luck/I went on a walk and found a truck./Oh it’s just my luck/oh it’s just my luck/when I honk the horn I’ll wake Jake up!” Never change, Finn.

  • Finn names the truck Hot Daniel.

  • Ice King’s still living in the Tree Fort. Wonder how long that’s going to last?

  • I might be reading too much into it, but Banana Man’s soda seemed like something else lifted from Regular Show.

  • Banana Man explains the intricacies of a truck engine, including helpful diagrams that only he and we can see, to which Finn replies “What is he pointing at?”

  • BMO, upon receiving a gold star from Banana Man: “Yay, BMO is so pretty and smart!”

  • “This grease monkey’s torqued up on automotive science! Yeah boy!”

When I tell the punchline wrong

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The Mindy Project – “Wiener Night”

Ugh. What in the ever-living shit was that cold open? Well, it was terrible, for one thing. Before I even watch the rest of this episode, I just need to lay out how awful and unfunny that entire sequence was. First of all, what was even the point of Kevin Smith being there? He wasn’t even playing a character! He’s just there for the show to make some of the most tired fat jokes of all time, including the absolute worst: fat people take smelly poops. (Hardy-har-har! Why is this even a joke?! Everybody poops!) There are a million different ways The Mindy Project could have introduced Ben Feldman’s character–whose name I don’t yet know and who really didn’t have any chemistry with Mindy–and they went with one that works zero percent of its running time. Okay, that’s out of my system, I’m gonna finish that episode now.

Well, I’m back, and I’m sad to say that “Wiener Night” never improved much past that cold open. If I had to pick one word to describe this episode, it’d be “unpleasant.” Ben Feldman’s character, the arts and culture editor some trendy, New York underground newspaper named Jason, is a deeply unpleasant person. He’s snooty, judgmental, willfully ignorant of all pop-culture, presumptuous, and patronizing. They go on two very unpleasant dates where he is awful, and even his “redemption,” where he sings and plays Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” on ukelele (Ugh, I just… what?), was unearned and unsatisfying.

One of those deeply unpleasant dates, unfortunately, is the messy center of “Wiener Night.” Danny’s ex-wife Christina, who is a genuine insane person, is holding a gallery opening full of nude photos of Danny. (Ugh.) Of course, the entire office must attend, including both Brendan Deslaurier (Mark Duplass) and Cliff Gilbert (Glenn Howerton). (Uugghh.) And Danny gets drunk and has a public meltdown, right before its revealed that Christina was even more insane than originally thought and made a Lynchian video about being betrayed by Danny and, what, drew on them with some kind of fluorescent marker that only shows under blacklights? (Uuuggghhh.) Meanwhile, Jason is a douche, Mindy accidentally Instagrams a picture of her boobs, and Adam Pally and Ike Barinholtz spend ~3 minutes laughing at the word “penis.” (Uuuuuggggghhhhh.) If this was the first episode of The Mindy Project I’d ever seen, I would hate all of these people immensely. I would hate this show immensely. At this point, I can’t even understand why any of this had to happen.

After what I saw as great progress last week, “Wiener Night” was a slap in the face. (Not like that, pervert.) There’s so little here worthwhile, it’s almost as dire as when Mindy and Danny went to Staten Island, and might even be a little worse. From the bizarre cold open through groan-worthy scene after groan-worthy scene, “Wiener Night” was a Mindy Project failure of pretty epic proportions, and definitely not the kind of episode the show should be airing after one of it’s very best. Or to sum it all up: Ugh ugh ugh ugh UGH UGH ugh uuuuuuuuugggggggghhhhhhhhhhhh!

Stray Observations

  • While it’s a terrible indicator of quality, the only joke in this episode I actually laughed at came from Tamra, of all people: “Rayron [I’m probably wrong about this name] took a picture of me in a bikini once, I was so mad, but then he sent it to this modeling agency, and now I’m on shampoo bottles in Japan!”
  • Cliff is actually a divorce lawyer, which was mildly amusing.
  • One last thought from the cold open: Mindy’s returning from an enemy’s wedding? What?!

“Seduce him.”

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – “Eye-Spy”

One of the biggest differences between DC and Marvel comics in recent years–say, since the launch of the New 52 and Marvel NOW!, respectively–has been tone. DC has tended toward darker, emotionally charged stories with big moments, with writers like Scott Snyder and Geoff Johns leading the pack. Marvel, on the other hand, has trafficked in smaller stories more rooted in character, without the pressures of always being dark and edgy, led by Matt Fraction and Brian Michael Bendis. These differences are felt in the cinematic universes as well. Man of Steel was technically the first installment in the DC cinematic universe, but its bleak, destructive view of heroism is in line with the Dark Knight Saga, while Marvel’s film adaptations feature more levity, and embrace the heightened nature of the comic book world. And for the first time, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. really feels like an appendage of the Marvel cinematic universe.

It seems silly to say, but “Eye-Spy” truly felt like a comic book story. Its main plot deals with a former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who has apparently gone rogue, performing diamond heists around the world. In comics, introducing a new character with ties to a hero’s past is commonplace, a way to create drama and suspense as details about the past are parsed out during the present adventure. What Akela Amador (Pascale Armand) also brings to the table are new challenges for each of the individual team members. Even if its not a specific task (like FitzSimmons performing bio-mechanical surgery on Amador’s eye), every member of the team faces something they’re not prepared for, even Ward.

This is a good dramatic direction for S.H.I.E.L.D. to take, with the caveat that it feels almost too early to introduce a story like this. These types of plots work well when you need a fresh idea but are stuck with the current toys in your sandbox. The writers of S.H.I.E.L.D. still have plenty of toys to play with, so while they may not be stuck, they might have played the former ally card a bit too soon.

However, the twists of the plot help keep “Eye-Spy” fun, even when they’re predictable (as most of them are). When it’s revealed that Amador hasn’t gone rogue, she’s being coerced, it’s not a huge shock, but it makes narrative sense to pit these characters–especially Coulson–against a hostage instead of an outright villain. The second big twist at the episode’s end, when we learn that Amador’s handler was being coerced himself, is a well-worn trope, but it’s standard comic book fare. Comics are notoriously anti-closed endings, just look at any character who’s come back from the dead at least once. This way, the big bad behind Amador’s crimes still remains out in the world, ready to come back whenever the writers feel like it.

Also of note is the continued confidence of the actors. It’s easy to say that the cast is weak, with Clark Gregg and Ming-Na Wen being the strongest, but it seems unfair to those who have made progress already. Chloe Bennet continues to grow into Skye, and while there are plenty of detractors, they’re probably never going to enjoy her performance. To her credit, she’s learning to downplay some of Skye’s less-pleasant qualities, giving the character a breezy disposition that betrays her own terror at being flung into the unknown. Iain De Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge continue to tone down the quirk, one of the best decisions the show has made. Since we get to spend so much time with FitzSimmons, as opposed to only popping up once or twice an episode, their quirk ratio must be adjusted accordingly. Brett Dalton even shows some vulnerability here, though it’s only flashes. His performance as Ward is still one of the show’s weakest, but maybe a focus episode (which I still believe is coming in due time) would be able to give the character some bend

S.H.I.E.L.D. continues to learn and grow, and by buying more and more into its comic book origins, the show begins to better reflect the universe from whence it was born. The show is still dancing around superhumans, the further inclusion of which I feel could only help the series, though it makes sense financially. The serial story is still in formation, and consists mostly of just mysteries and the sexual tension between Skye and Ward. Clark Gregg is also still carrying the ensemble to a considerable degree. But these are normal kinks, and finding a voice similar to its mothership is a big step forward for S.H.I.E.L.D.

Stray Observations

  • One of the biggest indicators of a comic book-style plot: I wasn’t always entirely sure what was going or what people were talking about at a few points, but the visuals and pace pushed past the confusing stuff to things that made more sense.

  • Amador seems like a decent enough character to have in the S.H.I.E.L.D. reserves, hopefully this isn’t the last we see of her.

  • No direct Avengers references this week, though Skye does point out Coulson’s proclivity for collecting “old stuff.”

  • The least-predictable twist of the episode: “Seduce him.”

  • Seriously, let’s get some damn superhumans back into the story!

  • I’m also hoping for a clearly defined Big Bad for the season to come around soon. If it’s the Rising Tide, we’re gonna need more than some vaguely distressing emails and concerns about Skye’s loyalty.

Lady in red

Adventure Time – “Red Starved”

Since the beginning of Adventure Time, Finn has had two consistent relationships with older females: Princess Bubblegum and Marceline the Vampire Queen. And no matter how many dalliances, romantic or otherwise, he has with other princesses and females, his relationships with Marcy and Peebs are a fundamental part of who he his, and help shape him as he grows into a young man.

Marceline has always been a foil to PB. While Bubblegum has a friendly exterior that hides a scientifically-propelled sadism, Marceline is the gruff, distant one who denies her deep emotional pain. We’ve learned much about Marceline and her trgic relationship with the Ice King during Adventure Time‘s run, most importantly in “I Remember You,” where the duo sing the titular song. It describes the Ice King’s descent into madness from kindly scientist Simon Petrikov, who took care of young Marceline in the immediate fallout of the Great Mushroom War. The most important lyrics come in the songs chorus: “This magic keeps me alive, but it’s making me crazy.” And as we see in “Red Starved,” those words don’t just apply to Simon.

Marceline’s vampirism has never been fully addressed by the show. We know that she can survive by sucking the red color out of objects, and that she can shapeshift into various dark creatures, but her compulsions are mostly a mystery. After Jake traps Finn, Marceline, and himself in an underground city made of sand, she discovers that Jake also chowed down on her snack supply of red erasers, and she starts to go a little batty. (Okay, okay, okay, I’m so sorry, but I couldn’t help myself.)

Finn goes to find something red for Marcy to eat, leaving her and Jake alone in the main cavern of the underground city. Jake and Marceline have had a rocky history; he has an extreme fear of vampires, and this caused him to initially distrust Marceline’s genuine goodness. And while they’ve reconciled in recent seasons, “Red Starved” sees those fears come back to the surface. It’s unclear how much of Marceline’s vampire freakout is for show–she gets a kick out of scaring Jake–and how much is uncontrollable urge. Vampire mythology almost always involves an insatiable bloodlust, and Marceline even warns Jake, “I don’t want to hurt you, but things get crazy when I’m hungry.” When Finn returns with an emerald instead of a ruby, Marceline finally loses it, actually “attacking “Bubblegum and sucking out her “low-grade red” when she comes to save them. (Don’t worry, the Spoon of Prosperity they were in the underground city to retrieve in the first place restores her immediately.) (PS. Those quotes around attacking are for the shippers out there.)

But “Red Starved” isn’t just about Marceline’s flaws, it also addresses those of Jake. His indiscriminate hunger is matched only by his lack of foresight, and this isn’t the first time his lackadaisical approach to adventuring has gotten him and Finn into trouble. His repressed terror at Marceline’s vampirism is also unleashed as Marceline becomes more and more unhinged. When Jake isn’t in adventure mode, his ability to handle stress and improvise is almost nonexistent, and combined with his hunger, it leads to poorer and poorer decisions. When he finally digs the lava moat around Marceline, in order to cook her so that he can eat her before she eats him, we’re left with two people acting out of the highest desperation. “Kill or be killed” is a strange theme to touch on in what’s ostensibly a children’s cartoon, even by Adventure Time standards, but that the show paints it as a philosophy born of desperation and shortsightedness is an interesting twist.

“Red Starved,” unlike “Box Prince,” feels at home in Adventure Time‘s fifth season. I imagine Jake and Marceline’s relationship will be strained for a while, and it may be time for the show to really dive into how Marceline became a vampire in the first place and what the rules governing vampirism in this universe are. And while Finn has already reexamined his relationship with Bubblegum multiple times, perhaps he should take a look at Marceline as well.

Stray Observations

  • So, Finn is partially colorblind. His trek deeper into the underground city wasn’t uninteresting, but was so weirdly disconnected from the drama unfolding between Jake and Marceline. I felt validated by that reveal, though, and I hope the show addresses the ramifications from this discovery sooner than later. And keeping the emerald red until after Jake tells Finn it’s green and he’s colorblind was an excellent choice that actually made me do a double take.
  • “Check it out, flesh drill!”
  • Finn: “You’ll bury us alive!” Marceline: “…Undead!”
  • I’m not sure what the Spoon of Prosperity does exactly, but according to Peebs, “Peeps will never starve in my eternal empire.” First off, kind of creepy. Second off, could this be a solution to the endless problems of the Lemongrabs?
  • Of course Peebs is traveling around in a sandworm. She must’ve learned how from the Fremen.
  • Special shoutout to my friend Alex. I watched “I Remember You” with him this weekend, and he started the discussion about Marceline and Ice King both being kept alive and driven crazy by different magics.