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.
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