The Future Freaks Me Out

betty

Adventure Time, “Betty”

At this point, the tragedy underpinning the Ice King isn’t news. As we’ve seen several times, his past is riddled with loved ones he’s disappointed and hurt, and the unwitting ignorance caused by the magic of his crown has essentially isolated him from these tragedies. But, at last, the past has broken through to the present, in more ways than one, and the events of “Betty” could have far-reaching implications in the future of Adventure Time.

When the Cool Wizards’ Club revives Bella Noche, they have no idea they’re unleashing a being made of pure anti-magic onto Wizard City. The initial revival blast robs the CWC—and Ice King, who, as usual, was hiding in the background, just wanting to be one of the guys—of their magical powers. For the Ice King, that means his crown no longer contains the magic that was not only keeping him alive, but also making him crazy. Waking up from his frigid haze, Simon Petrikov hijacks a magic carpet from eternal d-bag Ash and flies back to the Ice Kingdom to try and rectify his biggest regret: driving his love Betty away without ever getting to say goodbye. Using Finn and Jake to generate power and Hambo (an item from the past filled with Marceline’s love) as a catalyst, Simon opens up a portal to the past, to a time after he’s found the crown, but before he’s found Marceline. As he roams the streets, searching for his “princess” and firing ice magic into the air with reckless abandon, Betty (voiced by Lena Dunham) cowers behind a building, unsure of what to do next. When present-day Simon expresses his love and regret, Betty makes the shocking decision to jump through the portal, transporting herself to the present day.

When she learns that Simon is dying without the magic of the crown, Betty loads Simon onto the magic carpet and rushes to Wizard City to take on Bella Noche herself. With Death hot on their heels, Betty and Simon arrive in Wizard City just as Bella Noche has taken out the last of the holdout wizards. (It doesn’t help that Ron James the spell maker powered Bella Noche up with a bunk potion made from an old bidet and a vaporizer.) Laying Simon on the ground, where Death hovers over his sickly body, Betty flies toward the craggy tower protecting Bella Noche, finding a crack and crawling inside. Once Betty finds Bella Noche in the heart of the structure, she delivers a swift and merciless hook. Betty’s punch takes down Bella Noche, returning the stolen magic to the wizards, but it also brings the tower crumbling down around them both. Simon, now revived as the Ice King, has no memory of what happened, and returns back to the Ice Kingdom, where he kidnaps Muscle Princess and regales her with his second-hand story of what happened in Wizard City. Outside his castle, a hooded Betty looks on forlornly from the magic carpet before flying away into the distance, with only Gunter as a witness.

For an episode without a real tearjerker moment like in “Holly Jolly Secrets” or “Simon & Marcy,” “Betty” might be the saddest Ice King story yet. Not only does Ice King return to his former self and glory, but only for a few hours, he’s also reunited with his one true love, who almost immediately goes to sacrifice her own life for his. And when it comes down to it, Betty succeeded in her initial mission, to save Simon from death by returning his magic. But the Ice King’s immediate amnesia of his time as Simon, as well as Betty’s identity and her full plan, to continue working toward a true cure for Simon’s curse, ostensibly renders her sacrifice, and the fact that she survived the battle, moot, at least in regards to the Ice King. Betty, sadly, sees as much as she watches from outside the castle window. But she remains in present-day Ooo, and while she’s there, she’ll certainly be exploring every possible spell, science experiment, and mystic ritual she can to truly be reunited with Simon for good. Betty’s continued existence in Ooo adds a new arm to the still-growing cast and stories of Adventure Time, and her eponymous episode is a bold, exciting, and of course, heartbreaking entry in the final stretch of season five.

Are you scared you can’t tell me what your life’s about?

I’ve spent a lot of time consuming and studying a lot of fiction. TV, movies, books, comic books, concept albums, bathroom graffiti: the homes of fiction are myriad. I like fiction. It gives me comfort. Realistic fiction has helped me understand how to better interact with the world around me. Genre fiction taught me how to do that without being so goddamn obvious. I relish the tropes. I swim laps in the cliches. Fiction was a friend as a strange child, a depressed teen, and a young adult on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

But I didn’t always appreciate fiction. Or at least, I didn’t realize how much I appreciated it. My attraction to music, and subsequently abandoned path toward music education, was predicated on a love for fiction. Before I understood what teaching actually entailed, I imagined sharing the stories of music, showing children the narratives beneath the notes. I’ve always been drawn to any music that can tell a story, from a Grainger piece built on a folk tune to any number of albums I devoured in my teens that featured the tortured tales of love and hate. I used these musics to define my taste. And in hindsight, it makes sense. I was always searching for that next fix of a story, even if I was projecting onto a piece with no such intentions. But eventually I knew we just weren’t meant to be, and we went our separate ways. Sometimes I worry that I betrayed music, but I hope it understands that it was nothing personal. Music may have been a placeholder for my true love, but the times we shared truly were special.

The first television show I ever loved was Lost. I’ve spent… a lot of time talking about Lost and what it means to me. But it’s really quite simple: I found a story, and equally important, a medium, that suddenly made everything click. A story so pulled like taffy that I could see each individual atom as it made up the whole, observing and noting and making connections, pulling back to see the grand nature of it all. Lost itself worked because of the people. Sure, I saw the archetypes, understood what was going on in a metanarrative sense, but I also saw these people, these intense bits of light glowing so brightly in their own little world. I felt their their love and pain and search for purpose. I’ve connected with few the way I connected with this group of poor souls just trying to figure out what the hell they’re doing on this planet. When Lost ended, I bawled, not just because of the emotionality of the ending, but also because of the reality of the loss, the end of a story that had consumed so much of my life and fundamentally changed me as a person. Honestly, before the end of Lost, I don’t know how much of a crier I was, but Lost made me accept it, embrace it. These days, I’m lucky if I watch an entire week’s worth of television without tearing up once, though the number tends to creep up toward the middle of the single digits. I’m not ashamed. For me, it’s how I experience the story. It’s how I consume the story. It’s putting the story straight into my bloodstream, to become a part of me forever.

Stories mean so much to me, and I want to share that with people. I want to take someone by the hand and show them a story, walk them through what’s happening, not in our line of sight, but in the spaces above and below. I want others to become engulfed and enriched by these stories. I want the world to drown in stories. And yet when someone asks me why I want to write about television, I have a hard time explaining this. Maybe it’s because these feelings are such a fundamental part of who I am that being able to articulate the exact motives takes time, planning. Maybe it’s because I’m scared they won’t understand—not an unwarranted fear, if the hostility I’ve faced for this desire is any indication, though I’d rather not dwell on the negative. But ultimately, I think it’s because I don’t feel like I have to justify myself. Sure, I might change someone’s mind, but about what? I’m not trying to make waves; the work I want to do is for those already on the precipice. And I mean, have you seen the Lost finale? Shit, that’s all the explanation I’ll ever really need.

Don’t You Want Me, Baby?

red throne

Adventure Time, “The Red Throne”

Since Finn and Flame Princess broke up, Finn’s life has been… kind of a mess. But he’s been learning about life after love, a valuable education for any young person. Unfortunately, as he’ll find in “The Red Throne,” that education neither prepares you for all possible outcomes, nor is the same for every young person.

“The Red Throne” brings us back to Flame Princess, who has been sidelined since she overthrew her father for control of the Fire Kingdom back in “Earth & Water.” With the ever-loyal Cinnamon Bun by her side, FP has become the benevolent ruler the Fire Kingdom needs, helping the citizens with their problems while her father hangs in the very lantern he used to hold her captive. But the Flame King has teamed up with Don John the Flame Lord (voiced by Canadian Pro Wrestler Roddy Piper) to stage a coup, weakening FP with poison tea and controlling the minds of Fire Kingdom citizens. Flame King has also promised Don John a position as Flame Lord’s vizier, and as we all remember from Aladdin, that also means the princess’ hand in marriage.

Escaping with Cinnamon Bun, FP goes to Finn for help, a move she is emotionally mature enough (and preoccupied, what with the coup and all) to handle. Finn plays it cool, telling FP that he’s been hanging with his boys, not going on dates, but doing alright, but Cinnamon Bun can see the truth: Finn may not be hung up on FP like he was Bubblegum, but he’s not yet mature enough to understand their platonic relationship. Realizing that Flame Princess’ skin has cooled enough for him to touch, Finn takes several opportunities to try and make unwanted physical contact with Flame Princess, and Cinnamon Bun stops him every time. It’s not an aggressive move by either party; while non-consensual touching is not okay, Finn never attempts to take it past that level, and Cinnamon Bun seems to realize that Finn may not understand what is and isn’t appropriate, never chewing him out (or even explicitly stating the problems), even if it would be well-deserved. Finn does finally understand, but that still doesn’t stop his attention-starved bullheadedness.

Back at the castle, Finn ignores Cinnamon Bun’s plans, leading a charge that ends with Finn and FP being captured while Cinnamon Bun must try and rescue them by out-duking some guards and taking a key. While in the dungeon, FP pointedly informs Don John that they will not be married, because she doesn’t even know him, and certainly doesn’t like him. It’s not uncommon for the female characters of Adventure Time to have their own agency, set in this world where sexuality (and by extension, gender) is less rigid and stigmatized, and Flame Princess proves once again that she is very much her own woman, and has become even more so in her position of power. Finn, on the other hand, thinks Flame Princess only won’t marry Don John because she still has feelings for him. Let’s not forget which of them just agreed to wear a cursed sword for all eternity—or at least until that arm inevitably comes off.

Don John, hurt by FP’s rejection, goes to Flame King to complain, immediately jumping to betrayal. They both crave power, but are unwilling to compromise any aspect of their masculinity for it. Their fight is pointless in that regard, as it isn’t about losing or winning—or solving any problems, really. It’s about pleasure, the kind of pleasure two power-obsessed men can only obtain from that purest form of masculinity: beating the shit out of each other. But in all the masculine release, neither notices Cinnamon Bun releasing Finn and FP from their cell.

The undercooked pastry attempts to fight a way out of the castle for Finn and Flame Princess, but in the process is hit with a fireball square in the face. This finally finishes the last little bit of baking CB needed, smoothing his eyes and mouth, and he comes out of the flames a stronger, smarter being. Not only does he break the spell Don John put on the flame people, but he also takes his place at Flame Princess’ side as her knight and professes his love for her, a love that may be more than a little reciprocated. “Did I just get shown up by Cinnamon Bun?” Finn asks at the end of the episode, and the truth is that Finn wasn’t just shown up, he was flat-out schooled.

The other important lesson Finn learns in “The Red Throne” is that life goes on, even when you’re not there. Jake already knows this well enough, having missed the majority of his pup’s childhoods due to his unwillingness to grow up, but Finn is still in a nebulous place, and the idea that this person with whom he had such a strong connection could have moved on so completely and done so much without him has seemingly never crossed his mind before. It makes sense: Finn has never had a consistent older person to teach him these lessons, and as we’ve seen before, Finn is prone to obsessive behavior when it comes to relationships, both platonic and romantic. Fortunately, Cinnamon Bun cuts these particular behaviors off at the knee, but there’s still a queasiness to watching Finn’s unwanted touching, and a sadness to watching Finn realize he’s not the most important person in Flame Princess’ life. Finn is maturing slowly, but even these small steps are stepping-stones on the path toward adulthood, and if history is any indication, Adult Finn’s going to have plenty on his plate without worrying about relationships.