Hope Sings Eternal

lemonhope

Adventure Time, “Lemonhope”

What do autonomy, freedom, and destiny mean in the Land of Ooo? The politics of Ooo have always been vague at best, but questions of personal freedom and the roles our characters play in the grand tapestry of history have pervaded all of Adventure Time‘s fifth season. So much of the show’s first four seasons dealt with simply finding a place to belong, but the march of time means existential questions must enter the fray as well.

It’s not surprising that we return to the Lemon Saga to examine these ideas again, and possibly for the final time, this season. Since the last time we checked in on Castle Lemongrab, it has become a fruitalitarian state, with Fat Lemongrab bearing more than a passing resemblance to Kim Jong-un in the propaganda video Princess Bubblegum plays for Lemonhope and Finn. Bubblegum is trying to teach Lemonhope about his destiny, to return to Castle Lemongrab and free his people from Fat Lemongrab’s reign of terror, but he is wholly uninterested. Lemonhope’s refusal to care about others, even his own family and friends, is unsettling, but not surprising given his DNA. He will always be a Lemon, and with that comes certain traits that are unshakable. For Lemonhope, his harp, his flute, and his freedom are all that matter.

When Bubblegum takes Lemonhope to the outskirts of Castle Lemongrab to see the tyranny first-hand, she finally snaps, calling his behavior unacceptable, the magic word that sends Lemonhope fleeing into the woods and away from his destiny. At first, the freedom is magical. Lemonhope wanders among the plants and animals, singing and playing and knocking over an owl’s cup of water. When he stumbles upon a town that has been razed by a band of pirates, he isn’t concerned that the entire town is on fire. Instead, he sees the pirate ship as a new, better source of freedom and stows away, finding a stockpile of limes and a bunch of rats that will blanket him with a bit of harp playing. And when the pirate ship is attacked and ultimately stranded in the desert, Lemonhope is ecstatic at what appears to be ultimate freedom. Alone in a home all to himself, Lemonhope is in heaven. But good things never last long for a Lemon.

Lemonhope may be free, but other than playing the harp and flute, he has no skills, and his reserve of limes has to dry up eventually. The trip into the desert to find water nearly kills Lemonhope, but at the last minute he is saved by Phlannel Boxingday, a monster slayer who revels in his own personal freedom, despite being desperately lonely. He offers Lemonhope an apprenticeship, and once again the outlook is sunny for little Lemonhope.

Throughout “Lemonhope,” the title character is plagued by horrific dreams, reminders of the destiny he ran away from and the terrors that still exist because of his own inaction. Even Phlannel understands that you can’t just abandon your past, especially when there is an outstanding debt to be paid. He agrees to take Lemonhope to Castle Lemongrab, but cannot help in the liberation. (It seems that even the free people of Ooo are bound by the complicated pacts and treaties of the varying kingdoms.) Lemonhope finally gathers the courage to storm the castle, and with the help of Partially-Digested Lemongrab and the prisoners of the castle, he takes down the Earl once and for all. But while Bubblegum restores the power balance of Castle Lemongrab (a single Earl, made of equal parts of both Lemongrabs), Lemonhope doesn’t care to stick around. He doesn’t want to be Castle Lemongrab’s champion, and instead wishes to live a free life, one where he can travel and adventure on his own with no responsibilities holding him back. Of course, he’s free to do so, despite Bubblegum’s disappointment, but even this declaration of freedom is only temporary. As he leaves, Lemonhope flippantly says he’ll see them again “in a thousand years or so,” and while Bubblegum sings her hauntingly beautiful Lemonhope song, we jump forward a thousand years or so, to an Ooo that has both risen and fallen. A wrinkled Lemonhope, surrounded by a forcefield and sporting some massive dreadlocks, passes through a decimated city that is not dissimilar to the many glimpses we’ve seen of the world pre-Mushroom War. On the other side of that city lies Castle Lemongrab, still standing but lifeless. The hallways are empty, and it seems all the Lemons have either died or left long ago. But Lemonhope holds up his casual promise. He returns home, lying in his own bed once again, and drifts to sleep.

“Lemonhope” makes the most of its two-parter status, making enough room for the heady ideals that are culminating in the episode. As a champion, Lemonhope stands in stark contrast to Finn and Cinnamon Bun. Finn has always had the heart of a champion, and he’s never wanted to do anything else. Cinnamon Bun found a purpose and love while serving Flame Princess, leading him to take on the mantle of champion. But Lemonhope rejects his champion status until such time when he feels ready. His desires for freedom and exploration are more important to him than defending a home that, despite housing those he cares about, is still drenched in the horrors he was forced to experience there. When a wrinkled, old Lemonhope finally returns home, the wounds have had time to heal and be replaced by many lifetimes worth of new experiences. The traumas and the selfish ambivalence baked into a Lemon’s DNA needed to be sanded away by time before Lemonhope could finally embrace his destiny.

Heading into the season five finale, “Lemonhope” acts as the release of all the non-Finn/Jake themes that have been littered throughout the season. It’s a temporary resolution for the Lemon Saga, and deals heavily in the questions of destiny and champions. It also suggests that the future might finally become an integral part of Adventure Time‘s explorations of the malleability and importance of time and space, much like the show has done for the past and other dimensions during this season. In Ooo, all times and dimensions are constantly working to create each individual moment. “Time is a flat circle,” to borrow a line from HBO’s True Detective, and few shows on television are biting into that idea quite like Adventure Time. I may be reading too much into the final seconds of “Lemonhope,” but Adventure Time‘s obsession with the metaphysical, as well as the tiny hints of the future that have been scattered throughout, are enough to leave me craving more.

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