Ah, another average day in the Land of Ooo, wherein Princess Bubblegum has invented another scientific miracle to amuse her friends. Meanwhile, Finn is stuck deep in the friendzone. For such a surreal show, they capture his awkward teenage ennui with a shocking realism that’s perfectly bittersweet. You feel for him and feel awkward simultaneously; you want to turn away, and you want to cheer him on. It’s very reminiscent of the Fry/Leela relationship in Futurama, and that’s quite a feat for a kids’ show because it’s so handled with the utmost innocence as well. His love is a pure, naive love.
Then the 8-bit musical number kicks off, and it becomes evident just now next level they’ve taken it. It’s endearing beyond belief. Almost saccharin. Adventure Time always manages to nail it, but here, they are transcending the expectations of their audience, perhaps by ignoring some of the obvious moves. If the last season was ultimately about Finn the Adventurer, this finale seems geared to establish that this season was about Finn the Awkward Boy Growing Up. It’s touching in a fashion that underlines just how carefully they’ve ultimately honed these characters. They’ve made you care, and you want the boy to win.
Yet, just as they build new expectations, they switch it up again effortlessly as Jake, being a true friend/totally rhombus bro, decides there is only thing he can do. To break Finn of his awkward longing for Princess Bubblegum, he must go forth to find a new, age-similar crush for Finn. This journey eventually leads him into the Fire Kingdom. If I were a kid, that alone would’ve made it a radical episode. The Fire Kingdom reeks of danger and excitement from the second you see it.
Yet, it just keeps getting better with Jake conning the Fire King, some smart aleck commentary from royal subjects and even more deception of royals with musical numbers. Here, there are some obvious elements of classical storytelling – trials in threes, journeys to the underworld for a princess and so on. As an adult, I should easily see through this thin veneer, right? Instead, I am transported back to childhood. Sure, I can see all the technical quality in this finale. I understand at a deeper level why it’s getting it right, and how they are doing it. However, I’m soon distracted by the fact that ultimately I want to see what happens next. It’s entrancing in it’s sweetness.
Anyways, Jake makes his best case for Finn as a beau for the Fire Princess, but nothing can go so easily. Even then, the finish isn’t at all what’s expected, even in the last 15 seconds of the show. All I will further spoil is that the finale opens up a whole new world of possibility. Though, if the finale has shown me anything, where ever I think it may go is probably wrong. In spite of that, I’ll be happier than expected with the creative staff’s choices, and the path it takes will make sense.
In addition to the excellent writing, the finale nails all of the other the technical marks you’d expect from Adventure Time. The direction is brisk and lively, never pausing too long on a joke not a dramatic moment. The storyboarding seems sharp as well, with plenty of little bonus gags through out the episode that come to head with a brilliant sequence using Jake’s shapeshifting. and a sequence of full-blown peril towards the episode’s end. The backgrounds are as unbelievable as ever–they could sell them in a gallery. The art design on the whole is luscious, with the Fire Kingdom and its inhabitants deftly balancing an imposing fury of an environment made of flame without seeming too freaky or demonic. The music and overall sound direction capture the emotional feeling of each scene without missing a beat.
At the same time, this finale sticks to Adventure Time‘s consistency. There can be no doubt that Adventure Time has a real sense of continuity and forward momentum, and that the animators who work on this show have themselves grown as the show blasts forward; at the same time, it hasn’t lost an ounce of what makes it a magical series and a modern classic in the first place. Yes, every episode seems to stick to a certain ideal of flow and characterization, yet every episode still leaves the audience thirsting to see what will happen next. To have kept the spirit of the show while broadening its characterization and setting yet again is not just laudable, it’s something special. The fact that it’s still uproariously funny and surreal on top of that is almost beyond comprehension.