Adventure Time: A Last Goodbye
The finale of Adventure Time was a bittersweet pill to swallow. For a long-term fan, it marked the end of something special, and remains very close to my heart.
The first time I watched Adventure Time was over the shoulder of my younger brother. I’d been passing through the Living Room, but the show caught my eye, and I ended up sitting down to watch the rest of it. It was bright, colourful, and funny in the most innocent. It gave off a tone of brutal optimism. The early episodes hammered home that relationship between Good and Evil was black and white; that one’s highest calling was to be the knight errant and fulfil that mythic chivalry. Princesses and kings, kidnappings and sword fights; but also party gods and bacon pancakes. The show grounded itself in simple archetypes and revelled in the surrealist flavour of its universe. I began watching it regularly, initially embarrassed that I was still watching children’s cartoons, but eventually embracing my enjoyment. It was simple escapism with an offset sense of humour that greatly appealed to me.
As the seasons progressed, new plot threads were introduced, and meat was added to the bare-bones universe. Now there was history; vampire queens that used to live in familiar treehouses, other humans that may have survived underground, hints of what came before (and what may have persisted). The show became more than a series of loosely-connected (if at all connected) adventures. Secondary characters began to come into focus. I remember in What Was Missing, there is the implication of interpersonal relationships outside of the presence of Finn and Jake for the first time. Eventually, entire episodes were dedicated to tertiary characters. Even Shelby, the worm that lives in Jake’s viola, had his own episode. It became far less focused on the central cast and simplistic storytelling of earlier episodes and was able to move forward in meaningful ways.
With more world-building came more characters. With time, the show grew more mature, and so did the themes it addressed. I would not have continued to watch the show had it stayed the same, but Adventure Time grew up alongside its audience. Truthfully you could say that the show matured alongside its cast too. The voices of characters deepen, mellow over time. Ice King’s harsh high-pitched cackles become quieter, croakier. Finn’s voice actor, Jeremy Shada, literally grew up alongside his character, as can be heard clearly as the seasons progress.
Certain episodes address the passage of time explicitly. The episode Frost and Fire is an unusually direct reference to Finn’s pubertal changes and developing sexuality. The episodes collectively known as Holly Jolly Secrets reveal that the Ice King, the primary antagonist for much of the early seasons, was driven insane and lost all memory of his former self. From then on, the attitude of other characters takes on an empathetic tone, exemplified in the episode Simon and Marcy, where one could easily allegorise him to an Alzheimer’s sufferer.
These are not easy themes to communicate at the best of times, let alone in the guise of a children’s cartoon. The progression of time in ongoing media is difficult to execute satisfyingly, and many cartoons do away with any pretence of chronology in favour of self-contained 11-minute stories. Adventure Time, by allowing the characters to grow from their experiences, was able to come full-circle and analyse its original shallow archetypes. Previously inconsequential details, such as Finn’s parentage, become the focus of an entire mini-series. They took typecast individuals and injected personal growth where none was expected, culminating in a finale that is so confident in its setting that it spent comparatively little time focused on the titular heroes, and conducts a whistle-stop tour of the expanded cast and their resolutions. Finn and Jake are placed among equals, in the end, not higher than any others. They are exceptional individuals in a crowd of exceptional individuals. The result of 8 years of definition was a universe that could outlive its own protagonists and frame the finale as a retelling of events 1,000 years in the future.
The 44-minute special is full of character resolution, and to analyse each independently would distract from the purpose of this article. Suffice to say, it ends the story they wanted to tell quite conclusively, and provides a perfect bookend to the show, (even if the adventures continue in comic format). For example, Finn completes his evolution from a mathematical 12-year old who loves to fight into a young adult who understands the value of diplomacy. For most of the finale he is unarmed (quite literally), and in the closing scenes, PB remarks that he’s ‘grown taller.’ The scene between Marceline and PB follows years of speculation (although was there really any doubt?) as to the extent of their relationship, and the end result was as organic a conclusion as it was satisfying to watch happen.
Perhaps the most powerful sentiment of the episode was the harmonisation during Time Adventure, Rebecca Sugar’s final contribution to the show. Yes, it was cheesy to defeat the big baddie with a happy song sung together. However, it wasn’t necessary to have a big final showdown with the big evil for the big finale. The Lich, the closest thing to a main antagonist, had been dealt with as early as Season 6, so there was never much overdramatization surrounding the (what would be the third) near-apocalyptic event. Taken as part of the story, Time Adventure describes the aforementioned-transience of all things:
Time is an illusion that helps things make sense
So we are always living in the present tense
It seems unforgiving when a good thing ends
But you and I will always be back then
True to its message, even the heroes sing of their own impermanence, but of how easy it is to visit a memory (regardless of accuracy). It’s a reminder of the transience of things; how things continually change, but not unrecognisably so.
If there was some amazing force outside of time
To take us back to where we were
And hang each moment up like pictures on the wall
Inside a billion tiny frames so that we could see it all... all... all
The bittersweet tone alludes to our omnipresence at any point of the story. As outside observers, we can pick and choose which adventure to revisit at any time, however many times. Change is inevitable, not something to be feared. Each snapshot is a different time; a different emotion; a different person, even if they are the same person. Memories are powerful, and Adventure Time leaves me with many of my own.
The finale left me feeling quite introspective, in fact, as I’m sure was the intention. I walked around listlessly for most of the day, wondering about how to convey my thoughts on the show. Adventure Time is very close to my heart, and as it ends, so too does a part of me. I felt so strongly about its ending that I felt the need to compose this, so that I might revisit it later and be reminded of a different me at a different time. And when I look back at it, it’ll look like:
Will happen, happening happened?
Will happen, happening happened? And there we are again and again 'Cause you and I will always be back then You and I will always be back then.
Oof. Now that was a cheesy ending.