To talk about television, you need to be an expert in television. That may sound like an obvious point, but it goes beyond knowing what blocking is, or how to read Live-plus-7 ratings, or even seeing all the shows you’re “supposed” to have seen, like The Wire (OMG YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE WIRE? YOU HAVE TO SEE THE WIRE) — it’s increasingly important to know every single detail about every single character in every single episode.
Take it from me, Someone Who Occasionally Gets a Minor Detail About Game of Thrones Wrong: if you’re not familiar with every Targaryen who’s been mentioned on the show AND in the books, you’re going to hear about it. This is not a complaint, exactly. Facts are important, and it’s much easier to remember Daryl and Carol’s relationship on The Walking Dead than, say, how to not kill someone while performing open-heart surgery, but for certain (most often genre) shows, there’s no such thing as an average fan. You’re either all in, or you get left behind and feel lost.
That should have been the case with Adventure Time, but it wasn’t. This was a series ostensibly for children, but it also had the most complex mythology of any show on television, with an in-universe history that stretched back thousands of years (also, the characters routinely went into space — take that, Game of Thrones); literally hundreds of characters; and an airdate schedule with months between new episodes. It’s easy to forget things when you get four episodes in September 2017, four episodes in December 2017, four episodes in March 2018, and four episodes in September 2018. That’s how Adventure Time’s tenth and final season was stretched out, with Monday night’s four-part “Come Along with Me” bringing an end to Jake and Finn’s adventures in the Land of Ooo.
The series finale was billed by Cartoon Network as a war between our heroes, including Finn the Human, Jake the Dog, Princess Bubblegum, Marceline, Lumpy Space Princess, Lemongrab, and Flame Princess, among others, against the evil Gumbald. But that’s not really what the episodes were about. They never were with this show. The important battles were the ones fought on the inside; as James Poniewozik noted in the New York Times, Adventure Time was an empathetic “story of transition,” with “orphans and foundlings trying out independence, building surrogate families, growing up.” (Finn, who’s introduced in the opening credits wielding a sword, notably searches for a peaceful resolution. Violence is the easy answer, but it’s not always the right one.)
Family, or the lack thereof, was a recurring theme on Adventure Time — even the aforementioned “evil” Gumbald was created by “good” Princess Bubblegum to give her an uncle; she later imprisoned him as a Candy Person after he’s splashed with “Dum Dum Juice” (like I said, a complex mythology). It’s why an out-there animated show with a stretchy dog, sentient bananas, and a gender-swapped vampire voiced by Donald Glover was so emotionally effective. If you don’t cry watching “Simon & Marcy,” your heart is as frozen as the Ice King.
But back to the finale. There’s a “malevolent entity” known as GOLB, who, along with two mutated monsters, threatens to bring an end to the world. The giant red baby is naturally defeated, thanks to a combination of Betty’s sacrifice and BMO finding GOLB’s weakness: the power of song. Adventure Time has changed a lot over the years, but that weird semi-nude painting has always been in the Tree Fort, and music has always had a major presence on the show; there’s even a character named the Music Hole (she’s exactly what she sounds like), who sings an extended version of “Adventure Time Ending Theme” (also known as “Island Song”) in the closing moments of the series.
Adventure Time could have ended any number of ways: with an apocalypse (well, another apocalypse), or the entire series taking place within Snail’s dreams. But instead, we say goodbye with a montage of the characters with their loved ones. There’s Jake flying with Lady Rainicorn, Gunter marrying Turtle Princess, Tree Trunks and Mr. Pig watching Sweet P graduate, (new characters) Beth and Shermy posing like Jake and Finn in the opening credits, Flame Princess rapping with N.E.P.T.R., and most powerfully, Marceline cozying up with Princess Bubblegum on a couch. (Earlier in the episode, they also kissed.) It’s not often you see a same-sex relationship on an animated series, especially an animated series for kids (with the exception of the late, great Avatar: The Last Airbender offshoot The Legend of Korra), but in an interview with TVLine, executive producer Adam Muto confirmed that Bubbline is for real.
“There’s enough to draw a conclusion. I don’t want to lay out their entire future — what their relationship will be like after this, and all that — but there are enough pieces there that you can kind of construct what their life will be like going forward. We knew that if we put this in, it would get some attention. But would it be too much attention? … Or would we be downplaying it too much? We knew we wanted to incorporate it, and in the end, you just have no control over how people will remember things.”
Judging by the online reaction to the scene, Marceline the Vampire Queen and Princess Bubblegum is how people will remember the finale.
Most fan-service is bad, but this was good.
Anyway, I may not remember every tiny detail about the Land of Ooo the same way I feel like I have to with Westeros, but Adventure Time never expected me (or any viewer) to. It instead left you with this “really specific feeling that’s hard to describe,” to quote Music Hole. I can’t quite put it into words, either, but if I had to try (and because sad-weird-wonder isn’t a word), I think it would go a little something like this: come along with me, and the butterflies and the bees.