On last Monday’s episode of Adventure Time, “Bad Timing,” Lumpy Space Princess falls for an old classmate, but her uncontrolled jealousy (along with Princess Bubblegum’s sort-of time machine) threatens to tear them apart. It’s the eponymous time again!
Lumpy Space Princess has been a fan favorite since Season 1, thanks mainly to a stunning valley-girl accent by none other than Pendleton Ward himself, but she’d never gotten an episode’s worth of development so far. Now that it’s happened, I’m ready to throw it in the vault and forget about it til the sun blows up; her rampant narcissism used to be a running gag, but after “Bad Timing,” who can look at these tendencies again without remembering what they can lead to? Needless to say, it was an episode super-charged with emotion and existential woe: one that’ll leave you pondering what strange sister-dimensions spoon our own, and one that turned LSP completely 180, from quirky Ooo denizen to another walking tragedy.
The episode’s conflict isn’t anything new: in fact, it’s so mundane as to add to the tragedy of the finale. In short, LSP can’t get over that little dude named Brad that we met for all of thirty seconds back in Season 1 when Finn was cruising Lumpy Space to cure Jake’s lumpy-lycanthropy. The crush never let up, pushing LSP to finally snap and seize the sort-of time machine that Princess Bubblegum has invented. I say sort-of because Jake’s got a valid point–PB’s Phasical Sphere, ostensibly a bubble with Tron gloves, merely logs the position of a set of atoms inside it, then by using the controller-gloves, it teleports the matter from its current position into that logged position. In Jake’s words, it’s just moving matter around. Princess Bubblegum doesn’t take kindly at all to Jake’s obnoxious objections and gets a bit heated, making us realize what a powerful scientist Ice King was in his human life; he was potent enough to surpass even Princess Bubblegum, which is a little staggering, seeing as how PB built a whole kingdom out of candy and science.
After LSP throws a bitch-fit for the ages and performs a very physical assault on her person, Bubblegum knocks the lumpy assailant to the side and threatens war on Lumpy Space if she doesn’t apologize. This is yet more foreshadowing of a future reckoning regarding PB’s ambitions for the Candy Kingdom. In the past, she’s mentioned expanding the Candy Kingdom via colonial projects, she’s built armies of swordfighting gumball machines, and has spawned more than one world-shaking science project, like Lemongrab and his entire realm of lemon-demons. While LSP literally tore chunks of candy mass out of PB’s head, dropping the ‘war’ card is still cause for concern.
We’re accustomed to laughing at LSP’s self-centeredness (“Didn’t you know, Finn? Every parteh . . . is mah parteh . . .”), but we’ve never seen it embroil another person, and we’ve never seen its logical conclusion until “Bad Timing.” After the scene at the Candy Castle, we find LSP at a bar where she meets and immediately flirts with an old high school lab partner named Johnny, formerly ugly Johnny. To call Johnny bland is an understatement, as neither we nor LSP know much about him, aside from the fact that he occasionally rearranges his furniture. Even at the episode’s end, it’s still up in the air whether she genuinely enjoys being in his company, or whether she’s simply getting an ego-boost from giving someone else an ego-boost, something subtly different from love: one is a drug, the other is a life-partner. What we know is that 1) LSP knows she’s building his self-esteem (“I couldn’t’ve done it without you!” “I know!”) and 2) this makes her feel good (“You feeling good makes me feel good, Johnny . . .”). What we’ll never know is whether she ever cared about his well-being, whether she’d ever sacrifice her own happiness for his, which would probably be the point of distinction between ego-leeching and love. All because, you know. She wiped him out of our reality and into another one.
LSP’s narcissism effectively places her within a self-contained bubble, her own ‘parallel universe’ as much as the border-world is. She has no concern for the consequences of her actions, and never takes the time to understand her surroundings before acting upon them. The only words she heard from PB’s presentation were “time” and “machine,” while leaving out things like “infowaves,” “molecule logging” and Jake’s favorite phrase, “it’s not really time travel.” In that context, it’s hard to believe that LSP considered Johnny as anything more involving than a romantic fantasy: the episode’s middle pairs them as a domestic couple, with Johnny going to work, and LSP staying at home mooching off his cable TV. But it all goes downhill so quickly once LSP learns about Johnny’s private business meeting with Princess Bubblegum to finalize his business prospects. Once again, LSP only hears choice words like “private,” “meeting,” and “Princess Bubblegum,” while leaving out things like “it’s a business meeting,” and “not social.”
That night, LSP steals away to the Candy Castle to watch this ‘purely-business-not-social’ meeting from afar, and then delivers the most egotistically maudlin monologue about how she changed Johnny for the better, how she justifies her severe overreactions as ‘going all-in for true love,’ and how she simply cannot let him fall into the arms of another. Except that he isn’t, that he’s talking to PB at that very moment about how he’s met a wonderful purple girl in a bar, and that this drama exists solely in LSP’s mind. Before Princess Bubblegum can process what’s happened, LSP has set fire to the Candy Castle, stolen the Phasical Sphere, and erased Johnny’s molecules out of this reality without previously logging them (like losing a character in Fire Emblem without a save point, if that helps). Johnny’s bits are sent hurtling into the unknown, and the only person to meet LSP at the Candy Kingdom bar is PB, who tells her that Johnny won’t be coming, that she’s grossly miscalculated. LSP begs PB to erase her memory using the Phasical Sphere, and after the deed is done, goes on her merry narcissistic way, babbling the same jealous junk as she did in the beginning, with no one to witness the tragedy but Bubblegum and Johnny, who has been watching the whole travesty from the border-world. And that’s self-centeredness in a nutshell: one doesn’t learn, no sunlight touches the soil, and one is doomed to repeat the same actions over and over.
Counting LSP’s delusion, we’ve effectively been watching three parallel universes: Ooo, LSP’s twisted fantasy, and the border-world that’s been going about its business as the episode unfolds. The border-world is inhabited by an array of doodle-characters, going through tiny lives and plots of their own, completely oblivious to the goings-on at the center. Once it’s revealed to be a parallel universe, you can’t help but look back wide-eyed, finally cognizant of a self-contained universe on Ooo’s periphery, one that is immediately adjacent to, yet infinitely far from it, as Johnny (and only Johnny) learns. Not only is it it’s own little microverse, the way it occupies most of the screen also devalues the action in the center, making LSP’s tantrums appear even pettier (“This isn’t a movie, Charlie . . . “) situated as it is in a greater order. Having seen the border-world the entire time and then finally realizing what it is, we have the experience that LSP is deprived of: looking outside the self and seeing another world, one as close as your own skin yet invisible for all the distractions in the center. It’s funny–both my girlfriend and her friend saw Johnny in the border, whereas her boyfriend and I were too focused on the trainwreck happening in the center; I was this close to completely missing Johnny and the whole point . . .
Promo art, courtesy of adventuretime.wikia.com: