In last Monday’s episode of Adventure Time entitled “Too Old,” Princess Bubblegum and a rebounding Finn attend a diplomatic dinner over at Castle Lemongrab, only to find (unsurprisingly) an oppressed Lemon gentry, signs of a terrible strife between the two Lemongrabs, and a gifted Lemonchild who must be delivered from the puckering prison of the Lemon-totalitaria. It’s another head-juicing morality tale in the Lemongrab saga, Adventure Time‘s ambitious meditation on individuality, freedom, and evil, and it’s hands down my favorite episode of the season yet. It’s the eponymous time yet again!
Screenshots and Highlights:
|“Poor little Lemonhope
Sweet little Lemonhope
Stuck in this bathroom
Thrown in the garbage
|Dunked in the pudding
Dipped in the porridge
Poor little Lemonhope
Throw me a lemon rope
|Is there a home for me in my harp?
A place where friends give me hugs?
There’s no use to mope
There’s no use to hope
|No use at all for fragile precious darling baby
Poor little Lemonhope”
There will probably come a time when Adventure Time won’t continually outdo itself, episode after episode, but not yet. “Too Old” ups the ante once again; the Lemongrabs are even more grotesque, the problem of Lemon-evil is more pressing than ever, and Finn is spiraling even further down the path of irresponsible impulsiveness. The Lemongrab story arc is a strong candidate for my favorite set of AT episodes because it’s the perfect counter-argument to Finn’s blaring ballad of individuality – “Just be yourself, and nothing is impossible!” And what if your ‘self’ is off the beaten path of conventional morality? Who is to change you? Should you be changed? As Alan Moore asked in his Swamp Thing saga: “Where in all the green is there evil?”
I’ve said in the past that Lemongrab’s my fave because he lets us ask the big questions, and so far the writers have handled the evil question brilliantly. All my feels had a major cave-in when the Lemongrabs discovered how to make their own people back in “All Your Fault,” and PB had to erase the formula from their minds. Jake, ever the poignant one, asked why she didn’t just change their hearts to be selfless and kind, and she responded “Oh no no, their hearts are fine. They’re just like this.”
It’s a discussion that’s head-and-shoulders above most other children’s programming that are focused on good-evil dualities without touching on the interrelation between the two or what the moral mechanisms are beyond the superificial. One of the most affecting images in the whole episode are the two Lemongrabs, side by side, one bloated and suffocating upon its own ego, and the other living in the shadow of … well, himself. The two Lemongrabs were supposed to be identical, as Princess Bubblegum said, and that’s what makes this whole scenario even creepier: Lemongrab can’t even stand to be around himself.
In fact, Lemongrab 1’s bullying of Lemongrab 2 is an externalization of the torment he undergoes at the hands of his own inborn qualities; he’s literally and figuratively bullied by himself. I always had the sense that Lemongrab is his own tormentor since he harbors these expectations of the world that are never met, and so Lemongrab can never be happy unless he’s king of the castle, and unless everyone else follows his Lemon-ways, which is his big gripe with Princess Bubblegum back in “You Made Me” when she suggested that Lemongrab learn the candy-ways to get along with his fellow candy-folk. Lemongrab made the shape of a lemon above his chest and shot right back: ” I look in the lemon heart you gave me and see my lemon way to act. And that must be right …”
A part of me thinks Lemongrab doesn’t really know who he is or what he wants, and one can’t cope with the world, can’t build the bridge between self and other, if his self is unknown. Castle Lemongrab is a twisted yellow facsimile of the Candy Kingdom, with its own Manfried-herald, its own central ruler and denizens, and has its own little balcony for royal declarations with the tree beneath it, just like the tree where Princess Bubblegum underwent the Herculean task of teaching Lemongrab how to cuddle. He’s still partially Candy Folk, and so he still feels the urge to live the Candy Kingdom life, hence the disturbing similarities between the two.
And think back to the stiff, mannered air of Castle Lemongrab’s high society, and that horrendous display they called a floor show. Everyone wears a shock collar and everyone speaks in that inane blather-language, presumably because they live under Lemongrab 1’s thumb and have no room to be themselves. When Lemongrab 1 orders the LemonGentry to attack Finn, they do so unwillingly, muttering “Sorry sir” even as they pummel him with their leathery little lemonfists. They aren’t themselves, but are the playthings of a rampant ego, as though Lemongrab 1 were still trying to win that tug-of-war with Lemongrab 2 over their precious Lemonsweets; there’s speculation among fans that LemonHope is LemonSweets. Castle Lemongrab, at every level, is a representation of Lemongrab’s war with himself, locked in a struggle between the Lemon and the Candy instincts inside.
If that isn’t enough doubt to throw on Lemongrab 1’s status as a ‘villain,’ consider Lemongrab 2. He’s the impossible situation, the Lemongrab forced to serve and learn weakness, something that Lemongrab 1 could never do (“That’s why I am royal, and you are servile,” said Lemongrab to Peppermint Butler). He’s proof that Lemongrab can’t be evil, else how could Lemongrab 2 learn sympathy and share his bread with the LemonPope? Nature vs. nurture, yadda.
But what’s even more fascinating is the sense that Lemongrab 2’s incarnation as the counterbalance to his brother was inevitable. Of course the Lemongrabs would eventually butt heads – no two people can completely agree on anything unless they’re occupying the exact same timespace and share the same experiences. As similar as the two Lemongrabs are, they are still two separate entities, albeit only a foot apart from each other, but that’s enough to introduce that iota of instability to spark the inciting event: would LemonSweets rather dance, or go to sleep?
And so of course one Lemongrab would fall (an eternal stalemate between the two is highly unlikely), would become servile, and would learn compassion. As a generalized model of the self, it suggests something provoking, and reassuring in a way: that no matter how unbalanced anyone becomes, there will be an inevitable force to urge a return to center. The psyche is a self-healing construct, and the same divisions that cause pain will be the forces to inititate healing. I was into the writings of the eminent psychologist (and all-around intellectual bad-ass) Carl Jung for a spell awhile back, and he constantly espoused a confrontation with the self in order to enact the process of individuation, which is how we learn about and become at peace with ourselves. The birth of Lemongrab 2 is such a confrontation, and so the story of the Lemongrabs is the story of someone coming to grips with his own psychic tensions. *takes a deep breath*
Now there’s something else I wanted to discuss that ties into, and unties, everything else. The scene that really got under my skin is that part where LemonHope plays the flute like a Philip Glass rehearsal, and the Lemongrabs like it. It just reminds me how we’re still viewing Castle Lemongrab as outsiders. Maybe it isn’t out of whack out of all, maybe it’s following an internal harmony that we can’t comprehend, just like the aesthetic value of LemonHope’s flute playing. I still think it’s quite conclusive that the LemonFolk aren’t happy, but just this one scene made me pan out, zoom back, and ask, who the hell am I to judge? Am I the busybody dipping his fingers into a situation I can’t even comprehend? The next piece of the LemonSaga could very well say that the LemonFolk are happy to be oppressed, that they subscribe to the righteousness of tyranny. But, as Finn would say, “Or not. Whatevs.”
Oh right, Finn was in the episode too, and it wasn’t just a side-thought either – Finn was enacting the same drama of Lemongrab but in miniature. He was thinking of his own childish needs only, and so endangered the fate of the fragile precious darling baby poor LemonHope, and that’s inarguably bad. And even worse, his conclusion is that adults aren’t “Fun inside,” and yet, if it weren’t for Princess Bubblegum, where would the fun be for LemonHope, where would the Candy Kingdom be with the Lich running around? Finn’s inclusion in the episode extends the Lemongrab dilemma beyond the topic of social outsiders to apply to children as well. In a lot of ways, children and adults are at odds with each other, with different priorities. One is rooted in the self, and the other is forced to contend with the collision of self and other. It’s yet another facet of Adventure Time‘s ongoing discussion of childhood and its relation to adulthood, and proof that AT still shows no sign of slowing down.