On last night’s episode of Adventure Time, “Chips and Ice Cream,” Jake’s scalp is cursed with two lumps that can only say their names (“Chips” and “Ice Cream” respectively). It’s the eponymous time again.
I almost wasn’t going to write this recap because “Chips and Ice Cream” felt like the one Adventure Time episode without any subtext whatsoever. On the surface, it’s just cutesy animation and vocal performances (very cute in fact, damnably so) stretched over a plot that doesn’t quite come together. Give it a second viewing, however, and it opens up as a meta-plot deconstructing the phenomenon of ‘that show for kids that’s packed with subtext,’ and exploring what we lose in the search for meaning in cultural objects.
“Chips and Ice Cream” features a puppet show performer (lovably named Morty Rogers) whose ears seem to be possessed by two entities calling themselves ‘Chips’ and ‘Ice Cream’ and who can only say their own names, much to the annoyance of… everybody. After a performance, an entranced BMO invites Morty Rogers home for dinner, where the shyster transfers his curse over to a surprisingly indifferent Jake.
And I was about to leave it at that and say ‘no recap for this week,’ but what bothered me was that during Morty Rogers’ puppet show, where Chips and Ice Cream ostensibly do nothing but say their own names, look at clouds, and kiss a bird, Jake had the same reaction as I did, and as the rest of the Adventure Time fandom: “What the stuff was that??” He was surrounded by bunny children and an ebullient BMO, who just died every time Chips and Ice Cream reiterated their names. Initially Finn was skeptical and Jake was holding out for the crazy second act, but both left disappointed, and convinced that there wasn’t anything to the show, or to Chips and Ice Cream.
But of course there was. After Jake’s cursed with Chips and Ice Cream, BMO finds them crying themselves to sleep at night, and singing sadly under the moon when Jake puts them outside. He’s convinced that there’s more to Chips and Ice Cream, and manages to decode their tonal language and realize that they’ve been trapped and transferred from scalp to scalp.
And it had to be BMO, a brilliant character that is the lovable gaming console that wants desperately (and sometimes eerily) to be a real boy. Or girl. Any sort of human thing at all really, he plays at brushing his teeth and peeing and being pregnant, and so has great weight as an atypically-gendered character celebrating the simple beauty of being alive at all. But in “Chips and Ice Cream” BMO plays specifically the role of the child, who’s completely taken in by a children’s show that has no meaning to adults, but is sheer delight to children, for whom there is no subtext, overtext, or middletext. Everything is just plain ‘text,’ and at that point, a little lump with a blue hat and says ‘Chips’ over and over is pure delight. That’s what being a child is, and this episode, if nothing else, is brilliant for being able to articulate that point.
In other words, BMO could read the subtext because he isn’t interested in subtext at all, unlike Jake, and his little blog called ‘Begs the Question.’ I was at first surprised that Jake didn’t seem to care one whit that there’s an unceasing and mindless conversation going on atop his head, but it makes sense because it’s just white noise to him. He can go through his days completely unreached by these two creatures who can’t communicate their torment to anyone because of their nonsensical appearance. Chips and Ice Cream are both obnoxious, repetitive characters, and purposefully so in order to reflect ‘worthless’ art.
To read deeply into art or any sort of cultural object is typically seen as insightful work, a la ‘the unexamined life isn’t worth living’ and all that, but “Chips and Ice Cream” argues that searching for subtext, searching for meaning, sometimes means ignoring what’s plainly in front of you. If you don’t understand what makes children laugh at Teletubbies, that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything there, it’s just been devalued in your eyes, and hence, invisible.
The episode certainly has its faults. Morty Rogers is basically just a host for Chips and Ice Cream and isn’t given any real tie-in to the themes or the plot, and Finn and Jake’s reaction to Jake’s curse feel underwhelming at times. Despite the middling plot, there’s still a slew of great character moments; Jake’s BMO impression is to die for, I loved the homey design for the farmer’s market vendors, and Morty Rogers has some great animated moments, like his anxious dance number, and crashing through the Treehouse window after he’d exorcised Chips and Ice Cream.
But most of all, “Chips and Ice Cream” is notable for commenting on Adventure Time itself as ‘that kids show with tons of subtext.’ It’s common now to take each and every episode to forum and dissect them endlessly (ha, coming from me), and this episode comments on that kind of interaction, and questions whether that should really be the thing you get away from a show like this. I smiled at the opening of the episode, at the field full of puffy-cheeked bunny children, and I laughed last week when Jake healed his relationship with Jermaine with a fart joke. That’s gotta count for something.