On last night’s episode of Adventure Time, “You Forgot Your Floaties,” Betty Grof helps Magic Man become Glob in exchange for magical knowledge with which to help Ice King, but the ritual goes horribly wrong. It’s the eponymous time again!
In this first episode of the epic 6-part ‘Finnale’ capping off the series’ sixth season, director Jesse Moynihan pulls off the most dense 11 minutes of television I’ve yet seen. Previously, Moynihan’s episodes have been among the series’ most ambitious psychological and spiritual explorations, not to mention the most cryptic, which saw some amount of confusion in the fandom. But “You Forgot Your Floaties” juggles the esotericism and the emotional engagement surprisingly well, in a deeply affecting exploration of depression and emotional dysfunction.
The premise of the episode is that Betty Grof, wife of scientist-turned-Ice-King Simon Petrikov, has resurfaced in Magic Man’s service, as part of a research regimen studying the origins of magic, and the sad, hairy men that wield it, with hopes of curing Simon’s mind-addled, Ice King state. Magic Man, in turn, is after the helmet of Glob/Grod/Grob/Gob, the quadripartite deity-ruler of Mars who’d sacrificed himself to intercept a comet on impact course with the planet.
Magic Man is a personal favorite of Moynihan’s (and mine); he’s the complete subversion of the traditional, Gandalf/Merlin conception of the magical guide, typically powerful, wise, and fostering. Magic Man manages to be all of these things, with the additions of abject amorality and disregard for others, and with substantial amounts of glittery pizzazz. Instructive, yes, but primarily self-serving and chaotically playful.
In fact, chaos has always been his favorite lesson: the most representative Magic Man moments involve taking a character’s limited worldview and exposing it to the hopelessly vast intricacy of the universe, which often looks like utter chaos and unfairness to mere mortals. In Adventure Time, he’s the perfect vehicle with which to discuss the mysterious iniquities of our reality–the existence of evil, the reason why bad things happen to good people, the apparent lack of order in anything at all. Magic Man is the embodiment of the universe’s inherent, random injustices, the type that breaks the rational human mind. In “You Forgot Your Floaties,” we finally learn why.
Betty’s conversations with Magic Man proved incredibly deep for the fandom, as it illuminated so much about not only Magic Man’s character, but also redefined magic and wizardry in the series’ universe. The conclusion of her research on magical men far and wide, from Naked Wizard to Abracadaniel, is that wizards have at their center three main components: sadness, madness, and magic. They seem to be among the most tortured beings in all of Ooo: the rainbow magician Abracadaniel and his crippling self-doubt, within which lurks a raging ego trying to break free; Ron James is a shady magical shopkeeper and a thinly-veiled stand-in for a drug addict; and of course, there’s Ice King, whose rampant loneliness manifests as princess-napping.
In essence, Betty is studying sad wreckages of men, whose mental deformities have afforded them magical abilities. This phenomenon might even explain Finn’s mental abilities back in “The Tower,” in which Finn’s drive for revenge, after his father had abandoned him and taken his arm in the process, manifested in telekinetic powers. Periods of extreme duress try us, but they also inspire action by eliminating all traces of comfort, with new horizons and abilities as a result of discomfort. In contrast to the traditional concept of the ‘wizard,’ Adventure Time‘s magic users are not authoritarian powers, but regular people who are empowered because they are broken.
But in no way is this a glorification of sadness. To describe the sadness lurking in a wizard’s mind, Magic Man uses the bizarrely apt metaphor of a coconut crab lurking in your neighbor’s pool at midnight, a scene suffused with Lynchian surreal terror, a sideways place that is so eerie and alien because it is so mundane, and within that pool lurks the ineffable and grotesque sadness.
Magic Man is one of the most powerful magic users we’ve encountered in Ooo (much to the chagrin of everyone he comes across), and consequently, one of the most tormented, as Betty learns. As part of his ritual to transform into Glob and rain chaotic mischief upon all of Mars, he plans to use Betty’s human DNA to activate Glob’s helmet, which should transmute him into a deity, as the mythical sorcerer’s stone reputedly transmuted feces to gold. In the process, Betty will encounter Magic Man’s mental landscape, but what MM didn’t account for is that she would bring along a picture of Margles, which allowed her to gain entrance to his innermost torments.
The ceremony begins, and Betty finds herself on a black and white marble plain, impenetrable, featureless completely smooth, as befits Magic Man’s occluding madness. But in this mental plain, the smuggled picture of Margles transmutes into a latex mask, and once Betty dons it, she is able to witness Magic Man’s tragedy through Margles’ perspective.
On Mars, Margles had been Magic Man’s wife, whom he’d lost to Golb, a monstrous red entity that sits floating in the void. We’d seen Golb before back in “Puhoy,” after Finn had died of old age in an alternate pillow-fort universe, and passed through geometric designs and had seen the same demonic form. After her passing, Magic Man was tasked with constructing a defense mechanism to protect Mars from Golb’s return, and he chose to make a magical being with the same form and name of Margles, crafted out of science, magic, and his own nightmares. Predictably, the project goes awry due to Magic Man’s emotional imbalance, and Margles is flung from the mountaintop in the ensuing struggle.
Magic Man’s own madness-sadness-magic paradigm stems from his loss of Margles, from the death of a loved one, which is one of the most profound and crippling mysteries one could ever confront. There is no greater evidence of chaos than the idea that someone you’ve known for years can simply vanish, without a trace but in the mind and the heart. It’s as though one plus one suddenly equaled blue, and nothing ever made sense again. Unlike other wizards who grapple with inadequacy or companionship, Magic Man fought death itself, even going so far as to creating a copy of his lost wife, and then losing her too when he’d become overprotective. Hence, after losing his wife, then losing the clone of his wife in a half-baked plan to stave off Golb the death-bringer, Magic Man coped by becoming an embodiment of that chaos, obsessed with spreading that discordian gospel to every hapless soul he encounters.
However, Betty’s psychoanalysis of Magic Man is interrupted. Earlier, Magic Man had captured Finn and Jake and turned them into a fried egg and a bowl of batter, respectively, but with the help of Tiny Manticore (whom we’d seen previously as Magic Man’s prisoner), they’d made their way into Magic Man’s basement, where Finn had inadvertently been baked into bread by Betty before the ceremony. Finn, in the form of a big plushy bread golem, interrupts the process by smashing the glass machinery, thus injecting the most hilariously absurd scenario possible into an otherwise surreal and emotionally profound episode.
The interruption of the ceremony somehow transfers Magic Man’s sadness over to Betty, resulting in a mundane Magic Man, and a maddened Betty who teleports from the room, with a final shot of the neighbor’s pool at midnight, now holding a submerged Simon Petrikov who mouths the words “You Forgot Your Floaties,” a spine-chilling utterance that basically translates as ‘you are woefully unprepared for how deep this pool of sadness can go.’ Betty is now engulfed in the same madness that plagues Simon, Finn is bread, and the epic Finnale of season 6 has begun with a bang.