On the next installments of the “Stakes” Adventure Time miniseries, “May I Come In?” and “Take Her Back,” Marceline and crew contend with the shape-shifting Hierophant, and the nightmarish Moon.
Last night, “Stakes” veered away from Marceline’s story arc for a second to spin some bizarre, darkly whimsical yarns more in line with the series’ usual storytelling mode, which doesn’t prioritize plot so much as it does an odd situation. And in keeping with the sequence of the tarotically-named antagonists, the narrative shift came right on time with the Hierophant and the Moon. They’re named for two of the more mysterious figures in the Major Arcana, and once again, a little reference to the tarot helps us understand what these figures mean in terms of Marceline’s story arc and the the personal developments they symbolize.
After a brief check-in with Marceline and company, “May I Come In?” opens with King of Ooo riding down and hunting Crunchy, our old toad-voiced friend from the Candy Kingdom. King of Ooo is acting his predictably terrible self and wants to boost his image as a powerful ruler with a manly hunting session, much to Crunchy’s chagrin. The two eventually encounter the Hierophant, who chases them up a tree as a boar, and then climbs the tree as a koala to interrogate them as to Marceline’s whereabouts.
The Hierophant is definitely my favorite of the five arch-vampires, with his Edward Gorey-esque penchant for fur coats, his shiny black boots, hilarious/grotesque morphing scenes, and most of all, his old-school ways; at Bubblegum’s cabin by Butterscotch Lake, the Hierophant is unable to enter the cabin without invitation from Peppermint Butler, who’s thoroughly amused by the situation. The Hierophant in the tarot is an imparter of knowledge regarding nature and society, but like all the trumps of the tarot, he is meant to be transcended in order for the wanderer to progress onto the further trump life stages. In other words, the Hierophant’s teachings regarding societal norms are meant to be discarded at some point or another, in order for us to make our own value systems.
And it becomes quickly obvious that the Hierophant is badly limited by his own value system, as his encounter with Peppermint Butler shows. The Hierophant then tracks the crew into the forest, where they lie in wait with a tantalizing trap using Finn as bait, in a rare display of masculine beauty on mainstream television. The arch-vampire is able to evade their surprise LSP stake-attack and fends them off effortlessly. His old fashioned nature resurfaces as he inspects a garlic bomb, and with rage declares it more newfangled plastic junk that he has to get used to.
Once it becomes obvious that they can’t defeat the Hierophant’s seemingly limitless shapeshifting ability, Jake heeds a text from Peppermint Butler tipping them off to the vampire’s old school tendencies, and shapeshifts into a house to shelter them from the Hierophant, who once again must resort to begging permission in order to enter. After deceitful negotiations with Marceline, the Hierophant’s ridiculous adherence to meaningless laws is underscored when Crunchy bumbles out of a bush and accidentally knocks the vampire into Jake-house. The vampire self-destructs thanks to this transgression of his own precept, but not before critically wounding Marceline with a scorpion sting.
While the Hierophants defeat is pretty clear to understand, the crew’s battle with the Moon in “Take Her Back” is a little more esoteric. While cradling the wounded Marceline, Bubblegum comes face to face with her own pride. As LSP gleefully points out, Bubblegum became perhaps overconfident in her ability to solve everything with science, and eventually leaves Marceline in the hands of Peppermint Butler, their resident master of the dark arts and practitioner of poisons and other underhanded endeavors.
Back at the Candy Kingdom, Bubblegum and Pep-But triumphantly beat King of Ooo senseless, steal his keys, and access Peppermint Butler’s poison laboratory, where PB is forced to put her faith in Pep-But’s new age-y crystal-healing methods. Meanwhile, Finn and Jake are tasked with tracking down the Moon and taking her back, which they mishear as ‘staking her back.’ Curiously, once they locate the Moon in a skiff, they try killing her in every way but staking her in the back, and find her completely invulnerable to attacks. Once sunset arrives, the duo flee before the terrifying Moon vampire demon, who cryptically utters: “You run in the path of my light. How can you lead me when I am your guide?”
They lead the Moon back to Marceline and PB with the goal of staking her and making use of her healing abilities, but once they’re bathed in moonlight, she demonstrates her ability to instill senseless fear and drain their resolve, leaving nothing between her and Marceline’s weakened form.
Meanwhile, Marceline has been unconscious, and dreaming of visiting Simon and Betty as an older and more mature-looking version of herself. Apparently she’s actually looking forward to growing old like a mere mortal, and in a later dream, to dying by Bubblegum’s side, in the cabin by Butterscotch Lake where Peppermint Butler is digging her grave in a field of yellow flowers. It’s a poignant moment, Marceline suggesting that she wants nothing more than to grow old by PB’s side, and a moment that the fandom will dissect obsessively (especially given that Marceline is now sporting what’s called the ‘bisexual cut,’ the haircut also worn by speculated bisexual characters like Korra from the Avatar franchise).
In the waking world, Peppermint Butler finally disposes of the Moon by staking her in the back (ha, get it). The Moon’s character and her defeat are difficult to grasp, even given the figure’s meaning in the tarot: the Moon, or the High Priestess, is expressed as a silent, veiled figure with the moon on her crown, seated between the two pillars of the Temple with a capital T. In other words, she is the secret standing between the waking world and other knowledge, represents a riddle or mystery leading towards secret knowledge. Unlike the Hierophant, her male counterpart on both the show and within the tarot, you don’t defeat the Moon by direct confrontation; as she said, “How can you lead me when I am your guide?” Once our heroes are in the light of the moon, they’re already within her power, and the solution is to allow her to lead–so that you might stake her in the back.
Quite convoluted, yeah, but it also makes sense given the sub-theme of Bubblegum’s pride. Bubblegum’s normal refusal to submit to mysticism and superstition prove to be her downfall; the solution sometimes is to submit and follow, rather than confront or lead. Pep-But’s triumph over the Moon confirms this idea. He’s always been Bubblegum’s shadow, completely loyal albeit opposite in inclinations, cleaving to magic where she relies upon science. The Moon and the Hierophant are similarly opposite, the former imparting knowledge indirectly with riddles and veils, the latter resorting to direct sermonizing. The key to defeating the Hierophant was to go beyond his codes. In the Moon’s case, it was the solution of an illogical word riddle: ‘stake her back’ not ‘take her back.’ The moon has always been a traditional literary symbol of deceit, hallucination, and the non-rhetorical, and “Take Her Back” plays very nicely on this theme.
All in all, this pair of episodes sees great strides in both Marceline and Bubblegum’s development. Marceline’s finally warming up to the idea of growing older, into a rounded and capable adult, and Bubblegum is finally letting go of her controlling tendencies. Additionally, we learn that the Candy Kingdom desperately wants its old matriarch back, through a cute crying session with the Banana Guards. “Stakes” is proving to be more than just a diversion, and actually achieves meaningful strides in advancing the series’ core ideas.