On last night’s double episode of Adventure Time, “The More You Moe, the Moe You Know,” BMO’s birthday is interrupted by a mysterious solo mission at the request of his creator, Moe. It’s the eponymous time again.
Adventure Time‘s BMO has always presented interesting opportunities for the writing team, as a childlike character that isn’t a child at all, but a manufactured boy-droid. However, BMO’s artificiality makes him an ironically ripe device with which to talk about certain adolescent issues like spiritual purpose, or one’s origins. “The More You Moe, the Moe You Know” touches on all of these topics, and reminds us that even though Finn’s growing up, the series still has plenty of budding personalities for us to observe and learn from.
This week’s double episode builds on the ideas put forth back in “Be More,” in which BMO returns to the MO factory where he was created, and learns that though he’s one of a series of MO robots, he is unique–BMO was created by the human genius Moe to play with and take care of his own human son; unfortunately, Moe had little time to date and procreate, making BMO his de facto son. Hence, BMO’s primary function was to play and imagine, as evidenced in all BMO-centric episodes like “Football” and “BMO Noire”, all stories which dissect the purpose and possibilities of the imagination, of thought experiments, and self-willed brain states.
For BMO’s birthday this year, he’s paid a special visit from Moe, who shows up in a strange, robotic MO body, as his biological body has finally failed him. From his first appearance as a laughing geriatric scientist whose emaciated form has to be carried in the arms of a burly MO, Moe’s been a bizarre, yet strangely gentle reminder of our own mortality. Consequently, it’s rather disturbing that Moe’s physical death is lampshaded upon his arrival, and the strangeness continues; at the Treehouse, Moe suspiciously informs BMO of a rite of passage involving a trip to the MO factory, while Moe stays home at the Treehouse to… take his place. It’s an eerie scene, in which BMO’s aging is accentuated by his unnatural replacement by the elderly MO-Moe.
Along the way, BMO confesses his misgivings to Air, in a reference to the episode “BMO Lost” where BMO befriended and married a soap bubble, shortly before it popped, died, and became Air. The episode takes care to emphasize BMO’s rich mental landscape, populated by invented (?) figures given life by his imagination, a recurring theme throughout the episode. BMO expresses his doubts about growing up, specifically the unknown changes that occur, body and soul, in the transition from child to adult. BMO-centric episodes are also typically concerned with self-identity; as a robot with an overactive imagination, BMO loves trying on different human roles and temperaments, and because of this, is often mentioned in discussions of gender and identity fluidity. In this episode, BMO encounters what might be called his most fundamental fear, which is a crystallization, or rather a petrification of his Self.
Moe’s plot unravels once BMO arrives at the MO factory and discovers that the quest had been a trap to destroy BMO and consign him to the factory depths, where the other MOs have been scrapped and compressed into a single unified MO as waste. This all-MO tells BMO that the factory had always been a place of peace, in which the MOs knew what they were and where they fit into their surroundings, until a mysterious signal one day overrode their programming and delivered a self-destruct command to the entire facility. The signal was delivered by AMO, the first of the MO series, who was designed to be the counterpart to BMO. Where BMO abounds in giving love, AMO was designed by Moe to receive love, an unstable mental state which drove AMO to bitterness against Moe, whose love could never be enough. After Moe’s passing, AMO stole his memories, learned of BMO’s Treehouse family, and set out to replace him.
This begs the question of why Moe had created AMO in that way, of why all MOs can’t be created equally loving like BMO, for which there isn’t a satisfactory answer, as there is no satisfactory answer to human variation and the staggering spectra of human characteristics and temperaments. There’s a tragedy to AMO then, as someone whose identity was beyond his control, unlike BMO, and therein lies their essential difference. All-MO tells BMO that only he can save the MOs, thanks to his boundless imagination, which enables him to see things as they could be, as opposed to what they merely are at present. Though All-MO possesses the combined computational might of the entire MO series, that pales in comparison to the possibilities afforded by BMO’s imagination, and AMO’s situation illustrates why.
Without imagination, without the ability to distinguish, compare, and decide amongst several identities as BMO loves to do, all MOs and all people would be sentenced to the identity they were allegedly programmed with, to despair within personal constraints beyond the bounds of which they can’t see. In other words, imagination and play are essential to a self-determined adolescence, one in which the individual takes control of themselves, rather than behaving like badly programmed robots for the confused duration of their lives.
But not only is imagination key to aging, it’s also the key to staying young, for reasons beyond the superficial. Back at the Treehouse, Finn and Jake are forced to hang out with MO-Moe, who is AMO in disguise, and what’s confusing here is why AMO behaves like someone of Moe’s age despite being as young as the rest of the MO’s. He dislikes roughhousing, loves reading coupons, and can’t play any games aside from the one he was built with, which is a version of Hangman in which Burgess Meredith is the only answer.
It seems temporal age has nothing to do with stagnation and, for lack of a less offensive phrase, being so ‘old.’ Moe and Princess Bubblegum were old as heck, but they never felt old the way AMO does, and this isn’t tied to time, but to selfishness. BMO is constantly fresh and young because he’s loving and imaginative, and this makes him open to new possibilities, which means he’s constantly updating his identity and preferences according to new interactions and experiences, whereas AMO can only love what he currently loves. Age isn’t an ossification of the bones, but of the identity. It’s an inability to connect with the outside world due to an atrophied imagination, an inability to see yourself as being anything other than what you currently are, which hampers your ability to adapt to other people and other situations.
Imagination is often relegated to the trivial ability to entertain yourself by pretending to be a unicorn or something like that, but “The More You Moe…” elevates imagination as the basic activity of being young, alive, and loving.
BMO returns to the Treehouse to find Finn and Jake unconscious, and AMO unveiled, and at the edge of a cliff they battle for Moe’s memory archives. BMO short-circuits AMO’s pellet cannon by immobilizing the pellet, causing AMO to be launched over the cliff by the momentum, and as if BMO didn’t have enough of a growth spurt, he then experiences the act of destroying another. All-MO, Finn, and Jake leave BMO to himself on the cliff, where he ponders the sheer indeterminacy of growing up, of never knowing whether the next quest is really a quest and not some nefarious plot that’ll get you killed and supplanted. He reflects on the fact that AMO merely followed his programming, and questioned what hope there could be if your original programming, if your natural state, weren’t enough. He eventually arrives at the conclusion that your natural state is enough, because it can change. He realizes that though he has Moe’s programming within him, he also has his own programming, his BMO-ness, which is, ultimately, the ability to decide and change.