On the new Adventure Time episode, “Blank Eyed Girl,” an unbearably creepy blank-eyed girl haunts Finn and Jake, who turn to books and conspirators for an answer. It’s the eponymous time again!
“Blank Eyed Girl” makes a fine addition to Adventure Time‘s repertoire of fine Halloween and horror episodes, which never fail to inspire respectable scares and a lingering sense of the unknown. This episode revisits the conspiracy theory themes embodied in Starchy, our favorite janitor-turned-paranormal expert, who’s dedicated to remaining vigilant against both the abnormal, and the machinations of the Candy Kingdom’s ruler, the Machiavellian Princess Bubblegum. Where previous episodes preferred to affirm the power of theory and conjecture to characterize the invisible, “Blank Eyed Girl” presents a truth that goes beyond human wisdom, conventional or esoteric.
The opening scene is what the world looks like to the paranoid: Finn and Jake are sitting down to dinner at the pizza shop while Starchy’s Graveyard Shift radio show is buzzing with the usual ghost stories, conspiracy theories, and other odd night-time phenomena in Ooo. The subject matter doesn’t sit well with Jake, whose skepticism comes off initially as loudly arrogant, but slowly turns frantic, in a nice contrast to the lateness of the hour, Finn’s placid chewing, and the pizza chef’s quiet dough-pounding behind the counter. Everything else looks so nightmarishly normal when you’re panicking, and Jake’s fear reaches a fever pitch when a Banana Guard calls into the radio show, reporting something inexplicable: while washing his uniform one night, he spied the reflection of a girl with blanked-out eyes, seen in the glass of the washing machine. At this point, Jake doth protest too much, and reveals himself to be the erratic one here, rather than the rational skeptic.
We first heard about Starchy’s radio show way back in “We Fixed a Truck,” where he explains his insane theory that Princess Bubblegum has been kidnapped and replaced by a shape-shifting lizard. We were so used to the Candy People’s idiocy and sheepishness at this point that we took it at ridiculous face value, except that, of course, Princess Bubblegum really had been replaced by changelings. It was an episode mainly focused on Banana Man’s lonely character, but it had time for a soft commentary on conspiracy theories, and how, by definition, they can never satisfactorily be disproved.
After Jake causes a scene, our two heroes head homeward through the obligatory creepy woods, where spooky tomfoolery gives way to the actual creeps as they pick out inexplicable sounds in the night. By the time they reach home, both Finn and Jake are holding hands in embarrassed terror, and there’s a beat after they reach the safety of the Treehouse, just before they answer a scratching at the door that is, of course, our Blank Eyed Girl, who consequently appears in the windows, on the lawn, and eventually in the living room, to everyone’s horror. The episode cleaves to standard horror movie atmospheric sequencing beat-by-beat so far, an impressive feat to squeeze into eleven minutes, but from here on out, the writing begins to play with the trope a little more flexibly.
The frames take on a deliciously atmospheric vignette effect, taking away the viewer’s peripheral vision to focus on the eeriness on center stage. Finn dials into Starchy’s radio show for help, while Jake is visibly disgusted by Finn’s deference towards every one of Starchy’s groundless theories, which are overturned one after another: the Blank Eyed Girl is not a vampire that needs invitation, nor a cream-eating Fairy, nor a clarinet-hating Hink. The clarinet accomplishes nothing except summoning five more Blank Eyed Girls dancing eerily in the living room, a sight that’s at once cute and terrifying, somehow. By the time they’re honeying and feathering Jake up like a chicken to try another anti-cryptid folk remedy, Jake demands they seek answers from a more legitimate (secondary) source: the library, a desperate play for two boys who desperately hate reading.
There, they learn from Turtle Princess’s Googling skills that the Blank Eyed Girls appeared five years ago, around the same time that Starchy’s Graveyard Shift radio show came on the air, prompting Finn to believe that the girls are Tulpas, thoughtforms that manifest from concentrated amounts of faith, such as would accumulate from Starchy’s listeners. This feels like a pretty viable theory to Finn, but then again, so did dressing Jake up like a chicken. Back at the Treehouse, Finn’s play is to charge right through the Blank Eyed Girls, pretending they don’t even exist, in hopes of eliminating the belief-energy they theoretically need to survive. He’s oozing self-assurance as he sits on the couch, bleating platitudes like ‘creepiness is just fear of what you don’t understand, or what you fear most in yourself,’ and that the creepiness you feel is something that you can choose or refuse to believe in. Yes, it certainly seems like everyone in this episodes gets a turn at acting self-assured and pompous.
While Finn philosophizes thus on the couch with BMO, Jake is very visibly crippled with fear beyond his control, as the Girls surround and slowly reach for him with their tiny, pallid hands. And it isn’t for lack of trying; Jake tries to meditate on the happy things, like BMO, Lady Rainicorn’s fresh-baked pie, or pizza, only to see them turn to Blank Eyed corruptions in his own mind. Finn’s contention that feelings are choosable is turning to mush as Jake is reduced into a broken puddle of fear, who admits once and for all that the creeps have overcome him, and whether the girls are ghosts or pranks or Starchy’s imagination is now besides the point.
While Jake has been secretly terrified from the start, and has rejected Starchy’s theories probably because of this repressed fear, Finn’s attitude is that whatever experiences come before the mind, it can be made sense of with words or labels (tulpas, vampires, fairies, hinks…), and finally, that the experience can be dispelled by sheer disbelief. Thank god he’s absolutely wrong, because that would’ve been a terribly frustrating ending to an episode that’s played wonderfully on horror-film tensions, and especially ‘the big reveal,’ which the writers have built up nicely.
The Girls proceed to remove their eyes, revealing normal, human eyes underneath, which causes Jake to call B.S. on the whole situation as a juvenile prank. Until they remove their hair, and then their heads, and then their skins, revealing glowing, wispy forms underneath. Whatever the unknown is, it doesn’t care one whit for human theories, which seem to serve no purpose but to limit the imagination and possibilities rather than widen them, and this goes for both affirmation and denial; disbelief is belief in the opposite, and if belief can be blind, then so can disbelief. I love how the reveal situates the unknown phenomena so absolutely far from our or Finn and Jake’s expectations, which have been built up over time by culturally-reinforced patterns of thinking: it’s our familiarity with horror tropes that give the revealed creatures their glamour.
As they undo the window and dissolve into the night sky (looking sort of like dandelions with cattails trailing behind them), BMO remarks on their beauty, another standpoint completely beyond the scope of the horror framework which we’ve been boxed into, along with Finn and Jake.