On the latest Adventure Time episode, “The Hall of Egress,” it’s midlife crises and vintage dungeon-mapping mayhem, as Finn finds himself trapped in a seemingly endless dungeon that he must navigate blind. It’s the eponymous time again.
At this latter stage of the series’ seventh season, there still isn’t a main story arc to cleave to, but arguably, this heightens the anticipation factor for every new episode: the series remains unbound, still in the realm of do-as-you-please. It’s an unconventional strategy for such a long-running show that’s found its fanbase in epic, sprawling mythologies, but it also ensures that the writers can stay true to what they do best. Case in point: “Hall of Egress” continues Adventure Time‘s trend of ever-maturing themes (juvenile crime, political indifference), with a plot about an endless dungeon that will have nostalgic gamers remembering the old dungeon-mapping RPGs of yore. But beyond that, the episode also dissects vividly that bottomless feeling of midlife wanderlust, but not the road-trippy, running-through-the-fields kind. I’m talking about the life-map-disappearing-in-your-hands, what-the-hell-is-next kind.
Finn and Jake are up to their old hobbies: venturing into remote wildernesses and vanquishing dungeons. Along the way, Finn and Jake crest a hill and see the Dungeon Train behind them. It’s a moment early on in the episode that references some of Finn’s darkest times, post-Flame Princess breakup and pre-deadbeat father Martin. In “Dungeon Train,” Finn numbed his emotional frustrations on an endless dungeon-crawling, loot-grabbing loop (like an RL Diablo III simulator) that preyed on his sense of accomplishment with achievement-tokens. “Hall of Egress” is an episode in the same vein, using vintage gaming tropes to illustrate an oblique fact of life.
But where Jake was there to ground him in “Dungeon Train,” Finn faces the Hall of Egress alone. A stray step triggers a trap in the dungeon foyer (Finn speaks truth: it’s thoroughly rude to put a trap in the foyer) sealing the entrance before Jake can join him. Through the entrance, he finds himself in a room with an upside down snowman and a large hatchway marked ‘Hall of Egress.’ After some tinkering around, Finn figures out that the door allows passage only if your eyes are closed, but after which point, you’ve gotta feel your way through the dungeon beyond. Opening his eyes in the dungeon, however, causes him to revert back to his ‘save point’ in front of the door. To get through, Finn does what anyone who’s played Etrian Odyssey (or similar dungeon-mapping games) would do: he starts to assemble a map, using data gleaned from multiple forays into the dungeon.
The Hall of Egress is having none of that, however. Finn realizes that the dungeon is different every single time, making the map as useless as the string he tied to the dungeon’s entrance. So he does what he always does in insoluble situations: he charges through the dungeon blindly, no longer taking care to feel out the traps and junk, and this actually works–Finn’s able to sprint through the dungeon, babbling all the while. He breaks through to the surface where Jake stands waiting.
Anyone who’s found their lifeplans dissolve midway through the journey will understand, the idea that there is no map that you can make for yourself (or that anyone can give you) that can account for everything you’re going to encounter, that you have to surrender the need to control and foresee everything, and that the only way through is to charge, blindly and madly. But the episode’s most true-to-life moment comes next: Finn isn’t actually out of the dungeon.
He opens his eyes to greet Jake on the outside world, but doing so puts him right back at the save point. Even after repeating the process and getting all the way back to the Treehouse, Finn still can’t open his eyes. The dungeon, he finds, is vaster, more labyrinthine than he could’ve imagined; in this dungeon reality, everything is exactly the same, but Jake has no recollection of finding the dungeon, and it’s no longer where they found it.
And what’s more, BMO and Jake can’t comprehend at all what Finn’s going through, and instead of helping him out, they just pry his eyes open, thinking that this whole ordeal is in Finn’s mind. Consequently, Finn’s forced to abandon his well-meaning friends and venture into the world, blind and abjectly lonely, to explore the dungeon in blind circles until something ‘feels different.’ He eventually reaches a stream, where he abandons his clothes and severs a loose thread that got caught on a bush a while back, so that Jake can’t find him and make him open his eyes again. With the cutting of the thread, Finn commits to his mission fully, in recognition that there is no traceable way back or forward.
After surviving on skunks and traveling across forests, lavascapes, and deserts, he finds his way back to the Hall of Egress within the Hall of Egress. This time, however, Finn does not trigger the same trap waiting for him, and instead of falling down a ledge like the first time, he finds a ramp leading down. It’s a thoroughly frustrating moment, the slow realization that this might have all been avoided if he hadn’t triggered the trap, sealed himself in, broken the rampway, etc., but such is life, as vintage gaming tropes try to teach us. Once he reaches the impenetrable hatchway again, he realizes something is finally different: he can’t pass through with his eyes closed this time. He unravels his triple layer of blindfolds, and steps through a blinding light into a dungeon in the sky.
Finn sees Jake on the other side, and sprints to him now, with a cryptic voiceover from Princess Bubblegum: “At the seashell’s center lies the cornucopia’s smallest door.” Up until now, Finn’s efforts must’ve felt dishearteningly circular, realizing that the dungeon shifts with every iteration, that his friends can’t understand his ordeal, and that he might never escape. But it wasn’t a circle at all, it was a spiral, a tortuous path that felt pointless and endless all the way through, but spirals, thankfully, have centers. Finn breaks through the dungeon at last, and grabs Jake in a spinning hug.
To wayward viewers, “The Hall of Egress,” like the best episodes in the series, is a statement of unparalleled care and understanding. The series continues to map out all the neuroses and demons we share, so that the journey might not feel so danged circular, pointless, and most of all, lonely.