Original Sin and Normal Men in Adventure Time’s “Normal Man”

On the new episode of Adventure Time, “Normal Man,” Magic Man (called Normal Man, now that he’s non-magical) attempts to right his past wrongs by rescuing Glob from space, but his tumultuous history as a prankster/tormenter catches up with him. It’s the eponymous time again!

This is admittedly a bittersweet time for me: Magic Man has always been my favorite character, in a series with dozens of likeable side characters. He’s a twisted Gandalf, a farce of the ‘wizened magic-user guide’ trope, who dispenses harsh wisdom and life lessons by dispensing senseless suffering on others: turning birds inside out, turning deer into spyglasses (which has a cameo this episode!), turning all the water on Mars into hair… he was an embodiment of life at its most chaotic, random, and painful, and every episode he appeared in was a guaranteed trip.

But alas, as of “You Forgot Your Floaties,” Betty had absorbed Magic Man’s tragic sadness, and its accompanying madness and magical ability, leaving us with Normal Man. Gone is the fanciful wide-brimmed yellow hat, replaced by khaki pants and an overwhelming sense of guilt at all the pain he’d sown. “Normal Man” is the story of a man who’d come back to life out of madness, to find himself mired in moral debt and forced to make penance for original sins committed by his alter ego, another man entirely.

Normal Man’s first act as a normal man is to rescue Glob, one piece of the four-part ruler of Mars, who’d sacrificed themselves to save Mars from the impact of Martin’s malfunctioning starship. Aiding Normal Man is his former captive, Tiny Manticore, who at the episode’s start flies into space on his tiny wings to retrieve the first of the quadruplets, but once he returns to the surface and looks upon Normal Man’s normal, powerless self, TM seizes the moment to torment the teal-skinned lunatic who’d kept him trapped in a bottle in his dirthouse of madness. Tiny Manticore flees with Glob in his tiny arms, and so begins Normal Man’s ordeal of redemption.

Tiny Manticore in space in "Normal Man"

Throughout the episode, Normal Man’s arrival is met with hilarious levels of fear, resentment, and outright violence: he arrives at the Treehouse to ask Finn and Jake’s help in retrieving Glob, insisting that he’s now called Normal Man. Jake responds with a tossed frying pain to the head, and Normal Man is soundly knocked unconscious. I said earlier that Magic Man represents the cruel randomness of waking life, the tragedy of bad things happening senselessly to good people. In “Normal Man,” that same lesson ironically befalls Normal Man, as he begins his new life bearing Magic Man’s karmic debt.

Once Finn and Jake recall that Magic Man had lost his powers, they accompany him to Wildtrap Mountain, where Tiny Manticore waits at the peak with Glob. Wildtrap Mountain is yet another ‘holy mountain’-style ordeal that signals a spiritual turning point, similar to the Mountain of Matthew back in Lemongrab’s odyssey, “The Mountain.” While Magic Man is explaining the situation to Finn and Jake, he says despondently that Tiny Manticore should just “Margle” him off the mountain to a well-deserved death. Margles was Magic Man’s wife, abducted by the mysterious death-entity Golb, then recreated by Magic Man to be Mars’ defense system against Golb’s return. In the past, Magic Man was supposed to install the artificial Margles at the peak of a Martian mountain, but his emotions bested him, and in trying to get her off the mountain, he’d accidentally pushed her over the cliff’s edge, thus initiating his descent into madness. To complete his rehabilitation, Magic Man journeys up Wildtrap Mountain, in a retracing of his former path to madness.

Finn, Jake, and Normal Man brave the Mountain’s many dangers (archer bandits, weekend survivalists, a single red ant, that squirrel that stalks Jake) to reach the peak, where Finn and Jake fall to Tiny Manticore’s surprisingly effective boomerangs. Magic Man seizes hold of Glob, and Tiny Manticore carries them into the stratosphere only to drop them. In freefall, the initially suspicious Glob slowly realizes that Normal Man has indeed changed. Normal Man explains how he wanted to rescue Glob, and return to Mars its wise ruler, but also to apologize for his centuries of malevolent buffoonery as Magic Man. Their tenderness affects Tiny Manticore, who rescues them at the final moment.

Normal Man and Glob on the return journey to Mars

During the transporter journey back to Mars, Glob chooses to remind in orbit around Earth along with Gob Grod and Grosh, passing the mantle of Martian rulership onto Normal Man, and completing NM’s redemption. Hence, the episode was essentially the story of a normal guy waking up in a world bent against him, who journeys to restore the world to normalcy by locating its rightful ruler. In the process, our Normal Man proved his sincerity, and so inherited the Earth (or more precisely, Mars). This episode’s for every person who’s ever felt like they’ve been slaving through life in recompense for some sin they don’t ever recall committing. But that’s the Magic Man lesson, after all, and in “Normal Man,” Normal Man proves that normal men can prevail.

Normal Man arrives on Mars, sending the native Martians into fearful panic, now that their former tormentor has returned (in fact, there was an amazing flashback earlier in which Magic Man had chained Glob and the Martians in a ring, and literally thrown them under the bus, as he proceeded to drive a schoolbus slowly over them). Normal Man assures them he’s changed, and has no more tricks in his hat, only a six-pack of brownies. Previously, Mars’ impressive line of rulers included the noble Abraham Lincoln and the selfless Glob, and now Normal Man assumes the throne, with a lifetime of experience regarding madness, sadness, magic, and now, rebirth. I doubt we’re done with Normal Man, however: Golb is still out there, perhaps along with Margles, and Betty Grof’s fate might still be intertwined with his.

But here’s a fond farewell to Magic Man.

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