Adventure Time Recap: Esoteric Christianity in “Wake Up / Escape From the Citadel”

On last Monday night’s episode of Adventure Time, the series kicked off its sixth season with the half-hour special “Wake Up / Escape From the Citadel.” Finn’s looking for a father, the Lich is looking for an army, Jake is looking for cheese crackers, and for the sixth season in a row, the series has us looking forward to more. It’s the eponymous time again!

Highlights!

cheesecrackers
Cheese crackers.

uh oh
“UH OH”

 

Adventure Time had me worried by the end of season five. Finn’s father was introduced completely out of the blue, an uncharacteristic move for a series obsessed with dropping Easter eggs along the way and waiting for the right moment to hatch them. The new season’s commercial asked if we were ready to meet Finn’s father, and I found myself saying “. . . No, actually. I’ve never expressed the need to see Finn’s dad, but uh, alright.” It felt too much like a desperate grasp, an unwieldy heave in a different direction with vague hopes that it’ll pay off. Well, it did. The double-episode special accomplished everything a season premiere should: it introduced compelling new directions for the show while expanding on the core themes. Directors Adam Muto and Nick Jennings managed to shed Finn’s heartbreak arc rather painlessly, to launch a new one laden with feels resulting from a formerly-absent, and altogether disappointing father figure.

“Wake Up” opens with a party at Prismo’s wish-chamber in the center of the multiverse (yes, we get to say shit like that in Adventure Time without feeling thoroughly stupid), and all of our favorite cosmic weirdos are invited: Death, Peppermint Butler, a surprisingly dorky Cosmic Owl, Glob/Grosh/Grod/Gob, and Party God just to name a few, and sitting in the corner is none other than a comatose Lich. Peppermint Butler is the first to point out the pink demon in the room, asking Prismo why they aren’t all dead or enslaved at his hands by now. As you’d expect from a Wishmaster, Prismo’s able to deliver the details: the Lich’s existential function is to exterminate life, and since he’s powerless within Prismo’s wish-hut, he simply sits there, a “machine without a purpose” completely oblivious to the partiers taking selfies with him. It’s an important little tidbit to remember, once further Lich mojo goes down later on.

lich selfies

Whilst partying, Jake and Prismo act the hapless young bros, guffawing at how great it is to be in each other’s company, and delivering gems like “Prismo, you make me happy Prismo. I’m always smiling when I’m around you. I just noticed that, I always am! Hee Hee Hee, this feels so good!” Back in the season five premiere “Finn the Human / Jake the Dog,” it was that same idiotic friend-love that managed to undo the Lich when nothing else could. Every other power was helpless to stop the demon; if I remember correctly, Jake used his only wish on a sandwich (not for the first time, too), but a friendship-smitten Prismo stepped in and fudged fate a little bit, on the basis of this bromance betwixt Wishmaster and shapeshifting dog. These events make Prismo’s sacrifice later on all the more meaningful, both to Jake and the symbolism of the act.

Jake returns to the Treehouse, where Finn tells him that his father is alive in a place called the Citadel. They go back to Prismo’s place to inquire, and learn that it’s a sort of cosmic prison for multi-dimensional convicts, and that the only way inside is to commit a cosmic crime. Luckily, Prismo happens to know an easy one: find a sleeping old man outside amongst the asteroid-debris surrounding Prismo’s house, and return with him. Finn and Jake find it’s easier said than done, as the sleeping geezer spouts demonic night-terrors in his sleep that crumple before the Dr. Who-referencing flashlights Prismo gave to them. The nightmares bear an uncanny resemblance to the Wishmaster, and Prismo admits that he is the old man’s dream, or just one of them apparently–one dream of a Wishmaster amongst a million dreams of horrors. Once Old Man Prismo awakes, Prismo the Wishmaster will die, to be reborn in a millenium or so once his corporeal body falls asleep again. It’s a cosmic law that makes perfect sense in Adventure Time: what could be more heinous than to murder the fountain of wishes? And a fountain of wishes that happens to be Jake’s new best bud, no less. In a story arc involving pursuits of ancestral daddy-knowledge, and the meaning/logic/cause of one’s life situation, it’s fitting that the first step is to leave comfort and wishful thinking behind. It’s harsh, but Adventure Time doesn’t shirk when it comes to depicting adolescence.

prismo old man

In a move that should’ve surprised no one (then again, Finn’s a child, and Jake uses magic wishes on sandwiches) the Lich springs to life, and not only wakes the Old Man, but murders him with his cockatrice breath, hence snatching their ticket to the Citadel. A portal opens, and the Lich is whisked away by the crystalline hand of a Cosmic Guardian, followed by Finn and a vengeful Jake, thus ending “Wake Up” with Prismo’s demise, and prefacing Finn’s date with harsh reality.

“Escape from the Citadel” takes place in the impressively-rendered Citadel space, where the crystal prison sits like a four-dimensional crucifix, with six branches and a frame of thorns around its center. The Lich is embedded in the prison’s rose quartz by the Guardians, and Finn and Jake spot a guy who looks remarkably like Finn, in that he’s got two arms, two legs, and a face, unlike everyone else. Finn is still unsure if this particular can of worms needs opening, but the decision is quickly made for him: the Lich’s dark influence is melting the prison’s gems, and bringing its inmates under his influence. Finn’s father is freed halfway, and asks for Finn’s help, for the first of a surprising number of times for an 11-minute episode. Once free, the overweight, Zardoz-dressed man is far more concerned with modes of escape than with the son standing before him. It becomes more and more apparent that all of Finn’s fears regarding the reunion were correct, as Martin the Human is not only a criminal like the rest of his inmates, but is just the sort of irresponsible oaf to leavea his baby swaddling in poo in the forest. He’s completely unconcerned with the familial turn of events, and swims through the crystal goo seeking escape, while all around them the Crystal Guardians are locked in desperate battle with the Lich-corrupted prisoners.

citadel battles

When Martin’s leg is vaporized by the beams of a dying Guardian, he again asks for Finn’s help, directing him to rub the blood of the Guardian into the wound, as it’s chock-full of super-good nutrients. Finn seizes the chance to question him about his orphanage, to which Martin feebly responds: “You know me. I’m a funny guy! . . . I dont know, it was a long time ago. Who knows? Like, maybe you left me.” After vague promises of baby-daddy time, Finn begrudgingly applies the Guardian blood, restoring Martin’s leg so they can face the reviving Lich together. Sadly, Finn turns to find his spectacularly terrible father halfway across the goo-lake by now, to join a cadre of escaping hoodlums. Finn is alone as the Lich rises from the sea, now naked of Billy’s body, to deliver an evil monologue for the ages: “There is only darkness for you, and only death for your people. These ancients are just the beginning; I will command a great and terrible army, and we will sail to a billion worlds.” As cold-blooded a line as Jules Winnfield ever delivered, I’ll tell ya h’what.

Before the Lich can deliver the finishing touch, Finn manages to splash some of the rejuvenating Guardian blood onto him, in an eye-opening moment that comic book nerds will understand, the ones endlessly debating what would happen if Juggernaut charged at Thor’s Hammer. The glowing goo causes the Lich to spasm, and sprout tendons, veins, and all that good physiological stuff. It seems that Guardian blood is antithetical to the Lich’s being, and if the Lich’s purpose is the annihilation of life, then the Guardians, logically, are for the preservation of life. Let that sink in: the Crystal Guardians are now all dead because of Finn’s quest for his father. The Citadel is a Pandora’s box, literally, as all the baddies of the universe are locked therein, but also figuratively, as it housed Finn’s father and so sequestered the traumatic knowledge of his existence also. The Citadel is where the terrors of adolescence are located, but it’s also a place of hope and regeneration, as evidenced by the Guardians’ super-nutritious blood.

lichgrowing

Here’s the obligatory far-fetched theory paragraph: this double-episode is brimming with Christian and Gnostic Christian concepts. That Citadel is totally a cross and crown of thorns, Prismo is totally an unstained spirit/mortal given up as sacrifice, Martin is totally an uncaring demiurge figure, and Finn is falling from the Garden of his childhood, into new knowledge regarding his imperfect father, his imperfect roots, and the potential for irresponsible sin within his blood. And where else does all of this take place but the mind, which explains why the Guardians look like nervous systems with crystal bodies, crystals being geological formations capable of complex growth. Thus, we can read the season premiere as a refiguration of Christian mythology in terms of a psychic event, namely, the child’s reception of traumatic knowledge. Every instance of growing up involves a shedding of certain ideals, a sacrifice of absolute purity to accept evil both in the world and in oneself. This is what I meant when I said the season premiere managed to conjure a completely new story arc while remaining grounded in basic themes, the most basic of which is the pain of passing through childhood. We’ve explored romantic heartbreak, and now it’s time for even bigger psychic tectonic plates to shift.

Finn leaves the disabled Lich to Jake while he pursues deadbeat Martin, who’s mounted a floating crystal and is about to escape with his criminal crew. Finn grabs hold of the severed neuron anchoring the crew to the Citadel, and long-standing fans everywhere collectively clutched their open mouths. Finn is clearly about to lose his arm, and somehow, the moment manages to still be momentous, after so many seasons of anticipating the bizarre event. I mean really, why and how the hell did we get so excited for Finn to lose this arm? I guess it’s Adventure Time‘s penchant for mind-blowing that made us assume it’d be a turning point, which it totally was. Finn grabs hold with his cursed grass-blade arm, and his sheer willpower drives the blade to swell into a thick tendril of vines and thorns. The arm finally gives way after a torturous few moments, Martin sails into space (apparently bound for Earth, as his final word indicates), and the one-armed Finn falls into the ocean, where the Guardian blood brushes the stump, causing a single flower to grow, perhaps indicating that the grass blade is still present in Finn’s body. Jake fishes him out of the crystal ocean, and they lay on the island, bathing in the aftermath.

finn ocean

The freaky parts aren’t over with just yet: Finn asks Jake how his battle with the Lich went, and Jake presents a man-sized, horned baby, all swaddling and fat and goo-gooing. The Guardian blood “rebooted” the Lich, to use Jake’s terms, the implications of which will undoubtedly spark debates between AT-ers across interwebspace: is the Lich-baby still evil? Is it latently evil? Is it a completely fresh start, is that the logical result of the combination of the End of life with the (Re)Generation of life? Perhaps the Lich was never alive to begin with, as implied by Prismo’s idea of the Lich as an anti-life machine, so it may just be that life was instilled in inert matter, but who better to sort out all these messy details than . . . Tree Trunks and Mr. Pig.

In classic Adventure Time form, the gravitous situation is completely defused with sheer silliness. Cut scene to Tree Trunks and Mr. Pig having breakfast in the kitchen. A doorbell rings in the middle of Tree Trunks talking about getting something that starts with a “D” and likely ends in “ivorce,” and presto, drama averted. Tree Trunks and Mr. Pig are now the parents of a born-again demon.

With Martin still at large in the world, the sixth season is all set to explore the foundations of Finn’s personality, and the tension therein between empowering freedom and chastising discipline. In the episodes to come, we have a ton of dramatic knots to look forward to: Finn, the boy for whom the world and everthing about it is fantastic, will come to terms with being an unwanted child, and perhaps come to fear what he might become. After all, Jake convinced Finn to meet Martin by pointing out how cool it might be to see what his older self might be like. Finally, in the wake of his father’s destructive irresponsibility, he’ll likely have to contend with the ramifications of being 100% carefree, as Lemonhope did at the close of the last season.

citadel promo

One Comment

  1. the translation of killing the wishmaster as leaving wishful thinking behind is good insight I’ve not managed before. kudos to this blog, I only discovered it recently and I hope it continues

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