Adventure Time Recap: Father-Figures and Submarine Visions in “Billy’s Bucket List”

On last Monday’s episode of Adventure Time, “Billy’s Bucket List,” Finn confronts his innermost fears to complete Billy’s bucket list, and in exchange, gains some heavy info regarding his biological family. It’s the eponymous time again!

Highlights!

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“Yep, that was tight.”

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Billy = The classic rock phase every healthy young boy should undergo.

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“Punch that jerky camel.”

“Billy’s Bucket List” is the final episode in season five of Adventure Time, and as expected, contains some season premiere-worthy reveals and plot details regarding the next season. This is the growth episode we’ve been anticipating for Finn, as he’s spent most of the season getting over Flame Princess, and doing it very, very badly. We learn some insightful details regarding Billy’s bittersweet career as an S-list hero, and Finn takes the first few steps towards breaking out of a slump that I applaud for its realism: some shows have protagonist funks lasting for, say, a single episode, maybe a few strung together into an arc. Finn’s slump was half the freaking season, in a span comparable to slumps in the real world. Last Monday night, Finn gained a potential new love interest, confronted an old spectre from his past, and received a shocking reveal at the end that introduced the next main story arc: Finn’s quest for his father.

I have to say though, overall it’s a somewhat shabby finale to an otherwise incredible season. The jokes felt somewhat forced and half-baked in delivery, as with the opening rap battle sequence, where Finn trades rhyming blows with Rap Bear. Compared to the hilarity of past moments like Finn’s political rap in “Return to the Stratosphere” and his balloon rap in “Marceline’s Closet,” these verbal gags seem like they could’ve been cut a bit more carefully: “My raps are mystical . . . quantum physics!” After Finn triumps over his new hero, he’s reminded by Party Bear of his love for the deceased Billy, and walks in a daze through the streets of the Candy Kingdom with visions of his six-fingered mentor intermingled with the Lich’s face. In the midst of this reverie, Finn meets Canyon, Billy’s ex of four years, who’s come to hand over Billy’s old loincloth, seeing as how him and Finn used to be best buds. Canyon’s introduction was a bit random, and not in the gracefully unexpected way that Adventure Time is so good at–instead of happening upon her, or prefiguring her entrance in some way, the episode literally has her show up, hand the loincloth over, and accompany Finn on one last visit to Billy’s crack. Of course there isn’t time enough in these eleven minutes for anything prolonged, but Adventure Time‘s writers are usually phenomenal in their use of the quater-hour format, with small details that glue the light-speed plot together into a streamlined product.

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They arrive to find the den infested with fairies, whom Finn dispatches easily with the aid of his sweet grass blade, which will later play a crucial role in his maturation. He and Canyon get to talking, and it’s revealed that Canyon and Billy were quite the power couple back in the day, challenging demons and winged nasties atop Billy’s motorbike. But towards the end, Billy “stopped believing,” took to video games and television, and generally turned his back on the active life. Hero-dom becomes synonymous with rock star-dom, and Billy is portrayed as fading into has-been status. Finn comes to Billy’s defense, saying that “even heroes have slumps, bro”; fitting words, as it describes Finn’s continual stream of emotional failure this season, from trying pathetically to win back Princess Bubblegum’s favor, to acting the creep compared to Cinnamon Bun’s transformation into a Lancelot studmuffin. We’re now finding Finn in the same situation that plagued Billy in his final days, and attempting to navigate the path that even his hero found taxing.

They find hidden in Billy’s motorcycle a scroll containing his bucket list, with a few final entries left untouched: “Tell Finn That Thing,” and “Take Canyon on One Last Ride.” To honor his memory, they decide to complete it together, and go on a hellride across a sandy plain infested with albino, knife-wielding dragon-worms. They fall easily to Canyon’s fists while Finn launches the bike over a cliff edge, leaving the two grasping a cliffside branch. Afterward, Canyon tells Finn he reminds her a lot of a young Billy, and that they’ll likely see each other again. It’s not inherently creepy that Finn’s progression as a hero involves possibly taking over his hero’s girlfriend, but the whole canyon sequence was a bit thinly executed, without the small details to cement the moment and make the attachment between the two into something palpable. So yeah, it does end up feeling a bit creepy in an Oedipal way, since Billy’s another father-figure that Finn’s collected in his life as an orphaned human boy.

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After Canyon departs into her lake abode, Finn discovers a bonus item all the way at the bottom of the scroll, where Billy has scribbled “Lie on my back in the ocean. Just float.” Which is a tough break for Finn, who’s a severe hydrophobe, as we learned way back when. It’s a tiny plot detail that isn’t very well reintroduced, and ends up feeling like the right straw grasped at the last moment to hold up the storyline. Finn now has to confront his personal fears in order to fulfill Billy’s final will, and outwits the Fear Feaster by smacking himself unconscious and dropping into the ocean, which is a bit irking as that’s the same solution he came up with back in the Feaster’s introductory episode.

We’re treated to a beautiful, dream-like, underwater sequence with a neon-blue pallette: Finn sinks into the ocean depths, and has his hat picked off by an enormous whale who leads him through sunken cities and coral caverns. Finn swims out of the cavern which has now morphed into his hat, swollen to an enormous size, and pursues him all the way to the surface. The polar-bear hat is animated by a Hokusai tidal wave, and the whale soars through its neckhole to engulf Finn, who offers himself in Billy’s name. The sequence’s art hearkens back to Genndy Tartakovsky’s concise, geometric style in Samurai Jack and Dexter’s Laboratory, maybe in homage to an influential precursor. It’s a Jonah-sort of image, and the symbolic sacrifice signals an internal shift in Finn’s character, as he’s gotten over his own predicaments (as represented by his leaving the hat behind) in order to perform a selfless act. Finn wakes up to find the Fear Feaster still plaguing him, but the hand possessed by the grass blade smacks sense into him, and cuts the Feaster in half, revealing itself to be more than a mere ‘mortal blade.’ At this point, the grass blade is either a sentient object invested in Finn’s well-being, or it’s an extension of his body, and so attuned to his psychological state. Either way, Finn’s inner resolution enables the blade to literally cut down his fear and simply float, with his back to the ocean.

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Billy’s face appears in the stars between parting clouds, Mufasa-style, to thank him for putting his soul to rest. Before he can leave abruptly, Finn asks him about ‘that thing’ he needed to say, and Billy responds by telling Finn to seek out a structure called the Citadel, which looks like a crucifix with two additional beams extending from the front and back. The center is surrounded by a thorny frame reminiscent of the Christian image of Jesus’ heart crowned with thorns. We leave Finn meditating on this earth-shattering info in the middle of the ocean, getting smaller and smaller as the view pans upward. The episode ends with flash-shots of the Crystal Citadel, where the silhouette of Finn’s father sits frozen.

A father-journey seems fitting at this point, since Finn has so thoroughly lost himself this season, in the endless battles of the “Dungeon Train” and the endless attempts to rebound onto PB. It’s time Finn sought out his roots and his purpose, which presumably, going on an extradimensional walkabout in search of his father will enable him to do. While the plot direction makes sense, this episode still feels perfunctory, like a little epilogue instead of a real episode, a setup for the next season rather than a fitting closer for this season. But I suppose Lemonhope’s absolutely insane saga was enough of a season finale for me.

Promo Art:

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