On last Monday night’s episode of Adventure Time, “James II,” James II not only fakes his death to earn a medal, he’d done it twenty-four times, and spawned twenty-four brothers in the process. But when a past mistake threatens the Candy Kingdom, James and his crew of clones gain a chance to prove themselves. It’s the eponymous time again!
” . . . What are clones?”
This week’s episode is cause for ambivalence: it’s a little light in terms of substance and potential jaw-drops, but on the other hand, would you call the Candy Kingdom almost finding out that it’s an engineered utopian society whose citizens are basically replaceable/immortal ‘a little light in terms of substance?’ It’s up to debate, but it’s nice to have a breather between feels-fests, like last week’s family reunion depressathon, “Wake Up / Escape from the Citadel,” which, remember, came only one episode after the baroque drama of the Lemonhope saga. “James II” definitely has some fluff to it, but the levity juxtaposes nicely with the existential mire of James’ whole clone situation.
We catch Finn, Jake, and Princess Bubblegum on safari for Weeping Willie’s tears, for “one drop of its rare sap can flavor an entire stock pot of soup.” As always, PB’s MO is improving on the Candy Kingdom she built over hundreds of years, judging from the episode “Shoko” where Finn’s past life befriended a young Bubblegum just laying the Kingdom’s foundations. Finn’s arm is still notably missing–curious that PB hasn’t offered him some cyborg arm or an Aquaman hook or something, but the daisy-arm has a certain charm to it too. Suddenly, James hurls himself at Princess Bubblegum from nowhere, with the intention of saving her from slipping on some loose gravel, and launches himself over the waterfall cliff in the process. Finn and Jake pay their respects to the deceased ice cream sandwich, who’s apparently sacrificed himself many times over for his pink liege. But PB quickly points out that not only the gravel not loose at all, but there’s something disturbing in James’ consistently reckless behavior. Consequently, she decides there will be no further James clones.
Finn and Jake are appalled at the idea, but it’s difficult to assess how ‘cold-hearty’ PB’s attitude really is. In essence, she really is killing off James, and she did instigate his first death at the hands of the wasteland zombies, but what does any of that mean if she had the capacity to clone him all along? She operates on a completely different scale of power than Finn and Jake, and watching her actions gives us a taste of what it’s like to live at the top and to look down on all the little people, a theme that recurs later on in the episode as well. Specifically, Bubblegum said she won’t be re-cloning James because she can’t “reward this kind of foolish behavior forever,” suggesting that this system of reincarnation is for the moral purpose of rewarding right behavior, which is quite the quasi-religious load to bear, but if anyone in Ooo is up to the task, it’s Bubblegum. The quality of life in the Candy Kingdom might be on a steady rise, but there’ll always be the one basic problem: what the heck is quality of life, given the possibility of eternal life?
PB gives Finn and Jake the task of going to James’ apartment and collecting all his possessions, but once they arrive and turn on the lights, a roomful of Jameses scatter (which reminds me of a really good Mitch Hedberg joke), and James II bashfully emerges from behind a couch. He explains his plot of faking deaths and collecting medals, all because the goofy-bordering-on-obnoxious dude is lonely, and wanted a bro to hang with that understands him. Whether he knows it or not, his actions have a precedent in the Lemongrab brothers, who were created for each other because of their paradoxically antisocial natures. This makes it easy to say ‘well, whyl not? If it’s going to be a perfect Candy Kingdom, and PB has the capacity to make all the lonely weirdos a 100% compatible buddy, why not?’ On reading the episode’s synopsis last week, I thought maybe this episode would be the great reckoning in terms of PB’s clone-happy activities, but if anything, the whole issue just got hairier and more problematic.
Finn and Jake wash their hands of the whole thing and kick back on a bench to watch the inevitable happen: Princess Bubblegum visits the apartment herself, cue banjo plucking and Jameses popping out of windows and pouring out the door, amidst PB’s angry shouts. The episode is full of moments like these, perhaps to clear the room a bit of the head-churning issues that riddle it. We next find Bubblegum briefing the Banana Guards on the fugitive clones, with considerable difficulty. The guards soak up the situation in inches: “Hey guys this is a picture of one of the perpetrators. . . I needa see the other 24 pictures . . . What? How can one picture identify 25 perpetrators? . . . Oh ok I see. Uh, how can 25 guys look like one guy? You mean they’re vigenti quintuplets? . . . What are clones? . . . How did that happen? . . . And they’re not brothers?” . . . I love the Banana Guards. The voice acting, the look, the fact that their feet are little popsicle sticks, it’s just, the whole package is crazy cute. But, what’s not crazy cute is how close they got to opening the biggest can of worms their little potassium minds can imagine. Princess Bubblegum used the word ‘clone’ like a billion times; who knows what would happen if anyone comprehended the implications? Starchy throwing down his broom, muttering “Why does Stahchy have to bust his buns when you can just make Stahchy a Stahchy of his own?”
PB spots Finn and Jake chilling on the wall at this point, but the two convince her to just sit down and watch the ridiculousness unfold for a few minutes. Sure enough, the Banana Guards are approached by one, then all of the Jameses, and after some rigorous detective work, surmise that something fishy’s going on: twenty-five guys, that all look alike, who are not brothers, and all have the same name . . . Here, the lead Banana Guard has an oddly emotional moment: You know I was telling this to the guys–if we look alike, we should just have the same name. It would just make it a little easier. Life that is. It would make life, a little easier.”
. . . What the hell was that? It’s tempting to dismiss it as a random monkey wrench chucked at the viewer, but it fits nicely given the entire situation. There’s Princess Bubblegum sitting on the wall, finally enjoying herself instead of shouting herself hoarse because she’s at a vantage point from which she can laugh at the patterns; here are the Banana Guards, just a skin’s thickness away from some potentially heavy, existential questions; and here’s the lead Banana Guard wanting an end to names and distinctions, for the sake of a simpler life. The nitty gritties of the moment are pretty confusing, filled with questions of objective worth, responsibility, and moral limitations, and if internet speculation has taught us anything, it’s to doubt that anyone can finally reach that Olympian, highest-of-the-high moral ground, and so ignorance looks rather inviting. But it isn’t really ignorance, just a redirection of focus, a screening out of small details and an appreciation of bigger pictures for the sake of peace. If there’s an infinite regress of perspectives, then there is no ignorant or informed perspective, and so there’s no reason not to have an episode with a Police Squad of Banana Guards chasing after a clown car’s worth of Jameses.
Which is exactly what we get–whooping fugitives, “It’s A Small World”-style soundtracks, poorly-designed mousetraps, even a throwback to Mickey Mouse-era animation, when the Banana Guards track the Jameses to a Glove Shop, and the clones don the trademark puffy, white gloves as ill-fitting disguises. It’s a fun couple of scenes that hearkens to simpler times, an intentional brain-fart sequence that highlights the pointlessness of endless hand-wringing and speculation, which I suppose means that you should stop reading columns like these and buy yourself some throwing pies.
The Banana Guards eventually round up the cloned perpetrators, finally proving there is some force in Ooo to which they are superior, but confusion breaks out as the Gumball Guardians spot the badly-mutated Original James and his host of wasteland zombies approaching in the distance. Everything goes tower-defense as the Guardians blast wave after wave of acid-spitting mutants, who render the Banana Guards completely useless. Original James manages to reach Princess Bubblegum, and a poignant moment of recognition passes between the two, before the Clone Jameses dogpile their progenitor, thus demonstrating that they could deserve the medals if they put their minds to it, and thus melding every single one of them into a messy aggregation of James. The siege ends, and Princess Bubblegum not only returns to Conglomerate James his stripped medals, but offers him a medal every day if he/they stay in the Wasteland and never return. Now there’s something in here about karma, and how if all you wanna do with your life (or lives) is pursue shiny things to pin to your chest then that’s completely fine because really who has the high ground on you, but in the spirit of the episode, let’s just not, for once.