On last Monday’s episode of Adventure Time, “Red Starved,” Finn, Jake and Marceline are trapped underground without snacks, and hunger is driving Marceline into feral-mode. While Finn ventures off for supplies, Jake has to find a way to stay alive while Marceline’s appetite grows. It’s the eponymous time again!
“YEAH LEMME SEE IN THERE”
Just in time for Halloween, Adventure Time puts its spin on the classic ‘Cabin Fever’ scenario with “Red Starved”. It’s a familiar trope, but a fun one wherever you see it: a mentally unsound character must be restrained while the party goes off on an errand, and one character (usually the most pitifully unsuitable one) must stay behind, and fend off an increasingly malicious psychological assault. The Adventure Time writers’ choice of ‘restrainee’ (Vampire Marceline) is topped only by the perfect candidate for ‘unsuitable guardsman’ (Fat Yellow Dog Jake).
Poor Jake gets on everyone’s bad side almost immediately – he’s bellyaching in the opening scene after eating all the candy in Finn’s pack, except it wasn’t candy at all, which means Jake is just thoughtlessly eating junk again . . . The crew had descended into an abandoned, subterranean sand-civilization to find “The Spoon of Prosperity,” which Princess Bubblegum needs for her science-driven machinations. After Jake gets stuck playing in quicksand, he frees himself by shape-shifting into a power-drill, and cheerfully extricates himself even as he wrecks the cave in the process. In record time, Jake ate almost all the food (including some random erasers in a brown paper bag), sealed the cave’s entrance, and gets on Marceline’s bad side, all in the first third of an 11-minute episode. Now that’s efficient writing.
“Red Starved” had me thinking back about other Cabin Fever episodes, especially the Buffy the Vampire Slayer rendition where Xander gets possessed or werewolf’d or something, and while butt-kicking Buffy is off doing something important, guard duty lands on pale, small, soft-spoken Willow, who’s also crushing on Xander at the time. It’s usually a recipe for a claustrophobic seat-gripper as we watch ‘unsuitable guard’ slowly break, but in Jake’s case, it’s just sweet comeuppance. Marceline makes the gradual transformation from sexy Vampire Queen to a she-demon with Robert Blake’s face, and it’s less terrifying than it is hilarious, given this is happening to Jake.
Marceline brings a much-needed edge to the group, something that no other character provides. Her first Adventure Time appearance cast her as a house-squatting semi-villain, and in her second episode, as another lady-lesson for Finn (the pains of married life, to be exact). Since then she’s grown into a fully-fledged personality, emerging as probably the most emotionally vulnerable character on the show, and “Red Starved” shows how much fun it can be to play with the dark side of her volatility, rather than the emo. She and Ice King also constitute one of the show’s most beloved story arcs, one that reveals the source of her chronic depression (or one of them at least), and shows that life in Ooo isn’t all dungeons and rainbows.
The writers also weave a sinister plot of genocide, intrigue, and smuggled weapons of magical mass destruction into the Cabin Fever plotline – on his search, Finn passes by sand-statues eerily reminiscent of the ash-covered corpses of Pompeii or Hiroshima, including a group of them struggling to hold a door shut even in death. When he finally locates something red (well not really – Finn thought it was a giant ruby, but he turns out to be slightly colorblind), he encounters a Crab Demon and his 500 year old plot: to use the power of the crystal to turn the citygoers into sand, ressurect them, and use them to conquer his homeland at the center of the Earth. It’s really not as heavy-duty evil as it sounds – the whole shebang is deftly downplayed by the Crab Demon’s goofy demeanor and incompetence (he’d zoned out for 500 years and his partner-in-crime is long-dead), but it adds another layer of quirk to Marceline and Jake’s hunger-duel.
Finn returns in the midst of Jake’s brilliant plot to eat the Vampire before she eats him (“I’m operating on my lowest brain survival function right now”), which is another indispensable component of the ‘Cabin Fever’ episode: the voice of reason returns to find all normality out the window, and the left-behinders usually bloodstained and bewildered at themselves. Just as a now-unrecognizable Marceline is about to swoop in for the kill, Princess Bubblegum comes to their rescue in a mind-controlled sandworm, yet another addition to her menagerie of awesome beast servants. As she opens the hatch to her sandworm-vehicle, Marceline pounces and drains a bit of her red, leaving her looking like used bubblegum with the flavor all leeched out. PB uses this chance to demonstrate the power of the Spoon of Prosperity – she places it on her nose and is instantly rejuvenated, and announces that her “eternal kingdom” will never starve. I don’t know about you, but that statement has some sinister undertones, especially given that earlier in the episode, they all agreed it’s sometimes better not to know what PB’s plotting.
PB’s sort of like the mirror version of the Lich; she’s one of the few characters actively seeking out power, and obtaining it too, in almost every one of her appearances actually. She’s been riding a potent power trip for a long time, even if it is for the sake of her kingdom, but like the Lich, her ambitions are beginning to reach dizzying heights with this mention of an eternal candy kingdom.