On last Monday’s episode of Adventure Time, “The Red Throne,” Flame Princess and Cinnamon Bun enlist the aid of Finn the pathetic ex to recapture the Fire Kingdom, after Flame King and Don Jon the Flame Lord conspire to poison and marry her, respectively. It’s the eponymous time again!
Life has a weird way of lining up sometimes; a few weeks ago, McDonald’s caught flack for releasing an Adventure Time-line of Happy Meal toys (I have yet to grab mine, but they have a sick-looking bendable/opposable Jake) which is curiously devoid of any of the female characters. If you’re joining us for the first time, Adventure Time has a ton of female characters. I think just counting the princesses alone, the number of recurring girls might outweigh the dudes, and they’re not just set props to the male characters either; arguably, the entire second half of the fifth season is a rebuke against Finn for acting like they are.
And here we have “Red Throne” debuting just a couple weeks after the incident, but perhaps that was inevitable, given the show’s gender progressivity. I don’t think I’m overblowing the importance of gender in Adventure Time either – it’s a topic that’s interwoven into the show, what with the system of Princesses and all. A half-accurate synopsis of the show could read: ‘Boy learns to play with girls in a magical land.‘ The first recurring villain, Ice King, was hell-bent on stealing a princess of his own against her will, in a deconstruction of the bizarre video-game myth of the girl-snatching monkey (sometimes a turtle). More accurately, it’s just a show about a boy growing up, and what do you know, girls usually figure largely into a tale like that.
Anyway, in “Red Throne” Flame Princess deals with a madhouse of men trying to depose her, marry her, and touch her hair and skin when she’s busy with adult things, like reclaiming her birthright. Flame King, somehow in spite of his lamp-prison, struck a deal with Don Jon the Flame Lord (voiced by WWF wrestler Roddy Piper!), promising her hand in marriage and a position as vizier should he aid him. Luckily for Flame Princess, her trusty pastry-buddy and advisor, Cinnamon Bun, undergoes an unprecedented character evolution into the most capable confection on the show: he’s a capable fighter, and can now offer advice that only sometimes sounds like it’s coming from an idiot savant. It felt like a bit of a stretch… who am I kidding, it was flat-out weird and forced at times, but it all worked out in the end (spoiler: I can respect a show that completely warps one of its characters just to make another character feel god-awful).
The first thing you notice about the episode: it’s a giant sausage fest. It’s dripping sloppy sausage grease all over the place, what with Flame King complimenting a bro on his ripped-ness, Cinnamon Bun out-duking the Flame Guards, and of course, the most hilarious fist-fight ever animated or filmed.
“You wanna fight me?”
“Yeeees, I’ll fist-fight you! COME ON!”
“You hit me? FELT GOOD!”
“I loove fist-fighting…”
The confrontation between Flame King and Don Jon happens after Flame Princess refuses to marry ‘Jon, prompting him to call Flame King a liar, prompting them to fist-fight until the prisoners escape. I call it a fist-fight, but it’s more like a form of jousting where you run screaming with your fist extended. To put my tears of joy in context, I saw Fist of the North Star (the anime adaptation of Mad Max, except instead of driving a car, Max blows people up by punching them) for the first time the previous night, and after that, I can’t help but slow-clap and say that the writers hit the nail right on the head. “Red Throne” is, pretty conclusively, a send-up on maschismo culture, and pulls off the trick of being hilarious rather than preachy about it. Another little bit of synchronicity: the episode of Fist… that I picked at random had the baddies coercing a female assassin to kill Kenshiro, threatening to kill her mother if she refused. The most popular line of the episode: “give up the martial arts, be a woman again!” I have yet to figure out what the hell that meant in the context of the show. Maybe it was referenced in an earlier episode or some junk, but I doubt it.
It’s also worth speculating over a connection between the episode’s title and Game of Thrones, which, while having issues of gender of its own, generally receives acclaim for having female characters with motive, consequence to the plot, and agency. It’s very possibly a light parody of the much-beloved HBO series, and plays on the same theme of a kind, caring, female messiah-ruler come to free an oppressed people from a life of hardship and intrigue – consequences of having a ruler with a wiener.
Maybe this is the other little big thing you noticed: Cinnamon Bun goes from a doofus that can’t do two simultaneous tasks for Princess Bubblegum, to a firewolf-riding, Flame Guard-duking, speechifying dude who now speaks in complete sentences, and only guffaws once in a while. He absolutely kills every scene he’s in, and with a devoted righteousness that makes the faux-drama of Flame King/Lord’s fist-fight (“Put down your dukes!” “No!“) even more of a farce. Honestly I found myself baffled and scoffing. Sure, Adventure Time has its random moments, but they’re tastefully done, and never in violation of plot, but this was just obscene. BUT, it came to make sense, slowly but surely. Flame Princess and Cinnamon Bun rode to the Treehouse to ask for Finn’s help, who turns out to be completely useless, beyond prattling on about his illustrious post-breakup life and generally trying to save face while FP and CB are busy saving a kingdom. It’s a bit of a repeat of “Too Old” where Finn is rebounding onto a similarly-distressed Princess Bubblegum, and at this point, I’m starting to feel bad for Finn. Almost half the season is devoted at this point to making him eat dirt and like it, and I’m thinking maybe it’s time Finn found his way.
The writers get away with Cinnamon Bun’s complete transformation pretty easily actually; they just made all the other dudes terrible until subconsciously, you’re crying for someone to prove that not all dudes debate with their fists and are helpless when confronted with their castrator. His evolution is complete when struck in the face by a torch, after which his eyes become glossy and wide (ever notice small eyes = idiot? the secret formula behind Will Ferrell and John C. Reily is revealed). It’s possible that the heat finally completed his baking process (PB said in a previous episode that he’s slow because he’s “half-baked,”) thus completing his character. Which would explain why Princess Bubblegum depended on him all the time – was he supposed to be her right hand man all along for an actual reason? Cinnamon Bun is then able to retort when Flame King accuses FP of being too weak to rule; he points out her strength of character and integrity, and (perhaps the biggest compliment) that her strength inspired him to go from candy moron to Prince Valiant. Cinnamon Bun also reveals his feelings for her, and together they take the throne side-by-side to an adoring crowd of Flame people. Finn is left standing alone after a whole episode of being touchy and whiny, thus justifying Cinnamon Bun’s wholly unexpected development. Bravo.