Adventure Time: Reichian Psychology and Bible Lessons in “The Tower”

On last Monday night’s episode of Adventure Time, “The Tower,” Finn grows a telekinetic arm out of sheer willpower, and with it, plans to build a tower into space, confront his father, and tear off his arm. But the path to mindless revenge might not be so strewn with hatred-daisies as he believes. It’s the eponymous time again!

Highlights!

heyjake1 heyjake2 heyjake3

“Hey Jake! Where’s Finn?”

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Baby’s building
a tower into space,
space is where hes gonna find his daaad.
Daddys got an arm,
and baby’s gonna harm his
arm by tearing it offf his daaad.”

 

In the Tarotic system, The Tower symbolizes a violent upheaval of the situation; the card features a tower struck by lightning and engulfed in flames, while the inhabitants are flung into the empty air. The premiere “Escape from the Citadel” kicked the season off with such an event, as Finn stopped being an orphan and started being an unwanted child. Or possibly worse–he became a complete non-entity to his space-philandering Father, but luckily, Finn’s got plenty of friends to act the part of confusing yet well-meaning parents. I’ve never drawn that comparison between Princess Bubblegum and Jake, actually: they’re both experienced parents (of a race of Candy People, in PB’s case), yet with radically different personalities and temperaments. Jake urges Finn on to reckless self-expression to settle his conflicts that way, whereas Bubblegum acts out the traditional motherly role, and doesn’t want Finn getting hurt. In “The Tower,” we see that neither approach is failsafe on its own, and that sometimes, there’s simply no way of knowing–we just kind of have to act, and hope things pan out in the end. Additionally, it looks like “The Tower” is a step-up in terms of the show’s production values. The musical accompaniments are more prominent, the animation is more fluid (the SFX on that psychic arm are particularly impressive), and there’s generally more frames and scenes, giving the episode a really polished, cinematic feel.

We find Finn in the kitchen trying to make some spaghetti, but having considerable difficulty due to his awkward new bodily enhancements. Instead of replacing Finn’s arm right away, it looks like the writers are gonna have some fun with it first, a decision I wholeheartedly endorse: Finn’s sporting a Hulk-sized pulverizer made of gumballs, and ends up wrecking the kitchen, but PB’s technology isn’t to blame–Finn is understandably miffed at his father, not even for skipping out on him again, but for tearing off his arm on the way out. In a fit of rage, Finn overloads the prosthetic, causing it to explode. Speaking of losing arms, what franchise do you think they’re referencing here, specifically? The comparisons range from Luke losing his hand dueling Darth Vader, to Akira‘s Tetsuo, especially given Finn’s later mind-powers. It’s just strange tracing this seemingly random trope through pop culch, but anyhow . . .

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A concerned Jake has a little one-on-one with Finn, telling him to look into his ‘melon-heart’ for the answer to his emotional turmoil. But when Finn lets out point-blank that his innermost desire is to beat up his father and dismember him and then steal that dismembered member, Jake gives yet more meaningless advice: “Well those things are bad, so they can’t be the real instructions!” It feels like a mild critique of overly new age-y child-rearing philosophies about following your heart and such, as it points out the obvious defect: which voice is the ‘melon-heart,’ and which voices are ‘bad’? And: why melons? Melon-heart = opposite of the Lemongrabs’ phrase ‘lemon-heart’? Or is ‘melon’ the brain, and melon-heart the summated action of reasoning and feeling? While Jake’s out at the spaghetti store, Finn’s left to ponder questions like these on the grass. The only thing he’s sure of is that he wants to go into space and do some untrained limb transplants, and while dwelling on this, he unconsciously builds a pile of stones with the help of a ghostly arm, which seems to’ve attached to his stump. Finn reasons that this arm must’ve exploded PB’s candy arm, and that its appearance is some signal from this ‘melon-heart’ Jake keeps talking about.

Jake returns to find a tower in the front yard that wasn’t there before. PB fills him in on Finn’s plan to build a tower into space, and warns him that Finn’s newfound abilities are a danger to himself and to everything around him, but Jake insists that Finn be allowed to work out his feelings. Well, clearly Jake doesn’t read his Bible, because when people build towers into space it never ends well. The scene cuts to Finn, working steadily on his little revenge-tower while chanting that creepy arm-stealing lullaby he made up. Every so often, the wind blows and leans the stones to the side (again, an elegant step-up in terms of animation), symbolizing the precariousness of Finn’s actions. At this point he doesn’t even seem to be conscious–he’s like a sleepwalker in an angry dream, and doesn’t even notice when his telekinesis strands a deer at the top of his stratospheric tower, forcing it to climb all the way down. But as terrible as the situation seems, it’s still hard to tell who’s right between PB and Jake.

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And the reason that’s so hard is because of Carroll. Carroll is a cloud person Finn meets on his long path to revenge, a paranoid misanthrope who shoots first and apologizes tomorrow. She explains that she used to be water, and people used to swim in her (ie walk all over her) all the time, and so she evaporated and ran away to the sky (Finn: “You should’ve pulled off their legs.”), where she’s safe to hate her old life every moment of her current life. In other words, Carroll is essentially what might’ve happened if PB stopped Finn from making the tower in the first place. It might seem a no-brainer that a pre-teen not be allowed enough mind-power to build the seventh wonder of Ooo, and yet, Carroll is what happens when people run from conflict–this sad cloud-girl that recoils every now and then when her mind touches a “hot memory stove.” Yeeeesh . . .

Cut back to PB and Jake.
BMO: “Hey Jake! Where’s Finn?”
Jake: “Finn’s just working some stuff out. AND THAT’S HEALTHY.”
PB: “IT’S NOT HEALTHY. IT’S BIZARRE AND HE COULD GET HURT.”
Jake: “FEELINGS HURT.”
Both: NYEEEHHHH.

The situation reminds me of something psychologist Wilhelm Reich thought up, called orgastic potency: see, in orgas- uh, in all activities, personal satisfaction arises only if the activity goes through four stages – tension, charge, discharge, and relaxation. One way to look at mental hangups is to observe where the individual stops on this chain – tensers get tense but never act, chargers keep charging but never achieve release, dischargers release but are never satisfied, and relaxers are 100% chill. In terms of Finn’s situation, tension = anger at Martin, charge = building the tower, discharge = tearing Martin’s arm off, and relaxation = going home with a brand new arm. Heeding Jake’s advice alone would’ve stopped Finn at around the ‘charge’ or ‘discharge’ stage, to build towers, strand deer, and crush BMO with ice blocks until the sun blows up. But if PB had stopped Finn from building the tower, he’d likely get hung up around the ‘tense’ stage, to harbor ill-feelings towards his father, but never do a thing about it, resulting in a Carroll.

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Finn eventually does make it into space, and from it, glimpses the purple portal like the one Martin used to walk out on him again, but he quickly passes out from asphyxiation, and sees a ship heading towards him just before he blacks out. He regains consciousness in what looks like the ship’s interior, and beyond the room’s door, he spies Martin in a lawn chair watching television. Finn cannot believe his luck, sneaks up on his old man, and gives him a righteous Machamp-style Mega Punch. While he’s unconscious, Finn goes to work tearing out that arm, but stops once he hears Martin mumble about his ‘favorite arm.’ Presumably, Finn saw the absurd cycle in his actions and relented, not wishing to stoop to the level of his low-life progenitor. Except it wasn’t his progenitor at all, but Princess Bubblegum in a Martin-suit, in a Candy Kingdom bunker, out to teach Finn a lesson about the ends of revenge. She asks Finn if he stills feels raw about it, but his ‘melon-heart’ says it’s all good. The telekinetic arm is gone along with his bloodlust, and when Finn returns home, Jake assumes it was his advice that won out in the end. Finn dismantles the Tower, and it crushes part of the Candy Kingdom and PB’s arm as it falls.

It seems at this point like Princess Bubblegum saved the day and Jake’s a simpleton, but keep in mind that before Finn learned his lesson, he first had to go through the process of building the tower and getting to ‘Martin,’ something that PB never would’ve allowed to begin with. That being said, Princess Bubblegum totally saved the day, albeit in a dangerously presumptuous fashion that could’ve backfired horribly. But it’s nice to see her outside of the cold, calculating, HAL-bot role that fans often box her into–as eerily responsible and powerful as she is, she still cares for others, and is willing to take a punch in the eye for a buddy.

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With the coming episodes, we can look forward to Finn finally finding the arm of his dreams, and regaining the use of that sexy grass sword he used to swing around. Maybe we’ll also get to see Finn travel into space at some point for a reckoning with his father, perhaps aided by a rocket of Banana Man’s making, and perhaps taking Banana Man with him, because that little guy’s damn cute.

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