Adventure Time Tackles Class Warfare with Class in “Ocarina”

On last night’s episode of Adventure Time, “Ocarina,” Jake’s now-adult, ultra-businessman son Kim Kil Whan buys the Treehouse deed; to get their home back, Finn and Jake must either get jobs or figure out why the young rainicorn is robbing his old man. It’s the eponymous time again!

“Ocarina” answers a lingering question we’ve had since Jake had children—how the hell is Jake supposed to have children? The most (effectively) fatherly he’s ever been to anyone is as ‘Jay T. Doggzone,’ famed author of smutty dating books, and his decision-making is on par with his preteen companion. In this episode we finally see that clash between Jake’s childish nature and his responsibilities as a father, but more importantly, the episode sets up a discussion of haves and have-nots, and so enters into the realm of political aw-jeezes and uh-ohs—in other words, treacherous territory for a children’s show. It’s easy to imagine the potential backlash, the claims of brainwashing impressionable minds with bright colors and catchy slogans. Luckily, writers Tom Herpich and Steve Wolfhard know better than to tackle that bull head-on: instead, they put a human face on the dilemma that opens dialogues between lifestyles normally at-odds, without descending into bias.

The trouble brews early as Jake shows up late to his children’s birthday bash, and their reactions end up characterizing their now-adult selves pretty well: TV is the basement dweller (“Ugg, I’m covered innoobs . . .”) mostly unconcerned about Jake outside of what directly affects him (like late lunch), Jake Jr. is free-spirited and barely tolerant of Jake’s unreliability, Viola seems prissy and overly understanding of him and possibly other authority figures, and Charlie still speaks very little English, but seems interested in the Tarot. Kim Kil Whan on the other hand, looms atop a hill, and it looks like all his suspicions regarding his father are confirmed when Jake comes roaring out of the sky three hours late, and with no food but a pocketful of macaroni salad.

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KKW takes the opportunity to tell Finn and Jake that he’s purchased the deed for the Treehouse from Marceline in exchange for a five-necked bass (for which I don’t blame her at all, that’s a sweet bass). In no time, our two protagonists are thrust into an adult world with all its harsh realities and hellish jargon (Finn: “I mean like, what the heck is a deed?”). Kim Kil Whan leads them through an open-house presentation of their own home, of which they can only afford to live on the ladder leading upstairs. That night they learn the meaning of the phrase ‘affordable housing’: strangers barging in through their space, dragging feets and butts across Finn’s face, and when Finn tries to wash himself in the restroom, the gnome renting it out calls the Banana-cops upon them.

While waiting in the Candy Kingdom sheriff’s office, Finn voices his understandable confusion: “How come he can buy our house when it’s our house and Marceline gave it to us and we live there? And now we’re arrested? This is crazy!” And Jake takes the opportunity to tell it like it is, in a monologue that definitely raised my eyebrows: “Man, don’t you know? The laws aint made to help earthy cats like us . . . “

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Basically, Jake tells that in the beginning, the strong seized the best land and resources and erected laws to fortify their holdings, and divide the land more or less arbitrarily, considering how all was up for grabs in the beginning. That, gentleman, is racy children’s programming. Wealth disparity is a current issue so hot that Obama can’t even broach the subject without cries of class warfare , but Adventure Time walks right up to the batter’s plate.

But we should recognize that Adventure Time holds to a strict policy of ‘no-evil’—for example, the episode that followed “Ocarina” was “All Your Fault,” in which the Lemongrabs run amok with the secret formula for making life from candy. Princess Bubblegum was forced to erase the formula from their minds, but when Jake suggests that she simply change their hearts to make them kinder, she insists that there is nothing wrong with them—“They’re just like that.” Simply put, if AT can be said to have any political stance, it’s that: “it’s complicated.”

And it certainly seems so to Finn and Jake, who are scrambling both to regain their home and also figure out Kim Kil Whan’s motivations for seizing their swag. KKW pays their bail and bills Jake for it, and when they try to buy the house back with buried Treehouse treasure, he seizes that too, on the grounds that it was found on his land. All the while, he insists that Jake simply get a job. Pretty decent real-world advice, except for one thing—they need a job to buy back the house which KKW bought with money from his job. Basically, they need a job because this other guy has a job, and is smacking them upside the head with it.

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It speaks to what we commonly call the ‘rat race’: Kim Kil Whan wields his job both like a weapon and also as a moral high-ground. He constantly berates Jake for his childish ways, and acts out all the most nightmarish aspects of capitalism: bullying the poor, hiding behind arcane systems of ownership and legality, and seizing more than what you need. The last aspect is what puzzles Finn and Jake the most. They track Kim Kil Whan to his lavish, multi-story home in a forest out of a fairy tale and see he has all he needs, so what could he possibly want the Treehouse for?

Jake comes up with a last-ditch effort too stupid to succeed, and succeeds. He gets the attention of his son by repeatedly throwing pebbles into his face, then presents him with a giant helping of fatherly love. In case you’ve never received fatherly love proper, it’s usually an ill-wrapped gift inside a briefcase, usually delivered while the giver babbles ‘love’ over and over. When KKW opens the box, he finds a crudely sculpted ocarina that he can’t even play because Jake forgot to make it hollow. Jake essentially gave his son a rock with a mouthpiece, and it works.

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But something softens in Kim Kil Whan’s demeanor, and he readily exchanges the deed for the ocarina. After exchanging customary parent-to-middle-aged-child goodbyes, KKW walks upstairs to his wife (with a portrait of a daughter beside him) and explains that he bought the Treehouse to get Jake to move out, get a job, and grow some responsibility, but realizes in the end that Jake is acting to the best of his ability, according to what he believes is right. All these issues of classism and inequality go out the window as we realize there was a legitimate, human motive to his actions; Jake is a pretty bad father, and KKW isn’t crazy for wanting to fix that.

In fact, you get the sense that he just wants his father to be able to compete in the world that he lives in himself, lest some other asshole tries to buy them out the way he did. It isn’t about an evil landlord and an unsuspecting tenant, it’s about people with differing views as to how the world runs, and how one can run with it. Not that all landlords treat their tenants like fathers that need to be schooled, but more to say that the runners in the rat race must run because they see the race, whereas the Jakes in the world don’t, and so they don’t run—they don’t job hunt, they make ocarinas instead.

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