Dark Magic Peppermints and Zealotry in Adventure Time’s “Nemesis”

On last night’s episode of Adventure Time, “Nemesis,” Peppermint Butler’s dark magicky ways finally catch up to him when a zealot in Puritan dress vows to bring him to justice. It’s the eponymous time again!

I thought Peppermint Butler was adorable even before it was revealed that he’s a shadowy magus of the Golden Dawn, but even I have to admit that “Nemesis” complicates my PepBut fandom quite a bit. Turning children into human/monster hybrids is sort of really, really dark, even by his own standards. It’s an interesting situation in that Peppermint Butler has never done anything that evil, just stuff that’s normally regarded as evil: imprisoning and extorting demons, being bros with Death, trying to swindle Finn and Jake out of their flesh, and so forth, nothing so outright terrible, but he may have crossed the line last night. Or has he? After all, Peacemaster isn’t exactly the Candy Kingdom’s most upright citizen either, and you could even make the case that he’d brought about his own misfortunes due to his zealotry.

I was delighted to revisit Starchy as a conspiracy theory-loving bumpkin, who now has his own paranormal fanclub, the Veritas brigade (I love this adorable goddamn episode), which is the next logical step after having a late night conspiracy talk show and workshops. He’s steadily gone from your standard janitorial donut-hole (I think) to being your simpleton every-man who believes in magic over science and that Princess Bubblegum’s not as she seems. Though I suppose I should qualify ‘simpleton’ as magic is quite potent in Ooo, and PB really was a lizard in that one episode, and she actually does engage in some shady business. When questioned by Colonel Candy Corn about the Rattleballs project, wherein the Candy Kingdom’s early robot defenders were executed for being too decidedly violent, PB nervously changed the subject and shies away. It’s one of the few times we see her doubt, one way or another, her own morality.

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Nonetheless, Bubblegum’s a great sport—she’s completely cognizant of the Veritas Brigade’s seditious goal, but kicks back and snacks on pickles while secretly watching them in good humor. While Starchy and his friends are clearly no threat—in fact, they just feel like over-theorizing fanboys—it’s still nice that her motherliness towards the Candy people trumps her need to be Obeyed and Beloved By All.

But amongst the hobbyists is one called Peacemaster: a hilarious parody of the Solomon Kane-type character, with the Puritanical clothes and unflinching hatred of evil, or his own definition of evil, anyway. Unbeknownst to his comrades, however, his target is Peppermint Butler, not Princess Bubblegum, and he’s much better at his job than they are. He spots the hidden camera in the room immediately and uses it to deliver a challenge—Princess Bubblegum believes him a threat to her reign, but PepBut immediately recognizes Peacemaster’s true goal.

Precisely what sort of history PepBut and Peacemaster share is not explained, but it seems that PM blames him for perverting his children towards the dark arts, which complicates things considerably. The bandaged zealot has to ditch the club meeting to pick up his kids, whom we learn are quite interested in shadow magic, but it’s unclear how Peppermint Butler caused this exactly. In fact, it’s likely he had no part in it at all, and that Peacemaster is simply overprotective and irrational; when his infant child pukes in his face and causes him to crash his family van, he blames PepBut and his black magic for no apparent reason, sort of like back when parents thought Dungeons and Dragons and Ozzy Osbourne were actual mediums for Satanic plots.

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Aside from starring Peppermint Butler, “Nemesis” also boasts some satisfying magic duels: we get a taste of the extent of the tiny mint’s real power, as he adorns himself with spiritual armor and a flaming sword, and bends space to arrive at Peacemaster’s precise location. “Wizard Battle” was one of my favorite episodes, and the same kind of wacky action sequences get a repeat here, as we get smokebombs, digestive Quaker hats, Shinto-style paper talismans, pacifiers of . . . alertness, and other fun junk. Despite being craftier and crazier than a snake’s armpit, PepBut is overwhelmed, but manages to escape, and the two agree to a final showdown at the ruins of Wizard Battle Stadium.

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Interestingly enough, when Peacemaster manages to capture Peppermint Butler at one point, Starchy and friends come to his rescue; the Candy people are family, and when they move to protect their own, Peacemaster threatens to give them the same treatment. Thusly, Peacemaster’s uncompromising nature manages to alienate himself from all company, even his own children.

Meanwhile, Princess Bubblegum can’t get a hold of her champions, robot, dog, human, or otherwise (they’re practicing holding their breath in Finn’s tub), and resorts to calling on Colonel Candy Corn and the Banana Guards, whom we find busy at their Warhammer miniatures and naptime. Candy Corn explains that the Bananas have their limitations, but on the flipside, they’re great listeners, unlike the Rattleball boys . . . In that respect, we can see the Banana Guards as a step up from killer robots due to their empathy and simple, peaceful nature. Not ideal as guards, but better people, at least.

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Peacemaster and Peppermint Butler have their final showdown at Wizard Battle Stadium, and while PM seems to be the superior combatant judging from their last encounter, his foe has no intention of a fair fight: he holds Peacemaster’s own children hostage, and turns one of them into a demidragon to prove his point . . . not cool, P.But. I mean, granted those kids are all about those dark arts, but this final fight was still an eyebrow-raiser for sure. After two of his children are transformed into the very dark forces he’s sworn to combat, Peacemaster relents and agrees to discard his magical arsenal. Peppermint Butler proceeds to make him walk like a chicken, pull down his pants, and eat dirt, but that last one has PepBut thinking maybe he’s gone too far. See! At least he has a ‘too far’ zone.

Peacemaster is allowed to leave with his kids, two of which are now half-monster and are loving it, apparently. The misguided champion of light accepts their newfound monstrous forms and leaves, but who knows how long before his hankering for revenge starts acting up again. In the meantime, Peppermint Butler returns to Princess Bubblegum’s side with that chamomile tea she asked for, and no one the wiser as to his true nature.

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