On last night’s episode of Adventure Time, “Is That You?”, Finn and Jake play a mind-bending game of dream spaces and time-clone tag to resurrect Prismo, everyone’s favorite Wishmaster, pickling artisan, and Jake’s second best buddy. It’s the eponymous time again!
Adventure Time keeps up the madness during its Corn-Ooo-Copia event with an 11-minute cerebral puzzle along the lines of Primer, or Inception if you must. The episode was written and storyboarded by Jesse Moynihan, one of my favorite contributors to the show, both because his favorite character’s Magic Man (mine too!) and because every episode he works on is drenched in his idiosyncratic personal views on time, space, consciousness, basically everything we associate with Adventure Time’s weirder side. What he delivers is something entirely his own: a mind experiment, a meditation on death and the primacy of ideas, an exploration of human rituals like the funeral, “Is That You?” is all these things and more.
The episode ties back to the beginning of the season, when Jake tragically lost his BFF Prismo to the Lich’s schemes. “Is That You?” opens as Finn and Jake perform a dream ritual in Prismo’s honor, involving lots of chanting and invoking of his memory, after which the duo rush off to bed to cement the feeling forever in their minds. Finn wakes the next morning swamped by Jake clones from seasons past who re-enact all your favorite Jake moments, but burst into bits when confronted with their asychronicity: makin’ bacon pancakes, the dancing bug dance, the episode might as well be called “NOW! That’s What I Call Jake!”
The weird goings-on are a part of Prismo’s resurrection Plan B that he made in the event of his untimely death, and if you’re interested at all in the topic of reviving the dead through dreams, here’s how it was done (I think):
1) Jake was dragged into the imaginal realm through Prismo’s pickle jar, all suffused with memories and emotion
2) Past-clones of Jake were released so that Finn could re-enact the dream ritual and follow Jake into the imaginal realm
3) Jake falls asleep in the imaginal realm (on a bed made of cashmere and illegal baby gryphon feathers)
4) Prismo snatches Finn out of the timestream and tells him to wake Jake up
5) Now that Finn and Jake are awake and out of that timestream, they watch another Jake fall asleep in the bed, but stop that timestream’s Finn from waking up that Jake, thus giving Prismo a new dreamer vessel. Oh, and the stopped Finn morphs into a Finn sword. And that’s all there is to it!
Aside from being a fun thought experiment, the episode is a meditation on the rituals we perform, particularly the funeral, which I never really thought about until now, but it’s strange when you do think about it. The power of the mind is understandably a trite, new age-y concept that inspires more eye-rolls than insights, yet what is the funeral but an attempt to permanentize the memory of the deceased by focusing on specific memories and thoughts?
During a funeral, we recount the lives of the ones we lost, everyone shares a slice of their memories and adds it to the collective mixture, and states an intention to honor and remember the deceased. In effect, through intention and focused attention, we craft an idea of the deceased, and afterwards there’s a sense of closure, of the permanence of the dead in thought, if not on the physical plane. That sounds about as new age-y as it gets, but it’s also a rite that’s been performed worldwide for millennia, by everyday schmoes like me and you, and that’s where we find Finn and Jake in the episode’s opening: remembering Prismo.
But Prismo is a little different from your average mortal; to me, he represents the archetypal imaginary friend, a being who exists only in the mind (specifically, in the mind of the dreamer vessel), in that magic land of make-believe and possibilities. There’s a big emphasis on the bromance between him and Jake that plays up his image as a plain loveable guy, the kind you’d talk girl troubles to late at night, in a jacuzzi, in his house outside of time and space. I’ll never forget that goofy exchange back in “Wake Up” where Jake just can’t help himself: “PRISMO! You make me happy, Prismo! I’m always smiling around you, I just noticed that! I always am!” D’aww.
Add to his BFF status the fact that Prismo is a wishmaster, able to alter reality to fit the wishmaker’s thoughts and intentions, and it becomes clear that he’s something like imagination incarnate.
The recurrence of the best-of Jake moments starts to make more sense also as another form of the funeral, or the ritual in general. Magick, as Aleister Crowley once put it, is simply ‘brain change willed,’ and again, that is not nearly as new age-y as it sounds; in fact, like the funeral, it’s something we all do on a daily basis. Every time you repeat a punchline from Anchorman or Adventure Time, what are you doing? You’re inducing a feeling of joy in yourself by recalling the memory of that joke, of something that never happened. Is that starting to sound crazy? How can the memory of something that never happened affect us so much, bring tears to our eyes or smiles to our faces?
What “Is That You?” emphasizes is that ideas are experiences in and of themselves rather than mere phantoms, and the imagination is not a child’s trinket, but a means of navigating a world that increasingly seems made of pure thought, in an operation analogous to time travel.
With the focus on the power of thought, a few things in the episode become a bit clearer. If becoming unstuck in time is analogous to imaginative action, then we can begin to understand why Finn’s time-clone morphed into a Finn-sword rather than poofing like the Jake clones. First of all, Finn had never confronted a clone of himself before, only those of Jake, and what happened in the moment of their encounter? It’s tough to say, but I rationalize it as the moment in which Finn realized he himself was as amorphous and malleable as thoughts, the same way Prismo is the immaterial/material dream of an old man. Thus, to encounter his past self was to gain knowledge of his situation as a being of pure thought, because when you realize you might be someone else’s dream, the relationship between you and the possible becomes very… different…
I guess I would call the Finn-sword the embodiment of the idea that ideas are pervasive and powerful, and that this thought experiment of an episode is about the power of thought experiments (I think I’m about ready for a nap in Jake’s gryphon-feather bed).