On last week’s episode of Adventure Time, “Astral Plane,” Finn has an out-of-body experience that takes him into the lonely lives of his fellow Oooians, and to Mars, where he witnesses the death of Glob (and his siblings Grob, Gob, and Grod). It’s the eponymous time again!
How many seasons does it take to get to the center of life-and-everything-in-it? With Adventure Time it looks like the answer is six, but I’m liking the show’s meandering pace towards these big questions: a sleepover here, some prehistoric wizards there, even “Astral Plane,” one of the trippiest episodes of the season, takes a circuitous, train-of-thought route to its momentous conclusion. The episode follows Finn’s wandering astral spirit as he meditates on life, the struggles therein, and a mysterious light in the sky (that is simultaneously: a death-bringing meteor, his father Martin, and a twinkly star of inspiration).
The opening reminded me a bit of the road trip episode that was such a spot-on deconstruction of the American pastime; “Astral Plane” is a similar ode to camping and the thoughts we have only at the edge of civilization with a primordial fire crackling next to us. Finn and Jake are on that trip, laying alongside the embers and drifting in and out of each other’s thoughts. Before they turn in for the night, Finn’s mind is so preoccupied with a certain wavering star that his astral form is pulled from his physical body. His curiosity tethers his spirit form to the star, pulling him invisibly through the lives of four of Ooo’s most chronically depressed denizens.
The first is Mr. Fox, whose subconscious self sits beside him always, saying aloud (to none that can hear him) everything that his conscious self is too repressed to say. Finn finds Mr. Fox asleep in his hovel, with a pile of dirty dishes at his bedside and his own foxy astral form sitting on the couch with a Sudoku book, which is quite sad compared to the spirit journey that Finn’s own astral self is taking. The boy human drifts out of Mr. Fox’s house, his own consciousness full of the sad insularity sight he’d just witnessed.
Next on his aimless sojourn is a rendezvous with Bounce House Princess, who seems to lead a pretty gratifying life making the local woodland children happy with her Bounce House body, until an uninvited porcupine makes his way into her cave home. BHP freaks out and heads for the panic room hidden underneath her wall-paper, which the porcupine infiltrates with accidental ease. Finn watches helplessly as she tries to conquer her fear of pointy objects, which is all wrapped up with her antisocial tendencies.
From there, he drifts higher towards a party in the Cloud Kingdom, where Ice King’s name-dropping Finn and icing everyone’s drinks. He eventually gets the hint that he means nothing to these people aside from refreshing beverages and potential social connections, and freezes the cloud people solid to watch them drop out of the sky. Finn’s preoccupied now about why we keep ourselves lonely; speaking of which, he spots Marceline in the distance, singing by herself in the stratosphere about the eventuality and meaninglessness of death: “time will unbind our memory glue / and I’ll be as nobody-ish as all of you.” Creativity, Finn reasons, might be the motive for isolation, or at least a consolation–hardship tends to breed beauty and meaning, but the next encounter frustrates even that conclusion.
At the edge of the atmosphere Finn encounters a herd of super-rare space lards, and witnesses the birth of a new lard in the mind of a mother-lard. The event is peaceful, beautiful, and represents to Finn the ultimate act of creativity in that it involves no sadness. But instead of feeling uplifted by that ultimate act, its perfection seems to beg the question: why follow up such an immaculate beginning with such a disappointing, arduous, and lonely life? There seems to be no satisfying Finn’s quest for the Ultimate Best Thing Ever—all that a perfect moment accomplishes is to create an abject dissatisfaction for everything that follows. There’s nothing on Earth to answer his question, and so Finn’s astral consciousness drifts higher and higher, piggybacking on the space-lards all the way to Mars, where escape pods are leaving the civilized Martian domes in droves.
Glob and his brothers, the monarchs of Mars after the King of Mars (Abraham Lincoln) sacrificed immortality for Jake’s soul, are making a dire last stand against that star that Finn’s been so fascinated with. On the eve of Mars’ annihilation, Finn’s sleep has brought him before Glob, to whom he puts the question: “if just being born is the greatest act of creation, then what are you supposed to do after that?”
In the moments before he hurtles towards the comet to redirect it, he tells Finn that it isn’t enough merely to create something amazing—you have to sustain it, until, what? Until death, the magic point at which the dross and hardship of mortal life transmute from meaningless continuation into a statement that is its own meaning. In life, Glob was a goofy androgyne Martian leader, and in death he becomes a martyr, an expression of selflessness that’s the stuff of mythological/religious legend. Finn has reached the pinnacle of this particular train of thought, and it is an inversion: death doesn’t rob life of meaning, it bestows it, and the preceding hardship is the creative process.
Before his sacrifice, Glob voices his confusion: he knows the meteor reincarnates itself every millennia, as the prehistoric wizards knew also—so why is it off-schedule, and why is it on a collision course with Mars instead of Earth? It’s because it isn’t a meteor at all, but the out-of-control spacecraft of Martin, Finn’s deadbeat father who’s now on a one-way ride towards a reckoning with the son he abandoned twice.
And with that fact, everything comes full circle: Finn spent the night pondering the meaninglessness of a life of suffering and loneliness, especially when the unavoidable endgame is death. But the distant glimmer of a death-bringing meteor—an “agent of change,” in Glob’s words—was the impetus behind his astral journey to begin with; death isn’t the end of movement, it’s the reason for movement itself, and desperation isn’t the absence of meaning, but the site of meaning’s creation. Hence, the meteor is both a star of inspiration and a harbinger of doom, and sets up the coming episodes for what should be an interesting encounter between father and son.