Going Quietly into that Good Night: Environmentalism in Adventure Time’s ‘Everything’s Jake’

This Thanksgiving week, Adventure Time goes into overdrive with the Corn-OO-copia event debuting four new episodes; in last night’s “Everything’s Jake,” Magic Man drugs Jake and sends the shape-shifting dog into himself, to wander a landscape made entirely of himself. It’s the eponymous time again!

It’s mind-blowing enough to land us with four brand new episodes after a lengthy hiatus, but “Everything’s Jake” gets weird and heavy, even for Adventure Time; it’s an environmentalist-friendly episode the likes of which I’ve never seen, one that not only gets at the ethos of what eco-awareness should entail, but also takes that line of reasoning to a disturbing conclusion about man’s (un)importance on the macro scale of all life, sentient or not.

It’s a Magic Man episode, and Magic Man is your friendly, neighborhood embodiment-of-the-mystery-of-human-suffering. It’s never a dull moment with the teal-skinned prankster: his primary purpose on the show is to disrupt lives from the shadows, teaching Finn and Jake painful lessons about existence, morality, and impermanence, and the most frustrating part (at least for our protagonists) is that at times, it’s completely ambiguous what the moral of their suffering should be; did the King of Mars really have to die? Did Finn learn anything useful after playing god with tiny miniatures of his friends?

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The episode opens with Jake knitting BMO a holiday sweater (with a cereal box to model BMO, much cute) when, true to form, Magic Man wanders into the idyllic scene disguised as a fly, and injects Jake with a mysterious magical juice, sending him into a deep coma. When Jake awakes, he finds himself in a field of stretchy orange grass, beneath an orange sky of stationary clouds, almost as though he were a miniature stretch-version of himself who’d fallen into a chaotic landscape made of his own shape-shifting material. Because that’s exactly what’s happened, and what’s worse, he fell asleep hungry.

Jake wanders an orange city that he watched form out of the earth, greets orange people who all seem to know him, and meets an orange man named Goose claiming to be his best friend, all while mysterious quakes ripple beneath him every time food is mentioned (huurm…). Goose, by the way, is voiced by none other than Futurama’s Billy West, who also performs as the Mayor and Dr. Eric Adam Kimson in the voices of Fry, Zap Brannigan, and Dr. Farnsworth, respectively. Hurray for the John DiMaggio/Billy West reunion!

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Anyway, some way somehow, these shape-shifted homunculi of Jake don’t know that they’re not independent existences, but offshoots of Jake that somehow attained separate consciousness. But their world begins to fall apart as he starts to realize that he’s inside himself, interacting with bits and pieces of himself, sort of like a man playing with hand-puppets and forgetting that he is the puppeteer himself. Perhaps on some level they do know—Goose, at least, nervously changes the subject when Jake asks about the quakes, and tries to distract him with a party in his honor.

During the party, Jake is summoned by the mayor of the town, and meets with a think-tank of scientists tasked with explaining the cause of the quakes. Jake knows the answer, but finds the scientists too dogmatically stubborn, even in the face of incontrovertible evidence: whenever they name a food, Jake gets hungry, and the quakes hit. The obvious solution is to allow Jake to leave this world and grab a bite to eat, but fringe scientist Dr. Eric Adam Kimson, with all the insight of a crackpot and lucky drunk, hits the nail on the head with his (completely accurate) psychobabble: “I believe that Jake is an extra-dimensional being (a ‘glob,’ if you will) whose psychic field holds our world together. If he leaves, his flesh will reconfigure and everything and everyone here will disappear completely!”

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The environmentalist bent should be pretty clear by now: Jake represents the orange people’s biosphere, and in ignoring Jake’s hungers, his natural needs and living processes, they endanger themselves—not only will Jake’s hunger-quakes only intensify and threaten their city, but of course, if Jake starves to death, they perish along with him. It’s an expression of the interconnectivity between planet and organism, but what’s genuinely confounding is which level of life should take precedence—the planet, or the stuff growing on it?

In preserving the orange people, Jake would starve to death, but if Jake were to stretch out and feed himself, the illusory world of the orange people would be lost to the folds of Jake’s magical flesh. Of course, if we apply the allegory to man and Earth, we are the illusory civilization, a mere accident of chance, Darwinism, of minute possibilities made possible by the infinitude of time. Our own desires, for convenient carbon-based fuels and dolphin-snaring six-pack holders, are what’re holding back the miraculous processes that spawned us.“Everything’s Jake” isn’t a perfect mirror of our situation, in that we don’t need to starve Earth in order to survive, the way the orange people need to imprison Jake, but the message is the same—if we don’t break the human-centric mindset, we risk damaging our own biosphere, and to our own detriment.

The orange people end up imprisoning Jake to ensure he doesn’t stretch out and wipe them out of existence, while Dr. Kimson journeys through the hole in the sky to get help, or at least a bagel for Jake to eat. Kimson’s fate takes a beautifully Lovecraftian turn emphasizing the difficulty of wrapping the human mind around matters that seem more fit for saints, madmen, and disciples of Carl Sagan: he makes it out of the hole in the sky where Jake fell into himself, and attempts to make contact with what he believes will be higher beings.

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At first he sees only a film projected on a screen (a wonderfully surreal moment, in which Jake’s creation is witnessing another object of human artifice), then Finn’s massive face pulls into view, with a mouthful of spaghetti that renders him the spitting image of Cthulhu. Kimson’s poor, feeble mind can’t comprehend the horrible sight, and he literally dissolves under the crushing weight on his consciousness. Hence, even the guy who, against all odds, guessed the ridiculous truth of his own cosmic situation was pitifully equipped to handle higher truths.

Back in orange-people jail, Jake is rescued by none other than Goose, who, it seems, has accepted the possibility that both he and his world will disappear should Jake escape. Where everyone else is in contention as to what’s really happening, Goose fathomed the truth, perhaps because he was built to be Jake’s BFF, in a highly romantic view of the environmentalist: he’s the guy that Earth spawned in order to connect itself with the rest of creation, to act as a selfless bridge between the two interests, and ally himself with a greater process instead of his own infinitesimal needs.

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I didn’t read this episode environmentally at first—I initially saw the orange people as small egos within Jake’s greater psychic totality, each believing themselves to be the only thinker in the universe, to be the centrally important ‘Jake-self’ that deserves preservation above all else.

But the more I thought about it, the more the two readings converged: if we can think of Jake-world as a mind birthing these little thought processes, little egos and slices of selves that inhabit one mind, then that isn’t so much different from seeing Jake-world as a planet birthing little organisms, slices of genetic matter that inhabit the planet, and who also see themselves as the center of the sentient universe. In other words, the mind is a planet is Jake-world, and the ego-thoughts are the planetary inhabitants are the orange people. And if we can consider the mind to be that kind of fountain of life, a source of novel creations, either of recombined pieces or conceived wholesale like Athena out of Zeus’s head, then isn’t that worth preserving also?

Perhaps that’s the heavy biz running through Jake’s mind, when Finn walks into the kitchen to find his bro pensively and tearfully eating a can of chili.

What I love about “Everything’s Jake” is that this isn’t some random existential plot foisted onto Jake’s happy-go-lucky character. Jake is an epicurean guy through and through; he’s used not one, but TWO cosmic wishes on foodstuffs, for corn’s sake. If anything, this story arc is the perfect development of Jake’s character, as it explores how he will react when he realizes he can’t simply consume to his body’s furthermost desire. Jake’s consumerism is becoming a metaphor for our consumerism and egocentrism, and since we’re looking at three Jake-centric episodes later on in the season, including a season finale entitled “Jermaine” (!), the name of Jake’s brother, we’ll probably see these ideas play out further in the near future.

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