Ken Kesey and Road Trip Mythology in Adventure Time’s “Thanks for the Crabapples, Giuseppe”

On last night’s episode of Adventure Time, “Thanks for the Crabapples, Giuseppe,” Abracadaniel, Ice King, and a Volkswagen bus full of oddly chosen side-characters attempt the road trip of their lives. It’s the eponymous time again!

If putting Lemongrab, Ice King, Neptr, Shelby, and Tree Trunks together in “Mystery Dungeon” was a hilarious no-brainer, then bringing together Abracadaniel, Ron James, and uh, Life-Giving Magus . . . well that’s just plain bizarre, in just the way I like. Season six has seen a pretty good spread of episode types so far, obviously heavy on the main theme of Finn’s parentage, but with absolutely brilliant detours like “Sad Face” and copious fan-service with “The Prince Who Wanted Everything.” One complaint I’ve heard (but totally do not understand) is that Adventure Time‘s ‘just got too many characters,’ but having such a huge cast of whackos makes good ingredients for rainy-day treats like “Thanks for the Crabapples, Giuseppe.” It’s an episode that explores (and playfully parodies) the national pastime of road tripping as a means of bonding and personal growth.

And while the episode ends rather abruptly and leaves a dozen questions unanswered for the sake of glorifying the road trip, I’ve got a handy dandy AT theory for ya which might satisfy any lingering dissatisfaction. I don’t normally indulge in AT theory just because most of the ones out there are just random interpolations grasping embarrassingly at every detail and animation error, but I won’t lie: I’m especially proud of mine.

Now then, Abracadaniel and Ice King’s friendship is one of my favorite, newer developments in the series, partly because we can’t have Ice King be a sad-sack for foreva-eva–watching him pal around is as funny as his forgotten past is sad. And pairing him with everyone’s favorite milkfaced twee-mage, Abracadaniel, was a complete slam dunk. Consequently, watching IK sail out of his window and fist-bump A.Daniel at the wheel of their friendship-wagon brought the charms immediately for me; looking at their traveling companions around the bus, however . . . well, one can understand why Finn and Jake opted out.

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It’s like the writers read my mind and plucked out the characters I thought had no chance in hell of returning: Ron James the shady-as-hell magic shop proprietor, that wizard with the mommy issues and the life-giving Midas touch, Finn’s old hat that he brought back to life, and a handful I couldn’t even recognize. And all the way at the back sat a decrepit old man wearing nothing but a crotch-pouch, whom Ice King dubs ‘Giuseppe.’

As for the A-listers, A.Daniel makes a stop at the Treehouse, where Finn and Jake scoff at the thought of joining a crew of lamefaces, but it turns out A.Daniel just wanted to invite the water nymphs lounging outside in order to ward away bad sausage-fest juju, and F&J are left behind with their packs. To paint the main protagonist thusly as holier-than-thou jerks helps broaden the Ooo-scape, and give the impression of hierarchies and circles of characters, rather than simply focusing on Finn and Jake. Thus equipped with ladyfriends, the crew sets out for a butt-shaped rock in the middle of nowhere, upon which they’ll chant a chant never heard before, and thus create an entirely new school of magic, all while deconstructing the myth of the road trip along the way.

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Instead of lifelong soul-bros, we’re saddled with people you could’ve dragged from a DMV line, and the requisite bonding experiences are refigured as ‘wizard activities’: “Let’s all write down arcane cryptic words in unexpected new combinations and patterns!” Ah, Abracadaniel’s so lame that it’s adorable, but his sentiments are spot-on. The road trip might be America’s only modern, vaguely spiritualist tradition, one meant to facilitate personal growth as the individual treks figuratively and literally into unfamiliar territory. It’s an event that’s supposed to build meaning, and watching the D-listers’ attempt celebrates but also critiques it too: a perhaps unsung moment occurs when Abracadaniel suggests the water nymphs dance on the roof of the bus while everyone else writes bad slam poetry on toilet paper, but they respond: “We don’t want to. We’d rather write.” It’s a subtle subversion of the sometimes sexist notion of partying across the country, and of the necessity of having human eye-candy onboard for your pleasure.

It’s a relatively minor joke, but one that intensified an off-the-wall notion I had while watching the episode: the plot bears a few connections to Ken Kesey’s (author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nestfamous 60s hippie odyssey, in which some of the most prominent personalities of the psychedelic vanguard druggied and philandered their way across the country in a retrofitted schoolbus dubbed ‘Furthur.’ In a lot of ways, that trip set the template for what road trips could and should be, but what drives the association even further home is Giuseppe’s fate later in the episode.

After the gas runs out and the wheels fall off of the bus (after all, a road trip’s best times are the trying times), stranding them in midst of a cow pasture, a crazed farmer and his rifle force them back aboard. Ice King blasts a slick ice-path for them to slide upon, and when his juices run low, he swaps headgear with Abracadaniel so the milkface can have a turn steering, in another starry-eyed buddy-buddy moment that can’t get annoying because they’re the only OTP I support.

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The moment that most strongly recalled Kesey’s trip was when Ice King spots a crabapple tree by the side of the ice road. He asks Giuseppe to hop out and grab a few crabapples, but the inexplicable hermit is left behind when the bus proves too fast for his old legs. In his abandonment, we see a reference to Cathy Casamo, a participant in Ken Kesey’s famed lysergic trek, and one whom many call the original flower child. Casamo’s erratic antics landed her in an institution in Houston after being found naked and stoned in the streets, and Kesey’s crew was forced to leave her behind, with just a phone call to her boyfriend. The event reportedly haunted Kesey for years to come, and was the darkside to what should’ve been a trip of unbridled expression and exploration.

However, Giuseppe’s story doesn’t end quite the same way. While munching on the crabapples of G’s marytyrdom, Ice King reads aloud the slice of slam poetry the old man had written earlier, and which reads:

These are not my teardrops, daughter dear,
but just the sheen of dew that lingers here,
past other fields, where other fathers lie,
who kept their daughters better far than I.

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I’ve heard a lot of nutso Adventure Time theories in my time, but here’s one to sink your mindfangs into: Giuseppe is Ken Kesey, and he’s reliving the karma of having left Cathy Casamo behind, who appears in the poem as his ill-kept daughter, which doesn’t sound as nuts considering the psychedelic references sprinkled throughout the show . . . Well shit, your theory sucks too.

In no time, the trip turns south as a botched incantation puts the crew to sleep. They wake up half-submerged in a swamp, the water nymphs jump ship, and Ron James’ last-ditch mystery potion swaps out his head for Tree Trunk’s body leagues away. Caught between an ill-planned trip and a watery place, Abracadaniel suggests they all surrender to the will of the trip for an answer, which is none other than Giuseppe, who drags the van from the bog with his mind-powers, Yoda-style. Without explanation, the dirty old man gives them the thumbs-up before scattering his essence across the landscape. And that’s the end of Giuseppe, so if you’ve got a better idea as to who or what the hell he is, comment to your heart’s content. I completely understand Giuseppe’s function as the archetypal trip-making event which signals the road trip’s success as a life event, but it’s still a somewhat unsatisfying ending if you don’t throw in some theoretical seasoning.

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Back in Wizard City, where everybody’s an exclusive asshole with a secret cool place to be, Abracadaniel and Life-Giving Magus are finally able to share a bond all their own, one that comes with secret decoder rings inscribed with a crabapple tree. In the context of the road trip, Wizard City represents the alienating aspect of the urban cityscape: everyone seems to have a place to go, and hold their exclusivity and status above the heads over others like a bona fide butthole badge. It’s precisely that attitude that often necessitates the road trip to begin with, as a way of escaping the entanglements of social hierarchies in order to form personal meaning and identity extricated from such a tiresome and stifling structure.

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