On the latest Adventure Time, “Lady Rainicorn of the Crystal Dimension,” Lady Rainicorn ventures back into the Crystal Dimension to rescue TV, after he’s kidnapped by a figure from her past. It’s the eponymous time again!When the series had first started out, it boasted an array of colorful characters, and over time, the writers have slowly and carefully parsed through this supporting cast, updating them with backstories that added depth while compromising none of the original charm. The series’ villains got the most dramatic explorations (Lemongrab and Ice King have come a loooong way) and in “Lady Rainicorn of the Crystal Dimension,” Lady’s been given a much needed spotlight, going from an almost-manic-pixie-Korean-dream-girl, to an aging flower child who’s gone through the whole childhood-rebellious teen-self-determined adult cycle, and now sees its recurrence in her own child, TV.
Lady’s update is almost overdue. Thus far, she’s been fairly rounded, as a female character simultaneously magical and colorful, but also able to roughhouse with the best of them, most notably against Ricardio in “Lady and Peebles.” But they couldn’t really just leave her as Jake’s unbelievably pliant and capable girlfriend/wife/baby-mama forever. In “Lady Rainicorn of the Crystal Dimension,” we finally get a backstory of youthful rebellion and maturation that adds grounding to her carefree demeanor, and a related meditation on the pros and cons of laissez faire parenting
“Lady Rainicorn of the Crystal Dimension” opens with the rotund deadbeat of the Rainicorn children, TV (voiced by Dan Mintz, aka Tina Belcher of Bob’s Burgers), who’s about to take his first steps out of basement dwelling, and into adolescent independence. At midday, TV is of course barely getting up when Lady gently nudges her son to get a job. She leaves for a luncheon with Princess Bubblegum, and while she’s away, TV scrounges the kitchen for food. He finds and eats a shiny crystal sandwich in a vintage box (truly he is Jake’s son), and sets off to the market to sell said box for money. There, he encounters a fancy new dude-Rainicorn named Lee, who rides a hoverbike, wears a nose ring, and generally reeks of everything terrible about youth. Lee’s after the mystical something sitting in TV’s intestines, and flees with TV into the Crystal Dimension, with Lady Rainicorn in pursuit after her old flame.
While the obnoxious new Rainicorn needs a device to open a portal into the Crystal Dimension, Lady’s able to make her own way unlike Lee (in more ways than one). After tearing her own dimensional rift, she searches the Dimension and comes upon a wall mural from her youth. The ensuing flashback sees young Lady Rainicorn wearing a floral crown, running about town with her old boyfriend, the noisome Lee. The era is reminiscent of 60s American counterculture, and its portrayal in “Lady Rainicorn of the Crystal Dimension” comes off as critical of the era’s youthful revolution, or at least certain superficial aspects of it. An early episode referenced a past war between Rainicorns and Dogs, and the flashback sees post-war Crystal Dimension society, where the mainstream folk are dogs, and seemingly all the disaffected hippie youth are Rainicorns. And Lee is the twisted expression of independence and rebellion, taken to an unhealthy and self-parodying degree.
Lee spends his days gallivanting with Lady, pulling awful, rainbow-related pranks on unsuspecting dogs, and “standing up to” Dog policemen. He despises dogs for no apparent reason, a true rebel without a cause who embodies everything reprehensible about the phrase, everything silly about extremes of independence. He doesn’t “believe in currency,” and when Lady’s nurturing parents drop by their place with the stereotypically parental gift of food, Lee calls groceries a “dog concept”, whatever the hell that means, and tirades about how people can survive off of macrame alone.
Adventure Time has always been fundamentally aligned with youthful values, but psychologically healthy maturation has been an equally forceful theme throughout the series, and in “Lady Rainicorn and the Crystal Dimension,” the writers take a sympathetic stance for the plight of parents. Lady’s mom and dad embody the ‘unconditional love’ style of parenting, with multiple, charmingly typical ‘mom and dad’ moments where they express their love through meals and utilities. While leaving Lady and Lee’s apartment, they fret over their daughter’s choice of companionship (and wow does her taste in men make Jake look bad) but refrain from dictating Lady’s life to her, and it’s interesting to note that Lady largely takes the same policy towards TV. Whether or not it’s a good policy is left ambiguous, but the episode goes on to show that life is more than willing to fill in the gaps left by parenting, and that in a final analysis, children rear themselves.
Lady suspects Lee’s antics have gone too far when he blows up a school, and her suspicions are confirmed when she discovers Lee in the back of a beatnik Rainicorn cafe, plotting to steal a Dog military device, the Mergence of Destruction. It’s that stereotypical scene in which the rebellion reveals its corrupt endgame, and riffs off of a similar scene from the Beatles movie-musical Across the Universe. She tags along for the plot, but knocks Lee out at the final moment, stealing the Mergence to safeguard from Lee. When life finally demands it (even if her parents did not) Lady makes a mature moral decision, and flees the Crystal Dimension to stow the Mergence in Ooo.
And that’s how Lady landed in Ooo, and that’s why she’s back, on the trail of Lee and the Mergence sitting in TV’s belly. To shakedown their whereabouts, Lady revisits the old cafe and roughs up the milquetoast rainicorn Roy (who incidentally, voices a porn shop owner in Bob’s Burgers) in a satisfying display of parental ultraviolence. At the old bootlegger mansion where Lee’s squatting, she discovers the maldeveloped man-child brandishing the Mergence, threatening to use the power for his own incomprehensible vendetta against dogs. His rebellion is revealed for the egomania that it is, the worst-case scenario for all youthful energy, and as all such plots usually go, the Mergence consumes Lee in a beam of energy. Before it can do the same to Lady, TV seals it back in its box.
The conclusion to “Lady Rainicorn of the Crystal Dimension” sees TV’s decision to remain in the Dimension to learn independence like Lady did, which in TV’s book means shacking up with his grandparents. The episode makes no strong moral judgments against loose and free parenting, but it does make a strong case for the agency of the child. Even if parents choose not to manipulate the child’s circumstances, she can still find her own way, on her own strength.