Meditation and ‘The Truman Show’ in Adventure Time’s ‘Jake the Brick’

In “Jake the Brick,” Jake’s spiritual journey takes a turn for the serene when his bizarre childhood ambition (to pretend to be a brick) leads to a profound experience bringing together all the folks of Ooo, just in time for the holiday season. It’s an episode that illustrates the meditative process, in all its difficulties, absurdities, and possible epiphanies. It’s the eponymous time again!

A most common complaint about Adventure Time is that it just gets too plain weird, and hey I feel ya; just last week, Jake turned into a biosphere that he had to murder in order to escape, and Prismo was resurrected from death via a mind-wringer of a dream-time ritual. Completely understandable. But one of the many strengths of the show is the revolving team of writers and storyboarders working to expand the universe in their own idiosyncratic directions.

Writer Kent Osborne’s “Jake the Brick” takes a different tack from the recent norm as a quietly-paced episode in which Jake, in the midst of his hermitage (of pretending to be a brick), unwittingly narrates a bunny’s struggles against his natural environs to all the denizens of Ooo via radio, in a Truman Showmoment where the hopes and basic fears of far-flung peoples ride on one diminutive every-rabbit. It’s a story about slowing down, transcending social spheres by eliminating distractions until the mundane becomes the miraculous as applicable to all. In essence, it’s very specifically about meditation.

How can I tell? Jake’s immortal line: “I’m so BORED.”

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Since he was a young dimensional interloper/puppy dog, Jake dreamt of being part of a brick house on the verge of falling down, and today he’s pursuing his obscure dream by taking his place as a brick in the wall of a ruined cottage, which is pretentious Zen-speak for chasing the impermanence of all things, which is, itself, further pretentious Zen-speak for ‘meditation is stupid in mere description.’

See, no one really knows what they’re after when they meditate, because it’s an already difficult practice shrouded in stereotype: something about candles, serenity, uh, haiku sessions, etc. etc. And your own bullshit is revealed to yourself after you sit down on your little yoga mat that you got from Target, and close your eyes, all bubbly and giddy with the prospect of pursuing Nirvana, of being one of those spiritual marines on the frontlines of humanity–then it hits, a deflating, abject boredom of absurd dimensions.

At the beginning of the episode, Jake’s exhibiting all the symptoms of this idealistic spiritualism: when Finn travels halfway across Ooo just to get there, Jake’s positively gurgling with unconvincing, manic laughter belying the fact that he has no idea what he wants—one second he’s furious that Finn left a walkie-talkie so they can stay in touch, the next he’s silently begging Finn to stay, and frowning at his mind-numbing desolation. And so it goes: when you start to meditate, you almost certainly have no idea what you’re doing, and neither does most anyone else.

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At this point, it’s interesting that Jake’s undergoing a profound metamorphosis similar to Finn’s, but quieter, and less about the hells of adolescence. Where Finn’s journey was one of growing pains occurring to someone not yet fully who they are, Jake sought out his odyssey, and the process was of tiny explosions instead of raging hormones and new desires turning him completely inside-out. In other words, Jake’s odyssey is mature, decidedly middle-aged, and introduces another spectrum to the show’s themes of self-development with this illustration of meditative do’s and don’ts.

Not only did storyboarder Kent Osborne get the difficulties and conundrums of meditation correct, but also the unfathomably rare epiphanies. In the middle of his hermitage, and to the relief of his insufferable boredom, Jake becomes enraptured with the simple tale of a rabbit pitted against the elements, including one obliviously cruel deer. But this isn’t at all what he was looking for; Jake was after the experience of ‘being part of a brick house on the verge of collapse,’ which is a load of mental mumbo jumbo that parodies perfectly (arguably the purpose of meditative Zen koans) our expectations of spiritual events, whether they’re road trips or 5-minute breathing exercises. The idea of what an experience should be is often the biggest obstacle in getting there, which is a subtle, yet all-important fact about the process that Osborne nails precisely.

And it’s not even strictly a meditation thing; have you ever been so completely pumped for an event, a concert, a convention, a party, that there was no room left to experience the actual event? The summer storm that brought the flood, the family of benevolent beavers, the vicious raids of that blank-eyed deer, and the rabbit that serenely accepts his fate with the indomitability of the non-human world, all of this was incidental to Jake’s aims, but became something greater than the ghost of a dream that he’d been chasing, and that’s how it invariably happens.

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Jake is narrating aloud the unfolding events, but unbeknownst to him, Finn’s still listening via walkie-talkie, along with Starchy, Starchy’s radio broadcast equipment, and everyone listening to (presumably) Starchy’s late-night spooky stories programme, and everyone means everyone: we’re delightfully allowed a glimpse into an array of characters’ intimate moments as they tune-in to the fireside chat from their living rooms, or from the road, or the laboratory, all enraptured by the rabbit’s archetypal struggle against forces hopelessly greater than him. The parade of personalities seems hand-picked for characters we didn’t expect to hear from again, or have forgotten: Baby Lich (!), Lemonhope, Princess Cookie, Rattleballs, Banana Man, even Betty Grof, Ice King’s lost paramour from the past, all make an appearance, making “Jake the Brick” a heartwarming homecoming of sorts, aptly timed for the Thanksgiving season.

Across their cosmopolitan, busied lives, their breakfasting and lounging and boozing and traveling, the diverse denizens of Ooo are connected by an event that could only have been recorded by someone who, for unfathomable reasons, wishes to remain as un-busied, undistracted, and completely idle as a brick. By being that kind of holy fool, Jake can give them that one epic tale which is all of their stories and ours.

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What makes Jake’s narration so enrapturing is that in the absence of external stimuli, every single going-on in the world becomes momentous, and the pacing of the episode was designed to emphasize that perception of the little things, the scenery and presence of everything: the first minute or two sees Finn wordlessly leaving home, tramping over wheat fields, eating an apple on a hill, crossing rivers, somewhat like a free-exploration game where there’s nothing to it but going on walk-about. In this mindset, Jake recognizes everything that speaks that miraculous story of ‘there was nothing;  suddenly, inexplicably, there is now something.’ And that’s a story completely invisible to the average modernite, the perception of which is the apparent aim of meditation. Only don’t think about that when you meditate, because, well, you know.

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