In the latest Adventure Time episode, “Broke His Crown,” Ice King is acting even stranger than usual, and Marceline and Princess Bubblegum journey into the crown to investigate. It’s the eponymous time again!It’s a bit synchronicitous that I stumbled across this reading of the “Bonny and Neddy” episode, which called attention to some ableist missteps in the series (I honestly never thought of Cinnamon Bun that way…). If the series’ record on that front has been marred, then “Broke His Crown” takes a pretty decisive step in the right direction. The episode centers on the Simon & Betty story arc, in which Ice King’s human lover has been driven mad while attempting to cure Ice King’s own derangement by the cursed Ice Crown. The episode finally names this derangement as the mental illness that it is, and deserves praise for an eloquent assertion regarding neural atypicality: that the disorder is separate from the individual, and the minute you can tell the difference is the moment they become a person in your eyes, rather than a generalized aberration, or worse.
As a ‘Bubbline’ episode, “Broke His Crown” also focuses on the crowd-pleasing chemistry between Marceline and Princess Bubblegum. In the past, these episodes normally place Bubblegum in a motherly role towards Marceline on account of her scientific know-how and maturity (with “Varmints” as a notable exception), but the support is more mutual here. Marceline’s convinced PB to attend a dinner party at the Ice King’s, in a situation vaguely analogous to being invited to dinner with a friend’s eccentric uncle. PB relents, providing moral support to Marceline’s efforts to normalize and humanize Ice King. On the other hand, Marceline’s also dragging PB out of her work-shell at a rather sensitive time. “Broke His Crown” comes immediately after “The Thin Yellow Line,” in which Bubblegum admitted that she’d been an imperfect, sometimes ruthlessly cold Candy Kingdom ruler, and she’s still very clearly on the rebound of her temporary political ousting. Consequently, she’s noticeably defensive in this episode about her accomplishments, and keeps reasserting her passion for science and extreme work ethic. In other words, PB is still in the process of reshaping her shaken ego, and Marceline’s dragging her out into the real world to do just that.
On the flight over, Marcy asks Bubblegum to start calling Ice King ‘Simon,’ his human name before he had his mind addled by the Ice Crown. Her request calls attention to the fact that up til now, no one seems to have cared for Ice King’s original life or personality, and no one seems able to look past his current state. When they arrive, Ice King is his usual socially awkward self, but Bubblegum realizes something is even more disturbed in him than usual. While Marceline steps out of the room for drinks, Ice King begins to babble incoherently and contort physically as his Crown malfunctions, in a somewhat disturbing moment that should resound for any viewers who’ve played caretaker to the infirm. Bubblegum calls for Marceline and insists that something’s more wrong than usual with the Ice King, but Marceline doesn’t believe her.
What’s happening is that Ice King’s bizarre behavior, and the imposing threat to his well-being, is masked by various preconceived notions of his (ab)normality. Marceline can’t tell if Bubblegum’s still just regarding him as a creepy old codger, and Bubblegum can’t tell if there’s something actually wrong with him, or if this is just business as usual. It’s a situation that expresses dramatically the difficulties of treating the neurologically atypical with both respect and appropriate care–warning signs become confused, relationships become strained. At the dinner table, PB’s creeped out that Ice King just called Marceline ‘Gunther,’ but Marceline explains that he calls everyone Gunther… The Vampire Queen eventually catches on, once Ice King begins smashing dishes against his face while speaking in tongues. PB at last states that there’s something very wrong with “Simon.” She knocks him out, despite protests from Marceline, and they transport him to PB’s lab.
Princess Bubblegum takes the lead in “Broke His Crown” from this point on, in an important reassertion that her scientific capabilities can still be used for good, rather than manipulation. Thanks to her virtual reality device, she and Marceline are able to penetrate digitally into the Ice Crown’s circuits. The design of the Crown-world conjures even more sympathy for the afflicted Ice King: it manifests as a jungle-infested labyrinth, populated by the consciousnesses of those who used to wear the crown. The maze design highlights the fact that any wearer of the crown faces a constant trial, an omnipresent obstacle that looks from the outside like inexplicably bizarre, awkward behavior. The minds trapped in the crown include Gunther the boy-lizard, Simon Petrikov, a blonde boy named Svein, and someone apparently called ‘The Original Santa.’ Within the Crown, they exist in their normal healthy states before the ice drove them insane, and their wholeness only highlights the idea that underneath the influence of their disease is a warm-blooded individual.
Lizard Gunther greets them with surprise, as he apparently thinks they’ve been corrupted by the Ice Crown at the same time, thus landing both of them inside the Crown-dimension. After commenting on the violent glitches occurring in the dimension’s maze landscape, Gunther takes them to Simon, who off-handedly asks PB if she’s Betty’s assistant. PB flies off the handle, stating defiantly that she’d always been her boss and that she’d even created life. Her defensiveness betrays a newfound insecurity within her, regarding the tangible good that all her abilities and passions can still accomplish. All together, they seek the abnormality threatening the Crown’s integrity. Along the way, Simon jokes with Marceline as though no time had passed at all, and the ease and charm of their relationship again reinforces Ice King’s essential humanity, the man that could be if the Crown were subtracted.
They eventually encounter the floating head of Betty, a digital avatar-spell sent into the crown by real-world Betty, who’s been driven insane herself after a freak accident transferred Magic Man’s mad-sad-magicness over to her (madness, sadness, and magic being the condition of all wizards in Ooo). The Betty avatar has been tinkering with the Crown’s circuitry in a maddened attempt to cure the Ice King, and Simon makes a desperate plea to stop her interference. With a shared emotional memory, he’s able to break the Betty avatar from its glitched-out state of madness, a moment which has massive implications for real-world Betty. If the avatar’s sanity can be salvaged, the same might be true of Magic Betty. Once avatar Betty’s malware ceases to function, the Crown’s self defense mechanisms eject Marceline and Bubblegum from the Crown-dimension. Back in PB’s lab, they see residual traces of the Betty avatar still in the Crown’s circuitry; meanwhile inside the Crown, Simon embraces the surviving Betty avatar.
Together, Simon and the Betty avatar present a tragic counterpoint to the reality of the Crown, and the mental illness it represents. “Broke His Crown” systematically separates the Crown from Ice King’s identity, and reminds both Bubblegum and the viewers that there is still a man underneath the madness, and that there could’ve been (and still can be) a life for him.