On the last episode of Adventure Time, “The Visitor,” Martin crash-lands back on Earth, and Finn definitively proves to himself that he’s surpassed his father, in more ways than one.
When we first met Finn’s deadbeat father, Martin Mertens, we were shocked by his complete amorality and wondered what connection could possibly exist between him and Finn, genetic or otherwise. “The Visitor” is filled with moments that juxtapose the two as characters, and while the strange, maybe-coincidental parallels between them suggest an inescapable shared fate, Finn’s actions set him apart from his horrendous father. It’s a quiet episode, one that explores the anxiety, the paranoia of being constrained by mysterious forces, but one that ultimately affirms free choice and action.
At the episode’s start, everyone’s snugly asleep in the Treehouse (they have a sea lard now!) when a comet roars overhead, slamming into the distant landscape. Simultaneously, in Finn’s dream a sperm-shaped comet is nudging him to follow it across the bottom of an ocean. Finn is no longer cripplingly terrified of the sea, which is appropriate in an episode fixated on the hard-won growth he’s experienced. He picks up his dream-baby self sitting at his side, and tells him he’ll never let go, thinking to himself “That’s true,” a statement that Martin will echo later on. The whole sequence might symbolize the fact that Finn will never grow up, but if you take it in the context of the growth theme, it becomes more about a coexistence between baby and adolescent Finn, or between Finn’s biological destiny (which is, ugh, Martin) and the life he chooses for himself.
Finn ends up sleepwalking for two days and awakes parched at the foot of the comet, which, as we knew, is Martin’s ship. He takes a sip from a nearby tiny watertower in a tiny town, and hears a booming voice coming from a tree telling him to beat it, which he easily recognizes as his father’s. Hidden in the tree’s branches, Finn finds his dad stuffing his face and impersonating a Tree God to get the little guys to fix his ship, in a twisted re-imagining of Pikmin. While Martin blathers on about how terrible he is, Finn’s eyes widen at the tied sleeve-knot where his father’s right arm should be. After Martin confirms that Finn’s no longer revenge-thirsty, he gives his son a surprise two-armed bear hug. Finn asks “Is everything you say a lie?” to which he lies. It’s a weird moment where we expect some cosmic significance behind the two Mertens men losing their arms, but writers Tom Herpich and Stephen Wolfhard are throwing curveballs, purposefully trying to get us to fall into a habit of seeing fate in every cloud and sauce stain.
The two bond Martin Mertens-style: they watch the Pikmin people slavishly shuttle parts from the shipwreck to Martin’s escape pod, and Finn has to watch one of the exhausted buggers cuddle up to Martin’s pettings after the back-breaking labor. Before the little guys head back into the wreckage, filled as it is with fires and live electric wires, to retrieve the final piece of Martin’s escape pod, Finn gives them the choice to leave, which they (adorably) refuse. Later that night, during Martin’s janky party, Finn learns that they don’t buy into the Tree God baloney whatsoever, and that they’re really just trying to help out. In other words, they’re not being exploited at all (well, maybe their kindness is): they’re there of their own accord, which makes all the difference in terms of either being in control, of choosing, or being fate’s punching bag.
Finn manages to corner Martin with some questions about his past, and predictably Martin drags his feet towards a halfhearted answer: Finn was born on a boat, Martin fought off some nasties that wanted to eat Finn, a tiger was involved, Finn’s mother was “okay,” in Martin’s words, and then Martin made a life choice, one that involved leaving Finn behind. He says that he always meant to come back for Finn, and as Finn did in his dream, Martin realizes quietly to himself: “That’s true.” It seems like no matter how different they are morally, Finn and Martin share the same instincts, and when he’s being most truthful to himself, Martin can resemble his son in some ways, in a real connection as opposed to the red herring of the lost arm.
Finn wakes suddenly the next morning, with the ship on the verge of exploding, the Pikmin too overfed with corn to flee, and Martin ready to jump ship, his favorite hobby ever. Martin unhelpfully volunteers the info necessary to save the Pikmin village, and a fed-up Finn launches his father into space in an instant, bringing a relieved smile to Finn’s face. He manages to climb into the overheated ship and pull the heat-dump lever, and the episode closes as Finn’s bringing the Pikmin home to the Treehouse with him.
That Finn can rocket his estranged father into space without a second thought, without needing daddy-love or more answers concerning his past, is proof that Finn is not only stronger and more independent than he ever was, but also that he’s surpassed his father. Aside from the fact that he’s a much better person than Martin could ever be, Finn has a degree of mental stability that Martin lacks; when pressed about Finn’s mom, Martin stumbles, and admits that talking about it stresses him out. Probably the only connection between Finn and Martin is a tendency towards chaos: Finn powers through most obstacles with a mixture of uncontrollable enthusiasm and unpredictable ingenuity, and Martin follows no code but the id. Martin doesn’t have the self-discipline to make the tough decisions, and the whole episode highlights how important that ability is. It’s a question of feeling empowered to choose the harder path as the right one, rather than feeling coerced to, and that simple truth is the culmination of all the garbage and heartache Finn’s endured up until now.