The Annotated Adventure Time: Dis-Gendered Origin Myths and Birth Trauma in “Bonnie and Neddy”

On Monday night’s episode of Adventure Time, “Bonnie and Neddy,” we learn that Princess Bubblegum’s brother, Neddy the Candy Dragon, is the living heart of the Candy Kingdom, but after King of Ooo drives him away, Bubblegum must woo him back. It’s the eponymous time again.

Did anyone else forget over the hiatus that Princess Bubblegum is now just Bonnibel Bubblegum, replaced by the One True King Princess of Ooo? Yes, when we left off in Season 6, the innocent (yet impenetrably stupid) Candy People had elected the enthusiastically nifty (yet revoltingly shifty) King of Ooo as their new ruler, leaving their creator-mother Bubblegum hurt, confused, and finding herself in self-imposed exile. It seems as though the new season will at least initially focus on Bubblegum and Marceline, a welcome shift as the new episodes pose juicy questions as to Bubblegum’s identity. As PB’s origin episode, “Bonnie and Neddy” explores not only the phenomenon of birth trauma and its effects on a newborn consciousness, but also themes of postpartum depression, and finding a self-identity outside of the merely biological.

Bubblegum’s always been a fascinating character for so many reasons: her rule over the Candy Kingdom, though unquestionably well-intentioned, echo the sinister non-transparency and callousness of the NSA and institutions like Guantanamo Bay; she’s a goddamn female science-lord and all-around powerhouse in the political landscape of Ooo, which is so utterly relevant today in light of memes like Computer Engineer Barbie; and finally, her ambitions with the Candy Kingdom border closely on the type of hubris that led to the Mushroom War, thus complicating her image as a utopian matron-figure.

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Now we can’t expect the poor, sheeple-like Candy People to grasp PB’s complexities, and so naturally they would gravitate towards the King of Ooo, who’s full of song, dance, tinsel, and who sports itty bitty King Louis feet with little black slippers, my favorite touch to his character design. Predictably, as the new monarch of the Candy Kingdom, King of Ooo has been gutting the Kingdom’s coffers and stumbles across the lifeblood of the Kingdom beneath the tree at its center. There, the massive Candy Dragon Neddy nurses from the nutritious sap of the tree, and his body processes the sap into a flowing liquid which the Candy People rely upon for sustenance and beachtime fun activities. After an abruptly failed attempt by King of Ooo to capitalize on this natural resource, Neddy flees the scene, and Finn and Jake seek out  Princess Bubblegum, cloistered away on the shores of Lake Butterscotch where she lives in a cottage alone with loyal Peppermint Butler.

There, we learn that she and Neddy were formed from the same ‘mothergum,’ which is presumably a mass of candy animated by the resultant radiation of the Mushroom War. But whereas Bubblegum dripped from the pink candy-mass safely onto the ground, Neddy had the misfortune to fall upon a sharp rock, imprinting upon him an acute awareness of fear and pain, and thus forming the origin-story that is the center of the episode. Neddy is left unable to bear the slightest sensations of the world outside the candy-womb without painful screaming, while Bubblegum takes a joyous scientific interest in all of its minutiae. As children, PB eventually found her brother nursing from the same sapling that would become the Candy Kingdom tree, and from there, builds the Kingdom around him.

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After PB rescues Neddy in the present day and returns him to the Candy Kingdom, she reveals that within the mothergum, she’d felt the presences of innumerable brother and sister gum-consciousnesses, and her construction of the Kingdom is a sort of compensation for that loss of warmth and unity, that feeling of a “crowded womb.” Bubblegum’s sentiments echo the idea that the act of birth produces and imprints upon the new human consciousness an incredibly traumatic experience, which is foundationally formative of the child’s psychological development later in life. Thus, PB becomes a metaphor for the basic human experience, of losing the warmth and security of the womb and trying to regain that Eden through relationships, achievements, and constructs.

Princess Bubblegum has been touted before as an unrelatable brainiac whose Vulcan-like logic gets the job done but with a cold metallic aftertaste, but “Bonnie and Neddy” opens the seventh season with the bold contention that she is, in fact, just like anyone else that came from a womb, or if you’d prefer, from the safe period of childhood.

It’s utterly fascinating then, that her offspring, the Candy People, had willingly separated themselves from her; in effect, her lifelong work of recreating the womb in Candy Kingdom-form, blew up in her face, in what seems like fate rather than chance. And if that’s the case, then she’s rightly confused and angry; in the cosmic scheme of things, it simply isn’t fair that we’re born from a safe place and are programmed with a need for this safety, yet that biologically-mandated directive is impossible. Nothing lasts forever, everything passes away, all children grow up and leave their parents. Bubblegum is in the throes of the “what now,” postpartum depression of birthing an entire civilization out of loneliness, and finding that it doesn’t want her anymore.

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Bubblegum and Neddy’s origin story is also fascinating from a gendered standpoint. In most traditions, the nurturing force is aligned with the feminine, ie Mother Earth, Ceres the Harvest Goddess, etc, but here, brother Neddy is the sensitive lifeforce that has to be guarded and maintained by the strong, commanding sister Bonnibel. It’s a beautiful inversion of gendered mythologies because it grapples with the sheer biological randomness of the gender split; Neddy isn’t the weaker sibling because Girls Rule Boys Drool and Eff the Patriarchy, he’s the weaker sibling because at birth he accidentally fell onto a pointy rock. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, it certainly isn’t some inherent cosmic decree that One Gender Shalt Be Dominant Above the Other, it was a sheer accident. This fact, along with the idea of birth trauma as the impetus of human ambition, indicates the ways in which completely accidental biology informs human thinking and culture. It questions the pitifully superficial reasoning that tells us not only that ‘girls are inferior because they are smaller and have vaginas because Glob said so,’ but even the basic personal statement that says ‘I am this way because I chose it.’

As the first episode of the new season, I’d call “Bonnie and Neddy” a resounding success, an episode that hearkens back to the core series theme of ‘how to adolesce well,’ but does so through an unexpected and engaging new narrative. It starts with the depressing idea that birth circumstances and biology seem to determine damn near everything, but Princess Bubblegum’s new character arc seems determined to see if that truly is the case, or if there is something outside of the biologically-determined, if we can go beyond the constraints of the flesh and be something else, something that could truly call itself ‘I.’

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4 Comments

  1. Have to say in the five months since the last season ended, I’ve missed AT. But one of the things I missed most of all was reading your reviews, Andrew. They are, like the show itself, intriguing and stimulating. I find myself needing to rewatch episodes with a new appreciation. Glad to see you’re back.

    1. Thanks for kind words, Greg! Tough as it is to make time for these these week-long marathons, it’s worth it to know someone’s reading.

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