The Annotated Adventure Time – The Post-Post-Apocalyptic Culture of “Hot Diggity Doom / The Comet”

On last night’s episode of Adventure Time, the double-episode finale “Hot Diggity Doom / The Comet,” a new ruler is elected in Ooo, the cosmic tyrant Orgalorg makes his move, and the Comet arrives. It’s the eponymous time again.

It’s almost redundant to say at this point how meta the Finnale has been, but here it goes anyway: Adventure Time is a children’s show that is often misbranded as random or incoherent (and is so, every so often) but in tying up the disparate events of the current and older seasons, writers Tom Herpich, Steve Wolfhard, Andy Ristaino, and Jesse Moynihan prove a single grander premise that has been with the series since the first season. It’s what we feel obliged to tell children, and what we as rational humans can’t operate properly without: the idea that no matter what, everything’s going to be alright.

The first half of the finale, “Hot Diggity Doom,” has been no end of annoyance for the fandom in our real world, who expressed so much outrage at the ungrateful Candy Citizens for deposing their benevolent ruler Princess Bubblegum in favor of that thief and huckster, the King of Ooo. The episode makes us feel something we’re normally accustomed to experiencing only every fourth year of the American political system: absolute apocalypse, at least for the losing voters, which is us in this case, because we know who PB and King of Ooo as they are.

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Yes, a mysterious stranger comes to the support of the King of Ooo in his elective bid to seize the Candy Kingdom, and the sheepish Candy Citizens of course flock to his carnival-esque charm, in preference to Princess Bubblegum’s pragmatic but cold demeanor.Witnessing King of Ooo’s political irrhetoric is the first strong trigger of that surreal, nightmare sensation that the world is slowly rotting away.

What really drives the tragedy home is the betrayal in Princess Bubblegum’s face as she confronts the crowd that had so easily forgotten her selflessness, like a mother seeing that her children are too young and inexperienced to survive in a world of people like King of Ooo, but their decisions are their own now. The relationship between PB and her peeps brings the idea of apocalypse into the personal realm, when we realize we might lose the people we love and have no power over that.

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By the end of the finale, we’ll end up feeling much like the Candy Citizens, who so blindly rushed to their doom while we looked on in horror, in a way that tempts us into wondering if there were someone looking in on us, and gasping at the blind disasters we’re putting together, piece by piece. The Candies had no idea that they allowed the now-fully-conscious Orgalorg-in-Gunther into their kingdom, removed his only obstacle in PB, and gave him access to the rocket in PB’s armory that will take him into space, towards the power of the Catalyst Comet.

Along the way, we’re given new directions for the coming seasons, especially when PB takes her Peppermint Butler with her into exile, to the shack on the plains where she’d grown up as a child, which I might suspect alludes to a human past. Imagine PB as the mutant bubbleniece of some philanthropist from our time, who saw what we did to ourselves in the Mushroom War and was determined to build her own society and shield it from the same harm.

Finn and Jake stow away aboard Orgalorg’s ship, and confront him in the depths of space, where Orgalorg explains the series of seemingly random events that allowed his ascent: the coming of the comet, the existence of machinery to take him to it, the death of his nemesis Glob, and of course, Gunther’s vicious injury during a walrus race. The chance sequence of these events allowed him this opportunity; the awakened, Lovecraftian tyrant Orgalorg explains that he sees past these coincidences, towards the deeper recurring fate: “It was just time to come out again.” He expresses the idea that sometimes it just seems as though the higher powers listen to you, should you project out your will, something Jake brilliantly describes as an ‘open-door philosophy,’ the idea that we’re free to come in, speak to Cosmic Management, make suggestions, and (as Finn says) it will just “Say yes to stuff all the time.” Suspend your disbelief.

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One of the most affecting scenes in the Finnale is when Finn and Jake drift slowly apart from each other in the depths of space, turning dizzily over and over, helpless to grab ahold of each other, or onto any sort of leverage or objectivity. This is the vertigo of disaster in our most depraved moments. The stars spin again and again across Finn’s spacesuit helmet, again heightening that sensation of apocalypse, a lack of ground or safety, and nothing but the whim of chaos around you.

Finn’s response is one that ties together all the experiences he’s undergone: despite feeling as though the world would end when he fought the Lich, lost Flame Princess, was abandoned by his father Martin, and lost his arm, time and time again, life went on, other things happened and formed a pile of happenings. He chanced upon a grass sword, saw a random comet in a dream, and chanced again and again, in a pile of randomness that looks inevitably like design in hindsight.

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It reminds me of the first few years of childhood, where random memories fall on the child’s consciousness like leaves, branding the pre-adult in layers and layers of incidental memory and programming. Of course you can call that sequence of memories random, but it’s difficult to look at any adult mind, observe the complexity of fears, ambitions, prejudices, and capabilities, and their ties to that same batch of incidents, and call it a joke. At some point, you have to appreciate the design, and that doesn’t necessarily mean to be religious, but mindful enough to know that even if it were just random occurrences, then it would still imply something worth knowing.

That pile of random occurrences of Finn’s allows him to realize that there’s no need to worry because there’s always more, after the apocalypse. Ooo, after all, is the wonderland in the ashes of our apocalypse, the Great Mushroom War that is the culmination of all of our current fears of a very real end of days from so many directions–environmental, political, cultural. We are obsessed with the apocalypse, and this episode offers the entirety of the Adventure Time series as panacea to that hysteria, because we are still alive, despite feeling as though everything was lost so many times before.

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Finn’s ensuing song is a surrender to the universe, and instantly, Martin appears from the previous episode, stowed away in the mouth of a space moth. Random, yes, but if you’ve been paying attention, so is everything else. With father and son together in the moth’s mouth at last, we finally get to the core of the fundamental difference between them: champion deadbeat father Martin’s attitude reveals that he’s so unreliable and despicable because he believes nothing is out there. He accepts that life is a whacky place, but doesn’t accept any design in it, sees no connection between any two events, and most certainly doesn’t see connections between himself and others, even his own son. And so, he gallivants, abandons, epicureally along his days: “You burn enough bridges, the only direction to move is forward.”

Finn, on the other hand, is a believer now, which again, doesn’t necessarily imply religion, just optimism and appreciation for complexity, and a sense of serenity. But far from making him a passive player in a predetermined scheme, it inspires him to act against Orgalorg where Martin’s pessimism fails to see the point. He launches into the tyrant’s belly where the Catalyst Comet lies swallowed, and cuts it free with the help of the Grass Blade embedded in his arm. The episode “Blade of Grass” was also about acceptance, when Finn struggled to determine whether the blade (which can’t be removed) is really a curse, or just some other feature of life to get over, like bad weather.

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Once freed, the Catalyst Comet hatches, and the resultant entity gives a choice to the newly awakened Finn, who now realizes that in the past, he had been the comet, then a butterfly (his spirit beast), and now himself, thus tying Finn to all mentions of his past and alternate lives (ie Shoko and Farmworld Finn). He knows now that the world was destroyed and reborn, as he was destroyed and reborn, again and again as the comet reccurred. The hatched Catalyst Comet tells him that their meeting, the stopping of the Comet, and all the events that have thus transpired, were completely without precedent in this infinite history, and as a result, it will offer Finn the choice of seeing the end and beginning of these times.

But to do so, he would have to surrender everything he’d experienced as Finn the Boy: love, hate, video games, memories of parents, everything, and though he’s reached a higher plateau of understanding, he still sees worth in something that just keeps blowing up again and again. He likes the details of his reality and wants to see where it’s going with this, which is being a kid, in a nutshell, being entranced with something that is continually fresh, even if we as adults ‘get used to it.’ And as the Comet states, that’s totally fine. This broken and unbroken, good and bad reality isn’t any better or worse than another, but the choice is there.

Martin, on the other hand, has no qualms about leaving. In their talks, Finn realizes that Martin is absolutely incorrigible and quite astute: there is nothing Martin can say that will be good enough for Finn, because the fact of his abandonment has already happened. As with dealing with fate, one should let go of the idea that there was an intention somewhere and someone has to pay for that intention, a vengeful worldview which isn’t entirely true. Orgalorg said on the ship that a fog obscures his true intentions even from himself, and to the Cosmic Owl said that he doesn’t know why he does what he does, but instead feels compelled, as Martin is compelled by his nature, and Finn by his. They are driven by something that no one can explain, as the plot was driven by a Catalyst Comet of no beginning or end. Finn accepts this, and bids his father farewell.

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In a final moment of synchronicity, Jake rescues Finn from space with the help of Banana Man and his rocket, in a fulfillment of a ‘croak dream’ Jake had in Season 3’s “Croak Dream” episode, where he saw himself float off into space with Banana Man, and mistook this event for his death. It’s the last, silly yarn in the greater thread of coincidence, and together they fall back to Earth into a lake of golden waters, splashing it all over Princess Bubblegum and fulfilling the prophecy of her ‘downfall’ back in “Hoots,” where we saw her dissolve in a similar-looking lake after being betrayed by the Candy Citizens.

It’s a rare finale that expands upon its series without really having to add anything that wasn’t there already. Adventure Time has always strived to be the quintessential childrens’ show in absolutely every regard: freewheeling, entertaining, full of hope and possibility, and instructive overall. By tying together disparate events from the series, from the silly to the portentous, “Hot Diggity Doom / The Comet” reiterate the show’s commitment to guiding the child through adolescence and into the challenges of adult life.

The episode is suffused with apocalypse in every way–the color pallette dimming to an inhuman purple as the Comet appears in the atmosphere, the political turmoil, an inexplicable natural phenomenon, chaos in the streets, events seeming to align perfectly so as to end the world. It’s a reflection of our own apocalypse-obsessed times, as we seemingly don’t know what to die from first: unstoppable climate change, incompetent government, international enemies, cultural decay. We have more lines of communication than ever and what it all seems to amount to sometimes is an infecting fear. But if there’s any reason not to be afraid, any reason not to curse god and fate, then that reason lies in this Finnale of finales.

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8 Comments

  1. I’ve gotta say, your analysis is consistently the most in-depth look at these episodes I can find. You caught things reddit completely overlooked, and I’m, as always, very impressed. I have a very deep connection to this show, in the sense that it’s the only one that’s grown with me, from my freshman year of high school into the middle of college now. It’s no exaggeration to call this show life-changing, always there to reflect what I have, or will go through in life. It’s entertaining, bursting with imagination, nostalgic, dark, but always the optimist. This episode was brilliant, and with some changes could have ended the series perfectly if it needed to. My only question is where do they go from here? Knowing their history, the show will only get better. 10/10

    1. I think it’s really interesting when we realize that we’re ‘that generation that got to grow up with that show,’ especially now that we’re in an age where we get to gather ’round the digital campfire and share our takes on it. So thanks for reading and sharing, man! I’m glad the show was there for you, especially in your formative years.

      As to where the show’s gonna go from here, I know that a few storyboarders/writers are either leaving eventually, like Jesse Moynihan, whom I credit with some of the series’ spaciest, out-there moments, or immediately, like Andy Ristaino, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we do see changes in the writing. Which makes me :(. But regardless, I also felt like if the series were to end with this Finnale, that’d be absolutely fine and perfect. But who knows! I’m starting on an article about future story arcs, but as a spoiler, there’s Maja the Sky Witch, Fire Kingdom’s fate, Jake’s origins (thanks Ricardo M down there!), lots of potentially great stuff!

      1. I follow Jesse Moynihan’s website, and I’ve even read his web comics (they’re pretty great). Yes, he’s definitely pushed the series into its deeper, more philosophical recent direction. However, he posted a comment on his site the other day that next season will be (at least based on his episodes) more humorous and adventure-driven, which is a welcome break from the craziness of this season.

        It is nice to have a show on par with the ones 90s kids constantly bring up, or even like SpongeBob, which I technically grew up with, but not as it was coming out. I look forward to reading your article on future story lines as well.

        Can I ask what your thoughts are on people calling the last few years an “animation renaissance”. I’m obsessed with cartoons (I actually have a club at my college that analyzes them), but do you really think it deserves the hype? Can you name any cartoons you think are part of that, or where exactly it “started”?

        1. I started a response to this, but stopped when I realized it was getting to be over a page (which means it might be an article later down the line, heh). So to summarize my thoughts:

          Yes, there’s definitely an animation renaissance in place, which I’d define as a new wave of animated series’ that represent a clean break from a previous generation (which includes The Simpsons, Spongebob, King of the Hill) in that… well, it’s just more ‘internet-y.’ It plays with cultural reference and contextuality in a certain way, and has this OCD, breakneck pace that makes episodes of Spongebob (and god knows I love Spongebob) feel so bizarrely sloooww.

          I do think it deserves the hype in that it’s radically different from the previous generation of popular cartoons in these ways, and it also puts a greater emphasis on quality over marketability (or at least it seems to do so in this early stage). Most of the fandoms out there today love their shows because there’s so much drillability–the more time you invest in the shows, the more it yields, because these shows are more meticulously planned, visually and narratively, compared to 90s cartoons designed to be instantly enjoyable.

          If you’re looking for an origin, I’d look at the popular flash cartoons of the early 2000s that gave people a taste for animation suffused with internet-style humor, adult-ish themes, and broad appeal, like Don Hertzfeldt’s work, Salad Fingers maybe, videos like that.

          And also in terms of origins, I’d look to adult swim’s early stuff, especially the titanically bizarre-for-its-time Space Ghost: Coast to Coast, which bridged animation and alt-culture in a big way, and paved the way for so many strange, experimental cartoons. Just check out 12 Oz. Mouse for a taste of that–that’s an example of something that simply would not be made at any period before the present.

          And finally in terms of origins, I’d say it began naturally as the relevance of the previous generation waned. Like I said, Spongebob simply feels too dang slow now, as do the classic Simpsons episodes even–it was just high time for something new to come along and express what the internet uncorked, and I think that, combined with soo many other factors (many of which are also internet-related, like distribution and the structure of fandoms now), precipitated the animation renaissance.

          Ugh, this was a page anyway. TL;DR blame the in’nernet.

  2. Great analysis. Did you notice that the orgalorg in space looked exactly like the shapeshifter???:

  3. Hi Andrew,
    I don’t have anything insightful to add, but I have been meaning for a while now to say a big “Thank You!” for writing my favourite blog about my favourite show.
    You’ll probably be able to relate to these feels: Adventure Time is deep and ambitious, but also delightfully whimsical. At its worst, it is thoroughly entertaining. At its best, I really can’t remember watching anything as original or magically enthralling (reminiscent of the magic of the masterful films of Studio Ghibli, although of course executed in very different ways). Your analysis adds an extra layer and an extra delight to whole experience.
    With gratitude,
    Chris

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