On last night’s episode of Adventure Time, “Friends Forever,” Ice King brings his furniture to life so he can hang out with them, but they’re too busy pondering the miracle of consciousness out of nothing. Poor Ice King. It’s the eponymous time again!
Now that’s how you end a hiatus. The main narrative with Ice King has been that we should sympathize with social dysfunctionals because they deserve social fulfillment like the rest of us, but are held back by personality defects beyond their control. Adventure Time‘s best episodes are dedicated to the idea that there are no bad people, just unfortunate situations… but “Friends Forever” reminds us that Ice King isn’t just a sob-case that demands your unconditional pity.
Yeah, it’s very sad in that he’s lonely and mean, and the lonelier he gets the meaner he gets, but this episode reveals how that’s a cycle perpetuated substantially by Simon Petrikov himself, and delves deeply into the mechanics of self-sabotage. And all it took was a bunch of newly-alive furniture to tell him he’s all caught up in karmic ego-games, too hung up on himself to appreciate himself and start actually interacting with people, instead of forcing them to interact with him.
The most virtuosic thing about “Friends Forever” is that it re-establishes Ice King as the series’ prime butthole without losing any of his tragic complexity. The fiasco begins when Ice King invites Life-Giving Magus over, under the pretense that they’re going to be wizard butt-buddies together, which makes the poor, hairy Life-Giving weirdo just so damn happy. Lately it seemed like everything’s been going well for the Ice King–he’s got a new best buddy in Abracadaniel, his fiancee Betty Grof was transported from the eve of the apocalypse into the present, hell, he even got a road trip episode with his buddies.
And so it’s absolutely frustrating to see Ice King ignore Gunther and Life-Giving Magus, people who actually like the Ice King, so that he can trick Life-Giving Magus into animating various objects around his house so that he can make friends with his furniture. Yes, that’s what actually happens, that’s one of the saddest yet most hilarious things I’ve ever had to write, and the sheer ridiculousness of that situation helps to take the condescending edge off of the existential talk of the newly-conscious lamps and dressers and whatnot. “I get it, we’re brilliant furniture and that’s hard to keep up with.” That’s probably one of the best lines on television in recent memory.
Yes, once Ice King imprisons Life-Giving Magus in a block of ice and forces him to give these things life, they’re not all Fantasia-dancey or gee-willickers-lets-be-friendly, they’re just damned amazed that they were just matter one second, and are now alive. Ice King immediately tries to charm them the only way he knows how (fart noises with his hands) but understandably, they have far greater spectacles unfolding before their minds than fart noises.
The problem is summed up nicely in the very first interaction between Ice King and his table lamp: in a straight parody of the scifi-romance Her, the lamp speaks their first words in a sexy-softly-husky Scarlett Johansson voice, and Ice King is ecstatic this his first foray into life-giving resulted in a lady friend. But once he says this aloud, the lamp has no clue what he’s going on about: “Well, one isn’t purely defined by their sex or gender. I have yet to find out who I really am! I have freedom, no longer bound by the limits of my court, freedom to shape my reality and be shaped by it!”
The lamp, along with all the other furniture Ice King brings to life, is completely devoid of petty ego-games, whereas Ice King is all about ego-games, the hamster wheel ego-games of being cool, of having a girlfriend and a circle of peers who respect you, of having status. These things feel important, but as any former teenager can tell you, they’re not all-important. And they’re certainly paltry when compared to the ultimate mind-f*ck that is being a clump of matter that knows it’s a clump of matter.
These former-inanimates have no idea what it is to be a woman, or the implications of being a woman in the company of a man, or what loneliness is, and frankly they seem better off that way. They’re like children endowed with the ability to articulate the experience of being children, and as outsiders, they’re the perfect teachers for the Ice King. Oh, but if only things were that easy.
And I actually thought it would be that easy. I was terrified that this would be the episode where we lost the Ice King as we know him, where he would come to grips with his hangups and take steps towards becoming whole, the way Lemongrab has, and we’d lose this window into what real social tragedy is, but thank god it didn’t work out that way, and Simon Petrikov remained the poor broken thing he’s been since the series began.
Ice King is enraged for a couple of reasons, firstly that his furniture thinks he’s lame, and secondly that he can’t understand a lick of what these rhapsodizing “book-lickers” (holy crap I love that phrase) are talking about. On one hand, we’re left sympathizing with Ice King again because he’s simply too stupid to relate to them, but on the other hand, he’s making no effort to listen. He hits the books half-heartedly to learn some snatches of nihilism and Aristotle, but then reverts to fart noises, and then name-calling when the fart noises don’t smooth over well with the microwave and the wineglasses. As his astute bass drum tells him, “Simon, I know you’re dealing with a lot of unresolved karma, but that’s no reason to lash out.”
At that point, the conversation turns into an intervention, and Ice King’s emotional inconsistencies are laid at his feet; they tell him straight that he’s an unhappy man, and catalog all the reasons he’s an unlikable creep (penguin milk as moisturizer?), forcing him into a sad corner. The tides of sympathy rebound back to Simon and stay there, as Lamp tries to reason with Ice King, telling him once again that he can try listening to the furniture and understanding their values instead of forcing his personality upon them. But Ice King simply doesn’t understand–he literally does not understand the individual words that are being strung into sentences in front of him, and so we’re back to the square one of Ice King being miserable by forces no one can control. Or maybe we’re not, it’s a tough call whether or not Ice King’s ultimately culpable or not.
While we’re definitely not sympathizing with Ice King for mistreating Life-Giving Magus, it feels like the furniture is laying it on a bit too thickly, especially when they start hitting him with the diapers he secretly cries into, and uttering insane lines like “We don’t like you, but we’re here for you.” That’s some cold-blooded business to say to someone who needs clinical help, and that’s the final straw. Ice King smashes the drawer that stole his Ice Crown, freezes them all, and throws them out the window.
At the episode’s close, Life-Giving Magus asks Ice King again if he’d like to be friends, as they dangle their legs over the windowsill and share some wiz-bliz slurpees together, and again, the Ice King refuses, preferring instead to socialize with his blithering idiot of a fanfiction come to life, a book containing nothing but his own self-serving fantasies.