The Annotated Adventure Time: The Unborn and Unfeeling Hell in “Football”

On Adventure Time‘s “Football,” BMO swaps places with his imaginary (?) friend/alter ego Football, but after a taste of the real world, Football doesn’t want to go back to his bathroom mirror. It’s the eponymous time again.

Usually, BMO’s just the little gameboy running around in the background while Finn and Jake take care of business, and so it’s easy to forget BMO episodes are among the most mindbending in the series. Even moreso than Finn, BMO represents a brand new consciousness that’s still enraptured by the basic experience of any sensation at all, much like children and newborns. As a little teal robot who loves play-acting as human in all forms, he’s enamored with every aspect of regular ol’ human life, and the typical BMO-centric episode takes this love to a disturbing extreme. In “Football,” the writers reiterate BMO’s love of life and everyday sensation by having him enact a role that exists without either, a role named ‘Football.’

Probably the most nagging thought in your head while watching “Football” is ‘Is this even real? I mean, no, right? BMO loves to pretend, Football is a pretend person, isn’t she?’ And once again, the writers frustrate your convictions by having BMO’s playacting feel so preternaturally real. Football is BMO’s imaginary friend, his own mirror image, who wants a day out in the real world, a request which BMO grants because of course, they love each other. But within the span of that day, Football is too enchanted by the experiences of the real world to go back to her cold bathroom world.

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More than anything, the presentation of the bathroom dimension give you second thoughts about Football’s apparent unreality. While trapped inside, BMO realizes that the mirror universe looks out into the real world, but only through the reflective surfaces in the Treehouse bathroom–everything in between is a blackness, like unrendered space in a room in a video game. The mirror universe is Football’s hell, which is the hell of no experiences except those of the self. When Football opens her eyes, she sees only her reflection, BMO himself; BMO’s senses in the real world, on the other hand, reach out and touch the sky, Jake, the planks of the Treehouse underfoot, etc.

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What’s curious about BMO’s mindgame is that Football is exactly like BMO in all aspects but the name. It isn’t as though BMO wants to play pirates or cops’n’robbers, he’s playacting as himself, with the only difference being that this self has no prior experience with reality. That is the only point of his game, and it makes perfect sense; BMO’s usually in love with life, and so a perfectly reasonable way to express that is to roleplay Football’s agony of experiencing ‘unlife’ in the mirror world, where there is nothing to see or feel but yourself.

The episode is also very much about being too old to understand or see the value in these arguably profound mental games. While BMO goes gallivanting as Football, Finn and Jake very much take it in stride, and seem accustomed to their little buddy’s eccentric fancies, though they don’t understand it. Much screentime is devoted to expressing their confusion and concern, which only highlights the divide between their mindsets. Growing older usually means we’re too far gone to grasp not only these games, but what they’re meant to highlight, which again, is how exceedingly odd everything is, the grass and the sun and stars. Well, at least to someone who’s never seen them before, which used to be all of us.

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Eventually, Football’s guilt at having tricked BMO gets the better of her, and after smashing every reflective surface she could find with a shillelagh (an Irish wooden cudgel, pronounced shi-lay-lee) and enduring punishment, she plunges from the Treehouse roof into the adjacent pond, thus returning BMO and depositing Football into that comparatively beautiful reflective world, from which Football can see the Treehouse and her ‘old college buddy,’ Carlos the Duck. The newly liberated BMO then rolls playfully on the nighttime grass, and gets to take it all in again, the stars, the air, Finn and Jake…

BMO’s game presents an interesting counterpoint to Bubblegum’s feelings about pre-birth back in the first episode of the season, “Bonnie and Neddy,” where she tells Finn and Jake how much she misses being in the “crowded womb” of the mothergum, along with other bubblegum consciousnesses, all cozy together. That was a love of being unborn, of still being one with all the other uncreated souls (if you wanna get esoteric and spiritual about it) rather than struggling and wandering, lonely and separate in the world. BMO’s view, on the other hand, is a defense of being born, being alive with your five senses, and being able to take it all in, even if it seems like adult life works to wear away the novelty.

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