On last night’s episode of Adventure Time, “On the Lam,” Martin the Human embroils himself in a rebellion between cute koala people and their green-skinned oppressors, and his despicable actions shed some light on Finn’s past. It’s the eponymous time again.
If there’s anything Adventure Time does especially well, it’s depicting terrible, broken people. The most depraved personalities on the series are my absolute favorites: every time Magic Man turns a baby into an orange, every Lemongrab shriek, every moment in Ice King’s slovenly bachelor life lights a candle in my soul. Consequently, I absolutely loved “On the Lam,” the first episode to focus exclusively on Martin, Finn the Human’s deadbeat father and the absolute champion of making obscenely amoral decisions. But aside from being a sadly entertaining festival of terrible, Martin’s actions also shed some light on his character’s why’s and wherefores, and hint at the circumstances surrounding his abandonment of Finn, the series’ primary boy hero.
The episode is a mishmash of Star Wars parodies: Martin finds himself on a desert planet much like Tatooine, doing prison labor while chained next to a little guy who looks much like an albino Ewok, whose compatriot rebels wear ammo magazines much like Chewbacca’s. When Martin’s plan to disable the guards and rob them of their golden helmets fails, the albino ewok’s rebel compatriots salvage the escape plot, and bring Martin back to their home village, which amounts to a dark crack in the desert wastelands.
I have to admit, I was on the edge of my seat for all the wrong reasons during the episode. While Martin was surveying the poor state of the rebellion, the sickly and shivering elderly, the penniless children, the giant moth and its milk that sustains the rebels, and especially his little albino ewok prison buddy, who clings to his beard like a little Monchichi doll and calls him ‘papa’… well, I honestly thought Martin might make good on his promise, and ride the giant moth into battle to save them from the green-skinned oppressors. He even comments on how much the little guy’s white skin and ears look remarkably like Finn’s bear-hat, and names him Martin 2.
Then he goes into the equivalent of Mos Eisley and sells the moth for beer money. Martin, you had me going for a second, but you came through in the end as the absolute worst, which begs the question, why make Martin so unbelievably, hilariously bad? What connection is there between Martin the Worst Human Father and Finn the Greatest Human Boy Hero?
The two certainly share a knack for physical prowess, brawling tactics and a can-do attitude, though Finn uses these selflessly while Martin focuses his optimism on relentless self-aggrandizement. Finn’s heroism stems from his role as the last human boy–he’s creative, optimistic, pure through his naivete, and all of these traits combined allow him to overcome obstacles by dint of willpower and the unpredictability of a child’s mind. But Martin is even freer, more chaotic, and arguably more childlike even than Finn, because of his complete lack of morals. He’s a newborn babe in a man’s body, who knows only to nourish his own pleasures, while questions of right or wrong are never even broached in his mind. Childishness is a big theme in the series, and Finn represents everything beautiful about being a child, while Martin represents mere childishness in comparison.
It’s unlikely that Martin knows he’s being callous as he sells the rebel moth to a merchant, while Martin 2 weeps into his beard. He tells the little guy to move on, and treats himself to some hard-won alien goop at a nearby bar, where the guards are plastering ‘wanted’ posters depicting his face. The barkeep sounds the alarm, and Martin and Martin 2 flee the scene and into the marketplace, where they’re cornered by guards.
From the barrel they’ve stowed away in, Martin’s faced with their ultimatum: whoever surrenders the rebel leader will be spared. He speaks to Martin 2, telling him that the only way out is for Martin to create a diversion while Martin 2 escapes, and while it might feel like an abandonment, he truly believes there’s no other recourse. The moment recalls the episode “The Visitor,” where Martin finally revealed to Finn vague details of their separation: somewhere and at some time, they were on a ship in storm together, where Martin fought hordes of sea-beasts to keep Finn safe. Finally they came to some sort of dangerous crossroads, and Martin took a path where Finn couldn’t follow, though he always meant to return for his infant son. It feels likely that Martin was telling the truth, both to Finn and to Martin 2.
But when the time for diversion comes, and Martin flings Martin 2 in one direction while running in the other, he realizes that the guards had been after Martin 2 after all, who wasn’t a baby albino ewok like Martin had thought, but a wizened elder. It wasn’t a blind, naive, childish love that made Martin 2 cleave to his human friend, it was the choice of a sharp and able adult. And I suppose that’s Martin’s rationale for abandoning Martin 2 to his fate, while he robs the treasury of the green-skinners and rides off into space with the rebel Moth.
The result is that Martin seems conflicted in his resolutions. While there’s no doubt that he has no qualms taking advantage of what he considers smaller, dumber, more trusting people than himself, it looks like he’s unwilling to completely abandon Martin 2 to the guards back when Martin thought he was a child, but as soon as he realized Martin 2’s “old as heck,” all camaraderie went out the window, as Martin believed the old guy could tough it out. Perhaps when he still seemed like a child, Martin 2 just felt too much like Finn for Martin to abandon him; perhaps Martin’s of the opinion that adults can be abandoned since they should be able to fend for themselves.
But as Martin flies off into space with obscene amounts of gold dosh, it looks like just for a second, he feels the hollowness of his lifestyle.