So in the latest edition of The Highlight Reel, I talk about Adventure Time. Chances are you may have heard of this show already, as it certainly has quite a sizable cult following who analyse every minute detail for hidden treasures. It’s the kid’s show that it’s cool for adults to watch, thanks to its expression of some mature themes in an innocent, childlike way. Death, nuclear war and even a harrowing depiction of mental illness are all common ground for a show that isn’t afraid to flaunt the dark heart that beats beneath its veneer of pastel colours and candy people. However, you may be one of the many who simply doesn’t ‘do’ children’s shows, or indeed animation in general. For those people, then (or maybe just for you who like reading blogs on the internet instead of doing work to help the economy out of the mire, but I’m not here to judge), allow me to give you a walkthrough of the latest episode from season 5 of Adventure Time, titled The Great Birdman, to let you in on what you’re missing.
The episode starts with Finn and Jake wandering through the desert, apparently on a mission to find the allegedly dangerous Great Birdman. Actually, that’s not quite true, as the episode actually starts, as usual, with a title card. This one happens to feature a hooded figure running across the desert, carrying a pair of detached eyes. How immediately terrifying. Now, if you’re using this episode as a jumping-on point for the series, it probably won’t win you over. Finn uses his holo-pendant (just go with it) to contact Princess Bubblegum regarding his mission, who informs him she’s under the sea trying to stop depressed mermaids from beaching themselves. “Turns out they’re just lonely. Haha!” she states, cheerfully. Finn promises to hang with them later and hurls his pendant across the horizon. And there you have it, the set-up to the episode, all wrapped up inside 30 seconds with some mad science, magic and suicidal mermaids. You can’t say they’re not efficient with their plotting, but it does make it all a little impenetrable for the uninitiated.
As you might expect from a desert-based episode, they soon get lost and start suffering hallucinations. When the pair come around, they’re being cared for by a bearded old goblin in shades. In a show of continuity unlike most other kids’ shows, this old feller is actually a character from a past episode – he’s Xergiok, the former goblin king who was deposed by Finn and Jake over his love of spanking goblin “hams”. See the well-defined Adventure Time moral compass in action. Spanking hams is bad! Obviously the writers have never been in a Doncaster nightclub, but that’s neither here nor there. Turns out Xergiok is a changed man – er, goblin – in more ways than one. He “miffed off a wizard” (presumably in some ham-spanking incident gone awry), who promptly took out his eyes.
Well, that’s only the most terrifying thing I’ve ever seen. Seriously, the human body is programmed to get awfully squeamish about thing messing with eyes. It’s an old psychological response to protect the softest, squidgiest, most sensitive thing on our face, and yet Adventure Time is quite happy to have this goblin flaunting his empty, shrivelled old sockets on daytime TV. I’d say you have to admire their balls, but apparently that’s impossible because they’ve been schlorped right out of their head. Anyway, it turns out that this wizard, for some reason, decided to just leave his eyeballs stuck in his beard. The cutesy dialogue just about manages to distract from the Cronenberg-esque horror that’s unfolding as Xergiok insists that he’s a nice goblin now, with no desire to smack anything, let alone hams. He’s taken to living as a hermit and building a psychic connection with the bird creatures of the mountains (this will be the last time I’ll say just go with it, if you’ve read this far I’ll assume you are suitably with it as it is).They all leave as Finn and Jake discuss whether to inform him of the location of his eyes (“they were just hanging there, it was driving me nuts!” Jake comments, as if it were a piece of spinach stuck in someone’s teeth) and question whether he really has changed.
Anyway, you know how earlier, I described the eyeless Xergiok as the most terrifying thing ever? Well, that record lasted all of 90 seconds. There is a sequence in which the goblin feeds his baby birds, and while I could just leave it there and let all the possibilities of what that might mean fester in your brain, I’ll just add that the exact phrase “suckle suckle” is used. My reaction was not too dissimilar from that of Finn and Jake.
After this, Xergiok goes to rest after imparting his, ahem, fluids to the birds, so Finn and Jake snoop around for clues. They find a bunch of messages (carved in Braille on a stick, how’s that for a way around a potential plot hole) thanking him for donating his kidneys to a hospital, saying they “fit great”. Now, this sentence worries me a little. KidneyS? Not just Kidney? Do goblins have more than two kidneys? Did Xergiok donate all his kidneys, sentencing himself to certain death? Or did he just find the kidneys lying around somewhere? WHERE DID HE GET THOSE KIDNEYS!? I MUST KNOW!
Sadly, we never get to know, but we’re soon given another lovely image to make us forget as, in the process of their snooping, Finn and Jake startle a sleeping bird which flees, bashes its head on the cave ceiling, and breaks its leg on the way down. Ouch. The leg-break is particularly nasty, coming with a very not-PG celery crunch sound effect. Xergiok soon comes running and uses his psychic powers to swap his own leg with the mangled leg of the bird! “Ooh, yeah, that hurts baby!” is his frankly worrying response. Presumably delirious with pain he goes on some bizarre, Dennis-Hopper-in-Apocalypse-Now-style hippie rant where he declares himself nothing but a vessel to carry friendship to everything even the dirt. “Hello friends. GO FOR A RIDE,” he says. TO THE DIRT.
Finn and Jake decide to finally tell him about his eyes, and Xergiok declares that he wants to go flying with them on his birds, so the first thing he sees can be the desert sunset (BUT HOW DOES HE KNOW?). In the sky, he pops his eyes back in and proceeds to go on a psychedelic music trip where he sees himself in the sun, and then flies into his own mouth while screaming “POWER” as if he’s Jeremy Clarkson on some horrendous cocaine bender. Honestly, I have nothing more to add to that.
As he reminisces about the past, when he had his eyes he seems to get a little bit too excited about smackin’ dem goblin hams. He soon caves to temptation and returns to the goblin kingdom. Now that he’s wiser, he says, he can rule as king again. Well, that certainly seems reasonable, nothing wrong with that.
Yes, Xergiok’s old ham-spankin’ ways resurface, and now he has an army of birds to help him! He uses his powers to transfer his (that is, the birds’ mangled leg) onto Jake, but alas, the goblin doth spank too much. In his eagerness, he begins smacking the nose of the bird (“that’s sorta like a butt”, he postulates), which soon deserts him. Struck by his realisation that he’s “hitting bottom again” (is it cool to use addict-speak on a kid’s show, even in the form of a cute pun?), Xergiok breaks down and swaps his and Jake’s legs back. And then he whips his eyes clean out of his head. A little extreme, I feel, but effective. Maybe the modern justice system could use some sort of eye-based barter system. Maybe.
Finn pops the eyes back in Xergiok’s beard. Xergiok says his goodbyes and walks into a nearby lake. “Maybe he’s thirsty?” muses an onlooking guard. “Oh no, he’s just sad” the guard realises, as Xergiok dips below the surface. Wow, these goblins must have seen some pretty dark shit if they’re completely cool with witnessing a suicide of someone they know. I’ve been more broken up than these guys are when I dropped a slice of toast on the floor, but whatever. We’re all different.
BUT WAIT! Maybe they know something we don’t because Xergiok rises to the surface, riding on the back of… one of the sad mermaids from the beginning! BAM! How’s that for Chekov’s gun? “I’ve got a new girlfriend!” Xergiok yells. Presumably he’s delighted that he can finally put his ham-smacking expertise to more appropriate use (as long as it’s not on public transport, that’s just weird). The mermaid lets out a song as the show ends.
So, yeah. That was The Great Birdman. Hopefully this blow-by-blow analysis has sort of opened a few eyes (no pun intended, honest) as to the sort of thing this wonderful show is about. It’s delightfully weird and wilfully bizarre, but really, that’s half the charm. It’s done with a heart and a real innocence, even when discussing the darkest of topics that makes it impossible to dislike. It requires serious suspension of disbelief, but honestly, if you’re not willing to do that, you need to question why. The real world sucks, and The Land of Ooo is so much better. Time to get with the program.
Do give it a chance if you haven’t already, it’s on Cartoon Network every day, with new episodes released every Monday.