Seriously, how the heck do they do it? I suspect that there are tons of screenwriters working for grown-up live-action shows who would dearly love to hunt down Pendleton Ward and the rest of his gang of lunatics to learn their secret. Last night's two-part season premiere showed just how far Adventure Time has come in combining the show's great silliness with a mythos that's been getting deeper and more profound bit by bit.
On a functional level, last night's Adventure Time maintained the mythos/comedy divide pretty evenly, by sending Finn and Jake in different directions. The two heroes follow the Lich, who's possessing the body of the great hero Billy, into a kind of cosmic cube, where wishes get granted. The Lich wishes for the extinguishing of all life on Earth — but luckily, Finn and Jake are safe as long as they're in the cube. So Finn wishes, in turn, for the Lich never to have existed.
We see the consequences of Finn's wish play out over the course of both episodes, while Jake stays behind in the cube since he hasn't made his wish. And in true Joss Whedon tradition, the wish changes the past as well as the future, thus creating an alternate timeline. With really jacked-up art, that makes the whole thing seem way more jarring and disturbing. And funnier.
And a universe without the Lich is... different. It's not worse than the Land of Ooo, exactly, just less magical. Jake can't talk. There are other humans alive, and they're a pretty horrid lot for the most part. Finn has parents, who are pretty hapless at defending themselves from the evil Destiny Gang. The family is struggling to survive on a farm, centuries after the nuclear holocaust, and the Destiny Gang keeps coming and preying on them. Finn is forced to try and sell his beloved mule for money to pay off the Destiny Gang — but then he stumbles on the Ice King's crown. The Ice King is still Simon Petrikov, but apparently he died preventing the nuclear holocaust (or reducing its severity). The result was 400 years of ice age, followed by a slow thawing into the bleak world where Finn lives now. Oh, and Marceline is an old crone instead of a bouncy young vampire.
The whole thing is terribly sad, especially given all the callbacks to the stab-your-heart episode a while back about Marceline and Simon. And once Finn gets hold of the Ice King's crown, the results are predictably terrible and destructive, with madness taking over Finn pretty snappily. And meanwhile, the nuclear devastation that the Ice King had stopped is finally unleashed.
So the question is left hanging — what role did the Lich play in the nuclear holocaust? Did he prevent some of it, or make it worse? Did the Lich sacrifice himself in some way to save others, the way it looks like Simon did? And how did the Lich's presence lead to the post-apocalyptic world becoming the Land of Ooo? Can't wait to find out.
And meanwhile, there's comedy. Some of the comedy comes in the Finn sequences — cranky old Marceline is hilarious even as she's also super sad. The Destiny Gang are sort of a nutty parody of the sort of post-apocalyptic gangs that you see in so many 1980s movies, with their wacky sunglasses and their attempts to start fashion trends. Like crown pants!
But you have to admire the way the episode ratchets up the tension of what's going to happen to Finn while meanwhile showing Jake doing what he does best: partying like a fool. Jake wishes for a sandwich instead of some huge cosmic change, and this somehow proves that he's selfless or just extremely chill. Jake winds up partying in the hot tub with the wish-granting guy and the Cosmic Owl, and by the end of the episode, they're all besties even though Jake thinks that the wish-granting guy really needs a girlfriend. As so often seems to be the case, Jake saves the day just by being a nice guy and getting extremely lucky. The Lich's wish gets revised from "the extinction of all life on Earth" to "Finn and Jake go home."
When are we going to get to the bottom of this weird history about the apocalypse? And will the results be simultaneously as desolate and as hilarious as last night's two-parter? Paws crossed!