The theme song of the eight-part Adventure Time miniseries that just concluded, “Stakes,” is called “Everything Stays,” and it’s about how things remain where you left them. Sort of a fitting theme for a series about change and how everything goes in cycles.
“Stakes” is basically about Marceline the Vampire Queen deciding she doesn’t want to be a vampire any more—so she gets her friend (and possible girlfriend) Princess Bubblegum to remove her vampire essence. Unfortunately, this leads to all the most powerful vampires that Marceline killed back in the day coming back. We learn about how and why Marceline rid the world of vampires, as she hunts them down one by one. And Marceline sort of makes peace with her past, sort of.
This is very much a miniseries about the illusion of change—at the end of it, Marceline is a vampire again, and Princess Bubblegum even appears to regain her throne in the Candy Kingdom (after having been deposed by the King of Ooo at the start of the season.) Everything is back where it started—but the characters have been changed by their experiences.
This is a brand new song by Rebecca Sugar, who wrote all the best songs on Adventure Time (and crafted a lot of the best episodes) before she went off to start Steven Universe.
And speaking of which—there is so much insane gorgeous imagery in this episode, including a ton of really fantastic dream sequences. This show is really pushing its limits in terms of pure visual artistry.
So the theme of change, and the illusion of change, is really at the heart of what this miniseries is about. After Marceline has staked all the other ancient uber-vamps that have come back in the wake of her cure, she faces the Vampire King, who wants to convince her that he’s changed and no longer wants to be a vampire in this new world. And they talk about how she’s lived 1,000 years, and has seen that the same events repeat, over and over, because nobody else lives long enough to stand back and see the pattern the way she can. So the Vampire King wants to break the cycle in which he dies and she becomes a vampire again—by subjecting himself to the same de-vamping process that Princess Bubblegum subjected Marceline to previously.
Amazingly—and in a bold move—the Vampire King isn’t lying, or pulling some kind of trick, which is something that almost any other TV show would have defaulted to. (Looking at you, Doctor Who, with your “Davros is repentant” schtick.) In fact, for a moment, it seems as though Marceline and the Vampire King have actually managed to change their destinies. The Vampire King has turned into a cute lion, and Marceline managed to stay human. Of course, it can’t last, because of Princess Bubblegum’s perennial habit of delegating every important task to a candy minion who’s either incompetent or secretly evil, or both. (In this case, Peppermint Butler, who spills the Vampire King’s vamp essence and unleashes an evil dark cloud monster.)
And meanwhile, we’re learning about Marceline’s origins, which continue to get more fascinating the deeper we delve into them.
Basically, Marceline became a vampire-hunter after she was left alone by Simon, who was on his way to becoming the Ice King. It’s yet another heart-rending scene between Simon and Marcy, in which the Ice King flees from Marceline because he knows he’s losing his mind and he wants to protect her. “But how can you protect me if you’re not here?” she asks. She finds an old man who looks sort of like Simon, but it’s just a random human who sees her staking a vamp and is scared of her. So she decides the way she can honor Simon and wait for his return is by killing off all the other vamps. Eventually, she even joins up with a band of human survivors who are trying to escape the fallout of the Mushroom War.
And that’s how she finally faces the Vampire King and gets turned into a vampire, in the process of killing him.
The stuff with Simon comes full circle at the end—Marceline is despondent after her attempts to free herself from the vampire curse have led to a giant black cloud attacking the countryside. She no longer believes there’s any point in trying to make a difference, because things will always turn out the same way no matter what. Until Simon shows up and tells her that she’s right, and the best thing to do is run away and hide—because she and Simon are cockroaches, or rats, they survive no matter what.
So Marcy realizes that she’s doing to her friends the same thing that Simon did to her, which started this whole mess. But also that the notion of change being an illusion is sort of an artifact of surviving at all costs. And she goes and takes the vampire essence back inside herself—but things have changed. She’s more in touch with her feelings again, and she’s grown up. And she hints that she and Princess Bubblegum may have a long future together, in a sweet scene.
And yay for the King of Ooo getting his just desserts (pun intended) from the Candy Kingdom. Fuck that guy.
There’s been a certain amount of Adventure Time fatigue among some of my friends lately—a sense that the show is still beautiful-looking and fascinating, but the story isn’t moving forward any more. It’s sort of stuck in a holding pattern, since Finn met his dad. But the storyline where Princess Bubblegum lost her throne felt like a really interesting direction, since it all came out of the Cosmic Owl screwing around in her dreams, and I’m interested to see where the show goes next. Plus, this miniseries really feels like a rejoinder to the people who complain the show isn’t moving fast enough with its plots—maybe change isn’t permanent or dramatic on this show, but at least the characters are never the same at the end of each revolution of the wheel. And it does feel like they’re growing up, slowly.