Original Airdate: July 11, 2011
Written & Storyboarded by: Ako Castuera & Tom Herpich
Season premieres of AT typically take place following a cliffhanger set up in the prior season’s finale. The only exceptions are the first three seasons, but even then, season one and two had a much bigger scale in terms of their introductory episodes. Season one’s premiere obviously existed to introduce us to the Land of Ooo and the colorful characters within, while season two’s premiere (going off airing order for this example) introduced a new element of emotional sincerity within the characters, as well as a brand new villain. Season three disregards this formula completely and provides a simple, self-contained story. Nevertheless, Conquest of Cuteness is a very, very funny episode, and one that really kicks off the season on a high note.
This is Tom Herpich and Ako Castuera’s last episode working together as a team. As I had mentioned before, Castuera claimed that the two had trouble getting along as partners, but they still managed to put together some very well-written and creatively crafted episodes. It seems as though their styles blended together especially well for one final time, as there’s tons of terrific little gags and character moments throughout. I love the stuff with the now infamous Everything Burrito, the dysfunctional little cute people, Jake thinking a blanket is a dead goat, and just the general dilemma of the episode. Even tiny little bits, like how Jake’s burrito has a metal clang as he wraps it together. There’s no way it’s edible! For anyone who’s been watching the show religiously up to this point, it really feels like an episode for viewers to just appreciate the characters they’ve come to know so well and have grown so fondly of.
That being said, there’s some really nice atmosphere in this episode as well. There’s a sweet and subtle connection between Finn and Jake, as they bond over their appreciation for their mother. This is also somewhat of a changing point for the relationship between the duo, as they definitely begin to act more like brothers rather than best friends beyond this episode. It’s always endearing and somewhat poignant when the show takes a step back to allow these characters to breathe and just enjoy each other’s company, and this episode really takes advantage of those quieter moments. Also, we get to see Jake’s kickass sword again!
The more subdued atmosphere also allows for some horror elements to play out. Obviously the episode never commits fully to this theme, as the cute people are generally ineffective, but it’s actually a pretty interesting concept to watch Finn and Jake be messed with psychologically rather than physically. It’s almost something I wish was pushed a little further. It’s fun to watch villains who aren’t capable of doing anything, but let’s face it, that’s somewhat of a running theme in AT. We’ve never really gotten to see a villain who completely messes with Finn and Jake’s mental health, and this might have been a good chance to showcase that further.
Despite that claim, however, I do generally enjoy the direction for the remainder of the episode. I really like how stoked Finn gets to help the cute people win, and he does so in the most humorous way possible. I especially love how Finn mentions recruiting all of his friends to join him, and it ends up being LSP, Cinnamon Bun, BMO, and a duck. I can totally picture him calling PB or Marceline up and the two of them being all, “nah, fuck it, I’ll sit this one out.” I don’t really love the Cute King character that much. He’s okay I suppose, but at the same time, it’s easy to sympathize with him. The little guy just wants to raise hell, but his friends can’t stop falling apart and/or blowing up. It ends on a relatively sweet note though, and almost works as a good moral for the youngins. It seems like it’s sort of leaning towards “if you keep failing at something, just give up,” but also I could see it being analyzed as “there’s plenty of other talents you possess, even if one fails you.”
Whether it is or not, I just really enjoy this episode. It’s a premiere that doesn’t pile up big reveals or secrets to shove in your face, but it’s filled with so many gags and constant laughs that it’s hard to resist. It’s a wonderful return to watching the characters we love so much. From the minute Finn and Jake began to beatbox at the beginning, I knew I was in for a treat. Conquest of Cuteness sets the bar for a season that’s filled with many, many funny episodes, as some interlaced drama in between.