Original Airdate: September 5, 2011
Written & Storyboarded by: Adam Muto & Rebecca Sugar
A bit of background for this episode: the characters of Fionna and Cake were created by storyboard revisionist Natasha Allegri (as I’m writing this, it’s actually her birthday. Happy birthday, Natasha!). Allegri put the characters in several different humorous comic strips, and Pendleton Ward liked ‘em so much he said, “fuck it, why not make a whole episode around these two characters?”
That’s where Fionna and Cake comes in, the show’s first big experimental challenge. The thing about Fionna and Cake as characters is that it would’ve been so easy to just make them carbon copies of Finn and Jake. Adam Muto and Rebecca Sugar took it one step beyond that. Fionna and Cake become fully defined characters in the course of 11 minutes, and the Land of Aaa feels like its own entirely realized world, despite it being fictitious. That’s what works so greatly about Fionna and Cake; it is just like fanfiction, and can take characters, relationships, areas, and so on wherever it pleases. This episode is pure, illuminating enticement, from brilliantly using characters we all know and love and slightly altering them to giving us a legitimately well devised plot that would work entirely in a standard episode of the show.
As I mentioned, Fionna and Cake themselves are gender swaps of Finn and Jake that take on almost entirely different roles, but still retain attributes of the boys that inspired their creation. Fionna is very independent and even more mature than Finn, but maintains her love of adventure and excitement. This also works with her gender swap as well: she’s much less interested in what society stereotypes in terms of how women should be portrayed and more interested in what she loves to do, that being swinging swords and fighting bad guys. In addition, Cake’s possibly the most defined of the Fionna and Cake cast, and the most different from her male counterpart. Cake’s loyalty to Fionna and her relationship advice pose similarities to Jake, but she’s much more outspoken, sassy, and spunky. When it comes to others, there are minor differences, Gumball’s very proper demeanor and Ice Queen’s downright villainous persona, but part of the fun is just the way the two main leads work off of these characters. This episode captures pretty much all the AT typicalities: Fionna’s crush on Gumball, Ice Queen’s desire to marry Gumball, Cake and Lord Monochromicorn’s interest in each other (there’s an exclusive vinyl of the two that I’d give anything to have, but alas, I am a broke college student), and so on.
What really works beyond anything else in this episode is just how naturally it flows. A lot of the time with experimental episodes of television, I find myself in a brief moment of disbelief, no matter how good said episode might be, of whether it connects to the world of the series enough or has a chance of succeeding by pushing the boundaries so drastically. Right off the bat, Fionna and Cake takes you right into the action. It doesn’t take the time to introduce individually to everyone because, as I continuously mention, we already know these characters in a way. The idea that we’re able to so easily adjust to something that’s so wildly different, yet exactly the same, from the standard episode of Adventure Time is so delightfully pleasurable and only helps the viewer enjoy every bit of the journey a little bit more.
Aside from that, it’s just generally a really fun episode. There’s plenty of great jokes, primarily from Cake (love the bit with her and Monochromicorn out of breath). The song Gumball sings to Fionna is a catchy and sweet homage to Aladdin that gives the entire episode a big, sweeping cinematic feel. And, as I mentioned, just the general interactions between the characters. I really love the honesty of Fionna during her time with Gumball (“dude, that was like, the stupidest thing ever”) and just the fun of seeing all of the various gender swaps. A character like Marshall Lee, who became so popular off of less than five seconds of screen time, shows how enjoyable it is to be able to see pre-existing characters who you still don’t know a single thing about. They can be anything you want them to be in that sense, and you’re able to allow the mind to create whatever canon you please. Although, I think Lady Cinnamon Bun deserves more love. Was her inaudible dialogue with Gumball simply not enough? Also fitting is the addition of Gingerbread Rebecca taking Gingerbread Muto’s spot in the opening theme, especially considering the two worked together on the episode. Even little things, like the lack of change for BMO and Ice Queen’s penguins, are really nice touches that are so subtle that they may be overlooked.
The scene when faux Gumball brings her to his room is straight out of a horror movie, even dealing with the uncertainty of Fionna when it comes to intimacy. Finn is awkward and hesitant when it comes to his relationship with the Princess, but I always believe his reaction would be slightly different in this scenario. Maybe I’m just reading way too much into a brief moment, but I really think that Finn would look at this instance with shyness, but acceptance, whereas Fionna expresses briefly that she’s most likely uncomfortable.
Of course, she’s made even more uncomfortable when Gumball is revealed to be the Ice Queen. This whole sequence is some of the best animation in the entire series. It’s a thrilling battle between good and evil, equipped with just the right balance between the two that Ice Queen actually comes across as a threatening villain. It’s slick, smooth, and flowing, right down to the moment when Fionna smashes Ice Queen’s head in with her frozen hands. Once defeated, the scene when Cake runs in and attacks Gumball when she see’s Fionna’s ripped dress is another moment of significance. I could totally see Jake walking in and acting like Finn’s weird uncle and just giving him a simple thumbs up or a wink, but the gender swap allows for some interesting views of cultural differences that apply to our real world as well.
Finally, the ending reveal that the entire episode was a mere story from Ice King’s fanfiction. This pissed a lot of people off, but honestly, that makes it all the more interesting to me. Not only that Ice King wrote a surprisingly coherent piece of work outside of the ending, but it’s just really fascinating to view the entire story from Ice King’s perspective. His depictions of the characters are especially intriguing, right down to the fact that he wrote Ice Queen as a straight up villain. It almost makes you wonder if he believes this of himself, and Fionna’s line of “be careful! You might catch her crazy!” makes me question if deep down, Ice King subconsciously does know truths about himself that he wouldn’t consciously realize otherwise. There’s also the really creepy notion that Fionna is kissing Ice King in the cover, so I don’t know what to make of that, besides the more endearing version that Ice King simply likes the idea of Finn and Jake worshiping himself, rather than resenting him. That’s the fun part with future Fionna and Cake episodes. They are all told from a certain person’s perception (albeit the most recent one) and it leaves more room for analysis and allows us to unintentionally explore the author’s psyche.
All in all, I really love this one. It takes full advantage of the opportunity at hand, and goes one step beyond by giving us one of the most beautifully crafted episodes to date. This is truly my favorite of the Fionna and Cake saga. There are a couple of other goodies, but I think this one particularly crafted so much from so little. It’s an episode I never truly get tired of watching. Terrific character explorations, nice animation, terrific writing, lovely music (all thanks to a sweet hammered dulcimer), and genuine fun: it’s simply Adventure Time in its truest, most passionate format.