Season Three of AT is arguably the best combination between humor and drama in the entire series. Season seven comes close, but I think season three really manages to balance goofiness and intensity to a tee. I always stand by my belief that each season gets better as the show goes along, but really, this is as close to a perfect season for any series.
The humor was really spot on this time around. With episodes like Still, Hitman, and Another Way, the show has really come accustomed to a much sharper, rounded form of humor that goes beyond just uttering wacky catchphrases. The interactions between the characters are brilliant, especially episodes that deal with the relationship between Finn, Jake, and Ice King. I can’t remember laughing as hard as I did while rewatching episodes like Hitman or Still up to this point. And even then, episodes that aren’t primarily comedy based had a lot of great jokes and gags within them as well: Dad’s Dungeon, The Creeps, and Too Young had their own moments of precise hilarity.
Some episodes also introduced one of AT’s greatest elements in later episodes: their experimental nature. Fionna and Cake and Thank You both diverted majorly away from the show’s comfort zone, and took on topics and genres that proved to be largely popular in the outcome. It’s clear the crew was very pleased with these episodes, as it lead to some bigger experimentation later on, such as more Fionna and Cake stories, guest animated episodes, and the inclusion of side characters as the main focus of their designated episode.
Things took a dark turn in No One Can Hear You, which was a largely unfunny episode that was more focused more on creepy atmosphere and story than trying to shoehorn in jokes. Again, it was another creative choice that pushed the boundaries of the series on whether it could possibly work out not, which, again, proved to be a successful decision in the long run.
We also got a good chunk of particularly emotional episodes. Holly Jolly Secrets revealed the secret backstory of the Ice King through one of the most powerful sequences in the entire show, and Incendium focused on Finn’s crushed love life as he struggled to bounce back from getting rejected by Bubblegum for the final time. It was really nice for AT to divert from what a typical kid’s show is allowed to do by showcasing some of the more raw emotional circumstances and hardships of life. Even The New Frontier, which was a relatively silly episode, had a very heavy focus on the topic of death and whether we should handle it with open arms or ignore it completely. Little things like that are what really show why this series has such a large adult following, and how a good majority of viewers these days are adults themselves.
The teams were pretty great for this season as well. Adam Muto and Rebecca Sugar are once again the superstars of this season, crafting some of the most poignant and enjoyable episodes in the series (Morituri te Salutamus, What Was Missing, and Incendium). We also got the great new pairing of Ako and Jesse, who surprisingly worked very well together! They actually crafted a lot of the creepier and more atmospheric episodes this season (No One Can Hear You, The Creeps, and Ghost Princess) and while not all of them were big hits, they did manage to blend their styles together quite nicely. Tom Herpich and Bert Youn were a solid team as well, which leaves Kent Osborne and Somvilay Xayaphone as the weakest team once again. They did manage to create what is definitely the funniest episode of the season, Still, but their work never really stood out one way or another to me. Their styles just never really meshed that well together; Somvilay was all for more absurd comedy and visuals, while Kent is kind of a traditionalist when it comes to AT’s humor. I think Osborne himself works terrifically on his own later on, and Somvilay even found a better pairing with Seo Kim.
The character arcs this season are pretty well divided out: Finn begins experiencing some of the hardships of his teenage life, including his development of an inferiority complex, his acceptance that, one day, his best friend will die, and the painful tragedy of unrequited love. He still remains the goofball with a heart of gold that we’ve come so comfortable with, but it’s still very interesting to watch him experience his changing life around him, and the traumas that come with growing. Jake wasn’t entitled to a specific arc, but we do get a really good glimpse of his view on death and destiny in The New Frontier, which pretty much remains consistent throughout the show’s run. We get a good amount of episodes dedicated to Marceline, including hints of her backstory that are explored in Memory of a Memory, What Was Missing, and Marceline’s Closet. It’s all really cool to get even some hints of post-Mushroom War information through her past, and it only becomes more compelling and interesting from this point on. Unfortunately, we still don’t get too in depth with PB’s character arc, which doesn’t really go into full effect until the next season. The most we get to see out of her is through Too Young, where, during her time as a thirteen-year-old, she gets to enjoy time having fun with Finn, and we even get a look into her background as a the ruler of the Candy Kingdom. This single episode shows that PB finds being a ruler quite stressful, and sets up a good chunk of her story later on. Besides that, we only get to see her one-sided relationship with Finn (on Finn’s side, of course) and a glimpse into her rocky relationship with Marceline. It’s also unfortunate that we get to see a majority of the depth on Marceline and Finn’s side of the story and rarely ever get to see a view from PB’s point of view. This is handled better later on, but I still feel like PB is a bit underwhelming when it comes to true character development in this particular season.
And of course, the true star, the Ice King. The way he’s incorporated into this season is absolutely genius. There’s a handful of episodes that work towards developing the IK into a lonely jerk who simply wants to be friends with Finn and Jake in some of the funniest ways possible. Just when you think that concept can’t build up any longer, the big reveal occurs that Ice King’s crown is what caused a relatively normal human being into a crazy ice wizard, which completely changes the IK’s story into one of the most interesting arcs in the entire series. This entire season could simply be labeled as “The Best of Ice King”, because that’s truly what it is in my eyes: a terrific assortment of episodes that really do their damnest to make the show’s primary antagonist into one of the most sympathetic and endearing characters of all time.
Top 5 Best Episodes
5. Fionna and Cake – A dazzlingly beautiful episode that takes full advantage of an awesome experiment, as well as being the best Fionna and Cake episode to date.
4. Thank You – Another great experiment that’s a strong emotional experience, churning out one of the most heartwarming stories in the entire series.
3. Dad’s Dungeon – A totally kickass episode that showcases the relationship between Finn and his adoptive father, as he and Jake trek through the coolest dungeon to date.
2. No One Can Hear You – A rather creepy episode that feels like AT’s most prominent attempt at a psychological thriller, and one that succeeds in the very best way.
1. Incendium – A turning point for the series that puts an end to one of the first established relationships in the series, and one that’s filled with emotion, humor, and the introduction of a new major player.
Top 5 Worst Episodes
5. Marceline’s Closet – Not a bad one by any means, but one that feels a bit thin on any new light to put Marceline in, and thin on story as well.
4. From Bad to Worse – Not particularly strong in humor or story, and a very experimental one for Somvilay that slightly backfires.
3. Wizard Battle – Less of Finn trying to smooch on Princess Bubblegum and more wizard battles, dammit!
2. Paper Pete – A cute, yet mildly bland episode that I almost always forget immediately after I watch it.
1. The Monster – A spotlight debut for LSP that only brings out why she shouldn’t be in the spotlight of any episode.
As I mentioned above, this really is as perfect a season as you can get. The Monster is really the only episode from season three I could label as straight-up bad, and that’s pretty impressive from a package of 26 episodes. It continued to pushed the boundaries of what AT is capable of doing, and gave reasonable belief for viewers that the series wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. It really closed out the era of classic Adventure Time with a bang.