Original Airdate: December 3, 2012
Written & Storyboarded by: Jesse Moynihan & Ako Castuera
There’s a certain amount of criteria that must be met for an episode of AT to rank among my all-time favorites. It needs to:
- Be different from the show’s usual formula, while still retaining the charm and delightful characterization of any regular episode.
- Capture everything that makes the series so special, including good humor, heart, charismatic characters, and thought-provoking material.
- Be unique to anything else I’ve ever seen on television.
While there’s certainly plenty of episodes that meet parts of this criteria, only a select few meet all three individual points. All the Little People, with its very dark and uncomfortable approach at capturing Finn’s constantly evolving adolescence, hits on all of these points. It still takes place in the Land of Ooo and follows the latest debacle of our two main heroes, but rather than fighting a physical enemy or solving some sort of quest, Finn instead has to battle with his own identity and how much control he should be able to have over other people. It gets heavy-handed and grim, but remains bright and colorful throughout, and still captures the quirkiness, heart, and depth of our main boys. And I can’t think of a single series that captures a teenager’s fascination with relationships, combined with the the act of manipulation and the question of power so delicately and perfectly. It lands right up there with Sons of Mars, I Remember You, and Incendium on my personal group of favorites.
Right from the title card, it’s hard not to be left with an ominous feelings of what’s ahead. The picture itself appears innocent and playful, as Magic Man designs toys (the Little People) of Finn and others. The music cue is what really makes the artwork feel significant and impactful. The entire episode’s soundtrack derives from the tune of a quarter-tone piano, and the title card itself includes a sample of it. Once the loud and hollow cue of a bass-drum goes off during this sample, you really get a feeling of “oh shit, something big is going down.” I don’t give the composers of this show, Tim Kiefer and Casey James, enough credit in these reviews, but they really did a stupendous job in particular with the score for this episode. The entire score feels unwelcoming, and really compliments the the tone and atmosphere of the actual episode.
The beginning of the episode starts off with a beautifully lit sunset, as the boys sit wistfully by a cliff and discuss relationships. I really love how the main story of this episode is set up by Finn asking simple and innocent questions about relationships and how they work. Though he’s involved in a committed relationship, Finn is only fourteen, and wildly inexperienced. He still has much time before he is able to grasp the fundamentals of a successful and healthy relationship, and still has many questions on how he will be able to achieve such a relationship. It’s interesting to see that, while he deeply cares for Flame Princess, it seems he may have some doubts about his relationship. He and FP have great chemistry, but still are wildly different in nature and interests. Jake, being someone who has tons of life experience and knows what a healthy relationship should consist of, gives Finn the most simple and surprisingly most logic answer of “just go with your heart.” It’s a sweet moment between the brothers that showcases the differences of the boys in the best ways possible, and clearly captures early on that Jake understands the matrix of relationships, while Finn may not be able to fully understand yet.
This is where Magic Man makes his brief entrance, while he enjoys the boys’ conversation and even shares a laugh with them. Even to this day, it’s hard to understand what exactly Magic Man’s motivation is, whether to teach Finn a lesson in responsibility, or simply to fuck with his life as always. There’s tons of different angles you can take with it, but probably my favorite is just simply the idea that Magic Man wanted to show Finn what it’s like to have power over other people. Magic Man is constantly ruining the lives of others and playing god by using his magic to determine the destiny of others, so he’s now showing Finn how easy it is to take things out of control and abuse the power one does have over other living beings.
Before Magic Man departs, he states, “I’m not coming back.”
And yeah, there’s tons of different moments I can point out to when it comes to allusions to Finn’s sexual awakening; Finn’s reaction to Jake noticing that he has something in his pants, the way Finn shakes the little people, yadda yadda. To mention it all would be somewhat redundant. It’s all there and all pretty obvious, but I think there are way more interesting bits regarding Finn’s identity as a hero and as person than just pointing to any scene that references Finn’s horny, teen urges. It’s a fun glimpse at how much they were able to get past the radar, but it’d be silly to waste a ton of time highlighting anything that y’all probably already thought about the minute you saw it.
The most interesting aspect is really just the way Finn interacts with the Little People. I enjoy how the Little People are versions of pre-existing characters we already know. They could’ve just went full-on Sims and had these miniature versions be any random customized figurines, but the fact that they are citizens of Ooo helps us connect to them more emotionally, while still being able to disconnect them from their grown counterpart. The Peanuts adult speech patterns of the Little People are cute and endearing, and really help to separate them from appearing to be sentient beings. As Finn continuously says throughout the episode, “they’re just toys,” which shows his ignorance towards understanding that the Little People are anything besides just that: interactive figures for the pleasures of Finn and Jake. Had the Little People been speaking English as opposed to their trademark “wa wa wa’s,” I think Finn’s actions would easily be more despicable and unpleasant, but the fact that the distinction is there makes it seem more understandable that Finn would want to use them however he likes. I mean, being honest, who wouldn’t want to interact with these characters the way that Finn is? Having a tiny bag containing little versions of all the people you know would be dangerously intriguing, which makes Finn’s decision to experiment with them more empathetic and less cruel.
It is noteworthy that, the first time Finn does choose to experiment with the Little People, he first checks to see if Jake is awake. It’s clear that Finn know that he’s doing something wrong, even if he’s not sure why. Whether he didn’t want Jake to wake up and see that he was destroying the miniature version of he and Lady’s relationship, or that he simply didn’t want Jake to know that he was experimenting with these figures at all, it’s clear that Finn’s fascination with these figures succeeds his desire to be morally correct and thoughtful in regards to his interactions. That’s why, when Jake does realize what Finn’s been doing the next morning, he’s noticeably freaked out. Probably the most shocking moment in the entire episode is Jake discovering the little Finn and little Rainicorn smooching, as Finn reacts apathetically to the entire situation. Finn acknowledges once again, “they’re just toys,” (while also reading a book by J.T. Doggzone that has the exact same quote from Jake in the beginning of the episode, hint hint) showing that, even though he’s spent an entire night seeing how the Little People would interact with each other, his desire to play with the Little People and see how their relationships with each other work out has only gotten worse.
This is where Finn’s manipulative side comes out in full force; it will later plague his life in ways he probably could never have imagined, but one of his greatest character flaws comes from simple curiosity and desire to have people’s lives follow in the ways that he’s most interested in. Like I said, when putting it in this context, it makes Finn seem like a monstrous, immoral jerk, but his ignorance toward the situation and general fascination are hard to pinpoint as truly sociopathic for a 14-year-old boy. Most of this intrigue derives from his initial curiosity with how relationships work in the very first frame: he’s simply invested in the unusual relationships he’s created with the Little People and interested in how they are able to function in certain partnerships. This, of course, includes an obligatory inclusion of the threesome between Lollipop Girl, Choose Goose, and Abracadaniel that everyone has been requesting to see for years. It refers back to my statement earlier that this episode manages to be very unsettling while also being silly and colorful. I can’t even describe my feelings of combined disgust and enjoyment with Turtle Princess spanking Xergiok’s behind. It’s also a nice return for some characters we really never get to see or haven’t seen since the very first season, even if it isn’t actually said characters.
Following this bit is probably the most interesting piece in the episode, which is Finn experimenting with the tiny FP and tiny PB respectively. It starts out innocently enough as Finn just casually and happily watches the two figurines romanticize with each other (much to the dismay of a crying little Lady; the first big indicator that the Little People are capable of real, human emotions). Things take a turn when Finn then begins to experiment with little PB and little Finn’s interactions, which quickly take the same direction as the prior encounter. I think the particular pacing in this part is just great; just from Finn’s facial expressions, there’s a lot to read into. He looks very concerned and troubled when little PB and little him begin to interact, perhaps due to the nature of his feelings and commitment to Flame Princess, which probably brings him a great deal of shame and guilt that he is pursuing this fantasy. He quickly shakes off the guilt when he notices that no one is watching, and continues to be invested on what will happen next. When little PB and little Finn begin to kiss, Finn is surprised. This is the first time he’s experiencing a mutual “hook-up” with PB, aside from when she was briefly 13, and even though it’s not actually him experiencing it, he’s still enticed and enthralled by the turn of events. This of course, is another big indicator that Finn still isn’t really over Bubblegum. Sure, the little version of himself and little Lady (boy, am I tired of putting “little” before every character’s name in this post) hooking up doesn’t mean that Finn is also interested in Lady. That was probably just an early experiment to test out all of the interesting connections he could make between the Little People. Yet, when little Finn and little PB do connect, Finn is obviously much more interested in seeing what happens with the two, and it’s clear he is living out some sort of fantasy through the Little People. Little Finn’s glory doesn’t last long, however, when little Flame Princess releases her anger against little PB, but Finn himself couldn’t be more interested. He’s understandably turned on by the idea of his two main flames fighting over him! Again, another very uncomfortable scene that’s balanced with some really great visual humor. I love Finn’s absolutely stimulated face throughout the fight sequence, and of course, the hilarious visual of little PB squeezing little Lady’s tears to douse little Flame Princess. That was priceless. It adds another bit of foreshadowing to the mix, showing Finn’s arousal to people fighting over him and an instance where he’d rather pursue his own needs of autonomy than follow a more logical and moral standpoint.
Finn finally does come to his senses upon Jake’s return. Finn begins to realize that these tiny people, whether toys, separate entities, or plain dark magic, are suffering, and they are suffering because of the way Finn has messed with their lives. Jake says it best:
This is messed up dude! You’ve crossed the line from weird curiosity into some dark, messed up stuff. The destruction, the depravity, the wrongness of it all!
The somberness of Jake’s words, combined with the horrifying transformative montage of a melting Peppermint Butler, a physically abusive Turtle Princess, and a mangled Goose-Abracadaniel-Lollipop threesome, really drives the point home. Jake told Finn how relationships work at the beginning of the episode: there aren’t designed perfect relationships for others, but rather the feelings people have for each other and what they choose to do with those feelings that define a healthy relationship. Finn chose to ignore that advice and play match-maker, which backfired for others as well as himself. Finn’s only choice left is to fix what he started, as he strives to do so often as a hero. Finn uses the new method he’s discovered to communicate with the Little People, and to correct the damage he’s caused.
After talking with little Finn, little PB, little Lady, and little FP, Finn simply states, “I’m not coming back.”
It mirrors Magic Man’s line from the beginning, and shows how similar, yet different the two are in terms of their power over other people. Magic Man uses his power to destroy and harm other lifeforms, and, instead of leaving these lifeforms in a safe place of comfort, he always departs with a message of hopelessness and pessimism. Finn had also used his powers over others to mess with and harm their lives, though unintentionally, yet he corrects those actions by fixing his dilemma and leaving the Little People on a note where they’re able to carelessly enjoy their lives. But still, it’s almost a bit of a paradox, because Magic Man did teach Finn a lesson and left him to carelessly go on with his life after correcting his mistakes, so it causes the statement to draw even stronger connections between these two characters. Regardless of intention, it’s really great to be able to have this connection between these two wildly different characters, and still have it feel appropriate with the story and each of their motivations. And of course, what better way to end on a happy note than to have a Little People dance party with Ice King and BMO really hitting it off? Can’t wait for the continuation of this relationship 110 episodes from now!
If there’s one sole thing I don’t like about this episode, it’s that Goddamn “16 weeks later” title card. Yeah, yeah, it’s a gag that lasts two seconds and probably shouldn’t be taken so literally, but AT takes place in a world of realism and has certain rules to abide by, and time is definitely one of them. This is something Jesse Moynihan seems to do a lot, and while I think it worked in an episode like Return to the Nightosphere, it really, really does not work here. I have a tough time believing that Jake went without talking to Finn, who is still in his sweaty, disgusting pajamas for 112 days. Also, if it was that long, why does everything feel like it’s only been a day? Little Lady is mourning over her relationship with little Finn as if it had just ended, with little PB also holding a similar grudge. Again, I get it, it’s a brief gag that’s only supposed to emphasize how freaked out Jake was by Finn’s actions, but I just don’t buy it. It’s a cheap gag that they really could’ve just removed completely. It’s not funny or entertaining enough to even include.
But, that minor gripe aside, boy, do I love this one! It really is such a rich character study of our main hero, taking him in places he’s really never been, and foreshadowing more awkward and intense drama that will follow in his early teen years. It’s an episode I love primarily for it’s atmosphere; everything feels very unsettling by Finn’s actions, the music, the situational pieces, and just the outlandish nature of the Little People in general. The entire episode feels like a Twilight Zone segment, in the sense that Finn is somewhat of the everyman. I mean, he typically can be seen as the everyman, but this example is probably the most notable in the viewpoint of a completely harmless activity gone terribly wrong at the hands of an normal, charismatic person. Finn does some awful, terrible things, but we still root for him because we know he’s in a situation that even the most level-headed person wouldn’t be able to resist. It’s one I never get sick of revisiting, and one that certainly has a high place on my all-time favorites list.
Hope everybody had a great holiday as well! Thankful for all of your readers out there who visit this blog every week to see me read way too far into a children’s cartoon like a giant nerd. There’s plenty of great content to come in the next few months, and I’m excited to continue on this journey through Season Five. Thanks everyone!
Favorite line: “You’ve crossed the line from weird curiosity into some dark, messed up stuff.”