“Dungeon Train” Review

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Original Airdate: September 30, 2013

Written & Storyboarded by: Tom Herpich & Steve Wolfhard

Dungeon Train takes on an interesting perspective; while Too Old and Love Games dealt mostly with how Finn was reacting to his break-up, and Earth & Water dealt with Flame Princess’s point of view, this one revolves around how Jake is responding to Finn’s own sadness. The episode accomplishes such with pretty sympathetic results, and I think it’s a really heartfelt testament to just how much Jake cares about Finn. However, the content of this one can be a little bit middling.

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The beginning is really nice, albeit a bit scary. Finn’s clearly still sad about his girlfriend, but this episode carries across his feelings as legitimately depressive. Finn states, “I just been feeling kind of… gray, is all. Like my inside voice has been kinda quiet lately. Not a lot of instructions forthcoming, y’know?” signaling that this sadness he’s been feeling has led him in the direction of despondency and just genuinely feeling unmotivated. It’s sad to see that, as much as Jake wants to help, he’s just simply not always the perfect person to give Finn sound advice. That’s not to say that he never has given Finn positive advice, though often when confronted with raw emotion, Jake has difficulty expressing himself in the right manner that is supposed to cheer people up. He’s in the middle of possibly the happiest relationship he’s ever been through with Lady, so it’s most likely difficult for him to work up the proper response that will help Finn to move on. That’s where the Dungeon Train comes in.

The Dungeon Train is a very cool MMO-inspired battle platform with many cool foes for Finn to face (love the designs of the crystal ants and the hair apes; both of them would end up being standard foes in the actual AT video games). There also some cool bits of loot, especially the lightning sword. I know there would never be a proper outlet for Finn to use it, as he currently possesses the Demon Blood Sword and would acquire the Grass Sword right after, though the lightning sword is pretty well designed and has a very unique feature. Finn’s response to all that the Dungeon Train has to offer is quite endearing, and Jake’s response is even more endearing. Another instance of some terrific voice acting from John DiMaggio in this one, as Jake reads off some really poignant lines that I don’t think would have nearly been as effective without DiMaggio’s inflections. That simple utterance of “welcome back, buddy” before the fade to black is undeniably sweet and really shows how much Finn’s happiness means to Jake.

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Though, the fun is short lasting, as Finn slowly becomes engrossed, and quite frankly obsessed, with the actual dungeon train. Again, we’ve learned through a brief conversation in Earth & Water that Finn finds his sadness easier to cope with when he does have something to completely focus his time on. The dungeon train not only offers Finn something to focus all of his negative energy on, but it’s also something Finn genuinely enjoys doing. It’s an escape for him. The issue is that obsession of any kind, whether good or bad, is harmful. Finn is using this distraction to completely block out the hardships of reality and believes that if he simply keeps battling for as long as possible, he’ll never have to deal with his issues again. Whether this is true or not, this is what Finn sets out to do, much to Jake’s dismay. And this is certainly an interesting development of Finn’s character, though I think the actual events surrounding him are somewhat dull.

About five minutes of this episode includes Jake getting fed up with the dungeon train as Finn continues to pursue different challenges, and I couldn’t help but feel Jake’s pain a little bit. Not that I was legitimately frustrated by the episode, but I kind of grew tired of seeing the designs of the dungeon beasts and the repetitive nature of what the episode was trying to get across. It was all used as a means of showing how obsessive Finn was becoming and how tedious it was becoming to Jake, though there aren’t many jokes, interesting foes, or even a high sense of energy to carry it through. Definitely like what the episode was portraying, but not necessarily how it was executed.

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The episode picks up again as Jake befriends one of the hair apes on the top of train, as he ponders what his kids are doing at the moment. It’s another poignant line delivery from DiMaggio himself, and shows a bit into Jake’s frustrations with his own self. As he chases around his brother deflecting his emotions all day, his children continue to grow up around him, and he isn’t even there to watch them. Obviously he loves Finn and wouldn’t leave him to rot in the dungeon train, but there surely are some days where Jake probably feels the guilt and weight of being a parent, and isn’t even able to be with his kids half the time. Poor guy.

This all comes to a boiling conclusion as Jake angrily scolds Finn for becoming the very thing he sought out to destroy, while Finn shoots him with some nasty looking spider webs. This is where Finn, using the future orb that Jake had previously picked up, discovers that he will continue to explore the dungeon for the rest of his life, as Jake follows behind. I have a couple of questions here; so, is the orb a factual look into the future? Like, is this legitimately what the future holds? Because in that case, why is Jake still alive? Obviously Jake’s half-alien self prevents him from aging the same way a dog would, but he’s already decades older than Finn at this point in shapeshifting dog years. Maybe I’m nitpicking, but I just don’t buy that Jake would live to see Finn in his older years. That gave me a sad writing it. I do enjoy how this futuristic Finn once again contributes to the missing right arm allusion that the show has emphasized so heavily lately.

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But fortunately, Finn comes to his senses and returns to Jake (love the “very special” music here; it would later become a staple of the Grassy Wizard episodes). Finn acknowledges quite maturely that, while he realizes that he can’t stay on the train forever, he does want to stay on for another week or two. It shows that Finn isn’t completely ready to face reality, but he does know that he will have to eventually. And it’s especially sweet that he does so not just for himself, but for Jake. Jake, who selflessly stuck by Finn no matter what, did leave at least one positive lasting impression to his brother: that Finn cannot just simply focus on contributing to his own happiness, but the happiness of his loved ones as well.

Dungeon Train is decent. I think it has plenty of slow moments, but the overall connectivity of Finn and Jake is what carries it through quite successfully. I really dig the individual character exploration of the boys that this episode set out to do, and I think in return we got some really nice emotional performances from both Finn and Jake. I just wish the middle parts gave me a bit more to chew on. On a different note, this is the first time Flambo’s brother is mentioned, and it’s sad to think that he’s mentioned as many times as Flambo actually appears after this episode. I miss that little fire scamp.

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Favorite line: “What… is the meaning of ‘spoon’?”

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