Original Airdate: July 3, 2014
Written & Storyboarded by: Jesse Moynihan
As Jesse Moynihan stated, about half of Something Big derives from the scrapped 45 minute Adventure Time TV movie. A bit of background about this TV movie for anyone who isn’t in the know: the 45 minute special was created about midway through season five, but its parts were so dissonant from each other and it didn’t have a cohesive ending, so it was scrapped entirely. Jesse suggested that they try and cannibalize said parts into individual episodes, which is where Something Big came from. I’m really hoping that storyboarded segments of the scrapped special are posted online by the staff eventually, I’d love to see what it was like regardless of quality. But anyway, Something Big gives us a look at how colossally huge, and colossally messy this story could have been. Seriously, some of the set pieces in this episode are terrific, but it unfortunately feels like one big disjointed mess.
The episode begins with the Candy Kingdom in full-out war, a revolt led by none other than Maja the Sky Witch (who now has eye-whites for some strange visual reason). And, one of the first developments in the plot we get is that Captain Root Beer Guy sacrificed himself after setting up the force field to contain Maja and Darren, the Ancient Sleeper. Well, okaaay then. That’s one way to start off an episode! In all honesty, I think this was a pretty mediocre way to kill-off such a likable side character, but it’s not even really his death that bothers me. RBG had his star appearance in Root Beer Guy, and while I enjoyed that episode and his character thoroughly, I felt like I didn’t really need to see more of said character outside of his debut episode. Yet, the reason for his death is incredibly stupid to me. According to Jack Pendarvis, Root Beer Guy was killed off in an attempt to make the Banana Guards’ incompetency more believable. Just… what? Just because Root Beer Guy is an intelligent commander doesn’t mean that the Banana Guards have to be more educated as a result. It could’ve actually lead to more comedic opportunities if RBG tried to influence the Banana Guards, but to no avail. The reason Pendarvis gave just kind of comes off as a lazy excuse. Furthermore, the Banana Guard Academy comic series, which was written by Kent Osborne, tries to explain Root Beer Guy’s (nearly) permanent death, as PB states that “sometimes, Candy People are so special that you cannot bring them back.” I know it isn’t canon, but that reason is even more ridiculous! Only non-special Candy People are brought back? So PB cloned James 22 times simply because he was un-special enough to go through said treatment? How the fuck does Cherry Cream Soda feel that Bubblegum has all the technology in the world to bring her dead husband back to life, and still doesn’t? A load of bologna, I tell ya!
Enough about that, let’s get back to the actual episode. After Crunchy explodes from absolute fear (a nice callback to the rarely mentioned plot point from Slumber Party Panic), we’re treated to a flashback sequence where Maja summons Darren, and it’s pretty spectacular. Darren’s an awesome character; his design really reminds me of the similarly awesome beasts from The Suitor, and his lack of knowledge regarding the current state of the world is both humorous and kind of mythological. I like how Darren knows only life and death, and I really wonder if his existence dates back to before time even existed, where, as the Lich mentions in a later episode, there were nothing but monsters. It’s quite likely, and pretty cool to see that Darren is mostly an anti-hero rather than an absolute source of evil. He doesn’t have any motivation to want to destroy the Candy Kingdom, he simply goes off of instinct. And his instinct is to cause destruction and, likewise, success for himself. It’s pretty funny to see Darren and Maja work off of each other as well; Darren is dramatic and foreboding, while Maja is more playful and bratty. Maja doesn’t want to take over the world or travel across different dimensions. For whatever reason, she simply wants to conquer the Candy Kingdom, though Darren can’t seem to wrap his mind around such a simplistic and motive-driven act. Aside from a character and writing aspect, the scene is a visual treat. It’s lit terrifically, the angles are great, Darren’s size and scope are really felt through his absolutely massive structure, and there’s cool little details, such as how everything begins to move in slow motion when Maja summons Darren. Of course, I get immediate Gravity Falls vibes during said sequence, though I’m sure this was unintentional.
The next few scenes focus strictly on the war aspect of the episode, as Darren calls upon these somewhat generic looking pink beasts that come out of a portal in eggsacks. Colonel Candy Corn also mourns over the death of his wife and how chicks his age aren’t into dating. It’s alriiight, but it also kind of slows down the overall intensity of the episode. I do enjoy PB’s distant attitude toward his sorrows, and how Peppermint Butler actually tries to help him out a bit. Pebut might be a dark dude, but he’s pretty nice guy when it comes to his fellow candy brethren.
The purely action-based sequences are decent, with some moments really shining, and others that are just subpar. Of course, Adventure Time isn’t an action show, so I don’t really expect top-of-the-line fight sequences. The bits where Darren’s minions are blown up by candy material are nothing special, though, Colonel Candy Corn’s jump into action is pretty awesome. It features some good dynamic shots, some nice sword slicing, and the old veteran in probably his coolest appearance.
Of course, the Candy Kingdom can’t hold off Darren for long, as he nearly destroys PB, until Finn, Jake, and the Ancient Psychic Tandem War Elephant come to the rescue! It was cool to see Elie get a prominent appearance after his return in Furniture & Meat, and it makes sense that Finn and Jake would conjure up the idea to utilize him after only recently remembering his existence. I think it’s pretty cool that Darren and Elie know each other, and how they both can’t seem to grasp how the current state of the world actually works. Both are beasts from a different time period, and can’t wrap their heads around basic concepts such as feelings, purpose, and free will. As the two face off against each other, they prove to be equal opponents in power as well. It isn’t till Finn is launched into Darren’s brain stem (through another solidly animated and framed sequence) that he’s able to defeat the ancient beast. Darren quickly utters “thank you” before his ultimate demise. It’s a bit of a profound moment, showing that Darren would much rather cease to exist than to live in a world he doesn’t understand or comprehend. In a way, Darren is able to adapt to the current universe paradoxically; though he feels like he is not able to survive in a world where he cannot go off of his basic instincts, he expresses gratitude through experiencing death, showing that he is capable of feeling and showing emotion on some level.
So the day is saved, the Candy Kingdom is returned to its former state (with the exception of the deceased RBG) and everything is resolved. Buuuut, there’s nearly four more minutes left in the episode. At this point, the episode’s tone shifts almost entirely, and completely cuts out any war or action elements to focus on the inner struggles of the Ancient Psychic Tandem War Elephant. This is where Moynihan’s tweaking really shows… it almost feels like a transition into an entirely different episode. While the motif of purpose and meaning that Darren pondered is carried across into Elie’s struggles, I still feel like it’s a bit too disconnected in the way its executed to really work coherently. Darren’s issues were kept subtle and mostly humorous in the background of an all-out war, so this transition into Moynihan’s more poetic and philosophical just feels… odd.
That being said, I think Elie’s story is generally interesting regardless. APTWE doesn’t even have the same pleasures that Darren has; Darren is able to base his decisions of destruction off of his own instincts, while APTWE isn’t able to bring himself to do just about anything without being ordered to do so. He doesn’t understand purpose or will on any level, he simply wants to be commanded to fight, as that is all he was created to do – or so he thinks. As he views the world around him, he observes the lives of an ant and birds, two creatures who also do not necessarily have free will, but still make decisions based off of their instinct and intrinsic purpose regardless. He then observes the sun, who drops this bit of enlightenment.
“I’m more ancient than you. Someday, I will engulf the solar system. What was and what will be are meaningless. Meanwhile, you should wonder: are you just a two-headed pile of meat on a crash course with the cosmic dump? Or do you contain the soul memory of a million dead stars? How do you light a candle without a match?”
Essentially, APTWE is wondering if he was simply born to die, or if he has greater purpose during his existence on Earth. Without said match, the candle has no purpose. APTWE wants to find a create meaning in his life, but does not understand what to do with this newfound purpose yet. This is where he recruits Maja, of whom he may team up with to destroy the Candy Kingdom, though he hasn’t decided yet. As APTWE mentions, he must be the match and the candle, meaning he has to decide what is best to do with the gift of life before he makes a hasty or wrongful decision. Maja’s less than enthusiastic, as the two fly off together and cause a sentient leaf to fall to the ground, where a caterpillar crawls over to eat him up, as a means of showing the caterpillar’s instinctive purpose in contrast to the leaf. The leaf didn’t plan for such a path in his life, though life often takes us in unexpected directions. APTWE, a creature who was originally designed for only one purpose, is able to discover a new sense of self-worth through his experiences and adapt to a new way of life. Shoutout to this story arc for only returning once in a brief throwaway joke! Seriously, I liked the angle they took on APTWE’s character in this story, but it just feels so incomplete without a proper payoff. Of course, there’s still a possibility that the two characters will return in the hour long finale, though I guess we’re just going to have to wait another three years to find out.
This episode’s frenetic pacing makes it a bit difficult for me to praise it as a unit. You’ve got high-stakes battle scenes, mythological flashback sequences, some distracting lighter sequences like Colonel Candy Corn’s melodramatic life story, and the out-of-nowhere Elie subplot thrown in at the last minute. This one feels like what people criticized Betty for; where Betty was fast-paced and didn’t really have a chance to breathe, I still think it managed to tell its tale in the best way possible. Something Big feels like three or four different stories that are battling each other for attention. Yet, I still enjoyed most of this episode. I think it had its weaker moments, but it kept my attention throughout, and offered some genuinely insightful and unique elements along the way. I’d rather have a clusterfuck of an episode that’s enjoyable than an episode with one solid story that’s a complete snorefest. Something Big is frenetic and probably doesn’t work as a coherent story overall, but it has some pretty great bits, namely anything with Darren and Ancient Psychic Tandem War Elephant. And as miffed as I was when Root Beer Guy died, I’d be even more miffed when he was eventually revived one season later…