“Billy’s Bucket List” Review

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Original Airdate: March 17, 2014

Written & Storyboarded by: Ako Castuera & Jesse Moynihan

We’ve seen Finn at his absolute lowest during this particular half-season, and the little guy has certainly been through a lot. He not only lost his girlfriend of whom he deeply cared for, but also battled quite heavily with his own identity, to the point where he begins to lose himself in his own insecurities a bit, as shown in episodes like Rattleballs and The Red Throne. It’s clear that Finn has regained a bit of his happiness and self-confidence in Billy’s Bucket List, however. He’s rapping away with his admirable rival Rap Bear, and has the support of his friends and his acquaintances behind him. The ending of this episode, however, opens up an entirely new wound that would send Finn into an new state of depression and existentialism when he’s faced with the one person he likely never expected to meet: his human father.

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I enjoy the silliness of this episode’s introduction; I’m never really a huge fan of when AT incorporates rap into their melodies, because it often comes off slightly awkward and never actually catchy (Regular Show was able to do rap episodes much better), but this instance is goofy enough to be enjoyable. And again, it’s nice to see Finn back being proactive and entertaining. Steve Wolfhard once mentioned that the previous episode, Lemonhope, saw Finn at his absolute dumbest (spurting loud noises and referring to cupcakes as “cup cups”) and while I don’t think it was to that episode’s detriment, it is nice to see the more competent and standard version of Finn that we haven’t seen much of throughout the past handful of episodes.

Finn’s happiness is slowly brought to a halt when Party Pat somewhat uncomfortably brings up Billy, who last was revealed to be dead in the episode Finn the Human. It was nice to bring Billy and the Lich back into the mix of things after an entire season of barely even mentioning the two. It’s also nice to get a bit of a flashback sequence that shows Billy and Finn hanging out with each other, partaking in adventurous activities. Though it was implied that they had hung out following the episode His Hero, it is at least nice to see some visual evidence that they did set aside time for cool quest shit before Billy’s inevitable death in The Lich. Makes the weight of his death feel much more impactful from Finn’s perspective.

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It’s a surprising and somewhat surreal experience to hear these characters talk about Billy’s death so earnestly. Adventure Time characters who die very rarely stay dead; up to this point in the series, the only characters who died and actually stay dead are Billy and the King of Mars, and to my knowledge, only one other character’s death is solidified following this episode. Everyone else who perishes in the AT universe is either revived or reincarnated, so it is somewhat refreshing to have these characters so solemnly discuss the death of a loved one. It all feels very honest and in good taste, which really helps this episode soar beyond its main premise. Even Jake himself is dealing with a bad case of being in denial about the whole thing.

One character that helps really add mood and substance to the episode is Billy’s ex-girlfriend, Canyon. Canyon is a side character I quite enjoy, again, mostly relating to her earnesty in her past relationship with Billy. She doesn’t have a huge presence on her own, but I think her relationship with Billy and wistfully zen behavior are enough. I enjoy how her connection to Billy is kept really mature and realistic; there was no ultimate drama or intensity that led to their break-up, Canyon simply felt stagnant in her path and decided to let Billy go because of it, though you can tell there was still a heavy feeling of love that stuck with them even following their break-up.

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In addition to that connection, I really love the way Canyon and Finn work off of each other. It’s a simple mutual connection that really goes a long way in regard to how much respect the two show for each other. It really just feels like two mature people naturally relating to each other, and honestly, I think the episode is really underrated on that aspect. The atmosphere with which the premise is carried out is truly terrific, and even though only half of the episode is dedicated to mourning Billy’s loss, it’s still treated better than I could’ve expected. Canyon’s identity is also formed through some strong voicework by Ako Castuera, and it’s even more fitting that this was initially her last episode as a storyboard artist for Adventure Time. Ako and Jesse certainly put their all into this one, and while I enjoy the direction Jesse’s writing style takes in the following season, the two certainly made for one of the best boarding teams in the duration of the series. Ako’s presence will be missed.

And as mentioned before, Finn’s portrayal in this episode is much needed and refreshing. I enjoy the degree to which he understands Billy’s flaws and issues as Canyon lists them off, to which Finn responds “even heroes have slumps, bro.” After an entire season of making countless mistakes, Finn realizes that heroes, like anyone else, are still “human”. Despite the fact that Finn and Billy are regarded as two of the most legendary heroes within Ooo, they are still flawed and imperfect beings, and Finn is beginning to understand that he can be hero, but still fuck up from time to time.

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Following Finn’s desire to finish Billy’s bucket list, he discovers that the final unmarked option (aside from telling Finn “that thing”) is to lay on his back in the ocean. It’s also a sign of Finn’s growth, that instead of automatically deciding that he can’t face his fear, he at least wants to attempt to do so. Finn has experienced fears and traumas during his entrance in adolescence whether he likes them or not, and he’s now more willing to put himself into uncomfortable situations because, hey, he made it out alright the first time, right? Though he isn’t without adversity, as the Fear Feaster returns once more to extract torture onto his host body. It’s nice to hear Mark Hamill’s voice again after being gone so long from the show, and his inflections continue to hit on both menacing and humorous notions.

While he’s unconscious in the ocean (or is he?) we’re treated to a delightfully trippy sequence in which Finn’s hat is taken from his head and sizes up to giant levels, while shades of bright purples, yellows, and pinks make up the sea floor. I’ve seen a lot of interpretations of this scene, mainly that the loss of Finn’s hat symbolizes the loss of his youth, though I’m much more inclined to believe that it’s just an entertaining visual experience. I’m not opposed to the idea that it has some sort of deeper meaning, but I’m perfectly fine with it being surface level enjoyment as well. The colors, the backgrounds, and the music are all wonderfully executed, making it for equally entertaining experimental experience (pulled that alliteration out of my ass) after coming off the heels of Lemonhope.

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When awakening and resurfacing, Finn is still afraid while being confronted with the Fear Feaster. Though, his instinctual terrors and anxieties in relation to his eternal grass sword curse take over, and Finn’s grass sword effectively disperses of his fears and adversaries, which is attempt to make the grass sword’s owner content and safe in his own experience. This is a nice set up to the long running saga of the grass sword having a brain of its own, and it’s nice to see Finn’s confusion and lack of understanding when it comes to the grass sword’s power over his own body, and his own actions.

Though, the grass sword ultimately worked in Finn’s best interests, as he finally is able to experience the ocean without a care in the world. It’s here that Billy presents himself to Finn within the stars, and suggests that Finn go to the Citadel, where he will meet his human father. It’s a huge moment in Finn’s developmental path, and one can only wonder what is going through Finn’s head as he repeatedly hears Billy’s voice over and over again. Finn likely didn’t question the existence of his human parents much before, as I’m sure it was something he locked away within his vault because he simply didn’t want to deal with the emotional weight of the issue. Now he’s confronted with the existence of his biological father whether he likes it or not. Does Finn even want to meet his father? Why did Finn’s father abandon him as a baby? Why is he in the Citadel to begin with? These are all questions that are likely running through Finn’s head nonstop, and questions that we as viewers are inclined the wonder ourselves.

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Though the biggest question remains: knowing what we know now in the series, why would Billy want Finn to meet his father in the first place? Some have speculated that it was actually the Lich projecting himself as Billy, though I don’t really buy into this one at all. I simply think that Billy knew it was an important part of Finn’s journey that he did meet his father at some point. It would lead to much suffering for Finn, though it would overall lead to the growth of Finn’s character and his developmental as a smart, young man. Regardless of whether Billy telling Finn was a good choice or not, Finn will have a ton to chew on in the future, as he experiences one of the toughest hardships in his life.

This episode is definitely one that gets overlooked a lot, and I think it deserves more attention. The atmosphere is terrific, the characters featured are just swell, and it’s nice to have a crucial solo journey for Finn that really shows us as an audience that he hasn’t transformed into a complete idiot manchild. And all with a big, dramatic cliffhanger to boot the longest season to date.

And that’s it for season five! Again, thank you to everyone who has kept up with the blog to this point, I honestly can’t believe I’ve made it this far in such short time. The season five review will be out later this week, followed by the secret bonus review, and some updates about how season six will be covered are soon to come. Big stuff is on the way folks, and I look forward to everything that’s ahead!

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Favorite line: “Well, that’s gonna bother me forever.”

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