“Escape from the Citadel” Review

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Original Airdate: April 21, 2014

Written & Storyboarded by: Tom Herpich & Steve Wolfhard

Of all the trials and tribulations that Finn has experienced over the years, none compare to the sadness and disappointment that came along with meeting his human father. Though Finn had his bouts of skepticism and confliction in regards to meeting his father, nothing could have prepared him for just how shitty Martin Mertens really is.

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First off, let me just say that the presentation of this episode alone is incredible. The Citadel is likely one of the coolest locations in the entire series, with its heavily pink and purple color scheme, its lovely designs (of both the guardians and the monsters are are incarcerated), and just the overall background details of how the entire setting literally begins crumbling throughout the entirety of the episode. Man, it’s all so awesome! The attention to detail with how well this episode captures the collapse of a society entirely in the background, while the main focus is centered on the drama between Finn and his father, is executed masterfully.

And let’s get right into the pathetic piece of shit himself: Martin. Martin is the definition of a careless dick character that’s written exceptionally well, mainly because of how unforgiving Tom Herpich and Steve Wolfhard were when conceiving his dialogue. Martin doesn’t have any sympathetic or charismatic attributes: he’s purely an asshole because he doesn’t put any effort into caring for his son. His one-dimensional nature is refreshing, because I was so worried that, at any point in this episode, he was going to have some sudden moment of compassion or it would have been revealed he was in some form of trance the entire time, but that would have been way too obvious and would have ruined anything they were trying to carry across through this character. The main thing to gather from his character is to show how truly human Finn really is. While Finn has some interesting cosmic developments later on in this season, he was not born as some kind of prophecy or came from a long line of super righteous heroes; Finn grew up like any other human child: being conditioned by his surroundings and the people who cared for him. Finn is kind and caring because his true parents, Joshua and Margaret, raised him to be such a person. The idea of Martin and Finn being complete polar opposites is certainly upsetting, though entirely plausible. Heroism and kindness are not genetic traits, and Finn owes none of his positive characteristics to Martin. The promo for this episode incorporated the song “Cat’s in the Cradle” in the background, and I can’t think of a more fitting way to foreshadow the father-son relationship that develop between Martin and Finn.

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The relationship that the two share is certainly uncomfortable to watch, in all the right ways. It seems like with each passing conversation, Martin’s treatment of Finn only worsens as the episode progresses. Finn is nothing but property to Martin; a means of helping him out of trouble and helping him to “escape the citadel,” though Martin wants nothing to do with him otherwise, and does not want to build an emotional connection with his son by any means. Finn begins to acknowledge this little by little, but is not able to accept it by any means necessary. Though Finn realizes he has loved ones and people to care for him, he is still conflicted because he doesn’t know why he was abandoned and left alone in his own feces as a baby in the first place. He’s at the age where he wants to know about his existence and place in the world, and this is the next step into figuring out who he really is.

Yet, Martin offers no answers, and only puts a further hold on Finn’s developmental process. Martin even begins to warp Finn’s perspective by blaming him for the reason the two of them were separated in the first place. Again, Martin has no time to humor Finn’s emotional turmoil, and wants to rush through the interrogation as fast as possible in order for him to successfully escape. But, without answers, Finn isn’t able to fulfill the closure that he craves so severely. And without that closure, Finn feels as unloved and worthless as ever. The funny part about all this is, while Martin is a character that we’re all supposed to hate and despise, he still has qualities that make him somewhat entertaining. By just how much of an absolute douchebag he is and how hard he tries to avoid his responsibilities (“I’m going to the store!”) he comes off as just ridiculous enough to kind of laugh while shaking your head at his antics.

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On the other side of things, Jake is as caring and compassionate as possible. Despite the clear anxiety and stress he experiences throughout this entire endeavor, he never leaves Finn’s side and assists him every chance he gets. Though with all love also comes tough love, and Jake has no issue calling out Finn for attempting to help Martin after several moments showcasing Martin’s neglectful attitude. Jake goes as far as to call Martin a “loser,” which is an effectively touching move that shows just how much of a disdain Jake has for this guy that he met only minutes ago. In Jake’s eyes, anyone who fails to see how special and awesome a kid like Finn is, especially when it’s his biological father, is not worth Finn’s time and that he shouldn’t even attempt to pursue a relationship with him further. And as much as we feel bad for Finn throughout this episode’s run, we also can’t help but feel so sorry for all that Jake is put through as well. The Lich is on the loose, his surroundings are falling apart, there’s absolutely no clear way to get home, and his brother is experiencing absolute pain in what was supposed to be a rewarding endeavor. The weight of the situation is surely weighing on Jake, who not only has himself and Finn to worry about, but his girlfriend and children back home. And the inevitability of whether they’ll survive through all of the destruction, combined with the drama that is currently affecting them, is enough to send the usually laid back and calm Jake into a full-fledged stress attack.

And then there’s the Lich… oh man, is he at his all-time best in this one. Seriously, his speech to Finn and Jake, as everything goes dark and Ron Perlman reads off those haunting words, is one of my all-time favorite moments in the entire series. Gonna quote this monologue to break it down a bit further:

FALL. You are alone, child. There is only darkness for you, and only death for your people. These Ancients are just the beginning. I will command a great and terrible army, and we will sail to a billion worlds. We will sail until every light has been extinguished. You are strong, child, but I am beyond strength. I am the end. And I have come for you, Finn.

The Lich’s words are antagonistic, but also convincing. The Lich doesn’t know about Finn’s current state with his father, nor does he really even care to know. All that the Lich knows is that Finn is a lifeform, which means that he has no other fate aside from death. While the Lich has tried to destroy Finn’s life, and lives of all beings, several times, Finn has averted such a future through vigilance and his own heroic deeds. Yet, the Lich does not feel intimidated by heroism or the the greater good; he has his instinctive duties to destroy all life, because all that deserves to exist is destruction. The Lich addresses how strong Finn is; Finn managed to thwart the Lich’s plans twice during the course of the series. Yet, the Lich knows that, no matter what Finn does, he cannot be defeated. There is no end to the Lich, and as long as life exists, death exists as well. Everytime he is defeated, he will eventually be revived. Because anything that represents mass destruction also represents the Lich. Yet, through all that, Finn’s strength manages to subdue the Lich once more, in one of the more disturbing and demented moments in this episode. As the fleshy-white substance latches onto the Lich, he begins to grow flesh and blood, in a painful, convulsing experience. Jake’s reaction speaks words, as he briefly opens his eyes and watches the horror in front of him, only to soon close his eyes and avoid such terror all together.

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Though Finn’s duties are not done, as he still wants to reach out to his father in a demand for answers. Finn latches on to the severed stem that separates himself from Martin, in a desperate attempt to keep the connector together (tremendous symbolism, by the way) as Finn’s anger, fear, sadness, and stress take over his body in the form of his grass sword. As the engrossed grass arm tries to hold on as tight as it can, Martin effectively separates himself from Finn, and Finn separates from his right arm. Finn has not only lost his father, but a part of himself as well. The anxiety and intensity with which this past scene is executed, along with its transition into complete and utter silence, is some of the most “edge of your seat” material you’ll ever see in Adventure Time. Coupled with the fact that people had been waiting YEARS for Finn to lose his arm, thanks to heavy foreshadowing (and an upcoming episode that would simultaneously kill the dreams and aspirations of all of those who looked forward to it the most. Heh.) As the unending frustration of Finn’s dilemma increases to a point where you feel like your beating heart cannot stand anymore, the episode takes a moment to stop entirely to let everything sink in, and allow your heart to almost stop to a complete halt as we watch Finn sadly, and lifelessly float to the bottom of the crystallized fluid. In his downward floating, some of the growth goop gets onto Finn’s stubby arm, as a flower begins to grow. This shows two things: 1. That the eternal grass curse is very much still active within Finn’s body. 2. That beauty can exist in even the most tragic situations.

As Jake fishes Finn out, his behavior is incredibly nuanced and considerate. He doesn’t immediately start asking Finn if he’s okay or freak out for putting his own life in danger. Jake simply takes the time to silently check if Finn is alright, prop him up for comfort, and tells him “it’ll be okay, dude.” In just a few simple words, Jake really shows how much he does care for Finn and how much he understands Finn’s pain. Though he can’t relate to the parental neglect, Jake knows how much Finn must be suffering, and while he also understands that Finn isn’t going to be able to immediately feel better with his situation, Jake still wants Finn to know that everything is going to work out in the end. And even if that doesn’t get the water works going, Shelby, still in Jake’s ear, crawls out to lie on Finn’s lap like a puppy dog to comfort him.

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Even through all the heartache we just suffered, we get a bit of a happy ending with the Lich rebooted into the form of a baby. This is a decision I’m… kinda okay with? We get some decent episodes and concepts out of it, but I’ll discuss in further episodes how I feel about Sweet P as a character. I like the idea of birth being the factor that essentially “defeated death,” though I still am uncertain if this was a long term decision I liked for the Lich’s character. Regardless, I do enjoy the ending that reveals that Tree Trunks already wants a divorce after presumably only being with Mr. Pig for a month or so. A hilarious idea that shows how easily she feels stagnant in her relationships, and how the role of being a parent apparently (pun intended) changes everything. Somehow it even works out!

I have a few minor gripes with this episodes, one being the whole babified Lich concept, which again is more revolved around my uncollected thoughts with how this was executed over the course of many seasons, and the other being that some of Finn’s dialogue can be a bit too goofy at times in Herpich’s segments. It’s okay to keep him wacky to keep the heavier scenes lighter, but Finn screaming “UH OH” over and over when his dad basically loses his leg makes him feel dissonant to the entire situation at hand. Though, while that particular instance bothers me a lot, the other moments are brief and few. Otherwise, I think this one is pretty fantastic. It’s a really exciting episode that holds every bit of my investment everytime I watch it, and it’s equivalent to that of an emotional rollercoaster. It’s a terrific start to the season long arc of Finn’s inferiority complex regarding his relationship with his father, and one that leads to many, many interesting opportunities down the line.

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Favorite line: “The Lich is super cute now, and he smells real neat!”

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