Written & Storyboarded by: Tom Herpich & Steve Wolfhard
Original Airdate: January 15, 2015
That beginning transition from the opening title with Finn and Jake to the title card with Gunther and Nina is all we really need to completely engross us in a prehistoric version of the world of Adventure Time, and the first pre-Mushroom War episode to date. This is a pretty huge episode, and it doesn’t really take its time explaining anything. It immediately throws you into an entirely new, but familiar world, yet it’s another example of what season six does so well. By this point, we’re somewhat used to episodes that don’t focus on Finn and Jake, and as long as the characters and stories are interesting, we don’t truly feel the weight of their absence. This episode is not only big in its scope, but it’s also somewhat significant in how this episode was practically written entirely by Tom Herpich. While Andres Salaff directed it and Steve Wolfhard assisted with some bits and pieces during the storyboard process, Herpich conceived the story for this episode entirely on his own – a rarity for the series in general. Though, I couldn’t think of a better person to put at the helm of Evergreen. Herpich is one of the greatest storytellers in the series, both visually and writing wise, and he’s able to tell a tale that is heartwrenching, and serves as one of the most lore-heavy episodes of the entire series.
Even if Finn and Jake aren’t in the episode, their identities are still captured through the presence of Gunther and Nina, who aren’t exactly like their human counterparts, but still manage to capture some of that charm. For instance, Gunther is a pretty goofy kid with a good heart who only wants to serve for what is right (Urgence Evergreen) even if that means he can often times get wrapped up in his own conflicted behavior. Nina shares virtually no similarities to Jake aside from her appearance, but doesn’t do much to impact the story in any way either. She’s simply there to be Gunther’s loyal companion, as Jake is to Finn. Gunther is enjoyable by just how much his childlike inspiration consumes him, which, like many other characters in the AT universe, is attributed to some terrific voice acting. Pamela Adlon voices Gunther, whose voice is likely most well-recognized from King of the Hill, and she does a spectacular job of giving Gunther the right amount of energy and heart behind his lines.
It always surprises me just how serious and straightforward this episode is. That’s not to say it’s devoid of lighter and funnier moments, but this is the type of episode that is entirely more focused on creating an enticing story and an apprehensive atmosphere than trying to force laughs from the audience, and I commend it for that. The convergence between Evergreen, Chatsberry, Slimy D, and Balthus is entirely foreboding. The “funniest” aspect of this meeting is the fact that the elements in the Adventure Time world are fire, ice, candy, and slime, which are both hilarious and kind of awesome bits of lore to add to the series. In a world where candy is so dominant, it nearly makes sense that such a heavily focused aspect of the series would have some sort of elemental nature, and helps the Adventure Time world to stand apart even more from other fantasy worlds. Sure, they could’ve gone with the already well-known classically defined elements, but in the surreal and unusual world of Adventure Time, this seems the most fitting. The elementals are all really well-designed and portrayed. It’s a nice touch having Keith David voice Balthus, though it’s a little disappointing in hindsight, seeing as how Flame King didn’t end up being the fire elemental. Having Alan Tudyk voice Chatsberry was sheer brilliance, seeing as how he previously voiced King Candy in Wreck-It Ralph. And of course, Tom Kenny does a standout job voicing Evergreen. I know Kenny is used rampantly throughout western animation, so it’s a given that he’s a talented guy, but it’s his distance from the more goofy and cartoony inflections through his characters in AT that truly define how much range Kenny has. He’s able to capture Ice King, Simon, and Evergreen, who all relatively have the exact same voice, in unique and diverse ways, giving each character a specific identity. I also gotta give props for his design; he sorta just looks like a more disheveled and ominous Ice King, but the random inclusion of chicken legs helps to provide Evergreen with interesting mythological properties.
The entire middle of the episode is dedicated to showing Evergreen and Gunther’s relationship in great detail. The connection between the two is simple, yet telling: Evergreen is so consumed with his own ego and desires to save the world (but mainly himself) from impending dangers that he doesn’t recognize Gunther’s desires for love and compassion, or at least doesn’t care. It’s made very clear from the beginning that Evergreen is a loony survivalist who really only wants to preserve himself and his legacy, but doesn’t care for those around him or their well-being. Gunther is quite the opposite; he cares for Evergreen and respects him probably more so than he does for himself. But Evergreen doesn’t accept Gunther’s niceness and loyalty, and views Gunther more as a prop or a servant to help him to carry out his more tedious deeds. Evergreen simply manipulates Gunther by bringing the little dino boy under his wing, only to make Gunther feel inferior and as though he’ll never be able to achieve any success as long as Evergreen is around. And Gunther feels just that, as his undying loyalty to his master causes him to feel increasingly low about himself. So much so that Gunther’s need to do things the way Evergreen would causes him to make the same behavioral mistakes that his master does. When his mission to gather water is failing, and his pet Nina attempts to help, Gunther smacks Nina aside and shouts “Nina, no!” It’s probably one of the darkest moments of the episode to see this cute little creature tossed aside so aggressively, and even a bit depressing that we watch this goofy character mirror his idol’s abusive behavior.
I haven’t mentioned it yet, but good God does this episode just look beautiful. Once in Magwood’s volcano, the eruption of different reds and oranges illuminate the screen, and the way these colors reflect through the characters just makes everything look like one big visual treat. And keeping in the realm of variety, those reds switch to harsh greens when the catalyst comet grows closer, giving the entire location a feeling of trepidation. This is probably the best example of using color to shift atmosphere in the entire series, and it really gives the entire episode a cinematic feel. There’s also some solid bits of animation, mainly with the way Magwood interacts with its surroundings, and when Evergreen nearly melts while in its cave. The design and different forms of Magwood are inherently interesting in general, ‘specially since it kind of resembles Tree Trunks, despite the fact that it is supposedly a dog. Would not be surprised in the least if this resemblance was on purpose – this episode was storyboarded by Tom and Steve, after all.
The battle inside Magwood’s cave is all pretty awesome and the stakes do truly feel high (Magwood even kills the poor, old Ice Imp!) but the real clincher is the way that Evergreen responds to Gunther’s actions. Though Gunther was noticed by Magwood, his distraction gave Evergreen an opportunity to rejuvenate and to successfully steal the jewel off the Magwood’s head. But Evergreen doesn’t acknowledge this, as the only thing he knows is that Gunther disobeyed his orders. Despite having essentially saved the day, Gunther is left only with the impression that he disappointed his main hero, as he solemnly drops his head before a dramatically placed fade-to-black.
The hectic climax begins to build as the catalyst comet grows closer, and it becomes more obvious what the comet represents. As the ice tower is shadowed by the color green and the comet continues to fall with two twirling horns, it’s pretty apparent that said comet represents the Lich. The Lich’s history began to become a little confusing at this point, as most people were conflicted as to whether the Lich’s origins were brought about through the mutagenic bombs during the Mushroom War, as opposed to a deadly comet. Though, these next few episodes, and the rest of the series in general, make apparent that the Lich simply represents anything that embodies mass death. He is the entity of ending all life, whether it be a deadly comet offering nothing but extinction, or a harmful nuke used in the brink of a war. It makes his presence much more frightening and deadly.
It’s nice to see that the ice crown’s creation ties back into Ice King’s statement in What Have You Done? that he built it with the magic that he stole. Once again, the writers outdo themselves by touching on previous plotholes early on in the series and correcting them without retconning anything. After a reckless encounter with Magwood, Evergreen is left in a state he isn’t quite used to: being completely powerless. For once his life, he cannot rely solely on himself, and must turn to Gunther to do so. Following Evergreen’s orders, Gunther must put on the crown and focus on his deepest and truest wish. However, as Gunther places the ice crown on his head, we’re reminded of Chatsberry’s words earlier in the episode:
“This wish may see things in you you cannot see yourself. Can you truly say you know your heart’s truest desire?”
Evergreen never told Gunther what exactly his truest desire should be, and Gunther is left with nothing but his own inhibitions in that regard. Sadly, Gunther does get his wish: to be just like his master Evergreen. What Gunther didn’t know, however, is that it meant being an obnoxious, loud, egotistical maniac. Had Evergreen taught Gunther how to use magic as he said he would, or if he even just treated Gunther as a genuine person, Evergreen possibly could have saved the lives of himself and others, but he failed to do so simply because his own negligence backfired on him. It’s a cautionary tale to show how important it is to treat others with care and respect, as that failure to do so could lead to the worst possible results. And it’s genuinely somewhat uncomfortable to watch Gunther transform from his wacky, dumbfounded self into a completely lunatic. Again, it’s one of the darkest endings to any Adventure Time story to date, only lightened by a somewhat comedic realization that it was all a dream sequence of Ice King’s… or was it? Obviously we know that said events actually happened, just as how we know that the events of Joshua and Margaret Investigations were legit. Annnnd, just when the episode feels as though it couldn’t get even grimmer, we’re left with the sole image of a comet heading directly for Ooo. Knowing what we know now, that “comet” isn’t as disastrous as we once thought, but the ending still strikes as an impactful and alarming conclusion to an episode that is pretty unnerving on its own.
But as off-putting as it is, Evergreen is Adventure Time’s storytelling at its absolute finest. Like I said, it’s mostly straightforward, but I honestly think the way it’s told and and the message that’s carried across makes it feel like a fable of some sort. I could easily see this working as a story from Grimms’ Fairy Tales, because its characters and writing are so strong that they could also stand alone from the AT universe. But, in the spirit of it being in AT’s world, Evergreen is able to build on its lore so significantly. We learn more about the ice crown, catalyst comets, the elementals, the Lich, and life before Ooo all in the course of one episode. It packs so much into one neat package and doesn’t feel at all like it’s trying to cover too much territory. Plus, the visuals are GORGEOUS, as I mentioned, which helps Evergreen to feel like one big source of eye candy. This is one that I think hits home on almost every level: its characters, story, visuals, atmosphere, scope, worldbuilding, and so much more. Evergreen is truly one of Adventure Time’s most ambitious efforts to date, and it feels like a big jump forward for season six, as well as the series, as a whole.