“The Mountain” Review

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Original Airdate: February 12, 2015

Written & Storyboarded by: Sam Alden & Jesse Moynihan

The Mountain is possibly Adventure Time’s most ambiguous episode to date, and it’s definitely difficult to understand. I wasn’t really excited for more Lemongrab when the premise for this one was released; I had kind of thought Lemongrab’s arc was finished by the time Lemonhope aired, and didn’t really want the character to be milked any further if there wasn’t a legitimate new direction to take him in. And apparently, Jesse Moynihan thought so too. On his blog, he detailed how he thought of the story for this one right as he was falling asleep, and he actually have a great sum-up on emotionally ambiguity in television in general. I’ll leave some of it below for reference:

“In my mind, the thing I really wanted to get away from, was the complete narrative handholding that embodies not only kids television, but almost all television: The ideology that demands we understand at all times what the character feels, what the conflict is, how exactly the audience should feel, and maybe the moral message. Even on shows I really dig like Game of Thrones, or True Detective, there’s very little ambiguity when it comes to how the audience is being manipulated to feel. Often times, in lesser TV shows, the writing acts as a rote, step by step instructional guide for how we should emotionally proceed as an audience. What’s funny is how well it works, despite its fake hackiness. Someone on screen yelling “I am mad at you! You killed my father! But I need your help!” or “I feel X because of Y, so you should Z” in the dumbest way possible can still have an impact on me. If I give in to the scenario, I guess part of me gives up an aspect of emotional control or something. It’s passive engagement with archetypes and familiar emotional cues. I’m willing to participate in passive engagement, but I greatly prefer the idea that entertainment may reflect the poetry and ambiguity of life.”

It’s a pretty neat mindset, and kind of addresses the experimental nature of season six, and the anxieties that went along with its production. During this season, Adventure Time has churned out some of the most different and unique eleven minute stories that television has ever seen, but again, as Moynihan touched on in his post, it’s hard to say that this is actually what people want to see. In fact, it isn’t! So many people left the AT bandwagon for Steven Universe at this point in time, and not to say that this is a bad thing, but SU is much, much more open about the issues each character is facing and how it affects themselves, while Adventure Time, or at least Moynihan, was trying to get away from that method of writing all together. Thus, The Mountain aims at tackling the complexities of both Finn and Lemongrab’s own insecurities, without making anything apparent. While it’s chock full of Moynihanisms, it’s also the storyboarding debut of Sam Alden, who is one of my favorite storyboard artists and writers on the show.

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The opening provides some nice insight into what Castle Lemongrab has been up to recently, and it seems like all of the Lemon People are being treated relatively well. Granted, Lemongrab still receives the “royal treatment” and keeps everyone on a strict schedule, though nobody in the kingdom seems opposed to it, as they seem to be at utter peace. That is, except for Lemongrab of course, whose failure to be content in his own skin is represented by the crack in the mural on his ceiling. We saw those who struggle with their own disappointing lives back in Astral Plane, but here, Lemongrab is outright refusing his own being. It’s an existential crisis that has him searching for more than just self-satisfaction, but a search for something deeper and greater for his own being.

On the other side of things, Finn and Jake enjoy yet another campfire bonding session together, as they prepare to watch the “Dap of the Heavens,” which just feels like Adventure Time in its most classic form. Those fun times end when Finn discovers Flame Princess and Cinnamon Bun working out nearby, which once more reinforces that Finn isn’t really over her entirely. I absolutely love the show’s commitment to Finn’s inability to completely move on from his ex-girlfriend. A lot of break-ups in television are glanced over after the course of a couple of episodes, but here, even an entire season later, Finn is still struggling. It’s painted refreshingly in a different way here, however, as Finn seems more anxious than anything. After a period of growth, Finn likely realizes just how embarrassing his actions were towards FP in the past, and is haunted by his own mistakes. This is why I really like his statement of, “I need to distract myself with work.” After a period of depression, Finn realizes that he can’t accomplish anything by merely allowing himself to feel bad, and that he must shift his focus onto something more productive. It’s really sweet to see how proactive he’s become.

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Though not above all issues, it seems, as the guardian of the Mountain of Matthew acknowledges that Finn is filled with “way cray beeswax.” This likely is addressing the onset of problems that Finn began to experience following his break-up with Flame Princess, and how all of those negative, raw feelings are being brought back at the sight of her.

The inside of the Mountain of Matthew is pretty nicely designed, though nothing I would call especially remarkable. I actually felt its interior was a bit too reminiscent of the tree domain in Little Brother, though they aren’t entirely identical. It’s here where Lemongrab experiences the door trial which propels him forward. Since he and Finn both share a similar experience, I’ll quickly jot down what I think each door represents and then elaborate on it:

  1. Desire.
  2. Fear.
  3. Empathy.

Through the first gateway, Lemongrab sees PB with a catcher’s mitt, and asks Lemongrab to play with her. The use of a catcher’s mitt to represent Lemongrab’s loneliness is first utilized in You Made and is referenced again at the beginning of the episode. What Lemongrab wants most of all is to bond with his mother unconditionally in the strongest way possible, which is, in his lemon-y mind, playing a game of catch. The second door features Lemonhope in a successful place as the ruler of Castle Lemongrab, which shows Lemongrab’s absolute inadequate feelings towards his own status. Aside from having a relationship with Princess Bubblegum, Lemongrab has always wanted to feel successful in his own skin, and successful as a ruler of his own kingdom. Watching someone who strayed away from his sour ways be able to actually run the earldom better than his own self is deeply stressful for Lemongrab, and interferes with his own view of his place in the universe. The empathy card with the last one is definitely the most questionable, but Lemongrab’s caring feelings for his china doll, and the possible remaining feelings he may share for his brother, propel him to act unselfishly and do something for the greater good, which allows him to move forward.

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As for Finn’s experience with the doors, things go quite comparably. Through the first door, Finn has the opportunity to take Cinnamon Bun’s place, both physically and metaphorically, to “be with” Flame Princess. The second door has Jake and BMO about to feast on Finn cakes, without the company of Finn, which could simply represent Finn’s simplistic desire to possess his special cupcakes, or it could picture Finn feeling like he is ultimately left out of something. Finn can be a bit clingy and possessive, so it would make sense that his fear is something that reflects his underlying need of support and love. The last door doesn’t show much, aside from a giant butterfly (Finn’s spirit animal), though the screams of Lemongrab can be heard in the background. Finn, like Lemongrab, chooses the path to empathy, rather than something that will directly benefit himself.

During a retrospective trial where both Finn and Lemongrab are met with massive versions of themselves, things start to get really trippy. Lemongrab’s experience while walking on his own body has him come to terms with the fact that he is coated in grease, and that to be a lemon is inherently to be “greasy.” Lemongrab was referred to as “Lemongrease” by the Pup Gang in You Made Me, though he strictly denied being such an entity. Here, after spending time on his own body, Lemongrab finally realizes that he is “grease.” Whether this means he’s a buzzkill, a dickhead, or a real out loud flim flammer, Lemongrab verbally acknowledges that he himself is a troubled being, though he also rejects this aspect of his life. As he chooses to progress forward to meet Matthew, Lemongrab bids farewell to his current self, in the hopes that he’ll find serenity and peace once he leaves behind all of his flaws and imperfections.

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While Finn’s experience through this portal isn’t nearly as reflective, there are some cool thing to point out. Finn continuously runs on his arm, which is missing in the vision. I believe this is in reference to the reinforced message that, even though a part of Finn’s self returned when his arm did, he still is not fully “whole.” This is shown in Is That You? with Finn’s thorn, and is displayed here as a means of showing that, while Finn’s arm is back, it isn’t fully there. Finn’s childlike happiness has returned to him, but it will never be the way it used to be entirely.

All of this boils down to the climax, with Finn and Lemongrab meeting up with Matthew. It’s both the coolest part of the episode, and the most confusing. But I’ve pieced it together as much as one can, and after years of reading what others have said, and as well as what I myself interpreted, it seems more apparent. Matthew states:

“The meat-bodies who have journeyed to this mountain have distilled themselves to their original source materials, and now exist in oneness.”

Matthew is essentially a cult leader or a false prophet of some sort, offering peace and restoration when the second end of the world comes, and for anyone who can no longer find peace and meaning in their own lives. Essentially, Matthew boils people down into being thoughtless, desireless beings who merely follow in the path of one ultimate sense of power that gives them meaning. It is cool how Matthew isn’t necessarily presented as a villain; like everything else in this episode, his state of being is ambiguous. There’s nothing that suggests he’s downright malicious, though his ultimate downfall is the fact that he destroys the free will and identities of other beings, but only at the expense of their original choice to sacrifice themselves to become something greater. This is why Lemongrab came; Finn states, “I know ya got issues,” and that’s exactly what propelled Lemongrab to choose a new path of being: to surrender his worldly and inner problems, and to become part of something bigger than himself, as many do with any kind of religion. Though, Lemongrab’s ultimate ego is what leaves him unable to surrender himself to Matthew. As he pulls out the remaining Lemonjons (or lemon candies) he gathered from his dinner, he realizes that the Lemonjons, being greasy and “flawed” could break Matthew. Lemongrab exclaims, “if you are the head that floats atop the ziggurat, then the stairs that lead to you must be infinite. Infinite stairs are UNACCEPTABLE!” Lemongrab knows that, to actually be something or someone as great as Matthew, the path to become undoubtedly perfect offers an impossible destination. Lemongrab came to the Mountain of Matthew to find peace in his state of being, but as it has been enforced time and time again, in Lemongrab’s mind it’s “his way or the highway.” Lemongrab fails to understand why he should give himself up to be like everyone else, because even though he isn’t fully happy with his life, he knows that he doesn’t want to lose his lemon-y essence in the end. The imperfect nature and utter “grease” of the Lemonjons causes Matthew “perfect” nature to erupt, and to show the true face of his followers, who are all identical and unremarkable, showing that his followers truly did sacrifice every sense of their being. It’s complicated to know if what Lemongrab did was right; these people are clearly upset with his actions, and while I don’t think the nature of Matthew was truly authentic, some people would much rather be apart of something that helps them feel more special and unique, even if it does stifle their own individuality and characteristics.

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But, the important part story-wise is that Lemongrab did successfully achieve solace through his experience in the cave. As he returns home, he spits the remaining gunk of the Lemonjon he was chewing into the cracked mural, and utters, “yo, yo, it’s grease!” It shows that even grease, something that Lemongrab once revolted against, could be something that’s filling and purposeful. Lemongrab is “grease,” but his overall acceptance of himself and his way of life is exactly what he needed to feel more comfortable in his own skin. Lemongrab does as he will, and his acceptance of how he does things, and the reassurance that they do embody something meaningful, gives him a reason to chill out and let things be.

Woof. This one is a doozy, y’all. And honestly, it’s hard to put into words exactly how I feel about it. It’s certainly interesting, and there’s no denying that. The themes and metaphors it presents are often difficult to read into, but provide this episode with a ton to work with when it comes to those deeper, analytical expeditions, as this review was. So it’s definitely intriguing, but does it work on a surface level? Well… I think it depends on the person. This is one that took several viewings for me to get fully invested in; there’s so much going on that it takes a lot of reading into to fully understand what’s going on in the story, which can certainly be frustrating. There’s other things holding it up: the environment, atmosphere, and trippy visuals are certainly a treat. Some of the trials that Finn and Lemongrab go through aren’t entirely difficult to understand, and Lemongrab himself is, as always, hilarious. My favorite bit is the running gag in which he simply utters “bye” before abruptly doing something extreme. Also, the scene where he kills the guardian, as Finn responds, “dude, I was gonna ask him to move,” had me in stitches. Granted, I still think the ability to get behind the actual themes and story of the episode is a big aspect, and I can totally understand if people weren’t able to enjoy this one as it is. It almost leaves too much up to the viewer where it feels like you HAVE to look deeper in order to have a pleasurable experience with it. But, as for myself, I do quite enjoy it, though that’s a personal preference and I don’t know how much of a gem it is on its own and how much I could truly recommend this to someone is. It’s an acquired taste, and one I get behind, but it surely isn’t for everyone.

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Favorite line: “You will be served in a pitcher by a little child!”

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