Original Airdate: November 19, 2015
Written & Storyboarded by: Tom Herpich & Steve Wolfhard
With the exception of Marceline’s arc, it’s interesting how The Dark Cloud ends being a story that is almost entirely distant from what the last batch of Stakes episodes aimed to accomplish. That’s not to say it’s a bad thing; it is refreshing to get a bit of a plot shift after so much of the focus in the last few episodes has been strictly on staking the various different vamps that face our heroes’ path. But does this one wrap up the Stakes miniseries in a satisfying way, and is it successful standing on its own? Well, let’s check ‘er out.
First off, wasn’t really buying into Marcy’s ho-hum speech about how she ruined everything. Personally, I thought it was a little selfish that she goes on about how all of it was her own fault, and then decides to do nothing in the process. Her insecurity of making things worse feels real, but c’mon, if you’re going to go on spiel about how you directly caused a giant cloud monster to invade the Candy Kingdom and destroy all of your friends, you should at least lend a helping hand, chica. I’m also just kind of down on these moments in general, because we obviously know that Marceline is going turn her viewpoint around and help out in saving the day by the end. These bits are frustrating just because they don’t really add anything to the story or character overall. Marceline’s belief that she’s the cause of all of the problems currently occurring in Ooo doesn’t really help her to come to a big revelation or even an ongoing solution to that insecurity. Unless, of course, you count her connection with Simon.
Marcy and Ice King hanging out together and having a rational discussion was really nice. I’m not a big fan of Marcy’s song in this episode, but Ice King singing the final line and acknowledging that it was a tune that he actually taught Marceline was somewhat profound. I’m guessing it was something that Simon sang to Marceline during the Mushroom War, and a morsel of it was lodged deep within Ice King’s cranium. Such a sweet moment. It was also really cool to have Ice King talk about how he and Marceline are “survivors,” likely referencing that they have existed in Ooo practically longer than anyone, and that he believes that’s the destiny they were meant to fit for the rest of eternity. Of course, this somewhat ties back into the Vampire King’s method in the very last episode, where he ultimately decided to choose a new path for himself, as well as the world around him. Ice King’s speech partially reminds Marceline of that possibility: that she can watch the world fall to shreds for the umpteenth time in her lifespan, or that she can actively have a role in creating a new path for herself, and the people around her. Ice King also refers to her as a “cockroach,” pretty much implying that she’s a being who continues to get squashed over and over again, but never dies or gives up on her mission regardless. Again, it doesn’t really connect to her turmoil earlier in the episode, but it makes for a really nice interaction that hits home with the overarching theme of the past few episodes, as well as appropriately characterizing Marceline’s identity as a whole.
Probably my favorite part from this episode was the usurping of King of Ooo. It’s so sad to see the demise of the lovable moneygrubbing jerk, but it provides for a pretty epic sequence featuring every citizen of the Candy Kingdom standing up to their so-called princess, as well as the return of Princess Crunchy, the unforgiving. Crunchy has really worked his way into my heart after the entirety of this miniseries.
A good portion of the episode does revolve around the people of the Candy Kingdom attempting to vanquish the cloud beast in general, and it’s mostly good fun. I actually think it’s a somewhat hilarious subversion of how the “everyone gangs up against one big bad” trope is used, and it fails miserably in every way possible. The cameos were pretty terrific; Flambo returns after an 112 episode absence to let Flame Princess and Cinnamon Bun know of the the dangers lurking in the Candy Kingdom, to which the two lend a helping hand, showing that they remain as allies to Princess Bubblegum. The Hot Dog knights also get a triumphant return, only to show that haven’t gotten anymore competent over the course of a couple years.
But even with everything going against them, things changes when Marceline slides into battle (with a priceless delayed reaction from Jake) and really takes charge. While I think it’s well-animated and presented, I’m not really a huge fan of Marceline’s demon heart opening up and sucking in the essence of the cloud for a few different reasons. First off, this is like, the third or fourth Sailor Moon-esque transformation sequence in the series, so I think the presentation, while cool, is somewhat of an overly done concept by this point in time. Second, I’m not really sure I understand how Marceline is able to do this? I guess it ties into her soul-sucking abilities as a demon, and is a power she doesn’t really have the chance to channel very often, but it just came off as something that felt a lot more like a random deus ex machina than an actual fitting solution to the issue. And if Marceline had this ability all along, then why didn’t she just do it from the beginning?? I mean, I guess she couldn’t have known what results it would bring, and she was also being pouty, but regardless, it felt like a pretty silly conclusion to the battle.
This is strictly a personal preference, but I actually do like Marceline being converted back into a vampire. Yeah, I get that it seems like another desperate attempt to hang onto the status quo, but I felt that it was a sad, yet equally uplifting reminder of what this miniseries as a whole set out to accomplish: that everything stays, but it still changes. It’s a terrific representation of the series in general, and Marceline’s arc as a character. For the series, no matter how things are restricted to staying exactly the same, the characters and environments still grow and mature every-so-slightly with each passing episode. As with Marceline, a character who has been around for a thousand years, is still able to grow and evolve, despite being inclined to feeling like the same person she was 1,000 years ago. Even though she’s left with those feelings, she’s still growing, learning, and understanding. And even in her long-winded lifespan, it’s cool to see that it’s still very possible. Take Bubblegum as well, who goes back to ruling over the Candy Kingdom, but this time with a more relaxed and caring demeanor. Though her situation remains the same, she chooses to go about her role in a new light that will positively benefit herself and the sanctity of her kingdom.
The last few scenes are nice, as Finn, Jake, and PB welcome Marcy back in her home. I’ve given Finn a lot of shit throughout this miniseries, but he does manage to provide my all-time favorite line from Stakes: “Are you, uh… Do you feel bad? I don’t want to say, like, ‘I’m sorry about who you are’ or anything if you’re feeling okay, but I don’t know how bad news all of this is… Right?” Such an eloquently put and mature sentiment from our little buddy. It really emphasizes Finn’s absolute desire to empathize with anyone he comes across, especially when it comes to his friends, and knowing exactly how to phrase things even when he’s struck with complete confusion. Finn understands that this form of apology is hollow and potentially inappropriate, so it’s sweet to get such an outward sentiment of how he truly feels, and how he truly cares about what Marceline is feeling. Marceline’s half-and-half reassurance is nice, as we’re left with the ambiguous notion that the Vampire King now lies within Marceline’s psyche. I don’t think this is ever going to be something that’s resolved or addressed in the finale (though it may surprise me), but it is interesting to assess the implications surrounding it. No matter how much pain the VK put Marcy through, she’ll always have a part of him within her (both figuratively and literally) and the reminder that she has her own destiny to shape. The episode caps off in a nice, heartfelt fashion, as Marceline strums on her guitar, the lion finds a new home, PB rebuilds her butler buddy, Toronto runs off with the Candy Kingdom’s entire stock of gold, and Stakes comes to a quiet conclusion.
This episode was certainly not the big ending to Stakes I was expecting, but it’s mostly nice. It takes a bit of a turn by focusing more on thematic elements, rather than story, which I think is both satisfying and unsatisfying, depending on how you look at it. It’s unsatisfying in a way that, to most, likely feels like not much was actually accomplished on Marceline’s side of things within the actual Stakes arc. Though, to me, it’s satisfying in a way that connects to what the miniseries has been trying to establish since the beginning, and this episode encapsulates that in a relatively successful way. Definitely has its pros and cons, but I left this one feeling mostly good about the closure that was offered.
And that’s Stakes, gang! I’m a bit burned out by discussing the miniseries in general, so I’m glad to be moving on to other episodes, but there will be one mega-review regarding my assessment on Stakes as a whole tomorrow, so stay tuned for that! Otherwise, I’ll be digging into The More You Moe, The Moe You Know on Sunday.