Original Airdate: March 5, 2016
Written & Storyboarded by: Tom Herpich
Before I get into this review, I wanna thank fellow readers Zach Goff and William Zall for donating to my DVD gofundme! I appreciate your contributions and am so very thankful to have dedicated readers like yourself. As promised, these two get to decide on a special bonus review of their choice, so there will be a ton of new bonus content at the end of the season! One final time, thank you two dearly for your contributions, and thank you for reminding me why I love to do these reviews to begin with. Onto the review!
When Tom Herpich posted the promotional artwork for this one, he mentioned in the description that he initially disregarded the idea for this episode as “irredeemably dark and unpleasant.” While he also mentions tinkering with the concept a bit to make it actually work, this episode, in part, lives up to that description. This is perhaps Finn’s most unimaginably terrifying adventure yet; over the years, he’s been faced with the deadly nature of the Lich, the sadistic shenanigans of Magic Man, the tumultuous relationship with his father, and the struggle to conquer his own identity, but nothing strikes me as more threatening than this endeavor. I won’t beat around the bush, this might just be my favorite episode of the entire series. I know that’s probably somewhat of a unoriginal claim by now, but for very good reasons. This episode just does everything right; I’ve sung my praises about Herpich before, but I really can’t deny that The Hall of Egress feels like he’s using everything that he’s learned about Adventure Time over those six past years and channeling that energy through Finn. A lot of my all-time favorite episodes actually don’t center around the main boys at all; You Forgot Your Floaties was mainly about Magic Man, The More You Moe, The Moe You Know was about BMO, and I Remember You follows the backstory of Simon and Marcy. But what sets The Hall of Egress so high up is that, not only is it an incredibly sophisticated story that strays from the typical “dungeon” themed episode, but it also centers around what I consider to be the absolute central heart of the show: (you guessed it) Finn and (a good amount) of Jake.
This episode truly brings Finn’s growth and evolution to the forefront, and I have reason to believe it was done entirely on an intentional level. The very beginning of the episode opens with Jake mentioning the dungeon train, which was last seen in the self-entitled Dungeon Train right after Finn’s big break-up. His bro even mentions this, to which Finn responds, “heh, yeah, that sucked.” Dungeon Train saw an entirely different Finn than the one we’ve seen over the course of season 6 and 7; Finn was unable to fully deal with his problems and relied on the help of outside sources (PB, the dungeon train, Jake, etc.) to ease his pain. Now, I’m not saying this to imply that support systems are not useful, but Finn’s behavior was clearly much more manipulative and worked harder at putting up a mask more than anything. He wasn’t dealing with his issues, he was finding ways to get around them. The funniest part is, this was the original destination in Dungeon Train. It’s almost horrifying to think of what would have happened to Finn, had he experienced this a year earlier. That’s not to say he went from being a complete dumbass to a brilliant mastermind over the course of time, but his ability to cope and deal with issues has certainly matured and altered from the norm, having been through so much and understanding his own skills in stress management.
Though again, that doesn’t make this trip any less terrifying. While we get intervals from Jake and BMO from time to time, this is mostly a bottle episode, featuring Finn in one place and leaving him to ramble on to himself for a period of time. As always, we’re treated to his delightfully silly and quirky behavior, even in the midst of a sticky situation. While a good amount of the beginning spends time setting up the absolute ludicrous nature of the dungeon, it’s made fun just by how many delightful Finn moments are scattered in throughout: his pronunciation of “foyer,” the brief flashback where PB explains what egress means, Finn finally adopting the last name “Mertens” and using it proudly as his identity, “breadcrumb style,” the way he cleverly maps out an exit plan using muscle memory, and much more.
The entire hall is pretty cool from an initial standpoint. It’s made eerie and solemn, and its vague nature is what helps to set those feelings. Who set up this dungeon? Why did Flambo’s (unnamed) brother send the boys there? Is it supposed to be exactly what it seems? Herpich truly is the king of clever ambiguity, whereas he provides enough for the audience to create their own wildly different ideas and theories, though none of it is ever proven or set in stone. It’s the same with Phlannel Boxingday: everybody pretty much assumes that he’s Princess Bubblegum, but Herpich never provides any actual confirmation that they are the same person. This episode is just riddled with stuff like that, with my favorite being the snowman statue. There’s a lot of emphasis (including close-up shots) put on this upside-down snowman statue that never actually serves any relevance in the plot. Was it merely put there as a red herring for viewers to assume that this was the solution to the issue, or would setting the snowman up in the correct order actually have some sort of effect on whether Finn would be able to escape? My money’s on the red herring excuse, and I think the mere implication of it is that it’s “too easy” of a solution. The entire point of Finn’s journey in this episode is that he’s not able to easily find a way out of this mind dungeon, and must somehow find a different way out. The snowman is placed there as an obvious mislead, as it’s implying that such an intense, complex situation can be easily fixed in the mere matter of seconds.
As Finn learns pretty early on, this dungeon is exactly the opposite. While Finn walks through the actual hall, it’s made visually appealing through cloudy shades of white and blue, though it also interestingly works off of the viewer’s sense of touch rather than creating an elaborate design. It reminds me a lot of Rainy Day Daydream, in which Finn and Jake embark on a full-scale adventure and fight baddies, of which are never seen, because they’re all “imaginary.” This episode works in the same vein, by using sound effects and Finn’s body language to show what actually exists in the Hall. It’s even made better by the fact that, while Finn can see inside the hall while closing his eyes, he technically is “going in blind.” It’s a cool way to make the audience feel as though they’re going along with this journey, and feel as if they’re in the same boat. Just like Finn, we can’t explain why this is happening, and there’s no clear answer to what the Hall of Egress is or how to escape from it. The only theory that anyone could have come up with, at the time, is the concept of the snowman, though that’s easily debunked about halfway through. A big element of this episode that contributes to its success is empathy.
Now, empathy has always been a big part of Adventure Time, but I honestly think it’s a rarity among my other favorite episodes. Floaties, The More You Moe, and I Remember You have me sympathizing with the main characters, but I dunno if I can really put myself in their place, with the possible exception of parts of The More You Moe. That’s a personal point of view and I don’t expect everyone to share it, but I say it because it’s not like I’ve ever had/lost a wife, and I’ve never had a loved one who went through Alzheimer’s. Of course, I’ve never been through an endless mind dungeon myself either, but this bit of empathy also works with the episode’s other strongest point, of which I mentioned is its dense ambiguity. I’m sure all of us have been in an impossibly unsolvable situation, of which it seems like there is no possible solution. Hell, as a sufferer of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, I deal with it regularly! But this episode manages to use an entirely fantastical scenario and has a limitless sense of opportunity in how people can connect with it. Again, that’s the beauty of Adventure Time in general, and having its greatest and most developed character at the center is what drives it forward even more.
As Finn continues to churn forward, that perceived hopelessness becomes even stronger. Not only is he faced with this treacherous dungeon at hand with no possible way out, but he’s also the only one who actually believes that it exists. It’s an incredibly difficult dilemma, in which he does have the support of his friends, but they don’t understand the situation at large. The support that BMO and Jake do offer is undeniably sweet, however, and provides for some of the cutest interactions between the boys to date. That simple kiss that Jake gives Finn before he goes to bed is absolutely adorable! It’s such a small moment, but such a loving gesture that I don’t think we’ve seen the boys ever exchange up to this point. BMO’s bits are limited, but more than anything, he plays the part of the anxious little child that still lives within Finn. BMO barely speaks in this episode, and when he does, it’s merely to ask Finn questions about his state of being and whether he’s going to attempt to open his eyes or not. BMO is simply representative of the anxious voice within Finn telling him to remain the same and to not change his methods of dealing with a situation. While Finn is uncertain if opening his eyes will actually work or not, he’s still tempted by the most simplistic and obvious way out of things. Though, more often than not, his friends are on the exact same page with that incessant impatience.
Some of the more humorous moments from this episode derive from the idea that Jake continuously tries to open Finn’s eyes, even after being informed of his dilemma. Also, Jake’s hat was terrific. Where can I grab a hat like that? Ultimately, though, the humorous moments underlie the great tragedies of the entire situation: Finn is completely alone. Jake tries to be as supportive and understanding as possible, but as we’ve often seen from Jake, he’s typically more focused on problem-solving than utilizing his abilities to empathize. Not to say that’s a jab at Jake, because he’s doing the best anyone can in that situation: his brother is going on about a dungeon that apparently doesn’t even exist, and won’t open his eyes for the course of an entire month because of a perceived misfortune that only he believes in. While it’s easy to empathize with Finn, it’s difficult to disagree with Jake’s logic as well from a bystander point of view. We empathize with Finn because we watch his situation go down and feel his pain that no one will believe him, but honestly, it all just seems like gibberish otherwise. There’s no way that Finn can possibly explain his story in a convincing and evidential way, which makes it even more tragic and upsetting.
After several attempts to gradually help Finn escape from his own personal hell, Jake and BMO’s efforts prove to be a stagnant trial. Finn isn’t getting any better or farther in progress than he was before. Though he loves Jake and BMO, their assistance is ineffective, and at worst, slowing progress down. Finn realizes now that only he can be in charge of figuring out a solution for himself, or at least adjusting to society as it is. Finn’s growth throughout the past season has lead him to be competent in taking on an impossibly unsolvable situation, even when it means letting go of the people and the things around him. It’s a tough, but brave decision, and one that feels less like a move of desperation and more as a method of acceptance. While Finn tosses away his clothes and tighty whiteys, he utters “no more threads left behind… no more egress.” The “no more egress” aspect is what really hammers in the theme that Finn has no interest in escaping or running away from his issues, and would rather run into them head-on than to try and come up with another failed attempt to solve his dilemma.
The next few shots are masterful. Herpich really nails cinematic moments, as seen in episodes like Lemonhope, Evergreen, and The More You Moe, The Moe You Know. The shots of Finn in the wild add a terrific sense of ambiance, and both dramatically and humorously catches us up on how Finn has adapted. The best part about this sequence is how it’s not measured by time at all; we really don’t know how long he spent within the Hall of Egress, and it’s once again left up to the interpretation of the viewer for how much time passes by. I have my own headcanon that Finn had a series of different blinded adventures during his time within the hall, and I’d totally be down with a one-shot comic series within the hall. Seems like it’s a concept that has a ton of different possibilities on its own.
Finn’s travels eventually lead him right back to where he started at the beginning of the hall, where his realization is translated through BMO’s voice, “something’s different.” The voice that was used to merely remind Finn of his conformity to reality earlier in the episode is now telling Finn that he instinctively notices a difference. While that voice was used to first mirror Finn’s opposal to change in dire situations, it’s used later to show his shift in perception.
As Finn walks through the door, he wanders into a contained space of where he’s able to see everything on the outside of the cave. Finn is essentially viewing life as “transparent” and his patience is helping to finally see things clearer than they once were. In both a glorious and somewhat humorous scene, Finn charges through the dome to return to his brother, as PB’s voice narrates, “hurry Finn… at the seashell’s center lies the cornucopia’s smallest door.” PB was previously shown to help Finn’s intelligence and comprehensive skills expand further when she explains what egress is. Here, he’s taught himself his own valuable lesson in emotional intelligence, as she narrates what can only be described as personal enlightenment. Though, I still have no clue what “the cornucopia’s smallest door,” is. There’s a great analysis of it on YouTube, which will probably add more insight into the topic than I possibly could. It’s perhaps AT’s most ambiguous line, but one that I enjoy, strictly for Hynden Walch’s whimsical inflections.
This stressful, exhilarating, jam-packed episode ends on the perfect silly and simplistic note, with Finn shouting, “no comment!” after Jake asks him about the cave. And that’s really what this one boils down to; it’s a thoroughly compelling drama with just the right amount of funny and rewarding moments to carry through its darkness. It’s the most condensed version of Finn’s personal growth and development yet, and I feel as though it really embodies everything that these past two seasons set out to accomplish. Probably the coolest thing about this one is that, while it does have some continuity nods, it’s most standalone and can be enjoyed even by the common viewer. It establishes the characters pretty well without having to know them personally, and there’s added bits of subtle character moments that will treat longtime viewers even better. The Hall of Egress is also really sharp on a technical level. The music cues from Tim Kiefer are, per usual, terrific, and Herpich is always tremendous with utilizing different camera angles and cinematic moments to their best abilities.
It truly is my idea of a perfect episode, but alas, no episode is without imperfections. My main criticisms for this one are mostly nitpicks, but I think the title card is kind of trash. It’s just a simple shot of the exterior of the cave, and the font is a direct reuse of the one featured in the Stakes miniseries. I think it’s pretty boring, and especially upsetting considering how cool the original title card concept was. I mean, look at this image! It’s so much more powerful than what we got. My other criticism actually spans from the length of the episode, because I feel as though this could have been a full blown half hour. Not just because I enjoyed it, but it does feel like there are some missing elements. Like, why did the boys’ never seek out PB’s help? It seems weird that Finn would go potential months being blinded without looking for help from his mastermind of a best friend. I feel as though her incorporation could have made that ending voiceover from herself even more powerful, and it would be interesting to see PB’s scientific methods fail, as she feels incapable of helping her friend.
But, those are mostly just instances of myself looking for problems, because The Hall of Egress is one of my favorite episodes of television in general. It’s unique, it embodies the heart and soul of the series, it’s Finn’s most compelling journey, it uses cinematography well, it’s ambiguous and open to interpretation, it’s funny, it’s dramatic, it’s developmental, and so much more. It’s no wonder this one ended up winning an Emmy, of which it certainly deserves. By doing his normal shtick, Herpich in turn would end up creating a magnum opus for himself and the series in general, one of which would never be topped (IMHO), but one that builds off of everything that Adventure Time is and was: a terrific exploration of the trials of growing up.