“The Thin Yellow Line” Review

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Original Airdate: March 19, 2016

Written & Storyboarded by: Emily Partridge & KC Green

Through the past couple seasons, we’ve seen how various different major and secondary characters view Princess Bubblegum from their perspective. Though, one important point of view that hasn’t been explored in great detail is from those who spend the most time around the princess: the Banana Guards. Aside from their strong loyalty and love for the princess, they’ve mostly been in the background, while slightly more intelligent Candy Citizens such as Starchy and Cinnamon Bun (I did say slightly more intelligent) have been able to pinpoint her shady behavior as a flaw of her character. The Thin Yellow Line puts the Banana Guards at center stage to present an almost cultish look at PB’s alleged hierarchy, and how the Guards themselves feel entirely confined by their environment in fear of their own demise. It’s also a cool to see that, outside of their identical appearances, each Banana Guard possesses their own unique character traits and personalities.

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I wanna first start off by saying that the mural painted by Banana Guard 16 (in actuality, it was painted by Joy Ang!) is absolutely gorgeous and has so much detail put into it that it’s impossible to soak in everything on a first glance, and it’s only fair that I analyze it from left to right. The beginning of the mural features what I could only assume to be the catalyst comet, of which likely signifies the “beginning” of Ooo. Of course, it also ties into the overall mystery of how the Catalyst Comet and the Great Mushroom War correlate, and what exactly said comet brought with it. Though, some form of magic surely came into existence when it hit, and may have also had a part in creating the Mother Gum, of which is shown next in the mural. The Mother Gum is then shown sending PB off on her way, as rays of light and brightness surround her. Though, once PB’s figure enters the mural, the bright, white clouds turn menacing and dark, signifying her descent into a perceived bit of unscrupulousness. This includes:

  • The snakelike Neddy, of whom looks content within the nectar tree. As Banana Guard 16 later mentions, he believes that PB “trapped her brother Neddy,” meaning that the general understanding of Neddy within the Kingdom is that he was a possibly dangerous, but provided the Candy Kingdom with a beneficial resource. Hypothetically, this led PB to make the decision that he should be forcibly kept within the kingdom, where he cannot harm anyone and can only provide for the kingdom.
  • Marceline’s bat-like form is seen in the background, meaning that the Candy Kingdom citizens possibly aren’t comfortable with PB’s relationship with Marceline, given Marcy’s somewhat rebellious and uncanny nature. It seems like some form of underlying prejudice towards vampires, that has existed since the olden days, or reflect the stigma that surrounded Marceline when she initially started hanging out with PB. As we’ve seen during the Stakes miniseries, this stigma towards vampires still exists and is potentially harmful, so it’s quite likely to me that the citizens in general may feel intimated by Marceline and uncomfortable with her hanging out with the princess.
  • The ceiling of eyes is representative of PB’s heavy surveillance system of which she watches over the entire kingdom. Though she has recently weened off this method, she’s still viewed with NSA-type paranoia as someone watching the citizens’ every step.
  • The middle section is devoted to showcasing Goliad and Stormo, who are being heavily watched over by the Gumball Guardians. Despite still being locked in an eternal duel, Goliad is also depicted as having an eye on the Gumball Guardians, being ready to strike as soon as something interferes with said psychic battle. It’s also worth noting that, while one Gumball Guardian is locked in a staring contest with Goliad, the other looks off onto the side, while the prison within the cage remains unsupervised. This could represent the dangers hidden within the Candy Kingdom that remain overlooked (one of which is dealt with later) or touch on the fact that the Gumball Guardians are essentially useless in the face of danger, as seen with the Lich attack, the army of Gunters, the vamp cloud, and so on.
  • Towards the end, we see a stitched up Lemongrab, referencing the merging of Lemongrab 1 and Lemongrab 2 after Lemonhope’s attack. The inside of his head is also shown, as his brain is split in two. The implication here reads to me that, though PB stitched up and fixed Lemongrab, she will never be able to fix the broken mess that she sought to create. His body may be one, but he brain will always be in two.
  • And finally, that brings us to the last piece, that returns to the bright color scheme of the first panel. Princess Bubblegum is essentially portrayed as a goddess, with her swan eloquently in back, as an army of Banana Guards stand before her. This shows how, despite all of the dark matters under her belt, the BGs are still willing to worship her no matter what because they know that everything she has done has been for the kingdom. Though, Banana Guard 16 acknowledges through the mural that, if anyone were to defy her, they’d end up in the dark clouds just as everyone else who has betrayed her.

There’s certainly a lot going on, and it’s most definitely the most interesting aspect of this episode. Though, that isn’t necessarily a criticism, as a good portion of this one is a lot of fun. It’s not as deep or dark as the mural, but it provides for a lot of great Banana Guard gags with terrific animation and drawings.

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This one was actually co-boarded by KC Green, a pretty well-known webcomic artist. He has his own ongoing webcomic called He is a Good Boy, is working on the Rocko’s Modern Life revival comics, has drawn every Pokemon everand previously ran the webcomic series Gunshow, of which is widely known because of that one dog meme that was literally everywhere for a period of time. I really dig Green’s style in general, and his zany, cartoon-y drawings really fit for this type of episode. The style of this one honestly reminds me a lot of season two’s design, when artists like Jesse Moynihan and Somvilay Xayaphone were still trying to get a feel for the shape of the characters, and ended up creating some really humorous drawings and faces in the process. Here, it’s the same, though arguably more intentional, and provides for a lot of stretchy and emotive expressions in the process. I especially love the various faces Finn makes as he realizes that Banana Guard 16 is the vandal. I’m totally fine with the subdued and calmer animation in later seasons, though it’s welcomed to have an episode like this, which is likely the most expressive the show has been in years.

I usually think Banana Guard humor is hit-or-miss, but it hits pretty hard in this episode. I love how this episode manages to exaggerate their bumbling and moronic nature to extreme lengths, while also making them somewhat rounder and more vigilant at the same time. Like, you have that scene at the beginning where they’re rolling around and tripping over each other, but then you have the moment when they actually convict the boys and punch the lights out of Jake. That’s right, the motherfucking Banana Guards one-upped F&J. It’s so refreshing to see them actually be half decent at their job, even if they’re hilariously tricked in the next minute that Finn and Jake are new guards. The Thin Yellow Line plays with this back-and-forth between character portrayal a lot, and it’s a ton of fun.

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The episode also has a great mystery element that plays with the viewer’s expectations in a pretty logical way. I like how the Banana Guards aren’t just being ridiculous or conniving in the methods that they send Jake into utter paranoia; the BGs are secretive and hidden with these pleasures because they actually have something to lose in they get caught. It relates to their own paranoia with conforming to the standards of Princess Bubblegum, and the fact that they feel as though diverting from this conformity will ultimately result in a painful punishment. I expected these somewhat tense sequences to be a non-sequitur, but I’m actually glad they have a role in the overall message and conclusion of the episode.

Banana Guard 16 isn’t an especially interesting or likable character, but I’d argue that he’s not really supposed to be. He’s kind of just supposed to be an active voice among the mostly cowardice Banana Guards, and the episode does so successfully by actually giving him his own unique voice. He’s voiced by Tunde Adebimpe, of whom I’ve never actually heard of, though his credentials read that he’s a digital artist, which helps him connect with the character even better. The relationship he has with Finn is sweet; I like how Finn initially just uses him to close the case surrounding the vandalism, though actually ends up seeing the beauty and genuine nature of BG 16’s work. It’s also interesting to see how blindsided Finn is to Bubblegum’s darker side. Of course, the love that he feels for her probably has some part in this, though I honestly think that Finn just doesn’t pick up on this side of her. Granted, while some of what BG 16 was saying did resonate as truthful, he was exaggerating it in ways that simply paint PB to be an absolute tyrant, when she’s really just morally astute. Those sequences are just awesome though. You really don’t blame him for thinking of PB this way, because everything he’s describing does have some truth to it: she didn’t imprison Neddy, but she also didn’t help him beyond containing him; she had good reasons to imprison the “rebellious Candy People” of which, again, we’ll be exploring later; she “diced” the Rattleball boys, but that was only in the logic of them being too powerful for their own good. All of these conclusions are completed ethical, though embroidered.

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The funny thing about this devoted worship is that PB is totally perplexed by it; she has no idea that she’s regarded in such a way, and it goes back to what I was saying before of her behavior being a factor of her inability to go about protecting her kingdom in a healthy way. She knows that she doesn’t exactly have the trust of her people, but is kind of out-of-the-know when it comes to the monstrous perception that has been foisted upon her. Even Finn gets wrapped up in the paranoia surrounding him, and defies PB’s orders to help save his friend. While this episode works to showcase PB’s growth, it also is another interesting look at how Finn’s sense of morality has shifted over time. Back in Rattleballs, Finn betrayed the trust of his new mentor in respect of his loyalty to Bubblegum. Here, Finn betrays his own loyalty to what he thinks is morally just. There’s not really a right or wrong way around either of these situations, besides the fact that Finn is doing so for completely different reasons.

But of course, that paranoia is wasted, because PB has changed as well. She doesn’t view individuality as a conspiracy to take her down, but rather something to be celebrated. She no longer wants fear and uncertainty to be foisted upon those who worship her most, and wants to actually show how she’s changed since her reinstatement into the kingdom. The Banana Guards are able to freely express themselves as individuals, even that one BG that doesn’t have a special talent. Also, might I say that momma PBubs is lookin’ FINE in this episode. Emily Partridge actually modeled her outfit and appearance off of Elaine from Seinfeld, which is pretty apparent, but still suits PB well. Her outfits have been really on point in this season thus far.

My biggest fear following the Stakes miniseries was that PB’s development as a “nicer ruler” would make her a less interesting character, but this episode subverts those anxieties in the best way necessary. The Thin Yellow Line is a terrific exploration of the deep-rooted paranoia of the Candy Kingdom. It’s an episode that has a ton of fun with the naturally silly characters involved, but one that’s still executed in a genuinely tense and potent way. Not to mention that it also has that visual added bonus of KC Green’s expressive storyboarding feat, which is enough to make this episode memorable on its own. Upon it’s original airing, this episode was dedicated to Mandy Long, of whom I had never heard of initially. Upon research, it turns out she was a talented young artist that loved Adventure Time, and who tragically passed away on September 24, 2015. It’s incredibly heartwarming that the staff at AT would pay tribute to someone not on the direct staff, but someone who was just a genuine fan, and an exceptional artist to boot. I send my condolences to all of Mandy’s friends and family.

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Favorite line: “I grew these! Hi-da-ro-pon-i-cal-y!”

 

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