“Don’t Look” Review

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Another one of my favorite title cards. A reference to Charles Allan Gilbert’s All is Vanity, the card takes on the shape of a skull when looking at it from afar.

Original Airdate: April 2, 2016

Written & Storyboarded by: Somvilay Xayaphone & Seo Kim

Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time shitting on episodes that Somvilay Xayaphone and Seo Kim boarded. I promise I don’t get any kind of sadistic joy out of trashing their work in the least bit, I just generally have problems with their specific boarding tactics that often make for some of the weakest episodes of the series. I’ve gone on and on about how Somvilay’s anti-humor makes for more awkward and slower moments than legitimately funny jokes, and his tendencies towards facial expressions and boarding in general can be really clunky and off-putting. Seo Kim, on the other hand, is not as noticeable of an offender, though she’s easily the least identifiable artist in the series. While each writer has their share of quirks or noticeable styles, Kim’s work is almost always completely homogenized by Somvilay’s. Though (objectively) I think Kim has the superior art style when I do pick up on it, I oftentimes have trouble deciphering which part of the episode she actually worked on, which is something I very seldom say for AT board artists. Throughout the past two seasons, it was hard for me to grow fond of them because, after constant misses, it became stigmatic for myself to go into each Somvilay-Seo episode with considerably low expectations. This added shitting aside, I think they really were able to find their footing at this point in season seven, to the point where their work lands right up there with some of this season’s best entries. Don’t Look manages to be yet another terrific exploration of Finn’s character that is nuanced, intriguing, and poignant in all the right ways. It brings out the best in Somvilay and Seo because it’s something that they’ve both been able to succeed with in the past: a strong, yet vague story at the helm.

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This episode starts out in the library, which is always just a giant nostalgia bomb for me. Dunno why, but no setting feels more like its emulating the earlier seasons than the library. I instantly start to think of The Real You and Paper Pete (yeah, I guess I do remember that one!) and am reminded of simpler times. When discussing Dead Mountain, the boys have some truly endearing wishes that they came up with: Finn simply wants to be taller and Jake wouldn’t want to change anything about himself. It’s so sweet that the two are so accepting of who they are that the only thing they would consider changing is their height; Finn has the chance to shift into a buff warrior, or even get rid of his weird, cursed grass arm (which is once again acknowledged) but he’s much more accepting of himself and utilizes self-love to the point where that doesn’t really matter to him. I do like the brief mislead that is used to imply that Finn still has feelings for Princess Bubblegum. It feels like a bit of a derailment for his character at first, but it’s merely used to further elaborate on Finn’s changing feelings later on, and cleverly included to simply be debunked. Finn just really wants to be tall, y’all. It’s also worth noting that Finn turns the pages in the book backwards while reading further, which I don’t believe is the first time it’s happened on the show. Either Ooo books are read manga style, or this is a consistent animation error.

Dead Mountain isn’t an exceptionally interesting location, but it is loaded with several mysteries. The hermit in particular is one detail that I’m constantly pondering over. I like how he’s essentially viewed as “evil” by Finn and Jake, though, what I can gather from his general appearance and setting, it seems like he’s actually a lot more of a victim than anything. His peril was likely similar to Finn’s, in the sense that he put on the glasses and then was subjected to the absolute horror of transforming his friends against their will, which led him to seclude himself within Dead Mountain, where he’s unable to hurt anyone else. Jake later mentions that the hermit turned everyone into “rats and plops,” though it seems apparent that this was just a result of decaying food being present within the cave and not a malefactor of the glasses. This is paralleled terrifically when Finn later returns to Dead Mountain after turning NEPTR into a literal microwave, where he plans to stay to prevent anyone from getting hurt. Finn’s results are essentially the same as the hermit’s, though the hermit presumably wasn’t lucky enough to have himself a wise brother/best friend to snap him out of it.

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The premise for Don’t Look in general is a neat, creative idea that the episode has a lot of fun with. I also like the fact that, while this leads to an essential identity crisis for Finn, the story really isn’t exploited for drama. In fact, the way Finn views others is mostly flattering: Jake as a athletic, teenage brother figure, BMO as a little angel, and Ice King as a multi-layered person that is more than just an icy creep. This is because, while some of Finn’s perspective is altered by the simple fact that his sight cannot carry the vast complexities that inner feelings do, he has grown generally less judgmental of the people around him. Even Ice King, one of Finn’s greatest annoyances in the past, is now looked at as a more sympathetic and fleshed-out being, rather than just the creepy neighbor that can occasionally take on the role of a villain. Some depictions are less flattering, like the nerdy “bookworm” Shelby and Starchy as a literal butt, but it could be argued that this is simply because Finn isn’t as close with the two as he is with Jake, BMO, Ice King, and so their depictions are much more subjected to judgment, and also one-note. Of course, the most interesting perspective of all is how Finn views Princess Bubblegum, which, in her words is “a teen-ish boy heartthrob.” I wouldn’t be the first to point out that this is likely referring to the fact that Finn views her as “just one of the guys” now instead of a romantic love interest. Going back to the beginning of the episode, the writers do occasionally try and fool us by including some elements of the status quo, but the series is progressive enough at this point to prove us wrong and show how much the characters have developed since the beginning.

The projection that truly shows off the horrific abilities of the hermit’s eyes is NEPTR’s transformation from a sentient microwave to a regular microwave, which works as yet another hilarious “fuck you” to NEPTR, and also is used as a mechanism for some profound exploration. There’s really no character better to be used as an icon for misuse than NEPTR; over the years, the little guy has been neglected, abused, and ignored, and I think Finn’s turmoil not only centered around his guilt for taking the life of his friend away, but also that Finn has likely contributed to NEPTR’s label as “property.” In fact, Hot to the Touch exclusively featured Finn essentially using NEPTR for his own gain, even if NEPTR was willing to help the entire time. This is what leads Finn into an absolute panicked state, where he begins to question his true intentions, all while looking at his reflection and transforming into the most “judgmental, self-centered, monstrous” image he can think of: his father. This is one of my favorite subtle moments that the show has ever done. Finn doesn’t remark, “oh my glob, I’m just like my dad!” but we’re instead left with a mere facsimile of Martin that hits home much more effectively than any dialogue would. While Martin hasn’t been mentioned since his ascension into a new realm in The Comet, the trauma he put Finn through is still very potent and real, to the point where Finn fears becoming like his father more than anything. Everything that Finn associates with being a bad or immoral person derive directly from Martin’s personality, and it’s interesting that Finn’s maturation also can be attributed to the fact that he actively wants to avoid any behavior that can be seen as selfish or uncaring, because he doesn’t want to end up down the same path.

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Where Finn tends to react more emotionally to certain situations, Jake is always there to round him out logically. And, as our dog friend eloquently states:

“I mean, maybe your eyes are just bad at describing things, you know? Like, how you feel about people, what they mean to you. That stuff’s in your guts. Eyes can’t grok that. Unless you have the eyes of, like, a trained artist or something.”

It’s a well-stated point that can easily be translated as a moral for audiences as well: we as human beings often beat ourselves up for being judgmental off of our own visual and cognitive cues, though neither a single thought nor observation can truly explain the complexities of an actual interpersonal relationship. Finn’s guilt and shame alone are enough to prove that he cares about NEPTR beyond just his usefulness as an appliance. The last few minutes also work as an excellent way to stress the importance of how Finn views others, but also how he views himself. And oftentimes, the most efficient way to view yourself in the best light is to be around people who care for you and love you, which Jake helps organize (even if Ice King is reluctant at first). This, in turn is what makes the eyes release themselves from Finn’s face, as Finn was able to shift back from true verbal judgment, rather just the one-dimensional visual judgment I had mentioned earlier. Not only did Finn learn the importance of this judgment for himself, but he also knows now that you really can’t gauge any kind of opinion from just seeing people, so it’s important to let people know how you see them. Finn sees NEPTR as a friend and “his half-son” and it’s much more important to him that he shows NEPTR care and love to make it so that his viewpoint is accurate. It’s a sweet ending, and a long awaited happy moment for the little robot, but not as much for our other little robot, as he hilariously falls from the sky when his journey as an angel ends. Poor BMO was just living out his dream, but it was too good to last.

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Couple nitpicks for this one: the hermit’s eyes are slightly inconsistent when it comes to how they affect people. Like, with PB, Ice King, Jake, and BMO, the eyes merely affect how they look, while Shelby and NEPTR are essentially given entirely different personalities/states of being by the way Finn views them. It feels like rules were never truly established with how these magical items work. Otherwise, I just kind wish we were able to see more of how Finn views others. It would’ve been really neat to include characters like Marceline, Flame Princess, Cinnamon Bun, Betty, and so on to see how exactly Finn views them from the eyes’ point of view. But alas, the episode is only 11 minutes, and I gotta accept what we got.

But that’s not to say what we got isn’t pretty great stuff. It’s a rare Somvilay and Seo entry that doesn’t rely mostly on humor, and actually focuses more on telling a very intricate and in depth story with lots of subtle details, of which really are some of my favorite moments in the entire series. It’s another excellent depiction of Finn still dealing with the trials of accepting his identity, as well as moving forward with his own maturation process in Adventure Time’s own bizarre, science fiction-y way. I’m also pleased to say that, personally, I don’t even think this is the best Somvilay/Seo episode of the season. That episode is yet to come!

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Favorite line: “These balls are going nuts!”

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