Original Airdate: June 23, 2016
Written & Storyboarded by: Polly Guo & Andres Salaff
It was really only a matter of time before Adventure Time took on a “Battle of the Bands” themed episode. Music, for the most part, has been a crucial part of AT’s identity. I know people who have never seen a single episode of the series, yet are able to sing “Bacon Pancakes” in full. Adventure Time is far from the first animated series to heavily incorporate music into its content; hell, musical cartoons date back to the beginning of animation as an art form, with the early renditions of Silly Symphonies and Merrie Melodies marketing their brand specifically around the combination of animation and music. I will say, however, that AT is perhaps the first mainstream cartoon to rely on the plot device of utilizing music in order for characters to let their emotions loose. This is shown most prominently between seasons two and four; we get to see Finn serenade his new friend in Susan Strong, Marceline unravel her true feelings towards Bubblegum in What Was Missing?, Gumball croon about his passion for Fionna in Fionna & Cake, and so on. I overall disagree with the notion that Adventure Time hit any form of seasonal rot within the past two seasons, but I will say that, if any aspect derailed, it would have to be that musical element. Rebecca Sugar was pretty much the key-driver of this musical movement, and once she departed, Steven Universe became the flagship series for emotional and well-written song sequences. That’s not to say that Adventure Time hasn’t had any catchy melodies in the past few years – “Food Chain” from the episode of the same name remains one of the best tunes that the show has ever put out, and I really loved the soft medley that Breezy had to offer. But overall, there were more misses than hits, and it really felt as though the show was lacking in what was once one of its most prominent trademarks. The Music Hole is somewhat of a return to those old trademarks, by not only basing an entire episode around music, but also the notion of channeling the sadness and heartache within one’s self into something creative and beautiful as a means of coping. In typical AT fashion, that something is music.
It’d be one thing if this episode was just jam-packed with songs for the sake of it, but hey, the songs in Music Hole are actually pretty good! Of course, that’s also keeping in mind that a lot of the songs that are featured in this episode aren’t original, but that’s actually kind of cooler to me. It feels like a real, authentic Battle of the Bands in that way, and I think it’s kind of nice that some indie artists and bands like Mitski and Lake probably got a lot more attention from outside audiences because of this episode. This isn’t the first time that an AT episode has included somewhat of product placement for LAKE, and I honestly think it’s a really sweet love letter to the band that they continue to give them publicity because of their role in creating AT’s outro. The original songs are pretty decent as well. I actually really dug the small portion of Susan’s song that we got to hear (leave it to Susan Strong to come back after a 130 episode absence, and then disappear for another 50 episodes) and NEPTR and Flame Princess’s rap was cute and fun as far as FP raps go, which usually aren’t very good or entertaining. At the very least, it’s an appropriate place for her to dish such a tune. The licensed songs also work greatly with the characters that present them. “Francis Forever” might be one of my favorite Marceline songs to date, and I think it’s also because it’s one of the few more recent Marcy songs to not have super obvious subtext behind it. Like, I can listen to this song without hearing the screams of dozens of Bubbline fans that the lyrics are referring entirely to her feelings for PB. That’s always a plus. Also can’t help but join the fun of Ice King interrupting the event by singing “Do The Boogaloo” while dancing along with Gunter. I’m usually not a fan when the series uses well-known licensed songs just for the hell of it, but this example is one that only Ice King could pull off so well.
This episode isn’t only jam-packed with songs, however. It’s also filled to the brim with as many main and secondary characters as possible, and it really just leaves me in awe! Is there a single episode that features all of the main cast and most of the secondary characters in one area together? It’s somewhat of a solo feat for this episode that is only matched by the series finale itself. In general, it opens up for a lot of fun interactions. I thought the LSP, Marceline, and Death trio was awesome, not only because it shows that LSP and Marcy are still close friends, but because LSP is actually a competent drummer, and has no problem taking on a secondary part in the band! The girl’s come a long way. Even just the implication that Ice King was likely asked by Princess Bubblegum to be a bouncer for the Battle of the Bands is an extremely sweet sentiment.
But I’m getting ahead of myself a lot, because the main focus of this episode is clearly not the Battle of the Bands. Instead, the episode revolves mostly around Finn in a deep state of depression after the breaking of his Finn sword. It is a bit of a strange continuity burp that Finn seemed pretty much fine in Bun Bun, Normal Man, and Elemental and now he’s in such a sudden area of despair that he can’t even move from one place to another. I’ve seen two theories about Finn’s behavior from episode to episode: one is that the production number of The Music Hole indicates that it was supposed to be aired directly after I Am a Sword, before Bun Bun and Normal Man. While I’m truthfully not entirely educated on how production numbers actually translate into the airing process, I’m gonna go ahead and guess that this theory is wrong, because Flame Princess’s role in The Music Hole doesn’t really make much sense without Bun Bun coming before it. The second theory is that Finn was repressing his feelings in the three episodes that preceded The Music Hole, but truthfully, I think that’s too far of a stretch. I think the real answer is just simply that the staff wanted to tell different stories in the meantime in which Finn was required to be a confident hero. So it’s definitely a bit unusual to go into this one accepting it as a direct follow-up of I Am a Sword when there was nothing to suggest that Finn was actually affected by the issue prior, but despite this, it’s still easy to get fully emerged in Finn’s depression once the episode gets going.
Despite everything the lad has been through, he still finds himself unable to cope with heavy bouts of depression. He’s been able to gather ideas about how to effectively use other activities to divert from the stressors surrounding himself, but when it comes to dealing with issues head on, it takes a bit of time for him to realize that he can’t just simply sit in his own swamp of raw emotions. That’s why I think it’s so sweet that he has guardians like PB and Jake to watch over him. PB and Jake aren’t exactly the most efficient when dealing with Finn’s emotional problems; The Tower featured both Bonnie and Jake coming up with methods of alleviating the pain that Finn was experiencing, and while their support is apparent, the execution of their methods was slightly ineffective, or at worst, more damaging in the long run. Thus, they aren’t really sure how to deal with the situation. Hell, how could anyone? It’s easy to feel the weight and urgency of Finn’s pain, but as I mentioned in my review of I Am a Sword, it’s impossible to understand what he’s going through because it’s a situation that’s strictly personal. But, with any feelings of negativity, often any kind of distraction can be a positive one, which is what PB and Jake realize when they decide to execute “Plan C”: a Battle of the Bands starring the citizens of Ooo. Again, it’s something small and by no means psychological, but it is something positive and light that can help divert Finn’s attention onto something outside of his rut. And it does work, for the most part! While the bags that are drawn under Finn’s eyes indicate that he is still experiencing negative feelings and hasn’t solved his issue completely, he is genuinely enjoying himself and having a good time.
Though, often with emotional problems, you can never distract yourself completely from said problems. Distractions can do wonders when helping one cope and live a healthy lifestyle, but they aren’t necessarily dealing with the issue. Finn ultimately still has the loss of his Finn Sword to deal with, and while he doesn’t identify with that at first, he makes this discovery upon meeting the Music Hole. In another sweet love letter, Music Hole is voiced by Ashley Eriksson, the founder of LAKE. Music Hole is an delightful and intriguing specimen that helps to teach Finn a valuable lesson. She’s a very sympathetic and tragic character, left to an eternity of being a bystander with no chance of activism. Though, it seems that she does have a deep understanding of morality, the inner feelings of people, and the acceptance of status regardless. While being essentially doomed, Music Hole accepts her role in the world the best way that she can: by channeling her sadness and isolation into her music. It’s also unique that Finn is the type of person who cannot see her through childlike eyes; while he retains the spirit and goofiness of his younger days, Finn simply can’t view life in an innocent fashion, because he’s been through far too much. Thus, his loss and regret are what shape his perspective, and he’s able to not only acknowledge this sadness rather than putting it off (as he did in Too Old and Breezy) but also uses it as an opportunity to connect with another being who is also suffering from personal issues as well. Finn has all of the support he could ask for, but not many people who can relate to the turmoil within himself.
He’s able to not only talk over his feelings with Music Hole, but to also realize how lucky he is for what he has. Even the company of his brother and (sort of, kind of) sister-in-law is something that’s enough to make Finn feel grateful and more privileged than someone like Music Hole. But the most important lesson Finn gathers from Music Hole is that it’s important to allow sadness to run its course, but not to be consumed by it, and there are many, many creative outlets to channel all of his negative energy into. The most prominent one featured in this episode is song, and Finn allows himself time to properly grieve and express his emotions with the tune “I Look Up to You” that he sings along with Music Hole. The connection between Finn and Music Hole is nothing short from endearing and poignant, and I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t one of those episodes that left me misty-eyed by the end of it. I really love these types of episodes that don’t feel as though they need to end happy or on some sort of a silly note to balance out the drama of the episode. While the ending of The Music Hole isn’t depressing by any means, it’s certainly bittersweet. Finn still possesses great sadness within him, but has learned to accept it and to find new ways to deal with it. The same goes for Music Hole. She’s accepted her sadness and has learned how to utilize her own creativity to cope with it, but she left this episode having something that she’s never had before: a true friend. It’s a truly beautiful connection of two people who are utterly lost in life, yet use their own feelings within them to create something wonderful from it.
And that’s pretty much what The Music Hole sets out to do: to show the beauty in sadness by displaying all of the wonderful things that can come from it, and can also work to help one move on from it. Adventure Time has set out to prove this with so many other musical moments in the past, but The Music Hole really feels like a culmination of everything that the show has been trying to accomplish by this point in time with this art form. This episode is also deeply fun and humorous; I didn’t expect to actually enjoy the Battle of the Bands sequences, but they’re kept really lively with priceless character moments. I especially love when things go absolutely haywire, as Gunters swarm the audience and start breaking the fuck out of the Banana Guards’ legs. That looked excruciatingly painful. This episode is also a visual treat, not only utilizing gorgeous color schemes, but there’s also several instances where Finn’s face or torso is shaded throughout The Music Hole, adding a lot of depth and volume to his figure. I only have one possible criticism for the episode… well, two actually, if you include the slightly out-of-nowhere rut that Finn is in starting with this episode: I don’t really get if Jake and Lady can hear Music Hole talking or not. I mean, the way this episode plays out, it doesn’t seem like they can. They don’t interact with Music Hole at all aside from looking at her while she chats with Finn. Yet, when Music Hole reappears later on (without giving too much away for y’all who might be reading along with the series) Jake seems to be able to interact with her. I guess I just don’t really understand the rules with Music Hole? Like, can people only hear her when she talks, and isn’t singing? I guess that’s something I can chat more about down the line. With everything this episode sets out to accomplish and does so successfully, it’s really up there with my other favorite episodes of season seven, and one of my top 20 favorites from the show as a whole. The Music Hole is masterful in helping Finn to continue to understand the parts of himself that he’s less comfortable with, and uses music to accompany these changing feelings in the best way necessary.
If you like the songs that you heard in this episode, please by all means show them some love and support! Follow the links down below for more information about the artists and songs featured in this episode.
LAKE’s website: https://laketheband.bandcamp.com/track/i-look-up-to-you
Where to purchase “I Look Up to You”: https://laketheband.bandcamp.com/track/i-look-up-to-you
Mitski’s website: https://mitski.com/
Where to purchase “Francis Forever”: https://www.amazon.com/Francis-Forever/dp/B019QTSA5C