Original Airdate: July 7, 2016
Written & Storyboarded by: Steve Wolfhard & Adam Muto
One of the more common complaints I see being thrown at Daddy-Daughter Card Wars is that Card Wars gameplay is generally glanced over in favor of a story that has practically nothing to do with Card Wars. But honestly, that’s one of this episode’s perks. I mean, did people really just want to see straightforward gameplay for a second time? We already saw that in the original Card Wars, and even then, the game wasn’t really the main focus. It was more about Jake’s unhealthy obsession with the game itself, and how an opposing side of his typically calm and charismatic demeanor was unraveled. That being said, I’m glad Daddy-Daughter Card Wars is what it is. It works semi-successfully to wrap up Jake’s regretful past history, while also giving us more insight into where this turmoil comes from. It’s also essentially Charlie’s debut episode, of whom may just be my favorite of the pups.
Charlie’s simply delightful. It’s interesting to me that it took her this long to be given a speaking role within the series, as she’s easily the most interesting and unique of her siblings. Aside from having obscure interests, a rad pyramid to hangout in, and intriguing psychedelic connections, she possesses the coolest abilities out of all of the pups. While most of the pups’ powers seem to be relatively basic, Charlie is able to grow to a size so big to the point where she’s literally able to walk across the Earth. That is awesome. In general, she’s really charming and enjoyable in her demeanor as well. She’s quite snarky to Jake throughout the entirety of the episode, and it’s a ton of fun to watch. It mostly comes off as loving and sweet, in contrast to the harsh and detached ways T.V. and Kim Kil Whan can often act towards their father.
I feel like the real thing that makes their relationship fun to watch is that they’re essentially both using each other. I’m often disheartened when the show either has entire episodes focused on Jake being a shitty dad or one of his pups being a shitty kid, but I think this episode has it balanced by showing off both of their shitty sides: Jake merely wants to resolve his past issues (without realizing that he’s adding fuel to that turmoil) and unknowingly recruits Charlie’s help to do so, while Charlie will only help her “poppa” out under the condition that he provides her with something (which is a scene that still freaks me the fuck out to this day. There’s something unnerving about Jake so easily pulling off a piece of his fingerbone).
Though, it undoubtedly gets a bit muddled at times… about halfway through, Charlie realizes that she regrets not helping out Jake in the past, and it seems like the episode is attempting to paint Charlie as the bad guy in this situation… buuut, shouldn’t Jake also deal with some kind of repercussion regarding his treatment of Charlie? It’s a lot of fun seeing Jake as an absolute, boiling mess in Daddy-Daughter Card Wars, but I guess a tiny complaint I do have is that I feel like he’s a little bit too much of an asshole at times. Adam Muto and Steve Wolfhard do their best to make up for it, like when he literally offers Charlie every bone in his body if she would just simply spend an hour of her day helping him out, but there were certain scenes that rubbed me the wrong way. I don’t care how much Jake cares about Card Wars, I hate that he doesn’t save BMO in the beginning. I mean, my God, that’s your son dude! Granted, BMO jumping off the boat was hilarious, and I’m glad it was left it, but I thought the execution was a bit too harsh for my liking and it kind of leaves a sour taste in my mouth for the remainder of the episode.
That aside, Jake is mostly enjoyable throughout the remainder of the episode. I’ll reiterate, I love seeing him so violently passionate about something. Jake’s mortality has nearly been as prominent of an arc as Finn’s aging process has, and it was really melancholic to see how wary he is for the near future. It is neat that Jake does have some form of self-acknowledgement about his regrets, and wants to at least move forward, even if he doesn’t really know how. In Jake’s head, becoming “dignified” means being able to achieve the victory against Grand Prix that he presumably never had, though it’s made clear by the episode of this episode that becoming dignified means accepting and becoming content with his shortcomings. I like how Jake’s conflict with Grand Prix also goes beyond that fact that he’s simply better at playing Card Wars, but that he also ended up with Moniker, Jake’s ex-girlfriend, which symbolically places him on a higher pedestal in Jake’s eyes. The connection between Moniker and Jake is also delightfully tense, complete with Jake being as awkward as he’s ever been. I like to think that Moniker was likely Jake’s first real significant other, which presumably fuels Jake’s anger and jealousy even more. It feels relatable in the sense that there’s always people from your past that you either hate or are simply envious of, and one has to constantly prove to themselves that they’re better than those people for some kind of unauthentic gratification. The scenes that emphasize Jake’s turmoil are really well done, and I love that the flowing, vigorous stream is a consistent audio cue to signify Jake’s feelings. I also enjoy how his relationship and battling within himself comes into play frequently. After Charlie leaves, Jake first adopts some of his old tactics and behaviors (by creating a duplicate of his past self) and then eventually becomes his old self (by morphing into his devilish, angered form). It’s a really nice touch in the visual department, and that goes for all of Jake’s facial expressions in general. Wolfhard and Muto clearly had a lot of fun with this one, and it helps that these dramatic expressions makes the episode feel like a true sequel to Card Wars.
The most interesting bit in this episode is easily Charlie’s psychic visions of the future, which paints a bleak, yet deeply poignant vision of what lies ahead. I do like how Charlie’s foreseeable future contrasts with how Jake views each decade; while Jake assumes that he’s supposed to be a certain thing by a specific time in his life, Charlie’s look into the future proves that she really isn’t going to have things figured out until the very end of her life, and that’s pretty much life in a nutshell. While it seems that Charlie does live a fulfilling life, and ends up having a child of her own (none other than Gibbon!), it’s apparent that she also deals with the natural tragedies of existence as well: fearing what lies ahead, feeling intrinsically alone, and losing those close to her as she continues to age. While Jake assumes that he’s supposed to be dignified by this point in his life, he’s adding stress and turmoil to his life by not realizing the vast complexities that life offers. It isn’t until Charlie adopts the demeanor and lifestyle of her 90-year-old self that Jake is able to be “content” in his life, both in his regrets and his future. Though, to be honest, I thought that this was a pretty lazy conclusion. It feels like Jake didn’t really learn anything, and that he was simply altered by Charlie’s ability to give him this knowledge. I feel like it kind of tarnishes what the episode was trying to accomplish if he doesn’t go through the actual process of understanding his wrongdoings, and merely just adopts this knowledge regardless. What if in Don’t Look, instead of hearing what his friends have to say about him to help him to shape his self-view, Jake simply just walked up to Finn, touched him, and shouted “self-acceptance,” and that was that? It’s pretty uninspired and feels cheap. Though, I still do like Jake’s casual acceptance of his loss, and his official burial of his 20’s. Haha, okay.
I think Daddy-Daughter Card Wars is ultimately decent. It’s stronger points are definitely with Charlie, but of course, I’m biased. I think it does have some flaws in the execution of its story and Jake’s character arc as a whole, but nothing that’s especially detrimental to the quality of the episode, aside from the resolution itself. It’s still funny, thoughtful, and has a lot of nice backgrounds/drawings that translate well into the animation process. Two last notes: I do love how everyone within Jake’s contact list in My Two Favorite People is now accounted for thanks to this episode! So cool how they all have somewhat of an active role in this world, even if they’re only on-screen for like, two seconds. Also, Wolfhard drew up a prequel comic for this episode over on the AT tumblr. Check it out here! It’s tons o’ fun, and ties into the central theme of the episode quite nicely.
Semi-daily reviews return in two weeks! Until then, stay tuned for the double review release of Preboot/Reboot next week!