“High Strangeness” Review

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Original Airdate: January 25, 2017

Written & Storyboarded by: Pendleton Ward & Sam Alden

These first six episodes of Season 8 were initially aired in “bomb” format, meaning within the same week. Of all six episodes, High Strangeness was likely the one that I was looking forward to the least. By watching the initial previews, I was really under the impression that this would be one of “those” later season episodes that tries so endlessly hard to replicate the random wackiness of the earlier seasons, but never really gets it quite right. On top of that, this was Pendleton Ward’s return to the storyboarding front after being absent for the entirety of two seasons, and I was somewhat skeptical about how in touch he would be with his creation after being gone for so long. Likewise, his board partner Sam Alden seemed like an… odd fit for him. Alden typically specializes in adding coherency to Jesse’s overly heady stories, while occasionally hitting on the humor of individual character moments. It seemed like an odd pairing to say the least, but with that skepticism aside, this episode is pretty great and likely my favorite of the bunch (save for Do No Harm). Not only is it a hilarious episode with tons of sight gags, subtle moments, and terrific one-liners, but it’s also surprisingly heavy in its closing moments.

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I never knew that I wanted an episode centered around Tree Trunks’ extra-terrestrial husband and offspring, but it surprisingly just kind of makes sense. As promiscuous as she is, I have no problem accepting that, at some point in time, Tree Trunks fucked and married an alien. It’s a hilariously over-the-top bit of character building for her character, but it’s fitting nonetheless. Dunno why, but I feel like Pendleton Ward really specializes with Tree Trunks and Mr. Pig’s characters. I have no proof to back this, because Ward has not written or boarded a single episode with these two as the focus, but I get the feeling that they’re just his type of characters. They’re silly, often bizarre, and simple. Not to imply that Ward doesn’t work well with complexity, as Adventure Time was his creation after all, but his approach to writing for these characters channels into his roots as a storyteller. The reason we care for Finn and Jake initially is because they’re so simple and silly, whereas TT and Mr. P are pretty much in the same vein.

A lot of those small, subtle moments of humor that I mentioned earlier run rampant in Ward’s section of the episode, in the best possible way. I can’t even express to you guys how much I love the blank-faced Finn portrait above Tree Trunks and Mr. Pig’s bed. It’s like, why the fuck is that even there? I mean, yeah, he’s a close friend to both of them, but why would they position a portrait of a 16-year-old kid directly in the center of their bedroom? What makes this so hysterical is that, again, it kind of makes sense. With Tree Trunks and Mr. Pig’s strange lifestyles, I can totally see this being a decision that they sat down and chatted about. Also, Mr. Pig’s way of taping his loved ones’ noses as they snore is both demented and kind of sweet. I only say sweet because I really can’t resist that moment of Mr. Pig looking over Sweet P. while he sleeps. That melted my heart.

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The scenes to follow at Princess Bubblegum’s science festival are equally as bizarre and delightful. That pose of Jake stretching into a comfortable seat while holding BMO and holding various objects is another example of something that only a goofball like Ward could come up with, along with the shoe camera that Starchy utilizes and PB’s Texas shaped button. The addition of Princess Bubblegum and her plans of colonization are really what add another layer of substance to this episode. I was curious as to how PB’s developmental transition would change or alter her character, and I’m glad that this episode shows that she does still battle with her own morality in reference to what is best for her people and the Candy Kingdom in general. Here, it’s a more complex situation than what we’ve dealt with in the past. No one from the Candy Kingdom is directly affected by PB’s decisions, but outside sources are. Bonnie likely doesn’t realize the effect she’s having to begin with, but I think she does realize from the beginning that it could have somewhat of a harmful result. Her line “I’m doing the right thing,” definitely implies that there is some form of regret behind her actions, though she knows it is important to keep her legacy and the Candy People alive and well.

An added dose of PB’s shadiness means we get to see the Veritas Brigade once more! It’s a bit disappointing that Peace Master doesn’t appear once more, though understandable why he wouldn’t come back. The scenes leading up to TT and Starchy’s convening are just great; Tree Trunks writing “fascist” in glitter is one of my favorite gif-able moments in the series and completely unexpected… just how many kids know what fascism is anyway? Also, Starchy’s super drawn out method of getting to the secret location of the Brigade, only to find out that it’s where he and Tree Trunks had initially met, is just priceless and something I didn’t even notice on my first couple viewings. This really is a spectacular “blink and you’ll miss it” episode. In general, I like seeing the Brigade again, and even enjoy the way the members are fleshed out a bit more in this episode, like the Banana Guard and “Booshy.” One main question I have one my mind, however: what the hell happened to Toronto in that picture on the wall? I dunno if it’s something that was just generally lost in the animation process, but man, it’s freaky.

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When the Brigade does break into PB’s storage unit (with more hilarious tactics; Nurse Poundcake uses a smoke bomb where it’s clearly not needed) TT and PB come face to face in a dramatic way. After being abducted by the spaceship, PB begins to understand the weight of her decision, and chooses to step back from her methods. Her reasons are, again, understandable. After everything that has happened to the Candy Kingdom in the past year or so, with the passing of the catalyst comet, the invasions of vampires, and the idea that her role as a ruler is finite, PB’s choice to colonize makes sense with the reality that there are plenty of horrific things that could become of the CK (and eventually do). The scene with PB and TT walking and talking during the sunrise is another one of my favorites from the series; it’s a potent moment in which PB allows herself to become vulnerable to someone she doesn’t even like in order to reveal her personal struggles in the process. Similarly, Tree Trunks allows her stern, no-nonsense self to lighten up and compromise with someone who is presumably her strongest enemy to date. It’s a really nice moment between two unlikely characters. But of course, the episode comes to its grand conclusion when Tree Trunks’ alien husband and Mr. Pig humbly come face-to-face with each other. I really don’t know how much more stress Mr. P can take at this point.

High Strangeness is, like the title suggests, an odd and unusual entry, but one that owns its bizarre nature and turns it into utter hilarity, while also knowing the importance of carrying through with its story. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a Tree Trunks-centric episode, and High Strangeness really delivers with a story that’s as silly and strange as her character, but one that also helps to flesh out the world of AT and the vulnerability of its characters. It’s also a visually strong episode, with Alden’s scenes being really well-detailed and lit, and Ward’s depictions of the alien society being just trippy enough to work. One criticism I do have is that the design of the aliens feels somewhat lazy and uninspired, but not particularly unlikable. There is a reason why the simplified big eyes and slanted nostrils is so popular, and it works within AT‘s world decently. And truthfully, any episode that involves Tree Trunks smacking Mr. Pig’s ass gets a thumbs up from myself.

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Favorite line: “Booshy’s only prison is this wicked planet!” “Yeah… well, join the club.”

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