Original Airdate: December 17, 2017
Written & Storyboarded by: Steve Wolfhard & Tom Herpich
Though it’s been nearly a year since Adventure Time has ended, I still feel like there’s a ton of divisiveness around the nature of the show’s climax to where I’m not really sure what the truth is. A lot of people have batted around the idea that the execs at Cartoon Network Studios had given the AT staff 16 episodes to wrap the series up, while others have mentioned that, after the completion of Gumbaldia, the crew was given four final episodes to tie up all loose ends. Then of course, there’s the crowd that still believes that Adventure Time wasn’t cancelled and simply “ended on its own terms,” which is simply not true. I get that it’s wishful thinking, but Adam Muto has outright said that he and the staff would have continued working on the series, had Cartoon Network decided to keep it going.¹ Regardless, it is interesting to ponder just how much was planned ahead to definitively wrap things up. A good chunk of this final batch of episodes feels as if they were created without an end in mind, though the one that surprising wraps up an individual character arc the best is Ring of Fire. I’ve seen a handful of mixed opinions towards this one, but I can honestly say it’s the first entry since The Wild Hunt that I’ve pretty much liked all the way through. Adventure Time has largely served as a metaphor for growing up – mostly in allusion to its main character, though other characters have similarly dealt with the grievance of aging, such as Jake, Marceline, and even the world renowned Nurse Betsy Poundcake. In the span of 11 minutes, the life of an entire character is visited, and it really brings up some introspective ideas about relationships, individuality, and what’s most important in life.
We were bound to get an episode dedicated to Tree Trunks’ relationships with her past lovers ever since they were introduced in Apple Wedding. Ring of Fire gives a little bit of a taste into each one of them, and essentially uses them as a way to show gradually how Tree Trunks became the person that she is. I’ll never know what it’s like to be ol’ geezer until I actually do, but the general story of Tree Trunks’ life (save for Adventure Time‘s addition of typical absurdity) essentially embodies every story from any female baby boomer I’ve been acquainted with. The freedom of youth, the need for something greater, and the ultimate compliance of settling down. Tree Trunks has clearly lived a very full existence, as demonstrated throughout the episode, and the poignancy of her walk through life is really set by her opening conversation with Sweet P. TT tearing up thinking about her past and present is bittersweet – it’s likely that these emotions come from her feelings of fulfillment in her role as a mother and a wife, but also probably connect to the sadness of her most carefree days being long behind her. It’s both a wonderful feeling and kind of a downer that everything you’ve worked for has finally been accomplished, but there isn’t much room for discovery anymore. Regardless, it’s clear that Tree Trunks’ maturity spans beyond just her past and throughout the series as well. Just a few seasons ago, this same vivacious elephant nearly called off her marriage after only months of being together, and here, we’re treated to a much more grounded Tree Trunks that is even hesitant to get together with her past boyfriend in the sense of jeopardizing what she has currently. That’s where the sweetness comes in of Tree Trunks’ previous emotional moment – that she truly does love and cherish everything that is in her life currently, and is far beyond the idea of jumping ships to whatever else is exciting. I should also bring up the existence of the “Tiny Mammal Kingdom,” which might just be the cutest concept for a kingdom that AT has ever come up with.
Her relationship with her first significant other, Randy (on a side note, GOD are there way too many “Randy”s in Adventure Time. I can’t think of a single more common name in this series than that), is a typical first love scenario. As an 18-year-old, Tree Trunks doesn’t want to tie herself down to anyone, but similarly only knows and is comfortable with the idea of her S.O.. In a much similar sense, Randy is waaay into the idea that his first love is his only love and that, once more, it’s all he really knows. The marriage between the two is hilariously short-lived, as Tree Trunks decides on the wedding day itself that she simply isn’t ready to settle. It’s essentially young love boiled down to its bare essentials; Randy, at 18, already believes that he knows just what he wants for the rest of his life, but Tree Trunks couldn’t even commit to getting past the Honey Moon. It’s primarily a time of discovery and self-actualization, and it very much depicts two people who have entirely different ideas about what they want for their future, which is usually how first serious relationships go. I’m also not sure if it’s incredibly lazy or comical, but in her teen years, Tree Trunks had the same exact old, Polly Lou Livingston voice. It really makes me wonder if she’s actually waaay younger than she appears to be. Reverse PB Syndrome, that is.
Before it aired, Steve Wolfhard had mentioned on his Twitter that Ring of Fire was “the most sex-mad thing [he] ever boarded for AT.” I think that’s what got people most intrigued by it, but only Tree Trunks’ relationship with Danny ever borders on the line of being overly provocative. Danny is essentially a vessel for Tree Trunks to live out the vivacious section of her life that craves hormonal enticement. Danny’s alluring in a physical sense, but Tree Trunks never acknowledges her need for full intimacy and is attracted to Danny only because he represents the wild/crazy lifestyle that she’s looking for. But, the party life begins to lose its appeal after time, and the need for security becomes more prominent. Tree Trunks was never able to achieve full intimacy with Danny, simply because her needs changed beyond what she thought she ever would desire, and that Danny’s personality proved to be truly ugly on the inside.
I do have to say, the Danny section is probably the most problematic of the episode for myself, and others alike. I don’t really feel like the sauciness promised ever pushes in the direction of being either as hilarious or interesting as it was hyped up to be. Ring of Fire has its scandalous moments, but nothing that tops AT‘s other most sexually driven episodes, such as All the Little People, Frost & Fire, or Breezy. The more extreme stuff that we do get to see is just kind of uncomfortable – I could have gone without Tree Trunks harassing her shipmates into bending over for her. Adventure Time has this weird consistency with including harassment towards its male cast that always kind of just feels unlikable or unnecessary (Barb in Web Weirdos, Lumpy Space Princess in Breezy). This section also garnered criticism for including the pirates that were seen helping Martin in the promo art for Min & Marty. I think a lot of people were expecting Martin to show up because of this, but I don’t know if I can really blame the episode for it. I’m assuming Ring of Fire was in production by the time that Min & Marty actually aired, and I’m also assuming that the promo art is not done that far in advance. When making it, Sam Alden may have just included these pirates based on the concept art from Ring of Fire, as a bit of an Easter egg for later on.
This section of the episode also kind of rewrites Tree Trunks’ backstory in a way. Her debut episode Tree Trunks features her inability to grasp the lifestyle of being an adventurer, but it seems like she knows a hell of a lot from her past experiences. She blew up a friggin’ boat! Of course, I can’t really blame an episode produced seven years prior for that, especially since Tree Trunks was supposed to be dead by the end of it. So I have to turn some of the fault on Ring of Fire as a result. There’s also this weird technical moment when Danny first arrives – his color coding changes twice as if it were sunset, but once Tree Trunks convenes with him, the coding returns to daylight. I’m not sure if this was done for aesthetic purposes, but it’s just kind of distracting for me.
That long tangent aside, the next segment features Tree Trunks’ most frequently mentioned past husband: Wyatt. Wyatt is a pretty pathetic loser, and his star episode Apple Wedding really didn’t hold back with showing that. Still, it’s kind of clear as to why Tree Trunks fell for him, in the sense that he fills that exact sense of security for her that she had decided that she wanted. The love from Wyatt was essentially a given – he’s a really desperate dude and Tree Trunks would probably never have to worry about him deceiving or backstabbing her. Still, while that promise of forever-love is tempting, it comes with its problems when you’re dealt a man like Wyatt. He’s completely dependent on that love for any kind of self-fulfillment, and keeps wanting more and more until he completely drains Tree Trunks of having any individuality herself. He just can’t resist the sweet taste of her delicious pies. Yanno, I use this blog as a writing sample when I apply to jobs. I’m really wondering if my dissection of a children’s cartoon that features an overly-horny elephant is benefiting or hurting my potential future. Food for thought.
Anywho, that leads us to the climax of Tree Trunks’ martial life with Mr. Pig. Mr. Pig is likely Tree Trunks’ least defined husband. He really doesn’t have much of a personality, and is practically described by his monotonous nature. Regardless, he does represent a little bit of everything Tree Trunks has sought out in the past, at the expense of being slightly underwhelming. With those shortcomings in mind, the culmination of this episode really adds up to Tree Trunks’ acceptance of stagnancy in her own life by finding a comfortable, while not always exciting, alternative.
Ring of Fire presents some narrative issues in its middle section, but I overall really appreciate this one. The message by the end of it is quite obvious: that the simplicities of life can often be the greatest adventure of all. But I do enjoy how it shows that it can take even a lifetime to discover that as well. Often life can seem like a constant battle for significance and deeper meaning, but sometimes the best answers to fulfillment are those simpler elements. Granted, I don’t doubt that Tree Trunks enjoyed her life in her wild and crazy days, and I don’t think this mindset should discourage anyone from living a vigorous lifestyle, but every adventure does come to an end, and ultimately settling into a comfortable position can be a reward on its own. Mr. Pig is the answer to Tree Trunks’ long, confusing life of promiscuity, giving her not what she’s always wanted, but what she’s always needed.
¹ Can’t find the exact quote from Muto where he discusses this process, though he alludes to it here.