“Gumbaldia” Review

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Original Airdate: March 18, 2018

Written & Storyboarded by: Sam Alden & Graham Falk

After multiple viewings, I still grapple with my feelings towards Gumbaldia. As the penultimate episode to the series, it certainly builds up for what’s to come in its climax. Though, that’s exactly the issue. More obvious in retrospect than during a first viewing, Gumbaldia was clearly executed as an opportunity for the staff to have much, much more material down the line. I opine that, had the show continued from this point on, we would have certainly moved into a miniseries revolving around the Gum War and the reunion of various villains throughout Ooo. It seems like that was the obvious next move from this episode, but the sudden cancellation of the series kind of pushed the staff into a corner. They still followed up with the Gum War, but the “Candy Kingdom Haters” were sidelined almost entirely, for the respectable reason that, with all other loose ends that needed to be tied up, there just wasn’t room for them. That being said, judging Gumbaldia for what it is, rather than what it was intended to be is a difficult experience. I think a lot of the set pieces in this episode are fine, and the eerie atmosphere that encompasses its entirety really adds to the harshness of its themes, but ultimately, Gumbaldia… doesn’t really need to exist.

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I know that’s a cryptic and almost slanderous statement. In reality, there are plenty of Adventure Time episodes that could be pointed out and described as “inconsequential.” But, with Gumbaldia, it’s clear that its purpose is to develop story elements that carry through into the next episode. In this episode, Finn laments about the inevitability of war and embarks on a last ditch effort to resolve the tensions between two parties. In the next episode, Come Along With Me, he ends up following the same exact path, only (somewhat) succeeding the second time around. Gumbald is revealed to be paranoid in this episode, dealing with the same issues of inferiority that PB suffers from. This concept is explored in much more detail in the following episode, in a way that successfully paints a picture of Gumbald’s struggles, while this episode merely plays around with the idea of such anxiety until Gumbald decides to follow through with his plans anyway. Aunt Lolly is revealed to have a possible softer side, but again, that’s retconned by the end of the episode, and only further elaborated on in Come Along With Me.

I feel as though Gumbaldia consists of a lot of half-baked ideas that end up just being repeated in the following episode (for better or worse), and while that’s not really the episode’s fault, it does feel as if it’s entirely disposable upon revisiting. One could view this as an “establishing” piece, tossing around ideas that generally get fleshed out more in subsequent entries, but when it feels as though you still get the gist of everything even without it, it’s difficult to really discover the underlying purpose of it all. The only real points of heavy development are the initiation of the Gum War (which, again, could have just as easily been established without a definitive bit of exposition) and Peppermint Butler being reverted by dum-dum juice – though I’m not really certain that counts as development.  I’d throw in Aunt Lolly too, but honestly, her character growth is so perplexing that I feel as though her role in the following episode would be equally as confusing regardless.

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I’ve talked about this before, but this isn’t really a criticism I enjoy dishing out. I think the idea of something “not needing to exist” is such a facile jab that it’s almost quibbling. But, I think it’s important to discuss because Gumbaldia is clearly a product of its time. This was an episode produced when the staff had the mindset of continuing the series and each established storyline. The sudden closure of production put the staff in a place where they had to think most logically about what would be the most fitting conclusion to the series – not to Gumbaldia. Thus, this truly does feel like a collection of set pieces that don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. The ideas presented are either scrapped entirely or redistributed, making almost everything feel insignificant.

So, that large tangent aside, what do I think about the episode without the finale in mind? Well, I think it’s decent. Like I mentioned, I think it builds up the eerie atmosphere in a pretty successful way. I try to stay as far away from political discussions on this blog for two central reasons:

  1. My own naivety when it comes to world affairs. (I am a cartoon analyst after all… what did you expect?)
  2. The lack of necessity it brings to particular points.

Regardless, I do think this episode is interesting, given the time period it was released during. It was a period of time where the concept of war and international conflict was particularly stressful, and almost unavoidable. Gumbaldia came along right after that anxiety seemed to have peaked in the States, but it is intriguing to look back on Finn’s almost hopeless feelings of being trapped in a war that he doesn’t want to be apart of as sort of a display of empathy. Of course, this is clearly an episode that can be used to describe a variety of different conflicts and current affairs, and to elaborate on all of them would just be breaking my two golden rules. Especially that first one. Again, cartoon reviewer, guys. Ya can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

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On the subject of controversy, I think there is a lot of debate on whether Finn is portrayed in a light that’s true to his character or not. After all, this is a character that has stated that he “kills things all the time.” I suppose for a lot of people, this approach to pacifism has never been a part of Finn’s character; I’ll admit, it does seem much more like a development more suited for Steven Universe than Finn Mertens. But, regardless of this, I think the decision to have Finn choose a more peaceful route over his naturally inclined instinct to punch and kick everything that opposes him is something I do respect.

My main takeaway of Finn’s realization isn’t that he decided that fighting is wrong, but that some problems simply cannot be solved by violence. I don’t even personally think this is an entirely accurate belief; I’m against violence for the most part, but I do acknowledge that there are certain situations where brute force is a necessary option to consider when reason and logic prove ineffective. I’m not so sure that Finn is even written to be entirely in the right from the episode’s perspective – after all, his chances at making peace do fail by the end of it. There’s even that brief exchange at the beginning that kind of plays off Finn’s desires for peace as innocent and not fully realized. Despite being particularly unclear of the complexities of foreign conflict, I do think he is perhaps being the most logical out of both parties involved. I mean, it’s tough to say, because the subject at hand is pretty complex and probably more difficult to dissect than it appears to be from a surface level. But as Gumbaldia presents, both PB and Gumbald are coming from standpoints of paranoia fueled defensiveness. PB fears that Gumbald’s superior technology will destroy everything that she’s ever worked with, and Gumbald fears being micromanaged and essentially left lobotomized once more. Finn is operating from the perspective of what’s best for everyone (with probably a slight bit of selfishness when it comes to not wanting to be involved in warfare) instead of internalizing a quick and potentially fatal solution that may forever dismantle Ooo as they know it.

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Finn’s desire to make peace instead of solving issues with violence may stem from his previous encounter with Fern that permanently scarred the lad. After practically killing his alternate self, Finn was left with the idea that things didn’t have to end this way and that the two of them truly could have come to terms with their issues if Fern simply complied with talking it out. Finn tries the same approach this time as well, though to no avail. Fern is still unwilling to be reasoned with, believing that he’s apart of the same superiority complex that PB and Gumbald are competing for. Though, the episode does brilliantly explain in a visual sense that there is one thing Fern doesn’t have – a loving brother to back him up no matter what. Fern may feel the superiority of being physically enhanced through Gumbald’s experiments, though he still lacks the support system that truly helps for him to feel whole.

Once we get into the Gumbald stuff, the episode begins to feel a bit convoluted. I’m still not sure I really understand Aunt Lolly’s role. At the start of her appearance, it kind of seems like you’re supposed to sympathize with her because, unlike her hammy counterparts, she does understand the weight of her surroundings and connects with Finn for those reasons. Aunt Lolly did have the potential to make a comeback, because Gumbald was the one who ended up betraying her, not PB. But her development is made super confusing, because apparently her empathizing with Finn was an elaborate scheme the entire time. But then the following episode decides to continue with her development regardless, as if the ending of Gumbaldia never happened. So, I’m not really sure what I’m supposed to get from her character. Gumbald’s scheming is equally as confusing – instead of just pretending to understand where Finn is coming from, he puts his own self in danger on the chance that Finn and Jake would absolutely come to his rescue in time. Um, isn’t this a bit insane? It’s somewhat convincing as a viewer to watch these events unfold, only for expectations to be subverted later on, but in-universe it’s a really, really stupid plan.

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The scenes to follow are all executed decently: the dinner scene in which Finn and Jake recall the events of Jake Suit was moderately fun, albeit that Gumbald’s investment in their lives never feels very convincing. Pepbut being dum-dummed upon their trip home was a huge bummer for me, especially considering my affinity for the character. I’m also not really sure why they decided to keep his character in this state, but I’ll lament more on that in our next discussion. The closing bits are unarguably bleak, with Finn’s plans for peace failing entirely, and the inevitability of war being at hand. Though I’m disappointed in their lack of a follow-up, it was cool to see all of these classic villains once more as kind of an initial feeling of suspense that shit really was about to go down. Of course, the staff didn’t really follow through with that suspense, but again, I’m not sure I can blame them for excluding elements that would make an already cluttered finale even more jam-packed.

So, with all of that said, Gumbaldia is still an episode that perplexes me when it comes to having a definitive opinion. There’s a lot of stuff that works in the moment, but doesn’t really work when you view the whole picture. And if I’m judging it strictly standalone from the rest of the series, I’m not really sure if it fully succeeds in what it’s trying to accomplish either. It’s an episode that really banks itself on its eerie atmosphere, but if you take the time to even think about if its story elements make sense, such as Aunt Lolly and Gumbald’s plans, it sort of falls apart. It’s filled to the brim with lots of ridiculous conveniences that aren’t especially believable in any sense. I still don’t really think it’s a bad episode, as Finn’s role carries Gumbaldia through pretty successfully. But still, I think Gumbaldia is undoubtedly a product of its time. It was clearly created to be a precursor for one story, and ended up being the precursor for an entirely different tale. I think there were definite hints here and there throughout the ninth season that the AT may not have had a huge heads up before the show’s cancellation, but looking back, Gumbaldia is definitive proof that adjustments were made last minute. Not even just in the sense of the old-school AT villains making their triumphant return, but all developments regarding the Gumbald family that failed to be fleshed out entirely in the way that they so desperately needed to be. In a perfect world, Gumbaldia could have been a fine setup to a whole batch of new episodes down the line. But, as is, it’s an example of the true and few amount of time that the AT crew had left.

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Being this far in the series is somewhat of a surreal feeling. I started this blog three years ago, joking to myself that I’d be on my death bed finishing up my review of the series finale. It’s odd to know that this journey is nearly complete, and I want to once again take a sappy moment to thank all you lovely people for supporting this blog, even as its gotten more inconsistent in its releases. Even if I’m not directly responding to everything I am sent on this blog, Reddit, and elsewhere, I cannot begin to express the joy I get from reading all of your interesting takes on individual episodes. It’s certainly bittersweet to begin entering the “wrap-up” phase, but I can ensure you all that there will be plenty of content to hold you over for the next few months. I do plan on shifting my attention onto bigger projects into the next year that have nothing to do with Adventure Time, but for now, I look forward to sharing a lot of my final hot takes on the series as a whole.

Instead of jumping into the finale next week, I’ll be taking on Diamonds & Lemons first, just because it would feel anti-climatic to finish off this episode review series with a Minecraft homage. In two weeks, I’ll be starting with the Come Along With Me reviews. My pals on the Reddit advised that it would be interesting to tackle this episode by separating it into parts and then analyzing it as a whole, similar to what I typically do with the miniseries. How I’ll execute this, I’m still unsure. I’ll probably release the first two parts in the same day, and the remaining two parts the following week. It honestly all depends on how much I have to say and  how much time I have in my schedule. Regardless, you can expect my opinions on the finale quite shortly, and thank you all once again for your continued support!

Favorite line: “You thought you had beaten me? Me?! Cool sword.”

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