Original Airdate: January 24, 2017
Written & Storyboarded by: Graham Falk & Charmaine Verhagen
Wheels is… an interesting episode. One that I think is neither good nor bad… but… interesting. In the grand scheme of things, there’s only about 40 episodes of AT left by this point, and this is sort of the last episode focused on Jake and his kin. With that in mind, this episode focuses less on the relationship between Jake and his son, Kim Kil Whan, and more on Jake and the relationship between KKW and his daughter Bronwyn, a rebellious skater girl. That aspect of Bronwyn’s personality alone seems a bit sitcom-y, and it even plays out mostly in stereotypical sitcom fashion, though by the end of it, Jake hasn’t really learned anything about himself or his behavior to those around him. I’m not saying any of these aspects are really bad things either; the story treads similar waters to the “rebellious kids and dorky elders” trope, but isn’t painful or cringe-worthy in any fashion, and while Jake doesn’t treat his granddaughter in the nicest fashion, it’s mostly in line with his character. However, looking at in hindsight, I’m not really sure this is the story or the conclusion that I really want to see at this point in the show’s run.
One decision that I am thankful for is that Kim Kil Whan is a hell of a lot nicer and more reasonable in this episode than he was in Ocarina. The interactions between Jake and KKW at the beginning of Wheels are genuinely nice and charming. It honestly works somewhat against the episode that KKW is presented this way, however. By the end of the episode, you kind of end up sympathizing with Kim Kil Whan much more than one would with Jake, and while that’s impressive on its own, I’m not really sure I should be meant to feel such a way. Like, Kim Kil Whan was pretty much an utter asshole in Ocarina, and even though he had reasons for behaving the way that he did, it was much easier to feel for Jake because of how sweet and lovable he is. Here, the situation is kind of flipped (though Jake is way more tolerable than KKW was in the former episode) and it’s a shame that this episode more-or-less paints KKW in the right for thinking his father is essentially a deadbeat. The growth in KKW’s behavior can obviously be seen, as he doesn’t absolutely retaliate against Jake as he previously did, though we don’t really ever get to see Jake “win” in this arc. Ocarina ended with Kim Kil Whan feeling a bit better overall after seeing that Jake at least meant well in his behavior, though Jake himself never really got an opportune chance to prove himself as a father figure or as a person in general. Here… he doesn’t really get to either. The entire arc between these two characters then feels somewhat unsatisfying. I always figured that the series would end on Jake’s status as a responsible father still being highly questionable, but sheesh, Wheels really doesn’t hold back on the fact that Jake hasn’t learned absolutely anything by the end of it.
While we’re on the topic, I’ll repeat myself once more: I don’t think Jake’s role in this episode is necessarily bad or out of character. His desire to be cool likely stems from the fact that Jake probably didn’t really have a true chance to be a teenager. After all, he’s essentially 16 in actuality, and probably didn’t get the full experience to “be cool” and impress the other kids around him. We actually know very little of these formative years in Jake’s life, so I think it’s easy to assume that this could be true and tie into his fear of aging as a whole. Jake also has the laidback, rebellious, somewhat competitive side of a teenager, which also helps to show how he fits into the crowd. Tying back to what I was saying before, it just so happens that I feel this is the exact wrong story and wrong time in the series to have him behave this way. I get that Jake is the one character that kind of stays himself while everyone around him goes through their own personal epiphanies, but I would have liked to see him have a bit of remorse and responsibility towards his treatment of Bronwyn. I do like the moments where he’s legitimately concerned about how the kids view her and tries to help her out, but that kindness quickly shifts into his competitive nature, which is fun, but not really the type of experience that I feel was necessary for his character in any which way. I think this story would have been executed a lot better in general had it just been a group of random teenagers that Jake was challenging, rather than someone from his immediate family. Just felt like they were pushing the envelope a bit too much with how careless Jake can be.
Bronwyn is somewhat of a cult character among fans. Granted, her fanbase isn’t exceptionally huge, but I have seen a lot of artwork of her character on tumblr, deviantart, and other spaces of the internet (don’t take that the wrong way). Her character is… fine, I guess. I’m not really sure where her appeal comes from, to be honest. I mean, she has a cool design and gnarly powers (love the lightning abilities) but otherwise, there’s not much to her. She’s kind of just a generic teenage rebel character. She isn’t particularly funny, tragic, or intriguing, and I’m not sure the episode really means for her to be, but man, I am surprised at how much people get into her character. I guess it is her design, which is admittedly well-crafted, but otherwise, I think she’s mostly forgettable.
I keep mentioning the “story” of this one, but truthfully, outside of Bronwyn and Jake’s dynamic which is mostly funny, I feel as though the plot of Wheels is somewhat paper thin. A lot of it is just Bronwyn’s group of friends switching back and forth on whether they think Jake or Bronwyn are cool or not. It quickly gets repetitive until we actually get to the final sequence: a big skateboard race between Jake and Bronwyn. Part of what makes this aspect work so well is board supervisor Erik Fountain’s assistance with the skateboarding scenes, which turned out really fluid and delightfully complex in the final cut. It’s a really enjoyable sequence that I initially expected to be dreadful, but it turned out quite nice in its execution. Combine those scenes with some scattered funny lines and enjoyable moments, like Finn’s sleep-fluting (which even summoned his former flame, Huntress Wizard) or Jake’s delirious rambling after face-planting, and we’re left with a half-decent episode.
I dunno, I’m divisive with Wheels. I like parts of it, and even the parts I don’t really like, I acknowledge that they aren’t especially bad or detrimental, but I feel as though it just leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth. If there was ever an episode that left me feeling as though Jake was a flat out poor parental figure, I think this would be the one. I still believe that Jake as a character is a loving and caring person, but I’m not really sure what exactly this episode sought to accomplish. Was it to show that Jake simply can’t grow beyond his childish and immature demeanor? Was it an apology letter to those who thought Kim Kil Whan was too harsh in the previous episode? Whatever it ended up being, I really can’t grab for a clear, concise reason for this episode. Not that every episode really needs to have a reason or a purpose, but when we’re so far down the line with only so many episodes left, I’d expect an episode centering around Jake and his family to be a bit more potent. Sadly, things end in a bit of a whimper, and it’s a little bit disheartening that this was the culmination of everything that Jake has tried to achieve as a father. We get more moments later on revolving around his relationships with the pups, though, it’s mostly reiterating what we already knew. Wheels tries something new, but in my humble opinion, it’s information that we didn’t really need to begin with.