Original Airdate: April 2, 2012
Written & Storyboarded by: Rebecca Sugar & Cole Sanchez
Here we are, kids! Season four! As I’ve mentioned a couple times prior to this review, season four is a really big turning point for the series. Things get darker, edgier, and more impactful from hereon in, folks. Fresh off the batch is Hot to the Touch, a continuation from where season three’s cliffhanger left off. When the original synopsis for this episode was released, I had much different expectations for it. I generally didn’t expect for this one to pick right up where Incendium left off, as it typically wasn’t really something AT had done before, aside from the Mortal Folly/Mortal Recoil two-parter. I thought there’d be a lot more of Finn just sort of observing Flame Princess from afar, and trying to learn little tidbits about her in the process. There is a little bit of that, but what we got as a whole was a pretty satisfying episode, though not without it’s issues.
First off, I think Flame Princess’s character is crafted perfectly in this episode. I dunno, after this one, I think they kinda jumped the gun and made her a lot less interesting than this episode set her up to be. I like her curiosity, how uneducated of the world around her she is, and how her moral code is constantly put into question. With a few exceptions (and some cool development much later on) I think her character was sorta squandered down into just a straight good guy following Hot to the Touch. Not to say Flame Princess is an awful character after this episode, but it almost feels like day and night to watch her so recklessly destroy a kingdom in this one and then be all cute and bubbly the next. I just really think they had a lot of momentum going with her ambiguity and then sorta dropped it way too quickly. It’s not an actual issue with the episode, though, and is one of my very favorite appearances of FP’s character in general. Also, she frequently mentions that she’s an elemental! It’s cool to see this mentioned so early on, and makes me wonder how Flame Princess became so familiar with this label to begin with. Perhaps Flame King educated her on this matter? It’s really up for discussion.
Finn’s interest in Flame Princess is very cute; I love his instant infatuation with FP and how he’s quickly able to profess his love for her without even really knowing her. That’s a typical thirteen-year-old for you (or is he 14 now?). I love how honest he is right off the bat, completely contradicting his prior relationship with PB. It’s rewarding to see the little guy be so open regarding his feelings and to not hold back, learning from his mistakes the first time. In addition to that, there is an interesting bit of turmoil he experiences when he has to choose between being a hero or preserving the one he cares about. The decision seems simple at first, but it all becomes more difficult when we learn that putting out FP’s flames legitimately hurt her. All of us want Finn to choose the obvious route of being heroic, but also don’t want to see Flame Princess get injured in the process. As for his ending breakdown… we’ll get to that in a bit.
Jake is the perfect everyman in this episode: completely supportive of his hormonal brother, but being very rational when handling the situation. I love how much he goes through just for his friend, from helping him pursue his new love interest to trying to protect the Goblin Kingdom in the process. And, as a result, Jake is actually the true hero of this episode! Yeah, he helps Finn get closer to Flame Princess AND saves everyone in the Goblin Kingdom. What did you do again, Finn? You’re slippin’, buddy.
There’s a lot of enjoyable moments in this one. I love Finn’s awkwardness when it comes to pursuing FP, right down to the fact that he’s basically being a giant stalker and even acknowledges himself in the act. There’s plenty of silly side characters, from the smoking bird (who, for some reason, speaks in rhymes) and the return of the quirky goblins! And hey, speaking of characters returning, my boi NEPTR’s back!! NEPTR is one of my all-time favorites, and it’s really delightful to see the little scamp once again. I love the fact that everyone just generally disregards everything he says, including his entire existence. It just seems like such an oddly cynical and sadistic turn for such loving characters, and I really like how different it is because of that. NEPTR will always be BMO-Light to the rest of the cast. Also, that rap was fucking dope!
My one problem with this episode, which is actually kind of a major one, is Rebecca Sugar’s part of the episode. I think Cole Sanchez’s section is just fine, but Sugar’s work feels like it’s trying too hard to be really profound and emotional to me. This is a common criticism for a ton of the season six and seven episodes, but really, I think it comes out full-fledged here. Finn’s crying just didn’t hit home for me at all; Rebecca had some big obsession with wanting Finn to cry during her time on the show, and really, I’m not sure I get it. I think some of the most impactful and poignant moments on the show are done without any crying at all (Finn discovering Susan may not be human in Susan Strong, Simon’s video diaries in Holly Jolly Secrets, Finn being abandoned by his father in Escape from the Citadel, etc.). It’s something that carries over heavily into her own show Steven Universe, but really, I just don’t think it works here. And considering the ending is left so ambiguous and poetic, you’d think there’d be room for more development on how Flame Princess and Finn are in a somewhat “forbidden” romance, but it’s rarely even touched upon in the next episode FP is in, outside of the last half, and just feels like a cheap gimmick in order for me to feel something or be left with some lasting impression, but it just doesn’t work at all. Pendleton Ward had this brief bit of wisdom on the episode’s commentary:
“[in reference to writing kid characters] … you just think that they’re gonna skin their knees and cry a bunch, when it’s not fun to watch, I don’t think.”
Though he wasn’t speaking directly about that portion of the episode, it pretty much sums up my feelings. I criticized What Was Missing slightly in the past for Sugar’s style feeling off with AT’s aesthetics, but I think this is a prominent example of her writing failing to meet the emotional complexities of the characters, at least in my eyes. I think Cole gets it right from Finn’s monologue earlier on in the treehouse, that’s meant both to be funny and somewhat profound. That’s exactly what I was looking for throughout a majority of this episode.
That being said, I do think it’s still a pretty decent season premiere. I think there’s still a lot of enjoyable moments, from the silly jokes, to the beautiful visuals (really nice blends of orange and yellow), to the general intrigue of the main conflict. The characters are written as perfectly as they should be; as I mentioned, this is one of my favorite appearances of Flame Princess to date. Even though I’m not crazy about the ending, it still leaves a ton of ambiguity and mystery that Incendium left off with, giving me enough motivation and anticipation to keep watching forward. And as long as I live, I will never get tired of Finn stretching out Jake’s face like silly putty.
Strap in, everyone! Season four is gonna be one hell of a ride!