Original Airdate: March 18, 2018
Written & Storyboarded by: Tom Herpich & Steve Wolfhard
Weirdly enough, both Hulu and the Final Seasons DVD set list Temple of Mars before Jake the Starchild. Wonder how much that ruined anyone’s experience that was going in blind. Also, this isn’t particularly noteworthy or even likely intentional, but Temple of Mars‘ acronym is T.O.M. Aside from the finale, this is Tom Herpich’s final episode. Heh.
Way back in 2016, Tom Herpich wrote his sentiments about Adventure Time ending and what was left for the series in its next two years on air in a Tumblr post. In this post, he also mentions that he had recently wrapped up his final board with Steve, of which he deemed “one of his favorites.” I’m still unsure if this was referring to their section in Come Along With Me or Temple of Mars, buuuut I lean more towards the latter. In my own personal opinion, I like Temple of Mars, though it surprises me that Herpich would (allegedly) hold it so highly. It doesn’t really strike me as a culmination of his art house style, and considering that some of my favorite episodes in the series are Mars-centric episodes, I do feel as though this entry doesn’t quite live up to the hype of its predecessors. But, instead of complaining about this episode for what it’s not, I am generally satisfied with it for what it is.
Right off the bat, what Temple of Mars offers strength-wise is stellar character interactions. Having Jermaine return to the forefront is a decision I really appreciate, especially since the series draws so close to its climax. It is weird – there are clear signs that Adventure Time certainly wasn’t ready to come to a close, but there are other signs of it subtly wrapping up other individual aspects, like Marceline and Hunson’s relationship, Jake’s alien side, and Jermaine’s connection to his brothers. Of course, a lot of these characters and arcs aren’t really necessary to the grand scheme of things, but regardless, these are nice little additions that make me feel slightly less sour about the show being canned on such a short notice.
More than anything, I appreciate that this episode takes time to explore Jermaine and Finn’s connection. In his eponymous first episode, Jermaine’s anger was mainly reflected towards Jake, while Finn mostly stood by as an accomplice. I get the feeling that Finn and Jermaine were never truly close – Jermaine was likely the responsible one, while Jake was the one that Finn would pal around with during his formative years. Before Finn had the chance to truly form a relationship with Jermaine during his transition into young adulthood, the two were practically separated. Jermaine likely regrets the years of being estranged from his youngest brother, and it’s sweet to see that he does remind Finn that he can count on him during stressful times. It’s also clear that Jermaine doesn’t necessarily understand Finn’s behavioral patterns. Finn’s actions are clearly inspired by his inability to allow any other tragedies to bestow his already mucked up mind, but I get the feeling that Jermaine simply excuses it to the observed position of Finn and Jake living entirely carefree lives. Hence why Jermaine refers to the Tree Fort as a “playhouse,” his judgement is still very much there. The included callbacks to Jermaine were welcomed, such as the face mug and the boys’ freezer, though they don’t really stick out in any metaphorical or ponderous way.
Jermaine’s added fear to the idea of going to Mars is both humorous and cute. For years, I’ve referred to Finn as the straight man in a world full of wacky characters, but I do feel as though Jermaine is a straight man’s straight man. As much as he is empathetic and easy to connect to, Finn still really isn’t the brightest bulb or the most “normal” at that (this is the boy that doesn’t blink twice on a wayward trip to Mars), so it’s cool to have a character that clearly represents the surface level elements of a grown adult. The goofy aspects aside, Jermaine does actually have a lot in common with Greg Universe in terms of their humanity. Tom Scharpling really was the perfect choice for ol’ Jerm.
The reintroduction of Betty and Norm- er, King Man, is pretty delightful, though I kinda wish Finn’s anger towards Betty was spelled out over a longer period. I mean, everything ended up alright by the end of Elements, but it’s strange to me how quickly Finn goes from “fuck yourself,” to “come on this journey with me and my brother!” Perhaps he decided to show some of King Man’s inspired “empathy,” buuuut, I don’t know. In defense of the episode, I’m not really sure how a Betty-Finn conflict would’ve been crammed in to an already jam-packed episode, so I’ll let it slide. It was great to see King Man again, and I’m so glad the show has sought out to acknowledge that, magic-less or not, he’s still kind of a douche. I can’t think of a single way Betty’s punishment would actually help her, and it’s likely to send her into further insanity. King Man technically should be responsible for the state of Betty’s condition (though he’s not entirely at fault), but since he has a nice, cushion-y spot on Mars’ throne, he doesn’t really have anyone to tell him otherwise.
Once inside the temple, we’re treated to an interesting sequence featuring a group of frogs all taking on the appearance of Ice King, except for one stray frog resembling Fern. The Fern frog leaping at Finn, as Finn chooses to ignore it, seems to embody the idea that Finn no longer finds himself stuck thinking about Fern on an endless basis. Though his mind wants him to “remember” and stay in a stagnant state of pain and suffering. Betty, on the other hand, does not choose to move forward. She wants to stay and observe her passing thoughts, as if they hold the key to solving her every living problem, even though the answer isn’t found in her mind, but her ability to shift her attention onto something else. Not exactly sure why frogs were chosen to represent habitual thinking – frogs in dreams are said to represent spiritual and emotional transformation, but I’m not exactly sure that’s what Herpich was going for.
It is interesting how Jermaine went through perhaps the most stress of his companions, and now he’s in the best shape possible. Granted, I think Jermaine, by his nature, is slightly neurotic and prone to chronic stress. Yet, he was able to find his peace of mind, while his brother continues to struggle with his own personal dilemmas. It just goes to show how far off Jermaine’s accusations are of Finn and Jake living totally carefree lives, even if they are legitimately privileged regardless. This section of the episode also marks the Ice Thing’s first appearance since Graybles 1000+. I can’t help but feel this inclusion was when the staff figured they would have more time to actually flesh out what the Ice Thing is and how Ice King would eventually transform into him, but considering that we’re only two episodes away from the finale, I don’t think that wish was ever fully fulfilled. This section does provide for a bit of fun analysis, in a very small, almost insignificant moment. Betty’s fascination with the Ice King masked frogs shows how truly encompassed her mind is with the Ice King, and how she doesn’t really put any foot forward to try and sway her mind or shift her focus. Of course, it’s easier said than done, especially when dealing with strong emotional trauma. However, Betty’s representation of her current approach at living is summed up quite nicely with her line of, “He’s… changing? Oh no.” This could imply one of two things: 1. Betty is adverse to changing her lifestyle because she is so set on figuring out how to fix Simon that changing her behavior isn’t really an option; 2. Betty is adverse to change in general, viewing it as an inherently bad thing. As seen in her lack of acceptance of Ice King in general, this makes sense as well.
This turmoil builds up to Betty’s confrontation of her past, which is admittedly quite a somber sequence. These last few seasons have done a great job at fleshing out Betty’s madness and sadness, and Temple of Mars is a particular highlight. The idea of choosing to focus on one’s self is additional advice that is easier said than done. It’s certainly what she needs, but she’s incapable of seeing how that’s even possible. Again, I think it ties in really well with the motif of both anxiety and grief – no matter how much you want to get better and shift your focus, occasionally the fixation of your energy is so strong that it’s impossible to even know where to start. Betty takes the first step forward (or, so it seems) into a better life by answering her test with a response of self-healing, rather than desperate manifesting.
I do think the conclusion is way too hokey for my liking. I know there’s kind of a no-holds-barred atmosphere of the world of Adventure Time where literally anything can happen, but I fail to see how Finn, Jermaine, and Betty’s journey has ANYTHING to do with channeling Jake’s energy so that he would be transported into the temple. It seems like Tom and Steve had decided they wanted to explore the psyche of these various different characters and interactions, and then thought to themselves 10 minutes in that, “oh shit, we’d better bring Jake back.” I was even shocked by Jermaine’s quick acceptance of King Man’s explanation. He’s the straight man after all, it would make way more sense (and also be funnier) if he shot back with, “that’s a load of horseshit,” or something along those lines. The second conclusion, in which Betty realizes her true potential, is quite satisfying. In reality, Betty is way too far gone that it just wouldn’t make sense for her to turn her life around so quickly. It makes sense that she would take away some inspiration, but the wrong inspiration at that. I could’ve sworn that I was watching some bad DVR rip of the episode upon first viewing, because Temple of Mars‘ close takes AT‘s abrupt endings to a whole new level. But, it is a quick cut-off that I enjoy regardless. The entire concept of GOLB being brought back into things is something that’s purposely been left in the dark for quite sometime, and enough to leave a character like King Man speechless, who has spent his life devoted to finding the deity. It definitely had me hyped for the show’s conclusion no doubt, even if I ended up having mixed feelings about GOLB’s inclusion as a whole.
So, while Temple of Mars isn’t exactly the experimental nuttiness that I would expect from a Mars entry, it’s still quite enjoyable. It contains some of the best interaction material we’ve seen all season, and is definitely one of Betty’s best roles to date. Some of the visuals are quite nice, especially the return of the rust-filled void of Mars, and the temple itself. Nice moments of lore here and there, such as Betty’s mention of the Enchiridion, or the foreshadowed idea that Margles is still very much on King Man’s radar. There are some good gags here and there, but others that kind of fall flat. The big build up to Finn’s bald head was a joke I found quite unfunny as a whole, and somewhat of a cheap gag that doesn’t really add much. Regardless, it’s certainly a strong point for the season specifically for its inclusion of great character moments, namely Betty and Jermaine, who truly are the stars of Temple of Mars.