Original Airdate: March 14, 2011
Written & Storyboarded by: Kent Osborne & Somvilay Xayaphone
Story arcs and plot threads aren’t exactly told in a conventional way on Adventure Time. New doors are always being opened even when others aren’t closed, and some arcs could take up to three seasons to get a proper resolution. So there isn’t necessarily one continuing story, it’s typically a handful of separate self-contained ones. That being said, the one overarching story within the world of AT is the fact that time continually progresses over the course of the series. Finn and Jake each grow older and deal with their own issues: Finn with his entrance into adolescence, and Jake with his fear of aging. It’s a very natural progression that brilliantly changes the dynamic of the Land of Ooo, as the show generally becomes much darker as Finn begins to experience the world and the deep rooted issues that come with discovery. This is Finn’s first step into his teen years, as this episode explicitly makes use of his 13th birthday as a plot device. Already he begins to deal with situations that he normally wouldn’t, and it’s a nice transition into some of the heavier trials he’ll eventually experience down the road.
The main plot of the episode does end up taking a pretty predictable turn. It’s made pretty obvious with Jake’s actions towards the beginning of the episode that the train conductor is him or has some sort of conspiracy related to Jake. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t supposed to be such an obvious twist, but I knew where it was going from the very start. That being said, there are a lot of silly scenes that help add some flavor to Mystery Train. John DiMaggio does a particularly great job as the train conductor; even if I found it predictable that Jake ended up being the conductor, I barely even noticed DiMaggio’s voice and could’ve even guessed that it was a different voice actor. He has such terrific range that he can easily mask his voice without drastically changing it. Some of the interactions between the Candy People are quite humorous, such as Candy Cane Guy repeatedly hitting Colonel Candy Corn in the face, as well as Kent Osborne playing Dr. Donut.
Finn experiences one of his first big traumas when he believes Jake has been killed, and it’s a relatively emotional scene despite the fact that we all clearly know that Jake isn’t dead. It’s actually kind of fucked up when you think about it. Jake made Finn believe that he had actually been killed on Finn’s birthday. Happy birthday, Finn? A symbolic expression of Finn’s aging is the introduction of the root sword, his newest weapon of choice. All of Finn’s main swords are a great representation of his aging process, and can also attribute to his developmental growth. The root sword is a bit grittier and more complicated looking than his golden sword, and both of those aspects begin to form into his personality. This is also metaphorically the first time Finn “has wood”, which isn’t so much of an observation as much as it is an excuse for me to make an unnecessary innuendo.
Finn uses this sword to battle the conductor in what is a pretty decent action sequence. There’s some really well animated shots of the train, even incorporating CGI outside of the caboose. To my knowledge, this is the first time the series utilizes computer generated effects, and it doesn’t feel out of place at all; it really helps the episode feel more cinematic and makes the fight sequence pack more of a punch. Of course, Jake eventually reveals himself to Finn and the two celebrate with all of their friends… except for Princess Bubblegum… or Marceline… or BMO… or LSP… where are they at??
What’s most effective about this episode is the ending reveal that Finn and Jake could’ve easily died on the train, which only adds to what I was saying about Finn’s entrance into adolescence. From here on, Finn will begin to experience many traumas, tribulations, challenges, and large amounts of identity building throughout his teen years.
Favorite line: “Climb aboard my train, little boy. You’re my new friend!”