Original Airdate: November 17, 2015
Written & Storyboarded by: Seo Kim & Somvilay Xayaphone
Empress is definitely one of the lesser vamps in my opinion, but considering my opinion of the vampires as it is, that doesn’t at all diminish Empress’s likability or on-screen charisma. And while this episode isn’t as particularly funny or thought-provoking as some of the other Stakes episodes, it still provides for some decent entertainment deriving from its star vamp and the still slightly fucked up relationship between Marceline and Simon.
First off, I hate the opening joke that involves Ice King screaming about lemons in his sleep. Another thing that bugs me about the humor within Stakes is that it is waaaay too referential; I don’t mind little winks to past moments from the show, but bits like these seem entirely too smug or out of place. I get that this is sort of an Adventure Time movie, so the writers and artists likely wanted to include as much as possible for longtime fans, but from a personal perspective, I’d rather celebrate the series by enjoying what new and creative stories/jokes they can provide for me, rather than merely trying to relive the gags that really aren’t even funny anymore by this point.
Buuuut, that’s about as negative as I can get about the episode. I think the interactions between Empress and Ice King are pretty neat. I like how Empress actually has some sort of long-term connection with Simon that is never actually explained in full detail, or likely will ever be, but is an interesting concept to chew on. I’d assume that the Empress is likely the first vampire that Marceline had ever encountered, and that Simon convened with her either out of his inability to control the power she held over him, or out of pure desperation to somehow save Marcy. I think the latter idea is actually more interesting but it could very well be the former. Regardless, Empress and the IK provide for some truly fun exchanges. I love how sadistic and cruel Empress is to Ice King, and just how much enjoyment she gets from reading his pathetic diary entries. Ice King is also his usual fun self, not acknowledging the obvious threat that Empress is to him and the people around her. Simon has some great one-liners here; I love him mentioning Shelby’s barbecue, as if to imply that Shelby has literally cooked decent sized food for mass amounts of people. I also like his genuine “aw, thanks” response to Empress’s allusion to his state of being. The man really does not understand socializing in the least bit.
The scene capitalizing on Jake’s paranoia is played pretty straight without many gags (besides the bit with PB’s “outdoor clock”) and I think it’s nice to see that this is a consistent bit of his character throughout the miniseries until he finally overcomes said fear in the next episode. While it’s been mostly presented as humorous throughout the past couple episodes, it’s cool to see that this is something that legitimately stresses Jake out beyond belief. From someone who never likes to show his inner fears or stressors in any given situation, it’s pretty clear that vampires are a legitimate phobia for Jake and something he resents beyond comprehension. Perhaps it relates to a subconscious fear of Jake outliving his children, girlfriend, and his brother? Or maybe vampires are just flippin’ scary. For Jake, it could really be either.
This episode reinforces, once again, that Ice King is still a force to be reckoned with, even if he’s not a straight-up villain anymore. I’m so glad that the series has never, at any point, made Ice King “too soft” or empathetic. He’s certainly straightened out in his behavior and does care for his friends deeply, but as long as the crown is controlling him, he will never not be crazy or primarily selfish. So, him kidnapping Finn for some broad that he just met seems refreshing, though it is weird to me that he was able to do so simply by wrapping Finn in his robe. It doesn’t even look like Finn’s trying to fight it. Granted, Finn may have somehow figured out that Ice King was bringing him to Empress, and wanted to attempt to stake her in the process, which is exactly what he tries to do. While Finn certainly isn’t entirely precise in his efforts, this is at least one of his less incompetent appearances, as he does come close to staking a vampire. Though, granted, you could always consider him easily being captured by Ice King as a measure of his inability to protect himself and others.
The following scenes between Marcy and Ice King are nice, as again, Ice King is unable to look past his own selfish desires to help his two friends out in a much more dire situation. I’m not a big fan of Marcy’s spoken word, as it’s a bit more awkward and somewhat unmemorable in its dialogue, but it isn’t without its moments. Love the various piles of debris and toxic containers surrounding Marceline; whenever we get mid-Mushroom War flashbacks, it’s always cool to see how unnerving and protective society can be portrayed as. And the method of echoing Marcy’s dialogue is a neat addition to what otherwise would have been just a standard performance from Olivia Olsen.
But once more, Ice King proves his unflattering nature by freezing his two friends to provide for his lady. It is nice, however, to see that Ice King does have restraints. Even with his uncanny nature, he’s notably distraught at the idea of having to kill one of his close friends. Ice King really doesn’t take anything that seriously, and probably sees Marcy and Finn’s conflict with Empress as a game more than anything. When it comes to actually hurting another person that he’s close with, Ice King cannot bring himself to do so, because even though he’s very much conflicted in his motivations, he still has a big heart. It’s thoroughly funny to see his arguments with Empress, and the revealing twist that he wasn’t under Empress’s spell to begin with. The crown likely has more of a possession over him than anything else possibly could, and it’s hilarious to think that Ice King would obey Empress simply because he wants the added attention. I also liked the turmoil between Marceline and Empress. Besides the possible exception of the Vampire King, Marceline likely has more beef with Empress than any other vampire, strictly because the vamp messed with the person she cares about most. So it was nice to see Marcy extra bent out of shape when trying to stake her, as PB helps her to finish the job. The episode comes to a satisfying conclusion as the crew decides to keep staking vampires as a team.
Few other notes: this one has a real nice purple hue to it in the first few scenes. Stakes really has gotten the lighting and shading down throughout these past few episodes, and The Empress Eyes is no exception. Also like the music throughout this episode, which utilizes a mellow bass guitar in its more laidback and calm sequences. A gripe of mine that is consistent with this one is that Somvilay’s drawings look really wonky most of the time. When Marceline is pulling Finn as she flies, he literally looks as flat as a piece of paper, as he’s constantly distorted by their movement. It also looks awkward as Marceline floats and holds onto Finn, as her palm is just simply placed over his chest area. It doesn’t even look like she has a grip on him at all. I bothers me that PB just kind of shows up at the end as well. I guess it could be gathered that Jake possibly saw Ice King flying away with Finn and informed PB of their disappearance, but I felt it would have been better used as exposition, because otherwise it feels somewhat like a deus ex machina.
As is, The Empress Eyes is decent. Certainly not one of the stronger episodes of the miniseries, but one that is enough fun to carry it through, mostly because of Empress and Ice King. They provide for some delightful interactions with each other, and the other characters featured in general, even if some of it feels like padding at points. It had been a while since Ice King has had a star role at this point, so this was a nice return to his classic self, featuring an enjoyably snarky vamp on the side.