Original Airdate: December 3, 2015
Written & Storyboarded by: Tom Herpich & Steve Wolfhard
The More You Moe, The Moe You Know was an episode that was announced a few months before its initial airdate at New York Comic-Con, and I always assumed that a “BMO themed holiday special” would merely be a light (but delightful) Christmas-themed episode to take the edge off of how dark I had theorized Stakes to be. But, keeping in the tradition of what Holly Jolly Secrets started, Adventure Time continues to churn out the most dark and devastating holiday specials known to man. And honestly, this is another one of my favorites. Top 3 of all-time, without a question. I’ve always had a soft spot for BMO in general, but so much of this episode represents – at least, in my eyes – what makes Adventure Time so profound and special. Essentially, AT is one big coming of age story, and The More You Moe, The Moe You Know feels like a super-compressed version of that featuring the show’s most innocently naive character.
It is a sweet idea that we’ve finally gotten an episode dedicated to the birthday of each of the Tree Fort boys. I do wonder how exactly BMO’s birthday was decided, however: was it the day BMO was actually built? Was it the anniversary of the day he met Finn and Jake? Or was it simply a random day BMO chose for the sake of following social norms? I like to think it was the latter, but I think any one of those options is appropriate. It’s also cute to once again witness BMO’s absolute affinity for his creator. Going back to my notion regarding social norms, I think BMO’s adoration towards Moe mostly derives from the fact that he, like the friends that he surrounds himself with, has some sort of parent of whom he can owe his life to. Finn and Jake have Joshua and Margaret, and NEPTR has Finn, so BMO is able to feel more “human” through having a legitimate maker that directly has an impact on BMO’s identity as a whole. This is something that also ties in as important later on, during BMO’s reflections.
Of course, the Moe we do get treated to isn’t the Moe we were expecting, and his mission for BMO is certainly ambiguous. What really makes BMO himself is his demeanor and mindset that unarguably represents that of a small child. BMO is programmed with knowledge and abilities beyond comprehension, but when it comes down to it, he’s really just like any other child. Thus, the scariest thing to BMO, along with pretty much any child and people of any age in general, is the unknown. Growing up is obviously something that Adventure Time has touched on consistently; whether it be Finn and Jake’s entire individual arcs, some passing lines in Another Five More Short Graybles from Jake Jr., Nurse Poundcake’s humorous backstory in The Diary, or even the entirety of the Stakes miniseries, it goes without staying that this is a big thematic element within the world of Adventure Time. Though, everyone deals with it in a very unique way, with BMO included. While each character seems to deal with specific issues that arise throughout their period of growth, BMO’s hang-up deals with something much, much more complex: the concept of growing up in general. I certainly don’t mean to downplay the complexity non-vague issues, like Finn coming to terms with the fact that his father doesn’t care for him, or that Marceline feels as though she is physically and mentally incapable of moving on from her past, but there is something so specifically threatening about being completely unsure of what you’re getting into. And I can’t think about a single issue that represents those feelings of uncertainty rather than the idea of growing up, of which is presented tremendously through BMO’s little monologue.
One of the most sorrowful moments from this episode is complete absence of Air during BMO’s attempted conversation. While it could have been an attempt to excuse LeVar Burton’s inability to return to the recording booth, it feels much more like a poignant method of having BMO release his feelings to a close confidant, even if it’s more to get his thoughts out than anything. BMO’s vision of being an adult is delightfully silly, but made somewhat atmospheric by the grainy filter surrounding it. This episode really succeeds in attention to color and diversifying different shots. Considering that there are a ton of different flashbacks and imaginations sequences throughout, the visual appeal of the episode experiments with several color schemes that really helps each excerpt pop. What really strikes me as moving during BMO’s dialogue, however, is his worrisome expression of, “but then, if I change, will Finn and Jake still love me? Will I still love them?” It’s made pretty clear by this statement that BMO isn’t necessarily scared of the trials he will face when he grows up, but rather if he will even be the same person that he currently is. This is a scary part of change that everyone deals, and BMO’s vision of the distorted versions of Finn and Jake further emphasize this anxious feeling of the two becoming unrecognizable to himself. Which leads him to the prompt of, “does growing up just change your body, or also your soul?” BMO has built up so much happiness for himself through the people who surrounds himself with and his daily imaginative activities in general, and doesn’t recognize that he has the ability to grow while also keeping his loved ones near and dear to him. Thus, the concept of growing up instead gets conflicted with his anxiety of growing into a completely different person, and BMO would much rather stay the same forever than to face those consequences. His turmoil feels very profound, real, and convincing. Even if we know that it’s irrational to think that Finn and Jake would never stop loving BMO, it is hard to know what will derive from any sort of big life change, and growing up is a significant event that often brings about significant life changes. Though, growing is only a state of mind, and BMO has yet to realize that it’s a gradual part of his life, rather than one big epiphany.
After going through that big, analytical spiel, I might as well mention the nice little side roles that Finn and Jake have in this episode, which are great! Wolfhard covers most of the F&J scenes, and really carries forth his sharpest sense of humor. Jake hiding himself from Moe is both hilarious and kind of fitting for Jake’s character. Somewhat tying into the central theme of the episode, Jake is just as scared of becoming a different person as he grows old as BMO is. Though, Jake’s fears are a bit more materialistic, as he worries he’ll simply be an old coot that listens to the world decaying in the process. The way the boys quickly warm up to “Moe” is cute, and the show does a pretty good job at keeping his identity convincing, for the most part, until the near end of the episode.
In general, this one does a really good job of keeping its audience on edge by constantly playing around with who the true “villain” is. At first, it seems like DMO is randomly supposed to be the antagonist (who is sadly not voiced by Aziz Ansari) and then the later appearance of All-MO is seemingly foreboding as well, though BMO never sits around to consider the actual possibility of there being one true “villain” to oppose him. He instead continues to ponder about his life and begins to humor the idea of never knowing if everything is okay or totally haywire, which seems like a concept that is entirely normalized by anyone who is actually grown. It’s another visual interesting sequence, and it makes me realize more and more how similar this one is to Lemonhope in exploring interesting thought processes through really unique and experimental visualizations. Of course, a lot of that can likely be contributed to the fact that Tom Herpich and Wolfhard worked on both, but this one really shines through in being the better example of AT being at its most unique in its visuals and storytelling. And while Lemonhope seemed to prioritize its title character’s inner struggles over the actual content of the story in some parts, The More You Moe is very committed to telling an engaging story, while also sprinkling in a delightful bit of soul-searching. In addition to being equally as funny most of the time, which really shines through in All-MO’s explanation of what happened within the MO factory. The expository dialogue has some great gems, such as, “if you wanted a free hug, all you had to do was ask! No one could say no, it was a rule,” and “until one fateful day… yesterday.” Herpich and Wolfhard seem to be particularly good at incorporating humor in moments that really shouldn’t be funny, but are made funny in execution regardless. Thus, All-MO ends up being a pretty enjoyably off-kilter character, despite the fact that his creation essentially means that we won’t ever see the other MOs again. Definitely a bummer, though this character did remain thoroughly enjoyable throughout.
As we transition into the second part of this one, it begins to become apparent that Finn and Jake are pretty fed up with Moe’s shit, after he cries during their “classic” imitation of Prisoners of Love and offers some of the most boring consoling experiences imaginable. The “hangman” sequences are really great, and it’s hilarious to me how much Finn and Jake get into the concept of it. To be fair, it is an awesome name for a game, but their reactions to the true nature of the game itself are priceless. It doesn’t help that the game only comes with one solvable puzzle, and that being “Bur-guess Mere-dithe.” And this is where “Moe”‘s facade begins to gradually fall, and the true identity of AMO starts to unravel.
AMO is easily designed to be equivalent to that of a spoiled toddler, but his delusions of the properties of love and his desire to destroy anything and everything that gets in his way of being admired is what makes him truly standout as one of my favorite AT baddies. The initial reveal of the appearance of his room is straight out of a horror movie, and does a great job at visually describing what kind of a character AMO is: a ripped doll with the words “love me” written above it in the vents and the skeleton of a once existent hamster shows how willingly AMO is to get violent towards anything that cannot directly show him love, and how he is unable to care for and to feel loving feelings because of the way he was programmed. As All-MO eloquently states, “such is the cruel physics of love, that those who crave it most will repel it,” it seems apparent that AMO was, more than any other MO that followed, a failed experiment. Moe likely wanted to build a robot that would act and behave like BMO, but did not truly understand that building a robot that could only receive love would actively work against his intended programming. Moe’s intention was to build a robot that could be in-sync with human emotions, but without fully understanding those underlying physics of love, he ended up, in turn, creating a sociopath.
And that sociopathic nature really shows when he knocks out poor ol’ NEPTR (who has been the victim of many sadistic beatings this season!) and tries to get him out of the picture so he can exclusively covet Finn and Jake’s love for himself. Aside from AMO’s misunderstanding of love, he truly does not understand BMO’s relationship with Finn and Jake. His only understanding is that F&J love BMO, but truly does not comprehend how exactly BMO reciprocates that love. In AMO’s head, he honestly believes that love can only be expressed by one devoting their entire life to another person. AMO thinks that F&J spend their days showing relentless affection towards BMO, but does not realize why the boys love BMO to begin with. And of course, when AMO has failed to receive the “love” that he thinks he deserves, he in turn decides to reject it and to get rid of Finn and Jake all together. AMO’s cannon phaser is executed in an excruciatingly painful way. They really pack a punch every single time AMO utilizes said weaponry, and it never feels as though the cannonballs are wasted. Each shot appears to be legitimately painful and threatening to our protagonists, especially when BMO is continuously shot later on. Wolfhard did leave a note within the storyboard that states, “the ball noises should be distinct & memorable,” and it seems he got his wish in that regard. AMO is voiced by Thu Tran, and Tran does a terrific job of capturing the same quirkiness and childlike nature that Niki Yang captures with BMO. While channeling that same energy, Tran manages to also give AMO a bit of an off-kilter feel to his voice, and really pulls off that equally threatening nature.
While I truly admire the flashback sequence for just how fucked up and depressing it is – I mean, God damn, the show has never pulled off a death scene in this grim of an execution – my one criticism for the episode is that AMO’s impersonation of Moe can be a bit too silly and somewhat tasteless at times. I really don’t know what department to blame for this, as Wolfhard very clearly seems to repetitively jot down within the storyboard that the voiceover within this sequence is supposed to stay completely serious throughout its run. I dunno if it was a decision by the network to downplay the more somber implications of the sequence, but I think it really works against it by making AMO’s goofy inflections quite unfitting with the tone of the rest of the flashback. Granted, I still love everything else. AMO starts off said story by mentioning terrible truths that he discovered about himself, and I think it’s really neat that those discoveries are left completely unknown. It kind of makes AMO a much more sophisticated and less one-dimensional character to know that he has some sort of self-awareness about the troubles that lies inside his heart and within his programming. Perhaps he isn’t exactly cognizant of his own desires to repel any love that is given to him, but it is clear that he knows something about his uncanny nature that startles him to some degree, even if he doesn’t try to fix said issues. And even though his voiceover is distractingly out of place, the contents of said scene are still left as somber as possible. Even AMO’s small utterance of “he was dying…” is really effective. Going back to what I had mentioned earlier, this is somewhat shockingly ballsy for AT to cover, as deaths within the series are usually off-screen, retconned, or left to be humorous. Even using the words “dead” or “die” are typically substituted for “skronked up” or “murdle-urdled” or something more kid friendly of the sorts. But here, we’re treated to the actual, on-screen, (for the most part) serious death of a secondary character. It’s even more heart-wrenching to see that Moe did show some form of care and affection for AMO as he refers to him as his “dear child.” Even with AMO’s dysfunctions, Moe still loved all of his children dearly and equally, enough to trust AMO with his last possession. Though, AMO’s selfishness continues to shine through when he lets his own insecurities get in the way of what seems to be a genuine final moment between father and son.
Which leads into a final battle between brother and brother. Another gem from the storyboard that was cut is AMO’s master plan to get rid of everyone, until only one family remains and has no other choice but to love him. It was probably cut for time reasons, though I think the implication of said scene still remains. As AMO continuously fails to find a loving family, it seems apparent that he’ll continue to embark upon his pursuits, and willingly place himself in a neverending loop of failed attempts. That is, if he survived his battle with BMO, which ends just as violently as BMO pulls a Wile E. Coyote tactic and launches AMO off a cliff. Though it’s shown that AMO was built with a golden heart, just as his brother, his heart is left sad and and unresponsive, as those who only want love and cannot give it will never achieve true happiness.
This leaves BMO as a hero, but in possibly the worst possible place he’s ever been in. Not only has he just killed his brother of whom he recently met, but he’s left knowing that his father is dead and will never be coming back. This comes as a starling and upsetting revelation when BMO softly responds “no,” to Finn, who asks if he’s alright. BMO expected growing up to be full of challenges that that were beyond his grasp or control, and in some aspects, he was right. His solo mission brought about some of the most traumatizing events he could have ever experienced, and troubles that were clearly out of his control, as life seems to consistently offer. In addition to that, he’s also left with the sad knowledge that his entire “growing up” mission was a lie, and that he may not even have an attempt to grow up because of how Moe designed him to be, in a spectacularly beautiful sequence that features multi-colored BMO’s representing his inner thoughts. Though, BMO’s stress is not long lasting. As we already learned in Be More, to which this episode is keen to reuse footage of, BMO was built simply to “be more.” AMO was intended to be one specific thing upon his inception: a robot that can receive love, while BMO was built to be whatever he chose to be. There’s the intrinsic fear within anyone that their lives are predetermined by their birthright, or whatever uncontrollable conditions have been created within their lives, though there is always the existing truth that free will will always reign above everything. Though BMO is faced with the scary truth that he could theoretically end up like his brother, he’s reassured by the fact that he knows who he is and he knows he has the power to be anything he wishes to be. While BMO started out raving about how Moe was some sort of God-like person who could do or fix anything inside of him, BMO is now left with the knowledge that though he is unable to rely on Moe to help guide him through his life, he is able to trust in himself and the creativity that so powerfully defines him. Without changing himself or his lifestyle in any way possible, BMO was able to grow up a bit by realizing who he is and what he wants, and not transforming into an entirely different entity in the process. It showed him that, while growing up brings about some scary obstacles, the true bit of comforting bliss comes from knowing who you are and being able to trust in yourself to guide you forward.
It is not, however, an attempt to discredit the type of person Moe was or all that he did for BMO, as BMO still saves for one sorrowful goodbye to his creator during his hectic day. As BMO falls asleep, an unintentional Moe flashback is triggered as he leaves his son the same message, and a cute, tired BMO falls into a deep sleep of his own. You better believe this ending left me misty-eyed. It is also a curious spectacle to see within the flashback that Moe had some form of role in creating the Sleeping Fire Giants (which later comes into play in one of the Beginning of the End comics) as to show that he does have a role in helping build on society and technological advances in Ooo, aside from his own personal splendors. It adds a bit of remaining mystery to his character, as we say a tearful goodbye to his pleasant, grandpa-ish nature. It’s also equally sad watching it now, only months after Moe’s voice actor Chuck McCann passed away. Rest in peace to a legend.
But yeah, with all that I’ve written up for this one, you can easily see that this is one of my favorites. Adventure Time has attempted these types of compressed coming of age stories before with Lemonhope and Stakes, and while both of those examples had their strong points, no such story comes across as successful as The More You Moe, The Moe You Know. This one is so amazing in its story, visuals, dialogue, thematic elements, characters, tone, and so on, and I really cannot think of a better character to use for this type of story than BMO. He’s a character that can easily be pushed aside as mere comic relief, but he really embodies the child within every living person, and those childlike fears that plague even the oldest and wisest of people. The More You Moe, The Moe You Know uses this aspect of BMO’s character to its best ability, and tells a story that is just as heartbreaking and tragic as it is uplifting. Growing up is certainly scary, because there really is no guarantee that everything is going to be alright. While most of these stories would usually leave off their central hero reassured by the reality that nothing is as bad as it seems, BMO experiences some of the most horrifying truths of life in the process. But, it’s experiencing those truths that help him to realize one of the most important part aspects of life: knowing himself and feeling in control. And, as Adventure Time has proved time and time again, that just might be enough in even the toughest of times.
Favorite line: “I think I just killed someone”