Original Airdate: March 18, 2018
Written & Storyboarded by: Hanna K. Nyström & Aleks Sennwald
I think the thing that hurts the most about Jake the Starchild is the fact that, if the AT writing staff had a bit more of a heads up regarding the end of the series, I really think this episode could have worked. Imagine this scenario: Warren Ampersand swaps his essence with Jake successfully, and takes Jake’s place on Earth, without Finn immediately noticing the difference. Jake croaks in space, Finn later discovers that Warren Ampersand is NOT his brother, and joins Normal Man and Betty in their quest to rescue their loved ones from the clutches of GOLB. I really hate playing the part of “this episode/scene should have went this way, because that would satisfy myself, and if I’m satisfied, that’s all that matter.” It’s unfair to judge an episode based on my expectations and disappointment, but when you get an episode like Jake the Starchild that is so devoid of satisfaction, it’s hard not to long for what could have been. This is one of the big AT stinkers, but again, I’m not sure how fair it is to say that. Part of where its disappointment stems from is the fact that it comes so close to the finale, yet offers little of substance or build up leading up into the final events of the series, but in harmony of what I had said earlier, this isn’t the fault of the writing staff. And, in another attempt to play devil’s advocate, I had praised Blenanas in spite of it being an episode so close to the show’s conclusion. When it comes down to it, I think Jake the Starchild‘s failure isn’t that it wasn’t able to tie its story in with Come Along With Me, but the fact that its story is so hackneyed and uninspired that it just comes off as a bit of a sad whimper in the face of finality.
Right off the bat, I don’t really like how the beginning starts out. Jake the Starchild begins with a bit of a recap from The First Investigation that’s unnecessarily long and it doesn’t really follow any realm of continuity. Like, it utilizes identical shots that were used in The First Investigation but with entirely different dialogue. I don’t really get this approach? It incorporates a lot more of AT‘s typical silliness, but it’s just jarring to imply that there wasn’t just additional dialogue between Jake and Warren during this convergence, it was actually just entirely different from what we saw in the previous episode. Come to think of it, why the fuck are we even wasting time with a recap? AT has already gone so off the rails with different storylines that I don’t think the common viewer is going to need a recap anyway. Or if they’re going to do one, just show a super condensed sequence of all the juicy stuff that we need to remember. Otherwise, it just feels like time wasted on an already compressed episode.
After that sequence, we mostly move into the stuff between Jake and Warren Ampersand. I don’t know if I’m just being overly cynical, but the name “Warren Ampersand” has to be one of the dumbest the staff could’ve came up with. It feels like a manatee joke that combines two silly sounding words for the sake of being silly sounding. His name is an accurate representation of his character, however, as Warren Ampersand is pretty uninteresting all around. Surprise, surprise, he’s another bad dad. I know this show has created somewhat of a motif when it comes to shitty parental figures, but Warren is just a reiteration of everything we’ve already seen from the series. He’s the charming, yet selfishly devious father that is more than willing to put their needs before their child’s. Similar to Hunson’s portrayal a few episodes earlier, I’ve grown tired of this character archetype. We got more than enough of this type of material from Martin, and it just simply doesn’t work with anyone else. Martin was interesting because he was one, big subversion from what anyone was expecting from him. He was initially built up as this legendary hero that bestowed his blessed genetics onto Finn, until everything came crashing down in his debut. Martin’s character was great because it made the audience effectively hate him (or love to hate him, in my case) and his impact on Finn was undeniable. Warren’s a bad, selfish dude who tricks Jake, but has little to no effect on Jake or the story overall. So, what are we sincerely supposed to take away from his character? Well, we kind of get to that later.
The dynamic between Warren and Jake is pretty standard and not particularly meaty. I’m not gonna act like they butchered Jake’s character or anything here – it’s pretty difficult to fuck up a lax dude like Jake, unless he’s portrayed in some kind of self-centered light. His reactions to Warren’s kindness and revelations are mildly humorous, albeit nothing remarkable. I do like how some of his core character traits return, such as his absolute willingness to follow a destiny bestowed onto him (The New Frontier) or his inability to resist people-pleasing (The Limit). The various trials that Warren puts Jake through are pretty unmemorable – for all of the episodes that could get super creative with Jake’s stretchy abilities, I feel as though this one is a missed opportunity. Aside from some twists and turns, there isn’t much creativity that goes into the possibilities of his own abilities, aside from the pretty neat revelation that Warren’s own caliber allowed him to essentially create an entire planet, similar to how Jake was able to do so in Everything’s Jake.
The climax of the episode really just feels like a culmination of laziness. Jake’s bait-and-switch with swapping the belts is presented in such a way that feels almost like its cheating continuity once more. Typically in a moment like this, the camera would cut up to above Jake and Warren’s waists, but it stays at a medium shot almost the entire time to the point where it feels like a cheap twist. Warren’s lack of knowledge when it comes to Jake’s kids makes little to no sense, considering that Warren apparently stalks Jake on a somewhat regular basis. Jake sacrificing the well-being of himself for his own kids is a moment that’s played up as if it’s supposed to be this big revelation but… we know that. Jake can occasionally have selfish and somewhat spacious tendencies, but I don’t think there was ever a point in the series where I thought that he didn’t care about his children. It’s a nice inclusion, but I don’t really feel like it’s adding anything to Jake’s character that wasn’t already known. Jake mentions that Warren’s behavior as a bad dad reminded him of what being a good dad is like, but what are you even supposed to take away from that? Again, I don’t think that there’s many moments in the series that imply that Jake wouldn’t do anything for his children, even if he is particularly absent-minded.
Jake the Starchild seems like it has no idea what it wants to say by the end of it, and I walked away from this episode learning very little about Jake, Warren, and the nature of Jake as a whole. It wouldn’t bother me as much if it was one of Adventure Time‘s smaller arcs, but this shit is BIG! Jake’s shapeshifting abilities are a major aspect of his character that have continued to be built up more and more as time has gone one, and the fact that the climax of this arc is a collection of everything that could have already been gathered with context clues is truly a disappointment. I learned way more about Jake and the hidden aspects of his life through Abstract, and I honestly would not care if there was little to no follow-up about Jake’s alien-side after the fact. But, since there is, it deserves to be presented in a much more satisfactory way.
Is there anything I liked about Jake the Starchild? As I mentioned, the Jake moments are perfectly acceptable. The backgrounds and general color scheme of this episode really pop. I love the radiant blues that fill out the entire course of Warren’s make-shift planet. And yeah, aside from those two aspects, that’s kind of it. I don’t even know if I can call Jake the Starchild truly bad. It definitely has moments and attributes that I could deem poor in quality, but at the end of the day, it’s just a truly unmemorable, nearly pointless entry. I’m noticing this as a pattern of season nine episodes that aren’t exactly of good quality. With a very mixed season like Season Six, even at its worst, it was trying something different and pushing the bar for what could be in a kid’s show at the time. Episodes like Seventeen, Marcy & Hunson, and Jake the Starchild are simply bland entries that should be really grandiose and exciting, but instead choose the most cookie-cutter options of storytelling available. It shows clearly in Jake the Starchild, because what could have been an exciting conclusion to an individual character’s arc ended up being a showcase of repetitive character traits and pre-existing knowledge. I would have loved to see what the amazing and brilliant team behind Adventure Time could’ve brought to the table had the series continued, but man, with episodes like Jake the Starchild, the show’s end may have been for the best.