Episode Review: ‘Five Short Tables’ (S08E09)
- Airdate: April 2, 2016
- Story by: Ashly Burch, Adam Muto, Kent Osborne, Jack Pendarvis
- Storyboarded by: Kris Mukai & Aleks Sennwald
- Directed by: Elizabeth Ito (supervising), Sandra Lee (art)
The Fionna and Cake episodes have always been particularly meta. I don’t generally like using that term, due to its overuse (any time something is remotely self-reflexive, people start rambling about how ‘meta’ is it), but “Five Short Tables” certainly warrants it.
The episode opens with the Ice King reading a collection of Fionna and Cake short stories, which have been ‘edited’ by Gunter; the stories concern a situation wherein Fionna attempts to help Cake master the art of creating flapjack portraits. The two search the Candy Kingdom, and look for suitable models.
They first come upon Prince Gumball (sadly, voiced not by the usual Neil Patrick Harris, but rather by Keith Ferguson), who challenges Butterscotch Butler (i.e. the butterscotch Sottish butler, who is voiced by Ella Newlands) to a game of Go. After having previously read Gumball’s diary, Butterscotch Butler is able to use pop psychology to get the prince to sabotage himself, and effectively lose the game.
Next, Fionna and Cake go to the library, where they run into Flame Prince (voiced by Hannibal Buress). The fiery elemental thinks that, in order to use the bathroom, he has to check out a book. Due to being composed entirely of fire, Flame Prince causes damage to the aged books, much to the consternation of Turtle Prince (voiced by Crispin Freeman).
The third vignette concerns Marshall Lee (voiced by the magnificent Donald Glover) trying to make Lumpy Space Prince (once again voiced by Pen Ward) take cough syrup to overcome a cold.
The final story features Fionna and Cake perfecting their flapjack cooking game in the Ice Kingdom whilst they listen to Ice Queen recount her fan fiction about Flynn the human, Jacques the raccoon, and Ice President. While Fionna genuinely likes Ice Queen’s story, the two engage in a fight, and Fionna eventually bests the icy witch.
With that, the action cuts back to Ooo proper, and Ice King reveals that the stories are all unified by the theme of tables: Gumball and Butterscotch Butler’s Go match took place on a table, Flame Prince destroyed the table of contents in one of the books he was holding, Marshall Lee tried to get Lumpy Space Prince to take a tablespoon of medicine, and Ice Queen mentioned her desire to “table” a discussion. Ice King is amazed that he has seemingly created a new story format; he initially wants to call them “graybles”, but decides to call them “tables”. Suddenly, the screen freezes, and it is revealed that the entire episode was actually being viewed by Cuber (Emo Phillips); he sighs, noting that he’ll never be able to look at tables the same way ever again.
The various levels of abstraction and mediation in this episode are almost too numerous to count. We are watching Cuber (1), who is watching the Ice King (2), who is reading his fan fiction (3), wherein the Ice Queen is reading her fan fiction (4), wherein the Ice President is reading his fan fiction (5). To paraphrase a quote once [supposedly] uttered by Bertrand Russell, it’s “fan fiction all the way down.”
In addition to the recursive nature of the fan fictions-within-fan fictions, “Five Short Tables” diverges significantly from the previous storytelling setup of the previous Fionna and Cake episodes; whereas the previous episodes focused largely on only one specific gender-bent character, this episode features somewhat of an ensemble cast. It’s a smart move. Season three’s “Fionna and Cake” first aired almost four and a half years ago, and since then, we’ve really only been introduced to five of Aaa’s inhabitants (viz. Fionna, Cake, Prince Gumball, Marshall Lee, and Lumpy Space Prince). "Five Short Tables” provides the show with the chance to showcase several new characters all at once.
Indeed, there’s a lot going on in this episode, and that’s, arguably, its weakest attribute. Between the four table stories, the many jokes and side-stories therein, the antics of the Ice King, and the reveal of Cuber, the episode is rather messy. Now, messy does not equate to bad—just like with cooking, sometimes the messiest meals are also the tastiest. But it does mean that the episode is not as strong, structurally, as I think it could have been.
Luckily, the episode makes up for the shakiness with its jokes. Kris Mukai has already proved herself a master at silliness (see: “Mama Said”), and Aleks Sennwald’s sections seem equally as fun. In fact, consider that this is Sennwald’s first storyboard for the show (and possibly ever), the episode is remarkably solid. I look forward to seeing what Sennwald (who was a storyboarder for the show’s eighth season) will produce in the future.
The quality of this episode’s guest voice actors is also top notch. Donald Glover returns and delivers a wonderful performance as Marshall Lee (as a side not, Marshall Lee’s storyline in this episode largely makes up for his dickish behavior in “Bad Little Boy”). The amazing Hannibal Buress voices Flame Prince; Buress is a actor who I never considered for the role, but who makes perfect sense once I heard the character speak. Crispin Freeman does double-duty, voicing both Turtle Prince and Ice President. Elle Newlands does an adorable job voicing Butterscotch Butler. Of course, Madeleine Martin, Roz Ryan, Grey DeLisle, and Emo Phillips all do justice to their characters. The only disappointment with the voice acting was the Neil Patrick Harris either declined to return to the show, or was simply unavailable (his role was filled by Keith Ferguson, who does a solid—but noticeable—NPH impression).
Mushroom War Evidence: Nothing.
Final Grade: “While a little shaky, ‘Five Short Tables’ manages to expand the world of Fionna and Cake in a fun and humorous way.”