Episode Review: ‘Orb’ (S08E15)
- Airdate: April 21, 2017
- Story by: Ashly Burch, Adam Muto, Kent Osborne, Jack Pendarvis
- Storyboarded by:
Adam Muto & Aleks Sennwald
- Directed by: Elizabeth Ito (supervising), Sandra Lee (art)
Adventure Time has always embraced a psychoanalytic understanding of dreams that straddles the Freud-Jung divide: these reveries reveal hidden or repressed wishes/beliefs (as Freud postulated), but at the same time they are not necessarily psycho-sexual, nor are they restricted simply to the individual unconsciousness (as per Jung). Dreams in the Adventure Time world tell us much about the characters who are having them, as well as the world they live in.
This approach to dream representation was perhaps first illustrated in the season four episode “King Worm”, wherein Finn is trapped in a dream-world thanks to the antics of the titular character. The imagery in that episode, while surreal and truly weird made sense given what we knew about Finn, and was thus able to be analyzed (e.g. PB making Finn her king, and FP spoon-feeding him soup can be analyzed in terms of Finn’s complicated love life at the time). “King Worm” ultimately taught us a lot about who Finn was and what he was going through at the time. Since then, the show has dabbled in dream-imagery, but “Orb” is by far the most extreme instance, focusing not on one but rather three characters: Finn, Jake, and BMO.
In this episode, Finn, Jake, and BMO each fall asleep on the deck of the boat that is heading towards Ooo. The three then slip into their own nightmares, which are bizarre and horrifying in their own ways:
- Jake dreams that he is at his old house, with his parents (Joshua and Jermaine) and his brother Jermaine. The two begin digging a hole in the middle of the floor, but the hole ‘resets’, burying Joshua within. This dream takes on the structure of an awkward talk show, with a laugh track responding to ‘jokes’ that do not make much sense.
- Finn dreams that he can fly. He passes through clouds that look like things in his life before running into Princess Bubblegum on a hillside. After he lands, he is unable to fly, and the grass beneath his feet starts to wrap around his legs. Suddenly, PB’s teeth are falling out, and he tries to put them back in her face, but her head grows to grotesque proportions.
- BMO dreams that they are a theater director. When the show goes downhill, BMO demands to meet with the director (forgetting that they are in fact the one helming the show). A small MO assistant leads BMO to the director’s room, where BMO finds AMO sitting behind the director’s chair.
Through the power of dream magic, Finn, Jake, and BMO’s nightmares intersect, and they begin to share a group dream. It is at this point that Finn realizes that strange ‘elements’ have been flickering through each of their dreams (Jake’s dream featured a bat, BMO’s dream featured a dress, and Finn’s dream featured a cloud with an eye). Finn combines these three elements into one: Nightmare Princess. Turns out, the sovereign of frights just wants some of the trio’s bananas; in exchange, she’ll end the nightmares. Finn, Jake, and BMO oblige, fork over a few bananas, and the dreams stop. When the three wake up, they can see Ooo on the horizon.
Each of the characters’ dreams reveals something about them in symbolic and often convoluted ways. There’s a lot of to dissect here, but some of the major themes that crop up include:
- Jake and his family. Perhaps most obviously, he and Jermaine share a dream-connection that engenders a dreamscape populated with their family members. At one point, the brothers take to digging a hole, but find that it has veritably sealed itself, with Joshua in it. I take this to mean that the two are still, deep down, mourning the loss of their father… as well as possibly in a bit of denial that he is in fact actually dead. While much of the action is happening in this dream, outside of the house, the Peeper from “Joshua and Margaret Investigations” can be seen looking in. This suggests that subconsciously, Jake knows that he is an ‘other’ (the appearance of the Peeper also suggests that the show will return to that storyline soon).
- Finn and the grass curse. In Finn’s dream, he starts off with the power to fly, but eventually finds himself grounded. As he bemoans his inability to soar once again, the grass beneath him starts to envelope his body. This scene is made all the more ominous by the lugubrious storm clouds that are quickly approaching. While most of this dream focuses on PB (more on that later), the shifting grass and the ‘coming storm’ suggests that the grass-curse storyline is far from over, and that Finn will soon be forced to reckon with it (there’s also the peculiar fact that Finn has both arms in his dream). Is Fern going to turn? Are Fern and Finn going to have to team up and fight the little Eldritch-spider curse? We’ll see…
- BMO and AMO. BMO begins their dream as the director of the play, but when it goes south, they suddenly demand to see the director, which they soon learn is AMO. While BMO is a robot, I’m going to assume that they too have a subconscious. As such, this about-face about who is directing the show suggests that BMO worries that, while they are carefree and fun loving, that they too could turn into a domineering and conniving trickster like AMO. It’s clear that BMO is also still haunted by the ‘death’ of AMO in the previous season. Finally, there’s also the romantic possibility that the AMO that appears in BMO’s dream is not a subconscious manifestation, but rather the literal ‘ghost’ of AMO returning to haunt BMO—after all, the two are robots, so who knows how the robot afterlife (if it exists) functions. This could be a novel and interesting path to take for the show.
As can be seen, the dreams in this episode allow us to x-ray the characters and see into their psyches, much like psychoanalysis suggests. But unlike the psychoanalytic understanding of dreams, those reveries in Adventure Time are also often premonitory and a bit mystical. Throughout this episode, we are treated to imagery that suggests something is coming.
For one thing, while Finn talks to PB, the surrounding hills look to be infected with candy. PB’s head also grows to a grotesque size. Both of these clues taken together seem to indicate that PB and/or her elemental powers are going to go awry, and that she is going to either grow uncontrollably, or lose control of her essence.
Second, when Finn and Jake end up in BMO’s play, Finn tries to take his cues from a MO in the orchestra pit. However, this MO is stylized to look like the Lich. Given the importance of the Lich to the Adventure Time mythology, this element of the nightmare cannot be overlooked. It suggests that the Big Bad will indeed be back. But as to why Finn is taking his cues from the MO-Lich is beyond me.
Finally, as Finn, Jake, and BMO are sharing a nightmare, they begin to fall into an abyss. If one looks at the background, one will notice that is is made up of the four elements: the trio pass from fire to ice to slime to candy rapidly. It is perhaps no coincident that the next few episodes make up the Elements miniseries…
The big downside to this episode is that, aside from the character revelations and fantastic (and often frightening) imagery, the plot is, to put it mildly, rather weak. It basically boils down to: Nightmare Princess wants bananas, so she gives Finn, Jake, and BMO nightmares so that they will hand over some of their fruit. That’s it. The nightmares themselves, while extremely elucidating and dare I say prophetic, are not essential if we’re talking strictly in terms of plot. With that said, “Orb” is undeniably both a ‘character examination’ and a ‘set-up episode’. In regards to the former, the episode tells us a great deal about the characters’ psyches, which is always a welcome treat. In regards to the latter, “Orb” is less about telling a one-off story and more about setting the stage (no pun intended) for the Elements miniseries. Given these more important facets, I can be more forgiving of the thin storyline.
Mushroom War Evidence: Nothing.