Together again, together forever in ‘Adventure Time: Distant Lands’
The spotlight’s finally on Finn and Jake in “Together Again,” the high-stakes third special from the HBO Max exclusive series “Adventure Time: Distant Lands.” This time, it’s a journey through life, death and everything in between.
May 30, 2021
Finn and Jake are dead.
“Wait! Stop! Spoilers!” you’re probably thinking. That’s not really a spoiler though; we find out that both members of our favorite adventuring duo have kicked the bucket not five minutes into the latest hour-long special from the “Adventure Time” epilogue series “Distant Lands.” “Finn and Jake are dead,” the screen reads. Right there on the title card. Bold.
Honestly, it was bound to happen eventually. In the eight-year run of their show, Finn the Human Mertens and Jake the Dog (voiced by Jeremy Shada and John DiMaggio, respectively) battled evil wizards, demons, vampires, other humans and even the god of chaos himself. With all these victories under their belts, it may have seemed like Finn and Jake were immortal, but every dog (and human) has his day.
In “Together Again,” that day has come for the brothers, and the realization confronts us just as it confronts Finn. Before comprehending his death, he finds himself momentarily trapped in an uncanny hallucinatory sequence of mathematics-related slang and classic Ice-King-and-ice-cream adventures with his best bro Jake. There’s even a painful line of autotune and a rushed “lesson learned” moment in which Finn states out loud to himself an appropriately preschool-level aphorism. Everything we loved to cringe about in the early episodes.
Yet, even after Finn wakes from this hallucination and finds himself in a sort of transitional purgatory on his way to one of the fifty deadworlds, something about his death feels unearned. Something—or someone—is undeniably missing.
It’s not Tiffany Oiler (voiced by Aryan Simhadri), who’s died so many times by now that it’s honestly unsurprising he’s employed as an undertaker in the afterlife. It’s not Mr. Fox (voiced by Tom Herpich), who reprises his delightful role as “just some guy,” always stumbling into the craziest situations by sheer dumb luck. This time, he’s a deadworlds orientation counselor, of course. And it’s not Tree Trunks, or Choose Goose, or Joshua, Margaret, Jerome, Ghost Princess, Maja—or any other secondary character from the show’s extensive catalog. In this Dante-styled vision of the great beyond, albeit one with 50 circles instead of nine, almost every resident of Ooo reappears in the appropriate deadworld, living out an eternal fate fitting to how they lived their lives.
None of those pieces of Finn’s life—or rather, his death—are missing. But Jake is.
Not literally, of course. After an emotional breakdown on Finn’s part that feels a little premature, Jake descends from the ethereal heights of the 50th deadworld because he sensed that someone’s vibe was off. Yes, that’s actually what he tells Finn, who’s scared and upset, and rightfully so. How could his brother leave him behind when they promised they’d wait for each other, even in death?
Before they have time to process this abandonment, the main conflict reveals itself: New Death (voiced by Chris Fleming) has replaced his father Old Death as ruler of the deadworlds and seeks to destroy them all, along with the souls living in them. This is the seemingly senseless motive Finn and Jake have to contend with as they travel throughout the deadworlds, making pit stops in various other realms in search of a way to defeat the untouchable New Death.
It’s a cool travel sequence if nothing else, especially considering we get to see the Candy Kingdom under the rule of Peppermint Butler, complete with all the magical renovations and augmentations he seems to have made. We don’t know where or why Princess Bubblegum has gone, but I imagine the fourth “Distant Lands” special, “Wizard City,” will explain this.
Even with this new lore, unanswered questions still abound. Enter the first twist reveal: the Lich has been steering New Death’s actions all along. Once we know he’s at the wheel, the episode finally starts to feel like good old righteous “Adventure Time.” In this incarnation, the Lich has accepted he could never eliminate all living souls as long as Finn and Jake were alive to stop him, so he takes a new approach and attempts to eliminate all dead souls and end reincarnation, using the son of Life and Death as his pawn and vessel. This new motive makes so much sense once we know it’s the Lich, not just some angry jockbro who happened to be put in charge of the deadworlds. It also gives us an intense, trippy compilation sequence of all the times Finn has slain the Lich before, emphasizing the cyclical nature of their timeless conflict.
Twist number two: once Finn and Jake learn that whoever eliminates New Death will himself become the new caretaker of the deadworlds, they duke it out in a brotherly conflict reminiscent of Clint and Natasha on Vormir. In other words, each of them wants to sacrifice himself for his brother, who won’t allow it. We know Finn and Jake will defeat the Lich, because that’s how these stories go, so adding this new dimension keeps the battle fresh and engaging.
As trope expectations dictate, a third character picks up the mantle of terrifying eternal purpose at the last second so that Finn and Jake may be spared, yet their victory still feels unearned. And then we get the emotional epiphany we’ve been anticipating.
In death, Jake achieved nirvana and Finn didn’t. The pair was forced to split up, with Jake sent on to the highest deadworld (the 50th) and Finn relegated elsewhere. Ironically, this is because Finn spent every moment of his life after Jake’s death simply waiting for his own death, as it meant he would get to see Jake again. He didn’t live his life for himself, on his own terms, and thus could not reach nirvana alongside his brother. Finn’s epiphany then becomes the realization that he has to go back; he has to be reincarnated as something else and try again, so that one day, he might reach the 50th deadworld via his own soul’s righteousness and be reunited with Jake.
At the same time, nirvana for Jake is a selfish choice as long as there’s “a butt of injustice to kick.” He’d be betraying his own righteous ending if he remained so far-removed from reality in the 50th deadworld and refused to go back with Finn, because it’s always been about the two of them fighting evil together. He knew his nirvana would never be true, well, nirvana if he left Finn behind by himself, and it took this one last battle against New Death for Jake to recognize the eternity of their friendship and brotherhood.
This is both the triumph and the downfall of “Together Again.” It feels unearned because neither Finn, Jake, nor we as the audience earn anything until quite literally the final 15 seconds of the episode, when the emotional resolution whizzes by like a slap to the face. I sat there with my mouth open wondering whether I should be amazed or stupefied by Jake’s decision to return to Ooo with his brother for yet another reincarnation. Of course, it makes sense; the duo has always been together, in all their previous and future incarnations: Shoko and the white tiger, Shermy and Beth, Penelope and Betty. Naturally, that cycle shouldn’t stop until they achieve everlasting peace together, no? #JustEternalSoulmateThings.
But the fact that I had to (wanted to?) think about it for so long means “Together Again” is a phenomenal success for people who’ve watched all ten seasons of “Adventure Time,” and a profound failure for those who haven’t. For those who haven’t lived with Finn and Jake from “Slumber Party Panic” to “Come Along With Me,” another reincarnation means nothing. But for those who have—those who’ve come along with the brothers on every possible adventure together, in every possible life, together—it means everything.
At the end of “Together Again,” Finn and Jake are, well, together again. In death, in life and everything in between. “Because it’s great being alive with you.”