The best of “Cowboy Bebop”… and “Adventure Time”: Speak Like a Child and I Remember You

Spoilers for “Adventure Time” and “Cowboy Bebop” ahead.

It’s a gambit I never realized existed in television: lead the audience along in an episode that appears nonsensical, and then blindside them with an emotional revelation of massive magnitude. After seeing last week’s stellar Adventure Time episode “I Remember You”, easily one of the best the show has ever done, I realized I’ve seen it appear now on two of my favorite shows. I also realized how difficult it is to pull off well. A show like Adventure Time has an easier go of it, I imagine, because it can be so difficult to predict how its plots are going to resolve in a usual episode. But still, for the final emotional twist not to be cheap, the subsequent scenes of indeterminate significance need to also be elevated by the ending. That’s exactly how Adventure Time made “I Remember You” an instant classic.

The buildup to the end seemed like an excuse to have Marceline and The Ice King interact. They’re arguably the show’s two most prominent supporting players not named Bonnibel Bubblegum. The lead up seemed a tad gimmicky (two major characters who had never interacted coupled with singing), but with potential for something really funny, perhaps combining the Ice King’s lunacy with Marceline’s uber-chaotic neutrality.

The show found the perfect tone, however, as soon as it entered Marceline’s domain. Her annoyance with the Ice King wasn’t the typical reaction of, say, the many princesses he continually kidnaps. As soon as she made her weariness, but not contempt, for him clear, the episode began to show its hand. Or seemed to.

Yes, it became clear that Marceline knew the Ice King once, and the audience had to assume that this was before the Mushroom War (since these are the two oldest characters on the show, and the two we knew had lived before the war). Despite leading us in that direction, the ending was an emotional blindside, not a plot-based one. That’s a large part of why it worked so damn well. Adventure Time can’t really surprise us with plot developments, because almost nothing is a surprise on this show, which has had episodes end with Tree Trunks exploding, a giant worm mentally subjugating Finn and Jake, an angry squirrel assassinating them, and (my favorite) the apparent murder of Marceline’s dickish ex-boyfriend. However, it can catch us by surprise emotionally, by generating genuine pathos when we’ve come to expect plain ole’ laughs. The best comedies are able to balance the laughs by occasionally having episodes that are light on comedy but heavy on character development and, usually, heartstring tugging. These deepen the show, letting see the person behind the curtain, getting to know them a little bit better. The contrast between Marceline’s disarming vulnerability and genuine heartache and the Ice King’s oblivious drumming was pathos most sitcoms don’t dare go near, let alone a comedic cartoon. Few moments on TV this year will earn quite so many well-deserved tears as this one.

The flashback-as-emotional-wallop ending of this episode reminded me of one of the best episodes of my all-time favorite show: “Cowboy Bebop”.

I’m talking about the splendid “Speak Like a Child”, the episode that brought to the emotional forefront what had been something of a stealth arc to that point: the exploration of Faye Valentine’s past. Faye, who at a cynical glance might seem to exist to provide Bebop with a supply of fanservice, ends up being one of the show’s most endearing characters, and that is thanks largely to this episode. Like Marceline, she’s a detached, mildly amoral person who hides a deeply vulnerable side. And like Marceline, her past is mysterious to the audience, with many unanswered questions. The key difference with Faye is that she has no memory of her childhood. That fact is key to episode’s impact.

Like “I Remember You,” “Speak Like a Child’s” story seems off for the most part. The Bebop crew gets a tape. They need a beta player to play it. Jet and Spike explore ruins on earth to find one. It’s an amusing, dry episode for the most part, one that seems unusually aimless for a show that is normally so focused and lean, and especially unusual for a show that was just a few episodes from its end.

But the ending… good Lord. It completely alter’s Faye, in the audience’s eyes, in the Bebop crew’s eyes, and most importantly, in Faye’s own eyes. Her arc ends up delivering some of the most moving scenes in Bebop’s last few episodes, and those scenes tie directly back to the revelations in this Scene. It’s also beautiful and heartbreaking, like Marceline and the Ice King’s duet, and, well… I’ll let it speak for itself.

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About johnmichaelmaximilian

Freelance writer from New Bedford, Massachusetts. Movies are my favorite thing.

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