The Preciousness of Imperfection in Adventure Time's "The Pajama War"

On the last episode of Adventure Time, “The Pajama War,” Princess takes some time off to herself, hoping that her well-intentioned but helpless Candy Citizens can cope. They do not. It’s the eponymous time again!

It’s just my luck that Adventure Time would air a new episode in the midst of the worst flu I’ve had in years, but the laid-back “The Pajama War” was in many ways exactly what I needed: a good mixture of leisurely-paced, inconsequential hang-outs, and interregnum turmoil. It shows the immediate aftermath of “The Cooler,” in which Princess Bubblegum’s direct aggression against Flame Princess prompts her to the conclusion that there’s just something cold about PB and her unshakeable mistrust of others. “Pajama Wars” is the tender response to that contention, and succeeds in scratching, if not outright melting, the view of Princess Bubblegum as an organic mothering machine of frightening capability.

“The Pajama War” is a mirror of the very first Adventure Time episode; once again, we’re invited to a Candy Kingdom slumber party, and once again PB and Finn find themselves alone in a room after losing at music(al) chairs. But this time, PB abruptly suggests they just ditch the party altogether. They take a walk through PB’s virtual meadow, sample edible fire from her laboratory, play with her giant cat Timmy, and have real talk in her luminescent jam garden, where Bubblegum explains her conscious efforts to ease up on the destructive ice queen stance, and bear the imperfections of the dum-dums around her. Finn relates easily, telling her about his disturbingly negligent father, and his resolution to deal with Martin as he is: a child in a man’s body.

The relaxed pacing of the episode allows PB and Finn’s new perspectives to settle into the viewer, and the parallel to that first slumber party episode draws a comparison between their past and present selves, which also emphasizes just how much garbage and heartache both have borne. And what’s emphasized most of all, is the decidedly non-romantic alone time they can spend together. There are simply other things to deal with nowadays in Ooo, and “The Pajama War” achieves an interesting perspective as a ‘breather’ between more dire story arcs.

On this end, it’s an extremely relaxing episode, almost bizarrely so, given that the previous two were “The Cooler” and “Dentist,” both of which touched on themes of war and loss.  But on the other side of that closet door, the situation is a bit different with the Candy citizens.

What starts as a mild concern for their dear leader steadily turns into the essence of the phrase “well that escalated quickly.” Concerned about the silence from the closet, they quickly elect Crunchy to eavesdrop. Nothing is heard, Mr. Cupcake volunteers to open the door but wrecks the doorknob instead, skip a few, a cannon is fired, the closet explodes, Princess Bubblegum is presumed dead, skip a few, a conniving Crunchy here, a schism in the mob there, and by the time PB returns, Crunchy’s astride a whinnying Colonel Candy Corn, addressing a mob at the foot of an idol in his likeness, and sentencing Starchy to death by smoldering crater. But nothing a bedtime story about the history of men's apparel can't fix.

In other words, as uneasy as it makes us feel to see Princess Bubblegum act like the Forbin project, the whole fiasco somewhat justifies her controlling behavior, at least with regards to the manipulative aspects, if not the expansionist/aggressive ones. It seems that the Candy Kingdom actually does need PB to be the way she is, and that the two are a perfect fit for each other—which is a little complicated when you keep in mind that that the Kingdom is PB’s brainchild.

That thought, and all of “Pajama Wars” begs the question: if PB’s so smart, why doesn’t she just make better Candy people? At first I thought it was for the sake of having goofs like Cinnamon Bun around rather than for serious continuity, but other plausible reasons exist. For example, she didn’t want to tinker with Lemongrab’s heart after he’d stolen the candy life formula, because he’s ‘just like that,’ suggesting that perfection isn’t her aim at all, which is understandable given her past with the Rattleball boys, who were simply too good at being rapier-wielding automaton policemen. No, it looks like her aim instead is to create something that simply is… what it is. That’s all. That explains why she was fine having Cinnamon Bun be Cinnamon Bun, and Lemongrab be Lemongrab—that’s the way they happened, that’s the way it is, and PB’s valuation of their imperfection is the most human, admirable thing about her, it’s what makes her the archetypal mother that she is.

Above all else, “Pajama Wars” is a great episode because it urges the viewer to revise, or at least re-evaluate the idea of ‘PB the Cold Scientist.’ It shows a tenderness to her that has been lost in her more recent appearances, and it also shows her flexibility of judgment, which is something of a new development for her.

I keep thinking of PB’s origin, which is disputable to some, crystal-clear to others: in the Simon & Marcy episode, when young Marceline was sick with the cold, a mysterious pink goo with a smile helped Simon locate a can of restorative soup. If that goo was indeed PB, then she was alive to see the horrific post-apocalypse of the Mushroom War, and in this context, one might see the Candy Kingdom, and arguably all of PB’s actions, whether it’s pre-emptive strikes on the Fire Kingdom, or the invention of Goliad, as striving towards an antithesis to that image of despair and futility. She’s explored extremes of ‘perfection’ with projects like Goliad and Rattleballs, now she’s heading in the opposite direction of ‘let the chips fall where they may.’ Either way, she’s simply trying to make something that works.

Andrew Tran's picture
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