The Selfishness of Self-Preservation in Adventure Time's 'Evergreen'

On last week’s episode of Adventure Time, “Evergreen,” a prehistoric ice wizard and his young ward contend with an apocalyptic comet bearing down on the planet, with a wish-granting crown. It’s the eponymous time again!

Even with plots of despotic Candy governments and dimensional interlopers, Adventure Time retains its focus on the inner life of the child, and with “Evergreen” we’re given a tragically simple fable of child neglect, one that also enriches the mythology behind the Ice King, and more specifically, the Ice Crown. And while Ice King’s story arc had already been one of the series’ most emotionally trying and complex plotlines, “Evergreen” extends its ironies and tragedies even further.

The title card shows a young lizard and his yellow quadruped companion in a pose identical to Finn and Jake, but this child’s misadventures take place before the existence of Ooo, or even the Mushroom War. “Evergreen” takes place in a prehistoric past, with four wizards representing the primal elements (which are fire, ice, slime, and candy, of course) gathered atop a tower made of ice to discuss the green fireball in their sky growing larger every day. Ice wizard Urgence Evergreen presents his plot to design a crown capable of making its bearer’s deepest desire a reality, but his fellow magic-men have their doubts; Candy wizard Chatsberry fears what a wish-granting crown might be capable of, and Fire wizard Balthus argues that an asteroid comes around once every thousand years, and though they might perish, there has never been irreparable harm to the elements they represent.

In other words, Evergreen’s peers aren’t concerned with their own physical well-being, and are more frightened at the prospect of causing greater harm through their attempts at self-preservation. Their Zen-like poise in the face of annihilation doesn’t sit well with the self-righteous Evergreen, who promptly freezes them all (though Chatsberry puts up a great fight, farting jelly beans out of his hand and all) and takes it upon himself to save them from themselves. He sets out to steal the ruby eyes of the lava dog Magwood, the intended power source of the crown, all by himself, served of course by his loyal ward Gunther and his little yellow pet-thing Nina.

Poor Gunther loves Evergreen as much as any mutant lizard-boy can love his magic-slinging father-figure, but it’s obviously hard times when your daddy is a self-serving asshole who treats you lower than the dirt that you walk upon. Evergreen rides in his ice-palanquin while Gunther roughs it out on the anthill-infested ground; Evergreen sleeps in his ice tent while Gunther scrounges a blanket from the enchanted bongo-player they brought along with them. Gunther even shows his master’s streak of cruelty as he strikes Nina when they’re looking for water, but the crowning injustice is when Evergreen reveals to Gunther that he’s his father-but-not-really: “Are you my father?” “No, but I stole your egg and mutated your brain—get going.” No, Evergreen doesn’t even have the decency to be this doting child’s abusive father, merely his disappointed creator, which makes Gunther some misshapen lab experiment with as much biological destiny as refrigerator mold.

In Magwood’s volcanic lair, Evergreen does righteous wizard-battle with the elephantine lava-hound, and would’ve met the untimely end he deserved had it not been for Gunther’s misguided meddling, a service which earns him a blackened face and more verbal abuse from his hero. Back in Evergreen’s study, the Ice Crown is completed, but before he can initiate his scheme, the maddened, now-blind lava dog bursts inside seeking his stolen ruby eyes. The study is left in ruins, with both Magwood and Evergreen pinned beneath debris while the meteor hangs perilously in the prehistoric skies. To Evergreen’s horror, the fate of the world isn’t in the hands of a selfless wizard like Evergreen’s old buddies, and it isn’t even in the hands of a selfish-yet-potent wizard like himself. No, everything hinges on the capabilities of a single lizard boy and the purity of his heart’s desires. Which is tough news for everyone, because this certain kid happens to be Evergreen’s kid, and he is anything but nurtured enough to handle the job.

Once he dons the crown, Gunther’s fondest wish overtakes him, and he can do little more than spout icy winds from his hands and grow a familiar-looking pointy nose and white beard, all while shouting his hero’s favorite catchphrase: “GUNTHER NO GUNTHER NO GUNTHER NO GUNTHER NO” and so forth. All the while, the meteor hurtles closer and closer, and Evergreen spends his final moments pondering the enormity of his injustice towards Gunther, and the consequences thereof.

As the falling meteor’s light waxes blindingly, the scene cuts to Ice King in the midst of a nightmare, echoing the words of the Ice Crown’s ancient bearer: “Gunther no, Gunther no, Gunther no,” while the present-day penguin Gunthers cower in the corner, ignorant to the millennia-old tragedy unfolding before their eyes. Ice King wakes up and wonders what their deal is, while simultaneously, a similar meteor is seen in space, again hurtling towards the planet.

And hence, the hideous tragedy of the Ice Crown is that one of the most powerful wizarding artifacts of any age is doomed to inject the consciousness of a spurned lower-creation into whoever wears it. It’s easy to think back to the words of the other prehistoric wizards, and how their attitude proved correct: the comet hit, but Ooo was born regardless, along with all the other little fantastic denizens of its plains. One of the most beautiful aspects of Adventure Time mythology is that the Mushroom War happened, that the worst imaginable nightmare of human history came about, but there was a rebirth regardless, and the same goes with this prehistoric comet. Annihilation or not, the universe soldiers on.

But Evergreen, unlike his peers, had a certain sense of individuality. Where his buddies preferred to see the peaceful tranquility of the bigger picture, Evergreen was pre-occupied with the value of his individual existence, something that we’re accustomed to prizing ourselves, being America, the land of free enterprise, where every schmuck means something to the greater democracy. We’re caught in a dilemma, then; is it so wrong to believe that your individual existence is worth at least a fart to fate? Then why did Evergreen fail? Because inherent in some degree to this attitude of self-worth is a shred of selfishness, the same selfishness that left Gunther in impotence while Evergreen was preoccupied with grander schemes.

“Evergreen” gives new dimensions to just how sad Ice King’s story is. Every time Simon Petrikov donned the crown to protect a little girl named Marceline from the horrors of the post-Mushroom War world, the impulses of another frightened little boy of ages past came screaming into his own skull. In the prehistoric world, that lizard-boy was given none of the preparation he needed to bear the responsibilities of a really-real-deal world, and in the post-Mushroom world, Simon Petrikov bears this sin in shielding a girl from a world she isn’t ready for either.  It’s enduring saga of parent-figures and children, and the preciousness of the guidance one generation can impart to another.

 

Andrew Tran's picture
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