Adventure Time’s “Betty” Reverses Damsel in Distress Trope

If you’ve seen the latest episode of Adventure Time, then you know that it gives you enough feels to fill five football stadiums. It also gives us yet another awesome female character and a role reversal when it comes to the typical damsel in distress trope. But is it feminist?

tumblr_n1j3tzMIrc1rd0rbzo1_500To answer this question, let’s take a look at the episode “Betty” and all it has to offer. Spoilers for the latest episode of Adventure Time after the cut.

The episode begins with Forest Wizard, Laser Wizard, and Bufo gathering magical items to give to Bella Noche, a powerful being from another dimension, in return for greater power. Ice King crashes their ritual at the last minute, and gets caught in Bella Noche’s spell. Unfortunately, it turns out that Bella Noche is a being of pure anti-magic. The wizards discover this too late and are caught in a blast from Bella Noche, losing all their magic and turning the Ice King back into Simon Petrikov. Simon wants to take advantage of his moment of clarity to talk to Betty, his old girlfriend, and with the help of Marceline, Finn, and Jake, Simon opens a portal to the past.

His intent is just to say goodbye, but Betty jumps through the portal to be with Simon again. However, Simon is about to die. If he got his powers back he could live, but he doesn’t want to be the Ice King again. Betty insists on saving him, though, saying that if he becomes the Ice King again, it will buy her time to figure out a way to keep him from dying even without his powers. In one episode, Betty makes the choice to leave her own time period, flies a magic carpet, defeats Bella Noche all on her own, and then starts on her quest to save the Ice King.

AT_BettyAt first, while I enjoyed the episode, I was a bit dismayed, mainly because the show introduced a new female character whose sole purpose and reason for existing revolves entirely around a male character. So, while Betty is kickass, she could be viewed as un-feminist. However, closer inspection of the plot of this episode, as well as Betty’s character, reveals her to be the hero in a damsel in distress story where the Ice King, not Betty, is the damsel.

There are a couple of different damsel tropes employed in this episode. There is the general damsel in distress trope at play, but, more specifically, the episode hints at the Ice King fulfilling the euthanized damsel trope. The euthanized damsel trope occurs when a female character is either dying or turning into some evil monster and begs the hero to either let her die or to kill her. This is exactly what Simon does. He begs Betty to just let him die, because he doesn’t want to be the Ice King again. Betty refuses and defeats Bella Noche, allowing Simon to turn back into the Ice King, and then searches for a way to save him.

However, since Betty refuses to let Simon die to fuel her own tragic backstory, she avoids the euthanized damsel trope. The general damsel in distress trope is still very much in play, but it’s interesting that the roles are being reversed here. So while Betty’s story does revolve around Simon, the idea that she is the active hero who is trying to save her dearest love while the Ice King passively waits for her to save him is a cool take on an otherwise over-played trope.

tumblr_n1nmzmlFDY1qiy8cfo1_500I do, however, have some problems with the episode. The Ice King is a well-known character who gets a lot of play in the Adventure Time mythos, while Betty is basically brand new. If we never see her again except when she thinks she has a solution to save the Ice King, her character really would just be used as a plot device for the Ice King. But having her around now provides a lot of opportunities for the writers to develop her in her own right as she continues her quest. It will be really neat if we get to see Betty go on her own adventures independent of the Ice King, or getting to know Marceline, who is the only other woman who knew Ice King when he was Simon. On top of this, Betty will have to adapt to a whole new world that she’s never been a part of before. And Finn would definitely enjoy getting to know Betty, because now that Betty is around, Finn is not the only human.

So yes, I would say that the episode “Betty” and the character are feminist, as of right now. There is ample opportunity to screw things up, but there’s also ample opportunity to get things really right, and considering Adventure Time‘s past history with female characters, I think we can expect great things from Betty.

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3 thoughts on “Adventure Time’s “Betty” Reverses Damsel in Distress Trope

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  2. God. Not everything needs to be labeled as a gender issue. Both times I watched this episode not for one moment did it occur to me to care in the slightest whether she was “feminist” or not. Just leave it alone and be happy this character has been put into action XD

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