Stakes Is a Welcome Reversal and a Step Forward

For much the same reasons as Moe explained earlier this summer, I have kind of grown away from Adventure Time. While an eleven minute episode once a week isn’t a huge time commitment, I felt that the show had lost its idea of who its audience was and had abandoned the latter half of its “here’s a weird premise with a good message” mentality for utter absurdism and often unpleasant conclusions. Also, I’m still pissed that Finn’s arm grew back.

Because of this, I didn’t know about the Stakes miniseries, which comprises several episodes out of the still-ongoing Season 7, until after it had finished airing. Thankfully, a Bubbline blog that I still follow on Tumblr reblogged a rash of posts about it, or I’d still be in the dark. I began watching it out of loyalty to Marceline more than anything—she’s always been my favorite character—but I finished it unexpectedly excited to see what will happen next in the Land of Ooo.

stakes opening shotSpoilers through the end of Stakes after the jump.

Stakes delves into Marceline’s backstory for the first time in depth. It begins when she comes to Princess Bubblegum with a not-so-simple request: she doesn’t want to be a vampire any more. Peebs does have an experimental de-vamp-ing machine, and lo and behold, the process works and Marceline’s vampiric essence is separated out of her body. Unfortunately, the ancient vampires who she’d slain to get those powers are resurrected once they’re free of her body, and she, with the help of Bubblegum, Finn, and Jake, have to hunt them down and re-slay them. It turns out that while Marceline has soul-sucking powers thanks to her part-demonic heritage, she wasn’t always a vampire. Stakes-adventure-timeAs a teenager in the post-apocalypse, she traveled around slaying vampires in order to protect what humans remained. Each of her other powers, like rapid healing, shapeshifting, and flight, were all things she’d soul-sucked out of vampires and absorbed into herself after she’d slain them, but in the end she got turned herself when she faced her toughest-ever opponent. As she and her friends re-slay each vampire, she regains each power while still holding off actually re-becoming a vampire, but in the end all the vampiric essence she’s imbibed turns on her and she’s back where she started. She’s happier, though, and is glad she had another chance at mortal life.

I’ve always loved the episodes that get into the characters’ otherwise mysterious backstories more than anything else, and, prior to this miniseries, no one’s backstory was really more mysterious than Marceline’s. We’ve gotten a lot of Simon’s past; we’ve met Finn’s dad and had episodes about Jake’s parents and about Princess Bubblegum’s past and family. But besides the parts of Marceline’s story that overlap with the Ice King’s, and the one ages-ago episode with Marceline and her dad, we still hadn’t learned much about her. It was fascinating to get a glimpse into post-Simon teenage Marceline and to find out how she ended up becoming a vampire.

For me the whole series was a welcome reversal in terms of storytelling, as they seem to have returned to my much-preferred model of good, funny storytelling that isn’t overwhelmed by its absurdist elements. I felt like the show had veered back to the path it was once on. In just these few episodes it reaffirmed the relationships between several characters, bringing Marceline and Bubblegum’s friendship as well as Marcy and Simon’s bond back into the spotlight. It brought some characters or character traits that had been sidelined back out into the open—while LSP wasn’t exactly useful in it, she was portrayed a lot more sympathetically than in her last appearance, and I’d also forgotten that Jake was absolutely terrified of vampires. Finally, it reversed a plot twist I had been less than happy with, unseating the unbearably annoying King of Ooo from the throne of the Candy Kingdom and leaving a void for Bubblegum to return to her rule.

Marcelines mom stakesThe step forward was twofold, although in both cases it was a baby step. First of all, Lady Geek Girl wrote a while ago—back before we’d ever actually met Finn’s dad—about how Adventure Time could introduce more people of color, seeing as the show is white by default because Finn is (or at least originally was) the only human character, and is white. Later human additions like Betty, Finn’s dad, and even Simon prior to his Ice King transformation maintained the show’s whiteness. In Stakes, however, we learn that Marceline’s mom was a person of color, which means that Marceline (at least her human half) is also not white. Unfortunately, her father’s demonic grey skin color is clearly dominant, so no one who hasn’t seen this one part of this one episode will know.

The other small step I felt the show made in the right direction was, as I mentioned briefly earlier, reaffirming the strong bond between PB and Marceline. After six-and-change very long seasons, it’s been harder and harder to swallow the “the creators are totally on board it’s just that the producers won’t let them do it” excuse to dismiss what is, at its most basic, queerbaiting in the relationship between Marceline and Bubblegum. In a post-Korrasami, post-Steven Universe world, I’m no longer taking that particular pill.

bubbline_stakesBut while there were a great deal of heartfelt declarations, a ton of blushing, and no shortage of gentle touches without any confirmed queerness in Stakes, I felt a renewed hope for the potential eventual canonization of Bubbline. Marceline imagines growing old with Bubblegum in a fever dream in which Bubblegum kisses her (on the head), while in real life a deathly ill Marcy is being cradled in a terrified PB’s arms. Bubblegum shyly invites her to come live in her reclaimed castle with her once she clears out the squatters, and Marceline says that she needs some time to recover from being re-vamped, but is glad that now that she’s immortal again they’ll have forever to be together. Because these little cues were sustained over the course of the whole miniseries, rather than being brought up here or there in a one-shot Bubblegum- or Marceline-focused episode, I’m wondering if (and hoping that) the Bubbline thing that was hinted at and then retracted for the first time so very long ago might finally be coming to a small screen near you.

All in all, Stakes was both an excellent bit of storytelling as its own standalone series, and was refreshing and reinvigorating to the Adventure Time canon as a whole, which had been really in need of some guidance for a while there. If you’re a lapsed fan of the show who misses its better days, I’d definitely recommend revisiting it.

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