Adventure Time‘s bittersweet 2018 ending, “Come Along With Me,” was perfect, an ode to the act of storytelling as it passed the tales of the Land of Ooo’s heroes onto a generation untold years into the future. By handing off the torch to new characters living hundreds of years after the time of Finn and Jake, the story felt open-ended but complete: Adventure Time is, effectively, forever.
So it doesn’t feel like a disservice or an undermining of closure for HBO Max’s three-part special Distant Lands to reopen the book-even the framing feels like it matches the perspective of that ending. Little epilogues for each set of characters feel like legends being passed down about beloved characters, imagining what they were up to between their time and the far future we saw at the show’s conclusion. BMO is still the star of their own show, tumbling into weird adventures by accident in the first of these new elongated episodes, simply titled BMO. Obsidian, the second, gave Princess Bubblegum and Marceline’s complicated, often painful, and eons-spanning romantic relationship the kind of elaboration that the original show never did, even when it wanted to. Distant Lands as a whole does give the show’s beloved supporting cast some charming postscript, briefly checking in on some fan favorites: Peppermint Butler is still a creepy weirdo, Choose Goose is carting around illegal moisturizer, later found judged for rhyme crimes.
In terms of the other main players, our most recent glimpse of Finn came at the tail end of Obsidian-having clearly aged a lot since the show’s end, in a striking emphasis of Princess Bubblegum and Marceline’s longevity-sporting a beard and a glorious chest tattoo of Jake. But his circumstances were left unclear, and Jake conspicuously absent, with one of his daughters appearing in his place. The third special, Together Again, recently released on HBO Max, doesn’t quite seek to fill in the gaps as it does look to provide one last bit of emotional closure for the series and its fans, and miraculously manages to do so without stepping on the satisfying ambiguity and room for imagination left by Season 10’s ending.Together Again is somewhat surprising in its immediate nostalgia, which at first separates it from the other vignettes of Distant Lands. At first, it feels like just another episode of Adventure Time, with the old opening credits and title cards making a return, the opening five or 10 minutes going back to a much older status quo where Finn still has both arms and his old yellow sword. This bit of indulgence appropriately brings Adventure Time full circle as the series finale did before, albeit differently-Finn is yelling “Algebraic!” again and quietly using “math” as an excited affirmation. (Jake responds, “Ha! Classic Finn.”) But of course, in the tradition of the series, there’s something sad and unsettling lingering under the surface of its fairy-tale whimsy. Finn’s desperate plea that “you don’t break up the team!” reminds us that he’s always been emotionally dependent on Jake, and the show’s initial revisitation of the good old days immediately feels pointed and ominous. It’s reflexive, quickly recognizing how static and stifling such nostalgia can be.
To say happens next-following a cut which leads to one of the show’s most surprising and saddest visuals-is to give the game away, but it’s safe to say that Together Again is not content to simply be a retread of what Adventure Time once was, nor is it afraid to get as weird and dark and macabre as it’s ever been. Of course, the march of time also means the pain of eventual separation, the show recognizing that Finn couldn’t always afford to rely on Jake as an emotional crutch. Finn and Jake’s latest, and probably last, adventure is emotionally intense, taking them across a couple of different realms while reexamining how the two complement each other, how painfully they feel each other’s absence, and how they captivated us as an audience in the first place, while imagining the road not traveled. One key character-new for this special-has his own growing pains, rather subtly presented as a sort of counterpart to Finn, an adolescent without his patience and appreciation for Jake’s calm and philosophical life lessons. Instead of the more harmonious route that Finn would have taken (with Jake’s wise tutelage), this new entity decides to stick it to his old man by destroying everything he represents, including a peaceful, easygoing attitude not unlike our protagonists.
While it’s ostensibly a story about these characters moving on from their past, the classic Adventure Time jokes still appear among its introspective moments-whether that’s the return of the Jake Suit or Finn’s perfectly high-pitched scream, or its hilariously immediate and weird solutions to problems of cosmic scale. The journey tackles issues of transcendental importance boiling down to a story of maturity, and a pretty straightforward, incredibly moving brotherly bond. The new story, punctuated by multiple tongue-in-cheek title cards, embraces the zen philosophy of the show and takes it to its natural endpoint. The resulting journey is, for this show anyway, fairly low-key visually, comfortably revisiting its mix of fairy tale splendor and post-apocalyptic decay, neon lights, and geometric shapes meeting the cosmic void. Still, it looks as great as ever, imaginative in the different shapes in which it molds Jake (and even Finn, for reasons I won’t spoil), emotive and creative in the drawings of its ever peculiar characters. That aesthetic flexibility (and eclectic score) always went hand-in-hand with Adventure Time‘s coming-of-age element as the world and its characters constantly mutated and changed. Together Again readies Finn and Jake for one more big change, though the process of moving on is painful (and at times also hilariously bleak).
The show has always been good at balancing droll humor and offbeat philosophy with a surprisingly dark story, especially whenever the show delved into the history of its post-post-apocalyptic world, the Land of Ooo having grown out of the nuclear apocalypse. But the past is more Princess Bubblegum and Marceline’s domain; Finn and Jake, as comparatively short as their lives are, are more about the future. Finn’s journey across the show was one of constant forward motion toward maturity, his brother and best friend Jake was there as a steady guiding hand throughout all of it. To see them together again is both a joyous reunion and a genuine tear-jerker. It still leaves much to the imagination, with plenty of ambiguity as to what happened since the final legend of Adventure Time and what will happen after Distant Lands. The adventure will continue on and on and on.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, TikTok, and Snapchat.
Kambole Campbell is a contributor to Thrillist.