To a greater extent than ever before, Adventure Time has taken the focus off of Finn and Jake this season. Like the past two episodes, “Nemesis” only features the two leads in a brief scene, and leaves the rest of the episode to follow a backup main character, along with some supporters. This time around, Princess Bubblegum gets to drive the action, though it’s Peppermint Butler who takes over the spotlight, alongside a new character: Peacemaster, the eponymous nemesis.
Peacemaster has rightly intuited that there’s a great source of evil in the Candy Kingdom, and that it is none other than everyone’s favorite voice-modulated, pals-with-Death, red-striped manservant. Pep-But (everyone in Adventure Time has a cute shortened nickname. Everyone) spends the episode scrambling to avoid exposure, going so far as to invoke his darkest demonic connections and attempting to murder Peacemaster. Ultimately, he settles for warning off his cloak-and-bandage-covered adversary by transforming two of his beloved children into monstrous forms. They’re pretty cool with this, but Peacemaster is crushed.
That ending codifies an episode that induced a strange sense of unease in me. After all, Peacemaster is the good guy here and Pep-But… is not. Princess Bubblegum is running some kind of semi-police state thing, scrambling behind the scenes at a perceived threat, not realizing that the true villainy is serving her chamomile tea. Peacemaster, a dude who’s clearly already been through a lot, gets put through the ringer here. His friends in the Veritas Society (which I really hope we get to see again. “Lux in Tenebras!”) turn on him because they think he’s mad for going after Pep-But. His kids get transformed into what he hates most (after they spend the whole episode eagerly clamoring for it, over his plaintive objections). And he’s all but neutered, forced to toss his powerful anti-dark-magic devices before Pep-But humiliates him utterly. The minty minion seems firmly a villain now, the days when his knowledge of evil forces being a recurring background joke long behind us.
Rainn Wilson returns to the voice cast, briefly reprising Rattleballs (teaching Finn and Jake to hold their breaths) but mainly leading the episode as Peacemaster. His high-strung, theatrics-loving performance is delightful. “My Dark Wizard Gobbler poots evil souls into the void!” he declares with such gusto. Someday, I’ll write something about the delicious-sounding alterna/future slang that the writers for this show have crafted. Wilson is a natural fit for it.
Visually, “Nemesis” has one standout scene. When Peppermint Butler powers up for his assault on Peacemaster, the world around him dissolves into a white void, and he travels through space that looks like charcoal drawings, a non-overbearing reference to the music video for A-ha’s “Take On Me.” It’s not like anything the show has done before, and thus comes across as appropriately alien for the activities of netherworldly (or Nightospherely) forces.
I’m torn between wanting to go back to Finn and Jake and wanting to see what secrets the other inhabitants of Ooo are hiding. I’m certainly hoping that what’s started in this episode with Peppermint Butler has some kind of payoff, preferably one that serves him with some comeuppance. Otherwise, the events of “Nemesis” might actually be too off-putting to bear. Poor Peacemaster. At least his kids don’t mind their new bodies.