The Land of Ooo, the setting for Adventure Time, is a bright, candy-colored world, but those garish hues mask the harsher truth revealed over the course of the show — that the series takes place not in some wholly imaginary fantasy land, but rather on Earth, generations after humanity was wiped out in “The Great Mushroom War”. That kind of contrast is also the central conceit of the show, where a series that, on the surface, appears to be a silly children’s cartoon, with brightly-colored characters and goofy adventures, reveals an unexpected depth, sensitivity, poignance, and even, occasionally, profundity, belied by the fairy tale nature of its setting and style.
Adventure Time embraces the basics of its palette in “The Comet”, the finale of the show’s sixth season. There are three distinct philosophies on life and on choosing one’s path within it offered in “The Comet”. These philosophies are symbolized by the three primary colors, and none of them is so favored or dismissed as to be dominating or irrelevant in the show’s calculus.
The first is offered by Orgalorg, the Lovecraftian monster who emerges from Gunther the Penguin and seeks to capture The Catalyst Comet, in the hopes of absorbing its power and knowledge. For an erstwhile Eldritch Abomination, Orgalorg doesn’t have the menace or horror of a villain like The Lich. Instead, he’s just a slightly unsettling, big yellow space umbrella with the voice of Tom Kenny by way of Jack Nicholson.
Orgalorg espouses an “open door philosophy” which Finn interprets as “just say[ing] yes to stuff all the time.” But Orgalorg explains that his view isn’t about pure positivity; it’s about crushing anyone who stands between you and the door, crumpling their bones and feeling the goo spill out of them. There’s a peculiar sort of determinism to his view. He sees the universe as laying out a path, as setting out opportunities, but he views those opportunities as only there to be seized by those with the will to do so. Orgalorg is ambition, unfettered by concerns of care or consequence. He is pure, unmitigated want, and his only ethos is to pursue what he desires, at any cost.
The second comes from Finn’s dad, Martin, a deadbeat who has shown himself to be entirely disinterested in the welfare of his son, or anyone else for that matter. Martin stands for pure self-interest, but not in the same manner as Orgalorg. He tells Finn there’s no meaning or purpose or “universal intention” in life. He says the universe is empty, a void, without any rules or directives.
He uses his means of transportation as a metaphor. When describing the giant space moth he travels around in, Martin explains that the creature is random, that it just goes wherever without any regard to his wants or desires. And that’s how he truly views the universe, as chugging along without any chance for him to move or shake it in the slightest, leaving him merely along for the ride.
Martin lives up to that view. He doesn’t have an ambition for power or knowledge like Orgalorg. He’s a hedonist, most interested in saving his own skin and enjoying life’s delights regardless of whom he has to step on to get them. He is the man who looks at a universe with no inherent meaning or purpose and decides to look after himself without any reservation or regard for the consequences of his actions. And yet when we see him put this philosophy into action in “On the Lam”, his final sigh after his escape from captivity and newly acquired wealth reveals a certain emptiness to it all, even for Martin.
The third is presented by Finn himself. After a season of uncertainty for the series’s protagonist, where past events have left Finn struggling to figure out what he should be doing with his life and what his place in the world is, he seems to find some peace in this episode. After being hurtled through space at the hands (flippers?) of Orgalorg, Finn calms himself. He sings, in a tone borrowed from Imogen Heap, “Everything’s falling into place/I’m right where I should be/The tides of life all led me here/And that’s why I’m not scared/I know the answer will appear.” As he sings, he looks back and gazes at the fragile Earth beneath him, the world he knows that has sustained him against all odds.
It’s hard to boil Finn’s perspective down to a single thought or idea: fate, faith, meaning, purpose, the intent of the universe, or the best of all possible worlds. Whatever ideas are bound up in his song, at heart, Finn sees a point to it all. He sees a meaning behind the fabric of the stars. Not everything is an open door, but everything happens for a reason: doors opening, doors closing, stumbles and falls, and the friends like Jake who pick you back up. Finn believes that it’s all meant to be.
And the show represents each of these philosophies with a primary color. The sharp yellow of Orgalorg stands for the unfettered force of individual choice, unchecked and uninhibited. The blue glow of Martin in the space moth represents that randomness, the idea of an empty and meaningless universe. And the red and pinkish hues of the titular comet, which eventually speaks to Finn as though it is connected to him, offers Finn a choice as to his existence, and represents a conscious universe, aware and invested and intentional.
And when these three elements converge, a strange thing happens. Caught in the middle of these forces, a rainbow, the spectrum of colors created by those essential three, emerges from Finn. Reflected in that rainbow are the range and breadth of human experiences shaped by the combination of these elements. The Comet speaks to Finn and shows him representative images in the rainbow: good and evil, love and hate, friendship and isolation, sadness and madness, loyalty and honor, mothers and fathers and scoundrels. A chime sounds, not unlike the one at the end of another recent finale where the main character struggled to find a place for himself in the world and found some measure of peace.
The Comet gives Finn a choice. Finn can go with The Comet “to the beginning and the end” and leave this existence. Or he can go back to experience all of those emotions and senses and unwavering, intertwined forces represented in the rainbow, the range of colors produced by those three essential precursors, and “struggle here for a while like a beautiful autumn leaf.” In that moment, Finn confronts what Albert Camus described as “the one truly serious philosophical problem” — whether to continue existing. It’s heavy stuff for something nominally aimed at children, but the show handles the moment with grace.
Finn struggles with the choice. He asks himself whether the universe is “just some random sort of thing, just a joke I’ve been playing out for centuries.” But when he reflects on all of those facets of the human experience, the harms perpetuated in the name of pure ambition, the greater moments that feel fueled by a higher purpose, the random acts that seem formless and meaningless, he remarks that as a whole, it all doesn’t really sound bad.
Finn tells The Comet, “I feel like I put a lot of work into this meat reality. I’d like to see it through.” Faced with the existential dilemma of continuing to live in the world colored by the shades of humanity in that rainbow, be they good or bad, or to leave it all behind, Finn chooses the world he’s built. He chooses the world made up of open doors, random events, and nudges from the heartbeat of the universe. He chooses life. He returns to the multicolored land that has been his home, that is a part of him, and he goes on. And it’s beautiful.