[Ed. note: This essay contains significant spoilers for Adventure Time: Distant Lands — Together Again and The Good Place.]
Let’s get one thing out of the way: In the newest HBO Max Adventure time Special, series stars Jake the dog and Finn the human are dead.
This isn’t a huge plot twist. The special literally begins with the reveal that the characters are dead, complete with a title card that pounds the point home. Jake died earlier because he is a dog with a limited life expectancy. Finn, who recently died, has to search the different plains of the Land of the Dead to find his old friend. Each level is its own little pocket universe, like a lush green garden or a sticky swamp. However, while the concept of “separate planes of the afterlife” is attached to the layers of the underworld in Greek mythology or the circles of hell in Danteste inferno
The way Adventure time dealing with what comes after death actually reminds of the way The good place busy with the same problems. The specifics are not the same (especially when it comes to “bad” people), but both revolve around two core ideas: The best we can hope for in the afterlife is a little more time with the people we love, and ultimately no matter how perfect a paradise is, it is better if what happens after death is something we cannot understand. These two concepts interweave well in both shows, creating a concept of an afterlife that is not about eternal riches.
It’s hard to create a fictional afterlife. Or rather, it’s hard to create a fictional paradise. Sure, it’s easy to imagine what might await us in a winding abyss of despair, but trying to find some form of eternal happiness that won’t tire after a century or so is surprisingly difficult.
The last episodes of The good place question this notion of a fallible paradise. When Eleanor (Kristen Bell), Chidi (William Jackson Harper), Tahani (Jameela Jamil) and Jason (Manny Jacinto) finally make it to the coveted good place, they learn that it’s actually not that great. Sure, it’s full of endless parties and unicorns and whatever your heart desires, but as Hypatia of Alexandria (Lisa Kudrow) shares after a few hundred years, it’s all getting really old.
The solution? To leave it behind. As Eleanor realizes, vacation is special only because it ends. And so the demon architect Michael (Ted Danson) opens a door into the universe designed for the residents of the good place to step through as soon as they are ready. What that is done is never really specifically defined because it is different for everyone. There comes a time after centuries of good (after) life when every character feels ready to move on. The kicker is that no one knows what happens when you walk through that door. With The good placeCreator Mike Schur created a detailed afterlife that evolved and changed as the main characters fought for all of humanity – but in the end, their ultimate fate remains unknown.
Adventure time: together again a different approach to what comes after death. While the realm of the dead is organized in tiers, for the best do-do-gooders the ultimate level feels more like the concept of nirvana than a heaven where every wish is granted. Finn finds Jake on this level, where he has reached a place of spiritual contentment and is spending his eternity serenely bathed in golden light. Finn manages to steal a device that will allow him to travel through the various stages of death and find Jake, but he doesn’t deserve his place at that highest stage, which means that if he ends his life, he will have to try again Wants to spend death with Jake in a new life, better this time.
Adventure timeThe afterlife works with a system of reincarnation that allows anyone who is dissatisfied with their fate to take another chance at life as completely new individuals. Some – like Jake’s family and Tree Trunks the elephant – are content with the afterlife. But Finn can’t imagine eternity without Jake, so at the end of the episode he decides to step through a door to be reborn and says goodbye to Jake. But the moment Finn steps through the portal, Jake decides to give up eternal bliss in order to have the chance to be with Finn in a new form.
Adventure time gives a more concrete answer than T.he good place about what’s happening on the other side: Finn and Jake are reborn in some form, but the viewers don’t know who they will become or if they remember each other. We only know that they preferred each other to Paradise.
The idea of a Great Hereafter beyond an initial Great Hereafter is not new. in the Black mirror‘s “San Junipero”, Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) vacillates between spending eternity in the blissful simulated beach town or hugging the unknown. In Pixars coconutwhen the dead are forgotten by the living, they disappear into nothingness. In Hirokazu Kore-edas After the live, the dead spend a week deciding which perfect memory from their life they want to relive before they venture into the unknown.
It is particularly impressive that in all of these cases the idea of an afterlife that we cannot even understand – whether it is a final fate, a new decision, or a punishment – is juxtaposed with one of the most fundamental elements of being human and alive: time Spending with people who are important to us. It’s not so much that companionship or memories of it are a preferred choice or the ultimate destiny. It’s just that when creators try to understand the idea of what lies behind it, they are trying to anchor it in something real and tangible. We don’t know what will happen after we die, and maybe that’s better. But what we do know is that it wouldn’t be great if we faced this alone. As Chidi says in the penultimate episode of The good place: “This is really the good place. It’s not even a place, really. It’s easy to have enough time with the people you love. “
Adventure time: distant lands – together again is available to stream on HBO Max. All four seasons of The good place are available on Netflix.