Adventure Time: Together Again fills the void of The Good Place

[Ed. note: This essay contains significant spoilers for Adventure Time: Distant Lands — Together Again and The Good Place.]

Let’s get something out of the method: In the most recent HBO Max Experience Time unique, series stars Jake the canine and Finn the human are dead.

This isn’t a big plot twist. The unique actually starts with the discovery that the characters are dead, total with a title card hammering the point house. Jake passed away previously, considering that he’s a pet dog, with a restricted life expectancy. Finn, who has just just recently passed away, need to explore the various levels of the land of the dead to discover his old good friend. Each level is a different little pocket universe, like a rich green garden or a sticky quagmire. However while the “separate tiers of the afterlife” idea is similar to the underworld’s layers in Greek folklore, or the circles of hell in Dante’s Inferno, where each concrete level has a various schtick, depending upon how great or bad you remained in life, Experience Time’s method to the land of the dead in fact handles a more poignant taste.

Finn the human riding jake the dog in an ice cream cave

Image: HBO Max

The way Adventure Time handles what comes after death is actually reminiscent of the way The Good Place dealt with the same issues. The specificities aren’t the same (especially when it comes to “bad” people), but they both center around two core ideas: the best thing we can hope for in the afterlife is a little extra time with the people we love, and ultimately, no matter how perfect a paradise may be, it’s better if what happens after death is something we can’t comprehend. These two concepts weave together nicely in both shows, creating a idea of an afterlife that isn’t centered around eternal riches.

It’s hard to craft a fictional afterlife. Or rather, it’s hard to craft a fictional paradise. Certainly, it’s easy to think of what might await us in a tortuous pit of despair, but trying to come up with a form of eternal bliss that won’t get tiresome after a century or so is surprisingly hard.

The final few episodes of The Good Place interrogate 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 else your heart could desire, but as Hypatia of Alexandria (Lisa Kudrow) shares, after a few hundred years, that all gets real old.

The solution? Leaving it behind. As Eleanor realizes, vacation is only special because it ends. And so demon architect Michael (Ted Danson) opens a door into the universe, designed for inhabitants of the good place to step through once they’re ready. What that ready is never really gets defined concretely, because it’s different for every person. There comes a time, after centuries of living the good (after) life, where each character feels ready to move on. The kicker is that no one knows what happens when you walk through that door. With The Good Place, creator Mike Schur crafted a detailed afterlife that evolved and shifted as the main characters fought for the entirety of humanity — but in the end, their final fate remains unknown.

Eleanor (Kristen Bell) and Chidi (William Jackson Harper) share a bottle of wine in a screenshot from The Good Place season 4, episode 13, “Whenever You’re Ready”

Photo: Colleen Hayes/NBC

Adventure Time: Together Again takes a various approach to what comes after death. While the realm of the dead is organized in tiers, the ultimate level for the best do-gooders feels more like the concept of Nirvana than a Heaven where every wish is catered to. Finn finds Jake in this level, where he’s reached a place of spiritual contentment, serenely spending his eternity bathed in golden light. Finn manages to steal a device that lets him travel through the different death levels and find Jake, but he hasn’t earned his place in that top tier, which means that if he wants to spend his afterlife with Jake, he needs to try again in a new life, doing better this time.

Experience Time’s afterlife operates with a system of reincarnation, allowing anyone who’s unsatisfied with their lot to take another shot at life, as completely new individuals. Some — like Jake’s family and Tree Trunks the elephant — are content with the afterlives they’re given. But Finn can’t imagine eternity without Jake, so at the end of the episode, he decides to step through a door to be reincarnated, bidding Jake farewell. But in the moment that Finn steps through the portal, Jake decides to give up eternal bliss for a chance to be with Finn in some new form.

Experience Time gives a more concrete answer than The Great Location about what happens on the other side: Finn and Jake will be reincarnated in some form, but viewers don’t know who they’ll become, or even whether they’ll remember each other. We just know they chose each other over paradise.

A dark-skinned woman in a heavily decorated purple jacket sits in a bar booth with her arm around a nerdy-looking, nervously smiling pale woman in a striped polo and round glasses.

Photo: Netflix

The idea of a Great Beyond beyond an initial Great Beyond isn’t new. In Black Mirror’s “San Junipero,” Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) waffles between spending eternity in the blissful simulated beachside town or embracing the unknown. In Pixar’s Coco, when someone dead is forgotten by the living, they fade into nothingness. In Hirokazu Kore-eda’s After Life, dead individuals spend a week deciding what ideal memory from their lives they want to re-experience before moving on to the unknown.

It’s particularly evocative that in all these instances, the idea of an afterlife we can’t even comprehend — whether it’s an ultimate fate, a new choice to make, or a punishment — is juxtaposed with one of the most fundamental elements of being human and alive: spending time with people we care about. 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 comprehend the idea of what lies beyond, they attempt to ground it into something real and tangible. We don’t know what happens after we die, and maybe that’s for the much better. But what we do know is that it wouldn’t be all that great if we faced it by ourselves. As Chidi says in the penultimate episode of The Great Location: “That’s what the Good Place really is. It’s not even a place, really. It’s just having 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 Great Location are offered on Netflix.

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.