The Best Adventure Time episode of them all
“Jake the Brick” (season 6, episode 20) begins with Finn, following a map given to him by Jake, walking a half-day journey over hills, through a wheat field, over a stream, and through some more hills, accompanied by pastoral electronic music. He finds Jake in a broken down shack in a field. This establishes that Jake is in the wilderness, far from home. But it’s a Thoreau kind of wilderness—close enough to easily make the trip back home, but far enough to imagine solitude.
But Jake isn’t contemplating solitude or thinking about living an authentic life. He is doing something that Finn doesn’t understand. Jake has become a brick. Literally. As he explains to Jake, “ever since I was little, I wanted to see what it's like to be a brick in a brick shack when the brick shack falls down. And this shack is gonna fall down. Just look at it. Like sandcastles in the sun, baby.”
Everything on Adventure Time is malleable. Things can be themselves and then be something else. Jake, as a shape-shifting dog embodies this malleability. He always keeps the same yellow color, but he can be a brick; he can be gigantic; he can be tiny; he can be a “Jake-Suit” and act as armor for Finn; he can squeeze his whole body into his thumb when he is bitten by a vampire; he can make his hand into a key; he can mimic other people, animals, and things. Jake’s shape-shifting often involves action. He becomes gigantic so he can walk immense distances quickly; he stretches through a maze so he can find his way back to the beginning; he turns into a shield or sword to fight. In “Jake the Brick,” though he compacts himself as part of his “experiment” to see what if feels like to collapse with a bunch of other bricks.
Finn leaves a walkie-talkie at the foot of the shack before he leaves for home. Jake grows bored and begins to narrate what he sees in the natural world around him. He tells the story of a rabbit that gets frightened by a deer. Finn takes the walkie-talkie to the radio station, and broadcasts Jake’s narration. Through a series of cuts, we see that everyone in the land of Ooo is listening to Jake’s story.
The episode is serene, even hypnotic. Jake’s voice is all that we hear for most of the episode. Jake’s becoming brick reminds me, out of the blue, of Brian Massumi’s translator’s foreword to Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s 1000 Plateaus, which I haven’t looked at in a few years. I remember that Massumi had something to say about bricks. He compares Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of “concept” to a brick. “A concept is a brick. It can be used to build the courthouse of reason. Or it can be thrown through the window (xii). Or it can be used to mark the imminent collapse of a brick shack. Jake is waiting for the precise moment when the shack falls just so he can know what it’s like. His experiment is small, almost insignificant. He won’t gain any great knowledge; he’s bored while he’s waiting; he can’t really explain what he expects to experience. He stays a brick for two more days.
Massumi cites Deleuze’s discussion of “concept” as a specific event taking place within a specific context. "What interests us are the circumstances." Massumi continues “because the concept in its unrestrained usage is a set of circumstances, at a volatile juncture. It is a vector: the point of application of a force moving through a space at a given velocity in a given direction. The concept has no subject or object other than itself.” (xviii). Jake, as a brick, wants to inhabit a particular moment in the movement of a force—the falling of a brick shack. He wants to be in the exact moment of that collapse. He wants to be the falling.
After watching the bunny react with indifference to the destruction of its warren, Jake decides that “there’s something bigger than” being a brick in a wall of a shack. He pops out of the shack and transforms into his dog shape. The brick shack collapses behind him. Jake heads home, his simple desire unmet. A shape-shifter can be a brick for days and then he can be something else. He know what it’s like to be a brick, but not what it’s like to be a brick in a brick shack when the brick shack falls down. Jake has experimented with brickness. “Jake the Brick” is the best episode of Adventure Time.