There are always a few names that people toss out when we’re talking about more intense episodes (“Lady and Peebles,” “Princess Cookies,” just about anything with the Lich), but I don’t know if I’ve ever heard anyone mention “The New Frontier.”
That surprises me, because I found it pretty unsettling the first time I saw it. I mean, how many kids’ TV shows open with one of the main characters dying graphically of suffocation? It also takes on the relationship between Finn and Jake, which is the one relationship that’s most fundamental to the show but doesn’t get discussed in fandom nearly as much as PB and Marceline, or Marceline and Simon, or Finn and PB, etc.
It also highlights some of the differences between Finn and Jake that have been growing more stark as the series progresses. They have extreme and opposite reactions to Jake’s croak dream; while Jake is initially alarmed, he also sees his dream as a really cool experience, takes a more spiritual view of his demise, and even goes so far as to actively chase down what he thinks is his own ticket to the afterlife (or, um, “Glob-World”).
In contrast, Finn emphasizes that he’s way too young to be hearing about all this “nonsense” (“I’m thirteen. You’re messin’ me up.”). Understandably, he reacts to the idea of Jake’s death with fear, anger and denial. He’s determined to try to cheat fate by whatever means necessary to save his best friend (in this case, this includes shooting flaming arrows, lighting sticks of dynamite, and throwing himself into an underground watery chasm).
Even though I knew Jake wasn’t actually going to die, the scene where Finn clings to his leg to try to stop him from blasting off into space still really got to me. While Finn and Jake are yelling at each other at first, Jake drops his voice back down to a speaking register and just says, “Finn…let me go. You have to let me go” while a sniffling Finn pleads with him to stay. It’s a really brief exchange before the show regains its slapstick action pacing, but I also think it’s a moment that a lot of kids’ shows would not have included. Almost as intense is Finn’s unhesitating plunge into the dark after Jake, knowing 100% that his best friend will not let him drown with him if it wasn’t intended by fate.
And while the episode ends with a wide shot of Finn chasing Jake around and making ghost noises, it still leaves a lot of unanswered questions: was Jake’s croak dream real? Will it come up again in a future episode? Would Finn be able to survive without his best friend? And…how did they just do this on a children’s animated series?
“The New Frontier” spoke a lot about death, it spoke of its inevitability and how people come to terms with it.
Jake was extremely Fatalist but not in a panicky way, in a There’s Nothing I Can Do So Let’s Party It Out way. He looked forward to death, wondering what was waiting for him in the afterlife - he reckoned it would be an awesome spiritual experience. Jake is perfectly fine with dying, it’s been emphasised numerous times, ESPECIALLY in Jesse Moynihan episodes.
Meanwhile, Finn is young and excited and extremely close with his brother. Finn has everything to lose because he has so much determination, he is not so resigned to fate as Jake is. So when Finn learns of the prophecy and realises Jake doesn’t want to do much about it, he takes it upon himself to cancel out its entire possibility - wade off the Banana Man so that the events cannot occur. Unfortunately this creates a Self Fulfilling Prophecy, and Finn is DESPERATE for Jake to not resign to it. So Finn breaks the prophecy by joining Jake!
Lots of spiritual themes.