I have some good news and some bad news for you, dear readers. The good news is that there were some great Season 4 episodes. The bad news is that there are some real stinkers in there too. I ascribe to the idea that in situations like these, one should have one’s choice as to which kind of news to hear first. In the interests of following that principle, you will find my picks for the Best and the Worst episodes in Season 4 under the appropriate headings, hidden behind spoiler tags for your convenience (or perhaps inconvenience).
It shouldn’t need to be said, but it will be anyway: these are just the way I personally feel about the episodes, and if you loved an episode I hated (or vice versa), that doesn’t mean I’m right and you’re wrong (or vice versa). Everyone reacts to things in their own unique way, and that is to be celebrated. If you think I got my facts wrong and want to correct me or wish to offer an alternative interpretation of events, feel free to do so. No guarantees you'll manage to convince me, but I'll try to weigh the evidence fairly.
And so, I invite you to join me in a roundup of Season 4’s thrills and spills.
The Good News
Many of the episodes managed Luna Rank (4/5) in this season, but these two are my top picks in this category. I can’t decide which of them is the superior, so I’ll honour them both (by cheating ), putting them in as tied for fifth place. Both episodes are Fluttercentric, contain a song and prominently feature another Mane Six member putting Flutters through the wringer. In the case of Filli Vanilli, it was an unusually insensitive Pinkie Pie letting her mouth run and working Fluttershy into a panic. In Bats!, it’s Applejack being insistent on Fluttershy doing something she is uncomfortable with. Both end up causing problems for her.
As for the songs, “Stop the Bats!” is possibly the best song in the season. I really like “Got the Music in You” as well, even if it was repeated a few too many times and gives the impression that the Ponytones have only one song in their repertoire, but perhaps that was unavoidable.
Bats! most memorable feature is, of course, the Flutterbat. While many fans felt that physically transforming Flutters into a vampire fruit bat was unrealistic, even by the standards of a show featuring magical pastel-coloured talking horses, there’s no doubt it provided an interesting climax for the story. Fluttershy also showed a little bit more of her assertive side in resisting the call for her to use her Stare until Twilight mentioned to her that siding with the bats and letting them ruin the apples would also be bad. Throw in a few batman references, and a good moral about being firm in resisting a course of action you doubt, and you have enough for a fifth place.
Filli Vanilli gives us the talented group, The Ponytones, as well as continuity with Season 1 and Flutterguy. While perhaps not the most unpredictable of plots (Fluttershy was always going to be outed eventually) it was still entertaining. The main flaw here is Pinkie being totally oblivious to how bad she was making Fluttershy feel, earning her a lot of wrath from fans (and a smack on the nose with a newspaper from Rarity) but at least Rarity was more sensitive and accepting of Fluttershy’s wish to avoid the spotlight. Many people disagree, but I liked this episode just fine.
Fourth place: Rarity Takes Manehatten (Celestia Rank)
This is the episode that silenced many of Rarity's critics (though sadly, not all) by hammering in the point that she is generous with a literal song and dance. It also featured a story set in Manehatten, introduced new characters (some good and some downright nasty) and was the first episode to include the season-long keys to the box plotline.
While it was a Rarity episode, and was very well done, I can't put it higher on the list for a few reasons. Spike was given a hard time (as usual), and there was some bad behaviour on the part of some of the ponies, particularly Rarity, who due to her own emotional issues ends up making her friends miserable. She even thought that she might have lost them as friends forever. Her actions are somewhat understandable because of how deeply she was hurt by Suri Polomare (the downright nasty) taking advantage of her generosity, and she apologized profusely, but as AJ says, she was pretty rotten.
Secondly, it seemed at the end of the episode that Rarity would have to stay in Manehatten for a while, but Coco Pommel (the good) rescued her from the necessity. Now, this may sound a little bit odd, considering Rarity is best pony, but in some ways I wish they hadn't taken the easy way out, and Rarity did have to stay in Manehatten. Then she could have come back in a later episode, and make an entrance, like she likes to do. It would have been refreshing to see the show do something so unexpected, and have a few episodes with her staying in Manehatten. I feel it was a missed opportunity.
For these reasons, it only manages fourth place.
Third place: Maud Pie (Celestia Rank)
One reason why this gets third place: Maud herself. It is difficult to imagine a greater contrast between siblings than is exhibited between Pinkie and Maud. Where Pinkie is effusive and always energetic, Maud is sedate and expressionless. Despite that, I thought that there was more going on behind that face. Her actions seemed too odd to not be deliberate. My own theory is that Maud also tries to make the ponies smile and laugh, but her way of doing so is so contrary to the humour Pinkie exhibits that they simply don't get what she's trying to do. As Maud herself says, "I don't show my enthusiasm for things quite in the same way my sister does."
The episode afforded me much amusement with the interactions between Maud and the Mane Six, but it was clear that she really does love her sister, leaping into action to save her and then showing how concerned she was, in one of the most heart-warming moments in Season 4. There are virtually no negatives here for me, except the constant squee sound effect being used. Maud's design is also just really attractive, with her half-lidded eyes, but when she smiles...
Funny and heart-warming, Maud Pie rolls into third place.
Second place: Power Ponies (Celestia Rank)
If you ever wanted to see what a superhero team in Equestria would be like, this episode was made for you. Although it's a Spike episode, and he gets treated like a buttmonkey as usual, he manages to prove his worth to himself... his friends already knew his worth. The story being set in a magic comic book provides a way of creating a different milieu, without going to the lengths of the Equestria Girls franchise. (Thank goodness, I hear some of you say )
While the superpowers each pony gets are well suited to the character, they are a little bit familiar, shall we say? It's your standard power set of the Speedster, the Beam Spammer, the Weather and Lightning Controller, the Imagination Power, the Badass Normal and the one you wouldn't like when she's angry. Spike himself rounds out the group as the Bumbling Sidekick who Takes a Level in Badass.
But by far the most entertaining part of this episode is our comic book villain, The Mane-iac.
Entirely evil, entirely out of her mind, and with a set of henchponies based around her supervillain origin theme. Though she manages to capture the Power Ponies, her own evil tendencies (gloating, monologue-ing, hurting harmless critters just because she can) become her downfall... with some help from Spike and the awesome powers of our heroes, of course!
A great action-filled superhero romp in an alternate comic book dimension, and featuring an entertaining villain, Power Ponies powers through to second place.
Best Episode: Castle Mane-ia (Celestia Rank)
In the vein of the best of Season 1 episodes, we have Castle Mane-ia, a fun little romp through the Castle of the Royal Pony Sisters. The plot features the Mane Six pairing up to explore the castle, each group with their own reasons for being there. Unaware of the presence of the other groups, the ponies inadvertently scare each other until the climax of the story, whereupon they all bump into each other and hilarity ensues. But is the pony of shadows really out to get them? Laughter abounds in this episode, and it arises because the characters are just being themselves, which is the best kind of comedy. This episode also introduced the Friendship Journal, a much more natural way of delivering morals that all the ponies (and Spike) can contribute to whenever they learn a new lesson about friendship.
If there is any gripe I have about this episode, it's that it just ends up being Pinkie Pie who is playing the organ. I think they could have used a different character there, like Luna or even one of the musical background ponies.
As a quick aside: I've seen some fans misunderstand Rarity's motives in this episode. She's not there to greedily grab or steal the tapestries. She wants to restore them, because she always tries to preserve what is beautiful. It's this desire that motivated her in the Fire Ruby scene from Secret of My Excess as well. She didn't want the gem for itself, she wanted to keep Spike from eating it and destroying it. Why then does she try to take the tapestries out of the castle? Naturally, she needs to take them back to the Boutique to work on them. Her supplies are all there, she can do a much better job there than in the castle itself. Secondly, when things start going wrong, she starts to call the castle ungrateful.
Would a thief there for personal gain think and speak of it in those terms? I doubt it very much. Rarity, despite her flaws, is usually pretty aware of it if what she is doing is wrong. She doesn't tend to lie to herself in that way. And she's saying these things while she is entirely on her own, so it's not as if she were saying it to deceive anypony. It saddens me that some fans can look at her altruism here and claim she's being greedy.
At any rate, Castle Mane-ia's comedy of errors due to the characters is one of the best written and most entertaining episodes Season 4 has produced. It gets first place!
The Bad News
Since I prefer to be positive rather than negative, I'll only put the three episodes that got a ranking of 2 or lower.
Bad Episode: Somepony To Watch Over Me (Discord Rank)
Applejack is terribly misused in this episode. I get that she's family orientated and wants to look after Apple Bloom. But here that tendency is so warped in the service of the plot that it becomes a disservice. It's also not a tendency that crops up very often... if anything, Applejack is usually quite happy for AB to go running around doing all sorts of things. She let AB rebuild a rickety tree house on a secluded part of the farm, and complemented her on the job she did, but now she isn't willing to let AB walk around the house without there being bubble wrapping around every corner and around every corner. (Think about it... )
I consider this "negative character development". If this episode had come first, and then The Showstoppers showed Applejack with a more relaxed attitude to AB's safety, you can bet that many people would have considered that character development for Applejack. Pretty much the same logic applies, if you put your thinking helmet(s) on.
There were a few worthwhile elements in there: the interrupted song was a very clever idea, the chimera manages to be both menacing and yet still entertaining to watch and even somewhat likeable. The "Applejack to the rescue" action scene was also good. Then they had to ruin it with the pies being saved, convincing AJ that she doesn't need to babysit AB anymore, even though she nearly got eaten alive because of it, which should have only confirmed the danger for Applejack. Yeah, you try working that one out. It's entirely illogical. Plus, hillbillies, which I can't help but think is a rather unpleasant stereotype for this show, and is terribly handled.
This episode was awful enough to get third to last place, but luckily for it, I have other episodes I like even less.
Worse Episode: Trade Ya! (Discord Rank)
I think this episode is really terrible. The setup is in some ways similar to Castle Mane-ia, splitting the group up into pairs. But here, none of the stories are that great. Applejack and Rarity fail to realize the obvious flaw in their stated plan to pool stashes so as to be assured that one of them can get what she really wants, by trading away ALL of the items for ONE between TWO ponies. It also creates unnecessary complications to the idea of just trading one desired item for another. This is especially irritating when a much better (but unstated) reason for pooling their resources is that then they will have enough variety to ensure that they will have at least something a potential trade partner will want. And sure enough, they end up arguing, although it's slightly interestingly portrayed; both want to prove their friendliness by letting the other one have her way.
Next, the Twilight and Pinkie team. Twilight wants to get rid of her books, but Pinkie embargoes her and then hypes up the books so much that nopony can offer something "valuable" enough for them. No worries, because now Twilight wants to keep those books because of good memories attached to them. So that was mostly pointless, unless you like the moral that material possessions must be hoarded because they helped you in the past or have good memories attached. It's not a terrible moral, but I'm not sure I approve of it entirely. I'm a "look to the future and make more memories" kind of guy.
Finally, we have a Fluttershy and Dash team following a trading chain that culminates in Rainbow Dash inadvertently trading away not only an Orthros, but also Fluttershy's services as a Orthros trainer, for the purposes of obtaining a rare Daring Do book. To her credit, she immediately tries to get the decision reversed, but it really shouldn't have happened at all. And not once is Fluttershy ever asked what she wants. It turns out she wants to help Dash get what she wants, but Dash never actually does the asking, nor does Twilight when weighing her ruling over whether or not the deal is fair.
Some good jokes are in there, and at least a fan got an OC put in, which was a nice gesture from the producers. But the trading makes no real sense (why can multiple items be traded for one? And if they can, how does any trading get done if ponies know they can hold out for more items?) the morals are mostly weak, and the story itself isn't that interesting.
Unfortunately, the only way this mostly Rainbow Dash focused episode avoids last place is the existence of an even worse Rainbow Dash focused episode. No sense putting it off any longer. Leaving Trade Ya! some semblance of dignity at second to worst episode, let's move on to...
Worst Episode: Daring Don’t (Nightmare Moon Rank)
Welcome to the bottom of the pile! I. Did. Not. Like. This. Episode. Here’s a summary: “Daring Doo and her adventures are real.” That’s pretty much the episode right there... Okay, maybe that is a little too much of an oversimplification. But I still think this episode is the worst of the Season, maybe of the whole show. The biggest issue I have is the way Rainbow Dash acts around Daring Doo. The word “sycophant” springs to mind. That’s not how Dash should ever be portrayed. She may admire the Wonderbolts, but she doesn’t turn into a quivering pile of “I’m not worthy” around them. There’s also the painful scene where she gets captured by Ahuizotle and used as a hostage because she was more interested in giving Daring her hat back than actually helping her against the bad guy. Isn’t she a big fan of the books? Shouldn’t she realize how dangerous or underhanded (pun intended) Ahuizotle can be?
As for being the Element of Loyalty, this episode somewhat drags that through the dirt too. Not only does she ditch her friends to follow Daring, but then she wants to abandon Daring herself because she’s in a funk over failing to help her, and needs Twilight to pep talk her into continuing.
Don't look at me like that, I still think you're awesome.
Now, it may seem to some readers that I'm being overly harsh on Rainbow Dash, and they may be theorizing that it's because I don't like her as a character. That's not true, if anything, that I can get so mad at instances when she is poorly written should argue the opposite. I like Rainbow Dash, but I don't like her being used in the ways she's being used in these episodes.
My next annoyance is Daring Do herself. The writers try to make the reveal of the “plot twist” out to be a surprise, as if it isn’t immediately obvious from the point when “A.K. Yearling” appears, if not from earlier. Then she gets hurt again, for no reason other than it happened in Read it and Weep but her injury is cured within a scene and it’s never mentioned again, making the inclusion of it even more pointless. Later in the episode, she says she planned her own capture from the start as part of a gambit to defeat Ahuizotle. Fine, as far as it goes, but then it turns out that she needed Rainbow’s assistance to rescue her from a deathtrap she couldn’t escape from on her own, needed Rainbow’s help to lift a bunch of gold rings she couldn’t lift on her own, and needed the rest of the Mane Six to engage Ahuizotle and his minions as a distraction while she and Dash actually do the lifting, again WHICH SHE COULDN’T HAVE DONE ON HER OWN! This is the hero Rainbow and Twilight look up to? I take it back, Daring Doo is the worst part of this episode. The title Daring Don’t is sounding more and more appropriate.
Is there anything that can be salvaged from this mess? Yes, but they're minor things. The fight at the end was fun to watch. Inclusion of an azcamayan theme is at least an interesting change, and may imply different mythologies being prevalent in different areas of the world Equestria exists in. There are some funny moments, too. Daring Doo’s pithy comment to Ahuizotle about “properly proposing before I can give you the ring” is for me the highlight of the episode. But these things are so buried in the awful writing and characterization mentioned above that they can’t rescue it from being my pick for worst episode of the Season.
And there you have it, folks! Season 4, all tied up with a pretty little bow. Feel free to comment (politely, of course ) if you think I got the wrong end of the stick, or if you saw good or bad things I missed in any particular episode.
See you in Season 5, and stay sunny side up!