Good evening, everypony, and welcome back to another edition of "Batbrony Reviews"! The hits just keep on coming in Season 7 with, yet again, another episode that was more than exceptional. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that "To Change a Changeling" was downright inspired in certain moments, especially in its writing. Let's not waste any more time dawdling on introductions and just get to it, without further ado, this is "To Change a Changeling"!
Starlight Glimmer and Trixie - Imperfect Mediators
Given how influential the Cutie Mark Map has become as a plot device in the show for helping the main cast find new friendship problems, most of us going into this episode were assuming that Starlight and Trixie would be chosen by it to visit the changelings. Much to our delighted surprise, this was not the case. Now, make no mistake, I don't mind the Cutie Mark Map in concept, nor in how it's used most of the time; DHX has shown restraint in not using it too much to the point that it would become an obvious and forced plot device crutch, and it is definitely a staple of the show by this point, but not in a tired or overused way. Still, given how likely it seemed that it would be used here, it was still pleasantly surprising and noteworthy to see that Starlight and Trixie were simply on hoof to help by accident more than anything else. They were simply coming by to surprise their friend Thorax with a visit and see what the state of the Hive in general was, but they had no idea what exact problems they were facing. This both helps make perfect sense as to why Spike wasn't there, and also helps put into context why Starlight and Trixie weren't the best prepared to help with this specific issue; while they share similar backgrounds with Pharynx, Starlight was a true ringleader (and as such shares more in common with the still-unreformed Chrysalis) while Trixie was (and to some extent still is) just an annoying nuisance more than anything else, who just so happened to get incredibly dangerous at one point by virtue of acquiring an incredibly powerful magical artifact.
What really made them most helpful in this situation is that they both knew how much it can hurt to not really feel like you belong anywhere or are a part of anything, which was definitely at the heart of Pharynx's issues. We'll get into those more later on, but probably the biggest reason they weren't willing to give up on Pharynx is because they could sympathize with his situation; if somepony else had been there, they may have focused too much on how Pharynx was affecting the Hive, not how the Hive's situation was affecting Pharynx as well. Now, some may raise that Starlight was willing to recommend that Pharynx be kicked out of the Hive, but in her defense she (1) didn't believe that Pharynx had any willingness, inclination, or personal reasons or potential to change for the better at the time, (2) was trying to figure out what was best for the most parties involved, which did in fairness have to put precedent on the Hive first and foremost, and (3) changed her mind about this after learning more about who Pharynx was as an individual and realizing that he did have the potential to find his own place in the Hive again. Even though her initial recommendation that Pharynx be kicked out as well as her plan to lure maulwurf to the Hive so that Pharynx might have the chance to protect it and prove his worth to it both backfired, she did remain perseverant in her efforts to help both Thorax, Pharynx, and the Hive, and ultimately her and Trixie's efforts forced them to confront Pharynx's issues head on, instead of letting them fester and grow worse.
On top of that, Starlight and Trixie were, as always, an entertaining pair. Trixie's ego is still as hilarious as when it backfires on her (her "teleportation spell GO!!!" bit was especially amusing, as was her constantly being a thorn in Starlight's side), Starlight found herself confronted by more than a few problems she wasn't necessarily very well equipped to handle (largely because of cultural differences between the ponies and changelings) which led to many amusing results, AND to top it all off, Starlight had a Braveheart moment that inspired absolutely... NOPONY!!! Well, at least for five minutes, but to be fair, it DID eventually work! All in all, while neither Starlight or Trixie had all of the answers for the changelings here, they still found a way to help them confront their problems and ultimately resolve them, which is to be commended considering most ponies probably would have balked at a problem like this. Good outing from the both of them, all in all, very solid indeed!
"HELLO! My name is Starlight Glimmer, and today I am here to tell you about the maulwurf: Half Mole, Half Bear, Half Razor Sharp Claws!"
In all honesty, that thing is bucking terrifying
The Changelings - Old Habits Die Hard
Oddly enough, the changelings themselves were at the heart of the Pharynx issue, or rather why it wasn't resolving itself all that well. As we can see, the whole Hive by this point has been reformed by Thorax's efforts and is now attempting to build a society built on giving and sharing love with one another rather than taking it, and for the most part those efforts are going quite well. The changelings still have to take many baby steps, but they are definitely getting there. However, what seems to be taking FAR longer to change is an interesting tendency of the changelings we haven't really discussed, largely because we've never gotten to see all that much of it: group-think. What do I mean by that? Let me explain.
Now, clearly the changelings under Queen Chrysalis were essentially her thralls; she would call them things like her children, and even though she had some level of affection for them, they had no choice over the direction of their lives. This seems to have gone on for as long as changelings have existed, which could be hundreds if not thousands of years, meaning in all of that time they got very much used to every single member of their society "agreeing" to follow every single one of Queen Chrysalis's orders about the direction of their society and what they should do for it. Under King Thorax, they now have free will, but they are clearly still getting used to it; this was very well evidenced in both the scene where Thorax shows off some of their new cultural activities, as well as the Feelings Forum scene, by a number of clear examples.
(1) Thorax shows the changelings engaging in very simple, basic cultural activities, like theater, potluck, swing dancing, and arts and crafts; with all of these activities taking place in the same space, the scene almost felt like an adult version of daycare was on display. I do not say that condescendingly, it actually makes perfect sense in fact that the changelings would need to start with very basic cultural activities like that; they've probably never had any opportunities to do anything like that given that their entire existence has always been devoted to only fulfilling Queen Chrysalis's wishes or surviving from taking the love of others. (2) Building off of that, the Feelings Forum scene shows us a changeling explaining that she thinks she's supposed to be a green changeling since that's what she transformed into, but sometimes wants to be a blue or a purple changeling; given that she can easily change into these, she's tempted to, but since she was transformed into a green changeling, she thinks that might be living a lie and not who she really is. (3) In the same scene, another changeling shares how arts and crafts time helped him cope with his own personal insecurities.
OK, that's bucking adorable
All of these scenes show us ways in which the changelings are grappling with their emerging individuality as they struggle to embrace their newfound free will; new cultural activities give them opportunities to discover differences between themselves and become more comfortable with their identities as unique individuals. Yet at the same time, it's a struggle because not only were they once a society where every member followed the same exact direction and path, but they also largely looked the same in their base changeling form, and were used to impersonating others; now, they have both free will and unique appearances, and while they clearly want to find out who they are as individuals, they're also scared of doing so, and some still love the possibilities of being whatever they'd want to be with their changeling powers, even though they know that wouldn't necessarily be who they really are, and would feel like they're both lying to themselves and others.
The biggest thing by far, however, making it harder for them to break their old habits and way of thinking is without a doubt the Pharynx problem. Pharynx is, to most of the changelings, just being a pain in the flank, and when they are all agreed that he's a problem, they fall into a bad habit of group-think. It's still hard for them to have disagreements with one another, so given that Pharynx is universally disliked by all in the Hive when the episode starts, it's easy to see how they'd so easily agree with one another that they just want him to go. It's the easiest course of action, and all of them seem to want it, so of course it makes the most sense to them all! The problem with this is that, in their earnest universal agreement with one another, none of the changelings besides Thorax consider what they'd lose in kicking out Pharynx. They're too caught up in agreeing with one another that he's got to go that they never ask themselves what he might have to offer to the Hive instead; he's the most different from the rest of them now, the new Thorax essentially. And where Thorax had no place in the old Hive before, Pharynx in their eyes has no place in the new Hive now. But the first time around, Thorax being away from his people clearly wasn't the right call; sure he needed to live with ponies in order to discover what sharing love is truly like, but ultimately he needed to go back to them in order to help save them. Likewise, Pharynx leaving his people wouldn't have been the right move either, but again, the changelings dangerous habit of wanting universal agreement and accord among themselves in directing their society almost led to this happening. Overall, we got a fascinating look at the state of changeling society in the midst of a massive societal and cultural overhaul which told us a lot about who they used to be, who they are now, and what they aspire to be, probably the most of a look we've ever gotten at changelings as a whole.
Also, I can't lie, some of the background changelings were amazing. We got "splashed by Pharynx with paint" changeling, Feelings Forum moderator changeling, Feelings Forum identity crisis changeling, Feelings Forum arts and crafts changeling, but by far my favorite had to be "My soup is too hot" changeling! That guy CLEARLY has his priorities straight and knows exactly what folks are coming to the Feelings Forum for! Soup on, my man, soup on.
Soup Changeling, the only changeling who got exactly what he wanted out of the Feelings Forum!!!
Pharynx and King Thorax - A Tale of Two Bros
As much of a douche as he was, this was hilarious
So now we finally come to the crux of this episode, King Thorax and his older brother, Pharynx. These two by the end of this episode serve as an interesting converse to the Two Sisters, Celestia and Luna, in Equestria, especially given Pharynx's late episode transformation. Whereas with the latter, the elder sibling, Celestia, has always been more bureaucratically minded (not just in her duties, but much fanon speculates this is the case as well) while the younger sibling, Luna, has always been the more aggressive of the two (to the point that some fanon has speculated that she is the more involved of the two in Equestrian military affairs), Thorax as the younger sibling is the far more diplomatic of the two while Pharynx, the elder sibling, is far more aggressive and militaristic (which makes sense given that such aggressive behavior used to be the norm for the changelings). Another interesting development is that, as pointed out earlier, Thorax used to be the odd-man out among the changelings, while Pharynx was as in as one could be as head of patrol for the entire Hive; the changeling transformation and reformation, however, flipped this on its head. Pharynx, when the episode begins, is by this point universally reviled by the rest of the Hive, with the exception of his younger brother, but even Thorax doesn't know how to deal with him. This is where things get most interesting.
Initially, when we heard the premise of this episode as well as saw the beginning, it seemed like the most likely route it would take would be in showing that Pharynx alone had to change. The idea that he might even be in open rebellion against Thorax was not off the table. However, it quickly became apparent that that was not the case. Pharynx did not initially capture Starlight and Trixie out of spite against Thorax, in fact, he didn't even know who they were; instead he brought them to Thorax, claiming they were trespassers and enemies of the Hive, but then begrudgingly accepted Thorax's vouching for them. This right away made clear a couple of things: (1) Pharynx recognizes Thorax's authority as head of the Hive, even if he doesn't agree with or understand the new direction he's taking the Hive, (2) who's in charge of the Hive mattered less to Pharynx than the state of the Hive itself.
Now to be fair, I'm not letting Pharynx off the hook entirely. He was clearly a pain in the flank of most of the Hive, and for confusing reasons at times. He needlessly tears down or destroys some of the Hive's new decorations, constantly was butting heads with the other changelings and frightening them (even doing crazy shit like pouring black paint on a changeling to make her look more intimidating), and even seemed to miss sucking love from other ponies like they used to (he did not hide his disdain of ponies much at all, though that never really stopped him from working with Starlight or Trixie if he felt it was worth working with them). However, in his defense, most of this nostalgia seems to stem not from his enjoying being evil for the sake of being evil, but simply having a FIERCE protective streak in him, both for Thorax as well as the rest of the Hive; if he simply wanted to be evil for the sake of being evil, he'd probably have left already and joined Queen Chrysalis, wherever she's at. Instead, Thorax stayed loyal to the Hive, even if he hates what it's currently like and can't wrap his head around it because, like the other changelings, he's not used to the idea of a society where its members have different likes, interests, and ideas, including things they disagree on. Despite his stubbornly refusing to embrace things like a softer outlook on life and gentler activities like Thorax was promoting, Pharynx does actually love something; he loves the Hive, he loves the changelings in it, and he'd do anything to protect them.
No joke, I ADORE Deer Bug Pony 2.0's design and coloring, the antlers especially tie the whole look together (@PathfinderCS agreed?)!!!
Now, Pharynx is clearly a placeholder for ANY group of people (or an individual) who another, opposing group just wishes would go away, the idea being that life would be so much simpler if he/she/they were gone, rather than finding a way to work with them instead. More specifically, however, he is clearly a stand-in for a conservative individual; I do not say this, even as a moderate conservative myself, because of some victim complex or anything. Pharynx had his own issues to work out, certainly, especially in figuring out how he could still appreciate a place he very much still loved when it didn't look anything like he wanted it to and he felt he had no true place in it. But nonetheless, I have to very much commend DHX for making him so sympathetic in this instance, because while Pharynx was certainly acting like a jerk, the show was far more critical, it seemed, of the idea of kicking him out. The "progressive" changelings, if you will, for the most part thought the best solution would simply be kicking him out of the Hive, rather than finding a way to live with him and incorporate him into it, even if it was harder. The only reason Thorax even stood up for Pharynx wasn't because he was his brother, but because Pharynx showed him when they were younger that he did have his own ways of caring for others, even if he still had a gruff exterior. But it took Starlight and Trixie forcing a confrontation with the maulwurf to show the whole Hive how Pharynx still belonged; Thorax's initial plan to lure the maulwurf away from the Hive may have worked, but it might not have been a permanent solution. Pharynx, on the other hand, was the only changeling acting like he had any gonads left; now it makes sense that the changelings, now having to share love with one another, would initially try to avoid as much aggression as they could, but still, they clearly went too far and in their earnest embracing of their new lives, forgot that sometimes protecting yourselves requires force, not just peaceful solutions. Pharynx was far more a protector than an aggressor at his heart, even if he overcompensated for his new role as outsider in the Hive by putting on far too aggressive of an exterior.
Some bronies have also pointed out that Pharynx isn't even just a stand-in for a lone conservative voice who feels like the world he has always known has, all too quickly, left him far behind, but also a stand in for military veterans. This is a very curious but accurate point, I believe. Pharynx, like many military veterans, feels that his efforts to protect the Hive are misunderstood and unappreciated by a soft public that doesn't understand why he has to do what he does. With how gentle the changelings have become by this point, he's clearly at a point in life where not only does his role in the Hive feel muddled, confused, ambiguous and uncertain, but downright pointless and thankless. This is probably at the core of most of his aggression, aside of course from his background as a servant of Chrysalis. He clearly needs to change and find a new place in this new changeling society, but he doesn't need to change as much as most of the changelings think he does. He can still have his gruff exterior and tough as nails persona, he just has to be willing to accept that the other changelings aren't like that now while still finding a way to work with them. In turn, the other changelings need to accept that Pharynx is the way he is to their benefit, that it's OK if he isn't as gentle or loving as the rest of them, that he can still love the Hive just like they do in his own way and even help them be better at protecting it too.
At the heart of this episode is the complex message that difference is not a dirty word, even if that which is different from you may, on the surface, be a pain in the ass. When dealing with something or someone like that, you have one of two things you can do. You can either take the easy route with someone like that and just have nothing to do with them, ignore them, even cast them out from your life and society as much as you can; this is even easier if everyone else you know wants to do the same. But just because it's the easiest route doesn't mean it's the best route. In doing so, you keep both yourself and the person or group you loathe so much from discovering what you may have in common, that you both are, when you get down to it, both perfectly decent for the most part even if you look at things very differently, and that you both have valuable things to contribute to your society and each other, and can even make each other better when you find ways to work with and cooperate with one another. Taking the hard route and finding a way to do just that, live with, love, and appreciate someone who lives their life and views things completely differently than you do may be much more difficult, but it is also far more rewarding to you, the 'other' and society as a whole. I've made many friends myself, both in real life and on the forums, who have VERY different world views than I do, and while I may not share all of the same views with them, I know that deep down they're still good people who I am more than happy to know and be friends with, and that when we're friends with each other, we're both better for it. Pharynx AND the Hive both go through this transformation by the end of the episode, understanding that they both need each other and still love and appreciate each other, even if they don't always get each other. Not always getting someone else is OK as long as you don't let it blind you to whether or not they are a good person. This subtle and complex message is why I highly appreciate what this episode did, and why it is yet again another amazing addition to an already amazing season of MLP. Don't think there's really much else I can cover, so that's all I've got for ya today everypony! Until next time everypony, this is Batbrony signing off. I'm off!!! *cue dramatic exit*