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Episode review: "Daring Done?"

AlexanderThrond

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Daring Do has long been one of the most consistently entertaining characters in My Little Pony. As an obvious Indiana Jones homage, she allows the show to tell the kind of adventurous stories which were always part of the package without being constrained by the characters, and her appearances often boast more charm and creativity than many of the show's other adventure episodes. Until this point, all three of her episodes were great fun, but Daring Do as a character has never been explored in great detail, and is often the individual to learn the least from her journeys.

"Daring Done?" seeks to change that, giving Daring the kind of significant internal conflict which she previously lacked. However, in spite of its genuinely interesting premise, the episode does everything in its power to water down its own story, and features some of the worst humour I've seen in the whole show. Some decent worldbuilding keeps it from being entirely worthless, but that's faint praise when so much of the episode is an exhausting chore to sit through, and it can't even commit to the things which originally made it interesting.



When Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie learn that Daring Do has announced their retirement, they immediately seek her out to find out why. Once they arrive, Daring informs them of a village called Somnambula where she's become despised for bringing destruction wherever she goes, and that it's made her think Equestria might be better if she just quits. Shocked, Rainbow and Pinkie immediately request to see Somnambula for themselves and get to the bottom of these stories.

The idea of a heroic character actually leaving destruction in their wake is something which is often explored in superhero media, including the recent film Captain America: Civil War, and it's endured for a reason. There's a lot of interesting points to be mined from examining the unintended side effects of a hero's actions, and the irony of Daring Do hurting those she's trying to save has a lot of potential. Unfortunately, the episode eschews any sophisticated commentary in favour of having Daring Do repeatedly state how insecure she is and the townsponies repeatedly describe stuff Daring messed up. Since Rainbow and Pinkie are here to save Daring's reputation, we never get any chance to sympathize with the townspeople, so instead the first half of the episode just repeats the same motions over and over again.

By the halfway point, the episode has copped out entirely and introduced a suspicious hooded figure who is manipulating the townsponies, and who eventually turns out to be Daring Do's nemesis Caballeron. So not only does "Daring Done?" refuse to engage with its premise, it ultimately dismisses its most interesting ideas, leaving no real themes aside from an extremely generic pro-positivity message. In the end, Pinkie spouts a whole spiel about hope, but this such a rote, generic platitude that it's hard not to wish the episode had committed to its initial premise. Given the direction the story takes, the only way to tie these two ideas together is to suggest that Daring Do should just ignore accusations against her, no matter how valid they may be, and that's genuinely troubling.

Worse still, Daring herself is a total wet blanket here. The energy and adventurous spirit which she brought to all of her prior episodes is entirely deflated here, replaced with a constantly morose attitude which quickly becomes tiring. She may have been sympathetic if the entire plot wasn't about disproving her, but without that, her constantly downbeat attitude quickly becomes a drag, and this isn't helped by it being effectively her only personality trait. Despite its attempt to give Daring some character development, this episode refuses to change her from the straightforward hero we saw elsewhere, except without the charisma. By the time she finally has a chance to show off and fight the villain, she's become a background character in her own story, taking a backseat to Pinkie's expository moralizing.

All of that might have been tolerable if the episode were at all fun, but it only picks up steam at the very end, and even that isn't executed very well. Before the climax, there's very little action, and the dialogue consists overwhelmingly of Rainbow, Pinkie, and Daring shouting exposition at each other. This is one of the noisiest episodes of the entire show, featuring near-constant chatter, almost none of which consists of anything but the characters loudly stating their emotions about something which is happening. There's no subtlety, no nuance, no subtext, and there's also barely any jokes in the mix. Too often, the episode mistakes loud shouting for humour. The show's not usually like this, and for good reason.

When the episode finally gets to that climax, Rainbow is kidnapped by Caballeron, which Daring and Pinkie don't notice in time to prevent despite being within earshot. Rainbow is kidnapped really easily, and while it makes some sense in context, it's still really disappointing to see one of the show's strongest and most adventurous characters reduced to a damsel in distress. Daring and Pinkie being so nearby is significantly more annoying, however, and the actual rescue scene is underwhelming, since its traps are passed not with cleverness or agility but with a pure leap of faith. That fits the theme, but it's still really dull, and the dialogue continues to be nothing more than ceaseless exposition.

Rainbow and Pinkie's characterization is a bit of a mixed bag. Rainbow is nearly useless, shouting obnoxiously at everyone around her without affecting anything. The thoughtfulness which she developed through the first four seasons is totally absent here, and her aggression is somewhat exaggerated. Pinkie is somewhat less irritating, but only because it's her job to present the moral. For whatever reason, Pinkie Pie is the empathetic moderating force to Rainbow's coarse screaming (which speaks to how bad Rainbow's characterization is), but despite having some pleasantly admirable moments, Pinkie is often just as shouty and obnoxious. At least the she isn't steadfastly in the right from start to finish, as Pinkie has some doubts around the midway point, although she quicly rebounds apropos of nothing.

It's a good thing the setting's colourful, then, because it's the closest anything in this episode comes to being fully realized. The town of Somnambula has an Egyptian aesthetic, with brown, densely packed buildings and ponies wearing Middle East-inspired clothing, and we learn a story about an ancient pharaoh who the town is named after who saved a friend from a sphinx by walking blindfolded over a rickety bridge. Somnambula isn't given enough time to display a personality, but she's admirable enough, and the ancient Egyptian aesthetic of this story is interesting. It's just too bad that it's blatantly meant to reflect the main moral, and by contrived coincidence very closely parallels Daring and Pinkie saving Rainbow in the climax. To hammer in the parallel, the climax even has visual similarities to the Somnambula story, and that just makes the coincidence feel even more contrived. Plus, nobody ever sleepwalks in this episode, so it's unclear why the pharaoh and village have that name.

"Daring Done?" is the worst of the Daring Do episodes, and it's not even a contest. The contrived storytelling, the simplistic characterization, and the loud, expository dialogue all make for a genuinely exhausting episode to sit through. It arguably offers some of the show's best worldbuilding in recent years, as Somnambula is a fairly colourful and distinctive locale, but that's not enough to make the episode anything but a complete slog, and all the poor writing soon grows oppressive. What a huge disappointment.

Score:
Entertainment: 3/10
Characters: 4/10
Story: 3/10
Themes: 4/10
Overall: 35/100

You can find more episode reviews at my offsite blog

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