Good afternoon everypony, and welcome back to another edition of "Batbrony Reviews"! Well at this point it shouldn't be any surprise that this season we were delivered yet another very exceptional episode, but here we are again, and boy oh boy was this one a long time coming for a very big reason. We all know by now that family and legacy have been the two major themes of Season 7, and this week the show hit on that theme yet again with a major appearance (for the first time ever in the show) of Twilight's ENTIRE family! We may have seen plenty of Shining Armor, Princess Cadance, and even Flurry Heart in the past, but strangely enough, before this episode, her parents, Twilight Velvet and Night Light, despite making multiple appearances in episodes throughout multiple seasons, had never had roles as main characters and had only spoken a few lines in a minor appearance in last season's "The Crystalling - Part 2." This was always a bizarre oversight, not quite as infuriating as Celestia being so neglected as a character before this season, but very head scratching all the same considering (1) we've seen them make appearances in the show since Season 1, (2) they are the parents of the main character of the show (not to mention a princess of Equestria), a major supporting character, and the in-laws of another princess of Equestria (or another kingdom entirely if you're one of those folks who don't consider the Crystal Empire to be part of Equestria). Well, after the show's writers finally rectified this strange oversight, I am happy to announce that Twilight Velvet and Night Light made splendid appearances and that both were not just likable as individual characters themselves, but also gave us a very solid glimpse into how Twilight and Shining Armor both ended up the way they are with parents like those two. There's a lot of other great things to unpack from this episode, so without further ado, let's dive in! This is "Once Upon a Zeppelin"!!!
So the episode start with, oddly enough, the best Spike and Twilight scene of all of Season 7 thus far, if not the best Spike scene of the season. Now, the bad thing about this is it speaks to how little major attention outside of one OK episode Spike has gotten this season, but on the other hand he still has had some very good moments this season, and this one was a true gem. The implicit and total trust and love that Twilight and Spike have in and for one another was on full display for about two minutes, if that, with Spike insisting that Twilight take a vacation for herself when her parents offered while he stay behind to handle her work load. Twilight in turn objects by declaring that he's as much a family member of hers as the rest of her family (possibly the first time she's ever flat-out stated so clearly he is family), but Spike, while clearly appreciative of Twilight recognizing this, just takes everything in stride and still insists she take a nice break for herself. This is all capped off by Spike humorously predicting to himself that Twilight's gonna start planning a schedule of activities for the trip any second now, which she then does. While, as I said, a very short scene, there's a lot of heartwarming elements to unpack here. Not only is Spike's offer very selfless and generous, especially considering he already functions as Twilight's assistant virtually 24/7, but the way he and Twilight treated each other like family didn't feel forced in the slightest. Instead it felt like how two siblings would treat each other when one is just trying to do something nice for the other and who have the utmost confidence and trust in one another. Contrast this with Season 1, where not only Spike was considerably less mature but also Twilight treated him very often more like a son than a sibling, and you have an idea of just how much these two characters' relationship with one another has matured and developed since the show began.
Ya know, I should be more surprised that Twilight would find vacation-scheduling/list-making while on vacation to be relaxing, but honestly after seven seasons I don't think any brony at all should be phased by this revelation
Once the vacation itself begins the episode introduces a whole slew of characters, so we'll have to break down the episode by them bit by bit. Starting with our main character, Twilight was quite good here. I wouldn't go so far as to say this was her best episode of the season by any means, but if you're going to do 'Twilight stresses herself out unnecessarily because she's trying to juggle too much and please too many people without thinking about her own wants or needs' in Season 7, this is how you should do it. It's no "Lesson Zero" breakdown where the fault and blame rested squarely on a much younger Twilight's shoulders because she was making bad choice after bad choice, no no, for the most part Twilight was trying to please both her family and the ponies on the cruise (more on them later) as best as she possibly could by keeping a stiff upper lip about it. Her biggest mistake was that she underestimated how important devoting some time to herself would be in this situation, especially in the context of taking a vacation with her entire family, which is a very rare occasion for her these days given how busy she and the rest of them are (with the exception of possibly her parents, they seemed to be either retired or, if they're too young for that, just entering the twilight stages of their career-lives and seem to be very relaxed now that both kids are out of the house). Her other mistake is that she failed until the end to set some boundaries for ponies outside of their family who, although well-meaning, were a little too pushy, clingy, or cloying at times in their desire to let Twilight know just how much they liked her. These were undoubtedly a big mistakes, after all they're why there were any problems in the first place, but they are also very understandable mistakes, even for Twilight to make at this point in her life. She's a goodhearted pony who always wants to do the right thing for any pony she can, and given her responsibilities as one of Equestria's own monarchs (technically) it's hard for her to unwind when around others these days. Thankfully she learned her lesson by the end, and I can't even say her venting and lashing out at Star Tracker was that bad (more on him later too) seeing as, even though her anger itself wasn't good, her being brutally honest was how the rest of her family finally realized something was wrong for her in the first place (though they did keep asking if she was OK throughout the episode). All in all, this was about as solid an episode featuring Twilight in Season 7 as you could ask for, at least in an appearance that, while quite exceptional, was hardly something we'd call one of her best showings ever.
Holy shit, that's cute!!!
Moving on, the Royal Crystal Family (or should it be Imperial Crystal Family since it's an empire??? Whatever, point is, it's Princess Cadance, Shining Armor, and Princess Flurry Heart) had a pretty great showing as well. Flurry Heart, while she didn't have much beyond some cute and funny appearances, was her usual, adorable self. Probably her funniest bit was where she was at a playtime with a bunch of other foals and couldn't help but keep trying to stack them on top of each other like building blocks with her magic. Besides that, though, wasn't too much else to her, although her surprised reaction to Twilight doing something off-schedule was both hilarious and also suggests she may be starting to understand adults more and more... that or the writers just did it for the sake of making the joke even funnier.
Today's episode features Princess Flurry Heart in "Shit You Do When You're Bored, a Foal, and Have Wayyyyyyyyy Too Much Magic"
Shining Armor was one of the best scene stealers in this entire episode, which is pretty impressive when you consider that a "airsickness/seasickness" running gag is pretty hard to make funny in anything. I think what made it work here is that it not only gave us a look at Shining Armor's dorkier side (which is usually when he shines the most) but we also got to see him hilariously trying to handle airsickness which he tried to insist wasn't a thing the entire time in front of his ENTIRE family, quite literally. His sister was pretty much laughing her ass off at him, his wife was quietly trying to help him save face, and his parents (especially his mom) were pretty much coddling him (the funniest bit being when his mom literally lifted him out of the water with her magic, an image which just looked hilarious considering he looks to be a head taller than her). Don't get me wrong, Shining obviously wasn't just the butt of jokes; he still looked out for his sister and family and seemed to have a good time, but my goodness, "Airsick Shining Armor" was a terribly fun running gag.
"I'M THE KING OF THE WORL- oh buck, nope, not good!"
"As your LSBFF, I am obligated to find joy in your suffering."
"I bucking hate you sometimes, Twilight."
Finally, Cadance herself had an exceptionally solid showing with a bit of a subplot of her own evening, a pretty subtle one at that. The entire trip she seemed to look out for Twilight the most out of the entire family, most likely because she could relate the most to what Twilight was dealing with. They all wanted to make sure she was doing alright, but Cadance in particular kept approaching her and, after Twilight's breakdown, was able to tell her exactly what she needed to hear. She explained that part of being a princess means accepting that you can still be a good princess even if you are unable to please everyone 24/7. You have to be able to take care of your own needs still, and sometimes even wants are needs (such as Twilight needing some time to relax with her family). Cadance both explained and showed this in the episode in how her first and foremost priority, in most scenes, was taking care of Flurry Heart, and watching out for the rest of her family while she was at it. This is best displayed when Cadance explains as much to Twilight and Iron Will when they learn the exact nature of the air cruise, as well as when she makes sure her daughter doesn't get smothered with attention from complete strangers who just want to see their kids befriend a baby royal princess, even though they're well meaning. She's very protective throughout the entire episode, and much of that includes being protective of her family's privacy. The fact that this never came off as snobbish was very impressive, you could really sympathize with what Cadance was going through and why she was doing what she did, and I even found myself wondering if this is what watching out for their kids in real life is like for major celebs or public figures. But overall, as far as being the bearer of an episode lesson goes, this was definitely one of Cadance's best showings ever in that regard, especially in her role as a mother and her mentoring Twilight as her sister-in-law, friend, and fellow princess.
This, however, will probably haunt her nightmares for quite some time... and mine, too. Seriously, who the hell sold that in the first place???
Now that we've got the familiar faces out of the way, it's time to get into some of the juicier and unexpected bits of the episode... which were admittedly a bit of a mixed bag, though largely solid on the whole. First of all, let's talk about, you guessed it... Twilight's parents, Night Light and Twilight Velvet (voice by Charlie Demers and Patricia Drake, though they had been previously voiced by Andrew Francis and Tara Strong). How were these two? Oh, a whole lot of fun! They weren't the amazing soccer parents that Bow Hothoof and Windy Whistle were, nor were they the sweetest of couples with an amazing romantic backstory to go along with it like Bright Mac and Pear Butter were. In fact, their appearance, while anticipated, wasn't nearly as fandom-mind-blowing as those previous two sets of parents were, considering, as I mentioned earlier, we've seen these two many times before. And yet it was still a very satisfying appearance all the same in which we got a very solid idea of how these two produced the children they did. First, you have Night Light, who, although both he and his wife are pretty grounded for the most part, is definitely the more straight-laced of the two. I mean, the guy's favorite thing to do on the airship for crying out loud is BINGO! This is the type of guy who, like Twilight, probably loves nothing more on a lazy Sunday than curling up in his favorite chair with a good book and a cup of tea, and I could easily see the majority of her love of organization, lists, and scheduling coming from him mostly.
Not that Twilight Velvet seemed out of sorts or anything, but out of those two, she was, very surprisingly, the wild child of the two! I think many bronies were caught off guard by this character development, but at the same time most I've spoken to (myself included) welcomed it, as it quite refreshingly helps distinguish the two parents from each other. She still seems very similar to her husband and daughter, but she definitely has a bit of the "thrill junkie" within her; heck, speaking as someone who keeps a lot of his own likes and habits "close to the vest" myself, I could totally see Twilight Velvet being the same way. Not necessarily being dishonest in public about who she is to others, but simply keeping a lot of her own private likes and habits to herself, only occasionally cutting loose with them. The best bit in this, of course, was Twilight Velvet's literally riding a barrel over Neighagara Falls, a scene which was as hilarious as it was adorable. Twilight Velvet's reaction and adrenaline from it all was priceless, her wet mane whipped over her face looked adorable, and Night Light coming up and pecking her on the cheek to her delight while her face was still covered was even MORE adorable!!!
And now Batbrony presents... lewd conversations with the Sparkles. Read at your own peril
"I AM SO HIGH ON LIFE RIGHT NOW!!!"
"Wow... so uh, dad, if this is mom's idea of "relaxing" while on vacation, what exactly does she mean when she says you two are gonna have a "relaxing" night in?"
"Well, uh, you see... oh boy. Ya know what, I think I'll let Cadance handle this one."
"Well it's just that it's a bit more in her area of 'expertise' and might be less awkward if she explains it to you."
"I still don't follow."
"Don't worry, Night Light, I got this." *Cadance whispers very lewd things*
"OH CELESTIA, NO, WHY?!"
"Hey, why do you think I married your brother? He had to impress me in quite a few areas that I am VERY picky about! Kinda comes with the whole "being the Princess of Love" territory and all."
"OH SUN, MOON, AND STARS NO, WHY, WHY?!?! MY POOR, LOST INNOCENCE!!! YOU ARE ALL HORRIBLE, FILTHY PONIES AND I HATE YOU ALL SO MUCH!!!" *runs away*
"Wow... didn't think she'd take it that badly. I really never pegged Twilight as that much of a prude, especially with all the books she reads. Boy am I glad your son got his 'special traits' from your wife."
"Yeahhhhhhh... I better go talk to her. Before she throws herself off the zeppelin."
"NOT BEFORE YOU TAKE ME BACK IN OUR CABIN!!!"
"Sweetie, we're not the only ones staying there!"
"I DON'T CARE!!!"
MAJESTIC AS BUCK!!!
My lewd jokes about Twilight Velvet's "wild" side aside, this was the bucking cutest shot in this entire episode and it is as sweet as it is pure and innocent. It's amazing how just a little peck on the cheek from Night Light and the smile it brings out on his wife can reveal so much about how much they love one another, and I'm sure that many married couples or just people completely in love with one another could tell you (speaking as someone madly in love myself) that little gestures like that between two loved ones are some of the best parts of getting to shower love upon someone else you love. Doesn't always have to be a sweeping gesture, sometimes little reinforcements of one's love for another like that mean all the world to them. Also, c'mon, I mean... LOOK AT HOW BUCKING CUTE THAT IS!!!
Of course, they had more good bits than just that. Their policy about accepting free tickets to a cruise, no questions asked (even though they had no idea what contest it was for to begin with), was too funny (especially how it came back to bite them in the flank later, not to mention it sounds like the setup to a slasher film); their looking out for their children was quite fun to see (especially the aforementioned scene where Twilight Velvet literally lifts Shining Armor from the water with her magic); and their soaking up attention from cruise participants thrilled to see the princesses was pretty funny too. Overall, they were just a cool, cute couple who behaved for the most part pretty much exactly as you'd expect Twilight's parents to behave - dorky, straight-laced, and just a little bit crazy, with just enough wrinkles and unique character traits thrown in there to make them stand on their own as their own characters. It was a great showing from the both of them and I am happy we finally got to see these two in expanded roles! Hopefully we'll get to see even more of them in the future.
In yet another returning character, we, surprisingly, saw the return of Iron Will in this episode! The reason I list him here among newer elements is because (1) his return was so unexpected (seriously, I would never have pegged him to show back up in this of all episodes) and (2) he was written kind of... differently than in his first appearance. Let's recall, in Iron Will's first appearance in "Putting Your Hoof Down" he was, at the most, a minor antagonist, if even that. He didn't come off as deliberately malevolent or anything, just a bit of a shrewd businessman and slightly bully-ish in the way he threw his muscles around to intimidate others. But he was still a minotaur of his word who set out to ACTUALLY help ponies become more assertive, and when Fluttershy insisted that she wasn't satisfied with his services, he kept his end of the bargain and stopped demanding payment from her. He seemed like someone who overall was, at the end of the day, pretty decent, even if he was a bit of a hothead as well. Here, Iron Will was far more of a jerk and written as, if I'm being honest, a bit of a con artist as well. I mean, he did try to deliver a quality product to his customers until the end of the episode, but he bamboozled Twilight's family into taking the trip in the first place and then, when they finally decided they were done letting him drag Twilight all over the place at the end of the episode and explained the situation to the other ponies onboard, just skipped out on his angry customers for some bizarre reason.
Now, make no mistake, hearing Trevor Devall in this role again (one week after he reprised his role as Thunderlane as well) was hilarious and a lot of fun, and for the most part Iron Will was still his old, over-the-top, bombastic self (like a... jerkier Mr. T, if you will). But again, his presence here was confusing at times, especially in his interactions with Twilight considering... well, he'd technically never even met her before! He'd met Rarity, Pinkie Pie, and Fluttershy previously, but certainly not Twilight. Now I'm sure it's both possible Twilight saw him around town and heard about him from her friends, but still, as far as we know, those two individuals had never actually met each other. Heck, I was confused as well how he'd heard about Twilight's tour of Cloudsdale; his other stories about her were obviously made up, but that first one was legit, unless of course he thought he made it up and instead accidentally told a legit story about Twilight. However, if I'm being perfectly honest, most of my critiques for Iron Will here are largely me nitpicking. He was for the most part a treat to see; his story about getting into the themed cruise business because the assertiveness-seminar market had dried up was as hilarious as it was random, and his exit at the end, like with everything involving Iron Will, was hilariously over the top! Overall, he had a fine showing, and was a lot of fun to see once more.
Finally, we come to the cruise passengers themselves, who, let's be honest, were an obvious allegory and stand-in for the fandom, particularly fans when they encounter show makers and celebs at pony conventions. As in "Fame and Misfortune," their presence here was both mixed and very meta. However, it was definitively superior to the depiction of the fandom in "Fame and Misfortune" for a number of very good reasons. Generally speaking, the cruise passengers here, while often depicted in a negative light, were also depicted in a positive light as well (I'd say the balance between the negative and positive was 50/50) and they had a satisfying resolution to their place in the story arc. In contrast, "Fame and Misfortune" felt very raw and hostile in its treatment of any ponies who were supposed to be representing the fandom (with like the exception of one or two characters), and had barely any resolution with them even. As I said in my "Fame and Misfortune" review, there is nothing wrong in concept with the show delivering a message aimed squarely at the fandom about how we act as fans and how we should act; the problem there is that it feels more like the show makers venting about the fandom than actually, constructively saying anything about it. By itself it was just a meh episode for me, and I still stand by my earlier conclusion that it is such a divisive episode that there is no one right way to feel about it, whether one loves, hates, or just doesn't care for that episode; however, this episode's existence does bring down "Fame and Misfortune" quite a bit, since it was a far better handling of how the show should and can critique the fandom while still having plenty of positive things to say about it. Were the passengers oftentimes too exuberant, clingy, or nosy in their adoration of the princesses, especially Twilight? Sure, but the worst their behavior got was awkward to cringey, and they never treated Twilight or her family like assholes or jerks as so many ponies in "Fame and Misfortune" treated Twilight and her friends. They also had a better excuse for their behavior in that they thought from the get-go that the princesses were there as a part of the cruise specifically to see them, meaning they would never think of treating them like this in regular, day-to-day life; now, as a brony, while I would argue that going to a con doesn't give one license to just leave your brain and good sense behind and treat con guests however you want, there is an expectation at cons that celeb guests are there to see fans, unlike say if you randomly encounter a celeb in real life at a store or restaurant. Once these passengers were explicitly told by Twilight that she could use some space and time to be with her family, they were very respectful of her wishes and realized that they'd been misled by Iron Will. Once again the overall message directed at the fandom was that just because you're a fan of someone doesn't mean you should feel entitled, no matter what the circumstances are, to butt too much into their business, even if they're taking time to hang out with you, but it was delivered and executed so much better in this episode than it was at all in "Fame and Misfortune."
Honestly this isn't even that different from how he behaved in the actual episode...
The most obvious stand-in among these passengers, of course, was Star Tracker, and I'm even more mixed in my feelings about him than I am the passengers as a whole. For starters, I couldn't figure out whether this guy was supposed to be a teenager or an adult (I'm leaning towards the former but still, not sure), and whether he's one or the other does put his behavior into a different context. Also, while by the end of the episode we realized that he too was, overall, just a well-meaning pony who was really excited to see Twilight, the delivery in some of his humor was... odd. Like, my best guess is that the writers wanted to make it seem like he was just a really, really awkward pony, largely for the sake of humor. The problem, however, is that he does things like (1) keep invading Twilight's personal space WAYYYYYYY too much, (2) awkward gestures like continually biting his lip around Twilight or combing back his mane, and (3) talking with a very odd tone in his voice that his behavior ultimately came off for much of the episode as less awkward and more... creepy, really, especially in a sexually stalker-ish kind of way. Again, I really don't think that that was the intent of the character, but for me, that's simply what he came off as for much of the episode. Also, his freakout from Twilight stepping on his hoof was WAY too over-the-top. No offense Star Tracker, but frankly, ya acted kind of like a pussy in all that; I mean dear Lord, my mom doesn't flip out that much from someone stepping on her foot!
Seriously man, NUT UP!!! I'm not even one to usually say that, but sheesh, grow a pair!
Thankfully he was pretty cool by the end of the episode (though his standing up for Twilight to Iron Will felt a little forced, and I never really dug his voice actor; I couldn't figure out if it was an actual VA doing a bad, awkward teenager/obsessed fan voice or an actual fan who just wasn't very good at voice acting). Overall, as far as meta-stand ins for the fandom go, Star Tracker and the other passengers here, while not perfect in their delivery, were a significant step above the incredibly hostile, angry, and at times downright cruel crowds that Twilight and her friends encountered in "Fame and Misfortune," and in that respect they felt like they were a part of delivering a far more helpful and constructive message to the fandom than the latter were.
This, however, will forever and always be terrifying
Besides all of these players, there were plenty of other things that caught my attention in this episode for both better and worse. Finally getting to see an episode featuring a zeppelin the entire time was pretty awesome, and the design of the airship here was sweet. The one thing that bugged me with it was how the passage of time and distance seemed to work; the tour scene in particular was bizarre in that Iron Will seemed to point out locations in a matter of minutes that should be hundreds of miles apart from each other, and there's no way the ship was moving fast enough to get to those that quickly (hell, his pointing out Canterlot second on the tour was downright confusing considering they TOOK OFF from Canterlot). I get that that was largely because the show had to be fit into 22 minutes, but still, it was an odd flaw all the same. Some of the activities, particularly barrel riding over Neighagara Falls and Shining Armor's boat race, were hilarious, though I will say it's a shame that we didn't get to see a full scene of the actual Frozen North Stars. The one thing about that scene that bugged me was that Twilight's family didn't seem to consider at first that she'd be upset that she missed literally the one thing she'd wanted to do with all of them more than anything else the entire trip, but again, that's a minor nitpick. Getting a pretty even dosage of day and night scenes was pretty cool and unusual as well, as were the sheer number of settings in this whole episode. All in all, while not a flawless episode, this was still a very exceptional Season 7 episode and, especially for all of the new elements it had like getting to see more of Twilight's parents, a delight to watch on the whole! We've only got 4 episodes left everypony, and I've got a feeling they're going to be rather delightful (and please, while I'm on the subject, don't watch the early episode leaks so that we can support the official DHX releases of them, or if you do, please don't spoil them for anyone else). That's all I've got for ya everypony, until next time, this is Batbrony signing off. I'm off!!! *cue dramatic exit*
This is what Spike gets for doing nice things