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Episode review: "Uncommon Bond"

Look, "Uncommon Bond" is perfectly inoffensive. It has a decent moral. The core dilemma is moderately relatable. It's not obnoxious, it doesn't have any structural defects, and doesn't feel lazy. But it's slow, safe, and mundane, and it predicates its entire emotional core on a relationship which hasn't been given much development. It's another season 7 episode which doesn't care about anything other than checking off boxes and getting a moral episode. I mean, at least it's competent and not entirely boring.

But I can't stand this formula anymore. My Little Pony didn't become popular by being this slow and forgettable. And this one also has Starlight once again demonstrating few strong personality traits aside from self-pity and a disregard for others, which can only be offset so much by Trixie being funny and the others being sweet. I just don't like her anymore, and she's a dead weight on an episode which already doesn't do very much to elevate itself.

I feel like I've made all of these complaints before. But I'm just so tired of this stuff.

When Sunburst finally comes to visit Starlight in Ponyville, she's ecstatic, remembering how much they had in common. However, when Sunburst finally arrives, he and Starlight struggle to find common ground, and to her frustration, he spends more time bonding with her friends than doing things with her.

To Starlight's credit, she humours Sunburst for a while. While he's talking to Twilight and Trixie, she mostly just stands awkwardly beside them, not really trying to understand them but not intruding either. Certainly, there's something relatable in the notion of a childhood friend being different from how you remember them, so it's easy to see why Starlight might feel frustrated. However, the show has done little to develop her relationship with Sunburst, and as such it's a little difficult to be invested in their reunion. It's still a strong idea, but as with many other episodes this season, it comes across like the idea is doing most of the heavy lifting while the characters merely serve as ciphers for it, and this isn't helped at all by the fact that Starlight just isn't a very flavourful character.

Worse still, this is yet another episode where Starlight appears to have no particular interests of her own. Okay, she likes magic, but her studies are so directionless that they come across as impersonal. Sunburst bonds with Twilight, Trixie, and Maud because he catches them in the midst of something they both care about, but the problem with Starlight is that she doesn't seem to have interests aside from whatever Twilight tells her to do. What are her aspirations? What does she do with her free time? We so rarely see these things, and this particular episode doesn't even make mention of her interest in kites. The episode tries to take advantage of that, but it only underlines what a bland character Starlight truly is.

Further, Starlight spends most of the episode sinking further into self-pity, to the extent that she eventually leaves when Sunburst spends too much time talking to others. Early on, she pays lip service to Sunburst's comfort, but her increasing jealousy of her friends eventually starts to feel selfish, especially since Sunburst still came all this way to spend time with her. To be fair, Sunburst perhaps deserves some of the blame, as he spends much of the episode mostly oblivious to Starlight's discomfort, and even expresses excitement about "spending time with Twilight" to her face. Frustratingly, he doesn't learn much of anything from this, but even though Sunburst is no saint, it's still hard to sympathize with Starlight, because it seems like she just quits because things aren't going exactly as she wanted them to.

In one scene, Starlight shows Sunburst the mirror pool, even in spite of saying it might be dangerous. We never see her ask if he wants to go, and we never see her warn him beforehand, so it feels a little like she's putting him at risk just to score brownie points. I don't think that's intentional, but it's a lot harder to justify a later scene where she creates an illusion where the two are foals and back in their childhood home. It's slightly creepy, and it mostly just serves as a reminder that Starlight has issues which the show is never going to properly address. Things like these might have been easy to get past on their own, but in sequence, and combined with long montages where Starlight just pouts at Sunburst having fun with someone else, just make her feel self-centred in a way which she's just not funny or even distinctive enough to overcome.

The episode isn't without its humour, but much of it is subtle and character driven. Trixie fares well due to her boisterous personality, but Twilight is little more than vaguely dorky, and while Maud has one or two fun lines, she's not given a whole lot to do. A bigger problem is that much of the episode plays out in languid montages, each of which involving Sunburst doing stuff with Starlight's friends. All of these are mildly charming, but they're also weighed down by Starlight's impatience. While the dialogue is mostly naturalistic, there's enough expository lines to remove any subtlety. I know that the moral is gonna relate to having things in common because ponies keep mentioning it, and Maud even gives away the actual moral before the end. Again, it's a nice concept - you don't need to have a lot in common to be friends - but having it all slowly explained to me just makes the episode feel dry.

Another issue which I haven't mentioned, which pops up from time to time in the show, is the pacing and music. In contrast with the cheery rock guitars of the pilot, "Uncommon Bond" is filled with emotionless muzak and bland orchestral stings, and combined with just how long and talky these scenes are, it makes the episode feel airless even at its most charming. While this laid-back tone suits stories about bonding fairly well, it needs to be held up by sharp dialogue and strong characterization, and neither of those departments are something which this episode excels at.

So again, the episode is hardly offensive or anything, but it's also dry and flat. We learn nothing new about Starlight, little substantial about Sunburst, and while the moral is fine, the episode doesn't add any bells or whistles to make it interesting. The feeling I get with episodes like this is just that the writers are checking off boxes. They don't have much of a story to tell, but Starlight and Sunburst reuniting is something they feel "must" happen, so they slap a moral on it, add some fluffy montages, and call it a day. And Starlight displays all of the issues which make her so unappealing to me, which weighs down an already forgettable episode. If you get anything out of this, then I'm glad, but it just comes across as soulless to me.

Entertainment: 4/10
Characters: 4/10
Themes: 7/10
Story: 5/10
Overall: 50/100

You can find more episode reviews at my offsite blog


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