Good afternoon ya'll, so sorry I didn't get this up earlier, been busy with the Ward Jenkins Q&A and some other Poniverse business. Anyways, welcome, welcome, welcome back to another edition of "Batbrony Reviews" and me oh my do we have a splendid episode to go over today!!! I really need to watch this episode again before I can determine whether or not I think it's the best of Season 6 so far, at least in my opinion, but I would say for sure that I definitely believe it to be the most exciting episode of the season so far. To put it into the appropriate perspective, longtime viewers like myself have been waiting for this episode, THE return of the Changelings in some capacity that actually affects the MLP setting and the Changelings' place in it, in a major way since the end of Season 2. This was a species that immediately grabbed our attention because of how unique they were in the setting, and to this day they have remained a fan favorite group, as evidenced by all the fan art and fan fiction centered around them. Today, we finally got that, and I have to say it did not disappoint in the least, in fact, it pretty much delivered as much as it could have. The only way it could have been any better were if it were a two-parter episode, but that was clearly not necessary here. Without further ado, this is "The Times They Are a Changeling," let's begin!
"Oh, thank goodness it's Spike! For a second there we thought you were Carrot Top; man, that guy is the worst, not funny at all!"
What? Seems legit, I'd ship it!
Cadance, you... you do realize you can't use that as a test for ANYPONY ELSE right? Gosh, no wonder they were all freaking out, pony security against Changelings is apparently still crap!
So let's start with our main character, Spike. Oh Spike, your character has developed so, so, SO very well at this point! Spike for way too long has been a character that the writers were inconsistent with, for good reason to be fair. He started out largely as a comic relief character; it wasn't mean-spirited comic relief, on the contrary it usually made sense since he's, well, a baby dragon with a different level of maturity. But given how long the show has been going, he obviously could not stay the same, and as early as Season 2 I would say the writers started playing around with how they could advance and develop. It was still hit and miss and that point, though plenty of highlights have come in Seasons 3, 4, and 5 for the lil' guy. Season 6, however, has probably been his most consistent season ever where it has been most evident that this is clearly no longer the same Spike as in earlier seasons. In fact, he's not even just another Mane 6 member; Spike has a very distinct understanding of friendship that is unique to himself, namely because of his dragon heritage. He is very much aware that he has (up until he met Princess Ember, that is) been one of a kind among his own kind, and in large part because, by a fluke of fate, he had the opportunity to grow up among ponies. What's normal for them couldn't be further from the norm for his kind, and he appreciates the opportunities he's been given and the friendship and love that has been extended to him his whole life. This has never been more apparent than in "The Times They Are a Changeling," even if his heritage did not ever once get directly addressed. We've seen already Spike's capacity, stemming I believe from his appreciation of the opportunities afforded to him, to give others a chance or second chances. This season alone, he has extended kindness and friendship to both Starlight Glimmer, being one of the first in Ponyville to really warm up to her and try to help her in her friendship lessons, and Princess Ember, giving in effect his entire species a second chance at changing for the better by helping Ember ascend to Dragon Lord but, more importantly, learn the value of friendship for herself and dragonkind.
Yeah, I won't lie, I loved this gag
This time around, however, saw Spike's bravest act of kindness and friendship yet in his entire character's arc through all six seasons. Neither befriending Starlight nor Ember ever risked Spike's place among ponies; Starlight had already been forgiven by most everypony, and with Ember the biggest risk involved was losing any support or chance at friendship among his own kind, not ponies. But in this episode, Spike risked A LOT. The fact that this took place in the Crystal Empire was very important for a couple of reasons. One, the place has a very good reason for being as paranoid as it was about Changelings; for starters, the Crystal Ponies have never had to deal with Changelings, at least to our knowledge, but to make matters worst, their rulers were the ponies most negatively affected by the Changelings the last time they attacked ponykind. So right off the bat you have two ingredients for a paranoid populace the second any news about Changelings crops up (doesn't help that the royal family had a newborn foal as well to worry about). Second, Spike's best reputation in all of Equestria is in the Crystal Empire; he's not just beloved there, he's a friggin' two-time national hero!!! There was a lot on the line for him in trying to befriend a Changeling and get others to do it, and his faltering in the second half of the episode makes a lot of sense. Who would be willing to risk as much personally as he did for a total stranger he just met who's a member of a reviled group? But in the end, he stepped up in what is easily his finest moment in the show yet, yes, even better than his saving the Crystal Empire, befriending Starlight Glimmer, and befriending Princess Ember. He didn't just apply the lessons he's learned his whole life, he used them to teach his own friends who needed some reminding about what makes them so special in the first place. Friendship and extending it to others isn't always supposed to be something that's easy or second-nature; it should be hard to do sometimes, as should be believing in others, especially when those others have either let you down in the past or been downright malevolent. In a beautiful conclusion for the episode and his own character, Spike reminded his friends and family that part of friendship and befriending others is having the capacity to have faith in others, even when you can't be sure if your faith will pay off. It's about taking risks, not just saying you'll be a friend to those you know you can count on, but being willing to befriend those you can't be sure about either but are willing to believe in. Everyone deserves a chance at friendship, a chance to prove their capacity to be good and kind and decent, and Spike reminded his friends how important that is and also that such an opportunity was afforded to him and a risk taken on him by virtue of ponies allowing him to grow up with them at all. A beautiful moment for his character, definitely the pinnacle of his development thus far in the entire show, and just all around a wonderfully done episode for the little guy, I couldn't be happier with how it turned out.
Next, of course we have to discuss the new character Thorax, our first ever friendly Changeling! Voiced wonderfully by Kyle Rideout (a VA with not too many acting credits to his name), I feel like the writers came up with a great balance of fan head canon in developing this character and GREATLY expanding on the backstory for Changelings. In his origins, we saw that most Changelings are naturally inclined to a predatory nature, which fits about as many head canons as it doesn't, but works for me personally. At the same time, they conveyed that, as evidenced by Thorax, Changelings are capable of changing by nature, they aren't JUST born "evil," and if they're not just born that way, then, with presumably a lot of work, they could also possibly change as well (although I still hope this doesn't happen with Queen Chrysalis since I believe she has more autonomy than your average Changeling to start with, and did come across as genuinely evil and malevolent). So what we have is a happy balance of head canons; generally Changelings have been depicted as either entirely instinctive to an almost animalistic extent in fan work, OR conversely each is individual and unique in their own ways. I'm sure we'll continue to see this in fan work, but here we have a Changeling who is both instinctive (he had trouble controlling natural urges to predatorily react to the presence of love or kindness) but also a unique individual, a happy balance that I appreciate. In fact, it pretty much fits my own head canon on Changelings; I like the idea that they are capable of feeding off of love in a passive, non-predatory manner, simply by getting it from others who genuinely care about them, and giving it in return. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if we see the writers expand upon this idea in the future.
This is... very oddly adorable
Oh yeah, pretty sure she's still evil as ever
Furthermore, Thorax in general was just super likable, and his plight very believable and sympathetic. This is a guy who's clearly been an outsider everywhere he's gone his whole life. He wasn't like any of his own kind, but he rightfully feared that ponies would never accept him either. Frankly, the fact that he survived this long is rather impressive, almost miraculous, and I anticipate that we're going to see some great fan fiction that does a great job of playing around with his backstory. The voice work on him was great, he didn't ever come off as a Gary Stu (the fact that he had natural urges he had to fight, and even reacted angrily at Spike's earlier dejection in the last third of the episode, definitely ensured that), and the animators and storyboard artists did a WONDERFUL job really conveying his emotions and what made him different from the rest of his kind in his body language. Ward Jenkins (who did storyboard art on this episode) mentioned earlier today that they had to be very expressive with his head/face and body in order to convey his emotions properly, because his eyes can't convey much emotion since Changelings don't have pupils like ponies do. I was very impressed with the job they did in that regard, and it never felt like the show was reaching either or being forced any time he got very emotional to the point of tears. It felt real, it felt earned, and this is how this type of character needed to be introduced. Definitely the best new character of the season thus far, exactly what the Changelings needed in order to advance them like this (and for that matter reintroduce them to the show in a serious manner), and just something I've waited to see for a long, long time in this show.
I for one definitely believed moments like these, very well done if I do say so myself
The final major element of this episode to cover was the latest song, "A Changeling Can Change." This was something we've been waiting for a long time by virtue of the fact that we've waited over five seasons for Spike to get a solo song. At this point, it had to be a song like this if it were ever gonna happen, it couldn't just be a fun song. It had to be something that hammered the message of the episode away, and on top of that it had to be a damn good message. Well, it was a damn good message in a damn good song in a damn great episode! Spike's vocals are hardly something to write home about, his voice alone ensures that, but that lends to the simple, quiet beauty of the song. The song isn't really beautiful because of the lyrics, or the tune, or the voice work; it's beautiful because it comes from such a deep place for Spike. He's never done this before, and I don't just mean sing a solo; he's never really tried to teach his friends a lesson like this before, ponies he's looked up to and learned from his entire life. On top of that, it was his way of repenting for his earlier failing his new friend, Thorax. And finally, the quiet nature of the song and Spike's impassioned pleas hammered away that this was coming from a very real, desperate, sincere place for him as a character. These elements combined to make a song that is beautiful, unusually so for this show, largely not because of the tune itself, but almost entirely because of the substance of the song and the character of the one singing it. Great song, I'm sure it'll be a fan favorite for this season, and I can't wait to listen to it myself.
Of this episode I really have no complaints, just things that I believe could have SLIGHTLY improved it. For one, I wouldn't have minded Spike's dragon heritage being mentioned at some point, but I believe that the idea of it playing a role in his development in this episode was still plenty there beneath the surface. I also kind of wanted Cadance rather than Twilight to be the first pony to listen to Spike and reach out to Thorax; I didn't mind that Twilight did and it made sense since she's both a sister and mother to him and also the Princess of Friendship, but I thought there might have been an added element of weight to it seeing the pony who most suffered because of the Changelings last time around (and probably has some trauma from that ordeal still considering she was abducted and held hostage, essentially) being the first to forgive them and try to make peace with at least this one, but again, it worked out just fine. It was great seeing Sunburst and Starlight Glimmer again, especially because, as some have pointed out, Starlight could very much relate to this Changeling seeking redemption, friendship, and just a place to call his own, to call home. Seeing Flurry Heart as well was great, she's as adorable as ever and I loved getting to see her make nice with Thorax too. I also thought it was impressive that none of the ponies ever came off as unreasonable, which would have been really easy to do here; I mean, let's face it, they had plenty of good reasons to be afraid of a Changeling infiltration. Some of the visual gags, like the mirror one (which Ward Jenkins said he drew inspiration for from I Love Lucy) were a lot of fun to see, as well.
BEHOLD, a baby! No, before you ask, you cannot eat the baby
Overall, this episode I would say was exactly what we wanted it to be. I don't think anyone wanted the entire Changeling race to be redeemed in a single episode or story arc, but to see that they have the capacity for good is exactly what we wanted. This baby step in that direction is exactly how one should do something like that, and it reminds me of similar treatments that both dragons and the griffons have received, although neither of them had quite the same stigma attached to them by ponies that Changelings do. I really hope we get to see more of Thorax in the future as well as further stories with the Changelings as a result of this episode, but for now, let's just revel in how very well done this episode alone was. This is exactly what MLP is supposed to be all about folks, doesn't get much better than this. That's all I've got for this week everypony, until next week this is Batbrony signing off. I'm off! *cue dramatic exit*