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Hearth's Warming Helper

Found 58 results

  1. The season finale started off very slow and brooding but really picked up by the end of the first half of the two parter. It was so obvious to me that Cozy had ulterior motives, especially in the aftermath of What Lies Beneath. The build was very good, albeit slow in the beginning. I liked seeing the return of the creatures that the Mane 6 had previously defeated, and the return of Tirek was pretty interesting as well. Neighsay was his usual, racist self in this one, but did a heel face turn faster than almost any other character in the show. I love the fact that the Friendship 6 where the ones to save the day here, with assistance from the CMCs. Overall, this was a great wrapup to the end of season 8. It sets up season 9 well, with many possibilities moving forward for what is (supposedly) the final season of MLP: Friendship is Magic. Grade: 9.1/10 A- Season 8 was a tale of two halves. The first half was significantly worse than the second half, which worked in its favor. There was a fair amount of continuity between episodes, but I feel like there could have been better continuity between all the episodes. Overall, the season was pretty good. A very good amount of new content, including the new species, new locales, and return of all the pillars of equestria. Overall grade: 91% A-
  2. Sounds of Silence This was a very good episode. Another AJ and Fluttershy centered episode, with both doing well to really fill their roles. I loved the new species, the Kirin, that where introduced in the show and also the Character Autumn Blaze, voiced by Rachel Bloom. I loved her song as well. It was a bit rushed in the resolution however. But overall, the episode was very good. Good establishment of the newest species to the series and a good song to go along with it. My grade: 9.1/10 A- Father Knows Best This episode started off well enough, with spike flying WORSE than Twilight did when she first got her wings. As soon as Sledge was introduced, I knew that it was going to be a fairly meh episode. Turns out that I was right. The episode overall was about meh at best. To be honest, this is probably the worst episode of the second half of the season. The song was good, but I didn't care for how Sledge took advantage of Spike. My grade: 6.9/10 D+
  3. Note: Credit to @Truffles, @Sparklefan1234, @PathfinderCS, and Silver-Quill for this review, which I C&P'd from here with extra edits. This review has been revised to include a little more content. Sludge may be the most hateable non-villain of the series, if not one of them with Svengallop, Garble, Zephyr, and Spoiled Rich. Garble's someone to just hate, but Sludge you love to hate. This slob knows how to con others with no remorse. He wants to lives the luxury life and make you work for it, all the while tugging the right strings to make you fall for his tricks and divide you from who you love at your most vulnerable state. While he freeloads, he's not a stereotype, as he always cleans up after himself and trades his laziness for his brains. Smart, calculating, and very manipulative, he catches himself, remains convincing, and uses Spike's want for biological parentage to bypass all doubts. Several clues indicate his scheming ways before he became more brazen: He stopped jogging on the treadmill to chug the fresh cider…with hilarious results. XD The Wonderbolts held him above them, but he won't fly until Dash lectures him. He doesn't admit to being his father until after he fully recovers (just as he's about to depart) and walks with Spike back inside. Just by his stops and gestures, he's making up his backstory as he goes along, including not answering other questions the RM5 asked, but his tale's canonically logical, and his tears sound real, adding a layer on uncertainty. Silver-Quill brings up this point. Look at the image below: In this shot, she's nearly as tall as Torch, a monster-sized dragon. In the next, she's nearly as tall as Sludge, who's much smaller than him: After his song, he cackles, cutting into Act 3. ^ The synopsis gives away a very important clue: "dad" and "real" are in skeptical quotes. Dismisses Spike after being asked if he wanted to do anything with his son and then casually accuses him of not being a "real" dragon, cutting deeply into his psyche. His name has negative connotations related to muck and sewage. Despite being clean, his personality perfectly fits his name. Because he's so conniving, I'm really glad he's not his father; if he was, he'd be a deadbeat. However, as excellent he is at crafting a façade, this leads to a few big problems I have with it, echoing from @Truffles's review, @Sparklefan1234's comment, and Discord conversations with @PathfinderCS. Spike's hurtful comeback to Twilight absolutely crushes her, but doesn't have the weight. From the beginning of Act 3, the RM6 were already suspicious of him thanks to his sleazy manipulation of Spike and major holes in his backstory previously. Unfortunately, they can't prove anything, and Spike grew so close to him that telling him the truth without being delicate risks fracturing his relationships with the ponies. They must give him the benefit of the doubt and hope he doesn't brainwash him further. Emotionally, the delivery of disappointment feels stilted, further hurting its importance. Spike doesn't truly figure out he was being used until after his conversation with Smolder, and their plan takes place off-screen. Afterwards, everything starts falling into place. Because he figured it out late and needs Smolder's off-screen advice for some closure, the pacing feels a little off. No one can blame Spike for being so disappointed with Sludge revealing to be a phony. After getting so acquainted with him, his reveal's a major slap to his face. Yet, just before it concludes, he starts getting over it and feels mostly satisfied with the only family he has. But as this and DQ demonstrate, wanting to know his family roots matters to him, and he thought he was so close to actually figuring out who his biological father is. Heck, he revealed his scroll of things to do with them and was so happy to do them. As a result, Father Knows Beast's ending feels really hollow and forced. Sludge's backstory, even with the holes, is plausible, and you can fill in the cracks with them. His sobs after telling them his story also feel real. The script and Allspark even built interesting and complex lore behind it with a very unique art style of its own, suggesting a degree of reality into his tale. At the time, he looked very sympathetic and acted like he wanted to reunite with his "lost son." So for FKB to use the Liar Revealed trope feels like a gigantic letdown, and Sludge's reveal alone is anticlimactic. Previous clues indicate he set Spike up, but one big unmentioned red flag is stating he searched everywhere for him. Why does it hurt the story? Because he never recognized Spike nor said his name until after he fully healed. It was only a matter of time before Smolder and Spike craft a plan to out himself for being the fraud that he is. I don't like to harp on predictability in FIM nowadays, because the journey determines the episode's success above the destination, but that blatant piece of foreshadowing really risks sucking the audience out of the story. It's no surprise why many, myself including, feel dismayed. By revealing to NOT being his dad, the episode reverts to the status quo. After all this time, Spike's past remains a mystery. So despite a competent, nicely written story with a nicely song, great comedy (i.e., Sludge chucking SG out of the castle as she bathed ) and one of the best non-villain antagonists of the series, the resolve feels hollow. More could be done to tighten the plot or not feel so isolated from the rest of the series. At the end, I still feel uncertain whether I like it or not. Even after I submitted my initial review in the discussion thread. Nevertheless, it's got some big positives. Spike is very good here. He really wants to do the right thing and tries so hard to impress his "father." Here, we see his vulnerable side and one other flaw rarely exploited that well: his naiveté. He became so devoted with reuniting with what he thought was his biological father that he overlooks when he becomes a sleazy slob. Despite telling Twilight off, her worry clearly was on the back of his mind, evident by expressing his confusion towards Smolder. (This is also the first episode to refer to Spike as an orphan.) The audience sees his personality, how it was shaped, and (despite accusing her of being a fake parent) sympathize with them. His commitment for Sludge was genuine, which made his disappointment feel more crushing. Twilight has one of her more mature secondary outings of the series. Throughout FKB, Twilight is more than Spike's friend, but mom, too (and he sees the others as his family). From thinking he let her down after he was quiet and turned away for so long (punctuated by a really funny pillow reveal XD) to hugging him after he admits to being orphaned. Spike's health and well-being matter to him and will do anything to make sure he's safe, even if it means probably upsetting him. When he revealed Sludge ditched him and wasn't his real dad, she consoled him immediately, equally upset with the results. These shots really show their love for each other: Unlike Sludge, Smolder represented authentic dragondom despite their rough reputation, and she was great at it. When Twilight had trouble instructing Spike how to do tricks, she's there to help, explained that their parents teach them to fly when they're ready, and Spike offers a thank-you pillow to her, who doesn't sleep with pillows. Also, she knew Sludge phonied everything and worked with Spike to out him, because he treated her as his servant instead of his son. When he fled, she comforted him. Sludge is a fantastic, competent, and clever antagonist. No need to repeat. This is Dragon Quest (S2's worst episode by far) done right. How so? Recall the sexist implications and xenophobic stereotyping of dragons by the Mane Six. In DQ, while the RM5 watched dragons, they mocked Spike for looking "feminine" and proudly claimed that he's unlike the "other dragons" because of it. This sexism and xenophobia crossed over to teenage dragons, who are are written to represent dragondom, with Spike disowning his identity until Gauntlet of Fire. These implications are nonexistent here, and Haber wisely dignified dragon culture. Sludge claims he teaches Spike how to be a "real" dragon, but in reality, Sludge is a false representation of dragondom, while Smolder is. Guess who's in the right here. DQ's lesson actively uses racism in a positive light and treats the dragons other than Spike himself as savages in comparison to ponies, creating imperialistic implications that ponies are inherently superior. Thankfully, FKB handles a similar moral much better, this time focused on family over individuality, but Spike neither forgets nor abandons his dragon identity or sees dragon culture as a bad thing. Suspicions aside, they supported Spike's dad and worked with Spike to fulfill his wishes. They were all really charitable throughout the second montage: Pinkie and Fluttershy vs. Spike and Sludge in buckball (Granny Smith the ref): Rarity & Dash mimicking HW Day so they trade presents: Spike & Sludge bake and eat cupcakes together. Accusations of xenophobia from the ponies to dragons in DQ by bronies are justified, courtesy of their racist and sexist language. In FKB, no one acted like that at all, including Twilight. As mentioned previously, everyone's focused solely on Sludge being a terrible person, not because they believe dragons are primitive. When TS expressed concern, Spike retaliated with false accusations, which he apologized for. In DQ, Fluttershy agreed to watch the dragon migration after Dash agonizingly watched the butterfly migration, but punted her chest and cowered away. Here, Fluttershy actively helps him heal and no longer outwardly fears larger dragons. Disappointment aside, is Father Knows Beast a good episode? I believe it is. Compared to the rest of its post-Matter streak, it's the weakest of the bunch, especially so after its excellent run from Road to Friendship to Sounds, but it's still competently written. Hopefully, it'll continue to hold up on its own and age better in the future, but right now, don't expect me to watch it again anytime soon.
  4. This episode started and had a focus throughout on the Student 6, and their problems with studying (college problems, am i right?). A series of funny moments occurred in this part of the episode, with Ocellus mocking AJ and Twilight, along with the realization that Silverstream likes... plumbing. The group goes into the cave, and are met by a creepy, glowing version of Twilight. Following, the 6 were separated, causing them to face their biggest fears. The fears ranged from claustrophobia and spiders to being cute. Speaking of, Smolder is very cute in her dress. I wanna see more moments with her being cute. By the end, we find out that the glowing version of Twilight was the tree manifesting her. And yet again... Cosy Glow screws up and it ends with a sense of foreboding. Overall, this episode had a lot of layers to it. From each of 6 facing and conquering their fears, to the gentle nod to what is to come, this episode was fantastic. It was a bit rushed at times, but overall, the episode was a good "face your fears" type of episode. My grade: 9.3/10 A
  5. Dark Qiviut

    "Sounds of Silence" Review

    Note: Credit to @Truffles and @Justin_Case001 for my review. Am I interested in talking about this episode? No. I'D RATHER SIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIING! For Season 8, Nicole Dubuc brought in a few writers: Brian Hohlfeld, Kaita Mpambara, and Kim Beyer-Johnson. Minus Kaita, each of them have strong connections with Dubuc and worked with her on Transformers: Rescue Bots. Gregory Bonsingore is no exception. But for him, he's a little different compared to the rest. Bonsignore is an award-winning playwright and lyricist: His Off-Broadway play "Gorgonzola: A Cautionary Sicilian Tale" won several awards at a Miami musical festival, including Best Musical and Best Music/Lyrics. So to have an accomplished writer on FIM is a treat regardless of outcome. In his Friendship Is Magic debut, he displays his credentials. This episode covers a lot of information, comparable to Lost Mark or even MMC. But what he does so well is manage it. How? When scenes weren't as important (i.e., the Map calling), little time's used, but when he needs to delve into the important plot points (i.e., communicating with the kirin, finding Autumn, figuring out what caused the vow of silence), he takes advantage. Therefore, despite an abrupt ending, the story flows well. It goes by fast without rushing through. As what Twilight said, this is the first time a set of ponies took part in a second quest, this being AJ and FS. And here, each of them were tremendous. Was Fluttershy scared? Thanks to its ominous name and craggy exterior, more than plausible. The Friendship Express quickly hightailing from its weathered station further and freaky clerk support her fear. But as the episode progressed, her fear starts to ease, starting with helping nearby squirrels gather up bright yellow-to-blue flowers, who in return helped her locate the Peaks's real entrance and their discovery of the kirin. Needless to say, the kirin are gorgeous! Their earthly tones complement really well with their environment and contrast really nicely to the pastel-ly look of AJ and FS. Their manes, horns, toes, tails, and dragon-scale-esque backs are wonderfully designed, with only their brilliant eyes to pop out. And, yes, @Justin_Case001 is right. The tilting of the head makes them look really cute! But the outsider of the clan, Autumn Blaze, is easily the star of the show and takes up the bulk of the run time compared to the others. Pinkie and Silverstream are massive chatterboxes, but Autumn gives them a massive run for their money. She talks a lot and is full of quirks with solid reason. Other than the view and makeshift toys, she hasn't talked to anyone in ages to the point of forgetting or mispronouncing words. AJ is her first companion since Rain Shine exiled her. And her rapid, sometimes flowery, talk is completely hilarious. Her personality is more than charming. It's warm, bright, and optimistic. Even when she's bored, she finds ways to remain eccentric and hopeful to reunite with her clan, evident in many ways, including her gossip with a stick. Oh, and We're Friendship-Bound? You're dethroned! A Kirin Tale is the best song of the season. Nuff said! Not enough? Well, alright. The events Blaze described are quite serious, but because she and the song sound so happy with a boatload of humor (including pop culture jokes referencing Citizen Kane, Hamilton, and especially Phantom of the Opera!), the tone's nowhere nearly that dark. The song itself, written by Big Jim and Dubuc, is really funny with many fantastic lyrics. The kirin society's closed off from outside contact and, if going by the ancient shield Rockhoof used, lived closed off for millennia. Its vow of silence is relatively new in their history, but painted on a nearby rock (and shown to FS offscreen) to remind them of why they accepted this vow. The graphic imagery in itself paints a really dark era of what happened and, to echo what @Truffles stated in his replies, why Rain Shine (the kirin's longtime empress) was completely justified to take such a drastic measure in the first place. The kirin clan devolved into a literal flame war over who'll buy a homemade water pitcher, and their nirik fight destroyed their water supply, flora, and village. But even after becoming homeless, they kept going, and some of them were completely incapable of controlling their temper, hence their sustained nirik form. Had Rain Shine not step in and order everyone to step into the Stream of Silence and suppress their feelings, they'd lose more than just their village, but way of life or even themselves. And in response to those who criticize Rain Shine's plan as flawed, that's the point. Anger's normal, and it's okay to express your anger. But it's important to channel it responsibly. Rain Shine's solution restored order and peace within the Peaks of Peril, but sacrificed being able to communicate and feel without being reminded of why they suppressed their emotions. The following lyrics metaphorize the very moral: Rainbows won't light up the sky unless you let it rain. Shiny apples sometimes come with worms. Candles just won't glow until they burned. And that was why the Map called AJ and FS: to teach them how to constructively moderate their anger and disagree without sacrificing their joy, ability to feel, or fearing to hurt each other's feelings and reunite Autumn with the others. Why Applejack and Fluttershy in particular? For a few reasons. Applejack can tell the firm truth while also being sensitive to their feelings. She's not afraid to express what went wrong or what goes against her core morale without marginalizing them. In short, she tells the truth because she cares. If you have someone like Starlight, you run the risk of undercutting the very moral you're trying to teach, because she's plain and blunt, and with a history as sensitive as the kirin's, even more so. AJ's softer personality balances out better with the conflict as well as Fluttershy's further tenderness and care for the animals who live with them. Fluttershy is way more connected to the animals than anyone else. When they're happy, she's happy, and when they're sad, she's sad. She understands what they want, how they feel, and what they're saying. She inadvertently discovered leftover Foal's Breath flowers for the squirrels, and in return, they help them discover the Peaks' true entrance. Because of her ability to read emotions and understand what's wrong, she's observant in how to properly communicate with the kirin, including advising Applejack to ask yes or no question (even though AJ contrivedly ignored that to begin Act 2 ). Despite being initially frightened, she grew more comfortable around them as AJ searched for Autumn Blaze. Observe how she stopped being scared after Applejack returned to the village. The episode validates both their arguments, which won't work with another pair. Autumn's explanation packs the events with a lot of humor, which masked its seriousness. But because the kirin are mute and emotionally suppressed, Fluttershy fully realized how serious the situation was immediately. Her closeness to the wilderness justifies her to opt for the opposite solution. OTOH, AJ had a valid argument, too, which was find the Foal's Breath flower to free them from their vow of silence so they can emote and communicate again. Both sides have a point, rounding the conflict. It's easy to see why they briefly argued; they were both passionate about solving the kirin dilemma and couldn't find common ground, which they did after Blaze rescued them and used her anger and nirik alter ego to protect them from harm. And @Justin_Case001 makes three great points in his review. This is an episode about communication, more specifically being able to communicate without fear of hurting each others' feelings or starting an argument. Is it important to be sensitive to others? Without a doubt. Otherwise, you suggest you don't care. But it's important to talk to people, communicate with them, and find common ground to compromise without compromising your integrity. While The Cutie Map is about being diverse in your opinions, talents, and personalities, Sounds of Silence is about being diverse in how to communicate and find common ground. As I mentioned before, anger is important and will always be a part of your life. Unfortunately, it's attached to many harmful stereotypes, i.e., the angry black woman, which stigmatizes the emotion. But in itself, it's okay to be angry. Just like anger in itself is important, constructively channeling it is even more important. The nirik's temper were out of control, and until the end, only Autumn Blaze figured out how to manage it without manifesting into something worse. Fluttershy's solution to the friendship problem — keeping the kirin silent — is the wrong option, and she realizes it after they nearly dunked them into the Stream of Silence. However, it's very clear she didn't come to this conclusion with the worst intentions, but instead the opposite. Fire and wood mix easily, and nature is vital to the health of the kirin's secluded village and society. The nirik's temper was clearly a traumatizing event that she and the village altogether don't want to repeat, and this extreme option seemed to be the best one. Observe their faces as they argued: They were clearly distressed. Their heated argument reminded them of what happened long ago. That's why they interrupted it before it escalated. Other than the pacing, cramming of detail, and AJ getting briefly nailed with the stupid stick, its last flaw is how obvious the Foal's Breath flower's impact into solving the friendship problem becomes as the plot progresses. Fluttershy and the story spent a good amount of time arranging it for the squirrels, and its brilliant gradients of blue to yellow with all that detail stand out really strongly against the dirty-looking desert. The fact that Blaze landed in a bed of identical flowers and made a tea out of them connects the dots much more. Yet, they're all very minuscule in the thick of things. Bonsignore's scripting talents really shine with well-done dialogue, pleasant characterization of AJ, FS, and Autumn Blaze, and intelligently simple story. Despite its fast pacing, the script is tight and polished; everything logically flows from one point to another without anything out of place. Since S4, FIM plugs in one episode featuring at least one celebrity guest: Weird Al for Pinkie Pride, Lena Hall for Mane Attraction, Patton Oswalt for Stranger Than Fan Fiction, Felicia Day & William Shatner for The Perfect Pear, and now Rachel Bloom (Autumn's VA) for this one. DHX, now Allspark Studios, puts forth a ton of effort into making the guests belong into the story, and that hard work pays off into an excellent episode (with TPP museum-worthy). Sounds of Silence is no exception. In an already-phenomenal Season 8, this is another addition to the pile of outstanding episodes.
  6. Dark Qiviut

    "What Lies Beneath" Review

    Note: Credit to @Ganondox and Loganberry for this review. Like using Chrysalis to explain past events to the Everfree trees, much of what Vogel uses to start What Lies Beneath is exposition to describe the Tree of Harmony, its history, and purposes. But rather than using a character babble it out, it's told in the context of a classroom lecture followed by studying for a surprise test, and it wasn't all explained immediately or through one mouth. When Twilight lectured, students either asked questions, didn't believe her, or became frustrated over not knowing pony history, organically informing the audience of its lore. Now, whereas HW Club gave the Young Six the boost they truly deserve, WLB expands them further. Each of the Young Six start having doubts over whether becoming friends with others is natural to their consciences, culture, and themselves. Cozy Glow nicely sets up the conflict by going deep into parts of the Young Six's psyche, exploiting areas of their culture and livelihoods that are really sensitive to them. Is it racist? Absolutely; she's stereotyping the creatures as inferior to ponykind, and given how dubious she's been this season, it's intentional. Unlike Neighsay (whose racism is mixed with bitterness), her manipulation is masked with sweet innocence and then changes the subject, as if she meant no harm. Yet, pay attention to the moment afterwards and their little argument that night in the library, started by Gallus after getting annoyed at Silverstream for tapping her claws on the table. Her superiority complex cut deeply in them. And it's at this moment where the episode turns into an improvement of two past episodes: the pilot and The Crystal Empire. To get this out of the way, I agree with both Loganberry and @Ganondox regarding the Tree of Harmony's tests for the Young Six. Not only were they really harsh, but also morally questionable. What if Gallus failed his test? Would he be trapped in the enclosing cavern forever? Would the Tree create another test? Or what about Yona's arachnophobia; will she become so scared of spiders that she'd rather kill them over acquainting them? Fear is reactionary and not always based on logic. (And the dialogue was also a little rough with plenty of repetitive dialogue.) So, why does the Tree get a pass when Celestia and Luna don't? The Tree is omnipotent and understands the characters' strengths, weaknesses, and virtues. After seeing a friendship-related problem, she ties it to being(s) who can successfully heal it. Sometimes it's one, two, or more, depending on who and what they all have in common. Of course, this is a little different, because she tests them to determine whether they can become friends with each other or not. Additionally, despite its strong powers and subsequent growth, it can't fix it alone. Faith is placed upon them, and it's up to them to use their knowledge and friendship capabilities to solve it. OTOH, Celestia and Luna already defeated King Sombra, who cursed the Crystal Empire into disappearance. But after one of their guards alert of their resurgence, what does Celly do? Write to Twilight and place thousands of lives on her shoulders! Conversely, the stakes here are nowhere nearly as severe. In addition to needlessly putting countless lives on the line, they assigned her and her friends to take part in Twilight's challenge, but Celestia warned her that she and only she can save the Empire, contradicting the assignment Celestia placed on her since the beginning of the series. If she goes against the test in any way, she risks failing. So once she's trapped and requests Spike to return the Crystal Heart to its altar, she's rightfully worried, hence her dismay after Sombra's defeat. And the episode also has the gall to emphasize passing the test as the most important plot point over protecting the empire from Sombra, which makes the sacrifice lesson she spewed really hypocritical and phony. WLB counteracts this. Firstly, the Tree can't mandate them to take her test; they choose to explore what was under the drain grate she popped open. When Gallus crossly questioned her tactics, she was precise in her reply. Secondly, from the start, she explicitly tested their meddle to make them prove whether friendship's in their nature or not. She has the wherewithal to know that, yes, they'll break free, but will also not leave until they found each other. Tightening their friendship was the purpose for her tests, and the moral excellently backs her up. And how does WLB improve the pilot, specifically Part 2? Vogel spends a great deal of time equally pacing and exploring each of their fears along with sensible ways to face and beat them. Gallus and Smolder beat theirs first, but WLB doesn't forget about them. Instead, when one of their friends is very vulnerable and doubts if they'll ever conquer their fears, they bond with them more and use their own experiences as an example of overcoming them. The bonding between Ocellus and Smolder has added weight, because changelings and dragons retain an awful reputation (dragons for their brutish nature and history of terrorizing pony villages, changelings for nearly overthrowing Equestrian royalty twice), and the same can be said with Silverstream's horrific belief that the Storm King will reconquer Mount Aris. One little thing that gets overlooked is what Smolder and Gallus say after they arrive at the cave entrance… …AND after reuniting with all but Sandbar: With every opportunity to leave the cave, they willingly risked being trapped to find the others. Twice. No matter the consequences, they were NOT leaving ANYONE behind! Their friends matter, period! When the Mane Six were tested in the Everfree Forest, each one was segmented. When one trial ended, another began, and they were all written in to prove they properly represented the Bearers of Harmony. Sure, individualizing them isn't a bad thing, but by splitting them all up into only a few minutes, none of them had time to develop or breathe. Each segment was crammed, and be being bound to the E/I rating, the stakes weren't heightened as much as they should or paced more evenly. By contrast, Vogel intertwined each and every one of them simultaneously. None of their tasks ended at once, but he neither rushed them through nor ended them abruptly. He gradually built up their fears, exploited them, and ended them properly. What do I mean? They conquered their fears at the right time of the story, used the right characters to help pass their tests, and only after Vogel exhausted development of those fears. No matter the tone, each of their fears are treated with equal validity: Smolder's fear of femininity overtaking her persona was by far the most lighthearted, but the episode didn't treat it as a joke and utilized it as an example of being able to change from who she once was to Ocellus, who recalled how they used to treat others back then. The Storm King was already destroyed, but Silverstream's fear of his return resulted in her cheerful, optimistic personality being replaced to debilitating fright to the point of crying. Gallus realized his "return" was a mirage, but that wasn't enough for her. So he used his fear of small spaces, helped her overcome her fear of his return, and she let it all out to him. How Yona faced her fear was the most different. Gallus's trick foreshadowed what was to come, but when spiders faced her, her strongman personality gave way to intense arachnophobia. When spiders got too close, she was justifiably upset. With no friend she knew around, she wished they were there so she could get out. But in a twist, the lead spider Spindle talked to her. What the spiders were doing was that they weren't trying to scare her. They wanted to help, Spindle leading by example. Language barrier aside, they shared something in common: befriending each other and reuniting her with the others. Recall the second quote box above. Sandbar's fear's more subdued, but nonetheless validated. From the beginning, he focused on returning to his friends so they, "Dash," and "Rarity" can go on this adventure. Every time he questions his teachers' logic, they manipulate him into removing doubt and forcing him to run in a massive loop. Soon, he has enough, questions them outright, and when they express disappointment in him for caring about his friends than them, he turns the tables on them. As he lectures them, his friends arrive and watch from behind, adding more weight into how much they mean to him. He may be the quietest and most straight-man-ish of the Young Six, but he also needs to grow; confronting his fear of disappointment head-on was a fantastic solution. Without the constrictive E/I rating and by rearranging the plot, Vogel legitimized the stakes without phoning them in, which makes us invested in their obstacles, friendships, and outcomes. This next paragraph deals with spoilers for the S8 finale and S9 leaks/speculation, so it's under the tag. Overall, What Lies Beneath is another really excellent episode within S8B's fantastic lineup.
  7. Note: Credit to @gingerninja666, @Ganondox, @Theanimationfanatic, and Justin Galloway on YT for this review, which has been revised to expand my thoughts better and for better editing as a whole. Out of every legend from Season 7B, Rockhoof's was the worst. Combined with being a boring character, the story itself was very bland, and Applejack told the entire thing rather than letting the tale show. It's competent, but completely uninteresting. How ironic that in his first self-contained episode, ARaaHP is spectacular with some of the best characterization of a Pillar since they were first introduced. Hard Place is a "fish out of water" story, an idiom that puts the character in a setting or situation they're very foreign or uncomfortable with. DHX holds none of the comedy back, which had a lot of variety, but mostly came from the characters' reactions, starting off with Professor Fossil. Rockhoof doesn't understand preservation at all, because he lived in the era she continues to discover, emphasized by his destruction of an old sweat lodge (rightfully upsetting her) and triggering the conflict. Fossil's line, which sounded completely innocent on the surface, foreshadows future events while remaining wonderfully subtle: The scene in the auditorium to begin Act 1, while adding on to Rockhoof's inability to adapt to modern times, established connections, providing pivotal context as the episode progressed. Rockhoof's a Pillar, adding to the mystique and adoration from folks across generations. Most of this generation in the School of Friendship's very young, with five of the six unfamiliar with pony folklore. Smolder's sarcasm in response to Rockhoof's first accident is just one opinion (which changed as he told his story of his fight with an Ursa Major), but Yona adored him immediately, because his strength and bravery remind her of yakdom back home. As for the rest of Act 1, there was criticism of what Ocellus said about Discord's stone transformation (Celly and Luna casting a spell) as not being true to continuity. That's not true. From Princess Twilight Sparkle, Part 2: Sisters power up the Elements. Them casting a spell. The Elements couldn't turn him to stone alone. And I agree with YouTuber Justin Galloway regarding this point (his comment from this video link): Indeed! Personally, I can't blame the students for feeling excited (and Gallus lying about the class's direction). Learning can be fun, but sometimes boring, and Gallus is the perfect rebel to steer the class and Rockhoof in another direction. The story, despite in small doses and done to further emphasize his trouble to adapt, was really entertaining. To reiterate, the comedy in this episode as a whole is absolutely fantastic. This one in particular is probably the best one. (You know what I'm talkin' about. ) Several other funny moments include: Rockhoof incredulously swatting decorative set pieces out the school window, not knowing it belonged to Rarity for class (and was not created to fool him). Despite all of the carnage inside Twilight's classroom, the worst he can do to her wooden desk is squish it like a marshmallow. Cranky being heavily embarrassed after Cranky announced he had a rash somewhere in his privates. OTOH, in hindsight, this accidental embarrassment was well-earned for Cranky, who spent all day in the school treating the students like garbage on the buckball pitch. During Somnambula's speech, Rockhoof suddenly falls asleep and squashes a mare behind him. XD Despite doing so inside the school (even though Twilight told him to wait previously and didn't react at all to the fire), Spike and Smolder's bond continues to evolve through a fire-breathing competition. Small, but compared to their conversation in Molt Down, they're more comfortable around each other, and she's not so bristly towards him. That said, no matter the jokes or how much Rockhoof screws up, the episode never treats him as dumb at any point, which @Theanimationfanatic points out. Everywhere he works, he's always willing to impress, whether it's delivering the post to the right house, massaging, helping Zecora, or teaching. Wherever he went long ago, his warrior-first instincts aided him, and he applies them here. Today, harmony replaced war. He doesn't need to fight much anymore, especially now with Stygian redeemed. As a result, he screws up, sometimes badly, yet the episode does a great job not making him look worse each time he faults. To expand my reply, his struggle feels real, and he always works to at least try to succeed; at times, he does the right thing, but overlooks one crucial detail, whether it's teaching instead of preparing for battle, trying to relive life on his soil rather than retaining its history, and so forth. As a result, we sympathize for him and root for him to succeed. It's a major strength that the episode worked very hard in getting right. What's more interesting is how most of the Pillars still contact each other and know their whereabouts, but not Rockhoof. Despite their close connection as champions and friends, it also shows us an audience how distanced Rockhoof became since the Pillars split. He goes back home and virtually spends his days there, as if his life is complete. He can keep his shovel, but not need to use it. He remains a warrior, but as the episode progresses, he realizes he's less of a warrior, but now a veteran who can't settle after being gone so long. On the other hand, DHX/Top Draw puts forth a lot of effort to make the other Pillars's adaptations as seamless as possible. My favorite is Mistmane's just because of her work in The Crystal Empire. There are a lot of amazing set designs throughout the series. But Twilight's right. The imagery here's some of the most beautiful ever put forth for the show. The composition, colors, crystal designs, light, shadow, and perspective are so organic to the country. As the episode progressed, Rockhoof's struggles slowly took a toll. Sulking away from the School started it, and his doubts reappeared in the CE scene, especially after he tells her that shovel ponies aren't in current demand. It progresses further by accident after Meadowbrook was able to open her clinic back home and then after Twilight finds Stygian's new novel. Both of these sting him for two reasons: He can't go home. If STYGIAN can adapt, why can't him?! But the final trigger? Accidentally sinking the Aris navy. @gingerninja666 explains that point perfectly: And it's after this when Rockhoof requests to be turned to stone. Mpambara doesn't hide one bit how it's an allegory of suicide, and his (the writer's) logic narrows this down in several key areas: No matter how hard he tries, he's always one step behind, and he can't catch up. Everyone successfully adjusted, but all he does is, in his eyes, ruin his reputation, and it's not only self-embarrassing, but also self-deflating. If he can't rely on using the stars to navigate around the world, then what can he do now? Rockhoof believes his friends are better off without him. Because he can't transition, he believes he looks weak to them, even though he means so much to them and were willing to help him in any way they can. That's why he avoided communicating with them for so long. He understands how much the Realm idolizes him and the others, but he doesn't want them to think of him as the washed-up veteran he became, but the warrior they grew up remembering. Turning into stone means preserving his legacy. Older adults are at highest risk for suicide; for U.S. veterans, twenty died by suicide daily in 2014, 65% of them 50 years or older. @Ganondox even pointed out an even sadder implication of one reason why an elder may commit suicide, and one powerful Golden Girls episode long ago does the same. Rockhoof's generation is long gone; he's the lone relic left. He believes his time has passed him. Additionally, he fears of what's to come. What if he stays un-stoned, and everyone sees him as this old relic who relishes for the good old days? He doesn't want to look old, washed up, and useless. Twilight agreed to write a stone spell, thereby assisting his suicide. The fact that it's temporary doesn't change the implications. Everyone reacted to Rockhoof's wish in complete horror. Twilight didn't want to write it, because she knew he belonged somewhere. But the students, especially Yona, reacted the hardest for obvious reasons. The followup scene in the castle hallway is one of the best of the series. Yona developed a student-to-teacher crush on him, but when his life was in danger, she came right to him, and her idolization for him evolves, evident by the class report she recited. She's in school in Equestria, where no one looks like her or shares her interests; her constant running almost got her into big trouble immediately, and Neighsay spouting racism towards non-ponies doesn't help. Bonding with others eases her fears and makes her feel safe. His ability to be strong, brave, and persevere inspired countless individuals, including her, who's innocent and childlike. Their chemistry and her admiration are incredibly genuine, and the fact she stood up for him and convinced everyone in the school to gather around outside and listen to his stories at maybe the lowest moment of his life makes him realize at just that moment he means so much to them. It fixes a big problem from two previous episodes: Magic Sheep and No Second Prances. Magic Sheep: Luna's Tantabus creation is an allegory of either depression or addiction. Self-punishing with the Tantabus not only reminded her of her crimes long ago, but also gave her an escape from the torment she inwardly suffered. But it's marred by an awfully-executed moral, thanks to its rushed, absolute ending. Addiction and illness don't magically disappear. NSP: After Trixie and Starlight fell out, Trixie acted like she didn't want to live anymore, but it's an unfortunate implication, and Twilight and Starlight doing nothing as she treks into her cannon is just insulting. Here, A Rockhoof and a Hard Place tackled a really dark subject, but took a long time developing the allegory, provided key clues foreshadowing what was coming, and treated it with the delicateness and seriousness it so richly deserves. The moral it teaches — "No matter how hurt, lonely, or hopeless you feel, you matter." — is also magnificently executed. But it isn't just Yona and Rockhoof. AJ and Twilight were really good in their roles, too. Twi may lead the school, but she trusted AJ into conversing with each other and letting AJ help guide her and him wherever he went. Working with him and helping him was a team effort throughout. More importantly, Mpambara keeps Spike in character in Act 3 without looking insensitive. How? With this shot: Spike has a history of being snarky, but thanks to the suicide allegory, his sarcasm, sardonicism, and sometimes blasé behavior won't fit at all to the tone and messaging DHX is aiming. If not careful, viewers may end up hating his portrayal. By opening the act with him asleep and then woken up with a start, the episode instantly sets part of the tone, and his sleepy behavior parades into the classroom, allowing DHX to use his snark for comedy without unfortunate implications. This episode was an amazing surprise. Because Season 8 was so good up to this point, I had high expectations for this one. After watching it the first time, I knew it was great. But watching it again and again helped me pay closer attention to the effort put into creating this wonderful story. Ever since I first watched the S8 leaks last year, I had Break Down as its best. A Rockhoof and a Hard Place replaced it, and it's one of the ten best of the whole show. Bravo! P.S.: Those who read my statuses may have read and followed my episode order, but for those who don't, this is my current top-10 of the series (including Rockhoof): The Perfect Pear The Best Night Ever Crusaders of the Lost Mark Amending Fences Shadow Play Sisterhooves Social The Cutie Map A Rockhoof and a Hard Place Parental Glideance The Break Up Break Down An episode of such a quality deserves such a spot. More can't be said about how amazing Hard Place is.
  8. Dark Qiviut

    "Road to Friendship" Quickieview

    NOTE: Copied and pasted my review from here and contains some extra edits. Trixie and Starlight's chant and dance were total cringe. Looking for me to dish another negative? You ain't gonna find it here. (On the) Road to Friendship's story's incredibly simple, its focus driven 100% by Starlight, Trixie, and their incredible chemistry. Just like Spike, Big Mac, and Discord from Break Down, they only became friends two seasons ago, yet thanks to Haber's clever writing, you'd think their friendship goes back to childhood. Until Season 6, Trixie only stood center stage for Boast Busters, Magic Duel, and Rainbow Rocks as a tertiary character. But Haber brought her into becoming a reoccurring character and has become a vehicle for storytelling around Starlight. Their magnificent chemistry is thanks to Haber's incredibly tight dialogue, a continuous improvement of the show started by Shadow Play. With everything they say to and about each other, you buy into it, whether it's their praise, banter, jokes, passive-aggressive insults, and full-blown arguing. Their exchanges were snappy and completely believable; each moment and line flowed so well, even when the vocabulary repeats, with no hitch at all. Thanks to their chemistry, Haber takes advantage of as many comedic opportunities as possible. Virtually all of them land. Some of my favorites include: Starlight teleporting back to the school in a hurry, only to briefly return to say goodbye in between. Starlight throwing a little meta joke about how Twilight and friends would sing a song to commemorate their voyage, only for them both to start a song themselves. Blowing open the inflatable raft causes Starlight to get pinned to the window. During their descent into fighting, Starlight and Trixie share passive-aggressive barbs at each other during the Somnambula magic show. While sleeping in the caravan in Somnambula, Trixie talks and rehearses in her sleep, while Starlight snores noisily, each a callback to previous episodes. Kudos to Haber for using a combined pun of the village's name. The elder pony peaks out of the chest, sees nothing happening, and returns to sleep. Cue credits. But the best comedy comes during We're Friendship-Bound. Aside from being the season's best song up to this point, it's incredibly upbeat with catchy lyrics and just-as-catchy jazzy beat. Like Apples to the Core four seasons ago, its jovial tone reverberates through each scene, which ranged in activity, danger, and atmosphere. I don't recall the last time Pinkie broke the fourth wall, but Trixie and Starlight shattered it everywhere, especially this line(!): But like the rest of the season, Haber progressively tests their friendship. While Starlight's preoccupied at the school, Hoo'Far asks if he can trade his bigger caravan for hers. She says no, because it's her home. Her smaller, cramped wagon comes into play twice, including as they relaxed the first time. Trixie closes the door, causing SG to accidentally drop a smoke bomb. Starlight wasting bits on street food over essentials. Trixie waiting a long time in line for a particular street vendor over shopping at another empty vendor that orders the same thing. After all the hotels are booked, they get really testy with each other. Despite apologizing with each other… …they get really cramped inside her wagon. Starlight can't move, so she moves the smoke bombs, squashing Trixie. They couldn't sleep in the same room! Trixie wrapped a bandana around her muzzle to stop her snoring. Next morning, thy passive-aggressively take the last of each others' food, the haycake by SG, the juice by Trixie. This passive aggression continued into the failed magic show, one of Road to Friendship's funniest scenes. The water boils that night when they traded sleep- and meal-related insults and accusations, culminating with Starlight ejecting Trixie's supplies and: But the boiling foamed the next morning when Starlight traded away her wagon for his behind her back. You think that her impulsiveness would let her think twice about trading it away. Despite her decent alibi of traveling with a roomier wagon, Starlight has two major problems here: Her timing. Neither of them got along and fought the night before. Those feelings pass over here. Starlight traded it while Trixie slept. It doesn't matter if your intentions are good. This is her property, and she decides what to do with it, not SG. It ain't no surprise why Trixie's so upset; her anger's completely justified. Starlight comes off as a major plothole here, why she's primarily written to be in the wrong in Act 3, and becomes the episode's primary apologizer. This is a reversal of No Second Prances, but done way better. In the former, Trixie used Starlight, and she had to make it up to her. Here, Starlight screwed up badly and has to make it up. Some are a little disappointed we see nothing of Saddle Arabia beyond just Hoo'Far (who, BTW, had really excellent and witty dialect), but like Chrysalis in The Man Six, those who do miss the point. This episode's about experiencing the ups and downs of friendship, having their friendship tested, overcoming it, and becoming closer. In the grand scope, Saddle Arabia isn't necessary, and the story in between more than makes up for it. All in all, it's an excellent episode — one of the best of not just the season, but the show, too.
  9. Dark Qiviut

    "The End in Friend" Quickieview

    Having the teachers learn is okay. Having them become so out of character and incompetent in order to make the Student Six look like better friends and teachers isn't. There are many reasons why Complete Crap Clause is such a disaster, which I don't need to explain in this paragraph. One episode later in S8, The End in Friend, shares a lot in common with it, but unlike its predecessor, it fixes NCC's primary issues. Which ones? To go through them one by one: One of the biggest differences is Dash's and Rarity's statuses. In NCC, both Dash and AJ were co-teaching their class about how to learn friendship through teamwork, but their egos got in the way of actually teaching the Student Six. Here, despite being teachers, they're not teaching the class. They're subjects for Twilight's class so she teaches them about how differences in passion don't fracture friendships. Why did AJ and RD argue previously? Because they wanted to win Teacher of the Month, and their focus was on that over the students. That's not the case here. They actively try to work with each other to get past their differences as Twilight uses their experiences in real time to teach them. Or at least try to. Unfortunately, miscommunication or tastes get in the way of being able to see their interests in a positive light. When things boil over, it doesn't come at the cost of the Student Six looking better. Instead, they use their arguments as a teaching tool to learn what friendship means, even if it's not Twilight's intention. Notice how they quickly scribble notes before Act 1 closes followed by Smolder questioning their friendship as the moral is delivered. Additionally, their argument isn't petty and perfectly in character of each other. When they insulted each others' interests, they were rightfully angry. Their testiness was down to earth, and the episode treated it as a really big problem; Twilight and Starlight took their fighting seriously to the point of crafting an emergency plan to mend their friendship. In addition to not coming at the Student Six's expense, it's even more evident by how other ponies react to their escalating argument. The other ponies at the restaurant represent the Ponyville folk, and their reaction isn't comedic. They know quite well how close the Mane Eight are, including these two. When an argument as nasty as this endues, they notice, and it's very shocking. Ponyville can't afford to lose their tight bond. Lyra and Bon Bon showing grave concern in between gasps adds to the seriousness of their drama. Rarity and Dash not only learn their lesson, but also take it to heart and stick to it. Oh, yeah, TEiF doesn't have a teacher recklessly screw up at a certain yak's expense. In addition to fixing Non-Complete Clause's problems, it borrows one key piece from Mare Do Well and its ripoff, 28 Pranks Later. But there are major differences here, too. Even in Mare Do Well and 28 Pranks Later, they still didn't have to scheme Dash to teach her a lesson. In the latter, the RM5 become major hypocrites, because they get upset at her for putting more effort into the jokes after accusing her of being previously lazy. This mean-spirited tone is completely nonexistent in Twilight and Starlight's setup; the RM5's previous setups were reactive, while Starlight and Twilight's was proactive. The purpose of their plan was to use their strengths, weaknesses, and interests so they can follow the trail (intentionally) left behind and rescue it. We know it was a setup, but Dash and Rarity were so absorbed in their argument that they didn't. Yet, when peril hit, they put the fate of Equestria above their feud (unlike NCC, which was the opposite). Adding the fact that this quest carried no sense of danger helps, too. As they searched, their anger progressively eased. While in the swamp, they admired each others' tricks and ideas to solve the puzzles, including crossing the swamp, asking help to a Bufogren (who was also involved), and opening the passageway behind the School of Friendship. At points, they actually forgot about their fight, leading to the scene on the mountain. They realized how poorly they behaved and not only grew a sense of tolerance for their interests, but newfound respect, as well. This quest humbled them without humiliating them. And to borrow from @Cwanky's review, given the current climate regarding sports, politics, and cultures (including multiculturalism), the understanding and respect of diversity while sticking to our own values is integral to society today. The moral taught (and how) is incredibly important. The teachers were as equal as the students: They, too, learned a valuable friendship lesson. But the episode carefully crafts it so it doesn't prop the students over them. And by sticking to the lesson and not devolve into an argument, The End in Friend concludes on a high note. Oh, and all the horse jokes in this episode were quite funny. In short, this was a really good episode.
  10. Lately, when Discord is at his best, he's a jerk with a heart of gold. Without his inherent edge, he's a completely different character in his voice. Discordant Harmony and especially The Break Up Break Down handle that side very effectively. But when he's just a jerk, he loses that dimension and becomes antagonistic just because. And that's the case here. Because he's not leading the school, he makes Starlight, established previously and here as a friend, miserable. His worst moment, very clearly, occurs at the buckball pitch. His scheme with the bugbear put the Student Six and a few others in really grave danger. Had Starlight not scare him off, Yona would've been stung. Recall how Dash's and AJ's selfishness and recklessness nearly caused her to drown? This is no better. Had she be hurt on Twilight's grounds, then the school would be in big trouble. Starlight was absolutely justified to be angry at him, warn him, and blast him away from the school grounds after he continued his defiance. Back to him later. Starlight and Spike continue their successful roles since Season 7. AMoP is the first episode since The Crystalling to pair them up, and you immediately see their trust and faith for one another after Twilight temporarily promotes her. He's always by her side and helped put in the work to alleviate the stress. When Discord and Starlight didn't see eye to eye, Spike was the middle man to maintain order between them and be as objective as possible. Was Starlight justified to warn and blast him away from the school grounds? Absolutely. As headmare, it was her job to punish him. But Discord isn't like other beings; he's a god with a love to warp logic. Rather than talking to him what's wrong, Starlight chose a very drastic measure, which Spike rightfully warned would only worsen matters. Why? Because provoking him proved him right, even though he was insufferable. Therefore, he felt justified to raise more hell in the School of Friendship. Discord has insecurities and sometimes fails to hide them. But the clues, even if subtle, are missing, because that context when Starlight spoke the episode's primary lesson is missing, too. Everywhere he showed up, Discord becomes a destructive brat, and acting like he doesn't know either her or him hurts, too. Was she right to apologize to him? Yes. But by offering him a job, the story lets him off without any level of consequence and rewards him for it. The RM6 return, nullifying the offer, but it's still an unsatisfactory resolution. On top of that, almost all the jokes fall flat. The ones with Twilight fail, because she's flanderized: Her personality early was reduced to obsessively organizing and pre-planning everything to the point of being redundant and at Starlight's expense. Cranky constantly spitting his drinks (accidentally) at Gallus's direction while being a lazy ass regresses him. One of the only jokes to be funny is Trixie talking on her banana phone. Despite being rather negative (and not liking it), I won't throw in reactionary hyperbole and call A Matter of Principals bad, awful, or an atrocity, because it's not. At the time of this quickieview, it's the third-worst episode of S8, but nowhere close to the badness of Non-Complete Clause and Fake It; it's watchable mediocrity. 
  11. Dark Qiviut

    episode review "The Mean Six" Review

    Note: Credit to @Jeric, @PathfinderCS, and @Captain Clark and conversations with them on Discord for this review. One of The Return of Harmony's biggest strengths is its clever execution of the Discorded Mane Six. Discord manipulated each and every one of them — sans Fluttershy for humor's sake — into exposing a major internal weakness, such as Applejack fearing no one loves her and running away from the idea and Rainbow Dash fleeing the labyrinth and leaving her friends behind to protect Cloudesdale. Twilight's slow progression of losing her denial that her friends still cared and had some good left in them was a masterpiece of a villain's accomplished deeds breaking down a strong character's confidence so much that she abandoned the Magic of Friendship. Now with Discord a good guy, warping the Mane Eight into Discorded versions of themselves doesn't make sense anymore. But Mike Vogel brings the idea back in clever fashion while still keeping their presence fresh in The Mean 6. Chrysalis crafts a spell to create copies of them. Poorly crafted, apparently. Instead of creating exact mirrored personalities of every Discorded Six, three of Chrysalis's Mean Six are switched up a little in order to be unpredictable and to increase potential for both friction and comedy. Rather than be Rainbow Ditch and wrap up major delusions of Cloudesdale being safe and protected, Mean Dash — who I call "Lazy Dash" — is completely apathetic of everything around her. No matter the interest or urgent, she'd rather fly and sleep. Pinkie Pie in both TRoH and TM6 is a major grump, but Mean Pinkie in TM6 — "Bordie Pie" — finds everything so boring instead of being Chef Hater Pants. TM6's version, Twilight Snarkle, stands out the most for a few reasons, one of which is how much she completely differs from Twilight Quitter in TRoH. She's very snarky with a very keen ability to tap into someone's weak spot to make them pay attention to her. More about her later. Vogel uses Chrysalis's desperation and status to recap past events. Occasionally, Season 8 hides its exposition very organically, The Mean 6 being one of its smartest iterations. Rather than just have Chrysalis spill everything, she explains to still photos of the RM6 of what she used to be, what happened to her now, and what she wants to do next. Each lines oozes with a wide range of personality, from extreme cockiness — i.e., her little prance with matching music — to a lust to conquer Equestria to a deranged thirst for Starlight's pain and destruction. Now that she no longer controls her kingdom and is all alone, she'll do anything to reclaim her credibility as threat to Equestria, and creating half-baked clones of changelings exemplifies her desperation and status. Chrysalis has always been a mixed bag. Very threatening with a slab of ham as her thorax, but often woefully incompetent. Whenever she's ready to conquer Equestria, she overlooks one major flaw in her plan or concentrates more on her own ego over conquering the kingdom. In ACW, she sent Twilight to the same dungeon as the real Cadance and didn't take SA's bond with Cadance so seriously. Rather than capture every single threat to her revenge, she willingly left Starlight behind. So, why is The Mean 6 her best role by far? The episode wisely uses her current status as a solid alibi for why Plan A lacked a major failsafe. When Snarkle criticized her for not attacking the ReMane 7 at the School, she knew right away that trying to destroy them would backfire big time. Defeating Celestia in ACW was by luck, which she and TM6 are aware of. The Elements of Harmony are Equestria's key for maintaining security, but very few are acutely aware of how powerful the Elements are. Until later in this episode, she had no idea the Elements feed the Tree nor of its existence. Among the collection of eccentric villains, she plays the straight woman. Comedy drives the communication between the Mean 6 and Chrysalis; how they respond and react to each other determines the joke's effect. Aside from Snarkle, Chrysalis is the most competent of the Evil Seven, but Chrysalis's quick temper and Snarkle's ability to force QC to depend her really makes her stand out. Without an army anymore, she must not only create something from scratch, but also depend on them. Each clone is headache-inducing and willfully disobedient, but must keep them alive, because they are the possible source to take down the ReMane Seven. Yet, Chryssie knows she can start over and adjust to spell to force the Mean Six to obey her, hence her threat to kill Snarkle just before Act 2 closes. But once she runs out of patience and loses control, she's incredibly threatening. (BTW, kudos to DHX for outlining Chrysalis's shadow as Rarihoard, Boredie Pie, and Liarjack nod nervously. Really emphasizes her intimidation.) The Mean Six, however, share her spotlight and are all great in their own ways. Flutterbitch (or Flutterbrute, for tact's sake) remains just as funny as ever. Nasty, self-serving, sarcastic, and menacing — and a really big bully. Forced a lost bird to walk and climb back to his nest his nest, then told animals living nearby she hopes they freeze to death, and then followed up with classic flower-flattening. She taunted animals and relished it, which Discorded Flutterbitch didn't do (instead smugly cheering Angel on for flattening Twilight). Liarjack would make Discorded!Liarjack feel jealous. Each of her lies are bigger, more outlandish, and meaner. What started out as a small swindle grew grander and grander. Watching AJ try to string together an impromptu lie explaining Flutterbitch, Rarihoard, and Snarkle's whereabouts is just one example of the hilarity, but how our heroes respond to her meanness is where they're strongest. More about that later. Gladly. Despite few lines, she made the most of it. My favorite is this: During RoH, Greedity was a great source of comedy. Rarihoard makes her look sane. Look at her faces! Creepy, ain't they? So why do they work, unlike this, this, this, or THIS? Because of who the source of the joke is. As Rarihoard hogged onto more and more stuff, the more obsessed she became. Her faces accentuated her lust for anything, especially when she caught eye of Applejack's wagon, an immediate trove of treasures. Similar to Return of Harmony, comedy is plentiful in The Mean 6, Rarity's deranged faces a source of it. Grumpie Pie was excellent, and Bordie Pie was just as great. Andrea Libman performed really well emphasizing hooooowwwww boooorrrred she is. But the post-production knows how to counter-balance her boredom with some humor, too: In the beginning of the video linked above, her hair subtly squeaks as she moves her head. But the best one, without question, is Twilight Snarkle. While the ReMean Five are comic antonyms of the ReMean Five, she's the most fleshed out. Extremely calculating, power-hungry, and very snarky, she balances out her villainy through manipulation. Chrysalis cannot defeat Twilight alone; Snarkle understands this through her questions and snarky comebacks. This little bit demonstrates their chemistry masterfully: Fantastic the episode's overall dialogue quality is, their organic exchanges really sell the chemistry. Kathleen Barr — QC's VA — and Tara Strong take advantage of the script to craft excellent tension between each other. Chrysalis rightly couldn't stand Snarkle and the others for being so uncooperative, while Snarkle rightly kept her on a tightrope so she can take out Chrysalis when she least expects it. Very clearly, they can't stand each other. Even when she ain't with Chrysalis, she figures out a way to deliver a shot at her, enforcing her hatred of her and her servants: There are many ways to create a great villain, but the foundation is being a great character; that is highlighted very well through her ability to manipulate a very naïve Pinkie Pie in Act 2. When an evil alicorn evilly rubs her feathers together like hands… …you know ye got her good. >) At the same time, she acts like the straight mare, showing off how dynamic she is. Her sour impatience progressed to anger as Pinkie recaps the events of Twilight's Kingdom creates great friction between them, especially after the fact that Pinkie doesn't know that at all. Oh, yeah, the "bzzt!" sound effect is really funny. XD But the Mean Six aren't alone. The ReMane Seven star here, and they were all done very well, particularly in one aspect: the conflict. From the opening shot, everyone was tense, particularly Twilight. Because "Shutterbug" pushed them ten minutes behind schedule, Twilight slowly lost her cool, and then rolled her eyes when Shutterbug exaggeratedly pleaded for forgiveness. To briefly go on a tangent, Shutterbug/QC's haste to collect their hairs contained several great jokes, like yanking on Dash's tail hair a little too hard, picking out a loose strand from AJ's hat (and not putting it on her head), and this lightning-quick meta reference: But it wasn't just the opener. The beginning of their trek alone is an excellent exercise of foreshadowing. Rainbow Dash questioned Twilight's activities as "fun." Even though all seven agreed to camp, Twilight's plans were kept secret, apparently with little input from anyone. Granted, Twilight designed this camp night to be a surprise, but it made Dash a little uncertain. Adding the nervous rubbing of her hooves helps, too. Pinkie Pie accidentally scared the daylights out of Fluttershy so badly that she hyperventilated, just moments after FS declared her happiness for quiet time with everyone. Unlike Filli Vanilli, this was quick, performed once, and with no ill intentions whatsoever. Not to mention Pinkie warned everypony she was playing beforehand. Starlight sulked the entire time. While her friends were grouped together in front, she lagged behind and grumbled at the swampy weather and bugs. It's her first camping vacation…and showed to hate it without saying it outright. To talk a bit regarding two of the RM7: Pinkie had one of her most likeable roles of the last two seasons, and how she behaves embodies the Element of Laughter. She's so happy to be with everyone and so eager to participate in Twilight's camping retreat. Teaching inside that school meant having few free days to spend quality time with everyone, so she takes the opportunity to take advantage of it. Watching her smell those roses so deeply and then roll around in them like a little baby (and avoiding any thorns ) is unbelievably adorable. Being a massive Starlight brony since she first arrived, it makes no sense avoiding her. In the last few outings, she's been very relatable, and this is no exception. Her immense distaste for camping is really relatable, especially with her reasons why (bugs and humidity ain't no fun), and struggling to keep AJ's gear and cloak on invited nice slapstick. As they trekked deeper into the Everfree Forest, her anxiety, exhaustion, and lack of enjoyment became more and more evident. More about her later. Speaking of anxiety, the whole second scene progressed the tension further while maintaining their close relationships. Rarity and AJ mildly spar over AJ not having anything to keep their manes neat. Even though Pinkie is so cute rolling in the rosebushes, Twilight is less than enthused and got really cross with her for nearly kicking her into the muzzle by accident. But Pinkie's having way too much fun that she doesn't notice and scampers deeper into the forest, building up more tension between them. Fluttershy wanders off into the forest to help a lost bird without telling anyone, leading everyone into splitting up to search for her and Pinkie and further testing Twilight's will. At this juncture, TM6 was really good. When they separated and met another Meanie, it became great. Even though the ReMean Five are sorta cookie cutters, they're dynamic, too, evident by their interactions with the Mane characters and environments. As I wrote previously, Lazy Dash spoke little and wasn't on screen much in the second act, but generated more conflict by ditching FS in the woods and shooing away Twilight while she leaned precariously over the pond. Throughout the episode, nobody suspected something was wrong with their counterpart, except Dash and AJ with "Rarity." Because she grew madder as she possessed AJ's camping gear, they worried for her sanity. As I wrote previously, Rarihoard's deranged expressions are a great source of dark humor, but how Dash and AJ behaved bewilderingly around her adds an extra layer into the jokes. Liarjack's encounter with Starlight and Rarity is the only one to not be comedic, and their first scene marks the episode's initial transition in tone, which will be discussed below. Flutterbitch/Flutterbrute never bumped into or talked into a Mane character, but like Fluttershy, a bird has to return to his nest and got lost. But while Fluttershy helped out their sibling, she got lost and walked around in a proverbial circle, giving the story a grand opportunity to use Flutterbrute to accidentally damage her rep in the forest. Doesn't help when Lazy Dash ditched her (and made FS break the fourth wall in confusion). Yet, because Fluttershy has no idea someone who looks just like her threatened the animals and destroyed the daisy patches, who can blame her for feeling so upset when the animals curse, growl, and yell at her? Ya can't. Snarkle and Bordie talked to one apiece: Pinkie and Twilight, respectively. Bordie, being Equestria's most boring pony, did what she's great at: insulting something exciting as lame and uninteresting. Because Twilight spent a great deal of time and effort preparing the campsite and when to have it, to have her Friendship Retreat blown off like that by someone she's supposedly close with hurts, thus making her actually wonder if it was worth scheduling it after all. Conversely, the tone in the Snarkle-Pinkie tandem was predominantly comedic, using the characters' responses, cartoon logic, and behavior to accentuate it. Originally, Snarkle took delight to Pinkie spilling all the secrets to the Tree of Harmony and the Elements, but the more eccentric she behaved, the angrier she became. Her anger over Pinkie's attitude evolved into callousness for Fluttershy, including telling her to stay on schedule and "get over" her anguish, accelerating the switch of the once comedic tone of the episode into emotional, dramatic, and harsh. When Pinkie accused Twilight of being selfish and ruining everyone's fun, their anger and grief felt really raw. Twilight doesn't cry often, so when she does, long-time viewers will notice. But here, it feels somewhat different. Her hurt didn't just bleed from within, but grief, too. For the first time in years, her friendship with Pinkie was brought into serious question. Regret for not just going out to the retreat, but also possibly formatting the idea of spreading the Magic of Friendship in the first place. Why was Fluttershy's hoarse "CAN'T WE ALL JUST GET ALONG?!" so crushing? Because of their exchange. Cushioned by her minutes-long fright, she noticed her friendship with Pinkie and Twilight slowly starting to crumble…and she couldn't bear it. And whose emotions were also raw? Rarity and especially Starlight. Think about this episode in Starlight's perspective. She never liked camping previously, but accepted their invitation, because she has been not only an invaluable asset to the School, but also a fantastic friend. She wears AJ's classic camping poncho, struggles like hell to keep the camping gear, but stays quiet out of respect. But that evening, "AJ" tells her her story of how great she is as a camper in Equestria, accuses her of being silly with that gear, and then laughed at her because she thought her look stupid. How would you feel if she were you? Something like this, I presume? If your answer's yes, I can't blame you. Someone she apparently trusted mocked her at her lowest moment all day long. Starlight felt USED! And Rarity did the right thing sticking up for her and sternly threatening to "AJ's" face a long talk about her heinous behavior, one of her most powerful moments of the entire series. A role reversal of… …but without the terrible dialogue and broken setup. In fact, their entire argument in the forest — including the crying — felt real. All day long, they anticipated for quiet time with each other in Twilight's Friendship Retreat, but the Mean Six accidentally exacerbated their friendships further to the boiling point. Their anger with each other was grounded, had weight, and — unlike NCC — wasn't petty whatsoever. This is how you have adult teachers in a cartoon argue angrily without sacrificing their dignity. BTW, kinda funny how Chrysalis almost accomplished her plan to destroy Harmony without even trying! How genius is that?! *ahem* Okay, got a little carried away here. Yet, when their friendship was bound to collapse, Twilight mustered what makes their friendships strong: Despite their differences, disagreements, and arguments, deep down, they care for each other and will help them. Vogel did an excellent job taking his time wrapping up all the conflicts each Mane pony had with someone else, airing their grievances, and maturely settling them one by one. Still, FS rightfully worried no one likes her, so how do they resolve that? By everyone running up to her and roll in the dirt with a hearty laugh. It brings great closure and proves she's one of them. Yeah, neither group figuring out they were talking with duplicates feels a little anticlimactic, but it makes sense, and the criticism of it misses the episode's point. If they figured out who their doppelgangers are, then Vogel contradicts the moral he's teaching: the strongest friendships get through difficult times with one another. The RM7's friendship is so strong, because they use their strengths to get through. No matter the obstacle, the Mane Eight understand the heart of their friendships and work together. On the other hand, the Mean Six are collectively selfish. Despite Snarkle's warning them to follow her lead, they only look after themselves, and their lack of cooperation cost them their sapience. How can you also tell how close the RM7 are? The Friendship Retreat is in complete tatters, but all they can do is laugh it off. This small exchange: Their trust in each other's so ingrained, they lightly tease each other hours after they settled their fight. Season 8's first half is the most consistent in quality for the entire series. The Mean Six is just one example why. Its storytelling is outstanding with excellent dialogue, comedy, drama, and heart. A Hearth's Warming Tail is excellent and was Vogel's best episode; TM6 leapt over it. Bravo!
  12. Note: This review has been edited to add more content. Do you remember dreading the thought of a Spike episode? I do. For so long, Spike episode were usually among the worst of the series, much less the season. For the first five seasons, no matter the plot, episodes usually starring him were usually awful; anything better wasn't the norm. But since Princess Spike (his worst outing of the show), everything changed. His episodes became good. DHX wrote him with dignity. Since Newbie Dash, the Spikabuse vanished. Even today, the thought of not bashing a new Spike episode is completely refreshing. Molt Down is the first S8 episode to star Spike, and the show's biggest evolution from the status quo since Newbie Dash. How does it approach it? By describing how a child dragon goes through puberty. Like real life, puberty ain't fun, and several allegories hammer that point home. Itchy, painful stone scales: rashes and pimples. Volume shifts: deepening of the voice. Armpit smell: body odor and hair. Fire burps: dunno. A period, perhaps? Sleep disruptions: teens being more alert late in the day. (Thank @Jeric for that pointer and the accompanying research.) Haber's jokes are equally as funny as sympathizing for Spike. Yet, the jokes themselves have an extra layer of dimension, because they're not all the same type, the characters' reactions vary, and visual cues round the story. Other great jokes include: Zecora stuffing each of her ears with a cottonball after Spike suddenly shouted. The camera's wide shot, Spike's irritated voice, and the squashing/stretching of the pot he's in as he complains create a perfect recipe for a joke. It's wonderfully timed and really hilarious. Smolder smacking Spike a little too hard in the back, accidentally driving him in pain. Pinkie's sudden shouting and liking that foul odor. Her sly faces really sell the characterization, too. Twilight grumbling at the thought of Celestia never creaking out. That said, not all of them. Sometimes they got a little repetitive or cringeworthy, notably Rarity's shouts after a while and the grossout shot of Spike's stone scale. But for the most part, they did their job. That said, let's talk about Spike. Although he grew considerably since hatching from his egg years ago, from how Twilight acted, this is the very first time Spike molted. The stone scale is painful already, but having so many throbbing and itching is completely foreign to him. Puberty is a part of life the majority of us experience, and whatever he has to endure throughout the episode parallels ourselves in some way. The stages of puberty poor Spike suffered through echoes our own. Impressively, despite many chances for Haber to unleash the most cringeworthy puberty-related joke possible, he restrains himself just enough to create them at his expense without crossing the line into Spikabuse. How does he do that? I'm not sure, but many of the guesses include: What Spike had to go through isn't his fault. Every dragon goes through this stage, including Smolder's presumably-older bro. The molt effect that Spike suffered from is no less different than any other dragon when they grow up. When they treat it as normal, we do, too. Spike's friends and Twilight don't ignore him. When they noticed something is wrong with him, they're there to help. They care about Spike and want to work with him so he can get better. Smolder interacts with Spike. Back in S2, Spike grew rapidly due to inherent greed, opening up a big implication into how dragons grew. Is greed the cause? Could Spike control it, which was a main part for two future conflicts? How did other dragons grow when they didn't show signs of greed? Smolder's description of greed-induced growth as not normal for a dragon cleared up so many questions and brought forth more insight on dragon lore and dragon culture in her homeland. Smolder has an attitude, and her description of dragon culture's response to the molt effect increases Spike's anxiety for the unknown, increasing the conflict's stakes. But there's one thing to note, which the episode makes very clear — as scary as her description of dragon life during the molt is, she's not treated as a bad person, and Smolder isn't written to be antagonistic. The molt effect is a part of her life, so what she and others experienced is expected. For the most part, she's prepared for the challenges; theorize that others back home do, too. Spike, on the other hand, isn't. He's lived with Twilight his whole life and knows so little about dragon culture. The molt effect, especially the smell, is putrid, and he fears that Twilight and the others will reject him, forcing him to live on his own. He's not prepared to defend himself from predators that relish for that smell, especially the roc. Because Twilight asked him to retreat to an area that won't fry anyone in the school, Spike assumes even more that the more out of control his molt becomes, the less Twilight will want him around. Can't you blame him for being so scared of growing up and fighting to alter the molt? Of course not! For obvious reasons, Rarity and Twilight are usual partners for Spike in his episodes, but they're all really good here. (Credit goes to @Truffles and his reply for this bit.) What makes them stand out here is their immediate empathy for Spike. In the beginning, when Rarity sees Spike hide something under his eye, she becomes suspicious and worried. She walks around him to sneak a glance at what's under his claws, but never gets frustrated at any point. When he admits to being embarrassed by the stone scale, she assures him not to worry, but treats his embarrassment with the respect its deserves. She's the first to recommend getting some of Zecora's blemish cream, and did so again after Pewee accidentally pinched his scale. Twilight gets worried when Spike sleeps in all morning and also sympathizes with him for getting breakouts, just like her years ago and also recommends heading to Zecora. When he accidentally destroys her lecture, she doesn't criticize him or make him feel worse. Recommends to leave the castle for his own safety and everyone else's. Despite battling a sudden ear infection, Rarity never stops thinking about Spike and asks her for blemish cream to help him with his stone scales. When they bump into each other, she notices his worsening condition and took out the cream (only for the roc to snatch her). Right on cue, Twilight shows up and heads to Zecora's to get the cream. Unlike Cart Before the Jerks and Complete Crap Clause, neither of Spike's closest friends and relatives treat his condition as a lesser deal to themselves or belittle him for it. Both of them treated his condition, embarrassment, and pain as important, never stopped thinking about him, and wanted to help him in any way they can. Zecora's really well written in a nowadays-rare appearance. But rather than be treated as merely a vessel to deliver plot devices, she becomes deeply involved in both the A and B plots: Spike's puberty and Rarity's phoenix-related ear infection. Her interactions with the characters and their problems add depth to her character, occupation, and relationships with others. One big change for this season is the treatment of the Everfree Forest, historically a really dangerous place to roam. What was a common plot device for the Mane Six, Spike, and CMCs to face conflict in S1, its dangers and presence became mostly absent after Princess Twilight Sparkle. But for the third time this season, an Everfree creature threatened creaturekinds' safety. And the chase scene was really tense. Zecora, Spike, and Rarity were in great danger, and the score and sounds throughout hammered in the sudden perils they faced. In the leaked version, the chase's tone was more comedic, courtesy of Twilight's lasers sounding like video game beams. Here, the comedy was more toned down, an excellent change from the leaked product. YO! Do you smell what the roc is cookin'?! Little details refine the episode and shape up the episode's quality. Two really stick out: As the episode progresses, Spike's limbs darken in color, foreshadowing his eventual molt and where it'll start. During the break in the chase, when Spike's old skin starts to encase him, the background music becomes louder and completely stops when he's completely cocooned. For several seconds, we hear nothing except Twilight firing at the roc, increasing the tension and making us wonder what will happen to the poor dragon next. So, what happened after he molted? THANKS, JOSH HABER! After everything he went through in this episode, Spike molting and earning wings is an excellent payoff. I don't know if he grew a little or not, but when you're making a child dragon molt, sticking with the status quo would be a complete slap to the face to Spike and the audience. Something about him had to change. Interestingly, even though his new wings feel earned, Spike and his friends treat his accomplishment as merely a new milestone in his life as he grows into adulthood. Here, MD brings forth a really great moral: For Twilight to deliver this lesson to him shows us how much he means to her, their hug proving their tight bond. DHX, please, more of their family dynamic! If there was one little problem with the chase, it's what Silver Quill pointed out: Twilight's magic felt kinda weak. Yes, you could argue that she scaled it back because Rarity and Zecora were trapped within the roc's talons, but she needed Spike's assistance to rescue them from their fall, when Twilight magically corralled them all during the movie. Conversely, the theme of growing was subtly foreshadowed through Peewee's reintroduction. The now-adult phoenix still interacts with his parents, but a sharp eye will notice he has his own nest now, indicating either a family of his own or the preparation for one. Spike may've released him, but they still know each other very fondly, evident by their embrace. Peewee grew up; Spike will, too. Back in Season 5, I panned Spike being handed the bouquet of dragon sneeze flowers, the lowest moment of the season. Rather than capping off a broken episode with a rather sweet moment, DHX doubled down on his buttmonkey status. After all, isn't FIM supposedly a feminist show? Well, you don't empower women and girls by making your only male lead a punching bag for abusive comic relief. It's hypocritical and massively sexist, one of the biggest stains of the series. But after that, the direction for his character improved. No longer did his personality shift to demand the plot. His role wasn't confined to pure comic relief. His episodes no longer beat him down or abused him just to teach him a contrived lesson. Starting out with secondary roles in Amending Fences and Re-Mark, Season 6 expanded his role, including becoming close friends with Starlight, bonding dragonkind and ponykind by working with and befriending Ember, and sacrificing his celebrityhood to stand up for Thorax. Season 6 was Spike's best season. Albeit a diminished role in S7, he was really good in Triple Threat, Owl's Well done right. Coming into Molt Down, Spike was having a great year. Now he left his biggest mark in the show since Times. His wings demonstrate his evolution in not just his character, but also his role. It's unknown whether his wings will have a big impact on the season, or it's just cosmetic. But what happens in the future will wait. When I watched the leaked version, I liked it, but wasn't totally happy with it. Days before its official airing, however, I was unsure whether I was fair to it or not. Now, when comparing the leaked version with the final product, the leaked Molt's lack of polish and missing score completely affected the episode's overall quality. The final product is excellent, well edited, and really makes the audience feel like Spike earned his pair of wings. Molt Down's one of the best episodes of S8 so far and one of the best Spike episodes altogether. P.S.: And, yes, Molt Down's change of the status quo's superior to MMC's.
  13. I don't know who was nuts enough to think Discord, Spike, and Big Mac would make a great team back in Season 6, but whoever it is, thank you! Big Mac, Spike, and Discord all act like they knew each other for years, even though this trio only formed after Discord officially became a part of the Guys' Night team. They play off one another through their actions, responses, and emotions, creating great chemistry with one another. Speaking of chemistry, Spike and Discord are outstanding in their best outings of the season thus far (and maybe of the show, too, once it's all finished). Discord's cynicism towards H&HD, and love in particular, plays off spectacularly with Spike, who's very optimistic and refreshingly snarky. To think that only a few seasons ago, Discord was one of his enemies, but from the way they talked to each other and knew each other so well, you'd think he was closer to Discord than Twilight. How they interacted with one another was among the multi-dozens highlights here, such as Spike criticizing Discord's pessimism to Spike intentionally teasing Discord for possibly having a crush on Fluttershy to Discord ignoring Spike's sappy romantic poem about Rarity. They know how to get under each other's skin without crossing the line, making their teasing all in good fun rather than mean-spirited. One of the season's biggest improvements — the dialogue — really shines. Every line's so organic, even when it's somewhat expository, gelling together. Every line oozed with personality and passion, whether it's from the O&O squad or the CMCs. Confalone knows how when to have them talk or act and keep them all in character. Even Big Mac isn't confined to that "Eeyup!" gag, varying his emotions or telling Discord to "EeWAIT!" The dialogue allows for not just some amazing comedy, but also some heart. More 'bout the latter later. The comedy here is golden! Every joke landed perfectly, from the dialogue responses to the satirically cheesy love music playing in the background as Big Mac rushes to Sugar Belle to Big Mac's drinking a barrel-load of cider to Sweetie's "Please say no." Spike's deadpan to Discord as an anti-romance cynic is one hell of a comeback, and that jab towards the greeting card industry by Discord is too funny. Oh, yeah… >Lyra and Bob Bon sharing H&HD bond & gifts >best friends Riiiiiiiight. XP The CMCs were also fantastic here. All season so far, they've been at their A-game. The episode recognizes them as kids, but doesn't make them so obnoxious. They were right to wonder where that mysterious pie came from and search high and low to find him. But the and does a nice swerve: They may not have found that actual special somepony for SB, but had a magnificent time together, anyway. Sweetie's small speech at the end had quite a lot of heart in it. Speaking of heart, as hilarious as TBUBD is, Confalone balances it perfectly. Big Mac's sadness was somewhat over the top, but treated with the respect it deserves. His romantic feelings with Sugar Belle feel genuine, and you can tell by how he talked about the small stuff to Skelenor, like how Sugar snorts and wiggles her nose when she giggles (something that @Nyactis Mewcis Catlum pointed out a while ago in a status). Big Mac doesn't talk much, so when he does, you listen. After they cleared up everything, it was all okay again, and they had a great end to Hearts & Hooves Day. Discord's revelation of finally believing in romance works perfectly and marks my moment of the season so far: revealing to damage her wagon wheel. Why? 'Cause he confirms to us he believes in love and figured out how to get them back together while remaining in character. He's still a jerk, and his advice to BM (long with Spike's) really stinks. But at the end, he retains a heart of gold and does the right thing, even when he's spoiled for Ogres & Oubliettes. Somehow, he predicted what Big Mac was going to do next, but given he's the Lord of Chaos, it makes sense. Really shows he cares for him as a friend. Derpy was great in her role as mailmare. As Discord counted the types of tea he loved, Top Draw lowered the audio quality of de Lancie's mic to match the sound one would hear from the old-school TV. Really masterful editing that helps enhance the joke. (The same scene from the leaked version, BTW, has the same audio quality as the rest of the ep.) Oh, and it has two morals, each executed masterfully: "Don't assume. Communicate with your friends, and everything will work itself out." "Don't be afraid to openly admit your feelings. Those who care for you will listen and understand." This one is my favorite of the season so far, because it's so relatable to everyone. When I first watched it in December, I watched a treat. Seeing it completed gives it such a fresh look, and it still holds up excellent. The Break Up Break Down isn't just the best episode of Season 8 so far, but one of the ten best of the show altogether, as well.
  14. AlexanderThrond

    Episode review: "The Perfect Pear"

    Melodrama is one of My Little Pony's foundational blocks. So many of the most emotionally affecting episodes of the show are melodramatic in nature, from "The Last Roundup" to "Hurricane Fluttershy" to "Wonderbolts Academy." But starting in season 5, the show's most dramatic episodes have become increasingly grand and pretentious in nature. Even the most naturalistic episodes of this time, "Amending Fences" and "The Mane Attraction," strained to have a greater point and to reflect the show at large, and then there are episodes like "A Royal Problem": tense, overstuffed, high-stakes stories which bear more resemblance to the two-parters than to the melodrama episodes of old. Until now, the only episode like "Hurricane Fluttershy" in the past few seasons was "The Fault in Our Cutie Marks," that adorable, genuinely moving highlight of season 6. While "The Perfect Pear" has baggage which prevents it from reaching that level, it's every bit as emotionally effective in its own melodramatic, gooey way. It avoids any tough questions and builds on elements which the show never properly established, but goddamit, I wish the show were always this sweet and emotional and adorable. If "A Flurry of Emotions" represents half of what the show has been missing in recent years, "The Perfect Pear" represents the other half. When Apple Bloom brings home some pear jam for breakfast, Applejack and Big Mac immediately seek to hide it due to the longstanding feud between the Apple and Pear families. After some discussion, they then set out to ask Goldie Delicious, the Apple family historian, about the cause of the apple feud, and in the process learn a little about their parents, an Apple and a Pear who fell in love despite their family differences. Curious, they then seek out other family friends to learn the rest of their parents' story. The obvious question is whether this episode actually reveals why the Apple parents have been absent for the entire show. Unfortunately, "The Perfect Pear" never answers that question, and somewhat distractingly attempts to derive a emotional power from the parents' absence in spite of this. The dialogue softly implies that the parents might be deceased, but the show continues to be too cowardly to explicitly reveal that, and exactly when and how the Apple parents died is unclear. The way Applejack & co. talk makes me think even they don't know what happened to their parents, but again, the episode refuses to explicitly state that despite gaining a lot of its emotional power from the suggestion. Am I overestimating how much little kids can handle this? Death is a fact of life; would it not be nice for this show to try helping its target demographic with that? It's also distracting that this is yet another season 7 episode which attempts to derive emotion from something which was never established. Learning about their parents seems to mean a lot to the Apple kids, but exactly what is left up to guess work, because it's not even clear if they ever knew their parents, let alone for how long or in what capacity. Thankfully, the simple fact of the parents' absence is enough to carry many of the emotional beats, and a lot of this is down to the strength of the dialogue and performances. Nearly every character in the framing story speaks with evocative tones of affection and wistfulness, and the Apples add a slight hint of melancholy as well. I usually don't emphasize the quality of the acting, as this show always excels in that regard, but the comparatively muted and nuanced performances here add a lot to the episode's emotional power. The flashback structure of the episode is entertaining in its own right, as it allows the show to deepen secondary characters and make its world feel more lived in. Most of the ponies the Apples talk to are new to this episode, but even these new faces expand the show's world, and we also get to learn a little more about Mrs. Cake as well. Mayor Mare also appears, and her part of the story makes her feel slightly more integrated into the show, but it doesn't reveal much about her. It's also just nice to finally know who Applejack's parents were, even if we still don't know much about why they're not around and may very well never know. A lot of the episode's emotional beats are found in the main story between the Apple parents, namely their father Bright Mac and their mother Pear Butter. This story ultimately comes down to a much happier version of Romeo & Juliet, but the characters are deeply charming and their plight is easy to sympathise with. The flashback story has an abbreviated structure, and by necessity it jumps from beat to beat, but that just enhances its emotional pull. Both parents are only lightly characterized, but they're distinctive enough, and the flashback structure gives the spotlight to their situations. We see how heartfelt their love is, and we see how they're both torn between love and family. Pear Butter's ultimate choice to stay with the Apples is clearly a difficult one, and that's exactly what makes it so heart-wrenching. And it's just so sweet. The episode's structure carries that wistful tone from the performances, only showing us major highlights of Bright Mac and Pear Butter's romance, and while it's cliched and cheesy, I'm just a sucker for this kind of stuff, and it's structured perfectly here. We see a few small moments where they're starting to get together, then a song abbreviates their growing relationship, and then one small gesture represents its peak right before Pear Butter's father, Grand Pear, announces his intention to move to Vanhoover. It makes for a very mushy story, to be sure, but it's also an effective one, and I'm not gonna lie, I cried at the end. It's also enhanced by the framing story, which is triggered by Grand Pear returning to Ponyville to sell his wares and ends with him visiting Sweet Apple Acres to make amends. I can't discern an explicit moral from any of this, but it's all just so emotional! "The Perfect Pear" is irresistible on a level with some of the show's best episodes. It suffers from vagueness in certain areas, and I wish it had answered more questions about the Apple parents, but what we've got is adorable, moving, and surprisingly deep between the lines. The best moments here are small ones which only enhance the subtle melancholy of the framing story, and there's a powerful message about moving on after tragedy if you're willing to read that much into it. I still wish this episode based its emotions on something more tangible, and its refusal to address what happened to Applejack's parents feels cowardly, but even as is, this is easily one of the best this season and is an absolute delight from start to finish. We just don't get episodes like this that often anymore. Score: Entertainment: 10/10 Characters: 9/10 Themes: 6/10 Story: 7/10 Overall: 83/100 You can find more like this at my offsite blog.
  15. Notes: A few points to go through: The entire review will contain very heavy spoilers for the movie. As such, it's contained under a spoiler tag. If you haven't seen it and don't want to be spoiled, don't click and leave. There won't be any comparisons or contrasts with the TV series, judgment of whether the movie does something better or worse than the TV series, or whether continuity's reinforced or contradicted. No judgment of existing show characters as IC, OOC, and/or flanderized. The movie is being judged as a movie, not a continuation of the series. So if you're expecting me to praise or criticize the film for sticking true to or contradicting continuity, click back now.
  16. AlexanderThrond

    Episode review: "Shadow Play"

    Last year, I was worried that "To Where and Back Again" would be a by-the-numbers, over-serious finale which just rehashes the same plot points the show had been trucking out for years now. To my delight, it turned out to be something else entirely, and it quickly became one of my favourite two-parters in the entire show. "To Where and Back Again" excelled because it was a character-driven story which focused on the human side of the story rather than the rote details, and as such it was refreshingly light on exposition and action. Turns out all I had to do was wait a year, however, because "Shadow Play" is exactly what I was worried about back in season 6. It's the worst example yet of the show's increasingly dull mythology, and it's filled with backstory exposition which takes itself way too seriously. There are certainly moments of humour here which bring the episode to life, but the plot is just so formulaic that it's hard to be invested in any of it, and enough of the episode takes itself so seriously that the fun moments can't break the monotony. When Twilight Sparkle uncovers what happened to Starswirl the Bearded and four other ponies he calls Equestria's "Pillars" (ugh), she sets out to save the Pillars from Limbo, not realizing that doing so would also free the evil Pony of Shadows. Soon, she realizes that she's made a mistake, and must work with the Pillars to save Equestria. You might have noticed that the whole plot is dependent on Twilight making an obviously poor decision, and worse still, she does it despite Starlight (of all ponies!) trying to warn her of the consequences. Indeed, Twilight's sheer hero worship for Starswirl renders her nearly useless throughout the episode, and while this is the only blatantly stupid decision she makes, she also spends most of the episode just doing whatever he says despite outclassing him. At the end, Starlight suggests that there must be some way they could convince the Pony of Shadows to stop, but Twilight just... ignores her, apparently because she's so blinded by her idolization of Starswirl. It's a double-edged sword, too, because Twilight's sheer enthusiasm is also the episode's main saving grace. Watching her gush over the idea of having Starswirl back is frequently delightful, and it demonstrates how good this season has been at reviving her geeky charm. Other characters have their moments too: One scene in the Dragon Lands is genuinely entertaining, where the dragons are using Flash Magnus's shield for lava surfing. That's easily the most creative scene in the episode, and it's also fun to watch Rainbow Dash trick Garble into just handing over the shield. Another scene featuring Fluttershy is pleasant as well, and Pinkie has a good handful of fun lines, but all of them suffer from a lack of personal stake in the story. The mane six are only dominant in the first half, and the problem with this is that the first half has almost no stakes to speak of. Twilight is insistent that Equestria is "better with Starswirl in it," but that's hard to accept when the ponies have done perfectly fine for themselves without him. Because of this, it's hard to be invested in anything which happens in the first half, which is as incident-free as "The Crystalling" but without any of the anxiety or introspection. There's still funny moments, but most of the first half is focused on the mythology of the world, which is no deeper than five ancient heroes sacrificing themselves to lock away some ancient evil. The episode tries to build on this, but it never steps away from dull cliches. Further, much of the first half has the mane six just acting broadly admirable, and I have never found that particularly interesting. At times, it even breaks credibility: Applejack manages to stop a falling boulder with her hind legs, and Rarity somehow trims a whole overgrown garden in what can't have been more than a few minutes. Rarity's scene is especially annoying, because the caretaker of the garden talks a lot about one flower being "all she has left," suggesting that she somehow never thought to just trim the bushes a bit. Am I supposed to believe that? Meanwhile, Pinkie's lasts less than half the time of the others, despite being perhaps the funniest. Altogether, I'm just tired of watching ponies collecting MacGuffins. We've seen that several times before. It's time for something new. In the second half, Starlight increasingly takes the reigns from the mane six, and she's as bland as ever. I explained why she's such a dull character in the "Uncommon Bond" review, but suffice it to say that she's no more exciting here, and her main contribution - the experience of being forgiven - is territory which this franchise has explored better in the past, though perhaps not in the main series. Unfortunately, "Shadow Play" has almost nothing to add beyond that, and a lot of this comes from just how little there is to Starlight. She's still a tool of the plot more than an actual character, and that means that prevents anything she does from feeling organic, no matter how hard the writers try. We occasionally see Twilight doubting herself, but the episode spends relatively little time on that, and in the second half Twilight's friends are once again sidelined. We know that the mane six have stood up to authority figures in the past, and we know they believe in second chances, so it's hard to accept Starlight needing to set them straight. Ultimately, it turns out the Pony of Shadows used to be a friend of the Pillars by the name of Stygian, and that he and the Pillars both came to believe the other had betrayed them. The theme of misunderstandings which many episodes this season have followed comes to fruition here, but while Stygian is immediately sympathetic, neither he nor the Pillars are developed enough for this climax to have much emotional effect. We learn about Stygian almost entirely through exposition, and the Pillars themselves are given almost nothing in the way of characterization. Sunburst is present too, but he mostly serves as an extension of Twilight. And because the worldbuilding is so unimaginative, the large chunks of the episode dedicated to exposition very quickly become tiresome. At one point, the Pillars mention that they planted the Tree of Harmony, which is completely useless information because it explains very little about the Tree itself. Apparently they somehow imbued it with the forces they represent, but I never asked for the origin of the Elements, and it hardly explains why Twilight's cutie mark is on the tree. We still know nothing about how it actually works, so all the actual questions surrounding it remain unanswered. Plus, the map is shown to be able to locate not one but two other kinds of MacGuffins now, because of course it is. It's been awful for three seasons, so why should it stop now? Ultimately, the problem with the show's mythology is the problem with "Shadow Play." Rather than actually develop the world which exists, the showrunners like to just pile new aspects onto it while neglecting everything which came before. And that ultimately harms My Little Pony's world, which was initially one of the things which drew me to the show. When world is emphasized over character, you must have a good enough world to hold it up, and this show simply does not anymore. Combine that with a plot cribbed from earlier stories, and Starlight continuing to be bland while still taking over the story, and you've got the least exciting two-parter to date, even beating out the similarly dull "The Cutie Re-Mark." Score: Entertainment: 4/10 Characters: 5/10 Story: 4/10 Themes: 6/10 Overall: 48/100 P.S. This isn't fun for me any more. If season 8 is a big enough improvement, I might return, but for now, I'm officially retiring my My Little Pony reviews. I'm gonna give the Equestria Girls series and season 8 a shot, but I'm not committing to either of them, and I'm definitely not going to take the time to write at length. Still, I need some closure, so I'll make a few more posts in the weeks to come before I retire this blog. First, an overview of season 7 at large. Second, an updated list of the show's Top 10 Worst Episodes. Third, a list of my 26 favourite episodes in the show. Finally, I'll be uploading my to-date score sheet in all its incomplete glory, which I may or may not attempt to fill out during the hiatus. If you want more of my writing, you can always check out the main blog, and if you want to keep up with whatever Pony opinions I still have, I'll try to keep the score list updated, and you can follow me on Twitter. Until next time.
  17. AlexanderThrond

    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. Score: 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.
  18. AlexanderThrond

    Episode review: "Secrets and Pies"

    There's a small list of My Little Pony episodes which I consider guilty pleasures. These are episodes which have enough clever gags and fun dialogue to keep me happy, but which have bad enough plots that it brings down my enjoyment somewhat. Season 2 had the sloppy but energetic "Putting Your Hoof Down." Season 3 had some of the show's best dialogue layered on top of the asinine "Spike at Your Service." I find these two episodes hugely entertaining, and even though their poor narratives kill my buzz a little, it's not enough to overcome their respective qualities. Joining this short list is season 7's "Secrets and Pies," which combines a threadbare storyline and off-base characterization with a ceaseless, energetic procession of clever gags. While I've often complained about episodes which don't have enough humour relative to plot, this episode is very much the opposite, with hilarious scene after hilarious scene which still can't help but drag as a result of how inane and thin the actual storyline is. But man, it's just so inventive and so madcap that I found it hard to resist, and it even manages to lessen the guilt somewhat by adding some nice insight at the end. When Pinkie Pie learns that Rainbow Dash didn't eat a pie she prepared, she realizes that she's never actually seen Rainbow eat one of her pies, and sets out on an investigation to find out the truth. Once she does, she sets up an operation to get Rainbow to admit that she never ate Pinkie's pies. On one hand, "Secrets and Pies" is as dumb as a bag of hammers. It stretches an exceedingly simple premise out to 22 minutes through extended scenes of rambling, and its entire problem is based on poor communication which seems uncharacteristic of the mane six in season 7. If Rainbow doesn't feel comfortable telling Pinkie that she doesn't like her pies, what does that say about their relationship? And if Pinkie isn't willing to just ask Rainbow what's going on, what does that say about her? Once again, Rainbow needs to be told what she was doing wrong, and once again, Pinkie treats even the smallest break in communication like the biggest deal ever. It's a distracting example of the ponies acting like small children, which is disappointing, because I've always considered the relative maturity of these characters to be a large part of this show's appeal. It's also such an unexciting, mundane dilemma. So what if Rainbow doesn't like the pies? This doesn't tell us anything new about the characters, and because the dilemma is so childish, the fact that everyone involves takes it so seriously makes the episode feel unusually juvenile. Perhaps that still has some value for the target audience, but it's not as compelling for older audiences. Further, because there's not a whole lot of story to wring out of this issue, the episode is constantly repeating itself. We see Rainbow disposing of pies about seven different times, and while Pinkie visits three different sites looking for clues, they all follow more or less the same formula of Pinkie grilling a nearby pony while acting incredulous. That's not even getting into the detours around the middle of the episode, including one which takes place entirely in Pinkie's imagination without giving any new information. But I have a hard time seeing "entering Pinkie's imagination" as a bad thing, and it leads to a really fun scene where Rainbow is imagined as a crudely-sketched supervillain, complete with pointy wings, sharp teeth, and eye beams. This particular scene is still pretty silly, but it's far from the only humorous scene in the episode. Like "Discordant Harmony," it's filled with long scenes of hilarious riffing, including a great cold open which ends with Pinkie referring to her "mid-morning pie-making chocolate fuel which keeps this pie-baking train chugging down the tracks," and nearly all of the dialogue is similarly glorious. Other exciting gags include the ever-escalating ways in which Rainbow disposes of pies, which begin with her simply throwing it in the dumpster and reach such heights as catapulting it to an open window, calling upon a swarm of kids to steal it, and tossing it into an elaborate chute to feed to her pet. "Secrets and Pies" may be as dumb as a post, but it's also as sharp as a razor. Even when there isn't a major gag to speak of, the episode is kept afloat by an almost exhausting supply of charm and energy. Despite the rough edges of characterization, Pinkie still has a lot of sweetness. For instance, she says she's celebrating Rainbow's 73rd anniversary of becoming a Wonderbolt simply because she couldn't wait any longer, and while that enhances her childishness, it's also pretty cute. Rainbow Dash also has some charming moments, especially near the end, where she reveals that she kept pretending to eat Pinkie's pies because she was afraid of hurting her friend's feelings. Again, that's rather childish, but it's just too sweet to be mad about, and there's a reasonable moral about honesty at the end as well, just for good measure. Other moments are reliant entirely on general flow and visual quirkiness. For instance, the first transition between Cloudsdale and Pinkie's party cave is a silly reference to the '60s Batman TV show, complete with a pastiche of the sound effect used in the same program. Again, the episode is comprised mostly of Pinkie rambling, but she doesn't miss a single beat, and the few moments where she isn't talking are punctuated with hilarious cuts to, say Gummy blinking silently, or Pinkie herself dropping randomly from the sky. The voice actors are clearly having a blast, and their audible enthusiasm is infectious. And then there's slapstick scenes, like Spitfire "accidentally" crashing into Pinkie, or visual goofiness like Pinkie standing on a wobbling pyramid of pies. In truth, explaining what makes this episode so fun would ultimately devolve into me listing every single gag in it. Unfortunately, some of these gags also become weirdly disturbing, like a late scene where we see Pinkie's eyes all dried up to the point that she needs to lick them to keep the moisturized. That's strange and creative, and I found it hilarious, but it's also gruesome in a way which doesn't mesh with the show's general aesthetic. Further, Rainbow feeding Tank all her pies is presented as Tank eating the entire tin whole, which then makes him sick and feels uncomfortably close to animal abuse. Combined with the juvenile storyline and character issues, that makes the whole episode just feel weirdly uncharacteristic of this show, and not necessarily in a good way. And yet I just can't resist it. So, yes, call it a guilty pleasure, but it's a pleasure nonetheless. There's a lot of elements in "Secrets and Pies" which are downright bad, and from a narrative and structural standpoint there's not all that much to praise. Add in some off-putting aspects like Rainbow's treatment of Tank, and you should have a recipe for a subpar episode. But that dialogue is just glorious from top to bottom, the voice performances have an irresistible energy, and every single visual gag is fantastic, so it's hard for me to dismiss the episode entirely, or even at all. In my brain, I know it's not very good. But it's one of the few episodes this season which I'd watch again in a heartbeat. Score: Entertainment: 9/10 Characters: 5/10 Themes: 7/10 Story: 4/10 Overall: 63/100 You can find more episode reviews at my offsite blog.
  19. Despite eschewing a lot of the tired story structures of the past, season 7 has several familiar tropes of its own. It's heavily reliant on externally driven stories where a main character is troubled by some external force, and many of these stories are written heavily to theme to the point of tedium. However, these formulas don't always ruin their stories, and many episodes transcended those tropes, either with nuance ("The Perfect Pear") or humour ("Parental Glideance"). "Once Upon a Zeppelin" is still a little on-the-nose, and its conflict still has too many external actors, but it's the best example yet of how good jokes and a good moral can overcome smaller issues. It's another contender for the funniest episode this season, packed with sharp character-based humour while also giving more personality to Shining Armour and Twilight's parents. Further, it's one of the few episodes to actually explore how Twilight's new responsibilities affect her usual anxieties, and although it's a bit blunt, the moral of learning to draw boundaries is a rock solid complement for "A Health of Information." When Twilight's parents win a free zeppelin cruise, she's naturally suspicious, but decides to play along. However, when the family - including Shining Armour and Princess Cadance - arrive, they're shocked to discover that the main attraction of the cruise is none other than themselves, as run by Iron Will. Twilight, wanting to give her family the best vacation possible, agrees to play along with Iron Will's plans, and in doing so, forgets to enjoy herself. If there's one thing I must give season 7 credit for, it's making the mane six's families utterly delightful. As was the case with Rainbow Dash's folks, Twilight's family is endearing and hilarious: her father Night Light is apparently a bingo enthusiast, and her mother Twilight Velvet has a major adventurous streak. Meanwhile, Shining Armour is given more traits, such as a fondness for small things and a tendency towards airsickness. Unfortunately, Cadance is reduced to just being a mother, and while the episode does its best to maintain her lovable sweetness, it only makes me wish more for her to have a chance to shine away from the family. Best of all is Twilight, in yet another phenomenal season 7 role. One thing I've wanted from her since season 4 is some indication that she struggles with the responsibilities of being a princess, as her stressful personality and high self-expectations have always been a large part of what makes her so relatable to me. "A Flurry of Emotions" was the first episode to directly address the expectations that being a princess gives her, and "Once Upon a Zeppelin" makes them even more explicit while even making them relatable. Here, Twilight specifically mentions that she "needs to make the cruise ponies happy ... to be a good princess," finally addressing something the show has implied for years now. While Season 4 also attempted to feature Twilight struggling with being a princess, but there it was so abstract that it was hard to relate to. Here, Twilight's anxieties are directly linked to trying to make others happy, which does a lot to humanize her. She wants her family to have the best vacation possible, even if it means she needs to sacrifice her own happiness. Everyone who cares about her tries to convince her to take a break, but she's too afraid that it would mean she fails those around her. To some extent, this moral about taking care of yourself as well as others is a repeat of "A Health of Information," but it's given freshness by the context and an emphasis on drawing boundaries. While on the ship, a young stallion named Star Tracker wins a raffle which allows him to spend the cruise as an honorary member of Twilight's family. This character is one of the show's most impressive examples of condensed character development, as while he almost exclusively exists through a handful of sight gags, it's immediately apparent from his demeanour that he has difficulty with social interactions and may even have a small degree of social anxiety. Some of the ways this manifests are creepy enough to make him less endearing, but for the most part there's some real charm in his awkwardness. As a result, when he finally stands up to Iron Will at the end in defense of Twilight and her family, it's satisfying to see him get over this to protect ponies who have been nice to him, especially when he's committed a few social faux pas towards them. Similarly, although there's some catharsis to be found when Twilight finally snaps at him, it's also satisfying when she apologizes and even allows him to continue hanging out with the family. And all of this is despite his dialogue consisting overwhelmingly of stammering, often for no more than a couple seconds per scene. In fact, despite my complaints about Cadance, she too shines best in the ending, where she's given the opportunity to comfort Twilight and give some advice. I still wish the show would grant her a little more nuance, and the speech still has too much to do with Cadance's role as a mother, but it's still wonderful to see these sisters-in-law bonding, which we haven't really seen since season 4. Similarly, when Twilight's family finally tries to make up for all the fun they had without her, it's really charming to see how much they really do care. Iron Will is the captain of the zeppelin, and he's just as hilarious here as he was back in season 2. As an antagonist, he has the unique appeal of keeping his villainy entirely legal while still somewhat skeevy. He's particularly fond of covering his tracks with contracts he knows nobody will read, and this means that no matter what he pulls, he can always get away with it. This is particularly welcome, because his boisterous personality is an absolute delight here, and he has many of the episode's best gags, so knowing he can always come back is hugely promising. The real humour just comes from the great timing and script, though. At one point, Iron Will tours completely random locations while making up princess-related details about them. At another, Shining completely fails to participate in an on-deck jet ski race because his airsickness is bothering him. This episode is packed with even more great jokes than the already delightful likes of "A Flurry of Emotions" or "A Health of Information," and might even be the funniest of the lot. "Once Upon a Zeppelin" is a last-minute delight which combines the two things season 7 excels at: new family characters and Twilight Sparkle. With a great moral about drawing boundaries, some of Twilight's best characterization in years, and a consistently hilarious script, this is easily one of the season's best episodes. Plot-wise, it still sticks a bit too closely to theme, but it's also just so filled with humour and joy that I find it utterly irresistible, and combined with all those other admirable qualities, it's an episode which I have no hesitation about adoring. Score: Entertainment: 10/10 Characters: 8/10 Theme: 9/10 Story: 8/10 Overall: 88/100
  20. With the Cutie Mark Crusaders now in the business of solving others' problems, their stories have a lot of potential to expand the lore of what "cutie marks" are, how they work, and what they mean to the inhabitants of this world. Last season, we got "The Fault in Our Cutie Marks," an adorable episode which fulfilled all of that potential and then some, exploring one of the two biggest issues imaginable for the Crusaders. "Marks and Recreation" follows up on the other half of the equation, but it lacks all of the things that made last year's episode such a delight. To be honest, I'm ready to declare season 7 a total wash. With only two episodes and the finale left, I don't see much hope that it'll step out of its usual formulas and finally pick up some humour or subtext. "Marks and Recreation," like many episodes this season, is didactic and not very funny, featuring only a few very flimsy jokes and a plot which hops from formula beat to formula beat all without providing anything of interest. This should have been a personal story on par with "Fault," but what we've got is yet another of those episodes where a dull new character needs to be taught what's right. I just can't deal with that. The Cutie Mark Crusaders are running a successful day camp when one day, a young Pegasus named Rumble shows up and declares his opposition to the entire idea of Cutie Marks. Soon, he has turned the entire camp against the CMC, and they need to find some way to get it back. The appeal of "Marks and Recreation" is dependent on two factors: Rumble's motivations, and the Crusaders' reactions to his actions. The former falls into issues I've been complaining about for a while: watching characters having no doubts and doing everything right isn't very interesting. Not everything the Crusaders do to deal with Rumble is successful, but the episode never suggests they might be in the wrong, and it's very interested in shoving them into a "mentor" role, something which I have always maintained as the death knell of this show's characterization, because the show often uses it as an excuse to shift focus onto new characters or tell overly moralistic stories, halting the characters' growth in the process. Still, this is hardly the worst example of the this mentor problem in the show. The Crusaders at least make mistakes, if only minor ones, and there's slivers of doubt here and there. The bigger issue is that the story beats are all overly familiar. This is yet another story where the main characters need to protect their work from an external threat which only escalates a third of the way in, and it's yet another episode where an ideological challenge actually stems from personal issues. For the Crusaders, there's no insight or novelty. and without allowing them to doubt their actions or values, it doesn't provide anything they haven't done plenty of times before. Whereas, "The Fault in Our Cutie Marks" was built on self-doubt and anxiety, this has the CMC just make the mature choice and move on whenever the story threatens to become interesting. Rumble, on the other hand, suffers from a lack of development and a charmless personality. It's hard to be invested in his issues, because on one hand we barely know him, and on the other hand his concerns with Cutie Marks are never taken that seriously. His main complaint is that cutie marks limit your options in life, but we've seen the CMC exploring other options before, so that doesn't ring true, even on the rare occasion where the episode lends validity to his criticisms. Eventually, he turns out to be the one limiting others' options, and by then his points have clearly been discredited. The thing is, the moral here has potential. Cutie Marks have always been a metaphor for maturity, so dealing with how life changes with adulthood could be an interesting take on the concept. When Rumble's criticisms are revealed to be projection, it reflects how he's afraid of growing up. But his motivation suffers from his lack of development. Is he jealous of his brother? Does he feel inadequate? Why does he feel he must be a great flyer? Answering these questions has potential, but they're never expanded upon. As a consequence, Rumble comes across as stubborn and selfish and little else, which makes him difficult to sympathize with. Growing up is scary, but his fears come across as childish and self-centred, simply because the episode doesn't give us enough time to really know him, and what little we understand about him is eventually just explained to us outright. It doesn't help that Thunderlane himself is little more than a bland sibling archetype, leaving us even less idea what their relationship is like. In their scenes together, we're not shown some secret insecurity on Rumble's part. He just upends the Cutie Mark camp because, as said, he's stubborn and selfish. Honestly, though, all of that could have been fine if it just had a better sense of humour. There's few real jokes on offer, and when it does conjure up a proper gag, it's nothing more exciting than a pony who likes to draw circles a lot. This sort of pedestrian humour comes across as very lowest-common-denominator, and it's absent from long stretches of the episode which rely heavily on Rumble's antics to hold attention. Unfortunately, because Rumble is such an underdeveloped and charmless character, that doesn't work either, despite a catchy song in the middle. With that said, the episode definitely builds energy during this song, and it'll work splendidly when removed from context. Might even be my favourite this season! But that's not true of the rest of the episode, which remains tiresomely on point from start to finish, building up to a moral which is admittedly acceptable enough, though not expressed as satisfyingly as it could have been. Because the Crusaders never doubt themselves, and because their role in the story is to teach Rumble the value of Cutie Marks, the episode has a broadly instructional feel which makes it a real drag outside of the musical number. It's obvious from early on that the episode will never provide any insight about cutie marks, so why waste the time? It would have been way more fun if we saw Rumble feeling insecure, or perhaps if Thunderlane was the focus character instead. In the latter case, we could focus on him worrying about his brother, which might have led to actual insight. Alas, "Marks and Recreation" isn't that, and instead is yet another crushingly dull entry in what's shaping up to be a crushingly dull season. The jokes are flimsy, the characters are flat, and while there's nothing wrong with the character interactions, the episode's just much too airless for that to amount to much. This season's new formulas were interesting at first, but now they've gotten just as familiar as the old ones, and they simply don't have as much to offer. Ultimately, I'll take a fun-but-unpolished episode like "A Health of Information" over this any day. Sorry. Score: Entertainment: 3/10 Characters: 4/10 Themes: 5/10 Story: 5/10 Overall: 43/100 You can find more episode reviews at my offsite blog.
  21. It's always the ones you don't expect, isn't it? Last season, I was surprised to enjoy "28 Pranks Later," a fairly messy episode that was nonetheless made enjoyable by a handful of solid jokes and a decently creepy atmosphere. From the synopsis, it seemed likely to have a mean-spirited, vindictive tone, but unlike the similar "The Mysterious Mare-Do-Well," it used its plot as an excuse to have some funny visual gags and indulge in zombie tropes rather than wasting time humiliating Rainbow Dash for some anachronistic wrong. It was far from perfect, but it was the season's most pleasant surprise. "It Isn't the Mane Thing About You" is less funny than "28 Pranks Later," but it's every bit as surprising. Despite its inherently awkward premise, the episode almost entirely avoids cringe comedy, and while what gags it does offer are mostly pedestrian, the episode's story structure recalls the show's earliest seasons in a good way. This is a story which gives itself time to breathe, which allows itself to be simple but relatable, which seems to understand the show's original charms. If only it were funnier, it would feel like a genuine return to form. Still, this is surprisingly pleasant! When Rarity is being considered for the cover of a popular fashion magazine, she visits Pinkie Pie for event preparations just to find the latter celebrating the anniversary of the Cake kids' first sneeze. Much to her dismay, Rarity leaves this encounter with Silly String sticking to her mane, and the two visit Zecora in search of a natural cure. Zecora gives them one hair growth potion and one hair removal potion, but unfortunately Rarity grabs the wrong one and inadvertently destroys her hair even further. Lacking any way to instantaneously regrow hair, Rarity then needs to continue with her preparations while hiding her now-bald head. As said, this seems like prime territory for cringe comedy. It could have shown Rarity going to desperate lengths to get things done while hiding her head, and that would have been nearly unbearable. Instead, though, "It Isn't the Mane Thing About You" simply depicts Rarity attempting to get through a day of hair-related plans without any hair to show, and while she eventually descends into histrionics, the tone is surprisingly relaxed. At no point does she embarrass herself, and even when she's actively hiding her face, you never get the impression that it's particularly bothering anyone, and she never goes to excessive lengths to hide her identity. There's even things this episode gets right which many others don't. This is one of the most low-stakes stories we've had in a while, and as such, it can pace itself out more without feeling unfocused. Like an early season episode, the story revolves around a somewhat fantastical yet still mundane problem, and it builds on this main premise without over-complicating it or smothering it in superfluous elements. It still could have used a couple digressions, but overall the episode has comparatively relaxed pacing, which supplies a little bit of charm. In fact, "charming" is perhaps the best descriptor of the episode overall. Despite having a humour focus, it's somewhat sparse for jokes, relying a lot on inherently humorous situations, and that will always be subjective. Personally, I don't find Rarity awkwardly trying to get things done without being noticed all that funny, and most of the other situations are similarly mundane. Probably the most joke-dense scene in the episode is when Rarity tries to get Twilight and Starlight to magically fix her castle, but even then there's only one joke: each hair replacement is transported from somewhere else, and quickly falls apart. It's all very mild humour, and while there's nothing wrong with that, it's not terribly exciting. At the same time, there's a lot of small pleasant moments. It's nice to see Pinkie throwing a party for the Cake babies, it's nice to see Rarity's friends trying to help, and it's nice to see Zecora again. Rarity's plight is too simple to be particularly interesting, and at times she comes across as slightly self-absorbed, but everyone around her is written on top form, even if they're never called upon to do much. Pinkie's the only one who does as much as Rarity, and while her antics are a little familiar this she has a few funny scenes, like one early on where she reacts to Zecora trying to nag her. Even Starlight isn't so bad this week, as for once her bluntness actually stands out as a unique trait. She's still superfluous, seemingly present just for a weak reference to the season 5 finale, but here she at least mostly stays out of the way. Really, the worst part is the cold open, which goes on for three endless minutes of clumsy foreshadowing before the theme song kicks in. Thankfully, each scene is a little improved from the last, and by the time the episode returns to Ponyville's market street, the shaky parts of the first half have all but vanished. This is especially true of the episode's wonderful ending, starting when Rarity enlists Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, and Applejack for help. The funniest scenes in the entire episode come from these three trying to give Rarity a makeshift wig: Applejack's is attached to a bonnet, Rainbow's is made of clouds, and Fluttershy's is assembled out of shrubbery by her animal friends. In each case, the issue is obvious, but it leads to the sight of Rarity leaving her cloud wig behind when she walks away, which has got to be worth something. Finally, she cancels her photo shoot, and her friends stop by to break her out of her funk. In particular, it's nice to see Applejack being stern without coming across as rude or inflexible, and seeing Rainbow act primarily out of compassion without a note of egotism is incredibly refreshing even if she doesn't have much to do. Finally, Rarity's friends remind her of how much she's accomplished and how much she means to them, which encourages her to make the most of the situation. In the episode's denouement, Rarity combs what remaining hair she has into a makeshift mohawk, complete with multicoloured dye and a studded jacket, and it looks fantastic. In the cold open, Rarity inspired a few fashion shops to offer new services, and in the middle we see her unable to make use of them because she's hiding her face. Finally, in the ending, we get to see her doing a little more to help out around town. She gives Filthy Rich her leftover flowers, provides some further advice for a local fan store, and... uh... buys a new couch. Okay, that last one fits less, but it's a nice moral: all you need is a little confidence, and you can still be the best version of you in a bad situation. Even when all your plans are ruined, you can still make the best of what you have. Plus, the episode goes out with Rarity saving Pinkie from an overflowing bubble bath, so that's a plus, and Rarity even gets on the magazine cover anyway due to her friends pulling a few strings. Altogether, this ending is filled with delights. In many ways, "It Isn't the Mane Thing About You" demonstrates My Little Pony finally regaining an understanding of what once made it work. In tone, story structure, and characterization, this episode recalls the show's best years, and while the conflict and jokes still need a lot of work to reach those heights, there's a lot to like here. At worst, it's watchable and inoffensive, and at best it's as charming as anything else this season, and that's a lot more than I can say for many other episodes. So, again, it's not unlike "28 Pranks Later": decidedly flawed and occasionally boring, but with way, way more charm than I would ever have expected. It's always nice to be pleasantly surprised by this show. Score: Entertainment: 6/10 Characters: 7/10 Story: 6/10 Themes: 7/10 Overall: 65/100 You can find more episode reviews at my offsite blog.
  22. AlexanderThrond

    Episode review: "Daring Done?"

    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.
  23. Note: Credit goes to @ChB, @King Clark, @AlexanderThrond, @Jeric, WaterPulse, and Razgriz for this review. FIM (and by extension, bronydom) is close to seven years old. Over the years, the characters grew into lovable role models and inspirations. Each has their own reasons for watching, loving, and sticking with the show. Through thick and thin, FIM's overcome turbulent times, yet succeeded. How long it'll last is to be determined. By extension, the brony fandom grew, underwent a whole bunch of drama, and grew some more. While Slice of Life was a love letter to the fanbase, Fame and Misfortune takes their own frustrations and responds in a really lazy, broken way. It's the Rainbow Falls of Season 7. Strengths: Glimhorse = Awesomehorse! All season, Starlight's been the best-written Mane character. In every episode she's been in, her roles make sense. She continues to grow into her own and is more and more one of the Mane cast. Even when the episode isn't as good as it should be, she's usually the best part. This episode is her best post-reformed appearance. Everything about her role fits perfectly. While the RM6 wrote in the journal, she was absent and had no knowledge about it. So the journal is new to her, and she can look at what's going on with a fresh mind. Simultaneously, she's treated like an actual, genuine part of the gang, not an ancillary member that the writers can plug in when the episode calls for it. Her best moments occur in two places: At the restaurant after Rarity ran away wailing after two patrons denigrated her behind her back. She took Rarity's reaction and what they said about her really hard. The chilling part is her bitter tone as she replied to Twilight: Combine that with her nasty glare, it's perhaps the angriest the audience has seen her. As Twilight went off to Sweet Apple Acres with AJ, she stayed behind. Her mannerisms and worried expressions show how much Rarity means to her and doesn't want her to get hurt. Moments like these implicate to the audience how much she values her as a friend. When I first began writing this review, I read a comment offsite accusing her of acting like a Deus Ex Machina, a criticism that makes no sense at all. If she's like one here, then she wouldn't be established until the climax or resolution and pops open an idea that wasn't established at any point in the series. Starlight was an important secondary character since the opener and had a major impact in all four acts. Just before she temporarily departed in Act 3, she told the ReMane 6 (and by extension, us) that she'll be back with something important. Coconut Cream & Toola Roola. These two fillies, based on their G3/G3.5 depictions under the same names, are good characters. What makes them strong is, yes, they argue petulantly, but they argue like children. When Twilight stops them, she shows them an important moral to learn from and decide to try. Even with the little screentime, they grow in each successive appearance. Whether they'll appear or not anytime soon I don't know. Personally, I hope they do. This may depend on the VAs (who are kids) themselves. Strong melody. The melody for We're a Work in Progress is really good. It's positive, uplifting, and inspirational. All the qualities that help hone the welcoming backdrop and make FIM's world so endearing. Weaknesses: Handwaved continuity. There are at least four continuity errors, two of them major. Like my RF review, instead of a brief summary, here's a fuller list: They learned that lesson from Return of Harmony. The season 2 premiere. The journal didn't debut until season four. Unless they stated to add them in later (which they didn't directly), it should be only S4 lessons, not a mesh of all four together. The fact that everyone suddenly wanted to know about what they learned. Once they published it, they became popular and unpopular. Why does this not make sense from a continuity perspective? Ever since they defeated Nightmare Moon, Ponyville and Canterlot revered them as celebrities. Sure, other episodes within the earlier seasons had this type of occurrence before, ala 'Shy from Green Isn't Your Color. But Green is from season one, when the characters and world still grew. At the time, it was mostly Canterlot, Ponyville, and the Everfree Forest, So the writers could get away with that. Nowadays, the Forest has no more plot utilization, and the world has expanded beyond not just Ponyville and Canterlot, but Equestria altogether. In RoH, Celestia rewarded their victory with a celebration and stained-glass window. They saved The Crystal Empire from Sombra. Twilight became a princess. After defeating Tirek and saving all of Equestria, they and Spike became responsible for spreading the Magic of Friendship across the world. You get the point. If this was a early-season episode (seasons one through two), then their sudden popularity would be believable. This is season seven. They're international celebrities. If they were interested in the journal and lessons, they would've done so long ago. Particularly the ponies from Ponyville. More about this later. The CMCs' sudden popularity makes no sense, either. They dipped into popularity contests twice (Confidential, Twilight Time). In Flight to the Finish, they were awarded the spot representing Ponyville for the opening ceremony. After Lost Mark, they became permanent celebrities and are sought for advice whenever they wonder where to either find their Mark or reconnect with it. Hell, they remark about their history of success during Forever Filly: So, why would they suddenly become really popular again now? And why would they conveniently skip over Twilight Time's lesson, which SB wrote in that same journal? In the Equestrian world, Daring Do is nothing but a figment of A.K. Yearling's and the Daring fandom's imagination. The RM6 know she's real, yet they respect Daring's/A.K.'s boundaries. She wants nothing but to be remembered as a quality children's storybook series. The entire Daring Do con is commemorated specifically for Daring the character, her world, and overall cast. The ending of both Don't and Stranger imply they (both the ReMane Six and Quibble) keep her identity and privacy a secret. But the RM6 out her in their journal. Not one of the seven, especially Dash nor Twilight, pause for one second to reconsider the consequences of unsolicitedly revealing Daring's secret identity — how big it'll be in the Daring fandom after reading something that should never have been revealed. They just go, "Screw common sense!! We'll publish it, anyway!" The continuity error's even worse when Dash directly references Don't after SG magically published several clean, refurbished copies. Dialogue, you disappoint me. A good chunk of the story's believability lowers considerably when the dialogue is often forced, and that's what happens here. Even though the RM7 and CMCs act in character and the two new fillies are portrayed like kids, sometimes the lines are mechanical, turning fully-dimensional and relatable characters into robots. It happened in many episodes prior, including Rainbow Falls, Trade Ya, Newbie Dash, and Buckball Season. Same thing here. Starlight, Toola, and Coconut spoke the most natural here. The most annoying points come after they remind the audience of the lessons they learned and, in particular, after Rarity ran off: Thanks, Twilight, for reminding us everything we all just saw seconds before. And loud enough so the snobby couple a few feet away could hear (yet didn't react due to plot contrivance). It gets worse when the ponies exposit, and there's a lot of it here. What's the golden principle in entertainment? Show, don't tell. In "children's" entertainment, even more crucial. By expositing so much, much of the seriousness and humor are sucked out, leaving behind an arid story. The tone will be mentioned later. But a repeated flaw in this show (and episode in general) isn't: A Whole Cruel World. The entire setting is really, really cruel. One or two days ago, the Mane Eight were among Equestria's biggest celebrities. Once they published the journals, they became pariahs. A group of leaders that (in the townsfolk's POV) deserve nothing except abuse. Wherever the script went, the RM6 felt miserable. And the more Twilight witnessed their pain, the more and more pain she felt, too. And how did all of Ponyville (or Canterlot) react? Selfishly. Rarity (the diner): Two background ponies talked shit behind her back. Neither of them clearly understand anything what the journals were supposed to say and went off on nothing except baseless assumptions. After she ran away, they feel oh so proud of themselves and pretend like it's no big deal. Not even Starlight's scolding through their thick heads worked. It's really unclear what they're supposed to portray. Is it supposed to be a jab at people for criticizing the writing within the episodes, missing the point in an episode, or hating Rarity's character? Any of the above, all, or none? Whatever the case is, it fails for five reasons. The lack of clarity already explained. The "stuck-up rich bitch" stereotype is enforced. Rarity underwent major trials that completely transformed her as a character. We as an audience saw that ride…but all they read is the result. To echo @Jeric in a chat with me, both RTM and Simple Ways showed her at really low lows. When all they read is how shitty you behaved, then they may have an awful impression of you regardless of outcome. Daisy, a well-known background pony from season one with a sweet (yet overly-dramatic) personality, bashed Rarity. For her to act like a snob is very out of character of her! The newspaper. Observe the 1.5/5 score in the shot linked above. The pony who read it really disliked it, and the couple's dissing only piled everything on. That one shot further muddles the point. Pinkie: It's one thing if they're tourists meeting Pinkie for the first time and wanting to get acquainted with her. All five — Carrot Top, Cherry Berry, Sassaflash, Berry Punch, and Coco Crusoe — are long-established background ponies dating back to season one. We've seen them help each other out so everyone's lives improve. They were seen at one point or another during The Smile Song; all but Coco and Sassaflash not only have very dedicated fanbases, but also actively followed, smiled, sang, and danced with her. Pinkie's presence was more than enough to make them all happy. Glad you said this, Pinkie, 'cause that doesn't make this scene okay! In fact, it makes it worse. Them knowing her for years and suddenly laugh AT her like complete jackasses does nothing but implicate that their happiness before and after Pinkie brightened their days is a façade. In fact, hold that quote. Dash: Bratty pegasi continue to pressure Dash and refuse to leave her alone. It's one thing if they truly were eager to hear more about her stories and adventures. It's another to rip out Twilight's lessons gleefully, pretend Twilight isn't even there, and act all smug about it. Dash wasn't happy with how poorly they treated her friend, but was forced to put up with it, since her "fanclub" is too stubborn to listen. Fluttershy: Several big problems: Like every other pony before them, all four adults are assholes. Or to be accurate, worse than just assholes. They're abusive, gang up on Fluttershy, and then put up a shoddy, lazy excuse just to be awful people. "Entitled to know"? "Why can't I be in the book"?! ARE YOU FUCKING SERIOUS?! There's NO excuse to gang up on her, period! One of the ponies here is Lemon Chiffon, who debuted in Mare Do Well. Previously, she had two hearts as her cutie mark. Here, a half-full glass of water mark along with a snooty, "masculine-sounding" voice. She resembles a lot like Lily Peet, a MTF brony "pundit" with a history of bashing bronies. I don't know or care if she laughed from that or not. If it's intentional, that's a line you never cross. Why? When you parody specific fans, it comes off as tacky at best and self-indulgent at worst. It tells the audience you have a very hostile opinion on not only specific members of your audience, but also the people you're trying to reach out to. Personally, if I'm parodied like this, I'd be really offended, because I'm treated like a caricature rather than a real person. If it's unintentional, then while the line ain't crossed, her attitude, voice, and mark are supposed to mock the "entitled fan" stereotype when FS stands up to them, three qualities Chiffon can't control. Sometimes intent doesn't equate result, yet the possible transphobic implications remain. This "gang" resembles PYHD's market scene, one of the worst of the series. Unlike the former, all of them debuted previously. These four characters and their so-called "personalities" are designed for this episode only. Good chance some or all of them will either never make an important appearance again or (hopefully) change to a more likeable personality. @AlexanderThrond brought up a great point in his review, and I'll expand on that. Fluttershy is used as a vessel to respond to the "criticism" (read: abuse in the episode's context) of their struggle to develop her, completely contradicting their intentions several seasons ago. From Luna Eclipsed until right around Rainbow Falls, her character stagnated, and her shyness was often reduced to comic relief. It looks even worse following an episode where she learns a very valuable lesson. When you flanderize a character like her after she underwent significant development in season one, you reduce her from three-dimensional to one-dimensional. Any long-time brony understands how this valid criticism of her didn't come out of thin air. During season four, DHX attempted to write better stories surrounding her, even when they aren't quite up to snuff: Bats!, Breezies, and Filli Vanilli. The following season, that criticism blossomed, and the flanderized Fluttershy has been absent ever since. The one episode showing Scaredyshy in S5 wasn't written as a daft joke: It expands a pointless scene from LE and explains why she hated Nightmare Night so much: She hates being pranked, and NMN without the pranks isn't fun. Without reading the valid criticisms, understanding them, and putting forth solid effort to fix this flaw, the Fluttershy we see today won't exist. Season five was great for her. Seasons six and seven are her best to date. It conveniently ignores It Ain't Easy Being Breezies. She had to assert herself through a very difficult action that she hated to make: kick out the breezies so they can continue their journey home. In her journal entry, she marks down how she had to learn that tough message. It's her very last journal entry that we witnessed, and it'd make sense if it were her last one in the journal, too. Not one time is it referenced, and it's ignored in order to continue using that journal as a forced plot device to dissuade. To handwave one of the most important episodes and subsequent lessons in her entire saga just to drive a point home makes the meta reference and payoff very deceitful. Rarity (boutique): The context behind the jump scare pile onto the torture. But why would Lemon Hearts (one of Twilight's friends from Canterlot) even be a part of the anti-Rarity hate mob in the first place? She'd know how much Rarity (and the rest of her friends back in Ponyville) mean to her, and she'd respect that. If she got upset, chances are she'd write or talk to Twilight. Applejack: No, they didn't bash her, pretend she didn't exist, laugh at her, or gang up on her. These are huge AJ fans. They're still assholes. Every single one of them show up at Sweet Apple Acres unannounced, immediately declare themselves to be part of her family without any consent, and force them to accommodate them, whether they like it or not. Big Mac, AJ, AB, and Granny not only moped as they slaved away for trespassers, but were actively distressed. Obviously, they want nothing to do with them, yet can't do anything about it since they're so outnumbered by this mob. All of them are terrible, but since she's my favorite character, the FS scene is my least-favorite. Oh, and Twilight? She's her own section. "Comedy." What this show does well often is the comedy. The jokes, timing, and corresponding tone can really make an episode funny. But when the jokes make no sense, forget it. The jokes suck for varying reasons, ranging from missing the point to the story's tone to hypocrisy of the meta "humor." The biggest offenses are the following (in airing order): Fluttershy writing her journal entry minuscule and nervously using the excuse of leaving room for others. This joke is very vague. Is it to reference her Timidshy past, or something? The mashed, rotten apple used to indicate AJ's lesson. Why the hell would she even smash an apple in there to begin with? She may not be the tidiest pony, but c'mon, man. Lemon Chiffon's voice and attitude so the audience can laugh at the "entitled fan" stereotype from all four who brigaded FS. This jump scare: By far the worst joke in the episode and second-worst grossout face of the season to this: If it's a jump scare, it's supposed to be a surprise. Rarity has a history of exaggerated faces, and both Twilight's and Starlight's distress/grimaces clue the audience that they'll hate what they'll see from her. Credit to @ChB for pointing this out. It takes up a good amount of the frame, and is drawn in exaggerated detail. The slowly-dripping mascara and level of intricacy for her mouth are no accident. It's done to be disgusting. The context surrounding it. The couple bashing her behind her back, reading the bad review in the newspaper as they dissed her, and Canterlot boycotting her in front of her boutique took a toll. Of the six who were tortured, Rarity had it the most devastated reaction. The entire scene with AJ is supposed to be a meta reference to her lack of popularity in the fandom and how little she appears in merch compared to the others. Unfortunately, what's supposed to be a gold mine for excellent meta jokes (including parodying the short end of the stick she received by the showrunners since Mane Attraction) is turned into a major missed opportunity. Just about every character who invaded SAA is established as far back as S1, including Cherry Berry (again) and Dinky Doo. This scene reinforces one of the episode's fatal flaws: the sudden treatment of the RM6 as celebrities. Context is key. If this was the first or early joke in order and rewritten a bit to make it seem like it's tens and eventually hundreds of happy tourists from abroad flocking in line at the entrance to meet her, then it's possible to make it work. Instead, every pony other than a specific few leading up to this scene live in town and trespass because of plot convenience. These ponies reinforce that context. AJ's statement of not liking the newfound popularity understates the chaos from SAA and their insufferable behavior. That line (and who it represents) is an imbecilic straw man. People complained about Twilight in season 4, because her characterization was boring, and rising her into princesshood put her on a much higher pedestal compared to the rest. Turning her into a princess means she takes part in ruling the kingdom and making sure none of her actions hurt Equestria. The Twilight of old appeared in Castle Mane-ia, yet what made her so lovable and her status played hooky until Twilight Time. Later episodes, Twilight's castle forming a round table (thus equalizing the Mane Six and Spike), and season five since rectified that, and the criticism has since dwindled considerably. So, how many jokes were successful? Two. Pinkie's party favors popping out of the journal once Dash opened her journal page. Twilight's face becoming flat as a pancake after AJ accidentally smashed her into the wall. Her exaggerated scowl and glare made it funny. Best joke of F&M. *closes "Twilight"* Even though this is an ensemble episode, Twilight receives the most focus. Each time she witnesses a caricature of fans attack/stalk her friends or is completely ignored herself, Twilight's confidence gets beaten down more and more. Like the others, she's tortured by the townsponies just to create a payoff (whether it's the punchline to a joke or otherwise), but the torture pornography helps ruin it, among other things. "Among other things" being the littler details. Recall how I called the dialogue a flaw: There's more to this problem generally. On two specific instances, the dialogue helped ruin the story. Here, Twilight both affirms and doubles down on an absolute viewpoint of what the journal and results should be: If you don't take the friendship lessons to heart, you're not to be listened to, even if you enjoy it. There's no homogenous way to enjoy a product. If there are ponies out there who enjoy the journal, but isn't fully invested in absorbing the lesson, so what? There's no one right way to enjoy it. I'll return to this point soon. … … … Where do I even start with this shit? F&M is FIM's third meta episode of the series. Only this time, the characters are portrayed as the showrunners' avatar, and those who are abusing the ReMane Seven represent the fans they're retorting. It's self-referential and doesn't hide it. When we as an audience criticize the Mane Eight, we don't usually do so because we hate the characters or expect the worst. We criticize because we know that this show is very good and has done great, yet can do better. As an audience, we relate to them in some way or another. It can be a mane pony, secondary, or background. Everyone has a preference of who they like and dislike. Nobody looks at a character exactly the same way. Guess what? That's okay. At the end of the day, we still love the characters as a whole and appreciate the show and staff for what they do. This "parody" is completely inaccurate in message, conflict, and theme. This exchange is the worst dialogue in the entire episode and causes the whole conflict to fall apart. They're characters, not real people. They exist only on screen, on paper, or within our own imaginations. It's the creators' job to flesh them out and make that character become high-quality and memorable. Neither the avatars nor antagonists are real. But in the universe, the characters ARE real and conquer major trials. Each time they wrote in the journal, they changed for the better, even after the episode sometimes doesn't work. Fluttershy after Breezies, Dash in Equestria Games following Rainbow Falls, Rarity after Simple Ways, etc. In canon, the characters aren't dictated by a writer's pencil or keyboard, because there, they don't exist. On the other hand, the antagonists see the autobiographical lessons as fiction and those who wrote them as fictional characters. Neither the antagonists nor protagonists are on equal conflict ground. The ponies questioning, bashing, stalking, and abusing the RM6 are treating them not as real people, but as either characters that we as readers want to replicate on paper and recreate or property that we can recycle. How the hell can the reporter — probably the one who released the 1.5/5-star rating, though that's just a guess — honestly believe the RM6 are fictional characters when he's talking to them directly? Once more, why do ponies from within their inner circles suddenly begin to see them as celebrities when they've known them for so long, anyway? This small exchange does nothing except tell the audience that all of these "antagonists" are straw men. Characters written to be proven wrong in order for the main characters to have the upper hand. What makes them so bad is that you're taking what could be valid points and eliminating them so the protagonists have the upper hand in everything they do. You're making what should be a complex conflict completely one-sided, thus telling parents that the episode — and show, if they watch it for the first time — is trying to emotionally manipulate children into viewing the plot through a black-and-white mentality. F&M uses real talking points from within the fandom, checks them off, and morphs them into abusive caricatures of fans rather than taking the good, bad, and recreating them into what fans as a whole truly are — people. In layman's terms, what could be a good lesson is morphed into a bad one. Straw characters helped ruin the Fluttershy Micro, Root of the Problem, Spice Up Your Life, AND here. NEVER use straw men to teach a lesson! Good melody, poor lyrics. While the musical melody for Work in Progress is good, the lyrics make the song the worst of the season. (Yes, worse than the duel between Big Mac and Stereo Pop.) The song (and by extension, the "we're not flawless" moral) is a loaded statement. Everyone knows the characters are flawed and how important the combination of both strengths and weaknesses makes the characters appealing, relatable, and memorable. Sometimes, the characters make really terrible mistakes, but what makes them work or not is whether these mistakes make sense or not. Sometimes the showrunners make sloppy, careless, or lazy mistakes, and people criticize the execution of the characters and story, because they love the show and know the writers can do much better, hope they learn from their mistakes, and hope these mistakes don't happen again. The "It's flawed" excuse is as stupid as "It's a kids' show." Flawed characters don't make up for poor characterization, worldbuilding, or writing overall. When you're a moral-driven cartoon with huge focus on likeable characters like this one, your reasons for characters (especially ones designed to be role models to children) to act like jerks must make sense. "In character" and "flawed" don't justify bad behavior. Think through your implications! Time and time again, the show has a history of not thinking through the unfortunate implications. Sometimes they're small and don't affect the story so drastically. Other times, they completely affect the entire story and moral. See DQ, Mare Do Well, OBA, and Hard to Say Anything. Here, the implications (in story and out, small and big) are abundant. The RM6 out Daring Do as real, invading her privacy. Pinkie's laughed at by ponies who's known her since at least season one, implying that their appreciation for her and friendships together are lies. The implications surrounding Lemon Chiffon. The fact that ponies from Canterlot and Ponyville suddenly become enamored at the idea of the RM6 publishing the journals. I wrote it earlier, and I repeat it. Place this episode in season one, adjust the story to remove the implications, and write better jokes, this is passable. Why? Because we still haven't fully acquainted with the Mane Six and Ponyville. But have Ponyville and Canterlot act like they never knew them from the beginning in a season-seven episode? A time when where they're celebrities and help spread the Magic of Friendship abroad? Nonsense! Do they genuinely care about the ReMane Six, or was their appreciation for them prior to F&M a waste of time? This moment, when White Lightning walks away, hurt by Lemon's insults of FS: This is supposed to represent how sometimes very vocal negativity can drive a wedge in discussion and may make people fear to express themselves. It becomes even worse when the person is brigaded by many like-minded negative people, creating a very toxic atmosphere. Toxicity goes both ways. "Toxic positivity" is as true as "toxic negativity." As far as the scene itself's concerned, the characters' fans and haters both attempted to trespass on Twilight's property, and it's assumed WL's part of that crowd. It's very difficult for me to pity her when she behaves as poorly as everyone else. The moral is really clunky. It's supposed to be about how despite a whole bunch of people trashing the work, as long as some enjoy it, the effort's worth it. But there's a difference in what you're trying to say and what you're saying. After the song and friendship speech, both sides resumed their bickering and feuding. The lesson paints all of the abuse as merely an obstacle of their next friendship quest. However, this isn't merely an obstacle. These fan clubs and haters are willingly or accidentally ruining their livelihoods. Rarity's boutiques remain boycotted; AJ still can't figure out how to eject her freeloading fanclub; Dash will still be nagged by brats in the sky; haters will still stalk and verbally abuse Fluttershy; and old friends will continue to treat Pinkie like an automatic laugh track. Only Twilight can deal with her problems post-credits. What happened here is not okay and shouldn't be handwaved for the sake of a cheap gag. Coconut Cream and Toola Roola are (apparently) a metaphor of the show's assumed primary demographic: young girls. Because of how self-referential Fame is, how those two fillies are the only ones not the ReMane Seven who are sympathetic, and how they're the only ones who actually the lessons to heart, it sends an unintended message that little girls who take the morals to heart are the only people who matter. What makes this toxic? Let's go back to Twilight's quote from before: Parallel this to the brony fandom and FIM. Would anyone want to take the lessons to heart if they're not entertained first and foremost? FIM's educational entertainment, the emphasis intentional. Everyone wants to be entertained when watching the show. But answering the question as this is a generalization. Critically think why you like the show. Why are you entertained when watching it? What entertains you about it? For some, it's easy, not so much for others. Bronydom is a fanbase of millions. Like human fingerprints, each reason why each brony — yes, little boys and girls count as bronies, too — watch the show and what they value most in the show is very individual. Could be the stories they tell for one, the colorful cast another. One may like the Mane Eight equally, some more than others, or have a dislike of at least one of them completely to the point where they can't stand 'em. For others, could be varying degrees of heart, humor, storytelling, and so forth. For another, how both kids and adults alike can watch it without shame. Hell, the morals of friendship they teach may be the primary reason a few watch it. How much they personally emphasize depends on their preference. Earlier this season, A Flurry of Emotions hinted this moral in the background; whether it's intentional or not doesn't matter. Spearhead creates abstract pieces of art with intent of witnessing other ponies' reactions and emotional experiences once they see them. He understands how each one reminds Cadance and SA of Flurry Heart and dearly missing her and that someone else will react really differently. He's explicitly open with this fact. No one watches the show the same way, either. To echo, Twilight and the entire premise affirm that if the ponies don't learn the friendship lessons and grow from them, then whether you like the journal or not, you're not worthy of being listened to. The moral in itself implicates this by using two fillies as tokens. Combine that thought to bronydom, and it implicates that you're only a fan if you take the friendship lessons and morals to heart; if you don't, you don't qualify for a fan. I doubt that's supposed to be that way. But from how the story's themes were presented and what the characters believed, it makes sense why many take it that way. Because that ideal, accidental or vice-versa, is dishonest in every facet. Some may love aspects of the journal, some may hate it. Others may have equal or less sharp reactions. You can control the content you put in, but not how they feel when they view it. How you, the ones who publish it, respond to it is up to you. Likewise, to repeat from before, no one will react to any FIM episode, comic, short, or EQG film/special the same. No professional material (episode, movie, comic, short, etc.) is free from questioning. Do they miss the point sometimes? Absolutely. All of us have done that, myself including. But when the characters behave out of character, you paint an uplifting and likeable world as cynical and mean-spirited for the sake of the story, and/or teach dishonest and hurtful messages, then criticizing and bashing the story's integrity is fair game. For that matter, and this is a message to everyone reading this review, people regardless of age are entitled to like and love the show how they see fit. People are entitled to dislike and even hate episodes. People are entitled to criticize episodes if they suck. People are entitled to take NO lessons to heart! Does any of this make them lesser of a fan than others? If your answer is yes, exit the page now. Aside from the mane characters, CMCs, and the other two fillies, everyone is a quarter-dimensional, abusive caricature of specific groups of fans. Each set Twilight encounters includes the entitled fan, collector, hate mob, brat, and freeloader. Swap lines within their groups, and their personalities are exactly the same regardless of who's speaking. There's no redeeming quality in anyone here. But what makes this really sad? a. Both kids and adults combined represent these stereotypes, including ALL adult fans. The fact that all of them are false representations of who fans are regardless of age talks down to not only adults who watch the show, but also little kids. The episode paints a broad brush on every antagonist by turning them all into one-note bullies. Every adult (both the lovers and haters) acting so petulant hurts the episode's themes, messages, and reinforces awful geek-centric stereotypes. On their own, the stereotypes are bad enough; it's even worse when using them to try to teach a moral to children. b. F&M doesn't isolate the criticism from the abuse and reacts very defensively to valid (and dated) talking points. Fans (including big Fluttershy fans, like myself) criticized her, because we know they can write her better. (We're seeing this now with AJ and her flanderization.) Ironically, the past three seasons are among her best of the series, thanks to the criticism. Even though he wasn't in the episode, Spike wouldn't have his best season last year had the fanbase not hammer them for their poor treatment of him for so long. c. As written before, these caricatures are straw men. d. Recall the quote: It applies to everyone, not only Pinkie. Most of the characters have been present since the pilot, a large chunk (i.e, Lyra, Bon Bon, Daisy, Lemon Hearts, Twinkleshine, Rose, Amethyst Star) with canonical characterizations prior. The background characters became beloved from their antics, spawning ideas, theories, and other creative forms of imagination. When characters do something with the mane characters, like help, sing, or dance, they tell us how much these ponies care for one another. Slice of Life works in so many ways, one of which is how much they care for each other and see others as part of Ponyville's soul. They actively helped Matilda and Cranky prepare an impromptu wedding and fussed little. The moral and animation presentation make it feel like they accomplished something. So, what do they accomplish here? Becoming ungrateful bastards. That's not what the show stands for. It's so out of character of the show's welcoming atmosphere and progressive morale. Rebuttals to some/common/eventual defenses for this episode. When all we see is everyone from Ponyville or Canterlot behave like assholes, you're telling us to assume that everyone from both towns behaves like this. The same logic applies to bronydom. When 99% of all the audience sees is badly-behaved fans, you paint an impression that this is not only the norm within the brony fandom, but that almost everyone who's a brony is some kind of "manchild." You're guilting people by association. If you're trying to suggest that it's only a portion, either SHOW a portion or clearly dictate that that these jerkasses, while very loud, don't represent the whole. Don't use real talking points. Consolidate the assholes to a spare few, while making the characters recognize throughout that kids and adults — not just two kids — do care about the journal and their well-being. Two episodes apply your defense much better than Fame: Spike's Search from G1. Stranger Than FF. Yes, Quibble can be an elitist and sometimes a bit of a jerk. But he's also a fan of Daring Do like the rest in the con, and the ep never lets you forget it. Just a fan of the first three books. It's very clear to the audience that he was only one bad apple within that entire con, yet the episode treats him as a genuinely good person who just got caught up. On top of that, he learns his lesson at the end. This entire episode is very laid back in tone, so the writers are able to get away with cartoony shenanigans, the satire, and a bunch of the humor. The Daring Do con is a satire of fandom conventions and their quirky charm. It shows us how dedicated many Do fans are, but the con is written in a way so the audience knows it's in good fun. We as people see ourselves in that con, but its accuracy and good-nature comedy make it funny. We laugh at ourselves by simultaneously laughing with the writers. BTW, thanks to Fame, I respect and appreciate Stranger now. Though I stand by on Quibble being OOC in the second half, I was wrong to call him a stereotype, and I was really unfair towards the episode the entire time. Self-deprecation comes primarily not at the audience's expense, but at their own. We're not laughing at ourselves, but at the situation the comedians are in. Rodney Dangerfield was amazing at it: He always never took himself seriously, knew that the audience and he were going to have a great time together, and was just an all-around good guy. You know who was great at making the audience laugh at themself? A hint: he just passed away. Don Rickles. He could deliver any type of insult at you. There was no line he couldn't cross. So why was he funny? Again, Rickles never took himself seriously. The lighthearted tone in his routines loosens the atmosphere and makes the audience more receptive to the jokes. Rickles knew how to insult you without getting personal. He put in the effort to make you laugh through his performance. If they laughed, then he succeeded. He roasted everyone and made them laugh so hard that they couldn't breathe. Despite his act on stage, he was an excellent person behind the scenes. The stories people tell about him show how good he was as a person. When he has that good of a reputation, the audience knows his insult routine is all in good fun. Some of his best roasts were to people he respected or were close friends with, like Sinatra and Reagan. In short, guilt-trip someone who's insulted to laugh at themself, the joke is neither good nor funny. It failed. To double-down and accuse them of being part of the problem is hypocritical. Like "SJW," "fanbrat," "fanboy/girl," and "alt-left," this pejorative jumped the shark. In fact, I hated it ever since I heard it. Why? Because it mocks people just for being able to feel. You're directly trolling people for sharing an emotional response. You mandate that people should act like robots or live in some kind of hive mind. Humanity doesn't work that way. Diversity helps shape up our world. You can't control people's emotions. Ironically, calling people "snowflakes" or "sensitive" is hypocritical, too, 'cause you're emotionally reacting to their emotion. "But why do you love Cutie Map, when it's one of the most cynical settings of the show?" Glad you asked, my imaginary questionnaire. This setting is completely confined into that town only, and both its presentation and Mane Six's reactions make it clear that what they see around them is not normal. Everyone's happiness is completely controlled. Starlight continually brainwashes Our Town's inhabitants into sticking to her ways, or else. Starlight was a ruthless, calculated control freak. Not to mention she was the villain. Something folks like her should do. If she wasn't so evil, then it won't make any sense. It was also very well written. DHX very carefully planned everything about that episode from beginning to end, and the Mane Six figured out how to solve a life-threatening friendship problem very cleverly. In short, TCM's about celebrating diversity and free will, not the opposite. It's cynicism done right. Congratulations for answering your own question. There's no place to treat real people and groups of real people like stereotypes in any show, especially one with intent to educate to children. The fact that we teach kids that (ageist) stereotypes are A-OK in entertainment makes me take it very seriously. This show is way better than this pandering schlock. The better the show, the more it respects kids. And, yes, kids DO care about lore/worldbuilding. If they don't, then why is magical thinking so important in children's development, and why do psychologists and high-quality children's educational shows (i.e., Arthur, Mister Rogers', Sesame Street, Shining Time Station, Magic School Bus, Dragon Tales) value it so much? In a June 2017 interview from The Hollywood Reporter, Hasbro CEO Brian Goldner admitted that boys make up 30% of FIM's TV audience, and they no longer allegedly aim toys to a specific gender. Observe the recent trend of FIM being marketed to boys AND girls over the past year-plus. With Let Toys Be Toys campaigning for the desegregation of toys, Audi's Spanish branch publishing a car commercial satirizing gender roles, and companies like Target, Toys R Us, and TJ Maxx (for clothes) de-sexing aisles, this trend is only (hopefully) continuing. Focus that back to MLP. Zacherle founded the franchise as a unisex toyline, and MLP & Friends was for all ages regardless of gender. Faust and crew published FIM as an all-ages, gender-neutral show, too, and it's been that way since. The family-friendly approach and refusal to apply gender and age barriers onto their stories and world are two background reasons why the fandom became so enormous and boisterous. The point? "It's for kids" is a stupid excuse. Being for children shouldn't affect the quality of your product. To use it regardless of circumstance talks down to kids and treats them like idiots. Apply this to "it's for little girls," as well. Labeling FIM as for (little) girls shoves gender roles upon our children, segregates genders into categories, applies different standards of quality to girls when it should be universal, and treats girls as tokens to excuse misogyny and misandry. Being a "good girls' show" shouldn't matter. Be a good show, period. It's odd how no one has come forward to claim credit for the aired product. Larson repeatedly disassociated himself from this episode, both in ToonKritic's podcast and on Twitter. Big Jim was unaware, too: I don't know what happened behind the scenes, but given the visual and audio evidence, the theory of it being a lighthearted poke either originally or after submission to Hasbro deserves the benefit of the doubt. However, for the aired product, it's ridiculous to claim it's lighthearted when Ponyville and Canterlot treat them like crap and the characters become emotionally distressed and scared as a result. Unlike Best Night Ever, Slice of Life, and Stranger, the meta conflict and character reactions are supposed to be taken seriously. The tone and mood are played straight; both sides treat the matter as a really big deal. Laughing and grimacing at the stereotypes don't a satire make. That's why The Good, The Bad, and The Ponies isn't a parody (despite its intentions), and the same applies here. Razgriz made an excellent point last month when criticizing Fame, and I echo my reply on Discord to here with changes: You can't have a show without an audience. People watch and follow the show out of interest, admiration, and so on. They don't watch to get called out. It's a bad move to taunt any portion of the fanbase, because it can come across as an attack on the people you're not attacking. "Lighthearted fun" or "a portion" makes no difference. If you're going to respond to any group of fans, you BETTER know what you're doing. Rickles knew what he was doing when roasting people. Whoever ghostwrote this script didn't. If you have that thought, erase it. There's no excuse for anyone to abuse the showrunners, and I never condone it. I'm on record of being against it, sometimes replying to users angrily when they do. No matter how angry we get at episodes from time to time, these showrunners, animators, and editors are people. They earn as much respect as everyone else here. The criticism, even the harsh ones, are aimed at the product. If I criticize the company or showrunners, it's for their lack of effort if applicable because I know they do better, releasing something with stereotypes or harmful morals (since kids are impressionable), or their behavior if they cross a line (which I've done to no one but IDW's Ted Anderson for his sexism). But I don't get personal; that's a no-no under any circumstance. At the end of the day, DHX is an entity full of people like you and I. That "argument" is the most obvious self-fulfilling prophecy I've heard within fandom in quite some time. One thing the show does very well is it creates and enforces a very uplifting, inviting atmosphere. The pastel colors, likeable mane characters, likeable background ponies, idealistic solutions to friendship, and proactive approach to solving friendship problems tell the audience this isn't supposed to be that type of world where "realistic" doesn't translate into stereotypical cynicism. This was one of the themes when the show started, and it's shown by how Ponyville and Pinkie actively welcomed Twilight in the Golden Oak Library. Sometimes even when the episodes don't do as well, it stays true to its tone. Think about this. When were the episodes at their best? When it shoots up. Hurricane FS, Winter Wrap Up, Perfect Pear, Lost Frickin' Mark! Even when it doesn't do as well as it should, like A Friend in Deed, it still capitalizes on that welcoming, confident setting. OTOH, what are some of the biggest flaws in Mare Do Well, PYHD, Ponyville Confidential, Bats!, Filli Vanilli, 28PL, Newbie Dash, and Owl's Well? The mean-spirited tone. Everything about it is not only completely cynical, but also done in a way that completely beats down on the mane character and makes it act like the entire world is out to get them. When the setting dials up the mean-spirited tone, it makes the world they're living in very unpleasant to watch. Do so with an idealistic, uplifting world like FIM's, then it's done for no other reason than to serve the plot. If you're gonna present something mean, make it feel organic. Each time the series turned up this level of contrived cynicism, the quality of the atmosphere and overall story degrades. You're piling on cruelty again and again just because. Fame, to repeat it, has that same flaw. Ironically, it's similar to one of season 2's worst, which Larson wrote and took credit for: (Link to poster.) Replace the gossiping theme and CMCs with fandom and the ReMane Six, respectively, and you get the same episode. Remove the fandom allegories; all you have left is a town deciding to suddenly declare the ReMane Six famous and treat them like dirt just because they can. So, here's a question, and think about it long and hard. If Fame and Misfortune didn't include fandom allegories, would you grin viciously at this episode? Would you act like white supremacists following Trump's election victory and publish the vitriol in the first place? For a good chunk of you, chances are it's gonna be "no." That alone means Fame is a failure. This "bravery" is cowardice and a self-centered desire to air your dirty laundry as well as support the idea that kids should embrace lazy shortcuts of entertainment. Excusing this lowbrow shit is bad enough. To do so through this doesn't make this episode any better. In fact, you only make it worse. One final note. A few self-contained scenes completely contradict continuity…but I held out one more: the whole premise itself. There's no care in backstory, worldbuilding, and contextual logic in any way, shape, or form. Echoing WaterPulse offsite, it feels like the one(s) who ghostwrote it didn't give a damn about the Equestrian world or threw it all away just to drive home a point. If the story doesn't care about the rich, ever-growing world, why should your audience? Conclusion: Wow. Just…wow. Now, to give Fame some credit, it has a lot of potential. The material to create an excellent satire is there. We as a fandom have its strengths and flaws. A good, effective satire can allow the fandom to actually poke fun at itself: acknowledge the problems, yet do it that makes it funny and not anger-inducing. Stranger pulls it off rather effectively, particularly within that con and treatment of Quibble as a nice albeit stubborn guy. And apparently, this was supposed to be lighthearted, too. So, what the hell happened? Where's that traditional love and care for the audience? How did the show (which aired The Perfect Pear one episode prior) manage to publish an episode that was so wrapped up in trying to send a message to its audience that it forgot to write a story, much less a good one? Larson makes it known that plenty of it was ghostwritten during development, and the fact that nobody claimed responsibility for it is troublesome. That doesn't mean DHX doesn't deserve the benefit of the doubt. Far from it. They're a reputable company, and the people within care about their craft and the quality they publish. I feel very sorry for Larson. Even though many of his ideas weren't his, laws require him to be credited for it. This episode as is feels out of character of him. Out of everyone who worked for the show, he's closest to the fandom. He may've screwed up on one satire, but that was due to story oversights, not spite. Additionally, in every episode he writes, he focuses a lot on sticking to the continuity and not contradict it; neither episode that keeps it in mind (this and MMC) were his fault. I originally skipped this one, because I believed it was going to be bad. After watching it the first go around (and then skimmed through a second time), it blew me away. Was it as bad as I thought? No. It's twenty times worse. Fundamentally, it's broken. It doesn't understand what a parody is supposed to be; it tries to parody obnoxious fans, yet the characters play everything so straight that it's treated as a serious plot instead of a satire. Continuity is ignored for the sake of the story, both in sections and throughout. Jokes are rammed in without focus on having them make sense. The premise used the idea that the ReMane Six would finally be recognized as a result of their journal, even though their celebrityhood dates back to the pilot in Ponyville and Canterlot and expanded following MMC. Fanatics are painted with a broad brush by having everyone sans two fillies portrayed as abusive caricatures. Yet, by combining valid criticism with the abuse, reducing existing characters into less-than-flat caricatures and ageist stereotypes of fans, and painting the antagonists as seeing the RM6 as only fictional characters, the antagonists become straw men, damaging the story and morals. The beginning is stupid, and it only worsens with each passing minute. Starlight's appearance, her best since reformation, is wasted here. Fame & Misfortune panders to the lowest common denominator. Lazy, dishonest, and intellectually offensive. This garbage exists as is to check off common talking points within the fandom, whether it makes canonical sense or not. Whoever decided to warp the script into a callous attitude should be ashamed of themself. It overtakes 28 Pranks Later as the most mean-spirited take of Equestria in the entire show and is fundamentally worse than Rainbow Falls and EQG1. Unlike Fame, those two tried to tell a story. Add the unfortunate implications (the ageism, enforcement of tired geek-based stereotypes, and treatment of Coconut and Toola as tokens), it's even worse. It's both my most hated and (so far) worst episode of season seven. At the start of the review, my bottom-13 was like this: One Bad Apple Bridle Gossip Newbie Dash Dragon Quest The Crystal Empire Rainbow Falls 28 Pranks Later Princess Spike P.P.O.V. The Mysterious Mare Do Well Owl’s Well That Ends Well The Show Stoppers Putting Your Hoof Down Now, after talking about another awful episode (Newbie Dash) with King Clark, it's now this: One Bad Apple Newbie Dash Fame and Misfortune Bridle Gossip Dragon Quest The Crystal Empire Rainbow Falls 28 Pranks Later Princess Spike P.P.O.V. The Mysterious Mare Do Well Owl’s Well That Ends Well The Show Stoppers
  24. Humour will do a lot to save an otherwise subpar episode for me, but I do have my limits. "To Change a Changeling" tells a largely uninteresting story with unclear themes and shallow characterization, but it also has a lot of great dialogue and humorous moments. The latter does a lot to keep the episode afloat, but there's only so many issues I can forgive before they start to overwhelm the humour, and while this episode is on the right side of the line, it's teetering near the edge, and it'd need to be a lot funnier for me to fully forgive a plot this dull. While Trixie and Starlight are travelling to the Changeling hive to visit Thorax, they're captured by an unchanged Changeling, who brings them to the hive under the impression that they're enemies. Once the misunderstanding has been cleared up, the ponies realize this Changeling is Thorax's brother Pharynx, who has been unwilling to share love or accept Thorax's pacifism. Seeing that Pharynx is making the other changelings uncomfortable, Starlight and Pharynx try to convince him to change. Pharynx is both the episode's greatest strength and its greatest weakness. On one hand, he's consistently hilarious, offering a variety of funny responses to both the pacifism of Thorax's community and to the ponies' attempts to befriend him. Having a character bluntly reject friendship isn't exactly something new to this show, but it's still fairly amusing, and the comic timing of Pharynx's curt dialogue is solid. The thing is, the show never gives us a reason to care whether he changes or not, and despite later upping the conflict to whether he even stays in the hive, the stakes remain low. Pharynx is consistently depicted as rude and inconsiderate, a nuisance at best who doesn't think of others in any sense aside from basic security. He's funny but never particularly likeable, and it's hard to even be invested for Thorax's sake, because we never get a sense that they have a close relationship. Pharynx never demonstrates much respect for Thorax, and even when a flashback shows us Pharynx defending Thorax from bullies, Pharynx then proceeds to harass Thorax himself. Thorax seems to care more, but aside from that unconvincing flashback, we're never given a good sense of why. But it's hard to actually hate Pharynx, because he's mostly harmless. The worst thing he does is kidnap Starlight and Trixie, and he releases them the moment Thorax tells him to. As a result, it's hard to muster up any particular emotion towards him. The most I got was thinking that he never deserved to be exiled, but the episode is barely even about that. While that does make it a little easier to see why Thorax might still care about him, it actually serves to make him less compelling, because he ultimately feels slightly generic and shallow. Starlight and Trixie fall into the exact same boat. Both are given some snappy dialogue, and Trixie's happy self-confidence is as amusing as always, but it's unclear what they're supposed to have learned from this experience, and because Pharynx isn't very sympathetic, their internal conflict over how to deal with him isn't very relatable. They eventually conclude that they should tell Thorax to kick Pharynx out, but while they're both very nervous about telling him, we never get enough details about the changeling brothers' relationship to really empathize. There's some inherent tension in telling someone to banish his own sibling, but that conflict lacks specificity and texture. Starlight is still kinda bland here and Trixie's boasting isn't always endearing, so this extra barrier to sympathizing with them is particularly unwelcome. Worse still, everything Starlight and Trixie successfully accomplish only serves to make matters worse for Thorax and Pharynx. When they debate who should tell Thorax to kick him out, Pharynx overhears and leaves of his own accord, and later Starlight plans to bring out the "caring" Pharynx from Thorax's flashback by luring a dangerous creature towards the hive. The latter, in particular, comes across as something which Trixie should have known to talk her down from, given that Snips and Snails did the same thing in her first appearance, and while it feels slightly more in-character for Starlight, it's unpleasant to yet again see her putting others in danger when left unattended. I don't even know what point Starlight and Trixie's screw up is supposed to convey. If there's a moral here about not bringing dangerous animals to a settlement, the animal in question doesn't show up long enough for that to be meaningful, and while it sets up something about giving your friends difficult advice, that plot thread is never properly resolved. The denouement suggests a moral about not writing people off as a "lost cause," because Pharynx eventually does rejoin the hive and transform, but it's not quite clear why the latter happened, because Pharynx doesn't really learn anything by the end. In its climax, the episode shifts gears entirely and pulls out a moral that, while not entirely absent from the rest of the episode, is unconvincing due to a few dubious plot aspects. The episode is trying to say that a nonviolent community like Thorax's still needs to defend itself against threats, but we know that Thorax was inspired to be nice by the actions of ponies during the invasion of Canterlot, so it's unclear why he doesn't already know that. While we know he's gentle and until recently wasn't very assertive, it reflects badly on him that he didn't recognize ponies still had means of defending themselves, given how much pony society has inspired the way he runs his hive. Furthermore, I'm just not sure what this episode is supposed to be telling kids. Suggesting that peaceful communities still need to defend themselves is arguably a timely message, but it also seems fairly political in nautre, and this show is targeted at people who are several years away from being able to vote. If it means to say anything about individual behaviour, then representing that by contrasting an individual with a society doesn't seem like the clearest way to communicate that, and the show already has morals about nice people still needing to stand up for themselves. So it's a good thing that the episode is funny, because that does keep it afloat in spite of all the thematic messiness and narrative tedium. "To Change a Changeling" is saved by its good dialogue and solid comedic timing, because what's here story-wise mostly falls apart under any scrutiny, and it fails to make its characters or main conflict compelling. As a whole, it's kind of a mess, but an entertaining mess is better than a boring one any day of the week, and it's hard to say that an episode with this sharp a sense of humour is entirely worthless. If only the plot were as good as the dialogue. Score: Entertainment: 7/10 Characters: 5/10 Themes: 4/10 Story: 5/10 Overall: 53/100 You can find more episode reviews at my offsite blog.
  25. AlexanderThrond

    Episode review: "Campfire Tales"

    My Little Pony does not have interesting mythology. The fact is, the vast majority of its world and backstory are either heavily based on other stories or designed to fulfill a specific role. That doesn't need to be the case, but this is a children's program where most worldbuilding is made up during the scripting phase rather than taken from any grander vision, so the easiest route is simply transplanting ponies onto familiar stories from human mythology, or taking creatures from other fantasy stories and building a rudimentary, sometimes overly simplistic society around them. With "Campfire Tales," the show seems interested in finally adding some weight to its mythos, and yet it falls into all the same traps. There are three stories in this episode, but all three are simple moral lessons which transplant human cultures onto Equestria without exploring them in much detail. Add in a framing story which tries to tie that to the actual main characters of the show, and you have an episode which can't do justice to either Equestria's past or present. It's still nice to see a diverse range of environments, and there's moments of charm and tension here and there, but it's not enough to make the episode particularly exciting. When Rarity, Applejack, and Rainbow Dash go camping with their sisters (and Scootaloo), their plans are ruined by an attack from a swarm of aggressive bugs known as "Flyders," who drive them away from their campsite and into a cave. While there, they set up a fire and try to make the best of their situation by sharing their favourite legends. The first legend, shared by Applejack, tells of an earth pony named Rock Hoof from the guard village of Mighty Helm, who everyone said was too scrawny and weak to protect the village. When a volcano erupts, he starts building a trench to stop the lava, and spontaneously transforms into a stronger pony, rapidly expanding his trench to the river so the lava can flow harmlessly away from the village. Of the three legends, this has the least clarity, and its apparent message of perservering beyond what's expected of you is clouded by the fact that Rock Hoof could have been seriously hurt by the lava had he not transformed, and that transformation adds a mystical element which is somewhat hard to apply to the laws of magic in Equestria, let alone real life. Furthermore, Rock Hoof's story is by far the simplest of the lot, featuring the least buildup, the least detail, and the least context, and while that's not entirely unrealistic to real-life legends, it also prevents the story from having much of an identity. Unfortunately, this is also a major issue with the other two stories. The second is shared by Rarity, and involves a unicorn named Mistmane whose friend, Sable Spirit, is the empress of an unnamed state. Mistmane discovers that Sable is overworking her subjects, and surprised that her old friend has turned so cruel, confronts her in the palace. Despite being the most intricate of the three legends, the Mistmane story still relies heavily on simplistic characterization in service of a simplistic theme. Sable's oppressive rule is explained through a longstanding jealousy of Mistmane's beauty, which led the future empress to cast a failed beauty spell on herself, making her old and ugly, and leading her to want a palace with the beauty she could not have. Without knowing more about Sable, this just makes her seem shallow, and as a consequence, Mistmane's decision to restore her appearance in the end lacks weight. This second legend contains the strongest moral of the three, but it's still not especially clear. What comes across is that jealousy and obsession with physical appearances will eventually lead to cruelty, but Sable is such an extreme and uncomplicated example that this moral comes across as little more than generic children's show fluff - not without merit, but offering relatively little substance for anyone older than the target audience. Much of the problem is with how these legends are presented. They don't function as regular works of fiction, as they're only a couple minutes long and lack detail or nuanced characters, but they don't have the ethnographic appeal of fictional mythology either. The Mighty Helm story takes place in a Nordic society, while the Mistmane one has a Japanese aesthetic, but both of these cultures are entirely new to the show, and these legends provide very little detail about them. We don't know exactly where any of these tales take place, we don't know what their cultures are called, and we don't know if the societies they come from even still exist. Somehow, we know less about the world of Equestria than when we started. With that said, it is nice to see new environments. The town of Mighty Helm is at least named, and neither it nor the setting of the Mistmane story look like anything we've seen in the past. Rainbow's later story takes place in the Dragon Lands, but while we've seen that before, it's still one of the show's more visually distinctive locations, and it's never looked better. Unfortunately, all three of the cultures depicted are directly analogous to real-world cultures, and without any additional detail of where they fit into Equestria, they still come across as uninspired even in spite of how distinct they are from the rest of the show. Rather than unique worldbuilding which sets Equestria apart, we get familiar sights plastered directly from the real world which look like any number of other shows. Thankfully, while Rainbow's story has all the same problems, it at least boasts some decent action. This legend revolves around Flash Magnus, a lowly cadet in an unnamed kingdom's Royal Legion who is flying over the dragon lands with his squad to meet their comrades. Along the way, they're attacked by the dragons, and several Legionnaires are captured. In order to rescue his comrades, Flash volunteers to lure the dragon away, and is given a fireproof shield to help. Once the rescue has succeeded, he lures the dragons into a thundercloud, where get zapped a few times and then retreat. Flash's bravery is praised by his comrades, and his commander lets him keep the shield. As said, this third story has all the same problems: almost no cultural detail, two-dimensional characters, and a simple moral. In this case, the moral is about the merit of bravery and putting yourself in danger to help others - again, fine enough, but not too compelling. However, it also contains significantly more action than the other two, and adding the stakes of Flash's captured comrades helps give the story at least a little weight. More importantly, the scene of Flash flying away from the dragons while defending himself from their fire is fast-paced and genuinely thrilling, which gives this story some of the energy which the other two were sorely lacking, and the final twist of Flash leading the dragons into a thundercloud is easily the most clever plot point in the entire episode. That action is significant, because these legends are played entirely straight, with very little humour to offer. The Mistmane story also has a visually distinctive action scene, but it's played with particular seriousness, as is the rest of that story. The only note of humour across all three is Flash Magnus emerging from the thundercloud charred and frazzled, providing a little levity after a genuinely intense chase sequence. Otherwise, these stories are entirely po-faced, and they're neither complex nor creative enough to justify that. Instead, the episode's attempts at humour are found in the framing story, which features light banter between the Crusaders and their sisters as well as a few weak visual gags. Frankly, only one of these lands: in one digression from the Mistmane story, Sweetie Belle says she too would be surprised if one of her friends turned evil, to which Apple Bloom retorts that she "knows how they get when they miss breakfast." That lands, but otherwise the the episode relies heavily on limp callbacks to "Sleepless in Ponyville" and caricatured depictions of Rainbow Dash and Scootaloo. It even throws in a grotesque facial expression or two. To be fair to Dash, she gets a few pleasant moments which emphasize her relationship with Scootaloo, but most of her dialogue consists simply of her declaring her own awesomeness. It's not just that she acts confidently and recklessly - she does that, but it's mostly fine, excepting a few boneheaded encounters with the flyders. It's that not a single scene can pass without her at least once stating how awesome she is. Even if we accept that she'd still boast constantly in season 7, it's just annoying to have the same joke repeated ad nauseam, and you'd think Rainbow would tone it down out of some respect for her friends. Scootaloo is even worse, though. Her nervousness from "Sleepless in Ponyville" has ballooned into her being the scaredy-cat of the group, which completely misses the point of the earlier episode. In "Sleepless," she was just as scared as Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom, but felt the need to hide it in order to impress Rainbow Dash. Here, she's afraid of everything, whereas Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom are completely fine for the most part. This is a completely new character trait which we have never seen before, and there's no other punchlines to save her scenes from falling flat. This framing story is also very strained and predictable. Of course something goes wrong right when they set up camp. Of course the ponies need to make the best of what they have. Of course they lock themselves in, then find a way out as soon as they start looking. And of course the CMC declare that they had a great time despite all the setbacks. It's just so stale and predictable, and the lesson has already been done as far back as season 1's brilliant "The Best Night Ever." Even the legends seem to echo that main lesson, though it's faint enough that it could just be a coincidence. Still, there's some charm to be found in the framing story, mainly in the relationships between the CMC and their sisters. Apple Bloom is visibly enthusiastic about Applejack's story, Rarity and Sweetie Belle display some affection, and Rainbow Dash at one point comforts Scootaloo when the latter is scared. It's mainly that general sense of sweetness which keeps the framing story afloat, but that's only barely enough to keep it from being a total wash. Mostly, it's the environments and the Flash Magnus story which keep "Campfire Tales" afloat. It's just pretty enough, just charming enough, eventually just exciting enough to not be boring, but there's not much here to be excited by either. Poor humour, derivative storytelling, and weak world building hold the episode back. The latter two are par for the course, but the former is what's really disappointing. This show doesn't have an interesting enough world to sustain an entire 22 minute episode, but with enough solid humour, it could have still provided a little bit more detail to Equestria without feeling so flimsy. Alas, it was not to be. Score: Entertainment: 6/10 Characters: 4/10 Themes: 6/10 Story: 5/10 Overall: 53/100 You can find more episode reviews at my offsite blog.