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Note: Credits to We Are Borg, MarikAzemus, and @Truffles for this review. After Sweet and Smoky, I won't be surprised if Season 8 was planned as equally as the 9th. The way she teased her off-screen bro after his horrid molt shows her edge, yet still cares for him. Combine this with Spike's feud with Garble still hanging in the air, what perfect time to address it than an episode about dragon-breeding. This episode mingles three plots: figure out how to hatch the eggs, get Garble to show his more sensitive side, and end his feud with Spike. While Sweet & Smoky started by using the first two, it expanded once Spike discovered who Smolder's brother is. Sure, no in-show word said he's her older brother, but given the context of past episodes and how Smolder's younger, higher pitched, and originally a little less mature than him, yeah, she's younger. Throughout, Smolder's more "feminine" side becomes more and more open. While at the School of Friendship, she's more introverted in her likening for tea parties, but while around Garble, she's more self-secure in openly having tea parties with Garble and Spike, expressing her feelings, showing emotion beyond archetypal "masculinity," and not being afraid to go against the grain of dragon culture she grew up learning from. Even more, her friendship with Spike grew closer to more of a surrogate sister, as she's more open around Spike, defends his passions, and stands up for him. Unlike Spike from Dragon Quest, Smolder rejects the long-time "culture" of bullying others to show "toughness," because she learned ways to be strong beyond the shallow "being-with-older-groupies" type, but not her identity. Thanks to Ember and Twilight, she learned how there's more than one right way to be a dragon, and as Garble tries to hide his insecurities, she tries to open them up so he and Spike bond. Speaking of Spike, he's the main lead, and he shows off his growth as a character in subtle ways. Even though he and Garble have a rough history, he trusted Smolder's words. Early on, she referred to his bro as being like a squishy marshmallow on the inside. Taking her words into account, he works with her to get him to reveal his more sensitive side with a promise of not making fun of him. His trust with Smolder goes back to Molt Down (their first real onscreen conversation), Rockhoof (their fire-breathing competition), and Father Knows Beast (working with her to out Sludge). Despite being the subject of constant abuse by Garble, Spike sucks it up. Why? Firstly, to promise himself to being a dragon without going out of character. Secondly, because that's what Smolder wants. If he (understandably) decides to cook Garble's snout, who can blame him? One can take so much punishment before going over their limit. He openly embraces "Spikey-Wikey." Back in Dragon Quest's beginning, he rejected Rarity's nickname, thinking it made him look too cute in front of ponies. (And from my perspective, her nickname for him then was sooooo patronizing. ) From that point forward, whenever Rarity calls him that, it's endearing. Calling himself that to Garble calls back to that background evolution of acceptance for it. This episode had plenty of Spike abuse, specifically Act 2 when he and Smolder try to get Garble to crawl out of his shell. However, I don't have much of an issue with this for a key reason. His mistreatment of Spike, both past and present, was integral to the conflict. How did he react once finding out she and GarGar were siblings? Not so well. Notice Smolder's raise of the eyebrow in the first link, implying suspicions towards her brother. Soon after, she warned Garble after he tried to be a passive-aggressive douchebag in front of her. From the get-go, she establishes she won't tolerate anyone bullying her good friend. Thanks to chickening Clump (one of the three stereotypical bullies) out after accusing her of being "soft," Beyer-Johnson shows she means business. But that doesn't mean Garble can't give him the short end of the stick by accident or abuse him behind her back. Unlike examples from other episodes, the Spikeabuse isn't a joke (something @Truffles points out in his review; link to it near the bottom). We as an audience are supposed to sympathize for him and root for him to overcome it all and prove to be better than him. But no matter how much he tried, Garble’s mistreatment of him understandably discouraged him. Additionally, his disappointment led him to accidentally discovering that the ground underneath the nests was too cold, immediately leading S&S into a darker turn. The eggs shook not from fright, but from dragons freezing inside. Thanks to his discovery, Ember unleashes Clump, Fume, and "Billy" some deserved karma. Back to the A-plot, with Spike being bullied, Fluttershy (representing the motherly support, while Smolder's the "sister") delivered two of the episode's most rewarding moments. After showing control over Spike since returning to the Dragon Lands, it was only a matter of time before someone called them out for their bad behavior. Fluttershy's anger was raw and real; when she ordered them to quit throwing lava at him, she meant it. Like a good mother, she keeps him accountable. At no point does she scold him and then pretend it's all okay. When she found out he played bongo drums and wrote poetry with Smolder, she embraced his hobby, but was quick to point out his hypocrisy in multiple ways: scapegoating her for being "sneaky" when he was the one doing the sneaking and using his status as a bully to hypocritically pick on Spike. After Garble's flimsy excuse, she gave him this: Her riot act to him was some well-needed tough love. He treated Spike like crap for not being a "real dragon" in order to hide his insecurities, and Fluttershy gave him some pointers of what makes him a "real dragon," narrowed to this: not being afraid to be himself and being with those who'll really appreciate his creativity. Granted, S&S's reveal could've been handled better. Nowhere the episode foreshadows his love for poetry. Now, the atmosphere early in Act 1 (thanks, We Are Borg, for catching this) foreshadows the upcoming stakes and differences between pony and dragon cultures, and Smolder refers to him as a lovable guy who likes to be with those who appreciate talents like Spike's, but what would do better is a hint or two that isn't so vague so his reveal of being a beatnik poet can be connected more with the rest of the plot, such as being with someone who can exchange points in creativity. Additionally, the episode told a lot about Garble's sadness, which he hid through a bad temper and embarrassment. Showing sadness, scaling back a little bit of the abuse (i.e., second-guessing before doing it anyway), and collecting lava to cool it down and turn it into the cylinder would help round it more. Conversely, the episode does a really good job showing us what he does to make us understand him without telling us to forgive him, which MarikAzemus points out. If you want to forgive him, that's up to you. Yes, Garble being sensitive is a cliché in storytelling, but it's one for ringing true. However, while One Bad Apple explains Babs's history of being bullied to make us forgive her for bullying others, Fluttershy and Smolder call him out every time he gets caught. Neither the story nor them downplay the bad things Garble did, emphasized earlier by how Spike would rather help hatch the eggs than be around him. The fact that Garble himself fears being picked on is not an excuse for picking on Spike in return. The fact that he defied Smolder's warning from earlier more than justified her to angrily call him out for picking on him. Small for her, sure, but important on the whole. Why? Because she keeps her promise to both him and Spike and shows she's taking both her professors' classes to heart and Spike's wellbeing seriously. However, rather than get defensive, everyone had to go to the nesting grounds, as the eggs were shaking from the baby dragons from inside feeling too cold. They've been inside for days, but they're newborns, and they're dependent on warmth from the underneath lava to keep them warm as they hatch. Ember called upon "every dragon" (or if the episode was more specific, every dragon she could find) to hatch them, but the fire was too cool. There, as Garble's "friends" laugh at him so hard that their fire becomes hotter, Garble notices a break. See the fumes? The eggshells were heating up. But how to do it better? At that point, Garble takes advantage. Earlier, he worried about others making fun of him for his creativity. Here, if he can get them to laugh at him, they can shoot fire onto the eggs. Will they make fun of him for it? Of course, and he knows it! But he soon stopped caring about what they think and agreed to trade embarrassment for the baby dragons' health. After briefly wallowing, he takes her lessons to heart, starting with this. Like Rarity years ago, he calls him "Spikey-Wikey" sincerely. As he beats the drums and recites the poems, Spike supports him all the way, snapping his own claws to stay into the tune. The more he recited and banged the drums, the more confident he became. When he recited his first poem, he exchanged eye contact with Spike, knowing that he'll embrace his creativity and back him when needed. Afterwards, he said nothing for a good few seconds. As he banged his drums, he became one with the music and his writings. The lack of confidence from before dissipated. Ironically, the more they laughed at his poetry, the more confident he became. By laughing at him, they're falling into his trick, which helps the babies hatch. Pay attention to the last three poems: All of them have a double meaning. In addition to telling the eggs to break free from the eggs, he was also telling himself and everyone else he wasn't hiding his talents anymore. He was proud to write poems, be a poet, and show it off. If they mock him, so what? That's their problem, not his. His self-confidence rose exponentially, and he singlehandedly saved a generation of dragons from freezing to death. The fact that Dragon Lord Ember defended him instantly after they hatched proves to everyone that their talents matter and should be celebrated. She loves the Dragon Lands and her culture, but she has a history of being looked down for being smaller in stature (and thus "weaker" than other candidates three seasons ago), so them mocking him was personal. If they continued to bully others for not being "real" dragons, then those eggs don't hatch. Thanks to Garble and Ember's and Smolder's fervent defenses of him, the dragons learn an important lesson of how they can improve relations with each other. If there's one thing here to comment, though, the fact that Garble's three friends had a change of heart seconds after Ember announced a massive change in its culture makes their change of heart feel less like an organic want to learn and more of "follow the leader." That said, the others agreed after realizing what he accomplished, implicating they're sincere. And @Truffles points out a really interesting, subtle secondary message. By unknowingly "hogging" the lava from the lake, they accidentally changed the landscape and put the lives of baby dragons (that she promised to take care of) in serious jeopardy. They count on her to protect their children at all costs; Ember's rightfully upset at them and treated the situation with the urgency it deserves. They were lucky to prevent the problem from getting worse, but if they're not careful next time, they might not be. This episode has rough edges. There were areas that could've definitely been improved on, one of them making Billy, Fume, and Clump less half-dimensional. Yes, seeing them angrily called out was satisfying, but it's like eating a Mickie D's burger with fries: It's filling for now, but it won't fill you for long. The dialogue's serviceable. And Garble's reformation could've been more natural. However, compared to Complete Crap Clause, this was much better in comparison. Characters remained in character. Beyer-Johnson expands dragon lore more. Garble's bullying and excuses weren't tolerated. And by taking his lessons to heart, he saves hundreds of vulnerable baby dragons and evolves one crucial component of dragon culture. Spike's the lead, but he, Fluttershy, and Smolder share great moments, and Garble reforms, ending their series-long rivalry. Sweet and Smoky overcomes its flaws and is executed effectively, resulting in a good episode.