• "Spike at Your Service": Episode Followup

    Cereal Velocity is a man of many tolerances. If any of you doubt me, go ask PK why he continues to enjoy posting privileges here. When I met CV at Everfree, I came away from our conversations filled with awe at the glory of his perfect soul. He was the Norman Rockwell father figure I never had.

    One day, Seth asked him to write the followup for this episode. Cereal refused. He then stormed out of the hypothetical Equestria Daily office building, going on to profane Applejack's name as he came to bed last night. I have since sent his ruined remains out to three of my relatives for safekeeping, and now this episode followup falls to me, CouchCrusader, to complete.

    Hit the break for an (image heavy!) background-pony-free recap, since many of you non-believers don't seem to understand just how awesome Applejack and Spike actually are.

    I’m not sure why Spike thinks touching his tongue to his nose is much of an accomplishment after he pull-started himself like a lawnmower in "Lesson Zero". At any rate, it’s a bit of a breather having him indulge in some gross moments in an otherwise female-led show, especially considering the cartoons I grew up with in the 90’s.

    Hey, look! It’s Cherry Berry and Twilight's her balloon from “Mysterious Mare-Do-Well”! It’s like these two episodes had the same writer.

    Let’s go ahead and talk about these two for a sec. With M.A. Larson writing for Littlest Pet Shop and Amy Keating Rogers story editing for Care Bears, the show has definitely changed with its writers from past seasons. That’s what you get for going freelance with your writing staff. Since Dave Polsky’s helmed the script for two episodes and shared the reins with Merriweather Williams in this one, we’re seeing a rise in the number of setpiece gags in the show, and I’ve enjoyed a lot of them.

    Like this one. Between this episode and "The Crystal Empire", Spike is developing into a wonderful traceur.

    Too many folks overlook "claw brake" as an alternative career path, too.

    The joke here is that Spike is made of dark matter. If you don't get it, get it. If you still don't get it, you can't read this sentence anyway.

    This must’ve caught a bunch of you off guard, especially after we saw Flash-animated timberwolves back in Season 2. Thin, black outlines? Cel-shading? 3-D? So they weren’t the best visual match for the show’s style, and the animation on twos showed at times. But bear in mind that the timberwolf sequences in this episode were lengthier and more complex (and also plural!) than those in Family Appreciation Day. We had to see them from a whole bunch of different angles that would've taken a tremendous amount of man-hours to symbolize for the sake of maybe five minutes' screen time. If I were an animator with limited amounts of time and resources, I'd prioritize getting scenes like this done over getting them perfect and losing out on the rest of the episode, and I believe the animators did an outstanding job making these scenes come to life.

    In case Seth doesn't post this before this roundup comes out, Nayuki offers a little more insight into DHX's use of 3-D here. I bet none of you guys caught that other thing!

    Enter best pony. I mean, just look at her. Looking badass while hefting stuff in their hooves must run in the family.

    "Hey, Spike! Get roastin', pardner!" Except she never said anything to that effect, and so the episode continues with her being just a little less badass than before.

    In all seriousness, however, Spike has had a track record of fleeing from big beasties, especially since a lot of them could not have been solved with a dose of Ol' Greenie. Ursa Minor? Nope. Teenage dragons? They swim in lava, for Pete's sake. Full-grown dragons? Ha, ha...

    Again, let’s go ahead and appreciate just how many pieces you have to animate in order to get a timberwolf. Counting the fangs, too, there are at LEAST fifty or sixty different elements that make one up one of these bad boys. This is Transformers-level detail we're talking here. The end result is something I think jives with Faust's original vision for the show, involving lots of adventure and cool-looking monsters in an attempt to steer My Little Pony away from the notion that it's just for little girls.

    Of course, I'm just preaching to the choir now.

    Maybe it’s how Mike West and Emmett Hall boarded this scene out, or how Merriweather chose to phrase it—this is another wonderful Looney Tunes-esque gag as the de-limbed timberwolf realizes gravity is a bad ex that still has its number.

    A friendly reminder: Age the little lizard up before you send in those shipfics!

    I can take away two things from this picture: One: Everfree magic is best magic, and it mystifies me that Canterlot doesn't send down more mages to study its wild arts. Zecora could definitely teach them a thing or two!

    Er, two: From the way Applejack is perfectly comfortable and ambulatory with a balloon cinched to the base of her tail, we can conclude that she is dark matter, too. I promise I'm building toward something here.

    This doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone who read the episode synopsis before yesterday’s episode, but considering that he’s the number one assistant of the most OCD unicorn in existence, I must admit his abject clumsiness throughout this episode is mystifying. The way he spills the—aw, crud. How did I miss making the apple cart pun earlier?

    There is no need to be upset.

    Whoever made this should feel proud and horrible at the same time. Horribly proud, even. Brohoof. /)

    All right, fine. You got me. Even the writers must have something against Spike if Applejack thinks saving Spike's life is even stevens with bathing a sow.

    On another note, did anyone else raise an eyebrow at how Applejack brushed off her heroism earlier as “something friends do for each other”? If rescuing your friends from certain death merits the same feather-giving as tossing them a fiver when they don’t have enough money for a hay shake (the bums), just what kind of place is Equestria to its denizens? To everyone who’s ever wanted to live in Equestria, I guarantee you that you are NOT EXTREME ENOUGH unless you have over 300 confirmed kills and so on and so forth.

    To be honest, if I had a baby dragon curled around my arm and looking at me like that, I’d peace outta there like lightning with the trots ten miles away from the nearest outhouse. Also, dude, talons. The only reason AJ’s not bleeding right now is because Spike’s too busy being a tourniquet.

    I'm comin' for you, Fiddlesticks!

    Hasn’t Spike done a bunch of catering gigs before, without exploding the kitchen in the process? This is almost like resurrection sickness, except for the price of not dying all of your stats cave by 100% (Wisdom by 120%) and you have to roll DC 40 checks on anything more complex than breathing (only DC 24).

    Pictured: the result of a failed Perception check. (Hint: the background)

    So it all becomes clear, once again for those who read the synopsis and for the first time for the illiterate. Sometime in the past… past, Spike adopted a moral code that compels him to serve a life debt to anyone who’s saved his own. It’s apparently a very big deal to him. I guess it’s a good thing that he’s never experienced mortal peril firstclaw before.

    That’s, well… I… Uh, hm. Geez.

    Leaving out that first one, I now believe the writers see “Spike episode” and edit that to “DEATH TO THE BURPING SCALED ONE”. Someone needs to ask Cathy Weseluck about what Spike thinks about all of his brushes with oblivion at the next convention she goes to. If the little guy gets any more episodes, he’ll end up owing life debts to half of Equestria and a 10-release pass to Discord. You should probably consider sending that code to the moon before it gets you in trouble, dragobizzle.

    On a different note (... ha ha), the medieval instrumentation playing behind this scene does a lovely job of conveying the sense of chivalry Spike infuses into his service.

    Applejack is best pony, but Twilight is totally me in this scene. I zone out of like 900% of my conversations IRL and say "Yeah" and "Mm-hmm" before I realize they were asking me if I wanted it in the ears. Spike sums up their attempts to get my attention quite nicely.

    At the end of the day, though, being Twilight's assistant is a huge part of Spike's character. Even if the rest of the episode moves him on from it, this is a wonderful, blink-and-you'll-miss-it tribute to what she means to him.

    I don’t remember seeing a three-quarters-looking-up head angle in this show like this before.

    Also, that pie looks about as appetizing as creosote! Spike just completely forgot how to cook.

    Applejack's face here about sums up what she's thinking the whole time she's trying to find something harmless for Spike to do.When she got to the firewood stump and that big, shiny ax...! Since this is a kids' show, though, the animators couldn't get away with a headless horse imagine spot.

    Imagine the nightmares the children would have!

    Is it just me, or is food quickly becoming Rarity's nemesis? Gummy-spiked punch, splattered with cake, liquified carbon ("toast") and now this. Well, I suppose she's had a couple of nice picnics to break up the the hunger pangs.

    I'm sure magic's been used a couple of times in the show as non-verbal communication, but just look at how Rarity's holding her fork there! It's a fantastic testament to Spike's culinary catastrophe and Rarity's character that she's trying to get as little of it as possible on an aura that won't be there in a couple of seconds.

    I'm an English major. You get good at two things in my line of work: overanalyzing everything, and making it sexy.

    Foal's play, really.

    Rainbow Dash is totally pulling a Sam Anders. No one will understand what I'm babbling about here. On a more serious note, it's great to see these three spending more time together after "Sleepless in Ponyville." 

    And Applejack's looking at Rainbow Dash like she's about to steal the show. Boy. Howdy.

    There are two holes in my bedroom ceiling where my hands punched through it in rapture, and I'm not just saying that as a pre-reader with detachable hands. Including Rainbow's very effective storytelling from her camping trip, we could argue that Twilight's move to hook her on reading inspired her to start writing a book of her own. Have some character development, the show says, and to that I say moar!

    But let's not change our pants just yet. It's a self-insert fanfiction of the Wonderbolts that spends no time unmolested by our Rarity's speedy and discerning wit, and just because it's cute when Dashie does it doesn't mean it's cute when you do it, homeslice. Really. Liking your stuff unconditionally is part of Mommy's job description.

    "Do you like it?"

    She also had like... five scrunchy faces in that part alone.

    This has transcended mere cluelessness. Spike threw that pipe away as if it was Cadance.

    That's right, Spike. You're gonna build the Aggro Crag. (Oh god why am I so old and nostalgic all of a sudden)

    Something I think will get overlooked about this episode was how all of Applejack's friends got to put forth their own ideas on how to handle Spike and his dragon code. It's subtle for some of them, but it's all there. Rarity was for accepting his help (though she sure didn't know how bad he'd be at helping then!), Rainbow Dash tried to get him to quit. Here, Fluttershy suggests something more passive, and it sounds like a good idea, too. Twilight has the most expedient way of dissolving Spike's life debt, and Pinkie, as always, tries to Pinkie the problem away.

    Given the constraints of a 22-minute episode, I think Mr. Polsky and Merriweather did a great job incorporating all of the Mane 6 into the action here.

    "Why couldn't it have been trees?"

    That, ladies and gentlemen, is the lie of a mare who is 500% #done.

    Before Applejack was best pony, that honor went to Fluttershy. Actually, I'm reconsidering that something mighty in light of this screenshot right here. That is the look of a mare who just played a fool like a wicked guitar solo.

    "If she needed help, I think she'd realize it."

    Iron Will has taught her well. Even if this is a bit snarky of Fluttershy here, I like how she speaks like a normal pony to her friends most of the time. It's very easy to think of her as shy and submissive even when she's around ponies she trusts, and she's still reluctant to take the lead in most group ventures, but I think giving her doormat tendencies 24/7 is a dangerous reduction of a very nuanced character. 

    Of course I'm not exploiting VLC's frame-by-frame capability to drum up weird screenshots. This is a backscratch, for Pete's sake. Really, though, when it comes to doing things for Applejack, I think this next shot takes the cake.

    "26! You're lucky I can roll for you, too!"

    I once used my calculator to keep track of the number of times my freshman English teacher would utter the word "um" in a fifty minute period. The count reached two hundred and fifty-seven. I don't think I'm going to be toppling him off of his pedestal of indecisiveness today, but I think this shot merits at least ten-twelvity.

    All I'm going to say is that the race to give FimFiction its first ApplePie inflation shipfic (blimpfic? (oh god why)) is officially on. You will find me in the corner with one copy of the DSM-IV, because self-loathing this aggressive requires I beat my face bloody with whatever hardcover's close at hand.

    You know what? Someone go read Tobias Wolff's "Bullet in the Brain", adapt it to this scene, and send us the resulting fanfic. This is no longer an episode followup, folks. This has never been an episode followup. All this has been is my excess plot bunny exorcism. Mwahaha! Mwahahahahaha!

    *whistles innocently*

    I think Twilight wins the award for "Best Face" this episode. Just look at her as it all sinks into her ears.

    Applejack and butterflies are both made of dark matter and get caught by the same nets. I'll let you guys make your own conclusions.

    And oh, God. Rewatching this scene, I just noticed the foley artists decided to include tooth-crunching sounds.

    It's 3:30 AM, I've spent 10 hours or more gathering material for this followup and writing, and the only thing that'll get talked about in the comments is this. Moustache. Just watch.

    "Do you mean Couch's suffering will go largely unappreciated and be swiftly forgotten within the vast ravages of time?"

    That's exactly what I'm saying a— Rarity!? How did you get in there? That's not what they even mean by a cannon fetish!

    Condemn a man for posting ridiculously cute and adorable ponies. I have nothing to say to this. Applejack's just the best.

    These two don't do bad, either. Look at how excited Fluttershy is!

    "Can I steal Couch's spotlight again?"

    Really, this whole scene was beautiful. Pinkie looked so disappointed when she had to kick her party cannon aside. I'm willing to bet a bunch of you felt the same way.

    The Rarity as pre-reader metaphor continues to be precise. Absolutely horrendous, indeed!

    I like to think Rainbow Dash picked up ventriloquism after Pinkie Pie punked her at the end of "Dragonshy". Heck, if "Sleepless in Ponyville" is anything to go by, she can do it in her sleep!

    And all the time Rarity serves up a perfect hysterical breakdown at Spike's (dirty!) feet, Pinkie Pie trots around like this. Sometimes it's fun to be scared!

    At this point, it's hard to decide whose acting's the more wooden. I'm so sorry. It's 4 in the morning and the only weapon left in the arsenal is puns.

    Notice the whole trees incorporated into this thing's body, as well as the crown on top of its head. Anyone who still says Equestria is an ideal world, with great neighbors for the kids, you are free to step off the reality train at your convenience 'cause there ain't no stations over the Canyon of Delusions.

    I'm reminded of that one scene from the 2009 Sherlock Holmes film. "Un moment, s'il vous plaît." I can't imagine timberwolves speaking English had they functioning voice boxes. Maybe I'm just taken with the romantic image of the Québécois lumberjack or something. Forget finishing this followup, I'm going to go read Hark, A Vagrant! again.

    For some reason, I appreciated Spike's confrontational reaction here. It's not a soft "no hard feelings" response that glazes over the central concerns of the episode. It allows AJ to confess what she'd really felt about Spike's servitude throughout the story, and lets them arrive at a compromise that doesn't come into play when one of them saves the other's skin or scales.

    Yeah, I'd hoofbump to that, too.

    Aaaand status quo'ed! Had this been at Applejack's place, Spike would have found a way to set the barn on fire using only the firelies inside his lantern. I mean, that wouldn't be too much of a problem, what with the Apples needing to raise another barn every month or so.

    Well, I think that about wraps that up for this week. Say what you want about this episode, but I'm just glad I got to hear Cathy at the front of an episode again. It's very easy to separate Spike from the Mane 6 just because he's different in species and gender, and I think that leads a lot of folks to forget that it takes just as much effort to voice his parts as it does for Twilight and her gang. Every time I've spoken with Cathy or heard her at a panel, I've always come away impressed with her energy, presence, and wit, and she has Spike so internalized that she's usually the first to respond in-character whenever the moment presents itself.

    Have a happy new year, everypony! Enjoy your hiatus... and thank you for reading.