• "Castle Mane-ia": Episode Followup

    Because he thought I deserved a congratulatory gift for getting a job and moving out of his hair, my father bought me a 12-month planner. No, really, it's great. I can use it to write down all the important dates I remember only after they scream past me, like dinners with the girlfriend I've been making up for the past two months.

    If there's one thing I don't need a planner to remember doing, however, it's racking up lots and lots of credit card debt on no income. Those IKEA beds won't buy themselves! Paying them off is a whole 'nother story, though, just like this week's new episode of pony. With the advent of Season 4, we've absorbed four new writers into this infernal machine, and yesterday squeezed us our first juicy aperitif from this crop of new talent.

    Fans, extraterrestrials, and staff: I've had the honor of inflicting myself upon Equestria Daily for a while now, but episode followups are where I first began and they remain my greatest joy to write here. CouchCrusader at your service -- let's get started.

    You have to wonder how many times Twilight's read through the Ponyville library catalog only to not find what she's looking for. Filly, please. Princess Celestia told you you weren't solving the mystery of that chest alone. It's seriously as easy as inviting Pinkie Pie over and throwing her in random directions until her face collides with the one place you missed.

    Sure, he still jumps a bit at the whole "high-velocity books out of freaking nowhere" part, but he's a rock solid assistant other than that. Other children in his position generally rush brain development until they can call the number on Mr. Bubbles' card.

    I mean, Twilight went from wingnoob to Rainbow Dash in two episodes flat, and she definitely loves Spike for all he does for her -- but she doesn't even react to a pile of Aristrotle treatises about to slam jam on the little guy's noggin.

    Spike soaks so many blows helping Twilight out that that's the real reason he thinks like a pony. Staying with her has literally beaten the dragon out of him.

    Season 3 had its share of good episodes, but to my recollection, all but one of them happened either in Ponyville or the Crystal Empire. We didn't get to see a whole lot of Equestria aside from those two places. Our latest poll on the episodes fans looked forward to the most shows the most hype for this one, which isn't surprising. Look at these backgrounds! Look at the sunbeams, the perspective, the quiet desolation. Awesome things always happen every time the gang heads into the Everfree Forest, but really getting to see the inside of The Old Castle for the first time since Season 1 shows how far the show and its staff have come since 2010.

    People had to draw these, so follow Big Jim's lead and thank Emmett Hall and Tony Cliff for tryharding the hay out of this episode.

    I really love this smile over all the other "FAEC" ones the show uses. Don't get me wrong, those are hilarious, too -- but I like that you get a little indication of the muzzle protrusion with this version. We're watching ponies after all.

    If Twilight had told Spike to stop horsing around right here, I would have laughed up a lung while beating the circuits out of my TV with my bare fists, weeping and wondering just where my life went so wrong.

    In other news, Hasbro doesn't want you to know this is the art style for G5. Oops! Did I just say that?

    I just wanted to remind you that there's absolutely nothing rappelling onto the back of your neck right this very instant.

    I have a question about this scene.

    Why doesn't Pinkie win the title of "Most Daring Pony"? The two in the back might have been the ones covered in bees, but Pinkie zipped between them buck naked and hung around long enough to explain the contest to the beekeeper.

    On that note, where did RD and AJ even get their suits? They're totally custom-tailored, including a tail bob for Applejack's.

    Or give the award to Gummy, because seriously.

    One rule that makes every Pinkie Pie appearance funnier is accepting that her world is internally consistent. Aside from that being how Lauren originally envisioned Pinkie (marching to a different drum beat instead of random random random), it will send your mind to Saturn and back trying to explain how it all works. Once you figure out where she gets a notepad pre-stamped with two of her best friends' cutie marks -- really, think about the last time you bought paper with your friend's face on it -- you're halfway there.

    Is it just me, or are we seeing a good deal more front-on heads than usual in this episode? Maybe it's because I went through and nabbed 320 screengrabs to write this followup. No complaints from me on that count! They're objectively cute, and you're gonna be seeing a lot more where that came from.

    Star spiders get their second mention in this episode, which was strange when they didn't come up again after this. Also, I wonder why they scare Fluttershy. She's dealt with manticores in the past and even gave Cerberus a belly rub once. If you include the IDW comics in this continuity, she also has no problems admiring chupacabras and vampiric jackalopes as they brawl it out for the chance to eat her.

    The strength of this episode's writing rests on a reliable stream of dialogue-based gags, and these two here lay an incredible amount of the basework. Fluttershy's reluctance to proceed further into the Everfree evaporates the moment Rarity declares her purpose to be the most important thing she's ever done. The dialogue here doesn't stop to question itself, nor does it pause to fish for the audience's approval. Really good friends act in much the same vein.

    Again with it here -- Rarity mentions how next season's fashion trends are nothing to sneeze at, after which she promptly sneezes on Angel's ear. Fluttershy's in the zone approaching the castle, but the writing's willingness to stand on its own without prompting the audience if they caught onto what it was up to is really refreshing.

    Rarity and I share horrendous experiences that make everything better in the future. She ran a race covered in heavy mud, I drove a stick-shift through L.A. during rush hour. We emerged from our ordeals capable of handling everything else just fine, like butterflies emerging from their cocoons with shoulder rocketry.

    Seth consistently heaps reductionist bullroar on Applejack for speaking in apples. Apples apples apples, he says. Poohead. Angel Angel Angel here rides a train of thought with one freaking track this whole episode, and I don't give her a hard time about it.

    Anyone who's read Patrick Rothfuss will know why I cringed here. Think about what she has there and where she's taking it.

    Gosh, will you look at this cute horse?

    Yeah, speaking of Season 1... if you've got the animation from before, use it. You also get the benefit of giving the veterans nostalgia attacks.

    I neglected to mention this before, but it's really nice seeing Rainbow Dash and Applejack rekindling their rivalry from "Fall Weather Friends". They never really lost it, but it's always entertaining when it comes to the forefront -- one-upsmareship is a fine way to keep a story rolling, especially when their different approaches to competition lead them to the same results.

    Also nice to see these two carrying their mutual love of ghost stories forward from "Sleepless in Ponyville", too.

    The takeaway here is that Rarity is taking posture lessons from Pinkie Pie, while Rainbow's teaching Fluttershy how to resent others.

    We haven't seen any significant Rarity/Rainbow Dash interaction in the show thus far, now that I think on it. Imagine if Rarity had asked the better flier to help with that huge tapestry instead!

    Wow, these ponies are cute.

    When I went back to listen to their screams afterward, I realized I'm a pretty sick man. I mean, Applejack hits a soprano note and Rainbow Dash outdoes a dog whistle. I love it.

    Fluttershy apologizes for activating a secret door. On second thought, I'm really glad these two came to the castle together.

    Oh, Angel, you little sh--


    This doesn't seem like the kind of room that justifies hiding behind a secret door in the library, but it is. I know it isn't that important to the overall mythos of the show, but I wonder how the Princess Sisters used this room back when Castle Everfree was whole.

    I could rewatch this episode a hundred times and still never tire of the scenery. Shooting an episode indoors, for what that means in the animation world, often involves unconventional or improvised perspectives which lead to beautiful shots like this one.

    Also, the subtle difference between how these two get to the bottom of the stairs leads them to the exact same hall of disembodied pony legs. Killer delivery by Ashleigh throughout this whole scene, too.

    AJ mooshing her hat down was cute enough until Rainbow had to go and do this.

    I first saw this part without seeing them fall through the trap door Angel tripped. Imagine if they had last been seen turning down some random hallway only to turn up locked in the dungeon.

    If you're paying close attention, you can also notice tally marks in the wall behind Rarity's tail.Who in the world used this cell?

    Presented without comment.

    In case you had to ask? Oh yeah.

    This happened, too, because Meghan got bored of playing with mere fire.

    And because Applejack would clearly reciprocate the gesture, according to people who are wrong. #RarijackLife

    Credit where it's due: to Fluttershy for immediately assuming that anything alive in an abandoned castle is a fluffy white bunny rabbit, and to Rarity for not letting go of her horn light in the midst of a sleeper hold.

    Team Flarity leads the Appledashers 2-0 in this week's game of "Give 'Em Something New To Talk About At Therapy."

    I really need to point out how wonderful the interactions are between the different storylines in this episode. Even Twilight, cloistered in the Princesses' resting chamber, gets a nod from the outside through Angel's arrival, though she chooses not to pursue it into the castle.

    Here, Twilight informs us of the various booby traps her friends have set off in the castle so far. One of them is the trap door slide, which Celestia notes is Luna's "favorite."

    I suppose we now know who etched those tally marks in the wall, because if we're rolling with the Season 1 callbacks here, then we might as well give shouts out to Trollestia.

    "Organ to the Outside? I'll tell you later."

    Press X to Angel.

    Rainbow Dash, I -- come on. You push an empty suit of armor, it's gonna move and make noises. I honestly don't know what you were expecting to happen. Throw you a "Thanks For Touching Me" party?

    Expressions in this episode seem especially elastic, though I'll readily admit once again it might be hyper-scrutiny brought on through grabbing hundreds of screenshots. Applejack cycles through about four faces here before settling on her "Why'd I just tempt fate?"grimace, because people caught unaware tend to fumble their features for a few moments, too.

    Sure enough...

    Princess Celestia may have put the organ in the castle, but there are greater hooves at work here.

    Man, no wonder the Princesses hauled out of the Everfree to live in Canterlot. What the heck does this place do to keep its carrots fresh after thousands of years of unattended storage?

    Anyone know why Spike's upside down here? Did he get bitten by a radioactive star spider or something and now possesses the ability to walk on ceilings?

    Oh, Fluttershy. Playing a throne like it was some kind of organ will only lead to misery.

    I like how Rainbow Dash actually turns around to yell at the others. DC 10 Spot checks presented themselves everywhere that evening, and they all still find a way to not realize they were all bumping into each other.

    Throughout the episode, Rarity's interest in restoring ancient tapestries gets an asterisk with the mention that she'd use them as inspiration for her next clothing line. It's still an unusual source of motivation for her compared to what we've seen of her in the past, but she's about the only character who stands her ground and becomes more driven to thwart the castle every time it trolls her.

    It just doesn't go as planned, the poor girl.

    Oh yeah, and then this happened. In a Y-rated cartoon.

    Fluttershy's terror for Angel's lfe is played entirely for laughs. I have no idea how the show got away with this. Good thing I had my ticket pre-purchased years ago -- this bit was the Punch-A-Child-Blue-And-Black Friday of travel deals to hell. I mean, yeah, Angel was always gonna be fine because the worst ones always come back and he's the bunny rabbit equivalent of Joffery Baratheon, but all Fluttershy sees here is three hundred pounds of earth pony literally dancing on his grave.

    Twilight finally comes out of hiding to sort everything out. For her valiant act of friendship, she [S] Ascend(s) again, becoming whatever you call a earth pony/unicorn/double pegasus/alicorn/dragon chimarea [sic].

    Do you hear that? That's the sound of a Japanese producer finding the seed of their next super sentai show.

    A little walking to bring it down from the pressure cooker of the last few minutes. The architecture here isn't as grandiose as what came before, but it really helps complete an idea of what the castle must have been like in its prime. I'm gonna hold out for a "Take back the Old Castle" episode later on this season, because the three we have thus far sure gave this place a lot of love.

    Now to figure out who's been playing that pipe organ this whole time.

    Yeah, go figure.

    It would have been more surprising if Mr. Haber had written Pinkie out of the episode, but you're not going to see any complaints from me at all here. Not too many people are going to question Pinkie's instant mastery of the pipe organ, especially when she uses it so beautifully as counterpoint to her Pinkie Pie Plot... exposition (this is on you, Mike Vogel!). I went back and listened to it like thirty times.

    Rarity and Fluttershy are so done with all of this that they pay no attention to the pony who just landed on his head thirty yards away.

    And now the gang's all here.

    So check this out: The third episode of Season 1 gave us our first friendship letter. The third episode of Season 2 gave the rest of the mane cast a chance to write friendship letters of their own. Both of those episodes established story points that carried through and united the episodes that came after them.

    I was worried for a bit that MLP:FiM had lost something now that Twilight no longer needed to write Princess Celestia friendship letters, even though they're not primarily why I watch the show. Likewise, the six-keyed chest can only tie together the episodes dedicated toward unlocking it.

    With the third episode of Season 4, we now have a revamped version of those old friendship letters to give the season some overall cohesion. Everyone here still has a lot to learn about themselves, each other, and the world they live in.

    There's this thing, too.

    Epic story-based episodes have always proved popular with the fanbase. Battles against evil, historical revelations, travels to distant lands and back -- for many of us, we'll watch those kinds of episodes time and time again. I enjoy those episodes as much as the next person, but I usually get enough out of them after two or three viewings. Plot is the cheapest and most perishable aspect of storytelling.

    That's why this episode was a nice change of pace. It seemed to promise more on the six-keyed chest, but then it zig-zagged into character study and deliberate interaction. If you haven't thought about how character forms the foundational chemistry of a good story, consider this: you don't always remember the what of things when you spend time with friends, but the who sticks. With no high-level story beyond throwing ponies at spooky stuff and watching what happens, there's very little in this episode that stales upon subsequent viewings.

    The crowning achievement of this episode, as Mr. Vogel points out, is that this one episode accomplishes three or four stories with plenty of breathing room where two-parters feel rushed through. I don't think we've had anything like this episode short of "Magical Mystery Cure". Add to the mix a healthy dose of scenery porn and a charted path for the episodes to follow, and you have an impeccable 22 minutes of eminently rewatchable pony goodness here.


    Not bad for the new writer.

    Go follow Mr. Haber on his Twitter, in case you haven't done so already, and feel free to boost your self-esteem by looking at mine.

    Thank you for reading. CouchCrusader, out.