• "Equestria Games": Episode Followup

    As the Crystal Empire loomed in the distance, Rainbow Dash made her way to the front of the train car, her eyes pointed at the floor and her lips pursed with some invisible strain. Ponyville's team for the Equestria Games watched her in silence, waiting to hear her final words before the train reached its only stop on their journey, before they'd bear the hopes and dreams of their town and all of Equestria on their shoulders. When Rainbow decided she'd walked far enough, she kept her back turned to the team and pointed her gaze out the window. She stared with glassy eyes at the mountains rolling by for a long, breathless moment, then let her lips part with a sigh.

    "I don't know what to say, really," she said. "Three hours to the biggest battle of our professional lives... it all comes down to today. Either we come together as a team, or we're going to crumble. Inch by inch, event by event, till we're finished."

    Rainbow turned and faced her team for a moment, then swiveled on her hind legs and began to pace from wall to wall. "We're in hell right now, everypony. Believe me. And we can stay here and get the spit kicked out of us, or... we can fight our way back into the light. We can climb out of hell. One inch at a time."

    Although Rainbow Dash still wasn't looking at her teammates, she could hear them: whispering, murmuring, losing their focus. In the back of the car, Fluttershy turned to Bulk Biceps with her brow furrowed in confusion. "I don't understand," she said under her breath. "Why are we in hell?" An uneasy grunt and a shrug was all Bulk could offer her before Rainbow Dash continued. She was facing her team now, her hooves planted and her eyes blazing with energy.

    "On this team, we fight for that inch," she told them. "On this team, we tear ourselves, and everyone around us, to pieces for that inch. We claw with our hooves for that inch. 'Cause we knowwhen we add up all those inches, that's going to make the bucking difference between winning and losing... between living and dying."

    Rainbow took two steps forward, bringing herself within a foot of Thunderlane's nose. "I'll tell you this: in any fight, it is the pony who is willing to die who is going to win that inch. And I know, if I am going to have any life anymore, it is because I am still willing to fight, and die, for that inch. Because that's what living is: the six inches in front of your face."

    "What the hay is she talking about?" Cloudchaser hissed in Thunderlane's ear.

    "I have no idea, but I'm gettin' fired up anyway," he muttered back. After a moment's thought, Cloudchaser found herself strangely agreeing with him. After two moments, Rainbow Dash went on.

    "Now I can't make you do it. You gotta look at the pony next to you. Look into their eyes," Rainbow said, stopping afterwards to wait for everypony to follow her command. In the back, Bulk Biceps had his hooves clasped around Fluttershy's face, squeezing her cheeks together as he held her an inch away from his unblinking gaze. 

    "I'm so confused right now," she squeaked under her breath, but Rainbow Dash was far too invested in her speech to care.

    "Now I think you're going to see a pony who will go that inch with you," she said. "You're going to see a pony who will sacrifice themselves for this team, because they know when it comes down to it,
    you're gonna do the same thing for them."

    Unable to contain herself, Rainbow Dash launched herself into the air, barely feeling the air swirling through her mane as her wings effortlessly kept her aloft. "That's a team, everypony. And either we heal now, as a team, or we'll die as individuals. That's the Equestria Games, guys. That's all it is."

    She took one last look around the train car, and two dozen red-faced athletes stared back at her with the same fire she'd felt burning inside her ever since the qualifier at Rainbow Falls. This was it. This was what they'd been waiting for. This was their moment of glory.

    "Now, are we gonna win this thing?" she asked. And from the back of the car, Bulk Biceps gave the only answer she needed to hear.


    I'm Aquaman, this is the "Equestria Games" episode followup, and if Alexstrazsa can decide that Bubble Berry is voiced by JonTron in his head, then I can have Rainbow Blitz voiced by Al Pacino in mine. Lesgo.

    Full disclosure: I actually forgot the Games were going to be held in the Crystal Empire until I saw this opening shot. Additional full disclosure: my mind did a surprisingly thorough job of suppressing every memory I have of "Games Ponies Play".

    Nothing puts a smile on a young mare's face like severing half the ligaments in your spine. I swear, I'm never gonna understand how the hell wingups are supposed to work.

    "I swear, Rainbow Dash, it's a totally random screening process. Now which bag's yours?"
    "The one that's not buzzing."
    "Whose bag is that?"
    "Buddy, if I knew, I'd wish I didn't."

    Oh, for God's sake, would you two just get a room already? This is getting ridiculous.

    That's actually a surprisingly mature outlook Rainbow Dash has about her relay team's chances against the Wonderbolts, which is another way of saying that whoever wrote this scene has never been or hung out with an athlete. If the unwritten rules of sports were to be written down for whatever reason, the one at the very top of the list would be, "Don't quit before you start, no matter how screwed you actually are." Rub some dirt on that sore spot and get it together, Dash. Sheesh.

    On a happier note, Scootaloo nicely turns the mood around immediately after. Being a kiss-ass never looked so cute.

    "Champion Gear-Carrier For All Your Gear-Carrying Needs" is a pretty wordy synonym for "Chimp Derriere, Lord of the Butt Monkeys", but I suppose it looks better on a desk plaque.

    Of course Spike's stress management technique is counting to ten. After all, he is Twilight's little brother adopted child housecarl ethically ambiguous pet.

    "Guys, chill out! What did I even do?"
    "Be calm, dragon. The Royal Princesses have merely requested your presence. Also, we are composed of crystal, not ice."
    "No, I mean... you... never mind. Just don't dent the scales."

    "Aw, c'mon, Spike. You are Twilight's number one assistant, aren't you?"
    "Well, yeah, but... I don't think that stuff's even legal to possess here. Let alone transport across international borders."
    "Legal, schmegal. We're immortal god-princesses. We'll be fine."
    "That's not what I meant."
    "I think that's exactly what you meant."

    Okay, twist on the whole arrangement I didn't see coming: Spike actually being respected as the hero who ran out of bubblegum just in time to kick Sombra's ass. Points to the Crystal Empire for giving Great and Honorable Spike the Brave and Glorious his fifteen minutes of fame. Eat your heart out, Trixie.

    "What? No, I'm not actually gonna eat her heart, it... ugh. It's an idiom. Come on, you guys have back for like a year and a half now, get with the program!"
    "I... wasn't aware the program was... going anywhere?"
    "Okay, now you're doing it on purpose."

    "'Ello, gaw-geous. Ain't ye a tidy ol' chap..."
    "Yes, Spike, it's a very nice statue. Now stop trying to sound fancy and just enjoy the moment."
    "Cor, blimey, you dodgy tosser!"
    "Aaaaand you ruined it. You ruined the moment."
    "Pip-pip, cheerio, and all that rot."

    And with our honorary torchbearer nominated and the CMC probably tearing their manes out trying to get organized just like the Mane 6 always do without Spike to keep them straight...

    Oh, hey, look at that. They're totally fine. Who'd a thunk it.

    ... it's time to get the show on the road with a brief cameo from Shining Armor, and... oh, wait, no. He's the MC. Thanks for your service, Cap'n.

    Your check's in the mail, and your dignity's probably swirling around in the martini glass of whatever higher power made your sister and wife princesses and you the military commander of a nation that never goes to war.

    I don't even have the caption space to name all the cameos in this shot alone, so all I'm gonna say is that's totally Bulk Bicep's mom at the bottom of the frame and if there aren't stories about her in the ficbox by the time the finale airs I will be deeply ashamed of each and every one of you.

    "You will address the Princesses as 'Your Royal Highness' or 'Ma'am'. You will stand unless asked to be seated. Keep your sentences short and to the point. Are we clear?"
    "W-Wait, are you referencing something, or..."
    "And don't worry. They don't bite... often."
    "I'm just perpetually lost in this place."

    Where will you be when gem-arrhea hits?

    It's a bit strange seeing Spike freeze up so badly after all the deadly, dangerous stuff he's been through with Twilight and company, but to be fair, dang that's a lotta tiny horses up in those stands. Guess there's something to that theory about public speaking being more widely feared than death.

    Don't feel bad, Spike. Plenty of dragons suffer performance issues from time to time. Just reboot your OS and clear the cache, and you'll be fine.

    Oh, hey, it's Carrot Top. And a dude in a sweet hat. No idea who the stallion up front is supposed to be, though. Must not be important.

    As of the first commercial break, my pick for the best moment of the episode is Twilight taking a page out of my book and deciding that a pop culture reference is a perfect substitute for a punchline. Good on ya, Purplesmart.

    "I'm serious, Sparkler. There's like fifteen real ponies right around us, and the entire rest of the stadium is all cardboard cutouts. Tell me you don't see that."
    "I don't know, Lyra. I mostly see myself wondering why I asked you to come with me to the Games instead of anypony else."
    "Genius always looks like insanity until it's proven right."
    "I mean, literally anypony. I no longer have the strength to be picky."

    Oh stars above, Twilight, think fast. Have to save myself from any further embarrassment. If I can just disintegrate him real quick while everypony's distracted...

    Oh... crap. Um... well, okay. That works too. Yay Spike. Time to sports.

    "Hey, uh... Scootaloo? You guys can leave now. Y'know, you're... pretty much done."
    "That's okay. I'm good."
    "No, I mean, we're actually starting. The actual competition. That you're not actually competing in."
    "I'll be fine."
    "Kid, I like your spunk almost as much as I regret calling security just now."
    "I love you, Rainbow Dash."
    "I... yep. This is weird. This officially just got weird."

    (Okay, but seriously, though, are these two not absolutely the adorablest together, or... I'm sorry, I lied. There's no second option. They're the adorablest. That's a word now.)

    It's hitting me now that this episode has a really weird structure compared to most others in the show, in that it has what I can only call a Simpsons-esque approach to conflict development. In other words, what initially seems to be the central problem of the episode ends up feeding into a larger problem that knocks the episode off the track it seemed to be going down at first. It's not at all a bad way to go about setting up a narrative structure, but it's definitely a bit abnormal for this particular show.

    And you know what? If the way they want to do that is by making Spike try to light things on fire with his mind while making this face, I'm totally okay with that.

    "Aw, don't be sad. You have lots of other special powers besides pyrokinesis. Like, um... sorting! You're a great book sorter, Spike!"
    "Not helping, Twi."
    "And, y'know, dusting! Boy, I've never, uh... never seen anypony dust a shelf as well as... you do."
    "Actively making things worse, Twi."

    Thematically unrelated sidenote: I didn't notice this the first time around, but this guy has a Bohr atom for a buttmark. Updated headcanon sidenote: everything and everypony in the Crystal Empire is slightly radioactive for reasons no one can quite recall.

    You know, I can't remember a time when I've ever gotten seriously pissed at FiM for wasting a really cool concept on a really mundane scene, but... man, those magic-dampening gates might just end my streak, because there is a place for such a device in a pony noir/steampunk setting, and this is a show that I know will never have an episode to fully match that tone. Dammit.

    Add to the list of things that should (but won't) have entire episodes devoted to them: Applejack being Pinkie Pie's wrangler in the background of an otherwise normal adventure plot.

    You'd think a cartoon character would know better than to sarcastically suggest insane solutions to problems. It's gotta be a pretty consistent rule of reality for these guys that that never works out for anyone.

    Annnnd one more athlete editorial since this is an opportune moment for it: for anyone questioning why Rainbow Dash was able to catch up with Spitfire but not pass her, I'd advise taking some time to watch a few closely contested Olympic races. You might be surprised how much that extra push to close in on the leader burns out the runner in second, and how much the sound of footsteps behind them can kick said leader into overdrive when it counts. The point is, both Spitfire and Rainbow Dash are elite athletes and seem to be just about equal in terms of athletic skill, so if one of them gets a big enough lead on the other, it's pretty reasonable to expect her to keep it one way or another. If their positions had been reversed, I'd imagine Dash would've pulled off the win too.

    "You feel the need?"
    "Oh, yeah."

    The nice thing about doing this followup knowing what's about to happen once Spike starts rockin' out with the jocks out is that beforehand, I can focus on the bright sides of this whole scenario. So, bright side #1: even though Spike gets, uh... creative with the words, we still get to hear the general tune to the Cloudsdale anthem, which you gotta admit is at least kind of neat. And bright side #2: if you pause at the right moment just before everything goes to Hades in a haybasket, Shining Armor has the absolute best "I am so sleeping on the crystal couch tonight" look I've seen from anyone in this show.

    And in that moment, Shining thought, I swear we were butt monkeys.

    If only they'd just drunkenly yelled for "Free Bird" or stomped along to "We Will Rock You" like a normal crowd.

    "You know what, Carrot Top? I don't even think that's real sign language."
    "... wrong event, Berry. So the wrong event."

    And then, against all convention and tradition, there's... Pinkie Pie.

    And you know something? Watching it a second time, the whole song sequence is a whole lot funnier than I thought it'd be. I've never been a fan of jokes where the punchline is just the urge to cringe at someone's misfortunes, but something's different with this one. I think it's Spike's self-awareness of how awful his singing is that makes it work here, or at least makes it easier to relate to than him just somehow being completely ignorant of the disaster his performance has become. In any case, I laughed harder at him begging in mid-mumbled lyric for the damn song to just end already than I have at anything in a whole lot of other episodes, and that's a pretty big check mark for this episode to own.

    There was a point where Spike needed to stop, and he launched so far past it that he looped around to where he might as well start up again just to see things through.

    I know it's not a new thing for Spike and the CMC to be friends independent of the Mane 6, but it's still nice to see it come up again here. Granted, I'd still much rather have seen the rest of the Games instead, but there's only so much you can do in 22 minutes, and the episode's been focused on Spike from the start. At least I'll still have the World Cup this summer to tide me over.

    Ponyville did have a competitor in training for the ice archery competitor, but too many late-night practices and ice cream sundaes put him on injured reserve. Frostbitten tongues are no laughing matter, unlike the other option I was considering for this caption, which had something to do with "juicing" and fruit-based puns. I really don't know who thought it was a good idea to give me posting authority on this site.

    Actually, the more I think about it, the more it makes sense that Ponyville and Cloudsdale would have an athletic rivalry. The former's historically full of earth ponies with farming and manual labor in their blood, and the latter's the stronghold of the militaristic pegasi. It's no Yankees-Red Sox blood feud, but it's definitely a neat touch.

    And people wonder how the Crystal Ponies were so easily enslaved. You can literally just walk all over them. (I will never, ever be sorry.)

    "You know what, Time Turner, lemme ask you a question: why'd you want to play ice archery?"
    "Isn't it obvious? For the stallions."

    Oh, quit giggling. It's a great look. Worked for John Lennon. Sort of.

    ... briefly.

    Man, talk about overlooked security risks. You have an entire race of winged horses who control weather patterns at will and punch clouds around just for lack of anything better to do on a weekday afternoon, and all four Royal Princesses and the Captain of the Guard on hand. Surely someone could've asked around and made sure a stray arrow loosed by an archer with inexplicably sweaty hooves couldn't create a massive ice asteroid that could take out half the stadium. That had to be on the pre-competition checklist somewhere.

    Equestrian Royalty: Pretty Much Useless Since Pretty Much Always.

    Contrived nature of the circumstances aside, at least we had Spike to save the day by demonstrating why he's the five best rappers of all time...

    ... as well as a Pinkie-esque predilection for the hammerspace arts.

    "Look, guys, I appreciate the praise and all, but we all know how this works. One of us saves the day, everyone cheers and celebrates for a few hours, and then literally no one even remembers our names come next week. We've been around this block before."

    You know, far be it from me to ever call this show a moralistic paragon from which grown adults could learn valuable social skills, but I'll be damned if this episode doesn't amount to a lesson a lot of people don't learn when they're kids and yet absolutely should. It's definitely true that the biggest critic you'll ever have in life is yourself, and learning how to manage your emotions and move past mistakes is a really tough trait to master. Spike's been through a hell of a lot in 22 minutes, and seeing his core problem addressed so openly here is a big step for him. Not to mention it's always a good time when the healing process involves setting off explosives.

    "All right, Miss Harshwhinny, I'm ready. Let's light this candle!"
    "They're fireworks, Mr. The Dragon."
    "They're... I know. Dammit, I know. It never ends with you ponies."

    Real talk for a second, though? Even I got a little misty here. It's just great seeing Spike happy with himself for once, and having all this come out now really puts into perspective how long this has been bubbling under the surface for him. Maybe this wasn't the Equestria Games spectacle we wanted, but it's the catharsis for Spike that we (and he) deserved.

    Well, that's about enough open displays of emotion from me for one season. Good a time as any to back off the reins for now. Until next season, that's all I have to say about that.

    - Aqua