• "Princess Spike": Episode Followup

    Canterlot. For some, a trendy vacation spot. For others, a nightmarish labyrinth from which there is no escape. But today, all eyes are turned toward the sparkling (but slightly less sparkling than that one alternative) capital as disaster strikes the All Equestria gathering of delegates from cities around the land. Reports are fuzzy but include rumors of a burst water main, oddly specific flowers, and a stallion claiming to represent Manehattan despite his absurdly Bronx accent. In these dark times, all eyes fall to one individual. Somepony we can count on. A hero we need, but not the one we deserve.

    I speak, of course, of Princess Cadance.

    Hi there, my name is Phoe and I don't rightly know what I'm doing here. But it's Sunday, an episode happened, and I'm told we need to "follow up" that episode with some kind of post. This is my first attempt at something like this, but hopefully we can have some fun, or at least die historic on the Fury Road. Without further stalling for time, let's jump in.


    "So then I says to Mabel, I says..."

    Our setting today is a real, honest to goodness pony convention. I'm told that con organizers were very firmly tickled by a lot of the trials and tribulations on screen, kind of in the same way pretty much everybody who's ever done contract work of any kind spiritually identifies with Suited for Success.

    It's a super colorful backdrop, full of scores of unique stereotypes ponies.

    And Luna!

    "Nobody loves me, maybe I'll go eat worms."
    Spike, depressed at the increasingly apparent failure of his youtube channel, instigates a series of events that bring conflict to Canterlot. Then he'll rake in all the thumbs up! Hahahahahaha... ha. More on this later.

    Hey look! Luna's in the intro sequence! Did you know?

    Always vigilant for trouble, our heroine enters the scene. She opens the door with more force than strictly necessary, a habit formed during the Great Crystal Wars after a series of ambushes by enemy spies. She... doesn't like to talk about it.

    "Ash nazg durbatul√Ľk, ash nazg gimbatul,
      ash nazg thrakatul√Ľk agh burzum-ishi krimpatul."


    Let's also take a moment to appreciate the fact that these ponies are playing Polo, which immediately establishes them as rich and also horses. Brilliant storyboarding.

    I like these guys because they are two ponies in the city just doing their jobs, jerked this way and that by a complex dance of machinations upon machinations for their princess overlords. They never question orders from royalty, even the orders that blatantly contradict the orders they already had. Equestria has always been at war with Eastasia.

    "Don't believe a word you hear about 'Whinnysota nice'." - my mother, constantly
    Look, what youse guys don'ts understands is, the Chicago Deep Dish is an abominations unto the earths. Also, this scene is between 12 and infinity times funnier if the Whinnysota mare is from pony Boston instead. Her cutie mark would be clam chowder and her name would somehow be Sullivan.

    The weird thing about this scene is that I could add literally any motivation or series of problems to it and I'd be right. You have no way of contradicting me.

    Chances are the pair of pants that you will wear, are not as fancy as the pair that Mr. Fancy Pants will -- hey, wait a second!

    Also brief aside, in your typical Spike episode, he usually winds up subverting his role as Twilight's assistant in some way, shape or form. It was kind of interesting to see one try it being about him being her assistant, instead.


    You would think that since Spike's two passions in life are helping Twilight Sparkle and gems (and I guess comic books. Three. Three passions: Helping Twilight, gems, comic books, and sports. F--), that this would be the one task he takes on that would hold his attention. I guess there's not a lot of overlap between architectural and culinary gemology? She probably had him on the parts about luster, at least.

    Cadance could feel it in the air. Trouble was coming, and it was purple. Not the kind of purple in her pretty, gradient wings that she used to fly to the castle, no. Not even the kind of purple like her sister in law, Celestia rest her. No, the bad kind of purple. She paced, fretfully. Canterlot loomed in the distance. She stared at the ruins of a once great city, her countenance grim.

    "Tell the commanders to assemble the Hussar," she said before turning toward her tent, "We ride at dawn."

    Fun Fact: this griffon and this cupcake are both recurring characters.

    "Help, I'm being swept off message!"
    Cadance had thought herself more clever by half than any of her foes. Her magic was mighty, and her mane glossy and glorious. But now, as the room filled with water with no way out in sight, she was forced to admit that all her talents were for naught. Even her new sunflower perfume couldn't save her now. In the distance, the sinister dragon's laughter echoed across the halls. Soon, it would all be over...

    She wasn't sure how long she'd been drifting, or even if the crumbling steps at the top of the water line were real, but at that moment, she didn't care. With Herculean effort, the princess of love lunged onto dry land, and surveyed what was left of Canterlot. The water had put out the fires running rampant through the streets, leaving the skies a strange, smokey green. She shook the water out of her feathers and hair, and lowered her head in respect for the countless dead waterlogged and perturbed but OTHERWISE TOTALLY OKAY PONIES.

    "Spike. This isn't over..."

    Did she just? How did? Since when could? Just... what? WHAT?!
    "Cadance, that's not how water mains work."

    "Is so!"

    "What are you...? No! If you plug the line with crystals, the pressure will just build higher! This is science, Cadance! Science! You haven't saved Canterlot, you've destroyed it!"

    "Not if the crystals are filled with love!"

    On that day, Spike found he had no more words.

    Visual Comedy 101
    Ok, so real talk. Spike. Pretty much every time the little guy gets an episode, there are rumblings about it not being as good as anybody's favorite episodes. I don't really want to harp on this point, but let's take a second to talk about why. Friendship is Magic is a character driven comedy series. It bounces around across a variety of tones according to its needs at the time, but it's really only as strong as its characters and the dynamic they build among one another. And I don't think I'm telling you any big secret here, but these characters are great. They're charming, believable, funny, and they resonate with all sorts of different people of all ages and walks of life. A big part of this is because of the excellent and very fleshed out dynamic between them.

    Spike's role in that dynamic has long, long been established as the Assistant. Well, that's not really being fair to him. His natural role is as the setup guy, the straight man, the foible through which we process the ponies' character strengths and flaws. He also nails scenes with some pretty amazing zingers. And while all of this is great it's also mostly supplemental to whatever the primary story role is at the time, so when episodes step out of that formula to put the focus on Mr. Second Banana, the end result is that it's harder than anybody realizes to find the right way to make anything stick.

    It's a challenge, breaking a character out of their shell, especially when they have to go back into that shell at a moment's notice, and if nobody has satisfactorily done that for Spike it's only because it's such a hard thing to do and not because of any defect in his character or the stable (ha!) of writers' talents. Some characters don't benefit from adding layers of complexity onto them. It's just a fact of writing. I think a character like Spike in particular needs a very specific blend of circumstances for him to shine his brightest on a solo stage, and I'm not entirely sure what that blend even looks like. But even if it never comes (you can of course debate it already has), there's no taking away from Spike the Dragon, because he resonates in people's hearts just as much as any of his friends.

    Hey, check it out: conflict escalation! Get it?

    "Die, monster! You don't belong in this world!"

    "It was not by my hand hoof hand that I am once again given flesh. I was called forth by humans, who wished to pay me tribute."

    "Tribute?! You steal men's souls, and make them your slaves!"

    "Perhaps the same could be said of all--" *forcibly pulled off stage*

    By the way, you're watching Discover Family! Did you notice?

    Real talk, part two. I think there are some elements of this episode that are a bit thematically confused. I'm not saying this to be mean or super smarmy critical or anything - there's charming moments and silly gags aplenty (and a fancy Bon Bon!) to make anybody smile. But I think that in looking over an episode freshly watched it's good to stretch out your brain wings and flap around a bit in your thoughtspace. This is a weird image. Moving on!

    Spike spends a lot of this episode trying his little dragon best, then bounces back and forth between feeling guilty about the things he's doing wrong and being proud of what he's accomplishing. Even after being accosted and in the middle of dealing with an angry mob, he pauses to ask himself if he did a great job, after all. I think that's reflective of the episode as a whole. A lot of the escalation in the episode is the result of Spike escalating his efforts to help Twilight and then twisting them to help himself instead. Two separate conversations with Cadance, Best Princess Who Also Knows a Friendship Problem Brewing When She Sees One talk pretty much exclusively about this aspect. Spike's sorrowful speech at the end is also centered around the idea of his selfishness and the shame he feels over it.

    But at the same time, 100% of the problems that actually came back to bite him were the ones that simply resulted from him trying to do his original job. The water pipe bursting, the... ahem, allergenic trees, the out of control polo ponies, they're all circumstances set up before it ever really occurred to him to start abusing his station. So what we're left with is this weird divide between problem and lesson and it made the whole thing feel a little left of center. All the same, it's pretty valuable ground to cover in terms of themes and lessons and (like I mentioned a ways above), an interesting take on the Conundrum of Spike to build the issues out of his natural role as Twilight's assistant. But that's just one pony's opinions. What's yours?

    This is the greatest wtf face in the history of the show
    "Ok fine, buster. If love crystals are so stupid, then explain one thing..."


    "Dragon Sneezing Trees?"

    This caption exists to justify this link

    I think this is the weirdest cutaway gag I've ever seen on TV.

    But anyway, here we are. Or rather, here you are. I'm actually from the past; we can't really interact. I want to say in the limited space I have left, before The Convergence, that this has been a pretty remarkable season of MLP so far. It's in my nature to nitpick at things, but you shouldn't take that to mean I don't enjoy them. Regardless, as our fearless leader says, this was "a Spike episode", and I think those come with a certain level of diatribe.

    But no matter how you feel, the great thing about an episode in a long running series is that, if it doesn't quite measure up to your favorites, there's always another one around the corner waiting to surpass it. And maybe some day, another Phoe to write a followup. Not this one, though. My time is --