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Jan
27th
2013

Just For Sidekicks, Keep Calm and Flutter On, Spike At Your Service and Discontinuity · 9:00pm Jan 27th, 2013

Greetings, everypony. This blogpost is a large four-part venture. I'm going to give my thoughts on the three most recent episodes and end with a small update.

---Part 1: Just For Sidekicks

This episode all but confirms for me that the writers simply don’t know what to do with Spike. Secret of My Excess was a wonderful fluke. Just For Sidekicks may not be as bad as Spike At Your Service but that’s not saying much and the worst aspects of the former are on par with the latter. Some rambling thoughts of mine:

[The Bad]

-Spike. An extorting, outsourcing, morally corrupt monster. He has the attention span of a goldfish, he’s malicious enough to tie all the pets into a ball and he’s heartless enough to keep Angel from Fluttershy even though he (Angel) was crying. Does that sound in-character to you?

-Why do all the ponies have gems on them when they aren’t currency and only Rarity makes any use of them? Except that gems are currency alongside bits in Equestria. So why does Rarity put what is apparently currency in her dresses? Is Rarity filthy rich due to all the gems she keeps? Yes, I know gems can be sold for money in the real world but that’s the key thing: sold for money. Next time you go to a train station, try buying a ticket with a diamond. Also, some of those gems were just incomplete shards; how could the ponies possibly know their worth or if they’re even real?

-Rarity is, I would say, uncharacteristically stingy. I know it was from a dress but we've seen her with chests of gems. Element of Generosity, huh?

-Rarity was rather impersonal with Spike in this episode, yes? I found it strange.

-Why did Granny Smith take Spike's bribe?

-Why does Zecora know about the power of greed on dragons' minds, but doesn't know that they eat gems?

-They just shoved every secondary character they could in there. This was pretty much the ultimate filler episode.

-Why did Applejack hear Spike's stomach (which has the voice of a tiger, I guess O_o) but not his voice?

-The "moral" amounted to nothing and Spike acted the same way at the end. Thanks for wasting our time, writers.

[The Good]

1. Fluttershy using her sweet nature to be manipulative. THAT. WAS. AWESOME. MORE OF THAT, PLEASE!

2. Sweetie Belle's multi-squeak.

3. A little characterization for Angel. He may treat Fluttershy horribly but he also wants to be with her, to the point of crying if denied that. It's a great contrast to his usual don't-give-a-damn spoiled brat personality. This and #1 were my favourite parts of this episode.

4. Pinkie having a bipolar moment. Not a positive event, but a nice little expansion to what we saw in Party of One.

5. RD and Tank being cute. Pure win.


---Part 2: Keep Calm and Flutter On

The best part of this episode for me, besides the entire thing, was the constant mistrust and apprehension everypony displayed towards Discord contrasted with his seemingly genuine desire for friendship. Nopony had any genuine faith in Discord’s capacity for empathy; even Fluttershy only approached the task because Celestia (who remained skeptical post-reformation) asked her to and encouraged her--and can you blame them all for treating him that way? Absolutely not. You wouldn’t want to befriend Discord any more than they would. Why would anyone want to be friends with him?

When you consider that not only was Fluttershy the first friend he ever had but he actually found the idea of friendship appealing, his treatment suggests a rather depressing chicken-and-egg scenario for his backstory. Is/Was Discord an uncaring destructive monster because nopony was willing to give him a chance, or was nopony willing to give him a chance because he is/was an uncaring destructive monster?

Here’s another possibility: what if he had friends before but can’t remember them? I’m reminded of some of Gollum’s lines from the Return of the King movie:

“They cursed us, and drove us away. And we wept, Precious, we wept to be so alone...And we forgot the taste of bread... the sound of trees... the softness of the wind. We even forgot our own name.”

Continuing from that, you know what I’d love to see? A scene where Celestia coldly rejects Discord’s reformation, emphasizing that she only had him reformed because she has a use for him, not because she cared about him. The genuinely reformed Discord would protest but his words would fall on deaf ears, as he’s already caused too much pain to Celestia and all of Equestria for her to even think of believing or trusting him. That’s the horrific beauty of this trope, in literature and in real life: you could become a saint beloved by all and it still might not be enough for someone to forgive you. And what could you do? Demand their forgiveness? That would render it meaningless.

Some of us, I’ve no doubt, feel that this episode goes against Discord’s “character”. He’s not supposed to care about friends or be reformable; he’s Chaos Incarnate, after all--even though Return of Harmony never states that he is. You can certainly explore some interesting stuff by going that route, as I did, but I think there’s a tendency for the literary-minded members of our fandom to skew their interpretations of Discord, Celestia and Luna to the realm of otherworldly forces or gods, and base their characterizations from that foundation, while the show views them as characters first, abnormal beings second. Neither perspective, I feel, is invalid; both can lead to quality writing.

My real concern is what the writers are going to do with Discord in the future. They have to do something, or they’ll have erased a villain for nothing. Fortunately, if they make him a heroic character there’s always Sombra for when they want to return to psychological horror.

On the subject of Discoshy, I will say only this: I don’t want to see it, read it (unless the story is notably good, like Bad Horse’s Corpse Bride) or hear about it. Same goes for all other Discord pairings, especially Discolestia. I’d be rather surprised if anyone still supported that pairing after this episode.

She. Does. Not. Like. Him.

At. All.


---Part 3: Spike At Your Service

I think it is safe to say that Spike At Your Service is one of the worst episodes, if not the worst episode, the FIM writing staff have ever produced. Almost nothing in that episode worked, including its very premise and choice of main characters. Within a minute of the end of that episode I put together a vastly superior rewrite and I'd like to share it with all of you, along with the reasons behind my revisions.

Feather Sigil Presents: Spike At Your Service, As It Should Have Happened

Spike did not run to an unattended hot air balloon to ride in it[0]. He was walking around Ponyville looking for something to do when he saw the rope uncoiling from the post. It flew off and he chased it. Rarity saves Spike from the timberwolves instead of AJ[1]; she was looking for a certain flower in the EF, one Zecora offered to make into a fabulous rare dye for her dresses. Spike decides to be Rarity's knight[2] and serve her for all his days as a life debt[3]. It's a win for both of them. At Rarity's behest, Spike asks Twi's permission to spend his life with Rarity. Twi is too absorbed in her reading to pay him any attention beyond "Mm-hm."[4]

Rarity loves the idea and exploits Spike for all he can do. He is not a complete screw-up; he's just as competent with her as with Twilight[5], so things work out at first. The problem is that, spurred by devotion and love, Spike rapidly becomes more zealous in his desire to help, to the point of being overbearing and smothering[6]. Also, he may be an excellent assistant and gentleman, but he’s a lethal chef[7].

Rarity gets sick of it and tries to give Spike to AJ as she figures he would be endlessly busy on a farm, but AJ clearly expresses her discomfort with the idea and Rarity doesn't press her on it. RD shows up and the stuff with the rock tower happens. After that, Rarity visits Twi and explains and tells her about the situation. Instead of Twilight talking a bunch of nonsense about how important Dragon Codes are and that their importance prevents her from talking some sense into Spike, she reminds Rarity that Spike has a crush on her and wants only to make her as happy as can be. Either of them could talk sense into him, but they might hurt his feelings. She gets her idea and the mane six scheme the fake timberwolf attack. Rarity puts on her best damsel in distress act, but Spike sees through the whole thing.

A real timberwolf shows up and Spike defeats it[8] by lighting the tip of its tail on fire, making it run away whining[9]. Rarity thanks Spike and explains her grievance with him. She teaches him a lesson about generosity: while helping others is a wonderful thing, one has to respect others' boundaries and exercise sensible restraint, lest generosity turn into a nuisance[10]. Spike writes this lesson to Celestia, with Rarity and Twilight watching approvingly.

Spike agrees to drop the lifetime servitude thing, but asks Rarity if he can still be her knight (twoo wuv and all that). Rarity agrees and either kisses him on the cheek or knights him with her horn. Then they hug. The end.[11]

[0] He may be a baby by his species’ standards, but he’s mature and intelligent enough to neither steal a balloon nor run into a post.

[1] As far as the mane six are concerned, the go-to ponies for being paired with Spike are Twilight, who is effectively his older sister, and Rarity, the mare he loves. I’m not referring to shipping, though I do support Rarispike (if he’s older); those two are the ponies he has the strongest relationships with and thus are ideal for being involved in situations with him, especially if he learns something--which, unlike the original Spike At Your Service, he does here. Outside the mane six, Celestia would be the next best candidate if you accept Faust’s original intention for her to be the pony who raised Spike, which I do.

Spike simply doesn’t have much of a relationship with Applejack for their interactions to be compelling in this episode; the writers could have replaced her with Pinkie, Dash or Fluttershy and the episode would have been in no way diminished--or barely altered, for that matter. Perhaps this episode could have been used to develop a connection between them but no such development happened.

Also, as of this blogpost Rarity has yet to have an episode focus on her in the third season. Applejack already had Apple Family Reunion. In fact, every member of the mane six has had a central episode this season except Rarity.

[2] Having him want to be Rarity’s knight makes more sense than a “Spike The Dragon Code” he pulls from nowhere[2.1] and isn’t based in anything (later on, Twilight talks about how Dragon Codes are so important when no one ever told Spike about codes in any episode and the show has yet to depict a dragon other than Spike who displays such self-discipline). Spike takes this life debt seriously, he wants to uphold values of honourable/noble/generous servitude, he knows that Rarity styles herself as a lady and he’s in love with her; the connection to the “knight in shining armour” archetype is obvious.

Consider also that when he’s explaining his motivations to AJ:
-He does a flowery bow
-He says that it is his “honour and duty” to help her
-Snippets of medieval music are playing in the background

The intent behind the Spike The Dragon Code obvious, but its portrayal is wasted on Applejack. Rarity, on the other hand, can and would play off of it to the fullest.

[2.1] As an aside: this is an interesting use of Spike’s flame that, if I’m not mistaken, we’ve never seen before this episode. Not only did Spike receive an item that was not sent to him, he did so voluntarily and on command. Given our prior understanding of how Spike’s flame works, he probably didn’t conjure the Spike The Dragon Code card with his fire--or did he? If not, where did the card come from and where did he send it to? A fireplace in Twilight’s library? Inside his body? Is Spike a living Bag of Holding? He does say at a later point in the episode that the code is a part of him...

[3] I will give this episode one bit of credit: I love the idea that Spike wants to be a noble and benevolent knight of a dragon, especially after the events of Secret of My Excess and Dragon Quest, which I imagine would have produced at least a fair amount of self-loathing. It would be wonderful if a later episode in the series has Spike meet a dragon who is closer to his ideal, so he has an example he could look up to and so the series could establish that not all non-Spike dragons are wimps and frat-jock douchebags. Alternatively, it would be neat--and cute--if Spike based his lifestyle choice on wanting to be like his “mom” (see #1) when he grew up.

[4] This instance of stupidity makes sense, unlike the one that started the plot. It’s essentially confirmation bias on Spike’s part: he’s so driven to adhere to his code he’s not paying attention to Twi being very clearly distracted.

[5] “Spike screws up everything and does stupid things for the sake of cheap slapstick” is the fundamental plot device of the episode and I honestly can’t believe it wasn’t laughed off of the page by the rest of the writing staff. It’s not funny; it’s annoying, it gets dull and repetitive very quickly, and it’s a gross mockery of Spike. If Spike was this incompetent he would never have been given the position of Twilight’s assistant. Notice also that his immense incompetence is inconsistent even within this episode: he doesn’t screw up at all when rescuing AJ from the giant timberwolf and at the end, he brings Twilight a lamp with no problems.

[6] This is more sensible than “Maybe there’s things you need help with that you don’t even realize you need help with.”

[7] I’m willing to keep this in because...
-He can’t be good at everything.
-”You even look good when you’re chewing...” I like this amusingly creepy line.

[8] Timberwolves do not have digestive or respiratory systems made of wood. I know they’re magical creatures and Equestria is a magical land but I shouldn’t have to explain how completely ridiculous this is.

[9] The giant timberwolf was not defeated in the canon version of this episode. All it had to do was reform itself, minus the rock, and continue chasing the ponies. If the rock was truly lodged inside the log that served as its “throat”, it just had to get a new log. It was capable of pulling entire trees from the EF; there’s no reason it couldn’t have replaced that part. Yes, it could have removed the burning parts of its body, but it's a creature made of wood. Being on fire, already a terrifying experience on its own, is going to scare it even more than fleshy creatures.

[10] AJ never explained why she staged a timberwolf attack. All she did was ask Spike to disregard his code of life servitude in the future, which he agreed to without any reluctance or hesitation. Yes, it would have hurt Spike’s feelings had she said “You screwed up everythin’ you tried to help me with and Ah just can’t deal with that.”, but that’s besides the point. Spike needed to understand that he was causing problems in AJ’s life and that she wanted him to stop because of said problems. He never learned that, and his immediate acceptance of AJ’s request made no sense given it was the same request she had been making to him the entire first half of the episode. Why would he accept it now? Because he saved her life and that made them even? He never said that that was how he felt about the matter; Twi and AJ just assumed he would feel that way. Hence, this rewrite not only has Spike clearly learn of his transgressions but also incorporates a moral for the kids.

[11] The "I'm really happy to help you!" scene with Twi and Spike at the end is completely pointless, so instead here's a little scene that focuses on the episode's primary characters, expands on their relationship a little and wraps up Spike's arc.


---Part 4: Discontinuity

In light of recent events, I’ve taken another look at my Declaration of Discontinuity and revised it.

1. A Canterlot Wedding, in its entirety, never happened. This does not mean I will never use individual elements from that episode, such as the changelings, but I cannot in good conscience reconcile the overall events and characterizations (especially the latter) it depicts with the rest of FIM as we know it. Cadance and SA are married, but the events surrounding their wedding were not as depicted in canon.

2. Twilight Sparkle has (or had) an estranged relationship with Shining Armour and her parents, having been abandoned by the latter to Celestia upon becoming her apprentice.

3. The mane six are not and will never become alicorns unless I write a story specifically about such an event.

4. Spike At Your Service, in its entirety, never happened. Events as described in this blog post happened instead.

I’ve removed the Cadance entry for now because at this point I’m not sure what to think of her. She was never supposed to be an alicorn and it’s entirely likely that Faust intended for there to only be two, but I don’t oppose her place in the background. The additions of the Crystal Empire, Sombra, light/darkness and the Crystal Heart give her a proper place in the world and expand the potential of her role. I don’t even mind if that Princess Skyla turns out to be her and SA’s daughter (she certainly looks like it); if the writers want to exploit Cadance in order to give Hasbro toys without screwing with the parts of the show the fans actually care about, more power to them.

If this sounds a little like my simply coming to accept her, I suppose it is. I freely admit that while I stand by my discontinuity, part of the impetus to create it was emotional. I neither love nor hate her, but in light of The Crystal Empire it would be silly for me to pretend she doesn’t exist when it’s possible she could serve some important role in my work one day. I’ll just keep her as the anomaly she is for the moment.

---

If you actually read the whole thing, I appreciate your taking the time to see what I have to say. ^_^ Take care, everypony.

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Comments ( 12 )

I have to agree with you on most of that. I was not happy with Discord's episode though. Mostly it just felt so rushed it seemed ridiculous. I don't see how anyone could possibly make that premise work in only 22 minutes. But, given that, I thought it was surprisingly entertaining.

I agree Spike at Your Service was one of the worst episodes yet, though I'd say Wonderbolt Academy takes the cake there. Overall, season 3 has been quite disappointing for me. I really like your version of the episode, though I think Spike has proved his cooking chops plenty in the past. It's sad that the writing for the show has gone so far downhill, but at least the fic community still has a lot to offer.

While your rewrite of Spike at Your Service was vastly superior to the actual episode, I have to disagree when you say it was the worst of the series. Spike was moronic and the plot was predictable, but the interactions between the other characters were still entertaining and well written. You even contradicted your own statement that "absolutely nothing in that episode worked" by leaving in the lunch scene and the rock tower scene.

Besides, no episode will ever be as bad as The Mysterious Mare Do Well.

759096 I completely agree that Keep Calm and Flutter On was too short. It was undoubtedly deserving of at least two episodes--heck, it should have been the two-part finale for this season. Buck the toys; it would've been a hype machine at critical mass. I'd gladly erase Spike At Your Service or Just For Sidekicks from existence for the sake of giving that episode the time it deserved. That being said, I can't deny that it was well-written--perhaps the best they could have done under the time constraints. What they really should do is devote an episode or two in the next season to further exploring and fleshing out the ramifications of KC&FO and Discord's backstory.

I don't think S3 has been that bad overall. The Crystal Empire, Sleepless In Ponyville, Magic Duel, Keep Calm and Flutter On; all of those were great.

760006 Ah, my apologies. I started this blog post a few days ago and revised it a number of times; clearly I missed that line. I'll edit it. I still think SAYS was the worst ep of the series, though. A single line that I found entertaining and a scene I didn't have that many problems with (the second half of the rock tower scene had the whole "What if you need help for things you don't realize you need help with?" thing, which was nothing short of ludicrous :facehoof:) aren't exactly high points. Mare Do Well has Batman, Zorro, Spider-Man, Darkwing Duck and Scooby-Doo references; those alone are better than anything in the canon version of SAYS and I'm willing to bet I could find more positive elements if I watched it again.

760244

A single line that I found entertaining and a scene I didn't have that many problems with aren't exactly high points.

Fair enough. It just bugged me that you included those after claiming there was absolutely nothing good in the episode, so thanks for clearing that up.

As for Mare Do Well, I'm not saying I hated everything about it. In fact, I absolutely loved the references and cheesy lines. That bit with the jar still makes me smile just thinking about it. Really, though, that just makes it worse. I want to like this episode, but I can't. The way the characters act towards Rainbow, and how they handle the moral... I just can't stand how horrid it all is.

Where's the butt I was promised :raritydespair:

759096
Wonderbolts Academy has nothing on SaYS in terms of horribleness. It's not even bad in any sense. It was a good episode with interesting characterisation consistent with what we know about the cast. The only problem I really have with it is that Lightning Dust is seemingly kicked out at the end, for something that's been repeatedly encouraged by her superiors before. She should've been reprimanded, the rules and code of conduct revised, but kicking her out is extremely unfair. This, however, seems to be a worryingly common trend in the US, with its assorted zero tolerance take on things -- everyone's trigger happy until bad things happen, then you look for a scapegoat pronto and break their life forever.

760006
I don't want to start a shouting match about which was the worst, because it gets uncomfortably close to comparing infinities, but I'd say SaYS is every bit as bad as MMDW, and A Friend in Deed, which is a thoroughly terrible episode with a creepy, broken aesop. They're all there in the lowest level of hell reserved for Episodes Which Should Never Have Happened I'd Rather Have Them Skip That Week™.

A few minor points:

-Rarity is, I would say, uncharacteristically stingy. I know it was from a dress but we've seen her with chests of gems. Element of Generosity, huh

Did you see what that single gem fragment was able to buy? She was basing it off of how valuable it was, and not the size.

-Why did Granny Smith take Spike's bribe?

She was pretty mad until the animals actually escaped, which was the point at which she actually took the bribe.

Why does Zecora know about the power of greed on dragons' minds, but doesn't know that they eat gems?

Why do you assume that? Is it just because she doesn't explicitly mention that dragons eat gems? I'd say that regardless of whether or not he was going to eat the gems, if I saw Spike carrying around a cup of gems, I'd say he was being greedy and needed to give his gems to charity to get rid of his bad mojo too.

They just shoved every secondary character they could in there. This was pretty much the ultimate filler episode.

Well, it's to be expected in an episode called Just For Sidekicks. I mean, it's in the title.

796756

Gem Value: That's difficult to determine given another--much larger and complete--gem was able to buy train tickets for Spike, all the pets and the CMC. For all we know gems of any kind have the same value regardless; neither Spike nor the conductor gave any thought as to whether or not the pink one was actually enough to cover the cost.

Granny Smith: That doesn't answer my question. She clearly saw he was mistreating the animals, one of whom was her family's pet dog, and she willingly turned a blind eye for money. That's in no way consistent with Equestria's social values. I will not say it's an impossible scenario--it's reasonable to assume not all ponies are upstanding citizens--but this is AJ's grandmother. She should know better, especially where one of her own was concerned. At least Zecora had the desire to help Spike in some way.

Zecora's Actions: That's like saying if you saw someone carrying a bag of groceries you'd tell them they were greedy and should give some of that food to the needy. The act would be noble, but how do you know they can spare any of it? They're going to eat it. Creatures that eat things must do so to live. Also, "getting rid of the bad mojo" (which didn't work, BTW) didn't help Spike's inability to properly take care of the pets.

Title: Filler episodes are bad. SAYS is a filler episode, which is one of the many things that makes it bad.

797357

Different kinds of gems may have different values, it's something that probably hasn't been established. My memory's a bit foggy, how valuable was the fire ruby supposed to be? Or was the value irrelevant?

Also, I'm fairly certain that people don't also steal and horde groceries, turning into a giant evil monster in the process. People still need to be careful after the last incident.

EDIT: Also, did you get that pm I sent you about the YouTube reading if your fic?

759096 If Season 3 disappointed you, did Magic Duel disappoint you? I personally thought it SUCKED. :-)

1394361
I wouldn't say I was disappointed with Magic Duel, only because I expected it to be terrible from the beginning and it lived up to those expectations. When I first read the rumored synopsis I thought it was a joke. It sounded like a bad fanfic premise.

In fact, I felt that was a recurring theme for season 3. Most of the episodes had a distinct feel of fanfiction about them. Whether that was a result of the changes in the creative team, pandering to the bronies, or me reading too many ponyfics I couldn't say, but it was not a change I liked.

1394732 Note the assumption in your judgment: fanfiction will by default be worse, both in conception and writing, than canon.

I found nothing to outright dislike about Magic Duel (not even Trixie's pseudo-redemption. She demonstrated a little humility in Boast Busters as well) but I feel that, much like Keep Calm and Flutter On, it was hindered by the time constraints of a single episode. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't enough.

There wasn't any time to explore the Alicorn Amulet's origins, Trixie's inadequacy as a spellcaster or Twilight's over-reliance on magic. That last point wasn't even hinted by the episode but it makes sense given the conflict and resolution: one of the show's most powerful mages is outclassed magically and has to solve a problem with mundane methods; it would've been more of a personal journey for Twi and less of a generic "friends help each other out" message had she been shown to rely too much on her incredible magic prior to Trixie's arrival.

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