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Mike Cartoon Pony

Nintendo gamer and animation lover. Also likes pastel cartoon ponies. They do that to people. And ghosts.

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Episode Review: "Student Counsel" - Season 9 Episode 11 · 4:36pm Jun 8th, 2019

"Starlight Glimmer relishes her role as school councillor and encourages the students to come to her anytime about anything, but she becomes overwhelmed and learns a lesson."

In looking at the promotional episode synopses for the latter chunk of this first half of the season, for those after She's All Yak, this was easily the one that leapt out at me the least. Even last week's episode that was obviously going to be filler at least had the advantage of featuring Applejack prominently. And my curiosity will always be piqued when it revolves around AJ, even if her starring episodes usually tend to be problematic.
This, though... I really do like Starlight, and her role as guidance councillor is a fine additional to her character arc at this point in the series. Whatever problems A Matter of Principles had, they weren't really about her, and her main scene in Marks for Effort remains one of the few things about that episode that I remember warmly. Let's face it; we'd all like to have a bit of empathy coco with her. But the way that synopsis is written - when you include "and learns a lesson" in your blurb, you're doing something wrong. Of course, the marketing folk at Discovery Family are totally separate from the actual show staff. So, let's just launch into the episode, shall we?

'Student Counsel' is another Josh Haber episode. We all know about the different emphasis the show became under his direction, but as far as the episodes he actually pens go, they can be all over the map.

No, not THAT map…

It certainly is an episode that could only take place recently in the show, mid-season 8 at the earliest, and it's another with none of the Mane 7 to be seen either, being focused on Starlight and her group of friends (Trixie is the only non-cameo character from before Season 5, and in essence this version of her might as well be a Season 6-on character). We learn quickly that compared to other episodes, Starlight's actually in high demand as councilor now, to the point where she has a cool magic bracelet on her hoof that flashes whenever anyone knocks on her door, so she can teleport back. Trixie's less then pleased that this constantly interrupts not only their picnic, but also their plans to gather supplies and make a cake for a party later that night at Maud's place.

As most of this unveils, it does so rather dully. Don't get me wrong, Starlight and Trixie continue to have fun chemistry, and there's some great faces throughout (at this point, that might as well be the norm for episodes). But very little about it was engaging me, though why becomes apparent later.

After Starlight shoos Silverstream away on account of the school being closed for the holiday, advising the young hippogriff to figure out her problem on her own (somewhat more gently that I made it sound), it doesn't take long for the episode to change tact. At the party at Maud's, her brother Terramar shows up, saying Silverstream never came home (this also means her family waited long enough to confirm she wasn't coming, and then he went to Ponyville, all in what onscreen can't have been more then a few hours, but let's not dwell there). Starlight and he find articles on cockatrices in her room, determine she went to the Evertree Forest to study them, and then they, as well as Trixie, Maud, Sunburst (also at the party) and Mudbriar (...), head off to find her.

Starlight's worry about shooing Silverstream off is a focus for the rest of the episode even as they run into a horde of cockatrices, trying to avoid their paralysing stare. The execution is somewhat fumbled; its understandable she feels its all her fault, but the episode's moral of basically balancing your work and personal life doesn't come across with much real nuance. Then, it transpires Silverstream is all fine at the Harmony Treehouse, having tamed a cockatrice. Yet she got so caught up she forgot to let Terramar know she's be finishing her project before coming home.

Not only is it the case that the constant questions Silverstream was asking Starlight about showers before didn't match up with her project that just sprung into the episode once she went missing, but her being forgetful regarding her family was the episode basically admitting its conflict was arbitrarily fabricated. Gee, when even the episode admits that, you have a problem.

Now, all of that describes an episode I disliked, which just isn't the case, more just a dull and tedious but passable. But there are a fair few compensating factors - Starlight and Trixie we know about, and the comedy in general throughout was quite good. But Maud and Mudbriar were the standouts. I was neutral on Mudbriar before, but here the episode was aware his "technically..." spiels could get annoying, and even he called himself out on them. Maud and him has some downright hilarious lines between them, especially when he was turned to stone, and Maud remarked how she was even more into him that way. The comic timing and pacing for these moments can hold its own with some of the best from the show’s early seasons, no joke. Even I was surprised by how much moments from either of them and especially from them as a pair worked, but they did.

For all that the moral's execution is fumbled throughout, it does stick the landing. Starlight realising that her making herself always available to students meant they constantly approached her with little things was a good point worth highlighting, not just for kids, but adults too. Because this IS a moral that feels targeted at adults, balancing your work with your personal life. And her concluding statement to simply have office hours, well, it may seem like something that should have been done from the start, but it you think of it as a self-employed person regulating when they're "on duty", as it were, it all slots into place.

Despite the episode been rather dull and tedious in places, it fares decently in the end. There’s an unusual moral that landed even if it kept tripping along the way, and there's a plentiful selection of good comedy too. There's not a whole lot else to it, but it's no dud by a long shot, even if it’s probably closer to the weaker episodes of Season 9 thus far then the stronger ones. But, I won't complain. It did right by Starlight, even if the script got itself butt-about-face at turns. And a second viewing had me liking it a bit more; Kind of the polar episode to 'Going to Seed', which fared better then this on initial viewing but lost some pizazz after even the second viewing. Though the amount of handwaving required to overlook characters being dumb so the plot can proceed, something that became far more common then is desirable in Season 8, will limit this one's appeal for casual rewatches.

- If it wasn’t apparent before, Trixie and Maud also have some really good comic chemistry. Just throwing that out there.
- I think in some aspects, this episode would have fared better in a cartoonier cartoon, one where we’re not supposed to take the character and what they do as seriously. If this had happened in a more Cartoon Network-esque cartoon, it would have been less problematic.
- “To be honest, your advice wasn’t really that helpful anyway”. Ooh, shots fired, Silverstream and/or writers loving a good lampshade.

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