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Mike Cartoon Pony


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

More Blog Posts92

Oct
16th
2019

Episode Review: "The Ending of the End" - Season 9 Episodes 24 & 25 · 6:44pm Oct 16th, 2019


DISCORD: “We really need to fire whoever named this two-parter, don’t we?”
SPIKE: “You’re annoyed about that? What about the rest of us? You and Twilight are the only ones in this shot with any substantial non-disposable dialogue this episode!”

Well, we’re finally here, folks. Friendship Is Magic has finally concluded, after nine years and a few days. Though less when you factor in a cock-up in the upload to a Dutch streaming service (and a subsequent Hasbro leak – again). Let’s just say the last month and a half have been a minefield and a half when it comes to avoiding spoilers. Kind of ironic, given the first half of the last two-parter, and the series’ third last episode, hinges everything on the tension of its cliffhanger, to enough of a degree that I felt inspired to follow suit, and review each episode separately, not together. Don’t worry, thoughts on the two episodes as a whole will follow.

Anyway, so, “The Ending of the End – Part 1”. Let’s get stuck in, shall we? Because, as Pinkie Pie might say, this one’s quite the doozy. Though what kind of doozy you’ll have to read on to find out.

To no one’s surprise, our episode starts off with the Legion of Doom. Following Chrysalis-in-disguise stirring more racial hate amongst the types of ponies, they finally use the book and get the Bewitching Bell to upgrade them all sufficiently; Tirek to his buff form, albeit at normal size, Chrysalis all glowy and pointy, and Cozy Glow to an alicorn. After the break, Grogar returns from his trip hinted about at the end of “The Summer Sun Setback” (also indicating that all of Episodes 18-23 took place in a day; the timetable of Season 9 falls apart when you consider the Legion of Doom events can’t take place over more then a week, but that’s also when Twilight is, mostly off-screen, preparing to take the throne – this deserves it’s own post), with a new artefact of power. Not that it matters, because the other three pin him, destroy it and use the Bell to drain his powers…


:rainbowhuh: “Wait, isn’t that…”


:ajbemused: “What. The. Actual. Hay”

Yep, your eyes do not deceive you. Grogar was just Discord all along. And if you’re anything like me, your brain was playing catch-up while he slipped away on his feet and the other three decided he wasn’t worth pursuing, being completely powerless again. This… plot twist opens a whole can of Tatzlwurms. For now, I ask this; why did the writers bring back a G1 MLP villain that they knew fans, even those who don’t care about G1, like myself, were clamouring for, and got really excited about, only for the purpose of a disguise? They had to know building him up as a Big Bad, only for him to be disposed so quickly and turn out to be a mask, was bound to disappoint people. Replacing Grogar with a new villain, but changing nothing else about him, would improve this aspect of the problem quite a bit. As for the other aspect… well, the episode does a bit of that grilling itself. Let’s more on.

So Twilight is managing herself fine in the lead-up to the coronation, with the requisite jab from Spike about her not freaking out (thankfully, that’s about the only meta case). Her worry heightens a bit when she and her friends see cases of ponies being hostile to others not of their original tribe, but it fully manifests only when a battered Discord shows up, complaining he’s doesn’t know the last time he walked that far, while also muttering that they may have a problem.

Indeed they do, and the following few minutes basically consists of Discord’s explanation of him trying to setup a challenge for Twilight Sparkle (which King Sombra was already, as is pointed out), and him swearing he had good intentions while the other characters berate him. Really, since they spend so much-time addressing the elephant in the room, I might as well. In the universe of FiM, this is actually a fine idea from Discord’s point-of-view. It does require a bit of handwaving as to what Discord intended the three villains to do, as all the evidence suggests he was just winging that, but then we get into “you can’t apply rational thinking to Discord” territory, and that’s best left alone. But as far as Discord’s intentions to test Twilight, I can accept that, it fits with his character to a degree.

Out of universe, though? It’s quite a sore spot, basically a cheap writer’s way for them to have a (good) character manufacture the conflict that involves three normally-solo old villains teaming up, and then having him de-powered as he’s far too powerful (which speaks to why having Discord reformed, while fine for comedic episodes, just makes any two-parters he’s involved in tough to swallow unless they come up with convoluted ways to neuter him, as they often do; I suppose I can’t blame the current writers for this, though, as they inherited Discord that way). More then that, revealing this late in the game that the villain side of the seasonal arc is all a test setup, but now it’s out of hand, is a subversive move that naturally doesn’t really work.

If they wanted Discord to be de-powered, the solution was simple: have Grogar be real, but the episode starts with him telling the Legion they’ll use his new artefact to depower Discord first, at which the Legion decides to wait until after to betray Grogar. Thus, the Legion destroys Grogar with the bell as soon as he’s depowered Discord, and they only notice Discord’s slinked away once he’s gone. The extra time for that would be saved with the removal of the characters grilling Discord on his mistake. We’d still have Grogar being dispatched so quickly (my preference for a finale that also involved Grogar substantially would require a lot more alterations), but the more major issue of Discord’s setup is fixed.

Honestly, it’s not even that this bothers me all that much, or weakens the episode all that much... okay, it does bother me a lot and it does weaken the episode a lot. I’m more just flummoxed this was a decision that was made. It could have worked, with more writing nuance and focus on Twilight and Discord (albeit treading over ground covered by “Twilight’s Kingdom”, but as we all know, two-parters these days are always fit-to-bursting with characters.

As for the rest of the episode? Following a scene where Cozy Glow tries to absorb Discord’s chaos magic but can’t use it properly, which is funny alongside being a sound explanation, the Mane 7, Discord, Princess and guards prepare for an attack, with the Students at the school evacuating and the Pillars positioned at Canterlot’s outskirts. This last third of the episode is quite muscular and action-packed, basically a non-stop back-and-forth sequence showing Tirek besting the Pillars, Chrysalis besting Starlight and Cozy (almost) besting those at the castle until her allies show up. With the Princess’ powers absorbed into the bell too, the episode finishes on a traumatising fade to white as Twilight teleports away for help while the others hold back the Legion’s Power Beam.

I’ll say this: the episode’s last third actually works well enough. It’s basically pulling the “everything goes wrong for our heroes, leaving the audience suffocating for air wondering how they can possibly win next time” card, but isolated from the following episode that has to do the cleanup from that, it’s one of the better examples of this in quite some time. On three separate occasions, we’re led to believe the character(s) being bested by a Legion member will win or get away, only for the rug to be pulled out from under us. First, it’s Somnambula trying but failing to flee for help against Tirek. Next is Starlight’s trick to bury Chrysalis under snow, only for her to pop up and cocoon her (in what honestly may be the creepiest individual shot in the show’s history, with those tentacles slithering over her). Finally, there’s Cozy being cornered and about to lose the bell when Tirek and Chrysalis burst in. Amazingly, the order of these is structured so it seems more likely our heroes are going to win with each case, thereby meaning, despite happening three times in the space of a few minutes, they all feel fair and legitimate. That the episode itself isn’t doing much to invest us in the characters doesn’t hinder it terribly here because we already are: if you care about the characters here, the tension reaches some really high levels. You can count this show’s proper action sequences on one hoof, but this is easily up there, all nine seasons and everything.

Regarding the episode as a whole, other then the whole “Discord as Grogar” thing, there are two other gigantic issues. The subplot of ponies being turned against one another is very undercooked here, leaving most of the work for that part to the next episode. It must also be said that this is not really a character-focused finale; the writing suffices when it’s focusing on plot and the villains’ banter (again, Grogar cock-up excepted), but turns up awfully bland during the moments of friend bonding and Twilight’s coming burden here. It feels very much like several other Season 9 scripts in those scenes being a screenwriting exercise that never got beyond the first draft. Of course, the show’s not the same it was even four seasons ago, but it’s still not exactly pleasing when the weakest element of an episode is the Friendship part. Given, you know, the title up there. And this episode isn’t as overstuffed as it could have been (at the next episode’s expense), so it’s not just because of less screentime – I could easily see more drafts or a different writer (most of Nicole Dubuc’s other weaknesses aren't as prominent here) fixing this, with nothing else changing.

Still, even if “The Ending of the End – Part 1” is light and unfulfilling as a character piece, which it still wants to be a bit, it’s engaging as an action buildup one, tipping our characters to their lowest point, and it makes usage of the villain team-up setup poised all season long, from a plot perspective if not a character one, Grogar fake-out notwithstanding. Taken on its own, this episode’s a good one.

That’s taken on its own, you understand. Because taken with “The Ending of the End – Part 2”…

*


...this moment would have been more effective it Endgame-style backups hadn't been done to death in the last six months, huh?

Honestly, the main reason I felt motivated to discuss the episodes separately was because, for the first time ever, there is a perceptible quality difference between the two. This is only the second time the two episodes of a Premiere or Finale weren’t written by the same person – with “School Raze”, I felt suitably muddled towards both halves and their kitchen sink approach. Here, though, while “Part 1” keeps pace in quality with the Season’s Premiere, excepting the Grogar factor, “Part 2” can’t keep from stumbling with all the threads it tries to, or has to, include, alongside having to cleanup the situation Part 1 ended on. Oh, it tries to make some elements less focused on so they don’t overwhelm matters (the Pillars and Student 6, so how much this will annoy you depends on how invested you were in them. For me, the former never got enough to do for me to be surprised here, and the latter… eh, I remain indifferent). As it all builds to a fight out in the open with many parties pitching in, Endgame-style, it can’t help but feel anticlimactic with how quickly some elements show up or resolve themselves. I have to wonder if the staff asked for permission for a three-parter, got rejected, and instead asked for an Epilogue episode and got that instead. We’ll probably never know.

Anyways, the episode up until Twilight is onscreen again is largely at the same level as “Part 1”, as Discord provides a distraction and the three bicker over sharing power when they all clearly plan to betray each other. Neither of these two threads see much workout thereafter, but for the episode’s first third, it continues in providing suitable tension in “how can they possibly fix this?” mode. So the finale’s middle-third is basically its best from an entertainment perspective.

Now, when the Mane 7 bar Twilight catch up to her in the Crystal Empire and find she hasn’t found a solution, that’s when the episode starts to show its weaknesses. Or, well, when Michael Vogel shows his, because the speech the characters deliver to get her to try, despite having the can’t-miss moment of them telling her they wouldn’t be where they are today without her, is one of the show’s clearest examples of first-draft syndrome, and for Season 9, that’s saying something. I’ve long made my peace with the sparkle and wit of Mane 7 characters interactions being weaker these days, but here it’s actively a big problem. For all this this finale is suitably thrilling, it’s failure to invest as a character piece will, I’d wager, render it a memory and a curiosity rather then a re-watch candidate down the line.

Oh, before the big showdown happens, we also have Windigos back as a result of the tribes’ segregation. Whatever that the building racism distrust happened offscreen, it all collapses poorly here, because the Windigos are never relevant again once the showdown of the final eight minutes starts. The other elements that appear during the final battle may be rushed, but at least they’re resolved.

There is little to say about the final battle itself – it’s well-cut moments of them trying to get the bell and being pushed into a corner, before the tribes of the Student 6, along with many others from Equestria that have befriended the ponies (hi, Tempest – you transitioned to Flash as poorly as I’d suspected, and that cloak saving them having to design a cutie mark is as obvious as day). Following more battle shenanigans and the Student 6 explaining how they rallied help, Twilight delivers the usual friendship speech, livened considerably by the clear fact of this power beam being less of a deus ex machina then usual and being tied to spreading friendship to other creatures all over the world (Twilight actually says “world” instead of Equestria earlier, so it fits). While it would have been far more effective for the audience if the Season 8 threads had worked there and not being abandoned this season, and got much of any time this episode, it is something, so I won’t say no. The de-powered villains are turned to stone at Discord’s suggestion (following one of Pinkie’s funnier moments in a while, though not as much as if the show’s comic timing was still up to scratch), and the episode wraps up with Twilight having a peaceful meal at Donut Joe’s with her six close friends before they fix the mess and have the coronation proper.

As stated before, this finale’s character moments don’t really deliver, so all the audience investment comes from prior episodes. For most viewers, that’ll be enough, these episodes are quite the thriller, most effectively in the back third of Part 1 and the first third of Part 2. The side effect, of course, is that once you’ve watched it, it’s not an episode with much incentive to go back to. Plot and action aren’t what got up into this show and helped us stick to it like cotton candy. It’s a watchable pair of episodes.
But when was "watchable" good enough? Why did this finale have to flounder so much on legitimate character moments and pull the (admittedly set-up) brainfart twist with Discord? How did it bring back three old villains for a team-up and yet have them come across as less threatening and competent then when they worked solo? Why did the racism subplot just come across like it was inserted at the last second to provide tension and audience relief when everyone arrived to help? Heck, even the threads that could have been improved - the Twilight/Discord thing - are largely repeating ones done much better in the past. But then again, this is the crew that largely ignores anything pre-Season 8 when it's not mandated to be referred back to.

Though its overall quality is about what I expected - enjoyable in spurts but really rickety and wobbly when you think about what's going on for even a second - it’s surprisingly anticlimactic in terms of the resulting audience emotions as the series’ final two-parter. I expected this, all the evidence pointed to the episodes being unable to deliver on that front. But I’d still hoped.

Then again, it’s not the series finale. No, that’s next, in the Epilogue episode. How will “The Last Problem” fare? Stay tuned!

STRAY OBSERVATIONS
- You know the Grogar twist has pissed a lot of people off when even DrWolf can’t mount a defence for it. Another thing being pointed out by many is that Discord was trying to reform the villains, thinking that since Twilight and co. reformed so many, they’d approve. Still a nonsensical hole-ridden plan, but it’s not AS rickety.
- It is a good thing that they didn’t reform the Legion villains. It’s not a case of the characters not considering it – Celestia’s clear “there is no punishment suitable for what you have done” shows they’re not so gullible as to forgive blindly. How this fits in with imprisoning Cozy in Tartarus in “School Raze” I’ll leave to you, since we never got any further backstory for her. By this point, I’d accepted that it wasn’t forthcoming.
- Given how much the heroes push the villains into a corner by the end of Part 1, Part 2 has to do its fair share of examples of them being less competent. Letting the others escaping early on, and them being rather slower at subduing the Mane 7 during the battle’s first stage (and, also, leaving the bell out in the open like that).
- It bears repeating how much the racism subplot that started in The Summer Sun Setback crashed – it barely factored into Part 1 at all, and the only lasting effect it has in Part 2 is to justify everyone showing up at once, Endgame-style (though of course given the show’s production style, that wasn’t intentional, I’m sure). Seriously, remove that subplot, and the overall shape of the Finale changes not one bit, and you get a bit more time for others areas (and also, hopefully more drafts of the flat tender moments).
- We can also now say with full confidence that “The Mane 6” never amounted to anything and contributed bugger all to either last season or this one. Maybe it was meant to and plans changed. Honestly, some abandoned or unresolved threads the past few years match the same mistakes being doing in weekly anime, based on a manga or otherwise.
- Given Grogar does still exist within the series’ lore, with the backstory of him and Gusty and his bell still having all its powers (couldn’t Discord have replaced it with a bell that couldn’t harm him? Yes, say the writers, but they we wouldn’t have a finale), I’m betting there’ll be no surge of fanfictions doing something with the big ram. Unless some pop up showing that Grogar was also Discord even way back in the day or something. You might gather I’m still annoyed the big ram turned out to be what he did. No slight on Doc Harris, he gave a performance that enlivened his ordinary dialogue considerably.
- It’s flabbergasting how much better the Flash versions of Novo and Skystar fit then Tempest. It also makes it all the odder that we don’t also see Capper or the Sky Pirates. They could have also gone the whole hog with movie cameos and showed the petrified Legion placed by the smashed Storm King. Maybe bring in the Klugetowners, why not (in all seriousness, the series doing nothing with Klugetown after the Movie is a personal disappointment; all the potential is there without toyetic schools or token species’ representation to weigh it down).
- Some parts of my opinion of the Finale may change with time. It’s often foolish to try and solve an episode within the few days after you first see it. This’ll have to do for now.

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Comments ( 1 )

Lo there! I was semi-waiting for some sort of reply or other opportunity to converse over in the EqD comments, but with the followup machine remaining well and truly stuck and the discussion of the ending having slipped into the "I don't wanna talk about it" asylum where it largely belongs (until the followup machine revs up enough to fabricate the one for the two-parter you review here), I guess there wasn't much opportunity nor reason for you to pop over there. So, guess I'm simply making the crossing on my own!

Yep, this is TiM from over on EqD, and of six and a half/close to seven years ago from over here on Fimfic as well (this account even possesses my original avatar still, something that I decided to keep for good as a monument of sorts). I haven't really done much with the place since my retrieval of my good old account, but this is still the beginning, the early phases. It's just as well - the fandom at large seems to be in general shellshock from the ending yet, and it'll be some time as people shake themselves back to life again; I know I still am to some degree, even after knowing it'd be coming since the end of August.

But, regardless, I'm here now - back in the saddle, so to speak. And mark me words - our time will yet come, and soon, at that. I'm beginning to organize things little by little. Perhaps, if you use the Discord chat app, we could exchange contacts for that; if not, maybe we'll figure out a mode of congregation here on Fimfic, to assemble our forming band of rebels that seek to remake S8 and 9 in fic form (we're officially four people strong already!).

Pardon the lack of a reply to the actual review, here - I'll furnish one when EqD coughs up its followup, as I've become a bit bound to that tradition over the years. You could post it over there, or I could just come here and write a reply in this here section. We'll see when the time comes!

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