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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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Feb
21st
2020

Mini Re-Reviews: "Secret of My Excess" - Season 2 Episode 10 · 10:46pm February 21st


RAINBOW DASH:"Heh, looking back at this, Twilight, you might say that you needed help learning how to train your dragon!"
TWILIGHT: "Oh, sweet Celestia, reverse my alicornhood and kill me now..."
DISCORD: "I'm with Twilight on this one, Rainbow Dash. When you pun-and-shout-out is unbearable even by the standards of the Lord of Chaos, you done goofed. What do you think Pinkie?"
PINKIE PIE: "Hm, well, if that were a cake, I think I'd find it had too much sugar."

"Secret of My Excess" is something of an anomaly among Spike episodes, given that at very nearly the halfway mark, when strange things start happening to him, it stops doing the thing that the great majority of them do, to have Spike and his story-of-the-week happen largely separate from the Mane 6, Twilight and Rarity sometimes excepted. Even up to that point, the Mane 6 were more involved in the proceedings then usual, but after that point, until the last two minutes, he's no longer the focal character through whose point of view we witness the proceedings, and it follows Twilight alongside more and more of the Mane 6. All a byproduct of how his greed-induced transformation kind of necessitates that, of course, but fascinating all the same. It's all a roundabout way of saying, for this episode deviating from the structural norm of Spike episodes, it's also bereft of the flaws pervading most of them on the structural level (in fact, this episode employs another structural trick I'll get to later). Of course, that alone isn't enough to get an episode to greatness, and there's still some unusual quirks resulting from putting Spike in the lead role.

After a hilarious yet also kind-of-relatable moment where Twilight gets all excited at re-shelving her books, we find out Spike's been growing a precious fire ruby to eat on his birthday in a week. Of course, a passing-by Rarity is silently envious and puzzled that such a valuable thing is not hers and is going to be spent on mere energy consumption. The scene straddles a very fine line between her just wishing for the gem on a whim and actively charming it off of him, but I think taken on its own, it straddles just on the right side, helped greatly by her keeping it as a personal gift later and actively defending it from what she assumed is a monster. Don't forget, we're watching her actions in this scene through the lens of Spike, so a certain dramatisation of her tone and words is only natural. She's as excited as Pinkie afterwards, hopping and all, and following a gag that reminded me very much of a similar scene from the Simpsons episode "New Kid on the Block" (not just the 'I will never wash this again' line, but it being absurdly filthy in the next scene and having music of a similar style and key to go with it too), we cut to a week later with Spike's birthday party.

The revelation that he's never had a party before, or indeed presents other then books from Twilight, is both quite revealing and a little sad (bless our favourite bookhorse, but pre-series she wasn't exactly the most socially aware one), so I find it rather heartwarming witnessing all the presents he's getting, the episode treating it as a special event without being too sappy about it (Applejack's reaction to his endless thank-yous is embryonic of what I mean). At this point, the plot starts intruding a bit more, with Spike hearing the Cakes have a gift for him and him going to go get it (and having another great example of subtle visual details that display devoted craftsmanship, in Mrs. Cake's irises widening when Spike shows, but not reacting otherwise, fitting her level of being startled). After a casual mention of it being his birthday nets him a hat from Cheerilee, he starts casually abusing this knowledge for gifts from others, in a manner that's executed skillfully enough that it's never as off-putting as his antagonistic antics in "Owl's Well That Ends Well". By the next morning, he's started hoarding stuff alongside growing all gangly in a manner that it's hard to interpret as anything other puberty.

It's at this point, where the episode switches to the Mane 6, that it both gets more surface-level fun (some of the antics up till now were a bit plain as does happen in Spike episode more then it should), more lore-building (even if a lot of what it posits about dragons contradicts itself here and by later episode), and also kind of unusual for a MLP episode. Befitting Tolkein and numerous other fantasy works, dragons keep treasure and are synonymous with greed within the series, but this episode goes further, positing it as being a part of dragon biology and not just an instinct, tied to their growth cycle, and the various questions this episode proposes if one chooses to take it seriously are equal parts fascinating. Would a dragon that gave up its horde shrink down rapidly? Or is that because Spike did so prematurely here? Or is what's going on here a unique case resulting from his upbringing around ponies his whole like, as biology and instinct goes? Probably. I don't think even M.A. Larson necessarily intended for the scripts layers to be taken so many ways, and being honest, it's not what I think about when watching this episode.

Besides which, it's fun. The episode finds fun unusual gags on both the verbal and visual level through Twilight checking with three sources on what's happening to Spike (a clueless doctor, an early appearance for Dr. Fauna, and Zecora making her last semi-regular appearance before she almost disappeared from the show altogether) and then as he starts getting worse and the rest of the Mane 6 get roped into the proceedings. Applejack's leaf moustache, Twilight and her accidentally tying themselves to the tree, Pinkie's cake assault on Spike... there's a lot to like here! Not to mention all the visual easter eggs of the things he's hoarding, some of them things that shouldn't be there logically, but they're like Pixar Easter Eggs, they're to be enjoyed, not picked apart due to 'logic'.

Of course, as is evident by one of the working titles the episode possessed, "Attack of the Fifty-Foot Dragon", the episode in general but especially the last part is a love letter to monster movies in general, specific Godzilla and King Kong homages in particular and general genre mashing alike. The boarding through as well as the animation modelling adjusts itself greatly to accommodate the scale needed for the shots, and to make such moments as the leftover water from the uprooted tower spill over in a visually comical fashion. After another "lol, Wonerbolts are useless moment", the episode comes back to the points raised at the start, with Rarity's defence of Spike's gift being what snaps him out of it. As we all know, he tries to confess his crush as they plummet prior to being rescued, but she silences him, her eyes tearing up as she smiles.

This moment is a bit of a double-edged sword, given that it does reveal almost unambiguously that Rarity is very much aware of Spike's not-so-little crush on her, adding a not-so-enjoyable angle to her previous using of him in various S1 episodes. That said, this moment is undeniably tender and sweet, enough to override a somewhat clumsy epilogue that focuses on Rarity making reparations for Spike, rather then devoting, well, any screentime towards Spike apologising, returning the horde and helping to repair the damage.

A few thoughts to add to the above; like a few S1 episodes, this is a story that doesn't easily settle into a plot, going from Spike's putting Rarity's desired above his, to him being a manipulative butt, to Twilight dealing with his puberty - I mean growth pains - to finally the group trying to bring Spike down from his very nature. M.A. Larson remains a good executor of this style of storytelling as he was before, so it's worth admiring.

It's a interesting, fun episode all in all, if not a hugely memorable one (despite seemingly having all the qualities one would think it would need to be a fandom staple - it's not always a science, folks), and also possessing some minor unfourtunate implications as to Rarity and Spike's relationship that I'd just as soon not think about too much. I suppose the loose-and-fast feeling to much of the dragon lore here contributes to it feeling less lore-essential to the show's viewers then it would otherwise seem on the surface. "Secret of My Excess" is on the kinfe's edge between a 7.5 and a 8, and while I will let my adoration for Second Best Pony win out (who is a dragon, pay it no heed) and give it that 8, I'd probably reach for it less then that number rating would suggest. Aye, Spike episodes can be tricky for all manner of reasons, can't they?

STRAY OBSERVATIONS
- I completely forgot Dr. Fauna made a pre-S7 appearance in this episode. Her different, Mayor Mare-esque voice (only as far as being identifiable as also being voiced by Cathy Wesluck, it is somewhat different) really caught me off guard too. Guess this is how people felt every time Bon Bon or Derpy spoke again and sounded totally different.
- Spike extending his tongue flexibly all lizard-style caught me off guard, as I can't recall any other time where he, or any other dragon, has ever done that. I don't find it a problem, in fact, I think it's a coy, quirky visual that would be less cool if it were to be an established, regular feature. Besides which, it later is visually hinted to be an early sign of his greed transformation. The visual joys of animation, folks.
- There's a moment very shortly after the above one where Lyra and Bon Bon do a jump start in the background right after a passing-by Spike remarks about getting present due to letting people know it's his birthday. I honestly thought it was them reacting to the news and about to give him something. To my immense surprise, they were reacting to Derpy popping up out of a well! Man, before "The Last Roundup" came along, Season 2 was absolutely on fire with the "Where's Waldo?"-style cameos for our favourite cross-eyed pegasus.

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Comments ( 1 )

I always loved this episode, though it can't help but be somewhat overshadowed by the colossal dosage of Fridge Horror that is Spike and his dragon greed growth.
So many sadfics were born from this...

Spike extending his tongue flexibly all lizard-style caught me off guard, as I can't recall any other time where he, or any other dragon, has ever done that.

Closest thing I can recall is "Lesson Zero" when Spike licked the cupcake frosting off himself.

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