• Member Since 17th Dec, 2011
  • offline last seen 3 hours ago

DannyJ


I'm just here to write.

More Blog Posts156

  • 14 weeks
    Courier's Journal, chapter 12

    "Heading into the city proper, we came to a memorial to the soldiers who died in the Battle of Hoover Dam, and an off-duty trooper named Kowalski paying his respects. Nearby, there was a bar being operated by one of Boulder City's few remaining residents, who told us about how dead it is around here. And of course there was also the massive pile of rubble and ruins that used to be the

    Read More

    1 comments · 118 views
  • 16 weeks
    COURIER'S JOURNAL: RELOADED

    Read More

    3 comments · 123 views
  • 21 weeks
    I Went to the Other Side, and All I Saw Were Stars

    Season's greetings, seasoned veterans of the DannyJ Experience. Hope you're all having a merry Christmas. As we head into 2022 for the next chapter of this progressively worsening nightmare that we all live in, I wanted to touch base with you all so that you know what to expect from me going forwards (in terms of writing, I mean; I remain an unpredictable force of nature otherwise).

    Read More

    1 comments · 150 views
  • 23 weeks
    Just Dodge! reading

    I've received a few dramatic readings of my stories over the years, but for the most part, they've always been for my shorter stories, with Jacob M. Keene's Agent Redwood reading being the longest one-and-done I've received until today, at half an hour long. Rest in Chaos in particular had at least four readings that I know of

    Read More

    5 comments · 232 views
  • 33 weeks
    Something Cosmic, chapter 5

    "So if you and the Tree of Harmony aren't opposites, what are you? And what does this have to with alicorns?"

    "Nothing!" Discord said with a cheerful grin, slowly rotating in place. "You just made an incorrect assumption and led us on a tangent!"

    "Wha—" Twilight spluttered. "I didn't lead us on a tangent! You're the one who— Agghhh!"

    Read More

    0 comments · 141 views
Apr
26th
2020

DANNYJ REVIEWS: MLP SEASON 8 PART 3 · 2:40am Apr 26th, 2020

Continued from part two.


Episode 17 – The End in Friend:

Eight seasons into Friendship is Magic, one of the writers asked a brilliant, novel question:

"Yo, why are Rainbow Dash and Rarity even friends? They're different and stuff. People who are different can't be friends!"

History may never know what inspired such enlightenment, and we may never see a luminary of this calibre again in our lifetimes. Genius like this appears only once in a generation, and sadly, plebeians such as ourselves are hardly qualified to even speculate on what drives such brilliant minds, much less understand them. Indeed, to even attempt to comprehend the depths and implications of such hard-hitting questions requires a degree and many years of extensive study in Twilight Sparkle's School of Friendship™ (Book your placement now!) Nonetheless, ignorant though we may be, we shall still strive for understanding. Thus, let us now examine Gillian M. Berrow's seminal masterpiece, The End in Friend.

...Yeah, okay, I'm not keeping the joke going any further than that.

The crux of this episode is poking a hole in Rarity and Rainbow Dash's relationship by questioning why they're even friends in the first place, which is entirely predicated on the characters and the writer pretending that they have nothing in common and no similar interests. Right away this is a false premise, because Rainbow Dash and Rarity do have things in common. They're both ambitious, career-oriented perfectionists, obsessed with aesthetic and self-image, and want to be noticed for their accomplishments and be at the top of their fields. They're both obsessed with celebrities, both met their idols, and both were disappointed by some, while actually befriending some others and rising in status because of it. And they both enjoy the spa and maybe punk. Already that's plenty of basis for a friendship built around similar interests. If they were dating, they'd be a total power couple.

But the episode forgets all about that, just like it forgets about many other things, because it needs their friendship to fall apart so that it can show how they rebuild it. This begins with a downright insulting scene where Dash and Rarity are dragged into a classroom by Twilight to serve as an example of friendship through compromise, and the student six systematically deconstruct their entire friendship by dismissing all the reasons that they give for why they're friends.

Okay, fine, "We've known each other for ages, and have a lot of friends in common," isn't much of a reason for being friends. And sure, Rainbow Dash and Rarity don't have any similar interests if you ignore all their similar interests. But then they reference previous Raridash episodes, and that's when we really get into the shit. "I saved Rarity's life once!" says Rainbow Dash. "I saved Rainbow Dash's career once!" says Rarity. "So?" ask the student six.

So? What do you mean so? So isn't that enough just by itself? Is it not enough that Rarity is a kind and generous soul who will drop everything at a moment's notice to help a friend, or that Rainbow Dash is brave and loyal and would not even think twice about throwing herself headlong into danger to save somebody, even at the possible expense of her own chance for greatness? I would consider those exceptionally fucking compelling reasons to be someone's friend. But oh well, I guess none of that matters if they don't like the same books, right?

Ironically, I'm pretty sure that this writer doesn't understand how friendship works.

This is the central problem with the episode. It wants Rainbow Dash and Rarity to have a troubled and uncertain friendship so that it can find a reason to "fix" it, but their friendship doesn't need fixing. The writer just thinks that it does. Rarity and Rainbow Dash always got along fine until now. In eight seasons, I don't think that they ever had even a single fight until this episode (not counting manipulative supervillain shenanigans). So in order to "fix" their friendship, the episode first has to undermine it, which it does first by ignoring and discounting the existing basis for their friendship, and then by exaggerating both characters' differences, flaws, and friction.

Yeah, sure, why would Rarity and Rainbow Dash be friends if they took turns doing things that only one of them likes while showing no respect for each other's interests when it's not their turn? Why would they be friends if whenever they try to plan a day of fun together, they can't even agree ahead of time what they're doing? Why would they be friends if even the things that they seem to have in common, they still end up fighting each other over? Of course their friendship doesn't make sense when you write them this blatantly out of character to force them into conflict.

So Rarity and Dash finally snap and end their friendship. Great. After eight seasons of them being friends, they finally end it for good because a bunch of kids told them they should. You can really see why these two are friendship teachers and missionaries, co-authors of Equestria's definitive work on friendship, and wielders of the most powerful friendship magic in the world, can't you?

Not to worry, though! The mane six may be too dumb to understand friendship, but that's what we have Guidance Counselor Glimmer for! And can I just say, I never liked that role for her? It's weird seeing Starlight be the voice of reason and sanity in the school-focused episodes, because it does not fit her at all. Starlight is just as much of a crazy cunt as every other character on this show, as her non-school focus episodes quite clearly showcase, so her position does not feel earned. She certainly shouldn't be someone to go to when the Princess of Friendship has no clue what to do.

Anyway, so Starlight tries to give them counselling, and she fails. Then she tries to get them to reconnect through reading each other's favourite books, and she fails. So then she and Twilight stage the theft of one of those magical artefacts that's been mentioned throughout the season, so that they can send Dash and Rarity off on an adventure together, and this actually works.

They follow a contrived trail of azurite sprinkles through a swamp, some of which are even miraculously suspended in mid-air for absolutely no reason, until they finally reach the artefact back in the School of Friendship and learn that it was all a set-up. And happily, along the way, they just happened to rekindle their friendship because... Rarity knows how to build a raft? Because Rainbow Dash got a cloud for Rarity's breath mint plan? I don't know. Help me out here? Why do they start being friends again? Because the swamp adventure was a far weaker basis for a friendship than the foundation that they already had. What was actually learned by this experience?

Actually, forget that. Better question: Why did Twilight have a secret passage built during the construction of her school leading to a random fucking swamp? What is the purpose of this? Is it an escape tunnel, in case Neighsay returns with the Pony KKK (the NeighNeighNeigh) to firebomb the school? I want to know.

And talking of confusing geography, I really need to bring this up somewhere, so I'll say it here. Did anyone else notice how the School of Friendship is built right next to Twilight's castle, and yet it's also built on top of a mysterious hill that did not previously exist? If you look at the wide shots around Twilight's castle over the course of the series, you can see how the cliffs and lake to the side gradually crept closer to the castle over time, but with the construction of the school, it's like a whole new load just suddenly appeared. What the fuck's going on with the geography around Ponyville?

"DISCOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOORD!"

Anyway, I've said enough about this trainwreck. I could rant some more about Dash and Rarity, but I'm really just too tired for it now, so let's move onto something else.

Episode 18 – Yakity-Sax:

So rather than launch straight into my thoughts on Yakity-Sax, I thought I'd show you guys my raw first impressions instead, since I have them available for once. Enjoy.

DannyJ – 07/20/2018
(Yeah, watching this live, for once).
...I'm glad the livestream is playing music over the ads, though.

Oliver – 07/20/2018
And as a side note, Pinkie sure does a lot of bagpipes this season.

MitchH – 07/20/2018
Hopefully the dailymotion will be up soonish. I've still got three hours of work.

Oliver – 07/20/2018
If it won't be, I'm dumping the stream anyway.

DannyJ – 07/20/2018
Pinkie is being superequinely obnoxious with this thing.

Oliver – 07/20/2018
...What's the resonant frequency of an apple?

DannyJ – 07/20/2018
Continuity with Celestia episode.
Also, "moons."

Oliver – 07/20/2018
And discontinuity with Marks for Effort
Here, this instrument is called an "ouvidaphone" (sp?).
Well, there's one on the wall in Marks for Effort, and Applejack has never seen one.

DannyJ – 07/20/2018
It annoys me that Applejack wasn't able to be honest with Pinkie and passed the buck on telling her. But, that's hardly the worst thing they've done characterisation-wise this season. Also, what was the synopsis for this episode again? Are we really having a whole episode about Pinkie being sad she can't play an instrument? Where is this going?

Oliver – 07/20/2018
Your guess is as good as mine, the synopsis is basically fulfilled completely by this point.
...Twilight passes Lemon Hearts and doesn't even say hi.

Shrink Laureate – 07/20/2018
I'm going to have to catch up to this later when there's a stream out

Oliver – 07/20/2018
...so wait. First they have a party that doesn't work, and then they try a party?...

DannyJ – 07/20/2018
Stream died on me. Suddenly there's Maud, and she's taking Pinkie's stuff. This is why I don't normally watch the streams. That and the constant advertisements.

Oliver – 07/20/2018
...Maud is determined to reenact the joke about the balloon and the mathematician...

DannyJ – 07/20/2018
Jesus, is this really what TV is usually like?

Oliver – 07/20/2018
Yes.

DannyJ – 07/20/2018
This is horrible. How do normies stand this?

Oliver – 07/20/2018
They have their brain full of it. They think it's normal. Actually paying attention to TV is rare, even.

DannyJ – 07/20/2018
Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon can't kill this soon enough.
...And again. Stream never cuts out in the commercial breaks, but it damn well makes sure I actually miss what's going on. Screw this, I'm waiting for the DailyMotion upload.

Oliver – 07/20/2018
...And the fun thing about this episode is that something stupid like an oversized set of bagpipes not being appreciated is enough for Pinkie to give up on her friends and move away.

DannyJ – 07/20/2018
Top quality writing. I'm sure I'll just love this episode once I've seen the whole thing.

In conclusion, American TV is fucking trash.

As it turns out, I did not love this episode once I'd seen the whole thing. Shocking, I know. In fact, Yakity Sax may possibly be the worst non-finale episode of the series. Possibly. I'm not sure, because it has some pretty stiff competition, but it's up there.

Let's begin with the obvious. This is the worst characterisation of Pinkie Pie I have ever seen, and I am including Cupcakes in that list. If you put in a lot more effort than Cupcakes did, you might be able to convincingly portray Pinkie snapping, going crazy, and killing someone, but Pinkie giving up on all her friends just because they don't like her playing an instrument when everything is otherwise fine is such utter bullshit that I don't think you could ever make it work.

This is not just character regression at this point. This is character destruction. I have no idea why the last few seasons are written this way, but in several episodes, it seems like the writers are hell-bent on turning all the main characters into the worst possible versions of themselves. Celestia and Luna go from loving sisters to bickering children. Discord goes from almost reformed to the most villainous he's been in years. Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo fight and decide that they don't want to be friends anymore. Rarity and Rainbow Dash fight and decide that they don't want to be friends anymore. Dash and AJ end up screaming in each other's faces. Fluttershy is a bitch to Rarity's customers for no reason. In this episode, Pinkie gives up on her friends for no reason whatsoever. And next season we can also look forward to seeing Twilight Sparkle, Princess of Friendship, stab her friend in the back over a quiz.

I miss when these characters were actually friends.

I don't know if any of it's intentional, but this show just became so much darker than it used to be. It still kept a thin veneer of optimistic idealism, but the soul was just not there anymore by the end. Haber and Dubuc's Friendship is Magic is cynical, unpleasant, and ugly. It's a world where nobody ever learns or grows, where even the strongest friendships are fragile and fraught, and deep down, everyone is an asshole underneath, just looking for any excuse to show it. It's the animated equivalent of Star Trek: Picard. I'll have more to say about this come the finale, but for now, let's just take this one dumpster fire at a time.

The centrepiece of this episode is the yovidaphone, some new yak instrument that Pinkie discovers, which immediately becomes the centre of her entire universe and her only reason for living. This is not an exaggeration.

The first half of the episode is just some bland, mostly inoffensive comedy. The joke is that Pinkie is absolutely terrible at this instrument, and is an obnoxious nuisance to everybody around her. She's so bad that apples explode and birds fall out of the sky. Obviously these are all exaggerations for comic effect, but this setup does establish that Pinkie's playing is a very real problem, particularly because she's not just being an awful player on her own, but is going out of her way to inadvertently make everyone's days worse. She annoys her friends at their homes and disrupts their activities, makes a nuisance of herself in public, and least excusably of all plays directly outside Fluttershy's house in the middle of the night when she's trying to get her animals to sleep.

So having established that Pinkie is being a serious problem, the mane six dither and try to pass the buck on confronting her, until they eventually get over themselves and tell Pinkie directly that she needs to stop, Twilight and Applejack citing Horse Play as precedent for why they can't just lie to her to spare her feelings. Well, thank fucking God that we had Horse Play to teach them this right? I don't know how Twilight would've ever known otherwise that's bad to keep secrets and lie to her friends, even to spare their feelings. Isn't that right, Green Isn't Your Colour, Last Roundup, Cutie Pox, Leap of Faith, Where the Apple Lies, All Bottled Up, Triple Threat, and Secrets and Pies?

"Yes." – Michael P. Fox & Wil Fox.

The confession scene is really dumb in a lot of ways, and not just because of the Horse Play thing. The mane six say that they want to be supportive, but the way that they tell Pinkie the truth is about the worst way they could have possibly done so. They don't tell her that she's being annoying and disruptive and should practice in private instead. They don't tell her to tone it down and keep the noise at manageable levels. They don't tell her that she needs actual lessons and needs to improve. They just say that she's bad at the yovidaphone and should stop wasting her time. I mean, jeez, Pinkie's response to this afterwards is way overboard, but it's no wonder she's upset by it. Didn't we also have an episode just last season about being too bluntly honest?

So of course, Pinkie goes full Pinkamena in the worst way possible, becoming completely unresponsive and losing all interest and motivation for anything. Dash at one point asks what the big deal is, and honestly, that's a damn good question, because we're given absolutely no reason for why this matters so much to Pinkie, or why she takes it so hard when told that she's bad at it. I mean, Pinkie Pie plays dozens of instruments, so she must know that getting good takes practice, and there's no way that nobody's ever told her to knock it off with playing music in the middle of the night before. So why is the yovidaphone any different?

But whatever her reasons, Pinkie's depression is all-encompassing. Her friends try to cheer her up with all the other stuff she likes, but none of it works. They even try to throw her a town-wide Pinkie Pie Appreciation Day party, and she doesn't even show up, because she already decided to move away from Ponyville to Yakyakistan without even telling anybody or saying goodbye.

Gone is the Pinkie Pie who once sang about how she lives to bring joy to others and to see them smile. To this Pinkie, her community, her friendships, her special talent, and her purpose in life are all meaningless. When she said that she loves the yovidaphone more than anything else in Equestria, she meant it. All she cares about now is this stupid fucking yak instrument. And now that she can't play it, her life has no meaning. She actually says that. She says that her life has no meaning now. This goes beyond comical exaggeration for the sake of a joke, and becomes character-destroying.

So the mane six go after her to Yakyakistan. Honestly, I don't know why at this point. Last episode, Rarity and Rainbow Dash were ready to end their friendship just because they didn't like the same things. In comparison, I think that someone suddenly abandoning you and moving away without a word just because you don't like them playing bagpipes outside your window at 3AM is a very good reason not to be friends with them anymore, but the status quo must be maintained, so off they go.

This finally brings us to the second worst part of the episode, its conclusion. Naturally, since this Pinkie Pie impersonator doesn't care about her friends, talents, interests, or the happiness of others anymore, they bring her back the only way they could: They cave in and let her continue playing horribly, even though, as we've seen, everyone else will suffer for it.

It's just like the ending of Matter of Principals, where Starlight caved in to Discord by apologising and giving him what he wanted, even though Discord was entirely in the wrong, and had been throwing a massive tantrum the whole episode. Immaturity and selfishness is rewarded, because hurting someone's feelings is treated as worse than being a massive pain in the ass for everybody. There's no impetus on Discord or Pinkie in these episodes to grow up and get over themselves. Instead, everyone else has to coddle and cater to them, because otherwise they'll be upset. And there are other episodes which do this, too. It's a very annoying trend.

Safe space culture at its finest.

And you know what the dumbest thing about this episode is? Not the worst thing about it, but the dumbest? The fact that Twilight could've solved this whole conflict with magic at any point. Just use a noise-cancelling spell around Pinkie until she improves. It's that simple. Twilight and Starlight are always throwing around magical solutions which go awry and then become problems of their own, but the one time magic would've fixed everything easily, of course, no-one thinks of it.

I hope I never have to see this episode again after this. Watching this was like passing a kidney stone.

Episode 19 – Road to Friendship:

So now we come to the third Starlight episode of the season. This one sits... about in the middle, in terms of quality? It's not as bad as Matter of Principals, but it's also not as good as The Parent Map.

I will say, I do genuinely enjoy Starlight and Trixie's chemistry, now that it's had time to grow on me. And for the most part, they're pretty great in this. I like their song. They're kind of adorable together when they're getting along, and kind of hilarious when they're arguing, and the way that they argue is very believable. I like Starlight and Trixie's relationship because it's one of the more genuinely rocky and dysfunctional ones on the show (rather than artificially so, like the mane six are now), and that makes them fairly unique among the cast. And yeah, even the way they argue is pretty cute. They bicker like an old married couple sometimes.

BEST. FRIENDS.

Having said that, their conflict in this particular episode is... uneven. I like the premise of it, that they're mostly good friends, but that they weren't prepared for the additional stresses of travelling together. It's a conflict that the show hasn't done before, and it's one that I can personally relate to, so I appreciate that. But I feel like in a story like this, when both characters are being pressured by external factors, and both are getting equally mad at each other, that they should also be equally to blame for whatever problems they both have, which isn't the case here.

I'm not sure if it's intentional or not, because the episode doesn't feel self-aware about this, but this conflict is very one-sided. Starlight's the one who wastes their bits. Starlight's the one who eats the last of the food. Starlight ruins Trixie's show, tells her to get rid of her stuff to accommodate her, and then in one of her most egregious acts in a long time, trades away Trixie's wagon without her permission, and then gets offended and angry when Trixie is upset by this. Yes, Trixie gets snippy with Starlight a few times in this episode, but I think that she's mostly justified in doing so. She warns Starlight about most of these problems ahead of time, and gives her plenty of chances to back out, so it's hard to argue that any of this is her fault, and I'm not sure if the episode realises that.

I would of course be remiss if I didn't specifically bring up Starlight trading Trixie's wagon as a major bitch move. I've certainly complained loudly enough when every other character has been a bitch for no good reason. In Starlight's case, though... Mmmm? I don't know, guys. I want to criticise it as an out of character moment, but... is it? I mean, I complained before about Starlight's graduation and becoming a guidance counsellor, because I thought that she hadn't shown enough growth to justify that progression, so to be quite honest, this kind of thoughtlessness on Starlight's part is much more in line with how I view her than plenty of her other recent appearances have been.

But then again, I am probably very biased on the matter of Starlight, given my feelings on her in previous seasons, so here's a massive grain of salt to take my opinion with:

I kind of want to bite into it.

Sad to say, though, other than the central character-based conflict, which is mostly fine, and the song, which is by far the highlight of the episode, I found the writing here fairly sloppy. The wagon incident is probably the weakest part. Not just Starlight selling it, but also Trixie's inability to get it back. The Saddle Arabian horse character whose name I forget confuses me. I don't know why he wants Trixie's wagon, and I don't know why he refuses to give it back when she comes for it, or why Trixie doesn't just explain that it was effectively stolen from her. It's all pretty contrived.

Finally, there are the weird continuity hiccups, and I call them "hiccups" because they're not exactly contradictions, just... oddities, minor plot holes created by not taking continuity into account. Most of these come from Where and Back Again, which I would accuse the writer of not watching, only it's Josh fucking Haber again, and he wrote the bastard himself.

For one example, Starlight and Trixie have been on a road trip together before, in Where and Back Again, when they went back to Starlight's village together. That was a pretty good distance as well, and I'm fairly certain that Trixie had the same wagon back then, so you'd think that these two would already know how to deal with all these issues from previous experience.

The episode also makes a big deal about Starlight and Trixie both being tired because they kept each other up with snoring and sleep-talking. This is even one of the very few instances of both being equally at fault for a problem. Except, as Where and Back Again established, Starlight has a silencing spell. A silencing spell that we saw her specifically using on Trixie in that episode. Once again, this is a problem that could've been easily side-stepped with magic, but of course, Starlight only ever thinks to employ a magical solution if it creates more problems than it solves.

I don't know what it is about Josh Haber, but this seems to be a trend in his writing. This isn't the first time he's created plot-holes by forgetting important details from episodes that he himself wrote. His very first episode was Castle Mane-ia, which introduced the Pony of Shadows as a ghostly remnant of Nightmare Moon haunting the Castle of the Two Sisters. Then three seasons later, he co-wrote Shadow Play with Dubuc, and gave us the completely different Pony of Shadows In Name Only that possessed Stygian and was locked in Limbo. I'm really not sure why he does this. Maybe he has memory problems, or maybe he just doesn't care. Either way, I really wish he would stop it.

Continued support for my theory that Josh Haber is actually George Lucas.

Episode 20 – The Washouts:

The Washouts is an episode in which Lightning Dust appears. Scootaloo is also there. Rainbow Dash possibly kills a pony. Maybe. It was okay.

That's all I got.

Don't talk to me or my son ever again.

Episode 21 – A Rockhoof and a Hard Place:

Okay, okay, I'll review the Lightning Dust episode for real.

The Washouts is mostly decent. Nick Confalone was the writer for this one, and while he isn't without his occasional flaws, I'd say he was one of the better writers on staff during the final seasons. He was with the show since season five, and also wrote most of the later Equestria Girls specials like Forgotten Friendship. I'd say that if there's any common theme to his episodes, it's that they have some of the strongest characterisation of this period of the franchise. Confalone actually knows how to write flawed characters and emotionally driven conflicts that don't just rely on everybody being stupid assholes, which is a rare thing indeed in the Haber/Dubuc era.

The Washouts is a great example of this because of the way it explores its principal characters. Scootaloo finds a new group to admire not just because she finds them cool, but also because she realises that their style of stunts is something that she can actually aspire to, unlike flying with the Wonderbolts, which is a door closed to her because of her disability. Meanwhile, Rainbow Dash is insecure and jealous because she's always had a monopoly on Scootaloo's affection until now, but is also genuinely concerned for her once she sees how dangerous the Washouts are, even if she can see the appeal in them.

This is clever. It's a plot that's driven by realistically motivated characters, and it draws on previously established characterisation while not relying on character regression like so many other episodes of season eight do. Dash's insecurity issues have been there ever since Sonic Rainboom back in season one, but they've never really been dealt with or gone away, so it makes sense that this would bring them back up. And it's only natural that she becomes jealous over Scootaloo, because she's never had to compete for Scootaloo's affection before. It's an entirely new issue for her.

I also quite like this episode's version of Lightning Dust. It's surprising that the show didn't bring her back sooner, given how perfectly she works as a foil to Dash. The comics brought her back in Siege of the Crystal Empire, but there she was rather one-note and obsessed with revenge on Dash. Confalone's Lightning Dust is refreshing, because she moved on with her life, kept doing what she loved, and doesn't hold a grudge over everything. She's even sort of friendly with Dash at points in this episode. Granted, it's not totally consistent, as she and Dash switch between friendly banter and literally growling at each other on a dime, and I wish that the episode had settled on one or the other, but overall, Lightning Dust was very well characterised too.

I'll also add that I liked all the minor characters here as well. Spitfire's voice actor hamming it up was great, and the other two Washouts were also good. I liked the gimmick of the group all being failed ex-Wonderbolts, I liked the purple one's accent, and I liked the running joke of the short one's anger issues (fun fact, he's actually a returning character from Top Bolt). They didn't play very big parts, but they were still unique and memorable.

So from a characterisation standpoint, The Washouts is actually a very strong episode. My problem with it comes from the episode's climax.

Sometimes I'm up until 5AM inserting memes into these reviews to hide my pain, and I just cry myself to sleep after.

I get what it was going for. Lightning Dust in her original appearance was reckless and a danger to others, so The Washouts builds on that by having her double down on the recklessness by becoming a stunt flyer, while still being a danger to others by being a bad influence. The problem is that both the character and the plot take this idea way too far, to the point that it strains credulity.

Lightning Dust inadvertently endangered others in Wonderbolt Academy because she broke the rules out of disregard for her own safety, not realising or caring that the rules were there just as much for other people's safety as her own. That's quite a far cry from what she does in this episode, where she now intentionally endangers others, specifically Scootaloo, by pressuring them into being just as reckless as her. If hurting Scootaloo was supposed to be some sick roundabout way of getting revenge on Dash, then it would kind of make sense, but Lightning Dust isn't portrayed as resentful or vengeful in the episode, so I don't know why she's so gung-ho about child endangerment.

And that's the other part of this scenario that stretches credulity, that Scootaloo is just allowed to do this despite her age. Yes, she has her cutie mark now, and she's a lot older and wiser than she was at the start of the series, but even in this very episode, Dash addresses her as a foal. So why is a foal allowed to join a stunt troupe and perform a dangerous routine, completely untested and untrained? Lightning Dust and the Washouts are fine with it. The audience is fine with it. Dash doesn't stop it. Twilight doesn't stop it, despite being a princess. Where are Scootaloo's aunts during all this? Did anyone even try to contact her guardians? Everything about this is so unrealistic even by magic talking pony land standards that it completely took me out of the episode.

I also think Lightning Dust was "defeated," for lack of a better word, very abruptly and unsatisfyingly, especially considering that this would be the final time we ever saw her. It feels like a rushed last-minute attempt to give her some kind of a karmic punishment, and it just doesn't work. I'd rather she had just flown off in a huff or something than gotten the Team Rocket exit, because the Team Rocket exit comes with the implicit promise of a return that we never got.

So to summarise, The Washouts is a good episode in most respects. It's got some good ideas and strong characterisation, like all of Confalone's best work, but unfortunately, it's let down by its nonsensical and somewhat rushed ending. It's a shame, because with some minor adjustments, this easily could've been one of the best episodes of the season. Nonetheless, much like Confalone himself, it's still among the better ones, and I appreciate it for the effort that went into it.

Episode 21 – A Rockhoof and a Hard Place (for real this time):

So after almost an entire season of pretending that they don't exist, season eight finally decides to acknowledge the Pillars again. Only this episode is not really about the Pillars. It's about Rockhoof. And that's fair enough. All of the Pillars were underused and underexplored in season seven, but not equally so. Star Swirl was given prominence in the finale, and Somnambula and Meadowbrook were both given episodes of their own in the season arc, but Rockhoof, Mistmane, and Flash Magnus were all clustered together in Campfire Tales like an afterthought. So I'd say if any of the Pillars deserved a focus episode in season eight, it would be one of those three. And Scottish people are cooler than Romans and elderly gardeners, so there we go.

As an Englishman, this episode was difficult to watch. I had to keep fighting the urge to oppress Rockhoof and conquer his lands.

This episode is about fitting in, and how Rockhoof is struggling to find his place in the modern world. In many ways, it's like a season eight version of Luna Eclipsed, along with all the trappings that entails. So much like season eight in general, the episode is bloated with tertiary characters, and the story isn't as tight or well-written, instead jumping around to many different settings and trying on all sorts of bells and whistles that ultimately just add up to a load of noise. However, this isn't to say that the episode doesn't have its good points, and we'll get to those as we go through.

We begin with Rockhoof at a digsite, along with a bunch of random Ponyvillians for some reason, where he's being strangely blasé about walking through the crumbling ruins of his once great civilization. When it becomes clear that he's going to be a problem there, the archeologist shuffles him off onto Twilight, and she tries to find a place for him at her school. I have several questions about the school sequence which I will bring up later, but the important thing to note is that Rockhoof makes a good impression on the students, but leaves after two incidents. The first is when he damages a classroom while telling one of his stories, and the second is when he makes a mess trying to put out Spike and Smolder's fires.

This effectively begins a parade of humiliation for Rockhoof where he tries and fails at numerous different jobs in an effort to find his place. The rest of the instances are done in a comedic montage, so they pass quickly and we don't dwell on them, but the way that Rockhoof is dismissed from the school is given much more focus, and it doesn't sit well with me. If we had just seen him destroy the classroom as part of the montage, that would've been cleaner. But instead, Twilight forgives him for that, gives him a second chance, and then actually sends him away after the fire incident.

This is narratively frustrating, because it is in no way Rockhoof's fault that he mistook Spike and Smolder's flames as dangerous. It's just a blatantly contrived attempt to force a misunderstanding and give an excuse for why Rockhoof can't keep trying at the school.

Firstly, if this is indeed a thing that the dragons regularly do, why are they doing it inside? Did throwing out the EEA rulebook also involve throwing out any and all kinds of fire safety regulations? Twilight sure seemed concerned about fire safety in Molt Down, so why not now? Secondly, if the dragons are just allowed to do this, someone really, really should have told Rockhoof that ahead of time, because how on earth is he supposed to expect that otherwise? Even the audience couldn't have predicted this shit. And thirdly, the fact that a blazing inferno is visible through the windows when the dragons themselves are nowhere in sight should be alarming even if you do know that this is something that Spike and Smolder sometimes do. What if they fucked up and started a real fire? How do you know that the building itself isn't burning? It sure looks like it is.

Regardless, everyone decides that Rockhoof isn't working out at the school, so then we get his montage of odd jobs. I like this sequence at least, even if the later parts of the episode kind of cast a cloud over it. In isolation, it's some decent comedy. What I don't quite understand is why they give up on trying to find Rockhoof a job after this. There's a line later on where Rockhoof remarks that there's "not much demand for shovel ponies," but we never see him trying anything that actually uses his existing skills. I would've liked to see Rockhoof attempting something that would actually make sense for him before declaring that nobody wants him.

Then we move onto the next part of the episode, where he visits all of the Pillars, and this is the point where the story begins to feel schizophrenic, like it's juggling too many ideas.

Any one of the scenarios we've seen Rockhoof in until now could've been an entire episode of their own. We could've stayed in the village and had a poignant episode about Rockhoof learning to get along with the archeological team, while lamenting how everyone and everything he ever knew is gone. Maybe bring in Luna or one of the other Pillars. We could've stayed in the school and had a comedic episode about Rockhoof learning to be a teacher and interacting with the student six while experiencing general culture shock. We could've just a whole episode of him trying various jobs until settling on something good, like maybe he gets along well with the yaks and settles in Yakyakistan doing avalanche rescue. We could've even just done this part with him visiting all the Pillars right from the start, and spent some more time fleshing out the rest of them.

Instead, this episode tries to do too much at once. Most of the individual pieces are fine in isolation, but there's a distinct lack of focus and discipline to the story. It's way messier than it needs to be.

But anyway, the Pillars.

AWAKEN MY— Oh. Oh my.

So the part of the episode where he visits the rest of the Pillars is probably the most interesting, and it does at least try to do something with these characters, even if it's still not the best. It shows off what all the other Pillars minus Star Swirl are doing now, and contrasts them against Rockhoof as different models for fitting into the modern world. Mistmane adapts to working with new species. Sombambula does something completely new. Flash Magnus goes right back to his old job in a new setting, and Meadowbrook goes back to her old job in a familiar setting. I do at least like how the Pillars are differentiated this way, and how the episode uses them to drive Rockhoof's character, but I still have a few problems with this sequence.

For one thing, although the Pillars do serve some purpose here beyond being cameos, it's pretty evident that the writers don't have any real ideas for them, hence why only Rockhoof got an episode of his own. They really did exist just to facilitate the stupid new Tree of Harmony backstory. I'm glad that this episode came along to at least make Rockhoof a worthwhile character, but none of the others got this treatment, and only Flash Magnus here interests me even slightly. So because the writers have no ideas for them, and because of how the episode is structured and written, the Pillars are just kind of crammed in here, and we spend barely any time with them. Rockhoof supposedly goes to them for advice, but each of them just ends up shoving him off onto the next character, and only Meadowbrook has anything worthwhile to say. We don't even see Somnambula speak to him.

The fact that they have so little to contribute also makes this sequence a fairly weak excuse for showing off all these characters again. If it's advice for adapting to the modern world that Rockhoof wanted, he should've gone to Luna. Instead, he goes to the other Pillars, but notably, not Star Swirl, because Star Swirl was already featured in an episode this season, and the writer was pressed for time as it was. Stygian also gets shafted, but who cares, I guess. The point is that the show writers already went to the trouble of creating all these new characters, and then instead of following up on them had to fix that whole movie mess, but they needed to acknowledge the Pillars somewhere, so we got this episode for that.

But honestly, as interesting as this part of the episode is, it's so rushed and forced that they really shouldn't have bothered. The writers would've been far better served by just sprinkling in sporadic appearances from the Pillars across the rest of the season. I mean, why not? We already had Star Swirl randomly show up in a fucking Flim and Flam episode for no reason, so why not throw in the others in places where it would make sense too? Starlight and Trixie visited Somnambula the town just a few episodes ago, so why not throw in a quick cameo from Somnambula the pony while they're there? Have an episode in Canterlot? You could have Flash Magnus in there somewhere. Have an episode in the Crystal Empire? Maybe have a quick appearance from Mistmane.

Oh wait, this season was so focused on this dumbass school that it didn't have time for any episodes in Canterlot or the Crystal Empire. Okay, forget I said anything.

My final problem with the Pillars in this episode is that I find it contrived how Rockhoof is the only one having problems adapting. Obviously, this episode was already far too overloaded with other shit to flesh out the other Pillars with conflicts of their own, but that's just all the more reason to not do this in the first place, because in some cases, it just doesn't make sense for them to not struggle.

I mean, sure, Flash Magnus still gets to be a soldier, and that's great for him, but they really let him keep wearing his old armour? He didn't have to put on a proper uniform, or learn any new military customs or techniques? Stygian can just become a successful author despite Equestria shifting to a completely different written language since his time? And Meadowbrook should be especially out of her depth. She was a healer, and her medical knowledge is a thousand years out of date. Imagine if a medieval plague doctor started working in a modern hospital today? Fuck, you could almost make an entire episode about Meadowbook's problems. She goes from a legendary renowned healer of yore to a first year med student. How's that for struggling with the modern world?

So back to Rockhoof. After the Pillars turn out to be unhelpful, Dash suggests that he needs a chance to be a hero again, so they try him in the hippogriff navy.

I hate this part of the episode, because it doesn't work on any level. For one thing, hippogriffs can fly and turn into seaponies, so the mere existence of a hippogriff navy is like a bad joke. Even Applejack lampshades it. For another thing, the hippogriffs call it a navy, but it's commanded by General Seaspray, whose rank, you will note, is not "admiral." I don't understand why Rockhoof is joining the hippogriff navy when he could've just joined Equestria's. I also don't understand how this gives Rockhoof an opportunity to be a hero, considering that the hippogriffs aren't at war with anyone. Was Dash expecting these dumbasses to run into mist and need Rockhoof's navigation advice? And once again, Rockhoof is ultimately dismissed for things that aren't his fault; Seaspray is the one who gives the order which crashes the vessel.

As an aside, I'm aware that DWK said most of this first, but the hippogriff navy scene is so extraordinarily dumb, I couldn't let it pass by without giving it the lashings it deserved.

This whole sequence is also bizarrely out of place. It once again goes back to Rockhoof trying random odd jobs and comedically failing at them, even putting him in a silly uniform, but the episode already did this before the Pillars section. This should've been included in the montage of failure earlier, not broken off and put on its own towards the end of the episode like this. It messes with the structure and pacing of the story.

So then we come back to the school for the final part of the episode. Rockhoof has experienced one crushing failure too many, and now wants to be turned to stone, and Twilight reluctantly agrees to help him. This is by far the darkest part of the episode. It's made clear that Twilight at least intends for this to be a temporary measure, so it softens the tone a little bit, but Rockhoof's request and general misery is very obviously a metaphor for suicide. In some ways, it's quite similar to how Tanks for the Memories used hibernation as a metaphor for death to tell a story about grief.

Now, I commend the writer here for attempting to tackle some heavier themes than this show usually goes for, and wanting to be turned to stone is a fairly creative way to slip that under the radar and make it work for a younger audience. However, I personally think that it was ill-advised.

Man, this episode was a rollercoaster of emotions.

Like I said, the episode is too briskly paced and crammed with other shit, so this idea is not given the proper room to breathe, and suicide is really not a subject that one should address lightly, which I believe this episode does. Rockhoof's various failures were always treated as a joke until this moment, and with the way that characters like Twilight and Seaspray kept making him feel bad for things that weren't his fault, and the way that most of the Pillars just passed him around like they didn't have time for him, it makes it all look so much worse in retrospect. The episode is written light-heartedly, but then the suicide metaphor is suddenly dropped on us, and it overshadows everything else and makes it all uncomfortable. Now maybe that was intentional, but with how sloppy the rest of the episode has been, I'm inclined to think not.

Fortunately Yona saves the day by letting Rockhoof know how much the students appreciate him, and asking him to finish the story that he was telling in the classroom at the beginning. I do want to talk a little about Yona, but first, I want to bring it back to the school again.

So I know I've already talked at length about how the school is worthless garbage and everyone here is wasting their time, but let's really examine this. Until now, it's just been the mane six, Spike, and Glimmer running things, and as far as I can tell, they basically just do whatever the hell they want. Maybe when they were following the EEA guidelines this school was actually teaching things, but since reopening, the mane six's classes just seem to be whatever they feel like. Rarity orders a hundred sewing machines for her classes, because I guess she teaches embroidery, not friendship. Pinkie Pie just shares cupcakes in her class, because she's a baker, not a teacher. As Twilight describes it in this episode, they all have their "own special ways to teach."

But at the same time, they also have dedicated subjects? The mane six reference covering each other's classes in some episodes, which at first I just took to mean taking over a block in the schedule, but no, apparently they do divide classes by subject, and actually teach specific things. I think Twilight mentions "honesty classes" at one point? Which I have to assume is just Applejack asking everyone embarrassing questions for an hour and challenging them not to lie. But then we come to this episode, where Rockhoof takes over teaching Theory and Defense of Friendship.

So first question, what in the flying fuck is "Theory and Defense of Friendship" about? Ocellus mentions that they were previously learning about Celestia and Luna turning Discord to stone with a spell. Already this sounds like a bad class, because that's totally inaccurate; they used the Elements of Harmony, not a spell. Obviously from a Doylist perspective this just exists to set up Rockhoof's desire to be turned to stone later, but from a Watsonian one, are we then to infer that this is a class all about how friendship magic can be used to kick someone's ass? Didn't Twilight previously express incredulity to Neighsay when he suggested that her school was teaching the students how to use friendship as a weapon? Because that sounds almost exactly like what she's doing here with this class.

Second question, why is Rockhoof qualified to teach this class? Or, more broadly, what qualifies anyone to teach at the School of Friendship? The mane six had no previous backgrounds as teachers, so I assume that the only qualifier is that the teacher has to be an expert at friendship. But Glimmer's substitute teachers weren't friendship experts, and neither is Rockhoof. Just because the Pillars created the Elements of Harmony, that doesn't mean that they understand friendship. Star Swirl was explicitly said not to. So if you don't have to be an expert on friendship to teach at this school, and you don't need any experience in teaching, what do you need? Are the School of Friendship's hiring policies based totally on nepotism? It certainly seems that way, because Twilight obviously didn't vet Rockhoof's teaching skills at all before handing him a class.

Finally, although the fire incident was what Rockhoof actually left the school over the first time, just as significant was the way he inadvertently destroyed a classroom while telling his "tall tales." I want to bring this up because I really question Twilight's intentions here.

Rockhoof is no expert on friendship, has no experience as a teacher, and has no idea what this class was doing before. He just walks into the classroom, and starts regaling everybody with tales of fantastical violence. Given how the mane six are basically just doing whatever they want, I'm assuming that Twilight is fine with this. Hell, given that Theory and Defense of Friendship seems to be about defeating villains, maybe this is even what she wanted him to do. The only actual problem seems to be that he's jumping about, smashing things, and making a mess of the classroom.

Only, here's the rub: We saw Applejack doing the same thing in Marks for Effort. She was holding a buckball game in her classroom, even though the School of Friendship has a gym. A gym which Rainbow Dash was using in that very same episode to tell stories about the Wonderbolts. Then at the end of this episode, after Yona talks to him, Rockhoof resumes telling his story in the same animated manner as before, only now outside, where he's not smashing anything. So it seems to me like there's an easy solution to this whole problem that everyone's missing. Rockhoof likes being a teacher, and the students like Rockhoof. Have him hold his classes in the gym. If the property damage is the only part that Twilight objects to, then assign him to the gym for storytime. He needs it much more than Dash does.

But instead, she appoints him as Equestria's official Keeper of Stories? What does that even mean? We never see him in the school again after this, so it's not a school position. He's not around the people that actually like and appreciate him. So is she just telling him to go wander Equestria, boastfully telling stories about how he totally defeated an ursa major, which he himself admits is only a tall tale? That's what Trixie does. Twilight, you're officially appointing him to be Trixie. You hate Trixie. Why are you doing this? Please, somebody explain this to me. I'm so confused.

I... I JUST WANT TO UNDERSTAND!

Finally, I want to briefly mention Yona as another of this episode's few bright spots. The way she earnestly admires Rockhoof and relates to him and makes him feel better at the end is honestly adorable. Much like Silverstream, I never really found Yona's main joke of "being a yak" that funny, but I think that she does bring something to the group. She feels like more of an outsider than the rest of the student six; she's one of only two members of the group who can't fly, she's big and clumsy in a way that the others aren't, and she even has a different way of speaking and acting than they do. It gives her a fairly unique perspective among her friends. This episode makes good use of it, and so does her focus episode later on in season nine.

So with all that said, how do I rate Rockhoof and a Hard Place? Man, that's a good question.

I do not think that this is a particularly well-written episode at all, but I have to acknowledge that it's not all bad. This is another Kaita Mpambara episode, and once again, I do think he tried. I can at least say that it's leagues better than Horse Play. For all this episode's flaws, it did at least get me to like Rockhoof, when I could not have possibly cared less about him in season seven. There are some writing mistakes here and there, but no horrible continuity errors or character-ruining moments. Really, I think that the episode's main problem was just that it was trying to do too much. It was too ambitious for its own good, so it didn't have time for everything, and it rushed through things. And sure, as usual, there's a plethora of shit that just doesn't make sense for numerous reasons, but... I don't know. For some reason, I just can't stay mad at this episode.

It's not good, but it was at least interesting. Take that however you will.

Episode 22 – What Lies Beneath:

What Lies Beneath was the other major student six episode of the season. I don't think it was anywhere near as good as The Hearth's Warming Club for many reasons, but it at least does almost as good a job of developing the student six, both individually and as a group.

This episode revolves around the Tree of Harmony essentially putting the characters on trial. We begin with some exposition to remind the audience of what the Tree is and what it's done. Twilight's lecture appears to be some kind of history class? Which is weird, because you'd think that the Tree and anything relating to the "magic" side of the Elements of Harmony would be covered under Theory and Defense of Friendship, but eh.

So the student six are studying together for some test about this, and Cozy subtly tries to drive them apart for some reason by implying that friendship isn't in their nature. I'll talk about Cozy later, but the important part is that they discover the roots of the Tree of Harmony beneath the school, and the seeds of doubt which Cozy planted are what drives the Tree to test them to prove her wrong. So now we get into the meat of the episode, and I have both things to praise, and things to criticise.

Now, the tests themselves are plenty interesting, and they give a lot of character insight into the student six, which is the main thing I appreciate this episode for. Exploring a character's fears is a great way to get to know them. Silverstream is afraid of a great evil from her past, which only makes sense. Ocellus is afraid of her own past. Gallus and Yona have fairly mundane fears, but seeing them is still appreciated. And Smolder probably has the most interesting "fear," because her test reveals that she has hidden desires, and we see a side of her that I don't think we'd have ever gotten a chance to see otherwise.

Of course, once again, Sandbar's whole character is that he's the boring one, so again the episode deftly avoids giving him any kind of personality or development like his friends. If Sandbar even fears anything at all, we don't get to see it. He instead basically just gets a test of loyalty. A fake Rarity and Rainbow Dash try to get him to abandon his friends. Sandbar, dense motherfucker that he is, doesn't figure out that they're not real until they vanish before his eyes. And he basically just says no, and tells them off for being huge disappointments.

I feel you, Sandbar. I was very disappointed in them this season, too.

This brings me to my major criticism of the tests, though – the fact that they're inconsistent. At the end of the episode, it's stated that the student six "chose" what they saw (yeah, I'm sure that'll hold up in court, Tree), that their friendships got them past their fears because they were more concerned with each other than themselves, and that this proves that friendship is in their nature. But this isn't really tested or proven in any kind of consistent way. What is the goal in each test? What is the success and failure criteria?

When you're trapped by a tree, and you can't get free, you gotta go and find out the rules!

Let's look at each of them. The student six are each individually faced with their worst fear, except Sandbar, who has a test of loyalty instead, which he wins by choosing friendship. Yona overcomes her fear on her own by befriending it. Gallus and Smolder both overcome their fears on their own too, but friendship doesn't really come into it for them. Gallus's test is a logic puzzle, and Smolder's is a trial of self-acceptance. This is where it begins to get confusing. So Gallus and Smolder both win, and are presented an opportunity to leave, but instead go to help their friends. So was that their real test? If so, what was the point of the fear test? Just to misdirect them? And if choosing to go back is the point, then why isn't Yona ever given an opportunity to leave?

Silverstream and Ocellus are the real weird ones, though, because they do not overcome their fears on their own. They need help from their friends for that (side note: how does Smolder recognise Chrysalis on sight?), but this doesn't require any display of friendship on their own parts. So what do you need to do to pass this test? If you just need to overcome your fear, then yes, all of the student six pass, but I don't understand how this would prove that friendship is in their nature. If you just need to be more concerned for your friends than yourself, then Gallus, Smolder, Yona, and Sandbar all pass, but not Silversteam or Ocellus.

I guess friendship was at least involved in overcoming all the fear tests, but Silverstream and Ocellus were both just receiving help. Again, that's not a display of friendship, and it doesn't prove anything about their natures, beyond that they've overcome their fear. So which is it? Is this a test about friendship, or a test about overcoming fear? This episode feels thematically muddled.

I also have to wonder about what the purpose of the whole test was. Given what happens in the finale, I was at first inclined to think that the Tree of Harmony was testing the student six's worthiness as potential bearers for its power, much like how it tested the mane six through season four in the key episodes. But the thing is, in season four, although the Tree of Harmony was silent, it could quite obviously see the future, and in the key episodes it was using that future knowledge to test and strengthen their virtues in preparation for a crisis that it knew was coming.

Here, the Tree of Harmony can speak, and we can tell from the surprise in its voice that this test was a spur of the moment idea. And on top of that, although the fear tests supposedly proved the student six's capacity for friendship, they don't speak to any specific personal virtues of theirs, and they certainly aren't linked to the virtues of the Elements of Harmony at all. So it seems like the Tree doesn't have any grand plans this time. It seems like it's just torturing them for fun. I mean really, why was this test necessary? Why did the student six need to be subjected to their worst fears to prove their friendship? And what would the Tree have done if they'd failed? Would it have just left them to die in those caverns? It deeply concerns me that I can't answer this with any certainty.

"What's the big deal? Trapping children in a cave and subjecting them to their worst fears is totally normal. Nothing wrong with that."

So I should probably talk about the Tree of Harmony itself.

Back when the Tree was just a silent, cryptic, and seemingly omniscient mystical entity, it was easy not to question its motives. It's the Tree of Harmony. Its purpose is to bring harmony. The clue is kind of in the name, and the rare actions it took and directions it gave were all obviously in service to that. All it did was defeat villains and facilitate the spreading of friendship. But then this episode came along and gave the Tree a face and a voice. So now that it talks, we're forced to consider the Tree as a character with agency who makes deliberate choices and takes deliberate actions.

What do I think about the decision to give the Tree of Harmony a face and a voice? Honestly, I'm mixed. In concept, I don't have a great problem with it. I suppose that it reduces the mystery and wonder of the Tree somewhat, but the stupid Pillars backstory already did that far worse, and at least making the Tree into an actual character opens up some story possibilities. And since the show already went ahead and established that backstory, I suppose I can accept the explanation that the Tree is still growing and changing as an excuse for why it can suddenly do this. However, the execution is a different matter.

Starting from a simple design perspective, I just find it really boring for the Tree to just be a ghostly sparkly Twilight. I mean, it kind of makes sense, but it's just a really mundane visual. Why not an original alicorn form? Why not a dryad, or some weird crystalline design? Or if it was going to take a form based on someone who wielded its Elements, why just Twilight? Why not a composite of all the mane six, or why not base itself off the Pillars instead, or rapidly switch forms? Artists and writers have been inventing creative OCs to represent the Tree since 2014, and there's so many ways that you could do it, but the best that season eight can do is just... Twilight. It's lame.

Next, from a characterisation standpoint, I really don't like how creepy and sinister this Tree of Harmony is. It traps children in underground caves and subjects them to their worst fears on a whim. It killed the mean six at the drop of a hat, when I don't think they even had the ability to harm it. And it's supremely unhelpful in general despite being one of the most powerful entities on this show. Remember, the Tree can see the future, and it talks now. It could've just told the student six that Cozy Glow is evil at any time and saved everyone a lot of trouble, but it chose not to. And don't say that it's because it can't change the future, because it can and has before. If it can use a magic future-seeing map to tell the mane six to do things, then it can use words too.

Now sure, it's the Tree of Harmony, not the Tree of Niceness, so I don't expect it to be friendly to everyone all the time, but for a living embodiment of friendship magic, you'd think it would be at least a little nicer than this. Everything that it does in season eight is disturbing to some degree, and I can't even tell if this is intentional or not. I mean, season seven's retconned backstory made it into a creation of Star Swirl, a somewhat amoral stallion who did not understand friendship, so I guess it's possible that they were intentionally characterising the Tree this way, but it doesn't feel like it to me. It feels like the writers made the living embodiment of friendship into a sociopath by accident.

This is the magic tree equivalent of killing someone and wearing their skin.

As for my final problem, turning the Tree of Harmony from a plot device into a character offers a lot of new story opportunities, but seasons eight and nine do not take advantage of any of them. The Tree of Harmony can talk now! Think of all the people it could talk to! Imagine all the questions that Twilight might ask of the being who created her castle? What would Star Swirl and the Pillars say to the entity that they effectively gave birth to? What would Discord say to his oldest enemy? What would the Tree say to Starlight after how many times she screwed around with that map table? You could even have the Tree play an active role in the story next time there's some big villain to defeat, since it's the Tree that usually does the bulk of the work anyway.

But no. Instead, the Tree of Harmony has a face and a voice now solely so that it can talk to the student six a grand total of twice in the series, both times for completely inconsequential reasons. This is such a huge waste of an idea, I don't know why the writers even bothered with it at all, especially given what happens to the Tree next season.

So the episode ends with the student six returning to the school and telling Cozy about what happened, and she begs them to keep it a secret from the professors. Now, I like how this episode started dropping more overt hints towards Cozy's true nature before the finale, and how it ended on an ominous note, but I find her whole role in this episode very confusing.

I don't understand what Cozy is trying to accomplish here, nor what her motivation is. That's a problem with her character in general, as I'll discuss when we get to the finale, but it's somehow even worse here. Cozy is obviously trying to drive the student six apart at the start of the episode, but why? She's not Sunset Shimmer, dividing and conquering the school. Her whole plan revolves around manipulating others through friendship. Driving friends apart runs contrary to that, and risks blowing her cover, and for what? What advantage does it confer to break up the student six? She has no way of knowing that they're a threat to her plans yet. Is she just a racist like Neighsay who hates seeing all the minorities get along and wants them to fight? Is she the Pony CIA? If so, still seems like a risky indulgence. And why is this the sole aspect of her true nature that she lets slip?

I also don't know why she wants to hide the Tree of Harmony's presence under the school from the mane six. What exactly is she afraid of? What difference does it make? The mane six can still visit the Tree of Harmony any time that they want to. The Tree can still contact them through the map any time that it wants to. And it can see the future, as Cozy should already know from her classes, so if it cared about stopping her plans, it would've already done so by this point. The episode ends with Cozy implying that she's going to do something about the Tree, but what? The best that she can do is try to drain its magic, but she was going to try that anyway. The Tree being under the school doesn't make a single difference to her plans.

Also, before we move on, I just need to take one last moment to mention that scene with Sandbar in the middle of the episode, just after he finished his test. Although I've talked a lot of shit about Sandbar in this review, I have to say, I found it a very interesting choice by the writers how they characterised him as being wracked with guilt over his failure to prevent the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbour, and I was really impressed by Vincent Tong's performance when he delivered that impassioned speech defending the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I know a lot of people said that that scene felt really dark and out of place in a children's cartoon, and I can understand why, but it made sense for the character, so I was fine with it.

Powerful stuff. I'm glad that they brought in Sam Raimi to guest direct.

Anyway, let's talk kirin.

Episode 23 – Sounds of Silence:

Sounds of Silence was the last decent episode of the season, and probably one of the better ones overall, but I can't pretend that it was perfect, much as I wish it was. For the sake of ending on a positive note, I'm going to list my major criticisms first before getting to the parts that I liked.

My primary issue here was the world-building around the kirin. As much as I like them overall, the nature of their isolation and society raises a lot of questions that the episode was not interested in answering, and I think that this shows a lack of forethought. Now, I'm aware that some of this may come off as nitpicking, but these genuinely are the sorts of questions that pop into my head when I'm first watching an episode, and this is not usually a problem I have with the better written ones.

So to begin with, why are the kirin so isolated and unknown? There have been legends surrounding their species inhabiting the Peaks of Peril since all the way back in Rockhoof's time, but in all those centuries, have there really been zero attempts to investigate the legend or make contact with the kirin? You'd think that Daring Do at least would be investigating this sort of thing, and Equestria even went so far as building a train line that stops relatively close to the Peaks of Peril, yet nobody ever encountered the kirin in all that time, even by accident?

And the kirin have also been content to stay isolated in their tiny little forest for all that time as well? Why? The episode itself points out that fire is dangerous in a forest, and that the kirin set themselves on fire whenever they get angry, and yet they still all choose to live in a forest? In a thousand years, this can't be the first time that they've ever accidentally burned down their village. This just isn't practical. Sooner or later, wouldn't they want to try moving somewhere safer?

And yet, despite their isolation and obscurity, somehow the kirin still maintain a culturally similar society to Equestria. They speak Ponish, they say "anypony," they have sudoku, manufacture couches, and have a concept of musical theatre. All of this is suggestive of them having contact with the rest of Equestria, and relatively recently at that. So why are they still considered obscure legends? With how they act and where they're located, I feel like the kirin should be at least as common as griffons in Equestria, and yet, for some reason, they're not.

Finally, the kirin population is all wrong. I don't know if they're meant to be a separate species or not, but one way or the other, their numbers are far too low for maintaining a stable population in a totally isolated society. They've been in the Peaks of Peril for a thousand years, and there's still only a dozen or so of them? Either kirin live for a super long time, or there's some pretty heavy inbreeding going on here. Or both. Maybe that's why they all have enormous, misshapen horns? And where are the kirin children? Actually, where are the kirin males? All the kirin we see look like mares. How do they breed at all if they're all mares? Unless that's what the nirik transformation is for? I ask you, are the kirin canonically a society of transforming futas?

AJ gets it.

This is actually a frequent problem on this show, just not usually to this extent. The show made the same mistake with Yakyakistan and Griffonstone, which also turned out to just be tiny shithole villages, despite being referred to as kingdoms. The show far too often reduces entire nations and species to a single small community, and the result is that every species except ponies feel as if they're constantly on the brink of extinction. The writers just don't have any sense of scale.

But having said that all that, I quite like the kirin in general. I think they have a nice design, and I find their movements and expressions both funny and adorable, particularly the kirin charades scene. I also like the concept and design of their nirik transformations, and how this feeds into the episode's themes of anger and suppressing emotions.

This is also why I like the idea of the Stream of Silence. Admittedly, I did find it a little convenient that the kirin just happen to have a magic stream nearby which does this, but on consideration, I don't think that it's a coincidence at all. The Stream of Silence seems to be a very specific if extreme solution to the problem of uncontrollable nirik transformation, and I have no problem in assuming that it's something that the kirin created themselves, considering that we do see them using magic. I'm a little less sure about the Foals Breath flowers as a cure, since they don't seem to be cultivated, and I find it questionable how Autumn somehow manages to use the entire patch of them just to cure herself, but I can forgive a little contrivance here and there.

Still, there is one thing about the Stream of Silence which bothers me, which is that its effects don't seem to be consistent. We're told that it strips away both the kirin's emotions and their speech, but the emotion part doesn't seem to be accurate. Autumn Blaze seemed quite visibly frustrated by her inability to speak, and was still emotionally driven enough to seek a cure, and when she talks to the rest of the kirin towards the end of the episode and appeals to them to change, we see them making expressions of sadness. Seems like a contradiction to me.

Other than that, I have only one last point to criticise, and that is Fluttershy. This isn't a major issue, but I find it strange just how angry and argumentative she is in this episode. She gets mad and shouts at Applejack several times here, and even comes off as the more antagonistic of the two. I think that this is a misguided attempt to have her show assertiveness, since Fame and Misfortune last season made a big song and dance about how much Fluttershy has grown and developed now, but she isn't applying the most important lesson she learned from the Iron Will debacle – that you don't have to shout in people's faces to be assertive. And also, if the purpose of Fluttershy getting angry and shouting a lot is to show how much she's "developed" as a character, then the fact that she starts trembling just at the name "Peaks of Peril" rather undermines that, don't you think?

Still, on the whole, I think that this episode made good use of Applejack and Fluttershy. I think that they were a good choice for the specific problem the kirin were having, and even if Fluttershy wasn't always at her best, both characters had a chance to show their virtues here. Fluttershy's kindness and Applejack's honesty were actually integral to the plot, and I like that.

And at last, we come to Autumn Blaze, the star of the show. As much as I like the kirin in general, Autumn unquestionably carried this episode, and I love everything about her. She's got a great sense of humour, a bubbly, excitable personality, and a clear artistic side to her. She also shows a pretty strong sense of integrity in how she chooses to live outside the village to keep her voice and emotions, even though it leaves her isolated, and I like how much that's obviously affected her, what with her imaginary friends and how much of a chatterbox she is.

And of course, it goes without saying, her voice is absolutely fantastic. Autumn's song, "A Kirin Tale," was by far the best song of the season. In fact, it was probably the best song of the entire later half of the series. I can't think of any songs in seasons seven or nine that even come close to it, and it blows the movie's generic pop soundtrack completely out of the water too.

Eat your heart out, Sia.

In short, everything about Autumn Blaze was great, and she made the entire episode worthwhile all by herself. It's a terrible shame that she never returned in any significant capacity after this, but I'm glad for the time that we got with her.

Sadly, it's all downhill from here.

Episode 24 – Father Knows Beast:

If The Mean Six was the biggest disappointment of the season, then Father Knows Beast was a close second. This episode's synopsis promised to introduce us to Spike's father, and to answer long-running questions about Spike's origins that have been teased since as far back as season two, but never elaborated on. Instead, what we got was twenty minutes of some random asshole wasting everyone's time, including the audience's.

But before we can talk about anything else, I have to address Sludge's design, because even despite all the other bullshit in this episode, this was what bothered me the most.

Lauren Faust's original concept sketch for dragons. Rather more impressive, isn't it?

See that? That's a dragon. That is a fucking dragon. Sludge is not a dragon. Sludge is a rejected Klugetown design. I cannot possibly describe to you how disappointed I was when Spike's "father" turned out to be a short, fat anthro dragon. The non-Spike dragons on this show have been getting steadily smaller and lamer ever since season one, but at least Garble, Ember, and all the other small anthro dragons that we met were meant to be adolescents like Spike. And at least Dragon Quest and Gauntlet of Fire had the decency to make the few adult dragons we saw the proper size.

But with Sludge, it's like they forgot that big dragons even exist, even though Torch is referenced in this very episode. It makes no sense for a dragon old enough to be Spike's father to be this small and pathetic. Even if this is an adult dragon's real default size, and they need to build a hoard to grow big, a dragon as selfish and greedy as Sludge should have definitely triggered a greed growth by now. Hell, he should've triggered a greed growth in this episode. At least then something would actually be happening in this story.

Look, I know why they chose to make Sludge an anthro dragon. If he was a real dragon, he couldn't fit inside the castle, and we couldn't have had an episode about him being a horrible lazy shit. But would that really have been so bad? This episode is so much less visually interesting than it could've been, and Sludge's design is a spit in the face of what a dragon is supposed to be. Look again at Lauren Faust's sketch up there. Look at what it's trying to convey. Faust envisioned dragons as beings of wonder and majesty, not as fat, lazy slobs. We traded Smaug for Homer Simpson. Is that not the biggest downgrade that you can possibly imagine?

Anyway, enough about Sludge's size. Let's discuss his actions.

So the plot of the episode is that some asshole dragon crash-lands in Ponyville and somehow manages to injure himself badly enough to warrant the mane six's care and attention. Presumably it is while under their care that Sludge decides that he likes the cushy life, and invents the lie that he's Spike's father and intentionally came to Ponyville looking for him, along with inventing an entire fake backstory about the circumstances of how Spike and his parents became separated.

Now, Sludge reveals himself as a liar by the episode's end, so we can disregard most of what he says as bullshit, but therein lies the very first problem of this narrative. Dragons in Equestria are rare. Outside of the dragon migrations, you just don't see them around. That's why ponies barely knew anything about dragons back in season one. So a dragon randomly crashing down in Ponyville of all places is extremely unlikely. If Sludge had been telling the truth, that he was intentionally seeking out Spike, then this would make sense. But the episode implies that this was just some bullshit he improvised, so it goes right back to being a contrived coincidence instead.

Then we have the extended flashback showing Spike's fake backstory. This is probably the most frustrating part of the episode, because taken at face value, it's actually fairly decent. It answers some questions about Spike's origins, such as the identities of his parents and why he wasn't raised by them, while also raising additional, more interesting questions about the fate of Spike's mother, and the nature of this "prison world" of dragon-hunters. You can even see how a hypothetical good version of this episode would be setting up for a follow-up adventure with these "scale collectors." But since Sludge is lying about all this, this flashback is just a waste of time, teasing us with interesting ideas that will never be explored and answers to questions that will never actually come.

WOW, MY EXPECTATIONS SURE WERE SUBVERTED.

Really, I don't understand the point of this. This whole episode is a just thematic rehash of Dragon Quest. It's another story of Spike wondering about his origins and feeling like he's not a real dragon because he was raised by ponies, so he goes and meets a "real dragon" to learn from, discovers that said "real dragon" is a huge asshole, and decides that he's happy with being raised by ponies and doesn't care about his origins after all. The only difference is that this time the subtext of Spike and Twilight being family is a lot more explicit. All this has been done before, and Spike resolved his dragon issues ages ago. The only reason to dredge all this up again is if the writer actually wants to answer the questions that Dragon Quest left open. But if it's all fake, why even bother?

And on a side note, it's been how many years since Dragon Quest now? In all that time, have Spike and Twilight still not gotten around to asking Celestia where she got Spike's egg from yet? This was already stretching credulity back in season two, but this late in the series it's just egregious.

So instead of answers about Spike's origins, we get to see Sludge being a worthless sack of shit for the entire episode. He fakes being Spike's father and does a few activities with him to secure his place in the castle, and then convinces Spike through song to give him all his stuff and wait on him hand and foot. I can't entirely blame Spike for falling for it, since this is exploiting a clear emotional vulnerability, but I really question Sludge's methods here, because he makes himself very obvious.

Now, Sludge is a piece of shit, and the way he exploits Spike is abhorrent, but there's still a right and a wrong way to go about it. Sludge already got himself into the castle, and there's nobody close at hand who knows enough truth to question his lies. So long as he kept doing occasional fatherly activities with Spike, he probably would've been welcome there for as long as he liked, and Spike would probably still wait on him, because he's naturally subservient anyway. But for some reason, Sludge feeds him all this contradictory advice about what "real dragons" do that only endangers his own place in the castle.

Seriously, Sludge tells Spike that real dragons eschew luxury, hygiene, and fancy possessions, and so makes Spike give these things up and sleep outside, while simultaneously staying in the castle himself, having baths and manicures, and surrounding himself with soft pillows and gold. And he also claims that real dragons lay around and do nothing, while making Spike do work for him. I get the point that he's a liar and a manipulator, but why is he so blatant about it? Why be such an obvious hypocrite when he could instead just say what he really thinks? There's no reason to make Spike sleep outside or to say that dragons shouldn't live in luxury. All he had to say was, "Yeah, you have it pretty sweet here, son. I like this." Then he's on easy street.

Instead, he does all this bullshit and makes Smolder suspicious, and gives them an easy thread to tug on to unravel his true intentions. And even then, he could've just said, "Okay, fine, I'm sorry. I like living in the castle, and I got greedy, okay?" They probably would've forgiven him, and he'd have kept having an easy ride. But instead he confesses his lie for absolutely no reason. Everything that Sludge does in this episode is supremely idiotic, and I consider that just as much a fault of the writing as of the character.

But whatever. I'm done with Sludge. Let's talk about Smolder.

I feel like watching season eight has significantly shortened my life.

I like Smolder's relationship with Spike, because she provides something that he doesn't get from any other character aside from maybe Ember, which is that she can relate to him as a dragon. They do dragon stuff together, and she gives him a dragon's perspective and advice whenever he has a problem, which helps make up for the gaps and blind spots in Spike's own knowledge. Also, the fact that she secretly likes cute, girly, and adorable things means that they probably have plenty of common interests too. In this episode, she also teaches him flying and shows something of a protective streak when she learns what Sludge is doing. She's almost like a big sister to him here.

Because of this, Smolder was probably the most well-integrated character of the student six. Of all her friends, she's the only one who has an established relationship with an actual main character beyond teacher and student. Sandbar, Gallus, Yona, Silverstream, and Ocellus all exist in their own little bubble apart from the rest of the cast. It's not as bad as how disconnected Starlight felt back in season six, but Smolder demonstrates that it could still have been handled better. Like, for example, the student six could've made friends with the Crusaders or something.

In general, I don't think that the student six's appearances in the season were balanced well. We had plenty of episodes with the six of them together, either in cameo roles or in actual student six episodes, but their individual appearances were often lacking. I've already talked about Sandbar and how woefully underdeveloped he was, but it goes beyond that.

Smolder was very well-integrated and had supporting roles in two Spike episodes throughout the season. Good work with her, gold star. However, while Gallus was the star of the show in The Hearth's Warming Club, he was still sharing screentime with all the others, and never really got a chance to shine on his own. Yona was next worst off. She had a good moment in Rockhoof and a Hard Place, but Yakity Sax was a total missed opportunity to do something with her, and that episode would've been substantially improved by more Yona.

Then there's Silverstream and Ocellus, probably the weakest of the non-Sandbar student six. Surf and/or Turf, as I already discussed, was another huge missed opportunity, this time for Silverstream, but she didn't even have any stand-out moments elsewhere in the season to make up for it. And similarly, Ocellus got basically nothing. She never got a chance to stand out, and there weren't even any episodes where she could've had a chance. And even in What Lies Beneath, Silverstream and Ocellus had the weakest showing, since they were the only ones who couldn't overcome their fears on their own and needed help. Both of them felt really lacking this season.

For that reason, I suppose I'll discuss Ocellus here, even though she doesn't appear in this episode, simply because there's no good place for it. Ocellus is... difficult to comment on. Even with season nine to take into account, she's such a non-presence even compared to Sandbar that I don't have much to go on. I know that she was the focus of her own IDW comic issue, probably as an effort to remedy this exact problem, but I never read it. I will say that she's got more of a personality than Sandbar does. She's quiet and studious, like a cross between Twilight and Fluttershy, so I guess that's something. She's ashamed of her past, though she seems too young to have actually participated in anything major, so I find this a little weak. I like how she uses her shape-shifting to do comical impressions, but... eh. Ocellus needed more screentime this season. That's my conclusion for her.

As for Father Knows Beast, it was a terrible episode, and I regret watching it. I rate it below getting my teeth pulled, but still above the finale. And speaking of...


Concluded in part four.

Comments ( 22 )

What the fuck going on with the geography around Ponyville?

Minecraft!

Maybe bring in Luna or one of the other Pillars.

Especially considering that comics insisted that Rockhoof’s story was Luna’s “favorite myth.”

Are the School of Friendship’s hiring policies based totally on nepotism?

But friendship is nepotism.

All the kirin we see look like mares. How do they breed at all if they’re all mares?

All of this is easy to answer with one postulate: Kirin are a mare-only subspecies, they go out of their village in disguise to mate and then return.

The show far too often reduces entire nations and species to a single small community, and the result is that every species except ponies feel as if they’re constantly on the brink of extinction.

Planet of Hats.

In all that time, have Spike and Twilight still not gotten around to asking Celestia where she got Spike’s egg from yet?

Celestia has trained them all out of asking her any questions by answering every single one with a sinister enigmatic smile.

Praise be to the Kirin

On-point with "The Washouts", though I'm happy with Lightning and Rainbow switching between hostility and banter. It adds a credible level of complexity. Even if Lightning moved on with her life successfully, you'd expect her to still feel a little sore about what happened.

But man does this episode trip at the finishing line. The more I think about the ending, the more I feel cheated out of something that does the rest of this episode's nuance some justice. It honestly feels like they realized the issue was grey on both sides and immediately simplified it into something exaggeratedly black-and-white.

What Lies Beneath was the other major student six episode of the season. I don't think it was anywhere near as good as The Hearth's Warming Club for many reasons

This is actually refreshing to read, as I'm of the same opinion and felt like the only one who was.

5250474

Isn't it more accurately called "cronyism" if they're non-relatives? I thought "nepotism" was specifically about favouring relatives.

5250643

Isn’t it more accurately called “cronyism” if they’re non-relatives? I thought “nepotism” was specifically about favouring relatives.

Technically yes, but the word “cronyism” has largely fallen out of use and “nepotism” does double duty often now.

5250645

This legitimately saddens me. "Cronyism" is such an apt, nefarious-sounding word. "Cronyism", "crony": it's got the right negative connotation packed into two syllables already. "Nepotism", "nepot": just doesn't have the same ring to it.

PresentPerfect
Author Interviewer

The paragraphs around the "so tiresome" pic in Yakity Sax are the truest shit I have ever laid eyes on.

My primary issue here was the world-building around the kirin.

Thank god, I'm not alone. ;_;

All that talk about Smolder makes me realize that Sweet and Smoky could have been greatly improved had they tugged a little bit more on "Spike sees Smolder as an older sister, so knowing she has an actual sibling puts strain on their relationship". Then maybe the moral wouldn't have been "If your bully writes poetry, don't be mad at him, I guess?" Granted, none of the Student Six really had enough screen time to get that deep into their characters, but if anyone did, it's her.

5250774

I remember you were very negative about the student six in the review I linked earlier. Did that change much over the remaining two seasons, or do you still feel mostly the same?

PresentPerfect
Author Interviewer

5250826
I've come to accept that Smolder is actually a decent character. Ocellus is fine because she's cute as well as nerdy and shy, which only makes her cuter, but she's a definite missed opportunity. I agree that Sandbar is bland, but I find this amusing. The rest of them are shit. :B

5250855

You're just saying that because you're racist to birds.

PresentPerfect
Author Interviewer

5250863
Birds suck. As the show demonstrates. :V

Admittedly, I did find it a little convenient that the kirin just happen to have a magic stream nearby which does this, but on consideration, I don't think that it's a coincidence at all. The Stream of Silence seems to be a very specific if extreme solution to the problem of uncontrollable nirik transformation, and I have no problem in assuming that it's something that the kirin created themselves, considering that we do see them using magic.

It might also be why they insist on living where they do -- if it's something difficult to replicate, or that only occurred naturally, it might explain why they persist in living close to the one thing they know of that can reliably deal with their, ah, anger issues.

And Autumn Blaze was fantastic, I agree. It's a crying shame she didn't appear again.

Regarding "Father Knows Beast", my biggest gripes with it were the size issue you discussed and the fact that Sludge's claim that dragons, of all creatures, like to be minimalist in their possessions was bought by anybody for so much as a moment. I will give it points over "Dragon Quest" for including another dragon to give a non-jackass perspective on the matter, which does help it sidestep "Dragon Quest"'s, uh, unfortunate implications regarding the right path being a total rejection of your obviously flawed birth culture for you obviously superior adoptive one.

"Also, before we move on, I just need to take one last moment to mention that scene with Sandbar in the middle of the episode, just after he finished his test. Although I've talked a lot of shit about Sandbar in this review, I have to say, I found it a very interesting choice by the writers how they characterised him as being wracked with guilt over his failure to prevent the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbour, and I was really impressed by Vincent Tong's performance when he delivered that impassioned speech defending the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I know a lot of people said that that scene felt really dark and out of place in a children's cartoon, and I can understand why, but it made sense for the character, so I was fine with it."

...Wut?

I have no idea why the last few seasons are written this way, but in several episodes, it seems like the writers are hell-bent on turning all the main characters into the worst possible versions of themselves. Celestia and Luna go from loving sisters to bickering children. ...

Seeing this made me realize: Chrysalis actually succeeded and didn't realize it. The mean 6 have replaced everyone, and we just didn't realize it.

5250474

All of this is easy to answer with one postulate: Kirin are a mare-only subspecies, they go out of their village in disguise to mate and then return.

Genius. Someone needs to write a story about this, or with it as a plot point.

I ask you, are the kirin canonically a society of transforming futas?

So much rule 34 came from this one question... :fluttershbad:

5356868

Oh hey, Alondro, since I know that you like these reviews but don't follow me, I thought I'd just let you know that the season nine review is up now. Merry Christmas.

5420789 Oh, this is gonna be BRUTAL!

I have the most awkward boner right now... :pinkiecrazy::rainbowwild::applejackconfused:

Well, after that rant, hopefully we can get back to more specific business again...


"The End in Friend" is funny to me now, because when I first watched it back in... I think 2019? When I first watched it, I considered it a borderline case: not fun enough to be a good ep, not terrible enough to be a bad ep. I was surprisingly generous, all things considered.

Then I read this review.

I know it's bad form to compare what we got with idle speculations, but how about comparing it with what we've also got elsewhere? "Rarity Investigates!" paired up Rainbow and Rarity so naturally that it makes this episode's efforts look utterly embarrassing now.

Also, I love the "they'd totally be a power couple" line. I doubt I'd use it romantically, but I am filing that away for later...


I don't usually do this, but... Quoted For Truth:

This is not just character regression at this point. This is character destruction. I have no idea why the last few seasons are written this way, but in several episodes, it seems like the writers are hell-bent on turning all the main characters into the worst possible versions of themselves. Celestia and Luna go from loving sisters to bickering children. Discord goes from almost reformed to the most villainous he's been in years. Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo fight and decide that they don't want to be friends anymore. Rarity and Rainbow Dash fight and decide that they don't want to be friends anymore. Dash and AJ end up screaming in each other's faces. Fluttershy is a bitch to Rarity's customers for no reason. In this episode, Pinkie gives up on her friends for no reason whatsoever. And next season we can also look forward to seeing Twilight Sparkle, Princess of Friendship, stab her friend in the back over a quiz.

I don't know if any of it's intentional, but this show just became so much darker than it used to be. It still kept a thin veneer of optimistic idealism, but the soul was just not there anymore by the end. Haber and Dubuc's Friendship is Magic is cynical, unpleasant, and ugly. It's a world where nobody ever learns or grows, where even the strongest friendships are fragile and fraught, and deep down, everyone is an asshole underneath, just looking for any excuse to show it. It's the animated equivalent of Star Trek: Picard. I'll have more to say about this come the finale, but for now, let's just take this one dumpster fire at a time.

I'm with 5250774 at this point:

The paragraphs around the "so tiresome" pic in Yakity Sax are the truest shit I have ever laid eyes on.

I haven't seen "Yakity-Sax" either, but if there is one thing that pushes the wrong button for me, it's any caving in to selfish, loudmouth bastards at other people's expense. That is something that has in real life gotten my goat something vicious, so to think of Pinkie getting a pass for it - for a literal one-ep obsession, no less - makes me grind my teeth to knife points.

That's just from reading the goddamn plot summary. Why the hell would I want to see it played out?


"Road to Friendship". Another episode that dipped in quality after reading this review. I mean, Starlight being a callous brat is no surprise. I've been banging that drum for a while, and even people who like this episode call her out on it.

Her being mostly culpable caught me by surprise, though. I honestly hadn't been seeing the episode through that lens, and must've taken it as read that Trixie was also being snippy and culpable to a degree. And the silencing spell point is spot-on.

That said, I still predict I'd like this one on a rewatch, and not just because Trixie actually is an entertaining character in the second half of the show (praise where I can give it, I suppose). Hoo'far (the guy you couldn't name, Mr Continuity Lord :ajsmug:), was pretty funny being chill about all the nonsense, and the episode has such a back-handed ending it's kind of ironically great.


Already commented on the Lightning Dust episode. Nothing to say here.


You know, sometimes I wonder if reviews are spoiling me. Because I swore I liked "A Rockhoof and a Hard Place" when I first saw it, and even praised the implied suicide angle. Now you've all gone and made me feel clumsy about it.

I'm honestly wondering at this point if this is some kind of trick to the later seasons episodes, or if I'm just unobservant. A Rockhoof ep sounds like my cup of tea, because I'm more warmly disposed to fleshing out the Pillars, and there were enough singular good points through this one. Did that mask its underlying badness for me? Did I get so carried away by its winner concept and by how much I enjoyed bits and pieces that I overlooked deeper problems? And if I, an avowed late-seasons dissident, can have that pulled on me, then what of the people who unironically like the later eps? Not all of them, but some of them?

I think I'm being cynical, but on the other hand the more I dwell on these seasons, the less sense it makes to me why they seem so popular.

Is it selection bias? You mentioned in your S9 review that lots of people seemed to drop off around S5-S6, and that reflects the general drop of fan output on e.g. this site. So are we just looking at the stubborn, the misguided, the unknowing latecomers, or the few who happened to like some marginal element beyond any concern for the others? It strikes me, for instance, that when I find Starlight's appeal outright baffling, other people seem somehow to relate to her recovering redemption arc and like seeing her get a happy ending. Yet it can't just be a matter of taste alone, can it? Are these people identifying with a literal brainwasher somehow treating her as a generic "flawed protagonist", regardless of her actual flaw? Is my disgust at her propped-up moral standing somehow blinding me to some genuine narrative cleverness? Or am I just surrounded by sick fucks (OK, that one was a joke)?

It's what checks things like my rant in the comments section of Part 2 of this blog series, not least because I don't like going around actively making people miserable. And yet when I start going sour on eps like this as a result of someone pointing out the problems, I feel less like I'm just arbitrarily shifting tastes and more like I'm having the blindfold taken off I didn't even know I was wearing. It's... troubling, in some respects.


"What Lies Beneath" is the perfect exemplar of one of those tropes I detest, the "omniscient morality license". The Tree is taken as a big good, so it can seemingly do anything it wants. Discord committing atrocities just to cheer up Twily is similar, in that his pathetic good intentions are supposed to downplay his actions (and as with you, I agree that the characters blowing up at him for it does virtually nothing but offer token acknowledgement that he's in the wrong; he might as well have had his hand slapped for all the proportionality on display). Except the Tree is Good and Wise and Big and Knowing and Powerful, so no one bats an eye when it commits child endangerment, psychological abuse, and potential torture just to destruction-test a bunch of sad students.

Unlike the Rockhoof ep, where I feel kind of guilty about feeling disillusioned (in a bizarre, confusing way), this one I'm actually much angrier about it. Protagonist-centred morality is an accusation hurled at this show sometimes, usually when the Main Six get away with something questionable, but look at this shit! Here's our supposed stand-in for the forces of goodness, treating some kids in a way that would get it arrested if it was an ordinary being.

I've heard the theory that, being a force for "Harmony", it's not technically good, but the episode does not play it as such. For all the evidence we're given, the Tree is absolutely supposed to be a force for good. If we were supposed to teach kids that Harmony =/= Goodness, I think the show would at least have said something to that effect, to say nothing of actually treating it as such. After all, this is the force presented as the ultimate answer to every black-as-midnight villain until now.

It's a nice ep for showing off more of the Student Six, I suppose, and some of the scenes work in isolation. We at least get something. It's just...

Well, one of the problems I experience after reading reviews such as yours is that it not only downgrades my experience of episodes in this half of the show, but leads to me questioning stuff in the other half too.

Take the entire series premier, for example, back in S1. Nightmare Moon has a good backstory, but consider: Why couldn't she have been cured right away? Why did she have to go to the moon, while Discord got turned to stone? Why 1000 years: is Equestria really so bad that no one before Sunset or Twilight qualified to be part of a clique? And if it's just a power thing, then why exactly does Twilight so drastically outrank everyone around her? And what's the point of making a connection between Nightmare Moon and Luna when A) nothing about Twilight's prior quest to stop the moustache-twirling villain actually changes in any relevant detail, and B) they might as well be different characters, unless we seriously want to entertain the possibility that Luna is secretly history's greatest monster and the Moon thing was just an excuse to let it out?

I'm not saying some of these don't have answers or aren't overly critical (Twilight being a rare prodigy seems a fair enough plot point, and enough details are vague that we don't have to interpret these things uncharitably), but my point is that, when later episodes do something similar but with more blatantly problematic elements, unless you want to go the whole "Fanon Discontinuity" route, it raises troubling implications where we might previously have glossed over them.

Or to put it another way: the second half meddles where it shouldn't, retroactively making passably hazy points look a lot worse in hindsight.

And the Tree of Harmony is a stellar example of such. The Elements were plot devices of a curious kind, but there was enough mystery about them that you could make plausibly positive cases. Now what have we got? A psychopathic tree with a monomaniacal, amoral fixation, and intelligence now. Heck, as far back as S5, its map was described as having wills and intentions. Now that this is established, its behaviour looks more like the actions of a culpable agent.

It does the Tree - and subsequently the worldbuilding, entire premise of the show, and so on - no favours. Heck, it's a good metaphor for the problems with the second half of the show: the Power of Friendship is a really bad egg deep down, isn't it?


Also, I don't get the Sandbar para you finish that ep's review with. Is it a reference to something I'm just not getting?


"Sounds of Silence" I like. If we're tabling the motion that new locales are unbelievably small, I'd like to call forth The Crystal Empire, a whole new tribe of ponies who apparently live beneath the Eiffel Tower and a handful of blocks around it. So Kirinland being a tiny dot doesn't so much as make me blink.

I don't think the "Does it strip you of emotion or doesn't it?" issue is all that big. It's the same with most forms of stoicism: some people pretend they don't have the emotions because they see the emotions as a problem. It's denial over self-suppression, and can work just as well here. Helps that the ultimate point of the episode is to encourage self-expression. The pieces fit to me.

I also don't know that Fluttershy was that bad in this episode. Passionate, maybe, but she seemed fine, last time I saw this ep. Admittedly, that was a while ago. I do like how her apparent distraction early on ended up helping, to the point that the obvious gag with Applejack going it alone still landed for me. It's a shame we don't see her half of the story for a long stretch, but I can deal.

Arguably my favourite episode of the season.


But before we can talk about anything else, I have to address Sludge's design, because even despite all the other bullshit in this episode, this was what bothered me the most.

I half-wonder if the movie had a hand in this. Anthro, anthro everywhere, and all.

We traded Smaug for Homer Simpson. Is that not the biggest downgrade that you can possibly imagine?

To be fair, this is kind of a chalk and cheese comparison. Smaug would make no more sense in Springfield than Homer would in Middle Earth. Context is key.

I still like this comparison, mind. I'm just scratching a pedantic itch. Faust's dragon being majestic, and Homer Sludgeson not, symbolizes a lot of what I detest about the degradation of the show. But I've already had that rant, so moving on.

And on a side note, it's been how many years since Dragon Quest now? In all that time, have Spike and Twilight still not gotten around to asking Celestia where she got Spike's egg from yet? This was already stretching credulity back in season two, but this late in the series it's just egregious.

Given what happened with Scootaloo next season, I find it hard to get all passionate about the writers not addressing this. If Larson had wanted to write his own solution in Season Five, sure I'd have trusted him to deliver. But do you honestly think this Season Eight system was ever going to do a good job of it? This very episode is a Haber episode, for goodness' sake. Of course it's going to be trivial, careless nonsense.


Since we're talking Student Six at the end here, I'll briefly toss in my two cents as well:

Gallus is arguably the best, between his backstory that helps his apathetic character click into place and his role as a kind of big brother to the likes of Silverstream. Silverstream herself feels like a version of Pinkie I actually love (no offence to Pinkie, but some aspects of her character don't click with me), so she's arguably the one I like the most. And Smolder is the one better integrated into the cast and with her own brand of crueller humour, though her similarity to Ember makes her feel a bit redundant to me.

Ocellus I'm neutral on. She has the makings of a good character, but she suffers from the same problem as her entire species do at this point: they're so inoffensively nice and pleasant that there's not much of interest to do with them, unless you flat-out make stuff up for them in a fanfic. Much as I like how the fandom can turn random background filler into complex characters of their own, you have to admit that's to the fandom's credit, not the show's as such.

Yona is... not working for me. A yak but clumsy doesn't do a lot for me. Sandbar is a cypher, which is all the weirder because his surfer-dude aesthetic and role as token pony should be a great starting point for giving him personality. Yet the only thing I remember is that one hint during "What Lies Below" that maybe he has some kind of pony hero complex lurking under the surface, as the only "friendship species" (pony) in a group explicitly trying to learn friendship. But again, that's not to the show's credit as such.

See, they exemplify a major confusion in my mind, in that I would like them more if they just had their own continuity. Not just because it saves the main continuity from getting fucked up, but because with proper space to breathe and grow and reach out, I can see myself coming to appreciate these new cast members in their own right. The same goes for the Pillars, and even - I'm gritting my teeth here - possibly to Starlight. Without the entanglements and baggage, maybe it'd be far easier to appreciate them as spin-off companions, instead of as rivals for attention.

I harp on about wishing the show had reset to G5 much, much sooner, and that's not all grumpy grousing. I genuinely might have found new life in these new creations... if only anyone in a position of power had given a toss about them.

Heck, rebranding every so often even makes a certain corporate sense. Keeping things new and interesting seems like good strategy to me, though I admit I'm not a market analyst. But there had to be better ways than this?

Or do I have to wait for a fanficker to do the job? AU reboot, anyone?


On to the final part.

5447456

Also, I love the "they'd totally be a power couple" line. I doubt I'd use it romantically, but I am filing that away for later...

I will gladly take credit for any and all Raridash shipfics you write from this point forward.

You know, sometimes I wonder if reviews are spoiling me. Because I swore I liked "A Rockhoof and a Hard Place" when I first saw it, and even praised the implied suicide angle. Now you've all gone and made me feel clumsy about it.

I mean, I'm not glad to have made someone have a worse time with the show (even if I feel gratified to know that my case is apparently convincing), but that's happened to me too. There were quite a few episodes that I didn't end up really disliking until I went full analyst on them. Late-series MLP is written in a "turn your brain off" mindset. It works on a surface level, and a surface level only, because that's the level that both really little kids and the writers operate on. These episodes do not benefit from critical analysis at all, so I think if you're just watching them casually, analysing them and thinking about them critically is rarely going to be your first instinct, even if you're naturally critical.

It strikes me, for instance, that when I find Starlight's appeal outright baffling, other people seem somehow to relate to her recovering redemption arc and like seeing her get a happy ending. Yet it can't just be a matter of taste alone, can it?

Ehhhh... I don't know. People can like what they like, and I generally try not to judge them for that. Do I agree that Starlight is objectively worse written than most comparable characters? Yes. Does this mean that she has no redeeming qualities that people can latch onto and enjoy her for unironically? Of course not. What are those qualities? Admittedly, I stumble somewhat at answering that. Personally, I like Starlight as a deeply flawed character, as I said in the season nine review; I think she's very entertaining when intentionally written as a morally dubious fuck-up. As a outright hero, as an actual successor to Twilight, as what she was intended to be, I don't get the appeal either. But I don't get the appeal of a lot of things that other people like. I just chalk it up to personal taste.

I've heard the theory that, being a force for "Harmony", it's not technically good, but the episode does not play it as such.

Like Starlight, I am compelled by the idea of a morally ambiguous Tree of Harmony; I'm just similarly turned off by the fact that none of it is actually intentional. And of course by the fact that this is a canonical depiction, because it just contributes more to the overall darkening of the world. It was fascinating in stories like Lupine Tree, though.

Nightmare Moon has a good backstory, but consider: Why couldn't she have been cured right away?

I know you're just positing these questions to make a point, but I'm going to link my personal explanations for all of them anyway, because you've given me the excuse, and this is what you get for opening Pandora's Box.

Or to put it another way: the second half meddles where it shouldn't, retroactively making passably hazy points look a lot worse in hindsight.

Yes, that's quite often a problem when the later half the series tried to dive into the lore. A lot of things which made perfect sense before were retroactively broken as a result of writer meddling. Star Swirl is another good example. His place in history mostly made sense until season seven. Once you introduce his backstory with the Tree of Harmony, though, it becomes a mess.

Also, I don't get the Sandbar para you finish that ep's review with. Is it a reference to something I'm just not getting?

It's Raimiposting.

I also don't know that Fluttershy was that bad in this episode.

It wasn't egregious, by any means. It was just another example of what I was talking about in my season nine review about how Fluttershy can only show assertiveness by getting pissed off and shouting.

I half-wonder if the movie had a hand in this. Anthro, anthro everywhere, and all.

Fuck, I didn't even consider that. Maybe, yeah.

See, they exemplify a major confusion in my mind, in that I would like them more if they just had their own continuity.

I can agree with that. I think that if the show had ended with season five, and Haber had gotten to write a whole new show of his own with all of his own characters in a different continuity for G5, it would've been... probably not good, as such, but certainly better than what he actually gave us.

5447599

I mean, I'm not glad to have made someone have a worse time with the show (even if I feel gratified to know that my case is apparently convincing), but that's happened to me too. There were quite a few episodes that I didn't end up really disliking until I went full analyst on them. Late-series MLP is written in a "turn your brain off" mindset. It works on a surface level, and a surface level only, because that's the level that both really little kids and the writers operate on. These episodes do not benefit from critical analysis at all, so I think if you're just watching them casually, analysing them and thinking about them critically is rarely going to be your first instinct, even if you're naturally critical.

Being critical can be a double-edged sword: you learn a lot by diving below the surface, but sometimes you find things that don't make you feel good. I think on balance it's at least a good thing to have people around to point these things out, if only because you can figure out better how much they matter to your experience (after all, sometimes braindead entertainment can still be accepted warts and all - I think it's stronger to acknowledge that than just insist on ignorance and shoot the messengers who think otherwise).

Ehhhh... I don't know. People can like what they like, and I generally try not to judge them for that.

Sorry about that. I have a real hard time getting to grips with the objectivity-subjectivity aspect of criticism and entertainment. On the one hand, it's just fair enough to put a lot of it down to taste and be glad everyone has something they like. On the other hand, it feels at times like there's some definite objectivity lurking under all that, and very tempting to feel you've got a handle on something concrete.

Art is a devil of a subject, at times.

I know you're just positing these questions to make a point, but I'm going to link my personal explanations for all of them anyway, because you've given me the excuse, and this is what you get for opening Pandora's Box.

Luckily, I shut the lid on Hope before the bastard could get out, so let me enjoy the cynical chaos I have wrought!

Also, that's a cool blog, dude. :coolphoto:

It's Raimiposting.

Oooooooh, I get it now.

I can agree with that. I think that if the show had ended with season five, and Haber had gotten to write a whole new show of his own with all of his own characters in a different continuity for G5, it would've been... probably not good, as such, but certainly better than what he actually gave us.

It's funny because continuity reboots are very popular in superhero media. Just look at the different incarnations of Batman and how that's still a thing in this day and age. Again, I'm no market analyst, but I'd figure if superhero media can be this popular and make a ton of money too, it'd at least be worth playing Supermonkey See, Supermonkey Do.

5447760

It's funny because continuity reboots are very popular in superhero media.

Well, to varying success, let's be honest. Not all reboots are created equal. I'm not a comics reader, but from what I hear, that New 52 move by DC didn't go down well with long-time fans.

Login or register to comment