S4 is almost over. Of all the seasons, this is feeling like the one I'll want to go back to the least. There weren't a lot of stand-out episodes. So, for its final episode before the proper finale, it goes with a fairly satisfying episode, if not one of the season's highest points.
The episode's yet another Spike episode. I don't think I've ever disliked a Spike episode, and in that case this doesn't disappoint. Spike is used to communicate ideas about self-esteem, and these ideas are some of the show's deepest and most emotionally resonant to date. This is communicated without compromising anything previously known about Spike's character, which benefits the episode and allows the ideas to sink in as character development.
The main story, however, isn't entirely gripping. The conflict is begun in a rather melodramatic fashion, though it improves over the course of the episode. Some of Spike's actions are embarrassing, which means that some scenes aren't entirely fun to watch. The episode isn't really all that tense, but it is engaging enough because of the strength of its characterization and themes. Dialogue reflects prior development for characters, which is certainly fitting for a penultimate episode.
The episode is filled with eye-candy, which is arguably its greatest strength. It's not the soaring vistas of "The Crystal Empire", but it boasts the season's best design. There are a number of interesting subtle details. For example, early on Twilight is shown to her new throne in the stadium. While the animators could simply have had her sit on the throne, her facial expressions show some uncertainty about her new seat and implicitly of her new position.
When the comedy is there, it's definitely a hit, and thankfully when it's not there, the main plot takes over. There are plenty of funny moments to be found here, though they are fairly concentrated in the first half of the episode. That said, it takes until the second half to really focus, as the first half is mostly melodramatic.
Ultimately it's a good-if-not-great episode. Even if it wasn't a favourite of mine, though, its focus on character development is something that shows promise for future episodes. This season, character development has been somewhat weak, and because of that I'm just glad to be seeing more of it, presumably to take place in more engaging episodes later on. See you next week, for the finale.