I'm a huge fan of this show. Hell, I host a blog about it. And yet, I don't like every episode. Far from it, a number have made me genuinely angry, and here I'm gonna list my ten least favourites.
10. It's About Time
written by M.A. Larson
M.A. Larson is one of the most beloved writers in ponydom. He's perhaps not my favourite (he'll be appearing again on this list), but when he's good, he's really good, as evidenced by him writing "The Return of Harmony", one of my favourite episodes ever. "It's About Time", however, is far from his brightest moment. Possibly the very first thing I noticed about "It's About Time" is just how stupid Twilight acts. The main conflict is established when she's visited by herself from the future. From her future appearance, Twilight figures that there must be some great calamity in the future. Later in the episode, however, when her appearance is made similar to Future Twilight's by completely innocent events, she figures that it must be a sign of the incoming disaster. This incomprehensible thread of logic can be traced to her lack of sleep, but that begs the question of what the point of that is. As we soon see, that point is rehashing "Lesson Zero". "It's About Time" wants so badly to replicate "Lesson Zero's" success, but lacks even the faintest inkling of what made that episode good in the first place. There's no depth to the episode, no real surprises, and worst of all, it's not even all that crazy. Having seen all this before, it leaves far less of an impact, and despite the funny moments the episode has on offer, there's no reason for "It's About Time" to exist.
9. Simple Ways
written by Josh Haber
I honestly thought "Simple Ways" would wind up higher on the list due to how much I hated it the first time, but the second time I watched it I could sort of see what it was going for. I was almost going to leave it off the list entirely, until I realized that it failed at almost all the things it was trying to do. If it's trying to take a positive look at Applejack and Rarity's differences, it undermined that when it chose to play Rarity's faux-country mannerisms for laughs. If it's trying to be about not changing yourself for someone else, it kinda succeeds (which is why the episode is so low on the list), but is still undermined by depicting Rarity as a caricature of herself, therefore making her much shallower than she'd otherwise be, therefore inventing the main conflict out of thin air. Having Rarity chasing a boy seems downright regressive for this show, which had up until this point completely avoided that cliche, and shoving that plot upon the most stereotypically "girly" of the main cast is especially reprehensible. Also, the jokes aren't funny. I mean, there's one or two lines that got a guilty chuckle out of me, but I'm not exactly sure what's supposed to be funny about watching Rarity increasingly embarrass herself. Feels like your point is undermined when you can't even make your focus character sympathetic.
8. The Show Stoppers
written by Cindy Morrow
I think that every bit of hate the Cutie Mark Crusaders get can be traced to this rephrehensible excuse for an episode. This is the beginning of the trend where we see the same damn plot being repeated ad nauseam with the CMC and yet still having them learn nothing at the end. But "The Show Stoppers" is so much worse than that. It introduces us to the Crusaders' talents early on, which sets up their later failures in this episode as outright mockery. If these characters are intended to be the target audience surrogates, then I have no idea what reason there is for an episode to mock them relentlessly. This is one of the show's biggest examples of cringe comedy, that horrendous form of "humour" where the writer attempts to wring laughs by making the audience feel uncomfortable. If that doesn't sound like it adds up, that's because it doesn't. Most of the episode is buildup to the musical number, which in this episode means it's building up to the Cutie Mark Crusaders embarrassing themselves. It's a foregone conclusion because the episode makes sure to point it out every step of the way. This isn't helped by the fact that the episode is not funny. Perhaps some of this would be tolerable if there was something funny about this scenario, but there's not much beyond embarrassing the CMC, and there just isn't much entertainment value in that.
7. Boast Busters
written by Chris Savino
Unlike some, I can see what "Boast Busters" is shooting for. It wants to create an antagonist on a smaller scale. Unfortunately, you actually need to create a reason for this antagonist to be a bad guy aside from them being generally obnoxious. Sure, they succeeded in making Trixie unlikable, but she's never quite evil enough to actually fill the "villain" role that the episode is written around, and though the boasting is obnoxious enough to make us dislike her, she never does something quite wrong enough to fit the role the episode's trying to give her. As a result, it's much harder to actually root for the Mane Six showing her up when she doesn't do much wrong, Conversely, Twilight's internal conflict doesn't work because it's hard to see how she'd think that merely using her magic would cause the same reaction that Trixie's boasting would, and this same conflict isn't particularly compelling as a result, leaving us with an episode that fails to accomplish the goals it sets out for itself. It's also really annoying, because as said, Trixie's annoying enough for us to dislike her, but not reprehensible enough for us to actually care, so we're just left with her being annoying for large chunks of the episode. What's the fun in that?
6. Twilight Time
written by Dave Polsky
Speaking of having a hard time caring about an episode, I think there's no episode which exemplifies that more than "Twilight Time", which I find difficult to watch. A large bulk of the episode is devoted to the Cutie Mark Crusaders being borderline villain protagonists, with the main problem being a consequence of their own shallow, petty actions. The episode takes far too long to have them turn around, so by the time they actually do turn around, we don't care. I mean, who are we supposed to latch on to here? Twilight? She's barely in it! The Cutie Mark Crusaders? They caused their own problem! They're the bad guys, and not even interesting bad guys at that! Diamond Tiara? Yeah, no. Some of the episode's moments are actually pretty funny, which makes it all the more frustrating that it's so draining to watch. Part of that might be because nothing happens until the Crusaders finally realize they've done something wrong, so even though one of the season's best moments is in the bit between them deciding to exploit Twilight's new status and them realizing what they did wrong, you might as well just watch that on YouTube. In the end, Twilight ultimately has to deal with the mess that the CMC inflicted upon her, so it's kinda hard to feel much sympathy for them. So, in the end, what exactly is there to get out of this episode as a result?
5. Somepony to Watch Over Me
written by Scott Sonneborn
What happened to S4? It started off so promising, then it just went downhill with episode after episode that showed no idea what to actually do with the characters. The best episodes were the ones where the characters were merely stagnant and had to reaffirm their positive attributes. And then, on the other hand, you get garbage like "Somepony to Watch Over Me", which advances a grand total of nothing and can't even be bothered to get the character right. The main defence of Applejack's characterization here is by bringing up the theory about her dead parents, but even with that in mind, we've known Applejack as a down-to-earth pony, which she's anything but here. Even in her crazier moments, she's nutty in a crounded, earthy way, but "Somepony to Watch Over Me" decides to plunge her into the depths of exaggerated goofiness, and it's intolerable. If the episode actually explored a proper point behind Applejack's nuttiness, and more importantly used some restraint, maybe it'd be tolerable, but it seems they decided to make her go completely insane for the sake of their unfunny jokes. Sure, the Chimera battle is nice, but it's undermined by all that you have to go through in order to get to it, as well as the fact that it only seems to exist for reasons of plot. Moreover though, the episode just doesn't comprehend the balance of subtlety and ridiculousness that makes goofy comedy work, and as a result is just annoying almost from start to finish. What puts this over the top, though, is that this episode continues the trend of writers having no idea what to do with Applejack. To date, the only episode to come even close to getting a grip on what to do with Applejack is the excellent "The Last Roundup". "Somepony to Watch Over Me", meanwhile, isn't even looking in the same direction.
4. Look Before You Sleep
written by Charlotte Fullerton
You know what else writers struggle to get right? The dynamic between Applejack and Rarity. We've already talked about "Simple Ways", and "Look Before You Sleep" is far, far more painful to sit through. For contrast, "Trade Ya!" manages to do a pretty solid job of bouncing Applejack and Rarity off of each other by doing basically the exact opposite of what "Look Before You Sleep" does. The main weapon in this episode's arsenal is petty banter. Really, really petty banter about nothing, really, and it asks us to endure two ponies shouting at each other needlessly for the entire episode. Were this an episode about the two ponies learning to respect each other's differences, it would have been one of S1's best episodes. Instead, here they don't even appear to be friends until near the end. Under the endless waves of petty dialogue, it can be easy to overlook the fact that Twilight isn't written well here either. That she even wants a slumber party in the first place is out-of-character without any further explanation given to it, and her apparent blindness to what's going on right in front of her is annoying. Still, it's not as annoying as watching Applejack and Rarity squabble endlessly, which is just about all the episode really consists of. And who wants to watch that?
3. Games Ponies Play
written by Dave Polsky
If there's one episode that I'd say doesn't get nearly enough hate thrown its way, it'd be this one. This episode was the latter half of an experiment the show did in S3 where two episodes took place concurrently, but "Games Ponies Play" is so awful that it's a wonder it was passed at all. This episode had a fair bit on its shoulders: It was supposed to set up the Equestria Games, an event that finally came to fruition in the unpopular episode of the same name. It's hard to be disappointed with that episode, though, when they've been wasting the Games from the very start. "Games Ponies Play" is about a misunderstanding, and not an interesting misunderstanding, the type of misunderstanding that only happens due to terrible writing. If anyone had mentioned any detail about Ms. Harshwhinny and her visit aside from the pattern of her suitcase, this episode would have been over before it started. Why are they picking out a pony by their suitcase, anyway? Of course two suitcases could look the same! This wouldn't even be so bad if such a plot weren't so damn derivative. This setup is the territory of the creatively bankrupt, and it's easily one of the laziest episodes of the entire show, if not the laziest. I don't want to pick on Dave Polsky. He's written several genuinely good episodes, but this? Dave, you could've written this in your sleep. This is beneath you.
2. Magical Mystery Cure
written by M.A. Larson
I don't want to repeat myself regarding this episode. I've been outspoken about my dislike of it, and and I don't think I need to say anything more. Instead, let me tell you why I put it so high. I actually think there's more good about it than "Games Ponies Play" or "Look Before You Sleep". However, there's not a one episode, not even my #1, that makes me quite so angry as this one. I hate it. I really, really hate it. Part of this is because it's a season finale. This is the note that S3 decided to leave us with, so we couldn't just ignore it in favour of what came after. This causes S3 to leave a bad taste in my mouth, and this was the episode that stuck out during the S3-S4 hiatus. I think the bigger thing, though, is that this episode has a lasting effect on the rest of the show. It went through a huge change, and it failed to justify itself. I don't mind Twilight being a princess, especially because it had little effect on S4, and even moreso because the writers managed to re-align it with the show in that season. What I do mind, however, is it coming from an episode that made changes without properly justifying them. Twilight is my favourite character, but she's not the sole main character in the show, and hasn't been since as early as late S1. An episode which sees fit to just ignore the development of a show's structure deserves nothing more than my scorn. I think there's good things to be found in this episode, but I can't separate that from the bad taste it leaves in my mouth and the sheer anger that it makes me feel. That's why it's at #2.
1. The Mysterious Mare-Do-Well
written by Merriwether Williams
Some people say that The Mysterious Mare-Do-Well doesn't deserve all the hate it gets. I am not one of those people. Merriwether Williams isn't a very good writer to begin with, only truly succeeding with "Wonderbolts Academy" and "Dragon Quest", but nowhere is she worse than in her debut. "The Mysterious Mare-Do-Well" is an episode that consists mainly of shaming Rainbow Dash, acting hypocritical about it, and not being funny. Rainbow Dash's worst characteristics are exaggerated here, to the point that it verges on out-of-character. If there's any point to be made here, it's lost in scene after scene humiliating Rainbow, and killed when her friends engage in the same kind of bragging about their accomplishments - right in front of Rainbow's face. If that's meant to be a hint to Mare-Do-Well's identity, it's the worst possible way to do that. The episode's structure is so choppy that it might as well just be a clip show of Rainbow Dash humiliation, and it doesn't even try to approach its various opportunities for depth. Is it funny? Not even close. Does it develop the characters in any way? Not a bit. Does it even have a good moral? Not really, because whatever was being said was lost somewhere in the sheer awfulness of the episode. If the worst episode is the one with the least good about it, then that has to be this one. It's not necessarily my most despised episode (though I do hate it), but it the single worst episode that this show has to offer.
Why do we dwell on the bad of the show? Well, there's two reasons for it. First, we look at the bad so the show can improve and improve from these faults. Second, catharsis. Frankly, after what these episodes put me through, I'm happy to take the opportunity to hit them back. And third, we look at what's done wrong so we can appreciate what's done right. With S5 right around the corner, this is a perfectly opportune time to look back at my least favourite points of the show so far. Maybe S5 will change the list a bit, maybe it'll be the strongest season yet and not produce a single contender. Only time will tell. Until that season airs, we have the other four seasons to look back upon. And in looking back, it's episodes that these-that is, episodes which inspire anger and hatred-which are arguably some of the best to look back upon, because they inspire the most heated discussion. In any case, here's hoping that S5 is great.