Saturday, 11 April 2015
Episode review: Castle Sweet Castle
And here I was, thinking S5 would at least wait a little before bringing out the filler.
The hardest episodes to review are the ones that are simply boring. "Castle Sweet Castle" addresses something that people were concerned about since the end of the previous season, but it also spends a lot of time waffling without any clear direction. Now, to be honest, I probably wasn't gonna get too much out of this to begin with. I don't feel like an episode about Twilight needing to adjust to her castle is particularly necessary. However, there have been episodes in the past that I enjoyed despite not getting too much out of the premise: "Pinkie Apple Pie" is a good example. I did not enjoy "Castle Sweet Castle".
One of the biggest reasons for that are the jokes, which while present, are almost uniformly not funny. The show's humour often derives from its characters, but this episode only seems to have a shallow, surface-level understanding of them, and the jokes thus seem to expect that we'll find exaggerations of the characters' traits funny. Rarity talking about all her design motifs being her favourite is a very Tumblr-humour approach to the characters, but what it's not is actually funny. Meanwhile, Rainbow Dash is handled just as lazily as always, with jokes about her arrogance being prevalent. That's not the worst of it, though. The worst is the references. One joke has Bulk Biceps charge in and out of a building, smashing through the wall Kool-Aid Man style in the process. Bulk Biceps is a fan-favourite supporting character, having made a few appearances since his debut in the excellent "Hurricane Fluttershy", and his non-sequitur appearance elicits more of a groan than a chuckle.
To be fair, this episode has new writers on board. To be unfair, this is a BAD first impression for them to leave, especially in regards to humour. Over the past couple seasons, a lot of new writers have been brought in, and unfortunately, even the best of them aren't as good as the established writers. A big issue with S4, however was that episodes often felt like filler that didn't contribute a lot to the show. The weird thing is, that's not a problem with "Castle Sweet Castle". Instead, it suffers mainly from wasting a lot of time. One of the episode's deeper ideas-specifically, Twilight's discomfort-is out of the way almost immediately after the theme song, leaving several minutes for the ACTUAL main conflict: Twilight's friends offering to fix up her house a little, then apparently deciding whose house it is that they're designing. The episode would be half the length if these ponies used their brain cells, and quite possibly a quarter of it if that part of the episode wasn't dragged out for as long as it is with not-very-funny banter that comes across more like padding than anything.
This would be a nice place to focus on some depth for Twilight, but she's not really all that prominent in this episode. Her scenes are underwhelming and insubstantial, basically just serving to remind us that she exists. Around the end, we at least see she's gotten a little bit of her snark back, but it's too little too late by then. Back at the end of S4, I really dug the castle, and I still kinda do, but if the price to pay for that is watching Twilight awkwardly and kinda depressingly struggle to adapt to her new life, I dunno if it's worth it. Either these "Twilight is uncomfortable with everything related to being a princess" character beats need to reach a logical endpoint soon, or a lot more depth and emotion needs to be wrung out of it.
It's not like there's no strong ideas in here, though. It's just that they're delegated to the very start and the very end. I thought Twilight's own internal conflict was somewhat interesting, but it's honestly pretty underdeveloped after it's established that she's avoiding the castle. They really just drop it until the end, where they talk about what makes a place "home" being memories, which is the other interesting idea here. Worse, the in-between part doesn't really resonate with the primary concepts and themes of the episode, instead waffling aimlessly. For most of the time that Twilight's friends are trying to figure out what to do, the episode neglects to say much of anything or even have much point to half the dialogue. In a show where some episodes are overflowing with good ideas, an episode that pads out space between its two admittedly-strong core concepts is disappointing.
There's also a song. Last time, the song wasn't too enjoyable, but that was partially an intentional choice. According to Daniel Ingram, the inspiration for it was WWI propaganda music. For the new song in "Castle Sweet Castle", the inspiration is pretty clear: earlier MLP songs. Unfortunately, this new musical number is particularly forgettable, sounding more like a checklist than a composition. It has the swelling orchestras, the crescendos and the harmonies that MLP's music is often defined by, but compared to the various musical experiments of S4, it's disappointing. Even the slightly repetitive "Hearts as Strong as Horses" at least sounded different.
While I'll admit that there are some mature ideas at the core of "Castle Sweet Castle", those ideas aren't dealt with in nearly enough depth, and with a general lack of good humour and an aimless, overstretched plot, this is a dull continuation for the season. Let's hope for better next time.