Saturday, 27 June 2015

Episode review: Party Pooped

Wait, what? What?!

On the grand list of "weird MLP episodes", "Part Pooped" is in the top three. Honestly, though, I think that's sorta what the show needed. 2/3 episodes since the mini-hiatus have been incredibly strange, and it runs directly counter to the continuing stagnation of the show. Is it at an end? Are things gonna be different now? Well, we can't know for sure, but I can at least try to parse through this one. 

The first thing we see in this episode is an incredibly nervous Twilight Sparkle, now with just enough stress management skill that she's not a threat to Ponyville... at least, not directly. That stress proves contagious, as her friends all have moments of panic, most notably Pinkie Pie, who's even more stressed out than Twilight. There's something about all of the main characters barely holding themselves together that got my attention. For one thing, having the characters we care about so on edge creates a tense atmosphere, one that's maintained throughout the episode despite the high density of laughs and the utter strangeness of it all. The other thing is that it brings up the idea that Twilight may not be prepared for the level of power that she stumbled into. I'm not sure how much the show's gonna explore this, but I really hope it does. 

Twilight and friends are engaging in diplomacy with a new culture, the yaks. Other episodes this season, such as "The Lost Treasure of Griffonstone", could be said to have a diplomatic angle, but this is perhaps the first episode this season to explicitly focus on diplomacy. For a show like My Little Pony, that is unexpected. The yaks are a relatively simplistic, brutish culture that smashes things when they're said to be imperfect, Now, this is sort of a stock fantasy culture, but the yaks actually have a small twist: They're apparently perfectionists of a sort, or at least very picky when they're promised something like at home. It's a very odd idea, somewhere between childlike characterization and a lesson about promises. It leads into the moral, which is an interesting one about how to be inviting. I'd argue it's one of the show's better lessons by way of not being obvious to anyone outside of the target audience. 

It's not entirely clear what Twilight's responsibilities are, though forming a friendship pact with the yaks seems like it might provide a little insight, as she is the princess of friendship. However, I'm curious about the fact that the yaks seem to be happy to negotiate with her instead of a more experienced princess. Really, this question brings up a lot of questions which I don't think the show intends to answer, and I wonder if that's a sign of the franchise growing too bloated for its own good. In the short term, it provides interesting jumping off points for fan fiction, and only increases the strangeness of the episode. 

As a Pinkie episode, it's no surprise that this is one of the funniest episodes of the season, but I'd go as far as to call it one of the funniest of the entire series. All the bizarre things going on result in what's at least an exciting episode, and there's a lot of things that, if not clever, are at least strange enough to elicit a laugh. I mean... Twilight's afraid of quesadillas. How weird is that? It's an episode that thrives on the unexpected, and while I'm not sure that this sort of weirdness is sustainable, it's certainly a breath of fresh air. 

Less expected was the fantastic character work, which is some of the show's best in a LONG time. The characters are written very well, feeling straight out of season 2. We get a nice touching moment between Pinkie and her friends, which after such a weird episode was unexpected-though, I don't know what WAS expected. In any case, the most exciting thing about the character work is that it might just have actual character development. Not necessarily the sort that pushes forward character growth, but the kind of friends-learning-about-each-other stuff that the show's always been really good at. I honestly don't think we've had a character moment of this quality with the mane six for a while, and it's a really exciting development. 

"Party Pooped" is a strange episode, and in a show that I feel is starting to stagnate, that's a breath of fresh air. With its fast pace and unpredictability, this is an entertaining and exciting episode, and while it contains a lot of disparate ideas, it ties them together surprisingly well in the end. There's some great character work here, surprising ambition, and a lot of humour. I still hope that the show can show growth without just being weird, but in the meantime, we've got what I think is actually a really good episode. Alright, season 5, you've got my attention. Now, we wait and see what's next. 

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