Saturday, 20 June 2015

Episode review: Princess Spike

I wasn't expecting this week's episode to be as strange and exciting as last week's, but I was at least expecting it to try to be something. 

Season 5 has largely been a flawed season, but even in its worst episodes it felt like it was trying to do different things, even if it wasn't succeeding. Last week, we got the breath of fresh air that this show has so desperately needed. This week, we've been given nothing. "Princess Spike" isn't the most unpleasant episode of the season so far, but it's the one that seems to be made with the least effort. Not only does it move the show forward in absolutely no way whatsoever, it's also one of the more lazily written episodes.

In general, this isn't exactly a new plotline. Most of Spike's episodes tend to revolve around him causing the conflict, but the difference here is that he doesn't learn anything from it. Spike attempting to bite off more than he can chew and causing a mess as a result is basically the plot of "Just for Sidekicks", and Spike letting his greed get to him was explored much more entertainingly in "Secret of My Excess". The thing is, those episodes had a consistent plotline that built up to a point. "Princess Spike" doesn't. If Spike hasn't gotten the memo about not letting his greed get to him yet, then we still don't need to see him learn it again. The thing is, that conflict doesn't even arise until more than halfway through the episode, when it's suggested to Spike that he could be abusing his power. It doesn't occur to him beforehand, and he's suddenly getting people to serve him gem muffins almost immediately afterwards. That isn't a plot, that's an excuse for things to happen.

The actual main conflict of this episode arises almost entirely from Spike just getting in way over his head, which might be compelling if we were given any reason to care or even given a reasonable alternative. The episode is a no win situation, and as a result it's, again, just an excuse for things to happen. I mean, all the guests want Twilight, but Twilight needs her rest, and if Cadance can't look after her, then she certainly can't run the summit. There's no real arc for Spike, nothing especially interesting going on in the background, very little tension, not much humour, and no real point to anything. Even the plot of someone trying to take care of an event and both messing things up and abusing their power is an incredibly generic one. This could be from any cartoon.

What I discovered about the writing of this episode is that the directors made the story and then got a Johnny Test alumni to write the script. The general lack of any story can probably be blamed on the fact that the directors are definitively NOT storytellers, but the script itself makes no real effort to spice it up anyways, and to be honest it's mostly the presentation and the setting that make this even seem like an episode that could only exist in MLP. In fact, there's points that resemble one of those episodes from other cartoons where the universe randomly decides it hates a character for a day, and we see that character get undeservedly tortured, but even that is half-hearted and limp.

If I had an actual reaction to anything, it's how Twilight is characterized in this episode-or, more accurately, how she's not. With Twilight having been increasingly pushed off to the sidelines since she became a princess, she's slowly become more and more bland until it seems her only defining character trait is being a princess, and not even a stereotypical one. She had three episodes in season 4, but all three were focused in some way on her being the princess, and it's really a shame that the show isn't letting her be anything else, because it's stifling what made her interesting in the previous seasons.

Just like "Twilight Time", "Princess Spike" has a bunch of ponies suddenly obsessed with her because she's a princess, and worse, they have some sort of 'the princess is always right' idea that is... kinda uncomfortable. Of course, the ponies' love and worship of their princesses had been clear since the beginning, but now that a main character is in the middle of it, it becomes clear that this doesn't really allow the princesses to be, y'know, people. Contrast this with how the mane six were reacted to in the previous episode, and you can clearly see that one allows for much more interesting character reactions than the other.

But hey, at least Cadance gets some screen time, even if she doesn't serve much purpose aside from driving the plot and spelling out the story for us. That's something of a plus, and not only because I happen to like Cadance a lot. Any time spent developing side characters is a refreshing change of pace.

However, it doesn't salvage this episode from being completely boring. There's just so little here, and it really just punctuates how stagnant the show has become. Did the writers just run out of ideas? What's the excuse for such a non-event of an episode to slip through? My Little Pony has been boring before, but never has an episode had so little reason to exist. It's not the worst episode this season, but it's the one most likely to be forgotten, and for a show so desperately in need of something to shake it up, that's really a shame.

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