Saturday, 11 July 2015

Episode review: Do Princesses Dream of Magic Sheep?

What was that?
After this week, there will be no new episodes of My Little Pony. Considering that, you'd think that they'd try to leave us with something special to keep our interest up. Instead, we get... this. Where to start with this? It's a strange episode. In fact, it's been a fairly strange season, and although this episode wears the mask of a strange, unexpected, fresh episode, it's actually deeply shallow and lazy. Where something like "Party Pooped" attempts to balance a handful of interesting ideas, "Do Princesses Dream of Magic Sheep?" opts for references and hollow action scenes. While it centres around the mane six, each of them is reduced to their simplest possible characterization. In one scene, Luna travels into the mane six's dreams, seeing them transformed into nightmares. These dreams are nothing more than shallow reflections of the characters based entirely on surface-level characterization, and reveal nothing deeper. After recent strides made towards developing these characters further, this is a huge step back.

In many ways, "Do Princesses Dream..." resembles a two-parter episode, with its massive scale and dangerous villain, but whereas most of those require two episodes to fully contain all that they have to offer, this episode attempts to do it all in 25 minutes. This results in a lot of problems, namely far too much exposition and a bunch of underdeveloped ideas. For the bulk of the episode, the monster of the week lacks context, having an apparent start in Luna's dream but not having it explained until the very end. When we do get the explanation, it's haphazard and rushed, and introduces severe emotional issues in Luna just for them to be skimmed over as something she can just "get over". I can't imagine anyone with, say, depression being very pleased with that. Most of the backstory, and even some of the linear plot, is revealed through the characters telling us, which violates the most important rule of a visual medium. On just about every level, this is an episode that might have worked better were it given a lot more space to breathe.

However, that still wouldn't change the copious number of references contained in the episode, which only get more and more gratuitous as it goes on. As has been shown in episodes like "Bloom and Gloom," the lack of logic contained in a dream world allows for a lot of creative things to happen. But where everything in "Bloom and Gloom" was in service of that episode's lofty ambitions, "Do Princesses Dream..." uses it as an excuse to thrown in gratuitous references. For some, this may sound like "Slice of Life", but that episode was fine-tuned to get the greatest mileage out of each reference. In comparison, "Do Princesses Dream..." comes across as slipshod, just throwing a reference out there and not actually doing much clever with it. The character recently named Muffins makes several non-speaking appearances in the episode, and to be honest, it did kinda feel pandering.

It's not just fandom references, either. Several one-time things from previous episodes resurface, such as Spike's fantasy version of himself and Flutterbat. If nothing else, at least the target audience will understand these call-backs, but by and large it feels pandering. This is probably because the aforementioned lack of context and rushed plot make the action scenes feel hollow, as any emotional connection to what's going on comes from being a fan of the series in the first place. In addition, the nature of this episode's monster of the week means that a lot of the action that happens doesn't actually have much of an impact, further preventing the action scenes from being properly satisfying.

I think some of the episode's ideas might have worked had it been given more space, but in execution it's simply a mess. Without proper development of its ideas, it just becomes action for the sake of action, seeming too focused on pandering fandom references and reaching the heights of some of the two-parters to actually care much about characterization or real depth. There's eventually an attempt, but 25 minutes is not the space to make this work. A lot of the spectacle is hollow, the plot is rushed and poorly delivered, and having what might have been a big deal for a notable side character be resolved so haphazardly is borderline offensive. Here's the thing: Being two parts would not have saved this episode. It needed to get rid of the shallow references, and put a lot more care into its characterization. Somewhere deep in here is the kernel of a good episode, but everything surrounding it is awful.

Princess Big Mac. I don't even.

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