Saturday, 7 November 2015

Episode review: "What About Discord?"

Season 5 episode 22
What a strange, awkward episode.

This is Neal Dusedau's second episode, and considering this and his previous episode, "Princess Spike," he's proven himself to be completely incapable of decent writing. "What About Discord?" eschews the blandness of "Princess Spike" in favour of a more surreal tone, but some of the same issues carry over. The pacing is a complete mess, and the characterization is somewhat questionable. This episode is more entertaining than "Princess Spike," but at the same time almost everything it does feels forced. Again, there's a few things that prove pretty funny, but it all rings false. What the hell happened here?

In this episode, Twilight goes outside after an intense weekend of organizing. She then discovers that her friends and Discord had a surprisingly good weekend without her. This leads her to become jealous, feeling like she was left out. Here's where things go off the rails: For whatever reason, Twilight thinks that, just because she's the Princess of Friendship, that she can't feel jealous. To this end, she convinces herself that she must have missed something important, and eventually comes to believe that Discord has put her friends under a spell. If this is supposed to be her hiding her jealousy, it's exaggerated beyond the point of believability or even sympathy. It's clear that her ability to deal with stress hasn't even slightly improved since season 2, and I honestly fear that this could be dangerous to Equestria in the long run. That is, if this characterization ever appears again, which it probably won't, because every other writer on this show knows better, and because Dusedau likes to switch up how he ruins Twilight as a character.

Considering that Twilight wound up extending a hand of friendship to him in the season 5 finale, it's slightly questionable that she's so mistrustful of him. However, it would be more questionable if the episode weren't so awkward and unnatural, with the mane six choosing to tell Twilight their in-jokes for no discernible reason. There's something vaguely unsettling about the way they act here, and if that's the intention, then good job, but nothing else is coherent, so it doesn't matter. The fact is, Discord actually is up to something nefarious, and though it's not placing her friends under a spell like Twilight thought, he's still actively rubbing her face in her exclusion, and is responsible for Twilight not being invited in the first place. Clearly, Discord is making such progress with friendship! Discord is and always will be a jerk, and while here it's still often amusing, it's incredibly frustrating to see him regressing as a character.

However, it's hard to tell what the main source of humour is supposed to be. I believe that a lot of what I laughed at were at things which weren't intended as jokes, particularly the various unnatural elements of this episode. The vast majority of jokes are either blatant pop culture references or reiterations of the joke which Twilight-and by extension, the audience-weren't let in on. So there's jokes, but they're not at all funny. One bizarrely timely reference showed Discord as Bob Ross, which coincides so closely with Twitch's Bob Ross stream that I honestly wonder how recently this episode was written and animated. If it were scripted in a weekend, I wouldn't be surprised.

The ultimate lesson is meant to say something about how it's okay to be jealous, but there's so many better ways to do that. Who, exactly, is meant to be in the wrong here is confusing, because while Twilight went way over-the-top in her concerns, the episode DID seem tailor-made to shame her, almost The Mysterious Mare-Do-Well-style, only without any actual contempt for the main character. And yet, she was partially in the right all along, considering that Discord was actively working to antagonize her. So Twilight is wrong for not accepting her jealousy, but this would never have happened if Discord hadn't actively antagonized them. The very end of the episode shows the mane six and Discord just deciding to make up, despite Discord lapsing back into not caring about others. What could have been an episode with something important to say about jealousy turns into an episode where Discord harasses Twilight and doesn't learn anything. Fun!

What a mess.

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