Sunday, 22 November 2015

Returning to "Tanks for the Memories"

"Tanks for the Memories" is the archetypical example of an episode which I like less and less the more I think about it.

I do want to like "Tanks for the Memories," perhaps more than any other episode this season. It has a strong depiction of grief from Rainbow Dash, and seeing her care so much about Tank does reflect her significant character development. And yet, the emotional connection isn't there, and that is ultimately the fault of the abysmally low stakes and ultimate lack of depth. Tank is hibernating for the winter, and Rainbow Dash is sad about it. If this more directly hinted at anything deeper with Rainbow Dash, my feelings on this episode would be very different, but attributing the grief entirely to a fear of Tank's absence makes it hard to feel sympathy when Rainbow goes to extreme lengths to prevent his hibernation.

As many have noticed, the episode is structured around the five stages of grief. It starts with denial, where Rainbow insists that Tank can't be hibernating, and actively lashes out at Fluttershy and Spike because of it. I admire how this lashing out creates a transition between denial and anger, but it also makes Rainbow difficult to sympathize with early on. I don't consider a natural and temporary absence of a pet to be an acceptable reason to act as Rainbow does, and if anything, the fact that she hadn't understood that Tank will hibernate previously suggests an irresponsible lack of research into how to take care of a tortoise. It's her own fault that she wasn't ready for this. In her anger, she gives the most blatantly weird facial expression of the entire season. I question the show's current love of strange faces, and while I'm relieved that it's toned it down lately, this episode contains some of the most prominent of them, and they're distractingly strange.

Rainbow's anger soon leads to an intriguing take on the bargaining phase. Instead of, say, pleading with Fluttershy to make Tank's hibernation stop, she makes some big efforts to stop winter. Eventually, this leads to her sabotaging a snowflake factory in Cloudsdale, which, again, is hard to see as a proportionate reaction. While a lot of the right elements are there for the episode to be properly emotional, in particular the execution of Rainbow's grief, I find her reaction to be overblown. It's not hard to see how this event would cause someone to be sad, and the dialogue, script, and animation are all highly imbued with emotion. But when it's hard to care, what does any of that matter? Around this point, hijinks start to ensue a little, though they don't consume the episode quite as much as I had stated previously. The humour in this episode is actually rather solid, including an enjoyable iteration of the classic "Who's on first?" routine. It's certainly there throughout, but it's clear that the focus is supposed to be on emotion, and unfortunately that falls flat.

In the process of Rainbow trying to stop winter, she finally gets a solo song, and although I'm not gonna become any more popular for this, I have to admit, I don't really like it. It's more adventurous than "Make This Castle A Home," but its soaring crescendos don't have the same impact and it suffers from the same lack of emotional investment as the rest of the episode. Perhaps it would be easier to feel sad about Rainbow and Tank's temporary separation if the relationship between the two had been built up more over the past few seasons, but it's been decidedly minor since Tank's first appearance. There's no real investment built, so while it is a little sad, it's disproportionate to the amount of grief on display here.

The final two stages, depression and acceptance, are a bit more minor due to the relative smallness of what she's grieving, but at least the former stage does carry a tinge of realism. When Rainbow's plan to stop winter inevitably fails, her friends later find her laying listlessly in her bed. Again, I can't help but feel like this level of depression is disproportionate to what's actually happening, but I really do have to appreciate the touches of nuance and realism given to Rainbow's character here. I want to like the episode, but I don't connect with it. Fluttershy realizes that what Rainbow needs is to let her tears out, and decides to tell her that Tank isn't coming out. Rainbow breaks into tears, which after a while leads to Fluttershy also starting to cry, which begins a chain reaction that eventually leads Applejack and Twilight as the only ones not crying. Allegedly, Applejack "cries on the inside," but perhaps this only applies to sorrow, because it's repeatedly proven false in later episodes.

As for Twilight? She shows empathy for Rainbow Dash, but doesn't quite understand the extreme reactions that her friends are having. For all the strong emotive elements of the episode, it's this that is the most understandable to me. "Tanks for the Memories" is admirable for its craft but lacking in a real, solid emotional core to sustain it, and what's left over is nowhere near as enjoyable as it should be.

I will not be returning to "Appleoosa's Most Wanted."

No comments:

Post a Comment