Sunday, 3 January 2016

Returning to "Slice of Life"

It's time to set right what once went wrong.

My initial review of "Slice of Life" was hardly a review at all. At first, I had no idea what to make of it, and as such my review was merely an expression of bafflement. Since then, I've come to understand the episode much more: It's an exciting, inventive, and refreshingly original celebration of the show and its fans. It's fun, and it introduces more fresh new dynamics than any other episode of the season, providing endlessly fertile ground for new stories to be built on. Although it's primarily built around four pairs of characters, the episode is abuzz with new personalities which are effortlessly introduced and invariably engaging.

The first character we're introduced to is Muffins, formerly known as Derpy Hooves, the wall-eyed mailmare. She's endearingly clumsy and easily distracted, which is consistent with how the fandom often depicts her, but she's far less of a caricature here. She has a nice dynamic with a character simply identified as "Doc," who is written as Doc Brown from Back to the Future but has more often been identified with the Doctor from Doctor Who. He's clearly a scientist of a sort, and approaches mundane things like bowling mathematically. Alone, he's a fun presence, but his dynamic with Muffins is genuinely adorable. 

The core of the narrative, however, is the wedding of Cranky and Matilda, the two donkey characters introduced in "A Friend in Deed." The two discover that Muffins handed out the invitations with the wrong date, and hence they set off to ensure the wedding is perfect. While Cranky is bustling about, Matilda has a chat with Steven Magnet, the sea monster from the show's pilot, who instils in her a panic to ensure her wedding is perfect. However, he's just one of several less important characters who are given exciting roles and in some cases even personalities. Amethyst Star was once Ponyville's best wedding planner, the Big Lebowski ponies make a return, Princess Cadance and Shining Armour have a couple cute appearances, and we finally get the Princess Celestia/Princess Luna dynamic that the show has so desperately needed. 

Just as exciting a dynamic is that between Octavia Melody and Vinyl Scratch, two musicians whose styles couldn't be any different, and yet who share a mutual respect for each other's work. Their scenes are an intriguing and flashy depiction of artistic collaboration across two different genres, eventually culminating in the episode's biggest action sequence. Similarly to Muffins, their personalities (especially Vinyl's) are muted from their depiction in the fandom but clearly recognizable, and the episode continues Vinyl's silent mannerisms from the Equestria Girls: Rainbow Rocks film. 

The third duo is that of Lyra and Bon Bon, who bear the least resemblance to their personalities in the fanon consensus. In fact, almost nothing is derived from fan works here, except for a close friendship which is woefully insufficient in compensating for the disappointing removal of the romantic relationship often shown in the fandom. An opportunity for LGBT representation is instead an example of LGBT erasure in the show, and that's a shame. Still, there's a lot to appreciate in how these characters are depicted, especially Bon Bon's inventive turn as a secret agent operating under a code name. The backstory revealed about this agency is really compelling, and if there's any justice in this world it'll factor into season 6 somehow. The dynamic between the two is still great fun, especially with Lyra's reaction to the revelation of Bon Bon's true identity. 

More than anything, though, it's refreshing to have an episode which doesn't focus on one of the main characters, especially considering how often the show fails to progress said main characters in any meaningful capacity. Particularly compared to many other episodes in the season, "Slice of Life" feels fresh. It helps that it's jam-packed with funny, memorable lines, but even down to its conceit and its shift in focus, it's an episode which feels so much more new and exciting than nearly anything which aired before it in the season. It feels free to focus on new characters without chaining them to one of the main six or the Cutie Mark Crusaders, and because of that, it feels liberated. Most importantly, though, it just feels fun, and that's something which season 5 has struggled with more than any other season. "Slice of Life" feels like a breather from the season's various awkward attempts at depth, and does this without feeling formulaic. At this point in the show's lifespan, that feels remarkable. 

No comments:

Post a Comment