Saturday, 1 October 2016

Episode review: "Pony Point of View"

What happened to this season? Its first half was so consistently strong, where even its modest episodes had at least the feeling that the show was moving forward. And yet, after the hiatus, it's as if every other episode has to be simple, unadventurous, and lightly bend the characters to fit its morals. Since last week's episode was complex and risky, it's of course time for perhaps the most irritatingly stale episode yet. You know the drill: take an extremely predictable premise and follow it through without deviation, leading up to a moral which is slightly different from expected but no more adventurous. Only, this one has the unique benefit of making its main characters look bad without even trying to justify it, and tacks a particularly terrible ending on. Would it kill this show to finally get some quality control?

See if you can follow this plotline without falling asleep: Applejack, Rarity, and Pinkie Pie go on a sailing trip, each with different plans for it. When they return, they'd sunk the ship and are at complete odds with each other, all with conflicting versions of what happened. Twilight is determined to hold her friends' friendship together and to get to the bottom of what happened.

If you could read that without your eyes glazing over, then you're probably assuming there's a twist to it. But there isn't - that hackneyed storyline is played entirely straight. These are some of the most difficult episodes to write about, because I always tend to focus on small elements which worked or didn't work because the bulk of the episode is so safe and the plot brings absolutely nothing surprising to the table. It's exactly what you'd expect, and as the fifth such episode in this half of the season, it's become particularly difficult to brush them off as filler between the stronger episodes.

Thankfully, this one at least has a certain level of eccentricity which makes it mostly watchable even though it also makes the episode seem particularly desperate to hide its lack of ideas. Each of the three stories reveals that each of the friends wanted to set up an adventure for the other two which takes them out of their comfort zones, and as such each of them act quirkily in the flashbacks. My favourite is the utterly surreal sight of Applejack putting on a pirate impression, which neither Rarity nor Pinkie can make any sense of, but also entertaining is Rarity's entourage of ponies to set up her perfect cruise experience. Pinkie doesn't do anything particularly out of place, but she's Pinkie, so she's silly enough as is.

Rarity's version of the story, which starts the episode off, is delightful, featuring an exaggerated caricature of Applejack's pirate impression which comes completely out of nowhere. Most of Rarity's story really reflects worse on her and her point of view than on anyone else, as while the episode doesn't lean as heavily into the drama queen side of her personality as the latest Equestria Girls, they've still made a disappointing resurgence. Pinkie's side is sort of strange but mostly coherent, with the vague feeling that she's actively embellishing the story. Applejack's pirate accent is even funnier here, as it's much more awkward and plausible, which confirms that it wasn't just something Rarity made up.

However, this is also where the episode's most inspired elements peter out a bit, partially because most of the exaggeration in Pinkie's story is much more subtle. Applejack's initially doesn't resort to much hyperbole at all, and it seems like it'll get to the heart of what happens, but eventually she too starts condescending towards her friends, who she blames for the mistake. All three stories view the other two through a hyperbolic lens which exaggerates their worst traits, and recognizing this really makes the teller look bad. Aren't these ponies supposed to be longtime friends? The episode makes a brief reference to that at the end, but while long-held friendships can still run into issues, the three of them act in ways that gives no indication that they've really gotten to know each other.  It's like a season 1 episode, except season 1 never felt this redundant, and mining these three characters' differing personalities for conflict feels supremely lazy at this point.

There's no real surprise moral this time around - it's an especially rote moral about keeping open communication which, and I hate to keep saying this, feels like something these characters should know already. The aforementioned reference to these characters' long-held friendship feels more like the show trying to justify itself than a particularly strong moral, and the whole idea of the three trying to take each other out of their comfort zones never really informs the morals. Applejack and Rarity earlier mention that they don't want to talk to each other or Pinkie "right now," and that wording makes me think that there could have been a much more interesting moral about needing to let emotions blow over after conflict. Unfortunately, the episode goes with the least creative option.

All of that is irritating, but what really sinks this episode for me is Twilight's role in the whole deal. I'm sure nobody wants to hear me complain about Twilight being uninteresting anymore, but she's prominent all throughout the episode, and her role ultimately amounts to being there to fix her friends' problems. To me, this epitomizes the trend of the writers making Twilight seem infallible, and contrasting that with her friends appearing particularly petty gives the feeling that the writers feel the need to put her on a pedestal. The second half of season 5 was starting to improve with that, and "No Second Prances" even dared to make her outright unsympathetic, even if it did amount to nothing. Having Twilight be the moral voice of reason strikes me as a deeply aggravating waste of a character, the fact that this has been the direction of her character for the majority of the past four seasons makes it all the more infuriating.

Also irritating to me is the actual cause of the ship capsizing, which is that a friendly sea monster was attracted by a cucumber sandwich thrown overboard. So Applejack, Rarity, and Pinkie Pie were arguing over nothing all along, and while that's probably the point, it also makes the whole episode kinda unsatisfying, and feels like it weakens the moral to be about little other than three ponies who are supposed to be close friends acting condescendingly towards each other. Less annoying is the sea monster's design, which is cute as a button to the point that I'll be surprised if it weren't specifically designed to sell toys. I might be overthinking this, but I feel it's a little condescending to the target audience.

It's utterly bizarre to me that the Fox brothers, who wrote this episode, would rely on such an easy source of conflict for the second time in a row, after they so successfully sketched out Rarity and Pinkie Pie's friendship in "The Gift of the Maud Pie." That was an episode which took a familiar story and immersed it into the show's world and characters. That episode did so many things to indicate a promising future for the show, while "Pony Point of View" implies nothing so much as a show which is completely and utterly out of ideas. While this is probably the worst example of such a simple and redundant story in this show, it's far from the only one this half of the season has offered up, and it's a problem which is becoming harder and harder to ignore.

Six seasons in, I should be used to this show being so uneven, but the show should at least have the grace to not make its mediocre filler so obvious and stale.

Entertainment: 6/10
Character: 4/10
Theme: 4/10
Story: 3/10
Overall: 43/100

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