Saturday, 6 May 2017

Episode review: "Forever Filly"

My Little Pony will probably survive season 7, but I might not. This is the third episode in a row which I haven't had much fun with, and the second in a row which appears to have placed character consistency and narrative focus above any sort of personality or humour. "Forever Filly" is much like season 6's "The Cart Before the Ponies," not only in how it focuses on how adults treat children, but also because it grafts a specific archetype onto a preexisting character to the point of overpowering what makes that character endearing in the first place. But whereas "The Cart Before the Ponies" at least had a little bit of structural messiness, "Forever Filly" doesn't contain a single beat which isn't in direct service of its story, which would be admirable if it didn't have the side effect of straining out almost any entertainment the episode could have offered. 

Near the end of her preparations for the upcoming Canterlot fashion season, Rarity begins to miss Sweetie Belle, whom she hasn't spent much quality time with in a long while. When Sassy Saddles agrees to handle the last leg of preparations for her, she gladly returns to Ponyville, where she finds Sweetie Belle in the midst of solving a cutie mark problem involving Zipoorwhill and her dog. However, once Rarity and Sweetie Belle actually start spending the day together, the former keeps trying to recreate things which she remembered Sweetie enjoying from some time ago, which are largely things which Sweetie has grown out of. 

Not unlike "The Cart Before the Ponies," that's a solid moral, and "Forever Filly" one-ups the earlier episode by having it resonate through every scene. When Rarity treats Sweetie to miniature cupcakes, Sweetie wishes for bigger ones. When she takes Sweetie to a puppet show, she's clearly happy for the time spent with her sister, but Sweetie states she prefers avant-garde theatre now. The episode's hardly subtle, but it at least attempts to link Rarity's deeds to good intentions, and the moral itself does relate to something which is very real and very relatable. When people spend time away from those they love, they can get stuck on their own memories of those loved ones and miss the changes which occurred while they were gone. Furthermore, this is the sixth episode in a row which is to some extent about a failure to communicate, which is interesting even though it's not part of the eventual moral. 

But that's not enough, dammit. This is the exact kind of simple, moral-driven story which brought down season 6, except with a greater feeling of sterility. At the start, we don't even get a sense for how long it's been since Rarity has last seen Sweetie Belle, and we only learn about what Sweetie used to enjoy when Rarity attempts to recreate it, and that speaks to how much Rarity's personality has been simplified here. Specific mannerisms are caught perfectly, and this doesn't feel entirely unlike something she'd be worried about, but any sensitivity she had in the past is absent, as she never even slightly picks up on Sweetie's body language or her apparently changed interests. She's not significantly less self-absorbed than she was in "The Cart Before the Ponies," and yet the episode doesn't even contain a moral about that. She doesn't even learn the lesson until someone else says it aloud. 

And that's a problem, because Rarity has the main character arc here, but there's no organic feeling of growth. At no point does she question herself, and she never once appears to consider what Sweetie Belle is feeling, and when Sweetie Belle finally does open up to her, she expresses indignation over it. The episode never deviates from the expected script, and to make matters worse, the subplot involving Zipoorwhill's dog exists only to complement the main plot with Rarity and Sweetie Belle. As it turns out, the dog wasn't responding to Zippoorwhill because she was treating it like a puppy despite it being fully grown, and this is so obviously intended to parallel Rarity's own actions that it borders on superfluous. There's no room for idiosyncrasy here, and the single-minded focus of every beat here simply feels cold and calculated. 

Making matters worse, the calculated plotting also leaves little room for jokes, which are invariably weak visual gags or directly related to Rarity's attitude. There's nothing innately funny about the premise, and so not only does the lack of variety rapidly become boring, what jokes are there are rarely all that amusing to begin with. As a result, more pressure is put on the story itself to pick up the slack, but again, it's hard to really sympathize with Rarity without any idea how long she's been away from Sweetie Belle or why, and her lack of sensitivity to Sweetie's obvious disinterest makes it even worse. On top of that, the main conflict doesn't begin until almost 10 minutes into the 22-minute episode, and all the time previous to that gives us no hint of backstory beyond the most basic details. 

Sweetie is fine here, but not a whole lot of time is spent expanding on her interests. Not unlike Rarity, she's effectively a cipher for the moral, and while her eventual outburst is satisfying, it's hurt somewhat by the nagging feeling that Rarity ought to have picked up on that already, and she's picked up a vague hint of a leadership role in the Cutie Mark Crusaders which is entirely new to this episode. For the most part, the story sympathizes with her perspective, but while that contributes to the moral working as well as it does, there isn't much to Sweetie's characterization here beyond her dissatisfaction with how Rarity is treating her, and while she's not nearly as tiresome as Rarity is here, she doesn't do much to compensate. 

At this rate, season 7 is shaping up to be my least favourite so far, and while I can respect this episode more due to its strong moral, I can't help but wish for something funnier, more energetic, or at least less calculated. "Forever Filly" takes a solid, potentially emotional premise, and focuses so much on the moral that the end result just becomes dull and emotionally unengaging. It still has a strong moral, which is something this season has excelled at, but it shouldn't be so hard to have a worthwhile lesson on top of funny jokes and a fast-paced story. I watch this show to have fun, so I shouldn't be so consistently exhausted by it. Most of all, I just wish this show would allow itself to have some idiosyncrasy again. I can take a predictable story if there's at least some quirky scenes, just... give me something. 

Entertainment: 3/10
Characters: 4/10
Themes: 8/10
Story: 4/10
Overall: 48/100

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