Monday, January 21, 2013

Episode Talk: S3E10, Keep Calm and Flutter On

Time to talk about the actual show for a change!  You know, that thing that the fanfiction I read is actually based on?  We had an episode that was... well, I've put a few thoughts below the break.  Suffice to say, the return of Discord inspired a lot of conversation (and no small amount of RAEG) around the fandom, and if there's one thing I like, it's opinions!

And inflicting them on others.  That part's fun, too.  Anyway, stuff below, full of spoilers, etc.

-Going into this episode, I had low expectations.  Unfortunately, the broad strokes of the episode mostly confirmed my fears.  The greatest weakness is the entire setup; when the previous canon (as in, Celestia's own words) is that Discord was the former ruler of Equestria who kept the ponies in "an eternal state of unrest and unhappiness," and whom she and her sister hoped to confine forever in a stone prison... how do you get from that point to "here Twilight, let Discord out and see if you and your friends can get him to play nice?"  The transition of Discord from "godlike (or at least, princess-like) force of elemental disharmony" to "minor nuisance and potential rehab project" is disappointing, in that it retroactively weakens the Return of Harmony episodes; apparently, Discord isn't such a big deal after all.

-The other major problem, of course, is the 180 Discord pulls at the end.  We all knew love and friendship were going to win out in the end, of course--one of the things I like about the show is the uncynical way it asserts that love and friendship do win in the end--but having the change of heart occur over the course of maybe fifteen seconds was beyond disappointing.  A lot of people have been willing to write this off as a necessary sacrifice for a show with a 22 minute run time, but as far as I'm concerned that's just an excuse.  If you can't tell your story well in 22 minutes, tell a different story.  Or make it a two-parter, or something.  I don't buy that because you ran out of time, it's okay to skip over a metric ton of characterization explanation.

-On the plus side, more beavers!  I still like beavers, I'm still glad they're in the show, and Beaverton arguing with Applejack was the highlight of the episode for me.  I would watch a MLP Holiday Special that was centered around the Beavertons.  No subtitles, of course; just a whole bunch of animated beavers churring and gesticulating without any context.  The main six could all make guest appearances!  The only problem is that Bea Arthur is dead, so someone else would have to play all the minor roles.  You might think I'm kidding, but I'm really not--I would love it, unironically.

-Another nice thing to see about this episode, and really about season 3 in general, is that the writers seem to have finally stopped regressing Fluttershy to a complete doormat every time she has a significant role in an episode.  She's learned to stand up for herself in half a dozen episodes or so; it's nice to see the lesson's finally starting to stick.

-That said, characterization was a big issue throughout the episode.  Even if we write off Discord's decision to stop being, well, discordant (and we shouldn't, but if we did...), the interplay between the main six is problematic at best.  Fluttershy's behavior echoes Celestia's nonchalance, reinforcing that Discord is a problem on the same level as Trixie or Gilda: a simple issue of errant behavior, eminently fixable.  So when the rest of the Element-bearers keep trying to lock him in his stone prison again at the drop of a hat, it comes off as barbaric and bloodthirsty.  Well, that or Celestia and Fluttershy come off as naive idiots--take your pick.  I'm inclined to the former, though, if only because they're vindicated in the end.

-When Discord wasn't busy frustrating me with his changing characterization, I did enjoy the visual gags he brought to the episode.  Well, except for the fourth-wall joke.  But the casual violation of reality, from the eye-rolling to the spinning house and beyond, which he brought to the show was welcome.

-In all, this is probably the most disappointing episode of the show to date.  Not the worst--I'm not even sure it's in my bottom five (I really should sit down and rank the episodes someday)--but probably the episode which I felt did the least with the most.  Discord is an entertaining, dynamic villain, and the fact that even with him (and beavers!) to anchor the show, it was more frustrating than entertaining to watch, is extremely discouraging.  There were some nice jokes through the middle, but characterization was a muddle, canon was violated and re-written willy-nilly, and the logic binding the plot and character actions was at times impossible to follow.

Oh, well.  I'll just have to hope that next week's episode is more to my taste, I guess.


  1. Overall, I think the episode was decent on its own merits, but still a mistake overall. I'm not saying it's impossible to reform Discord (and indeed, the episode implies at the end that he hasn't totally changed; he's just moving away from Chaotic Evil a bit), but they needed more time and a tighter script to pull it off. While there were a few hints towards him becoming better during the dinner party (his reaction to Fluttershy wanting to be his friend was particularly telling), it just didn't work overall for many of the reasons you pointed out.

    I do agree that it isn't the worst, though. I can think of several episodes I disliked more than this one. But really, this shouldn't have been made, at least in this state. Hasbro needs to relax the mandate that the episodes have to be watchable out of order before we can really get stories like this to work.

    But hey, Episode 8 is airing this Saturday, and that's always good!

    ...Yes, it's the long-lost eighth episode, which Meghan said wasn't aired in order for reasons we'll see when it finally comes up. Either way, it'll be interesting.

    ...And yes, you need to rank your episodes for us sometime.

  2. "The only problem is that Bea Arthur is dead, so someone else would have to play all the minor roles. You might think I'm kidding, but I'm really not--I would love it, unironically."

    I had to pick myself off the floor because I was laughing too hard. Because nothing says My Little Pony like Bea Arthur.

    I enjoyed the visual humor in this episode tremendously, but there were too many gaps in logic for me to really enjoy the story. As you pointed out, there's this huge gap between Celestia and Fluttershy's treatment of Discord and how the rest of the Mane 6 treat him, and watching this it was as if the rest of the Mane 6 were the only ones who actually remembered what Discord did the last time around. It was... awkward, really.

    I think I laughed aloud when Celestia left. "Okay, so I'm gonna leave the god of chaos in your hands while I deal with busy royal princessy stuff. Let me know how it goes!" As if this show hasn't already sparked enough speculation that Celestia is so lazy she'd rather dish out her responsibilities onto others, we get that. I'm tempted to believe the writers have just taken it as a running joke at this point.

    So... yeah, this one was disappointing from a storytelling perspective. And I didn't even have any expectations going in, because I avoided all spoilers and synopsis (seriously, I didn't even know Discord was in it until I started watching). At least the visual jokes made it enjoyable.

  3. Being a fan of not just the show, but of all the hard work that the creators do in trying to make it good as well, I've never found any real reason to complain. There was one thing in this episode that kind of got to me, however, and that was the lesson behind it, which ended up seeming waaay off target in my opinion.

    I understand that the idea of, "if you're nice to someone who is mean to you, then eventually it will get through to them," needs a bit more emphasis for the less mentally experienced part of the human race (i.e., children), but even then, they seemed to explain everything with exposition, while completely skipping over actually showing the reasons behind the character's choices, which I think is much more important to understand.

    The end, specifically, is what bothered me. After all of Fluttershy's kindness to Discord despite his bad record, she totally flips out when he betrays her (as she'd expected, apparently?) and just screams, "NOT... YOUR... FRIEND!" before stomping away. I mean, of all the characters to lose their temper so seriously that they can't form complete sentences... on Fluttershy it just seemed out of place.

    Plus, even after Fluttershy lost it, Discord didn't seem to realize that he valued her friendship enough to change his ways, so much as he realized that if he didn't do what she wanted then she would abandon him. That made the moral appear to change from, "I'm willing to compromise in order to get along," to, "do what I say or else," which is the foundation of a bad friendship. Definitely not the type of thing I want my pastel ponies preaching to particularly impressionable preschoolers.

    Not only that, but seeing as how Discord seemed to delight in making Twilight and her friends unhappy last time he was around, it seems super out of character for him to care so much now. And even after that, he STILL wasn't trusted by anyone, so in the end the lesson seemed to be, "You have to do what others tell you for them to like you even if its against your nature—but even then, if you so much as hint at not being completely submissive, they'll be ready to turn on you at the drop of a hat."

    Honestly I think that all of this could have been avoided if they'd just removed all of Discord's outright explaining-what-was-happening-as-it-happened, while at the same time making him act a little more blatantly treacherous toward the main cast. Then everyone's suspicion and hostility could be justified when he betrayed them, and finally Fluttershy could have calmly explained that if he refused to respect their friendship, then she couldn't be his friend anymore. Then Discord could realize that he'd actually enjoyed having a friend, and wanted to partake in the magic of said friendship other than do whatever he felt like in spite of how it made others feel, and as a result be shunned by all. It would have made his line of, "Well played, Fluttershy," all the more potent, and just seems more fulfilling overall.

    None of this has any effect on my actual opinion of the show, however. It's all hindsight at this point, and even though I didn't particularly like the episode, I'm not mad about it either. If I had to gauge it, I would say my level of umbrage is about equal to when I discover that one of my friends left a fingerprint smudge on the screen of my computer.

    Star rating: ★★★☆☆

    If any of the creators of the show were to read this, I would want them to know they did a very good job. The animation was fun, the voice acting was enjoyable, and I'm sure the story boarding and directing and sound mixing etc. etc. were all great as well. It was just how they chose to handle the moral that left me feeling a little disconcerted is all. Here's hoping this is all just leading to something super cool further down the road.

    1. Also, just as a note, the fact that Equestria has love spells, want-it-need-it spells, and now reform spells as well, kind of makes me wonder how mind control has played a part in this peaceful society of theirs in the past. Just sayin'.

    2. [i]"I understand that the idea of, 'if you're nice to someone who is mean to you, then eventually it will get through to them,' needs a bit more emphasis for the less mentally experienced part of the human race (i.e., children)...."[/i]

      Just the lesson that needs to be learned by every girl planning on being an abused girlfriend/spouse when she grows up. >:(

    3. ^ That ^

      It's a truly despicable concept that is the exact opposite of what we saw in S1. I've been pretty damning of S3 so far, and while the gags in this episode were consistently good, it was a little like putting icing on a turd. There's only so much you can do with a truly awful premise, and there are no excuses to save this one.

    4. I'd say the message is more that friendship can be gambled for personal gain. Discord isn't turned because he gained a friend, but instead because he got a thing that he could lose. It is less about loving the abuser, and more about making the abuser's friends shun him/her out of their social circles if they see abuse happening.

    5. Which is hardly an improvement.

    6. But is less offensive.

    7. Wait. Sorry, iisaw, but did you just quote me, imply that it was supportive of beating women, then have someone agree with you about how despicable it is? That's... not cool. I can't believe I have to say this, but "being mean" is in no way, shape, or form the same thing as physically hurting someone, and I am certain that's not what the creators of the show were thinking at all when they came up with the idea. In this context it doesn't even refer to anything more than cartoon hijinks!

      You should be nice to people who are mean, because it hints that they have problems of their own they're trying to work out, but if someone is beating you, then you should get away, seek help, and remove them from your life permanently. This has nothing to do with that, and I'm sorry if you've had experiences with that in the past, but don't twist my words around to mean something so utterly appalling. That wasn't what I meant and you know it.

    8. I've got to agree with Chicken; there's a world of difference between being nice to someone, and being a doormat for them. In fact, I thought Fluttershy was a pretty good role model in the show: she's willing to put up with some eccentricities and uncouth behavior in the name of friendship, but when Discord starts behaving in an abusive manner (and if destroying your friend's farm isn't abusive behavior, I don't know what is), Fluttershy leaves. It's true that she doesn't use the Elements on him (I guess that would be the real-world equivalent of calling the cops?), but she definitely doesn't meekly allow herself to be victimized, either.

      Anyway, there were a number of things about the episode that I didn't like, but the moral wasn't one of them.

    9. If you forget about the original Discord episode where Fluttershy had her mind twisted around by a compassionless monster... you might have a point.

      That's not someone being mean, that's psycic rape.

      Chicken: I did not mean that personally, nor did I mean to imply that was a position you took. I was pointing out that the "lesson" was damn near exactly what I heard from a woman who...

      fuck it

  4. I had the same low expectations going into this episode, but unlike you, I really enjoyed it. For an episode where Discord is 'reformed' by the end (I don't believe for a second he's doing anything more than playing nice so he doesn't have to be a statue anymore), this was about the best way they could have pulled it off. It was a hoot to watch, had one of the best gags of the show ("You're eating... paper?" "I am? How odd of me!"), and just a couple well-placed lines helped blunt the stupidity of the ending.

    Plus, it once again feels like they're building towards something. Now I have to wonder, if JDL came back as actual, for-real Discord, if those Star Swirl rumors are true. I hope not, because I haven't even finished the first draft of my fic yet. ._.

  5. Am I the only one who's put off by The Stare?

    I mean, Discord's reform was rather poorly presented, Celestia was handled clusmily, und so weiter und sofort, but these were issues I can, if not welcome, but at least understand. However, misusing The Stare is something worse: it's a pet peeve of mine, and as such, it cannot be pardoned.

    In The Stare Master, it was clearly stated, by Fluttershy herself might I add, that she can't use it consciously ("I can't control it" was the exact wording, if I recall correctly). I groaned bitterly reading many a fanfic in which Fluttershy stared down ponies at will, but now it seems like that S3 is hell-bent on trolling me. Seriously, first Magic Duel, now this -- I'm beginning to suspect that someone in Hasbro has a list with all of my pet peeves, and grinningly checking them off one by one.

    1. I admit, the Stare was pretty ham-fisted in this episode. If I had to complain about anything, it would be an overwhelming self-awareness. Moments that feel like those times in fanfiction when an author quotes a line directly from the show and I roll my eyes in disgust.

    2. Maybe that's why it didn't work and Fluttershy was just hoping she'd luck out

      Present, I'm imagining your eyes getting stuck backwards from reading Fallout: Equestria XD


      <.< Ahem. Let us all follow Karazhnii's example and not crassly single out individual fics for ridicule, no matter how funny it is.

    4. I giggled so hard when I read that. Not chortled or guffawed, but giggled

      In FoE's defense, it was still a good story - bordering the line between 4 and 5 stars - and I actually enjoyed quite a few of the allusions. They never got as bad as the Pinkie Sense, anyways

  6. Actually, this is in my bottom five episodes. Great visual gags but the main story and message are revolting. Discord going from a delightfully awful villain to a mere irritant is just the least of my complaints.

    The message: Be nice to someone who has abused you and they will get better. Having a good friend beaten to death by her boyfriend kinda cured me of that bit of idiocy.

    Of course, Polsky is the same guy who, in Feeling Pinkie Keen, gave us: Believe in irrational things in order to fit in with your friends. So, he's at the top of my list of people to keep from teaching life-lessons to my daughter.

    What a criminal waste of a major talent like DeLancy!

    1. And let's not forget how he made an episode about sharing...and using the Western Expansion of the United States as the setting. Fun history lesson: the settlers and Native Americans didn't learn to share, and they certainly didn't resolve their conflicts with pie fights. started so well this season, but now...

      Also, I know this is horribly hollow and stupid to say, but...I'm sorry to hear about your friend. I can't claim to understand your anger at what you saw in the episode, but I can see why it would be a lesson you'd want your daughter to avoid.

    2. No, it's not stupid at all. It's very kind of you.

  7. I have in the past not always agreed with your assessments of episodes, but I believe that you nailed this one. I disliked it intensely on the first viewing, something that has hitherto only happened for me with MMMystery on the Friendship Express (I haven't made a full ranking either, but I do know what sits squarely at the bottom).

    On repeat viewings, it has improved considerably to the point where it is an acceptable, slapsticky episode, though I mourn the Rarity episode that might have been in its place. This nonsense for Lady Marshmallow? At least she got the best line ("Only in the sense of being silly and gullible." Ever the diplomat.).

    Villain episodes are not the strongest suits of MLP:FiM - they may be good episodes, but this is due IMHO to the interactions between the main cast, not because of The Big Bad Flavour of the Week (or Season). The truly great episodes are centred around the Mane 6 and their immediate friends and family, where we get to see that friendship is indeed magic.

    I find it difficult to get coherent canon out of what we know about Discord. One way is to distrust our primary source, Celestia, on her account of Discord's misrule, but I am loath to do that even if history is written by the victors (and he certainly was a right vicious bastard to the Mane 6). If an afternoon with the Element of Kindness was enough to redeem the Mischievous Spirit of Chaos and Disharmony, why was it not attempted earlier, when others held the element? Or were there too much bitterness between the usurpers and Discord?

    Actually, this is the first time, where I will happily settle for the John Joseco's Ask Princess Molestia canon rather than the original. It makes more sense, and Molly does not get what she wanted (this may be another first).

    It would have been better still to have kept the garden gnome the way he was.

    That Discord destroyed the reform spells indicates that they were dangerous to him in the hooves of the purple one and her cohort. This opens many questions in itself, such as who dwells still in Tartarus, and why? Who in Equestria is so irredeemable, not even mind magic strong enough to threaten the embodiment of chaos is enough?

    1. Okay, I mostly agree, but one question does pop up: "when others held the element"? Is there any indication in canon whatsoever that there ever was another bearer of the Element of Kindness apart from Celestia and Fluttershy? And Celestia certainly had no reason to treat Discord this way back then.

      Also, a Polsky-written Rarity episode? Goodness, thanks but no thanks (although probably still better than Merriwether Williams...).

    2. Well, I had just the sisters in mind, when I wrote others. They found them, they held them. But no, they wouldn't have been foolish and gullible enough to let him loose. The distribution of elements between the sisters is another open question.

      And no, not a Polsky-written Rarity episode. Fullerton, Morrow, or McCarthy would do just fine. I don't mind Polsky - his visual gags are excellent, but Rarity requires something else.

      Williams has written some fine episodes, including the oft-maligned TMMDW. Still the goto Rainbow Dash episode along with Fullerton's MTBPW.

  8. I didn't take this one too seriously. It was fun, though the ending was way too pat. It's odd how little details will irk me, though. One of my biggest issues was the spell Celestia cast so the Elements would be safe from Discord. She just now came up with that? Within the last year, and not during the thousand or so that he was imprisoned originally? I realize that the Elements themselves weren't threatened until the last go-around, but wouldn't she have invented some other defenses, it it were possible? And why cast them only on the stones and not ponies, towns, etc.? Certainly, all this could be explained, but it's a pretty convenient "oh by the way, I can nullify a God of Chaos's magic, but only about this specific thing" that just raises more questions than it answers. I'd rate it in the cluster of episodes in the middle of the bell curve.

  9. This episode feels a lot like an idea they blindly committed to before realizing, "Oh, fuck us, there is literally NO WAY we can pull this off." I'm especially inclined to think that in light of the (purportedly true) rumor that the original story/outline came from some fifteen-year-old kid whose parents knew Meghan. Unfortunately don't have a source beyond a few emails and confirming tweets Sethisto told me he got, but if that's the case, I can agree to give the producers a mulligan on this one. I've wasted plenty of time in my own writing on ideas that seemed awesome right up until I realized there was no real way to make them work.

  10. I enjoyed this episode:

    Largely because I can twist its events into fitting nicely with a story I had posted at EqD just over a year ago called "The Birth of Harmony." And nothing's more enjoyable that having one's biases confirmed, right?

    See, my theory--or "head canon," I guess, is the term one uses--holds that the three princesses and Discord are manifestations of the collective mind of all Ponykind: Celestia is the left brain and Luna is the right brain, the two of them making up the "ego"; Cadance is the cortex and is therefore the "superego"; and Discord is the "id" that boils away underneath it all.

    The key to the episode, then, is Discord's little rant right after Fluttershy's shrieked, "Not your friend!" "Who cares?" he asks. "I'm Discord. I can do whatever I want whenever I want."

    As a manifestation of the pony "id," though, it's not so much that he can do whatever he wants. It's that he must do whatever he wants. Discord is a slave to his desires. If he wants something, he has to have it. He literally cannot do without it. Self-control is entirely antithetical to his nature.

    What Fluttershy does, y'see, is make Discord want to be her friend. If he can dupe her into being his friend, he figures, then she won't use her Element against him and, as he announces in his little rant, he'll be free forever.

    When she renounces her friendship, he suddenly realizes that the chains he's forged to tie her to him also tie him to her. He wanted her friendship, so he has to have it. And now that she's taken it away, he must do whatever he can to get it back.

    He's caught in his own web, and if I would change anything about the episode, it would be to lose the teary eyes he gives her when he says "Well played, Fluttershy" and give him instead an expression of dawning horror. He thought all along that he was leading her into a trap, but he now sees that she's in fact trapped him.

    Far-fetched? You betcha! But I was grinning throughout the entire episode as I saw ways that I could make it fit my preconceived notions.


  11. Everyone's being so negative, I'm feeling a little left out... um, I know, this was my least favorite Polsky episode!

    1. Huh? You actually liked both "Feeling Pinkie Keen" and "Over a Barrel" better than this one? That would have to be a minority of one, or very close to it, from what I've seen others say about those two (and I mostly agree with the naysayers on "FPK"; that moral was just ... ugh).

    2. Not much of a fan of FPK myself, but it does have the best five seconds ending of any episode to date. I regard it as a very, very long buildup to Celestia dropping out of the sky.

    3. Perhaps it's my Pinkie bias (Pieas?), but those are two of my favorite episodes. I don't see anything wrong with FPK's moral. It's just that they fumbled the presentation. Really, though, who's in this for the morals? We've all (hopefully) learned this stuff when we were six

    4. I've read something somewhere that deflates the usual fan-angering reading of FPK's moral, basically chalking it up to "it means what you want it to", as I recall. No, I won't be able to find it. Personally, I enjoyed that episode, just as I enjoyed this one.

    5. My issue with FPK isn't really the moral, but that Twilight is portrayed as a terrible scientist (disregarding data points without any meaningful reason and refusing to adapt her hypothesis to the new information available), and that the terrible moral comes from that.

      Still, I don't think that TMMDW or FPK are that bad, since they have a lot of very enjoyable set pieces, that can be appreciated despite the episode's other failings. I dislike episodes like "Owl's well" or "MMMystery" and their "averageness" much more. In fact, I don't think there is a single episode in which I couldn't point out at least 5 different unique things I enjoy.

    6. Owl's Well's another one I loved that seems to be on the bottom of everyone's lists. Mare Do Well's pretty far down on mine, but I still enjoyed it. I mean, Applejack named her hooves! How can anyone not love that?

      I absolutely agree that Twilight was a crappy scientist, and that's something I always bring up when debating the episode. I don't think that was a poor move, though. Objectivity's a goal scientists should strive for, but don't always meet. I myself am rather quick to dismiss psychics and extraterrestrials, and while I'm probably right in thinking they're a load of bunk, they should be still be subjected to the scientific method. I'd say that's a pretty great lesson

    7. The problem I've always had with Mare-Do-Well, aside from its vision of a burgeoning suburban Ponyville that we never see again, is that the mane six are shown going completely against the lesson they are trying to teach Rainbow Dash. Also it's one of many episodes where the mane six are total dicks to each other instead of, y'know, friends.

      Owl's Well was disappointing because it was our first Spike episode and it painted him as the villain, making him do some cringingly stupid things. I still blame Owloysius to this day. :V

    8. Wait, friends aren't supposed to be dicks towards each other? Guess I've been doing it wrong all these years :p

    9. I do not have a problem with Mane 5's behaviour in TMMDW, as it is fairly obvious (to me at least) that miss Dash cannot be talked down from the pedestal she has put herself upon. An object lesson is needed, and is lovingly provided by her friends.

    10. One thing:

      I've been wanting to do--well, not wanting, really, but thinking it might be a fun exercise for a week when I didn't have anything else to do--is write up a "compare/contrast" essay looking at Mare-Do-Well and Sweet and Elite.

      I mean, they have the same basic plot--one of Our Heroines tries to expand her horizons outside her circle of friends--but the outcomes are completely different. Ah, if only I was still ensconced in academia... :)