Monday, April 7, 2014

Episode Talk: S4E21, Testing Testing 1, 2, 3

Well, thank you to everyone who made The Purloined Pony's FiMFiction debut such a rousing success, launching it to the top of the feature box for the better part of a day.  I was surprised but gratified by how many people still have fond memories of that story; thank you to everyone who read and enjoyed it.  And heck, thanks to the one guy who downvoted it, too; sorry it wasn't your thing, and no hard feelings.

For now though, let's talk about the newest episode of the show.  My half-collected, weekend-old thoughts, below the break.

-To be fair, my impression of this episode was more than a little colored by the revelation that Pinkie would be rapping in it; to me, that's definitely not a selling point, and I was surprised to see how many people seem to have really liked that.  The defenses I've seen mostly label it a "brilliant parody of 90s edutainment raps" or an "awesome nostalga [sic] bomb."

For me, though, that scene failed spectacularly.  Perhaps it's just that I have little personal connection to the shows it was parodying (the "Pokemon rap" seems to have been brought up more than once as a point of comparison, and that anime series missed me by a few years), but it struck me as a dramatic departure from the world's musical conventions--on top of being something I found musically unappealing.  It was unpleasant enough that I had to fast-forward past it when I re-watched the episode while writing this post, and I rarely even do that with the opening song (if only out of laziness--why fiddle with the remote when it'll be over in a minute anyway?).

-As for the larger show premise: I didn't much care for the first third or so (Twi's attempts to help Rainbow study).  It was too transparent an attempt to make some school-style jokes to me, and really: isn't that what the CMC are for?  It felt to me like the writers came up with some bad student visual gags, then haphazardly shoehorned them into a pre-existing episode concept.  I'm not saying that's what happened, but that was my first impression when watching.

-I did like that we got some actual history out of this episode, though!  Granted, the history of the Wonderbolts turns out to have been rather more recent than I'd hoped--rather than tying into anything from A Hearth's Warming Carol, they apparently cropped up as a military organization with no connection to the pegasai's pseudo-greek pre-integration culture.  Still, points for expanding the backstory a bit!

-I also really liked the "historical" Wonderbolts costumes, truth be told.  I thought they added a nice hint of the larger world, as well as making for several nice visuals.

-While I appreciate that the moral was intended as "different people learn in different ways," I thought the presentation was... troubling.  At the end, Dash is finds that an unrelated kinesthetic distraction can help her remember things, as it can indeed help some people remember, but the idea that the knowledge gain was instant and effortless (to the point that she didn't even notice that she had learned anything) is pretty unrealistically extreme.  I expect a fair bit of exaggeration for this kind of moral, but I'd have felt more comfortable if she at least realized as she was flying what was going on, then was amazed to remember afterwords.  Convincing nontraditional learners that they are, in fact, perfectly smart can be a major challenge, and when the resolution is unrealistically, magically extreme, it takes away from any (much-needed) reinforcement that people who have trouble focusing or remembering in a traditional setting can still be intelligent, and can still do well academically.

-And those faces I hate were back with a vengeance.  Even Spike's making them now, for goodness sake.

-Speaking of Spike: what was with that musical interlude... thing... during Twi's lecture?  I thought it was kind of funny when Dash started squeaking her chair instead of paying attention, but then it just went on, and on, and ON.  It reminded me of what was wrong with so many scenes from Double Rainboom: the joke was made, then elaborated on, and then... another ten seconds or so of just awkwardly waiting for it to end so the show could move on to the next scenelette.

-The impression that I came away with after watching this episode was that it had the largest disconnect of any to date between quality and my enjoyment.  This wasn't a seriously flawed episode, like some have been... but for a variety of reasons, some extremely idiosyncratic, I got almost no enjoyment out of this one.  Oh well; hopefully next week is more to my taste.


  1. I'd explain why I disagree, but as you said, it's mostly your opinions anyway, and I think we've already established how different our opinions are. I did fully expect you to hate the rap though. I remember when I first watched the preview clip, the first thought in my mind was, "Oh, this is hilarious, but I bet Chris is gonna hate this."

  2. This was a weird one for me. The episode did so many things wrong, but I still enjoyed it. When I saw the preview of Pinkie's rap, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry - the latter, because it was awful; the former, because it was supposed to be awful. It appears to be good fanwork fodder, though, so I guess that's nice. Pinkie was off her game, but the show still hasn't done her wrong in the way some fans have. The history was pretty nice, and I absolutely loved Twilight as Commander Easy Glider! Those wings have never looked better on her

    The moral was what really bugged the crap out of me, though, and I honestly expected you talk more about it. I realize people learn differently - I actually found note-taking more beneficial when I doodled, which some teachers (understandably) didn't appreciate - but Dash didn't even give Twi's methods a fair shot. It came across more as justifying poor behavior than actually portraying a legitimate case of someone learning differently, at least early on

    At least the ending was sweet, if unrealistic. I kinda flipped my shit at first, when Twilight didn't cover any Wonderbolts' history during their flight like I thought she would. Then came the reveal and my crusty heart melted, then re-solidified about thrice its original volume. Doctors say it's the worst case of DCM they've ever seen

    1. Well, to be fair, Twilight was doing a run-through of what one might term "standard school" methods of learning. Presumably, Rainbow Dash went to school, so she'd probably know these methods weren't for her (RD to me seems like the type to just barely squeeze by in school). Of course, that raises the question of why Twilight would try them on RD in the first place...

    2. "Pinkie was off her game, but the show still hasn't done her wrong in the way some fans have."

      That's a pretty low bar to set, isn't it? The weird thing about Pinkie in canon is how extremely and inconsistently they write her character. This episode just continued the trend.

      God, that rap was a new low for her, though, and I thought Filli Vanilli couldn't be topped. I'm with Chris: if I ever rewatch this ep, I'm skipping that part.

    3. Just to clarify: Pinkie's antics in Filli Vanilli, not the songs. The songs were awesome.

    4. Given the r34 image I saw today featuring racial slur graffiti, I'm starting to think the Pinkie rap is the worst thing the show's ever done.

    5. Pinkie's behavior in Filli Vanilli was uncharacteristic of her, yes, but at least funny. And it wasn't even totally off. It played up her certain aspects of her while completely ignoring one (extremely important) part, sorta like that was actually one of Pinkie's clones...

      Present, I'm not into r34, but I'm gonna need to see that image. Could you message me a link on FIMFic or YouTube? Probably shouldn't post it here. Also, I think you're over-reacting; the worst thing this show's done is still EqG

    6. Using my porn-gathering skills to your own benefit, eh? "Not into R34", sure, I gotcha. ;)

      Also, I tend not to consider EQG "the show", so there's that. But it was good for reasons the rap was bad (i.e., its influence on the fandom).

    7. Not following that last line. Mind elucidating?

      Yeah, not into it. Even if I was into pony porn, it'd be Braeburn with other stallions. Bad enough they're horses, I don't need their genitalia being wrong too!

    8. EQG: lots more humanized art.

      Pinkie rap: lots more rap music, potential for excess displays of racism from the worst corners of the internet, that image being the tip of the iceberg. (inb4 slippery slope)

    9. Ugh, I hate humanized art! Rap can be good, and I'm immature enough to find racism funny (see Edward Norton's monologue in 25th Hour). It's just too ridiculous to take seriously

      Pinkie rap > EqG

    10. "Pinkie's behavior in Filli Vanilli was uncharacteristic of her, yes, but at least funny."

      I'm afraid I'll have to invoke YMMV on this one. Pinkie's antics there, to me, were ridiculous even for a cartoon character. I don't know where the line is between "being insensitive" and "scaring someone like an asshole by practically squeeing over their deeply uncomfortable emotions", but Pinkie crossed it.

      "And it wasn't even totally off. It played up her certain aspects of her while completely ignoring one (extremely important) part, sorta like that was actually one of Pinkie's clones..."

      I disagree. We've seen Pinkie be innocently insensitive before, and the difference was that she didn't seem to realize there were any hard feelings involved. Here, she was not only fully aware of the hard feelings, but shoving them in someone else's face, and the only people I know who do that sort of thing are bullies and assholes.

      In fairness to your point, I guess the show was going for an "innocently insensitive up to eleven" gag, but to me it comes across as just plain nasty, like the writers didn't have a clue what they were doing.

    11. Guess I'm the only one who enjoys seeing Fluttershy suffer

      What I meant about Pinkie was that they turned up her naivety and innocence while ignoring the fact that she's so considerate of others. That's the crucial piece that made her more like a caricature than the real thing, just like with her clones. The Pinkie of earlier seasons was all about others - making sure they had fun, remembering their birthdays, considering the possibility that she was being unfair instead of just blaming them like everyone else does. Hell, she even wrote a song about it!

  3. I found this one pleasant enough. Not amazing, but still above average and entertaining. While I didn't enjoy the rap (or beating Dash's chair rocking into the ground, for that matter), I'd still count it above average and entertaining. I loved the pretty subtle "Eeyup" joke. The only thing that really troubled me was that they skimped on giving Applejack a study method. That's just going to add fuel to the fire of the "Applejack is dumb" crowd. How many more lovely stories will we get now where she can't do math or read?

    1. Uh...they kinda did give her one, "learning by doing" or "learning on the job". It wasn't explored further because it's really not suited to cram sessions, being as time-consuming as it is.

  4. This one certainly wasn't my favorite, but I had exactly the opposite reaction to what I liked in the episode. Well, not exactly opposite, I guess. I didn't much care for the rap segment. However, I DID love the first third of the episode, and that's mostly because I felt like I finally had my Twilight back.

    I love the easily frazzled, anxious, nerding-over-flashcards Twilight that they've largely removed from this season. I was very happy to see her interact with dismissive, airheadish Dash again. I do agree that some of the jokes were a little flat, but the character interaction was far more important to me.

    Then we started bringing in the other characters and it went a little downhill. I didn't care for the Pinkie or Fluttershy segments. I did like Rarity, though it stretches my suspension of disbelief that she thought a fashion show of all things would work, but whatever. It's Rarity, and that's what she does.

    In the end, I felt that this episode was just incredibly uneven. I really wish it had just been Twilight and Rainbow.

  5. Eh, I had a feeling you wouldn't like this one. I've learned by now that you and I get enjoyment out of very different things in this show.

    What's interesting about the rap scene for me is that I have no love or nostalgia for any kind of 90s rap, and yet I adored that scene, to the point that I've actively gone back to watch it over and over again. Oh sure, tonally it fits... absolutely nothing in the MLP universe, but maybe that was part of the charm for me. When it came up, my reaction was one of stunned disbelief, but as it went on I just got this big goofy grin on my face. It wasn't because it was good, but because it was so ludicrously cheesy and over-the-top (while retaining a certain self-awareness that it was cheesy and over-the-top) that I couldn't help but love it. I think the clincher for me was that it did nothing to help Dash learn, sort of a reversal of how those "edutainment raps" normally work.

    1. Reversal? No, I'd say that's pretty characteristic of them. The only difference was Dash actually liked it

    2. >self-awareness

      Yes, this whole episode reeked of that, but mostly the rap. I know I've said it before, but one of the things that first drew me to the show was how aggressively un-self-aware it is. Was. Can be, whatever.

      For me, that was a huge deterrent to my enjoyment. But like you say, you and I are looking for very different things out of the same show, so that's to be expected.

  6. The odd thing for me:

    Is that their description of Dash's learning process comes really, really close to the way I make Pinkie Sense work in my stories--Pinkie's subconscious is constantly noticing everything around her and adding together the clues to deduce the most probable outcome to any set of circumstances, but since it's her subconscious, it can't communicate its conclusions to her directly. Hence all the twitching and wriggling as it tries to get its message across to her conscious mind.