Monday, July 6, 2015

Episode Talk: S5E12, Amending Fences

Remember to pop over here and answer a few questions for me, if you're so inclined!

In fact, this is your last chance; I'll be closing the poll down tomorrow, and based on the responses I've already gotten, doing a post about the results later this week.  If you want to indulge me, you're almost out of time!

But in any case, feel free to click down below the break to check out my thoughts on Saturday's episode.

-Coherent plot culminating in a simple but generally unobjectionable moral?  Check
-A generally optimistic outlook on both life in general, and the ability of goodwill and genuine effort to overcome any obstacle?  Check
-Pinkie being silly and everywhere-ish without breaking the fourth wall?  Check
-A broad sense of uncloying sincerity?  Check
-Ponies faceplanting at 120mph but somehow being none the worse for the wear?  Check

...Yup, this was a good one.

-Seriously though, this felt very much like an episode from an earlier season, in a positive way.  Light on true throwaway gags and heavy on jokes which subtly (or not-so-subtly) develop either the main characters or the Equestrian setting, there was a lot to Amending Fences that offered tantalizing glimpses of both Twilight and Canterlot.  For the former, we've obviously got the central arc of her realizing she was a terrible friend (even if most of her friends accepted that about her long before she even had that realization), but also, from the way she reacts to Minuette (guess I'll have to stop calling her Romana--oh well) initially and to Moondancer in the library, we can see a lot about how her self-impression has changed not just since season one, but since she became a Princess.  Meanwhile, the fact that Twilight's tower has apparently been left completely untouched since she left for Ponyville tells us a lot about the relationship between her and Princess Celestia--not just that they're close and Celestia didn't want to throw out her stuff (duh), but that Celestia would basically leave that tower empty indefinitely--including of cleaning staff--paints a much more specific, interesting picture.

-I was exceptionally pleased with Twilight appearing on the page of Moondancer's book.  Why?  Because she makes for a super-cute drawing.
...Well, that and the fact that it gave the animators a chance to do something a little different which wasn't visually tone-breaking.  I would compare this to something like the felt scene from Cranky's episode, which (being as it was Pinkie's imagination) also felt like an organic direction to develop in when expanding the visual repertoire.  Live-action, like in Cheese Sandwich's episode, or even just differently-styled-without-context stuff like the giant timberwolf from Spike at your Service, doesn't appeal to me.  This did.

-I didn't particularly like that "being friends" was shorthanded to "partying," but that's a minor gripe.  It clearly was being used as shorthand, so that the writers wouldn't have to try to fit in a second "friends take many forms" moral that we've seen from this show before, anyway.  Still, I'm kind of sympathetic to Moondancer not wanting to play pinata, in and of itself.

-Other little gripe: Moondancer seriously owed all her non-Twilight friends an apology, and they never got it.  I mean, how would you feel if you went to an alleged "friend"'s party, and when you got there, the only thing she said was "hey, is [other friend] coming?," and when you said no, she fell apart and couldn't be consoled because her best (read: real) friend wasn't there.  Way to make those other three feel like pathetic hangers-on, Moondancer!  Ah well, they don't seem the type to hold a grudge.  Or notice, frankly.

-Soge had a couple of interesting comments on this episode relative to Slice of Life.  Specifically, that the only reason we (the fandom, not necessarily you and I personally) aren't rushing to accuse this episode of pandering is because SoL came first.  That might be true, but the "pandering" in this episode is the kind I'll take any day, while I remain quietly terrified that the general acceptance shown to SoL will be taken as carte blanche by the scriptwriters (slash-hasbro execs) to continue producing episodes of its quality.  The difference, to me at least, is night and day: Amending Fences uses logical callbacks in logical ways, as storytelling aids, which helps to build both a cohesive world and a coherent story; Slice of Life tossed in ever reference it could manage without bothering to integrate most of them into its nominal premise, or to incorporate them into what we know about Equestria, or even to build on or provide new information about Equestria, or even to make sense independent of significant application of headcanon.  If anything, this episode shows just how lazy Slice of Life was; now we know that they (or at least, Larson) can write an episode full of background ponies and callbacks that isn't a jumbled, half-formed wreck.

-In summary, this was an excellent episode, containing pretty much everything I look for in MLP.  Yay!  I officially take back 12% of all the disappointment I've felt toward Larson for how he handled/was forced to handle Magical Mystery Cure.  Season five has had its ups and downs, just like every season, but so far I'm enjoying it worlds more than the last two seasons.  Hopefully the Chris Enjoyment Level stays high!


  1. "while I remain quietly terrified that the general acceptance shown to SoL will be taken as carte blanche by the scriptwriters (slash-hasbro execs) to continue producing episodes of its quality"

    Oh man, thanks for instilling this fear in me. I actually really really liked Slice of Life, but I think I'm one of...maybe three people in the world who liked it for reasons besides all the references and background characters. As in, I would still love the episode even if the replaced all the characters with brand new ones we haven't seen before.

    I've never been very good at articulating my thoughts, but I tried to explain what I liked about the episode here (even though I didn't do a good job of it). To be fair, I've always enjoyed the plot device where a whole bunch of skits and unrelated storylines all tie in together at the end, so I was biased for the episode from the beginning. But...I just found the characters really charming and the situations funny and it all heartwarming in the end. To a certain weird extent, it kind of reminded me of a zany, ponified Seinfeld at times. It also recontextualized the whole series for me in a way I approve—the Mane 6 aren't that special, things are kinda crazy for everyone in Equestria. We just happen to be following these characters. No wonder the Mane 6 often don't seem to get the respect we think they deserve! It makes Daring Do and so much other stuff in the series suddenly make perfect sense.

    But... I realize I'm in the vast minority on this. Tons of people loved Slice of Life, but I've haven't found anyone yet who's praised the episode for anything but the wackiness and references. Generally people seem to say "it was a weak episode if you just focus on the story, but that wasn't the point of the episode!" which makes me pretty much alone.

    Because that's the thing...I quite dislike reference-based episodes otherwise. For example, I didn't like Make New Friends but Keep Discord at all. The whole episode felt so hollow, filled with pointless references and mostly unfunny wackiness supporting a "plot" that was really just one dumb joke stretched out to 22 minutes. Certainly one of my least favorite episodes of Season 5.

    And yet...Make New Friends was very well-received! And then Slice of Life was also really well received, and now I realize the writers are going to learn completely the wrong lesson from its success!

    Ugh. I know I've kind of been rambling, but now I feel depressed.


    Oh yeah, Amending Fences. Episode was fantastic. I loved it. More like this, please.

    1. Oh, I'm with you on Slice of Life. Easily the best scene for me is the Mayor's speech at the end, and the huge diversity of characters together at the wedding really underscored the inclusivity and breadth of the moral for me. I actually liked some of the characters and the comedy for their own sakes; I didn't remotely care about the references, and if anything found them more distracting than diverting.

      But I still think it's a weak episode, at least in parts. As for Make New Friends But Keep Discord, I found it to be another pretty weak episode, though worse, as it had a handful of fun scenes and a lot of uninteresting mediocrity in between. I also hope this wacky referenciness doesn't become a dominant trend. Episodes like Amending Fences are more my speed.

  2. I decided to read your review before watching the episode for a change, just to see what that was like. My first impressions are that it's sounds odd to compare it to Slice of Life in any regard. Comparing any normal episode to Slice of Life seems like comparing an apple to the industrial revolution based on how many of them grow on a tree, or dogs to mayonnaise for most loyal pet. I'll be interested to see what similarities there really are.

    Secondly Moondancer's party? Like, the one from the first episode? If so then that beats out Gilda on the longest resolved story arc in the entire show! I don't think it's even possible to make a longer arc without going full circle.

    Also Twilight. Ew. Everything she does annoys me. Saying she realizes that she was a bad friend makes me hopeful, but I'm guessing I'm reading that wrong. Other than that, everything else sounds good. Now to go to sleep, then wake up, then watch the episode, and see what it's really like as compared to my assumptions! Awaaaaay!

    1. She's gonna annoy you in this episode too. "Oh no, I ruined this poor pony's life because everything revolves around me!" I mean, she turned out to be right, but it's still annoying. I would've loved to see the writers show her that she's not the center of the universe

    2. Alright I watched the episode. Turns out it was that Moondancer party they were talking about. They even had a flashback to that very scene! Man, they're tying up all sorts of loose ends this season.

      And you were right, ProfessorOats! Twilight is still the worst! I hereby declare her to be The Princess of First World Problems. "Boo hoo! I don't want to live in my free, gigantic castle because it's not homey enough! All this power and responsibility I've been given via transformation into a mythical creature is cutting into my sleep time! My friend's distress at losing their pet is so annoying! Boo hoo!" Also her stupid hair! And her dumb face! And the way she enunciates all her screams! I did like the part where she went into the book though. That was neat.

      As far as comparing it to Slice of Life goes, I still think that's kind of a stretch. I see how you could draw some comparisons because it has background characters being more in the spotlight than usual, but the similarities stop there. I guess I just don't see what there is to complain about.

      Lastly some little things that stuck out to me:

      - I liked the fact that when they went to the doughnut bar, they showed Spike talking with Doughnut Joe like he did in the past.

      - It seemed pretty risky of Twilight to insist to a disgruntled pony that she had to let her make up for hurting her in the past, then handing her a baseball bat. I mean, come on. Moondancer snapped like, 10 seconds later. It could have swung either way.

      - Also on the topic of Moondancer, apparently eyebrows are a genetic trait in Ponyland. Both her and her sister had them, and they were the only ones. Flat hair also seems like a genetic trait that has something to do with introverted...ism. Both Twilight and the oddly identical Moondancer have flat bangs, and so did Maud. The reason Fluttershy doesn't is most likely because one or both of her parents were extroverts, so she got their hair, but also picked up the introverted gene, which, in Equestria, is obviously recessive. Maybe she's actually a mutant. I remember reading somewhere that the developers said her cutie mark and love of the ground was weird for pegasi as well. I'm getting carried away on the whimsy of punnet squares though! Moving on.

      ...Actually I guess that's everything that stuck out to me, so I guess I'm moving nowhere. That's it. Other than Twilight, I liked the episode a lot! Background ponies are my favorite. Seeing Fancy Pants and Fleur de Lis again was fun. The lesson was fine. The last scene was a good touch. I liked the personality they gave Minuette. Even though it would normally annoy me, it worked for her for some reason. The end.

    3. "... The Princess of First World Problems."

      Why didn't I think of that?! Kinda hard to imagine she was once Best Pony (for about four episodes)

    4. I, too, would like to see Twilight learn that she is not the centre of the universe.

      I would like even more to see her not be the centre of the universe, whether she knows it or not.

      But so far, in a world with basically-god-of-the-sun, basically-god-of-the-moon, magical artefacts like the Alicorn Amulet in random merchant stores, and by now more cities and cultures than you can shake a stick at, every significant threat to the world has been dealt with, in whole or in large part, by Twilight Sparkle, except the episodes that were specifically about how it was not solved by Twilight Sparkle, despite her being integral even then (I see you, Crystal Empire).

    5. Just as bad, this episode underscores how utterly boring she is as a character now. I'm all for her making up for old flaws, but here she's just too goody-goody "perfect" to be actually interesting. Heck, the scene where Minuette and the others basically laugh off her histrionic apology over her having possibly at all been "hurting them" was a highlight for me.

      But seriously, what are Twilight's flaws now? She shakes under pressure a bit - which doesn't obviously affect her actual performance - and fears quesadillas. Um... fail.

    6. I don't feel that Twilight is a boring character so much as she is being treated in a boring way.

      I mean, lets complain about Twilight:
      (feel free to add your own points)

      -She thinks the universe revolves around her (and though the universe tends to agree, this is still a problem.)

      -She is unduly hung up on her own relatively minor problems while not appearing particularly grateful for the many wonderful things she has.

      -She seems, and seems to feel, out of her element as princess (pun intended). Besides which, she has shown no inclination for power or governance. Is she to grow to fill the position, will destiny be shown to have made a mistake, or does the definition of a princess need to be reworked, and what is it now? Because something has to happen to reconcile this.

      -She has no direction or drive of her own. She gets instructions from Celestia, or the map, or her friends, or something. She has no goals of her own, and even when she wants something (visit Griffinstone) and nothing's telling her not to, she doesn't, because she doesn't do anything of her own accord. This is hilarious and pathetic given that she's the de facto leader of the main six and now a princess (i.e. world leader) besides.

      -And finally, she treats all of her friends like best, best friends who mean the world to each other and everything. That's how I interpreted her freaking out about losing contact with her Canterlot friends and assuming she's traumatised them or something. Her only real experience with friends is with ponies so close they need a mythical artefact just to contain the glowing aura; her experience with casual friends is so lacking by comparison that she comes across as awkward and egotistical.

      There: those are her character flaws.

      But she feels entirely stale anyway. How she's written feels to me like she's supposed to have achieved some level of perfection. She's at least accepted by everyone as if she were essentially perfect, and it feels like it's been ages since we've seen her face new types of personal challenges (like any based on the flaws above) or since she's grown in any new way.

      I'm not a fan of how she is right now, but I like to hold out hope that she'll get good again. I definitely think she has the potential.

    7. You're really on to something with her lack of ambition. What's weird is that, out of all the characters, you'd think she'd possess it more than anyone. Just look at the insane amount of studying that girl's done! Yet she hasn't been striving for anything that's been a source of storytelling. Maybe Rarity should be the princess instead

    8. @ Unremarkable Pony.

      Good list! I hadn't actually thought about those before.

      One thing I will contest: I don't think those are character flaws so much as they're problems with the way she's characterized. The difference is that a character flaw is an acknowledged or obvious personality trait that causes enough internal and social problems to drive a story, mostly for ill, like Applejack's stubborn pride and Pinkie's insecurities in the first season. However, a problem with characterization is a result of less than stellar writing.

      In this episode, old Twilight's poor friendship skills made up the character flaw that new Twilight has long since overcome. By contrast, new Twilight's neuroticism over "hurting" her old friends in Canterlot is only once treated as a laughable thing, since not only does it drive the plot, but it's ultimately vindicated by Moondancer's conflict and flaws. Thus, it doesn't really count as a character flaw so much as a sign of her new hypersensitivity, which is a result of the way she's written. The episode itself doesn't see this as a bad thing, despite that one highlight scene that I liked, whereas it makes it clear old Twilight's insensitivity IS a bad thing. That's another way to distinguish the character flaw from problems with the character; how much the episode actually treats it like it's a bad thing.

      I think all your examples fit the latter category. The show doesn't acknowledge them as a bad thing, they're not used to help her character develop, and they emerge from how she's written in an episode (or written out, as the case may be). Seriously, the last time she learned a lesson to overcome a character flaw was arguably when she met Maud Pie, and before that possibly the Season 4 premiere. In fact, she's delivered more aesops these last two seasons than she's received.

      @ ProfessorOats

      "Maybe Rarity should be the princess instead"

      I heartily approve of this proposal. All hail Princess Rarity! :D

    9. " 'Maybe Rarity should be the princess instead' "

      "I heartily approve of this proposal. All hail Princess Rarity! :D"

      It's being written. Watch this space.

  3. I like your thoughts vis-a-vis Soge's SoL. I think actually if we hadn't gotten that one, this one would have had the fandom clamoring ("THEY SAID 'LYRA HEARTSTRINGS'!!!") while also being on the level of at least Sleepless in Ponyville if not Hurricane Fluttershy, in terms of character growth and plotting.

    Plus, who can deny exuberant Minuette? :D

  4. I'm still calling her Colgate, though I understand why they didn't use it. Romana would've been my preferred alternative (I also like TARDIE, because I'm a horrible person), but Minuette's growing on me

    I'm not so sure we have to be worried about Larson. My understanding's been that he wasn't keen on the idea behind SoL to begin with, but rolled with it and tried to make the best of the situation. I think this episode's more indicative of how he'd prefer to do things. Now Hasbro, on the other hand...

    I know a lot of people immediately thought of time travel when Twilight was talking about wanting to go back and fix things, but was anyone else thinking of Superman? I was joking about it at the time, but then she flared her wings and was all "I know just what to do!" I nearly fell out of my seat because, for split second there, it honestly looked like she was going to fly around the world to turn back time. I'm really hoping to see an animation of that within the week

  5. I hugely enjoyed "Slice of Life" as a one-off piece of ridiculousness.

    I hugely enjoyed "Amending Fences" as an integral part of the series.

    1. Wow... a voice of sanity in a sea of negativity! That was refreshing!

    2. I thought that's how a lot of people felt (it's certainly my opinion). The concern's more about whether SoL will remain a one-off thing. I'm not as worried as I was before, but I don't have a lot of faith in Hasbro

    3. Yes. The two episodes do different things, and that's OK.

  6. Thank you, Logan, for saving me the trouble of writing a one page explanation of exactly what you just said.

    Amending Fences is easily my favourite episode so far this season. I think it's because of the sincerity Chris mentioned. It's just a few ponies trying to solve a problem. There doesn't need to be any malicious intention. The problem doesn't need to be world-shattering. The characters better not have to act stupid or out of character for the problem to be a problem in the first place. And the fact that they can do so while treating each other with respect just makes it so much better.

    I thought the party being the cause of Moondancer's reclusiveness seemed a bit contrived and that her turnaround at the end was a bit abrupt, but these are necessary to make it a 22 minute show that ends on an unarguably high note. I think the episode dealt with the issue as well as it reasonably could.

    Still, as best I remember, Moondancer did not confirm until the very end that it was Twilight not attending the party that upset her. I was sort of waiting for Moondancer to say that no, actually, this other thing happened. But alas, 22 minutes.

    The whole Celestia left her room completely untouched was something I hadn't thought of. I don't know what to make of it, but it's definitely interesting.

    And it's minor, but I'm really glad that they mentioned that Lyra used to be / is now again Twilight's friend, too. And not because of any sort of headcannon, but because the episode could have done without it, and I think it made the world feel just a little less like it was being generated exactly as needed to serve the episode. (I don't mind that it is, I just mind when it feels like it is.)

  7. It was a pretty good episode. Not really a favourite of mine, even just of this season, but that's not because of anything that the episode itself did wrong. It just bugged me personally that so many things I thought I knew about Twilight's life in Canterlot turned out to be wrong. I don't usually care when my headcanon is invalidated, so I don't know why it annoys me so much this time, but there you go. It turns out even I can be a fanboy. I must now shower to wash out the shame.

  8. "-Other little gripe: Moondancer seriously owed all her non-Twilight friends an apology, and they never got it."

    To be fair, that was kind of built-in to the moral. Twilight says Moondancer shouldn't let one unfaithful friend put her off having more, and the three did kind of let her drift in the aftermath rather than making a special and persistent attempt to reach out to her like Twilight did here.

    That said, I agree completely. That was the major discordant note in an otherwise sweet little number. Even if Twilight was closer to her than the other three were, giving them the cold shoulder despite them being faithful? That's three good friends and one bad egg! WTF?