Monday, March 28, 2016

Episode Talk: S6E1-2: The Crystalling

Hey, you're here for fanfic, right?  Well, DannyJ just published a new story that I did a spot of editing for: The Devil's Dues is the story of Discord, post-reformation, seeking to reconcile his desire to be a good "person" with his fundamental nature--all while confronting beings whose very nature is antithetical to his.  Go check it out!

But of course, we also have the show coming back, so let's not forget the source material!  As a refresher, this is not a review of the episode; I'm sure plenty of youtubers are already putting together far more thorough analyses of the season six premier than I would.  Instead, think of this as "a few of Chris's opinions, observations, and tangents," more designed to frame what I thought of the episode than to provide any sort of objective commentary.  That said, let's dive in:

I'll be honest: I was extremely trepidatious about this episode coming in.  Season five had me feeling a lot better about the show's direction than I had the last couple of years, but... yeah, baby alicorn.  I was not looking forward to that, both because I can imagine approximately 11,000,000 kinds of unfortunate implications that it could bring, and because I find the show's foals visually creepy.  The latter is a pretty idiosyncratic thing, of course, but that doesn't make it any less relevant to me; there are a lot of supposedly good cartoons I don't watch because I find the visual style unpleasant for one reason or another, and MLP occasionally throws in visual reference or alt-style that I dislike, it largely does a nice job of looking like something Chris wants to watch.

Anyway, let's break this down into four categories:

1.  Things I liked

-Carrot Top!

You know it can't be a bad episode when Carrot's already made an appearance before they're even finished showing the credits.  Of course, that's also her only appearance in this episode, but I'll take it.  And yes, I will be continuing to post screenshots of Carrot Top constantly; what's the point of having a blog if you can't post pictures of your favorite background pony on it?

-Also, I guess we can just say "more pony" in general.  Five months isn't bad for a hiatus.

-Spike was a strong presence throughout the episode, but if I was going to single out one moment that I loved, it was after he'd finished telling the story of his heroism to Starlight and the crystal ponies.  Starlight tries to guile him into telling another story so that she doesn't have to go confront Sunburst... and he shuts her down!  Not just that, but the way he did it made it clear that she hadn't "tricked" him into telling the first story; the little dude had clearly glanced over the list and determined that he had time to pause for one (but not two) pleasant diversion and still get back to Twilight in time.  Spike's at his best when he's the snarky voice of reason, but that does require him to not be an idiot.  I loved the way he was used in this whole episode.

-They still haven't figured out the shelving system in the Crystal Library.  They've had years to figure this thing out, or at least to go through and wrestle it into Dewey Decimal.  I think there's some high-level magic that keeps the books in a perpetual state of nth-dimensional non-temporal order, no doubt the result of a powerful wizard trying to combine his desire for more efficient check-outs with the latest advances in string theory.

2.  Things I felt neutral about

-Twilight's parents talked!  Oh... okay.  I mean, that's fine, nothing wrong with that... but somehow this is the most exciting thing to a bunch of people, and I guess I just don't much care whether they had a few lines or not.

-Also from that scene: apparently, ponies don't name their kids until after they're born--at least a couple of days after they're born (I don't know how many days old the baby was supposed to be, but it was at least old enough that "not getting any sleep since she was born" was a big deal).  That kind of makes sense; it gives the parents times to behold some prophetic event which will presage their special talent, which is apparently a thing in Equestria.  Just hope your parents are paying attention, or they'll be racking their brains trying to figure out what "sign" they got the week after you were born, and you'll end up with a name like "Insufficiently Chilled Gazpacho."

-I'm not entirely clear on what a "Crystaller" is supposed to be; it appears to be a vaguely officiating role--perhaps a priest stand-in?--but it's also someone the parents are expected to chose, which seems more like a personal thing--less "minister/rabbi" than "best man/maid of honor."  I bring this up because, if it's supposed to tend more toward the former, fine, but toward the latter... in that case, isn't that kind of like having some shlub off the street be your best man?  Granted, a shlub who your sister's plus-one says can save the world if you just listen to him and do what he says... wait, no, that's worse.

-The female crystalling-watcher had a cutie mark of a donkey, and she refused to move until her king prince directly ordered her to.  Is her special talent supposed to be being as stubborn as a mule, or is she just an ass?

3.  Things I didn't like, even thought the episode didn't do anything wrong

-Yeah, that baby's super creepy-looking to me.

-What the hell is a "wizard?"  I mean, they keep telling us that Sunburst is (/isn't) one, but I don't know what that even means in the context of Equestria.  It's not just "powerful unicorn;" they use it very clearly as a job title, as a specific thing that you do.  What is a "wizard"s job, in a world where a third of the population has tangible magic, and the rest don't but the unicorns tell them sweet sweet lies so they won't feel inferior have their own, more subtle powers?  Okay, I get it, we don't need to know anything more than that Sunburst isn't one because his special talent is secretly book-rearranging (get this guy to the Crystal Library, stat!) and not... whatever Wizards need cutie marks in (Magic?), but dangit, I don't even know what this guy is supposed to be!

-On a more serious note: in the abstract, I'm glad they acknowledged that somepony being born an alicorn throws a major wrench into the whole "alicornhood is something you earn" thing that we've had since season three.  That said, based how the show staff had handled previous destiny/fate/free will story elements, I have exactly zero confidence that this won't all end in some horribly broken aesop chock-full of disturbing implications.  I mean, I'd really like it if I was wrong, but this is one particular area where the show gets no benefit of the doubt from me.

4.  Things I didn't like, period

-So, I guess it's really gonna be a "main seven" situation from now on.  Well, that's pretty disappointing to me.  And of course, the pony they're adding as the "reformed villain" is the one with the weakest redemption arc to date (not to be confused with her villain arc, which was perfectly fine).

-Laser magic.  Why is magic always lasers, now?  They're not even fighting, they're stopping a storm, for goodness sake... and it's still magic lasers.  I've got higher standards for this show than the quick and easy visual cue-sign, and that's before we get into how ineffectual it makes Celestia and Luna look.  I mean, they shoot the clouds with lasers, and then get cold.  I get that it's a (magical?) superstorm that was only held at bay by the Crystal Heart, but surely there are ways to depict all this that make the sisters look less like the afterthought they seem to have been.  On that note, it makes me sad when Celestia gets saddled with dull, expository dialogue, because I want to like her as a character, but with every season my appreciation for her as a character seems to rely more and more on selectively ignoring things from the show.  Is this what it's like to have Rarity as your favorite pony?

-Still don't like the pink heart-train, in case anyone was wondering.  They've even used a less goofy-looking crystal train in the past; why couldn't they bring that out instead, at least for this episode?

So there you have it.  On balance, I thought the episode was fine, but it left me much less enthused about the coming season than the episode's quality itself would seem to belie.  Maybe Starlight won't be quite as omnipresent as it appears she will be from her insertion into the cast picture, and maybe they'll be able to retroactively do something to justify her weak motivation for turning evil, and equally weak/abrupt/stunningly complete turnaround.  Maybe Flurry Heart will stay offscreen until she grows up into something slightly less aesthetically unpleasing, and when she comes back maybe she won't have a "why I'm an alicorn" moment that makes me sad.  I'm not betting on any of those things, though.  But hey, at least this one(two) episode(s) was(were) OK(ay).


  1. My thoughts are below here.

    "I loved the way he was used in this whole episode."

    As the personal assistant to the "new" Twilight?

    "Twilight's parents talked! Oh... okay. I mean, that's fine, nothing wrong with that... but somehow this is the most exciting thing to a bunch of people,"

    I want you think deep and hard about all happened in these two episodes. Then I want you to think about that last part you wrote again.

    Now does it make sense why it would be true?

    "So, I guess it's really gonna be a "main seven" situation from now on."

    Poor Spike.

    1. Spike has to take what he can get "personal assistant to Twilight who's now the eighth wheel instead of the seventh" is a whole lot better than he gets in most Spike episodes...

  2. "Is this what it's like to have Rarity as your favorite pony?"


    Poor Rarity.

    1. Also similar to liking Spike, on the basis of (mostly) the majority of the time when he's in a supporting role.

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  4. Thanks for the plug, Chris.

    Star Swirl was also said to be a wizard on several occasions. Taking all sources of canon into account, what we know about him is that he was a teacher, an adventurer, and an inventor of spells who made several important discoveries, and worked for the Crown. So from context, I'm going to say that a wizard is probably a magical scientist of some kind.

  5. It took me a while to figure out, but Crystalling is a play on christening. Sunburst is Flurry Heart's godfather.

    1. This makes a lot of sense, in hindsight.

    2. But that just makes it even WEIRDER that they're letting a total stranger do it! My godparents were (are? do they stop being your godparents once you're old enough not to need a backup plan in case your parents die?) my aunt and uncle; I know plenty of people who've had close family friends be godparents; but a guy who just happens to show up at the right(?) time?

  6. Shitting fuck beans.

    Okay, hear me out, I just now thought about this after reading schpeelah's comment.

    I got the "christening" vaguely-a-pun, that was obvious after ten seconds' thought. But it means, in a back-translated kind of way, that all things crystal in the Empire also have religious overtones.

    And what happened in this episode that aired the day before Easter? The Crystal Heart was shattered and restored. THE CRYSTAL HEART IS PONY JESUS AND THIS WAS THEIR EASTER EPISODE


    I'm actually mildly bummed that Sunburst didn't end up being promoted to Royal Crystal Librarian. I mean, think about it: he got his cutie mark saving Starlight from a tower of falling books, while simultaneously reshelving them. His house is full of books that he spent the episode nervously sorting. He outright said that he studied lots of magic and couldn't do any of it. His special talent is obviously sorting books, or at least memorizing them. He could definitely fix the crystal ponies' oversight there.

  7. The subtitle of the show needs to be changed to "Teamwork is Magic."

  8. I really like how you managed to type "Shimmer" instead of "Starlight" in every instance. Says something about the show getting repetitive.

    1. Is it bad that I didn't even notice until you pointed it out?

    2. Shimmer, Starlight, Strixie... how am I supposed to keep up with all these names?

      Anyway, fixed now. Thanks--I don't rightly know how I screwed THAT up!

  9. I actually missed that crystalling was a play on christening, though I figured a crystaller was like a godparent. Not sure how that happened

    A wizard's just a unicorn of the nominal highest level, like Trixie when she had the Alicorn Amulet :p

  10. Huzzah! I'm not the only one being irritated by the thouroughly unimaginative Magic is Lasers thing that's going on here.

    As for Starlight's promotion, well. I'm worried, but it's not her inclusion in the opening photo that worries me. They've got the mayor in there, and she's never around. Rather, it's that she seems to be taking up Twilight's role. I've been waiting for the season bookends to take a break from being the Twilight Show, but I figured we'd eventually see one of the mane six stepping up to the two parter plate, not some brand new character whose defining trait is "questionably reformed cult leader".