Monday, August 22, 2016

Episode Talk: S6E16, The Times They Are A Changeling

I haven't been talking about the episodes recently because there's been a distressing dearth of Carrot Top over the past few weeks.  In fact, the last three episodes have shown her exactly twice in total: both times were in Carts Before Horses, as she cheers the racers on.

Carrot Top and her little sister competed in the derby last year, but after a biased (and suspiciously Apple-centric) judging panel denied the Orange Arrow its rightful victory in the Most Traditional competition, she vowed never to have anything to do with the race, ever again.  On the day of the derby, her friend Lily dropped by and asked if she wanted to go.  After patiently listening for twenty minutes while Carrot Top detailed exactly why she would never be seen within a country mile of the stupid thing, Lily nonchalantly mentioned that Applejack and her sister were racing this year.  "Apropos of nothing," Lily added, putting her word-a-day calendar to good use, "did you know that some ponies go to races just to see the crashes?"

This may not have been Carrot Top's proudest moment, but it certainly gave her a chance to put her word-a-day calendar to use: shadenfreude wasn't something she woke up that morning expecting to be able to work into a conversation, but life's funny like that sometimes.

Saturday's episode didn't have any Carrot Top, either--but, seeing as it's the long-awaited "so, what's the deal with Changelings, anyway?" episode, I had a few things to say about it.  Head below the break for some straight-up opinionatin'.

-First opinion: too little Carrot Top.

-Okay, okay, for real: I didn't have terribly high hopes for this episode, but still found it disappointing.  That doesn't have very much to do with the particular interpretation of changelings which the show writers opted for, but mostly with how all the ponies reacted to Spike's song.  Let's start with changelings, though!  Obviously, we've lost a lot of favored headcanons: hiveminds, tragic misunderstandings (at the cultural level, that is, not the individual one), and more are all definitively un-canon.  We can probably also infer that ectothermism is out (Thorax seems to move around pretty well in the show and ice; he must be warm-blooded, or have some way to regulate his temperature), as is the idea that feeding on love destroys or degrades that love, or negatively affects the pony drained (at least, nobody seems concerned about side effects, to the point where Cadence is shoving her baby in his face) and that shapeshifting requires much, if any, energy (Thorax can cycle through several forms without difficulty, despite being on the brink of starvation).  What we got is basically "Changelings are funny looking ponies that can chose not to be funny looking (and/or be inanimate objects) and who need friends to live a healthy life wait, that's normal ponies too.  Just that first bit, then.  Also, they're generally born evil."  Though that wasn't my headcanon, it's hardly unworkable; there've been several fanfics which used that basic premise in entirely not-awful ways.  But the way that last element was treated here didn't work for me.

-Which brings us to Thorax: the only good changeling.  Okay, there may be other ones, but the picture that he paints is pretty unambiguous: changelings as a group are evil from birth, with himself as an exceptional, possibly unique counterexample.  That's not exactly uncommon in fiction, but the problem with it being used here is that Thorax isn't just trying to get in the Crystal Empire's good graces; he's trying to get rid of the stigma of being a changeling.  That stigma is entirely justified and reasonable, the episode seems to tell us; this unusual creature notwithstanding, changelings are vicious, nasty little buggers whom you definitely shouldn't trust.  The answer to the rhetorical question Spike asks is clear: we "can't we imagine a changeling can change" because Thorax wasn't a bad guy who reformed; he's an unexplained outlier who was apparently good all along.  That being the case, the ponies as a group should absolutely keep distrusting changelings.  Making nice with Thorax specifically would be another matter, but Spike doesn't really make that case--he's busy asking why we can't just accept a changeling on his word.

-Be all that as it may, though, I still found everyone's acceptance of Spike's friendship absolutely baffling, because... well, the ponies don't seem to know much about changelings (nopony at the Royal Wedding back in season two seemed to know what one was, anyway), but the one thing they absolutely do know is that changelings can mindrape you.  I mean, Shining Armour is standing right there while Spikes doing his ballad, and he was personally subject to a mind-affecting spell cast by a changeling.  So why is everyone so confident that Thorax didn't just make Spike come stand up for him?  This is the kind of thing that makes me honestly wonder of the writers of this episode are actually familiar with the show, or if they just read the cliff's notes and said "Hey, there're shape-changers?  We can work with that."

-As for the song itself: it was fine, though I thought it went rather long.  Or perhaps it was just the visual repetition; we see Spike making the same few gestures at the same few ponies (and blank background) a lot, which might have affected my impression.  Perfectly pleasant ballad other than that, if not something catchy or terribly memorable.  A lot of people didn't seem to like it as well, but honestly, everypony's blind acceptance in the face of what little they actually know to be true was what bugged me a lot more than the tune.

-One thing I'll definitely say in this episode's favor: Glimmer didn't play a big role.  Still not on board with this "bonus main character" thing, and the fact that she nearly disappeared after the first few minutes was nice.

-All in all, this episode didn't have nearly enough of my favorite background pony, and also had a incomprehensible moral (don't pre-judge, even if a race is literally evil from birth!  Believe your friends, even if you know someone might be forcing them to lie to you against their will!).  Oh well, maybe next week will have something more to my taste!  In the meantime, though, pour one out for poor Maxilla; it took almost four years, but she's finally been definitively jossed.


  1. Yeah, I wasn't a huge fan of this one either. It wasn't Crusaders of the Lost Mark bad, but it was fairly mediocre. The fact that Thorax immediately made me think of Drizzt Do'Urden certainly didn't help

  2. I liked this one initially, but I think as I read people's analyses of it, my opinion is starting to lower.

    1. It'll be interesting to see what you think after rewatching it next week. Did we help you take of the rose-tinted glasses? Or did our negativism drag you down?

    2. Probbo! I'm composing the intro blurb in my head already. :V

  3. My biggest problem:

    Continues to be the way the show has never addressed how changelings actually function out in the world. I mean, if they normally encase a pony in a cocoon, then take that pony's place so they can feed on the love other ponies feel for that pony, why didn't Chrysalis encase Cadance in a cocoon?

    And what does "feed on love" mean, anyway? Does the love other ponies feel for the target pony actually decrease while the changeling feeds, so that when the changeling cuts and runs and the other pony dizzily returns from cocooned captivity, the other ponies don't care because they don't love that pony anymore? Is that why changelings weren't better known in Equestria before the wedding? A pony reports an attack to the local authorities, and the local authorities don't care 'cause they now don't like the attacked pony anymore?

    So many questions!


  4. Hiveminds weren't jossed. Well, Borg-style hiveminds were. But not the "species-wide telepathy between individuals" kind. At least not if you allow for the caveat that it's possible for an individual to leave or be cut off from it. I seem to recall that Smoke and Mirrors used something like that. I use it for all my Borderworld stories too (including Fire Burning).

    That quibble aside, I agree with your evaluation of this episode. It was pretty weak. I like it conceptually, so I can't hate it, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. I'd go into detail, but I already did elsewhere, so it'd be easier to just link it:

    Incidentally, any of you here who don't already follow FOME should do so, because he does great episode breakdowns, and he writes about interesting things.

  5. How much of this episode changes if you consider the changeling used mind-control magic on Spike in the caves, then did a wonderful job of acting once he convinced his mental minion to slip him into the castle and near the Royal Family? Now Chrysalis has an infiltrator actually *in* the castle, and can swap in any 'ling she wants by just having them match changeling disguises.

    Soon, little Flurry Heart, you will be all mine, and your tender young love too! Buhahahahaha!

  6. Clearly, Spike and Twilight are both secret changelings who are in on the plot to infiltrate Equestria and institute changeling rule. We can't trust any changelings seeking refuge from Queen Chrysalis because they might be secretly plotting against us. Remember, the changelings are out to destroy us. They are sending all of their mindrapists to Equestria to steal our love. This is why we have to deport Thorax and build a wall to prevent more changelings from coming into the Empire.

    1. See, this breaks down in large part not because the premises are unreasonable--by all appearances the vast majority of changelings are born evil, we can't really trust Thorax himself for various reasons, etc.--but because they need a cage since changelings can fly. Actually, more like a solid dome since changelings can change size.


    3. The dome will be built, and Chrysalis is going to pay for it.

      Changelings #Can'tMalignTheShine

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  8. I loved this episode actually, but you did raise some good points.

    By my opinion changelings aren't born evil per se, it's probably Chrysalis who made them to act evil (if you see better the scene were Thorax is born all the other basby changelings were already born before, when we see them hissing to eachothers; maybe Thorax is a alter-borned, so Chrysalis didn't thought about (or care to) making sure he would be act evil too, since she already had a big number little mean changelings that could help her with her evil plans).

    And for the song, yeah, now that you mention it, it can be pretty suspicios that Spike defending a changeling is mind-controlled by it. Yet again, we only see Chrysalis as Cadance doing that to Shining Armor, so who says that the other changelings can (or are powerful enough to) do the same as welL? I mean, wouldn't have the invasion of Canterlot be much easier if all the changelings could mind-rape ponies into accepting them? Besides, everyone listening to Spikeìs song werenìt full convinced until Twilight intervene, so perhaps she learned how to distinguish somepony whoìs mind-controlled from one who isn't? With all that said, hpwever, yeah, this point could've be lampshaded story-wise and the fact it wasn't is part of a problem that inherit in the series since it's conception; to sometimes wrap up the conclusion to an episode in a way thatìs too fast incomplete, at least partially...

    But hey, it's just my opinon.