Monday, September 5, 2016

Episode Talk: S6E18, Buckball Season

Remember the good old days when Carrot Top was in virtually every episode?  Sometimes on screen two or more times simultaneously when they showed a big crowd?  Ah, for the good old days; nowatimes, we get her in a mere 1/3rd of all episodes (of course I counted).  But we got to see her this weekend, which is doubly nice!  Not only for the regular reason that Carrot Top is best pony, but also because work starts up on Tuesday, and I'm going to be starting at a new school, a new grade level, and... a new everything, basically.  Stressful times, these.

But before we get to good ol' CT, let's talk about the episode itself!  Click below for my mostly-disorganized impressions of Buckball Season.

-This is one of those episodes I wasn't expecting to enjoy very much, because made-up-sports-themed cartoon episodes are always awful.  Well, actually I can think of a few classic cartoons (e.g. Bugs and co.) that did good stuff with it, but I can't think of any cartoon in the past few decades that has used a fictitious, one-off sport to good effect.  And the show's track record has varied between tolerable (Ice Archers) and awful (that painful faux-sports-jabber in Cutie Map).  And yet... it was pretty good!

-A lot of that comes down to the Buckball itself; it looked like a real sport!  Granted, it was hard to tell what a "real" game of buckball might look like, in the same way that it would be hard to tell what a real game of football might look like from watching M*A*S*H, but we've got the core of a sensible, entertaining game here.  Figure out the details on where various ponies can stand/fly, where buckets can be positioned, and contact rules, and you'd be good to go!  That all was a pleasant surprise to me; I came into the episode ready to have my disbelief (and patience) taxed sorely.

-Also awesome?  Snails!  My all-time favorite Canadian pony (narrowly edging out Celine Dion) in a significant role, and they actually found a use for him beyond "stock idiot!"  The whole zen angle was a funny, pleasant one to explore with a pony who's special talent is literally "being kinda slow, no offense," and his reassuring Dash and AJ that he was still game to play was a laugh-out-loud line for me.  Good stuff.

-On the subject of Snails: how did he get so darn good at... well, anything?  I have a theory.  See, we know (much as I hate it) that unicorns have levels, thanks to Magic Duel.  Presumably, you need to gain experience to level up, then, right?  Well, if there's one pony in Ponyville who we might expect to adopt the South Park strategy of staying in the beginning area and killing boar catching squirrels in buckets for several years in order to grind up to max level, it's Snails.

-Gotta say, they found some terrible unicorns to try out before they stumbled upon Snails, though.  How do you get a crowd of that many ponies who aren't even capable of holding a barrel steady while the ball streaks directly towards it?

-I was initially disappointed that Carrot Top wasn't at the train station to see the girls off, thinking that that might have been her one shot at some screentime.  But low and behold, there she was on the train!

Carrot Top isn't much for pro athletics; she'll take part in casual events like the Running of the Leaves or the Sisterhooves Social, sure, but she's always been broadly dismissive of "sportsball," to the annoyance of Written Script in particular, and everyone who has to listen to her belittle one of their favored forms of entertainment generally.  But, while she doesn't know much about buckball, she does know a thing or two about betting lines.  So, when she saw how awful Fluttershy and Pinkie were during their practice session (she wasn't spying!  She can just see Applejack's farm out her window, that's all!  And those binoculars are for birdwatching!), she grabbed every bit she could lay her hooves on, got herself a ticket to Appleoosa, and when she got there, made a beeline for the local bookie.  The good news was that she was able to get even money on a sure thing.  The bad news was that that "sure thing" was a Ponyville loss.

She ended up having to borrow two bits to send a telegram to Written, asking him to wire some money so she could get home.  He did, but only on the condition that she never use the word "sportsball" again.

-My one issue was with the moral, because of course it was.  I feel like I always complain about the moral in some shape.  Anyway, the expressed moral here is fine, but what bothers me is how easy it is to see a different, unintended moral: "no matter how hard you try, people with a natural talent will always be better than you, and no amount of hard work or desire on your part can ever overcome their natural talent."  I really wish that Fluttershy and Pinkie had had to work hard to get good enough to beat Braeburn and co.--you could still have your "not everyone likes pressure" moral, and even show that Dash and AJ's workout routines are in contrast to Pinkie and Fluttershy's preference for game-based practice.  Then again, in a world of predestined talents, maybe "innate inclination trumps any amount of effort" is just the way things are.

-Also, the stupid faces.  I hate the stupid faces.  Why do the ponies keep making stupid faces?

-Still, this was a very solid, enjoyable episode for me.  As several other people have commented, it feels like one that could have come sometime in S1-2.  That's true (and it's no coincidence that S2 is still my favorite season), but it's worth noting that it works just fine in the show's present day.  SoL episodes are where the show has always shined, I feel like, and it's nice to see that there's still ground to be covered here that doesn't require characters to backslide personality-wise, or to un-learn previous lessons.


  1. I was actually fine with Pinkie not needing to work that hard, since it seemed like a natural outgrowth from what we've seen in, for example, "Mare Do Well." Fluttershy less so. Another problem I had with the moral was that I have a hard time seeing the two of them not feeling terrible after having disappointed the people supporting them, so the episode's resolution depends heavily on them actually winning. So, for instance, is their method something that they could maintain following a loss?

    As for the "talent trumps effort" side of things, while it's believable in the context of Equestria in general, I just don't see the cutie mark angle applying here (except maybe for Pinkie). Beyond which, well, it's not a great moral, even for (at least most) very talented people.

  2. I see where you take issue with the "talent trumps effort" idea, but personally, it's never bothered me. It's the same as how some didn't like the season five finale's idea that only the main six could've saved Equestria, because they're exceptional ponies and others apparently just aren't. What it boils down to is a complaint that MLP presents a world where not everybody is equally capable or important, but... well, that's what real life is like too, isn't it?

    I don't mean to be cynical, but it's true. Not every kid born in the United States is capable of becoming the president, even if they believe they are. Sometimes tasks demand innate qualities in people that some might not have. If I suffer from terrible health conditions, I probably won't be an astronaut. That's the rub.

    1. Ah, but the issue is to what degree that is realistic, firstly because there are always complications. For instance, there are tens of millions of kids in the US at any one time, and within any particular lifetime only a couple of dozen presidents. You don't necessarily need to invoke special talents to explain why not everyone becomes president, and that's before you start asking questions about how rigorous the entry requirements are, what to expect if hypothetically everyone could be tested for presidency ability, and whether it really is the case that only 1 in a few 100,000 kids actually has what it takes.

      Secondly, in real life even strong talent isn't enough by itself. No one is ever born an astronaut. Even the best qualified have to go through a lot of training, education, and effort before they get to go into space. Especially in an information-rich and competitive age, very, very few people can coast their way into becoming experts or masters.

      Lastly, at least for me, it's not the lesson that "some people are talented and others aren't" that bugs me: every one of the main six has their obvious strengths and weaknesses. It's the fatalistic implications that bother me more, because it seems to me much riskier to go around telling people not to bother because they're not the best of the best, than to invite people to put in the effort and work hard. You can work for something that requires training and effort. You can't if, apparently, you have to be born right first.

      Plus, the idea that ONLY those six ponies had any meaningful enough relationships to save an entire nation is way too extreme a way to convey the idea. Especially when this is bona fide friendship we're talking about, not solving quadratic equations in your sleep. Figure out what that says about the rest of Equestrian society, and the implications are downright misanthropic (misequine? misequinic?).

    2. "whether it really is the case that only 1 in a few 100,000 kids actually has what it takes"

      Oops! Try closer to 1 in a few million, for that example. That's a few dozen presidents per tens of millions of kids, after all.

    3. It is indeed a complicated issue, but I wasn't trying to imply anything specific about what it takes to be an astronaut or the president. I just meant to illustrate that some people are born with advantages or limitations that others don't have, whether those be physical, mental, or something else. What we call natural talent (or the lack thereof) is just one manifestation of this.

      The fatalism aspect I won't comment on. That's just as complicated an issue, and also not one that I feel equipped to debate.

    4. I think the key thing here isn't that Fluttershy and Pinkie are naturally talented; it's that they're so incredibly talented that, from the moment they pick up the ball (okay, within 30 seconds of that, anyway), it's obvious that they're better at the game than Applejack, who's got plenty of experience with the sport, and Dash, who's essentially a pro athlete. The message that sends isn't "sometimes, you won't be the best, even if you work hard;" it's "if you aren't immediately successful, don't bother trying, because no amount of work will allow you to compete with a newbie with a knack."

  3. I liked the episode, too, and my nitpicks about it are related to yours. For one, I don't think it was necessary, and possibly even counterproductive, to have Ponyville win the game. But of course they'd win, which is also the issue I had with the Equestria Games episode. In both of them, we're told that winning isn't the important thing, and as long as you put forth your best effort (Equestria Games) and have fun (Buckball Season), that's what matters. But making sure you're relaxed and having fun will deliver the win? That's not very realistic, and I think the message would have been better had they lost and returned to a crowd that was still happy for them. Which, I guess, was the moral we already got from "The Last Roundup."

    The other thing that bugged me was how readily Applejack and Rainbow Dash ceded their places on the team. They start out assuming they're the best, and they just need a unicorn. But without even discussing it, they independently decide that Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy need to be on the team, to the point that they each just assume the other thinks the same thing. These are hyper-competitive ponies who bristle at any insinuation they aren't the top athlete (see "Fall Weather Friends"), and they're so quickly and easily going to admit they aren't the best? Town pride is on the line, and I can see them grudgingly allowing it to that end, but it didn't take any convincing.

    It was also a little odd to see the goals scored during the actual game usually result from the defender mostly watching the ball go by, whereas in the practice session, Dash was making good dives for the ball, and just couldn't get to it in time. For that matter, it looked awfully fake that Pinkie could beat Applejack to the opening toss that easily, where AJ hadn't even started her kick yet. I think it would have looked better if they'd both gotten a kick off, but Pinkie happened to be a little quicker or more accurate.

    Minor things, though, and I found this to be a fun episode. Plus Carrot Top. I look for her now, damn you.

  4. I liked the episode, and personally, I don't that it's much a matter of "inherint talent", since what Pinkie and Shy did in the episode it's totally in character with what we saw them doing as their habit in the past (Pinkie can move fast, likes to jump a lot, and we even saw her doing some gymnastic while looking for the Cake Twins, so it's totally believable she would be thi much athletic for a game like that; and Shy, well, we all know by now how capable she is, when she stops being scared and gains more confidence).

    The intended moral was "some people works their best without not much pressure while taking things lightly", and that's totally true, trust me. Inherint talent have nothing to do with it, and even if it was, it's not quite shown to be enough to win a game (we saw them Training with Aj and Applejack before the game, after all).

    But hey, maybe it's also true that the moral would've be stronger if they would'nt have win the game, proving that having fun is more important then win a game. Still, it shows that pressure for something isn't always necessary for doing your best, that's definitely truth for some people...

    Also, HOLY S**T Snails actually was using for something more then just being an idiot for laughs (too bad Snips was left out). This show is REALLY redeeming the ponies that weren't given much importance before. Is there any more reasons to saw why it isn't an awesome show?

    But hey, that's just my opinion...