Wednesday, July 5, 2017

In Which Chris Complains About an Episode. A Lot.

A few weeks ago, I said this about A Royal Problem:
Didn't like it. Actually, hated it. Not quite as much as I hated stuff like Bats!, or... actually, it might be my second-least-favorite episode, after Bats! I'd have to think about it, but that would require thinking about it, which I really would rather not do.
Apparently, not many of you were terribly thrilled that I'd mention my opinion without justifying it.  I've gotten comments and e-mails asking me to talk about the episode, multiple times from some people.  I've been had my failure to say more about the episode than "I hated it, I don't wanna talk about it" called "the lazy way out" and "unprofessional."

Well, fine.  Let's talk about A Royal Problem.  Let's go through all the reasons I didn't like it.  If you come here for fanfiction reviews, go ahead and close your browser now, and come back on Friday; otherwise, below the break is a whole bunch of bellyaching.

Let's start with why I didn't initially say more about A Royal Problem than my overall opinion, and why I initially resisted calls to expound.  See, I use this blog for reviewing--critically looking at strengths and weaknessess, weighing how choices might appeal to different readers, that kind of thing.  I focus almost exclusively on fanfiction for a couple of reasons: first, because writing critique is at least kinda-sorta-semi-adjacent to my professional training, which makes me feel like I'm on slightly more comfortable footing trying to come up with meaningful opinions about it (although I never have and never will claim that I have any credentials for what I do, beyond letting my output speak for itself).  Second, and more importantly, because I really like fanfiction; I like writing it, I like reading it, and I like reviewing it.  I like the lack of barrier between reader and audience, I like the way you can trace the organic development and dying off of certain fads, headcanons, and so on, I like how I can read a story that's less than five years old and it feels like I'm unearthing an ancient relic from an age long past.  This is fun to me, and because it's fun, I enjoy putting in the time and effort to... well, to try to do a good job reviewing, and to try to improve with practice.

I don't feel that same way about the show itself, and never have.  That's not to say that I don't like the show, of course!  I got into the fandom by watching the show, not vice-versa, and it still occasionally produces episodes I really love, and regularly produces ones I'm happy to watch.  But I don't feel the same drive to dig deep into the show's artistic/directorial/scripting decisions that I do with creative writing.  I don't feel that for fan art or fan music, either; I enjoy both, sure, but I'm satisfied being a more casual consumer.

So generally speaking, I only comment extensively on episodes half a dozen times a season or so, when one comes along that I have something in particular to say about.  The rest of the time, I'll briefly mention it in an above-the-break blurb, because it seems silly not to acknowledge the show at all (we kinda need it to write fanfiction!  And, you know, interest in the show is nominally what ties the fandom together), but I usually don't have any desire to dig deeper into the analysis.  For me with the show, just like for most readers with fanfiction itself, it's enough to know "that was funny," "this is nice," or "I didn't enjoy that," and then to move on without exploring those feelings more deeply.

But okay, fine.  Let's take a look at the show.  Maybe giving my summary opinion was a mistake, or maybe the way I phrased my "I hated it" sounded too much like "it's objectively the worst and you're wrong if you disagree."  Either way, let's go ahead and unpack it.

For what it's worth, Starlight's not the real problem here.  Sure, I don't like her post-reformation role in the show.  And sure, I think that the idea that somepony who still apparently still uses mindrape as a first resort for dealing with trivial annoyances has such a keen grasp on friendship that she, unlike those incompetent main six, doesn't even need a plus-one on a Friendship Map Quest is laughable.  But I've felt that way about a lot of episodes since the main six added their Cousin Oliver, and still managed the feel something between grudging toleration and ennui at them.  She's not the reason I hated this episode.

Incidentally, that whole last paragraph?  There's another reason I don't have any real interest in trying my hand at episode reviewing, rather than the "occasionally list some random thoughts about an episode I had an unusual number of random thoughts about" format.  If every episode with Starlight Glimmer in it is going to be dragged down by the nonsense way she became Twilight's personal student and how everyone loves her yet hates ponies who have pulled literally a fraction of her BS and have expressed greater contrition to boot (to be fair, I can certainly conceive of episodes that don't rub either of those facts in your face... but the show sure loves bringing one or both facts up every single time Starlight is a main character in an episode), does it do me or anyone else any good to repeat the same criticisms over and over, ad nauseum?  On the other hand, is it a useful review if I just stop writing the same complaints after the dozenth time the show does this?  I don't know what kind of balance to strike, and unlike with breaking down writing, it's not something I take particular pleasure in trying to puzzle out.  It just feels draining, debating whether or not it's worth mentioning the same problem, over and over, without it having any effect.

And that's a thing, too: with my reviews, I'm trying to help someone decide whether or not to read a story, so talking about its strengths and weaknesses matters.  It's there to help someone, even if it's helping them with something as minor as "should I read this ponyfic?," and even if plenty of a review's readers might either have no interest in adding to their RiL list in the first place, or have already read the review in any case.  There's at least a potential for what I'm doing there to be useful.  But with an episode review?  Who does that help?  It doesn't help the show; the writers aren't reading my critiques.  It doesn't help the audience; nobody who's watched six and a half seasons of MLP is going to skip an episode because Chris didn't like it, and nobody who doesn't watch the show is going to pick up one random S7 episode because he did.  It's just howling at the moon, really.  There's some conversational value in talking about the episodes, some sense of community that comes of comparing what others thought with what you did; I used to enjoy reading a few people's blogs on them, before this season (not because the blogs got bad or anything, but because with the messed-up release dates, all those blogs were old news by the time I actually watched the episodes, and without any sense of community, I didn't feel a need to go archive-hunting for what PresentPerfect said about this-or-that episode a month ago), and that's a big part of why I say anything about the episodes.  I assume--actually, I know--that some people really enjoy seeing if they and I are on the same page about the latest episode.  But that doesn't require a detailed analysis.

But I'm rambling.  Okay.  I don't like Starlight, and I didn't like her in this episode, but it's not that the episode was ruined by her; it was an episode I hated that also happened to be a Starlight episode.  And the reason why I hated it was because of the royal sisters.

Let's start with the infantilization of Celestia and Luna.  From the very beginning, they've been presented as three things: ancient, powerful, and sisters.  I used to be a big fan of the "small-g gods" school of princessing, but the show clearly established it wasn't going that direction.  No problem, things like "can a regular unicorns be more powerful than the alicorns?" or "are they actually immortal, or just really long-lived?" are ripe for fan exploration, but those kinds of specifics aren't essential elements of how they're presented in the show.  The three watchwords, though, are ancient, powerful, and sisters.

"Ancient" carries some basic behavioral requirements.  You don't have to be smart; even old people can be dumb.  You don't have to be empathetic; even old people can be emotionally obtuse.  You don't even have to be self-aware; even old people can be totally wrapped up in themselves.  But you do have to demonstrate some minimum level of worldliness; for Celestia at least (depending on your interpretation of both the nature of NMM's banishment and how old she was when it happened, a fan could plausibly argue that she's "really" still relatively young), total behavioral naivete is just ridiculous.  The only thing more ridiculous, honestly, is the idea that a pony who's so stunted that this is the level she operates at after over a thousand years (minimum!) would be enthusiastically accepted as the head of state--a position which, we've seen in the show, is definitely not just ceremonial.

So we get a Celestia who's too dumb to figure out why her sister's mad (I don't suppose she could've, you know, asked sompony? Surely not all the castle staff can be as blind as she is), who's to dumb to figure out that her being mad is even a problem without Starlight there to drag it in front of her face, and who's totally incapable of defusing an elementary school-level spat.  I mean, fine, the show's for kids, but do you know which two ponies would have been better suited to deliver this particular version of the "learn to appreciate your friend/family" message?  All of them.  Literally all the ponies in Equestria!  Because to the best of our knowledge, none of those ponies have at least a millennium of diplomatic experience under their belts, yet feel that shouting "NO YOU" when someone says they feel disrespected is totally a good idea.

But!, you say!  What about watchword number three?  Ah yes: sisters.  Sisters do fight, after all.  Sisters push each other's buttons.  Heck, sisters can drive each other crazy (see: Moon, Nightmare)!  But that's the funny thing here: they aren't really pressing each other's buttons.  They're getting into a ridiculous spat over something that neither of them seems terribly invested in, outside of this particular episode (think: has anything Celestia's said or done for the past seven seasons suggested that she's someone who enjoys playing the martyr?  Hasn't Luna's whole post-Nightmare Night thing been that she's strong (albeit brittle), and not the old Sad/Emo Luna of yore?).  This isn't them picking a fight; they don't bring up old grudges, or shift to perceived slights.  They legitimately don't seem to be able to pick up on basic nonverbal cues from each other, with is basically the opposite of what sisters can (and do, whether in the name of friendship or antipathy) do.

Oh, and of course Starlight decides to use some non-consensual mind destiny-rape to fix things.  Look, I know I said she wasn't the reason that I hated this episode, but let's be fair, it's not like she was helping my enjoyment.  This actually doesn't bother me in terms of watchword number two--the sisters may be powerful, but we know that Starlight is too, and that cutie mark magic is something she's got plenty of experience with.  But don't worry, we get to "power" right after that.

See, power isn't just about raw magical potential.  There's also your importance, your influence, your role in society.  The U.S. president isn't powerful because he can bench press the Lincoln Memorial, he's strong because he's in charge of the armed forces and one-third of the governmental triumvirate of the Greatest Country On Earth™.  Likewise, we know that Celestia is powerful not just in a magical sense, but in terms of her importance in pony society, and her role in Equestria's rulership.  We likewise know that Luna is her equal since her return in both respects (at least nominally; whether actually or not is unclear).  

So of course, it turns out that Celestia's job is to smile all day.  Literally, just smile.  Not make any plans, not negotiate, not arbitrate, not even open her mouth; just smile.  Oh, an listen to other people talk without getting angry.  Sure, Luna screws up to show just how hard it is, but do you know who else has to smile all day?  Wal-Mart greeters.  You know who else has to listen to people talk all day without getting angry?  Customer service representatives.  Now, I'm not out to denigrate either of those groups, but let's not pretend that these represent Positions of Great Power.  Let's not pretend that these are jobs so unspeakably hard that no ordinary person could possibly appreciate their unique difficulties.  They're jobs, and they have their challenges... but they're not something you get defensive about.

But, besides raising the Sun, that's Celestia's whole schtick.  I guess.  And it's clearly a lot tougher than Luna's job, because Luna is just shocked by how difficult it is to spend all day keeping up appearances.

To be fair, Luna's job is even easier, it turns out; she has to raise the moon and... visit dreams?  I want to say that this sounds like a really challenging job, to fend off nightmares and to guide kids like Applebloom to good decisions, but from what we see, the totality of the job is "as long as you don't forget that it's a dream and that that apparition can't really hurt you, and your alicorn magic will make all the problems vanish."  Celestia is literally incapable of this task, of course.

But to be fair, the whole dream scenario makes no sense.  Why does Starlight dream about Celestia going EVIL?  Is this really her deep-seated anxiety, that if Celestia gets annoyed enough with her sister she'll pull a reverse-NMM?  To be fair, Luna turned evil after ponies "scorned her beautiful night," but I think there was some implication that that was more than just a "sister thinks her job is harder than mine" situation.  It's a good thing that her job is so inconsequential, then; at least she'll be easy to replace.  

But no, it's apparently Celestia's dream, somehow, because Evilestia somehow knows exactly what Celestia's emotional flaws and personal weaknesses are.  Unless we're supposed to think that Starlight used some non-consensual mind-magic on the princesses earlier to discover their deepest fears about themselves?  And the fact that this seems plausible to me is just one part of why I hate the episode!

Then Luna shows up, and explains that Starlight's psyche will be permanently damaged if Celestia doesn't hurry up and use her dream magic.  Why?  Who knows.  I mean, I can think of some psychologically scarring dreams, I suppose.  Heck, the show came up with a pretty decent one, with Apple Bloom dreaming about her fears and Luna guiding her through it!  But the thing is, that was a dream about Apple Bloom's insecurities, and her learning how to confront them; Starlight's dream is an entirely external fear.  Imagine this scenario: Starlight's nightmare isn't interrupted, she wakes up in a cold sweat the next morning, and when she rushes downstairs, Celestia and Luna are tearfully making up after having walked a mile in one another's horseshoes.  How is this "permanently damaging" her, again?  Why is this bad dream about something that, literally the next day, she's going to see resolve itself, going to forever scar her?  Whatever, not important.  What matters is more awesome alicorn magic!

"Alicorn magic," of course, means "lasers."  A fire laser, from Evilestia, obviously.  That probably shouldn't bother me so much, but it's just the icing on the cake at that point.  I am so tired of the show putting "magic laser fight!" ahead of actual development.  It's a pity that that fight, every single second of it, was so thematically crucial that there was no time left to explain why it mattered to Starlight's psyche's health if Celestia broke up the nightmare early, or why Evilestia seemed to be Celestia's dream, or how Luna got there in the first place if Celestia's hogging the dream magic.  But no, magic lasers.

The end.

So there you go: that's why I don't like A Royal Problem.  Feel free to go down to the comments and discuss why some or all of my complaints are addressed in the show, or are just my biases getting in the way of understanding what I'm seeing, or how I'm missing the point that it's a children's show and is constrained by that fact, or whatever.  I'm not being sarcastic when I say that; this wasn't some brilliant analysis, and it probably deserves to be torn down.  That's why I didn't write something like this three weeks ago; it's ultimately just me complaining about things I don't like.  It's my reactions, and it's my opinions, without even a "well-considered" or "even-handed" or "intelligent" to preface it.  It's not particularly insightful, I can't imagine it helping anyone, and let's be honest, it probably doesn't reflect all that well on me.  Heck, I didn't even enjoy writing it.  I don't like being angry or disappointed, and I really don't like telling someone who loves something (by all accounts, most fans loved this episode) that I think their shiny new toy sucks.  I'd much rather spend time telling people what toys they might or might not want to buy, instead of being the arbiter of whether people are having the right kind of fun or not.





If you read this far, I hope you at least liked this post, because it wasn't fun to write.  Or if nothing else, maybe this sheds a little light on why I don't post in-depth reactions to every episode.  

22 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, even if it wasn’t pleasant to write out. I actually loved the episode, so obviously I don’t view things the same way you do, but I still understand where you’re coming from.

    I think ultimately it’s about what level of emotional and thematic realism we expect from the show. Sure, it’s dealt with heavy(ish) topics before, in its own way, and it has particularly rich lore for writers to use to in their worldbuilding. But as you said, it is ultimately a kids’ show, one limited to 22-minute episodes most of the time. Things are going to be rushed or summarized, there will be clich├ęs and contrivances, deeper issues might be swept aside or ignored outright, etc. That’s really just par for the course.

    Personally, I’m only ever disappointed with a pony episode if/when it’s glaringly inconsistent in writing quality or tone or characterization, or when one or more characters seem to forget lessons they spent entire episodes (sometimes more than one) learning in the past. That, I can’t excuse as something from a kids’ show – it’s just lazy writing. Thankfully, it’s fairly rare, at least IMO.

    I have much higher standards for fics, since those are (typically) written by adults with the life experience and emotional maturity to deal with heavier topics than the show can tackle. But when it comes to the show, all I really want and expect is something fun to watch – a moment of innocence in my day. So I’m usually fairly satisfied.

    I do agree with some of your criticisms, mind, particularly the over-reliance on MAGIC LASERS! and SG’s tendency to jump to magical mind-fuckery almost on a whim. I think the show could do a better job of being harder on her for that, since she’s basically gotten away with it each time. That said, I do like her as a character, and I think her portrayal’s improving as time goes – she’s downright likeable in “Rock Solid Friendship”.

    Okay, I’m gonna cut this off before I end up with something almost as long as your post. In summary: I get ya, though I’m not bothered by it as much since I don’t have high expectations that the show will treat heavy or sensitive matters the way a more mature show would. Also, I wouldn’t qualify your post as “bellyaching” if it’s in response to readers accusing you of being lazy or unprofessional – that’s just dumb. This is a fiction review blog, not an episode summary digest; you’re perfectly entitled to not even mention the episodes if you don’t want to. (Again, expectations.)

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  2. It sounds exceptionally dumb. I'm glad I don't watch anymore :P

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  3. First of all, thank you for putting this into words. :D Trust me when I say, it's really worth hearing your opinion.

    Second of all, man, I can't even me. Like, I look at pretty much everything you say and I'm like, yeah, no, yeah, that's right. Like, the part about them not fighting like sisters? Spot on. And yet that was something I really enjoyed about the episode. I think I read a lot of things into it that just aren't there, and the rest didn't bother me because OOH SHINY THINGS

    Like, seriously, I fell hard into the fandering here, and I apparently don't care this time around, even though I've been hard-up about similar things in the past. c.c What the heck, me?

    I didn't feel a need to go archive-hunting for what PresentPerfect said about this-or-that episode a month ago

    Ouch, right in the relevancy. ;_; Well, Chris, since it's definitely hard to search blogs for things like "episode review" (not sarcasm, it is!), I figured I'd do you a solid and list all my season 7 episode review blogs. Just for you, buddy! :D

    https://www.fimfiction.net/blog/729590/therell-be-no-living-with-the-twilestia-shippers-after-this-chronic-hornsturbation-episode-spoilers
    https://www.fimfiction.net/blog/731183/unicorn-drivers-no-survivors-episode-spoilers
    https://www.fimfiction.net/blog/732601/everything-wrong-with-the-flintstones-episode-spoilers
    https://www.fimfiction.net/blog/732801/animal-hugbox-episode-spoilers
    https://www.fimfiction.net/blog/734212/time-for-the-nursing-home-rarity-episode-spoilers
    https://www.fimfiction.net/blog/734378/dont-trust-anypony-over-40-episode-spoilers
    https://www.fimfiction.net/blog/735919/sucks-to-your-cheerimac-episode-spoilers
    https://www.fimfiction.net/blog/735942/applejack-is-clothes-racist-episode-spoilers
    https://www.fimfiction.net/blog/737275/shes-everything-inside-of-you-that-you-wish-you-could-be-episode-spoilers
    https://www.fimfiction.net/blog/737542/hard-to-yak-anything-episode-spoilers
    https://www.fimfiction.net/blog/743993/keep-discord-and-fluttershy-on-episode-spoilers
    https://www.fimfiction.net/blog/744216/they-are-all-made-of-stars-episode-spoilers

    And here are the secondary thought blogs! In easy-to-access list format! :D

    https://www.fimfiction.net/blog/730497/pipe-land-1-2-episode-recap
    https://www.fimfiction.net/blog/732020/pipe-land-3-episode-recap
    https://www.fimfiction.net/blog/733713/pipe-land-4-5-episode-spoilers
    https://www.fimfiction.net/blog/735138/pipe-land-6-7-episode-spoilers
    https://www.fimfiction.net/blog/738453/pipe-land-8-11-episode-spoilers

    I need to rewatch episodes 12 and 13 still. :B

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    1. Thank you for collating all your stuff so that I can continue to be lazy, but now without suffering even minimal consequences!

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    2. Huzzah! The consequences have been minimized!

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  4. I'm sorry if you felt pressured to write this, and I'm sorry you had a bad time doing so. I know my voice was one of those asking for it, but I don't believe it's fair to call you lazy or unprofessional for not expounding. That said, I actually am glad to hear your thoughts, regardless of how they are presented; I attach a lot of value to your opinions, and finding that we agree on something always pleases me.

    In this case, you and I agree on a lot. I mean, I actually liked the Daybreaker fight, and it's the sole reason I didn't hate the episode as well, but I'm right there with you on the terrible characterisation of the Royal Sisters.

    Mostly, though, I just didn't like them forgetting the lessons that they, in particular, should have learned by now. I didn't even consider how infantile their behaviour in general was, or the presentation of their duties. So those are more issues you've highlighted for me. I'd say that this post definitely has value as a critique if you got me thinking about all these things I never considered before.

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  5. Splitting because long and the site and other tools aren't agreeing on character count:

    -->(I don't suppose she could've, you know, asked sompony? Surely not all the castle staff can be as blind as she is)
    That’s another issue for me: where was the castle staff, and why aren't they involved in anything? It also ties in to the "importance" issue later on: should they really be able to do their jobs entirely alone?

    -->This isn't them picking a fight; they don't bring up old grudges, or shift to perceived slights. They legitimately don't seem to be able to pick up on basic nonverbal cues from each other, with is basically the opposite of what sisters can (and do, whether in the name of friendship or antipathy) do.

    Yes. To which I would add there were, especially on Luna's side, immediately relevant perceived slights that could have been brought up. And beyond not picking up nonverbal cues, there's the question of basic logic, in the sense that it seems like an obvious problem that Luna's role still involves about no physical contact with anypony except her sister at their respective breakfasts. At least that they were willing to show us. That struck me as one of the most obvious possible things to do after NMM is dealt with and Luna is being reintegrated: put her in a role which has her interacting with waking ponies on a regular basis. And remember one of the first things Celestia ever said onscreen? "We are meant to rule together"? Is that how you'd describe the apparent division of roles? I guess I'm saying there's a reason that Luna having a court of her own, or handling a specific portion of the laws, etc. is (it has seemed to me) an almost omnipresent meme in derivative works that focus on them in their roles as rulers.

    -->We likewise know that Luna is her equal since her return in both respects (at least nominally; whether actually or not is unclear).

    I'm inclined to say that what evidence there is points to no: their major disagreement to date came in S3E1, when Luna wanted to help out with the Crystal Empire problem and was, despite to my mind having the better logical support for her position, summarily shot down.

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    1. -->But to be fair, the whole dream scenario makes no sense. Why does Starlight dream about Celestia going EVIL? ... Unless we're supposed to think that Starlight used some non-consensual mind-magic on the princesses earlier to discover their deepest fears about themselves?

      Okay, on this one I gave some leeway: I assumed it was Starlight projecting her own issues onto Celestia, and then Celestia being kind of dense in a failure of self-knowledge brought on by an unfamiliar situation. Not great, but...

      More generally, like you said, the dreams Celestia was involved in reflected a much less important, challenging, or meaningful role than what we've seen from Luna herself. (I will say that Luna's dream was a high point of the episode.) And lasers was bad. And irrelevant to the point, compared to addressing Starlight's concerns and anxieties, so I guess we can chalk up "the actual point of what Luna does" as something else Celestia's never picked up on.

      More pettily, I'd add some writing things that I probably would have let slide in an episode that wasn't already rubbing me absolutely the wrong way. Things like pointlessly reiterating that the spell was time limited (note: why was it time limited? That's not really how her other cutie mark spells worked.), or the repeated assertion by Celestia that she and Equestria needed Luna. To which my immediate response was, every time: One thousand years. She was gone for one thousand years, and every indication we have ever been given is that both you, Celestia, and the nation of Equestria were doing just fine in her absence. (Also, it's not like, per this very episode, she does anything, so...) Not only are we shown a country that seems in great shape S1E1, you can't be bothered to tell us in what ways something was missing from your life on a personal level. And from what you've shown us, it amounts to an acrimonious, unfulfilling, and empty brief encounter twice a day when at least one of you is mentally not even present.

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  6. Thank you for elaborating on your feelings about the episode. I'm sorry for putting pressure on you to do something you didn't like. I've just always been of the mind that communication and understanding go a long way to helping fandoms, and this definitely did open my eyes to issues in the narrative, though I had found it enjoyable at the time. While the show has gone in questionable directions, it does seem that in general, reading and reviewing fics, many of which are surprisingly high quality (and others that aren't), has led to heightened and occasionally unrealistic expectations of the actual show, which has probably led to the higher degree of negativity in the fandom these days compared to the past. The good news is that there are these fanfic options for those who want more from the show, and the show itself for those who continue to be happy with it.

    Either way, please don't feel pressured to do things you don't want to do. I'm not sure how you should bring up episodes in the future if you want to, but it's your call in the end.

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  7. On the one hand, I can pick apart any given episode and say what I think didn't work or what I think more reasonable characters would have done. But in the end, what crystallizes things for me is that this is a society that doesn't understand something as basic as friendship, that they need a princess to govern and research it. At first, I could have accepted that Celestia put Twilight onto researching it because she felt learning by experience would be more powerful than just sitting in a class and having Celestia lecture about it. But if that gets her to ascend, I have to think it's something original, and Celestia doesn't actually know this stuff. Thousand years, yadda, yadda, yadda, but if the show wants to make it a premise that these kinds of interpersonal relationship issues are the subject of ongoing research, then it follows pretty easily that the populace isn't going to act like reasonable humans would. Unless it does. If the show had explicitly stated that Celestia knew all these things Twilight had discovered, then we have an explicit contradiction. As it is, we only have a presumed one, depending on what you think canon implies.

    Maybe I just missed something, but I took Daybreaker as coming from Starlight's nightmare, not Celestia's. Though I agree, I have no idea what actual damage would have resulted to Starlight by abandoning the dream and dealing with things in the waking world. I am a tad troubled that Starlight resorts to controlling spells, but ever since being chastised about doing so to the 5 other girls, she is reluctant to do so, and in fact, she's generally reluctant to do much magic at all, except when under Twilight's supervision. So I don't have an issue with it in this case, given her attitude about it beforehand and immediate regret. After all, the cutie map specifically chose her because she'd do what was necessary. I don't even have a problem with her being Twilight's student after the other elements have been around so much longer. The others might not even want to be a student. Heck, they all have other things going on in their lives, and Starlight didn't, so I could easily accept it as Twilight taking on someone troubled in order to be a mentor, because leaving her to her own devices could be very dangerous. That's barely different from what happened with Sunset Shimmer, both in scope and time scale, and people love her.

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  8. "This isn't them picking a fight; they don't bring up old grudges, or shift to perceived slights. They legitimately don't seem to be able to pick up on basic nonverbal cues from each other, with is basically the opposite of what sisters can (and do, whether in the name of friendship or antipathy) do."

    I mean, yeah.

    Like, that's the point though.

    They're not fighting over the issues. They're holding a grudge that they're not being acknowledged. But they're not being acknowledged because they have differing values on what they're doing and what the other's doing. But they don't want to openly strain the relationship by bringing it up or acknowledging it, making it tense and bubble below the surface.

    I thought it was actually a really well handled, mature take on adult relationship issues, where nobody is doing anything wrong, but they're just not communicating effectively enough.

    Consider a husband and wife. The wife believes her husband doesn't do enough around the house. The husband believes he's doing enough because he does everything his wife asks him to do, immediately and without complaint. She resents him for not doing more, he resents her for the resentment, and if it's not big enough, it bubbles below the surface poisoning the relationship without ever becoming an open fight.

    I thought it was a great episode.

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    1. See, I like your penultimate paragraph, and I think they could've done a really great episode around that premise. Like, with the Cakes, say. Or with some new-to-us married couple in Manehattan that the map calls starlight away to deal with. Or with a couple of business partners a la Flim and Flam, if we want to ditch the "married" thing.

      But Celestia and Luna seem to me to be terribly ill-fit for these roles, for a variety of reasons that I blathered about (I don't blame you for failing to parse what those were from my rambling tl;dr up above, or for parsing them but just disagreeing with me that they make those two the worst two characters to deliver that message).

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    2. Go big or go home. Look, you want as much drama as possible to hold the attention of the 8-year-old who is going to buy/bug mom to buy your product. So you want to show... the Cakes arguing. Um. No.

      Celestia and Luna have *history* with their disagreements, long history involving lunar eviction and shake the world fights. And here it's happening again. They were the natural 'odd couple' to have fighting.

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  9. I thought it was an excellent episode as well.

    It seemed obvious to me that the Daybreaker scene was drawn from the season 4 episode where Luna created a nightmare for Sweetie Belle to impress how dire destroying Rarity’s commission for Sapphire Shores was. It would only make sense for the writers to draw on that to have Celestia accidentaly exacerbate Starlight’s nightmare with her own fears.

    And I thought stressing that Celestia smiles constantly, and has to smile even when things go south like they did with Luna and the school, perfectly explains why she incites chaos at the Grand Galloping Gala and tries to show a little bit of a “fun” side every now and then before becoming a quest-giving NPC―because the other 364 days of the year she has to be perfect and wear that mask of a smile.

    It’s probably one of my favorite episodes in the show.

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  10. For what it's worth coming from Random Visitor #124 (i.e. me), I regret being one of those commenting voices. While I was indeed interested in learning what disappointed you about this episode, I assure you it was only idle curiosity that could easily have managed without knowing. I had no intention of contributing to your unhappiness in the process, and certainly not in lending my voice to a pressurizing multitude. Had I known ahead of time, I would not have posted my comment to that effect; no one should feel the need to do things they don't really want to do.

    If it's any consolation, I did at least find your reluctant analysis a delightful read (and how thorough! I love a substantial in-depth review!). You state your reasons for not doing episode reviews plainly in the opening paragraphs, add the requisite caveats about subjectivity, acknowledge that you have your limits when it comes to extra-literary dissections, and I for one find that commendably comprehensive, fair-minded, and understanding.

    What's more, I am in fact someone who is not keeping up with the series at present and is instead waiting to hear the critical feedback (and waiting for the end of this season) before having a look at select episodes of interest. I did the same thing with the last season. Reading episode reviews from you and other users is in my experience a useful way of gauging whether or not I'm likely to find what I want in any particular outing. Your analysis here is shaping my inclinations towards this particular episode, so I for one do not feel it to be an analytical waste that is unlike your fanfic recommendations.

    Lastly, while I'm not qualified to comment upon an episode I haven't seen, I can say those elements you highlighted and commented upon do not seem like the kind of thing I would want to see in MLP:FiM, at least without considerable persuasion. Perhaps it's because I have certain preconceptions and biases of my own, but the depiction of the Royal Sisters' characterizations as described here, and the general issues with Starlight's character, don't seem best calculated to appeal to me, and I see your "ancient, power, sisters" reasoning and strongly agree with it. The review was most useful to me, as well as being a pleasure in and of itself (just don't ask me to review why I liked it; I'm a very superficial and amateurish reviewer!).

    Much as I regret your not enjoying the writing of it, I must admit I enjoyed the reading of this post.

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    1. And I enjoyed reading the resulting comments too, of course.

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    2. It actually makes me feel a lot better that this all had some use beyond "entertainment value." Not that entertainment value is a bad thing, but it helps to think that this wasn't simultaneously a total analytical waste! Thanks for letting me know that.

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  11. “It's not particularly insightful, I can't imagine it helping anyone, and let's be honest, it probably doesn't reflect all that well on me.”

    I don't think this post reflects negatively on you in any way. It may not be up to the quality you like to produce, but you didn't make it because you thought it'd be great; you made it because it was demanded.

    You gave several reasons you didn't want to write this review, but the one that struck me most was that you did not enjoy writing this post. I think we all remember that you're writing these for free, and without any obligation to continue doing so. And if there's one thing I've seen kill the enthusiasm of people making free stuff, it's making the free stuff they don't like making to meet the demands of some of their audience.

    For what it's worth, this member of your audience says to post what you enjoy writing. I haven't stuck around for years just because I was hoping you'd finally start reviewing episodes regularly.

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    1. This episode review reminded me of an old fic review you wrote... I personally enjoy your most visceral hate and vicious rants.

      "[...] there are plenty [...] which I've been unimpressed by, or which I disliked for one reason or another, but this is one of the very few I can honestly say I hated. I want to make that clear right off the bat because having such a visceral reaction [...] is obviously going to color any review I write, and I think it's only fair to make clear my disgust [...] so that you can take the rest of my commentary with as many grains of salt as are necessary."

      PS, while we're still on the subject of tearing up fandom favourite episodes, what'd you think episode 13?

      --Bulbasaur

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  13. That was a really interesting read; thank you, though I hope you won't feel any need to write this sort of thing again unless you want to.

    I don't have much of a problem with Celestia's "smile all day" job, because the person it reminds me of most of all is the Queen. My Queen. The real one. And in the context of the last thousand years of the English/British monarchy, the current Queen's ability to avoid doing anything stupid, make sure she smiles at the right times, etc -- while still having immense behind-the-scenes authority by virtue of her long experience -- is very much relevant. It's actually one of the biggest reasons our (relatively small) republican movement keeps going -- because Prince Charles is not fond of keeping his mouth shut in the same way.

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    1. Whoops, forgot to add: the Queen's younger sister, the late Princess Margaret, was rather less diplomatic, a little more racy, etc. The parallels with Luna are by no means perfect, but still. It'd be interesting to know whether there's a Transatlantic divide in how the diarchy is seen.

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