Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Abridged Too Far

The fourth season of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is pounding down the home stretch, with only this weekend's two-part season finale, "Twilight's Kingdom," left in the hopper.  As an MLP new-ep newbie, I must say that I've found this season to be most enjoyable, with only a few uninspired entries in the manifest.  Unfortunately, the most recent new offering, last weekend's "Equestria Games," belongs in that category.  Actually, no...  it really belongs in a category all its own, that of "crushing disappointment."  The closest analogy that I can think of from my own experience is the moment that the pilot "events" (one can hardly call them mere "episodes") of the Disney Afternoon series switched from the two-hour format to the one-hour format, starting with "Darkly Dawns the Duck."  We went from a 21-gun salute to the firing of a battalion of popguns, just like that.  The abruptly enervated packaging, irrespective of the quality of the narrative it encased, left me feeling somewhat cheated and let down.  The "Equestria Games" disenchantment was even more dire.  After a season's worth of teasers, we got almost no coverage of the Games themselves, save as a dashed-off backdrop for yet another "a character learns an important lesson" episode.  Yes, I know that the show has been structured around such moral-mongering from the beginning, but couldn't the writers have put the conceit away for the moment?  What this ep muffed in terms of potential world-building and the chance for a really interesting multiplot story featuring various characters' experiences, conflicts, etc. at Equestria's version of the Olympics is a true pity.


In all fairness, what "Equestria Games" DID deign to present to us was handled reasonably well... I guess...  Having helped save the Crystal Empire, the site of the Games, from the evil King Sombra in season three's "The Crystal Empire," the baby dragon Spike comes to town (can you really call an "Empire" a town?  The show never really has figured that out.) and finds that he's regarded as a local hero.   He even gets the honor of lighting the Games' cauldron with his fire breath.  Unfortunately, he gets stage fright and whiffs on the opportunity, obliging Twilight Sparkle to surreptitiously light the flame for him.  Attempting to make amends, he offers to sing a winning city's anthem, only to realize too late that he doesn't know the words.  Spike has had it rather rough this season, frequently being used as a butt of gags, but even those who don't care for the character found the "singing" scene to be positively cringeworthy.  You almost feel guilty for laughing at the little guy.

Does Spike ultimately pick himself up off the ground and prove his mettle?  You bet your references to obscure 70's race-against-time action flicks he does.  When an errant ice arrow turns a cloud into a massive ball of ice that threatens to fall into the stadium and ruin the Games' climactic event -- the ice-mass not being a mere blimp, the amount of ruination promises to be quite dire -- and with all the attending unicorns' magical powers having been neutralized for the nonce "to prevent cheating" (in the world of MLP?!  Celestia forbid!), Spike comes through with a massive fireball that melts the ice into harmless rain.  No, that climax wasn't contrived in the least.

As cheesy and forced as this ending was, I was happy to see Spike get to be a legitimate hero.  He's had a rather rough time of it of late.  But, oh, what a price we had to pay for the privilege!  When it comes to the Games themselves, we see ONE event (Rainbow Dash's Ponyville team competing against the Wonderbolts' Cloudsdale team in the aerial relay race lampshaded in "Rainbow Falls") and a piece of another (the ice-archery shoot-out), and THAT'S ALL, PONYFOLKS.  Given that the episode was titled "Equestria Games," this was a real buzz-killer.  Ah, well, even the best of animated series have dropped the ball on occasion.  But rarely has a ballyhooed "animated event" turned out to be so underwhelming.

From the hints we've gotten, I don't think that "Twilight's Kingdom" is going to disappoint.  Aside from the obligatory reveal of the secret of the Mysterious Lockbox of Doom (not that it's much of a secret anymore -- it's pretty commonly assumed that the "Mane 6" are going to gain some kind of "Rainbow Power," i.e., another toy-focused upgrade a la Twilight's ascension to alicorn status last season), we're finally going to get some closure on the hitherto-unrevealed reason why Princess Celestia (who has been a real non-presence this season -- only TWO appearances, one of them non-speaking!) allowed the villainous Discord to be freed and ultimately "reformed."  Apparently, Discord's going to be assisting in the pursuit of a new villain who will be the antagonist of the hour.  And this new fellow is apparently the destructive type... as in, "Let's Level Ponyville!". The whole thing certainly sounds like a season finale should sound.

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