EPISODE REVIEW: Friendship is Magic: Dragon Quest

Church
Church's picture

Spike sets off to find his roots by joining the Great Dragon Migration.

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Recap: Twilight and Rainbow Dash are trying to get Fluttershy to join them in observing the once-in-a-generation Great Dragon Migration. The normally timid pony adamantly refuses, and bowls Dash over before running off.

Later, the camouflaged ponies are observing the dragons from a trench while Spike serves tea. Rainbow Dash teases Spike about not being fierce like the other dragons. Rarity's embarassing 'defense' of him causes him to storm off.

That night, Spike lies awake wondering about where he came from. Twilight tries to comfort him by looking up any information she has about dragons, only to find that ponies don't know much about them at all. Spike decides that the only way to find out is to join the dragon migration himself. Dash tries to physically stop him, but Twilight says that he should be allowed to go on his quest (while assuring Rarity that they'll follow him.)

After travelling over hill and dale, Spike arrives at a volcano covered in dragons. Rarity, Dash, and Twilight, wearing a large dragon costume, are not far behind. Spike finds a group of teenaged dragons, who initially make fun of him but then give him a series of tests to prove his dragonhood. He fails all but a tail-wresting match with the girls in the dragon costume. However, his final failure, belly flopping into a lava pool during the cannonball competition, sufficiently impresses the teens that they dub him a rookie dragon.

After a dragon-style party, which seems to consist largely of eating copious amounts of gems, Spike declares that he'd be content to stay with the dragons forever, which alarms the girls. The other dragons decide to raid a phoenix nest for the eggs and task Spike with luring the parents away, which he does. When they raid the nest they find that the eggs have hatched and decide to grab the hatchlings instead. The tiny phoenixes prove elusive and the parents return to them, eventually ditching the dragons by blinding them with their light before flying off. Spike returns to the nest and finds an egg that had fallen out. The other dragons return and are impressed, but they then demand that he smash it. Spike refuses, and they turn on him. The girls ditch their costume and stand with him, which only elicits laughter from the dragons. Spike and the ponies turn and run and Twilight manages to teleport the group away in the nick of time.

Back at Twi's house, Spike pens a letter to Celestia, declaring that "who I am is not the same as what I am." The phoenix egg hatches, and Spike welcomes "Peewee" to the family and promises to teach him about being a pony.

Review: This was a fairly good episode. It's interesting that, although it was a Spike episode, they managed to keep half of the girls around as a greek chorus. The combination of Dash's teasing and Rarity's 'praise' prompted Spike to question himself in the first place, so I like that they came along to keep an eye on him.

The basic message of the episode struck me as a bit muddled. Spike set out to find out what it means to be a dragon, and found out that teenaged dragons are jerks. He still knows very little else about dragons afterwards. Is he going to develop wings, like every other dragon on the show? Is he really a dragon after all?

Still, the actual lesson about not letting others define you is a good one. There's also a strong secondary message about not giving into peer pressure. This is writ large when he defies the other dragons, but it shows up early when he defends his wearing an apron (blueberry stains are even worse in Equestria, it seems.)

Merriweather Williams wrote this one, and she can be uneven in her handling of the FiM world. The phoenixes were also a curious choice. We've already seen Celestia's pull the self-regeneration fire trick, so it's odd that they also have eggs. It's probably odder that they have them in nests in trees. The bottom of the nest did look like it had been blackened, so fire might still be involved somehow. It'll be interesting to see if Peewee shows up again, or if he's forgotten like Tank.

There's lots of little touches that the writers and animators threw in. It's nice to see that Fluttershy's assertiveness training has stuck with her. Cranky Doodle's appearance with his old wig suggests that this episode takes place before A Friend in Deed. Twilight's brief collapse after teleporting the four of them was a very effective way of wordlessly communicating that it was hard. A rather subtle joke was that Rarity's garish "camouflage" actually worked better in the technicolor field the ponies were hiding in.

The score was also well done, as usual, which is fortunate since it had to carry the entire "Spike travelling" sequence. The use of electric guitars when the teens were messing with Spike was also a nice touch.

Derpy and Crackle

Brony Notes: No Derpy this week. We did get the dragons from Dragonshy and Owl's Well That Ends Well, though.

Fan reaction was cooly positive. It was widely regarded as a good episode, but not a great one. It was generally acknowledged as one of Merriweather Williams better efforts, though. Some fans are disturbed that every dragon we've seen is a jerk, which seems to run counter to the show's spirit. (I maintain that the dragon in Dragonshy wasn't actually a jerk.)

Perhaps predictably, the artists took a shine to Crackle, the improbable look-alike to the girls' dragon disguise. Since we're Derpy-less this week, have deviantArtist Karzahnii's take on him above, along with GiantMosquito's very seasonal Lyra below.

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Church also reviews fan films for Republibot.

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Comments

moral

nwkeys01's picture

I think it could have been expanded and what it was going for is that "Where you came from/What you look like , etc. doesn't flatly determine WHO you are."

Basically like Mulan in that Disney movie. Just because she's a girl doesn't change who she is and what she decides to do.

I don't think that was Cranky Doodle... although it's possible it could have been. Possibly just a stock donkey character of which they used Cranky as template.

Mebee

Church's picture

Basically like Mulan in that Disney movie. Just because she's a girl doesn't change who she is and what she decides to do.

I've never seen Mulan, but judging from the amount of MLP/Mulan mashups that have shown up lately, you're doubtlessly right.

I don't think that was Cranky Doodle... although it's possible it could have been. Possibly just a stock donkey character of which they used Cranky as template.

It's an odd choice for a *stock* character template, although that's a possibility. Hasbro wanted the shows to be seen in any order and although that's often subverted, they don't sweat chronology.

This will be interesting to fans trying to figure out the actual chronological order though, since it's apparently before *A Friend in Deed* and after *Putting Your Hoof Down.*

Not All Who Wander Are Lost

Mama Fisi's picture

It seems that this Ms. Merriweather, although prolific, is the one whose scripts seem to be the least Ponyville-like.

The lack of interior consistency can be irritating.

1) Twilight says that ponies don't know very much about dragons "because they're so rare," yet the sky was full of dragons migrating. I guess maybe ponies just aren't that interested in non-Pony species, because the settlers of Appleoosa also didn't seem to care about getting to know the bison herd before they went and built their town.

2) The inclusion of a family of phoenixes did seem odd, and counter to the phoenix mythology. I suppose, like chickens or ducks, once the majority of the clutch hatches, they abandon the nest and any late eggs are left to die. So it was lucky for the last egg that Spike came along when he did. Perhaps the analogy was that a similar thing happened with Spike's egg.

3) If Celestia is some kind of immortal goddess, why do the dragons have little respect for her? Perhaps it's only those teenaged thugs, but if the dragons in general think Celestia is a "namby-pamby," this changes things. Is Celestia then just a legend in her own mind? Considering how frequently she calls on her grad student and the grad student's chums to solve big problems and save Equestria, it's possible Celestia hasn't got any "genuine" powers at all. Even when she "raised the sun" she pretty much stood in front of the sunrise and posed.

4) Just about every dragon seen in this show so far has been male and disagreeable. Spike gets disagreeable in "The Secret Of My Excess." Setting aside the continuity from the old TV series to this one, why did Celestia give a dragon egg to Twilight Sparkle if she knew the dragonet would eventually turn into a handful and a possible threat to Ponyville? Is Spike from a rare species of "good" dragon? Was Celestia hoping to rear a "tame" dragon to help mend fences between Equestria and Dragonland?

And really, couldn't Twilight have thought to just ask Celestia where the dragon egg came from?

5) Spike usually is mooning over Rarity. In this episode, Rarity is baby-ralking him, and he leaves in disgust. I suppose he was embarrassed. I feel sorry for him because the ponies treat him either as a pet or a baby brother.

In past episodes, Twi tends to overlook Spike's feelings, which I always found irritating. She almost did it again in this episode, until the idea of doing some research came to her--then she figured helping Spike would be fun. I would have much preferred it, however, if she had told Spike that "Ponies don't seem to know much about dragons...so let's go fix that!" and together they go to learn about Spike's ancestry.

The "message" that "you don't have to act like a jerk to be cool" was somewhat subverted by the more subtle message of "what you are isn't who you are." Which could be interpreted as a "gay pride" message, especially considering Spike was wearing an apron, trinking tea from a porcelain cup with his little claw raised, hangs out with a bunch of girl ponies, and is pen pals with a princess. Oh, and he's purple.

Masquerading as a normal person day after day is exhausting.
Magpie House Comics
http://www.hirezfox.com/km/

Rare and Dangerous

Church's picture

Twilight says that ponies don't know very much about dragons "because they're so rare," yet the sky was full of dragons migrating.

And they've run across two previously. I think the "dangerous" part is the more likely reason.

Perhaps the analogy was that a similar thing happened with Spike's egg.

That's a good observation. It seems likely.

If Celestia is some kind of immortal goddess, why do the dragons have little respect for her?

Someone pointed out that the dragons generate their own heat and their food supply isn't dependent on the sun. Celestia probably appears irrelevant to them.

Is Celestia then just a

Is Celestia then just a legend in her own mind? Considering how frequently she calls on her grad student and the grad student's chums to solve big problems and save Equestria, it's possible Celestia hasn't got any "genuine" powers at all. Even when she "raised the sun" she pretty much stood in front of the sunrise and posed.

Ooh, sounds like a fanfic idea. ...Mind if someone borrows it?

That Depends

Mama Fisi's picture

I wouldn't mind, but would it be one of those fanfics that make Celestia into a horrible witch who is cruel and oppressive?

Because that's not really in the MLP story. And I kinda worry about the people who want to see her that way.

Masquerading as a normal person day after day is exhausting.
Magpie House Comics
http://www.hirezfox.com/km/

Oppression

I think there are just too many people who see her as Princess Laurelrestia... or worse, Princess Trollestia -- they resent her, illogical as it may be, for putting certain of her most trusted subjects into situations which she herself could easily resolve but chooses not to in order to "teach a lesson". And then there's the familiar but unfounded assumption that anyone of supposedly noble blood must be out of touch with the Common Pony.

Authority Figures

Mama Fisi's picture

I suppose it has something to do with the general disregard for authority figures prevalent in society; but then, what HAS Celestia really done to warrant the homage paid to her every time she floats out of the sky in her chariot? She's their ruler, so that's probably enough; but I cannot recall actually seeing her perform any magic that Twilight Sparkle hasn't also done. Nightmare Moon performed far more magic. Did Celestia lose her magic powers when she banished Nightmare Moon?

Celestia also has a bit of a subversive streak. In the Gala episode, she was not angry when the six trashed her palace--in fact, she encouraged them to "run" and later showed up to thank them for livening things up. (Not really a good message, BTW.)

I've noticed that the series has drawn back from using Celestia this season. Perhaps they wish now to disassociate themselves from the plot point that said Celestia was the goddess in charge of the sun, who made Equestria? I'm not that invested in the show that I've checked to see if Christian groups objected to this mythology.

Masquerading as a normal person day after day is exhausting.
Magpie House Comics
http://www.hirezfox.com/km/

The lack of Celestia is, I

The lack of Celestia is, I think, not so much a function of objectionable mythology as of the fact that every time she pops up, there are going to be people in the audience (including the kids) screaming SHE'S A GODDESS, WHAT IN THE BLUE FUCK IS KEEPING HER FROM LENDING A HOOF TO FIX THIS. Hence the fanfics depicting her as apathetic or outright sadistic.

And now that I consider it further, I think this might also account for many of the, shall we say, unsympathetic portrayals of God in speculative literature.

A Distant God

Mama Fisi's picture

I don't have a problem with Celestia not doing everything herself. The whole point of the show is that Twilight learns about the power of friendship, not that her mentor can fix any problem. In a way, this is a very Conservative concept--the Government is NOT here to do everything for you, you've got to actually go out and learn to manage your life on your own merits and abilities.

The Husband says Celestia is really more of a mother figure, and a good parent is watchful and ready to help when needed, but doesn't have to go interfering on every little thing. When I asked him whether he remembered Celestia perorming any magic, he said that she did step in to stop Twilight's unharnessed (no pun intended) power from getting out of hand. That's what a good mom does--she maintains control, but she doesn't actually control everything. That's how kids learn autonomy and self-sufficiency.

It's possible that neither Nightmare Moon nor Discord were *really* all that dangerous--more like stage villains who only THINK they're badass. Celestia let Twilight and her friends deal with them as a training excercise--if things really got bad, Celestia could have easily put them back in their boxes.

Teachers, after all, don't give tests with the answer key lying on your desk. They don't write your term paper for you, and they don't do your homework for you.

Or at least, they didn't when I was in school. Lord only knows what it's like these days.

Celestia has an interest in making sure Twilight doesn't fail. Wasn't it she who sent Twilight all the letters Twi had written, when Twi was in danger of losing her spirit to Discord?

Celestia really is a good mentor. Those who think she's evil or sadistic, just do not understand how a really good teacher works.

Masquerading as a normal person day after day is exhausting.
Magpie House Comics
http://www.hirezfox.com/km/

The New Lunar Republic

Church's picture

Celestia has intervened at least three times: After Twi's entrance exam went awry, while Discord was influencing Twi, and after the enchanted "Smartypants" got out of control. (She also set off to help another town after the parasprite invasion.) So, yes, she's definitely a mentor figure.

She's also canonically a bit of a troll, as we saw at the Gala.

She's also quite removed from her subjects most of the time. Even the Equestrian 1% apparently only interact with her, briefly, at the Gala. (Of course, Celestia doesn't have to worry about re-election.) Remember how impressed the upper class of Canterlot were that Rarity was staying at the palace. Even her favored student prostrates herself before her.

So, there's actually a fair foundation for the fan conceit that she'll be opposed by republican forces led by her sister, who has her own score to settle.

Please define

Mama Fisi's picture

--"troll" as used in this context. I'm not sure I'm familiar with that usage. I know the mythical creature and the obnoxious jerks who try to cause trouble on forum boards, but neither of those seem to fit.

Nor does some little ugly doll with wild neon hair.

I try to keep well away from the fan fiction and only concern myself with the TV show and how it's written. I really don't think Princess Luna could stage a coup, because (1) she had been under the influence of Nightmare Moon when she defied Celestia in the past, and has now been freed (2) she was very repentant when the spell was broken, (3) the rest of Ponyville is scared witless of her.

Also, the Equestrians seem to LIKE having Princess Celestia as their leader. They fall all over each other to please her or be near her.

Again, those who choose to imagine things differntly, have their own issues with authority figures they're trying to work out.

Masquerading as a normal person day after day is exhausting.
Magpie House Comics
http://www.hirezfox.com/km/

Canterlot is burning

Church's picture

--"troll" as used in this context. I'm not sure I'm familiar with that usage.

"Instigator" might be a better word, here.

Also, the Equestrians seem to LIKE having Princess Celestia as their leader. They fall all over each other to please her or be near her.

Of course they are! Have you seen all those statues in Canterlot?

They were the resistance...

Ponies

Mama Fisi's picture

Regardless of how much I enjoy trying to dissect the writing on this series, I keep reminding myself, "IT'S A KID'S SHOW!" and do we really want to encourage children to question authority and mount rebellions against their parents and teachers?

I mean, *really?* Isn't there enough of that everywhere else on TV?

If I have to worry about anything on "MLP," it's not whether Celestia is a tyrant, but how the male characters are all usually depicted as icky or mean, and the wealthy characters as snobs.

They're getting better with both of these, and I realize we're dealing with stereotypes here, but it was refreshing when Fancypants and Filthy Rich both turned out to be decent guys--especially Filthy Rich, who not only played along respectfully with Granny Smith's eccentricities in the "Zap Apples" show, but then made his arrogant daughter Diamond Tiara join in, too, above her protests. It turned out that the Rich family owed their fortune to the Apple family's jam, so Filthy Rich probably grew up with a lot of respect and even affection for Granny Smith. The message wasn't overt, but this was one of the better and more interesting episodes.

Fancypants may have been interested in Rarity and her friends the way some old-school-rich people find aboriginies charming, but he was still kind and friendly toward them in a very awkward situation. At first his interest was probably spawned by Rarity's ties to Celestia, but deep down, I think he's a decent old bean.

Now, one thing that DOES bother me, is that these six have twice saved Equestria from great harm, and yet nobody seems to know about it; their images are enshrined in the stained-glass windows of Canterlot Castle, but yet they get harassed in the marketplace (thinking of Fluttershy's tribulations in the "Iron Will" episode.)

As I've stated before, it's internal inconsistencies like this that bug me. TRhe show's too well-written otherwise to forgive sloppiness in continuity, even if the episodes aren't meant to be seen in any particular order.

Masquerading as a normal person day after day is exhausting.
Magpie House Comics
http://www.hirezfox.com/km/

Taking a cue from Trek

Church's picture

Regardless of how much I enjoy trying to dissect the writing on this series, I keep reminding myself, "IT'S A KID'S SHOW!" and do we really want to encourage children to question authority and mount rebellions against their parents and teachers?

Everyone should be taught to question authority, but the show itself doesn't do that. It's the older fans overthinking the show (as fans will do.)

As I've stated before, it's internal inconsistencies like this that bug me.

The show is kind of old school in that respect. In Star Trek fandom (and probably elsewhere) it's called "the reset button."

Hasbro specified that they wanted the show to be able to be shown in any order, and the team has actually subverted that several times (e.g., the Gala arc, which spanned the entirety of season one.)

Values

Mama Fisi's picture

I think that kids should be taught how to tell right from wrong, rather than to "question authority." Sometimes their very lives may depend on obeying an authority figure without argument, and I'm sure most parents and teachers would prefer not to hear "No! You're not the boss of me!" every time they make a request. Some grownups would indeed use their status as grown-ups to take advantage of too-trusting children, but that's where the ability to tell what's right from what's wrong comes in.

There were many times in the "Harry Potter" stories where the kids' unwillingness to include a grown-up in their troubles bugged the living crap out of me. I realize it was for the purposes of the story, but it's a bad lesson to be teaching.

It would be nice if all grown-ups were wise and caring and trustworthy. Kids need them to be.

Masquerading as a normal person day after day is exhausting.
Magpie House Comics
http://www.hirezfox.com/km/

Tomahto

Church's picture

Some grownups would indeed use their status as grown-ups to take advantage of too-trusting children, but that's where the ability to tell what's right from what's wrong comes in.

Seems like we're saying the same thing different ways.

Authority figures

Mama Fisi's picture

OK. I wasn't sure if you were recommending children just automatically be able to question authority, regardless of where that authority comes from.

Masquerading as a normal person day after day is exhausting.
Magpie House Comics
http://www.hirezfox.com/km/

Yup

Church's picture

Oh, but I am. Questioning authority doesn't automatically equal defying authority, but authority should be constantly evaluated. It's a tough but crucial distinction.

Target demographics

Mama Fisi's picture

I still don't think little kids, like in the target demographic audience, are sufficiently nuanced to be able to make that distinction.

Questioning the authority of a parental figure--such as is represented by Celestia--requires more responsibility than an average six-year-old has achieved.

Celestia seems to be a very benign ruler, who is universally respected and admired in Equestria. To suggest that she has sadistic ulterior motives is akin to calling Santa Claus a child molester.

Perhaps those people who think ill of Celestia and the other characters in this show have much deeper issues they're struggling with, which can only find expression by demeaning and degrading something that is innocent, cute, and sweet.

In other words, THEY are the people the target demographic should be wary of!

Masquerading as a normal person day after day is exhausting.
Magpie House Comics
http://www.hirezfox.com/km/