Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Review: "Spike At Your Service" (S3E09)

Spike bows to Applejack
Spike attempts to explain to AJ what "graceful" means
Well now, this was the last episode before the show takes a break for a couple of weeks -- and it was a strange one and no mistake! Dave Polsky and Merriwether Williams teamed up and gave us... something. Spike episodes generally have been slightly odd, come to think of it. I can't think of a lot more to say here that wouldn't be spoilery, so follow me beyond the jump to learn more...

The thing everyone has been talking about is the use of 3D animation for the Timber Wolves. From the pony's mouth we know that it's not actually the first such use in the series the Dizzitron in "Wonderbolts Academy" was 3Dbut it's the first time a creature has been animated this way. I have slightly mixed feelings: I think it worked here, but a chunk of that was because of its shock value. Regular use of CGI would most definitely harm the feel and look of the show as a whole.

The first Timber Wolf is revealed
See these eyes so green, I can stare for a thousand years
I felt that this episode was at its strongest when it came to humour. Polsky was responsible for "Too Many Pinkie Pies", so it's not surprising that this made me laugh a number of times. Rarity stole the show with her brief but fabulous masterclasses in horrible cake-eating and damsel-in-distress acting. Pinkie Pie was amusing with her cannon-and-moustache fixation, but then you expect that sort of thing of her. And the Applejack/Twilight inkwell-nudging scene near the end was absolutely perfectly judged.

Rainbow Dash continued her run of good form in this episode. Her Mary Sue fanfic would have been hilarious on its own (especially given this fandom's predilections!) but add to that her apparent unwitting unmasking of AJ as a budding author as well...! Rainbow also showed her determination
whether to succeed or not to look weak is another questionwhen she went through with the "tower of rocks" flight. Mind you, where Dashie picked up that roar is another question entirely!

Rainbow mentions unfinished novels to Applejack
"Are you listening to me, Applesack?"
Fluttershy only had a bit part in this episode, but I want to mention her anyway, since I thought she was very nicely characterised. I've made my irritation known before when I've felt 'Shy has been reduced to "scaredy-pony you don't want to cross" but here she was more... well, normal. She even bordered on the snarky once or twice, which strangely enoughfelt just right. I also loved the interplay between her and Rainbow Dash in the Timber Wolf impersonation routine.

The MegaWolf was an impressive creature — and, note, Flash-animated rather than CGI
but it was defeated a little too easily by the pebble Spike threw. At least the moral was a good one, about doing good things being "what friends do" rather than because of any particular obligation. No letter to Celestia again, but then AJ's only just recovered from writing last week's! And Granny Smith had a decent enough cameo, as did Apple Bloom, though I'm sure I was missing a reference with that pig.

AJ's three-quarter up face, as Spike looks on
There were some unusual angles in this episode
So, what was the problem? Simply put: Spike. I really didn't like the way he was portrayed here, for two main reasons. One: he just isn't that much of a prat. Yes, he can mess things up from time to time, but he's Twilight's "number one assistant" and under normal circumstances he's pretty reliable around the house. (Well, tree.) And two: "The Crystal Empire" drummed into us that Spike is petrified at the thought of leaving Twilight. Yet here he had a few tears in his eyes, but then shrugged it off. Doesn't ring true, sorry.

I remain to be convinced of the worth of using two writers for an episode of My Little Pony. It doesn't help when neither of the writers are favourites of mine, but still. "Spike At Your Service" had some wonderful moments, but it didn't really seem to gel. Worse, it often felt as though it could have been lifted unchanged from another cartoon, something that MLP:FiM usually manages to avoid. This certainly had its moments, but it wasn't Spike's long-awaited big breakthrough.

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