Friday, 5 July 2013

Classic episode review: "Griffon the Brush Off" (S1E05)

Gilda yells at Fluttershy
Fly away, Gilda. Fly. Fly away, and never return.
It's been some weeks since we had a classic episode review on this blog, so I think it's time that was changed! The often misspelled "Griffon the Brush Off" just happens to be the first of many episodes of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic to be written by a woman who will be one of BUCK's VIP guests, a certain Cindy Morrow. She's written episodes that almost every fan thinks are great, but this one does rather divide opinion. After the break, I'll say where I stand.

I'll make no bones about this: I really do not like this ep at all. While I don't hate it quite as much as I used to, it's still certainly not something I'd call up for the sake of a relaxing 22 minutes. It just rubs me up the wrong way, and that's because of its one-off (in the show, anyway) guest antagonist, Gilda the griffon. No, I don't know why they used that spelling rather than, say, "gryphon" — but for the sake of consistency, I'll stick with the way it's written in the episode title.

Gilda at Rainbow Dash's house
You have to admit, Rainbow's house is pretty awesome
You are not supposed to like Gilda. She's one of the relatively few antagonists we've seen who does not reform even a tiny bit when shown the error of her ways. So is Chrysalis later on, but the changeling queen — though far more evil than the griffon — has a twisted charm that Gilda simply does not. In The Elements of Harmony, both Lauren Faust and Meghan McCarthy state clearly that they feel it important to keep some of the baddies bad. Faust says that Rainbow Dash was right to shun her completely in the end.

No episode of FiM is all bad, though, and the pony who shines in this one is Pinkie Pie. This is the first episode in which we really see her eldritch powers over such trifling details as the laws of physics: you cannot outrun Pinkie, no matter who you are. More interestingly, she's shown to have a strong sense of fair play: she vetoes Rainbow's plan to play a prank on Fluttershy, even if she later annoys the latter by being rather condescending. ("I'm a year older than you" is one of 'Shy's best lines.)

Pinkie and Rainbow prepare for their pranking session
One of the few times Dashie looks truly cute
Twilight has a small but interesting role in this ep, as the pony who tells her (still relatively new) friend Pinkie that she's being jealous of Gilda. This makes Pinkie seriously upset, but she later wonders whether she's overdoing things — another small exploration of her deeper side. However, she's tipped back over the edge when she sees the griffon stealing an apple. Pinkie may not be Applejack, but honesty matters to her, as we'll find out much later when the "Pinkie Promise" is introduced.

This is one of the few episodes with a real twist: it's revealed that the "lame pranks" at the party were set up by Rainbow Dash, not by Pinkie Pie at all. I really did not see that coming. Even so, you get the impression that Pinkie at least suspects what's going on, given her repeated and clearly deliberate refusal to rise to Gilda's bait. ("Can't you watch me like a griffon?") For all she looks, and often is, silly and fun-loving, Pinkie is more than capable of handling herself when the occasion demands it.

Pinkie uses balloons to reach Dash and Gilda
It's actually surprising that Pinkie needs the balloons to defy gravity
It's interesting that we've seen so little of the griffons since this episode. There's Gustave Le Grand in "MMMystery..." and there are a couple of statues outside the Crystal Empire's library, but that's about it, unless you count appearances in semi-canonical works such as the books and comics. I doubt Gilda will be brought back: unlike a rather different antagonist whom we'll meet very shortly, she just doesn't have enough depth to her... although her small but devoted army of fans have made up for that in their own works!

"Griffon the Brush Off" has never been an episode I've liked very much, and I really can't see this changing any time soon. Cindy Morrow has written episodes I've loved and episodes I've... well, not loved. This one is certainly in the second category. Almost everything I actually like about it has to do with Pinkie Pie rather than Gilda, and (save for the resulting absence of conflict) I'd probably have been happier had this just been an ep about Pinkie doing silly and bizarre things.

Rainbow Dash is severely unimpressed
Queen Lame-O herself. A bit like Lion-O. But a pony.
  • Pinkie Pie's fleshed-out, surprisingly deep portrayal
  • Very funny at times
  • A genuine twist ending
  • Gilda is just too one-dimensional to be interesting
  • Gilda. Again. Sorry, I'm biased. I just don't like her!

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