Thursday, 2 January 2014

Episode review: "Bats!" (S4E07)

Applejack during the song
AJ's parents are dead. Batman's parents are dead. Hmm...
Apologies for the lateness of this review, but sadly I was without my PC for the last week owing to my being on holiday! Anyway, let's get this one done quickly, so that we can get back to something like the usual schedule for next time. This week's episode of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic was pithily titled "Bats!", and – contrary to the rather glaring mistake on the captions – was actually written by Merriwether Williams, not Meghan McCarthy. I really hope that error is corrected for future showings of the ep. After the break!

This was an episode that I wasn't all that excited about from the synopsis. It really did feel as though it would be filler, and not by one of my favourite Pony writers, either. But oh boy, was I wrong about that! I'll spare you the suspense and say that this has bumped "Wonderbolts Academy" down into second place as the best episode Williams has written. It was interesting, intriguing, dramatic, surprising and funny, which isn't a bad combination! It even allowed Fluttershy's Stare to return without it seeming out of place.

The story at first seemed a rather slight one, with Applejack preparing for Applebucking Day (so it's been a year since "Applebuck Season"?) but being shocked to discover that much of her crop had been ruined by bats. Not by plain old fruit bats (mentioned in a nice callback to "Apple Family Reunion") but by their sinister cousins: the vampire fruit bats! AJ was all for getting rid of them with all speed, but Fluttershy – who else? – tried to persuade her that a gentler approach might pay dividends.

The vampire fruit bats succumb to The Stare
Anyone else have "Swarm of the Century" flashbacks at this point?
This brought us a song, which was really catchy, even by this series' standards. For the first time, we had a duet between Applejack and Fluttershy, although the former got the lion's share of the lines. This sequence was exceptionally well directed, with superb use of lighting and shadow demonstrating once again how far we've come in animation terms since Season One. It was also highly atmospheric, with something of a Tim Burton feel to the whole thing. That said, Twilight seemed to be caught up in things rather too easily.

I was absolutely delighted to see an episode that was heavy on the Fluttershy but didn't make her overcoming shyness the central theme. Yes, that can be done very well indeed (Exhibit A: "Hurricane Fluttershy") but she simply isn't that one-dimensional a pony. Ever since "A Bird in the Hoof" – an ep, incidentally, which I like more every time I watch it – I've yearned for another look at some other aspect of 'Shy. This time we got it, and Andrea Libman gave a wonderful performance in the role.

If this episode had a fault, then that was it: both Twi and (to some extent) Pinkie Pie sided with Applejack without really making their reasons clear. You'd think that Pinkie in particular — who has a history of standing up for 'Shy – might have been a bit less ready to get sucked in. I don't want to complain too much about this, though, since otherwise Pinkie was rather well characterised, and certainly a considerable improvement on the annoyingly flanderised pony we've endured a couple of times in S4. ("Fruitbat Roundup" was genius,)

Flutterbat in all her glory!
Die Fluttermaus
The fact that it was Fluttershy who'd been eating the apples was really obviously signposted, perhaps too much so even for a little kids' show, but it was still a bit startling – and not a little creepy – when we first saw her in full-on Flutterbat guise. Rarity's Hazmat suit would have been more use then than earlier on! I wasn't entirely keen on the retention of a Flutterfang at the end, but I'll reserve judgement on that until I know whether it (like the Pony of Shadows) turns out to be of any importance later in the season.

That aside, I felt that the ending of this episode was very nicely handled. We had a very good moral, which didn't feel forced or shoe-horned in. Fluttershy's also tied in nicely with what she learned back in "Putting Your Hoof Down". Spike, who hadn't done much during the ep (and pretty much lampshaded that with his one prominent line!) seems to have kept his post as usual scribe. Pinkie's little "I vant to suck its jooce!" act was hilarious, and was topped off by the perfect squee.

There were other little touches as well, such as Twilight's laser grid (which I wasn't sure about at first) and Rainbow Dash's increasingly worrisome cider problem. All in all, this was one of those episodes that takes a seemingly pedestrian premise and makes it really enjoyable. That's something FiM has done well many times, perhaps most famously with "Suited for Success", and when it happens it's generally a sign that the show is in rude health. I suspect "Bats!" will be a go-to episode for me in the future.

Twilight plans a stakeout
Twilight seemed particularly scheme-y this time round.
Best quote: Rainbow Dash: "Think of the cider! Won't somepony please think of the cider?"

  • Interesting and (partly) unpredictable storyline
  • Showed another side to Fluttershy
  • Excellent song, superbly directed
  • Some very funny one-liners
  • Satisfying moral
  • Generally good characterisation
  • Twilight and Pinkie sided with AJ too easily
  • Fluttershy's apple-tite was signposted in flashing neon


  1. I thought this was a really great episode. I hadn't read anything about it so I had no idea what to expect, and I thought it was quite clever that - at first - it wasn't obviously a Fluttershy episode. At first it seemed as if was going to centre mostly on Applejack. Of course, typical of Fluttershy, even in her bat form and with her snarly face, she still managed to look disturbingly cute. I just don't know how she does it.

    I must admit, it did seem a bit surprising how quickly Twilight and Pinkie sided with AJ. It might have been interesting if it had been an even split, with 3 "for" and 3 "against" but it was not to be. Of course after they were all parading round in a circle, and it showed the different faces in close-up, I seem to remember Pinkie looking as if she was perfectly happy, probably not even completely aware of why she was there. ;)

    It did seem pretty clear that Fluttershy had been battified, so it wasn't a surprise when they revealed that she had been chomping the apples. I do think that could have been done a good bit more subtly, but it didn't seem to harm it too much for me. And that fang at the end was more than a bit mysterious. I wonder if that will have any bearing (ahahaha! Baring! Fangs! Oh never mind) on the finale for this season...

    1. Oh yes, I remember that particular Pinkieface. ;) As for the pun at the end of your comment, I think I may have to sentence you to spend a day with Diamond Tiara. Yes, it was that bad. :P