Sunday, 23 March 2014

Episode review: "For Whom the Sweetie Belle Toils" (S4E19)

Sweetie and Luna in negative during a dream
"Rarity's gonna go crazy trying to work with this!"
Right then: here we are at episode 19 of Season 4 of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. The weeks really do seem to have flown by this season, which is probably a good thing. This rather oddly-named episode (and yes, it's definitely "Toils" and not "Tolls" in the title) was written by Dave Polsky. Most of his episodes have felt to me like being so chock-full of interesting ideas that they don't quite have room to tie the parts together. "Rarity Takes Manehattan" came very close to classic status, though; after the break, we'll consider his latest effort.

This started out as a Sweetie/Rarity episode, which naturally brought back memories of Season 2's "Sisterhooves Social". That ep wasn't among my favourites, although it's fairly well liked in the fandom at large. The difference this time, though, was not merely that the other CMC played supporting roles, but the presence of a certain Princess of the Night. Luna's dream-walking abilities were central to the plot this week, and that could only invite comparisons with the classic "Sleepless in Ponyville".

The CMC in their theatrical outfits
Is Scoots' hat supposed to give her enough lift to fly?
I don't think "FWtSBT" quite measures up to Season 3's piece of brilliance, though in technical terms it probably outstrips it: the visuals this time around were among the most impressive the show has ever produced. This was most obviously in evidence during the dream sequences, which stand as some of the most beautiful animation we've seen in any season. The rest of the episode did well in the looks department too, though: it's a good example of how far we've some since the early days of Season 1.

Unfortunately, this was a typical Polsky episode in that it did seem a little on the disjointed side. The last few minutes were truly wonderful, and had the entire ep been up to that standard then I'd be rating this as one of S4's classics. However, it did seem to take a long time to get going. Sweetie Belle seemed a tad too actively unpleasant when in revenge mode: I'm not sure I was entirely convinced that she'd go quite as far as to (attempt to) destroy something so crucial to her big sister.

Rarity loses it in the dream sequence
When Rarity's breakdowns go big, they really go big
The other CMCs may not have played large roles, but they did their jobs pretty well. Scootaloo's "Serves Her Right" joke was extremely well timed and very funny, and the "I'm a fan" routine at the theatre (distinctly unhelpful, as Sweetie pointed out) was also amusing. Oh, and that bouncer... there were real echoes of Dave Prowse as Hotblack Desiato's bodyguard there! Sapphire Shores, though, didn't appeal to me very much: I preferred her slightly more extrovert character back in "A Dog and Pony Show".

And that brings us to Luna. I wasn't all that pleased when she hinted at a lingering resentment about being outshined by Celestia: please, please can we not have even more of those tiresome New Lunar Republic fan works? Thankfully it was only referred to once, and Luna was mostly very good here. Not, I have to say, quite as impressive as in "Sleepless in Ponyville", and you do wonder whether she really understands the idea of privacy, but the "birthday party" scene in particular was very well done.

Sapphire Shores looks unimpressed
Behold! 'Tis the Eye of Thundera!
All in all, I'd place "FWtSBT" in the second rank of pony episodes this season. I did like it more on a second viewing than on the first, when I hadn't really appreciated just how good the visuals were. And I'm still intrigued by Sweetie's rapidly improving magic. (Forcefields?!) My problems with the slightly disconnected nature of the storyline and some of the supporting cast mean that it can't rate at the very top. It inevitably suffers by comparison with "Sleepless in Ponyville", but it's still not a bad episode.

Best quote: Sweetie Belle's "cinnamon ribbon routine, impersonating Rarity.

  • Most of Sweetie Belle's character and development
  • Scootaloo and Apple Bloom gave good support
  • Rarity continued to be interesting
  • Most of the Luna scenes were very well done
  • Extremely impressive visual effects
  • It all felt a little bit of a hotch-potch until fairly late on
  • I didn't really warm to Sapphire Shores this time
  • Can we please bring back pony applause, with stomping hooves?

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