Sunday, 9 March 2014

Episode review: Somepony to Watch Over Me (S4E17)

Applejack hugs Apple Bloom
"Now don't yer do any o' that dangerous breathin' now, y'hear?"
It's the weekend, which means that it's time once again for us to return to the land of multi-coloured equines and review another episode of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. This week, we had a brand new writer: Scott Sonneborn, who's written a whole heap of stuff but never – until now – turned his hand to a Pony episode. It's somehow mildly surprising to see a new name almost two-thirds of the way through a season, but as always the proof of the pudding was in the eating. Let's see!

This was a surprising episode, although it didn't start out that way. There have been several hints in this season about the CMC growing up a little, and we got another one here with Apple Bloom finally being trusted to stay home while the older Apples went about their duties. Granny was packed off to visit someone (we never found out what happened there) while Applejack and Big Mac went off on apparently difficult apple pie deliveries. (Actually, we never found out about Big Mac's day, either.)

AB, once she'd got through AJ's frankly Twilightesque chores checklist, was unsurprisingly looking forward to being home alone for once, and Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle were naturally on her side throughout. Except that AJ decided that being a sensible and dependable pony was rather boring and that it was about time she tried to be AB's mother instead. (There's plenty of headcanon space there, given that their parents are no more.) Presumably AJ asked Pinkie for one of the Idiot Balls she doubtless has stashed all over Equestria, in case of Idiot Ball Emergencies.

The CMC song that wasn't
There doesn't seem to be a single remix of this yet. For shame, bronies!
This did lead to a funny little gag involving helmets, but in general I felt the first part of the episode dragged on a little bit too long. (This sense was heightened by what happened later.) Eventually, the CMC hit on the idea of Apple Bloom going off to deliver the pies AJ had left behind (by staying home with AB) while Scoots and Sweetie pretended to be her. This wasn't all that convincing: a big sister as (over)protective as Applejack was in this episode would simply not confuse one filly for another.

On the plus side, it did give us the funniest scene of "Act I" of the episode, namely the cut-off song. I doubt Sonneborn knows this as he'll probably have steered clear of fanworks, but the effect was just slightly lessened by the fact that a virtually identical joke, also involving the CMC, was used in episode 9 of Friendship is Witchcraft. Scootaloo then picked up the Idiot Ball just long enough to give the game away, at which point AJ's comments about "fireproof boots" and the like made us start to wonder what in Equestria was going on.

We soon found out, and Act II saw us find where Apple Bloom had gone – and saw the ep undergo a real change of atmosphere. The fire swamp, presumably a Princess Bride reference, was scary enough on its own... but it was as nothing when set alongside what we saw coming out of the smoke. The chimera may have had a tiger's head instead of the usual lion's, but it was still remarkably close to the original monster: a big fat yay for the return of actual Greek mythology to MLP:FiM!

The chimera appears out of the fire swamp
"Scootaloo, I don't like your dream world any more..."
The show has used genuinely dangerous monsters in "normal" episodes before, eg the hydra in "Feeling Pinkie Keen", but the chimera may well take the prize as the most terrifying of the lot. Yes, there were a few bits of silliness here and there, but that doesn't alter the fact that Apple Bloom was, explicitly, in danger of her life. For a moment we were made to think that the chimera's love of pies was AB's saviour... but then a "ssside of Filly Fillet" disabused us of that notion. The American pronunciation of "fillet" threw me for a second, but "Any last words?" certainly didn't. This was a superb bit of scary monstering.

Of course, we all knew that AB would be saved in the end, but it was still a relief to find her big sister (who often seems the most willing of all the Mane Six to take danger head-on) galloping to the rescue, hunk of ricotta and all. We just had time for a brief look at a town of rather strange Cajun ponies (could this be Hollow Shades?) before a rather disappointingly rushed final scene in which AJ accepted that she'd been overprotective. But dear oh dear, guys, why in Equestria wasn't there a "shooting stars" shot at the very, very end?

This wasn't a bad start by a new writer, although it wasn't the blazing debut that we saw from the likes of Corey Powell ("Sleepless in Ponyville") or Natasha Levinger ("Pinkie Apple Pie"). It was more like Josh Haber's first ep, "Castle Mane-ia", in that it was solid and enjoyable but wasn't quite the absolutely finished article. If the pacing had been better, probably by cutting a little from Act I so that the episode's moral could breathe a little more, it could have been great. As it was, it was "merely" good. But that's still, well, good.

Cajun ponies enjoying apple pie
I'm not even going to try to imitate a Cajun accent here. Sorry!
Best quote: The very last line: Applejack: "Little sister, we're always good!"

Yays
  • A continuing sense of the CMC growing up
  • The notion of Equestria being a genuinely dangerous world returned
  • A real sense of menace from the chimera (and yay Kaa reference!)
  • The very funny "no time for a song" scene
  • The hats and bows closet
Neighs
  • Uneven pacing: slow start, rushed ending
  • Applejack's overprotectiveness of AB was over the top
  • Big Mac and Granny Smith were rather forgotten about
7.5/10

2 comments:

  1. After the disappointment (to me anyway) of the last two episodes, I was a lot more pleased with this one. I think this review and the 7.5 score is perfectly fair. The first half of the episode... well, I did enjoy that quite a bit because of the various silly moments (the song being cut off after a few seconds totally caught me out, and something about the crash helmet on top of another crash helmet seemed to tickle me) but it did seem to drag on a bit at times. I guess we might never know what the rest of that song was like though!

    But that second half was a vast change of pace, and for a kids show the chimera was pretty scary, to say the least. When it first appeared, I did wonder if they'd end up finding that although the chimera looked dangerous, it was in fact only there to help out. Or that it would be persuaded to be "nice" in return for the pies. I thought it was quite brave of the show to avoid that, and to make it clear that no, that chimera was extremely dangerous. Which hammered home the moral of the story. I don't know why but it was the goat head and that weird voice that seemed the creepiest bit about it.

    I must admit, I'm intrigued by just what Big Macs journey may have involved, and chances are we'll never know. You have to wonder what creature or obstacles he encountered, since Granny Smith made it clear that both delivery routes were equally dangerous and difficult. I hope he didn't need any nails along the way... And there was something I found especially amusing about the way the Cajun ponies erupted into khaos at the end, trying to push the tables over. But yes, if ever there was a moment to have included those shooting stars... That would have been a really emotional moment, so it's a shame they didn't think to include that. Ah well. :)

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    1. Someone on another site suggested that Big Mac's journey was just a cover story and that he was really going to see Cheerilee. ;)

      I was pleased by the chimera being properly scary. Someone on the show once said that they felt part of their success was that they didn't treat kids like idiots: "sometimes it's fun to be scared" is after all a theme of "Luna Eclipsed", and Roald Dahl's stories are very scary at times.

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