Monday, 18 April 2016

Episode review: S6E05: "Gauntlet of Fire"

Ember grabs Garble
"And stop calling me Ember-lism!"
When it was announced that episode 5 would be a Spike one, I wasn't alone in being a little apprehensive. Spike-isodes don't have the best track record, and even when the writing team was announced as Joanna Lewis and Kristine Songco (who gave us the excellent "Rarity Investigates!" in S5) that worry wasn't dispelled entirely. Still, I sat down with a snack (salt & vinegar crisps) and a nice cold drink (bitter lemon) and gave it a shot. More after the break.

I write this with trembling hands, but I think I may just have experienced a miracle: a Spike episode that I actually really like. It's not perfect, and there are even one or two points at which I found myself getting slightly bored, but overall it's really rather good. Certainly the best Spike ep since "Secret of My Excess" way back in Season Two, and I think probably better even than that. Colour me impressed. We even get a Crackle cameo!

Mind you, the character who makes this episode good isn't really Spike; he's almost a supporting character at times – which I can't help remembering is how he's normally used best. The dragon who this episode is really about is Ember, the tiny daughter of the huge Dragon Lord Torch. Ember is a really nice character, who transcends her rather obvious story arc by being both charismatic and fun. I wouldn't mind seeing her back in the show at some point.

Twilight and Rarity talk to glowing!Spike
"Hey, the Crystal Ponies got nothin' on this"
Torch himself isn't a bad character either, and his Australian VA Matt Cowlrick does his job nicely. What's more interesting, though, is the insight we get into dragon lore, which seems a lot more nuanced than what we saw from those teenage idiots in "Dragon Quest". They certainly seem to be powerful beasts, given that an alicorn princess is apparently in such danger around them, and the whole "glowing call" thing is Spike's Cutie Map equivalent, I suppose.

It's also nice to see an episode which teams up Twilight and Rarity for the first time since... well, I don't know offhoof. Has it ever happened before, other than as just part of an ensemble episode? Admittedly the two ponies don't actually do an awful lot, other than wear a variety of unconvincing disguises while they shadow Spike, but it made a refreshing change nevertheless. Also noted: Rarity's unicorn magic glows in-universe.

Best of all, the episode ends in the way it should. Given Spike's hero status in the Crystal Empire, I was a little bit concerned that he might end up actually becoming Dragon Lord. While it would have been a riposte to those who accuse the show of Spike hate, it wouldn't really have fitted his character, especially these days. What actually happens – that he gives the sceptre to Ember because his home is with the ponies he knows and loves – is a much more satisfying conclusion to the episode.

Dragon Lord Torch
* Sold as "Dragon Lord Flashlight" in some markets
Things I don't like? A few, though not nearly as many as I thought would be the case in a Spike-isode. Garble is probably top of the list: he's not quite as boring an antagonist as he was in "Dragon Quest", but he's still pretty dull and predictable. Admittedly his character is dull and stupid, but nevertheless. I'm also not sure whether I like the lampshade-hanging when the ponies get through the maze: I suppose we're meant to think "teleportation", but... hmm.

Still, there it is: the miracle has happened. Five and a bit seasons into Friendship is Magic and we've finally had a Spike episode that I actually like. One that's better than "Secret of My Excess". One that has Spike doing something interesting without making him look stupid. One that feels as though it belongs in the show. Perhaps I'm slightly overrating it because of the sheer novelty value, but right now this is my favourite episode of S6 so far. Yes, really.

Best quote: Torch: AGREE WITH ME!

  • It's a good Spike episode
  • It's a good Spike episode
  • Ember is a pretty nice character
  • Spike giving up lordship for friendship
  • Some interesting world-building
  • Twilight and Rarity together for once
    • Garble is still pretty irritating
    • Some of the maze-running is a bit dull


    1. I'm glad you looked up Torch's VA for me, because I kept forgetting to. This is Matt Cowlrick's third role ever! His main output is (was?) in a you've-never-heard-of-it cartoon called Pirate Express.

      1. On this evidence, it won't be his third and last. (And no, I've never heard of that cartoon either.)

    2. I was a bit harsh on this episode first time round. I still don't care for it all that much, but there's plenty to like about it. And it's MILES better than 'Princess Spike'.

      1. Mind you, listening to Cathy Weseluck saying "My Little Pony" non-stop for 22 minutes would be better than "Princess Spike". :P