Friday, 10 August 2018

Episode review: S8E15: "The Hearth's Warming Club"

Twilight, Rainbow and Spike confront the Student Six in a purple goo-covered room
"And if I ever, ever see Gak in this school again, it'll be too soon"
At last, I'm up to date with S8, on the Discovery Family schedule at least. I was really looking forward to "The Hearth's Warming Club". One reason was that I'm now a firm fan of the Student Six – props to the writers for making me care so much about characters who've been around for barely half a season. The other reason was that this episode was written by Brian Hohlfeld, who debuted with the excellent "Surf and/or Turf" earlier this season.

I'm happy to report that Hohlfeld is now two-for-two, as my American friends might say. This is an immensely entertaining episode, one which plays to the students' strengths and also gives us some backstory to flesh out their characters a bit. There's one significant problem I have with it, but that's really all. It's not quite as impressive as what "The Cutie Mark Chronicles" did for the Mane Six, but it's cut from the same cloth.

I don't think it matters at all that a "holiday" episode went out in the middle of summer. It's not as if people these days only watch cartoons on their initial airing, after all. Good enough storytelling will treat such things as minor inconveniences, and this episode creates a suitable atmosphere right from the moment Sandbar sings a line from "Hearth's Warming Eve is Here Once Again". It's just a good, well-told tale.

Stylised flashback to the Storm King towering over Mount Aris
The Storm King demonstrating his feeble hide-and-seek skills
Talking of Sandbar, to me he remains by some distance the least interesting of the Student Six, though I do wonder whether his hilariously boring "doll not actually falling into the fire" story was deliberately written by Hohlfeld as a way of acknowledging and parodying that. I suppose a comedy group can always use a straight colt, but he still suffers a bit by comparison with his five more obviously interesting companions.

There's something of "Campfire Tales" in the structure of the episode's heart, but I think "The Hearth's Warming Club" did it better. I was impressed by the willingness to show aspects of different species' celebrations that really don't gel with pony culture – this was seen most vividly in Smolder's tale; I wonder whether she'll eventually change her mind about kindness. I also liked Yona's story in the way it both confirmed and subverted expectations about yak culture.

In all truth, it wasn't desperately difficult to guess that Gallus was the perpetrator – the giveaway for me was the fact that we didn't see his story when he emerged from Twilight's office; this implied that it would be the climax of the episode. I don't think this really matters, though: "Party of One" back in S1 demonstrated that knowing the destination isn't a bar to enjoyment as long as the journey is enjoyable.

Five changelings swimming in a huge vat of purple punch
"Or dive into my fruit punch lake!"
What I didn't see coming was Gallus's sad backstory. Given what we know of griffons (except Gabby, though even she looked grumpy here!), I wouldn't have expected his family life to be all sunshine and rainbows. However, we now know he has no family at all. While it's not explicitly stated whether they're dead or just gone, this was a real punch in the feels. The fandom spent all these years wondering about Scootaloo, yet here's a character who is canonically alone.

Silverstream's cheery tale tied into the movie, and we even got (stylised) on-screen appearances for the Storm King and Queen Novo, which I appreciated no end. Ocellus probably had the funniest story, though she may not have realised it. Twilight's precision clashing with the changelings' literal-mindedness was a joy to behold, and I am enormously tempted to sing carols in their way when Christmas comes around.

I only have one real complaint, which is that Twilight's choice of punishment seems extremely harsh. Telling a child (which is what these characters are) just as they're about to go home for pony!Christmas that they won't be seeing their family at all this winter break is brutal. I get that it's what makes the heart-warming ending work, and there's a fair case to be made that it was a bluff by Twilight to get the culprit to confess, but the use of such a harsh threat still doesn't sit right with me.

Gilda, Grandpa Gruff, Gabby and an unnamed baby griffon look glum as they sit around a rough table
Some of the description of the griffons' holiday sounded worryingly familiar!
That's enough of a problem to me to prevent this episode quite being rated as an out-and-out classic, but like "Surf and/or Turf" before it, it's very much in the upper echelons of the series and left a smile on my face at the end. A lot happened, but it didn't feel rushed, and that's always a good sign. It really is a shame that we'll in all probability be saying goodbye to the Student Six in little over a year, as quite frankly I would happily watch a spin-off series. Well done, Mr Hohlfeld.

Best quote: Changelings: "Carols, carols, carols, carols, carols!"

  • Excellent Student Six characterisation
  • Interesting backstories
  • A real emotional hit from Gallus
  • Good pacing
  • Highly attractive animation
  • The severity of the threatened punishment
  • That train must be long gone by the end!


  1. Minor thing to correct; Surf and/Or Turf was earlier this season, not last season. :)

  2. Right now, this ep is the best episode of the season in my opinion until some upcoming episode dethroned it. Some people might guess who is culprit and some people dont but in the end, they dont feel they are being cheated (unlike P.P.O.V). Gallus backstory is surprising sad, we can empathize with him but the kids still get to clean up so his actions are not inconsequential (UNLIKE the last episode). No comments about Sandbar, that guy is supposed to be the dullest member of the group and they are still doing the great job to make him so. Ocellus, Yona and Silver Stream stories are just too cute and Smolder is surprising dark, her story caught me off guard. XD

    So far, the staffs are doing a good job to make us love the new characters........: not without a cost of our old characters...... Pinkie episode just dropped in quality. Dash and AJ have new record of awfulness (Non-compete Clause). Twilight just make a lot of questionable decisions after the movie. Fluttershy is weird in Fake it. Rarity is fine, but we need her episode. So far, only Twilight has some 'progression' like her struggling as spreading her friendship to other creatures or something but the other mane 6 are just there, they just being teacher just because Twilight told them. What happen next to Rarity fashion shops? She gets 3 shop then what?! Rainbow Dash become Wonderbolt then what next? Will she become another Legendary flyer like Firefly until the show end or i am just thinking too much? Only Twilight is the character with actual story-arc in the group, others are just there.
    Characters who has actual story progression that i am looking forward to is:
    - Twilight and her school.
    - Spike and his growths.
    - Starlight and whether she will reform Chrysalis and become an Element or not.
    - The students Six and their roles of upcoming finale.

    1. It's up there certainly, though I think as a big Scootaloo fan it's marginally behind "Surf and/or Turf" for me.

      Rarity is fine, but we need her episode.

      See next episode. ;)

  3. I find it interesting how, more and more, I see people saying Sandbar is their least favorite/the least interesting of the students, while he's the only one I'll admit to liking, when I don't like them at all. <.< That probably means something.

    1. It may do. I don't know what it is, though. :P