Monday, 24 September 2018

Episode review: S8E22: "What Lies Beneath"

Smolder wearing a light blue dress and red lipstick
That tiara... hmm. Smolder already has both horns and wings...
I'm now back from some quite stressful personal stuff (a family funeral) and I also spent a large chunk of yesterday out watching steam trains. As such, this review is being typed in late evening, so please excuse me if it's less coherent than usual. (How could anyone tell? —Ed.) "What Lies Beneath" was written by Michael Vogel, who rarely produces a poor episode and most recently gave us the interesting "The Mean 6". As for this instalment of the season... was another winner. The Student Six – who I suppose I may have to start calling the Young Six eventually, though I don't really want to – were front and centre once again. Although I am starting to fret just a little about how much of the limelight they're taking away from the Mane Six, it's hard to complain when they're so consistently entertaining. This episode gave all of them some character development. Yes, even Sandbar.

Actually, this was probably Sandbar's best showing in the show so far, though that's hardly saying a great deal. He was perhaps a little slow at calling a halt to the wild goose chase the fake RD and AJ took him on, but he's not as familiar with them as we are so I suppose it makes sense. That said, Sandbar is close friends with a changeling, so it might have been reasonable for him to at least think of that possibility.

Silverstream, in seapony form, hides in a pond from the shadows of the Storm King's army
If anything, this scene looks more scary as a still!
But I'm getting sidetracked. (No! —Ed.) The whole Tree of Harmony test thing made me a little bit iffy. I get the point that the Tree was testing the students' commitment to friendship, but some of the tests seemed remarkably harsh. Gallus in particular was not only extremely scared by claustrophobia but apparently put in fear of his life, something I didn't really like when it happened to Yona in "A Matter of Principals" and don't really like here either. Unconvincing Twilight Hologram, you got some 'splainin' to do.

Smolder's test was clearly intended as the light relief, and the tea party and her admission that she likes cute silly stuff was loads of fun. Yona's victory over her arachnophobia would have made Fluttershy smile – especially as yaks can apparently speak Spider – but the psychological horrors faced by Ocellus and Silverstream were of a much darker hue (especially for a TV-Y programme) and gave us an insight of how much those two remain scarred by their pasts.

Cozy Glow was once again lurking around, and she repeatedly appeared at suspiciously convenient moments. I was actually a little surprised when she didn't narrow her eyes evilly at the end. Her sobbing "admission" that she'd caused the Tree to text the students didn't sound convincing at all, and it may be fortunate for her that the six were so tired from their adventures by that time. It would be interesting to know what she does know about the Tree's powers.

Yona looks sideways, unsure, at a spider she's holding in a forepaw
"So if I let you bite me, I become a super-yak, right?"
Talking of which, back to the Tree of Eternal Doom. We've seen other beings happy to trap good guys in underground caves, but they were either antagonists (the Diamond Dogs) or outright evil (Chrysalis). The idea of a good being doing it, or at least saying it would, it is actually very creepy indeed. It suggests that the Tree will do anything to preserve Harmony in Equestria. (So is it Good, as such?) This idea is far from new to the world of MLP fanfic, but it's not something you expect to be made canon.

Something I absolutely loved, and something that fitted the episode's theme and moral entirely, was how the students helped each other. Gallus and Smolder explicitly mentioned that they were no longer like conventional griffons and dragons in their new-found unselfishness, while Sandbar finally came to the conclusion that even RD and AJ's mission wasn't as important as his friends. These six really could be the source for a show of their own, though it's not likely to happen.

Considering most of the episode was set underground, there was plenty of eye candy here, ranging from Smolder's tea party dress to the really rather cute spiders that Yona eventually befriended. The ep was also very well paced the whole way through. I still feel a little uncomfortable about the harshness of the test, but that's overcome by the rest. This is on the four-star/five-star boundary for me, but it's scraping into the top tier because of its supremely watchable character stuff.

An excited Yona talks loudly to a bemused-looking Cozy Glow
To be fair to Cozy, I'd probably share her expression here
Best quote: Silverstream: "I'm never gonna see another sunset or fly through a cloud bank or study plumbing!"

  • Another very good character episode for the Student Six
  • Surprisingly direct approach to Ocellus and Silverstream's past traumas
  • Strong message of the importance of being there for your friends
  • Some funny light relief with Smolder's tea party and Silverstream's sinks
  • Another piece of the Cozy Glow jigsaw – but it's still far from complete
  • The Tree's test was really rather harsh on a bunch of teenagers
  • Sandbar wasn't the sharpest tool in the box
★ (just)


  1. It was good, but I wouldn't say that good. c.c I mean, it teaches kids to be friends with spiders. This cannot abide.

    The funny thing about this episode: I was spoiled early on on Smolder's scene. Specifically, the part where she's in the full getup, takes the teacup, and giggles and wiggles at the camera. And there is something incredibly amateurish about the way that scene is animation, that I assumed it was fan work at the time. <.< I was honestly surprised to see it in the episode. It's weird.

    At least I know she's a girl now. :B

    1. I wouldn't go so far as to say Smoulder is definitively female. If not, then admitting this inclination would involve even more of a fear to conquer.

    2. @Present Perfect: I quite like spiders, so I'm not listening to that one. :P

      @both: From memory, I think someone on the show staff (Jim Miller?) did say on Twitter early in the season that Smolder was female. I can't be 100% sure, though.

    3. Even with some insider info like that, the show itself hasn't definitively said, afaik. I could go scour the transcripts and see if there's a "she" or "her" in there.

  2. I would argue that the cruelty of the tests was caused by the tree being corrupted by The Mean 6.

    1. I think a lot of people are having a hard time understanding the Tree as good, but not moral. The way the Twilight avatar spoke should clue you in: it's an alien mind. It doesn't exactly understand how people work. So it's trying to accomplish its goals, whatever those are, in the only way it can, using the first method it devised, ignorant to any consideration of what might be good for the students, or, y'know, the whole 'putting kids in danger' thing.

    2. Which is interesting from its perspective, albeit (as I mentioned) not new to those who've read various fanfics. However, this is still a TV-Y show and as such it seems a rather frightening thing -- as indeed does Gallus's test.

    3. Out of all of them, that's the one I'll agree was the most "what were you thinking?" It took him a stupidly long time to figure out the rules, and he was honestly in mortal peril. None of the rest quite had that same level of danger.

  3. A really good episode which reminded me of an episode of Extreme Ghostbusters which did a similar thing (I wish I could remember the name of the episode.) Also this episode was the one that convinced me that Cozy Glow was up to good, in fact her antics are quite similar to Getaways in the current Transformers comics.

    1. Not really familiar with the stuff you reference, but as far as Cozy is concerned, I've been suspicious of her for a while. However, this was definitely the most blatant dodginess on her part so far.

  4. The test is a bit harsh but this is the way to train the new enforcer of harmony. You cant save the world by just being silly. Afterall, this seeds was created by the Pillar to protect Equestria, you cant expect it to be a perfect functional sympathetic being. The tree is a system that developing itself over time.

    By a way, if anyone still believe Cozy Glow is not suspicious at all, it means they got Cozy Glowed.

    1. I said I wasn't terribly fond of the harshness, and that remains the case. It is interesting and it adds a lot of tension, and that's one reason why in the end this ep got the top star rating -- but it feels like something from a T-rated fanfic, not a TV-Y show. I know MLP has pushed that rating's boundaries for years, and I know the archetypal Good Pony once banished her sister in the Moon, but even so.

  5. I actually liked the ToH's alien attitude in this episode. I can see where she got the idea: Twilight learned about friendship because Celestia kept throwing her and her friends into deadly peril... sounds legit!

    And really, Gallus literally /asked/ for it.

    1. I wonder whether this might be an episode I enjoy (even) more in the future, when I know exactly what's coming. As for Gallus, my logical mind accepts all those arguments and finds it really interesting how "other" the ToH is. My big ol' softy mind then steps in and says, "Nope!"

    2. I'm right there with you... which is just another reason why I find this episode so fascinating!