Monday, 20 May 2019

Episode review: S9E08: "Frenemies"

So, does this count as an on-screen death? :P
When I last looked, the comments count for my "She's All Yak" review (including my responses) was into the mid-30s. Whatever people thought of it, it's certainly got them talking! This week, we had the return of Mike "Michael" Vogel to writing duties. I was very happy indeed when I discovered he was going to be writing this episode. Why? Well, take a look at his solo credits for this show:

"A Hearth's Warming Tail"
"Spice Up Your Life"
"Every Little Thing She Does"
"The Mean 6"
"What Lies Beneath"
"Best Gift Ever"

Other than "Spice Up Your Life", which I only mildly like, I love the rest of that half-dozen. Would "Frenemies" be worthy of this exalted company?

Yes! This was a wonderful episode, one that did something Friendship is Magic has never attempted before – a full-on villain episode – and pulled it off triumphantly. I said after viewing it for the first time that I felt it might beat the season premiere as my favourite episode of S9 so far. After a second watch, I'm sure of it. There aren't many episodes that have given me as much sheer entertainment as this one, and that's what I want most from this show.

The framing device was Grogar getting fed up with (what he sees as) his minions – Tirek, Chrysalis and Cozy Glow – bickering and sending them off on a team-building exercise. The joy of the episode, though, was the interplay between the three. There was some fizzing dialogue, the characterisation was consistently good, the pacing was excellent and the episode actually moved on the season arc by at least a little bit, adding a new dimension at the end.

I liked how Rusty Bucket was quietly shown as resourceful and clever
Those who've watched the G1 My Little Pony 'N Friends show will doubtless remember "The Return of Tambelon", the story that introduced Grogar. "Frenemies" did not keep to G1 canon, since Gusty (here featured as the legendary hero, with a cutie mark so G1-like I feel I should call it a "symbol") is only a background character in the 1980s story. In fact, it was a pegasus, North Star, who reached the bell in G1. My guess, and it is only that, is that Hasbro have lost the rights to that name and so had to retcon.

"Frenemies" brought us my favourite song since "Road to Friendship", which of course was another song sung by (former, in that case) villains. Okay, so villain songs are often the best – see "This Day Aria", "Unleash the Magic" and so on – but I think Daniel Ingram nailed this one. I think Cozy probably had the best of it (she certainly thought she did) but the whole of "A Better Way to be Bad" was enjoyable. If we can get more songs as good as this, I'll be delighted.

The song also contained what I initially thought was a really seriously dark line: "To crush our enemies to death / And laugh as they all scream." It turns out that Cozy was actually singing " dust" – although the imagery is still pretty brutal for a TV-Y show, not least with the villains' savage treatment of the stuffed ponies they use as props. But then the cocooned and drained Ophiotaurus was apparently left to its fate by Chrysalis later on, too...

Tirek, Cozy, "Twilight" and breakfast
Talking of which, it was interesting to see how the three villains approached the mountain when they were working separately. I was really pleased to see Chrysalis make good use of her shapeshifting again: it's been too long, and she needed something better than just her descent into madness. Cozy, of course, tried her twisted charm on Rusty Bucket (until he revealed he still had a Journal of Friendship copy!) – but Tirek was cleverest, realising it was a waste of time and instead taking the opportunity to relax.

I enjoyed the way Vogel wrote the villains gradually realising they needed to work together, and that it felt good to do so... before Chrysalis abruptly stopped them by pointing out that they were in danger of succumbing to the dreaded magic of friendship! Of course, however much they may protest, they have done so – witness Chryssie herself trusting Tirek to return her essence after having broken into the bell chamber. That was a delicious moment.

The scene seems to be being set for a betrayal of Grogar by the other three. The most obvious path would be for them to do that, work together, come to accept friendship, turn to the Light Side and then help the ponies defeat Grogar before a final Great Reformation. I actually rather hope that we get a few more twists and turns than that. For example, what does the bell do if it's used by someone who isn't Grogar? I suspect we may find out.

"None of you can turn your head through 180 degrees like I can!"
Other than my little complaint about Gusty usurping North Star's legendary status, and the use of the slightly awkward phrase "Twilight Sparkle and her friends" one too many times, I really can't think of much at all against "Frenemies". It was glorious – sheer pleasure pretty much from start to finish. It may be the sort of episode you can only do once as diminishing returns begin to apply, but it was certainly worth it. The Vogel train rolls smoothly on!

Best line: Cozy Glow: "Ooh, I love a good back-stabbing!"
Best moment: Chrysalis ripping the Starlight doll in half
Worst moment: I can't think of one!

  • Enormously entertaining
  • The villains, though comedic, always maintained a dark edge of menace
  • Very well paced throughout
  • One of the best songs of the entire series
  • Gave us a fascinating setup for the future of the Legion of Doom
  • The return of Greek mythology
  • Chrysalis finally got to transform again
  • Poor old North Star, retconned out of existence!


  1. And this is what I meant in the comments of the previous review: was really that hard to make ALL the eps of S9 like this instead of making pointless School dance episodes and things like that (I've also seen episode 10 in Italian. Without spoiling anything: while I liked it enough, even that one was a fillerish one...).

    I'm just reduce of TWO disappointing series finales of shows lasted for many years and that aired in the same day (Star Vs the Forces of Evil and Game of Thrones). I REALLY hope that MLP has a better luck than them when it ends. This episode (as well Best Gift Ever, The Beginning of the End and Sparkle's Seven) is the evidence that when they WANT to work hard, the current writers can do great things. I really hope they wrote the series finale with THIS mentality. I prey they don't let us down...

    1. I'm sure we'll be fine. And even if we're not, it won't take away from all the good episodes we've enjoyed over the years. Of course I want them to stick the landing, but the routine doesn't become worthless if they don't. :)

  2. I guess I'm gonna be the holdout on not liking the song. <.< Thank you so much for identifying that monster, though. I'd been wondering.

    My guess, and it is only that, is that Hasbro have lost the rights to that name and so had to retcon.
    More like they realized Gusty is way better than dumb ol' North Star and finally gave her her due. :V #G1MLPDiscourse

    1. Nah. If the were going to go on G1 quality, then it should have been Wind Whistler. :P

    2. ...uhmn... yeah, she'd be my choice as well.

  3. Well this a bit of gamble having an episode that had no mane six, no CMC and no Starlight, and boy did it work! Seeing the three antagonist trying to work together was pure gold which made it one of the best episodes of the season. I am interested what will happen when Grogar will do when he finds out that they have his bell. Season nine is back on track after a handful of slightly above average episodes.

    1. no mane six, no CMC and no Starlight

      For the first time ever, I think. "On Your Marks" was the first without the Mane Six, but obviously Apple Bloom was the main character!

  4. While there have been episodes before that didn't feature the Mane 6 (other then 'On Your Marks', there's also 'To Change a Changeling' and 'The Break-up Break-Down', off the top of my head), in each case, they still featured characters that could be considered main or secondary leads by that point in their history in the show (Spike, Starlight, the CMC).
    But this... not only is it the show's first villain-centric episode, and with no hero characters either, consider this. Not a single character in this episode has previously appeared in more then 9 episodes (going by speaking appearances; we can set it at 11 if we count non-speaking and background appearances too. Chrysalis has the speaking record while Cozy has the all-inclusive record). Consider that. No one in this episode has appeared in more then 5% of this show's episodes.

    Yes, anyway, I think I loved this one. Didn't take me long to realise it had me hooked either, and with no reservations. Even my previous loves this season had minor "buts": The Beginning of the End is still derivative of past finales in quite a few ways (plus, Twilight's freak-outs), and whatever Sparkle's Seven is a glorious and unique episode, I find now there's maybe a certain sparkle (ha ha... I'm sorry) it reaches for but doesn't quite attain.
    What helps this is how fresh it is. On top of the concept's uniqueness within the show, these aren't characters we really know all that well, not like any regulars on the show anyway, so the character interactions get to keep surprising us. And when they're not surprising us, they're delighting and entertaining us greatly.
    Like you, I think this is my favourite of the season, and without a doubt one of the most unique and freshest episodes the show has put out in a long time. Which is not the same as the "best" one in a long time, though it's pretty darn fantastic from where I'm standing.

    I think the reuse of the "Twilight Sparkle and her friends" phrase was done so that little kids who happen upon this episode at random and haven't seen any of these villains' previous episodes, or don't remember them, can quickly realise, "oh, these are the bad guys, they're trying to hurt Twilight and Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash and the others" and have that to go on. It could have been phrases less awkwardly, but that's my reasoning for its frequent reuse. That, and some of the times the other villains mention Twilight.
    ...and they couldn't just say "The Bearers of the Elements of Harmony" or something because they've been destroyed. For now, anyway.

    I wonder if Chrysalis not having Twilight's voice during her imitation was due to Twilight not already being in the episode, and they figured it wasn't worth paying her (and being based in L.A., she probably makes more then any other regulars on the show) just for that one line? Maybe it was in the script, but I don't think so somehow. Just struck me as a bit unusual, is all.

    1. That's probably the real-life explanation for Chrysalis's voice, but it's fun to imagine an in-universe one. Perhaps Chryssie just didn't want to go to any effort, and the disconnect was part of the joke she was sharing with Tirek and Cozy.

  5. This ep and Sparkle's Seven are 'instant classic' that season 9 has delivered in just first 8 episodes, let hope the writers could keep it up.
    None of the episode that feature the student 6 so far has meet such quality that can match even Point of No Return (which is a super filler episode as well), make me a bit worried. After the disastrous Game of Throne finale, my fear keep growing but Frenemies gave me some hopes again, it show the staffs still love the show just like usual (as least that what I think). However, I think if they keep pushing Student 6 this season, it will be a mistake. This is the final season, there will be G5 which could not be the sequel of FIM, no FIM movie anymore, and may no Student 6/Starlight spin off or anything relate to G4 (Things may change in the future, but right now, that what i'm seeing). Every episode left right now is precious, it should be used to wrap up some important character story arc (mane 6, Starlight, CMC, Royal Sister, villains etc) or if they are just unimpactful filler, I would be happy to spend that filler with my mane 6, Starlight, CMC, Royal Sister, Discord, whatever established characters in season 1-7. Student 6 are just so lovable but we don't have much luxury time left so I rather see a Diamond Tiara conclusion episode than than theirs. And I hope they don't even pull a "Bran Stark" Ending, that mistake is fatal.

    Sorry for the rant, my favorite show of all time was just died yesterday, not with a bang, but with humiliations.

    1. I have never watched a single episode of Game of Thrones, nor read the books, so I'm afraid all your allusions to it are entirely lost on me!

      But I don't worry. FiM isn't -- mostly -- about one overarching story arc. It is -- mostly -- about individual adventures and slice of life. Yes, even this season. So what you call "super filler" episodes will stand even when watched on their own in the future. Of course I don't want a disappointing finale -- but it wouldn't destroy the show's achievements. :)

    2. *patpat*

      I'm with you Buddy. Even I'm feeling devastated by GoT's ending, and sadly it wasn't the only show I loved that ended crappily (Samurai Jack, Voltron and Star Vs the Forces of Evil... the latter wasn't totally awful thought, I just think it needed a few more minutes to complete the thing). I just hate when shows you love end with terrible endings, but with a short lasted for so many years like GoT things are multiplied for 10.

      I don't want to feel like that ever again so I took a decision on my part: I won't watch anymore new shows. I will conclude the 5 I'm currently watching (MLP, Ducktales, Miraculous, DC Super Hero Girls and Hilda), once I conclude them I won't watch any new shows for the rest of my life. NO. EXCEPTIONS.

      I feel the golden age of television shows (animated or live action that is) is over, there's nothing left for me. I will just pass this out.

    3. Do people really dislike Samurai Jack's ending? I thought it was absolutely perfect, and a very fitting capstone for the series. And that on the tail end of a fantastic season of television.

    4. The problem with Samurai Jack's ending was that it was nothing more than Gurren Lagann's ending. Whether or not that's a good ending is another matter.

  6. If Chrysalis's holes have closed up the next time we see her, then we'll know for sure she's caught it. (And since Thorax was on the run when that happened to him, who knows if she would even realize what that meant?)

    Rewatched the episode with Cyanna and she remarked that the whole thing felt like a love letter to more classic cartoons, what with all the gags like Cozy Glow's hot head melting the snow, Chrysalis donning a feminine-wily disguise to distract someone, and Rusty Bucket popping up out of the snow going "I'm okay!".

  7. This episode is a really fresh one. Fresh in atmosphere, character choices, and leads. For a series that exclusively centers on protagonists for its stories, a villain-centric episode is the biggest departure of the entire series, but as S9's the last one, DHX can take these risks with ease. And it delivered marvelously.

    The character development the Fallen Three (QC, Cozy, Tirek) received really advanced their characters, showcasing a degree of humanity beyond what they demonstrated throughout the series. Yes, they're evil, but they're characters first and foremost. This episode alone made reformation for all three a plausible possibility. Bravo bravo, Vogel! :D