With Season 7 rushly approaching, I wanted to reset my mind and throw a look on last season. There were questions and thoughts that have piled up over the last weeks, about themes, strengths, flaws and especially over-all tendencies of this seasons.
And while all seasons of MLP had their own unique ups and downs, this was the season that was – for most people – a little bit more lackluster than the others.
It would be a lie to say that I don’t see where they come from.
In my eyes, a lot of episodes had similar problems. And though they weren’t exactly awful, they didn’t take as many chances as earlier seasons – probably to bite time until former chief editor Meghan McCarthy comes back from writing the MLP movie.
But let us not beat around the bush – let’s take a look at the episodes,beginning with the better ones.
Something that you probably noticed was the big focus-shift within the series. There were maybe two or three episodes where all of the Mane 6 were around each other and starred in the same story. Otherwise, it either focused on two of them (aka the Map Episodes) or the CMC, Starlight Glimmer, Spike or the respective oneshot-characters. I can’t see that as anything other than deliberate, when even the final two-parter To Where And Back Again chooses secondary characters as the heroes.
Maybe that's why the episodes about the individual Mane 6 ranked so high: Because they provided character development that I really wanted to see. Flutter Brutter is by far my favourite of those. Even its song – originally one of the weaker parts of the episode – has grown on me over the last months.
If you ever had a doubt about Fluttershy as a worthwhile character, your opinion is going to change with this episode. Not only are we seeing her family for the very first time – we’re also experiencing Flutters at her “boldest”, when she’s dealing with her self-absorded free-loader of a brother.
The premise naturally is very relatable for anyone who has siblings – especially as utterly different as Zephyr Breeze and Fluttershy – and it will once again shutter the illusions you have about them. In this regard, Flutter Brutter’ sister episode – so to speak – is “Sisterhood Social”.
Another fan favourite this season was undeniably Stranger Than Fan-Fiction, the third Daring-Do-episode of the series. It was probably one of the biggest risk-takers, probably even more than Spice Up Your Life that has similar themes.
It’s one thing to attempt episodes about critics – many shows do that, and often poorly. But it’s even more daring to take a slam against the harshest critics of all - fans.
Michael Vogel, who had a part in writing both episodes, certainly knows the saying “Everyone’s a critic”, and he has taking it to heart. He also probably watched Pixar's "Ratatouille" because he portrays both critics and the public opinion in a very realistic and objective way, demonizing none of them.
From those episodes, I still like Stranger than Fan-Fiction a little bit better, because it has no filler and better jokes, but Spice Up Your Life also belongs in the top 10.
Next in the ranking is The Times are a Changeling, which was a very beloved and yet controversial episode at the same time, because it changed the ways about the Changelings, who were one of the darkest villains the show had to offer. Having a very sappy song didn’t help the controversy, either.
However, I personally like the song as much as I love the episode. It's one of the best episodes for any Spike fan, because it continues his journey to become a beloved hero – he goes from wanting to be admired to doing admirable things.
Now let’s go into the episodes that are still pretty good, but with serious flaws in it.
I mean - tell me, it isn’t a big flaw, when the creators offer just another retelling of Charles Dicken’s “Christmas Carol”, in July nonetheless. And yet, A Hearth’s Warming Tail is probably one of the more effective versions of this story. The little changes they made to the story are well-chosen, and the songs and visuals are stunning. Applejack, Pinkie and Luna make for great spirits, and Kelly Sheridan delivers a chilling performance as Snowfall Frost. In fact, the only thing lackluster about the episode is the framing device.
Equally flawed I would consider Newbie Dash, most likely the most over-hated episode this season. I have written a whole review about it, that I'll post here soon.The short version is: I don't hate it. I don't even consider it low quality. Apart from Rainbow Dash’s impressions (that really go on for a little too long), I don’t see many things wrong with it. I guess to enjoy it, you really have to acknowledge Rainbow as the character at fault in the story. The Wonderbolts don’t act that horrible all things considered. But more-so, I think that this episode provides character development that Dash really needed: To be confident, you need to be humble.
Another controversial entry this season is No Second Prances, mostly for featuring the very ponies that you don’t want to play out against each other: Trixie has been a fan favourite for so long that any animosity against her is considered a crime against humanity. So as you can imagine, Twilight being the antagonist in this episode didn’t turn out that well, especially after she has forgiven Starlight Glimmer for what she did in The Cutie Re-Mark.
But similar to Newbie Dash, I’m actually pretty okay with the roles the characters have. Nobody is without fault in this story, and the three ponies play off each other gorgeously.
Now we'll go into the grey area: Average to good episodes that I love, and very good episodes that aren't really my favourites.
Let's start with the latter: Top Bolt and Viva Las Pegasus. In some way, they are the opposite of the Cutie Map episodes of last season: They are better-written and have more unpredictable stories, but they kinda lack in the heart, humor and character department. Unlike last year’s entries, they're focusing more on side characters and therefor lacking growth for the Mane Six. I still like them, but they are not as special to me, mostly for the lack of humour in Viva Las Pegasus and the annoying Sky Stinger in Top Bolt.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are entertaining episodes with standard plots.The Fault In Our Marks doesn’t bring anything to the table that hasn’t been done by other CMC episodes. Where The Apple Lies spoils the ending right in the beginning. P.P.O.V.’s plot has been done multiple time. And yet, those episodes give you so much to think about the characters, that you just can't dislike them.The Gauntlet of Fire on the other side is already more on the meh side with me. Mostly, because you can guess its dialogue before the characters open their mouth. There are so many clichéd lines in this episode...But maybe that's nitpicky. And after all, the over-all feelings and the amazing visuals mostly make up for it. Like its predecessor Dragon Quest, the Gauntlet of Fire has wonderful colours, bright and vivid, and it surpasses this other one by having a much more thought-through message.(Though, beating the crap out of Garble might have helped, too).
On Your Marks, on the other hand, is probably more dear to me than it deserves. The plot meanders a little too much, and many elements present were already featured in Bloom and Gloom (also written by Josh Haber).
But as in Bloom and Gloom, Apple Bloom and her personal conflict make this episode very relatable to me. Not to speak about the song, which is still one of my favourites this season.
Generally, there were two big comedic strategies this season: Either let the characters make impressions of each other – like Rainbow in Newbie Dash or Twilight of Pinkie Pie in A Hearth’s Warming Tail - or create extreme facial expressions that will get meme status.I don't know whether it was on purpose, but it gave the show a much more cartoony vibe. I don't want to call seasonal rot, because the episodes were still good. But I'm probably not the only person who felt reminded on Spongebob
With that said, The Saddle Row Review is probably one of the better pure comedy episodes. Even as some of the jokes get old, the over-all narrative keeps the episode interesting all the way through.
A little weaker in that department is Every Little Thing She Does, which has a very good comedy portion in the middle while dragging in the beginning and the end.
And The Gift of Maud Pie would probably become very boring and stale if it weren’t for Maud’s dry delivery, her comedic chemistry with Rarity and her genuine relationship with Pinkie. Yet – the plot is probably the weakest and most predictable out of the whole season. Especially if you consider that Rarity could solve the conflict with just a needle, some thread and a well-crafted fabric.
A similar problem is prominent in Buckball Season, where-in Dash and Applejack look for a unicorn that can join their Buckball Team... and never think of asking Twilight, Starlight or Rarity at all. Instead, they form a new team with Fluttershy, Pinkie and Snails of all ponies.
The results are pretty much what you expect, but again the character interactions make up for it.
So as you might recall, the main problems so far are predictable plots, more lackluster comedy and a lack of character pieces. So what would be worse in my eyes?
Replacing all of that with pandering.
Since Slice of Life we had a little bit more of fan-service, especially in episodes like Do Princesses Dream Of Magic Sheeps? where more focus lay on gimmicks, memes and background ponies than on a coherent plot.
This season, it mostly consisted of appearances from DJ-Pon3, Derpy Hooves or Bulk Biceps. It didn't destroy anything, as long as the plots were okay.
But if the plots were already as repetitive and aggravating as The Cart Before The Ponies, the pandering was all too transparent.
In The Cart Before The Ponies, the CMC and their sisters join the Applewood Derby. The CMC want to get out of their element for a change and try something different, while their sisters want the spotlight to show off their own talents: creativity for Rarity, speed for Rainbow Dash and... backwardness for Applejack.
As you can imagine, the three are incredibly flanderized and one-note. The same scenes are repeated over and over, and none of them tell us more about any hidden motives the characters might have.
The only hidden depth comes from Rarity, when it is revealed that she as a young pony failed to win a creativity contest... against Derpy. It’s a joke that doesn’t really work, because Rarity’s cart doesn’t look bad in comparison and doesn’t even seems to be dysfunctional. So Derpy only wins through critical bias, which isn’t fair to her or anyone and comes across as very mean-spirited.
I wouldn’t even say it was intentional, but that’s what you get when you use characters for fan-service and don’t think beyond that. In that regard, this episode’ sister in spirit is Rainbow Falls, where Bulk Biceps, Fluttershy and Derpy are supposed to fly in the Equestria Games despite being apparently the worst of flyers (which was never the case for either of them).
The other fan-service episodes are much better, but they still would account as rating traps in my book. Both Dungeons and Discord and 28 Pranks Later are obviously tailored for the nerd portion of the fandom and deliver less than they promise. They aren’t bad though, even if 28 Pranks Later contains massive character regression on Rainbow’s part – but in exchange, it has Andrea Libman making a Zombie expression.
That leaves us with Applejack’s “Day” Off, which was the only episode no one really cared about and was my least favourite episode until Carts Before The Ponies came along. Its structure is awful and the jokes rather weak, but the main problem remains that.
The writers, Michael P. Fox and Wil Fox, are the same as in The Gift of Maud Pie and P.P.O.V., and they constantly put twice as much dialogue in their episodes as needed, relying heavily on “tell, don’t show” in the process. And because of that, there is a wide spot in the middle of the episode where Applejack, Rarity and the Spa ponies just stand around talking without even the attempt of a joke.
Throw in a bizarre face by Rarity and a silly Chicken impression by Applejack, and you have pretty much the worst aspects of Season Six.
So, after all of that you would probably expect me to call this the worst season ever. But... I can’t really.
Sure, there are a lot of episodes that disappointed me in some way. But watching many of them a second time, I learned to appreciate them more. Even the opening two-parter disappointed me at first, because The Crystalling Pt. 1 had very low stakes and not much going for it. Fortunately, the second part made up for that in the end.
On the other end of the spectre, there were episodes that only worked good one time and less in the second. And there are the episodes that continue to touch me. Between that, there’s a pretty wide middle ground of rather mediocre episodes. Which of course also means, that the only episodes I hate are Applejack’s “Day” Off and The Cart Before The Ponies.
That’s less than in the other seasons, where there were at least six episodes per season that I did not care for. Though that also meant that more risks were taken and more chances used. That's something this season kind of lacked. It instead focused more on familiar gimmicks that had worked for it in the past, but that won't bring the show to any new heights.So what will season 7 has to offer? Who knows.We have a complete new generation of writers: We get Gillian M. Berrow back, the Fox Brothers return, Michael Vogel quits, and about the others I don't know yet. I personally would like Dave Rapp and Nick Confalone to stay, maybe Ed Valentine, too (as long as Carts Before the Ponies stays a slip-up). But beyond that I can't make recommendations. All of the other writers still have to proof themselves. My unpolished ratings:The Crystalling 6/10
The Gift of Maud Pie 2/5
On your Marks 4/5
Gauntlet of Fire 3/5
Ne Second Prances 4/5
Newbie Dash 5/5
A Hearthwarming's Tail 4/5
The Saddle Row Review 4/5
Applejack's Day Off 2/5
Flutter Brutter 6/5
Spice up your Life 5/5
Stranger than Fan Fiction 6/5
The Cart before the Ponies 1/5
28 Pranks Later 3/5
The Times they are a Changeling 5/5
Dungeons and Discord 4/5
Buckball Season 3/5
The Fault in our Marks 5/5
Viva Las Pegasus 5/5
Every Little Thing She Does 4/5
Where the Apple Lies 4/5
Top Bolt 5/5
There and back again 10/10 Over-all grade: B- Over-all points: 98 points of 130
Favourite pony this season: Fluttershy, TrixiePony in redemption: Rainbow Dash, Discord
Least Favourite pony this season: Sky Stinger
Brightest Newcomer: Zephyr Breeze
Holding its ground against a flood of enemies: Spitfire