I’m a little sad.
After seeing the comments on the latest episode, I’m even surer that the people active on this wikia site watch the show for entirely different reasons than I do. To me, the latest episode “Gauntlet of Fire” was completely unwatchable, being devoid of what I consider to be the series' most redeeming qualities. Usually I watch the show for the jokes rather than the story, so a predictable story can be readily forgiven if it delivers on humor. The story was incredibly predictable – which I’ll address – but there was barely a modicum of quality humor; most of the attempted jokes were either too obvious or consisted of stagnant, meaningless pop humor, quips that might be funny to the current generation but lack any timeless, universal quality.
About the story… in a pretty literal sense, they tried to fit a 400-page book into a 20 minute cartoon. 20 minutes to present the 6 main characters and hit about 15 different plot points. Not saying you can’t do it, but you’re going to have to sacrifice a lot for the sake of time… and sacrifice they did. With no exaggeration, I don’t think I’ve witnessed a more unceremonious laundry-list presentation of cliché story elements in my life, with the possible exception of the recent hobbit movies. The books were long (Hobbit and Harry Potter) because they took time to bring the characters and places to life, to make them real and relatable, to give weight to the choices they make, etc. Of necessity of time, the writers of this episode boiled all of that out, leaving us – or maybe just me – with the skeleton of a trite story, ornamented with nothing but a few empty jokes.
Did anyone expect Spike to get stopped by the obstacles, or for Ember to end up not being friends with him, or for Garble (or anyone else) to win the contest? Then why did they spend so much time trying to get us to think otherwise? I’m reminded of Flight to the Finish, where Scootaloo struggles with her inability to fly – a quality that Spike shares. Her admirable display of perseverance against the impossible challenge of flying echoes sentiments from the great work Don Quixote (“to dream the impossible dream” from the film adaptation), while her eventual despair and social removal is not only a somewhat complex emotion – ostracization within a group – but one that is very relatable; as such, it works very well as an engaging story. In contrast, Gauntlet of Fire, which is very much story-driven, presents no such thoughtful developments but rather focuses on spelling out an already well-trod plotline and struggles that don’t really exist in real life. Castle Mane-ia could be accused of the same thing, except that it uses that framework as setup for jokes rather than as the central pillar of narrative interest.
A few months ago I came up with a personal rating system for MLP:FiM episodes based on how valuable the time spent watching a single episode is. I consider a 5 to be privileged time, i.e. an episode good enough to warrant being careful with how often I watch it so I don’t burn it out. 4’s are great episodes and 3’s are the standard – good enough to spend the time watching over most other activities. I’ll watch 2’s and more often than not enjoy it to some degree, though I’ll be more likely to get started on school work or get some food if I’ve been binging up to that point. An episode rated 1 is so numbered because the experience watching it is on par with some other leisure activity I have no interest in, like watching twitch streams or reading comics. This sentence will likely earn me the most ire from the general fan base: every episode so far in S06 is a 1 in my eyes, but GoF brings it to a new low. I feel 1’s are worth watching every so often, but I can only imagine getting upset by watching this one again. Generally the thing that makes me most upset is heavily out-of-character behavior, but here it’s just a complete lack of quality. There was exactly one joke that I thought was somewhat decent, which was then beaten flat by stale repetition: when the dragon lord yells at the other dragons for not responding the way he wanted them to. Other than this I felt no connection with any of the characters or plot devices, and by extension the writers and producers, which is what I most enjoy about watching this show.
From what I understand there is pressure from Hasbro to endorse certain elements of the show, and there have also been a lot of changes in staff when it comes to the line of production. For me, the show was great, and there’s no reason it can’t still be great (still have good characters, aesthetic still works), it just isn’t great… at all, at least for season 6. I’m sure many may disagree with me at this point, which is perfectly fine; I don’t mean to rain on anyone’s parade. I’m just a huge admirer of the work they’ve done for the last 5 years wondering what happened. Why have the characters become one-dimensional? Why the vapid, transitory humor? What we call “classics” didn’t stand the tests of time because they appealed solely to the transient fancies of the time and culture into which they were born, they made it because they masterfully appeal to deeper levels of human experience that we, consciously or not, can all relate to. I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say MLP:FiM was ripe for comparison to The Count of Monte Cristo, but it certainly had a depth to the content – I’ve talked about subtlety and emotional maturity in earlier posts. The latest material, however, seems set to fade with the trend it’s latching onto, irrelevant and forgotten within a decade. And that’s why I’m sad: a close friend is retrenching to the whim of the cultural majority I’ve long since disavowed, a group whose tastes are shaped by the modern privilege of instant gratification and an increasingly short attention span. Can I stop it? No, most likely not, but like Scootaloo I feel inexorably compelled to "fight the unbeatable foe”, that perhaps “the world will be better for this”.