< Part 18 | Part 19 | Part 20 >
Season 2, Episodes 20-21
Season 2 Episode 20: It’s About Time
In five words: Time travel mishaps cause hilarity.
Premise: Twilight Sparkle receives a brief worrying message from her future self and goes through a bunch of wacky shenanigans in an attempt to prevent whatever timeline her future self came from.
Ever since I first watched the show, I’ve always loved Twilight Sparkle and Spike’s dynamic.
This episode begins similarly to Lesson Zero: with a reminder of Twilight Sparkle’s comical obsession with organization. Spike is woken up from a dream about Rarity in the middle of the night by a panicked Twilight Sparkle, who realized that while making a schedule for this month she forgot to make time to make a schedule for next month. This scene sets the stage for this episode’s tone, and it tells us that this episode will be another one where Twilight Sparkle’s neurotic side leads to a massive dump of hilarity.
In this scene, the music takes a turn for the sci-fi sounding.
It all starts with Twilight Sparkle getting a foreboding message from her future self, who as you can tell from the image above has been through a lot of injuries. Twilight presumes right away that something horrible must have happened in the future, indicating an endearing lack of self-awareness about her neuroticism, which is the real reason she looks so beat up. She simply doesn’t know how hilariously panicked she can get about the smallest things.
Future Twilight Sparkle: Twilight, you’ve got to listen to me!
Twilight Sparkle: Who are you? I mean, you’re me, but I’m me too. How can there be two mes? It’s not scientifically possible. You are not scientifically possible!
Future Twilight Sparkle: Twilight, please! I have a very important message for you from the future!
Twilight Sparkle: You’re from the future?
Future Twilight Sparkle: That’s right, now listen.
Twilight Sparkle: What happened to you? The future must be awful.
Present Twilight Sparkle is as inquisitive and eager to learn as ever, but future Twilight Sparkle is all dead serious and tries to get to the point. This contrast between the two versions of this bookworm pony cleverly sets up a bait-and-switch where it turns out that she merely caused a stable time loop, because it’s easy to forget that both versions of her are exhibiting classic Twilight Sparkle traits: her eagerness to learn and her desperation not to mess up. Though if you’re well acquainted with works of media involving time travel, perhaps the twist isn’t so hard to catch.
Future Twilight Sparkle: I don’t have much time!
Twilight Sparkle: Is there some sort of epic pony war in the distant future or something?
Future Twilight Sparkle: Actually, I’m from next Tuesday morning. But that’s not important right now!
Future Twilight Sparkle is frustrated with her past self, a common occurrence in characters meeting duplicates of themselves which is sometimes played for laughs, sometimes much less so. Keep this observation in mind later in this episode as I compare her to a character from Homestuck. (I’M SO SORRY I PROMISE THE HOMESTUCK TANGENT WON’T TAKE UP THE ENTIRE EPISODE REVIEW ONLY A SMALL PORTION PLEASE DON’T GIVE ME THAT LOOK)
Twilight Sparkle: I can’t believe time travel is really possible! How did you, I mean I, figure it out?
Future Twilight Sparkle: The time spells are in the Canterlot archives. But that’s not—
Twilight Sparkle: Really??? Where? I’ve never seen them!
Future Twilight Sparkle: They’re in the Star Swirl the Bearded wing!
Even when trying to deliver an important message to her past self, Twilight Sparkle falls into her standard love of explaining things, in this case where to find the time travel spells. But this works in her favor, because now present Twilight knows where to look for time travel spells and fulfill the time loop, conveniently preventing the entire universe from imploding or whatever other calamity happens in fiction when a time loop is broken.
Future Twilight Sparkle: Now you have to listen to—
Twilight Sparkle: Is time travel fun? Or does it hurt? I have so many questions—
Future Twilight Sparkle: I have something extremely important to tell you about the future. And I only have a few seconds, so you’ve got to listen! Whatever you do, don’t…
(Future Twilight Sparkle zaps away)
Twilight Sparkle’s traits drag this conversation on long enough that the message her future self delivered just barely doesn’t finish within the time limit, which conveniently sets up the stable time loop. It’s as pleasing as it is mind-wrenching when a character’s traits end up matching with the circumstances that lead to such a time loop.
Wow, I’m surprised I ended up analyzing Twilight Sparkle’s conversation with herself in this much depth! Sort of reminds me of my mid-to-late Homestuck posts, actually. Maybe this high degree of depth will become the norm as I progress through the seasons of MLP; we’ll just have to wait and see.
Twilight Sparkle crashes into a Fluttershy tasked with carrying heavy party supplies and ends up having beagle puss glasses on her face, which makes it hard for the citizens of Ponyville to take her seriously when she comes to make an important announcement, even after she takes the glasses off. She comes off like a conspiracy theorist when talking about the message she got from her future self, and that’s probably helped by the goofy glasses she was previously wearing. This is another example of circumstances conveniently lining up for the time loop to go by without any paradoxes.
Then comes a montage where a bunch of characters (mostly the Mane 6 and some of their family members) work together to disaster-proof Ponyville. The montage has a few incredibly trivial tasks along the way and ends with the scene shown above. It looks like Twilight Sparkle’s friends have taken the lesson from Lesson Zero to heart: they paid attention to their friend’s worry and stepped up to help. Only Spike looks at all annoyed about helping Twilight go through this huge checklist, which is understandable because he’s known this pony his whole life and is well-accustomed to what sort of person she is.
Right after the huge checklist has been gone through, a fearsome Cerberus comes into Ponyville… except in a supreme anticlimax, Fluttershy consoles the creature in her typical Fluttershy way that’s so easy to forget. Twilight Sparkle has a common habit of underestimating Fluttershy’s skill in dealing with huge beasts, and this episode is no exception. She also has a common habit of overestimating threats when she’s panicked, and if you think this episode is the slightest bit an exception, then I’m disappointed in you.
After the Cerberus is consoled, Pinkie Pie gets a ball upon Twilight Sparkle’s command, and Twilight leads the creature back to its home, which is a nice demonstration of her leadership skills.
When she comes home the next day, Twilight Sparkle then realizes she has the same scar as her future self, which leads her to panic that she hasn’t changed the future at all. She still has firmly convinced herself that some horrible disaster happened in the timeline her future self came from, which amusingly demonstrates her firm insistence on what she thinks is right.
The humorous implications about Twilight Sparkle continue when she is shown to have been pacing in circles long enough that she unknowingly wore a groove in her floor. Do you think the circular shape of the groove she’s formed could be symbolic of her insistence on order? Or is it more significant to note the depth of the groove and its implications about how long Twilight has been going at these ramblings? Whatever the case, this is quite a creative use of the phenomenon you might know as “cartoon logic”.
Rainbow Dash knows all too well that disaster can happen just by standing still. Remember Derpy Hooves?
Twilight Sparkle’s next idea to avert the disaster is to stand completely still, which is exploited by the old Rainbow Dash and the new Rainbow Dash alike. The new Rainbow Dash (which is to say Spike) taunts Twilight by eating a tub full of ice cream, and then the old Rainbow Dash (which is to say Rainbow Dash) comes in and does the classic “look behind you” prank. Both cases show how ridiculously panicky Twilight Sparkle is being, making for some genuine insight into her character.
Spike tickles Twilight Sparkle with a feather, Twilight knocks him aside, and Spike breathes fire, causing her mane to look like this. She is horrified to realize she is failing to change the future, which cranks her comical paranoia up another notch.
Twilight Sparkle then visits Pinkie Pie’s newly formed crystal ball station, which turns out to be comedically unhelpful in typical Pinkie Pie fashion. I love the lighthearted tone that episodes tend to get when they’re focusing on Twilight Sparkle’s slippery slopes of panic. After Pinkie Pie says her future prediction is nothing more than Twilight getting a cool birthday present next year, this exchange occurs:
Twilight Sparkle: Pinkie, I need your Pinkie Sense to tell me what the impending disaster is that future Twilight is was trying to warn me about!
Pinkie Pie: Oh, my fortune telling has nothing to do with my Pinkie Sense, silly. It’s only good for vague and immediate events.
(Pinkie Pie’s tail twitches)
Twilight Sparkle is normally quite an effective leader, strategically dividing tasks between her friends using each of their unique talents so that they can get through whatever problems stand in the way. But when she’s extremely panicked like this, she gets basic facts about her friends wrong, such as the workings of Pinkie Sense. Maybe that’s a natural effect of the extreme desperation she’s in right now.
Pinkie Pie: Like that. See?
Pinkie Pie: Where did that even come from?
Why, the origins of this mysterious falling flowerpot are obviously none other than time shenanigans gone astray. If Pinkie Pie of all ponies didn’t know where the pot came from, then you know the answer is time shenanigans. There’s simply no other viable explanation.
Pinkie Pie amusingly thinks Twilight Sparkle is doing all this research solely for the sake of her birthday present.
My already irrefutable theory that the flowerpot originated from mysterious time shenanigans is corroborated by the fact that it fulfills yet another feature of Twilight Sparkle’s future self: namely, the bandage atop her head. It turns out she’s unknowingly stayed up for three days straight doing insane scientific research, which yet again comically shows how she’s gotten carried away with panic. I love the way she speaks with verbose scientific jargon as Pinkie Pie pays her a visit.
After Twilight Sparkle stares into the sun with one eye, Pinkie Pie provides her one of the eyepatches she has conveniently stashed all around Ponyville, fulfilling yet another part of the prophecy. Could it be that Pinkie Pie is secretly pulling the strings with this stable time loop? If you remember when I analyzed Feeling Pinkie Keen, there’s evidence that she knows a thing or two about fulfilling time loops too. I’ve seen theories that Celestia was secretly making sure this time loop was in order, but honestly Pinkie Pie makes so much more sense here. Everyone forgets that Celestia always has her hooves full with royal duties.
Anyway, Twilight Sparkle decides that the only way to solve this problem now that Tuesday morning is imminent is to stop time, specifically by sneaking into the Canterlot archives to find a book of time spells with Pinkie Pie and Spike by her side. What could possibly go wrong now???
Twilight Sparkle: The coast is clear. Now slowly lift me to the window so we can—
(Pinkie Pie quickly pushes her up)
Twilight Sparkle may be annoyed that Pinkie Pie quickly shoved her into the library, but I think Pinkie did her a nice favor. Pinkie Pie probably knows that time is ticking and thus decided to expedite the process before time runs out. Maybe she knows that Twilight isn’t doing this just to find out what her birthday present will be, maybe she doesn’t; either way, she’s kindly speeding up matters here.
After having sneaked past guards for quite a while, Twilight Sparkle and her two friends finally make it to the Star Swirl the Bearded wing and are faced with a guard head-on… except the guard recognizes Twilight and kindly lets her in. It looks like Twilight Sparkle forgot that she probably went to this library all the time back when she lived in Canterlot. This is another instance of her forgetting obvious things when she’s panicked.
Twilight Sparkle, Spike, and Pinkie Pie scour the library for the book of time spells, but they don’t find it before the sun rises and they’re faced with Celestia, who kindly greets them. It turns out to be a perfectly ordinary Tuesday morning, and there was no disaster at all, which leads Twilight Sparkle to reflect on what she did.
Twilight Sparkle: Is it possible there never was a disaster? That I’ve just been making myself frantic over nothing?
Spike: I don’t get it. If future Twilight wasn’t warning you about a disaster, then what was she trying to tell you?
Twilight Sparkle: (laughs) I don’t know. But I do know one thing: I look ridiculous.
(Twilight Sparkle and Spike laugh)
Spike: Yeah, you do!
I know what it’s like to get into a last-minute panicky situation, then assess the world around me and realize I had no reason to get frantic. It’s nice that Twilight Sparkle and Spike easily laugh off the former’s antics, and it looks like they have quite a lesson to take away from this. As for the loose end of Twilight having to travel back in time… I’ll discuss the implications of this stable time loop’s existence in not too long.
Twilight Sparkle: And it’s all because I couldn’t stop worrying and let the future handle itself!
Twilight Sparkle: Well, not anymore. From now on, I’m gonna solve problems as they come, and stop worrying about every little thing!
Spike: That’s great! Does that mean there won’t be any more late night pacing?
Twilight Sparkle: No more late night pacing. If only I had learned this lesson a week ago, we wouldn’t have had to go through all this.
I find it pretty cool that even though there’s no such thing as time travel in real life, this episode manages to provide a moral that is most certainly applicable to real life. MLP:FiM loves to use fantasy scenarios as metaphors for real life, and I think it’s pretty awesome that the show managed to do that with something as surreal as time travel. Specifically, the moral teaches viewers to loosen up a little instead of worrying about every detail, which is a problem I’ve fallen into way too many times.
Pinkie Pie finds a magic spell that lets the user travel back in time only once for a few moments, and Twilight Sparkle thanks her for it, knowing that’s exactly what she needs. This makes for a nice reminder that Pinkie Pie shows she’s smarter than she lets on, and it leads to a revisitation of Twilight Sparkle’s encounter with herself, revisited from a new perspective. Twilight Sparkle travels back in time, intending to tell her past self not to go berserk with worry.
OK, are you ready for my promised Homestuck comparison? I gave you plenty of warning in advance, so I trust that you’re ready now.
~~~ BEGIN HOMESTUCK TANGENT ~~~
So you know which character Karkat is, right? The tsundere troll boy who swears a lot and is incredibly easy to set off? Karkat has a pattern of getting caught into intense arguments with his past and future selves, which always lead to frustrating self-originating stable time loops. He gradually develops a mindset that his frustration and hatred of his own traits are woven with the whims of paradox space, the reality Homestuck takes place in, and that paradox space simply hates his guts. He believes that his reality constantly screws him over and there’s nothing he can do about it, and that includes those stable time loops where he wastes time arguing with himself. I would say that Karkat’s self-hatred is so strong that it is reflected in the predestination of paradox space, as I had discussed in this post.
~~~ END HOMESTUCK TANGENT ~~~
So what does this have to do with Twilight Sparkle? I think just like with that grouchy troll’s self-loathing, Twilight Sparkle’s panicky obsession with detail is so strong that it is reflected in the predestination of her reality. I think that if a character trait causes self-fulfilling time loops to manifest, then that’s how you know it’s a really strong and pivotal trait.
And then Twilight Sparkle zaps back to the present right before she can warn her past self as she had hoped.
Twilight Sparkle: Remember last week when future Twilight came to warn me about something? That was me trying to warn myself not to worry so much!
Twilight Sparkle: Now I’m gonna spend the next week freaking out about a disaster that doesn’t even exist! Ugh!
Pinkie Pie: Aw, don’t worry about it! It’s past Twilight’s problem now.
Twilight Sparkle: (laughs) I guess you’re right, Pinkie.
Even though time travel isn’t real, it provides some great metaphors for how to treat yourself kindly. Twilight Sparkle learns that you shouldn’t worry too much about your past self, since their actions are all in, well, the past…
Spike: Ohh. My stomach… (falls backwards)
Spike: I… I think it’s all that ice cream.
Spike: I thought the stomach ache would be future Spike’s problem… but now I am future Spike.
… and Spike learns that you should be nice to your future self, because eventually you will be your future self. It’s so easy and tempting to slack off and leave a bunch of problems for your future self to handle, but it’s far nicer to lift a load off your future self’s back for a change. Your future self will be very grateful.
Concluding the episode’s time theming, we end things off with the camera focusing on a big hourglass, which I’m not including as an image because it’s not really that important.
I always found this to be an incredibly fun episode since I first watched it, but only now am I appreciating the deeper morals and metaphors in it. Sure, the stable time loop may be far more predictable given my greater familiarity with works of media involving time travel than when I first watched the show, but I love that the show managed to take a topic as far-fetched as time travel and make some genuine friendship lessons out of it. Unlike with most other episodes, this one’s takeaways are focused on being nice to yourself, which is arguably just as important as being nice to others. It’s tempting but ultimately misguided to try to pretend your past self or future self isn’t still you, and that’s a valuable thing to learn. While time travel doesn’t exist in real life, it is based on something incredibly fundamental to life as we know it, which is time.
Also, Twilight Sparkle’s mental breakdowns will never not be hilarious. Don’t let yourself be fooled: that’s what I love about this episode above all else.
This one doesn’t hit nearly as hard as Lesson Zero, another episode where Twilight Sparkle has a mental breakdown, but it’s still one I have a special fondness for.
- It’s totally not because of Homestuck that I think of those goofy fake disguise glasses with a fake nose and mustache as “beagle puss”. Don’t look at me funny!!!
- I find it interesting that Dr. Whooves is in the crowd of ponies who waves off Twilight Sparkle’s warning of time travel through laughter. Is he deliberately keeping on the downlow about his own time travel research, or are there two stallions with his appearance and cutie mark, one who researches time travel in his secret lab, one who’s just your everyday pony? Or maybe, just maybe, this guy is still at this point mostly just a mainstay background pony.
- When writing this episode review, I initially mistyped “flowerpot” as “flowerpoint”. It probably seems like a weird and random typo unless you read “flowerpoint” out loud.
- Believe me, I was not expecting to compare Twilight Sparkle to Karkat, of all Homestuck characters!!! I didn’t plan this, you have to believe me.
I promise you the next episode review won’t be a thinly veiled excuse to talk about Homestuck again after ending my Homestuck blog post series.
Season 2 Episode 21: Dragon Quest
This review contains spoilers for up to season 8! Mostly spoilers concerning the show’s later portrayal of dragons.
In five words: Dragons give awful first impression.
Premise: Spike abandons his pony friends in favor of getting to know those of his own race, and his first encounter with fellow dragons doesn’t go well.
This episode starts with Twilight Sparkle and Rainbow Dash trying to convince Fluttershy to attend the once-in-a-generation great dragon migration until Fluttershy punches Rainbow Dash in the stomach, gently opens the window, and then runs away. It’s pretty funny how quickly Fluttershy can revert to her usual gentle self after her rare moments of action. At this point, it’s clear that Fluttershy is terrified of huge monstrous creatures unless her friends are in peril, in which case she springs to action. This opening scene tells us that you shouldn’t push someone to join an activity they want no part in, a moral that gets a full episode in Scare Master, but I’m getting ahead of myself. I can save my Fluttershy analysis for the next episode anyway.
The Mane 6 besides Fluttershy watch the dragon migration undercover from a hole they dug in the ground, because they think the dragons would incinerate them otherwise. This reminds me of how in real life and fiction alike, it’s all too common for misconceptions about other races to cause needless bloodshed or ostracization. All the ponies come off as extremely presumptuous about the nature of dragons throughout this episode, and while I’m not sure if that was the point back then, in light of later seasons this exaggerated perception is a grudge that the ponies eventually learn to overcome. The same goes for many other voiced species in the show, some of whom we haven’t even met yet!
When one of the dragons makes a graceful circular flight movement, Rainbow Dash challenges the dragon, who responds by almost burning her to a crisp. But trust me, I can come up with a rational explanation for this! It’s entirely possible that this dragon simply doesn’t take well to being challenged, and that dragons at this point have extreme misconceptions about ponies. That’s how it often is when two cultures have grudges against each other: both think the other is vicious and ruthless, but neither knows why or how the rivalry came to be.
Spike then joins the scene, demonstrating how much less scary he is than any of the big adult dragons we just saw with, well… look at the picture above. Rainbow Dash eggs him on and laughs at him, which leads to the following exchange:
Rarity: You leave him alone, Rainbow Dash! Spike’s style is unique. He doesn’t have to look like other dragons.
Twilight Sparkle: Or act like them.
Rarity: My little Spikey-Wikey is perfect the way he is.
Spike: I don’t act like other dragons?
Pinkie Pie: Oh, not even close!
Applejack: But why would you want to, Spike?
Spike is clearly having an identity crisis from all this praise about not being like other dragons, and I sure can’t blame him. He’s spent his whole life surrounded by ponies, and while he’s normally OK with that, seeing so many other dragons has started to make him feel out of place. Think about it from his perspective: this guy knew nothing about other dragons until today. It’s a long-running arc in the show for Spike to gradually befriend other dragons, and his first attempt in this episode goes so poorly that it takes four more seasons for him to try again.
Rarity continues to say cute cuddly things about Spike, which drives him crazy, leading him to waddle away in anger as Rarity so puts it. His pony friends have the best intentions when trying to ease his nerves, unaware that Spike doesn’t want to be seen as cutesy and girly.
I guess Twilight doesn’t want to sleep in another room just this one night?
Spike: What am I?
Spike: Where am I from?
Spike: Who am I supposed to be?
Twilight Sparkle: Ugh, I don’t know! For the last time, Spike, you were given to me as an egg. I don’t know who found you or where they found you.
At the end of the show, Spike’s origins are just as mysterious as they are right now. We simply never learn how, why, or where Spike’s egg was found, nor do we learn who his parents are. Season 8 gives us a brutal fakeout on his backstory in the form of Father Knows Beast, and he has to make do with seeing himself as part of Twilight Sparkle’s family. But I can theorize as to where Spike’s egg came from.
While Spike doesn’t accomplish cool things much in the early seasons, in season 6 he plays a big part in securing peace between ponies and dragons, as well as between ponies and changelings. His upbringing among ponies has given him an open mind about befriending other species. Perhaps Celestia ordered some brave pony to go to the dragon kingdom and snipe a dragon egg, then bring it to Canterlot in time for young Twilight Sparkle’s entrance exam, because Celestia knew Spike was the first spark needed to bring peace between ponies and other species, much like how Celestia always knew the Mane 6 were fated to save Equestria many times. I like to imagine Celestia wasn’t thinking to bring a specific dragon egg to Ponyville, but any single one so she can see what happens when a dragon is raised by ponies. It isn’t all that ethical to snatch a dragon egg from its homeland, but perhaps Celestia felt the ends justified the means.
Twilight Sparkle agrees to do some late-night research about dragons, but it turns out none of the books in her library have any information about dragons. She says this is because dragons are too rare and fearsome for ponies to interact with, which sounds like a pretty strong case of xenophobia—”phobia” not so much as in discrimination, but as in fear, which is the original meaning of that Greek root. Given what an adult dragon almost did to Rainbow Dash, it’s fair to say the xenophobia goes both ways.
Out of the Mane 6, Rarity’s xenophobia towards dragons in this episode is the strongest of all.
I’m not sure if it’s better or worse if your discrimination has only one exception, as is the case for her.
And so, Spike sets out on a journey of self-discovery. Rarity and Rainbow Dash try to stop him, but Twilight Sparkle agrees to let him go, which is rather nice of her. She’s known this dragon for most of her life and expresses far more sympathy for his side than the other ponies do. She also knows that books can’t teach you everything, as shown by the many friendship lessons she’s learned through real-life experience… and besides, she has a plan up her sleeve.
I guess this episode takes place before A Friend in Deed, huh?
Next comes a lengthy montage where Spike follows the dragon migration and traverses a huge variety of strenuous terrain on his way to the dragon kingdom. I can’t imagine what it’s like for Twilight Sparkle, Rarity, and Rainbow Dash to follow him all the way to the kingdom. Perhaps they found a more efficient route than Spike? But that would mean they got to the dragon kingdom way before him so… whatever, I shouldn’t overthink this. (But you know I’m going to anyway.)
On second thought, the ponies probably did find a more efficient route than Spike, but arrived right after him because Rarity spent so long working on her dragon costume. I think the appearance of the costume suitably reflects how much Rarity detests dragons; it comes off as a mockery of how hideous she thinks those creatures are.
Then comes a sequence where a bunch of teenage dragons pick on Spike for being so small and weak and not having wings yet. How, you may ask, does this scene come off in retrospect knowing later episodes involving dragon culture? Well, for one thing, it’s clear that dragons’ typical way of life is incredibly different from that of ponies, making Spike come off as a fish out of water… or rather, a fish that spent its entire life out of water and is entering water for the first time.* He happened to stumble into an especially rowdy crowd of teenagers, perhaps because he thinks the age group directly above him would serve as good mentors or role models. The teenage dragons are most certainly friends with each other, holding belching contests and other tough athletic abilities, but they aggressively pick on those outside their group.
* In this analogy, let’s pretend fish can live fine breathing oxygen instead of water.
We don’t know this guy is named Garble until season 6, but come on, do you really want me to call him “the dark red dragon”?
Spike’s entry in the belching contest has him lightly burp out a letter from Celestia, which Garble (the teenage dragon who hates Spike the most of all and serves as his nemesis) reads.
Garble: “From the desk of Princess Celestia. Dear Spike, please tell…”
Garble: Hah, get this, guys! Spike’s penpals with a namby-pamby pony princess!
(the other dragons laugh)
This piece of dialogue makes it clear that dragons don’t know any more about ponies than ponies know about dragons. As far as these dragons know, Celestia is just some random pony princess who probably acts as a damsel in distress, not the ruler of all of Equestria. This is an interesting byproduct of ponies referring to their leader as a princess instead of a queen, which was itself a result of the show’s executives refusing to call her Queen Celestia.
Garble throws the letter into a pool of lava, and Twilight Sparkle is of course angered at disrespecting the princess, but she manages to keep it together—at least together enough for these gullible dragons not to notice her.
This dragon even has eight legs! How lucky can you get?
Shortly after the dragons challenge Spike to tail wrestling, the dragons mistake the “dragon” the three ponies are masquerading as for a male cousin of Crackle, the dragon shown above. The show knows how INCREDIBLY lucky it is that there’s a real dragon who so closely resembles Rarity’s dragon costume, and it knows just as well that such an absurdly fortunate coincidence would be necessary for the episode to progress in any meaningful way. I like how this episode doesn’t disguise or downplay how lucky this is; it admits full force that there needed to be a haphazard justification for how the dragon costume could be mistaken for a real dragon, so it gave such a justification while simultaneously providing a new thing for fans to meme about.
After some struggling against the fabric tail, the three ponies let Spike win, which causes the dragons to see a tiny bit more in him and subject him to more fighting challenges. He’s the brunt of so much slapstick it’s absurd and frankly a little harsh.
We then learn that dragons can swim in lava, and Spike proves he’s no exception when he dives into a lava pool and spectacularly fails to make even the slightest splash. His resistance to lava, like many other things about dragons, doesn’t come into play again until many seasons later, so it’s interesting that this ability is revealed long before it’s of any use to Spike.
These baby phoenixes are just as fond of pranks as Philomena is, making them suitable rivals to these pesky dragons.
Although Spike warms up to his fellow dragons after a while, he’s squeamish once more when asked to participate in a phoenix egg raid. Since he can’t fly (yet), one of the the dragons swoops him up, and Garble instructs Spike to lure the parents away from the nest. The dragons’ attempts at cruelty, which Spike is reluctantly pressured into joining in on, give us some nice callbacks to A Bird in the Hoof where we’re reminded of phoenixes’ mischievous personality.
The teenage dragons realize that while they didn’t catch any phoenix eggs, Spike caught one, so they try to get him to smash the egg. He almost smashes it but refuses at the last second and says the following:
Spike: No! It’s just a defenseless egg! Like I was. And I’m not gonna let you hurt it!
Garble: What did you say?
Spike: I said no.
Garble: No one says no to me.
Even though Spike’s origins are still mysterious to him, he’s drawn some inferences given how ferocious grown-up dragons are: his egg was likely found all alone and helpless, and taken to custody by a sympathetic pony. As such, he sympathizes with this unhatched phoenix because he’s reminded of himself, which is a heartwarming connection.
The ponies then reveal themselves to Garble and company, and they and Spike run away after the other dragons laugh at them. Twilight Sparkle uses a teleportation spell to bring them all the way back home, and I feel very stupid to not have thought that’s how they could have made it to the dragon kingdom.
The episode’s resolution is rather controversial. Spike rejects any possibility of making friends with other dragons, as well as any insinuation that being a dragon is fundamental to his identity. Instead, he remembers that the ponies he grew up with are his family because they love and care for him. This rejection of life as a dragon comes off to many viewers as short-sighted, speciesist, and even a little sexist, but in retrospect I see it more as an early step in Spike’s arc of expanding his friends out of his comfort zone (which is to say female ponies). I’ll have more to say about that in the overall thoughts section.
Spike’s letter to Celestia is about how even though he was born a dragon, he’s proud to be cared for by his pony friends instead. As he narrates the letter, we look at a few pictures with him and ponies, but on the last of them he merely edited himself on, and I find it bizarre that this edited picture is showcased. Is this meant to be a testament to Spike’s shafting, or a comedic demonstration of his self-image? This would be much funnier if there wasn’t a lot of truth to Spike being shafted and left out of the fun.
Spike then welcomes the newly hatched phoenix to the family and names him Peewee after an insult Garble gave him. Though this newfound pet relationship ends the episode, it doesn’t last long. While it takes four seasons for Spike to return to the dragon kingdom, it takes only one season for him to release Peewee, specifically in Just for Sidekicks, subverting the pattern of main characters having pets. I think his reason for releasing Peewee is that Spike probably doesn’t want that little phoenix to end up like him, lost and confused and out of place among his own species. It’s a kind and selfless gesture for him to let the phoenix grow up with its true species, but I may be getting ahead of myself.
I have mixed feelings about this episode. I feel like the portrayal of the ponies as affectionate to Spike is a little over the top, as is the teenage dragons’ portrayal as selfish bullies, but the episode is also a valuable first step in Spike’s character arc where he gets to know other dragons. While for now sticking to his pony friends is a temporary solution that the episode makes a moral out of, I feel it’s important for Spike to eventually make friends of his own species, especially considering he’s yet to grow into an adult dragon and could really use some guidance and support from dragons who have been through more. It also feels logical and natural that Spike’s first encounter with dragons went so miserably bad that he spends all of seasons 3 to 5 without coming near other dragons. But eventually, Spike befriends other dragons for real, and it’s incredibly satisfying to see the show finally treat this little guy more kindly.
It’s not just other dragons who Spike eventually gets out of his comfort zone to befriend. There’s also Thorax who’s a pivotal step in peace with changelings, as well as a little male friend group with Big Macintosh and Discord. I’m not sure what the best real-world equivalent is to Spike getting out of his comfort zone, other than perhaps making friends who you have something in common with.
Even though a lot of fans dislike this episode for how it dismisses the entire dragon race, I can’t be too hard on it in light of later seasons. It’s one of those episodes that’s easiest to appreciate when looking back on it.
- I’m obligated to mention that the original 80’s MLP show had an episode similar in premise to this one called “Spike’s Search”, focused on the predecessor to the Spike we know today. I decided to look up that episode online and found it quite easily, and I have thoughts that I’d rather put in a regular paragraph instead of just a bullet point.
OK, so… this was my first time ever watching a full episode of any MLP show preceding Friendship Is Magic, and it was quite an interesting experience! If Spike’s Search is anything to go by, 80’s MLP feels a lot more subdued in presentation, humor, and friendship lessons than MLP:FiM does, and I don’t mean this in a bad way. The musical number with 80’s Spike and a stranded eagle reminds me of how the Spike we know today easily bonds with those of other species who feel like outcasts. The group of grown-up dragons come off as mischievous and greedy, and they complain about the ponies having no sense of humor, which made me laugh pretty hard and again feels less extreme than the teenage dragons in Dragon Quest. But the biggest difference is that while the old Spike is ultimately told that there’s sure to be other dragons less nasty than the ones he encountered given the diversity of ponies, the new Spike is told to reject spending time with fellow dragons and doesn’t do so again until he’s forced to in Gauntlet of Fire, and THEN he’s finally able to make friends with dragons.
I think Dragon Quest has quite a few orphaned artifacts from Spike’s Search, like its lack of a reassurance that Spike could be better friends with different dragons someday, or the loss of the general idea of Spike seeing older dragons as role models. Then again, Spike in modern MLP gradually gets what the old Spike was promised, specifically when he befriends Ember in season 6 and Smolder in season 8. Smolder even gets to be by Spike’s side as he goes through the dragon puberty that finally lets him have wings. In a sense, these dragon friendships could be seen as fulfilling a promise from three decades ago, which I think is pretty cool.
- I’m also obligated to mention that Cranky Doodle Donkey’s presence riding through a river ties in with his later-revealed friendship with the sea serpent Steven Magnet. Slice of Life is all about clever tie-ins, and I’ve said before that I’m super excited to get to that episode.
- When one of the dragons belches an especially strong storm of fire, the ponies in the dragon costume back down, and the only part of the costume that’s damaged is the eyelashes. Did Rarity have the foresight to make most of the costume out of a fireproof material? If so, then props to her, but I guess she couldn’t find a good fireproof material for the eyelashes.
If Fluttershy being scared of dragons were at the end of this episode instead of the start, then that would make for an amazingly natural lead-in to the next episode.
See you next time for a batch of three episodes, the last set before the season 2 finale. My goal is to finish going through season 2 by the end of this year!
>> Part 20: Hurricane Fluttershy + Ponyville Confidential + MMMystery on the Friendship Express