Revisiting “Boast Busters” and “Magic Duel”

Written version:

A review or analysis is never truly done. As long as there’s more to say, or new ways to say it, the review or analysis can keep being updated. As a general rule, I never consider any of my videos or writings to be the final say, and I’ll continue to revisit and revise my points as long as I find new things to be said

It is on this train of thought that I return to Boast Busters. I wrote an analysis of this episode before its follow-up, Magic Duel, was released, and I made a video for Magic Duel before I had a chance to revisit Boast Busters. I’ve been getting a lot of questions about my opinion of Boast Busters, and a lot of great points have been raised about both episodes that I feel the need to address.

Let me first state that I don’t *hate* Boast Busters, even though I do think it’s one of the worst episodes of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. This isn’t quite as damning as it sounds, because the company it keeps is solid gold. The standard to which MLP aspires is much higher than that of any other show, so even a comparatively bad episode is still on the average level of other decent cartoons. If Boast Busters came on TV, I’d most likely watch it and enjoy it just fine. It’s just not the same as the fanatical appreciation I have for my favorite episodes, which I can watch over and over again, unlike any other piece of media I’ve consumed.

So with all of that said, I must define what about this episode makes it not work for me.

In my Magic Duel video, I said that Boast Busters was paced like a hard shit, which it is. However, it was wrong of me to make this sound like a huge detriment, because bad or awkward pacing is something I often apologize for. The problem with being judgemental about pacing is that in the long run, it usually doesn’t matter. Pacing is all about a play of expectation, and when you know what to expect, it has a significantly smaller effect on the manner in which you interact with a work. You might still think of it as being slow or fast-paced, but upon rewatching, it isn’t as likely to effect your enjoyment.

I happen to be highly aware of pacing in everything I watch, but I’ve been debating a lot with myself over whether or not it’s worth bringing up. When I watched One Bad Apple for the first time, the pacing bothered me, and I wrote about it, but by the third time, it didn’t matter anymore, so what would be the point of making a big deal about it in my analysis? I only ended up mentioning how it could’ve been better utilized in strengthening the core narrative.

So. Boast Busters. It’s paced badly, but the real reason I dislike it is the reason FOR that bad pacing—the fact that there’s very little going on in the episode. I put a lot of value on density in all forms of media, and it really shows when you look at a list of my favorite episodes of MLP.

I love episodes that have a lot to say about the characters, like Lesson Zero, Party Of One, Applebuck Season, Luna Eclipsed, and A Friend in Deed. I love episodes that have a lot to say about the world and its lore, either visually or expositionally, like Hearth’s Warming Eve, The Cutie Mark Chronicles, and The Return of Harmony. I also love episodes in which a lot of awesome, hilarious, and fun things happen, like Suite and Elite, May the Best Pet Win, and The Super Speedy Cider Sqeezy 6000.

Boast Busters is significantly lacking in all of these departments, and its narrative concept is paper thin.

In terms of characters, it not only teaches us nothing, but also doesn’t present the characters in a meaningful or realized way. Consider Applejack’s actions in this episode. Applejack is presented as hot-headed, jumping into a conflict with Trixie solely because Trixie is obnoxious. Applejack may be prideful, but it seems really out of character for her to jump into a conflict with so little provocation. Now that the characters have been more realized over the course of the series, Applejack is usually portrayed as more level-headed, telling the other ponies to “hold on” and think about what they’re rushing into.

If I rewrote this situation, I could still see having Rainbow and Rarity jump into conflict here. Rainbow is always the type to rush in anyways, and Rarity definitely has a hair trigger when it comes to being insulted. However, I’d write Applejack as more dismissive of Trixie’s bullshit, advising her friends not to get involved and to ignore the hater.

As for what the episode has to say about the world and the lore, it only comes into play towards the end. Most of the episode takes place in one fairly generic location in the town center, and there’s not much visually happening, which is pretty uncharacteristic of the show in general. I can’t think of any other episodes which have such a long segment in just one location.

The Ursa Minor and its parent are the only worldbuilding elements of the episode, and they are pretty decent. When I first saw this episode, Twilight fighting the Ursa Minor may have stopped me from dropping the show after this episode, since I wasn’t fully into it yet, and I’d found episodes five and six both boring. Going back to this episode, however, the Ursa Minor is, well, a pretty minor deal. We’ve seen much cooler and more interesting monsters throughout the series, and the Ursa Minor is no longer impressive, nor is the magic which Twilight uses to defeat it.

As far as “awesome, hilarious, and fun things,” this episode has Trixie’s facial expressions, which are by far the best thing about the episode. These are what made me fall in love with her character, and inspired so many excellent videos and images of her. Outside of those faces, though, I realize that this episode didn’t make me care about Trixie as a character at all. I only started loving Trixie because of fanfics and videos which came out of the fandom, such as The Great and Powerful Trixie Falls in Love With a Pine Cone and Trixie: Alone.

So there’s not much that appeals to me, and the pacing isn’t very good, but this still doesn’t get at the heart of everything wrong with this episode. There are other episodes with weak pacing and little to make me care about them, like Owl’s Well That Ends Well or The Cutie Pox, but these episodes are still more structurally sound than Boast Busters because the plot of Boast Busters is poorly conceived to begin with.

The story of this episode is that Trixie shows up in town and starts putting on a show, in which she claims to be the most powerful and magical unicorn in Equestria. It’s hard even know what her show was meant to consist of, because right off the bat, she pisses off half of the mane six, who end up going up against her in a contest of skills. It’s hard for me not to see the mane ponies as being in the wrong here, because they’re essentially being a bunch of hecklers. The right thing to do, if they didn’t want to hear Trixie’s shit, would’ve been to walk away, and let the other ponies who may have enjoyed the show continue to watch it.

Just think about this episode in the context of a stupid internet argument. Imagine a My Little Pony message board that all of the ponies in this episode are members of. Trixie would be someone who makes and account, and her first post is a thread about Adventure Time, in which she claims that Adventure Time is the best cartoon on television. Whether Trixie honestly believes that Adventure Time is better than My Little Pony, or is just trolling, the best way to deal with it is to ignore the thread and let it die, or, if there’s a moderator, which there isn’t in this situation, to close the thread.

Applejack, Rainbow Dash, Rarity, and Spike are MLP fans who storm into the thread all pissed off and start arguing with Trixie about which show is better. They start a flame war, and are surprised to find that Trixie actually came prepared with detailed arguments about why Adventure Time is the better show, and ends up making the others look like idiots.

Twilight Sparkle is also a member of this forum, and Spike knows that Twilight has the most well thought-out argument about why MLP is the best show on TV, so he starts begging Twilight to jump into this thread and defend the boards.

If it was up to me, the whole message of this episode would’ve been about ignoring haters and not letting them get to you. Twilight would’ve made the others realize how stupid they were being, and she would’ve reached some kind of understanding with the hater. Maybe she would’ve agreed that Trixie was a great magician in her own way, which is totally different from the way that Twilight is. I definitely would’ve made it clear that Trixie’s magic is stage magic while Twilight’s is magic itself, and this realization would’ve been really important to the resolution.

Instead, we get a resolution in which no one really learns anything. Twilight ends up using her magic in a big flashy way unintentionally, showing up Trixie and running her out of town. Twilight says that she didn’t want to use her magic because she thought it would make her a bragger, and if she really had used it at the start of the episode, then yeah, she would’ve looked like a bragger. It’s unclear if Twilight would’ve done it or not if she’d known her friends were behind her. In any event, no one learns anything about dealing with haters, and Trixie especially doesn’t learn anything whatsoever.

The long and short of it is, that this episode wasn’t well thought-out or well constructed. Its concept was flimsy, the characters weren’t well-realized, and there’s a good reason Chris Savino has only ever gotten to write two episodes of the show.

Moving along, let’s talk about my analysis of Magic Duel. In that video, I mainly talked about how I felt that Magic duel existed to make up for Boast Busters by featuring Trixie in a really good episode and resolving her conflict with Twilight Sparkle. I also talked about what made the episode so fun, but I didn’t really address the implications of what happened in the episode.

A friend of mine who goes by the handle Misfortune-Dogged wrote a very lengthy reply to my Magic Duel video in the comments on my blog, and gave me permission to use it in this video. I will now read his comment in a weird accent.

A lot of Trixie-related stuff has been brewing in my head since your Boast Busters post, in anticipation for this ep; it didn’t come together until your post, particularly when you mentioned Larson’s liking for continuity, and presented solid evidence for why “Magic Duel” works. Here’s my response, synthesizing all of your arguments.

I’m fairly convinced, now, that Larson was tapping into the fairly common trope in all sorts of fiction: that of the “girl or boy who slipped away.” Partially due to tragedy, partially due to personal bad decisions, partially due to the bad decisions of other people, a character slips between the cracks and becomes some kind of dangerous “villain.” In Arthurian legend, an example might be Mordred.

I believe that Trixie is, at least somewhat, meant to be something of an “Achilles’ heel” character or small-time foil for Twilight, and you of all people are in the best position to understand what I mean. Do you remember the offhand point in my post (“speculation/psychology, blah, blah, blah”) about Celestia’s possible understanding of the fact that Twilight might very well “keep friends better than she makes them?” At least initially, Twilight has no underlying reason to become friends with a random outsider, and more importantly, shouldn’t really be counted on to have the inclination. Twilight is kind, good with management, willing to lend a hand or ear, willing to help someone (like Luna) with his or her problems. But she doesn’t really ever *fight to make friends*. Mind you, there’s no inherent “wrong” to this; it’s merely a recognizable human pattern, with risks and occasional upsides.

That’s why I should push back a little on your “not really a threat point,” while still wholly agreeing with it…if that makes sense. I only mean that I want to qualify it. I 100% agree with your astute point that the denizens have no real reason to get upset (unless they’ve never seen a magic show before, which seems like bullshit to me). But in Boast Busters, Trixie most definitely *becomes* some sort of threat—another thing you point out, actually. *That’s* my major problem with the characterization; the Mane Six had no terribly arguable reason to be upset until she started hurting and shaming people—by which I mean…well, them! To me, that’s what seemed chaotic and plain wrong in that story; they start out irrationally upset, and Spike seems to be the only one who seems to openly express a desire for justice or vengeance (wrong as it still may be). Even a bullied kid knows that there are consequences when one explodes with hotheaded, accusatory words and rash actions; he or she may later even come to think of such reactions as immature.

Meanwhile, Twilight doesn’t act, or more precisely, acts inappropriately. We don’t necessarily know how she *should* have acted, but we sense that it’s inappropriate.

My feelings toward the episode, like yours, are very fond. I agree with you: ultimately the episode’s goal is to redeem a lame predecessor. The problem is that I’m not really sure I can elevate it to some status above its attempt. All the same, I think it’s very sharply-written…for the most part. The climax or realization point isn’t about friendship per se, but instead understanding—understanding in the face of disagreement, great distaste, and negligence/not really caring. The turning point of the episode is the final scene. Zecora’s words got stupid toward the end (“use the Six”), but the most important ones convey the idea that, actually, it’s bullshit to hide behind the notion that Trixie has changed (“Thinking needs a readjust.”) What Twilight needs to do is to learn to at least empathize with and mess with the person, rather than the haze of reputations floating around her. The degree to which she is actually able to pull this off is debatable, which is a good thing. Twilight “lowers” herself to Trixie’s patterns of thinking and system of values (even fakely), not actually accepting them (as we obviously know), yet trying to work with them.

The final scene, more precisely the concept of it, was utter gold. I don’t like the actual manner of the characters; I’m not yet convinced that Trixie would apologize in the way she did, aside from the fireworks thing (though you totally called the “working together” element of magic in your “Boast Busters” comment). She would more likely be too embarrassed to ask for forgiveness. Here I have to accept the plot element, like it or hate it: if she’s really been warped as a person beyond her intentions by the amulet, “would she really *ask*?” “How ashamed would she be?”
Of course, we might ask, “when did the reversion happen, anyway?” “Was it gradual?” “Was it sudden?” “Was it a farce?” Who the fuck cares? THAT’S THE POINT.

And having written that, sort of tongue-in-cheekly, I wonder whether that was the point of their final exchange: it was over-done and kind of disingenuous on both sides. Clearly, Trixie’s being obnoxious, yet brave. Twilight’s dishing out forgiveness without really thinking about it. And Trixie rushes away, stumbles, keeps running into a chaotic, tragic darkness, still with a terrible, terrible reputation. But Twilight, for a moment, sees. She, for a moment, is caught unprepared. For all of one fleeting moment, Twilight understood, in the face of all of the misery, misalignment, and wrongdoing. Nobody else knows about Trixie’s one moment of kindness, or sees it. Trixie knows that her kind act couldn’t possibly counterweight all the shit she put everyone through. Trixie knows that she had significant responsibility for the shit she did. And even if Twilight were to relate said kind gesture to the others, they might not believe her; they might be critical, skeptical, or disgusted.

“Trixie made one good choice,” I said, in wonderment, as the credits rolled. If I was feeling depressed or something, I might have burst into tears. Who can know?

I still am not convinced that the “cursed amulet” path was the way to go about it, because we needed to be more concretely able to *doubt* that it really did fuck with your mind, tendencies, and aims. To *doubt* that the claim to the amulet’s fucking with you is insufficient, fails to be a comprehensive vindication or excuse. The whole element might have been more sharply done.

Finally, we needed a real moment of realization for Trixie, rather than just cringing shame a second time. Well, at least the two mares discussed how Trixie was one-upped. There’s some characterization in that.

8 thoughts on “Revisiting “Boast Busters” and “Magic Duel”

  1. Bizarre, but insomnia kept me up: just finished a 6-page PDF (close analysis) on precisely why and how the plot of Boast Busters fails. I immediately wanted to send it to you, but it occurred to me that I don’t know how.

    I didn’t even consider the possibility that you might not want it (I was just being obsessive-as-usual and got pissed off at that YT comment thread). If you are interested, lemme know how to get it to you.

  2. Pingback: Again Revisiting “Boast Busters” | My Sword Is Unbelievably Dull

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