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Spike the Dragon is an excellent support character. He’s the one boy offsetting a primarily female cast, and a younger character whom the others can explain things to for the sake of the audience. He’s got enough personality to elevate him above a plot device, and has his own dreams and aspirations to round him out as a character. He plays a lot of roles, from Twilight’s straight man to Rarity’s fanboy, and is great for situations wherein the mane six are occupied, like when he played the narrator in the Hearth’s Warming Eve pageant.
Having said that, I’ve never liked Spike episodes, for the obvious reason that the mane six ponies are far more interesting. Spike’s conflicts largely arise from his youth and inexperience, and his goals are more far-off dreams, whereas the mane six are all on the cusp of realizing their aspirations, or otherwise are living well-rounded lives.
Spike At Your Service is a great episode because at heart, it really ISN’T a Spike episode. Spike is the one who drives the action and gets the most screentime, but the conflict doesn’t so much revolve around him as it does around Applejack. In many ways, this is a better Applejack episode than Apple Family Reunion was, and it certainly is a better episode in general.
In the discussion of my Apple Family Reunion video, a lot of people theorized about why it is that Applejack episodes are in such short supply and have such a tendency to minimize her role. Some argued that Applejack is mostly an excellent support character, and I agree. In this episode, both she AND Spike play support to one-another, and in this case Applejack shines in that role. I happen to think that Applejack is ALSO a great lead character, though. Applejack’s just great altogether. (Applejack is best pony.)
Applejack doesn’t hog the spotlight all to herself in this episode, though. Rarity, Rainbow Dash, Twilight Sparkle, and oh my gosh, even Fluttershy make for a great supporting cast in this episode! But instead of rambling on about this, I should probably explain why I feel this way.
My favorite kind of My Little Pony dialog is when the characters engage in conversation that feels natural. A lot of things go into this. Each pony has to be realized enough that the writer and the viewer have a good sense of what they would say in a given conversation. My Little Pony has a degree of difficulty in maintaining consistently realized characters, because of the show’s multiple writers and disjointed continuity. That’s why it’s so hard to say with concrete sureness that a character has changed over the course of the show. The characters are changing almost episode to episode in small ways at the whims of the writers, so contradictory information is a constant.
This leads to interpreting the characters with a very loose definition. It’s impossible to definitively determine how Fluttershy would react to a given situation in confidence, because she’d probably react differently depending on who’s writing her that week. And this isn’t entirely a bad thing. I think it has a lot to do with why the series has so much fan work made for it—each fan has their own realization of the characters. My version of Fluttershy, for instance, would probably be a lot like the one in this episode, even though I don’t think that the Fluttershy who existed in Magic Duel is an invalid character either.
I’ve found that over the course of this show, the episodes which I enjoy the most are the ones that play the characters closer to how I would write them myself. I like it when the ponies feel like real people, and when their dialog sounds like something one of my friends would say, through the filter of the ponies’ personalities as I like to interpret them. This episode manages to sound so true to life because the topic of the ponies’ conversation is the number one topic of all conversation in any group of friends: shit-talking.
(“and you tasted that pie”)
It’s actually shit-talking of a more motherly sort than of a friend circle sort. It’s like when a mom has a problem with her kid, and she’s trying to get help from her close friends. All of them know that he’s a good kid, so none of them wants to hurt his feelings, but they’re all totally aware that this is a real problem which needs to go away. And they handle it with exactly the level of kids’ gloves that this kind of situation would have in real life. It’s taken less seriously, and more as a pain in the ass, as each of them hopes to just brush the conflict under the rug, but Spike, being the child he is, takes the whole thing too seriously.
It’s so small-scale that it feels all the more true to life. Despite the actually deadly focal points of the episode, the conflict between spike and AJ in itself is decidedly minor, with consequences leaning of the side of annoying rather than dangerous. That’s why the mane six end up concocting such a stupid and lazy plan to get Spike to stop what he’s doing, rather than seriously telling him to knock it the fuck off.
My favorite part is how none of them even takes it seriously. In spite of Rarity’s grandstanding, she and Pinkie Pie are just smiling the whole time. Rainbow Dash brings a seriously awesome roar to the table, but she bursts out laughing because the fake timberwolf is so damn stupid-looking. Applejack doesn’t even try to make her part convincing or sensible.
I thought about putting all of the episode’s great conversations into this video, but that would be a bit excessive, and anyways, you’ve seen the episode yourself. AJ’s initial conversation with Rarity, Rainbow Dash’s joining in, AJ talking to Twilight (also known as My Dad) later in the ep, Rarity’s explanation of acting, and the entire fake Timberwolf scene are all brilliant. I noticed that this episode was written by Merriwether Williams and conceptualized by Dave Polsky, and I can’t help but wonder if Polsky was a little more involved than the credits imply, since the entire Timberwolf scene totally seems like his style of character interaction.
Anyways, with all the broad concept discussion out of the way, let’s go back through the episode and pick up on some things we may have missed.
Twilight’s assignment to read twelve books continues on the season-long trend of Twilight training in the background of episodes. At this point, I have no doubt that this was meant to purposefully create a sense of continuity across the season.
This episode features the first instance, as far as I remember, of 3D-rendered animation in this show in the form of the timberwolves. I assume that this was done because the high detail of these monsters was too difficult to handle in Flash, either in that it was hard to animate, or in that Flash crumbled under the pressure as it’s known to do. In any event, I think it worked quite well.
I like the way Applejack’s lack of want for Spike’s help is both because she’s opposed to having Spike feel the need to repay her on an ethical level, and also just outright doesn’t need his help to begin with. It covers a lot of ground, whatever that means.
On that note, I also like that Spike’s dragon code is kind of serious business, and the order in which that seriousness is presented to us. Right from the beginning, Applejack respects the fact that Spike wants to be an honorable dragon, which is why she doesn’t completely refuse his help. We later learn from Twilight, in a non-specific way, that a Dragon Code is a really big deal for dragons. Had Applejack been told this from the beginning, it would’ve been the primary reason that she let Spike help her, rather than just out of general respect, and it would’ve weakened the episode as a whole.
One thing that really bothered me about this episode is that it doesn’t make sense for Spike to suck so much at doing chores. The stuff he does for Twilight Sparkle is mostly the same stuff that he does for Applejack, so it stands to reason that he shouldn’t be a complete fuck-up at it. It would’ve been better if Spike only failed at farm-related tasks, like he does with the apple gathering and the pie baking.
I know I’ve gone over the character interactions at length in this video already, but lets revisit Fluttershy for a moment. Fluttershy interestingly takes the most direct approach in dealing with Spike, even in so few lines of dialog. She confronts Spike directly and in a somewhat disapproving and motherly fashion, bringing to the table her skills as a caretaker and babysitter. It’s very brief and subtle, but it’s some of Fluttershy’s best dialog this season.
Here’s a couple of small AJ moments. One is her looking like she really regrets having to put this plan into action. The other is her telling Spike to go on without her, very quickly acknowledging the deadliness of the situation and heroically telling Spike to escape with his life. These have been small AJ moments.
The death of the giant Timberwolf is really strikingly gruesome. Choking to death is brutal, and while the wolf’s facial expressions are somewhat comical, they are also desperate, and his failing to breathe is really apparent. Choking creeps me out, dude.
Anyways, that about wraps up this week’s episode. I’m glad that so many of you watched and responded to last week’s video even though it was so depressing and I didn’t even post it on reddit, and I’m also glad that so many of you enjoyed my Hearth’s Warming Eve documentary. My family thanks you for all the kind comments. You guys are awesome viewers, and I’m sure that together, someday, we’ll get these videos onto Equestria Daily or something.