Coming away from this episode, I knew it was going to be hugely divisive. Sure enough, I read Byter’s review, and he thought it was abysmal, but I’ve got nothing negative to say about it whatsoever. I know that my videos are called thorough analysis, and I don’t really consider myself a reviewer, but I think that a lot of the time, my analysis is more about figuring out why the show makes me feel the way I do, more than dissecting the actual deeper meaning of the episodes. This is going to be that kind of video, straddling the line between analysis and review, if such a line even exists outside of my head.
The biggest point of contention with this episode is going to be Spike. The questions which come to mind are, one, is he in character? and two, is the character he exhibits in this episode a good one?
I happen to think that Spike is in character, but that’s also because I consider all of the characters to be loosely defined. No character is totally consistent across all of their episodes, so the most that I ask for is that they don’t seem off in a fundamental way. In Spike at Your Service, it was truly strange that Spike was bad at house work, because it was something there was lots of evidence to suggest that he should be good at. There’s also evidence to the idea that Spike shouldn’t be as greedy and selfish as he is in this episode, but there’s nonetheless a lot of evidence to suggest that he is.
Greed is a major part of his character, and so is self-centeredness. These things don’t define him, but they are there, and there’s nothing wrong with emphasizing those things for the sake of an episode, in my eyes.
As for the question of whether or not this Spike is good, that’s going to vary hugely from person to person. In Byter’s review, he felt that Spike was unlikeable, and he was unable to root for him, because he’s such an asshole in this episode. I felt the opposite, and I enjoyed watching him precisely because he was being such an asshole. It made him fun to watch, and made his comeuppance at the hands of the entire supporting cast of the episode that much sweeter. But it wouldn’t have worked so well if Corey Powell hadn’t written the specifics of it so well.
Before I get to Corey’s writing, though, let me highlight Cathy Weseluck’s performance as Spike. She seemed to be having so much fun with this episode, playing up the deadpan in Spike’s snark, and bringing out just how greedy he sounds asking for jewels. Meanwhile she also gets to sing a bit, which helps us to understand just how passionate he is about this cake, which is the anchor of relatability to the actions Spike will take. Altogether, the performance adds a lot to why I enjoyed watching Spike in this episode. Yes, he’s being an asshole, but I don’t dislike him for that. I can appreciate and relate to a greedy bastard of a character, because, well, I’m not that different from him myself.
The humor of this episode largely springs from Spike’s attempts to manipulate those around him and failing at it. It actually starts off with Fluttershy somewhat manipulating Spike to babysit Angel with the jewel. Yeah, it’s a fair trade, and a generous one, so there’s nothing malicious about it, but I can’t shake the feeling that Fluttershy is being manipulative, perhaps because of the impression she’s left in other episodes, such as The Ticket Master and Keep Calm.
Spike then talks the other ponies into letting him watch their pets, and it never quite feels like they’re completely buying it. Like, this would never have occurred to them if Spike hadn’t brought it up, but he seems to have enough of a point to give it a try. Twilight almost sees through it right at the start, but she doesn’t have time to fully realize what Spike is up to.
All of this establishes that Spike is never quite in control of anything. The animals immediately get out of hand, and lead Spike to the best part of this episode, the Cutie Mark Crusaders. The CMC exist in this episode to escalate the situation. When Spike tries to dump the critters off on them, the CMC already show that they know more than he expects, when Applebloom reveals that she’s aware of Applejack having paid Spike for his service. We don’t exactly expect that this is going to work out well, and it doesn’t.
Along the way, Spike is constantly being looked down on. Applebloom shows moral superiority in that her desire for a jewel isn’t for payment, but out of genuine concern for the animals, unlike Spike. Zecora straight-up tells Spike that he’s incurring bad mojo, and gives his jewel away to the most adorable thing EVER, a pony girl scout. Granny Smith barely even needs to say a word, and enjoys the view as Spike is beaten by Angel. To me, Granny Smith is the viewer stand-in in this episode.
When Angel gets on the train, things are quickly getting out of hand, and the CMC are there to bring the chaos over the top. Spike again tries to manipulate them and fails, because the CMC find out that they’re on their way to the Crystal Empire and have no intention of following Spike’s orders. By this point, I am laughing my ass off at where this is going.
The CMC end up instinctually following Spike and the animals onto the return trip, and it all comes down to the whim of Angel bunny to decide if Spike should be resolutely defeated or not. I happen to love Angel bunny, as one of the few forces of sheer brattiness in the show, and he’s particularly great here because even being the little bastard that he is, he still is morally superior to Spike in this moment. The animals forgive Spike, which shows strong character on their part, but it’s not until Spike accidentally eats his last jewels that he gets the cathartic comeuppance that he still deserved. It’s not a big deal, but it was satisfying to me as a viewer.
Outside of this core narrative, the episode is full of MLP’s characteristic flourishes and attention to detail. Some that I really appreciated include Owlouicious’ facial expressions and his stand-off with Angel bunny, the “who?” gag which ran through the episode without ever feeling forced, and Pinkie’s weird exchanges with Gummy.
The best side-thing going on here though is Rainbow Dash and Tank’s interactions. One of Rainbow Dash’s most fascinating character traits is her grappling with inauthenticity. Ever since Read It and Weep, she’s been trying to embrace her “uncool” side, and this episode shows her desperately wanting to play up her and Tank as cool, but just failing because Tank is so lame. She loves him though and accepts defeat, which is completely fucking adorable.
That’s about all I’ve got to say for this episode. I did a videocast with the AnY Pony about this episode as well, which may not be up yet at the time of this posting, and mostly has Byter going in-depth about why he doesn’t like this episode, so if you want to hear two very different opinions on the episode, check that out when it goes up. In the meantime, check the description for the written version of this video where you can leave longer, more easily findable comments, and look at my portfolio site for more of my work.