Analyzing “Just For Sidekicks”

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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.

8 thoughts on “Analyzing “Just For Sidekicks”

  1. If an analysis is a “how does it work” and a review is a “how was it,” I’d say you straddled the line just fine. Personally, what you’ve written is precisely what literary analysis tends to be, at least at the plot level.

    I don’t know how I feel, personally. I was kind of disgusted—up until the point that I realized that his being found out by the Mane Six wasn’t the real resolution. Same shit that happened in “Sleepless in Ponyville,” if you recall from your comments regarding that ep: Scoot’s being told that Rainbow Dash wasn’t the shit (what we might have expected or even done ourselves) is not the resolution. The issue of his appetite is, which you rightly identify (many probably don’t).

    In retrospect, if I could tweak it (and if it even needed tweaking, which is debatable), I guess I would have made the winding nature of the ep clearer, earlier. I was pretty bored ‘til the train part, actually, and I thought that stuff leading up to that might have been tightened up.

    I was annoyed because the “point” of the jewel transactions wasn’t quite clear. If I forced myself to think through it, it seems like a clash or contrast showing disconnect between parties: Fluttershy wants something out of Spike that he isn’t fully privy to, the others don’t quite act or pick up on how he’s manipulating them, Zecora is virtuous (still, what she did was sorta fucked up), and Granny just stalks off. Plus, the jewels are all different sizes (unsurprisingly, Fluttershy’s is the largest). Lastly, the mares don’t seem to quite be on the same wavelength with their pets. This has always been true with Gummy, and Angel is basically Fluttershy’s id given form. Spike hits bottom; realizing he has nothing to lose, he in his humiliation manages what the other characters arguably haven’t done to date. He manages an equilibrium that the others don’t. Even RD doesn’t pull that off in Tank’s debut episode. And as a sidekick, perhaps he’s the only one in any position to do it.

    Spike isn’t on higher moral ground than the other characters are, even at the end, and I came to understand that such was never the point of the arc. He doesn’t abandon his greed out of naïve or bizarre “purity.” He does it realistically; because he really thinks he has no other options. He’s brutally sensible, and I think that’s what sets him apart from the others. Insofar as I can get to the end of any ep, or laugh at a few jokes, fantasize while watching a scene or whatever, I’ve “enjoyed” it. I’ve gotten something out of it. Of course, dynamiting a piano or dancing around naked, or punching oneself in the face might get a “similar” effect. But what was done in this episode (and in the “best” of FIM), as I’ve been obsessing over, and stupidly saying all the time as if people forget it, is what I really appreciate: putting all of the cards on the table.

    Did I enjoy it? I think so, but I guess I got too distracted by my sudden hatred of Angel. I don’t think I should have, and I don’t think it was entirely my fault, because I never have hated him (I tend to dislike Fluttershy more because she passive-aggressively behaves as if he’s the lone instigator of her actions whenever it’s convenient for her). The tightrope between annoyance and WTF-buddy could have been more delicately walked. Angel’s not just a stupid bunny; hell, he isn’t even stupid. He did the shit he did knowingly, and I wish there was more attention to why Angel was pissed, while the others weren’t. I know that “he has more of a personality,” but honestly, they all went through all of the shit he did. There’s a little bit of a vague personal grudge between the two, but that’s all we have to go on.

    • Glad to have you back commenting! I missed you!

      With regards to Angel bunny, yeah, he’s a thoroughly spoiled, mean little brat. I guess I enjoy watching him because I like to see an adorable little thing be a prick, knowing that if anyone really wanted to they could beat the shit out of him.

      I don’t know why, but I identified the “winding nature” really early on. I also watched it more than once, so that helps too.

      • Wow, yeah. I guess job-hunting and cartoon-watching can really take a lot out of you.

        Good point. Putting that in perspective really helps. This adds to the likelihood of the fact that Fluttershy uses whatever’s convenient for her in order to get what she wants. Creepy.

        I’m with you on the winding thing. Maybe I actually mean that I’m not really sure if the train trip was meant to be the climax itself or merely the setting of the climax. Losing the gems seemed to only serve the purpose of frustrating Spike, and nothing more. But that took up time. It seems like there should have been more of a focus on the Crusaders, and Angel/Spike conflict. Zecora and Granny were metafictional devices (which you picked up on like a badass), but I’m not sure they were necessary; the ideas they served might have been more ubiquitously introduced. If the plot had allowed Spike to gradually give more and more gems at once as he got more desperate that would have (1) saved time, (2) raised the narrative stakes, (3) added a very useful and finalizing complication to the thematic texture of the story, and (4) gotten us to the train situation far more quickly, which would have meant more elaboration in a scary situation.

        Also, the chaperone thing didn’t make sense: was that supposed to be the usual anti-dragon prejudice? Was the conductor simply demanding more caretakers for the pets? Did he actually think Spike was younger than the Crusaders?

        • Wow I didn’t even notice how that chaperon thing was such a random fucking contrivance. I guess that means they got away with it, or almost did.

          Zecora and Granny probably were unnecessary in the long run. With Zecora, I thought it was well-played, and in my headcanon she saved Spike’s ass on a voodoo level. Like, if she hadn’t cancelled that bad mojo, then what might have been? As for granny, I think they just didn’t have an idea for one of the gems and needed something quick. I do love how fast she realizes that he’s fucking up though, and the look she gives him.

  2. Saw this in the morning, but forgot to respond. That Zecora *would* do this is dependent on whether she’s a mojo-believing sort of person, or whether she she’s merely a knowledgeable sage. I don’t know your take either way, and I forget whether I’ve ever had an opinion on the matter. I tend to think she’s more of a medicine woman than anything else. Like Eastern or West Indian soups, brews, syrups, etc. If the Zecora personality whatsit is about xenophobia, rather than racism or cultural stereotypes, then Zecora’s behavior need not strictly be about the supernatural.

  3. Hello dear sir! I’ve recently become very interested in these videos of yours in which you analyze MLP:FIM episodes. The primary reason for my interest is that you and I seem to share the exact same opinions of the various aspects of the show. The largest difference between you and I, however, would obviously be your ability to phrase your opinions vocally in an effective manner. I’ve loved what I’ve watched so far (of your analyses) and can hardly wait to watch more.

    I don’t really have anything else to say besides that… I suppose the only reason I am even leaving a comment here is because I was both incredibly impressed by your many talents (analyzing, writing, speaking, singing, etc.) as well as pleasantly surprised to have found someone who puts all of my own opinions into words so I don’t have to. Seriously, every time I watch one of your videos, it’s just me sitting there nodding my head saying, “Yes. Yes! That’s what I thought, too!”

    Have a great day, sir, and best of luck in all your endeavors.

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