MLP:FiM Episode Reviews: Character and Story Analysis by Half the Battle

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Episode 94: "Castle Sweet Castle"

Aired 4/11/2015, by Joanna Lewis and Kristine Songco (their first episode)
    Storyline:
  • Intro: Twilight Sparkle helps Fluttershy clean her animals, but makes Angel dirty again to avoid having to return to her castle.
  • Act 1: Fluttershy convinces Twilight to leave, but she stays up helping Pinkie make pancakes. The next day, she explains over breakfast that the castle doesn't feel like home, so her friends send her out while they decorate.
  • Act 2: Each pony's preferred decorations clash with the rest, so they have Spike stall Twilight. They fight over removing decorations until none are left and they are out of ideas.
  • Act 3: Twilight returns to fine her friends have uprooted the remains of the destroyed library and use its roots to create a chandelier containing snapshots of their best times there.

Character: Two general observations to make: First, this episode answers a question I'd had watching Rainbow Rocks and the opening of The Cutie Map: do all the Mane Six live in the castle now? The answer is no, and I enjoyed seeing each of the other ponies' homes in this story. Second, we have something I've been wanting for a long time: a true ensemble episode focusing on a single idea rather than dividing our attention among multiple storylines. And we get a character-driven plot to boot. This is something I highly prize in an episode: whenever the path to the lesson isn't forced on the characters or driven there through chance interventions. Instead, our characters are presented with a situation that (within the scope of the show) is natural and believable, and things are left to play out according to what the characters would naturally do.

In fact, if you wanted to get meta about this, you could see Spike's steering and stonewalling of Twilight on one hoof, and her friends' hodge-podge of wish-fulfillments on the other, as symbolic of what sloppy creators do, and their later determination to cooperate toward a simple idea that works for Twilight as symbolic of a creative team's ideal. Of course, the real message is about friendship, which we'll get to later, and the whole episode is in fact well written. But let's get back to the characters.

As you know, our princess is now in another castle, and she's having trouble adapting. I can identify here, having moved around a lot as a kid. It takes a while for your concept of home to catch up to where you live now. You need time to build up memories. Since this new, as-yet-unnamed-on-the-show castle grew from the mystery chest rather than being built with hooves, it could naturally use an equine touch. And Twilight's dilemma doesn't come out of the blue. In Rainbow Rocks we saw her transferring books from Canterlot into a library in the new castle, probably to replace the books lost in the last season's finale, but perhaps also to make it more homey. This season opened with Twilight looking and sounding resentful about "sitting in a castle in Ponyville." To her, the castle is out of place here, and she's out of place inside it.

Two things I find commendable with Twilight this time around: (1) Her escape from the castle involves helping her friends rather than indulging herself, and not helping in a pompous, condescending manner as in Lesson Zero, but simply helping. (2) She shows remarkable sensitivity and humility in noticing Spike's sorrow at the lost library and responding right away with an apology for not thinking of him earlier. Five seasons in, the series' lead character is still growing and learning.

If anyone was worried about the other ponies of the Mane Six (I'll just call them the Five for brevity's sake), becoming stereotypes or caricatures of themselves, that hasn't happened. Yes, their interests are obvious by now, but their personalities still have layers to them, as we see in Fluttershy's sarcasm, Pinkie's worry, and the weird logic of Rainbow's trophies being "everypony's trophies," but with her name on them. AJ takes another turn as team mom here, but this too is played with as she shares the same fault as the others and has her advice thrown back in her face at one point, though still in a good-natured way. Rarity has the most screentime of all the characters and is just masterfully written from beginning to end. Her placating giggle aside, she's quite sensitive to Twilight, delicate in her phrasing and twice taking care of the sleepy Twilight in an almost maternal fashion. The idea of redecoration is her chance to excel, and I really like the fact that she's the pony struck with the inspiration for the root-chandelier and that she successfully heads up the project. Among the subtle character moments I like are Rainbow's little growl at Rarity and their hoof-bump later. These two could use more of this interaction.

A character consistency question arises here: How could the Five be so short-sighted with their decorations? Shouldn't they know how to put themselves in somepony else's shoes? The viewer can see by the second verse of the song where this is going. Well, it's not often the Five have had to work together on matters of taste. They've always been pretty free to follow their own style, and you're probably tired of hearing me point this out with regard to Rarity and Pinkie. This is the first episode to really call attention to it as a lesson for them. But wait, you say, wasn't that the point of Testing, Testing, 1 2 3 as well? In terms of learning styles, yes, but recall that Twilight was the only one who seemed to grasp the moral of that story, and this time around she's absent. But to the others' credit, they hit upon the truth themselves, and even before that, they're showing maturity in how much they try to maintain at least a veneer of friendliness with each other during the decoration clash and their subsequent squabble.

Back in my review for Inspiration Manifestation, I mentioned that Spike has a gift for guidance and counsel, for forthrightness and helping ponies to face the truth of a situation. It's therefore unfortunate that he gets put in situations involving fabrication and diversion. I wish he didn't take to lying so easily, especially with Twilight. There are a couple times he appears uncomfortable with this, but I consider it the weakest aspect of an otherwise highly excellent episode. Nevertheless, I did like the stuffed Rarity and his dragony preference for sleeping under a "cold, cavernous ceiling."


Lesson: I am really happy that they're covering this: not just the library/castle transition (still important), but finally taking head-on the problem of projecting your tastes onto somepony else. In their decorating, each of the Five is thinking more of herself than of Twilight, as is called out specifically in the third act. Now in and of itself, having an Applejack-themed area of the castle, a Rarity room, a Fluttershy room, etc., is not a bad idea. Twilight's relationships with her friends are part of who she is, and she'll like the reminder. So the rooms at the end are fine. I would have kept the portrait, too, for the same reason. The problem is that they all brought their style into the command center and started fighting over whose preferences should prevail. This is, in fact, the real source of the "bitterness and misery" Sugar Belle wondered about. It arises not from the ponies' differences, but from their self-focus. It's vital to keep this in mind in any relationship.

The distinction between a home and a mere residence is a secondary lesson, and the ponies get halfway to the answer when they start talking about Twilight's specific interest (books)—although remember the castle already has a library—but it's when the conversation moves to their common thoughts of the library that they discover the truer truth about home being not about styles, but about memories.

I don't feel a need to say much more about that since it's an emotional lesson rather than an intellectual one: feel it, reflect on your own home experiences, and in terms of friendship, understand that spending time with a person can make that companionship feel like a home of sorts, too.


Resonance: My snapshot memory of this episode will always be of mourning the Golden Oaks. It's only a brief moment in a mostly comedic episode, but this is why Twilight's feeling down and why the end is so touching.

In other scenes, there's lots to laugh at: Angel getting a long-overdue comeuppance, Twilight cuddling her pancake and waking up with one impaled on her horn, the cameo from Bulk Biceps, Rainbow and her cider coming up again, and a ton of Pinkie moments: her leap to grab the impaled pancake, joining the stampede, her face around the 19-minute mark, and the fact that this isn't the first time a confetti cannon has resulted in a cakesplosion. Also great is Applejack trying to find Pinkie over her shoulder during her freakout. The Fluttershy echo joke falls a little flat for me. It's not a bad moment; I just wouldn't have used it for an act-break punchline. (It might have worked if there were something in the animation to justify it.)

I find the whole episode heartwarming, but one little thing that stands out is Spike's inclusion in the portrait. The chandelier is awesome both in-story and out in its design and execution. For that you can thank the endlessly imaginative Rebecca Dart. Also from an animation standpoint, I'm impressed with the pivots they seem to enjoy doing now, as well as Rainbow's midair twirl during the song. And I haven't really established a category for Moments of Hunger, but I want those pancakes. And that seven-layer cake sounded pretty good as well.

 

Other Impressions and Final Assessment: We see a lot of the castle here, so much that some viewers wondered if the exterior view is too small. We've really only seen the outside from one angle so far, but I think the ground floor is just barely big enough for the entry hall and the throne room. But note how much bigger the upper levels are. I'm guessing whenever we see other rooms in the castle, we'll be upstairs. While they were visible before, this is the first time I really looked at the branch motif on the windows. You can also see that the castle already had a few hanging crystals of the type used for the chandelier.

The decoration plotline is bookended by a song and its reprise. It's in the same style as the previous song sung in the castle, with the key a half step higher. That may be deliberate, or it may be a new standard style for the show's vocal music; we'll just have to see. Sharp-eared bronies have noticed a few signs of pitch correction. AJ has a trill that's a little artificially jumpy, and the tone of some of the voices sounds as though they might have been recorded in a lower key. So it may be that Let the Rainbow Remind You and Make This Castle a Home actually were in the same key originally. I can't really speak to that with any authority; it sounds fine to me so I'm going on what others have reported. But I will say I like how the singers push through the longer notes, and Ashleigh Ball has really arrived in terms of getting Rainbow Dash's character-specific singing voice just right. (Applejack is no doubt easier for her since AJ's closer to her natural singing voice...speaking of which, go listen to Hey Ocean! if you haven't before.) Fluttershy likewise sounds the best I've ever heard her.

One last observation, possibly a coincidence, but the "I'm home"/"Welcome home" greeting matches a Japanese custom that's used with an almost identical significance in Neon Genesis Evangelion, when Shinji Ikari comes to (temporarily) accept his new life at the end of that series' fourth episode.

My first impression of Castle Sweet Castle was that it belonged in the Gold tier, but on the second viewing it rose dramatically in my estimation as I got past the gags and saw what the show was doing. This is highly excellent storytelling, an important moment in the development of the characters, and a good example of what the show in its maturity ought to be.

 

Castle Sweet Castle armor rating: Diamond Armor
Ranked 10th of 26 season-five episodes
Ranked 42nd of 147 stories overall

Click HERE for Character Appearance List and Screentime.

Previous: The Cutie Map – Part 2 Castle Sweet Castle Next: Bloom & Gloom