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

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Episode 47: "Dragon Quest"

Aired 3/17/2012, written by Merriwether Williams (her fourth episode)
    Storyline:
  • Intro: Rainbow tries to drag Fluttershy to witness the dragon migration. She refuses and flees.
  • Act 1: At the dragon migration, Rainbow laughs at Spike's undragonlike ways and the others fawn over him. That night Spike wonders what other dragons are like, but Twilight's research turns up no good information. Spike resolves to join the dragons to learn about them, and Twilight lets him go, though she, Rainbow, and Rarity follow.
  • Act 2: Spike travels to a volcano where the dragons are resting. As his friends watch in a dragon costume, several teen dragons challenge Spike to prove his worth through a series of contests and eventually accept him.
  • Act 3: The dragons raid a phoenix nest. Spike briefly draws the parents' attention and ends up with an egg but refuses to smash it. Twilight and the others stand up for him, but the dragons give chase. Once safe, Spike declares his pony friends to be his family. The egg he rescued hatches in the library, and Spike names the phoenix chick Peewee.

Character: Spike comes off very well in this episode, and the issue he's dealing with makes perfect sense. He's known only Twilight and (unseen on the show) Princess Celestia as caretakers since his hatching, and his parentage has never been determined. The two dragons we've seen have been hostile. The occasion of a rare dragon migration makes a sensible trigger so we're not left wondering why Spike is asking questions all of a sudden, and Twilight takes the natural step of doing research before he goes off on the quest. (Even if she made research attempts in the past to help raise Spike, she's at least making a show of it now for his benefit.) Spike charts his own course so that the rest of the plot plays off of his character and that of the teen dragons.

Giving Spike six dragons to replace his six pony friends seems a natural choice, but I was expecting some follow-through, in the sense of giving them traits similar to each of the Mane Six. Instead, only Garble is featured and the rest are undifferentiated.

Twilight is in great maternal mode here, making up for her lapses in Owl's Well That Ends Well. Letting Spike go on the quest but still following is a good balance to strike, and Rainbow and Rarity are the two best choices to accompany her, being the two who would be quickest to action if Spike were threatened. Rainbow shows some character growth/depth by being the pony to hold back Twilight when the dragons insult Celestia. (I hope that letter wasn't anything important, like a wedding invitation or something.) We also find that, just as Rainbow has joined Twilight in her "uncool" reading hobby, she has also attended a butterfly migration with Fluttershy, albeit reluctantly. In my opinion, between May the Best Pet Win! and Wonderbolts Academy, Rainbow Dash becomes the series' most skillfully developed character. I'm eager to see what's planned for her in season 4.


Lesson: The lack of any truly good-natured dragons (except possibly Crackle) must be devastating to Spike, and could lead the viewer to wonder whether they're evil by nature or by culture. My old Star Trek days have conditioned me to expect a sympathetic member of any enemy race, whether Klingon, Romulan, Cardassian, or Borg, avoiding Fantastic Racism. The situation in this episode makes us understand why Spike would prefer to bond with ponies, but I'm a little concerned about the implications. In fact, the G1 episode on which this is based ends with Spike allowing for the possibility of friendly dragons. This one really doesn't.

On the other side of things, I love the moral as stated in the letter, that "who I am is not the same as what I am." I'm a strong believer in individual identity as opposed to group identity. While American culture has made some progress away from stereotyping others in certain ways, it seems we're getting worse about stereotyping ourselves in the interest of identity and belonging. My general counsel is to answer the question "Who am I?" with adjectives rather than nouns, and especially adjectives that directly have to do with how we think, feel, and behave.

This is a "meta" episode; the creators have indicated that the dragon/pony divide represents the contempt most boys and adults have for whatever they deem girly. Spike consequently represents the brony who transcends the divide, as he demonstrated way back in The Ticket Master before bronies even existed.


Logic: Questions about dragon growth raised in The Secret of My Excess are not raised here, and the existence of teen dragons who seem more interested in fraternity-style misbehavior than greed runs counter to what we might have gathered from that episode. There's also no indication of age here. Is Spike five and the "teens" over a hundred? Is Spike's growth stunted because of his decision in the previous episode? Why did he grow to full size when they're all shrimps compared to adult dragons? I don't mark the episode down because of the apparent discrepancies, because there's just too much we don't know. As usual, we'll let fanfic sort it out. And yes, we know lava doesn't work that way.
Also, I wonder who "Geronimo" is in dragon culture?
Connections: Peewee's story is resolved in a silent pan across some photographs in Just for Sidekicks.

 

Resonance: The cold open is a nice bit of Flutterdashic fun. I chuckle at the camo outfits and the dragon costumes, and the appearance of Crackle is a great laugh-out-loud moment. I loved seeing Rarity in Mama Bear mode, echoing her words to Spike earlier in the episode. Peewee's parents are awesome enough to leave no doubts as to why Princess Celestia chose a phoenix as a pet. This episode also has a strong tearjerker moment as Spike breaks down crying in the bedroom.

 

Other Impressions and Final Assessment: The King of the Hoard scene has a marvelous soundtrack, but nevertheless I find the volcano scenes to be a bit tedious, partly because the stunts all seem to make the same point—a point I have problems with, as stated above—and partly because the teen dragons feel so one-dimensional (possibly a deliberate move on the writer's part). It also seems to me that the dragons are acting not so much the way "wild" teen boys actually behave, but the way they are perceived to behave by outsiders. In fact, the whole dragon element of the show is a bit of a let-down because the sight of the migration is so glorious (being comprised almost entirely of adult dragons). As a viewer, I wanted Spike to meet up with the adults and reveal their distinctive perspective about things. The show picks up again when we get to the phoenixes, which are immediately the most interesting thing in the episode.

On a minor note, I'm not a fan of the boxing poses the ponies adopt when confronting the dragons near the end. We've seen this a few times, going back to the first season, and I much prefer the more equine posture of lowering the head and pawing at the ground as a threat display. I recognize that many of the human-like behaviors of the ponies this season are a deliberate creative decision by Raven and others to allow closer interaction and affection. But besides that, the more we can keep the ponies on four legs, the better.

The first and third acts are strong here, with some nice character interaction in the trench. But the second act is such a disappointment after the early build-up that I can't say this episode meets the show's standard. It's a pretty good episode that has excellent moments, but it leaves me thinking more of what it might have been than what it is.

(Note: As much as the show's creators care about their work and interact with fans, it's possible they may come across this review. If you helped make this episode and I'm offbase in my understanding of it or have overlooked its strengths, you're welcome to give me the "Marshall McLuhan from Annie Hall" treatment and show me the insights I've missed.)

 

Dragon Quest armor rating: Leather Vest
Ranked 23rd of 26 season-two episodes
Ranked 136th of 147 stories overall

Click HERE for Character Appearance List and Screentime.

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