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

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Episode 64: "Games Ponies Play"

Aired 2/9/2013, written by Dave Polsky (his sixth episode)
    Storyline:
  • Intro: Leaving their pets with Spike, the Mane Six board a train to the Crystal Empire to welcome the inspector for the Equestria Games.
  • Act 1: The Mane Six rehearse a welcome routine on the train and find the empire well prepared for the inspector's visit. Princess Cadance learns her hair stylist is sick, and Rarity fills in while the others go to greet the inspector while she works on the requisite intricate hairdo. The team unwittingly welcomes the wrong pony, leaving the inspector at the train station.
  • Act 2: The visitor is treated to a tour of the castle while the real inspector walks the streets. Cadance is delayed due to a hair disaster, and the ponies escort the visitor to the gymnasium where Shining Armor is coaching. There they discover their error.
  • Act 3: The inspector isn't at the train station, so the team heads to the spa, where the visitor and the inspector have been comparing their welcomes. Rainbow confesses their error, and the inspector declares the empire worthy of the games based on the visitor's experience. The Mane Six board a train home, not realizing Spike, the pets, and the Cutie Mark Crusaders are hiding underneath their seats.

Character: Twilight has proven herself a leader in previous episodes, but her anxiety has always been her Achilles heel. Cadance's introduction of a calming technique (which works in real life, by the way), implying that she needs to remain calm to be a good leader, is one more step forward for her. And being able to think past her emotions will be crucial in her upcoming test.

Rainbow Dash also has a large role. The flashback gives us the first glimpse of her father and provides the motivation for her role in this episode. Her behavior isn't abnormal, but her focus on the task as a rematch of sorts causes her to push things farther and dig holes deeper than she otherwise would. Her part in the episode demonstrates the real-life fact that sheer determination isn't enough to keep us from making mistakes, and can actually cause us to rationalize them away.

Rarity's awe of the Crystal Empire from the season premiere is maintained here. Pinkie is a bit more over-the-top than usual, particularly in the episode's more comic-serious moments. Fluttershy and Applejack are in character, but they don't really get any distinctive moments in this episode, probably because they were featured in the beginning and end of the previous one, respectively.

While nopony is out of character here, the story proceeds by classic comedy conventions rather than as a result of character traits and personal choices. This is rare for MLP, but it's probably to be expected: As the series extends to many dozens of episodes, the writers will want to try putting the cast into this or that situation just for kicks, and that's okay, as long as the overall tenor of the show isn't altered.


Lesson: Remaining calm as a leader is the stated lesson and is probably what Twilight would write to Princess Celestia if anypony ever did that anymore. (No, I'm not bitter. Why do you ask?) That's not especially relevant to friendships or to children in general, at least not the way it's presented here.

Resonance: Tons of effective comedy in this episode, the highlight of which is Rainbow's crash against the spa's domed ceiling and her slow, squeaky slide down as Rarity wonders at the sound without looking. The Mane Six's cheer is suitably impressive, and it feels great to see Dash celebrating with the crystal filly during the announcement.

 

Other Impressions and Final Assessment: The lesson is also in the background of what's going on. Just as this isn't a character episode, it's also not really a moral episode. This is a traditionally styled comedy starring the MLP cast. Mistaken identity stories can be really funny, going all the way back to Shakespeare. (The Comedy of Errors is a gem!) For such stories we usually suspend our disbelief that the characters could go so long without something being said that would expose the error.

Taking the episode for what it is, it's a fun romp that basically has us just enjoying the characters and their world for 22 minutes. It's a nice breather episode before the big season finale, but it had the misfortune of following a weak episode and controversy was already raging over the upcoming finale, so fans who were hoping for a super-strong episode here were disappointed since it's not as substantive as normal MLP fare. Judging it on its own merits, I give it a suit of Leather Armor. And a cinnamon bun.

 

Games Ponies Play armor rating: Leather Armor
Ranked 11th of 13 season-three episodes
Ranked 127th of 147 stories overall

Click HERE for Character Appearance List and Screentime.

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