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

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Episode 63: "Just for Sidekicks"

Aired 1/26/2013, written by Corey Powell (her second episode)
    Storyline:
  • Intro: Spike is making a jewel cake, but he absently eats all his jewels in the process, despite Owlowiscious' warnings.
  • Act 1: Fluttershy asks Spike to watch Angel while the Mane Six are in the Crystal Empire, in exchange for a gem. With another cake in mind, he agrees and makes arrangements to watch Tank, Opal, Gummy, and Winona as well, and even gets Twilight to pay a gem for Owlowiscious.
  • Act 2: The pets go wild without their owners, and Angel runs off to the Cutie Mark Crusaders' clubhouse. Spike then tries to pass off the critters to the CMC, giving up a gem in the process, but this fails. Zecora "helps" Spike's greed by giving one of his gems to charity, and he gives another gem to Granny Smith when she spots him mishandling the pets. Angel escapes again and boards a train, forcing Spike to board with the other pets, with the Crusaders as chaperones, and pay for tickets. Before they can exit with Angel, the train departs for the Crystal Empire.
  • Act 3: The pets cause trouble on the train, costing another gem. At the Crystal Empire, Angel spots Fluttershy at the train station and disembarks, forcing another brief chase. The Mane Six board the train, but Spike apologizes to the pets, and Angel decides not to give him up. Back in Ponyville, the Mane Six are reunited with their pets and Spike is congratulated for his caretaking. He then sets out to use his last gem for the jewel cake but eats it out of habit.

Character: While all the pets have their moments and each has its own personality, this is every bit a Spike episode. On the positive side, we recognize that he's still just a kid, and the writer draws attention twice to Spike's unfortunate exclusion from many of the Mane Six's adventures. He's as resourceful as ever in his efforts to keep the pets under control. But for the most part, I fear this episode undoes all the progress Spike has made as a character since the first season.

Owl's Well That Ends Well, which did a decent job with Spike, showed that he can be pushed to villainy. But in that story he thought he was being pushed out of his job and his almost filial relationship with Twilight. Here he just wants a jewel cake, and we've seen him and Rarity gather gems by the wagonload before. There's nothing wrong with offering to pet-sit because you need a little money, but Twilight's "number one assistant" is manipulating and irresponsible through most of the affair. It's a far cry from his efforts at nobility in Spike at Your Service or the maturity he showed in The Crystal Empire.

I can think of one explanation that would justify Spike's behavior, which Zecora hints at when she mentions "dragon greed": another potential growth spurt like the one we saw in The Secret of My Excess. That doesn't materialize, though perhaps it should have. And this brings up another issue: the cast almost lost Spike (and Rarity) in that episode. As transparently greedy as Spike is during the first act, shouldn't the Mane Six be concerned about a recurrence, and Ponyville possibly being destroyed as a result while they're gone? Spike's own history has been neglected here.


Lesson: The lesson not to bite off more than you can chew was already covered in season one's foalsitting episode Stare Master, and in season two's foalsitting episode Baby Cakes. (I'm sensing a pattern here.) In its place we get Spike lamenting that he was more concerned for the jewels than for the pets in his care. It never quite settles down to a moral, and this is one time that, in all seriousness, a letter to the Princess would really have helped nail down what young viewers ought to take away from this episode.

Whatever moral there is, however, is undercut by a couple problems. The first is Spike's outright bribery/hush money given to Granny Smith; and while the gems given to the Crusaders, All Aboard, and Donut Joe each had their own reasons, they had to do largely with ducking responsibility or keeping things quiet, as did the thrown jewel. (I'm willing to overlook the odd contrivance of Spike carrying that measuring cup everywhere he goes.) The shadiness of what's going on passes pretty much without comment and I wonder whether children may think this is the normal way adults go about their business. (It sometimes is, but it shouldn't be.)

Second, what we really need to see at the end of this episode is Spike 'fessing up to his error and revealing that he learned his lesson. Instead, even after his moment of realization, he continues hiding and joins the CMC in pretending the whole thing never happened, and he gets away with it. In fact, the pets show their forgiveness by allowing him to get away with his deception. This is the wrong message to send, and it ruined the pet reunion scene for me. It is not a good thing that the pets' owners were in the dark about what was happening. The final scene with Spike's baking doesn't help, because although some may see it as comeuppance, the bookend arrangement of careless mistakes implies that the character still hasn't learned a thing.


Logic: The value of these gemstones is a little unclear. It's not a size issue, since the value of a gem depends more on its rarity and quality. The sliver of ruby (or other red stone) that Rarity gives Spike for a few hours of pet-sitting is enough to buy an industrial-sized hair dryer, another is sufficient for a train ride to the Crystal Empire, and the rest are accepted as bribe/hush money. Yet Spike gobbles these up by the bowlful. Given the serious marketplace haggling we saw in Putting Your Hoof Down, I wonder whether Spike's snacking is paid for out of the royal treasury. That's more a world-building issue than anything affecting the episode's quality, but I could see it becoming a PR problem for Twilight farther down the road. Connections: All the pets except Gummy have already put in an appearance this season, and they are all seen in a clip from this episode that's used to open the next one.

Body Count: Referring to his saved-up gems, Spike says, "I had a bowl full of them here, and now I don't! Which means, somebody took 'em!" Justified since he's talking to an owl and is himself a dragon; there are no ponies present. Similarly, he says, "Everybody down!" to the Crusaders and the animals on the train. Earlier, Twilight asks Spike if he doesn't already have his "hands" full, and at the end Twilight says, "I've got to hand it to you, Spike."

 

Resonance: A lot of the animal moments are funny and/or cute. The gags that stand out the most for me are Pinkie hiding under the chair cushion and her goodbye to Gummy, and the pet hair dryer. I adore Sweetie Belle's little squeal (echoing Rarity's), and the photos of Peewee that are visible through most of the cold open are a particularly heartwarming way to tie up that loose end. (Credit goes to Wootie and Raven for that last one.)

 

Other Impressions and Final Assessment: Spike's not a bad character; he's just written that way sometimes. From what I've seen, this episode was pretty well-received by adult fans, Powell's previous episode is my favorite thus far, and her third episode lands just shy of excellent. On multiple viewings I've given Just for Sidekicks every benefit of the doubt that I can, but I just can't give this episode even an average rating on objective grounds. It's entertaining enough to put it right on the border between Leather Vest and Leather Armor territory.

(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.)

 

Just for Sidekicks armor rating: Leather Vest
Ranked 12th of 13 season-three episodes
Ranked 140th of 147 stories overall

Click HERE for Character Appearance List and Screentime.

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