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

Previous: The Break Up Break Down Molt Down Next: Marks for Effort

Episode 180: "Molt Down"

Aired 5/26/2018, written by Josh Haber (his twentieth episode)
    Storyline:
  • Intro: On a visit to Peewee to collect phoenix feathers with Rarity, Spike is embarassed by a facial blemish called a stone scale. The next morning, his face is covered with them.
  • Act 1: In addition to the scales, Spike finds himself unable to control his fire-breathing or the volume of his voice. Twilight still insists he leave the castle. At the school, Smolder explains that he is molting.
  • Act 2: Smolder adds that molting dragons are kicked out of their homes, and Spike begins emitting horrible odors. He visits Zecora for help but hides when Rarity enters; the phoenix feathers have made her nearly deaf. Eventually Spike is outed, just in time to find that his scent has attracted a predator, a giant roc.
  • Act 3: The enormous bird grabs Zecora and Rarity in its claws. Twilight happens by and begins fighting the bird, while Spike glows and becomes encased in a stony cocoon. He breaks free and notices a new set of wings, which he uses to help Twilight save Rarity and Zecora. Twilight assures him he is still welcome at home.

Character: As a trivia note, Spike is the only character at all to appear in both this episode and the previous one (The Break Up Break Down). Spike is back in his unfortunately familiar Spike-episode form for much of the story, full of embarrassment and bad decisions that lead to further embarrassment. But most of his humiliation isn't his fault this time around, as he's experiencing The Molt, which appears to be the dragon equivalent of puberty. The episode gets good around the time the action gets going, as Spike remembers his bravery for the sake of his friends. He has a great heroic moment when he first offers to lure the roc away from Zecora, and his fight in the air reminds me (ironically) of the time Owlowiscious saved him from a dragon back in season one.

The wings Spike gains in this episode are the first visual indicator of normal growth we've seen for Spike since he was described as a baby dragon. I'm not sure that makes him an adolescent exactly; he's still small compared to Smolder. But he's no longer the only wingless dragon in the show. The new appendages also give him something in common with Twilight, and he actually seems to take to flying much more quickly than Twilight did.

As for Twilight Sparkle, she seems a little bit...off. She seems to alternate between being understanding and dismissive of Spike's issues, and her one line expressing resentment of Celestia's presumed lack of blemishes is both illogical and very out of place. It's an attitude I don't recall seeing before, and I presume it's just there as a gag. Anyway, we get a nice tender moment between Spike and Twilight at the end. Even if it's a stretch for Spike to think he's about to be disowned, I'm glad Twilight is quick to allay that fear.

Smolder's portrayal here is one of the episode's highlights. Spike finally has someone friendly who can give him an inside perspective on dragons and set him at ease about his very reasonable concerns about what growing up as a dragon will entail, given Spike's one-time rampage and his encounters with dragon delinquents. But even as Smolder's here to lend a helping claw, she still maintains consistency with her established toughness by her nonchalance about The Molt's unpleasant side-effects.

I'm very happy to see Zecora finally get some adventure time—or any time at all, for that matter. This is her first significant appearance since her bout with swamp fever. Besides that and her shampoo incident, she hasn't had a major role since we saw her alternate self in The Cutie Re-mark, and a couple brief scenes in What About Discord and Filli Vanilli all the way back in season four. So when she leaves her legendary potions and lotions and ventures outside her hut, it's a treat to see another side of her, even if it involves a bit of peril.

Honestly, I think the story might have been better without Rarity, or with Rarity used differently. She's mainly there to add to Spike's woes and provide questionable comic relief through her sudden hearing impairment. And with all the various symptoms Spike is experiencing, it's easy to forget that Rarity's deafness isn't related to The Molt at all but comes from the phoenix feathers she wants to sew into a dress. Which seems like a bad idea if it might affect other ponies the same way.

The roc is our featured antagonist, the giant bird from Arabian mythology. I love the design, though I question why the bird goes after the equines more than after Spike, since it's his scent that supposedly attracts the creature. The fight is also a bit cartoony at points, though the talons are almost photorealistic in close-up. Tatzlwurms also receive mention, but it's a pity we don't get to see one of them make a return.


Lesson: For Spike's sake, Rarity is a good choice to deliver these twin morals about growing up: "Nopony would stop caring for you just because you were getting older. Everypony goes through changes, but sometimes change can be wonderful." This is a lesson that fits well into the later seasons of the show, as many viewers who started watching Friendship Is Magic as children are at least approaching puberty by this point. It's common for children to see adulthood as a carefree experience full of options and understanding of the surrounding world, only to hit adolescence and the particular awkwardness and anxiety it brings. Of course, adulthood has its own challenges, but most of the teenage-specific issues get sorted out, and there are indeed wonderful things about being grown up once you've settled into it.

I think the creators have done a reasonably good job of finding fictional analogues to the real-life bodily changes. But Smolder's line that "a molter's loved ones kick them out at the first stone scale" is pretty jarring. I can certainly buy that as a believable aspect of dragon culture, and it would even have been a good dramatic beat to have Smolder reveal this was the original reason she was sent to the School of Friendship. But I'm unclear what aspect of human puberty that's supposed to represent. If anything, adolescence tends to be a time that teens push away from their parents, rather than the reverse. We know that deep down, this exact rejection is Spike's greatest fear, so it hurts to see that element among the otherwise comedic issues Spike has to deal with.


Resonance: The third act consists mostly of an exciting roc fight, and I'm glad to see it since the season has so far been light on action sequences. But the first two-thirds of the episode is heavy on cringe comedy that, in my opinion, hits about half the time. I think I mentioned way back in Applebuck Season that I'm not fond of the joke where common words are misheard as something completely silly. Part of that pet peeve is personal; several members of my extended family are deaf or hearing impaired, and I hate seeing it portrayed like that. Sadly, that's one of the key running gags of this episode.

There are a few effective moments. The return of Peewee and his parents is long-awaited. As I mentioned, it's heartwarming to see Spike getting to bond with Smolder. Rarity has one truly funny line: "This isn't the first time I've been in the clutches of a horrible giant creature, but it doesn't get any easier!" And I enjoy Pinkie's line about the "shouting closet."


Other Impressions and Final Assessment: Aside from the scene with Smolder, I could honestly do without the first fourteen minutes of Molt Down. But I think the roc sequence is very well done, even if some of the animations and sound effects are a little too cartoony for my taste. The later part of the battle is enhanced by MLP's familiar adventure music, and it's always nice to see Spike get to save the day, especially when his courage is understated and it doesn't go to his head. That last act of the story saves it from the bottom of my list and brings it up above Princess Spike and a notch or two below The Cutie Pox.

 

Molt Down armor rating: Leather Armor
Ranked 23rd of 27 season-eight episodes
Ranked 202nd of 233 stories overall

Click HERE for Character Appearance List and Screentime.

Previous: The Break Up Break Down Molt Down Next: Marks for Effort