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

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Episode 36: "Secret of My Excess"

Aired 12/10/2011, written by M.A. Larson (his seventh episode)
    Storyline:
  • Intro: Twilight's book sorting project is disrupted when she's distracted by Spike.
  • Act 1: Spike admires a fire ruby he's been saving for his birthday. Rarity takes notice and he gives it to her. She returns the favor with a kiss. When Spike's birthday arrives, he receives gifts from the Mane Six, a cupcake from Sugarcube Corner, and a hat from Cheerliee. He begins seeking gifts from random ponies, and Twilight finds him with a pile of stuff the next morning, and grown to match her size.
  • Act 2: Worried at Spike's size and greed, Twilight takes him to doctors to no avail. Zecora diagnoses his growth spurt but has no cure. Spike rampages through Ponyville and ultimately snatches Rarity away.
  • Act 3: The Wonderbolts attack Spike and are defeated. When Spike notices Rarity is wearing the gem he gave her, she tells its story, not recognizing the dragon is Spike. Spike is touched and reverts to normal.



Character: Lots to say, so here we go: Spike's crush on Rarity is one of his more endearing mostly-consistent traits, and here it's milked for all its worth. He's also reasonably motivated here by his greed before things take off, the way kids often are on their birthdays. The relationship between greed and growth makes sense given what we've seen of dragons on the show. Also, I'm not sure if this is a deliberate call-back or not, but Spike's first scene in the series had him about to deliver a birthday present to Moondancer, and Twilight scolded him for it. She was evidently as dismissive of birthdays as she was of friendship, which helps explain why this experience is so new to Spike here. It's also just after Twilight's birthday in the previous episode, though that may be a coincidence from the writers' standpoint.

Rarity's positive traits shine through here, most obviously in her generosity with the capes, but particularly as she's obviously in love with the gem but actively tries not to ask for it. And the writer is wise not to have her cling to the gem because of its inherent value but because it was given to her by Spike himself. The name "Spikey Wikey" causes some viewers to cringe but it fits Rarity's romantic/"girly" nature and isn't at all out of step with real-life terms of endearment. Cringers take hope: She only calls him this in a couple other episodes. (Besides, it was Pinkie coined the nickname.)

Twilight is the featured pony in the first two-thirds of the story. She plays the mom role well here and consistently shows the proper care for Spike's well-being. Her look when the doctors can't diagnose Spike's problems reveals her motherly concern, but there's also some playfulness during the earlier light moments.

In the brief minute-and-a-half or so the others in the Mane Six get, each has her own characteristic reaction to the events. The writer is careful to give them fitting dialogue and not toss generic lines to the main characters. I especially like the callback to Fluttershy's fear of dragons, where she explains that she doesn't fear Spike because he's not "a huge, gigantic, terrifying, enormous, teeth-gnashing, sharp-scale having, horn-wearing, smoke-snoring, could eat a pony in one bite, totally all grown-up dragon," which is what he is here.

This is the first time we've seen the Wonderbolts doing something besides contests and social events. Given their spine-razoring move, they could possibly have been a real threat to the dragon if they hadn't been trapped in the water tower. I'm glad their scene wasn't just a shot-for-shot King Kong homage, but it makes the Wonderbolts look ineffectual. Their "mission accomplished" gesture at the end is cute but leaves us wondering whether they're as noble and heroic as Rainbow Dash seems to consider them. That's not necessarily good or bad for the show, just something for analysts to chew on, and it's an interesting set-up for Dash's temporary disillusionment in Wonderbolts Academy. However, we don't see Soarin, Spitfire, or Fleetfoot, so perhaps these are just second-tier Wonderbolts.

The name drop for Junebug came as a surprise. There's been at least one toy by that name in previous generations but no resemblance, and she appears to be a one-shot character where an established background pony would have served just as well. I wonder if there were bigger plans for her at some point.


Lesson: Greed makes a monster out of all of us. At least, that's what I expected Spike's letter to say. Instead, as often happens with MLP, the moral has an additional nuance to it that relates to Spike's gift of the fire ruby at the beginning of the episode: Generosity is its own reward. This prevents the show from being a repeat of the lesson from The Ticket Master and inspires positive action in the context of friendship rather than simply prohibiting a vice.

Logic: So is this how all dragons grow up? If Spike is kept from greed, will he never grow up? Will he grow up inevitably and become greedy at that time? We're left to wonder, although I think we can find hints in Dragon Quest. In any case, bringing Spike's crush out in the open raises some interesting possibilities given the species gap, maturity gap, and longevity gap if he or Rarity should ever seek to take things in a more serious direction.
Timeline indication: Spike says this is his first birthday in Ponyville; the most natural interpretation is that we're less than a year from the beginning of the series. Note, however, that the upcoming episode A Friend in Deed is set 290 days after Party of One, which was near the end of season one.
Connections: Spike was also seen "grown up" in The Cutie Mark Chronicles and (in an imagine spot) in A Dog and Pony Show. Zecora mentions Spike's dragon greed again and takes preventative measures in Just for Sidekicks.

 

Resonance: It's been a few episodes since we've had a scary moment on the show, but I got a sense of dread when I first saw Spike clap his hands over his mouth after a snarky response to Twilight. The message: It's not just a growth spurt and a weird mood; he's turning into someone else against his will. From his perspective it must seem like possession. I viewed the rest of the episode from this perspective. The action portion of the episode is exciting, and the Fluttershy-Rainbow rescue at the end drew a cheer from me. My only reservation is that Fluttershy should have gotten a yellow-and-pink trail, since she and Rainbow are traveling at the same speed. (Compare Pinkie's trail in Party of One when she's chasing Dash.)

But it's not just an adventure show. The Spike-Rarity moments that bookend the episode give the story real dramatic power. On a minor note, I liked seeing Cheerilee's uncoerced show of generosity and the way her thought process was animated. The writers really have made the most of what could have been a boring stock character.

There are also plenty of laughs in the show. Twilight's serial teleporting of Spike (and her pawing the floor just beforehand) made for a great moment, and Derpy's cameo was pretty clever. We also get a fun sound gag in the bicycle horn sound as Pinkie falls while holding the binoculars. It's the worst possible time for a joke, but it's really funny.

 

Other Impressions and Final Assessment: I've noted before that Spike is the most inconsistent main character, alternately the level-headed sage and conscience to Twilight or the impulsive kid who gets into trouble without her guidance. I'd be equally happy with either Spike if the writers would just pick one. I believe this episode gives him the best material we've seen so far, as he has juvenile impulses but is mature enough to overcome them with some difficulty (at least initially). This is also an exploration of his parent/child relationship with Twilight, which was done sort-of okay in Owl's Well that Ends Well but is outstanding here. She may call him her number one assistant but they both know there's more to it, and so do we. Viewers who don't like Spike may rate this episode farther down, but there's little to complain about in this story, and I consider it another very good entry worthy of the second season.

 

Secret of My Excess armor rating: Iron Armor
Ranked 16th of 26 season-two episodes
Ranked 106th of 147 stories overall

Click HERE for Character Appearance List and Screentime.

 

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