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

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Episode 99: "The Lost Treasure of Griffonstone"

Aired 5/23/2015, by Amy Keating Rogers (her fourteenth episode)
    Storyline:
  • Intro: Pinkie Pie's day of baking with Gummy is interrupted when the Map summons her via her cutie mark.
  • Act 1: Twilight sends Rainbow Dash and Pinkie off to the kingdom of Griffonstone, which they discover has fallen on hard times.
  • Act 2: Gilda the griffon appears, still resentful of their last meeting. Rainbow Dash sets out to recover a lost idol to revitalize the kingdom, while Pinkie tries and fails to gain Gilda's friendship.
  • Act 3: Pinkie finds Dash stranded far down a crevice and convinces Gilda to help rescue her. Gilda's show of friendship gains her the ponies' commission to introduce friendship to the griffon kingdom.

Character: This episode features both Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash, but Pinkie gets most of the actual character treatment, which is not surprising for an A.K. Rogers episode. We have some serious moments for Pinkie, which is always a nice break from her zanier episodes, and here she's focused on actually making friends rather than just being funny. This is Pinkie at her best. I'm also happy to see Pinkie at work, for the second episode in a row, in fact. We could use the little reminder that the Mane Six have actual jobs to do when they're not out adventuring or just hanging around being friends. Pinkie's observational skills are also on display as she diagnoses Griffonstone's problem, fixes Gilda's recipe, and catches Gilda's friendship potential.

And the most memorable element of the story is indeed the long-awaited return of Gilda the griffon, absent since the first season except for a barely-there cameo at the Equestria Games. On first viewing, I thought Gilda's voice sounded a little different, but after comparing it with Griffon the Brush Off, I think it's pretty much spot-on. I just misremembered it. I'm glad the creators didn't make Gilda the queen of Griffonstone somehow, as other series might be tempted to do. She's just an ordinary griffon, whose occupation happens to be similar to Pinkie's, Gustav's, and Sugar Belle's. Her ignorance of baking powder suggests to me that she's self-taught, not willing to ask or take advice from others. (A willingness to work together is vital to a nation's prosperity, but I'll get to that later.)

Whereas most of the griffons are merely apathetic, Gilda's mood is one of constant seething anger. It's not necessarily that she's been brooding over the incident in Ponyville, but the sudden reappearance of these two ponies in particular has reignited old feelings, guilt disguised by a grudge and reinforced by the nastiness of her native culture. And Pinkie's persistent friendship in this episode is a constant reminder to Gilda that she was the one in the wrong. I consider this more interesting than her first appearance. In season one, I never really found anything to like about Gilda; she was just mean for no reason. But here, though she's still a jerk, her attitude makes sense and is a little more fun to watch, especially as her snark has some cleverness to it this time around.

I feel compelled to point out, for both Pinkie and Gilda, that a little screaming at the top of your lungs goes a long way. I imagine the sudden shouts at the end of characters' lines is a directing decision, but really once or twice an episode is plenty for me, thanks.

Twilight's passive-aggressive send-off is hilarious and revealing, as the nature and purpose of the tree-chest-castle-map is as mysterious as when the keyhole box first sprouted. I am glad the creators justify Twilight's knowledge of griffon history, as well as Dash's desire to leave Griffonstone itself to go treasure-hunting, grounding both in Gilda's previous appearance.

The most interesting new character is the Arimaspi, here an individual cyclopic goat whose name is based on the people from Greek mythology who opposed the griffins at the cave of Boreas, Greek god of the cold north wind. Obviously the creators have done their homework.


Lesson: Though not every villain on this show gets reformed, a running theme in MLP is the importance of not writing off someone because they're initially unfriendly. Finding goodness, truth, and beauty in unlikely places (such as a cartoon based on girl's toys) sometimes requires pressing forward beyond what anyone else would. And that willingness to love the supposedly unloveable does have its payoffs. In short, the efficacy of kindness often lies in its persistence. And nopony is more persistent than Pinkie.

Nevertheless, the story's end left me unsatisfied. First off, the thing I most appreciated about Gilda's first episode was the twists and turns it took with the lesson. This story seems to try that by giving Dash and Pinkie different opinions about what to do, but Pinkie's is too obvioulsy correct, and it's really just generic "friendship" rather than a more specific lesson. Second, at the end, Gilda has found friendship, and there's a possibility with Greta, but Dash and Pinkie are heading back home immediately, even as Gilda protests she's not ready. Can she who herself has only known friendship for a few minutes really convert a kingdom all by herself? Especially since the griffon's rudeness was enough to test Dash's tolerance and dampen even Pinkie's spirits?

I suppose the message could be that any reform starts with just one person. But I'm not sure that's true historically. Most successful reformers already had a following. Luther was a popular theology teacher; Gandhi was a lawyer and community activist; MLK was a pastor. Or perhaps the moral is, "You save who you can." If you're a motivational speaker addressing a crowd, you know you won't change everyone's thinking, but you may change one life and that's what matters. But that's not reflected in the dialogue of the end scene, where the griffons as a whole still need restoration.

There are hints here and there that Gilda's task is not impossible. We see, for example, Grampa Gruff's reflexive sympathy for Pinkie before he remembers himself, and the "no singing" sign only serves a purpose if somegriffon might sing in its absence. Gilda's scones could serve the same reformation-driving purpose as Ulrich Zwingli's sausages. So perhaps there's hope after all. Still, I think one or both of our ponies should have stayed with Gilda for a few days to help firmly establish her own understanding of friendliness and maybe work out a little strategy before leaving her to cope with her cultural mess.

A secondary lesson is present in the flashbacks. King Grover united the griffons as their possession of the idol allowed their petty greed to be displaced by a sense of identity and pride as a people. The best way for a nation to become prosperous (at least as I see it) is when its individuals are free to use their best gifts and talents by providing a benefit to others and receive a fair return for their labor. The more they produce, the more wealth is created, which means more trade, more benefit for others, increasing that sense of national identity and pride, and the cycle repeats. My point is, a desire to make your contribution, to help others in the first place, is necessary to get that process started. If it's too much trouble to work hard and take risks to make the world a better place, you'll scrounge just enough to get by and maybe just wish their society had fewer problems. So yes, friendship has a role to play in economic theory and could thereby revitalize Griffonstone within a generation or two.


Resonance: Despite plenty of gags, this episode has an air of sadness, as Dash is resentful in act one, no one's happy in act two, and act three has only a partial resolution, as I mention above. Pinkie's seriousness drives this home; in fact, I feel worse for her than for the griffons. Our unease at the griffons' situation is heightened by Grampa Gruff's scary scar, and Gilda's statement "bored now" evokes Willow's most chilling line from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (Speaking of memories, the griffon scones sequence reminds me of some pancakes my young sister once made when she didn't know the difference between baking powder and baking soda.) In my review for Griffon the Brush Off, I mention that Gilda driving Fluttershy to tears was the first time I got angry at a character on the show. I had that same appalled sensation this time when I saw the griffon shopkeeper leave Dash stranded. I've never hit a griffon before, but...

All that negative atmosphere is somewhat offset by a mountain of gags, mostly from Pinkie, though Dash's Twilight impression deserves mention as the funniest moment of the episode. But we see Pinkie remove a tray from the oven with her mouth, protected only by a tiny potholder (whereas Gilda uses oven mitts); she suppresses a giggle at Gilda's mimicry; she does a cute little commercial; and Pinkie making the statue talk was jaw-droppingly funny. I liked the rope gags as well, especially since this isn't the first time Pinkie has neglected to secure a rope. Her name-calling gag has been done a million times in other venues, going at least as far back as the Dick Van Dyke Show. Also funny is the lack of response Dash receives to her rallying speech at the shop, a marvelous example of what TV Tropes calls Adam Smith Hates Your Guts. (And I realize as I say that, that Adam Smith's basic philosophy is similar to what I just laid out a couple paragraphs up.)

As in any Rogers episode, this story has its positively moving moments as well: Dash's face when she first hears Gilda's voice in the crevice, the expression in Pinkie's voice as she calls for the hug that was delayed earlier, and the adorable sight of young Gilda and a pre-cutie mark Rainbow Dash.

 

Other Impressions and Final Assessment: The exposition required to set up this episode takes up the first nine minutes of the running time. Normally that would be devastating to an episode's quality. It still hurts since it leaves us with less actual story to enjoy, but the wonderful artwork and the travel montage are painless and effective ways to get all the information across. We need that buildup of the glory of the griffons to get a sense of how far they've fallen, especially if we're to justify Gilda's temptation to grab the idol at the climax. If it really were the key to restoring the kingdom, its lure would be nearly irresistible. And yes, we've seen the "friend or idol decision" done before, but it plays well here since it's truly a pivotal moment for Gilda that the audience has reason to be uncertain about.

There are a lot of season-one callbacks here: mountain climbing, mention of Granny Pie, all three of the pegasus colts, the Junior Speedsters chant, and Pinkie conversing with an inanimate object. Oh, and I learned a new word in this episode: ganache. Taking the good and the bad of this episode, I place this among other sort-of-halfway-successful stories such as Bridle Gossip and the Breezies episode.

 

The Lost Treasure of Griffonstone armor rating: Iron Mail
Ranked 24th of 26 season-five episodes
Ranked 119th of 147 stories overall

Click HERE for Character Appearance List and Screentime.

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