The Dragon Code by *johnjoseco

Time for your episode reviews, Ryan is joined this week by Doc’s own review. Enjoy your reviews, and the hiatus.

Review by Ryan

Those of you familiar with my reviews from the past few weeks may notice that I can tend to get a bit… verbose. It’s really not intentional – I just always have a lot to say about the new and exciting storylines and tidbits from each and every new episode of “Friendship is Magic”. For those of you who dislike having to read through so many pesky words each time you click one of those Derpy Hooves News review pages, you’re in luck this week: “Spike At Your Service”, written by, of course, Merriwether Williams, gives me almost nothing at all to actually talk about.

To be extremely blunt, “Spike At Your Service” will likely go down as one of the worst episodes of the series so far, or at least one of the most forgettable. Spike has what I like to call “Applejack Syndrome”, in which episodes that he stars or plays a major role in tend to be forgotten, predictable, or actively bad. It’s called “Applejack Syndrome” because Applejack-centric episodes have the same issues. What’s that? “Spike At Your Service” stars Spike AND Applejack? Oh dear…

I’ll not waste any time going into intricate details of the plot, because there aren’t any worth mentioning. “Spike At Your Service” relies exclusively on the done-to-death, trite, and outright clichéd ‘you saved my life so now I’m indebted to you but I’m also completely inept and every time I try to do something nice I end up screwing it up’ trope. It’s a bit unfortunate that simply reading the single-line synopsis can reveal everything about the episode’s plot to almost an exact degree. Spike is saved by Applejack, Spike provides “help” to AJ, the “help” ends up being not so helpful, and AJ tries to get him to stop. It becomes less entertainment and more of a chore to have to sit through each contrivance.

The one very bright spot in this episode is the comedic gags from the rest of the Mane 6. Rarity and Pinkie Pie in particular have some absolutely fantastic humorous moments and they were the first to make me actually laugh out loud so far in this season. Rainbow and Fluttershy also have a couple of very funny gags in the same scene. These few short minutes alone make the episode at least worth a single watch.

The absolute biggest problem with this episode is the fact that, once again, Merriwether Williams proves her ineptitude in handling these characters. Spike clearly proved his worth many times and is not a worthless assistant, Twilight is not utterly involved with her books anymore and the pleas from a friend would not go unheeded, and Applejack has gone beyond having to tiptoe around her friends’ feelings to tell them exactly what they need to hear (she’s the element of honesty, after all). The other four Mane 6 act in character, but only insofar as Rarity is prissy and Fluttershy is bashful.

Williams, for whatever reason, cannot seem to grasp that these characters have evolved past the point of their description in Faust’s Show Bible and are much more interesting and varied than Williams would have us believe. It’s borderline shameful that an episode so late in the series would resort to such clichéd storytelling and baseline characterizations.


Review by Doc

So we get a bit more of what makes Spike tick this episode; that’s always a treat. Although, this one’s a bit more in the vein of Dragon Quest than the other two Spike episodes, which have been about him dealing with delayed or denied gratification (attention in the case of Owl’s Well that Ends Well, possesions in Secret of My Excess).

Spike, despite being adopted and clearly loved, just can’t seem to shake the feeling that he’s an exile, a stranger in a foreign land, if you will. Here we have Spike attempting to forge a unique identity for himself by following an ethical code apparently invented entirely from the wholecloth, if that card he handed Applejack is any indication. This “Noble Dragon Code” is quite different from the general pony population’s, or at least from the very self-sufficient Applejack’s (“That’s what friends do”). Of course, it doesn’t help that Spike is apparently holding the Idiot Ball for a decent chunk of the episode. Also of interest is the fact that Spike actually does a fist bump instead of a handshake; he seems to be well on his way to becoming quite the cosmopolitan.

The way the Mane 6 each treat Spike’s ethical code is the source of most of the humor of the episode (at least, the humor that doesn’t involve Spike’s sudden incompetence), and it’s pretty hilarious. Polsky certainly has a solid grasp on the characters; heck, we even see some sustained development on Rainbow Dash’s and Fluttershy’s part. Rainbow Dash seems to have made the jump from avid reader to fledging writer (even if it is just a grandiose self-insert fic), and Fluttershy seems to have kept that New Fluttershy edge, just a bit.

All in all, while Spike’s incompetence is a bit annoying, the identity theme in the episode coupled with solid character humor from the Mane 6 serves to make this a pretty good episode.

  • I agree with Ryan. A pretty, garbage episode if you ask me. Whenever I watch an episode by M.W. I’m always thinking in the back of my mind “this isn’t _______ as I know them”. They’re often lacking the nuances that make the character feel at the level of depth they’ve been previously shown off at.

    Also, is “Faust’s Bible” actually a written text or is that just conceptual? I’ve seen that term mentioned a couple a times and I’m curious.

    • hat

      Faust’s bible is an actual book/display folder of all the ideas and artwork one needs to know to start the show. It is typical for shows (and games) to have a book that has episode ideas and the consistent aspects of the world.

    • Ryan C

      A “Show Bible” is used by the conceptualizer of a show to give an idea of what each character looks and acts like, as well as the setting. It may not be an actual bound book, per say, but it’s a general idea of what each character is supposed to be like. The characters can then be malleable from that point.

  • BronyDash

    I personally really disliked this episode, it’s probably my least favorite episode of the season. Couldn’t really find much good in it… I was glad that Rainbow Dash isn’t gone, which I was a little worried we wouldn’t see much of her after Wonderbolt Academy ended so abruptly. All in all… it just wasn’t a very well-written episode in my opinion. It was very cliche, it didn’t feel as mature as the previous episodes this season have (except for Too Many Pinkie Pies). I just pray that these final four episodes aren’t a total bust, because overall this season hasn’t been bad. It is most certainly not as good as season 2 or season 1, but it’s not bad.

  • I think the solution to making quality Applejack episodes is the same trick they pulled in season two:

    Make them all westerns.

    I’d watch an episode about AJ becoming the town sheriff.

    • BronyDash

      That’d be an interesting episode. Applejack is one of the best character’s on the show, I really wish her episodes where better. Honestly, Merriwether Williams just hasn’t done very well on this show.

      • I don’t get that. At all.

        Mysterious Mare-Do-Well, sure. But I thought all her other episodes were fine, great even, until this one, which was obviously a first draft that was rushed into production after Dave Polsky couldn’t hack it.

        • BronyDash

          To each his own I guess… the only one from Williams I enjoyed was Wonderbolt Academy.

  • Wonderwing94

    Sorry guys that I didn’t add my review, Internet problems!

    Anyway, to be blunt, I actually very much enjoyed this episode. Sure, the plot is cliched beyond death, but it was arguably the funniest episode thus far for the show! Also, the 3D animation of the timberwolves was impressive and showed the effort the team is going for in this show. I agree though that tampering with a characters traits and personality can screw a show up, but sometimes, a slight change can be for the better.

    Season 3 is fantastic so far and I’m sure one of you will find a way to counter-strike my quick review, and when I mean “counter-strike”, I mean it better be an “insightful counter-strike.”

    • Kirov

      I actually thought it was one of the best episodes of the season as well. Everybody keeps saying it’s a cliche plot, but I must not be very cultured, because I didn’t find it cliche at all. In fact, I thought the entire episode was a Star Wars reference because Wookie life debts are the only similar thing I’ve heard of. But the 3d animation was cool, the episode was interesting, and it made me laugh, something which quite a few episodes have failed to do so far.

      • Ryan C

        “A standard plotline for single episodes would look like this: 1. Character A saves the life of character B. 2. While character A does not expect any huge return, character B insists that their strict moral code dictates that they return the favor by becomin A’s servant and fulfill their every wish. 3. Character B’s well intended but incompetent “help” soon becomes bothersome for character A, but they are unable to make it stop. 4. Character A and friends decide to stage a scene where B will be able to (seemingly) save A’s life, thus returning the debt. 5. For arbitrary reasons the faux danger becomes truly life threatening, and B is able to save A’s life for real.”

        Literally word-for-word.

  • Aponymous

    Don’t forget Season 1’s Over a Barrel,which was also penned by Mr Polsky

    Also is it just me or is 3D and Cel shaded animation being refered to as the same thing here? I want to (since someone else mentioned tv tropes) say there was another leap in the animation style.

    review wise – I liked the ep not disliked it,sure it wasn’t Too Many Pinkie Pies (again by Polsky…and oddly enough shown with it on saturday) but it wasn’t too much help by Spike (he isn’t always a klutz on helping…he even tried to start another meme! ok socks and juice boxes maybe but probably not chewing)

    and half related – hubworld has this as ep 10,and Apple Family Reunion as ep 9…still no idea when/where season 3 ep 8 is

    P.S: hmm I wonder if anything else from the everfree well be seen in Cel/animated 3D…

    • Ryan C

      Episode 8 is episode 12. It was made 8th in production order but it’ll be aired 12th. Same thing happened with “Hearth’s Warming Eve”.