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.