Super Recaps: My Little Pony season 6 (Gauntlet of Fire)

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and all the images you see in this recap are owned by Hasbro.

Episode directed by Denny Lu and Tim Stuby

We’re back with another episode of Let’s See What Spike Does with Too Much Power, as seems to be the premise of most episodes that involve him.  That doesn’t change here as this episode is all about Spike and the Dragon Kingdom; the latter of which we haven’t really seen since Dragon Quest from season two.  Will this be another episode that shows how great of a character Spike can be while also showing us new and interesting details about the dragons in this world, or will this just be another episode that pokes fun at Spike’s incompetence while also not doing much with the other dragons?  Let’s find out!!

The episode begins with Spike doing what he does best; menial tasks for Rarity to maintain his firm placement in the Friend Zone.  Right now, he’s filling the role of a pack mule while Rarity harvests her own crystals out of a cave somewhere.  Props to her for going that far to get good jewels, though you’d think there’d be someone else who would get paid to do this.  Her business is successful enough to have three locations, yet she has the time to go mine her own resources?

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“Those bastards aren’t gonna price gouge ME!”     “Yup.  And your gonna stick it to them by bringing a baby with you to do manual labor.  Good job there Rarity.  Fight the power!”

It’s also dangerous that they decided to go on this alone in case something bad was to inexplicably happen (another reason why an outside party would be the preferable option).  Oh look.  Something bad inexplicably happened.  What are the odds!  Spike starts to glow like a nightlight and is burning all over which is PROBABLY something they should get looked at right away, so Rarity drags his ass out of the cave and takes him directly to Twilight’s Doom Fortress, presumably passing by the hospital on the way there.  Luna and Celestia JUST SO HAPPEN TO BE THERE so that they can provide an exposition dump as to why Spike has turned into a scaly glow stick.  It turns out that one of the few things ponies know about dragons (seriously, how the hell do they not know that much about a prominent species on their planet?) is The Call of the Dragon Lord, which basically means that at ANY TIME, the head honcho of the dragons can compel other dragons to meet with them.  That’s… terrifying.  So basically every dragon, including those living among the ponies, is in essence a sleeper agent?  They can be summoned and activated at any time, even if they don’t live with the other dragons?  What if the Dragon Lord has some insane request like Kill All Ponies?  Also, what if the dragon refuses the call entirely?  Hell, if they’re a citizen of Equestria, why should they need to meet with the head of state of another country (or I guess of a roaming tribe if they don’t have a land to call their own)?  I’m SURE all these questions will be answered soon enough because Spike decides that he has to go; if for no other reason than to stop the burning sensation all over his body.

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Rarity and Twilight have decided to accompany him on this journey with the one caveat being that they have to wear a rock costume so as to be discrete.  Isn’t one of them a head of state by this point?  Why would she need to be sneaky here!?  I’d like to SEE the dummy who tries to take a swing at a princess, and then see what he looks like after Twilight’s done with them!!  Hell, even if it’s FORBIDDEN for ponies to go (which isn’t made clear if that’s the case), it would be SUPER bad for Twilight specifically to go considering her presence would probably be enough to constitute an international crisis and a war between the ponies and dragons!  Hell, I’m surprised Luna and Celestia don’t seem to have a problem with this considering how easily Twilight bungled the LAST international escapade in Party Pooped and was only bailed out by a dance party!

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“I can be super stealthy.  Seriously!”     “Fine.  Just don’t bring your crown, and don’t give them your name if caught.  Wait, did we go over interrogation training when you were still my student?”

Anyway, Dragon Lord Torch has summoned all the dragons (not just Spike) so that he can announce his retirement and inform his citizens of a contest to see who will be their next leader.  Geez, no wonder they live in a dirt canyon.  HOW CAN THE GOVERNMENT FUNCTION WHEN LEADERSHIP IS DETERMINED BY AN OBSTACLE COURSE!?  Oh, and by the way?  The animators got PRETTY lazy here, what with there being only like eight dragons in any given shot (not in copy pasted silhouettes) and none of whom are bigger than two ponies stacked on top of each other.

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“Sure, the ponies may have large numbers, at least two kingdoms, and four Princesses, but so what!?  We’ve got fire breath!”     “They also have magic and weapons.”     “WHO THE FUCK SAID THAT!?  GET OUT OF MY KINGDOM YOU NEGATIVE NANCY!”

Alright, so what exactly does one need to do in order to become the next Dragon Lord?  They have to go into a volcano and retrieve a scepter that Torch throws inside.  Not much a challenge considering that dragons are immune to lava.  Lord Dragon Torch by the way is a TOTAL prick who talks big and yells at people, but doesn’t seem to have a brain cell to back it up.  Good thing this is just a cartoon and that we’ve never seen a supposed politician act like THAT before, am I right?  His daughter seems like an obvious choice, though she’s banned from joining the competition because of reasons which means she’ll probably sneak her way in and will be the next Dragon Lord by the end.  One dragon that’s DETERMINED not to win is Spike who’s forced summoning glowing thingy has finally gone away which means he can drag his fake rock that’s definitely NOT hiding two ponies back to Equestria and forget all this ever happened.  That is until the young dragons around him start to discuss their plans for world domination (or pony domination, but they’re essentially the same thing in this series) should they win the kingdom, including the red jerk from Dragon Quest who is apparently named Garble.  See, this is why you don’t establish governmental authority through a match of King of the Hill.  Because of this, Spike feels he must win the tournament if for no other reason than to protect Ponyville from an onslaught by the dragons.  Then again, he’s clearly got a pony bias which means he probably wouldn’t be the most effective leader of his people, but what are you gonna do.  Six of one, half a dozen of the other.

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“I’m gonna win this!  Just you wait!”     “The first part of the contest is about FLYING dumb ass.”     “SWIMMING IS ALMOST THE SAME THING!!”

Yeah… the baby dragon doesn’t really stand a chance here, so Rarity and Twilight should be spending less of their time following spike and giving inspirational speeches, and instead should be racing back to get the Royal Guard prepared and stationed on Equestria’s boarders.  Still, he manages to do one thing right which is to drag a dragon to shore that was knocked out mid-flight (the first part of the competition is getting to the island with the volcano in one piece).  Now in the context of winning this competition, you probably wouldn’t consider that to be a right move, but when the mysterious dragon in gold plated armor you saved from drowning turns out to be the Dragon Lord’s daughter (Ember) in disguise, well I’d consider that a fast track to at least a knight status when she wins the competition.

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“If you ponies try to interfere with our political system, we will torch your ass so fast your horns will spin!  …Unless you’re gonna help ME win.  That would be okay…”

We find out that apparently dragons don’t “do” friends which is why she’s suspicious about foreign agents trying to ensure someone they like gets ascended to the throne.  Well she’s a straight up liar then because I recall VERY CLEARLY in Dragon Quest that Garble had at least two sniveling cronies with him AND that all the dudes there were having plenty of bromantic bonding, so saying DRAGONS DON’T DO FRIENDS is her being completely dishonest.  That, or the writers have their heads so far up their asses that they don’t recall what happened THE LAST TIME Garble was in an episode, AND that they can’t bother to write a civilization other than pony ones as anything but a list of horribly contrived clichés to the point that it becomes somewhat imperialistic.  That was a HUGE problem in last season’s The Lost Treasure of Griffonstone, and it’s sadly repeated here.  Ponies know about FriendshipTM and no one else.  All other countries are on the brink of ruin or completely isolated.  It’s only through the power of these FriendshipTM missionaries that positive change can be made.  Dragons don’t do friendship, and apparently they don’t do diversity, architecture, communities, and scientific advancements; all things that ponies get to do (though the Dragon’s do at least have egos and warmongering).  The best aspect of this show is the rich and expanding world that has been set up with all sorts of fantasy creatures and untold mysteries, yet every time we branch out to another culture, it comes off as lazy and… whatever the fantasy world version of racism is.

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“TWILIGHT!  Put the book away!”     “Huh?  Why?”     “Spike is looking right at it.”     “I certainly am.”     “What?  Oh…”

Despite Ember’s wariness of this oddly helpful baby dragon, she agrees to work with him towards their mutual goal; much the same way Nobunaga and Ieyasu combined the strengths of their two clans to run roughshod over the warring states… by flying through the air and avoiding rocks.  I’m sure that’s how it went!

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Or maybe Goose and Maverick would be more apropos.

The two manage to make their way through the obstacles unscathed with Twilight and Rarity always on the side lines cheering them on, presumably teleporting their way up the mountain side.  One of the few dragons who manage to just barely snake their way through the onslaught is Garble which is quite depressing to think that he’s among the cream of the crop here.  Even Ember qualifications are in question considering that she doubles down on her FRIENDS AREN’T A DRAGON THING coda which is the impetus for her abandoning Spike before she gets too attached.  Spike is particularly heartbroken about this which I guess if fine considering he’s still a baby dragon, but what part of their fifteen minute relationship had any indication that she and him were gonna become besties?

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“But… we flew together!  Didn’t that MEAN anything to you!?”     “I need my space.”     “WAAA!!”

And then after that, we end up following Spike and the not so subtly hidden ponies as they traverse the final leg of the competition which seems to be a maze; Spike kvetching about Ember the entire time.  Fortunately that doesn’t seem to have impeded his progress as they just end up wandering their way to the end of it and see that the Dragon Scepter is within reach!  Too bad the Garble somehow managed to get there too (he probably followed Spike) and is about to chuck the little bastard off a cliff when someone comes in to save the day!

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“FRIENDSHIP HUG!!”

While Ember is apologizing to Spike for having to go off-screen to finish her character arc, Garble has discovered the two ponies and are menacing them in the most unconvincing way possible.  Seriously?  THESE two ponies are scared of this brat?  One of whom is a princess, and the other is an Element of Harmony.  Both of whom worked together to take down Tirek, Discord, and Nightmare Moon, but this dragon with an overbite is gonna be the one to do them in?

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“If only we could instantaneously transport ourselves somewhere else, or if one of us know how to fly, or if we hard sharp objects to stab him in the eye with, or if one of us had a spell that could freeze creatures for a period of time, or if…”

Ember ends up taking down Garbles while Spike goes off to grab the scepter, so maybe it was actually a clever ploy by them to make sure their guy gets control over the dragons.  Either way, the competition is over and Garbles will not use his power of the dragons to wage a failed war against the mighty Equestrian Empire.  Instead, Spike uses his powers to force him to give everyone a hug (presumably whether the recipient wants one or not) just to spite him.  Now that his one goal as Dragon Lord is complete, he passes the title on to another; one who ACTUALLY wanted it.

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“I’m already Spike the Brave and Glorious.  You can KEEP this shit!”

Admittedly, I did like this part here where he explains that he trusts her to do the right thing with the power he’s giving her and it’s yet another example of Spike being more than Twilight’s royal gopher.  He’s done quite a lot considering he’s still a kid, which can only mean good things for the future of Equestria and the dragons.  Imagine what he can do once he’s an adult!  Ember returns to her father to claim the kingdom for herself and he takes it surprisingly well considering how he had forbidden her from being a part of this competition in the first place.  Still, everyone else seems to be cool with it so, maybe things will work out okay.  And so the world is safe once again!  The future of the dragons are in capable hands, and the ponies now have a solid alley going forward!  Plus, twilight gets to have a new dragon friend to answer all her dragon questions, which I’m SURE won’t get awkward right away!

MLPS6E05-13
“Is it okay if I ask her-”     “I’m gonna stop you there Twilight.  If you’re not sure if it’s okay, you should probably not ask.”

This episode was alright, but considering the potential it had it was quite disappointing.  I’m confused as to why the writers here did so little with the Dragons, to the point that it looks like animation cutbacks.  Just recently in episodes like The Gift of the Maude Pie, we’ve seen numerous ponies, in big city landscapes with intricate designs and lavish details.  Here?  They’re in a dirt canyon and there’s like eight dragons.  Maybe dragons’ are harder to work with considering the show doesn’t have a pre-built template to work with, but that doesn’t excuse how little we got out a story that could have been far more interesting and have had some real consequences. Is it asking too much that a kid’s show have scope and legitimate stakes?  This could have been something along the lines of How to Train Your Dragon (or How to Train your Dragon 2 considering we’re going into the land of dragons) but instead it feels like a wasted opportunity.  Not only that, but the imperialism stuff I’ve been bringing up, while maybe a bit exaggerated, is starting to annoy me as we’ve now got at least two kingdoms that are portrayed in broad and unflattering terms compared to the ponies.  On it’s own, it’s fine with some decent jokes, a solid ending, and a new character who could become very important in the future, but in the grand scheme of things it’s just another example of this show dropping the ball when it comes to world building.  Maybe we’ll come back to this in the future and they’re figure out how to make a species outside of ponies not come off like walking, talking, clichés (they managed to do it with Equestria Girls) but they really need to figure this out before they take us to the Zebra country (you KNOW that’s gonna happen at some point).

3 thoughts on “Super Recaps: My Little Pony season 6 (Gauntlet of Fire)

  1. Short Version: Better than what I expected.

    Long Version:
    -Despite having had good Spike episodes in the past, I still feel some kind of trepidation going into this one. Out of all the characters in the show, he stands out for having one of the spottiest records, although I feel this has more to do with how when a Spike episode flops, it does so in a very stand-out way. Perhaps more so than any other character, it’s really up to the writer he gets saddled with to get the best/worst of him. The other reason I was a bit skeptical going in was because it’s written by Joanna Lewis and Kristine Songco, who wrote the rather forgettable “Hoofields and McColts” and the underwheling “Castle Sweet Castle”, although they did write “Rarity Investigates” (based on a story they worked with Megham McCarthy and M.A. Larson), which is regarded across the board as one of the best episodes of Season 5. So, kind of a mixed bag so far, overall. I was holding on to this personal belief that writers on the show tend to get better in seasons after they debut (I feel that’s been the case with the likes of Dave Polsky and Josh Haber, for example). In the end, while the episode is not the substantial improvement I would’ve hoped for, I can’t say I had a bad time while watching it.

    -Episodes like this keep highlighting that Spike really tends to work better when he has some other character he can bounce off, someone with whom he can build a solid repertoire. It was Starlight Glimmer a couple episodes ago, and now it’s Princess Ember. While she’s kinda flat and doesn’t have much in the way of individual development, the best we get is that she’s kind of in denial about appreciating Spike’s offerings of support(“tsundere”, as the kids say these days), it helps show off a side of Spike that, between this and The Crystalling, has been getting some much welcome attention. A lot of Spike episodes in the past show him in a vulnerable, insecure position, whereas episode like these show off a far more confident, self-reliant side to him. While he’s good at giving advice when it’s needed and helping others stay on track to a goal, I think this is the first time where, of his own accord, volunteers to take on a task as risky and high-stakes as basically saving Equestria from dragonkind. It’s hard to picture a Spike from previous seasons taking on something like that.

    -If the episode has one major issue sticking out is that it’s very easy to see how all the pieces of the story are going to come together in the end, more so than usual, particularly when it comes to the relationship between Spike and Ember. It’s no surprise that, upon being introduced, she’s gonna have some key role in Spike’s story that will lead to a success that will end in her becoming the true Dragon-lord (awesome title, BTW). It’s a similar problem to “Castle Sweet Castle”, but where that episode wastes an entire act’s worth of time with squabbling and going nowhere, this episode takes you along for a ride that’s pretty enjoyable. Not only is it nice to look at the dragons (Torch looks badass, no two ways about it), but the new locales we see are very pretty and make me wish we spent more time in dragon-land (I wouldn’t be surprised if they took some queues from the How To Train Your Dragon movies). I even enjoyed the caves that looked like video game obstacles (if you squint hard enough, you can pretend it’s an old-school Spyro game). However, it does feel like the episode spends a little too much time talking and not enough time showing off the titular gauntlet. I’m not sure if it’s a budget thing, but I was expecting a few more major set-pieces/big obstacles. As it is, the gauntlet doesn’t look that hard, especially when two ponies can just teleport(?) across it like it was nothing.

    -So, Garble is back from Season 2. While he wasn’t the best character, I feel that I liked him better in this episode than in “Dragon Quest”. For one thing, he’s the only one of the teenage dragons that return in a capacity such as this, and it makes a huge difference. Instead of a bunch of interchangeable bully characters, we now only have one. It definitely helps that Spike is no longer afraid of him (he’s more irritated than anything) and that Garble gets to be smacked around for a bit and eventually gets the comeuppance he never got in the past. (This is just a nitpick, but if Spike wasn’t the Dragon-lord by the end, why was Garble still doing the thing Spike told him to do?). Also, I know a few people who’ll be pleased to know they didn’t just bring him back so that he can be redeemed, though I personally don’t have a problem with things like that.

    -While light on jokes, when the episode tried to be funny, it generally got some really big giggles out of me (anytime Torch shouts at the dragons to do something, that one dragon that really liked to be hugged, Celestia and Luna’s reaction to Twilight’s plans for accompanying Spike, etc.)

    -Twilight and the royal sisters having a casual get-together at the castle? Neat.

    -Rarity’s bow. That is all.

    Like

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