"A Friend in Deed"
An Overthought Review of MLP:FIM Season 2, Episode 18.
Note: As usual, this is all subjective.
0:00-1:11: Somewhere on Youtube is a video of this scene with "Eye of the Tiger" playing in the background.
Needless to say, Pinkie has an odd morning routine. Not that this is surprising at all. There's a nice little switch-up here when they reveal that Pinkie's doing this to entertain the Cake twins rather than just for the heck of it (not that that would be surprising either). That doesn't necessarily preclude the idea that this is Pinkie's usual routine, though. She seems to be practicing her sort of "amusing all the ponies" routine or something.
I'm really not entirely sure what to make of this scene. On one hand, it's definitely hilarious. It's a lot of fun to watch, there's no denying that. The mere image of Pinkie wearing 80's-esque workout gear is funny on it's own, and slapstick elements are great. On the other hand, this scene doesn't really serve much of a purpose in this episode; nothing from this scene comes up later. To a degree it does sort of establish Pinkie's "I want to make everypony happy!" sort of mission statement, but the next scene is also dedicated to that, and establishes that in much greater detail. I'm not sure what the purpose of this scene is other than to be funny. Which it most definitely is, but it's also kinda redundant with the scenes that come after it.
1:11-1:46: Title Sequence
1:46-6:19: Everybody Loves Pinkie
Okay, the presence of a talking cow raises all sorts of questions about inter-species relations, but I'm just going to assume that we're not supposed to think very hard about it and move on from that. There are basically two points for this scene. The first is to establish Pinkie's popularity around the town and her whole "I'm friends with everypony" thing. And it does that well, almost too well. Stuff like Pinkie remembering everypony's birthday works pretty well; she works at a bakery and she loves throwing parties, so it makes perfect sense that she'd remember stuff like that. It gives her an excuse to throw a party, after all.
Then we get to the song. I'm pretty sure that just about everybody has been waiting for this song to show up ever since it got leaked on Youtube. And rightly so, because it's an awesome song that sums up Pinkie's modus operandi in a horrifically catchy way. Her goal in life is simple: make everyone around her happy. The song also establishes exactly why she's so dead set on getting on Cranky's good side during the rest of the episode: she basically considers it her purpose in life to do so. And we've seen how things can go south when a pony fails at their life's purpose. Not to mention that the animation during the song is amazing; the animators are really going above and beyond to make it look cool. They do all sorts of neat stuff during the sequence.
While the song is pretty awesome and catchy, it isn't without its problems. The first (minor) one is that it's a bit long. Combine that with the fact that it renders the opening scene of the episode rather redundant, and you'd think that they would have cut something out. As it is, the first 5 minutes of the episode is basically dedicated to informing us that Pinkie likes making ponies happy. That aspect of her personality is certainly necessary for the episode to function, but dedicating a quarter of the time available to it just seems like overkill.
This leads into the second problem, which is that I get the feeling that the episode is trying a bit too hard to "sell" Pinkie's popularity with the town. Don't get me wrong, I understand that it's important to establish the idea that she's on good terms with everypony in the town so that her obsession with befriending Cranky is justified, but the musical number is so spectacularly over the top that it comes across less like "everyone in town likes Pinkie and is on good terms with her" to "Pinkie is the most awesomest pony in town lets hold a parade for her!" The problem is basically that there's no way Pinkie is actually as popular as this scene makes her out to be.
The musical number is rather obviously patterned after the big ensemble numbers like Winter Wrap Up and At The Gala, but the fact that this one is focused primarily on Pinkie casts it in a different light. It certainly achieves its purpose: the reason Pinkie wasn't as annoying as she could have been was because this scene established how important it is to her that she's able to make ponies happy. It's almost a slightly lighter version of how she felt in "Party of One". It just goes a bit too far in trying to establish her popularity, making it seem a bit too much like they're trying to convince us that yes, the ponies really do like her.
The other purpose of this scene is to introduce Matilda. This also presents a problem. There's nothing wrong with the character herself, she's fine. The problem is the way she's utilized in the episode. There are basically two reasons that she could be here. The actual reason is to set up her reunion with Cranky at the end of the episode. The other is to simply introduce the viewers to the concept of donkeys living in Ponyville, basically a way to say "yes, donkeys totally live here" so it doesn't seem odd when Cranky moves into town because hey, there's already a donkey living here, so of course the ponies aren't going to find it strange. Both of these cases run into the same issue: she feels rather shoehorned in because she's only present due to plot expediencies.
We've never seen her in town before, and there was never any indication that a donkey was around. It just seems weird that we're sort of being told "oh hey, she's actually been around for years". The other thing is that you just know that she's going to play an important part in the episode because the writers wouldn't introduce another donkey character at random. Despite that, she really doesn't get much development or anything, she's just sort of there. It kinda makes me wish that they'd have shortened the song a bit to give her a little more development. As is, she feels more like a plot device than a character, which is unfortunate given that she's sort of important to the later plot.
But despite its flaws, this scene is still a lot of fun to watch, so it's not a total loss. There are just a few issues with the focus.
6:19-8:08: Heeeeeeeere's Cranky!
And we finally get introduced to Cranky, and I must say that I really like the way he's handled. When we first got the episode summary I was afraid that we was just going to be a jerk, but he most definitely isn't. He's a bit of a grouch, but he's not aggressively grouchy; he only reacts to people to provoke him. Such as Pinkie Pie. Despite his perpetual grumpiness, he's still quite relocatable because he reacts to Pinkie's antics in the way that I think most of us would react in real life.
This scene is effective in getting us on Cranky's "side" so to speak. He's cranky, but understandably so; Pinkie is overbearing enough in her initial introduction that it's rather understandable that Cranky might want to avoid her. Pretty much every one of Pinkie's initial interactions with him is basically designed to start them off on a bad foot. She grabs onto him, starts singing his name when he clearly doesn't like it, basically does stuff that annoys him. As such, when Pinkie starts wondering about why he won't be her friend, the viewer already knows. At the same time Pinkie isn't so over the top (yet) that we can't sympathize with her either. Unfortunately that second trend doesn't last as long, but I'll get to that later.
Then we get a little glimpse into Pinkie's mind, which is apparently made out of felt. I really really like this sequence. The felt animation just looks really cool, and it's a really inventive way to show Pinkie's thoughts compared to just going with a thought bubble or something. It gives some real variety to the episode. It's also cool to see into Pinkie's head a little bit. There are some good jokes here about how even she realizes that her checklist is a bit weird (she recognizes that she bursts into song randomly). Of course, the fact that she's self aware comes back to bite her a bit later. But nonetheless, this sequence, however brief, is really really cool. Not to mention that it's a nice touch at the very end when Pinkie yanks out the felt checkmark.
8:08-12:50: Personal Space Issues
Okay, I love how Cranky is such a snarker. It makes him a lot more interesting than if he was just a grouch. It's also good that he's actually relatively patient with Pinkie, and it isn't until that she really starts crossing the line that he snaps at her. He goes through the trouble of patiently explaining why he doesn't want her following him around, which puts the sort of "blame" for the issues on Pinkie. He asks her (relatively) nicely to leave him alone, and she ignores him. At that point he's kinda justified in his annoyance.
There are two lines that Pinkie crosses in this episode. The first line gets crossed when she climbs into his wagon and starts mucking around with his belongs. Essentially she crosses the line from mere annoyance to being an unintentional jerk. Before that point, she wasn't really doing anything wrong to Cranky; their personalities just didn't mesh. At this point, I think it's fair to say that Pinkie is going a bit too far in invading his privacy. Story-wise, this isn't necessarily a bad thing; the entire episode is basically about Pinkie not really knowing what to do in this situation, and it's well within her character to not realize how much she's bothering Cranky by messing with his things.
At this point in the scene, Pinkie is still solidly in the "trying to be nice, but ending up as annoying instead" category. And at its current degree, it's forgivable. Knowing what we know about Pinkie, it makes sense that she'd act that way. Same goes for her "Welcome Wagon". It's totally within her character to have something like that specifically for that purpose, as well as to be absentminded enough to put the batter and confetti in the wrong places. And for what it's worth, the entire idea that she has a device (and a hat) just for that purpose is hilarious, and I laughed my head off when she said she put the batter in the confetti cannon by mistake. Of course, that didn't stop me from cringing when she knocked Cranky's hair off.
Which brings us to the second line that Pinkie crosses here, which is a lot more problematic. I can totally get the "Pinkie mistakes the toupee for a spider and stomps it". That's unfortunate, but again, within her character. Then she climbs the flagpole and informs the entire town of Cranky's baldness, and at that point my suspension of disbelief for Pinkie's obliviousness gets stretched to the breaking point. It might just be me, but I cannot buy that Pinkie is that oblivious. I can believe that she can't read his emotions well, but I can't believe that she doesn't recognize at all how much she's embarrassing him. It's so extreme that I'd call it out of character for her. She's not the brightest or most observant pony, but she's always been at least decent at reading other ponies' emotions. But here she's almost sociopathic in her utter ignorance of Cranky's feelings.
What makes it even more gratuitous is the way that the opening scenes oversell Pinkie's popularity; the first five minutes of the episodes boil down to "everyone loves Pinkie because she knows how to make everyone smile". Then in this scene, she demonstrates that she's horribly incapable of doing that. And it's not just a personality clash either; Cranky is really clear about what he wants and Pinkie doesn't pick up on it. Her communication skills are so lousy that it's kinda hard to believe that she really can make all the other ponies in town so happy.
I mean, there had to have been some point where some pony in the town genuinely needed their space and had to get Pinkie to leave them alone. If Pinkie acted like this in every case, bothering ponies when they want to be left alone, she wouldn't be that popular. Now, I get that Cranky is still a bit unique; she's trying to ingratiate herself with a new arrival rather than interacting with someone she knows. That's a point in her favor. But still, she should be more capable of reading emotions than she demonstrates here.
Granted, it's not as bad as it could be. She does register that he's angry with her after the fact (although she has no idea why), and she does try to make it up to him by taking him to the spa and getting him a new wig. It keeps Pinkie from coming across as too horrible of a jerk (at this point, at least) but it doesn't excuse the fact that she's unnaturally dense to the point of being out of character. It wouldn't be too horrible if it stopped there, but unfortunately Pinkie still doesn't get the hint.
Despite that, there's a lot of good stuff in this scene. As cringe-worthy as Pinkie's flagpole announcement was, the fact that she literally just walks up the side of it and just happens to have a megaphone on her is, in and of itself, hilarious. And it's still funny when Cranky just goes and puts a clump of grass on his head. The spa sequence is also comedic gold, because Cranky makes a great straight man; he just looks so ridiculous and deadpan that it's funny, and when he comes out looking exactly the same as when he went in I couldn't help but laugh. Same goes for the Elvis-esque wig. The scene isn't bad by any stretch of the imagination, it's just that Pinkie's insensitivity just rubs me the wrong way.
12:50-14:50: Oh CRAP.
This is another one of those "line crossing" moments from Pinkie Pie. It's fairly obvious from previous scenes that Cranky does not like it when Pinkie messes around with his stuff. So naturally, Pinkie decides to....come into his house and mess with his stuff, ultimately resulting in the destruction of something that was obviously very important to him. And again, I just can't buy that Pinkie didn't realize that she was crossing a line. Cranky made it clear that she wasn't supposed to touch his stuff, and even Pinkie should be able to recognize that she shouldn't do that.
Now, to her credit, the actual destruction of the book wasn't directly her fault; it was the result of a faulty floorboard. It doesn't absolve Pinkie of all responsibility (she shouldn't have been in there in the first place), but at the same time it keeps her out of the territory of being a terrible pony. It legitimately was a mistake. Of course, Cranky's reaction is equally understandable, which is important because he really needs to be sympathetic for the episode to work. And he definitely is in this scene; I think almost everyone can think of a time where something they really value gets damaged or destroyed.
And again, despite the fact that Pinkie is unnaturally oblivious throughout, there are a lot of hilarious things here; Derpy showing up inside the snowglobe, Cranky's toupee popping off of his head when he jumps, Cranky's constant sarcasm and Pinkie's inability to get it (that's within her character), and her terrible "four-evers" pun. For the most part the scene works rather well, all things considered.
14:50-15:29: So close...
Okay, this is simultaneously the best and worst scene in the episode. It's the best scene in that it shows that the other ponies are also responding like you'd expect to Pinkie's actions, and giving her the relevant advice. It shows that Cranky isn't exactly alone in his frustration; he's not a unique specimen in the sense that he's the only person who reacts that way to Pinkie. Even though other characters can, to a degree, sympathize with him. The show isn't trying to excuse Pinkie's behavior, which is awesome. Pinkie even seems to realize that she's overstepped her boundaries a bit.
What makes this the worst scene is that despite admitting that she needs to take a step back, Pinkie completely and utterly fails to recognize that it's her overbearing obsession with Cranky that's causing the problem at hand. It's incredibly frustrating to see her apparently have an epiphany of how to deal with the situation only to intentionally discard. On it's own, the scene isn't too bad, but the fact that it's here makes the rest of the episode almost painful, because if anything, Pinkie just gets worse. Pinkie explicitly says that she's going to lay off of Cranky, and then promptly renegs on it and proceeds to spend the rest of the episode going to even greater lengths to harass him. It's the "Pinkie is so oblivious that it's out of character" problem magnified even further.
15:29-21:28: For goodness' sake, Pinkie, take the hint!
Ugh, this scene is basically entirely comprised of Pinkie just. Not. Getting. It. And unlike the previous scene where her ignorance is unintentional, in this one it's incredibly blatant. Pinkie goes so far overboard that it's almost impossible to believe that she's really that dense. It's quite reminiscent of the beginning of "Griffon the Brush Off", except that here Cranky has good reason to stay away from Pinkie, and Pinkie has been informed that the right thing to do in this situation is to leave him alone. I mean, she goes to the point of attempting to break into his house.
Then we finally get to the resolution: Cranky mentions that the book was all that he had to remember "her" by, and Pinkie connects the dots, goes off an hauls Matilda over for a touching reunion. I have a couple of issues with the resolution here. The first one, that I already mentioned, is that it's fairly obvious that Matilda exists only to resolve this plot point. She doesn't really have any development otherwise, which makes it rather gratuitous.
A secondary problem is that this resolution requires a staggering coincidence; it basically goes "Oh by the way the person Cranky was looking for all those years just happened to be living in the town where you settled". The fact that she's never appeared before in the show and had no implied to Cranky other than also being a donkey just make the coincidence stand out more. The fact that Pinkie makes the connection is also a bit of a stretch. The show does engage of some retroactive foreshadowing, but other than the face she makes when she sees Cranky's book, there's no indication of a connection here. The whole "Oh, I knew about Matilda because she had the same book" thing doesn't really help much if the audience was totally unaware of it. Yeah, Pinkie might have logically known about it, but the audience didn't, so it comes across as a "you just pulled that out of nowhere" kind of twist. Or at least it would have if it weren't obvious that the two donkeys were going to end up together.
The third problem is that Pinkie never really does learn the lesson that she claims she does. The moral itself is all good. I'm a guy who really needs time to myself, so the fact that the show didn't demonize that sort of "I don't want to be surrounded by people 24/7" attitude is awesome. It's totally true that some people really like their privacy and that's okay. Thing is, Pinkie never really does that. She claims that she learned that she needs to give Cranky his space, but never actually gives Cranky his space. She spends the entire episode doing exactly the opposite, and it ends up working. She manages to get along with him purely by pursuing her objective. Even as she's writing the letter, she interrupts Cranky and Matilda as they're having a moment. The lesson itself is great, but it doesn't seem like Pinkie actually learned it or has any intention of changing.
Though, like the rest of this episode, this scene did have some fun bits. A lot of the sight gags during the chase were great on their own, it's just that in the larger context of the episode they only highlighted how misguided Pinkie was. A good example of this is when Pinkie "adds up" the clues. The fact that she inexplicably has six legs for a few seconds is funny, but it just draws attention to how the things don't really add up that well unless you already knew what Pinkie knew.
The only other thing to say about the ending is that I am kinda glad that Cranky got a happy ending; the episode basically put him through the ringer, so it was nice to see him come out on top, even if it came about in a rather contrived manner.
I'm really not sure what to make of this episode. First off, whether it's any good basically comes down to how much you can tolerate Pinkie Pie. If you don't care for her brand of Looney Tunes-ish gag humor, there really isn't much going in this episode's favor. I personally thought that a lot of the gags were pretty funny on their own, moreso than they usually are. I don't know why, but I thought that they were just higher quality this episode than they usually are. Of course, that's part of why I'm so conflicted about this episode; while the gags are good when taken on their own merits, in the larger context of the episode they just show how absurdly oblivious Pinkie is.
So what it comes down to is that I'm not really sure how to rate this episode's quality. Every episode has good and bad points, but what's annoying here is how far apart they are; the good bits (the song plus animation, the felt scene, Cranky's characterization) are all really good, and the issues (Pinkie being oblivious to the point of being out of character, the ending being utterly contrived, Pinkie not really appearing to grasp the moral) are really hard to overlook (for me at least). It's like any given scene whiplashes between "Yeah this is awesome!" and "Oh, that's not good...". As a result, while the actual scenes are almost all either really good or really problematic, the episode averages out at "Eh, it's okay".
Again, it really comes down to how you respond to Pinkie. If you aren't bothered by her obliviousness, this is a pretty good episode. I don't think it's quite as weak as "Mysterious Mare-Do-Well" was; this has more points going in it's favor to cancel out the issues a bit. Doesn't make the issues go away, but I think there's more worth seeing in this episode than there was in that one. At the very least it's fun to watch in spite of its problems.
- We finally get the "Smile Smile Smile" song, with an awesome animated sequence to go with it.
- Cranky's character is handled really well. He's awesome.
- The felt-animated sequence is awesome.
- On the whole, I liked Pinkie's little side gags throughout, although that's going to differ by person.
- The opening scene and song are somewhat redundant and take up too much of the episode
- Pinkie's inability to realize that she's bothering Cranky is so exaggerated that the other aspects of her personality get lost in it. She's practically out of Character.
- The ending is very much contrived, and as a result Matilda seems like something of an afterthought; she's only around at all because has to be for the plot to work.