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Thoughts on S3E12: Games Ponies Play

Note: As always this review is based on personal preference.

Tie-in

After “Just for Sidekicks” aired, I'd been rather curious about how much this episode would refer back to it; it's pretty much the only case in the show where two unrelated episodes are do tightly interwoven.    For the most part I think they handled it rather well. The two episodes stand perfectly well on their own, but if you've seen both you get a bit of a bonus because you know what's going on behind the scenes. The other nice thing is that Twilight's line about Spike doing a fine job with the pets actually has plenty of relevance in both episodes.  The significance in “Just for Sidekicks” is obvious, but in this episode it's a demonstration of Twilight's development. At the start she's clearly worried about what's happening, but after her experiences in the Crystal Empire, she's able to just trust Spike and not worry about it.

My only gripe is that the jokes are probably a bit funnier if you watch this episode before “Just for Sidekicks”, because it makes Spike's presence on the train at the very end that much more inexplicable and hilarious. The quality of the joke is boosted if you don't see it coming.  Similarly, “Just for Sidekicks” kind of spoils the end of this episode; we see in that episode that things can't have ended too badly for the cast, seeing as they're still upbeat when they get on the train.  Reversing the viewing order would help a lot as not only would it not spoil the end of this episode, but you also get the explanation of what Spike is doing under there after you see him rather than going into the episode knowing he's going to be there.

So while we're on the topic of issues...

There's only one major problem I can see with this episode, and that's the fact that the primary conflict in the episode (taking the wrong pony on the tour) gets increasingly contrived as the episode goes on.  It's a rather standard “zany sitcom” type of plot, which isn't necessarily a bad thing (Seinfeld thrives on those sorts of plots), but the problem is that the way it's used in this episode forces the characters to seem rather oblivious.  It's understandable at first; they're flustered and in a rush, so they forget to confirm her name.  They see she has the bag, and just run with it.  

The problem is that the longer the episode goes on, the less believable the situation becomes.  The interloper is obviously extremely surprised to get such a welcome, and she never at any point asks any questions about the games like you would expect an inspector to do.  Basically, she never plays the part, but the cast never realize that there's anything wrong; they aren't even a bit suspicious.  And on the other side, the interloper never finds it weird that she gets a five-pony welcome that gives her a tour of the Crystal Castle and gives her an audience with the princess.  Sure, she's not the brightest bulb, but you'd think at some point she might realize that there's a case of mistaken identity going on.  It's as if somebody who went to England for vacation got off the plane and immediately climbed into a limo and got taken to Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen.  

Basically, the cast spends the entire day with her, and manage to not mention the word “inspection”; they somehow miraculously phrase everything in a way that makes perfect sense to both parties and keep the misunderstanding going.  It works at first, but gets dragged out so long that it really stretches one's suspension of disbelief.  There are six ponies involved; you'd think at least one of them would have noticed something was off.  

Granted, there are mitigating factors.  The cast are basically scrambling and their nerves or shot, and Rainbow Dash's constant paranoia that they're being tested definitely distracts them from noticing that something weird might be going on. It doesn't fully fix the issue (you'd think at some point they'd start to be skeptical of RD's insistence that everything is a test), but it makes it a bit more palatable than it would have been otherwise.

Everything else

Outside of the whole plot relying on poor communication skills to function, this was a pretty solid episode, with quite a few nice little character moments.  Twilight's clearly learning how to deal with her stress, Rarity gets a few nice scenes to go out of her way to help with Cadance's hair, which is nice considering the rest of the season has sidelined her a bit.  What's really nice is that we finally get to see Cadance and Shining Armor in a more natural context; every other time they show up they're always dealing with some horrible threat or something.  We finally get to see what they're like when they aren't being brainwashed by changelings or fighting an evil unicorn.  Cadance is sort of settling into the role of running a kingdom, and it's quite obvious now that Twilight gets at least some of her stress issues from her.  It's nice to see her getting stuck with a more mundane form of pressure. Not to mention that she gets to indulge in some more normal behavior and deal with stuff like her hair and having a spa visit.  Same deal goes to Shining Armor, it's interesting to see him a coach rather than as a soldier, and he's the only one with the presence of mind to not get sucked into the stress of the games and avert the misunderstanding that plagues the rest of the cast.

Even the bit characters get some nice development. Harshwhinney has a pretty well-defined personality (harsh, but willing to listen to explanations and take extenuating circumstances into account) despite having minimal screentime. The other pony is even more well developed. It would have been easy to fill that role with a stereotype, but they go the extra mile and construct a real personality for her.  There are all sorts of nice touches to her personality, like the constant hints at claustrophobia, or the way she flirts with Shining Armor upon meeting him for the first time.  It makes her feel like a real person rather than a template inserted just to fill the role.

But the best character moment probably goes to Rainbow Dash.  After spending the entire episode basically causing the misunderstanding, upon realizing that she screwed up she immediately cops to it, explains the situation, and doesn't make any attempt to redirect the blame. She realizes she made a mistake and takes responsibility for it. It's a really great example of how mature she can be when she really has to.

Moving on from that, this episode is full of great slapstick/visual humor.  The claustrophobic tourist pony is a goldmine for this sort of thing, between stuff like causing a ruckus with the pot on her head or causing Rainbow Dash to splat on the spa window (which is probably my favorite gag in the episode).  There's also stuff like Cadance's goofy haircut, Pinkie “boing” distraction (obviously inspired by the Animaniacs) or the failed cheer on the train.  While I tend to prefer character-based humor, the more looney-tunes-esque feel of this episode actually works really well.  Even the little moments, like the big NOOOOO running gag have a certain craziness to them that makes them a lot more interesting than they would have been otherwise.  

In Summary

For the most part, the individual aspects of this episode are all solid; it's just dragged down a bit by the fact that the core on which all the well done elements hang is a rather contrived plot. It's certainly not a bad episode; far from it. It's just that it would have been a lot stronger than it already is if the primary plot had gotten level of attention that the details did.  And if they had shown it before “Just for Sidekicks” rather than after.  It isn't the best or worst of the season, but it definitely has more merits than problems.
Here it is.
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:iconsoerixx:
Soerixx Featured By Owner Feb 18, 2013
I personally love friendship interaction between Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy. In this case : the "Bump-cha!" brohoof. I'd really like to see more of those in season 4.
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:iconjakejonroberts:
JakeJonRoberts Featured By Owner Feb 14, 2013
I had the same issues with this episode (and a lot of episodes this season). The characterization is fine, but it gets bogged down by tired, boring plots.

Can't there just be an episode where the mane 6 are just...doing shit? I don't know, maybe at a movie or something, or going bowling. I would just give them a tabula rosa of a setup and have them work of of it naturally. The writers should let the characters move the story instead of the "sitcom" plot.
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:iconjapaneseteeth:
JapaneseTeeth Featured By Owner Feb 15, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Ditto; most of my favorite episodes are ones where most of the plots are based off of the characters' interactions triggering the conflict. "Look Before You Sleep", "Sisterhooves Social", etc.
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:iconsandperv:
SandPerv Featured By Owner Feb 11, 2013  Hobbyist
even i had to admit i like Pinkies NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! and plus SA seems to attract mares like flies to a bugzapper and hes married,but all in all it is nice to see the couple on a normal day and not being attacked by something evil and sinister,but it was odd to see Shining in a coach role rather than being a solider,but it does show off more of those captain skills and plus this ep gave Rarity more screen time since well S3 has been keeping her on the bench.....while the whole 'wrong person' has been done before it is still amusing to see.
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:iconandrewk:
andrewk Featured By Owner Feb 11, 2013
Her fan nickname is Chickadee. ...would claustrophobic people really do well on a train? She seemed fine when she first got off on the Crystal Empire station.
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:icontod309:
tod309 Featured By Owner Feb 11, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
One thing I like about this episode is that we get to possibly see some of Rainbow Dash's family, like that rainbow maned stallion.
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:iconnolimit5:
NoLimit5 Featured By Owner Feb 10, 2013
I didn't care for the episode, because the jokes were obvious and contrived. There weren't any real stand out moments in this.
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:iconblindmenz:
Blindmenz Featured By Owner Feb 10, 2013
aside from the just for sidekick references I felt this episode was cliched and unrememorable. It's unfortunate but I feel like the quality of the episodes are going downhill since "Keep calm and Flutter on" (cliche stories, characters getting out of character, the episodes themselves just not as captivating or entertaining as they use to be) I'm kinda hoping Alicorn Twilight fixes this problem.
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:iconseraphem7:
Seraphem7 Featured By Owner Feb 10, 2013
"Since Keep Calm and Flutter on" You mean, the last whole TWO episodes? Seriously? Every season has has runs of not so great episodes. plus, one of these was produced BEFORE KCAFO and aired out of order. Production wise. This is the next episode after that. So "Declining in quality since then" is a gross overstatement.
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:iconblindmenz:
Blindmenz Featured By Owner Feb 11, 2013
each have their own opinions. I stick by my statement
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