You will never have the amazing, show-stopping ability (Magic Duel)

Because the nineteenth-century Chinese shopkeeper running
the Store of Mysteries wasn’t enough of a stereotype, let’s
give him some kung-fu action grip, too. Sigh.

It’s December 1, 2012. The top song, as it will be for most of the month, is “Diamonds” by Rihanna, and the top movie is still Twilight. In the news, BP is suspended from bidding on U.S. government contracts as part of its woefully inadequate punishment for causing the Deepwater Horizon disaster; thousands protest Egyptian President Muhammed Morsi’s assumption of sweeping powers last week; and Time announces the candidates for 2012 Person of the Year, including the Higgs boson. For some reason, their inability to distinguish between subatomic particles and people does not completely discredit them as arbiters of the worthiness of persons.

We ended last season on a bittersweet note. The defeat of the changelings was certainly a good thing for our characters, and the solid two-parter built around that defeat a good thing for the show, but the inherently paranoid nature of an “evil shapeshifter infiltrator” plot had a subtle lasting impact, helping to legitimize paranoid readings of the show. Paranoia, of course, is characterized by overactive pattern recognition—it is often characterized as “seeing patterns where none exist,” but that’s absurd. To exist, something must be a material entity, but patterns are not material entities; they are relationships between those entities, which can be separated from the entities and expressed symbolically. For example, there is the pattern that objects fall when you drop them, which can be expressed with a mathematical formula relating masses and forces and accelerations, or with the simple word “gravity.” The equation for gravitational attraction is the pattern, and the equation is also a statement, constructed of symbols; patterns, in other words, are constructs. They are not entities that exist in nature, but tools we create in order to aid us in understanding nature. (Which is not to say that, for example, the laws of physics aren’t true. Being a construct and being true aren’t mutually exclusive—quite the opposite! To be a true statement, something must first be a statement, and all statements are constructs.)

All of which is a complex way of saying that paranoia is not “seeing patterns that aren’t there,” but rather “imposing patterns where they don’t belong.” Now of course “where they don’t belong” is a subjective judgment, and thus where the line is between a paranoid reading and innocent speculation is equally subjective. Ultimately, paranoid readings by fans and critics are mostly harmless, since their power to influence the show is limited.

Paranoid readings become somewhat more problematic, however, when they begin to influence creators, especially when those paranoid readings become attempts at unifying theories. The general result of treating a unifying theory as a formula is for works to become, well, formulaic. Which brings us, of course, to the monomyth, or as I like to call it, The Paranoid Reading That Ate Hollywood.

To briefly summarize, the monomyth was a theory proposed by the folklorist Joseph Campbell and described in detail in his The Hero with a Thousand Faces, that there was a single unifying story that crossed cultures, in which a hero is called to adventure, sets out into the world, and then returns home having mastered that world. Of course if one interprets the structure as vaguely and metaphorically as possible, then it is possible to more or less fit nearly all stories into it—but at that point, one is saying that most stories start by introducing a status quo, then have some kind of conflict, and end by restoring the status quo or establishing a new one. (Even then, there are exceptions, such as Ernest Hemingway’s famous attempt to write the shortest story possible: “For sale: One pair baby shoes. Never worn.”) In other words, Campbell’s discovery ultimately amounts to the observation that if you define a category vaguely enough, it will hold a lot of things.

Where the trouble starts is that Campbell also defined a much more complex and detailed formula for the monomyth, dividing the three stages into a multitude of substages and significant events, then using a handful of cherry-picked examples to show how the structure applies to many different traditional stories from different cultures. Which, it is worth noting, is hardly unique to Campbell and not inherently problematic. There are common elements and structures that recur in many stories, as witness the popular website TVTropes or its professional equivalent (and predecessor by a number of decades), the Stith-Thompson Index of folktale types and elements.

Where Campbell becomes problematic is in his insistence that the monomyth is universal, because it signifies a universal experience of adolescence. Which is nonsense to begin with—there is no such thing as a universal signifier—but also carries the danger of converting his attempt at a description of how stories work into a prescription. That is, his attempt to convince the analyzers of stories that there is only one story that can be told could instead convince the tellers of stories that there is only one story that should be told.

Which brings us to the second villain of our piece, George Lucas. Lucas made a little movie you may have heard of, Star Wars, and in so doing essentially invented the big summer Hollywood blockbuster as we know it. He has stated that he deliberately followed the monomyth as a recipe, and he made a great deal of money doing so, with the consequence that Hollywood learned the monomyth as well, and fixated on it as The One True Way to Tell Stories Make Money.

Which is a problem if you like variety in your stories, if you like them to be non-formulaic. The power of the monomyth within film and television is now such that anything which resembles the monomyth gets pulled gravitationally into it. Just as shows like Lost and The X-Files have trained us to instinctively engage in paranoid readings, series like Harry Potter and Buffy the Vampire Slayer have trained us to instinctively expect the story beats of the monomythic formula.

One of the dangers of the dominance of the monomyth is the excessive focus on adolescence. If every story is the story of adolescence, then adolescence is the only story, and reaching adulthood becomes the end, rather than the beginning, of one’s life story. The epilogue to Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows, for instance, is disappointing largely because it implies that nothing has happened in the decades since the end of the characters’ adolescent adventures, since all of them have precisely the lives one would have expected based on who they were and what they were doing at the end of their adolescence—that for them, growing up meant that all stories are ended forever. The ending of Buffy, while rather more satisfying, carries largely the same implication: after three seasons of trying to escape the cycle of once-a-season monomyths, Buffy finally succeeds by destroying the premise of the series. She can go anywhere and do anything, has total freedom to experience any kind of story she wants—and at that precise moment, the series ends, because the monomyth tells us that adults don’t have stories worth telling, unless those stories can serve as metaphors for adolescence.

And so when Friendship Is Magic ends a season with both a strong encouragement toward paranoid readings and an extended, blatant Star Wars reference, the implication is strong that the monomyth is coming, especially since Friendship Is Magic actually is about the process of maturation and socializing, which is a large part of adolescence and therefore the monomyth structure. The only thing surprising about the presence of monomythic elements in “Magic Duel” (written by M.A. Larson and directed by Jayson Thiessen) is thus that it manages to turn away from them in the end.

That there are Jungian elements in play in this episode is fairly obvious. Trixie is not only Twilight’s foil but her Shadow, the image of that part of Twilight which she works to overcome–in her case, her initial antisocial focus on developing her magic over relating to others. That in the end Twilight must save Trixie, rather than destroy her, confirms her status as a reflection of Twilight’s own darkness. The specifically Campbellian elements, however, are also present. For instance, that Trixie’s power source is the Alicorn Amulet makes her equally a shadow of Twilight’s primary mother-figure, the alicorn Princess Celestia. She is thus the Dark Mother, and Twilight’s final making of peace with her is the Atonement with the Mother (fittingly for this show, both are gender-swapped from the standard-issue Hero’s Journey). Twilight initially Refuses the Call by trying to stay in Ponyville when Trixie tries to drive her out, and is punished by harm befalling her loved ones (compare Luke Skywalker’s initial refusal to be trained by Kenobi, immediately followed by stormtroopers killing his aunt and uncle). She encounters a good mother-figure/mentor in Zecora, acquires the Gifts of the Goddess, and prepares to face off with the Dark Mother once more so that she can return home. And just to make clear that this is not simply paranoid reading on the viewer’s part, Zecora tells Twilight she “must unlearn what you have learned” and has her levitating objects while standing on her head, at which point Twilight is interrupted by a message telling her she needs to help her friends–all clear references to Yoda’s training of Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back.

At the same time, a degree of departure from standard formulae is already apparent, most notably in the titular magic duels. Typically, magic duels in fiction tend to take one of two forms. Often (as in Star Wars and Harry Potter) they strongly resemble non-magical duels such as fencing, Old West-style gun duels, or even street brawls (as in Buffy). Alternatively, they also frequently take the form of the shapeshifting contest, the most familiar examples of which are probably the competition between Merlin and Mim in The Sword and the Stone and the one between Dream and the demon Choronzon in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, but mythological and folkloric examples (especially if one includes the non-magical variant in which the shapes are indicated by words or gestures) abound. Equestrian magic duels, however, work very differently: rather than assuming competing forms or trying to destroy one another, Trixie and Twilight instead each cast spells which the other tries to dispel or undo, with Twilight losing the first duel when she is unable to undo the effects of Trixie’s age spell.

This departure is then compounded by Twilight’s trickery in the second duel. Her apparent Gift of the Goddess, the amulet given to her by Zecora, is a fake. She has learned no useful magic from Zecora’s tutelage, and her apparent Apatheosis into a massively powerful spell-caster is a trap to get Trixie to try to swap amulets. In other words, the episode that opens with Trixie defeating Twilight at her specialty, spell-casting, ends with Twilight defeating Trixie at her speciality, stage magic. Through all this, it is ultimately Trixie, not Twilight, who grows; this was never the story of Twilight’s maturation at all–and even Trixie has not “grown up” in a singular leap, but taken a single step toward greater maturity and socialization.

Given the immense gravity of the monomyth in the modern culture of television, coming this close to it and then veering away is quite an achievement, and the result is a leading contender for strongest episode of the third season (which, interestingly, tends to shine when it puts characters up against their Shadow archetypes). But there is a price, unfortunately; the series did not quite attain escape velocity, and as such must sooner or later come crashing back down into the monomyth. The monomyth’s endgame was not averted in this episode, only delayed, and the result will be the show’s greatest crisis since the departure of Lauren Faust, and the deepest rift within the fandom to date.

The Apatheosis of Twilight Sparkle is coming.

Next week: I’m at a con, so guest post! This time, another good one by the ever-reliable Spoilers Below.

MLP Liveblog Chat Thingy: “Filli Vanilli”

How to participate in the liveblog chat:

Option 1: Whenever you watch the episode, comment on this post as you watch with whatever responses you feel like posting!

Option 2: Go to http://webchat.freenode.net/. Enter a nickname, then for the Channels field enter ##rabbitcube, and finally fill in the Captcha and hit Connect! We’ll be watching the episode and commenting there starting at just before 2:00 p.m. EST. After the chat, I will update this post with a log of the conversation.

Chatlog below the cut!

[13:54] <AlicornPriest> So, what are people expecting of this ep?
[13:54] <totient> ty
[13:55] <Frac> Holy crap, almost forgot about this
[13:55] <Froborr> Well, lip synching, obviously.
[13:55] <Psirus> Juvenile ponies and vanilla-flavored foodstuffs.
[13:56] <Froborr> I read the episode description, so… Fluttershy-centric?
[13:56] <Frac> Quite
[13:57] <AlicornPriest> I haven’t, so I’m just hoping Milli Vanilli doesn’t actually show up. >_>
[13:57] <AlicornPriest> Whoever that is.
[13:58] <Frac> I’m assuming we all just start the video right as the clock hits 2?
[13:59] <Psirus> I was assuming an in-chat countdown.
[13:59] <Froborr> Yep.
[13:59] <Froborr> 1 minutes by my count.
[13:59] <Froborr> ….1 minute
[13:59] <Froborr> Blarg, sleep deprivation make brain go foom
[13:59] <AlicornPriest> All right, T-10.
[14:00] <Froborr> go
[14:00] <Frac> I’ve been meaning to join you guys, but I’m either out of the house, occupied, or I just plain forget
[14:00] <AlicornPriest> Here we go!
[14:00] <AlicornPriest> Is that a jackalope? 😀
[14:00] <Froborr> JACKELOPE
[14:00] <Frac> Ingram has been a god this season
[14:00] <Froborr> That’s just awesome
[14:00] <AlicornPriest> I feel like I’m in a disney movie. 😛
[14:00] <Frac> Seconding that
[14:00] <Froborr> The animation in musical numbers has been amazing this season too
[14:01] <Psirus> No Fluttershy! You’re making all those animals incapable of gathering their own food in the wild now!
[14:01] <totient> …and we aren’t even past the opening credits yet
[14:01] <Froborr> Yeah, was that the first musical number in the cold open?
[14:01] <Froborr> I think it was.
[14:01] <AlicornPriest> Besides MMC, obviously.
[14:01] <AlicornPriest> …Oh, you meant this season. nm
[14:01] <Froborr> Oh, right, forgot that.
[14:01] <Frac> Didn’t Pinkie Pride start out that way?
[14:02] <Froborr> No, I meant ever, and I forgot a bunch apparently.
[14:02] <AlicornPriest> Was that Twilight’s dad?
[14:02] <Psirus> Big Mac is a singer!?
[14:02] <Frac> Hell yeah!
[14:02] <Froborr> In a barbershop quartet? I could see that.
[14:03] <AlicornPriest> Pinkie? wat r u doin? Pinkie, stahp.
[14:03] <Froborr> “Ah, but I’m so good at it!”
[14:03] <Psirus> “I have stage fright.” “Uh, yeah. Ah could’a told ya that, sugarcube.”
[14:04] <Frac> News at 11
[14:04] <AlicornPriest> Yes, Rarity being totally cool about FS not singing!
[14:04] <AlicornPriest> :O
[14:04] <AlicornPriest> :OOO
[14:04] <Frac> Hey, you can’t force Flutters out of her shell
[14:04] <Froborr> BIG MAC SINGING
[14:04] <Frac> YES
[14:04] <Frac> IT’S GLORIOUS
[14:04] <Psirus> I approve.
[14:05] <Frac> And once again, I can’t gauge how Rarity crazed Spike is
[14:05] <Froborr> *sigh* Die in a fire Spike.
[14:05] <totient> yay foreshadowing
[14:05] <AlicornPriest> If the lady singer gets hurt or something, I swear…
[14:06] <totient> and in 3… 2… 1…
[14:06] <Froborr> No, BIG MAC is hurt.
[14:06] <Frac> And here we go
[14:06] <Psirus> Big Mac hurt his voice talking so much.
[14:06] <Frac> Oh, it’s even better
[14:06] <Froborr> It’s time to bring back FLUTTERGUY
[14:06] <Frac> Right on the money, per the norm
[14:07] <AlicornPriest> Turkeycon.
[14:07] <Frac> Oh Pinkie
[14:07] <Froborr> WHY IS PINKIE THE VILLAIN THIS WEEK
[14:07] <Frac> SHOTS FIRED
[14:08] <AlicornPriest> All right, I think this episode is already firmly in the “marvelously stupid” category.
[14:08] <Psirus> Going to Zecora?
[14:08] <Frac> Always Zecora
[14:08] <Frac> LOL HOARSE
[14:08] <Frac> IT’S A PUN
[14:08] <Froborr> “I am sorry, not even my Magical Negro powers can cure laryngitis instantly. You will need another stereotype to help thee.”
[14:08] <Psirus> It’s faster to turn Fluttershy into a deep voice than it is to cure laryngitis.
[14:08] <AlicornPriest> …They totally are! D:
[14:08] <totient> YES
[14:09] <Psirus> I love it!
[14:09] <Frac> It’s happening!
[14:09] <Froborr> Called it!
[14:09] <Frac> Yup, right on the money
[14:09] <AlicornPriest> Oh, hey, this plan.
[14:09] <Froborr> And there’s the Weekend at Bernie’s.
[14:09] <Frac> What could pooooooooooossibly go wrong?
[14:09] <Psirus> And lip-syncing too? Devious.
[14:10] <AlicornPriest> Or “Singing in the Rain.”
[14:10] <AlicornPriest> This plan, of course, runs under the assumption that Poison Joke works the same every time.
[14:10] <Froborr> …Yeah, okay, it’smore Singing in the Rain.
[14:10] <Froborr> Well, no, they’re using it to make a potion, that probably enables more control over the effect.
[14:10] <Psirus> AJ not impressed with the crazy cat pony.
[14:10] <Froborr> …IS GRANNY WEARING AJ’S DRESS FROM SIMPLE WAYS!?
[14:11] <Froborr> Oh no, that’s the cat pony.
[14:11] <Froborr> Okay, this is pretty great.
[14:11] <AlicornPriest> So, which one are they gonna do? Pull the curtain or have Big Mac stop lip-syncing?
[14:12] <Frac> CheeriMac <3
[14:12] <Froborr> There’s a bone for the CheeriMac shippers.
[14:12] <Froborr> BARBECUE TIME
[14:12] <Frac> Flutterguy confirmed better than Big Mac
[14:13] <Froborr> So yeah, “Singing in the Rain.”
[14:13] <Psirus> I suspect Pinkie Pie will cause the reveal.
[14:14] <Froborr> Fluttershy starts to get upset that she’s not getting any credit.
[14:14] <Psirus> Also: Hey! It’s tomorrow! Isn’t Mac cured yet?
[14:14] <AlicornPriest> …I will be pleasantly surprised if it switches to that.
[14:14] <AlicornPriest> Otherwise this is so much fluff.
[14:15] <Frac> Why does nobody notice the singing barrel?
[14:15] <Froborr> Fluttershy ina  barrell. That’s ADORABLE.
[14:15] <Psirus> It’s a common occurance?
[14:15] <Frac> AND A SINGING TUB?
[14:15] <totient> poison joke wears off?
[14:15] <Frac> It’s too adorable to seriously critique, but I need to get that off my chest
[14:15] <Frac> Nice call there
[14:16] <AlicornPriest> I’m impressed that what’s-his-name (Blu?) can even mimic Fluttershy’s mannerisms!
[14:16] <Frac> No Fluttershy, you don’t get a solo
[14:16] <AlicornPriest> Aaaaand there we go.
[14:16] <Frac> IT’S HAPPENING
[14:17] <Psirus> Lights! Seize her!
[14:17] <Froborr> And there’s her PTSD again.
[14:17] <Frac> And Crying Flutterguy is hilarious
[14:17] <Frac> This. Fucking This. Love it. All of it.
[14:17] <AlicornPriest> AJ explaining. Perfect.
[14:17] <Froborr> Okay, this bit with Applejack is the best.
[14:17] <AlicornPriest> Pinkie Pie! D:
[14:18] <AlicornPriest> Pinkie Pie, why are you the worst?
[14:18] <Frac> Spider Pinkie 😀
[14:18] <Froborr> Spider Pony, Spider Pony, does whatever a Spider Pony does
[14:18] <Froborr> PINKIE
[14:18] <Froborr> STAHP
[14:18] <Frac> PINKIE’S A BIIIITCH
[14:18] <Frac> OH PINKIE
[14:18] <Frac> I LOVE YOU, BUT REALLY
[14:19] <Psirus> “I have photosensitivity!”
[14:20] <Frac> Music: is it in you?
[14:20] <AlicornPriest> Welp, I think that manages to get out of “marvelously stupid.” Maybe it’s even just “marvelous!”
[14:21] <Frac> Indeed
[14:21] <Frac> Especially this
[14:21] <Froborr> Okay, this last part.
[14:21] <Froborr> YES
[14:21] <Frac> Someone acknowledging you can’t completely change in 22 minutes? BASED AKR
[14:21] <totient> ^
[14:21] <Psirus> Needs more Fluttershy.
[14:21] <Froborr> THAT TURNED SO GOOD
[14:21] <Froborr> But does need more Fluttershy, yes.
[14:22] <Froborr> EVERYTHING needs more Fluttershy.
[14:22] <AlicornPriest> “Hiding behind these fears means you’re only hiding from your true self.”

[14:22] <AlicornPriest> What a great moral.

[14:22] <Frac> Fluttershy confirmed for Persona 5
[14:22] <Frac> But yes, great episode
[14:22] <Froborr> lol

Welp. Equestria Girls 2 trailer

Sorry this is up so late. Blogger error.

Based on my intensive, in-depth analysis (i.e., watching it once), it appears that the new film once again contains a bunch of girls with identical body types, because if there’s one thing Friendship Is Magic is about, it’s that there’s only one way for a girl to be. Also it contains at least one generic High School Musical-style crowd pop song. Clearly this trailer has left me just tremendously psyched, and also hyped. I expect that the new movie will underwhelm me just as much as the first–and if we’re very lucky, it may also result in fifth season being short and uneven just like the first movie did to third season.

Some good news on Michael Morones

New readers coming from the Michael Morones site: Welcome! You may be interested in my analysis of “One Bad Apple,” which also discusses bullying and Michael’s situation.

Michael Morones–the bullied Brony who attempted suicide–is showing signs of neurological activity and has been moved into a wheelchair. The full extent of the damage is still unknown, but from what I understand (which is not much, so take this with a grain of salt) this development means he will probably have at least some degree of cognitive and motor function.

Source

The role of the writer is not simply to arrange (There’s No Way I’ll Ever Regret It)

The Puella Magi were created by Kyubey. They rebelled.
They evolved. They look–and feel–human. Some are
programmed to believe they are human. There are
many magical girls… And they have a plan.

In Episode 5, the beginning of the second arc continues to mirror the first arc. Just as Episodes 1 and 4 both served as introductions, Episodes 2 and 5 are both about establishing and positioning the characters, exploring the nature of this new world, which is a polite way of saying that this is an episode where not much happens.

The episode opens with a flashback to Kyubey and Sayaka performing the ritual that transforms her into a magical girl, presumably right after she assured Kyousuke that magic exists in Episode 4. While Kyubey has been creepy throughout the series so far, this flashback is the longest sustained depiction of him as a (literally, here) dark figure, and the framing and lighting both are highly suggestive of a death scene. As Homura states later, Sayaka’s fate is fixed at this point; she is, effectively, a dead woman walking. (Again, quite literally, as we will learn in a few episodes.) Further, by placing Kyubey in deep shadow with a large plant behind him, several shots look as if Kyubey has multiple tails, suggesting the kitsune, a Japanese trickster spirit that takes the form of a fox and grows additional tails as it becomes more powerful. The large number of tails implies that Kyubey’s power is enormous.

We also see for the first time how a Soul Gem is formed. The ritual suggests strongly that Kyubey literally pulls it out of the girls’ hearts, making it from something that already existed within them. This accords with statements by Mami and Kyubey in prior episodes that they can sense great power in Madoka, even though she has yet to become a magical girl, and explains why Kyubey does not simply use his power to accomplish his goals: though enormous, his power is extremely limited. He can grant wishes, act as a telepathic switchboard, control who can see him, and (as we will learn later in the series) exist in multiple places at once, but cannot actually wield magic to alter reality the way the magical girls and witches do. A few of his comments even suggest that what wishes he can grant is determined by the power of the magical girl doing the wishing–given comments in later episodes that Sayaka is not a very powerful magical girl, it’s possible that the reason she only wished for Kyousuke’s hand to be healed and not the rest of his body is that she couldn’t heal the rest.

Kyubey, in other words, is a facilitator. He enables prospective magical girls to tap a power that already exists in them, so that they can fight witches or each other for him. As we see in this episode, he is perfectly happy to construct a conflict, empowering Sayaka even though he knows Kyoko is coming, feeding Kyoko information while keeping Sayaka in the dark, all because the fight between them serves his ends.

As a consequence of Kyubey’s manipulations, Kyoko takes over Homura’s role in the first arc as the antagonistic magical girl of questionable morality. Kyoko is everything Mami warned about: highly willing to fight other magical girls, concerned only with the rewards of defeating witches, and uncaring about protecting the people of Mitakihara. Her willingness to let the familiar kill people until it becomes a witch, along with her comments regarding the food chain and her own constant eating, combine to suggest that Kyoko sees eating as an expression of power and embraces a might-makes-right philosophy regarding that power. In opposing her, Sayaka takes over Mami’s role as the “good” magical girl, the one who fights to protect others and believes the strong have a duty to defend the weak.

By interrupting them, Homura reveals that she has taken over the other role Mami played in the first arc. Homura is no longer trying to erase the traditional magical girl structure and replace it with the show Madoka will be; that has already been achieved. Instead, she is now trying to prevent the next logical development in the story, the Magical Girl Madoka promised by the title. She refuses to help Sayaka when Madoka begs her to do so, but when the only alternative is for Madoka to become a magical girl, Homura has no choice but to step in.

This leaves only Madoka and Kyubey. Madoka makes an interesting and deliberate choice to not change her role–just as she was Mami’s unpowered sidekick and confidante, so she offers to be for Sayaka. Even if she is understandably terrified of becoming a magical girl, she is still willing to risk her life to stand by Sayaka’s side–and as we see at the end of the episode, even willing to become a magical girl if need be. Kyubey, meanwhile, likewise does not change his role, but rather increasingly reveals to the audience what his role is, moving from a figure of questionable morality and allegiance to an obviously manipulative figure who is increasingly positioned as antagonistic, actively assisting Kyoko and keeping her a secret from Madoka and Sayaka.

But what precisely is that role? Early in the episode, Sayaka takes Kyousuke to the roof, where his family give him back his violin and he plays “Ave Maria.” What makes this notable is that elements of the scene keep comparing Kyousuke to Kyubey. First, this is the same location in which Sayaka made the pact to become a magical girl at the beginning of the episode, and although they are outside rather than inside the concentric rings of flowers, Sayaka and Kyousuke are in the same relative positions as Sayaka and Kyubey were in that flashback. Second, Kyousuke is shown as a silhouette in some shots, just as Kyubey is in the flashback, and in shots from Sayaka’s point of view, Kyousuke blocks the view of where Kyubey was standing in the flashback. Most subtly, but also most importantly for understanding the function of the Kyousuke-Kyubey parallel, Kyubey reaches into Sayaka’s heart to make her into a magical girl, just as Kyousuke’s music reaches into Sayaka’s heart, creating her feelings for him that motivated her to become a magical girl. And, of course, we will see in the next couple of episodes that Kyousuke is rather thoughtless in his behavior toward Sayaka, so he shares with Kyubey that they facilitated Sayaka’s transformation into a magical girl while caring very little about her feelings.

Near the end of the scene, Kyousuke puts down the violin, and yet “Ave Maria” continues to play as the background music for the rest of the scene, transitioning from diegetic (that is, “in-universe”) to extradiegetic sound. This ability to straddle the borders of diegesis has, up until this point in the show, been presented as an ability possessed by the witches. To convey their otherworldliness, the witch’s labyrinths are generally given their own unique art styles, distinct from the show, with the result that we see the characters noticing, and reacting with terror to, changes in the art style–a diegetic response to an extradiegetic method. Kyousuke is now reaching across that barrier in the opposite direction, one of only three non-witch characters to cross that threshold–and the only one without any apparent “magical” abilities.

This is because his music is an expression of emotion, and therefore magic; as we will see much later in the series, human emotion is the source of all the magic in the series. It follows that human art is therefore fundamentally magical; that artistic expression can reshape reality. Certainly it has done so here: Kyousuke’s music is heavily implied to be the source of Sayaka’s interest in him, which is the reason she became a magical girl; every violation of the laws of physics performed by Magical Girl Sayaka is thus a consequence of Kyousuke’s music.

But if Kyousuke can cross between diegetic and extradiegetic in a scene in which he is heavily paralleled with Kyubey, does it follow that Kyubey can do likewise? Indeed, he can, and is the second of the three non-witch characters to do so. Kyubey is an extradiegetic entity taking up residence in the story.

Consider: Kyubey creates magical girls to serve his own purposes, knowing that they will suffer–even relying on that suffering. He wants Madoka to become a magical girl, and shapes everything he does toward that end result, since he has a problem she can help solve. He sets up Kyoko to fight Sayaka for the same reason, once again caring nothing for how it effects them except insofar as those effects serve his goals.

Among other things, Madoka is a series about consent and autonomy. There have been hints toward this theme, but it becomes undeniable in the next episode. Given that, what better villain for such a series than the one who controls the actions of the characters? All of Kyubey’s abilities–to make magical girls, to know what they’re thinking, to be everywhere in the story at once–and all of his motivations–to make the magical girls experience emotional highs and lows, to keep the world of the story running as long as possible–are consistent with the role he plays without knowing it: Kyubey is the author of Puella Magi Madoka Magica.

Fixing Angel Season 4

Content Note: Includes discussion of consent issues and the rape of fictional characters

So I’ve now watched Angel through the end of Season 4, and wow was it ever frustrating. There was so much potential, and a few episodes (especially near the end) were wonderful, but it just kept misfiring, and it all comes down to one basic problem: for a season ostensibly about free will and agency in the face of well-meaning attempts to erase that agency in the name of peace and harmony, the writers seemed to consistently flub issues of consent, which is rather central to having any agency.

The two main areas where they drop the ball on consent are the horrifically squicky, quasi-incestuous Connor/Cordelia “relationship” and the final resolution of Connor’s story (at least, not having seen Season 5, I’m assuming this is the final resolution).

We’ll start with the infinitely awful ConCord arc. Incestuous overtones aside, Cordelia (who, in the show’s grossest recurring motif, is CONSTANTLY being threatened with or subjected to various magical rapes) is mind-controlled by Jasmine into sleeping with Connor. Jasmine is thus guilty of raping both of them: her magic is functioning as a date-rape drug on Cordelia and she’s committing rape by fraud of Connor, since he believes he’s sleeping with a free-willed Cordelia that wants to be with him. This is compounded when the mind-controlled Cordelia becomes pregnant and carries it to term, without ever being able to consent to the pregnancy–mystical complications of which ultimately leave her in a coma, in which state her blood is then used (again, without her consent) to fight against Jasmine.

This is fairly straightforward to fix: Drop the mind-control aspect (and, preferably, Cordelia’s involvement) and just make it that Connor’s child is a mystical pregnancy, which the mother chooses of her own will to keep, and then once Jasmine is born she starts working the mind-control mojo, rather than in squicky rape scenarios before.

The other major problem is the end of the season, where Angel wishes Connor into a happier life. Unfortunately, since this entails erasing all of Connor’s memories (as well as the memories of everyone who knew him except Angel) and replacing them with new ones, it is effectively murdering Connor and replacing him with a completely different person who looks like him. This is a ridiculously easy fix: just have Angel consult with Connor before doing this!

Now, it’s possible that these issues, especially the latter, are intentional sour notes to provoke further discussion about issues of agency and consent. Unfortunately, there’s nothing to suggest that in the text–unless Angel gets called out for what he did to Connor (and, to a lesser extent, his friends) in the fifth season, we’re left with it being presented as a happy ending for Connor, and any suggestion that the ConCord plotline is supposed to be a serious examination of consent issues and rape culture runs smack into the problem that this isn’t the first time Cordelia has been raped and impregnated via mystical means.

A Bit of a Pattern with Rarity

As if there needed to be more reasons to dislike “Simple Ways,” the inimitable Viga (whose gofundme is still running, by the way) pointed out a rather unfortunate pattern to me yesterday: Rarity has had three cases of having a crush on a pony, because she’s the “girly one” and romance “girly.” If we have to have romance in ponies (which, as I have made fairly clear, I’d very much prefer we didn’t, but that fleet of ships appears to have sailed), can’t we mix it up a bit and get one of the less “girly” ponies like Rainbow Dash or Applejack to fall for someone?

I’ll be embarrassed, shamed, disgraced, mortified, humiliated… (One Bad Apple)

But sure, let’s all sing an upbeat song about being bullied.

There is no way I can write coherently about this episode.

Some things never heal.

It’s February 5, 2014. Eleven-year-old Michael Morones is in the hospital after attempting suicide two weeks ago. Doctors believe he likely has brain damage, and may even be blind, but it will be months or years before the full extent of his injuries is known. He attempted to hang himself after prolonged bullying over his love for My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic.

His parents are taking the attitude that his bullies should not be punished, because it is not in keeping with the principles of the show. They are using the donations the brony community and others have raised to pay for his medical care, but also to set up a fund to combat bullying.

A boy is in the hospital because he did not conform to society’s standards of masculinity. The people who put him there will not be punished, and will most likely go on to do it again.

Welcome to the bully culture.

It’s November 24, 2012. The top song is still Maroon 5 with “One More Night,” and the top two movies are still Twilight and Bond, though at least the surprisingly good Rise of the Guardians debuts at number four. In the headlines, Israel continues firing into Gaza and vice versa, the voice of Elmo resigns in the face of allegations of sexual abuse, and Australian scientists determine that Sandy Island, which is shown on a number of marine charts and maps, including Google Earth, does not actually exist.

In ponies we have “One Bad Apple,” a pastiche of the cartoons of the 1970s and 80s written by Cindy Morrow and directed by James Wootton.

Which is where the trouble starts, really; pastiche is a favored technique of postmodern writing, and so it is no surprise that Friendship Is Magic assays several over its run. The thing is, postmodern art is characterized by processes of decontextualization and recontextualization. The idea is to shed new light on the work or genre subject to pastiche, or to call attention to aspects of the new context that jar with the borrowed elements. “One Bad Apple” doesn’t do that; the elements of 1970s and 80s cartoons are instead treated like the most boring Internet memes, decontextualized and repeated without any recontextualization, as if they have some intrinsic value independent of the change of context.

Which would work well if they did, but unfortunately, we are talking about the cartoons of the 1970s and 1980s here.

It’s some time in the fall of 1989; I am eight years old. I am at a classmate’s house along with four or five other boys, working on a project that has something to do with the local Native American tribes. To ensure that I do not contaminate the project by contributing to it, the other boys take turns holding me pinned to the floor. They have to take turns because they have to hold their breath to do it; breathing air that touched me would be bad. The most striking thing about this memory is how utterly normal it seemed at the time.

In School Bullying: New Perspectives on a Growing Problem, author and bullying expert David Dupper defines bullying as “the systematic abuse of power,” and expands to describe it as “the unprovoked physical or psychological abuse of an individual by another individual or group over time to create an ongoing pattern of abuse against a victim who cannot easily defend him or herself.” That is what happened to me, to Michael Morones, to the Cutie Mark Crusaders. It is not what happened, at least on screen, to Babs Seed.

There is very little good about American cartoons of the 1970s and 80s. Due to a number of pressures, mostly lack of funds, tight content restrictions, and an exodus of talent caused by the aforementioned lack of funds and tight content restrictions, most cartoons were cheaply produced, formulaic pap. Much of “One Bad Apple” references these cartoons, particularly the musical number, which both in musical style and in the frequent use of repetitive, simple backgrounds resembles the musical numbers of shows such as Josie and the Pussycats or Jem. The conversation at the end of the episode, in which a child has to explain a (subtly misused, already outdated) slang term to a clueless adult, is another standard gag of the era, with “bad means good” being the most common such slang term.

Even the bullying plot which dominates the episode is, ultimately, just another reference to the “very special episodes” that were a common feature of family and children’s television in the 1980s and, less frequently, into the 1990s.

It’s late 1991 or early 1992. I’m ten or eleven years old. They’re more sophisticated than a couple of years ago; no one lays a finger on me. They don’t even touch my desk if they can help it; if someone brushes against it by accident, they have to immediately go to the washbasin in the corner of the classroom and scrub. I try to tell my parents what’s going on. “It’s just teasing,” my father tells me. “Ignore it and they’ll stop.”

I’ve been doing nothing about it, carefully showing no outward sign that it affects me, for years. They haven’t stopped. Lesson learned: Telling an adult is useless. They don’t know what to do either, and they’ll tell you it’s your fault.

On my father’s advice, I try striking back in kind. I make what I think is a witty zinger against one of them. I will not say what it was, because it was based on the girl in question’s name, and I have no interest in revealing anyone’s identity. Everyone laughs–at me.

Lesson learned: Don’t bother trying to fight back. They can’t be stopped.

“Very special episodes” were a format (frequently preceded with advertising along the lines of “Tonight, on a very special [show name]”) in which a character of a normally much lighter show confronted a Serious Issue of the Day, usually in the form of a new character who suffered from or caused the issue. Substance abuse was the most common topic, due largely to the willingness of the U.S. government to pay makers of popular shows to make episodes that polemicized against drugs, but everything from the Challenger explosion (on Punky Brewster) to abortion (a critically applauded, highly controversial episode of Maude that helped start the trend), racism (a particularly ridiculous episode of Family Ties stands out here), and the apocryphal lurking pedophile (Diff’rent Strokes). Bullying was another common topic, so it’s no surprise finding it here.

Unfortunately, like most “very special episodes,” the topic is horribly mishandled. The myth of the self-doubting, pitiable bully is repeated, all aggression is castigated as bullying, and the solution at the end is that the bully needs more and better friends, all in keeping with the teachings of the bully culture.

It’s 1993. I’m twelve years old. The girls are worse by far than the boys. The boys merely tell me that I’m disgusting, weak, worthless. The girls don’t need words to let me know it, and that makes it far harder not to believe it.

But now there are three or four of us in the same boat. We band together, bottom of the social hierarchy, and bond over a shared love of cartoons, science fiction, and utterly ridiculous, rule-free roleplaying campaigns that we play during lunch and occasionally gym.

The typical bully, according to Dupper, “tend[s] to be easily frustrated, have low levels of empathy, have difficulty following rules, view violence positively, defiant toward adults, break school rules, have poorer school adjustment, and [be] more likely to drink alcohol and smoke.” Contrary to the usual narrative, bullies have average or higher self-esteem. Boys are more likely to be bullies and girls more likely to be bullied, but neither by very much; boys tend to use more direct tactics such as physical or verbal attacks, while girls (as also documented by Rachel Simmons in her Odd Girl Out) are more likely to use indirect tactics such as social exclusion, rumor-spreading, and manipulation of friendships and relationships.

At first the episode proceeds fairly realistically. Babs bullies as a way of asserting her social status, pushing down the lower kids in the hierarchy (the Cutie Mark Crusaders) in order to elevate herself and get in with the more dominant kids (Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon). Though her tactics are almost entirely direct, that makes sense for the show’s main demographic; per Simmons, indirect bullying generally doesn’t start until the preteen years, with even girls preferring direct tactics up to about the age of eight.

But as it progresses, it becomes clear that the episode is largely missing what it is truly like to be bullied. Babs Seed is clearly a marginalized kid with severe self-doubt, which just isn’t most bullies; while the kids at the very top of their schools’ hierarchies generally don’t bully, the kids immediately beneath them are the most likely to bully. Unsurprisingly, bullying tends to coordinate with strong social skills and status; how else would they get away with it? Victim-bullies (that is, bullies who are themselves victims of bullying previously or in another context) do exist, and are often the most vicious bullies and the most likely to continue their aggressive behavior into adulthood, but are nonetheless rare.

Most damningly for the episode, Scootaloo and Apple Bloom reject Sweetie Belle’s suggestions of telling an adult because they don’t want to be “snitches,” but that’s not why bullied kids don’t tell adults.

It’s the fall of 1995. I am fourteen years old. We are supposed to run a mile in gym class. I know I won’t be able to run it, so I walk instead, chatting with a friend I’ve recently made. The gym teacher comes up behind us. He calls me a fat sack of crap who will die of a heart attack before he’s thirty, and tells me that I’ll deserve it for being lazy.

After temperament, the strongest predictor of bullying is the behavior of adults in the environment. Kids bully because they see adults bully, or because they see that bullies get away with it. You can tell kids that they need to tell an adult when they’re being bullied, but unless they perceive that the adults are willing and able to help, they’re not going to bother. As Dupper puts it, “Even when teachers witness bullying behavior, they often fail to recognize it as bullying behavior, and they may even exacerbate the problem by blaming the victim. As a result, very few students who have been bullied report the incident to an authority figure.”

It’s the spring of 1996. I am fifteen years old. For months now, a particular senior has taken it upon himself to torment me. Because I’m short and have a belly and a Jewfro, he calls me “troll.” My shoes don’t fit, so I often walk with a limp, and for various reasons I don’t like using my locker, so I carry all my books at all times in an enormous backpack. My clothes are cheap, shabby, and frequently unwashed. He likes to ask me if I’m homeless, to say I carry my house on my back. In combination with the troll thing, he frequently says that I live under a bridge.

He has a couple of friends–tough-looking boys, slightly shorter and smaller than he–and a spectacularly gorgeous girlfriend. All laugh whenever he teases me.

I don’t know it, but he’s my last bully. After he graduates at the end of the year, I will never be bullied again, though some of my friends still will.

It doesn’t matter, though. It’s too late.

Dupper points out that verbal and indirect bullying have the same long-term neurological effects as physical abuse. Simmons argues quite convincingly that the prevalence of indirect bullying among girls is because girls are encouraged to be non-aggressive, and as such most obvious outlets for aggression (whether destructive or healthy) are closed off. The result is that aggression–which is a natural and inevitable part of living in a community and having relationships with other people–must be channeled into what she terms “alternative aggressions,” frequently vicious, deniable methods of acting out against the targets of aggression.

This is where the episode veers from being merely mistaken to being outright irresponsible and potentially dangerous to children. The Cutie Mark Crusaders have aggressive feelings toward Babs Seed; who wouldn’t after a sustained campaign of many days of torment? They act on these feelings inappropriately, absolutely, by putting Babs Seed in a dangerous situation that could cause her serious harm.

But–and I cannot stress this enough–they are not bullying her.

It’s the spring of 1999. I am seventeen years old. My achalasia–a rare neuromuscular condition in which the esophagus clamps shut, preventing swallowing–has worsened to the point that in any given meal I have better than even odds of throwing up undigested food which has never seen the inside of my stomach. Drinking water sometimes helps, but it will be several years before I hit on the strategy of carrying a large water bottle everywhere I go, and so instead I am dependent on the water fountain in the corner of the cafeteria. When I do throw up I have only seconds of warning, which means it is usually either in the water fountain or the trash can nearby, in full view of everyone. Nobody says anything to my face, but I can feel them watching. I stop eating lunch, and my weight begins to plummet. Occasionally I hear the whispered rumors–that I have an eating disorder, that I have some sort of stomach disease, that I have Ebola or AIDS.

Dupper argues that bullying in our schools is a reflection of bullying in the larger culture, from nation-states using their militaries to pound weaker countries into submission to action heroes that murder with impunity and then mock their victims to audience cheers. Adults often send mixed messages by encouraging bullying in some areas, particularly sports, while decrying it in others. Inaccurate or sympathetic portrayals of bullying in children’s media likewise frequently subtly or outright blame victims while excusing the bullies themselves.

Dupper himself does not draw the analogy, but his depiction is very similar to rape culture, the phenomenon whereby Western culture simultaneously claims to hate rape while finding excuses to excuse rapists, blame victims, and spread false beliefs about who is likely to rape and how rape occurs. Obviously, rape is a much more serious crime than bullying, but they have much in common, being expressions of power at the expense of another, made easier by a cultural milieu that makes it easy to isolate victims and discourages them from reporting what has happened.

The Cutie Mark Crusaders have lashed out aggressively against Babs Seed, yes, but neither in a sustained campaign nor without provocation. They are not bullies, and it is entirely wrong to equate what they did with what Babs Seed did. Both are wrong, but the CMC acted out of fear and desperation; Babs acted out of a desire for status.

The end of the episode has the CMC and Babs Seed becoming friends, of course, because this is Friendship Is Magic. It is also, of course, not impossible for former bully and former victim to become friends. However, Applejack and the structure of the episode strongly imply that they should be friends, that it is somehow a failing if they do not become friends, and therein lies the problem, because it implies that aggressive feelings are inherently bad–precisely what Simmons identifies as the cause of the epidemic of indirect bullying in girls. Good parenting on Applejack’s part–and responsible writing for children about bullying on the part of Morrow–would be for her to help the CMC find a way to express their feelings against Babs nonviolently, constructively, but still aggressively–for example, the way Rainbow Dash confronted Gilda in “Griffon the Brush-Off,” a vastly superior treatment of the topic of bullying.

It’s March of 2000, two days after my attempt. We Adult Non-Violents have lunch at the same time as the Twelve-to-Eighteen Non-Violent Girls. Even being in the same room makes it impossible for me to eat; I get special dispensation to eat lunch alone.

I’m better now. A lot better. It usually doesn’t bother me. But I’ve been reading up on bullying lately, and today while I was in line to pay for my lunch, I heard a child laugh. For just a moment, I wanted to die. I felt sick the rest of the afternoon, and it took enormous effort to do basically anything.

It’s 1989 and 1992 and 3 and 4 and 5 and 6 and 9 and 2000. It’s 2012 and 2014.

Some things never heal.

There is no way I can write coherently about this episode.

If you would like to donate to the Michael Morones Recovery Fund, you can do so here.

Next week: Something better. It has to be.

MLP Liveblog Chat Thingy: “Simple Ways”

How to participate in the liveblog chat:

Option 1: Whenever you watch the episode, comment on this post as you watch with whatever responses you feel like posting!

Option 2: Go to http://webchat.freenode.net/. Enter a nickname, then for the Channels field enter ##rabbitcube, and finally fill in the Captcha and hit Connect! We’ll be watching the episode and commenting there starting at just before 2:00 p.m. EST. After the chat, I will update this post with a log of the conversation.

Chat log after the cut!

[14:06] <Froborr> *sigh* I just hope Babs Seed isn’t in this one, I don’t think I can handle more of her right now.
[14:07] <@Sylocat> I think they said at one of the panels that Babs is gone
[14:07] <@Sylocat> She left when Morrow did
[14:07] <Froborr> Praise Luna!
[14:07] <Froborr> Wait, when did Morrow go?
[14:07] <@Sylocat> Is tonight’s post The One?
[14:07] <@Sylocat> Between seasons… no word on if/when she’ll be back
[14:08] <@Sylocat> (Larson didn’t write for this season either, but he’s coming back for S5, so…)
[14:08] <@Sylocat> (2 minutes)
[14:08] <decoy_octopus> season 5 is confirmed?
[14:09] <@Sylocat> Are we ready?
[14:09] <@Sylocat> Yep… another accidental press release from within the company
[14:09] <Froborr> Yeah, s5 was confirmed a while ago.
[14:09] <decoy_octopus> ah
[14:09] <@Sylocat> Everyone buffering?
[14:09] <decoy_octopus> yup
[14:09] <totient> good to go
[14:09] <decoy_octopus> just a few seconds left by my clock
[14:10] <@Sylocat> And… GO
[14:10] <Froborr> go
[14:10] <decoy_octopus> clicked
[14:10] <@Sylocat> World-building!
[14:10] <@Sylocat> And continuity… DJ PON-3…
[14:10] <decoy_octopus> yeah
[14:10] <decoy_octopus> was about to say
[14:10] <@Sylocat> What the…
[14:10] <@Sylocat> That hat
[14:10] <@Sylocat> And that balloon
[14:11] <@Sylocat> …Wow
[14:11] <Froborr> …balloon head what?
[14:11] <decoy_octopus> for some reason that got leaked onto the hub’s facebook or something
[14:11] <@Sylocat> They cut the credits?
[14:11] <decoy_octopus> seems that way
[14:11] <Froborr> Aw, no credits.
[14:11] <@Sylocat> “Farewell, it is time for me to return to my homworld”
[14:12] <Froborr> (P.S.: Poochie died on the way to his homeworld.)
[14:12] <@Sylocat> More concept art
[14:12] <decoy_octopus> ugh brb dogs won’t shut up x_x
[14:12] <@Sylocat> Twilight sounds oddly less-than-enthused
[14:13] <@Sylocat> We have a guest star
[14:13] <@Sylocat> Oh dear
[14:13] <decoy_octopus> back, I guess I’m a minute behind now
[14:13] <Froborr> Oh my.
[14:13] <Froborr> He’s an evil time-traveler, isn’t he?
[14:14] <decoy_octopus> that horn-ring looks really weird on here
[14:14] <decoy_octopus> *her
[14:14] <@Sylocat> A lot of background continuity references…
[14:14] <@Sylocat> He even LOOKS like John Simm
[14:14] <Froborr> Is his cutie mark plaid?
[14:15] <Froborr> OMG HE DOES LOOK LIKE JOHN SIMM
[14:15] <Froborr> HE IS THE MARESTER
[14:15] <@Sylocat> That was revenge for teasing Twilight about Flash Sentry
[14:15] <decoy_octopus> yeah it is plaid wtf
[14:15] <Froborr> Also, blech, weren’t romance storylines one of the things Lauren Faust banned?
[14:16] <decoy_octopus> banned?
[14:16] <@Sylocat> Long-running ones, at least
[14:16] <@Sylocat> Trenderhoof, your City Slicker is showing
[14:16] <@Sylocat> “Au Natural,” he says
[14:17] <@Sylocat> Oh for the love of…
[14:17] <Froborr> LOVE TRIANGLE
[14:17] <Froborr> No, that’s it, I’m done.
[14:17] <Froborr> Taking down the website, setting the laptop on fire, done.
[14:17] <@Sylocat> Yeah, stop interfering with my RariJack OTP!
[14:17] <Froborr> There really just needs to be a media-wise decade-long moritorium on love triangles.
[14:17] <decoy_octopus> does he have a douchebeard
[14:17] <@Sylocat> Ooh, don’t mention apple products in front of Rarity right now
[14:18] <@Sylocat> Oh no
[14:18] <Froborr> I can already tell I’m going to hate this episode.
[14:18] <decoy_octopus> “rarity, why are you crying oil?”
[14:19] <@Sylocat> Yeesh, he’s a cretin
[14:19] <Froborr> YOU ATE FOUR OF AN ENDANGERED APPLE
[14:19] <Froborr> YOU ARE A MONSTER
[14:19] <Froborr> HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAATE
[14:19] <decoy_octopus> spike’s face sds
[14:20] <@Sylocat> The moral is going to be “don’t let boys come between friendships”
[14:20] <@Sylocat> Ah, a rhyme-subversion lyric
[14:20] <decoy_octopus> froborr what are you flipping out over he seems cute
[14:20] <Froborr> *sigh*
[14:20] <decoy_octopus> incompetent, but cute
[14:20] <@Sylocat> (like Olaf’s line about puddles)
[14:20] <@Sylocat> He can’t even sing
[14:21] <decoy_octopus> eh, he seems fine to me
[14:21] <decoy_octopus> probably not like a musically-trained actor
[14:21] <@Sylocat> Okay, this is definitely leading up to a smackdown of the entire concept of love triangles
[14:22] <Froborr> I hope it does, I just wish we didn’t have to slog through the love triangle to get there.
[14:22] <@Sylocat> Josh Haber is a… weird writer
[14:23] <decoy_octopus> wait how can she fit in the chicken coop what
[14:23] <@Sylocat> Rarity is regressing or something
[14:24] <@Sylocat> Oh for the love of Celestia, this is cringe comedy at its most horrifying
[14:24] <Froborr> This is PAINFUL
[14:24] <totient> ^
[14:24] <decoy_octopus> I really like the lighting in the barn wow
[14:24] <Froborr> …okay, Rarity does look completely adorable though
[14:25] <@Sylocat> On the bright side, this is truly instructive to the audience: “Don’t change who you are just to impress a boy”
[14:25] <@Sylocat> “…because THIS is what happens if you do.”
[14:26] <Froborr> Yeah, but a good moral does not a good episode make.
[14:26] <Froborr> I do really like her AWFUL accent
[14:26] <@Sylocat> The badness of the episode might be a meta-moral
[14:26] <@Sylocat> AHAHAHAHAHAHAAH
[14:26] <Froborr> I… but… WHAT IS APPLEJACK DOING
[14:27] <decoy_octopus> oh god apple bloom’s hat
[14:27] <@Sylocat> Oh no.. oh dear Flying Spaghetti Monster, NOOOOO HAHAHAHAHAHAH
[14:27] <decoy_octopus> so wait did she steal that from rarity’s boutique or
[14:28] <@Sylocat> This episode has gone so far around the bend it’s circled around and become awesome again
[14:28] <Froborr> I can’t help but read this as the two of them mocking each other, though. It’s kind of mean.
[14:28] <@Sylocat> It’s a role-reversed “Look Before You Sleep”
[14:29] <decoy_octopus> yeah was about to say
[14:29] <Froborr> …So Applejack basically used the strategy from the Season 3 finale?
[14:29] <@Sylocat> You know, I always thought Applejack and Rarity reminded me of Benedick and Beatrice
[14:30] <decoy_octopus> >she actually did steal it
[14:30] <decoy_octopus> wow
[14:30] <@Sylocat> So, the cringe-worthiness of the episode was a meta-moral. “Kids, THIS is what happens when you try and change who you are to impress a boy.”
[14:31] <Froborr> Yeah, which is great and all…
[14:31] <Froborr> but still doesn’t change how cringe-worthy the episode was.
[14:31] * decoy_octopus shrugs
[14:31] <Froborr> So yeah, as far as I’m concerned that was easily the worst episode of the season thus far. Beats Daring Don’t easily.
[14:31] <@Sylocat> Wow. Just… wow
[14:32] <decoy_octopus> oh psh
[14:32] <decoy_octopus> daring don’t was a nonsensical mess that delivered a horrible message
[14:32] <@Sylocat> Still, Applejack impersonating Rarity was awesome
[14:32] <decoy_octopus> this was an entertaining episode that delivered a /really important message/
[14:32] <totient> I quit around the 10 minute mark, and these reactions tell me that I made the right decision
[14:33] <Froborr> Yes, that one scene was pretty great.
[14:33] <Froborr> The rest of the episode was just… no.
[14:33] <decoy_octopus> meh, to each their own
[14:33] <Froborr> Yeah.
[14:34] <Froborr> I really strongly dislike cringe comedy and feel like Rarity was not being written in character here, so…
[14:34] <@Sylocat> Wow. I looked up Josh Haber on IMDb… he was “Assistant to Mr. Gibson” on The Passion of the Christ.
[14:34] <Froborr> …
[14:34] <decoy_octopus> fdfg
[14:34] <decoy_octopus> are you sure that’s the same josh haber?
[14:35] <@Sylocat> According to IMDb, it is
[14:35] * Sylocat shrugs
[14:35] <decoy_octopus> how do you even go from that to horses
[14:35] <@Sylocat> But anyway… yeah, cringe comedy ain’t my cup of tea either, but maybe that was the point
[14:35] <decoy_octopus> I didn’t really find it all that cringeworthy really