MLP Friendship is Magic, Season Two, Episode Twenty-One, "Dragon Quest" Review

Once again this review will contain spoilers. Those of you who haven't watched this episode yet, you have been warned.

So our episode starts with Twilight and Rainbow Dash trying to get Fluttershy to leave her home so that she can witness an upcoming event known as the "great dragon migration". Fluttershy, still afraid of the creatures, refuses to leave. Despite repeated attempts by the both of them, Fluttershy refuses to go and even ends up knocking Rainbow down during her escape, leading into today's title screen.

When the episode begins proper we find that the other five main ponies are down in a trench they dug to watch the migration. Despite getting there early, the migration soon happens as they witness dozens of dragons flying overhead. Soon thought, the scene shifts to Spike, who boasts about being a dragon himself. However, Rainbow's rather incredulous at his boasts as he's never acted like any of the other dragons they've seen. Despite the other ponies standing up for him on this count, he feels rather hurt by the comments. Later that night, Spike laments that despite being a dragon, he has no idea how to act like one or what it actually meant o be one. Twilight offers to help him do research on the topic of his species to help him, but after pouring over every book in the library, they're still no closer to an answer. This leads to Spike vowing that in order to learn what it is to be a dragon, he will join the migration, much to the shock of the others.

Rarity and Rainbow try to convince him not to go but Twilight, much to Spike's delight, thinks it would be a good idea for him to go with the other dragons to find out more about himself. The others reluctantly accept her decision on this count. But when he leaves it's made clear that they only let him go so that he would be unaware when they followed him. The next few scenes show Spike trying his best to keep up with the migration as best he can, given that he cannot fly. He travels a great distance until he finally comes across a few mountains where the dragons make their home. Rather than try and interact with the more ferocious adult dragons, he instead decides to try his hand with a nearby group of teenage ones. He's soon followed by Twilight, Rarity and Rainbow Dash, who've infiltrated the place in a large dragon costume. As Spike starts talking with the teenagers, he instantly becomes the butt of many of their jokes, such as his size and inability to fly.

Spike protests that he's just as much of a dragon as the rest of them, so they challenge him to act like one. They put him through a belching challenge, but Spike fails to produce as much fire as the rest. In fact, his flame conjures up a message from Princess Celestia, prompting more mockery from the dragons. They then challenge him to a match of "tail wrestling" and after a demonstration of the activity, the ponies, still disguised, challenge Spike themselves with the intent of losing deliberately in order to make him look better to the other dragons. This plan works but after losing a second match to another of the dragon, the teenagers still aren't satisfied. So they have him engage with the other dragons to knock the group leader off a pile of jewels. With help from the disguised ponies, Spike manages to do it, but he soon slips off the pile and ends up failing to impress the others yet again.

The next challenge involves diving into a pool of lava, something the ponies cannot help with as it would burn them. Although hesitant at first, Spike eventually dives in, but belly flops on the attempt. However, this manages to earn him some respect from the other dragons, who then initiate him into their group. A party follows during which Spike has so much fun that he considers not returning to Ponyville, much to the worry of the ponies listening in on this. Soon thought, Spike becomes worried when his first task as an official member of the group involves participating in a raid of nearby phoenix eggs. The other dragons fly him off for this and this causes Rainbow to become so distressed that she attempts to fly off after them. But the costume prevents her from doing so properly so they all decide to simply walk after them.

When the dragons arrive at the phoneix nest, they task Spike with distracting the parents to the eggs are left vulnerable. Despite failing at first, Spike manages to lure them away as instructed, leaving the teenagers to get the eggs. However, it seems that the eggs have already hatched, so the dragon leader simply decides to take them instead. This proves to be easier said than done however as catching them proves rather tedious. Upon hearing the sound of their chicks, the parents soon come to their aid and attempt to keep the dragons away. After a brief chase, one of the phoenixes manages to blind the dragons momentarily to allow for their escape.

Back at the nest, Spike manages to find an un-hatched egg, which the other dragons are pleased to see. However, Spike becomes less than thrilled when he discovers that the purpose of the raid was to smash the eggs. Despite the calls from the teenagers to destroy it, Spike refuses, earning their anger. When they begin to advance on Spike, the other ponies arrive and discard their costume to protect him. However, this soon leads to all four of them simply running away from the dragons. But during the chase, Twilight uses her magic to teleport them all away. Once out of danger, Spike thanks them for having come to help him, and calls them his family

And so the episode ends with Spike narrating a letter to Princess Celestia regarding the moral of the episode, which I'll get to later.

So, how does this episode hold up?

Well, in terms of story, there's some very good ideas put in here. Spike's nature as a dragon has only every been touched upon here and there throughout the last two seasons and only once has it been the focus of any of the episodes. As such I thought it was a nice idea for the writers to show us some serious interaction between him and others of his kind and what it means to truly be a dragon. After all, dragons in the few appearances they've made have always shown to be, at least in adult form, very brutish and animalistic. Yet Spike, the show's most frequently seen dragon, has always shown to be more intelligent than his older cousins. Clearly the species has the capacity for intelligence and therefore the potential for some kind of unifying culture or traditions. When I heard that such a group would be looked at in this episode I was genuinely excited.

However, that excitement quickly disappeared as I watched the episode. I know that being intended for young kids I shouldn't expect deep cultural stuff from fictional races, but to have the dragons here be little more than a bunch of rowdy teenagers was quite a disappointment for me. The entire situation devolved into less of a situation where Spike would have to choose between his friends and his people, but rather a situation where he had to overcome peer pressure. This episode was, for all intents and purposes, nothing more to me than a child-friendly after-school special. It's a plotline that I've seen frequently when I was growing up, even more so than many of the other recycled storylines this show has given me. Stay with your old friends or go off with the ones you met in the episode. We all know how it's going to end up so my viewing of this episode was always tainted by the fact that I knew exactly how it was going to end. I know I've said in the past that I can tolerate a recycled story if it's told well, but when a story like this one has been used so much in so many other programmes, there's a limit even to my patience.

Spike is probably the least developed out of all the show's main characters. He's had the fewest number of episodes devoted to him and as such it's been difficult to get a proper gauge on his character. With this being his third episode I feel that the time is right to discuss his character somewhat. First, the voice actress who does him, Cathy Weseluck, does a pretty good job of making sound convincing as a young male character. In fact I honestly had no idea he was voice by a woman until I looked it up at a later date. So while I may have issues with some of the things the character does, none of that is due to Weseluck's performance. Overall I've found Spike to be a mixed-bag character for me. While I like the fact that he's been so helpful to the main cast on a number of occasions, sometimes the things he hays and does get on my nerves. Those of you who ready my reviews regularly will remember my comments regarding his behaviour in last week's episode, "It's about time". Throughout the episode he was dismissive of the concerns of his closest friend and even hindered her in some cases. And that's just one example f Spike's general behaviour that I take issue with. Now I will admit that there are moments of nobility in him that make up for it, like his being the voice of reason for Twilight in "Lesson Zero", but all that ever really does for me is make him a tolerable character rather than a likeable one.

However, there was one good thing about his character and that was his role in this episode. As I said last week, I have a great liking for when characters are put in situations that you can believe and relate to. Here, Spike is very much in a situation that any one of us can identify with and that's coming to terms with your identity. Let's face it, the only interaction Spike has had with another of his species was under less-than-friendly circumstances and for the rest of his life he's spent time around ponies. I can completely understand his wanting to understand more about what it means to be a dragon. In many ways this is his versions of finding his cutie mark. Think about it, whenever the ponies get their marks, it's a means to find their place in life, to find what they're supposed to do and be like. But Spike, being a dragon, has no such mark and so trying to find his place in the world is probably a much more difficult undertaking. So while I may have issues with the predictability of the plot, I at least give credit for putting Spike in a realistic situation. At least, as realistic as things can get with dragons and talking ponies.

As for the other characters there's plenty of good stuff here this week. To begin with, let's talk about Fluttershy. This episode seems to defy the fears I had regarding her endeavours in last week's story when she tried to become more assertive. I honestly thought it would be one of those one-time events for her and that she'd just go back to being meek afterwards. Thankfully, her refusal to watch the migration at the start of the episode seems to prove me wrong, so kudos on that one writers. Most of the other characters do okay here, all showing genuine concern for Spike during his various trials in the episode.

But the character that got me thinking the most, was Twilight. She and Spike are arguably the closest out of all the main cast, having known each other for most of their lives long before they met up with the other main ponies. In fact, at least as far as I'm concerned, Twilight is, for all intents and purposes, Spike's mother. She hatched him, raised him and looks after him. She's the closest thing to a parent Spike has and yet despite that the series has never really been that aware of that kind of relationship between the two, only treating them as though they were friends. Here however, that parent-style relationship manages to come through. Her concern for him and the prospect of him leaving seemed very real to me and I thought Tara Strong did a very good job of getting that kind of feeling across. What makes this even more meaningful to me is that she was willing to allow him to go and join the migration in the first place. This seemed like a very caring thing for her to do, seeing how much it was something he wanted to experience. True it may have been just a ruse so they could follow him afterwards, but the fact that she let him go at all was what mattered. It put their relationship in a new light that I never really considered before.

Humour now and let me say right now, there was good stuff in here. The jokes may not have been "my thing" for the most part but they managed to get a smile on my face in spite of that. For example, having the teenage dragons assume that the ponies' disguise was a relative of another mis-shaped dragon we see in the next shot might have been a bit obvious, but the timing and delivery helped to elevate it to a pretty amusing moment. The same can be said of a moment involving Rainbow Dash, as she comments on how she has no right to judge Spike on doing something silly when she's done so many silly things herself in the past. The other characters then all say "we know" in unison. The drab tone they all said it in was just perfect and suited the scene well without taking away from it's focus. However the stuff involving a lot of the teenage dragons, although clearly trying to be funny, didn't really do it for me. The biggest laugh by far had to be when Spike first sets off for his "quest". Rarity asks, through gritted teeth, that they're going to follow him, to which Twilight says "of course". That had me in absolute stitches. The timing was just perfect on that one.

No song this week so I won't be talking about one.

Time to talk about the moral-of-the-day no and this week it seems to be that "what" you are is not the same, nor as important, as "who" you are. That being born as one thing doesn't meant you have to act like that. This, to me, seems like a variation on the "nature vs nurture" argument I've heard, which I must say I'm surprised to see in a show like this. I have nothing against this moral, in fact I'm all for it. It's always been my opinion that the nurture side of things always takes precedent to the nature side, and that simply being born a particular way doesn't dictate who a person should choose to be. As such, this week's moral gets a big stamp of approval from me.

Overall this is an odd episode for me to review. On the one hand we have plenty of good and even great character moments from all involved, whether it's a simple nod to continuity or greater levels of development. But on the other hand, it's story is basically one of peer pressure and has been used so often that I could probably have recited this episode's major story points in my sleep. This, to me, seems like an episode that likes it's characters more than it's story. But like I said before, the moments involving those characters are so good that I can honestly tolerate some of the shortcomings that the episode's plot may have had. So on that count I can recommend the episode, but only if you in it for the characters.

Join me next week when Fluttershy tries to help the other pegasi in episode twenty-two of season two, "Hurricane Fluttershy".

 

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