|The Good Joke.
Once again, we have a guest post from the talented Spoilers Below on a Gen 1 story. This, by the way, is NOT the guest post I was hoping to get last weekend, but Spoilers Below was kind enough to step up and send this in.
“But running away won’t solve all your problems, will it?” – The End of Flutter Valley
The Letter: Dear Princess Celestia,
Communication can be very difficult, especially if you can’t understand the people you’re trying to talk to. It seems like everyone you think you can turn to for help is having problems of their own, and they were just about to ask you for help! In the end, though, it might turn out that you’re making a bigger deal out of things than you needed to, and that you can come to a compromise. After all, they might turn out to be friends you just haven’t met yet!
Your faithful student,
What is it? A ten part epic about the nature of friendship, the problems of communication, and the cycle of nature.
What is it about? Witches tricking bees into stealing the sunstone, and chaos ensuing.
Is it worth watching? If it were only 4 episodes long, I could make a case, but 10? Even though they’re only ten minutes apiece, you’ve probably got better things to do with 100 minutes.
What else was happening? 15-19, 22-26 September 1986. This month the Big Mac Index, showing purchasing power in various countries by relating how many hours the average person needs to work in order to afford the burger, is introduced by the Economist. Kalamata, Greece is rocked by an earthquake which destroys 1/5 of the city, kills 20, and injures 80. Augusto Pinochet survives an assassination attempt at the cost of five of his bodyguards, insuring that brutal, dog-eat-dog capitalism will be safe in Chile for another few years. In better news, Desmond Tutu becomes a bishop. Heidi Montag is born, and the Oprah Winfrey Show debuts. Our number one hits for this period are “Take My Breath Away” by Berlin, and “Stuck With You” by Huey Lewis and the News.
One of the worst parts of a televised childhood were the ambitious multi-part episodes that usually made up the season premieres and finales. Because of the way syndicated TV worked, you really had to plan out being in front of the TV at the right time on the right days every time, or else you’d be lost. And when you’re small, this level of planning can be next to impossible, as parents, school, sleep, and other activities are always getting in the way. To this day, actually, it’s a strange problem of mine. I don’t watch broadcast television anymore, but whenever I’m at my parent’s house or over at a friends, it is inevitable that only certain parts of multi-part episodes will be on. Whenever we pass by an episode of Doctor Who, it will end up being the episode “Bad Wolf.” Whenever it’s Star Trek, it’ll be the one where Lore has taken over the Borg (“Descent”). Whenever it’s The Venture Bros, it’s the one that claims to be part two of a terribly complicated three part series (“Escape to the House of Mummies Part II”), but ends up being about a very funny shrinking contest. The first two times I saw this one, I legitimately believed parts one and three existed, which would resolve the time traveling Edgar Allen Poe bits at the beginning and end.
For any TV show to be successful, it needs to be consumable by both the casual viewer and also the dedicated follower, and multi-part episodes doubly so. As such, these stories always seemed to be playing catch up, wasting precious screen time with “Previously on…” segments, and when you only have about a 9 minute run time after the opening and closing credits, that really eats into your story time.
Additionally, you need to make sure your story is really worth ten episodes. This is a story that used to take quite a bit of effort to actually see. Nowadays we just punch the title into YouTube and enjoy, but back in the 80s and 90s you needed to do something at the exact same time and exact same place for two weeks. Two specific weeks, because the local video rental store doesn’t own a copy (not that asking to rent it wouldn’t come with its own separate discussion with your parents about why and things you maybe ought to be into instead because of your age and gender). It required the same devotion that regular church attendance does: be at a specific place at a specific time and perform a specific action.
And life, being what life is, you’d end up missing parts. There’s always something missing.
There are gaps, of course, in any religious tradition, by the very nature of human fallibility and the entropic nature of our world. People make mistakes. Even works as ancient and central to human understanding as the Iliad and Odyssey, the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Rig Veda, exist as portions of larger series, and we are missing the other parts. We only know of them from mentions in other works and the occasional plot summary from a learned scholar’s commentary on a people’s traditions. The actual text is lost. For the longest time, there was only one existent copy of Beowulf; can we imagine the state of modern western heroic literature if it had been lost? Even today, the search for Doctor Who episodes carelessly erased by the BBC is the life’s work of a number of individuals, trekking through distant African television studios and analyzing reel after reel of unlabeled footage in the hopes of finding even a few frames of missing show.
Now, putting religion aside for just a moment, and speaking from a decidedly anthropocentric point of view, the Sun is without a doubt one of the most important things in all of existence, up there with air, water, and the laws of physics. That gigantic mass of incandescent gas miasma of incandescent plasma is one of the primary reasons that life on this planet exists in the form it does, and it should come as no surprise that it was worshipped and/or held in high esteem by pretty much every civilization throughout all of history. Because, really, it’s difficult to think of a better god: the Sun provides light, heat, makes the plants grow, provides the temperatures that cause wind movement and therefore the seasons, provides the gravitational pull to lock the Earth into a stable orbit and force time into its present rate… You may think that I’m belaboring the point, but seriously. There is not a single moment of your life that has not been shaped and guided by the Sun, whatever your beliefs about religion, politics, ethics, or ponies may be.
Lance Parkin, in his delightful essay “Above Us Only Sky” posits that the origins of religion had nothing to do with explaining whether or not god(s) exist(s) or giving reasons why bad things happen to good people; the question they wanted an answer to was “Where does the sun go at night?” In the recorded 8000 some years of human history, and the 200,000 some years that modern Homo Sapiens has existed, this question has caused nations to go to war and people to be branded heretics and executed. If you think about it for a moment, you’ll understand why it’s such an important question. Humans have evolved to function best where there is sufficient light for our eyes to see. We do not have the complex olfactory senses of dogs, nor the sensitive asymmetrical ears of the owl, nor the sensitive electro- and mechanoreceptors of the platypus. We are intensely visual creatures. And that the primary source of light for the majority of human existence spends between 9 and 15 hours (depending on the time of year and the latitude we live in) hidden from our sight was no doubt a source of much confusion and terror. And so, using the best possible tools that our ancestors had available to them, they did the best they could to explain it: the Sun was a chariot that was carried across the sky by the gods, who retreated to do battle with the darkness and emerged victorious every morning because of our devotion. We believed this before we knew how to smelt iron, before we built houses, before we fully understood what allegories were…
(Aside: is any surprise that it is Celestia, she who raises the Sun and banishes the night, that the FiM ponies pay homage and devotion to?)
It is odd that Flutter Valley appears no longer as a tranquil and secluded paradise, but as a blasted and desolate wasteland anyone can now walk to. The ceremonial circle is worn and decayed, cracked and sandworn rocks arrayed in a circle surrounding the object of worship, the gleaming gem that is the sunstone itself, precariously balanced on a curved spire that hangs over the Queen’s head. And even that is far less spectacular than we would expect from such an important totem. The ceremony is sparsley attended, and the offerings meager, but Rosedust does not let this trouble her. Her voice is strong and unwavering, her bearing noble, her concern for her people and their traditions; in every way the very model of a queen.
The three witches pick up right where the Movie left off, still incensed by the failure of the Smooze to complete the destruction of Ponyland, and those accursed little ponies with it. This time, however, the plot is simply to steal the sun stone and move in. Flutter Valley will die without the sunstone, you see. But because the witches are really quite bad at what they do — how does one mess up a landslide, exactly? — they instead decide to hire the bees, who are also quite bad at being bees, to steal it for them. This ought to be a win-win, because the bees live in Bumbleland, a frigid area with no flowers at all. The bees can then grow their own flowers, the ponies will vacate the dead valley, and the witches will move in.
The premise is, of course, silly: Bees do terribly in the snow; they could never survive there in the first place. Sting would be killing himself by removing his stinger in the very first scene we see him in. The nectar bees crave is not inhaled like cocaine. If the sunstone is hot enough to burn down Bumbleland, it would be too hot for anyone to handle. Why would the flutter ponies leave it hanging so precariously over Rosedust’s head during the ceremony? Why bother looking for Megan? How are we to really tell the difference between the barely grassy fields of the Sunstoned Fluttery Valley and the barren sunstoneless one? How could a society of creatures that can never agree with one another work a magical ceremony together? Who dug the vast tunnels underneath Bumbleland? Is this episode actually a subtle attempt to get your children to worship the sun, just as She-Ra introduced them to the occult powers in female centric deities, the vast and easy associations of horses with goddesses? Is the images of ponies trapped in honey while the forest burns down around them simply too scary for little children?
None of this really matters, of course. It never did. The point is that the sunstone is returned, evil is punished in the most perfunctory of way (the same Utter Flutter that banished the Smooze), and dark clouds are banished from blocking the real Sun. The sun stone merely reflects its rays and amplifies them. The point was never that there was a literal boy who literally lost control of his father’s fiery chariot. The point is moot as to whether or not the fox actually complained about the sour grapes. It doesn’t matter that we know full well that it’s just a children’s television program and that we’re a periphery demographic.
The point is that the stonebacks were on our side all along, and just wanted to play with us. They just didn’t speak our language. The point is that we should let the bees come and have the nectar; we don’t need it, and it only makes the flowers grow better. Hell, it’s necessary for their very survival. The point isn’t that the furbobs always disagree, it’s that they can work together despite their differences of opinion and heal an injured pony when the time comes. It’s not easy to look at, because it’s so bright. But it’s the thing that lets you see everything else. Without basic trust and communication, all other things break down. We can disagree, but we have to work together when it’s important. That should be as easy to see as the Sun itself. Yet it’s so, so very easy to miss. Especially when hidden between a lot of running about and feinting about interesting events that could happen but don’t.
It the inconvenient way they schedule those episodes, you see. It requires an almost religious devotion to see others as worth seeing as you see yourself.
- Yes, that is Bart Simpson you’re hearing. Nancy Cartwright worked in the MLP stable of voice actors before hitting it big with her Simpsons’ role.
- The amount of time your author had to repeat “This is not a review blog. This is not a review blog” while writing this would make some cry. Your author did not succomb to the temptation to submit the sentence “This is not a review blog.” 334 times in lieu of actual content, under the policy of “If you can’t say something nice don’t say anything at all”.
- Thankfully, we are over the big hump, and none of the other episodes are longer than 4 parts until we reach the G3 movies. Which, at your author’s present glacial pace, should be sometime in 2020 (?).
Next Time on G1 Ponies: G-g-g-g-g-g-ghosts!!!!