I AM a big pony! (Somepony to Watch Over Me)

Yeah, over a day late. I suck. A few quick items:

  • I got a nice bit of mainstream recognition: I was quoted and My Little Po-Mo referenced in last week’s New York Magazine
  • My Little Po-Mo vol. 2 is on sale, see the Books page.
  • I’m nearing the end of My Little Po-Mo, which means I’m nearing the beginning of The Near-Apocalypse of ’09. In fact, I’m already writing it, and backers of the Patreon can read it as I write it instead of waiting until February when it officially launches.
The third danger of the Fire Swamps is the
Chimera of Fairly Typical Size, Actually.

It’s March 8, 2014. The top song is Pharell Williams’ “Happy,” which basically is what it promises, but goes on too long and suffers from the usual excess of chorus. The top movie is 300: Rise of An Empire, which I have no desire to experience enough of to form an opinion. In the news, Gravity and Frozen collect a number of well-deserved Academy Awards between them, the murder trial of Oscar Pretorius begins in South Africa, and conflict between Russia and Ukraine in Crimea continues even as Russia continues trying to pretend it’s not them.

On TV, newcomer Scott Sonneborn pens “Somepony to Watch Over Me,” an Apple Bloom episode that mostly continues exploring the same themes as the previous week’s “It Ain’t Easy Being Breezy.” Both stories involve a character who neither needs nor wants care (Apple Bloom here, Seabreeze last episode) having it thrust onto them by a larger, more physically and socially powerful caretaker (Applejack/Fluttershy). However, where last episode divided itself between Fluttershy and Seabreeze’s points of view, this episode is strictly from Apple Bloom’s. Applejack’s position, while not entirely unsympathetic, is depicted as being both wrong and rather absurd, to the point of worrying that Apple Bloom doesn’t know she has to open drawers in order to use their contents.

Like last episode, this is a critique of saving rather than helping. However, unlike last episode, by focusing on Apple Bloom the critique becomes less what it says about the savior, and more about what it does to the victim. Normally, when I talk about saving vs. helping I talk about the would-be savior, because they are the active party, the one who needs to be persuaded to do differently. But that does rather miss the point, which is that saving is often harmful and always disrespectful.

That’s key to this episode. From Applejack’s perspective, she loves her sister, cares about her, and wants to protect her. But from Apple Bloom’s perspective, Applejack isn’t saying, “I love you,” she’s saying “I don’t trust you.” Applejack is, in effect, repeatedly telling Apple Bloom that she isn’t good enough to take care of herself, which in turn leads to Apple Bloom going to great (and rather dangerous) lengths to prove that she can actually take care of some things on her own.

In some ways, being excessively cared for can be nearly as damaging as being insufficiently cared for. In particular, it can be very damaging to one’s self-worth; we need meaningful achievement in order to feel good about ourselves, but no achievement can be meaningful without the possibility of failure. If we only ever do easy things where success is guaranteed, then any adversity can seem overwhelming. Fortunately for Apple Bloom, she has often been allowed to attempt things on her own, in particular in her adventures with the Cutie Mark Crusaders, and so she is able to face down adversity in the swamps.

Interestingly, the chimera has similar issues to Apple Bloom, given its comment on having a sister always looking over its shoulder (literally, in this case). This is fairly standard “the villain is a twisted reflection of the hero” stuff, which in a sense the season has been doing all along, given its play with qlippothic shadows, but the use of a chimera for Apple Bloom’s reflection is particularly interesting. As a three-headed monster, it is a reflection not just of Apple Bloom but of the Cutie Mark Crusaders as a group, three frequently bickering individuals who nonetheless form a united whole and usually act together.

The chimera is also a third instance of the episode poking gentle fun at the show’s conventions. The first is the “hats and bows closet,” a quick visual gag that references the common practice throughout television animation of giving characters very prominent and unchanging costume elements that they rarely or never change, thus making them more visually distinct despite the comparatively low level of detail relative to live action. The interrupted song is a slightly longer gag, poking fun at the show’s ambivalence about whether musical numbers are diegetic (as, for instance, “Giggle at the Ghosties” in the series premier clearly is), extradiegetic (as most musical numbers in musicals are, and for example “Winter Wrap-Up” and “Smile” must be), or something in between or other.

The chimera pokes at a third gag, the relative harmlessness of most of the monsters. Certainly there have been monsters that posed an immediate physical threat to the heroes, such as the hydra or the Changelings, but dragons, for example, are more bullies than all-devouring forces of destruction. The chimera, given its desire to eat Apple Bloom’s pies, seems at first to be another such defanged monster–but then it announces it intends to eat her as well, as a side dish.

These gags appear initially to be just that–standalone gags that don’t really amount to much. The episode largely conforms to the Cutie Mark Crusader formula, with the Crusader getting in over her head, getting bailed out or set straight by the adults, and ultimately not learning any particular lesson. Which is where the fourth and best of the episode’s gags comes in, because this time Apple Bloom didn’t need to learn a lesson. She was in the right all along, and it’s Applejack who learns her lesson–which means we finally have an episode in which Applejack needs to grow and learn, in which she actually develops as a person and as a character, and it’s not even an Applejack episode!

Unfortunately, those four little gags are pretty much all this episode has to offer. True, it offers a fresh perspective on the importance of not trying to impose assistance on people who don’t want it, but we just had an episode about that. Ultimately an episode about stepping back and letting the Cutie Mark Crusaders grow up must ring false, because if they grow up they cease to be the Cutie Mark Crusaders; the show cannot allow them to grow up because it would eliminate their function as characters, which is being roughly the same age and social status as the target audience. This is about as good a job as can be done with that brief; fortunately, in just a few episodes Sonneborn will get a chance to try something much more interesting and novel.

Next week: Monochrome Rocks!

Leave a Reply