Episode [1.10] – “Swarm of the Century”
This week, on My Little Pony…
“Okay! Here’s the plan. Rainbow Dash, you distract them. Good! Everyone else, we need to build an exact copy of Ponyville right over there. We’ve got less than a minute!
…Zecora was right. We’re doomed.”
If there was ever any doubt that the writers of this show were fans of Star Trek… well, next season will clear that doubt for good, but this is a decent bit of evidence before then. The premise of this episode’s plot is leaning pretty heavily on The Trouble With Tribbles (although where each episode goes is obviously more than a little different). This isn’t a bad thing, as it makes for an incredibly entertaining episode overall.
We’ve seen Twilight get caught up in details and overthink things in the past, and in this episode she’s kind of on obsessive overdrive again in the preparations for Celestia’s visit. There’s a couple things at work here, partially the fact that Twilight takes Celestia’s position as ruler very seriously and doesn’t seem to comprehend that a visit from her could be seen as casual, instead trying to put all of Ponyville into super-preparation mode to make sure everything is perfect when she arrives. The second and possibly deeper level of all this boils down to Twilight’s relationship with the princess. While Twilight does have a mother (who is alive and around, even if we’ll rarely ever see her), Celestia arguably fills the role of Twilight’s mother figure in her life. While we’ve never had anything stated explicitly, the implication appears to be that Twilight has spent far more time with Celestia as her protege than with anyone else, including her own parents, with Celestia effectively adopting her at a young age when she took her as a student. As such, Twilight is extremely invested in the idea of impressing her teacher, and the thought of letting her down in any way is something that she seems particularly terrified of, and she can and will go to rather extreme lengths when she feels that she’s in danger of disappointing Celestia. Case in point, using what has to be a particularly complicated spell to attempt to override the survival instincts of an entire animal species, which backfires rather gloriously when rather than getting the parasprite swarm to stop their rampage, she simply changes what it is that the animals devour as their food source (with some rather disturbing implications – why exactly are the parasprites chasing after Rainbow Dash after having their diets changed?).
And of course, Pinkie is something of a centerpiece to this episode despite much of the episode occuring with her off-screen. She’s seemingly the only one in Ponyville to recognize the creatures at all (even Celestia appears not to know what they are), and of course has the answer with how to deal with them right off the bat, but due to a case of catastrophically bad communication between her and the others, she’s left to go about preparing her solution on her own while the other five make their own attempts. Which, to their credit, actually sort of get results, although it’s revealed that it came at the cost of accidentally pushing the problem onto another town rather than fixing it properly (the implication is that Pinkie’s solution got the swarm to simply go back into the Everfree Forest where presumably it has a natural predator to keep its population in check). While it’s not entirely the fault of the others (it’s been pointed out before that Pinkie’s just a touch vague on making it known exactly what it is she’s trying to do), the miscommunication largely comes out of assumptions. Pinkie assumes that the others will recognize that she knows what’s going on and that her actions are relevant to the solution (and gets very frustrated once she realizes they obviously don’t), while the others assume… well, basically the opposite, that Pinkie’s just goofing around and being oblivious to the fact that there’s a problem to solve in the first place. By the time Pinkie potentially realizes that she might need to be more specific in her explanation of what it is she’s trying to do, the others are writing her off so hard (right in front of her, even!) that she likely considers it a lost cause and resigns to taking the problem head-on alone. The fact that she’s able to succeed at fixing the problem completely by herself despite her friends ignoring her to the point of arguably hindering her speaks to the idea that while on the surface level Pinkie appears to just be a hyperactive simple-minded goofball, underneath it all she really is much more capable and smart than the others give her credit for.
Zecora immediately makes a return this episode as well, securing her position as a permanent (if minor) addition to the cast, with Twilight rushing to her for help when she’s at her wits end about what to do to about the swarm. I kind of love that Zecora gives Twilight information about her problem without really doing anything to help her fix it (I love the matter-of-fact expression and tone when she tells Twilight that Ponyville’s doomed), effectively shrugging her off with a “welp, looks like it sucks to be you right now”. Mayhaps she’s still a tiny bit bitter after the events of last episode (which she’d be extremely justified in being so). Those events have been forgiven and forgotten, buuuuut she’ll let them come up with a solution on their own this time, thank you very much.
Rarity’s one of the only bits of this episode that feel a little off to me. She’s the only one to actually take advantage of the parasprite’s tendency to multiply (and somehow manages to get them all to cooperate with her completely, meaning for a brief moment she’s apparently better at dealing with them than Fluttershy is, and working with animals is what Fluttershy does for a living), right up until she actually sees one reproduce (which she somehow missed every time it happened prior to that, with how many are in her shop by the end?) and then suddenly she can’t handle them and they’re the worst thing ever. Aside from that particular moment, however, I still kind of love some of her bits in the episode. Her pausing her panic briefly when Pinkie arrives to “save” her late in the episode followed by a beat of calm after she leaves and then her just breaking into full on screaming is one of my favorite moments.
One last nod towards what is possibly my favorite gag in the episode before I finish, I love the moment where things have completely and utterly fallen apart and Celestia is seconds away from arriving and Twilight just completely breaks. There’s an audible snap as her expression goes funny, and she proceeds to concoct a brilliant plan to put everything right in less than a minute (which of course is entirely impossible to actually pull off). Making this bit even better is the fact that it’s a rather subtle reference to an equally harebrained scheme that was actually successful in a certain movie.
Swarm of the Centry is an episode that for some reason I always recall as being number three or four in the series rather than ten, so it tends to buzz confusingly around in my head like a parasprite. My opinion of the episode is equally buzzy: it was never really high up there on my list of top episodes, but it seems to have “aged” relatively well with me in the sense that I think I enjoy it a little more than I did all those years ago. I’m sure this is in no small part thanks to it being the basis for the first episode of the brilliant Friendship is Witchcraft series, which is kind of an odd way of judging an episode. That, and “parasprite” has turned into the brony word for “troll,” which is kind of hilarious. But hey, if the horseshoe fits, wear it!
I agree with Tessa that this episode is quite Pinkie-centric despite her being out of the picture much of the time. This episode did a great job expanding on Pinkie Pie’s very stochastic character: she’s absolutely random to be sure (as Rainbow Dash asserts again this episode, just without a smile on her face this time), but that doesn’t mean she’s always being random just for the sake of being random. It’s easy to just say she’s “just being Pinkie,” but that doesn’t necessarily mean she doesn’t know exactly what she’s doing: some percentage of her randomness is completely deliberate, such as her seemingly useless fixation on obtaining a bunch of instruments, but it’s never quite clear whether that percentage is 10% or 100% or 1000% (Pinkie is allowed to break upper bounds like that, because Pinkie). In fact, Pinkie herself may not quite know, evidenced by her “even when I don’t understand me” comment at the very end of the episode. One point of frustration I had with this episode was the miscommunication that Tessa mentioned: so much confusion and annoyance could have been mitigated if she would have just explained what she was doing with those instruments in the first place! But then one does have to think, “Would anypony have believed her even if she did explain what was going on? Would I have believed her?” Perhaps not. That Pinkie doesn’t explain anything only further solidifies her bizarre character, which I think was a move of smart writing. For no one can be… told… what the Pinkie is. You have to see it for yourself.
(Come on, it was either that or “One does not simply… explain Pinkie Pie”; yeah my meme-fu is weaksauce.)
And while this wasn’t really a Fluttershy episode, she does get quite a few good moments of being absolutely adorable. Did you notice that immediately after Twilight says “I’ve never seen anything so adorable!” she looks at Fluttershy, pauses for a minute, and then blushes furiously? That’s not because she’s embarrassed about hugging a bug, but because Fluttershy is so much more adorable than a parasprite and they both know it. Yes that was absolutely the intention of that scene and no you cannot try to convince me otherwise!
Actually, I think one of the reasons this episode tends to buzz around as a relatively unfavorable one is because of the parasprites themselves. Cute sprite-like creatures have never really done it for me, and bugs/bug-like things in general are not high up there on my list of things I enjoy spending time with (that and I tend to inhale them while running through the Metroparks, yuck). Especially ones that reproduce via gastrointestinal ejection. I’m with Pinkie Pie on this one: “Blugh!”
The more I look at the non-bug parts of the episode, though, the more I find myself enjoying it. The Mane Six (minus Pinkie) all working together to take on the parasprite problem was a pretty great show of teamwork, coordination, and trust. We saw similar shows of teamwork in Dragonshy and at the end of Applebuck Season, not to mention in Friendship is Magic, part 2. I get the warm fuzzies when I see our pony friends work together to accomplish a common goal (which is why I’m buzzing for next week’s episode, and not in the parasprite buzz way). I would have also gotten the throw-my-hands-in-the-air-and-shout-ies had there been a nod to the Katamari Damacy theme song in the music that was playing when they were rolling that ball of parasprites along… perfect opportunity for a cameo right there!
And in what I’m sure wasn’t actually meant to be a piece of social commentary, Rainbow Dash’s “Time to take out the adorable trash!” quip is somewhat telling of our own modern culture: we consume and reproduce and consume and reproduce and generate huge piles of waste that, for lack of a better option, we push elsewhere so it’s someone else’s problem, either our neighbors’ or our future generations’. Despite our best efforts to try and clean up after our own messes, sometimes we end up unable to hold all that adorable trash and we end up just spilling it all over the place, making an even bigger mess in the process. Maybe that’s why we invented music… to keep ourselves in check.
One thing did really throw me for a loop this episode was the scene with the parasprites eating words out of Twilight’s books after said pony’s “fix everything” spell failed. For some reason I seem to recall that scene as being relevant to episode, but watching it again it turns out that’s not the case so it winds up being utterly irrelevant and nonsensical (I think what I was remembering was actually stuff that happens much later on in the series… I told you this episode is all buzzed up in my head). If throughout the episode everypony kept forgetting things and this scene revealed the parasprites’ otherworldly ability to “consume knowledge” then perhaps it would be interesting, but as it stands it’s just confusing. Maybe the animators just needed 30 seconds of filler or something; if that were the case, I would have preferred another 30 seconds of Fluttershy being adorable. Best pony already had several adorable moments… why not toss in a few more? Like when Fluttershy said “Ouch…” after a high-hoof with Rainbow Dash. Seriously, my heart seized there on account of the d’aww.
Oh, and since you mentioned it Tessa, here’s a screenshot of that scene you had mentioned you enjoyed. Did you notice that Rarity is wobbling back and forth on a three-legged stool? Unintentional forward reference to a completely unrelated event, or drawing lines between dots that simply aren’t there? :p
Two other random events of note: Twilight’s first psychotic break (her quote that is use in this deconstruction’s header is such a great one), and what I believe is the only time Zecora doesn’t speak in rhyme (“Have you gone mad?!”).
So yeah, overall, despite the buzziness this episode creates in my head, I think I enjoyed it more than before. The characters are solid and well-written, the story is actually a bit on the complex side (there are effectively two plotlines running in parallel: Princess Celestia’s visit and the “Problem with Parasprites,” as it were), and the moral is reasonable. Those darn disgusting-yet-adorable parasprites though!
Aside from the aforementioned Katamari Damacy music, the only song I can really think about for this episode is Pinkie’s Parasprite Polka (8-Bit) by RainbowCrash88. Oh, wait, someone put the Katamari Damacy music to the episode. Perfect! Have that as well!
I don’t have any broad thoughts to lay down that the others haven’t wonderfully covered above. I really dig this spin on the old “Trouble with Tribbles”/Gremlins plot, the great explosion of teamwork that still ultimately proves fruitless because it doesn’t include the one friend who knows everything but isn’t being listened to, Pinkie’s quiet arc of saving the day in spite of everyone refusing to listen to her not telling them anything, Twilight trying to fix it all with magic only to make it worse, and being so focused on making everything pitch perfect for the Princess that she totally snaps. It’s a really fun episode, making zany use of a nice setup and letting it play out with everyone nicely in character, with a few unexpected twists thrown in.
Let me fire up some bullet-points for additional thoughts:
- I really like how Spike is used in this episode, that he’s there to help Twilight, but that she takes him for granted, like when she just leaves him to do all the cleaning himself or chides him for not doing exactly what he is doing when he’s rounded up a basket of parasprites. His wisecracks come less out of being a butt, and more out of being genuinely frustrated at his treatment, and later at seeing all his genuine hard work go to pot as the parasprites not only tear down the books he’s organized, but strip them of the very words that give them value (that was an odd bit, Gerf, especially with the one parasprite sporting a napkin and silverware while slurping the ink up like pasta, but I still found it amusing).
- I like that Pinkie is being show as the solution to needlessly destructive pests after she herself is first established in the episode as a needlessly destructive pest of Mrs. & Mr. Cake, ruining their hard work even as she watches them continue toiling at said hard work while laying in wait to ruin more of it. Yes, she has the Pinkie self-justification of wanting to make sure everything tastes right, but it does feel off that she’d do it in such a harmful way, even as I find it an amusing thematic link to the problem they all soon face.
- I love that we not only get the teamwork scene of herding the parasprites up, foiled by Fluttershy being adorable, but Rainbow Dash then breaking out her awesome weather powers with the tornado vacuum. Which is then actually foiled by the lack of communication with Pinkie, and further fuels their lack of communication. That’s good character writing, there.
- The one bit I don’t like from Rarity is that she dolls Rainbow Dash up in a full Marie Antoinette getup. I feel like the point of Rarity should be that she wants people to look their best, but still in their own ways which are individual to them. This is so beyond Rainbow Dash’s thing that it comes off as nothing more than the cheap joke that it is. Otherwise, I like how she’s somehow the only one who’s tapped into controlling the parasprites through minor tasks, and that their horking reproductive cycle doesn’t just repel her because it’s gross, but because it splats her right in the eye. I could further elaborate on this, but I already pushed the boundaries of this being a “family friendly” blog last week. Anyway, her “Everypony for themselves!” also rings true as she, like Spike and the others, just put a lot of hard work into everything and doesn’t want to see it all swept away.
- Speaking of which, I love Applejack and her family bravely setting up a defense of their apples, only for the change in appetite to leave them watching as their entire farmhouse is consumed. Does this ever come up in a later episode? Because that’s a significant thing to happen to a person. Not only because we’ve heard about the tight finances of the farm where they were hopping to get Granny a new hip, but think of all the mementos in the home of such a close-knit family group just suddenly being swept I way. Yes, I know, “kids show” and “visual gag”, but were they willing to do the barest of serialization, that could make for a nice followup character episode that would really speak to what children in Tornado Alley have to regularly face.
- Despite my misgivings about Zecora in the last episode, she’s now been established, so I do like that she comes up again, if only to settle the potential question of “Why didn’t they go to Zecora for help?”
Overall, a good, smart, entertaining episode. Especially coming off of last week.
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Hah, I had never noticed the clever irony that Pinkie, despite being the only one who knows how to wrangle those pesky parasprites, was being an equally pesky parasprite to the Cakes. I think I was too fixated on trying to figure out what sort of black hole-esque material she had in her stomach to allow her to inhale so much matter with seemingly no consequence! 😉
It’s not even the last time that Pinkie will go completely out of control in regards to sweets put together specifically for a visit from Celestia. She has to be ridiculously useful in the actual making of stuff for the Cakes to be able to write her off as an occupational hazard and still keep her employed.
The Apple family barn being in constant need of rebuilding is kind of a thing in the series, yeah (I’d almost say “running gag” but it’s not always played for laughs). It’s nothing ever laser-focused in on, but it does sort of hang around in the background that the Apples really rely on their wares selling (both their typical apple stock and their specialty seasonal sales that presumably make up a lot of their “survive the winter” funds) to keep in the black, and that barn being a constant rebuilding project has to be at least a decent drain on their finances.
Also I just realized what episode is coming up next and I’ve already started singing the song.