Episode [1.19] – “A Dog and Pony Show”
This week, on My Little Pony…
“Good gracious, I can’t take this anymore. Be quiet, pony!”
“And that’s another thing. I would appreciate it if you stopped calling me “pony”. I am a lady and I wish to be addressed as such. So you may call me “Miss” or “Rarity” or “Miss Rarity”.”
“Enough! Your whining! It-it-it hurts!”
“Whining? I am not whining. I am complaining. Do you want to hear whining? Thiiis iiis whiiiining! Oooh, this harness is too tiiight! It’s going to chafe. Can’t you loosen it? Oooh, it hurts and it’s sooo ruuusty! Why didn’t you clean it first? It’s gonna leave a staaaain! And the wagon’s getting heeeavy, why do I have to pull it?!”
“Aaah! Make it stop!”
“But I thought you waaanted whiiining!”
While out hunting for gems with Spike, Rarity is ambushed and captured by a group of jewel-loving Diamond Dogs who intend to make her use her ability for them. Spike rushes to the others to mount a rescue, but does Rarity even need saving?
I really like this episode, for a few reasons. For one, it’s one of the most fun episodes Rarity gets in the entire series, and it’s a very different kind of episode than her standard fare. Watching her get to go completely ham and chew on the scenery is arguably when she’s at her most entertaining (thanks in no small part to Tabitha St. Germain’s voice acting), and the situation the Diamond Dogs land her in don’t just let her turn her ham up to 11, it’s actually how she gets herself out of the situation. Her “whining” rant is still one of the most iconic moments of the character in the series, and easily my favorite part of the episode.
In addition, the central moral and theme of this episode is exactly the kind of feminism that I espouse wholeheartedly, namely the concept of the level of femininity of a person having no bearing on whether or not they can be capable of handling themselves. One of the stated goals of the reboot of the series in general was to show off the idea that “girly doesn’t have to mean bad”, and this episode is basically an exclamation mark on that concept.
One of the things about this episode that I like is that the “imaginary” Rarity that the others dream up, while thoroughly underestimating her, isn’t that far off the mark from being believable. She’s an exaggeration without quite reaching the point of being a caricature, and is based off of ways we’ve seen her react before (it’s understandable that Applejack would focus in on Rarity’s dislike of getting unnecessarily dirty, for example, given her experiences with her). At the same time, the actual Rarity going through the experiences also feels very much in character, gracefully taking the entire thing in stride, at really no point during her capture being frazzled beyond the point of relatively calm indignation, her somewhat subtle fighting back happening almost immediately even beyond her initial snarking (she manages to get four of the guard dogs to incapacitate themselves by having two of them dig up the base of a cave formation, loosening the support and causing a stalactite to fall on them, and two others she convinces to smell each other which cause them to pass out). The effectiveness of her methods also make sense, considering that the Diamond Dogs are, well, dogs. Dogs don’t deal well with sharp, high-pitched noises, and so Rarity taking them down by employing just that is pretty fitting.
Also just to point this out, the Diamond Dogs are poachers and they hide behind trees.
We also get to see more of Rarity’s talent-driven magic at play in this episode. Prior to now we’ve mostly just seen her levitating stuff with her magic (which appears to be a fairly standard unicorn ability), and she does do that particularly well for the detail work that she does. But here we see in action something Twilight sort of exposition dropped towards the beginning of the series, namely that in most cases a unicorn’s magic tends to be specialized towards the end of whatever overall talent they possess. Rarity’s specialized magic is actually towards locating the gems she uses in many of her fashion designs (I’ve mentioned before that her special talent isn’t actually “fashion” and before much longer we’ll see that point made). We also get a revisiting of the idea that Twilight’s not a typical unicorn, as she pretty easily just copies Rarity’s own specialized magic in the course of trying to find her in the caves. It does feel a little out of nowhere that she both learned that spell and then completely forgot that she did until reminded about it, but then again, she’s just a little bit stressed under the situation and probably learned that spell more just for the sake of learning than because she ever thought she’d be putting it into practice, so it’s not that far fetched that it might not immediately jump to mind. Although it is admittedly pretty convenient. Okay, so it’s a pretty weak link in the writing, but I still kind of like it.
Spike also gets to play a sizable role in the episode, arguably being the main focus on the “rescue attempt” side of the story. I love his “knight in shining armor” daydream, and the fact that he seems to have a fixation on the chivalry idea (this actually lays the groundwork for an episode that will come much later). He really wants to be able to play the hero, and while his rescue attempt doesn’t go quite the way it does in his fantasies, he makes an effort to at least put on the knightly trappings to the extent that he can when they finally do find Rarity (and Twilight, in big-sisterly/motherly fashion, lets him do it despite initially being understandably miffed at the idea of being his “steed”). Also, he gets to have not just one but two Big Nos in the episode (he’s actually the image header for the Western Animation page of the trope).
One last thing before wrapping up, as it’s sort of the one really glaring point that bugs me about this episode. Sooo, okay, as much as I like this episode, and Rarity’s role within it… what the butts is with the mule line? I get that Rarity was pretty much actively looking for ways to turn the situation around to her favor, and her previous tactic wasn’t cutting it anymore so she had to find some excuse to turn on the crocodile tears (which, by the way, as a concept I love as it very much turns the “tears solve everything” trope that G1 used quite a bit on its head), it’s kind of a really mean-spirited place to go, making her look like a total jerk at best and outright racist (species-ist?) at worst. The argument could be made that she didn’t really mean it and was just making use of what she had (which to be fair, is what she’s doing from beginning to end of her captivity anyways), but I still kind of wish they’d found a different way to get to that point. Come to think about it, AKR wrote the other mule reference this season. Whatcha got against mules, Rogers? Although as most of the inclusion of mules and donkeys in the show comes from her episodes (there’s several donkey characters and a mule character down the road that play full roles in their episodes), she has to have some level of affinity for them, so I mostly ask in jest.
Going back and watching all of these episodes (yet) again has really allowed me to see these characters in a richer light. The first few times I watched this episode however many years ago that was, I was still in my “Ugh, Rarity,” mood whereby I just flat-out didn’t care much for the white horse (okay, I think technically she’s a light grey, but white just makes things easier). However, as I watched her character evolve over time both in canon (the show), sorta-canon (the comics), and fanon (fanfics), I really gained a new appreciation for her as somepony who is devoted to her craft. Fashion isn’t my thing and I honestly just don’t “get” it (seriously, ask Tessa or anyone else who knows me in person 😛 ), but I can really appreciate and respect how Rarity does get it and that it is such an important part of her life.
And thus how important and significant it was to her that Sapphire Shores decided to stroll in and commission her for a gazillion pony-hours’ worth of work (hmm, when has this happened before?).
Now the reason I screenshotted Sapphire Shores’s butt here is that it’s missing a little… something. And of course, that something I’m talking about is a Cutie Mark. When I noticed that Sapphire Shores didn’t have her Cutie Mark I got a little excited: was this a blink-and-you-missed-it indication that some ponies don’t get their Cutie Marks even into adulthood, perhaps ever? Coming off back-to-back episodes of the Cutie Mark Crusaders obsessing over their blank flanks to varying degrees, alluding to this (however discreetly) wouldn’t be all that far-fetched. However, some quick Googling quashed that excitement: evidently the lack of a Cutie Mark was an animation oversight (as explained by Lauren Faust herself), and while Sapphire Shores does have a Cutie Mark on her blind bag figure, she’s also depicted as a unicorn with different coloration and a backstory that has nothing to do with being a pop star. I suspect whoever was making the blind bags never actually saw the show, so he or she read “Sapphire Shores” and relegated the character to the status of some random background pony like Lemon Hearts or something and came up with a generic bio that vaguely matched her name.
And that’s a shame, because that could have been an immensely interesting bit of Cutie Mark lore to fuel future episodes, particularly where the CMCs are involved.
Rarity and Spike’s gem-hunting expedition brings back fond memories of classic video games where caches of gems and gold and all sorts of wondrous valuables are just casually strewn all over the place, just waiting to be discovered by a wandering traveler. I suppose that happens in modern games, too, but what can I say, I’m a child of the ’80s. But of course, no video game would be complete without its share of random villains, and the Diamond Dogs sure fill that role quite well. Diamond Dogs are the first clearly sapient non-pony (or pony-like, such as mules or cows) species we’ve seen in a good long while, preceded only by the griffons from Griffon the Brush Off and the dragon in Dragonshy, if memory serves me right. And an interesting race they are, if a bit stereotypically slavedriver-y. Personally I don’t care for them all that much (I’d rather see more exploration into the griffon kingdom), but it’s always neat to see what other sapient critters are lurking about in Equestria.
I will totally (and embarrassingly) admit: the first time I watched this episode, Rarity’s attitude during her stint with the Diamond Dogs absolutely frustrated me to no end. All I could think was, “Sweet Celestia, she’s a pain in the flank even when captured! UGH!” It wasn’t until later that I realized that Rarity had duped me just as she had duped the Diamond Dogs: it was all part of her elaborate plan to escape, not a poorly-written portrayal of her stereotypical archetype. She had the Diamond Dogs wrapped around her hoof practically the whole time, and in fact I think the only time her prissiness actually actually kicked in (as opposed to in everypony else’s imaginings of her) was right before she was dragged into the hole when her aversion to dirt momentarily trumped the fact that she was being ponynapped. But from then on out she was pretty much in charge of the show, even if it didn’t look that way on the surface. Brilliant, complex writing to reveal more of Rarity’s equally brilliant and complex character, and presented in a way that was very much not as blatantly in-your-face as some other issues or key episode points have been in the past.
I love how Rarity goes from slave to Queen of the Underworld throughout the course of the episode, and it takes the Diamond Dogs a non-insignificant amount of time to realize what is going on. Meanwhile, that means the rest of the Mane Six and Spike would have been running through the caves full-tilt for a ridiculously long time (either that, or Rarity can bend others to her will at a frightening speed; probably a little of column A and a little bit of column B). I’m glad that the episode didn’t spend too much time on the “Let’s Save Rarity!” brigade, as I think those scenes are the weakest points of the episode. They’re funny and slapsticky (the way everypony gets dragged into the cave network is a funny gag we’ll see again), but as you may or may not have realized by now, funny and slapstick isn’t really my preferred cup of tea (coffee’s more to my liking). Wherever the Mane Six are involved in this episode, things just feel rushed and unpolished. Spike’s plan to get down into the caves is sensible but questionably set up (why would he possibly expect that final hole to not fill up like every other one just did?), and while Twilight’s magic-copy ability is neat, it’s setup is hasty (a la the “skeletal lock” from the Star Trek: Voyager episode “Scorpion”), it doesn’t make intuitive sense (why would there be a trail of gems leading to Rarity?). In fact, I see the rushed job on Twilight’s ability to copy magic as another missed opportunity: it’s a frighteningly powerful skill, but one that could have used a bit of incubation in a previous episode, perhaps during a scene where she and Spike are practicing and numbering her spells as in Boast Busters.
And while I agree with Tessa that the moral to this episode is a great one, I’m a little on the fence with its presentation. “Just because somepony is ladylike doesn’t make her weak” is certainly true, but saying it that way puts “ladylike” and “weak” in the same breath: those words tend to linger in the memory more than the “doesn’t make her” phrase that provides the proper context, which is completely counterproductive to the desired message. The second sentence about seeming defenseless but nonetheless triumphing over adversity thanks to a razor-sharp wit is much more powerful, as its meaning completely subsumes the first sentence (without putting “ladylike” and “weak” together) while being more generally applicable to any sort of group who may feel underpowered and vulnerable in a given situation, including those that the target demographic for the show may deal with on a daily basis at school: frail bookworms being bullied by the buff sports jocks, shy folks being harrassed by more extraverted troublemakers during lunch hour, new kids being laughed at on the bus. I’m not trying to detract from the “girl power” message here, I just wish it wasn’t as “GIRL POWER!!” as it came out as in the end (okay, bold, caps, and double exclamation point may be an exaggeration, but you catch my drift).
There aren’t a whole lot of Diamond Dog songs out there, but Diamond Dogs (Euro Dirt Vocal Mix) by Eurobeat Brony makes up for it by pretty much crushing it out of the park. For you Sapphire Shores fans, here’s Sapphire Shores (ft Marika Bedford) by Silva Hound. And with the forewarning that it’s a bizarre conglomeration of multiple memes that may be difficult to swallow, have some Raritylenol.
I’m not sure what to write here. Not for a lack of interest or enjoyment, but because Tessa pretty much wrote exactly what I’d write and I’m mostly in agreement with her. Let’s see if I can still wring out a bit.
I like the energy and flow of the episode, how it doesn’t just settle into the story you think it will as it keeps shifting. We start with Rarity getting the tall order at her boutique, but just when you think that’ll be the focus of the episode, no, we never get a second appearance from Sapphire Shores in this installment as we instead get into the plot involving the Diamond Dogs. And just when you think it’ll be all about Rarity and Spike having to deal with the opposition, suddenly the remaining Main Five have all been rallied by Spike and are racing into action and going through elaborate visual gags. And then we go from their quest and its imagined portrayal of what Rarity has been up to in captivity to a long exploration of what she’s actually been up to. From there on, things play out to their end, but they certainly kept me on my toes until then.
I think that energy is where this episode excels. I disagree with Gerf when it comes to the slapstick humor, as I loved the whole whack-a-mole antics of the dogholes, as well as the fishing line roller coaster ride through the tunnels. The antics of Rarity, as she gradually (not the whole time, as she claims, but she builds there) breaks the situation down and rebuilds it into one under her control, is just as zany in its own right, and does a great job of exploring how capable and sharp Rarity is. Gerf is right that the wording of the final message could be tweaked a little (see also: past Amy Keating Rogers episodes), but I’m with Tessa in standing by the meaning, and think they did just as good a job of showing how strong Rarity can be through her posh and ladylike means as they did when gentle Fluttershy took on the dragon.
The Diamond Dogs are an interesting bunch. We’ve had fantasy creatures in the past, but typically, when they reference a creature that actually exists here on Earth, they’re not that different in their portrayal aside from occasional speaking abilities. Here, dogs are bipedal brutes with opposable thumbs who have intricate mining networks, a desire to horde jewelry, have armored swarms of soldiers, and no issues binding other sentient beings in the shackles of slavery. I actually quite like this, as it makes them a very distinct presence and threat. If I have an issue, it’s that I don’t get how they fit in the overall world of this series. With amassed forces, physical brawn, and mining abilities, you’d think this group would be a rather significant threat and that skirmishes like this, if not outright raids, would be a regular thing. Yes, they’re stupid, but far from incapable, and it’s a shame they haven’t been made more of a thing before now. That would probably work better had Faust stuck to her guns in terms of serializing the series. Alas.
Speaking of missed potential, I’m with Gerf in longing for all the juicy storytelling we could have gotten from the revelation that Sapphire Shores, in spite of being a ridiculously successful and idolized adult, has no cutie mark. I’m disappointed Faust just brushed it off as an animation error instead of running with it, especially given the much more controversial animation error she did choose to run with.
As for the mule gag… there has yet to be a single episode written by Amy Keating Rogers that didn’t have at least one bit which came off as downright mean, at best thoughtlessly callous, and this is no exception. Tessa ends her pointing out of the line with jest, but I’m going to stay dead serious and ask Rogers: why did you do this? Why did you think it was a good idea? You very literally have one of your main hero characters, who’s supposed to be a role model figure in an educational show for children, outright stating that being labelled a mixed breed equates being called ugly. There’s no reason for this, no lesson that’s being learned, Rogers is just opening the same exact can of toxic worms she did in “Bridle Gossip” when, on top of a vast many things, she labelled foreign cultures as “scary”. Rogers is a very talented writer, who does know how to craft some fun stories and entertaining gags, but she continues doing these infuriating things which will make me hesitant to check out future shows on which she’s involved, and also makes me question Faust for letting them slide by under her watch.
And on a much lesser note, I do feel Rogers is also a bit needlessly mean to Spike. Yes, he gets the bulk of the hero moments and to shine in a lot of great ways, but the situation opens with Rarity taking total advantage of him and his feelings for her, and then ends on her yanking away the single gem he’s eating and leading the others in a laugh at his expense, when he just spent an entire episode laboring for her, seeking her rescue, and even sacrificing the one, lone gem she gave him in payment, and yet she can’t let him munch on one as they ride home at the end of the day. If we saw him scarfing through a handful at once, okay, but as it is, my dislike of Rarity is not from how she saves herself, but from how she continues her manipulative abuse of her young admirer.
But still, largely a fun episode. Lots of action and gags, some really out there ideas I wasn’t expecting in terms of creature building, and a nice lesson at the end. Just, if you’re going to hire Amy Keating Rogers, do your job as a showrunner and don’t let the mean jabs get through. I know she’s one writer, but it is saying a lot about the overall supervision of the show that these things keep sliding by, and I’m actually growing eager to see what it’s like once Faust steps aside and others are there to guide and filter what makes it to screen.