Episode [2.10] – “Secret Of My Excess”
This week, on My Little Pony…
“Spike, I just have to tell you how absolutely proud I am of you.”
“Proud of me?”
“Yes. It was you who stopped… w-well, you, from destroying Ponyville. You are my hero, Spikey-wikey!”
And then there was that one time that Spike became Godzilla and rampaged through Ponyville.
This is kind of a Spike-isode, and kind of not. It’s kind of unique in the episodes in which the dragon takes front and center because while the story is definitely centered around him, due to the nature of how he changes throughout the episode he stops being the active character for the audience to view things through as he enters the realm of town-destroying threat, at which point the Mane 6 sort of step into the protagonist role.
Spike is a dragon among ponies. A baby dragon, which has always meant that he could easily co-exist despite some small differences in diet and anatomy, but that inherently comes with the understanding that at some point he would start growing up, it was always merely a question of when and how quickly. And this episode gives us an answer to that, in sort of a frightening capacity as it can apparently happen at any time, and ridiculously fast.
There’s a lot about this episode to love. It’s a straight up love letter from the staff to monster rampage movies (and the episode went through several working titles that reflected this before they settled on the actual one, like “Attack of the Fifty-Foot Dragon”), with obvious homages to Godzilla and King Kong along with just the genre in general. Spike’s hoarding also leads to a decent number of easter eggs, as a lot of the objects he manages to grab come from other episodes (including some that don’t particularly make sense being there, like one of the Elements Of Harmony orbs from the second episode). There’s a lot of great character moments (my favorite being Pinkie “assaulting” the growing dragon with cake), both from the Mane 6 as well as some minor and background characters.
But what I really like about this episode is the fleshing out we get of dragons as a species within the pony world. The concept of dragons keeping vast hoards of treasure and being synonymous with greed is a very old concept that a lot of stories run with (thanks to Western fantasy tropes being almost entirely derived from Tolkien), and it’s something we’ve seen hold true in MLP before now, but in this episode we learn that hoarding isn’t just an instinct within dragons, it’s inherently tied to their biology. This was already mildly true before now (as dragons eat gems it makes sense that they would try to surround themselves with as much of their preferred food source as possible), here we find that it’s directly tied to their growth cycle. The larger a dragon’s hoard gets, the more it matures, until they reach full size. Which also can apparently be reversed if they decide to give it up… or something. Admittedly that bit’s kind of a head-scratcher.
Spike in general is a bit of a head-scratcher when comparing him to other dragons, because his full-grown form doesn’t look quite like other dragons we’ve seen so far. Granted, there’s likely not just the one kind of dragon, and Spike is likely just a different variety, but we have seen him prematurely hit full size twice now, and both of those looked different. The fact that his growth was able to be completely reversed along with that means that dragons probably aren’t supposed to grow up that quickly, and the entire process was premature. Spike’s situation is also likely unique to dragonkind in that there likely aren’t many other (if any others) growing up around pony society, and so once hoarding instincts kick in they may not have quite as much in abundance within easy grabbing-range, meaning the whole thing is supposed to be more gradual. Granted, the end of this episode serves mostly as a means to hit the reset button and return things to the status quo, so it’s questionable whether or not we’ll ever see Spike start to grow up for real, but if and when he does, it’d be interesting to see if his end point looks like it does in this episode.
And the Wonderbolts once again promptly spring into action only to be rendered completely useless within seconds. Why are these guys so great again?
There are, of course, some slightly off bits within the theming of this episode that kind of cause me to have mixed feelings about it. The full grown dragon in the room of course is Spike’s relationship with Rarity. This episode brings entire truckloads of shipping fuel along if they happen to be your particular pairing (some people even consider the pairing to be canon after this episode although future episodes would call that seriously into question were that actually the case), but… well, just coming out and saying it, if you’re bothered by Rarity appearing to occasionally take advantage of Spike’s feelings for her, this episode really doesn’t help that, especially since it’s kind of made clear by the end that she’s very much aware of his feelings already, removing the out that she’s somehow just been oblivious to it the whole time. There’s nothing super egregious within this episode (unless you don’t buy her surprise in the first scene and see it as her charming a particularly rare gem off of the baby dragon, but I prefer to see it more or less as it’s presented), but it does in hindsight make previous examples worse. That said, the end scene between the two is incredibly sweet, regardless of whether or not there’s anything genuinely going on there.
The other slightly troubling bit is how Spike’s maturation is treated. The series has its metaphor for puberty already established within the concept of cutie marks, but this is kind of the other side getting presented, and there are fairly obvious parallels to male puberty going on there (Spike’s initial changes are sort of the standard “awkward teenage boy” things, as his proportions get lanky and his voice suddenly drops mid-sentence). That the concept of him growing up is treated as an outright bad thing (by Zecora, no less, outright calling what he’ll become a monster) feels just a bit problematic. Granted, within the context of the story it winds up ringing true, and the whole thing does call into question the viability of a dragon continuing to live among ponies, but there’s just a little too much of an undertone of “you’re different and that’s not okay” going on here for it to go without comment.
Okay, I know this has amazingly little to do with the episode, but I totally get Twilight’s excitement about the prospect of reshelving her books. I’m not going to lie, I find a certain giddy pleasure in reorganizing my old drawings, my digital music collection, my closet, the files on computers, and the likes. It’s not always the most productive of activities, but I do find it helps me to take stock of what I have, relive some old memories, and, with any luck, find what I can consolidate or remove altogether. That Twilight also pays so much attention to a tiny detail like the positioning of the punch bowl ladle when her bookshelves look to still be a wreck (despite her having just reshelved them a week ago) was not lost on me either, as I find myself doing the same sorts of things from time to time. Anyway, just had to get that “hooray for good character portrayal” bit out of my system.
Also, hooray for what is quite possibly the best MLP-themed birthday screencap ever. Well, Gummy’s birthday party had some funny moments, and I know there’s at least one more episode involving a pretty epic party, but still, look at those faces. If that doesn’t fill you with joy then I don’t know what can.
I too enjoyed the worldbuilding here around “dragon puberty” (for lack of a better term), though I too am left scratching my head a bit. Spike only really begins on his greedy growth rampage after being shown an overabundance of generosity from his friends (they literally gave him the kitchen sink; also, did anypony else notice a certain rubber chicken..?), so it’s unclear whether that kind of growth actually has anything to do with maturity (an internal factor reaching out) or if it’s purely his body’s reaction to his environment (an external factor reaching in). Dragons are often portrayed as having life spans that absolutely dwarf those of ponies, so the implicit assumption is that dragons get to be so huge because they’re just so dang old. But perhaps in the magical land of Equestria size and age are not correlated: you can be huge or tiny based on how you react to your environment (which is probably different for different kinds of dragons), and you can be young or old based on how you react to time (which I imagine is pretty uniform), but the two don’t have to relate to one another at all. Nopony (or zebra for that matter) seems to really know how it all works, either, so keeping it a bit on the enigmatic side is quite fine with me.
Seeing Spike zip through so many growth spurts and seeing everypony try to keep the town together is certainly amusing to watch, though. While I’m not really a fan of the “SPIKE WANT!” dumbness that inevitably occurs when one hulks out, I did love the scenes at the doctor’s office (followed by the vet). It’s like nopony knows how to train her dragon! Oh, wait, because they wouldn’t. Right.
And maybe it’s just me, but when I want to bust through a wall, I try for more of a cannonball approach than a fully-body wall-flop.
One bit about the episode that I find curious is that when Spike tries to get others to give him stuff, he’s admonished for it — and rightfully so, given his tactlessness. Yet when Rarity coerces Spike into giving her the fire ruby she’s, well, rewarded with a fire ruby. She even turns the situation around to make Spike feel that he’s been exceptionally generous… which he has been, but only insofar as being snookered into giving up something valuable is generous. Yes, this is a rather cynical take on the whole crux of the episode, but Rarity absolutely has Spike wrapped around her finger (er, hoof) and she knows it. I don’t think she has malevolent intentions, of course, and I get the feeling that she does harbor at least some genuine feelings for the little
butt dragon, but she is clearly in control. Rarity would make for a delightfully cunning villain in some alternate timeline (I’m looking at you, issues #17-19 of the mainline IDW comics!)
That said, I do need to echo Tessa: the scene between the two at the end while they’re coasting earthward at terminal velocity is quite sweet. Rarity does need to work on not plummeting to her demise from great heights, though.
I know I’ve recommended it before, but since it’s quite apropos I’ll recommend it again: It Takes a Village. This story takes the more traditional “dragons get bigger as they age” approach to dragon growth but pulls absolutely zero punches when it comes to portraying Ponyville’s attempts to deal with that reality: it’s a problem, and a big one at that… because, you know, dragons get big. And while Twilight and her friends all love Spike regardless of the fact that his species tends to spell trouble for ponykind, not everypony else in town does. And on top of that, his fellow dragons are not particularly fond of his insistence on associating with these… ponyfolk. Seriously, it’s a great read, and one that dovetails very well with this episode.
Fun episode, not necessarily high on my list of favorites but certainly not toward the bottom, either. A solid middle-of-the-road episode is a good one in my books.
I will leave you with the imagery of Applejack and her leaf-stache with Get my Rope from Balloon Party. It doesn’t really have anything to do with this episode beyond that quote, but it’s a fun electronic ditty to bust out from time to time.
Wow. The Wonderbolts really are useless, aren’t they? I won’t be terribly surprised if they start petitioning Rainbow Dash to join her awesome crew of spectacular wonderfulness soon.
The big things in this episode seem to be dragon biology and general greed, and the interaction between them.
I haven’t quite finished season 1 yet, but the Wiki says that I really need to watch episodes 23 and 24. Spike is an outlier in Pony society, far more so than a Zebra or Buffalo. He is literally the only Dragon citizen of Equestria, and the only friendly one seen in the series so far. His species as a whole is largely unknown, with interactions between Ponies and Dragons occurring only extremely rarely and under circumstances of conflict. That the Princess gave Twilight Sparkle a Dragon egg to hatch and an assistant to more-or-less raise is therefore very remarkable.
I think that Dragon biology is as much a mystery to the Princess as it is to the doctors and veterinarians of Ponyville. She doesn’t know why they’re so solitary and aggressive, and wants to know if one raised in Pony society can be different. The answer, so far, seems to be a qualified yes. Dragons appear to experience physical changes based on their emotional state, making the Hulk reference pretty appropriate. Spike’s goal from here on out will probably be to avoid evoking greed, and I would guess that Princess Celestia will start looking into whether a dash of Generosity can soothe the other Dragons in the world. It’s either that, or fling Fluttershy at them anytime one comes around.
Speaking of whom, poor Fluttershy. Surprise Dragon attacks are not something that she needs.
The other theme here is greed and generosity. I think Rarity is being genuine. Spike has a magnificent Fire Ruby, and gems are a big thing that they have in common. She integrates them into dresses, and he eats them. They’re conflicting uses, but both are connoisseurs. I strongly suspect that Rarity is going to have some exquisite gems for Spike in the future.
Spike’s greed is interesting. He’s only gotten one birthday present per year, and that was a book. Before he went on his binge, he wasn’t enthusiastic about books. Afterward?
He’s no longer looking for things that he even likes. He just wants things to have things. That’s biology overriding personality. He doesn’t even recognize his friends anymore with his greed-o-vision going. He becomes aggressive and hostile, loses language skills, steals anything that isn’t nailed down (and a water tower that is)… yeah, this is a really unfortunate metaphor for adolescence, isn’t it. Hrrm.
- I wonder if other Dragons can send correspondence magically?
- Seriously, if a giant mature Dragon showed a smidgen of generosity, would they shrink down and become more sociable?
- Rarity + Spike = OTP
- I’m going to figure out how to resize images so they aren’t fuzzy REAL SOON I SWEAR
- Also I really like Applejack’s cape. Very practical and also pretty.
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The part that threw me off the most was Rarity being the one shown making reparations in the end, not Spike. As questionable as her role in the story is, she technically does payoff her arc when she treats the ruby not as a fancy bauble, but as a gift that has genuine meaning for her, and is thus something she’ll fight to protect, an act of compassion which is the very thing which snaps Spike back to normal. I don’t particularly like Rarity, but that is an excellent moment, and she doesn’t really need anything beyond it. A better moment would be Spike carting his horde back to the people he stole from and helping them repair their damage.
I really love how this is an episode that doesn’t settle into an easy plot. First it’s an episode about Spike putting Rarity’s desires above his own. Then it’s an episode about Devious Spike being a devious butt. Then it’s an episode about Twilight dealing with Spike’s growing pains in a town where nobody knows how to treat a dragon. Then it becomes a story about the Mane 6 struggling to bring Spike back down from the very nature of being what he is(*). These all could have made for their own episodes, but I like how they pile atop one another, letting the story and its focus constantly evolve and grow beyond just playing off a simple setup. That’s a style of plotting I admire, and Mitch Larson remains one of my favorite writers on the show.
* – Does anyone else find it a bit questionable that the bulk of this episode is about “civilizing” Spike and challenging him to rise above the natural impulses and culture of his own species so he can instead play a better, more “fulfilling” role in Pony culture? It’s a play on integration that I’m not fully sure how I feel about because I’m not sure what they’re actually saying with it. It’s not badly executed, I just wish they could have found some positive side of Spike’s nature to incorporate into the conclusion instead of treating that aspect as fully monstrous.