Episode [2.21] – “Dragon Quest”
This week, on My Little Pony…
“Good bye Spikey-wikey!
“Go get ’em, big guy!”
“We have faith in you!”
“We’re following him, right?”
We’ve seen dragons a few times in the series. A napping red on top of a mountain, a hoarding green in the Everfree Forest, this little purple one that got awful big awful quick. And that’s about it. We know that dragons are solitary and territorial, we know that they hoard and eat gems, and we know that they hatch from eggs. That’s literally it. Twilight Sparkle’s midnight research reveals no other information about dragon biology or culture or anything.
Buuuuuut there’s a Dragon Migration going on. It’s the only time in decades that dragons will be in Equestria in a group, and the only opportunity that anypony will have to study dragon social structure in that environment. Spike has never met another dragon outside a conflict situation. He doesn’t know how they converse, or flirt, or play, or any of their history or heroes or leaders. He doesn’t know if he has family, or how his egg came to be in Princess Celestia’s keeping. His origin is almost as mysterious as dragons themselves, and he himself is the only source of information about dragons that Ponies have.
It seems inevitable, then, that Spike would want to join the Dragon Migration. It’s his one opportunity to learn anything about where he comes from or who his people are. It’s unfortunate that what he learns is so… negative. I hope that Spike just ran into the wrong group of dragons, that he picked a random group of teenagers and wound up with the worst examples of dragonkind. Maybe there are dragons out there that aren’t total jerks. There haven’t been so far, but I really would like it if there was even one.
Spike is completely in the wrong crowd. As dragons go, he’s literally still a toddler. He’s undersized, he has no wings, can barely breathe fire (though that fire is a direct line to Princess Celestia), and oh hey they’re total jerks. It gets worse when the dragons decide to raid a phoenix nest to smash their eggs. Shenanigans ensue, and Spike winds up having to choose between gaining the approval of the teenage dragonjerks or upholding his morals. He chooses to protect the phoenix egg, referencing his own origin, and escapes back to Ponyville with his family.
If anything, Spike is the exception that shows dragons can be good. Being mean or cruel is a choice, however much it may be influenced by culture or upbringing. Though uh there was that one time he kinda rampaged through Ponyville during some weird early greed-induced super-puberty that these dragons don’t seem to have experienced and nobody was able to ask about but hey I’m sure that doesn’t actually undermine my point at all OH LOOK a shiny new change of topic.
Spike keeps the egg and names the hatchling Peewee. Hooray! Now he can bring someone to the weekly Ponyville pet playdate. Dollar says they wind up as clever and awesome as Owlicious.
I am super thrilled that Fluttershy is asserting herself against Rainbow Dash. After Iron Will’s training and de-training two episodes ago, I’m very pleased that she’s able to give a firm “no” without going all New Fluttershy on Dash.
Rarity’s berserk button is someone threatening Spike. That’s invective adorable.
Why is Cranky on a log raft out in the middle of nowhere.
This episode is a bit of an oddity continuity-wise, as it pretty much directly clashes headfirst with one that we had earlier in the season, with both appearing to give conflicting ideas about what dragons in Equestria actually are and how they mature. In that one, we were given the idea that a dragon’s maturation and growth is directly tied to its ability to hoard, and a further enforcement of the idea of them being particularly solitary creatures. In this one, the idea seems more that dragons do age and mature naturally over time (as Weston mentioned, there’s not even a passing mention to the idea of their growth being tied to any kind of hoarding capability), and would suggest that at least at younger ages dragons aren’t quite as solitary as we’d been led to believe before. Unfortunately, these two episodes are about all we get as far as dragon lore for a while (we haven’t seen anything else as of where the series is right now), so it’s hard to really say which of the two accounts we should give more credence to.
Poor Spike. He puts up with a fair amount on a daily basis (a lot of it his own doing, but still), but the beginning of this episode has him dealing with Rainbow Dash at maximum buttitude doing her absolute best to embarrass him. Seriously, Dashie, what the heck? She started to pull herself out of the hole she’d been dropped into early in the season and this just shot her right back to total jerkface land. Thankfully after the opening scene she chills out a bit, and it’s the only part of this episode that has the typical MWW trademark of our main characters being particularly unpleasant.
Of course, part of that is because we have Garble and the other dragons pretty firmly taking up the “unpleasant” slot and then some this episode. I have mixed feelings about them. On the one hand, they are a very deliberate jab being taken at the more toxic brand of masculinity in general (and their attitude towards ponies the concept of hostility towards femininity in specific), which I do appreciate being taken to task a bit. On the other hand, I kind of wish they weren’t the closest look we’ve gotten to date at dragonhood outside of Spike. We definitely spend more time with them than any other dragon we’ve seen so far, and get much more of a feel for who they are as opposed to the two force-of-nature antagonist ones we’ve dealt with in previous episodes, but I kind of wish we’d gotten some kind of hint that Garble’s bunch was just a bad crowd of immature teenagers doing dumb stuff. Maybe some kind of disapproving reaction from one of the adult dragons at the kids’ antics might have thrown a bit of balance into there.
One of the angles of this episode that I really like is Twilight’s side of things. While it’s not always consistent, she is very often playing the role of a mother figure to Spike, and her facial expression as she realizes that he really does need to go explore this side of himself and learn about his species speaks volumes. She clearly doesn’t want him to go, she’s terrified of what will happen to him, but ultimately she knows it’s the right decision, and sends him off with her blessing. And then shadows behind him immediately with her friends, of course. Which ultimately winds up being necessary, and if Spike’s montage of him catching up to the migration is any indication, she teleports the group farther than we’ve ever seen her go before, as it would appear that she zaps everyone back to the Everfree Forest (which makes her struggling harder than we’ve seen in a while to cast a spell make some sense).
In the end, I mostly like this episode. It’s towards the top of the MWW-penned episodes for me, and most of my issues with it come from the wrench it throws in the continuity with it appearing to contradict things from Secret Of My Excess as opposed to the actual content of the episode. As far as Spike-isodes go, it also stands pretty solid, and makes for one of the few times where the episode’s conflict doesn’t revolve around him making awful decisions. So for that, at least, I have to give it some credit.
Two things right off the bat: the quote Weston picked for this episode is absolutely 100% super-spot-on, and Fluttershy’s freakout at the beginning of the episode is absolutely 100% super-frightening-adorable. Wanna assert?
Ah, the good ol’ existential crisis. I suppose if there’s any character in this series thus far it should happen to, it’s Spike. He knows so much more about being a pony than he does being a dragon, and the scant few times he’s encountered other fellow dragons have already been mentioned above; nothing in this episode (or any other, for that matter) points to Spike having had any other draconic interactions otherwise. At some point (or points) in our lives we all go through a period of “who am I?”, but growing up as literally the sole member of your species in a village of genetic aliens has got to be tough.
That being said, the whole existential crisis thing seems rather… er, abrupt: Spike quite literally goes from self-confident apron-wearing butler to lost and forlorn angstball in ten seconds flat. True, the awe-inspiring sight of a dragon migration plus the sudden and relentless barrage of unhelpful praise from six strong female ponies would be enough to chink even the toughest of dragonscale armor, but zero to breakdown so quickly is a bit much. Of course we’re dealing with the usual strict time budget and the premise of “it’s just a kid’s show,” but part of me wishes there would have been a bit more lead-up to the emotional breakdown. For example, each of the aforementioned run-ins Spike had with other dragons would have been the perfect drop points for some seeds of self-doubt (or at least self-questioning) that, over the course of a season or so, would begin to grow into stronger and stronger feelings of self-questioning. This episode would then be moment where the flowers of existential crisis bloom, the pot boils over, the limit is reached, or whatever other similarly tacky metaphors you want to apply. Of course it’s easy to wish for this this kind of stuff with so much more knowledge of the show and lore than the writers probably ever had while they were writing the first episodes of Season 1, so saying this was a “missed opportunity” is probably too harsh of a phrase to use. But you know what I mean.
Abrupt or not, the existential crisis did put Spike through a pretty awesome adventure through some even awesomer landscapes. That one shot of Spike walking through the forest with the phoenix couple in the foreground and the dragon migration in the far background has got to be one of my favorite environmental shots of the series thus far.
Spike’s shenanigans with Garble and the other dragon punks initially grated on me as frustrating and juvenile the first time I watched this episode, but coming back to it I realize that they’re supposed to be frustrating and juvenile, and thus portrayed quite well. Toss a bunch of adolescent males together with minimal parental supervision and a “new kid” and this is exactly the kind of tomfoolery that goes on. When framed that way, the scenes took on less of a “what a bunch of jerks” vibe and more of a “heh, yeah, I remember when my friends and I were a bunch of jerks like that” vibe (insofar as trying to clobber each other in Magic: the Gathering constitutes jerkdom, anyway).
Also, we get an interesting quip about how Spike is friends with a “namby-pamby pony princess”: either dragons do not view Princesses Celestia and Luna as deities like the ponies do, or Garble is just in full-on “buck authority” mode since there are no adults around to admonish him otherwise (or perhaps both). One would think that a being that raises and lowers the sun would be pretty much revered by all beings on the planet and not just Equestria, since, you know, the sun is pretty important for life to, uh, live. That said, there’s almost certainly some kind of dragon royalty or figurehead that dragonkind does bow to. Since the episode title already is making a nod to the Dragon Quest franchise, might as well and continue the nod and suggest the dragons worship a Dragonlord, eh? 😛
While Spike kind of dropped the ball when he said that “what us ponies do when confronted by a huge group of jerky dragons” is to RUN AWAY!!!!11 (lame, if necessary, cop-out I suppose), I do have to give him props for standing up for what he believed was right, in this case not smashing the phoenix egg. Good on the little purple guy. He has a pretty pristine track record of being a gigantic butt, but it’s nice to see that deep down he’s actually a decent dude.
Also, phoenixes continue to be freaking awesome. While I don’t have any pets and don’t really have plans to get any in the near future, I’ve always been a bird person… and a phoenix would be a pretty sweet pet.
Going into this rewatch I wasn’t expecting my previous “eh, okay” opinion of the episode to change much, but I’m pleasantly surprised how well it has aged (or perhaps just grown on me). I had a lot more fun watching it this time around than I ever remember having had in years past. I think getting over the whole “those dragons are a bunch of jerks” thing allowed me to really appreciate the episode more.
Once again, I’m going to recommend the fanfic It Takes a Village here, because A) it’s a phenomenal story, B) it’s super-relevant to this episode, and C) it’s a phenomenal story. Really, the only excuse you have at this point for not reading it is “I don’t know how to read,” which if you’re reading this text right now means you’re lying through your eyeballs so go read that story.
As for a song for this episode, I’m going to re-recommend something I had previously linked to: the PMV of Your Adventure Log Has Vanished, ponified by Racecarghost. As before, it doesn’t have anything to do with this particular episode… other than it being NES-era Dragon Quest gaming (and metagaming) at its finest, which is all the similarity I need to post it again!
If reposting isn’t quite your thing, though, you can check out Crackle by Peak Freak. Even the goofiest of dragons need some love, you know?
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I do find the final lesson a bit troublingly worded in terms of how Spike now flat out rejects being identified as a member of his species, especially building on the rather one-sided negative representation we continue to get of the broader dragon community, but the rest of the episode is an absolute delight. Favorite bit: there of course being a dragon who looks exactly like their costume.