Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Friendship is Magic season 4 blog: Testing, Testing, 1, 2, 3

Right, so I watched Testing, Testing 1, 2, 3 after watching last week's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which, along with this week's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is tied in with what happens in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  That, coupled the Super Smash Bros.-themed Nintendo Direct later today, gives me a lot to think about so it's hard to concentrate on this episode.  I will say that I enjoyed it, for the most part, but I don't know if I necessarily like it.  Hard to say, with a lot going on in my mind, though I don't want to say it's bad or I didn't like it because that's not true, though part of me isn't completely on-board with it...

I just want to say, throughout this entire episode, the one thing I was constantly thinking about (aside from how awesome it is that I'm hearing how the Wonderbolts were formed) was The Simpsons episode "Bart Gets an F", and any of you who've seen that episode know EXACTLY what I'm talking about.  I'll guess I'll go into further detail when I go down the line.

So sorry if my recap is a bit jumbled or if I don't explain myself well enough, bear with me for anyone that's reading this.

So Twilight's being all adorable and reading from her book, then Rainbow Dash flies by and scatters her pages.  I'm kind of intrigued about what kind of spell she was learning about, though I'm also kind of upset that not only did her pages get straight town out, but that Twilight is barely trying to put the pages back in order!  She's just crumbling them up and stuffing them back in her book!  Even has she's flying off, mumbling about how she'll one-up Rainbow Dash or whatever, she's showing no care about her precious book pages!

Then Rainbow Dash shows up, saying she saw and heard everything Twilight said and did, even while Twilight was muttering to herself.  Nice subtle foreshadowing there, I must say.  Also, we see Twilight standing on a cloud, showing she does have Pegasus powers now.  We ALSO find out that the exam Rainbow Dash is taking ISN'T for the Wonderbolts...  but for them "newly formed" Wonderbolts Reserves...  Um...  what?  So, she's NOT joining the Wonderbolts, she's going to join a newly formed division of them?  I...  don't get it.  What's the point?  Are they going somewhere with this?  If they are we won't know until next season, which sucks because I and a lot of us were SURE this season would follow-up on Wonderbolts Academy this season.  I mean, sure, it's progress towards Rainbow Dash accomplishing her dream, but it feels like the writers are complicating things, almost as if to make sure Rainbow Dash doesn't immediately get to her dream like she likely would have under normal circumstances...  Speaking of which, was the Wonderbolts Academy going towards this or was that something completely different?  Hell, it felt like nothing the more I look back on it, like Rainbow Dash took a week of Wonderbolt training and that was it.  Now there's this test that isn't even for the Wonderbolts, but the Wonderbolt "Reserves", and they don't really elaborate on what the heck that is or how it differs from the regular Wonderbolts!  At least I don't think so...  Maybe they did, when they talked about the history.  Point is, it's a line that threw me for a loop and really confused me.

Anyway, Rainbow Dash admits that she hasn't been studying for the exam, and Twilight at first is concerned; there's a brief moment where Rainbow Dash teases Twilight for being so obsessed with tests, and I kind of admit to agreeing with her (to be frank, I'm glad we don't have to deal with that anymore, Twilight's freak-outs lost their charm almost immediately).  Then is absolutely delighted, because she gets to share her studying techniques with Rainbow Dash!  She gets out a checklist (which, despite being pretty long, we only get 3 things "crossed out" from the list), and at first starts with highlighting...

You know, I just want to say, I had a hard time studying for stuff, too (I'll touch on this more later on, when I talk about that Simpsons episode), so I can kind of relate to Rainbow Dash a little here...  sort of.  See, whereas I kind of "knew" how important studying was, Rainbow Dash doesn't seem interested at all, which is different from trying to be invested but failing.  That being said, the whole highlighting bit, I can TOTALLY relate to.  Not that I was lazy or anything, I just had a hard time discerning what was "important" and what wasn't.  Also, I didn't like ruining my books with a highlighter...

That joke about Twilight complaining that she's "not that tall", I just went "give it another season and we'll see". :P  Can't help but wonder if that was an intentional joke made by the storyboard artists or even Amy Keating Rogers herself?

So next Twilight actually tries to lecture Rainbow Dash, and here's here I want to point out something.  Amy Keating Rogers, to ME anyway, always seems to go for the more "childish" and "silly" jokes, and not in the necessarily "good" kind of silly, or silly that I like.  This is kind of a good example of it, in that it's obvious what the joke is, but it also works to the episode's disadvantage.  Here's what I mean, before Twilight even starts to lecture, Rainbow Dash raises her hoof.  Twilight calls on Rainbow, and she asks if it's snack time.  Then she asks if it's time for recess.  Then she asks if she can watch the "History of the Wonderbolts" movie...  All three times, Twilight said no.  And by the third time, I went "hold on...  there's a history of the Wonderbolts movie?!  Why aren't we watching that?!"  Seriously, I get what the joke here is supposed to be, but think about it: why would Twilight need to lecture Rainbow Dash when everything Rainbow Dash needs to learn about the Wonderbolts is in one movie that she can just watch?  She doesn't deny the movie exists, she just refuses to show it to her.  I know that most kids then to use watching videos in class as an excuse to sleep (I've done as much in school), but...  THAT'S WHY TWILIGHT'S THERE!  This isn't like a whole classroom where you have to keep an eye on every single student, nor is Twilight the kind of "tutor" who just puts up a video to avoid having to actually teach anything, she genuinely wants Rainbow Dash to learn this stuff, AND Rainbow Dash is the only one she's tutoring, so she can just focus on making sure Rainbow Dash is paying attention while she watches the movie!  Instead we get Twilight lecturing while Rainbow Dash messes around on her stool, Owloycious "hoo"s, and Spike... for some reason, starts drumming along, and Twilight SOMEHOW doesn't hear any of this and doesn't notice until she actually turns around an looks.  See, if Rainbow Dash were to watch the movie, Twilight could make sure Rainbow Dash was paying attention instead of messing around!

Despite my supposed "rant", I actually don't hate this scene for not making logical sense.  I actually think it's rather cute, and I kind of understand that Twilight would rather lecture herself then leave it to a movie, this is just what was lingering over my mind as I watch this scene.  Really, there are a TON of scenes where I was just thinking about the logic involved.  Part of me feels that a movie or TV show fails or is starting to fail if it feels scripted as opposed to characters acting like actual people.  This is probably why I'm not always on board with MLP:FiM, since SOOOOO very often, the episodes feel PAINFULLY scripted.  This episode is not painful at all, though points like this, where a logical move is sacrificed for the sake of a joke, it really makes me question A.K.R. as a writer.

I should also point out that I actually paid attention to part of the lecture, or at least tried to when Rainbow Dash wasn't making noise.  So apparently, the Wonderbolts were founded some time after Luna's banishment...  In fact, according to Twilight's lecture, before the banishment, Equestria didn't seem to have a formal military...  which I find incredibly strange.  Given that the Pegasus tribe clearly had a military motif going before Equestria was founded, not to mention with Discord, King Sombra, and who knows what else constantly threatening Equestria, it doesn't make sense that a military wouldn't be formed sooner.  Regardless of that lapse in logic, I love hearing about how the military was supposedly formed, the whole E.U.P. thing, how the founder of the Woderbolts was actually called "Firefly" a reference to the G1 pony and the pony Rainbow Dash was based on, it's all good stuff!

Anyway, when lecturing doesn't work, Twilight moves on to her favorite study method: flashcards!  Let me tell you, flashcards were always central part of my study process and my family's study process.  It actually still kind of is with some of my family and tests they have to take now.  I might even still own some of the flashcards I made (I'm sure they're lying around somewhere in my room).  I say this because I'm almost certain that Amy Keating Rogers doesn't know what flashcards are or how they work.  See, the flashcards I and my family made had words or pictures on one side, and descriptions on the other side.  This was made so that the person on one side could try and guess/memorize what one word/person/symbol meant, while the person holding up the flashcards could see if they were right or not.  It's a memorization thing.  Instead, in the episode, Twilight basically uses them in the same way she used the chalkboard from earlier, just holding up pictures, not even letting Rainbow Dash guess what each picture means, and just lectures her.  ...Does anyone else use flashcards in this way?  Even if people do use it in this way, I really don't see how this differs from Twilight's lecture method from before, so there's really no point in differentiating it in the first place.

After Rainbow Dash flips off Twilight (through her spitballs) and her flashcards, Twilight gives Rainbow Dash a pop quiz.  Of course she fails every question (even the ones I managed to get right).  What I found frustrating is that Rainbow Dash seemed to assume she nailed it, despite giving names that obviously have nothing to do with Pegasi ponies.  I get that she's hungry and that's the joke, but why breakfast foods of all things?  Why not food in general if she's hungry?  What did she skip breakfast?  The episode didn't mention that she skipped breakfast.  See what I mean when I say Amy Keating Rogers' writing leaves a lot to be desired.  Note, though, that I don't think she's a bad writer, but rather "childish", in that not only her jokes seem childish, but it feels like the sort of thing a kid would watch and be okay with.  That's fine, considering this IS a kids' show, but it definitely doesn't put her on my good side anytime soon.  I guess what I'm saying is that I really don't like her style, not so much that she's a bad writer, nor does what she write clash with the tone or contradict the world set up or the characters like other writers of this show, just that I honestly don't care for the episodes she writes in general.  I really want to stress this because I DON'T hate this episode, and even though I'm complaining a lot about minor things in this episode, none of them have pissed me off the way A.K.R. has pissed me off before.  Then again, we haven't gotten to Pinkie Pie yet...

Rainbow Dash realizes she's in deep doo-doo and starts angrily blaming Twilight for her own incompetence, then saying tests are just there to keep the "real" fliers down, and a lot of other flimsy justifications to avoid admitting that she has to pass this test and she's not doing good enough as far as studying goes.  Really, I'd say the problem up to this point was that she just didn't give a crap, which is something else that consumed my thoughts during this episode up to this point.  I figured if she just tried harder maybe she'd learn, though thankfully, the episode turns to that direction from here on out.  Fluttershy shows up, and offers a new study suggestion.  What follows is straight up the funniest part of the episode (yes, even funnier then THAT part, and I'll get to that in a moment).  Like, all of the pets dress up as ponies, and try to act out what happened for Rainbow Dash, only for Rainbow Dash to consistently ask who's what and for the play to fall apart.  It's so adorably hilarious I couldn't stand it!

And speaking of things I couldn't stand...  Pinkie Pie shows up.  Good news is, Pinkie's tolerable in this episode (thank fucking God).  She shows up and tells Rainbow Dash that some ponies learn through music.  This actually has a lot of truth to it, that's pretty much the basis of which the School House Rock! songs were based on:

And then...  Pinkie starts rapping.

Yeah, I saw a clip of this earlier, and I was all set on trying to explain why I like other corny "made for fun" rap tunes but not this, but honestly, the one thing that kept coming into my head (other then how freaking adorable Pinkie Pie was and how I couldn't hear a single thing through that crappy late 80's early 90's video quality) was this (WARNING, EXPLICIT LANGUAGE AND SUGGESTIVE VISUALS):

Yeah...  Pinkie's got nothing on Egoraptor's verbal break down.  FYI, if you haven't bought/listened to the Starbomb album, you totally should, it's hilarious and awesome:

Starbomb on iTunes

But yeah, not as painful as when I first watched it.  But not that funny either.  Like most of the things from this show, I find it more adorable then funny.  Kind of dumb, but unfortunately for me, not in the good way...  though not entirely bad either.

Apparently memorizing lyrics isn't Rainbow's thing, and Pinkie is pretty blunt in how bad she is.  She's not even over the top like in A.K.R.'s other episodes where apparently she doesn't "think before she talks", which I still find bullshit BTW.  Part of me feels Pinkie would be more positive then this, but on the other hand, I'd gladly take this Pinkie Pie over the disaster that was her in Filli Vanilli, and no, I will NOT let that go!

Then Rarity shows up and tries to teach Rainbow Dash through the uniforms the Wonderbolts used to wear.  Honestly I don't know what her problem was, I thought all of those uniforms were sweet!  Despite that, Rainbow Dash doesn't learn from this either, then Applejack comes comes in (with her black pants that I can't take my eyes off of) and basically gives useless advice.  Yeah, you know everything there is to know about apples from years of dedication, not helpful AJ.  Worse yet, when everyone else keeps suggesting their ways of studying, she just spouts out Apple facts, like that's actually going to fucking help!  Rainbow Dash just gives up and flies away in despair.

Twilight catches up to her, they talk, and Rainbow Dash saves Twilight from crashing into a random helicopter...  you'd think Twilight would have heard that, or that the winds created by the propellers would have knocked them around a bit.  Either way, it's here that Twilight discovers that Rainbow Dash has the uncanny ability to take in a LOT of information, to an incredibly minute detail, while she flies, and lists off various things she picked up while the two were flying...  and talking at the same time!  Rainbow Dash figures that it's all part of being a flyer, and thus doesn't think anything of it.  Then Twilight gets an idea and flies off, while Rainbow Dash sulks in gloom and despair...

Okay, nothing wrong with this scene or the following scene, but I can't help but feel annoyed all the same.  I've already figured out where this is going, and now it's just me impatiently waiting for everyone to be picked up to speed, as if the episode is trying to hide a mystery then reveal it at the end, even though the answer is so easy to figure out.  Again, this is what I mean when I say Amy Keating Rogers is a very "childish" writer, I'm sure to kids this wouldn't be that easy to pick up (though quite frankly, Ms. Rogers makes it so obvious that I feel like I would have figured it out already even as a kid), and as such, there's nothing "technically" wrong with it, it just annoys me, particularly when Twilight spells it out by saying they can't stuff Fluttershy's way or Rarity's way, but RAINBOW'S way.  Then they group together and come up with a plan.

Then Twilight comes to Rainbow Dash again and they fly home together, talking about miscellaneous stuff as they go.  Thought part of me felt that Twilight COULD have eased into that conversation better then saying "how's it going'?"  Seriously, they just spent the day trying to study and Rainbow Dash has said multiple times that she's going to fail, CLEARLY she's upset!  I GET that she's just trying to casually start a conversation, but I think starting off with a question with an obvious answer isn't the best way to go about it!  That encouragement near the end worked better then what came before from Twilight...  Actually, I just noticed something.  Is it just me, or does Rainbow Dash seem more willing to give up this season?  I mean, sure, she's depressed and all, but I find it strange that she just straight-up gives up and doesn't even try that hard to pull herself out of the rut she's in, especially since it's about her life's dream.

They arrive at Rainbow Dash's home, and Rainbow Dash...  suddenly out of nowhere knows the history of the Wonderbolts.  Without even realizing it!  Turns out, while they were flying, she watched as her friends... and apparently the rest of Ponyville act out the history of the Wonderbolts while she and Twilight flew by!

...Okay, first off, I love that Rarity played Luna in the history.  Anyone who knows who voices those two characters will get a kick out that, too!  Second, I can understand the Cutie Mark Crusaders and Big Mac suddenly getting on on this, but where did all these other ponies come from?  This feels like awfully short notice to recruit this many ponies.  Not to mention, are these many ponies THAT dedicated to making sure Rainbow Dash passes her test?  I can understand the mane 6 since they're Rainbow's close friends, and the CMC and Big Mac, too, since they're close by association, but what's everypony else's excuse?  Third...  I'm sorry, I realize the points is that Rainbow Dash doesn't realize she has a knack for this kind of thing, and that it's on a subconscious level and some shit, but are you seriously trying to tell me that Rainbow Dash did not notice that her friends were openly reciting the Wonderbolt history for seemingly no reason?  It didn't draw her suspicion at all?  I mean, despite supposedly being aware of what goes on in the air at all times, she apparently wasn't aware enough to make note of how freaking weird this all must seem at first glance.

So Rainbow Dash and Twilight learn a lesson each, Rainbow that she CAN study and learn, and Twilight that each individual person (or pony) has their own unique method of learning things.  And Rainbow Dash aces her exam (and the episode abruptly ends on that).  ...Yeah, that's a good message, and that's certainly true, but...

Okay, time for that Simpsons episode talk.  For those of you that don't know, Bart Gets an F is one of the earlier episodes of the Simpsons, and I mean WAY early, like season 2 at least.  After Bart fails yet another test, he, Homer, and Marge meet with Mrs. Krabappel about Bart's grades, and say that if Bart fails one more test, he'll have to repeat the fourth grade.  Bart does not want to repeat the fourth grade and buckles down to try and stuff.  Much like in this episode, all his attempts at studying fail, but unlike Rainbow Dash, who is offered numerous study methods, fails all of them, then finds the one study method that works for her, Bart tries everything he can to study and concentrate but finds he can't do it.  Even after praying to God and getting a snow day for extra studying, he finds the information just isn't sticking.  I can attest that, having seen my fair share of study methods, none of them really stuck with me all that much (at least permanently), and it really all came down to was what I was personally interested in learning and what I wasn't.  What really stands out about Bart Gets an F is that, unlike this MLP episode and SO many other episodes with a similar plot, Bart actually FAILS!  Yeah, despite trying his absolute best and working his hardest, reality takes it's toll...  and Bart actually breaks down and starts crying because of how much of a failure he perceives himself as, like he tried his best and he still failed, so to him this is the best he can hope to achieve.  I similarly went through things like this...  I mean, I never outright repeated a grade, but it definitely felt like no matter what I did I wasn't making progress.  Of course, the episode actually DOES end with Bart getting one question right and bumping his test grade to a passing grade, but I think it basically accomplished what it meant to.  Sometimes, there ISN'T a right method for you, or perhaps you can't find the right method.  True, a moral like that doesn't really fit with a show like Friendship is Magic, but it's still something that lingered over my mind as I watched the episode.

And that's about all I have to say about Testing, Testing, 1, 2, 3.  I bitched a lot, but I don't want it to be perceived as me hating this episode.  I actually enjoyed it, which kind of says a lot for me...  It really is hard to explain my feelings, a feeling that I feel no anger or hatred to what I complained about, but what I complained about is still there, either from a personal bias or something else...  I hate feelings like these... :(

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