Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Friendship is Magic season 4 blogs: Leap of Faith

God dammit I hate my procrastinating nature.  I had a big list of things I want to get done, watching this episode and commenting on it being one of them, but now it's so late...  But I don't want to put this off any longer, not only because I want to comment on the episode before it gets too close to the next one, but also because I have a busy day tomorrow, so I won't have much time to talk about it then!

But yeah, I saw Leap of Faith earlier this afternoon, and even though it's around midnight while writing this, I want to get this out there, so here I go, my thoughts on the episode!

But first, Josh Haber.  Josh Haber is an interesting writer...  in that there's nothing all that interesting about the episodes he writes.  With the exception of writers who have only written one or two episodes, and other newbie writers this season, most of the writers for this show have distinct styles which makes it easy for one to tell who wrote it just by looking at what happened in that episode.  The vibe I get from Josh Haber's three episodes this season, including this one, is "meh".  Not bad, but not very good either.  The only one I really liked was Simple Ways, and it had almost nothing to do with his writing.  Hell, I actually found that episode's writing rather annoying, I'll be honest.  Same goes for Castle Mane-ia; no Castlevania references at all outside of the title, plus a slightly contrived set-up, mentioning the star spiders twice at the beginning, leading you to expect them to be relevant only for them to never be mentioned again, all meant to be a shout-out to Scooby-Doo, which...  okay?  Yeah, that's what hard about talking about his episodes, for as much as I like to nitpick about them, they're not bad, like there's nothing atrocious about them, and he CERTAINLY never made me angry the way Dave Polsky, Merriweather Williams, or even Amy Keating Rogers did.  there were parts that annoyed me, but they were never frustrating to watch.  They're frustrating to talk about, in that I have to begrudgingly say they aren't bad while simultaneously being incredibly unsatisfied with the results.  This seems to be a major problem with critics that I've seen, they come across something that's either mediocre or average, and they have a hard time explaining what's good and bad about it, as opposed to something that's just wholly bad or wholly good.

In the case of this episode, yeah, it's not bad, but there's not much that I particularly like about it.  I found a lot more to complain about then I did to actually praise, though that doesn't necessarily mean it's bad.  Yeah, I give other writers a hard time for similar complaints, though that's because I either have a vendetta against them or they've shown to be inadequate writers (to me, anyway) and I hope they improve as time goes on.  With Josh Haber, there's nothing I can really comment on when it comes to improvement, other then incredibly nitpicky details.  So forgive me for being incredibly petty with my "in-depth" overview of this episode, as I totally respect Josh Haber as a...  decent writer, I guess I'll call it.

The episode opens up with Applejack and Big Mac at the swimming hole, and okay, I need to stop and comment on something.  This likely has nothing to do with Josh Haber and more to do with the animators and storyboard artists.  While this brief scene is incredibly adorable, what are they doing?  Just kicking and splashing in the water?  Seems rather childish to me, and  I kind of expected these two to be the more mature members of the family.  They were probably going for them just playing around in the water, and it just came off as weird to me.

Apple Bloom dives in, which splashes Granny Smith, who isn't swimming due to a fear of the water.  As it turns out, she used to be a high-diver when she was younger...  yeah...  never would have guessed that.  She once attempted a dive that was so dangerous that she ended up being sour for weeks, and thus she can't even look at water without that pain coming back to memory...  Strange, she seemed fine with the water in Pinkie Apple Pie, though maybe that's just because she was riding in a raft as opposed to swimming...  even though she eventually fell in the water.  What, did she not swim then?  Also, she almost slips on some water, which confused me.  Isn't that sand by the swimming hole?  Wouldn't the water get soaked into the sand and cause it to stick together?  Unless that's not sand but instead some time of hard substance, in which case, wouldn't it be unsafe to play in a watering hole with such a hard surface like that?  Then Big Mac swims by pretending to be a shark and scaring Apple Bloom.  Didn't find this funny in the slightest, nor did I take Big Mac to be that kind of prankster.

...See what I mean when I said I'd be getting incredibly petty with this episode?  And this is all before the intro sequence!  Just an FYI, I either forgot or didn't know that Josh Haber wrote this episode by this point, so my complaints would probably be valid regardless of who wrote the episode.  Sad thing is, I'm only just starting with these complaints...

So the Apple Family walks back home, Apple Bloom asks if she can take up high-diving, to which all the Apple Family immediately shoot her down.  Okay, here's the other thing about this episode; despite forgetting/not knowing the writer, I DID know the general plot of it, that being Flim and Flam come back selling a tonic, Granny Smith takes it and appears to be "cured".  After hearing about Granny Smith used to be a diver, and Apple Bloom wanting to learn from her, I almost assumed that Apple Bloom was going to take up high-diving and use the tonic in case she got hurt or whatever.  Turns out, this doesn't really come back in the episode at all, at least not directly in the form of Apple Bloom wanting to high-dive.

Okay, I just thought of a legitimate criticism with Josh Haber; if there's something that he definitely needs to work on, it's set-ups and pay-offs.  The example I just listed might have been minor and can still work as set-ups for other things, this feels like a recurring problem of his, such as the star-spiders in Castle Mane-ia, and the rushed resolution in Simple Ways.  It helps to think more carefully about what you write, and make sure every detail is important to the central plot, and by the end it gets resolved in a timely manner.

Around this time, ponies start gathering and heading towards some music playing.  Okay, another complaint, why are most of these ponies injured?  If it wer ejust a regular crowd of ponies, it'd be one thing, but the make it a point to have at least half of the ponies here (one of which is Donny, one of "The Big Letrotski" ponies from The Cutie Pox) be injured or sick in some way.  Perhaps if they knew in advance that there was a show about a cure-all tonic this would make sense, but the way the scene is set up, it sounds like they're all just following the music.  What are the odds that most of these ponies following the music just so happened to be injured and in need of a cure-all tonic?  Speaking of following the music, Apple Bloom and Granny Smith decide to do so, and for some reason Applejack acts concerned...  why?  It's just music.  She doesn't know what the music leads to, and I highly doubt whatever it leads to would be THAT dangerous...

Turns out the music leads to a tent, and inside the tent is Flim and Flam!  I actually saw a sneak peak clip of this, and my initial thought was how the Hell did Flim and Flam get back into Ponyville and NOT get immediately kicked out after what happened in The Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000.  Even Applejack, while clearly upset and fishy about what Flim and Flam are planning, doesn't interrupt them or their show.  They talk about an amazing tonic, and go on aobut how incredibly, improbably, almost magical it is, and it's here that I actually had to pause the episode to collect myself...

This is something I THOUGHT the show grew out of with season 1, after having Trixie and Snips and Snails attempting this, but how can anything be deemed incredibly or unbelievable in a world of magic and fantasy?  Hell, how can ANYTHING be described as "magical" as a means to describe how incredible it is, when at least half of the pony population, INCLUDING FLIM AND FLAM THEMSELVES, use magic?!  Hell, this tonic that they're pawning doesn't sound half as impressive as the bre Zecora made that instantly fixed Apple Bloom's chipped tooth in The Cutie Pox.  I mean yeah, they're showponies trying to pitch a product to potential buyers, but if I were there, and I heard them describe the tonic as "magical", I'd yell "so what if it's magical?!"  Hell, in a world like this, I'd half expect all the medicine have at least some magical properties in them.  Then again, it's hard to tell just what "magic" is in this world, especially considering how insistent Twilight was on distinguishing what magic is in the first season...

Anyway, to prove the tonic's effectiveness, Flim and Flam call up a random pony from the audience.  The pony is on crutches and is barely able to walk, but when he drinks the tonic, he's able to stand on all 4 hooves!  The song continues-oh, by the way, this is a song, and it's honestly very "meh", easily the worst song of the season, though just like Josh Haber's episodes as a whole, it's not bad, just not especially memorable or even that catchy, especially when compared to the Flim Flam brothers original song-we see a couple of gross-up close-ups of sickly ponies, there's a card shown during the show that has Time Turner/Doctor Whooves which I thought was funny and cute, they mention how the tonic will make you grow old and young, which I actually DO believe as being fantastical for this world, since it's been previously established that aging and age-reversal requires magic of the highest caliber, and eventually, Granny Smith is so enthralled with what she hears that she buys herself a tonic, much to Applejack's concern (and a concern I actually buy).

Next we see Applejack, Big Mac, and Apple Bloom, fishing...  with an apple...  okay.  Then, all of a sudden, Granny Smith swims by, and the rest of the Apply family try to rescue her.  This sequence almost drove me nuts because of how it didn't amount to anything.  Big Mac those his collar at her like a life-saver, and she swims by it, then Applejack kicks down an entire tree (whoa, wait, I didn't even think that much about that, but how the Hell could Applejack kick down an entire tree!  The tree didn't look that weak or unstable...  is she really that strong?  And here I thought Big Mac was that impossibly strong!  Maybe Big Mac should have been the one to kick down that tree while Applejack, in a hurried rush, took Big Mac's collar and threw it) and Granny Smith just swims around it.  If they wanted this sequence to be funny, these should have had Granny Smith do something as she swims past the tree, like to a fancy jump over the tree or something.  Instead, the sequence just comes off as filler to me, as it ends with Granny Smith explaining that she was swimming, much to the Apple Family's confusion.

When asked about her fears and waist, Granny Smith said that as soon as she drank the tonic, all of her fears disappeared, and now she feels better then ever.  Granny Smith drags Big Mac off to do...  something...  Dammit, I forgot.  This is why I hate my procrastinating nature.  Meanwhile, Applejack and Apple Bloom decide to get to the bottom of things.  They go to Flim and Flam's tent...  which confused me at first.  You'd think they'd take the tonic to Twilight or Zecora, you know, an expert on magic or potions who can see what's in the tonic that makes it work.  I mean, even if the tonic was genuine, I highly doubt Flim and Flam were willing to share it's secrets.  Something even Applejack pointed out!  Although I know why they went to Flim and Flam (from a story perspective anyway), because they just so happen to see a pony come out...  the same pony that was supposedly cured earlier.  The pony runs off, but Applejack corners him, where he reveals his name to be "Silver Shill".  Applejack manages to guess that it's all an act; that this guy dresses up as different ponies and acts like he's been cured to make the tonic look like it's working!  Silver Shill manages to escape again, and this time, Applejack directly confronts Flim and Flam about this.  They both coyly avoid outright admitting to selling a fake tonic, while saying that even if it WAS, Granny Smith apparently feels better regardless.  If Applejack were to tell her that it WAS fake, it would destroy her new-found confidence.  Then Apple Bloom comes in (what took her so long), and Applejack...

Well, she didn't outright lie.  Thing about Applejack is she never outright lies, she just stretches and bends the truth a lot.  In this case, she doesn't outright say that it does in fact work, just that Granny Smith's happy and that's good enough for her.  In retrospect, I actually like this, because it ties into Applejack's character and how she seems to truly be unable to outright lie about anything.

Later on, the Apple Family's back at the swimming hole, this time Applejack isn't swimming.  Granny Smith is now apparently able to juggle Apple Bloom withher rear hooves in the water now, which at first concerns Applejack but she's still unable to say anything...  After they finish swimming, Apple Bloom mentions the Ponyville Swim Meet, and how they should enter together.

Now, before I continue, I just want to sad that, in addition to being very "meh" and occasionally having sloppy set-ups and pay-offs, Josh Haber's episodes have a tendency to be incredibly predictable and VERY cliche.  In this case, I could almost see how this episode was going to play out from the get-go: Granny Smith goes on about being old, Flim and Flam sell their tonic, Granny Smith feels better, Applejack finds out the tonic's phoney, says nothing to avoid having Granny Smith lose her confidence, Granny Smith does something completely reckless, Applejack comes out with the truth to avoid further dangerous fiascoes...  also AJ gets her "key".  And while I must say the episode follows what I thought it would beat-for-beat, it doesn't follow it exactly...  and unfortunately, it doesn't follow it in the good way, for me anyway.

What I mean by that is that when Apple Bloom suggests that Granny enter the swim competition, Granny Smith actually declines, saying that swimming and diving for fun is one thing but getting back into competitive swimming and diving after years of no practice  is something completely different.  And of all ponies, it's APPLEJACK who convinces her otherwise with the tonic, despite full well knowing the tonic is bullshit and that Granny could seriously get hurt by doing this!  Maybe this is part of the lesson, that Applejack lies to herself in addition to lying to everyone or some bullshit, but come on, I feel like Applejack should know better then to do something like this...

*remembers Somepony to Watch Over Me*

...Then again, maybe not.

Regardless, I feel like Apple Bloom should have been the one to convince her, being completely oblivious to the tonic's true nature, or that Granny Smith WOULD have that much bravado that she'd totally enter the swim competition.  Applejack wouldn't try to stop them, instead going on with the lie, and that would still come off better then her convincing Granny Smith to do the thing Applejack would eventually regret letting her do.

Back at Flim and Flam's tent, they're about to start selling tonic's before their show (to avoid the rush), and are about to sell a tonic to Silver Shill in another disguise, before Granny comes along and buy their whole stock.  When asked by the crowd if it really works, Applejack, again, doesn't outright admit to it working but does say it helps Granny feel better or something to that effect.  Never missing a chance to promote what they sell, Flim and Flam immediately twist Applejack's words and makes it sound like she approves of the tonic and uses it as prove that it's effects are real, and because of Applejack's honest reputation, everypony immediately buys the tonic, thus putting more pressure on Applejack's conscience about this little white lie that's starting to get out of control.

The swim meet comes, Flim and Flam are there selling their "Applejack approved" tonics, and Granny Smith and Apple Bloom do synchronized swimming and nets a perfect score from the judges (on of which is Lyra, who holds the care upside down at first. :P).  Everyone immediately praises their performance which makes me think their praise is overblown.  I mean, yeah, it was good, but not THAT good.  Of course, Granny Smith thanks Flim and Flam's tonic, and Flim and Flam shill their product even more...  speaking of shill, Applejack spots Silver Shill selling tonics to the crowd.  While Shill looks nervous around Applejack, he proudly admits to being promoted to salespony and he will no longer wear disguises (what he's wearing is a uniform), and he even managed to sell his first tonic!  He then goes on to say that, while at first he was concerned about what he was going and if it was right, but thanks to Applejack, he's learned that "honesty isn't always the best policy"!  This, coupled with newsponies harassing Applejack about this, was the final straw for Applejack.  Actually, no, the final straw is Granny Smith deciding to break the diving record by diving into a teeny-tiny pool of water from REALLY high up.  Applejack manages to save Granny in time, she's confronted on why she did this...

Then we get the whole rainbow deal, and thus Applejack sticks true to her element.  She comes out and says that Flim and Flam's tonic is bogus, and admits to lying about it's effectiveness.  Part of me finds that this is unfair, since she never outright said it worked, but then again, she never denied it either.  Besides, Applejack has messed with the truth before, and now she probably learns not to stretch the truth too far.  At the very least, I really like how she comes clean about misleading everyone and hopes that they'll forgive her and that she can work back up to her honest reputation again.  When questioned about how Granny could to all that if it wasn't the tonic, Applejack says that Granny could probably do it all along, she just needed the confidence boost to do it.  Flim and Flam once again try to save grace by saying the tonic boosts confidence, but then, Silver Shill sets up and comes out with the truth!

Yeah, weird thing is that I "knew" this would be a "key" episode, and I thought Flim and Flam would be the "dark parallels" to Applejack who would get redeemed at the end, but as it turns out, they were the Suri Polomare to Silver Shill's coco Pommel!  Silver Shill steps up and takes off his rack of fake tonics and...  his glasses?  Wait, so he doesn't need glasses?  Then why was he wearing them?  I thought he said he was through with the disguises!  Eh, maybe he wore them so that nopony would recognize him otherwise.  BTW, I have to say, this guy's guy quite the underbite.  So Silver Shill learns that even though the tonic helped to boost confidence for some, he helped make and sell a product that promised more then it could offer, and seeing Applejack's honesty finally made him see the light.  To thank Applejack, he gives her the bit he earned from selling that tonic (he says he'll still pay the guy he sold it to back...  likely out of his own pocket.  What a guy!).

So Granny still continues to swim (only taking it a bit easier now), Applejack writes down her lesson in the journal, and the bit shines a rainbow shine, signifying...  well, we don't know yet, but it'll be important.  Here's hoping Applejack doesn't inadvertently spend it.

So...  that was Leap of Faith.  Like I said, not bad at all, but I can't help but find a lot of things to complain about it.  If you like the episode, great, really, and I'm not even saying that in a forced and/or sarcastic manner.  There really isn't anything to truly dislike about the episode, just a bunch of stuff that I thought was weird or stuck out to me.  I have to wonder if anyone else feels the same way I do about his episodes, or if Josh Haber knows about this "reputation" he has.  Part of me feels like it's better then being deemed "the most controversial", a la Dave Polsky, but then again, being known for having unnotable, unremarkable writing can't be all that good.  so much like Dave Polsky, here's hoping he improves with seasons to come...

And also that they don't give him a billion episodes to write like Dave Polsky did.  Seriously, what the Hell is up with that?!

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