The downtime between seasons of your favorite show is bittersweet, isn’t it? On one hand you aren’t getting your weekly fix of Don Draper or Walter White. Oh, you can go back and re-watch what you’ve already seen, but that doesn’t scratch the same itch as discovering each new plot development for the first time. You can try filling the void by chatting with other fans of the show, but you’re really just slumming with the jonesing masses, who are all the same boat you are.
On the other hand, getting a break from a great show gives you time to digest, to kind of take everything in. You can hit the wiki and find out whether other folks noticed things you didn’t. You find the time to indulge in clever or amusing fanworks. Heck, if you’re lucky, you might even discover something else worth watching! (Right, Korra?)
But nothing’s more fun than speculating as to what the new season will bring.
That’s hard to do with something like Mad Men or Breaking Bad. These shows are dominated by story arcs, so trying to figure out where the story is going means attempting to read the writers’ minds. And despite what you might think, you probably aren’t smarter or more creative than a team of professional writers. But for a purely episodic show? Something like My Little Pony? Why, the speculations can simply run wild. You can pretty much just make a list of all the wonderful things you’d like to see, and that’s exactly what this post is about.
Typically these kinds of lists degenerate into the realm of braindead fansquee, which means lots of, “I want to see more of the stuff I already like!” And while there’s nothing wrong with that, it demonstrates that fans really aren’t as creative as professional writers. After all, part of what you like about the shows you like is they constantly come up with new stuff to surprise and entertain you. Your only heart’s desire may be to have another episode starring the great and powerful Trixie, but the week before Boast Busters aired you didn’t even know that character existed.
What I’d like to see in season three, then, is not so much “more of my favorite stuff” as “expansion along the lines of what already exists”. If you follow the arc the show has already taken through the first two seasons, it looks something like this: the first season laid the groundwork for the characters, setting, and situations. It did this by establishing a formula and then applying that formula to a variety of stories. The second season quickly altered the formula so that it could be used to tell different kinds of stories, and it was able to do this because the groundwork had already been laid.
By that I mean, the second season focused a lot on developing characters rather than establishing them. Season two was able to do a lot more with its character episodes, because the characters by now had been so firmly grounded. There were more opportunities to “zoom in” on a single pony and tell a story exclusively about her, as in Baby Cakes and Read It and Weep. And there were more opportunities to build off of stories that had come previously, such as Applejack’s changed outlook on asking for help from Applebuck Season to Cider Squeezy 6000.
So this is my list of episodes I’d like to see in season three, and why I’d like to see them. In general I want to see things that 1) expand the existing characters and setting, and 2) subvert my expectations of what the show is and where it’s going.
#1: Fluttershy gets something new and interesting. And she needs it really early on, like maybe the second or third episode. Poor Fluttershy comes in a distant seventh in terms of development in the main cast, and she’s even a few notches behind some of the secondary characters at this point. If there’s going to be any expansion in cast and setting, Fluttershy is in danger of being left behind entirely.
The problem is that Fluttershy’s two most prominent (only?) character traits don’t lend themselves very well to telling stories. So far every story has revolved around her love of animals, overcoming some fear or anxiety, or some combination of those two things. Kindness, fear and shyness just aren’t as interesting as, say, Twilight Sparkle’s neuroses. There are a thousand cool stories you can tell about a pony going insane. But there’s only maybe two you can tell about a pony finding her courage, and Fluttershy has had like four so far.
What Fluttershy really needs is a new, interesting character trait that future stories can build on. Something fresh, but believable, and not so confining as “she’s always nice” or “she’s always scared”. I don’t have a clue what that thing might be, but then I’m not exactly a Fluttershy fan. Smarter people than me can figure it out.
#2: Princess Celestia is the bad guy. Celestia is portrayed as this awe-inspiring queen/mother/goddess figure, which makes her probably the weakest character in the show. If there’s a race to see who can be an even less interesting character than Fluttershy, Celestia is in the lead. The funny thing is, you do see these little snippets in certain episodes that bring her down to earth a bit, especially in A Canterlot Wedding where she’s totally ineffective both in identifying the villain and in fighting her. These rare moments help humanize the character — er, pony-ize her — and I feel like an episode devoted to that concept would open her up as a real character that could be used in real stories, rather than just a series mascot. She needs her own version of Luna Eclipsed.
I don’t think it would be hard to do. The episode opens with Twilight Sparkle (perhaps with the help of Princess Luna) identifying some princess-y decision Celestia has made for legitimately bad reasons. Like, she wants to enlist Fluttershy and Applejack’s help in running a pack of ugly (but otherwise harmless) monsters out of Equestria. Or perhaps she is playing favorites in some social factioning of Canterlot; an enterprising pony has figured out a way to accomplish some public service using machinery that is normally done with magic, and Celestia wants to put a stop to it unfairly. The episode ends with Celestia herself learning a Very Important Lesson, heartwarming monologue and all.
The knee-jerk here is to just have her taken over by some evil spirit, so it’s not really Celestia doing whatever bad thing it is, but that would miss the point. (And has already been done twice in this series, anyway.) I don’t find hero worship to be particularly healthy for a long-term series, and taking the perfect, can-do-no-wrong hero down a few pegs is a good way to dispell that. Gandalf survived it, so did Dumbledore, Celestia can too.
#3: Scootaloo gets her cutie mark, but her friends don’t. Season two did a great job with the Cutie Mark Crusaders. Yes, there is always a strong, single-minded undercurrent to all their stories (“We want butt marks! We want them immediately!”), but that undercurrent was adapted to some highly entertaining plotlines. Characters who merely irritated me in the first season came to really grow on me in the second, and theirs are now some of my favorite episodes.
Two things stick in my craw about the CMC stories, though. First off, Scootaloo isn’t her own character. Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle have both branched off and done their own things, while Scootaloo kind of hasn’t. And kind of can’t, in the current climate of the series. And second, it’s painfully obvious how the CMC story arc is going to eventually end. After all, we-the-viewer already know what the girls’ special talents are, and are just ticking off the episodes until the eventual triumphant moment where all three get their prizes simultaneously.
I think the show can do better.
We already know Scootaloo can’t fly, and that she’s at least a little self-conscious about this. So open up on that premise — she gets a rejection letter from Flight Camp, or something — and she’s really depressed. Her friends save the day by pointing out what a speed demon she is on her scooter, maybe by getting her signed up in the Sixty-sixth Annual Ponyville Scooterpalooza. Scootaloo not only excels, but gets her cutie mark right there in the winner’s circle.
What the episode is about, then, is how guilt and jealousy can create a rift between friends, and how the girls eventually overcome it to remain a trio. (Rather than, say, dump Scootaloo unceremoniously the way Apple Bloom did to Candy Cane Girl early in the series.) This changes their group dynamic a little bit, but I think that’s okay, because their stories are already less about “butt marks immediately” and more about the girls creating trouble for themselves. And also because, while Scootaloo might have a cutie mark now, she still can’t fly. So it’s not like she’s done learning, or doesn’t still need her friends.
#4: Legends of the Dark Knight, but with ponies. The greatest cartoon series ever made is unquestionably Batman: The Animated Series. One of the most steller episodes of that series is Legends of the Dark Knight, in which some kids sit around sharing stories about what they imagine Batman to be like. Batman himself is only in the episode briefly. The effect is an episode about the main character, but which does not feature him. The hero you’re familiar with gets filtered through the lens of a generic everyman, whose knowledge isn’t nearly as well-developed as yours is.
Powerpuff Girls had a similar episode with a scruffy guy filming a documentary.
As the third season winds to a close, I figure My Little Pony will have eyedropped enough personality onto enough background ponies that you could have a whole episode about the mane six where they only feature peripherally. As an example, Twilight Sparkle has this annoying tendency to make important announcements about climactic upcoming events, and then rushing off or disappearing or just descending into madness. From the point of view of a normal citizen of Ponyville this must be incredibly frustrating! But since Twilight is the princess’s understudy it’s not like they can actually say or do anything. Enough such points of view exist that I’m sure they could fill a comical twenty-two minutes.
And hey, if they wanted to slip in some good-natured jabs at previous pony series, something along the lines of Batman’s “Shut up, Joel!”, well, that would be just fine too.
#5: A straight-up Daring Do adventure. Cold open on the title card: “Daring Do and the Haunted Lighthouse.” Or, “Daring Do and the Secret of the Sixth Circle.” Then, just a full episode of Daring Do having amazing adventures in exotic locations. No framing device, no cut to Rainbow Dash holding a book — just an inexplicable out-of-continuity homage to Indiana Jones. Before each commercial break she lands in some impossible danger. At the sixteen minute mark she says something about an artifact belonging in a museum. Close the episode out with, “Catch ya later, Ahuizotl!” Change the end credits music, too, so it belongs to Daring and not the mane six.
Okay, so this is just me engaging in some braindead fansquee of my own. I am not immune.
It occurred to me, halfway through writing this, that I could probably plumb the depths of EQD and find all five of these stories in fanfic form. That makes me feel a little like I need a shower.
Still, when season two ended I felt like I had learned a little something about Equestria that I hadn’t known before. I would like to feel that way at the end of season three, too. More than anything, I just want the show’s creators to avoid feeling safe in their popularity. “Give the fans what they want!” is a fallacy because fans often don’t know what they want — not really. What I want is to be surprised; I want new and exciting things. And I want the show to go places that I didn’t imagine it could go.
Oh, and no shipping. No shipping ever. This is a kid’s show and you shipper types are creepy. Knock it off.