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1 February 2013

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic "Just for Sidekicks" Review

It takes a while to get used to new things. New technology, new work place, new house, new friends, new anything, regardless, always, there is an adaptation period in between then and now that nobody can skip. Change is a difficult thing to deal with, no matter how hard we try to not be bothered by it. With “Sleepless in Ponyville” Corey Powell seemed to have skipped this process. In my opinion she nailed the characters in that episode, it was like she had been writing for the show from episode one. It’s kind of funny when I think about it because she has pretty much written my favourite episode of this season. It doesn’t matter how good M.A. Larson does it with the season finale, “Sleepless in Ponyville” is already in my top three episodes of all time. So how did she handle this episode? Good? Bad? Let’s not get ahead of myself and review the episode first.

I have been looking left and right for my TL; DR but I couldn't find it anywhere. It's almost like somebody took it away to make a giant cake with it. So I had to sit down and write another, because why not. It’s always like this, is it not? So here it goes. This episode was quite alright, but it hasn’t sold me on Spike as a character. The poor guy has had more episodes than Applejack, and here I am, still not sure whether to love him or hate him. And if you want to find out why then you will have to keep on reading.

So the episode starts with a very well planned shot that tells us whatever happened to Pee-Wee, Spike’s pet phoenix that he rescued from the dragon bullies in the episode “Dragon Quest”. If we are supposed to take these photos as fact we quickly figure out that Spike is not very good at taking care of pets. We see him looking after the egg and snuggling Pee-Wee when he comes out of it, but I think giving ice-cream to a phoenix is not a great idea. So this is very well planned foreshadowing for what’s about to happen in this episode. We then see Spike baking a jewel cake as Owlowiscious (I hate writing this name) keeps telling him to stop eating the jewels he is supposed to be putting inside the cake. Lo and behold, when Spike tries to cover the cake with jewels he has completely ran out of them, which makes him scream “Why!” at the heavens in a very dramatic display. It’s good to see he hasn’t lost that ability since “A Dog and Pony Show”. Now, how many times has this happened to you? You are baking a chocolate cake and you keep eating the chocolate chips that go with it, and when it comes to putting them on the cake, you have almost none left, if any. They smell so good and they are so tasty and sweet. This is the same for Spike and his jewels, apparently.

I don't think I want to know what they smell like, though.
So now he is jeweless and hungry and sad, and as he lies on the library floor he receives a visit from Fluttershy. She tells him that she needs someone to look after Angel while the Mane six attend to The Crystal Empire in order to receive the Equestrian Games’ supervisor. Oh my Luna, the foreshadowing levels are off the chart here! It’s good to see they are keeping up with the continuity in this show, but this is getting ridiculous now. It’s good though to see they are setting up two episodes to happen more or less at the same time, and I wonder how they will handle this in the next one. It will certainly be interesting. Anyways, back to Spike, he doesn’t seem too thrilled with the idea of taking care of angel at first, until Fluttershy shows him a gemstone. She says she was going to give it to him for looking after her bunny, but since he said no then there is no need to part without it. Of course Spike gives in to his dragon greed and accepts the gem regardless of how little does he like the critter. I mean come on; any good fan of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” knows that Spike and Angel will never get along. By the way, I am not a fan of Buffy, I hate vampires and vampire movies and TV shows, I just know of this thanks to TV Tropes. As Fluttershy leaves, Spike looks at Owlowiscious as he realizes that the other ponies will also need someone to look after their pets, and with that premise he starts doing the rounds looking for the rest of the Mane Six.

Insert "Silence of the Lambs" joke here.
He checks on Rainbow Dash and Rarity who are hanging out near the well, as we see Tank for the first time since “Too Many Pinkie Pies”, and I have to say I liked a lot to see the stubborn, propeller-wearing tortoise crashing and bumping into things left and right. I love Tank. He is the best pet in the show along with Gummy. Rainbow Dash assures Spike that her tortoise doesn’t need help with his flying, but after he crashes two times too many she finally gives in and pays Spike with a jewel so he can take care of him. Then we move on to Rarity, who has a kilometric list worth of advice and rules in order to take care of her cat Opal. After Spike burns out a quill writing them all down, he asks for his payment as he gives dreamy looks at the white unicorn with floating hearts all over his head. Looking over her refined dress, Rarity grabs the biggest gem of them all, which happens to be one ridiculously tiny ruby, and throws it into Spike’s bucket. I am pretty sure every single brony out there stood up, threw their hands up in the air and screamed: “The element of Generosity everybody!” I can see the guys who do those reaction videos going ballistic over this. Seriously guys, this makes perfect sense in the continuity of the show and with Rarity’s character, and here’s why. Spike and Rarity have a story, they go way far, and they already know how they feel for each other. Rarity knows Spike will treasure whatever gems she gives him, no matter the size, and when she gives him that ruby she’s giving him both her favourite type of jewel and the biggest gem on her dress. Besides, she also knows what happens when you give too much to a dragon. She knows that way too well. So it makes sense she’ll try and avoid giving him too much; besides later on that gem proves to be worth thousands of bits, as many people online have pointed out. So to those who accuse Rarity of going against her element, please check your show history and try to not be so shallow, alright?

Besides she is Best Pony, so shut up (don't take this seriously).
After Spike is done visiting all the ponies he gathers them all at the library where all the pets are brought up by their respective owners. Spike seems to still be immersed into his cooking and so he doesn’t pay attention at the overly adorable displays of love each pony has for their respective companion, which to me are some of the best moments of this episode if not the absolute best. The way Applejack scratches Winona’s tummy is overly cute. Pinkie Pie screaming at a clueless and bug-eyed Gummy is hilarious if a little mental. Rainbow Dash’s is just perfect. That right there is a ten out of ten character moment for her. She looks around, quickly nudges noses with Tank, and then returns to being stoic like nothing happened. That is perfect. I could watch that on repeat forever. Rarity’s tending of Opal is truly heartwarming. You know that they have a good relationship. And seeing Fluttershy and Angel getting along and being nice to each other just for once was pretty cool too. Angel is a good character, in the hands of the correct writer. For a bunny who doesn’t talk he is surprisingly complex. So after the ponies say goodbye to their pets, and Twilight gives Spike another gem for taking care of Owlowiscious, Spike bids them all goodbye too and closes the door ready to resume his cake bakery. Or so he thinks, because not a second passes before the library turns into a tornado of chaos directed by Discord himself. As one would imagine Spike tries to get everything under control, failing miserably at it. I have to point out how intelligent it is that the only pet that follows Spike’s commands from the beginning is Winona. After a little fighting and alligator feet-sucking, he manages to gather all the pets but Angel, who escapes from the library to go who knows where? So what does Spike do? He puts on a helmet, leashes all the pets, and goes on a bunny hunt using Winona’s cunning sense of smell to track him down, which leads him to the Cutie Mark Crusaders’ club house. It looks like they really took it seriously to make an episode all about the sidekicks, right?

In this episode Scootaloo is played by Dick Grayson.
Spike finds Angel being tented and petted by the three fillies, which gives him the terrible idea of leaving all the pets with them, and even though they agree they ask him for a jewel in exchange, and this is actually a part of the episode that I really liked. One would think they ask for a gem because it’s money and they want money. But no, they don’t want the jewel because they are greedy, but because they need to buy equipment to take care of the pets. They will need toys, and brushes, and shampoo, and all kinds of pet-caring things. So even though they ultimately fail at taking care of the animals they have better forward thinking and are better at planning than Spike. Just for that the CMC get even more points in my book. They may have no cutie marks, but they sure are smart. Also that gigantic pet-hair-drier made me shout out “What the fuck!?” for the first time while watching this show. It comes out of nowhere and it is outrageously funny. Also Winona seems to really enjoy it. And, like many others have pointed out, this was all bought with that tiny ruby, so it’s clear that that small jewel was worth a lot regardless of its size. So with his first idea ruined Spike gathers the critters and tries to get back to the library which is easier said than done. When he ends up getting tied up to a tree Zecora notices him from a distance and says she can help him out with this bad mood that surrounds him. And what does the zebra shaman do? She picks one of his jewels and throws it inside a Filly Scout’s collection box, arguing that the best way to get good karma back is by avoiding dragon greed. Now, alright, we all know Zecora is an expert on dragon physiology and that keeping Spike from being greedy is the best way to avoid him from turning into a monster, but from doing that to actually grabbing one of his gems and giving it to charity without his consent there is a difference. I don’t like to use pejorative terms to describe characters in this show but man, Zecora is quite the ballbuster. I like her.

Everypony calm your wits. I got this.
Things don’t get any better for Spike as he finally gives in to his frustration and rolls all the pets into a katamari using tape and wrapping paper. On the way back he stumbles upon Granny Smith and Spike buys her silence with another gem. This temporary distraction makes him lose control of the ball of critters as the always troublesome Angel Bunny escapes and sneaks into a train. Spike follows him but he is not allowed to get inside unless he is accompanied by an adult. That makes a whole lot of sense. At first I thought Spike had to be accompanied by any kind of pony, which was weird to me, but having a grown up go with Spike makes sense since he is, well, a baby dragon despite of how capable he thinks he is. So he grabs the closest thing he can get to an adult, which are the Cutie Mark Crusaders, and the conductor seems okay with this. Maybe the CMC are older than we give them credit for. I always considered them to be teenagers from the very first time they appeared, so maybe now they are like in that time of their lives where you are neither a teen nor an adult. So Spike pays for the ticket with another jewel, which leaves him with only two left, and so they board the train just to get Angel back. Of course this goes as well as one would expect and so the train departs with them inside, heading to the Crystal Empire, because things can’t get worse for this poor little guy.

"You did WHAT with my Mass Effect saved games!?"
So now Spike is trapped inside a train with the CMC and all the pets going straight to the Crystal Empire and so all the Mane Six. This is starting to sound less like My Little Pony and more like One foot in the Grave. I was expecting Spike to stand up and shout “I don’t believe it!” It would have been more than justified with all that happens to this guy in this episode. When the critters crash open the door to their compartment and ruin Doughnut Joe’s cart Spike just gives one of his last two jewels away like he is giving a kidney against his will. He doesn’t even want to look. So it’s pretty obvious how much he loses it when they arrive at the Crystal Empire’s train station and Angel runs away again. After a fairly straight forward but quite oddly executed chase scene, Spike manages to stop Angel from meeting up with Fluttershy by throwing his last gem at a luggage cart and causing an avalanche of suitcases that prevent the bunny from reaching her. Grabbing the annoying little bugger and going back to the train, they all hide under the seats of a cart right as the Mane Six get in the train and sit inside the same cart. Maybe Spike and the others couldn’t reach their compartment on time because they might have ran into Twilight and her friends, but still one wonders if hiding under the seats was the best idea. They are about to be found out, and Angel is almost about to finally give them away by kicking Twilight from under the seats, when Spike finally gives up and admits that he has been terrible with them the whole time, how he never did what he was supposed to do, and how much he deserves to be found out. Then Angel does something surprising and decides to stop, and not give them away. In fact, he does more than that. When Spike’s tummy starts to rumble and endangers them all to be discovered, Angel runs outside and grabs Spike’s last gem, which bounced up onto a rooftop, and brings it to him so he can eat it and stop the rumbles of his tummy. I liked that, good bunny; for once you show both sides of being both a jerk and a good guy. You see? Have a good writer and he will be a good character, even though some of his actions were deplorable, he had a chance for redemption and he didn’t blew it up. Finally, after a seemingly endless train ride, they all return to Ponyville. Spike and the rest of sidekicks re-unite with the Mane Six, they all hug, they all praise Spike’s work, and the baby dragon doesn’t get to finish his gemstone cake, because even though he had one left he ate it before he could put it in the barter; because that’s how it always is, isn’t it?

It's a cookbook! It's a cookbook!
So that was “Just for sidekicks”, and to me it’s a difficult episode to tackle. I will keep my opinion as streamlined as possible and talk first about what I always talk first: The things that I really liked about it. I was one of those who looked at this episode thinking it was going to be a lacklustre, that it was going to feel like something was missing. I’ll get to that in a paragraph. I was surprised to see the Mane Six showing up at all in the episode. I thought we were going to have just the pets and Spike and that the situation was going to be given to us through exposition. Actually the first two minutes give me that feel immediately, when Spike is in the library with Owlowiscious. They talk to each other but since animals don’t speak in Equestria it’s almost like Spike is just talking to himself. For a one-sided conversation there is a lot of personality in it, and that is the best word to describe this episode: Personality. Each of the six pets has a very distinctive, very remarkable personality and for characters that don’t say a word they do leave an impact on the viewers. Most of the scenes are just of Spike talking to a bunch of animals who don’t say a word, and the guys at DHX pulled that off without forcing the gags or shoe-horning funny moments. It all flows and feels natural. All the pets are, for lack of a better word, perfect. Winona is loyal, obedient, determined and cheerful, like any good and well behaved dog should be. Gummy is silent, wall-eyed, absent-minded and oblivious, which is what happens if you are being raised by an ADD sugar-rushed pony. Opalescence is stoic, petulant, but acts kindly to others if she feels like it, which reflects on her owner’s personality. Owlowiscious is patient, pensive, and surprisingly sarcastic in his actions, which is something he definitely got from Twilight. Tank is stubborn, clumsy, but he doesn’t let that get him down and he always seems to be in his own little world, just like Dash. And Angel is a complete sociopath who can show a little kindness from time to time, but only in the hands of the proper writer. Whether this shows how he is connected to Fluttershy or not I’ll let you decide. They are the absolute best part of this episode.

I am looking at this picture and the theme music from "Team Fortress 2" plays in my head.
What else did I like? I think the other characters that appear in this episode fit fairly well. I think the Cutie Mark Crusaders are placed brilliantly. I wasn’t expecting to see them at all, but when it comes to sidekicks and secondary characters they are the most recurring ones and the ones with the most number of episodes under their belts. They had great moments from the very funny to the very heart-attack-inducing cute. That giant hair-drier was hilarious yes, but that moment when Sweetie Belle steps into the train and gives the ultimate Squeaky Belle might as well have caused cardiac arrest and cavities in all the people who were watching the episode live. Seeing Zecora again was also a refreshing surprise, though it kind of rubs me the wrong way how the first two lines she says are in the second person. I mean, I don’t mean to trash Corey Powell’s writing but both Amy Keating Rogers and M.A. Larson never had her speak like that so, why is she doing that now? I don’t know, and I don’t think we should really care, but still it’s kind of odd. It was cool to see Granny Smith as well. I am not a massive fan of her, but she serves her purpose and that is to take one of Spike’s jewels. There were two background events that I loved too, and one of them escaped me because of how much I focused on the other. There is one point where we see Cheerilee and Big Mac walking around Ponyville together, and when I saw that I literally pointed at the screen and shouted: “Ha! Continuity!” I wonder if the writers will ever expand any further in this possible relationship but it’s actually rather adorable to think there is a relationship going on in the periphery of the show. The other background event that I missed at first was one of the nurses from “Read it and Weep” taking Screw Loose the pony back to her home. I wonder if she is recovering from losing her mind and thinking she was a dog in the previous season.

"Oooh, butterflies!"
So that’s for all I liked, and you may have noticed that I am dodging one character in particular, one scaly, green and purple fellow who answers to the name of Spike. I have never been a big fan of him, but I don’t think he is a terrible character. I still consider “Secret of my Excess” to be one of my favourite episodes of all time, but that’s because there is a lot of Rarity in it, and because the episode explores the relationship that they both have, aside from being a fantastic homage to kaiju films. So this show can have good Spike episodes that are interesting. However, it does have too many episodes that are kind of “eh”. “Spike at your Service”, “Dragon Quest” or “Owls well that ends well” come to mind. Those episodes have the same problem that this one episode has, and that is that there is no balance between Spike and everything that surrounds Spike. Let me explain. In “Owls well that ends well” and “Spike at your Service” everything around Spike is pretty cool, but Spike himself is an idiot jerk. In “Dragon Quest” Spike is awesome, but I hated everything that surrounds him. You see what I mean? In this episode the other characters are so good, so fun and so interesting that every time Spike appears on screen all I want is for him to just go away, and that’s because he feels like he doesn’t want to be in it. All the time he is trying to bake his cake or gather his jewels, which it does make sense since that’s what the episode’s about, but when you see the pets doing something different in each scene and having their own respective moments, and then we cut back to Spike wearing his cooking hat and his bowl of barter, I just groan in exhaustion. By the third time I saw him carrying the ingredients around I just wanted to swat him like an annoying fly. At least this time they didn’t make him out of character! Where is his clumsiness when it comes to cooking, eh!? It’s almost as if somebody actually researched and checked that Spike is actually a very capable cook who can fence himself in the kitchen and not make a mess out of everything! It’s as simple as watching other episodes. Someone has to take notes from Corey Powell. But seriously, my problems don’t come from the writing; they come from the character himself. I started this season loving Spike. He was great. Now we are back to status quo where I don’t hate Spike but I am not the biggest fan of him either. Also, why wasn’t he invited to the Crystal Empire? Being the guy who saved the Empire along with Cadance one would expect him to be the guest of honour, instead he is demoted to pet sitting. You see why I say it’s a nuisance to go back to status quo? It’s a big, red, glowing, flashing light that makes it hard for me to enjoy the good parts.

Those are fight words from where I come, pal.
But overall, I enjoy the good parts well enough. The show runners took a theme with this episode and ran with it, and I think they ran with it very well. The whole idea of focusing on the secondary character is something every single show has made, and it’s great to see My Little Pony doing it too. It had some of the best moments of this season, some very great nods to the audience and the fans, and it didn’t talk down anyone. It gave a fair moral and it kept the tone consistent. It’s a fun, harmless episode, and if I was to equate it to any other episode that would be “Apple Family Reunion”. It’s a character centric episode where what surrounds the character is more interesting than the character itself. It happens, but who says that’s a bad thing?

- Defining Moment: That part where the Cutie Mark Crusaders are grooming all the pets. The result is what would happen if you exploded a barrel of Gak in front of the My Little Pony section at Toys ‘r Us.

- Moral: If you have responsibilities focus on them and not on you nor on what you will get from them.


  1. This episode was definitely better than I expected it to be.

    This was an example of filler episode done well. Spike was much better characterized in this episode compared to Spike at Your Service. As for the characterization of other characters, I find them to be fine, though I do find Rainbow Dash to be a bit off in this episode, but that didn't bother me too much.

    I definitely had fun watching this episode. The humor in this episode was pretty damn good, and I really enjoyed the character interactions. The interactions between Spike and CMC was great. This is probably the first time that they have interacted this much. Also, the interactions between the Main 6 and their pets were pretty cute, especially the interaction between Rainbow Dash and Tank.

    Overall, it was yet another great Season 3 episode. It is now my second favorite Spike episode, the first being Secret of My Excess. Although I feel that it wasn't as great as Powell's other episode, Sleepless in Ponyville (my favorite episode of Season 3), she still did a great job here. So thanks, Powell for another great episode!

  2. Great review, again. Your hindsight and the relevance of your points always make them a delight to read.

    It is, indeed, very inconsiderate of Cadance not to invite Spike to the Crystal Empire. Although, this point has been adressed (if very briefly so) in the episode itself, when Fluttershy went over to talk to Spike, so Powell acknowledges it at least.


  3. I really liked this episode. To a certain extent I think it's because I'm one of those people who have no heart and hate all pets in general, so I could really relate with Spike. You may not have liked him in the episode, but I found his grumblings and facial expressions hilarious.

    If Corey Powell can keep this up in Season 4 she's going to be my favourite writer by far.

  4. While I maintain that Sleepless in Ponyville was great, it had some serious problems. Pretty much the entirety of Act 3 is driven forward by plot convenience, like having Luna show up out of nowhere with an ability we didn't know about until then, or RD also coming out of nowhere to save Scootaloo when she was fast asleep the last time we saw her. But anyway, the emotional payoff at the end was really good. If there's one thing that "Sidekicks" does better is having a better flow of the events in the episode, where you don't have to stop and question how certain things happen.

    1. I think Princess Luna in that episode was handled well. We know that she is the Princess of the Night, but we didn't know that she was a dreamgoer until now. I think the episode expands her role pretty well and her appearance, to me, didn't feel out of nowhere.

    2. I definitely see your point because, at the very least, I like the idea of Luna going into others dreams. It's certainly a better way to reaching out to her subjects than whatever Celestia's doing ;)

  5. A great review and good read. Very nice. It has given me some new insight into the episode.

  6. "as we see Tank for the first time since “May the Best Pet Win”"...
    We actually saw Tank briefly in "Too Many Pinkie Pies".

    It's "Crystal Empire", not "Chrystal Empire". You're thinking of Queen Chrysalis, whose name is based on a stage of life for an insect.

    "Also that gigantic pet-hair-drier made [me] shout out..." (missing a word there)

    This is just nitpicking, but Studio B doesn't go by that name anymore. They're DHX Media (Vancouver) now.

    And for some trivia: The name of the nurse in this episode is Nurse Coldheart, as voted on here. And it's uncommon to see Screw Loose's name spelled as one word.

    Also, I noticed you're one of those people who goes with the "Cadance" spelling, even though that's not how they pronounce her name on the show, nor is that how her name was spelled in the script or the credits (it's spelled Cadence there). But I suppose that's a futile point to argue on.

    I'm surprised you didn't make note of the relationship budding between Opal and Tank in this episode, I thought that was funny.

    Regarding your phrasing of the moral, "If you have responsibilities, focus on them and not on you [take out the "r"], nor on what you will get from them," I would make the changes I've highlighted in bold.

    Sorry for all the crazy criticisms, and I hope you're not offended by them, but when I pick apart someone's writing this much, it means I cared enough to read the whole thing and proofread it. Therefore, I enjoyed this episode review, like I do with all of your reviews.

    1. I fixed all the mistakes.

      You see, I am not going through the best of times. My job search didn't go well, I'm unemployed, I'm getting kicked out of where I'm living, my family had to sell the car to pay the bank bills, and I feel like everything I try doesn't mean anything anymore.

      So I'm sorry I made so many mistakes in my reviews that I only write because I feel like sharing my opinion with you all. I promise you they are not intentional.

      I can't wait for this season to be over so I can stop reviewing and start writing editorials. Oh boy am I going to have fun with those.

    2. Also, some people spell it "Cadance" others spell it "Cadence". I spell it Cadance.

    3. And I'd like to apologize for upsetting you. It seems like I've been doing a lot more correcting lately, and I don't know why that is. I'm sorry about what you're going through right now.

    4. It's not your fault so don't feel sorry.

    5. I understand what you feel of being unemployed, James. For what I understand, Spain being First World country is pretty unusual those kind of things such as recession, here in a third world country as Mexico, is pretty common.

  7. I liked the episode too.

  8. Great review as usual.

    I will only say that to me, personally, SPike being clumsy is not out of character but perfectly in character for him. Everytime I see him he is either dropping something or tripping or making a mistake and that makes sense to me since he is supossed to be a little boy so I don´t share that sentiment that he is supossed to be extremely efficient on his work.

    Then again, I guess this is goes to show how different people percieve the characters and episodes in a diferrent way. To me that is a testament of the show quality and complex writing, if the stories were too simple they will not be a room to discuss so that´s good.

    I loved this episode from begining to end. I guess my problem wiht SPike is that his episodes usually remind you every second that he is a dragon and that gets old pretty quickly. This one didn´t. His dragon greedy nature is mentioned but its not the focus of the episode and that´s why I liked it so much.

    So sorry to hear about your problems. I forgot all about Spain situation. Hope everything gets better for you soon.

    1. Making Spike clumsy is perfectly alright. Doing what they did in "Spike At Your Service" - making him not just clumsy, but downright dangerous to himself and others, as well as a bad cook when it has been established firmly that that's the opposite of true - was going too far. This episode struck a better balance, I think.