I've come to notice that all my episode reviews have started with me throwing a jab at the reviewing side of the fandom. I think I owe you guys an explanation as to why I do this.
I really like that we have a group of dedicated and passionate reviewers out there willing to take time out of their day to tell us all what they think about the newest episode. That’s pretty much where my enjoyment ends and my problems begin. These people are too obfuscated with what they hate that they forget to balance out what they like and what they dislike. They go for the nitpicking, the flaw-pointing, or just downright disregarding something because it gives them nothing to bitch about. They literally refuse to review some episodes because they can’t complain about anything, and so they hand-wave them as shallow and inconsequential. Never before I have seen someone beating around the bush so hard just to say they hated something, and the worst part is that most of them won’t even tell you that! I have watched too many videos where the final verdicts are never delivered. We don’t know if they enjoyed it or not. By the amount of hatred spewed in them one would assume that they hated the episodes, so I guess this side of the fandom isn't really having a good time with Season 4. But this is not the worst part. The worst part is when they go and admit that their reviews aren't giving that much constructive feedback to begin with, and that people can easily ignore them for other better suited reviewers. You know you are not a very good critic when you tell your subscribers to go watch someone else because your videos aren't good enough for the material you are criticizing. You are not being humble, you are just being a tosser.
You may argue that I hate reviewers, telling by the tone of this intro, but I really don’t. Take, for example, Silver Quill. He puts a lot of effort into his videos and they are crazy fun, even if I don’t always agree with his opinions. I don’t hate the opinions of the other reviewers, I hate their attitude. I hate how monotonous and uninvolving their reviews have become. They bore me with an excess of information and opinion. They go around and do so many twists and turns just to say something that it gets annoying. They could be so much better, yet they conform themselves with a D- when they could be getting an A+. My hatred doesn’t come from disagreement, it comes from frustration. I am so frustrated I just don’t care anymore. You may consider this my last take on the reviewing side of the fandom. I give up. I throw in the towel. I just can’t fight it anymore. Let’s do something more productive and focus on reviewing one of my new favorite episodes.
It is a dark day in the internet, such a cold and damp place, and the smell of rotten apples fills your nostrils. You have decided to venture yourself deep within Sweet Apple Acres, despite Applejack’s disapproval, to find the remains of the dreadful TL; DR. It is said that this TL; DR stated that, while this episode might be really close to “Best Episode of the Season” material, it definitely surpasses when it comes to scariest episode ever put together. If you want to know more, you should venture yourself deep within the dried up orchard.
|Come on in, we have dried up branches, and even more dried up branches.|
So the episode starts with Applejack getting ready for Apple Bucking Day, which might be similar to Apple Buck Season except it happens in only one day. She is really happy about this, so happy that her eyes turn into apples as she bucks a tree, only to find out that the apples have all either dried out or rot. The reason behind this is that her orchard has been invaded by a flock of terrifying Vampire Fruit Bats (they are capitalized, that’s how you know they are scary), and Applejack doesn’t want to waste any time in getting rid of them. However, Fluttershy disagrees on this measure and suggests a more humanitarian way to deal with the critters. Applejack doesn’t want to hear any of those ideas, as she doesn’t want her Giant Chekhov’s Apple to be hurt. The two ponies then proceed to have a back and forth of opinions in the form of a new song, and by the time it ends Applejack has gathered the support of the rest of her friends except for Fluttershy, who still insists that they create a reserve for the bats within the orchard. Despite giving a few other options Applejack stubbornly insists in getting rid of the bats for good. She is worried that the creatures will destroy the entire orchard like they did in the past and leave Ponyville without their principal food source. With no clear idea on how to get rid of the animals, and without a handy shotgun in their reach, Twilight Sparkle suggests to use the nature modification spell that she used on the Parasprites in “Swarm of the Century”.
|Yes, because it worked so well the first time!|
There is a setback to this spell though: The bats need to stand still for a certain amount of time for it to work so they require Fluttershy to use The Stare on them while Twilight uses her spell. This puts Fluttershy under a lot of pressure as she is torn between standing for her own opinion or giving in to peer pressure.
|Xbox One or PS 4. Pick one or else.|
Finally giving in Fluttershy agrees to use The Stare on the bats, so they round them all up, she uses her stare on them and Twilight casts the spell successfully. With the bats’ nature changed Applejack proceeds to resume her routine, but it doesn’t take long for her to find more dried up apples falling from her trees. Thinking the spell didn’t work they immediately go check on the recently reformed bats, but they discover that the critters have zero interest in the apples. Clueless as to what’s causing this new resurgence of ruined apple trees, the Mane Six decide to organize a stake-out at night and finally capture the culprit. As they walk through the orchard they all split up and start looking for anything that may look suspicious, as they are being stalked by a shadowy figure that’s way too big to be a Vampire Fruit Bat (still in all caps, scary and all). Finally Applejack gives the signal and they all gather around a tree that she’s staring at in terror, because hanging from one of the branches is Fluttershy, who has turned into a hybrid of pony and bat.
|I live in your soul now.|
The Mane Six look rightfully horrified having no clue as to what has caused this. Twilight Sparkle then proceeds to explain, thanks to her Tron-like Power Point presentation, that her spell moved the vampiric nature out of the fruit bats and got absorbed by Fluttershy through The Stare, thus changing Fluttershy’s nature and transforming her into a vampony. With their friend turned into a freak they decide to use the spell on her to take the vampire curse out, but she just won’t stand still and she flies away anytime they come near her. The only way for them to immobilize her is to make her use The Stare onto herself. So, using Applejack’s Giant Chekov’s Apple, they trick Fluttershy into staring at herself into a mirror which gives Twilight enough time to use the spell and get their friend back to normal. With Fluttershy recovered, Applejack finally agrees to making a sanctuary for the bats as she apologizes to Fluttershy for all the problems her stubbornness have caused. Back to Fluttershy’s cottage the Mane Six learn that short term solutions aren't the way to go, and that giving in to peer pressure can have lifelong consequences, like growing sharp, pointy canine teeth.
|The cutest, most adorable canine teeth.|
So that is “Bats!”, and boy, was I worried about this episode. I think I have never been so worried about an episode in a long time. Which is funny because I really liked it more than I am willing to admit, so I am actually hard pressed to find things I didn’t like about it.
|Ssh, silence! If we praise the episode too much we'll scare the whiners.|
I will start by talking about the strongest element of them all: The writing. I've gone on record once and again to say that I am not particularly fond of Merriwether Williams’ writing. Her episodes range from the unwatchable to just-okay, and I wouldn't think about calling any of them “Great”. You can imagine how worried I got when I read that she was writing for Season 4, and that the first episode with her seal on it was going to be a Fluttershy episode. The last Fluttershy episode she wrote was “Putting your hoof down”, which still is the only Friendship is Magic episode that I just can’t watch. It completely ruined the character of Fluttershy for me, so much that I needed a year and a half, three episodes and a lot of fan input to make me like her character again. So I was really surprised when “Bats!” gave me nothing but great writing.
|Praise to Merriwether Williams!? Heresy!! Destroy it!!!|
For starters, every character is in character. I know this shouldn't be necessary to point out, but remember who we are talking about here. Merriwether Williams wrote “The Mysterious Mare-do-Well” and “Putting your Hoof Down”. Writing out of character was her trademark. It’s good to see she’s finally dropped it. Applejack is passionate for her job and her family, and even though she’s really stubborn about her own ways she throws them aside when her friend gets transformed; Fluttershy remains as a meek pony who does as her friends tell her too, but not without a lot of reticence and you see how doing such tears her apart; Rarity is all prissy and girly, but she doesn’t refuse to lend a hoof and she is a big source of comedy for the story; Twilight is strong-willed and direct, but she still has the potential to screw things up; Pinkie Pie is bubbly and forward, but knows when things get way over her head; and Rainbow Dash is obsessed with cider but she is able to forget about that when her longtime friend is in peril. It only took seven episodes but we can finally say that Merriwether Williams finally gets the personalities of the characters in this show, at least when it comes to the Mane Six. It’s good enough for me that, when it comes to character and personalities, she didn’t fuck it up.
|I'll believe it when I see it.|
But her good work doesn’t stop there, because the conflict and story of this episode are also very well written too. This show usually has a habit for fabricating drama and not letting it breathe and develop naturally. Only a handful of episodes got the drama work out in an organic way (Secret of my Excess, Hurricane Fluttershy, Sleepless in Ponyville, Dragon Quest) while the overwhelming majority has had it built piece by piece and usually rushed (The Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000, Putting your Hoof Down, A Canterlot Wedding). For starters, I think the conflict between Applejack and Fluttershy is very genuine. It feels like one of those situations where not everybody wins, the kind that will leave one of the parties feeling like they got the short end of the stick. If they leave the bats on their own then Ponyville’s main food source will be at risk, but taking the bats away from their natural environment is not right, and let’s not speak about the moral implications of changing their nature. It’s really hard to pick a side, and even though you only see Fluttershy’s turmoil when making a decision at the start, you can very well see how Applejack regrets being so shortsighted when her friend transforms into an abomination. The psychology and behavior of the characters is spot on.
|I give you this apple for your copy of Cider's Digest.|
The way they got the conflict explained was really ingenious too. Instead of having a tedious dialogue about what each pony thinks they have a song about it. Applejack presents her argument with somber tones, dark imagery and disturbing-looking bats, while Fluttershy gives a counter-argument exposing the positive effects of letting those cutesy-wootesy little bats go rampant around the farm. The cute tones finally give in to the overwhelming darkness of the negative tones, as the rest of the ponies side with Applejack and end the song in a somber tone, perfectly establishing where the episode is going to go from that moment on. This is a type of song that works great, it moves the story forward, it sneaks in an argument between two characters, it looks fantastic, it’s very catchy, it carries a lot of Danny Elfman/Tim Burton tones, and it walks the thin line between happy and positive to dark and desperate, until it finally transforms into a somber wake up call about how the shit is going to hit the fan. It seems like transformation was a big thing in this episode, and that goes from the atmosphere and tone to what happens to poor innocent Fluttershy.
This transformation, by the way, is amazing. I am still surprised that this show has gone as far as having Fluttershy, the most adorable of the main characters and a very popular one amongst the fans, transform into a hybrid of pony and vampire. I love this type of stories, the ones where the main character is going through some freakish transformation like in “The Fly”, “District 9” or “Black Swan”, because they have a lot of potential for characters clashing with each other and transforming in very interesting ways. This episode is no exception. As soon as she transforms, Fluttershy loses the ability to talk and even reason. She just speaks in hisses, grabs apples with her freakishly long tongue to suck them dry with her fangs, she hides in tree tops and swoops towards her friends, her eyes are blood-shot red, she has long fangs, she drools, her ears are feral and freaky, her wings have gone from pegasus wings to angular bat wings, and even her coat has become darker and discolored. It is both awesome and heartbreaking to see this character lose herself into this freak of nature, and it’s even more heartbreaking to see her friends lamenting over the possibility of never getting her back. This is all even more horrifying when you realize that Fluttershy never chooses to turn into a Vampire Pony. This curse is forced upon her, and it takes over her without even asking. That is some fucked up concept right there.
|My perm is ruined!|
If I were to criticize something about this is that her turning happens a bit too fast, and we don’t see enough of it. Fluttershy grows fangs and changes eye color in one scene, and then the next time you see her she’s a fully transformed vampire pony. I am not asking for “An American Werewolf in London” levels of graphic depiction of a transformation, but a bit more of build up would have been nice. However Jayson Thiessen and Co. did push the envelope within the rating they are limited to. Every time Flutter-Bat grabbed an apple and sucked it dry she made this disgusting slurping sound. She sounded like she was sucking someone’s blood through a drinking straw, it was very creepy. I know it’s just an apple, but man that can be some vicious depiction of apple juice. This is probably the most disturbing Friendship is Magic has gotten to this day.
|We shall sacrifice this apple to appease the apple Gods.|
My only issue with the writing is how Twilight Sparkle is portrayed. It looks like we are two for two when it comes to wasting our new Alicorn Princess Overlord, because she just won’t learn. She is still smart, and her ideas do pay off, but she doesn’t seem to be all that torn when her friend is transformed, if anything she is just amused by it. I understand she is not the focus of the episode, and they are going for her to be the cool headed leader, but a bit of internal conflict would have been nice, at least show some concern for Fluttershy’s well being.
|I know! I shall take her temperature! Where's my rectal thermometer?|
Aside from that the writing of this episode ties everything in nicely. It works great, it flows great, it touches upon every horror movie sensibility and it feels very tight. I wouldn't remove anything from it, and what little I would change is nothing but a few nitpicking choices that, in the end, don’t affect the final product. It even leaves room for interpretation and a possible recurring factor. That stinger ending trait is becoming a recurrent theme in Season 4, first with The Pony of Shadows, then with the disappearing comic book, and now with Fluttershy growing canines. Does this means she hasn't fully shaken-off the elements of her vampiric curse? Is Flutter-Bat going to return later in the season? Or maybe she just really liked Discord’s fang and decided to grow one herself. I personally love this stinger ending, it’s very 1950’s horror movie cliffhanger ending, and that’s very cool. Even if it doesn’t pay off in the end I really appreciate it.
|I hope Bela Lugosi senpai notices me.|
This episode didn’t just have great writing but also great visuals. The look of the orchard can go from warm and welcoming to haunting and twisted. The contrast between day and night is staggering, and it’s great to finally see a freaky version of Sweet Apple Acres. It feels like stepping into those woods sequences from the Hammer horror movies, very Gothic, very damp and scary, but at the same time beautiful and mesmerizing. Flutter-Bat’s ability to blend within the tree tops just amped the tension of the atmosphere, and it actually had me looking for her all the time. It gave me flashbacks to "Aliens", and anything that reminds me of the Best Movie ever made is more than okay in my books. Fluttershy’s design as a bat is, like I already said, really cool and a complete success at blending the scary and the adorable. It was as if the show itself was trying to figure out whether she belonged within this universe or not. Twilight’s Tron-esche presentation was very nifty too, all the way down to the techno music playing in the background, and it provided helpful information for those who might have been confused about the transformation. I admit it’s kind of redundant, but it’s not unwelcome, I really enjoyed it and continued with the classic horror movie trope of having science explain the paranormal.
|Next coming up, we explain how the neutrinos have mutated.|
It’s quite curious how some of the most interesting and enjoyable episodes of the entire series actually happen during night. Episodes like the two parter pilot “Friendship is Magic”, “Luna Eclipsed”, “Look before you sleep”, “The Best Night Ever”, “Sleepless in Ponyville”, “The Stare Master”, “Power Ponies” or “Castle-Maneia” are all really memorable when it comes to how they look. There is something magical about the night that gets exploited for good in the realm of this show. It fills the world with dangers and throws the characters in there to see how they are going to get out, and it’s only more enjoyable when we see them succeed at it. I see it as a very cool way to show little kids not to be afraid of the dark, because deep within that darkness there can be as many bad things as there could be good things.
|Or things that make you confused, very confused.|
I can officially say that this episode has fully redeemed Merriwether Williams for me. This proves that she can get the characters and the universe right, and that she can get the structure of a story work with enough flow and punch to make it both enjoyable and organic. It flows great, it moves great, it plays great, and it feels great. Which is kind of funny because this episode is very similar to “Putting your hoof down”. When you think about it, it’s pretty much the exact same episode.
- Fluttershy is forced by peer pressure to do one thing.
- Fluttershy turns into a monster from doing such thing.
- Her friends suffer for it.
- They have to get her back at all cost.
- They get her back, though she’s left with sequels.
The thing is that, while it didn’t work at all in “Putting your hoof down”, in “Bats!” it works really well because the situation is the one responsible for it, not the characters. Fluttershy didn’t decide to turn into a nasty monster, she was forced to. Applejack didn’t want her friend to suffer like this, she was just trying to keep her family business safe. Their friends were not nasty just because, they didn’t want Ponyville to lose their primary food supply. The characters had a good set of legit reasons to act the way they did, something that previous episodes written by Williams lacked of. This is why I am moving on from attacking her writing to actually defend it. I am becoming a defender of Merriwether Williams from this episode forward. I hope she doesn’t disappoint me!
|I still can’t watch “Putting your Hoof Down”, fuck that episode.|
Overall, “Bats!” is another great episode. It’s one of those episodes that I just can’t believe are real, so I have to watch it over and over again to convince me that it exists. It has great conflict, great character interactions, great dialogue, great visuals, and so much good in it that I find it hard to take it all in. I can tell you right now that Fluttershy transforming into a bat is unbelievable and it’s become one of my favorite things in this show. It’s unique, very original, it ties in great within the story (and even within universe) and it gave us one roller-coaster of a third act. This episode has all the potential to become, if not one of my top three favorite episodes of the season, one of my top five for sure. It’s another great episode from a so far great Season, and I just can’t have enough of it.
|Oh my Celestia...I'm adorable!|
And now that a new year has started I welcome all of you to start enjoying what we are here for. I don’t say we all have to love every episode that is released (hell, I’m sure I am going to hate one or two of the upcoming episodes, I guarantee it), but I’d recommend we all slow down on our cynicism. We are here to enjoy ponies being cute and awesome and have fun with it. We are not here to link Kafka and his Metamorphosis with a show about pastel colored flying magical talking tiny horses.
- Defining Moment: Fluttershy giving in to the Vampire Fruit Bat infestation and transforming into a long fanged apple hungry Vampire Pony.
- Moral: Short term solutions can end up being very shortsighted if you don’t think carefully before you act, and you have to learn not to give up your own opinion just because of peer pressure.