So I've noticed that a reoccurring theme in some of my MLP reviews as of late has been me griping about the show's latest "redemption" of a villainous character. I can sum up why by simply pointing out that MLP has now reached the point where it is redeeming villains or even mere antagonists in general faster than it is introducing new ones. Eventually
they're going to run out at this point, and then the show will have run out of both villains to cause conflicts...and the chance to do more of those redemption stories it seems to love to do so much.
I'm exaggerating my misgivings about it a little, of course. The redemption episodes really aren't all that
bad on average and usually satisfactory enough. But lately it does seem like that whenever wind gets around about another potential redemption story hitting MLP, my first reaction is generally one of (usually fleeting) skepticism...which isn't exactly the most desired reaction one wants for a show it's makers want you to watch. It's true, though. It's a trend I kinda wish MLP would start doing more to veer away from more now, at least for a little bit. A full season, perhaps.
But if there was ever a redemption episode I wouldn't ever protest to...it's a redemption tale for a lone changeling.
The primary reason for this is because there's oodles of story writing potential upon that concept...as the fanbase has already proven with the plethora of changeling fanfiction that exists out there in the world (and I confess one that is usually quick to catch my attention). But we all quickly noted that when the changelings first appeared in the MLP world, it was also quick to demonize them all. And the logical can't help but stop and think that surely not every
changeling is really an untrustworthy villain...certainly there's at least one or two good ones out there, right? Ones unwilling to follow the same path Queen Chrysalis and her lot have traveled?
So enter Thorax, here, proving precisely that. I was already quite fascinated with the changelings (as I've been strongly demonstrating as of late
) but Thorax's timid and cautious manner demonstrates that changelings can be quite likeable too. He tickles my soft spot for changelings greatly and I can't help but like him. I see a spark of intelligence and understanding of the world I don't see in other changelings that have appeared on the show thus far, yet he's also very timid and unsure of himself, and he hates that, wanting more for himself. Your heart just goes out to him with sympathy almost instantly. He's hard not
Though it's implied that as changelings go, he's something of an oddball by comparison. Actually, in a way, he reminds me of the Oracle Turret from Portal 2. I'm different! Don't make lemonade!
But through Thorax we also get some minor insights at changelings themselves that were unverified before. Of note is the fact we get a peak inside a changeling hive for the first time (officially), what changeling babies look like (grubs, but with clear forelegs already in place. I assume the hind appear shortly thereafter), and the fact that changelings can apparently take on any shape, regardless of mass, size, anatomy, and even if its an inanimate object, as we see Thorax take the shape of things far smaller than his normal shape (though we don't see anything larger. I wouldn't rule it out as a possibility given everything else, but it'd be nice if changelings still had some sort of limitations with their disguises), the shape of a bipedal creature (Spike) instead of a quadruped like he normally is complete with functioning claws, and a rock.
Other details are also strongly implied, namely the fact that changelings other than the queen are independently thinking individuals, with their own unique names and personalities, and discourages
the "hive-mind" theory that's been long popular with fans. It's not necessarily ruled out
its existence, but it does make it clear that it's at least not so strong that individual changelings can't think or act for themselves. This actually opens the door for a lot more possible explorations for other changelings in the future, both the show's crew and the fans alike.
Basically, the world building this gives thrills me, and as I was already working at figuring out my own version of the details of changeling culture, it's timing is highly welcomed (and didn't do much to step on my toes on what I had already devised too, an added plus).
As for the "redemption" itself, I was pretty pleased with it...though I have noted fans who have already criticized it for being cliche. I personally take the cliches of MLP with a grain of salt, as that's nothing new to MLP; storytelling cliches have been there since the beginning, and I've just kind of taken it to be part of MLP's schtick...and hey, it seems to be doing it pretty well too, all things considered. One also needs to keep in mind that the episode is only about twenty minutes long and you can only tell and do so much in that space of time. Sure, the episode could've been made into a two-parter, but I think the show's crew made the right choice keeping it a one-parter (assuming the idea of it being a two-parter was ever on the table to begin with) as there really
isn't that much more that needs to be told, and a second part would mean more fluff to pad out the tale to make it long enough, and I'd worry that wouldn't work out well for this particular episode. But that all said, I do kind of have to agree. The episode as a certain degree of "clicheness" to it that cheapens it some. Not a lot, and nothing crippling I think, but enough to make note of it.
Though the episode didn't have to go the route it ultimately did. At the part where Thorax comes up to look at Flurry Heart (literally right before he says "She's so beautiful!"), I stopped the episode to debate to myself just how exactly this was going to play out. I figured it'd either be precisely what did happen, and something about being that close to Flurry Heart causes Thorax to reveal himself as a changeling...or it'd be revealed that Thorax was in some manner not truthful about his intentions and does something premeditatedly (it's a word, because I just used it, so there) nefarious (perhaps Thorax could've been a pawn, unknowing or otherwise, in some sort of greater scheme of Chrysalis's) and it's Spike who ends up as the one betrayed and that things have to be made right again with. But while that may have been more interesting for some, the setup for it just wasn't there; subterfuge like that just isn't MLP's thing, and it has the habit of making sure you're aware that things aren't as they seem well before the "big reveal." And it's not exactly a new idea to MLP anyway, as it's really been done before with Trixie (who used Starlight as a means of getting petty revenge on Twilight), Tirek (who manipulated Discord into helping him until betraying him once he decided Discord had served his usefulness), and in a way Starlight herself, in revealing she still had her cutie mark when she was still large and in charge of her village she infamously enslaved. So I'm actually more satisfied with the path the episode actually took instead, as it wasn't really something it had explored (in this depth at least) before.
Besides, because everything turned out happily ever after, I fear some might not understand the full magnitude of what Spike did, standing up for Thorax like he did. He did more than just risk his standing with the Crystal Empire, he was risking it with potentially all of ponydom. Imagine what would've happened if Spike's pleas in Thorax's defense had fallen on deaf ears. He could've been labelled as a traitor, and left, at worst, a criminal and/or banished for siding with a changeling. That didn't happen, of course, and I don't think Spike was ever at great risk of it, but it was still a gutsy and risky move on his part, and you gotta respect the magnitude of that. It's not something to treat lightly. And I don't think it's occurred to Thorax yet either, but he's taken a similarly risky and gutsy move himself. Before, he was just a self-outcast of the changelings that still had the option of going back to the hive if he really had nowhere else to go in the end. But now that he's formally allied himself with the ponies, the day will
come where he's going to be put in a situation where he'd have to pick a side to defend for the greater good. Is he really willing to basically betray his whole race so to protect his pony friends? Because I doubt there are very many changelings that are going to see things as Thorax does right now, or even for the near future.
It'll have to be a question to answer at a later time, but I certainly think we haven't seen the end of the matter and that the show will revisit the consequences (if you will) of all of this further at some later date. Because when Chrysalis finds out about this, and she will if she hasn't already--I'm absolutely certain of that, then that leaves the question of what the changeling queen will do about it. Will she just assume Thorax as a traitor, consider him banished, and leave it at that so long as he doesn't try to come back? Will she send other changelings after him in fear of what changeling secrets he could tell, purposely or unintentionally, to the ponies, her enemies? Or, what I think to be the more likely, will she decide there's an excellent opportunity here and use Thorax's position among the ponies as an unwitting and unwilling pawn to further her own agendas, assuming to try again at her invasion of Equestria? Heck, I wouldn't be surprised if I've just inadvertently guessed the plotline for the season's upcoming finale, I'm that
confident it'll happen in the show at some point. We'll see. If it does, you know I'll be back to gloat about it.
Truth be told, though, the episode does the tale well enough given the time it had to do it in, and that song
...you all should know by now that the songs in MLP I'm usually pretty indifferent to, and melodically speaking, "A Changeling Can Change" really should be the same...but it's the lyrics and message that get me this time as it's the first song in MLP that's really and properly stirred me emotionally. And that's pretty cool, actually.
But there are admittedly still a few things I wish the episode had done a bit more of that it didn't. One big thing was the implications that Shining Armor is especially
anti-changeling, made worse by the fact that the show actually took the time to point out precisely that, then ultimately did nothing with it. In the end, Shining just shrugs it off like everything's good, utterly without protest. But you know what I wanted to see? I wanted to see Shining stand his ground on the changeling being a foe. I wanted to see him stand his ground, only to have everypony else, one by one, go and leave his side to stand in support with Spike, in this
order; Twilight, Starlight, Sunburst, the other guards, and then finally Cadence. And then its only when
Cadence stands with Spike that Shining relents and things play out as already shown in the episode. That would've been so much more satisfying for me!
I also feel like Starlight's role is greatly underutilized in this episode. Her only real role is to bring the "you can learn friendship lessons anywhere" idea full circle and to be the first to suggest that maybe the Crystal Empire was going overboard in it's attempts to defend itself against changelings, roles that could've just as easily gone to another pony. It really feels like she had no purpose here, and I was kind of disappointed that she and Sunburst didn't really get any chance to interact, even though they're rightfully not the focus of the episode. At the very least, they could've used her to relate with Thorax, as she had been put in that same place of needing to prove to the distrustful that she could change and be good too (more than once!), giving support to Spike's stance and argument on the matter. Indeed, there are moments in the song that suggests
the idea was in the heads of the show's crew; every time Spike sings about "darkness turning to light," Starlight's always in view and looking troubled...although whether or not that was the actual intent behind that or just a convenient coincidence, I can't say.
But nonetheless, and despite the missed opportunities, I'm walking away satisfied enough with this one. I'm especially pleased with the dynamic the friendship between Spike and Thorax presents. I figure Thorax will probably remain in the Crystal Empire, but I kind of wish he could tag along with Spike back to Ponyville so to be in position to appear again at a moment's notice. After this season's premiere, intrigued by the interaction Spike and Starlight had done and the friendliness the two demonstrated, I had hoped the show's crew would latch onto that idea and run with it, but seeing that's not been the case, I hope we'll get that same sort of interaction with Spike and Thorax instead. Basically, I want to see those two running off and getting into antics and adventures on their own as friends, just the two of them now. Make it happen, Hasbro!
Whatever comes next, though, I liked the episode, and may it indeed start as Thorax hopes, leading to a path to a better future for him and his fellow changelings.
A few final things I want to note before I wrap up; I noticed Thorax's changeling magic is a different color from that of other changelings we've seen before; a pale blue instead of the usual emerald green. It's not an error either; during Thorax's flashbacks about his past, we clearly see other changelings using the usual emerald green magic, so making his a different color was clearly deliberate. But why? An attempt to mark Thorax as different from the other changelings? Or as some sort of signifier about how he's separated himself so soundly from the rest of the hive and its influence? Hmm...
Man, those crystal ponies barely waited for Spike to finish taking off his disguise before they start swarming him! I mean, sure, I saw that coming, but it was so immediate
I can't help but howl with laughter every time!
I'm actually kind of surprised at how little defenses Equestria seems to have against changelings in place, even after the whole attempted invasion. You'd think you'd have something more effective, like a spell or something, in place as a contingency for situations like this one by now, something better than asking Twilight to repeat the "ladybugs awake" rhyme (I had so hoped we had seen the last of that cheesy thing) which is hardly a good failsafe anyway; remember, Twilight performed that whole deal in plain sight before Chrysalis while she was still disguised as Cadence, who could then took note and remembered the whole thing to then teach her changelings for future attempts at infiltrating Equestria. Basically, it proved nothing certain about Twilight's identity. And why test just Twilight? Could Starlight and Spike not be changelings simply because they were with Twilight? Oh, please!
For a pony who claimed he was inept at performing spells, I can't help but notice that Sunburst put up a nice protective shield around Flurry Heart when Thorax was revealed as a changeling without trouble. Maybe Shining gave him some pointers on that, seeing that magical shields are his personal forte and all?
Speaking of Sunburst, I also noticed that he was never
more than a few paces away from Flurry Heart at any given time. Does being the crystaller mean he's going to be forever stuck by the side of that gal always and forever now? I just can't help that getting potentially embarrassing for both him and Flurry as time goes by.
Twilight might think Flurry's grown, but when she said that, I said back right away that she looks exactly the same as when we last saw her to me.
Props to Spike and Thorax to just walking right on into the throne room of the Crystal Palace on full alert while Thorax was not disguised and weren't even noticed
until Spike spoke up.
Spike and Thorax do have one thing in common too. They both have crazy wild tongues.