Oh boy a whole 26 episodes to sum up with vague sweeping statements, summing up this Season is something I have not been looking forward too. So I am instead going to try to cover important aspects one by one, to try and produce something more useful than just my own personal feelings... So let’s try a big one, the “morals” or significance of the morals to the show.
I’ll start where I originally wanted to start, this season is much larger in scale in most respects, especially when compared to its first season.
Season 1 was a simple show, it’s finale’ was just the GGG after all. Most of what happened was just sleepovers, making dresses, running of the leaves or wrapping up winter. The most large/ambitious set pieces were probably the ursa minor or hydra chase, which themselves were just thrown in at the end of episodes to spice things up.
Season 4 has much bigger aspirations, it wraps up with the Equestria games, resolution of the key arc and rainbow powers to princess Twilight. Most of it’s episodes are also more lavish, magical comic books, Manehatten and Luna entering Sweetie’s dreams. The biggest set pieces have many contenders, be it the bombast of what happened in Pinkie Pride, Rarity transforming all of ponyville, or fighting a giant worm.
What I am not trying to say at this point, is that the show has sold out or degraded (based on just a change of scale). It has gotten bigger, more ambitious over time. This change has always been going on between seasons, with each being generally more bombastic than the last.
What I do feel though, is that the general tone or feel of the show will inevitably change as a consequence of this change of scale. Which will almost certainly apply to how it can/does handle the ‘morals’ and how people interpret it.
With this season, a lot of what I hear is in the form of: “what the character went through ‘represents’ or mirrors something I went through or hear about in real life”. Be it RD fangirling out, SL taking the bullies words to heart, RD’s learning abilities and so on... With Season one, I typically heard “this character had that arc”. Be it AJ being stubborn, AJ/R not rubbing along very well, Twilight being all self doubt-y and so on... Now this is all just my gut feelings on how people typically discuss the morals, but personally I hear a lot more personal anecdotes and wide nets being cast for each successive Season.
If you ask me, it’s partly to do with scale. If we look at “Look Before You Sleep” there’s not much to it. Three ponies having a sleepover, AJ & R are not getting along, in the end they must put aside their pride and work together. The scale is small, the pillow fight, or truth & dare aren’t exactly thrilling experiences or moral landscapes on their own. It’s firmly rooted in the characters, the meaning comes straight from their interactions. If you ask me, the “moral” we see at the end, is rooted in those interactions, that the journey lead to those two characters learning something and by proxy, us.
Now if we look at Flight to the Finish. We have a lot more going on. The CMC have a HUGE investment in the flag carrying thingy, SL takes the bullies words REALLY to heart and she needs a pep talk to get her out. We also have a side ‘being professional’ arc thingy for RD and a song to fit in. The scale is much bigger, the interactions are either more rambunctious or the context they are within, a simple pillow fight this is not. The focus is not so clearly on the characters, none of the arcs really are given the space to breathe, RD’s arc is only there 5 or 6 times (mostly when talking to herself) and the CMC hardly interact after the bullies have their say (11 lines before we just cut to the end of the day).
So... what does this greater scale mean? To use a silly pillow fighting analogy... in S1 we spent a good min or two just watching them hurl pillows at one another (due to a slightly contrived reason), during which time all three interacted giving us insight into how they interact naturally. S4 is the equivalent of having twice the number of ponies, twice the contrivance, twice the emotions, twice the number of pillows and half the time.
It’s cluttered, that’s what. The clutter is changing how efficiently we can really feel the emotional journey our characters are going through. Twice the number of pillows doesn’t make it more ‘meaningful’ it makes it sillier. Now obviously all these conditions aren’t always on all the time for S4... but as I established I do think the scale has increased and in some respects the ante must be upped somehow. Sometimes more characters are shoehorned in, sometimes emotions are turned up to 11, sometimes the reaction is just over the top.
I think that this clutter really hampers the performance of the show, at least in regards to the journeys it is telling us, when taken on their own merits. Which is probably why people are moving away from the merits of the show and the merits of the morals themselves... S1 might have tried to show me some interesting stories... but they were always rather... simple. The M6’s failed expectations, Gilda being a meanie and AJ accepting help are fine, but small scale. S4 seems to want to go for the big morals or topics, be it bullying, learning styles or putting people on a pedestal. The execution hasn’t just inflated, but the morals have as well (or at least people’s interpretations of them).
Now however I am reaching a point where I don’t want to be on this topic... defining morals and how we read them from the show. Are the morals bigger because people are casting a wider net? Or because the show is (trying to discuss bigger topics)? Or because of the larger scale in everything else (e.g. is just OTT reactions making us think it applies to bigger things)?
My way around this and general demeanor on such things (including most of the conjecture in this article), is to take things at face value, or literally, most of the time. I am a self described robot after all and I find solace in an area away from all that airy fairy ‘feelings’ buisness. What I call “morals” is just what relatively firm logical conclusion the story leads us to reach or at a push... what they write in a letter or journal at the end. For other people though... “morals” can be anything, from just raising a topic up to displaying something that resembled something that (roughly) happened to them in the past.
The problem I have with such artsy, feeling, squishy things... Is that they are highly personal. There’s no real debunking or verifying them. Even for the basic stuff like ‘murder is wrong’, I cannot just endorse the idea just because it was brought up in a piece of media, it matters how the media explores the topic and what it really says, rather than just what people would like to hear. Even ‘it represented bullying well’ is a very personal claim when you get down to it, there’s many types of bullies, ways to show it, no clear way of establishing it as ‘good’ beyond it being there...
So.. Season 4 morals. I think they are more cluttered, flimsy and wide sweeping than before. This show has never spoken to me with its “friendship magic” or “destiny”, but over time it has also spoken to me less and less, on a logical level, the lessons it has tried to teach. People are using more open, personal interpretations because only the vague storylines and personal experiences can apply to the flimsier and broader framework of the show. The Grand Galloping Gala was very closely linked to their aspirations (the arc/moral/story). The Equestria Games or Rings of Destiny don’t play as much into the self doubt or fangirl angle.
I often call the show more like a “fairy tale” now... because fairy tales don’t make sense (gingerbread houses? talking wolves? all kinda silly) because they are just a means to the final moral. Though I do feel like I am giving fairy tales a bad wrap, they are blatantly just silly stories, whilst mlp (or it’s fans) seem to take it seriously.
Perhaps a better analogy (that Mage told me about); when the show started, it felt like you just put two characters in a room and a story would emerge (Rarity, AJ a sleepover, go!). With S4, it feels like you have a story and you shove the characters into them (Let’s do a superhero episode! We’ll give each of the M6 superpowers and we’ll have Spike going through self doubt! Yeah!).