Because You’re Worthless: “Equestria Games” review

A little over two weeks ago, Robin Williams killed himself.

Oh, what a bright and cheery way to open this piece.

But he did! It happened, and I honestly can’t ever remember being this broken up over a celebrity’s death. I mean, maybe Michael Jackson; but then I wasn’t sad, I was just surprised. But with Robin Williams, I was seriously broken up over it. And it didn’t take me long to realize why: because he killed himself.

When someone dies of natural causes, or due to some accident or drug overdose, you know you can’t really blame anyone. I mean, I could get angry at Heath Ledger for ruining The Dark Knight Rises by dying of a drug overdose, and I did. But I shouldn’t have because it wasn’t really his fault, it was an accident, and I’m sure he didn’t want to die. A statistical fluke, we’ll call it.

But Williams deliberately ended his own life. He chose to kill himself. So the rest of us don’t just have a sense of loss, but betrayal, and are left to only ask ‘why?’ Why did he chose to leave us? Why did he have to die before making Mrs. Doubtfire 2!? I’m sure the answers were in the note he left his family, which the rest of us will probably never see. And fair enough, we don’t have an explicit right to. But regardless, it was a decision he made. And the rest of us can only wonder why. And we may never, ever, get an answer.

So is that the reason it hit me so hard? I could keep saying that. I could say the gnawing existential questions are what tore me apart. But that would be a lie. A lie used to cover another lie that I’ve told everyone who’s ever asked, including myself. Because the truth I came to shortly after he died was: I know exactly how he felt. You see, in the past, I’ve thought of killing myself. And this is the first time I’ve ever told anyone.

Obviously I never went through it, and I don’t think I ever will. I’ve never even come close; I’ve never made a single action in that direction. It’s just… there were certain dark moments where I thought about it, but quickly decided against it. Which is why I was in denial about it. Oh, it was only for a few seconds, it doesn’t count! But looking back, it probably did. I’ll probably need to talk to someone about this, like a professional councillor, or a psychologist. Someone who would know exactly how to handle this.

I know I won’t talk to a friend who’ll probably have absolutely no experience with this kind of thing. Because if someone is depressed, and on the verge of suicide, a friend may be able to make the commitment and spend the night so they can physically stop the person from taking their own life. And yeah, sure, that’ll work, but it may only be a short-term solution. These people have serious issues they need to deal with, and if a friend tries to fix them, they might just make it worse! They may say things like: “Oh, life’s worth living!” and, “You have friends and family who love you!” and stuff… And that won’t help… at all. And you may be wondering: ‘Why!? Why won’t it help!?’ Well, because they won’t believe you!

The thing is, if someone’s that deep in a pit of depression, it’ll take more than meaningless platitudes to pull them out. “But they’re not meaningless!” you might say. But you’re wrong, they are. Just because you say something, doesn’t make it true, and someone suffering from depression is going to gravitate to the negative, and ignore the positive. They simply won’t believe you! And they may even think your pointless platitudes are condescending and insulting.

The truth is, if you feel inadequate and useless, someone else’s words aren’t going to pull you out of it. Even your own words will fail to pull you out, especially if you don’t believe them. You’re going to have to feel better, and want to feel better, by more than just simple words.

And with all this talk about suicide and depression, we come to the penultimate episode from the latest season of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Where Spike becomes clinically depressed during the Equestria Games. And I know exactly how he feels, I hate sports too.

Okay, that’s not exactly why he becomes depressed, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Our story starts as the Ponyvillians are on the train to the Crystal Empire, and Rainbow Dash gives everyone a pep talk which can be summed up as: We’re all amazing, and can win gold medals! Except for my team, who sucks.

Rainbow, they’re standing right there, and can hear you, and are likely thinking: Well, fuck you too!

I mean, I get it, you’re up against the Wonderbolts. But you could at least pretend you have a shot! Besides, later on in the episode, we see them compete, and Spitfire wins gold by a hair, leaving Rainbow to nab silver.

Seems to me they could’ve won gold, if she could only close the gap, or if Fluttershy or Bulk were just a touch faster. But the way she talks here, you’d think she’d be 50 feet behind, like she was during the qualifying rounds. Remember that? They were so excited they managed to qualify for the games, and here she’s less than a foot away from gold! Obviously the team got better and trained harder since then, but that just proves my point: Rainbow should have more confidence in her team!

Twit.

Spike’s in charge of equipment, and once they arrive he quickly reassures the Cutie Mark Crusaders that their flag is secure.

Ah yes, they’re here, which is great. It’s always a good time when The Crusaders are around!

And as he delivers his own little pep talk, àpropos of nothing, this happens:

Why would anyone want to kidnap Spike?

Well, turns out he’s not being kidnapped. He’s being violently escorted to see Princess Cadance. And the moment they arrive, the two guard ponies apologize in the most hollow way possible. Yes, you should be sorry! You abducted the dragon without even asking! How hard would it have been to ask!? Or to merely inform him that Cadance wanted to meet with him!?

And why does she want to meet with him? Well, remember back in season three, when he saved the Crystal Empire from generic evil!? Yeah, turns out they didn’t forget about that, and they consider him a regional hero!

Which is great! Though it makes me wonder why he wasn’t allowed to join the gang when they visited the empire last season. But I digress.

Cadance asks him if he wants to be the one to light the ceremonial Olympic flame at the opening ceremony, which he can do with his fire breath. So there’s no torch relay? Well that shouldn’t be too surprising, since I doubt there’s a legend of Starswirl the Bearded stealing fire from Princess Celestia’s private quarters.

Maybe her knickers, but not fire.

So he agrees, but sadly, when the time actually comes, he’s running on empty.

With millions of ponies waiting, the pressure obviously got to him, and he just couldn’t perform. Some type of psycho-somatic thing, probably. And as he stands there, trying over and over to light the flame, his humiliation keeps building and building, until a bit of magic from the other side of the stadium lights it for him.

That Twilight, she’s got one hell of a range. And when she eventually tells Spike, you can probably guess how he feels. Like a complete failure, useless and worthless.

Now you may be thinking: ‘Well, at least no one found out! It can be their little secret! No one has to know and they can just move on, right?’ Well, thank you for completely missing the point I opened with! Besides, before telling Spike, she also told all their friends, so even then, the only ponies that really matter already know.

Later that day, it’s time for the aerial relay event, which Rainbow Dash is participating in. And at another part of the stadium, Spike is trying to ask Harshwhinny if there’s anything he can do to help out at the games, but she dismisses him. ‘Oh, you lit the flame, but that’s not enough!? You egotist!’

Yeah, she’s completely unaware that Twilight lit the flame, and when he tries to tell her, she interrupts him and calls him a prick. Are we supposed to hate this character, because they’re doing a good job in that case.

But their conversation gives him an idea, and after the Ponyville team wins silver, it’s time for the medal ceremony!

Now, as we all know, at the Olympics, the medal ceremony not only involves a three-tier podium where the medallists are awarded their gold, silver, and bronze medals. They also raise the flags of all three nations that the medallists represent to the top of the stadium, and play the national anthem of the gold medal winner.

But the competitors here aren’t representing nations, but cities. Now, we already established that every city in Equestria has a flag, which isn’t that unusual. My former hometown of Sudbury has one, as do many Canadian cities. But I’ve never heard of a municipal anthem, just our national one! I mean, there’s Sudbury Saturday Night, but that’s not really an official anthem, and for good reason! Is it any wonder I left that hole!?

Anyway, given all this, one would probably expect them to just sing the nation anthem. Which I guess is why Spike suddenly volunteers to sing the anthem at the medal ceremony, only to discover that he has to sing the Cloudsdale anthem, which apparently exists, since their team won gold. And this is a problem because he’s never even heard the thing before.

Abort! Abort! Run away! Collapse! Fake a headache! Burst into flames! But whatever you do, don’t- he’s gonna sing isn’t he!?

What proceeds is a full minute of the most horrible thing I’ve ever seen on television. Back in my teen years I remember watching this show called Scarred on late night television because it was summer and there was no school. On this program they’d show real footage of actual people doing extreme sports tricks, and wiping out spectacularly, and horribly. I’m talking broken limbs, and shattered bones, here; femurs poking through skin, and a hell of a lot of blood. They’d even do interviews with the actual people so we can see the long-term damage they endured. And nothing I saw on that show looked as painful as this.

You see, because he doesn’t know the anthem, Spike improvises with a song about the Wonderbolts for some reason. It’s supposed to be the Cloudsdale Municipal Anthem, not the Wonderbolts Municipal Anthem! The Wonderbolts aren’t even a city! What are you on!?

Anyway, it’s excruciating, and horrifying, and the moment I knew what was coming, I paused the episode because I didn’t want to watch it. I didn’t want to watch someone suffer like that, it was too horrifying. And we even get shots of the crowd reacting the same way I did.

And at this point you have to be thinking: someone should’ve just done the merciful thing, and killed him with a high-powered sniper rifle. And I say this because:

  1. It’d be less horrific
  2. It’d be over faster
  3. It wouldn’t hurt him as much, and
  4. There’d be less long-term damage!

I’m kidding of course, but damn that was horrific. Shining Armor was standing right next to him as well, yet he does nothing to save the guy. I honestly think Spike should’ve done the same thing I would’ve done in that situation: fake a stroke!

So after that horrifying disaster, Spike certainly needs some cheering up. And who better than the show’s designated bundle of concentrated cuteness: the Cutie Mark Crusaders!

Oh! A perfect opportunity here, right? Get these tenacious little buggers to begin a mission to cheer Spike up, and get him to forget the disaster that just occurred. Perhaps they could decide to drag him out for an afternoon on the town! Sweetie Belle would try to talk him into it with the line, “Are you going to say ‘no’ to three pretty fillies like us?” before batting her eyelashes. Then he says no, and tells them to go away. So Scootaloo physically drags him out of the room!

Transition to a photo-montage, where all four of them go out for ice cream, dancing, and a trip to the beach; during which Spike just sits there, moping. It’ll end with Apple Bloom, finally sick of his shit, decking him. Then a pull-back and reveal would show that Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle were looking over the photos, and Scootaloo just says, “Why’d we take a picture of that?”

Pan to Apple Bloom, who’s sitting on a bench next to Spike, trying to apologize. And as the other two join them, they try to get him to open up about his feelings, but by the end, he’s still depressed. It could really demonstrate just how hard it is to defeat depression, as the three most joyful fillies on the show fail to beat it.

But in case you couldn’t tell, that didn’t happen. Not even one-quarter of anything like that came close to happening. All we see is the three of them suggesting he join them at the opening ceremonies, and the young dragon declining. So they just share a look of what appears to be genuine concern, but just walk away instead of doing something about it, like staying just so he’d have some company!

You’d think Sweetie Belle would stay. Primarily because I don’t see her as being much of a sports fan.

Instead, they merely tell Twilight that Spike stayed behind once they get to the stadium, so she can drag him to the games. And he agrees to go, as long as he can remain incognito.

Meanwhile, it’s the final event of the games: The ice-archery finals! It involves shooting magical arrows at a target. The arrows freeze whatever they’re shot at, and the goal is for the competitors to cover their target in ice.

Interesting competition. And it all goes well, until one of the competitors gets distracted, slips, falls, and ends up shooting his arrow straight into the air. Oh, no big deal eh? Well, I say ‘air,’ I mean ‘cloud.’

Yeah, turns out there’s a lot of moisture in a cloud. And it makes me think they need a few more health and safety ponies in this country. Because it wouldn’t be that hard to clear the sky before the game!

It begins to slowly sink to the ground, and every pegasus flies up to try to divert away from the stands, but it’s still coming down. The unicorns are all impaired due to a dampening spell on the stadium to prevent cheating, so they can’t do anything. Leaving only Spike to jump on the backs of several pegasi, before flaming the thing into water.

And after that act of bravery, Spike must be basking in the glory right? Well, no. He just did what he had to do, nothing special. He only did it because he was the only one who could breathe fire.

I’m suddenly reminded of an interesting little personal fact: In most of my classes this past year, I got 80s and 90s across the board; And a couple of people, mostly family, have given me a lot of praise over that, which really bugs me.

You see, the truth is: It’s not a big deal. This programming thing’s easy as long as you actually do the work. So I don’t think any of those marks are impressive. I’ll bet most people got the same marks. It’s much like my high school diploma; the fact that I have it isn’t really impressive to me. Getting a high school diploma is just something you do as a default. It’s not an achievement.

And Spike explains he feels the same way. Which is when Twilight finally come to the realization that true self-esteem, which Spike currently lacks, doesn’t come from people telling you you’re great, it comes from within. He has to prove his own worthiness to himself, because nothing else really matters. And it all comes down to the torch-lighting ceremony. If only he could play a Mulligan on that. Then Cadance suggests Spike light the fireworks at the closing ceremony. So he does, and it goes off without a freak out, or a flame out.

And so, with his self-confidence back, the episode closes. And what a great episode it was!

While there were a few missteps, it was a great exploration of depression and self-worth. Much better than the traditional affirmations model, where you just chant inspiring words in an attempt to make yourself feel good… with emphasis on attempt. In reality, it’s much more complicated than that.

Now, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen Spike deal with depression, but it is the first time they explored it in such detail. Last time, the problems primarily stemmed from a magical comic book. In this episode, the problems stemmed from something real, and Spike knew that, which meant it would take more than just a reminder they’re in a comic book to snap him out of it. So they had to really deal with his personal issues.

There were a few missteps. I already mentioned the missed opportunity with the Crusaders. But there’s also the fact that we didn’t really get a good look at the games themselves. And I’m reminded of a bizarre little clip I found about a year ago that made me think of something I wish they made a joke about: The steeplechase is not a sport for stallions.

Hell, I can write the joke for them:

Spike: Wow, you’re a really fast runner.
Lightning Hooves: Thanks.
Spike: But, I have to ask: Why didn’t you enter in the hurdles? I mean, there aren’t many ponies on the Ponyville hurdles team, they could probably use the help!
Lightning Hooves: Oh, no way. You’ll only see mares run the hurdles.
Spike: Why?
[three seconds of awkward silence]
Spike: …Ow.
Lightning Hooves: Yeah.

I’ve been waiting for about a year to use that, by the way.

Oh, and [Picture of a Muffin] makes a reappearance! Though that just makes me wonder what exactly she’s competing in, since last time she was supposed to replace Rainbow Dash, who isn’t injured anymore. I guess she’s just here for some thinly veiled fanservice, which is sad. It makes me sad. And I don’t want to be sad right now.

But the overall episode was really nice, and really fun. And from the perspective of someone who has a bit of a problem with depression, not to mention my anxiety disorders, I can empathize.

It’s too easy to tell someone to just cheer up, but it never works. This episode showed that depression is a bitch that’s not easily defeated. Though Spike’s depression was nowhere near the level that others are suffering from, I do believe this is a step in the right direction; since you don’t often see children’s programming take an honest look at a serious issue like depression. However, even here, it was fixed in a superficial manner. You’ll have to do more than light a few fireworks to cure this stuff. But in the framework of the episode, it kinda makes sense, since it was his failure at lighting a flame in the beginning that caused his current episode, so his success at lighting a flame at the end would certainly help. But really, it’s clear that Spike has issues. Why’d he freeze up during the opening ceremonies? Probably self-esteem or anxiety issues.

I can only hope future episodes deal with this, and show that mental illness is a continual problem that’s not easily fixed. Maybe he could even deal with the fact that he doesn’t fit in with the main cast, since he’s both the youngest, and the scaliest, and tends to act like the group mascot. To most of them, he’s more of a friend-by-proxy when you think about it. I’m willing to bet a future episode will see him come to this realization and not take it well. He has no friends, only Twilight’s friends. And he’ll spend the rest of the episode trying to change that. It would certainly be a fun ride.

Think it over, writers.

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