Welcome back to another adventurous edition of TRS Round Table! This edition examines “Daring Don’t,” the episode of Friendship is Magic that first aired on December 7th, 2013. TRS Round Table is our group analysis and discussion about the episode, and maybe you’ll learn something new or look at it in a different light. Joining the Round Table today are BartonFink, ComradeCosmobot, Dexanth, drunkill, Headless Horse, Londonarbuckle, Perrydotto, Pocket and Wayoshi. Find out our thoughts beyond the cut.
drunkill: “Four more months!” Rainbow Dash excitingly exclaims to Fluttershy before wild speculation and daydreaming about the upcoming Daring Do book. We know that feeling as our own wait for season four was similar, instead it lasted nine months in total and included speculations on our forums.
Wayoshi: And then it got delayed two more months. I can’t say pony has ever been delayed after a set first date before, at least.
Pocket: Though it did turn out to be a longer wait than expected. This was the first year that I’ve broken down and watched preview material in the meantime, just to ensure that I would still be excited when the season finally started.
Perrydotto: I’m glad I had fandom things to keep myself busy. Waiting for new seasons of my favorite shows really drives me bats.
Dexanth: Rainbow Dash should be glad she doesn’t read high fantasy. Sometimes the author dies without finishing the series.
drunkill: Dave Polsky makes a return to pony since writing his last episode Games Ponies Play in season 3. His track record is still strong.
Headless Horse: The usual joke is that Polsky’s episodes all have something controversial about them, and boy howdy! What on earth even was this episode?
ComradeCosmobot: I don’t think Polsky made a controversial episode here other than that there seems to be a pretty sharp divide in opinions as to its quality. Some people have thoroughly enjoyed it, while others have been comparing it unfavorably to episodes like “The Mysterious Mare-Do-Well.” I’m a bit in the middle myself. I don’t hate the episode, but I also don’t really see anything to recommend it other than some of the same (admittedly good) caliber of jokes we see in other episodes. I guess you could say that you could sum up my opinion in one word: “underwhelming.”
BartonFink: Polsky has had well-received episodes, less well-received episodes, and a few which garnered unusually thought-provoking criticisms for a cartoon – but, say what you want, the reactions to his episode have never been boring. In this instance he’s managed to completely change the dynamic of a previously established piece of show canon and garnered some polarized reactions – so, the streak continues.
Headless Horse: I’ve never seen anything quite like this one, though. It goes places I never expected the show to tread. It’s so cavalier in its worldbuilding, so wild and convention-breaking and open-ended… what’s weird is that it feels like the kind of episode I should deeply hate, because it’s so bonkers off-tone for the show. And yet… somehow I don’t. I think it’s incredible fun. It’s full of problems, and I’ll be right in the thick of it pointing them out. But they’re not interfering with my enjoyment of it, and they don’t detract from the poniness of the show, as it were, the way (for example) The Mysterious Mare-Do-Well did.
Let me put it this way. Mare-Do-Well was a mediocre episode, and I didn’t like it much. Daring Don’t is a terrible episode… and I loved it!
Perrydotto: Dave Polsky tends to be great with the humour and “fine” to “eh” with the story, and it was no different here. I don’t look for amazingly intricate, perfectly logical tales in my horse cartoon, but when even I find myself taken out of the immersion even then, you know there are issues. The episode didn’t bore me, I did feel passably entertained, but my head just kept spinning with all the parts that felt straight up weird. Again, not a good sign.
londonarbuckle: This is exactly the kind of episode I would’ve fully expected to dislike, and yet I didn’t. Polsky screws up again! Seriously, if it’s one thing I’ve always been wary of seeing this show experiment with, it’s gimmicky genre spoofs. I’m a fan of this show because I love the characters and I love seeing them interact with each other, and it’s generally been great at keeping itself grounded in that character-based setting. The prospect of seeing the characters plunked into some silly homage like, say, a superhero setting (I’m not particularly looking forward to Power Ponies) like one of the lazier Simpsons Treehouse of Horror shorts, where the characters’ personalities can’t really play off each other because they’re too busy playing off a set of genre-specific tropes, just doesn’t interest me. And seeing as how Polsky’s a veteran of South Park and the like, it seems like he’d be more likely to deliver a snarky jokefest that lacks FiM’s usual heart.
And yet, I thought this episode avoided that. Maybe I can’t quite explain it, but I think making Daring-Do real and having that be something that affects the main 6 helped to balance out those problems. The episode became about Dash’s conflicts: Her hero worship, her over-eagerness, her self-doubt when she thinks she screwed things up… there was probably more there to explore, but a little emotional realism goes a long way for me, and it actually got me to care about the silly Indiana Jones adventure tropes because of how Dash was playing off of them. That balance of silly humor and good character-based writing might be one of Polsky’s biggest strengths, and this episode delivered for me.
Wayoshi: I don’t define Polsky as locked to any type of quality – Feeling Pinkie Keen and Too Many Pinkie Pies are great funny episodes! But this one really misfired for me – it’s too conflicting with the world we know to work while providing very little content for a pony episode.
Pocket: Polsky has always been good about keeping everyone in-character even while wacky cartoon shenanigans are going on—in stark contrast to episodes like “The Mysterious Mare-Do-Well” and “MMMystery on the Friendship Express.” Either by focusing on a naturally comical character like Pinkie Pie or Discord, or having the wacky shenanigans be something the main cast find themselves wrapped up in (“Feeling Pinkie Keen” managed to do both at once).
Perrydotto: Indeed – I didn’t find any issues with the characterization, that’s for sure. The characters are definitely the most enjoyable part of the episode, especially since a lot of the jokes Polsky pulls with them feel very fitting and natural. Shame about the actual story falling very flat.
drunkill: We learned that Daring Do isn’t a fictional character but a persona of the writer A.K. Yearling who draws on her experiences as an adventurer for material in her novels.
BartonFink: The crazed adventures of Daring Do were actually all real! The author was merely describing her life! Rainbow Dash is given the cold shoulder at first, but when she reminds herself of her own awesomeness, she gets to fight alongside Daring! And then she gets to be in the book herself! It’s hard not to find this plotline a little eyeroll inducing, especially since the show is pretty good at staying grounded most of the time. A lot of the audience was probably waiting for the other shoe to drop, for Dash to wake up or to reveal it was some kind of fan fiction all along. I know I was.
Headless Horse: Same here. On the one hand I kept thinking, “Any minute now this is all going to turn out to be a daydream of Dash’s.” But then on the other hand I’d think, “Of course, that’s just what they expect you to expect!”
ComradeCosmobot: I think that was part of the problem. This series has historically been pretty smart about what they do with their episodes so that we end up with some interesting spins on old time-tested plots. But here, they played it pretty straight. While the fanfic-like plot was handled well, there wasn’t much terribly novel about where Polsky took us either (aside from the novelty of “Friendship is Magic can have action too!”). There was so much potential in the premise, and yet Polsky chose to pass up practically every possible twist to play it straight.
Perrydotto: I must admit that I didn’t even expect a twist – Just some kind of explanation that would put everything into a decently fitting picture. The first third of the episode was pleasant, cute, nothing out of the ordinary in tone and form – But as soon as the whole Daring Do reveal happened and the proverbial boulder got rolling, I had no idea where to even place it all, mentally. The tone, the story, it all just felt taken straight out of a different story without any adjustments made to tailor it to My Little Pony. I constantly pictured the show writers being hellbent on letting Rainbow having adventures with Daring Do, but stumbling into Daring’s apparent status as a fictional character in the pony world. So what do you do? “Oh she’s not actually fictional! Problem solved!”
Pocket: I’m not sure about incorporating Rainbow Dash, but I could definitely see them wanting an excuse to bring back Daring Do. Though there’s always the comics for that. (And admit it, it would have been pretty funny if the first comic to be penned by one of the show’s own writing staff took place in a non-canon universe and featured none of the main cast.)
londonarbuckle: Jeez, if the Daring-Do story had all turned out to be a dream or something, it would’ve felt like such a cop-out to me. I had a heck of a lot of trouble giving even the slightest damn about the Daring-Do scenes from Read It and Weep – um, why do we keep cutting back to this lame movie about some pony I’ve never seen before? – and if the revelation that she’s real and Rainbow Dash gets to help out and impress her hero had been a fake-out, it would’ve just been weird. This episode’s whole premise is basically “What if [fictional badass protagonist you love] was real?” and as silly as that concept is when you think about it… well, I was kind of rooting for Dash to impress her hero. It would’ve been disappointing if there were some twist that took that emotional investment away from me.
Plus, I really don’t think Daring Do being real is all that inconceivable in the context of Literal Magic Pony Land. It’s not THAT hard to believe that there’s a far-off corner of Equestria that’s being besieged by a big evil supernatural monster when, you know, the rest of Equestria has the same problems. It’s interesting to me that people were separating the Daring-Do universe so much from the Equestria universe in their minds that it felt jarring for them. I wonder if that says anything about the way people absorb fiction? Probably?
Pocket: Part of it is to do with the level of writing in the Daring Do stories vs. the show itself. It’s easier to excuse that when it’s fiction-within-fiction because you can assume the in-universe author is just not that great of a writer. Plenty of shows have done this on purpose for the sake of humor. I seem to recall a consensus when “Read It and Weep” aired that it was likely one of those cases. Though upon rewatching it’s not as bad as I remembered—and I’ll elaborate on this further on—it’s still just Indiana Jones stripped down for a younger audience.
BartonFink: Could just be me, but I had about as much investment in “real” Daring-Do as I did in fictional Daring-Do – it’s nice in the context of Dash, but the pulp story that accompanied it dragged, either way. Equestria is certainly a pretty violent place, but I honestly preferred the idea of Daring-Do as just fiction that exists within the universe as opposed to the concept of some pony documenting her adventures. I suppose they can still use it as such, but it left me feeling dry.
londonarbuckle: That’s true. Daring Do on her own still isn’t very compelling. It would’ve been nice if they found something to do with her that wasn’t a by-the-numbers adventure story. The writers have proven they can do that. It’s why I’m still wary about this sort of gimmick. I’d rather see something original.
Wayoshi: I would have been OK with somehow fitting this weirdly shaped puzzle piece of worldbuilding into Equestria if Daring Do was a good one-shot character. Think about it – minotaurs could be thought as a weird part of this world, but Iron Will is so well done I don’t think there’s much opposition to his existence. But with Do, her side of the plot, her side of character development is barely passable. Nothing at all about her writing her books as fiction, which is actually really unique and could have led to an interesting episode! What we get is a barebones version of Twilight in the pilot – ponies just gotta try going at it alone a lot, I guess. The whole mess really sinks the episode, leaving it with no positive result of canonizing her world.
ComradeCosmobot: There’s also something to be said for detracting from the mystique of the written word in another sense: the reality of Daring Do blurs the lines between fiction and the “reality” of Equestria, such that we have to question whether there’s any sort of ground rules that apply to Equestria at all. Now I’ll grant you that Equestria is fictional to begin with, so there’s a suspension of disbelief involved before we even get started. Even so, I think I prefer to feel that there’s at least some sort of limits to what’s possible, as expressed through the fantasy of fiction.
BartonFink: To expand on my earlier point, I liked the logic of ponies enjoying pulpy, implied lower-brow fun entertainment literature. I think you lose a little bit of that when you play the “it’s actually real!” card, even if the logic of Equestria fits.
Pocket: Then there’s the issue of internal logic, which we’ve already begun to see crop up in fan comics. Daring Do says her exploits are meant to be a secret, yet she has them all published and sold throughout Equestria and apparently even her address can be looked up easily enough. True, she operates in a region that’s remote enough for Ahuizotl to rule it without his existence being known to outsiders, but what about the ponies Daring is actually trying to keep her secrets from, like Caballeron and his crew? They seem like they live someplace where popular books would be sold.
drunkill: Speaking of Dr. Caballeron, there was quite a bit more action and ponies fighting then we’ve seen in previous episodes, do you think that helped set the tone for the adventure?
ComradeCosmobot: Yeah, I think that’s sort of what carried the episode in a way and actually made it as worthwhile as it was. It was action, done reasonably well for ponies. Moreover, it was done in a way that really mirrored the sort of action that might actually be described in one of the Daring Doo books (in part because we’d already seen Daring Do as an Indiana-Jones-type character). It’s a really interesting analogy to what a Daring Do book might be like.
Wayoshi: It was interesting to see some explicit punches of animals. Do is a badass character in her own right… just with no depth. Anyways, the Mane 6 minus R.D. doing an improved redux of tossing around the Fall Formal Crown – I mean, the last ring thingy – was enjoyable enough.
Perrydotto: If nothing else, the high degree of action really showed off how stellar the animation is. I don’t know how they do it, but the animators push themselves with every season, and so far season 4 is no exception. The fights looked and flowed really nice.
drunkill: Some people may compare the plot in the latter half of the episode here for being quite similar in setting to Read it and Weep, I thought it rehashed a few of the jokes and set-pieces but was generic Indiana Jones enough to provide a new angle on the adventurous story.
BartonFink: There’s elements to like in the action sequences here: the animation is really fluid and fun, the cast of side characters who make up both Caballeron and his goons and Ahuizotl’s crew are really neat – their character designs imply larger stories by themselves. But, in a show that gets a lot of its feel from an emotional connection to the characters, it’s hard to substantively care about Daring Doo in the same way. It ends up feeling like a set piece.
Headless Horse: Maybe. Me, personally, I felt like it was a completely different kind of story, despite the superficial details of setting (the obvious reappearance of Daring and Ahuizotl). There’s wall-to-wall action here this time, and the face-kicking violence is off the charts for this show—in a way that Read It And Weep felt like it wanted to do but couldn’t really deliver for some reason. Everything that was limp and lukewarm in Read It And Weep felt tense and sharp here. The earlier episode was a fairly antiseptic serial pulp “one disaster after another” kind of adventure, as befitted an unchallenging story for young adults or dimwitted pegasi—
Headless Horse: —But this one made it all fresh and real, thanks to the craziness of Daring Do actually turning out to be a real person. All the action felt well-earned and properly aimed this time, despite the curveball of the overarching concept; I could really feel the weight of that gold ring they were lifting, and Ahuizotl frantically yelling “STOOOOOP HEEEEERRR” as the walls came crumbling down really made me feel like there was genuine tension and real stakes. And at least this time we get to hear Daring actually speak her mind, rather than just mental narration through Dash’s bedridden reading.
ComradeCosmobot: I’ve seen people trying to make this out to be a rehash of “Read It and Weep,” and I really don’t see that strong a connection. Yes, they use the same Indiana Jones iconography, but they really are telling two entirely different tales. Furthermore, as Headless points out above, Polsky did a great job of making something that actually feels like a genuine action story rather than a simple pulp novella.
Perrydotto: I concur. To me, this was not a rehash, simply a continuation. The lesson was different, the plot was different, and the focus was different. The only really shared trait is that both episodes contain feature Daring Do adventures.
londonarbuckle: Again, the whole story for me here was Rainbow Dash and how she reacted to everything. Regardless of the content of the Indiana Jones silliness, which I can understand having a problem with, Dash’s involvement alone made this a completely different kind of story than what we got in RiaW. Having the main 6 actually interact with the silly pulp fiction gave it actual stakes that the original daring-Do scenes were sorely lacking. Besides, even the callbacks were done pretty well. Having Ahuizotl’s little kitty cat minion return, but this time actually be as vicious as the other animals was a pretty funny and cute way to bring it back, for example.
Pocket: I think it’s actually lost something in the transition, and not because it’s harder to swallow as “reality” than as fiction-within-fiction. What I didn’t realize until I had re-watched both episodes for comparison was how vague they had left everything before. We never learned Ahuizotl’s motivation for having the Sapphire Statue, or for that matter whether the temple it had been stolen from belonged to him in the first place or if he was a rival trying to get his hands on it as well, or what. Not because the story was poorly written, but because we were only seeing snippets of it, and it was left up to the viewer’s imagination to fill in the blanks…or, more likely, just assume it was something better than we could have imagined.
And just as it would have been anticlimactic to reveal what Hamster Huey and the Gooey Kablooie is actually about, the Daring Do-niverse isn’t as interesting when they have to explain everything. As silly as “With this magic artifact now mine to command, I can take over the world!” is as a motivation, Ahuizotl’s goal is simply to doom his realm to 800 years of awful weather because… because he’s the bad guy. If he was a James Bond villain before, he’s a Captain Planet villain now. To say nothing of the self-aware underlings he now has who are somehow OK with helping him accomplish this.
BartonFink: Somehow vague, Cobra Commander-level motivations fit with the whole pulp fiction motif – that’s more or less how I would expect the real Daring Do books to work. It’s just a) unexpected to focus on it for a large swath of the episode on its own merits, especially since the show doesn’t usually do that or operate by that logic, and b) to Pocket’s point, kind of different when Ahuizotl is apparently a real figure.
drunkill: There has been some discussion about the role of the mane 6 in this episode, for the most part it seems that Fluttershy, Applejack and Rarity could have had the rest of the day off following the party without sacrificing too much of the premise, letting RD, TS and Pinkie go on the adventure with Daring Do together.
ComradeCosmobot: I’m pretty sure the most fabulous pony didn’t even contribute in that final battle royale. But to be fair, that’s sort of her style.
londonarbuckle: I don’t know, I think the other ponies got some decent turns here. If nothing else, they were instrumental in distracting Ahuizotl and his minions while RD and Daring-Do lifted the rings. I don’t think their presence detracted from the story, at least. (One could also argue that they provided a nice contrast to Daring’s insistence that she works alone. She’s lucky Dash doesn’t, indeed.)
Wayoshi: I think an opportunity for a Twilight / Dash episode – one of those two-pony pairings we haven’t really seen focused on yet – was missed here. We would have had a new common link – geeking out over Daring Do – to explore even more. Ideally, use the extra time gained from not having the Mane 6 to point out how Twilight certainly has had idolism issues before, and STILL does – we saw it in this season’s premiere!
Perrydotto: I think so too. I’m a sucker for duo dynamics, and as much as I enjoy the whole gang being together, this story seemed like a prime candidate for a Twilight and Rainbow Dash romp. The other ponies didn’t detract from the story or anything, but they didn’t really contribute either.
Pocket: They didn’t come off as distracting to me; I barely even noticed they were there until the climax when they were helping retrieve the rings and keep them away from Ahuizotl’s henchponies. This was Rainbow Dash’s episode; everyone else was just along as backup. Though it would have been nice to have their presence pay off with little character moments, like Rainbow Dash hanging out in the library with Twilight in “A Friend in Deed” or the Cakes going to everyone to try to find a sitter in “Baby Cakes.”
drunkill: Rainbow Dash got to meet her favourite author, do you think this could have been an allegory for the shows staff meeting fans?
Headless Horse: Those of us who had read spoilers and watched previews were pretty much expecting this to be a fourth-wall-breaking story in which the writers warned the fandom to keep its distance. Instead, the moral turned out to be “If you’re persistent enough, your OC will end up in an episode!”
ComradeCosmobot: As I said last week, I was hoping for Rainbow Dash’s fanfiction. I was rather disappointed that I didn’t see that sort of less-acerbic-Comic-Book-Guy-like poking of fun at the fans here. I know I’ve been talking about it again and again, but this is just another textbook case of one of the many missed opportunities here.
BartonFink: In all the (deserved) hoopla about the plotline, it’s worth mentioning that Rainbow Dash’s gradual transformation into a fangirl of the Daring Doo has been a nice piece of dynamic characterization that now spans several seasons. It’s an element of her character you likely wouldn’t have guessed on surface level as the ‘tomboy/jock’ character. Here it feels completely natural; it isn’t shoehorned in for a quick plotline purpose, but through “Read It And Weep” (as well as allusions in “A Friend in Deed” and “Too Many Pinkie Pies”), Dash’s appreciation of the series is well-established. And using Rainbow Dash’s lack of tact to present her as a certain type of entitled fan was both spot-on and hilarious; pushing the typewriter in front of A.K. and offering to “help”, with the pretext of “I want more, NOW”? That’s perfect Dash.
ComradeCosmobot: Yeah, I really can’t complain about Dash’s characterization in the episode (as much as other fans might), because it really is a summation of Dash’s general hastiness and impatience that she’s exhibited since Season 1. It’s pure Dash, and I wouldn’t have wanted her played any other way. In that sense, at least, I think Polsky had great success.
londonarbuckle: Even if they were trying to say something about obsessive fans, I couldn’t help finding myself rooting for Dash anyway, in the end. Hey, maybe the writers went through the same thing? They wanted to do a story poking at fandoms but then realized they liked Dash (and/or nerdy fans) too much not to sympathize with them. There’s something perfectly Pony about that.
Perrydotto: I’d say it works both ways. You can be an obsessive fan that needs to be taken down a peg, but that doesn’t mean you can never learn to do better. I think the episode was very in-character for Rainbow Dash, and I also think she definitely learned to improve on a flaw of hers.
drunkill: Will we see more of Daring Do in the future, now that A.K Yearling knows the central characters? Have they used up all the Indiana Jones homages for the shows future?
Pocket: I’m wondering if the dynamic between Dash and Daring Do will be affected in the future now that Dash’s favorite character isn’t just the product of a writer’s imagination but a real-life hero to idolize. Will she have second thoughts about her dreams of joining the Wonderbolts now that there’s something even cooler to aspire to? It’s kind of an unrealistic goal, but Dash isn’t the sort to let that stop her.
Wayoshi: Despite how kinda stupid this premise was, a potentially very good episode could have come out of the rubble. By just going straight for the Jones parody the entire way through, all of that potential was lost and only the rubble remained. Quite a few people found that rubble to be a sound enough building, and that’s cool – but it didn’t really pass my inspection, what I want out of a pony episode. A rare major misfire, but I’m confident these will still be very rare for pony.
BartonFink: A mixed bag for me. No doubt, points for originality and trying something different – but the execution just didn’t quite make it gel. There was enough to enjoy from Rainbow Dash’s characterization that I can’t dislike the episode, but I really wouldn’t mind if this is the last we see of Daring Do.
Incidentally, I suspect it won’t be. ■