Stop the Bats! Or the presses, whatever it takes to get this edition of the TRS Round Table out the door! We’re here to talk about the aptly named Bats!, which originally aired on December 28, 2013. TRS Round Table is our community review, where our best and brightest come together to talk turkey about ponies. Joining the Round Table today are ComradeCosmobot, Dexanth, Perrydotto, Headless Horse, The Doctor, Wayoshi, Pseudonym, and KefkaFloyd. Find out our thoughts of the episode beyond the cut.
KefkaFloyd: Although the title card says that Meghan wrote the episode, it was in fact written by Merriwether Williams. I’m shocked. Shocked! Well, not that shocked.
drunkill: We had known it was a Merriwether episode beforehand and I missed the incorrect credit while watching. One of the few errors that are abound in the credits or press releases that are put out, while it sometimes can be confusing at least the show staff tweet corrections often.
Wayoshi: It’s kind of a major error to make on the show’s part, though – I’m sure they’ll be more careful in the future, but letting this slip by all the way to premiere airdate time is pretty bad. The fact this episode kinda blended in to McCarthy’s work initially, though, is a credit to Williams turning out a good episode this time.
Headless Horse: Yeah. I freely admit that my biases really threw me for a loop on this one. When I thought it was McCarthy, all through the first half of the episode I thought it was classic McCarthy material. Like, for example, Pinkie’s little “fruit bat round-up, fruit bat round-up” ditty felt like the same kind of “Winter Wrap up” callback McCarthy had done in Princess Twilight Sparkle. But then, well…
Perrydotto: I was told before I watched that the credit was wrong. I came in knowing it was Merriwether with my usual attitude of being as openminded as possible.
ComradeCosmobot: To be honest, I completely forgot who was writing and never bother reading the credits anyway. I only really remembered it was Williams by Act 2, which was telling…
The Doctor: I’ve never gotten the hate for Williams. Sure a few of her eps have been stinkers to me, but others have been good. A average pony episode writer is still a good episode writer.
Dexanth: The criticism, and one I find fair, is that in her episodes, characters often act in a way that’s cartoony, but not true to themselves. Basically, they are contorted to fit the plot, instead of making the plot fit them. Bats!, however, seems to have largely avoided this, which was quite nice to see.
The Doctor: That’s hardly unique to Williams though. Many of the out of character criticisms to “Mare Do Well” are also put on episodes such as “MMMMystery on the Friendship Express”.
Headless Horse: It’s hard to put a finger on a lot those dreaded “Merriwether-isms”, but in my case the “Winter Wrap Up” callback started to feel more like copycatting than originality—in the same way that, say, “As Celestia is my witness” showed up in “Putting Your Hoof Down” just a few episodes after Rarity used it in “Sisterhooves Social”. But honestly, those criticisms only occurred to me after the fact, and if I truly had the episode to enjoy in a vacuum I think they never would have. It’s definitely Williams’ best work to date, I’ll give it that happily.
KefkaFloyd: Maybe the title goof was an experiment to see if people would like an episode written by Merriwether if she wasn’t actually credited for it.
ComradeCosmobot: And that fact seems to have led to a fairly sharp divide between those who love the episode and those who don’t care for it all that much, with the boosters criticising the detractors for hating the episode just because Williams wrote it. While I’ll admit my minor qualms of Pinkie’s and Dash’s flat characterizations in the second half are probably driven more by my expectations of a Williams episode, as I mentioned above I had come in blind for the first half, having forgotten that Williams was scheduled to write this and was still a bit put off by Fluttershy’s characterization in Act 1… It seemed to me like she had been written as if none of the character development in the past three seasons had happened at all. As soon as I remembered that this was a Williams episode, the flat characterization really snapped into place for me.
Headless Horse: I’d say that’s fair. Rainbow Dash spending the entire episode being a complete lush was the kind of “funny yet one-note” characterization that I can’t help but feel is a signature style for Williams.
ComradeCosmobot: That’s not to say I think the episode is bad, just that it seems to have some rough spots and can be said to be on par with pretty much any of the recent Williams episodes, or, for that matter, Daring Don’t: either you’ll love it, or you’ll “meh” it.
Wayoshi: While I really enjoyed Flutterbat, a completely zany twist from usual pony fare, some of Act III did boil down to repeating the same chase scene issue – Fluts just plain not stopping. It almost felt like it was filling out time. Still, most importantly to me the base characterizations actually felt fairly fine for me, if not accounting for previous developments.
Perrydotto: I maintain that Merriwether has issues hitting the finer notes of the characters and that was just as evident here, in my opinion. Merriwether seems to specialize in jokes and characterizations that work well on a zany comedy romp like Spongebob, but fall flat on a more sincere show like My Little Pony. When Rainbow is reduced to cider addiction and Pinkie Pie screams the vast majority of her lines, I just can’t help but feel rubbed the wrong way, like I’m watching a different set of character entirely. No matter what writer is attached to it, such differences are noticeable when they really detract from the fun, and in my case, they did.
Headless Horse: But she can definitely get their voices right when she wants to; she’s improved astronomically since scenes like the excruciating opening of “Hearth’s Warming Eve”. I think she’s really been doing her homework, even if there are nuances she has yet to grasp. “And… do stop being a vampire bat” is perhaps the most Rarity of Rarity lines ever.
Dexanth: I love each and every voice actress/actor on the show, but Tabitha really just brings an extra oomph to Rarity that means she always has the most uniquely awesome line deliveries.
KefkaFloyd: Everybody’s talking about the big musical number, and funny enough it’s another Ashleigh and Andrea duet once again, except with Applejack in place of Rainbow.
Wayoshi: Best visuals of a song we’ve seen yet. Those filters were amazing, adding to the entire idea of the “vampire fruit bats through their eyes”. The tree being a play prop, pulled up by Fluts and then knocked down like the flimsy cardboard it is by AJ was also an excellent gag. Then, pony hivemind takes over when the Mane 6 side with the shortsighted argument – no surprise, they’re ponies!
Perrydotto: The song was easily the most enjoyable part of the episode for me. Amazing teamwork there all around – Music, lyrics, visuals all went hand in hand. It’s a great pleasure to hear Daniel Ingram constantly challenging himself a little. If you ask me, this homage to the likes of Danny Elfman is just about flawless, and fits the episode quite well.
Headless Horse: Pretty ambitious lyrically, too. “Remiss” is one of those five-dollar words like “nonpareil” and “adherence” that you just don’t see being bandied about in a show billed as being for 6-year-olds.
The Doctor: I think I might have heard a little of Savages from “Pocahontas” in there too. The song worked very well for me. A lot of nice visual gags in there as well. The Batman logo silhouette behind Applejack, the already mentioned cardboard cut out. I also love that during the “stop the bats” part at the end Pinkie Pie is not color faded like the others.
Dexanth: The silhouette has one of those lovely touches, namely that the bat-ears are actually formed by AJ’s hat. They don’t just appear out of nowhere.
KefkaFloyd: It’s been a while since we’ve had one of these, but this episode seems to have spawned a bunch of cute fan stuff already. Flutterbat is adorably terrifying and people have grabbed on to it.
Pseudonym: Flutterbat is definitely the highlight of the episode. The amount of effort that went into making her look like a bat was amazing, and replacing the butterflies on her cutie mark with bats was a really nice touch.
The Doctor: The design was great, but it was a bit of a distraction for what could have been a better told story. There was a man vs nature thing going on between Applejack and Fluttershy and they just kind of dropped that to do the Flutterbat story. While Flutterbat’s story made for quite the visual treat, I feel it was a way to pass the buck on what would have been a much deeper story.
Certainly brings up another interesting topic about where batponies come from. Are they all ponies brainwashed with batminds?
Dexanth: I don’t mind the plot being dropped. The whole ‘Tech vs nature’ thing is something we’ve seen done time and time again. Pony-bat out of nowhere is something new, and Flutterbat was adorable and, well, once more showed the care the animation team really puts into everything. Her special talent being transformed to being a bat was all the better.
Perrydotto: The episode should have stuck to one thing though and do that right. Either make the ponybat a more coherent, plot relevant thing or go all in with the Tech VS Nature classic. Trying to do both intertwined sounds rather hard to me, and here, it didn’t work.
Wayoshi: I do feel that such a plot in full would have been one of the most organic plots yet untapped by the show. Maybe it’s been done plenty of times before, but we can say that about a lot of plots in pony, and most importantly AJ & Fluttershy would have been completely in character taking these sides (hence my use of organic). In the end, I think the opportunity semi-squandered when that angle basically drop it halfway through.
Headless Horse: I admit to having some preconceptions about this episode going in. From the moment I heard that it would be an Applejack/Fluttershy focus story, my mind started racing about the possibilities raised by Applejack’s and Fluttershy’s opposing roles with respect to nature and the land—the business-minded exploiter of resources versus the caring protector and nurturer. It occurred to me suddenly that we’d never really seen the two of them speak a friendly word directly to one another since back around Applebuck Season, and ever since then they hardly have any reason to even associate with each other outside the dictates of the show’s premise. I was really hoping to see them butt heads.
Instead we got that line by AJ—”I just want my friend back”—which was beautiful and touching, but unfortunately kind of closed the door on all those possibilities of friction between the two of them that apparently are now banished to the wind-and-ghosts realm of headcanon.
The Doctor: Lines like that remind us that these 6 are very good friends. It was a callback for me to Rainbow Dash’s line about lifting Fluttershy’s spirits in “Hurricane Fluttershy”. Shows that in the end, Applejack does care more about the genetic mutilation of her friend than her apples. Even more than her giant, genetically mutated apple.
Dexanth: I don’t see why there’s a closed door to friction, though. If you’re friend is in dire need of help, you forget the little things that needle you from day to day. Once that situation is resolved, though – well, even the best of friends fight sometimes.
KefkaFloyd: The moral of the episode isn’t just a single moral, and I’ve noticed this cropping up more this season. Applejack isn’t just learning about looking out for the long game, Flutters is also dealing with peer pressure. Is this the direction the show was forced to go in or do you think it’s something they’re choosing to do?
ComradeCosmobot: Hard to say. Flutters’s moral seemed like it was pretty much a rehash of “Putting Your Hoof Down,” so it really helped to underscore, for me at least, the minimal amount of character growth that Williams seems to acknowledge in her episodes. But given her background in writing for episodic animation, I guess the lack of “growth” really isn’t all that surprising.
Wayoshi: The peer pressure part was barely featured in this episode (maybe 2-3 minutes at most), so that side of the moral feels pretty hollow to me. AJ’s on the other hand was executed fairly well. A double moral is an awesome idea on a double character episode, but given the double character part kinda disappeared with Flutterbat, it didn’t end up working out that well.
The Doctor: I would have honestly prefered a look at pests on farms rather than avoiding the issue. And to be honest, a three generation family of farmers should know if an animal is a help or hinderance to their crops.
Headless Horse: That’s probably why I suspect it was more a conscious choice than an accident. We know this script underwent a lot of metamorphosis since its original submission by Amy Keating Rogers as a musical pastiche. They could very well have recognized that making a stand in favor of farmers’ rights over conservation was a dangerous move to make in a kids’ cartoon about friendship and social graces. Far more advisable to find something peculiar to the characters themselves to focus on; and whether that counts as being “forced to” or “choosing to” do what they did is probably kind of a gray statement anyway.
Dexanth: Choosing to do, in my eyes. After all, this season we have Power Ponies and Daring Don’t, both of which I believe would have been unthinkable episodes in Season 1, and probably still hard to swing in Season 2 and 3. Season 4 seems to be the first one to really be written where the whole ‘Ponies are a big thing!!’ has really been taken to heart by everyone involved at all levels of production.
KefkaFloyd: Amy Keating Rogers originally pitched this episode as a musical, hence the Cats! reference in the title. Even though it has a song, would it have been improved if it was a full-on musical versus the almost Halloween spookfest that we got?
drunkill: I’m sure the end result of either option would have been quite different to the other. While it would have been interesting to throw in a few more songs I think the interaction and small talk between characters wouldn’t have been around as much, that’d be a loss in my books if things went a different way.
Wayoshi: If the plot would have been the same, maybe Flutterbat would have felt more connected to the first half if it was a musical. I’m not really sure… I don’t feel this concept lends itself to a musical that well in any case, I’m happy with the one song we got.
Dexanth: I think a musical would have been a weaker episode. At least, I am having a hard time seeing other natural points songs would have fit in. I imagine it could have worked, but I like what was made and so feel it’d have been hard to top.
Headless Horse: Especially since we only just had the show’s first proper musical in Magical Mystery Cure. It seems like they ought to at least space their gimmicks out more, which is especially pointed considering that now three out of the last four episodes have ended with a spooky “…Or is it?!” kind of stinger. Almost as though they’re all intended to be part of some interconnected plot device that will be revealed over time. …Or else the vestigial fangs on Fluttershy could just be Williams following suit with the previous episodes’ ending flourishes and it’s all just a coincidence.
Pseudonym: One nice touch I noticed was that during the musical number, when it was showing all the ponies faces, while Dash, Rarity, and Twilight looked just as angry as Applejack and had the same filter applied, Pinkie was smiling as usual while agreeing with her.
Perrydotto: I had a huge problem with how many of her lines Pinkie basically screamed. In other episodes of season 4, Pinkie could use her inside voice just fine, so this can’t be solely a voice direction issue. I think Williams still relies too much on loud, brash humour that would fit in Spongebob, but comes off as jarring in My Little Pony. The random jokes I already find very hit or miss, but when a lot of them rely on Pinkie being incredibly loud, I just can’t find that pleasant.
Headless Horse: Eh. That may be a taste thing. It doesn’t bother me, but then I can see how others might be a lot more sensitive to it. Especially since so many mainstream cartoons these days get by on pure volume; it’s no wonder adults often dismiss cartoon as shrieking garbage.
KefkaFloyd: I think we’re starting to sound like a broken record when it comes to visuals, but this episode continues a trend of constant improvement when it comes to animation quality. It’s true that we’re not seeing out of left field stuff like the flat parts from the Smile song, but we’re a long way from season one’s basics.
Pseudonym: The filter during Applejack’s part of the song was a nice touch. Fluttershy’s parts wiping away the filter was also a nice touch.
drunkill: The art direction just keeps getting better and better, now that there is no doubt a giant library of existing animations and objects to use, the staff seem to have more time to really polish things up and create unique looking episodes. The dark night-time forests really stood out this episode.
Headless Horse: Not to mention all the skillful spooky shots of Flutterbat, all the backlighting and dynamic shadows and things. One thing that really got to me was the splashes of juice that hit the ground in front of Spike as Flutterbat swoops overhead, the splashes getting closer and closer to the camera, in a quick chaotic camera cut. It’s the same kind of technique they used in the Alien movies to freak you out about an approaching monster you can’t even see. It really feels disorienting and gets your heart racing.
Perrydotto: I’m really glad to see that they keep pushing themselves without losing the grip on what makes the show cute and appealing. The lighting effects and filters don’t detract from the appearance of the show, but rather add to it. I love it.
The Doctor: Flutterbat scenes were fantastic, and they did do a great job setting up a “spooky” atmosphere for a show like “My Little Pony” that is normally so colorful. I think my two favorites were Flutterbat in front of the moon, and the one where she flys right towards the camera.
Wayoshi: I love nighttime’s subtle color changes to the ponies. Keep doing more night scenes, and more filters where appropriate – I must see all the colors!
KefkaFloyd: How do you feel about Fluttershy’s plan to deal with the bats versus Twilight’s plan?
Pseudonym: I thought that long-term, Fluttershy’s plan was well thought out, but AJ was being eaten out of house and home and that Twilight’s plan was a good stopgap measure. Short-term, Fluttershy’s plan didn’t make sense as I understand it: plant a sanctuary over on another part of the farm to keep the bats there? But how long would it take for those trees to grow? I’m honestly not sure if I understood her plan correctly.’
The Doctor: I thought it was a nice callback to “Keep Calm and Flutter On” that Twilight’s first thought was to brainwash the bats
ComradeCosmobot: Hasn’t that sorta been Twilight’s thing since “Swarm of the Century?”
Dexanth: Fluttershy’s bat-sanctuary plan felt a bit weak to me. First off, what’s to stop the bats from just growing their population till they eat the rest of the farm? Second, the ‘having more apple trees!’ bit seemed…odd. Like AJ apparently doesn’t know how to plant additional trees in her own orchards. And well, Twilight resorting to mind control, and failing, is still funny every time it happens.
Headless Horse: And Fluttershy knowing all about the bats’ life cycles and habits felt odd coming right on the heels of Applejack having to explain the difference between them and regular fruit bats, and Fluttershy seemingly listening as attentively as the rest. Where did she get all that bat knowledge all of a sudden? Sure she’s an animal expert, but that’s never meant she hasn’t had holes in her knowledge before—phoenix-shaped or baby-dragon-shaped holes, to be specific.
KefkaFloyd: Pinkie Pie’s characterization can always be a point of contention. How do you think she was in this episode?
ComradeCosmobot: I know some people have criticized it for being the “lol, randumb” characterization we previously saw in “Wonderbolts Academy,” but it really wasn’t that bad, to be honest. I mean, it seemed to push a little far in that direction, but I think my perception is mostly colored by my previous expectations of Williams than anything inherently bad in what Pinkie did here.
Headless Horse: Yeah, Pinkie was fine in this one. Certainly no more grating than the average. I found her lines like “WHATAREYOUDOING?!” pretty funny.
Dexanth: I don’t see random fitting her this episode. Okay, having a hair-drill may be a bit over the top, but everything she did fit solidly into the whole ‘This makes sense by Pinkie logic’ category.
Wayoshi: As someone who liked her entire WA schtick, which I think is one of the most common places people point to when trying to show Pinkie’s degradation as a character, she was pretty wonderful here, except for the “pony bats eat ponies!” with Fluttershy at the end. That went on a bit too long.
KefkaFloyd: There were a few callbacks to season one here, like Applebucking by name and Winter Wrap-Up.
Pseudonym: Pinkie Pie’s “Fruitbat roundup” was probably my favorite moment of the episode, probably due to how unexpected and fitting it was.
Headless Horse: I agree. My reservations about it aside, taken purely at face value it’s a humdinger of a gag.
The Doctor: Coincidence that it’s the second time this season they’ve done a Winter Wrap Up riff?
KefkaFloyd: So compare that to season 4, there have been a lot of [bits at the end like the pony of shadows, the comic book disappearing, and Fluttershy’s vampire teeth. Do you think that’ll go anywhere?]
Dexanth: I’d like it too, but I have the feeling it’s just standard cartoon ‘Or is it?!’ endings. It’d certainly be welcome if one or more of them are revisited.
The Doctor: I can see the animators sneaking in the fangs now and then. Maybe Fluttershy is having some juice and they appear for a second. I don’t expect them to be a focus ever again though.
Headless Horse: I’ve been thinking that the comic book’s disappearance flows naturally from the story it’s in; its disappearance is just a neat way to tie off that little alternate universe bubble, whereas this ending and the one in “Castle Mane-ia” do the opposite—opening up the possibility of followups. Taking the comic book out of the equation, and thinking of how “Bats!” would have ended without this kind of chapter-and-verse cartoon twist ending, it seems like kind of a foregone conclusion that it would have had to end this way. Otherwise you’d have a dull, flat, consequence-free conclusion to a story that’s otherwise been very spooky and dark and featured a main character’s deepest nature being changed. There should be some lingering after-effects, otherwise it all feels like it makes too much light of what just happened to Fluttershy.
The Doctor: I have to agree with Headless Horse; until it was brought up by others after this episode, I didn’t think of the comic book disappearing in the same way I thought of the Shadow Pony at the end of Castle-Mania, or the fangs at the end of this episode. It felt like it belonged to the story, rather than a possible hook.
KefkaFloyd: We’re seven episodes in and we still haven’t seen the first key. Why must they tease us so?
ComradeCosmobot: If Meghan says we’re going to see more of the keys, we’re going to see more of the keys.
drunkill: I’m not too fussed about the pacing of the season so far, I just hope we don’t get all the adventure/story-arc episodes backloaded into the second half of the season. It’s nice to split types of episodes up and have a normal or slice of life episode to just have fun.
The Doctor: I agree, I would like to see the keys found here and there throughout the season. Now I am wondering if we’re going to get them all at once, or possibly in a mid season two-parter.
Headless Horse: I’d hate to have them all spread out, each one with its own episode—because once we see the first character focus episode that ends with a key, it immediately deflates the anticipation for the other five. “Oh look, it’s a Pinkie episode this week. Guess she’s getting a key at the end.” I’d much rather they do something fresh and unpredictable like, say, find five of the six keys in some random pre-finale episode, and the finale be about Twilight trying to find the sixth.
Dexanth: I hope it avoids a rush-thing.The arc could just be concentrated nearer the back end of the season – we have seen them going back to the old castle twice already, and I’d count that as sort of development towards the box/keys.
Perrydotto: I think there’s still plenty of time left for the arc to unfold, but I definitely don’t want it to be jampacked into the last third or so of the season.
Wayoshi: It’s not really the staff’s fault since we’re now at the point where the show’s success is the reason it’s still alive, but they really shouldn’t be hyping things up like season arcs anymore. It’s needless worry from my perspective – it’s a slice of life show primarily, let things come as they come.
KefkaFloyd: Too bad all of that doesn’t mean squat in the face of next week’s episode, which will be all Rarity, all the time! Furthermore, all episodes will be Rarity, all comics will be Rarity… Well, at least I can dream. Come back next week for more thoughts at the TRS Round Table. ■