Once again this review will contain spoilers. Those of you who haven't watched the episode yet, you have been warned.
So the episode starts with Spike in the middle of making a cake out of gemstones. However, having a personal love of them, he can't stop himself from eating the gems rather than using them in the cake, until there's none left, leading into the title sequence.
After the opening titles we find that Spike is still lamenting the lack of gems when Fluttershy shows up. She explains that Princess Cadence has invited them to help welcome some important guests at the Crystal Empire, an event which Spike was not invited to. Fluttershy then mentions that she was going to ask him for a favour in exchange for a jewel, which Spike suddenly becomes interested in. The favour in question is looking after her pet rabbit, Angel, while she's gone. Spike is hesitant, but seeing the jewel convinces him to accept. This gives Spike the idea to make the same offer to the other ponies in exchange for more jewels.
He goes to the other ponies in turn, making the offer, and after a few instructions on how to look after their pets, they agree to his looking after them. The ponies start arriving at the library with their pets and tell Spike the various things he needs to do to look after them, although he's less than interested. Spike offers to look after Twilight's pet owl, and she agrees despite worrying that Spike might not be able to handle all the animals. Spike assures her he'll be fine, but the moment the ponies leave, the mess the animals make show him just how difficult his task is.
He does what he can to try and get them under control, but soon finds that Angel has run off. He goes after him, with the other pets in-tow, and finds that the rabbit has run off to the CMC's clubhouse. Spike gets the idea that maybe the Crusaders could look after the rabbit for him, especially since he seems to prefer their company. This eventually leads him to try and get the three fillies to look after all of the pets. Applebloom then convinces Spike to give up one of his gems to them in exchange for this service, much to his annoyance. However, not long after taking the pets, the Crusaders don't appear to be any better at looking after them than Spike was.
Spike tries to get them to give the jewel back, but they don't have it, having spent it to pay for a massive pet-hair-drier. Having taken back the pets in spite of this, Spike continues to have trouble, but Zecora shows up to help him. However, much like the crusaders, her help comes at the expense of one of his gems. Her "help" however, turn out to be giving his gem to a local charity, due to a dragon's greed having caused problems before. Things don't get any better for him when he soon has to pay another gem to make sure granny Smith doesn't talk to the other ponies about is questionable methods of getting the pest home.
Angel then manages to get away again, and even hitches a ride on the local train. This causes Spike not only to lose yet another gem, as he's forced to pay to get onto the train to look for Angel, but also to bring the CMC with him. He finds Angel but it's too late as the train leaves the station for the Crystal Empire. During the journey, Spike pays another gem because of damages caused by the pest when they escape again. Once at the Empire, the CMC want to look around, but Spike prevents them. While he's distracted, Angel breaks out of the train when he catches a glimpse of Fluttershy and the other main ponies.
Spike does his best to keep himself and the other pets out of sight, but Angel makes a dash for Fluttershy, forcing Spike to give chase. His attempt to convince Angel to stop fail, leaving him no choice but to use his last gem to make a nearby pile of luggage collapse, preventing Angel from reaching Fluttershy. They get back on the train but find that the main ponies are coming to their car, leading them to try and hide. Angel is about to make their presence known, when Spike overhears Twilight talking about how much faith she has in his ability to look after the pets, leading to him wanting Angel to give them away because "he deserves it". He admits that he cared nothing for the pest and didn't look after them properly.
This leads to Angel forgiving him and even helping out by retrieving the jewel Spike threw moments ago. Once back at Ponyville, Spike, the CMC and the pets get off and pretend to have been there to greet the other ponies when they get off. Twilight compliments Spike on his seemingly good work and the episode ends with Spike once more eating his last jewel before making it into a cake.
So then, how did this episode fare?
Well, despite him not being one of the main six, I've always liked Spike as a character, so it's always nice to see him get an episode of his own, even though I'll freely admit that most of his episodes have been fairly underwhelming for me so far. That's not to say that they were bad exactly, but that compared to the episodes the actual ponies have been given, his just feel like they had less effort put into them.
And that particular state of affairs is not helped in this episode as we have a premise that's once again re-used from past episodes. The basic plot here is that Spike is going out of his way to take care of all these pets so that he can prove to the others that he can do this one task. This is more or less exactly the plot of past episodes like "The stare" or "Baby cakes", where a character has put themselves into a situation of looking after someone else and finding it more difficult than they thought it would be. Now I've gone on record many times now as having said that re-using old plots is not a bad thing in itself as long as you can out a new twist on the story or do something interesting with it.
Aside from having the "X looking after Y" premise involve Spike this time, there really wasn't much to make this particular variation of that story stand out amongst the others. And it's made even worse when you consider that the idea of having Spike look after a bunch of animals has actually happened once already in the show. Back in season one, in the episode "Dragonshy", Spike was placed in charge of Fluttershy's animals while the main six had there adventure. True it wasn't the main plot of that episode, but it still happened. And what's more, Spike didn't enjoy the experience at all, finding the animals and the task of looking after them frustrating. So even though he's getting a reward for doing this, I just can't understand why he'd willingly put himself in that situation a second time.
As this episode is about Spike, let's talk about him for a moment. I've said in the past that Spike is a character that deserves far more development than he gets and that it's always bugged me that most of his episodes have been "jokey" instead of developing him as a character. Unfortunately, he gets put into that role once again in this episode. And he's been given no favours here by having him be put in a rather negative light to begin with. His motivations for doing what he did in this episode, offering to look after the pets and all, was all motivated by a selfish need, his desire for gemstones. Now we all know that his character has had a bit of a greedy streak to it in the past, so his behaviour isn't exactly out of character. But the way he conducts himself in this episode wasn't very endearing.
However, the episode does not exclusively feature him, so I'll talk about the other characters for a bit. The most prominent besides Spike are the CMC, and I must say I liked the way they behaved here. They acted in a reasonable way throughout the episode and even though they made things a bit difficult for Spike here and there, like on the train, they were for the most part an enjoyable part of the episode. I think what I liked about their inclusion in the episode was that this is probably the first time that Spike has spent any amount of time with characters his own age. This makes it also the first time we've had all the regularly-appearing kid characters in one place before, which is admittedly a new thing the show has done.
The pets feature prominently of course and all acts in fairly realistic ways when it comes to animal behaviour. Anyone whose ever taken care of animals, like myself, knows fully well how next to impossible it is to do a flawless job of caring for someone else's pets. They're hard to control at the best of times, and these pets were portrayed in a very believable manner. The only ones that were given any amount of characterisation were Angel and the owl (and no I'm not typing his name because I never figured out how to spell it). The owl had a fairly decent moment at the start of the episode in his interactions with Spike. And Angel at least is as consistently annoying as he usually is, though it is nice to know that even the other pets don't like him very much.
As for the main ponies, even though they don't show up very long, I liked the moments they had. You can tell that each of the cares for their pets despite how little they're shown together in other episodes. Rainbow Dash trying to hide her own love for Tank the Tortoise was of particular note, as it's always nice to see her break out of her stereotypical brash and in-your-face persona. As for Twilight, I do question hr willingness to give in to Spike's gem obsession here, given what happened the last timer he got so greedy about anything. But at the very least we had Zecora to remind us of that. I'll admit I liked her brief role, especially with how brazen she was with telling Spike what was best for him when she gave away his gem.
One thing of note is that this episode features and mentions the Crystal Empire and Princess Cadence. I've said in the past that it's always a good thing when stuff brought in from past episodes is continually referenced to, and this is no exception. However, given what the upcoming episode of the show will involve, I wonder if the Empire's inclusion here was meant as a prelude to that. Perhaps the adventure the ponies will go on in that next episode will be what happened to them in between their leaving and returning to Ponyville in this episode? Although that's just speculation on my part.
No song this week so I won't be talking about one.
As for the humour of the episode, I find it somewhat mixed. This episode's jokes tend to follow the kind of humour set by many of the other "look after" episodes the show has done, mostly set around the one joke that the main character is in over their heads and can't control what they seek to look after, resulting in a lot of slapstick humour. Now I'm all for slapstick every now and then, but when it's almost all of what you're getting, it can get a bit too much. And things aren't helped when you taken into account that the humour in most of Spike's episodes have just never appealed to me. Being the youngest of the regular cast, his episodes have all had that "funny little kid" angle to them that's just never appealed to me.
However, there were some genuinely funny moments here and there, but unfortunately, very few of them involved Spike directly. The ponies leaving their pest behind was a funny moment, showing off all their personalities in a funny way as they said goodbye to each of their pets in turn. Though I have to give special mention to Rainbow's goodbye to Tank, making sure no-one was looking before being tender with him, that was a genuinely funny moment. And of course, Pinkie's brief moments were always hilarious to watch.
Onto the moral of the story now and this week it seems to be that one's personal responsibilities are far more important than trying to get something out of it. While I have no issue with this moral, and indeed think it's a good thing to teach kids to do good things without wanting a reward for it, I do have to question the way that lesson was taught. True, we see throughout that Spike's obsession with gems brought him nothing but misery, but his own eventually realisation of this lesson came right at the tail-end. It wasn't something he even gave a moment's thought to before this, with only Twilight's words about him making him realise his folly. I know making the lesson apparent right at the end is a staple of this show, but something about the way it was done here just rubs me the wrong way.
And besides all that, there's the issue that, at the end of the day. Spike never truly faced the consequences of his actions. He kept his failure a secret from the ponies, never letting them know about how terrible a job he really did at looking after the creatures they trusted him to care for. If he'd learned his lesson after his deception had been revealed that the others had criticised him for it, maybe it'd have more weight with me. But here it just gives the impression that he did something bad and got away with it, and that nothing bad happened apart from all the trouble he went through to keep his deception s a secret. Though I suppose you could argue that this in itself would be punishment enough.
Overall while there were certainly some parts here and there that I enjoyed about this episode, all-in-all it's not one I'd recommend. While it's always nice to give attention to a character that gets little to begin with, the episode did nothing for him and tried nothing new, either with the character or with the premise of the episode. Spike's episodes, while not terrible by any stretch, have never been MLP episodes I've gone out of my way to watch. But even taking that into account, this one disappointed me. If you're into Spike's episodes, you may enjoy it more than I did. But for my money, this one's not for me.
Join me in a couple of weeks time when Princess Cadence makes a return in "Games ponies play".