Warning: This post contains spoilers for Amphibia.
We are about halfway through Amphibia at this point. Anne has stood up to giant snakes, tax enforcers, and restaurant critics. Now she has to face her greatest challenge: a breakdown of civility. While ultimately she doesn’t take a side, the rest of the Plantars do.
“Taking a stand” is the theme of the next two episodes. What’s more, we see polar opposites in each episode. Sometimes, it’s worth standing up to who we perceive as a bully. Other times, we make things worse with our sense of self-righteousness. It all depends on what’s at stake.
On theater night, the touring troupe gets eaten so there’s danger of cancellation. As Sprig resents how Hop Pop makes him cede everything to Polly, Anne saves the night by showing her favorite movie, a parody of Twilight and The Hunger Games combined that has a female lead and two male love interests. Due to the movie ending on a cliffhanger, however, the Sprig and Polly split the town about which male lead is the idea shipmate. Anne and Hop Pop’s attempts to mediate backfire, which leads to the factions ambushing each other with produce. Sprig realizes he went too far, however, when Polly nearly gets injured and shields her with his body. They agree to bury the hatchet, with Polly being less spoiled or entitled, and Anne puts on an independent art film next theater night in the hopes of preventing another war.
This is the most accurate episode on shipping wars, and succeeds where others fail! That is quite an achievement. For one, it actually talks about a work of fiction within the established world and mentions how ridiculous it is to impose on others. Most shows refer to their characters as being shipped or judged, such as with My Little Pony, while criticizing fandom. Thing is that when you have in-universe characters criticizing the ponies based on publications, you basically have messed up the analogies. We criticize fiction within the context of it being not real and enjoy it for the same reasons.
When you hurt people in fandom, by harassing or physically assaulting them for your ship, then it’s not worth taking a stand indefinitely. For one, you’re a jerk. For another, you don’t want to sacrifice a friendship over something that you both love. At least, you shouldn’t; I’ve had one friendship ruined because I didn’t like Game of Thrones and had a visceral reaction to the books. A real friend won’t take your dislike as a cause for war.
Unlike other shows, we see in Amphibia what it means when kids enter a fandom. Most kids who enter are young, naive, and sometimes they say things that rankle other people. One rule of fandom that decent people follow, however? Don’t hurt kids. If someone is being a troll, or baiting younger kids, or doing worse, then you are not being civil or courteous. You’re just a jerk and cannot be part of the community. Make the experience welcome for every youngster.
Sprig and Polly are children. Even so, Sprig has been demeaned as being less responsible than Polly and still asked to meet higher expectations. Polly in the meantime does get what she wants but is still the “baby” of the family. By default, Sprig has to be the responsible one. Yet he sheds this in favor of sibling rivalry because he rightly points out to Hop Pop and Polly that he shouldn’t be ceding his opinion just because he’s younger. Does he go too far? Yes, but so does Polly. She acknowledges it and apologizes to him.
Hop Pop could have easily joined the fracas. He cheerfully tells Anne the year before that the town nearly destroyed itself about almonds vs. avocados. But he didn’t, because he already saw one of Anne’s shows Suspicion Island tear his family apart. He sees here that Polly and Sprig are at each other’s throats, and it’s his fault. Polly is spoiled enough that she won’t listen to reason, while Sprig accurately but coldly points out that he always has to accommodate Polly and isn’t going to back down this time. I’ve been in Polly’s shoes as the spoiled younger sister, so I feel for Sprig on this one.
Anne represents every fan that just wants to share the fiction and help them experience the joy. She knows it’s not worth ruining someone’s life over fiction. As she puts it, message boards are bad enough. Unfortunately, the town hasn’t yet learned the lesson. They’re going to need some time, especially if avocados can start a conflict.
Hop Pop struggles to find a new job and battle existential depression. When the mayor is up for re-election, Hop Pop is righteously furious about how Toadstool doesn’t actually help the town. He decides to run for mayor at the town frogs’ encouragement and actually passes the first three trials with flying colors. Mayor Toadstool desperately tries to bribe Hop Pop to throw the last match with bringing back his vegetable stand. After Hop Pop refuses and beats him in the match, Toadstool reveals that he used an elected rigging system to win. Though all are sad that he lost, Hop Pop’s supporters buy him a new vegetable stand, implicitly promise to cover the rent hikes and forgive him for the Plantar Potions scam. Hop Pop regains his purpose and his reputation as an honest frog.
I got flashbacks to the 2018 elections, and to job hunting. Obviously I am someone who votes, via absentee ballot, and it crushes me when dishonest means and people use the flaws in the system to win. 2020 is going to be downright traumatizing. Yet seeing this episode was a relief, knowing that I’m not the only one that is worried about how much good we can do when the people in charge are selfish and are letting children die in concentration camps. We can still do good in the battle, even when we lose the war.
This episode is a counterpoint to “The Stanchurian Candidate,” where Grunkle Stan ran against Bud Gleeful, whose voice actor also plays Toadstool in this show. The difference is that Stan was a terrible candidate due to running for his ego and to not actually do good and we saw some form of justice enacted on who was elected. Amphibia took the more cynical route since no frog or toad emulates real-life politicians but rather real-life systems.
We learn that Hop Pop’s tempted to take the Mayor’s bribe so that his kids will be set for life. As he points out though, a mayor cannot be selfish. Hop Pop ultimately chooses to fight for what’s right. He pays for it, later on, because other frogs as we learn in “Reunion” were inspired to rebel against a broken system. The “hope” that infected Wartwood would spread across the valley, and anger Grime. Even so, as Hop Pop puts it, he’ll take the victory of getting his stand back, honestly this time.
Mayor Toadstool hints that chaos would have come to Wartwood if Hop Pop had campaigned outside the valley and won. With that said, chaos does come, thanks to Sasha’s nasty schemes. It just takes a few months longer. In the meantime, we get a reminder on why Hop Pop will never sacrifice his integrity again, at least not with the townspeople. The kids are another story.
We can only hope that the Mayor’s subsequent character development in season one will stand. The Plantars at least seem to shame him about how the town loves them all, Anne included, more than they love their politician.