The Little Mermaid: Season 3 (3/5)
Well this was a letdown.
I'll just say it, season 3 is the weakest of the three seasons. There's no objective reason as to why, no outright explicit shift in writing or production that I can identify, but the season just feels, well, dumber. Not that this was ever Shakespeare to begin with, but if season 2 felt like it had matured slightly compared to season 1, season 3 has the same incidental feeling, albeit with a decline in quality instead.
Now I could leave it at that, but quick thoughts on the episodes:
Scuttle: Ariel and Flounder meet Scuttle for the first time, defeat some pirates by...sigh, causing the boat to tilt so fast that they all fall off. To borrow a phrase, "there's suspension of disbelief, and then there's get the fuck out." This wouldn't be so bad if so much of the episode wasn't padding.
-King Crab: This episode is somewhat decent - Sebastian's been lying to his parents the whole time about being king of Atlantica, cue shannigans when they arrive. While this stretches credulity, the humour's okay enough that I can give this episode a pass.
-Island of Fear: This was the episode where I felt "okay, something's really off with this season." Basically, the show does Frankenstein, with Frankenstein being "Doctor Vile" (ugh) who's experimenting on crabs to make them mutants that taste better or something, so Sebastian is captured, but Ariel can't do much due to being confined to his fortress's underwater areas (it was also at this point that I found myself wondering about Ecco the Dolphin), and Sebastian has to escape by himself by talking to Daniel. Yes, "talking" to a human. Ugh. Y'know, that thing that was exclusive to Melody in Return to the Sea, and was integral to her sense of isolation? In fairness, the cartoon came first, so technically it's the film that's at fault, but even that aside, the episode is just dumb. This series has had no shortage of crazy stuff up to this point, but it was craziness that still felt congruent. This, however, feels like we've jumped the shark.
-Land of the Dinosaurs: After jumping the shark, we now shoot the shark. Ariel and her family go to the Arctic (not that it's called the Arctic, but trust me, it's the Arctic) and she finds dinosaurs encased in ice. She ends up freeing them using the trident and the dinosaurs rampage underwater before Triton uncovers the last land of...sigh, Prehistoria, where they can spend their lives in peace, or something. Y'know, I can buy frozen dinosaurs, I can buy the trident freeing them, but you have dinosaurs operating for hours on end in sub-zero waters and exclusively underwater for...reasons. Again, there's suspension of disbelief, and then there's get the fuck out.
-Heroes: This is probably the best episode of the season - helps that it's the only episode of the season I watched when it originally aired over...wow, about thirty years ago. Basically, a hero "Apollo" returns to Atlantica after his deeds in the Sargasso Wars, and is now on his way to find Valhalla (seriously, what is it with this series mixing Greek and Norse mythology? I'm not complaining, it's just weird how it's meshed together so often) and Ariel and Flounder tag along. It's eventually revealed that his great deed that won the war was a fluke, and he's been living in shame all this time, cue character development, cue theme of "being brave is facing fear, not the absence of it," etc. Nothing groundbreaking, and there's some leaps in logic, but the episode and moral behind it are decent.
-The Beast Within: Eh, it's fine. I actually saw of this episode back in the day, but unlike the above one, only remembered snippits of it. Anyway, Flounder gets bit by a howler fish (think a fish werehog thing), cue shannigans, cue Urchin and Sebastian being at odds over the former destroying his trophy, despite saving his life in the process. Anyway, it's fine, had a few chuckles.
-Ariel's Treasures: This episode really annoys me - not so much for what it does (though there's that), but also for what it doesn't. Basically, Gabriella from season 2 returns, but is totally wasted in this episode - you could replace Gabriella with almost anyone and little would change. In my season 2 review, I said "Wish Upon a Starfish" was great conceptually, and that extends to Gabriella herself, but damn it, the episode doesn't do anything with her. What it DOES do is have Ursula cast a spell on Ariel's human treasures to animate them and call damage (yes, an eggbeater CAN destroy entire city blocks, what, did you think it couldn't?) with the proviso of appearing as a saviour at the last minute. The episode ends with Ariel being forced to use the counter-spell/potion to destroy the objects, saving Atlantica, but losing her entire human object collection in the process.
There's a basis for a solid story here (a protagonist can save their home by destroying what's dearest to them), but the episode simply has Ariel say "yeah, i can start a new collection," because, y'know, emotional angst is for pussies or something. What's more, because the cartoon is a prequel to the film, like other appearances of Ursula, it ends up weakening the film by proxy. Because not only have Ariel and Ursula come face to face again with Ursula fully intent on dealing harm, but Ariel goes to Ursula's hideout in the episode to get the counter-potion. The transformed mer are nowhere to be seen, but that aside, it does make her journey to Ursula's place in the film less eventful. And then there's losing the treasures. By this point, less than a year passes (by my recknoing) between the end of the cartoon and the start of the film, so Ariel apparently refilled her grotto in record time. Plus, this means that Ariel has lost her human treasure collection twice by the time Triton destroys it, and while that doesn't necessarily detract from the scene itself, it arguably makes it less impactful in the wider context. And yes, unlike Island of Fear, this is the fault of the cartoon.
Am I reading too deep into things? Yeah, probably, but it's like the writers wrote this episode and didn't know or didn't understand what the full implications of it were. But if the cartoon ended now, with the premise of Ariel starting over with her collection, that could have at least had some kind of segway into the film, but alas, there's one more episode to go...
-A Little Evil: This episode is dumb, and the writers should be ashamed.
The Evil Manta not only has a son now (how, when he was imprisoned under the sea until recently? Did he always have a son? Did he bang another manta? If so, where is he? Do mantas reproduce asexually) and Jesus Christ, the wrtiing. Y'know, if a villain is called "the Evil Manta,' you'd be correct in not expecting much character complexity, but the Evil Manta made two appearances up to this, and in each case, had some menace and cunning to him. The first appearance was him turning the citizens of Atlantica against each other through emotional manipulation, the second was him getting a boot to threaten Triton (it makes sense in context), this is...ugh, he wants his son to be "evil," and doesn't want him to be "good," and being "evil" means, um, pulling fish tails, or something? I don't know, i don't care, the writing is dumber, the character is dumber, the character is shallower. I mentioned in season 1 that the Evil Manta felt similar to Discord to MLP, only while Discord had the benefits of an entire series worth of character development, this is...gah! I expected a children's cartoon when I signed up for this, I didn't ask for a baby's cartoon.
So. That's season 3. Season ranking is 2>1>3, I detest season 3, even if it isn't outright bad. Overall, it's given me good background material to draw from, but as a series as a whole? Well, it's okay, I guess.