This Disenchantment review contains spoilers.
Disenchantment Episode 9
So this is just how cartoons are these days, huh? They goof around for a bunch of episodes and then, whammo!, it’s time for tragedy!
“To Thine Own Elf Be True” is an episode full of emotion and shocking twists and, yeah, they pretty much all work. If you reflect back on the series up to this point, all these big surprises were craftily seeded throughout. Way back in the first episode, Elfo’s dad started, but never got around to, revealing a secret about Elfo’s origins. This plot returns, as we learn Elfo isn’t a full elf but an elf hybrid of some kind (and that both he and his father are into big girls). The other huge twist, that Zog has all along been searching for the Elixir of Life to revive his wife, also makes sense when you think back to the times he’s been shown pining at her statue.
The episode is also shocking in how it goes to more emotional extremes than one might expect. Elfo dies (I’m sure not permanently, but it’s still surprising) and Bean, getting her own little Sophie’s Choice, manages to bring her mother back at the cost of reviving Elfo. This all works relatively well; the episode more or less sticks the landing on these moments. The only problem is they’re not well-supported by everything that came before this.
Yes, as mentioned, Disenchantment did its due diligence in planting seeds about Elfo and Queen Dagmar so that they’d be able to pull off the twists in this episode. However, they didn’t do nearly as much work on the characterization. I get that Bean, Elfo, and Luci have been on a number of adventures together and that Bean has rescued Elfo several times. However, I still feel like the series needed more blatant examples of the trio bonding. Luci, for example, is actually sad when Elfo dies, but there haven’t been many instances of the two of them enjoying each other’s company. Bean calls Elfo her best friend, which I suppose is true, if nothing else, by default.
But the trio’s friendship only really works because of hours clocked. In essence, they’ve hung out and done adventure-y things for nine episodes now, so obviously they’re friends. But the series has kind of treated them like this from the start. They’ve been thrust into having to save each other from predicaments, so that’s what they’ve done. They like each other because of the adventures they’ve been on together but they went on those adventures because they already liked each other. Considering Disenchantment is at least half-sitcom, it could’ve done with more scenes of pure character interaction. Other than the fact that they’re all weird loners who like to drink, the protagonists’ comradery isn’t well-defined.
All that said, the episode is fairly emotional on its own. It’s effective enough that I felt sad though not nearly as sad as I might have had the series done the work to make me truly invested in these characters. All the stuff with Bean’s mom is truly surprising, especially with the added tragedy that her fate was sort of Bean’s fault. However, my point about character development stands; this episode has a flashback to when Bean was a child and her mom was around. Why weren’t we getting flashbacks earlier in the series to make us care more about Dagmar, thus making the emotionality of this episode hit harder? Zog and Bean seem to miss her a lot, but that’s about all we get.
As for the humor side of things, “To Thine Own Elf Be True” isn’t trying to be funny for a good chunk of it, so Disenchantment gets away with not being so funny this time. Still, when it is trying to be funny, it does okay. King Zog getting applauded by his people for putting on pants got a laugh out of me. And Prince Guysbert being revived briefly only to collapse and stab himself again also made me chuckle. Every other joke I liked fell into the standard Disenchantment category of “clever, but not enough to make me laugh.” Also, man, this series sure has a lot of episodes about candy being used as other things. They might consider relying less on candy-based comedy in season two.
“To Thine Own Elf Be True” is a good episode in that it has a lot of twists that it pulls off well. Plus, it goes to unexpected, emotional depths that make me intrigued to know what’s going to go down in the next episode. It’s just that all of this would have had a greater impact had the whole season worked harder on making us love these characters.
Joe Matar watches a lot of cartoons and a lot of sitcoms. He’s obsessed with story structure so that’s what all his reviews are about. Joe also writes about video games on occasion. He has an MA in English if you can believe it. Read more of his work here. Follow Joe on Twitter for more fun @joespirational!