With Twilight and the rest of the mane six going to the Crystal Empire to help prepare for the Equestria Games inspector, Spike takes the opportunity to earn some gems by sitting all the pets. But it turns out Spike has bitten off more than he can chew, as he finds himself unable to control the pets. Bit by bit the gems he earned dwindle down to one last one, and Spike and the pets find themselves on a train to the Crystal Empire.
Out of all the Spike episodes, I have to say that this one is probably the best. Episodes focusing on him tend to have a reputation for not being fan favorites. At least for this season I have to agree on that sentiment. The last Spike centric episode, while not bad, was definitely one of the weaker episodes of the season. Which is why I was surprised to find that I enjoyed this episode so much.
The strongest part of Just For Sidekicks was easily all the little nods to the fandom. From Tank the Tortoise coming back, to background characters getting their personal stories advanced. There was plenty for everyone to enjoy.
From a writing standpoint, the most interesting part of this episode was how it tied into the following episode. The beginning and latter part of the episode ties directly into what happens next episode, in a way that hasn't been done before on this show. It's creative, and a lot of fun to watch both episodes together. However, after seeing Games Ponies Play I have to say I think this episode should have been aired after Games Ponies Play. Because the latter is the framework around which much of this episode revolves I would have preferred to have the mane six's story be the focus, and then after we get that story we come back to see Spike's side. Certain scenes would have worked a lot better. I would have liked to see Spike under the bench in the train, without understanding what's going on, and then go back and figure out what happened the next episode.
This would have required a slight rewrite of how each episode starts, but I think it would have made the overall story stronger. I also would have liked to see the scene where the mane six actually get invited to the Crystal Empire, rather than starting this episode with a maid and butler scene. ie/ "As you know, we have been invited to the Crystal Empire." It would have allowed the story to flow more naturally and as it is something feels like it's missing.
On its own, however, Just For Sidekicks was great. The story was great overall, Spike's moral didn't have to be ham-fisted into place, and all the little background scenes and events were a ton of fun. Though I will say that Owlicious got shafted in the characterization department. In all prior appearances, and even for a little bit at the beginning of this episode, he's been shown to be a competent character. Then once the chaos starts he just gives in and makes Spike's life miserable. Though I suppose he could have been doing that on purpose.