It's a little long, I got kind of carried away... sorry. The first two paragraphs are my thoughts on the episode, the rest are other topics that just happen to be somewhat relevant.
I’m not sure the best way to approach talking about this episode. I kind of like it, which is different from any other episode I’ve focused on in this blog. Usually I can just dive right in to how different everything is from other seasons, but I feel they actually went back to the older style in certain regards, which is something I could talk about. I think I’ll just start by giving my general thoughts about the episode and go from there.
I wouldn’t say it’s a great episode, or even a good one by my strictest standards. Matched up with the rest of the series it struggles to compete with the lowest tiers, but it’s at least there, possessing some amount of the unique MLP:FiM charm I’ve come to admire. Except for the scenes where RD was impersonating the other Mane 6, I didn’t feel anyone was pushed unnecessarily out of character. The humor wasn’t as consistent as other episodes, though there were a few times I was caught off-guard by a decent joke, which was really very refreshing. The story was fine and resolved well enough, though the Wonderbolts seemed to switch unnaturally between justifiably upset and completely chill in the scene near the end where everyone was divulging their nicknames. As for the moral, I thought they actually had a lot more going than they were aiming for. Sure, being a team player is a good thing to learn, but I also felt they were hitting on two other lessons – learn to laugh at yourself, and don’t let the hasty opinions of others discourage you. And honestly, even if I don’t think the episode was great, I’m pleased enough with those messages to be content with it as an addition to the series.
There’s really not much more that I think would be useful to say about the episode itself, though there are a few topics I’d like to discuss that are related to some of its scenes. When RD returns from her first day to find her friends waiting at her house to celebrate, she makes a poor attempt to hide her distress and her friends pick up on it immediately. This is something I’ve noticed a lot in season 6, particularly in No Second Prances: characters’ attempts to hide feelings come across as desperate calls for attention rather than actual struggles to contain emotion. It’s realistic to want attention and to talk about your problems with others, and it’s also realistic to want to avoid exposing certain emotions to others. This dilemma usually peaks in teenaged years, where the desire to seem emotionally aloof (cool and collected) often occurs simultaneously with the need for self-validation. At some point, usually around their late teens and early 20’s (though sometimes much later), people become more secure about separating those impulses – more sure of when they want to actually hide or share their emotions – so that passive-aggressive comments like “What could be wrong? I'm finally a Wonderbolt, which means everything has to be totally, perfectly awesome” get phased out. What I’m getting at is that this sort of dialogue, to me, is evidence that they’re trying to court the early-mid teenaged demographic. Now you might say, Fluffbrain, even if this is true, isn’t that kind of their thing? And I would say yes I suppose it is, but the thing is, they were doing just fine without pulling this sort of nonsense. As far as I can tell they got a pretty good following sticking with less age-specific material… by which I mean, behaviors that generally occur within a fairly limited age range.
On a similar note, characters seem to be more aware of what’s “really” going on, or what’s going to happen, and are therefore as skeptical as the writers feel the audience should be. For example, why would Scootaloo doubt Dash’s instructions? For all she knows, kicking the cloud could be part of the planned show, but she seems as dubious about it as one who knows what the actual context is, i.e. the audience watching the episode. Another example from this episode is when Twilight cautions RD that fitting in with the Wonderbolts “might be more challenging than you think”, which of course ends up being the story's main conflict. I mean, I know it’s Twilight’s thing to try to be the voice of reason, and Rainbow was getting a bit boastful, but the wording and timing of her comment seemed a bit too direct/prophetic to seem natural. This sort of thing suffers from the same issue I have with the show being too “self-aware”, where the contrivances of the writer are more apparent than the actual story or characters; this can work for humor, but for a story-driven episode (which all of season 6 has been so far), it just makes it a little harder to suspend my disbelief.
The last topic has to do with something I discussed in an earlier post about characterization. I remember watching Pokemon when I was younger and wondering why so often Brock and Misty just sat on the sidelines the whole episode, contributing nothing but the occasional gasp or affirmative comment. As the show progressed (during the handful of years that I watched it), their roles kept diminishing to a forgettable, meaningless point. I’m starting to notice a hint of a similar pattern appearing in MLP:FiM with the Mane 6. I’ve seen people talking about the writers shifting focus from the Mane 6 to various other things, and I’m not sure how authoritative their speculations are, but I’m kind of worried they might be on to something. To me, one of the things that make the show is the use of a variety of distinct characters, absurd enough to craft good jokes from but interesting and believable enough to relate to and carry a story. In the most recent episodes, however, groups of main characters tend to act in perfect tandem, showing little distinction between the individual members. They broke it up a bit in Newbie Dash, but it was still somewhat evident in how the Mane 6 reacted to Rainbow’s behavior. Compare their roles in this episode – little more than a generic cheering section, save for Scootaloo – with how they appeared in Rainbow Falls or to a lesser extent Wonderbolts Academy, where their actions and dialogue have more purpose to them and feature their distinct personalities more. In the episodes The Crystalling and Gauntlet of Fire, I felt Princess Celestia and Luna came across not only as very generic but also as basically the same character, which they are absolutely not, as has been brilliantly established by both the TV series as well as the comics. I guess my thought here is that they seem to be leaving behind the formula of juxtaposing the interesting dynamics of their established characters in favor of something more immediately understandable, and in the process they shed some of the show’s depth.
I’m glad my dormant optimism for season 6 was slightly rewarded with this episode, and though the realist in me doubts the trend will continue, I at least got a glimmer of hope that the old spark hasn’t gone for good. This is easily the best episode of the season so far for me, with On Your Marks in slightly distant second. I think I’ll end up considering this one a low 2 (out of 5) on my rating scale, worth a watch every now and again.