Episode 6: Power Ponies
Like in Castle Mane-ia, the Mane 6 travel to a darker and grimmer location than they’re used to—this time a Gotham City-styled comic book world instead of a haunted castle. And also like in Castle Mane-ia, somehow this winds up becoming a secret Rarity episode! No complaints here! More about her later, though.
Power Ponies is an even more concept-heavy episode than Daring Don’t in terms of stepping outside the boundaries of “normal” My Little Pony. Daring Do already had her introduction, after all, but until this point the closest thing to an indication that superheroes are a part of pony pop culture was a “your friendly neighborhood Rainbow Dash” line in The Mysterious Mare Do Well.
I find it difficult to get around comparing Daring Don’t and Power Ponies. The Mane 6 get caught up in an action-adventure setting that doesn’t rely on the Elements of Harmony or even the power of friendship. They even have the same core message about self-worth: Rainbow Dash struggles to live up to her hero and Spike struggles to live up to his friends.
After deciding my final grades for the episodes this season, I took a couple hours to go through the episode sorter created by ilcane87. I ranked Daring Don’t eight spots ahead of Power Ponies and I know why: even though Power Ponies has better action, namely everything Rarity does and Fluttershy turning into the Hulk, it’s missing an emotional core. Seeing Rainbow Dash struggle with her self-esteem means something because normally she’s arrogant and overconfident; Spike doing so is just par for the course.
What we’re left with, then, is a fun, mindless episode without any lingering impact. Enjoyable and inoffensive, but largely unmemorable.
Pinkie Pie Focus
Considering that normal Pinkie Pie can teleport, mere super speed might just be a downgrade. Not as much of one as poor Twilight got, but hey, if it takes an episode that randomly nerfs the two most broken ponies so that Rarity can shine, I’ll totally accept it!
I’d say my Mane 6 rankings coincidentally correspond to their creativity: Pinkie Pie, Rarity, Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, Twilight Sparkle, Applejack. (I could see an argument for moving Fluttershy one spot up or down.) Rarity’s creativity tends to be underplayed compared to her nearest counterparts, though. Creating dresses is one outlet through which she can express herself, but she’s much more than that and Power Ponies is the first and certainly not last season 4 episode to showcase that.
Obviously there’s something to be said for the brute force of Flutterhulk, but Rarity was the only character whose superpower was inventiveness itself and she passed marvelously, creating multiple movement tools (floating serving dish, flying carpet, a staircase, ice skates), binding tools (magic ribbons and bird cages), a shield (energy umbrella), and a weapon (giant hoof file). The difference between Rarity and every other character in this episode is the difference between picking an attack from an RPG menu or being the creator who decides what attacks exist. In other words, it’s insurmountable. Rarity totally steals the show and I’m loving it.
Rainbow Dash Focus
I hinted at it in the Pinkie Pie Focus, but one nagging undercurrent of this episode is that Pinkie Pie already has super speed (see Griffon the Brush-Off, Party of One, A Friend in Deed), Rainbow Dash already has the ability to create tornadoes (see Swarm of the Century and the very next season 4 episode), and Applejack already has skills with a lasso and projectiles (for the latter, see Fall Weather Friends). Giving them such similar powers is certainly “appropriate,” but made less of the situation than what could have been.
Episode 7: Bats!
“…a swing and a miss.” I said that to myself a few seconds after Bats! ended, trying to sort out my feelings on it. The first “miss” of season 4, I thought. If anything, the episode has grown on me since then, which is saying something since I’m still not handing out anything above a C+.
You know something’s wrong when you’re this close to citing Over A Barrel (a D+ episode) as a positive example of how an episode could have been handled better. My main issue is the same as in Princess Twilight Sparkle Part 2: I don’t buy that all of Fluttershy’s friends would stand against her. Rarity, sure. Applejack, sure. Rainbow Dash is pushing it, but alright, I can accept that. Twilight, though? And Pinkie Pie?
The difference between PTS and Bats! is that PTS had an unfortunate minute or two of unrealism, but in Bats! this is the central conflict and it goes against everything I see in these characters. Pinkie Pie can’t even bring herself to lightly prank Fluttershy (Griffon the Brush-Off) and suddenly she’s dancing with the angry mob against her? Over A Barrel is a D+ instead of a D- because at least in that episode the Mane 6 split sides against each other in something more believable for their characters than 5-against-1. (It’s everything besides character motivation in the episode that has issues.)
Flutterbat is fun, though—just not as fun as Flutterhulk and not nearly fun enough to overcome a questionable plot. This episode was also the point in the season when I realized the environments had much darker lighting than any prior season: PTS, Castle Mane-ia, Daring Don’t, Power Ponies, and Bats! all spent significant time in moody environments of black, gray, or brown.
Pinkie Pie Focus
Not a good day for Pinkie overall, but she did provide some of my top moments here, drilling through the ground and wearing a fruit hat.
Like Daring Don’t, Bats! might have benefited from leaving out a couple of the Mane 6, Rarity being one of them. She didn’t do much here, which makes in-universe sense. From a writing perspective I would have left her out of the stakeout at very least.
Rainbow Dash Focus
Probably my star of the episode, Rainbow Dash’s cider obsession makes its grand return and doesn’t disappoint! She’s the other character I would have cut from the stakeout, though, because I can’t buy into the premise that none of the characters can catch Flutterbat even with Rainbow Dash on their side. She’s faster and I’d bet heavily that she’s still stronger.
Episode 8: Rarity Takes Manehattan
Back on track we go with the long-awaited return of a Rarity episode! I had supremely high expectations following past Rarity masterpieces like Suited For Success, Sweet and Elite, and Sisterhooves Social—and what we got wasn’t on that level, but still great.
Suri Polomare is a powerful antagonist in the vein of Diamond Tiara and for exactly the same reasons as her. Misleading Rarity into giving her a large enough amount of fabric to rip off her fashion line is, legally speaking, within her rights. That it happened is also unprovable; in a court of law, Suri Polomare would be found not guilty. But this is wrong. This is stomach-turningly wrong. This is one of the thematically-darkest episodes of the series and it’s all Suri’s fault. Never mind Party of One or Lesson Zero, which were cartoonishly over-the-top; Rarity Takes Manehattan is the pony version of Edward Morrison’s proof text.
“If there is true evil in this world, it lies in the hearts of mankind.” -Edward Morrison
I’ll let that point stand, but if you want to reflect on it more, go back to part 1 and my Flight to the Finish review and ponder the nature of evil instead of love. Almost all of the same questions apply.
On the lighter side, Coco Pommel is so adorable it’s almost nonsensical!
Just look at her. She’s so cute that even Fluttershy is seething with quiet jealousy off in the corner. I won’t lie here: at one point Fluttershy was my dead last pony of the Mane 6. Until she started having her moments like in The Best Night Ever, her supposed cuteness did nothing for me. Give me a character like Coco, though, and I get it. Perfect voice acting and accessorizing.
Last thing: I came away very impressed with Manehattan in concept and execution, very glad that the show stepped out of familiar environments like Ponyville and Canterlot (even The Crystal Empire always had Princess Cadance and Shining Armor acting as grounding forces to stop the location from feeling too alien), and appreciative of all the efforts the show creators must have put in just to make this one episode possible.
Pinkie Pie Focus
Fairly empty episode Pinkie-wise. On the bright side, now that Rarity’s dubbed herself the smile patrol, maybe the two of them can join forces more often!
Ironically, Rarity didn’t stand out to me in Rarity Takes Manehattan outside of her song. This is one key difference between RTM and the masterpieces I mentioned earlier: Rarity’s best episodes were more character-driven than plot-driven. We explored her creativity as a designer in Suited For Success, her roots and her aspirations in Sweet and Elite, and the delicate balance between her enterpreneurship and her sister in Sisterhooves Social. Nothing especially new about Rarity shows up in RTM; rather than creating the plot herself because of who she is, the circumstances created by Suri drive her forward. She’s a reactive character here, not a proactive one.
At first I was put off by how suddenly and how in-your-face the generosity element shows up, but as time goes on and I rewatch the episode, I’m less bothered by it. Given certain later episodes, it looks more and more in-character.
Rainbow Dash Focus
It was a’ight. That is all!
Actually, one more thing. (This will circle back to Rainbow Dash. Bear with me.) Quick preface before I get into it: When is a person justified in believing something that’s unprovable? I know of at least two good answers to this question: 1) When that belief is the person’s own subjective experience, and 2) when believing in something that’s unprovable would, if assumed true, provide explanatory power about a phenomenon that is provable.
I’ve been convinced for a while that Applejack isn’t a character so much as a foil who the writers freely mold to fit the plot. For example, in Bats! she suddenly stops trusting in Fluttershy’s animal expertise because the plot needs a pony in that role. In Princess Twilight Sparkle she suddenly stops trusting in Twilight’s magic expertise because the plot needs a pony in that role. These are just season 4 examples, but it’s going on since literally the beginning of the show: her Honesty test in Friendship is Magic Part 2 is hands down the episode’s most bizarre attempt to display the characteristic of an Element of Harmony.
Rarity Takes Manehattan is another perfect example of Applejack Syndrome. She calls Rarity out on being rotten and, of all ponies, Rainbow Dash calls Applejack out on her brutal honesty. Here’s the thing: in season 1, season 2, and possibly even season 3, Rainbow Dash would have played this part. She exemplifies brutal honesty time and again; for example, in Suited For Success, she’s the one to acknowledge that the Mane 6 have made Rarity into a laughingstock.
My theory is that here in RTM, Dave Polsky realized that the current Dash, who’s grown significantly over the years, isn’t suited for such a biting line anymore. He wanted the line, though, so who could say it? Well, Applejack. After all, she doesn’t have a character, so she can say anything the plot needs. My theory is unprovable because its topic is a writer’s motivation… but boy oh boy would it ever explain a lot.
Episode 9: Pinkie Apple Pie
Before I give my grade, my thoughts going into this episode:
Scary episode title. Super scary episode title. On the one side, there’s Pinkie Pie, who had singlehoofedly carried three of my top ten episodes prior to Pinkie Apple Pie, but she’s also starred in some of the lowest of the low: Baby Cakes. On the other side there’s the Apple Family, who have also starred in the lowest of the low: Family Appreciation Day and Apple Family Reunion. As a team, Pinkie Pie and characters from the Apple Family have also played heavy roles in an episode that I love—The Last Roundup—and an episode that I hate—Over A Barrel.
This episode title, on paper, was the Unstoppable Fun meeting the Immovable Boredom. Definitionally speaking, the two can’t exist simultaneously. Either the Fun actually is stoppable or the Boredom actually is movable.
And here in Pinkie Apple Pie, the answer is…
You know an episode is killing it when I hand out an A+ even though I have positive feelings about only two of its five starring characters. And did I mention that the writer, Natasha Levinger, is new to the show?
The essence of Pinkie Apple Pie is the Apple Family arguing over trivial nonsense during a road trip while trying to hide their disputes from Pinkie Pie and apparently succeeding since Pinkie seems cheerfully ignorant of it all and has fun with every situation. The clincher of Pinkie Apple Pie, though, is when we find out she’s perfectly aware of all their fighting and simply glosses over it.
This episode, like Flight to the Finish—which sits only one spot higher in my episode rankings!—is something of a life metaphor. Arguments will pass. Fights will pass. And if they’re going to pass anyway, why have them at all? Enjoy the moment.
“Look at me! I’m part of the Apple Family too! I’m arguing! Argue, argue, argue! Bicker, bicker, bicker!” -Pinkie Pie
Losing your wagon might be scary, but you’ll live. Losing your map might be scary, but you’ll live. Even the scariest cave ever isn’t as bad as you make it out to be. No one can convince me that I’m just imagining a message that fear and fights are fleeting. After all, Pinkie Pie and Big Mac have a conversation about the positive usage of self-fulfilling prophecy. Seriously!
“So what you’re saying is if I had the courage to jump, the parachute will open.” -Pinkie Pie
Life opens up for the courageous. In other words, life is what you make it. This is an existentialist message right out of Jean-Paul Sartre or The World Ends With You, except in a much more humorous setting. And there’s what separates an episode like Pinkie Apple Pie and Flight to the Finish: lovely, lovely comedy! You see…
Pinkie Pie Focus
This Pinkie Pie is the one I love: the one seen in Feeling Pinkie Keen (the first half, the fun half) or Luna Eclipsed, the insightful one who knows what’s going on and is too far above the problems to take them seriously. Like in Griffon the Brush-Off, she has the Pinkie Pie Style solution to everything and that solution is a smile.
The wonderful thing when Pinkie Pie’s in control of the situation is that she knows the show for what it is. If nothing’s going to seriously go wrong, then sometimes a character who laughs everything off is the most relatable one. It’s an odd and tough-to-define thing, but a beautiful one.
Last thing: for a brief, shining moment when this episode’s song built up to Pinkie Pie singing a verse, I finally cared about the Apple Family for a reason that isn’t Apple Bloom. Well, well done.
We cover Rainbow Falls through Simple Ways! …this’ll be some journey.