Episode 10: Rainbow Falls
The return of Derpy! Pinkie Pie in multiple variations of cheerleader outfits! Twilight Sparkle in a cheerleader outfit?! The naming and first major role of Bulk Biceps! An episode about my third favorite pony!
…now why am I so bored? Rainbow Dash episodes have actually had very poor track records with me despite my love for her as an overall character, but what went wrong with this one specifically?
Well, for one thing, if I have every reason to believe that Rainbow Dash will never turn on her friends to join the Wonderbolts, which is the central and only conflict of Rainbow Falls, then either I want to see her briefly join the Wonderbolts (just as Rarity briefly gave up Generosity in Rarity Takes Manehattan) or I want to see her treat the temptation as the joke it is (just as Pinkie treated the “threats” of Pinkie Apple Pie—or, going back much further, as Rainbow Dash treated the Shadowbolts in Friendship is Magic Part 2). If I know the destination, then you have to engage me by taking twists in the journey.
For another, Rainbow Dash doesn’t even resolve her own situation. She needs two Twilight Sparkle lectures to help her tackle a dilemma about Loyalty, which is almost as crazy as if Princess Luna was the Princess of Popularity and Luna Eclipsed still happened.
Pinkie Pie Focus
First cheerleader outfit is best cheerleader outfit. Rainbow Falls actually has a lot of gems hidden in the rough and Pinkie’s responsible for two of them: her own outfit and somehow getting Twilight into one later on. Speaking of outfits…
If every minute of Rainbow Falls could give of itself in the service of entertainment as much as Rarity and her dresses do with their few seconds, we’d be in a very, very good place.
Rainbow Dash Focus
Episode 11: Three’s A Crowd
Three’s A Crowd is the first episode to begin one unfortunate trend of season 4: each new writer’s debut was significantly better than his or her encore. The most inescapable problem with this episode is that it’s really half an episode. Ed Valentine debuted with Flight to the Finish, in which he ate up four and a half minutes of screen time just setting up the rest of the episode, but if you thought that was too much, just take a look at Three’s A Crowd, where for some reason the “three” characters in the title don’t even come together until nearly ten minutes into a ~21-minute show. Most of those ten minutes are spent having various characters interact with Discord, but the fundamental problem is that they interact with him in almost identical ways, making the scene drag.
Thankfully, once the trio of Twilight, Princess Cadance, and Discord do come together, it’s Discord zaniness, a Discord song (!), and aerial laser battles with giant scaled worm creatures from there on out. Most of the episode’s jokes are visual, timing-based, or rooted in the centerpiece song, so it can’t be done any proper justice in a text review, but suffice it to say that Three’s A Crowd is an episode with potential both tapped and untapped.
Pinkie Pie Focus
Why is Pinkie Pie’s attention suddenly distracted away from her friends by floating balloons? Wasn’t the whole point of Too Many Pinkie Pies that for as hyper and ADHD as she can be, her friends mean more to her even than her own energy? And why is she so distrusting of Discord in the beginning only to then be the first one to enthusiastically warm up to him and take care of him? The latter is what she would have been from the start. And why does Discord not want to hang out with her? If anypony could appreciate chaos, it would be her.
Discord: Could somebody find me a fainting couch?
Oh, Rarity, you almost make the first ten minutes worth it. Best joke of the episode, which is saying something considering Discord’s around!
Rainbow Dash Focus
What’s Discord’s plan after he first appears? Rainbow Dash tells him he should go home and rest to get over his sickness. If his goal is to get away from Pinkie, Rarity, Rainbow, and Applejack so he can make himself a nuisance to Twilight and Cadance, then RD’s suggestion is about as easy an out as he’ll ever get. Just pretend to agree and teleport off to find Twilight. I… I just don’t get it. This episode raises many questions and I don’t mean that in a positive way.
Episode 12: Pinkie Pride
Pinkie Pride‘s powerful party performance pretty precisely pegs platonic perfection’s pinnacle, presenting pure, prevailing prestige!
Most season 4 episodes get better to me on rewatch and this one is no exception. It blew my mind from the very beginning, but I couldn’t decide whether I preferred it over Flight to the Finish and Pinkie Apple Pie, both A+ episodes. The answer, I know now, is that I do. Top 1 of season, Top 1 of series, Top 1 of TV! This is the quality of episode that season 3 so sorely missed.
Beliefs I have about Pinkie Pride:
- Pinkie Pride is the definitive Pinkie Pie episode. I knew that much even before it became my favorite episode! Even when I still had A Friend in Deed and Party of One tentatively above it, the clear truth is that if you need one episode to showcase everything that Pinkie is, was, has ever been, or will ever be, this is it. It’s Pinkie’s equivalent of Suited For Success.
- Pinkie Pride is the musical episode that the season 3 finale, Magical Mystery Cure, only wishes it could have been. With one plot instead of two, it had focus and room to grow.
- Pinkie Pride is so amazing that I almost wish it didn’t happen… Yet. This episode is such a celebration of everything that My Little Pony as a whole has been that it would be a perfect penultimate episode before a series finale.
- The moment when Pinkie Pie hops away on the rooftops and the townsponies sing “There goes the super party pony Pinkie Pie!” crams more superhero into a few seconds than The Mysterious Mare Do Well, Daring Don’t, and Power Ponies pulled off in three episodes.
- The songs “Pinkie the Party Planner” and half of “Pinkie’s Lament” are the greatest paradoxes this side of ancient Greece. You see, dudes like Zeno—
Oh. Sorry. Forgot that’s only interesting to philosophy lovers like me. =P
…wait, no. Not sorry! Let’s go over this. It all relates perfectly! Consider some common paradoxes of the past:
If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?
(Answer: depends on your definition of reality and sound. For the most hardcore of hardcore empiricists, the answer is that this question is actually meaningless. If no one is there, there is no reason to believe the tree fell. Assuming you do believe that reality can exist without being observed, however, then we go to the definition of sound. The falling tree creates a physical vibration, so if that to you is “sound,” then the answer is yes. However, the answer is no if you say that “sound” is an interpretation made by ears and a brain. (See also: variations of anthropic principles, Boltzmann brains, the Fermi paradox, etc.))
Can God create a rock so heavy that God cannot lift it?
(Answer: no. This is like asking whether mathematicians can find the final digit of pi, to which the answer is also no. This doesn’t mean that pi is incomprehensible; on the contrary, our inability to find a final digit of pi is evidence that we do comprehend it. Similarly, God’s inability to create such a rock is evidence that we comprehend omnipotence. It’s not a limitation of omnipotence that it can’t be used to create that which is incompatible with creation, just as it’s not a limitation of mathematicians that they can’t identify that which is incompatible with mathematics.)
How am I able to perform any action given that an infinite series of smaller actions must precede it? (For example, before I can take a step, I have to first take half a step, before which I must take a quarter step, and so on.)
(Answer: I have no idea.)
Now there’s a new paradox on the streets:
How can the “Smile Song”, “Pinkie the Party Planner,” and “Pinkie’s Lament” each be the definitive Pinkie Pie song?
Apparently Rainbow Dash was wrong in Castle Mane-ia: there is such a thing as a tie for most. That’s a paradox. It calls into question the nature of knowledge and our understanding of life, the universe, and everything—but hey, calling into question our understanding of life, the universe, and everything is Pinkie Pie’s specialty.
I haven’t even talked about the plot yet. If there’s one archetypal trope that consistently works, not just in My Little Pony but in all stories everywhere, it’s when a character shows up who outperforms the main character at her own game. MLP examples of this include Sisterhooves Social, Griffon the Brush-Off, Owl’s Well That Ends Well, Sonic Rainboom, Magic Duel, Feeling Pinkie Keen, Fall Weather Friends, Daring Don’t, The Mysterious Mare Do Well, and Wonderbolts Academy.
In fact, there are only two times I’d say this formula didn’t turn out for the best in MLP, but since one of them is the very next episode, I’ll stick to the good here.
Cheese Sandwich is a vagabond super duper party pony who wanders Equestria in search of parties to improve. This is even more brilliant than the party cannon and it’s brilliant for exactly the same reason: everyone knows immediately and intuitively what kind of world they’re in when cannons and wandering outlaws exist exclusively to spread laughter and smiles. This is to thematic what establishing shots are to location.
Have I mentioned Weird Al? Oh, I haven’t? Of course not: this episode is so awesome that he hasn’t merited mention yet. Nonetheless, here he is! Weird Al’s here to voice Cheese and lend credibility to the notion that any pony can best Pinkie Pie at partying. And boy oh boy is he needed.
Before the season began, Meghan McCarthy had mentioned that Pinkie would be given a run for her party planning money. “Yeah. Uh-huh. Sure.” That was my reaction. What party can challenge Pinkie, the show’s most broken character? Turns out it’s not a party, but another party planner. Just as Tabitha St. Germain carries Rarity into the stratosphere, Weird Al carries Cheese Sandwich to heights that even the stellar animation team and writer Amy Keating Rogers can’t reach on their own.
Of course, Pinkie feels threatened as the new face in town steals her spotlight. The episode opened with “Pinkie the Party Planner,” which is a “True, True Friend” or “Smile Song”-style celebration of every pony in town affirming how awesome she is… And then in rolled Cheese, who laid out “The Super Duper Party Pony” and immediately claimed all attention for himself. Unlike a threat as relatively tame as Gilda in Griffon the Brush-Off, who was only trying to keep her away from Rainbow Dash, she feels that Cheese’s presence is an attack on her very character and essence. If she’s not the greatest party pony ever, what is she? Is she anything at all?
Here we enter our third song, “Pinkie’s Lament,” probably the most emblematic of this episode. Until now I had believed that Twilight Sparkle and Rainbow Dash are the only characters of the Mane 6 who have grown since the show’s beginning, but as Pinkie sings her way through a minute of depression and then makes her comeback through the power of her own memories, I realized that she’s grown too.
“There’s gotta be more to me than planning a party or two” -Pinkie Pie, “Pinkie’s Lament”
This isn’t the Party of One Pinkie who descended into madness as soon as she thought her friends had left her or who thought the only reason they stuck with her at all was for her parties. That Pinkie could never have strung the words “more to me than planning a party” together. The current Pinkie has internalized her past.
…however, even as her conscious self wants to try alternate careers in surgery, mail delivery, and construction, her subconscious knows there is no “more” than planning a party. That’s her highest calling. It’s not everything that she is, but it’s the very best of what she does and nothing could change that. (Note: I’m still not sure if she actually went out and tried those careers or if she was just envisioning them in her mind. I could see strong arguments for either case.)
So back out she goes to duel Cheese Sandwich. Before I get there, one last thing about “Pinkie’s Lament”: it exposes the fatal flaw of Magical Mystery Cure‘s “I’ve Got to Find a Way.” That song always felt empty to me, but until I saw “Pinkie’s Lament,” I never had any real problems with it because I didn’t pinpoint a key element: it’s written backwards. Let’s compare! First up, “I’ve Got to Find a Way”:
The beginning is determination to find a solution (“I have to find a way”), the middle is an expression of hopelessness (“Losing promise”), and the end is doubt (“I fear I won’t get through”). This is exactly wrong! Now watch “Pinkie’s Lament” do it right:
The beginning is doubt (“maybe I was wrong”), the middle is hopelessness (“The bubbles all burst”) transitioning into hope (“Oh, look at those happy faces”), and the end is determination to find a solution (“I’ve got to get back out there”). This is the natural progression for this type of song. It’s like the stages of grief: start with shock or denial, end with acceptance.
Magical Mystery Cure, by the way, gets an A- from me and a series top 20. It’s just that Pinkie Pride is that much better.
Anyway, Pinkie and Cheese have a showdown in our fourth song, “The Goof Off.” I could, but won’t, go on about this exchange. Just one major point. It’s hilarious, epic, and awesome—but if that was all, then it wouldn’t have any lasting value. Watch this song a dozen times like I have and it won’t be that funny anymore, but it’ll still have some of the show’s best foreshadowing:
Cheese Sandwich borrows the “Smile Song” as part of the competition. Until this point in the episode, it’s actually 100% plausible that he really is the better party pony than Pinkie. His partying tools are bigger and better and, here in “The Goof Off,” he’s bringing an array of new lyrics to the table every time it’s his turn, but Pinkie just says “happy” and “bubbles and balloons” a whole lot. The episode’s practically over and this is the first sign of weakness we’ve seen: Cheese needs to rely on another pony’s material.
This all culminates in Pinkie Pie realizing that she’s participating in this whole goof-off more for herself than Rainbow Dash, who’s not having fun with it. She forfeits and is right on the verge of leaving Ponyville when suddenly all of her friends and Cheese show up to tell her that none of them would ever dream of replacing her. This is the same kind of scene I loved so much in Owl’s Well That Ends Well, but with a character I’m more attached to and with an even better episode preceding it. In Owl’s Well, though, this scene is the end of the story. In Pinkie Pride, it’s just a lead-in to the fifth song.
As it turns out, Cheese used to be Fluttershy and became Pinkie Pie after one of her parties showed him the possibility of a better life when he was much younger.
I keep talking about transcendent Platonic values in this season, but I can’t help it when they’re the meat of all the best episodes. Flight to the Finish was about overcoming inevitable criticism by building your inner strength with the help of your friends: in other words, it was about love. Pinkie Apple Pie was about recognizing that problems come and go but your attitude and character remain with you: in other words, it was about optimism.
Pinkie Pride is about seeing that when you perform at your best, others will rise up and outperform you, but this is an honor, not an insult: in other words, it’s about inspiration. One day the student may surpass the teacher, but that’s a credit to the teacher. As Isaac Newton put it, stand on the shoulders of giants.
Just like the bullies not getting any comeuppance in Flight to the Finish, Pinkie Pride never resolves who the “better” party pony is because that’s not the point. The point is an edifying affirmation that the bearer of hope doesn’t fight alone; even if she doesn’t know immediately whose lives she touches, they may return to her years later as a very welcome and very great surprise.
From there we go to the dénouement, celebrating Rainbow Dash with a final song and bidding farewell to Cheese Sandwich, and even though it’s more low-key than the rest of the episode, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Beautifully resolved.
Pinkie Pie Focus
How do I still have more to say? There’s young Derpy! Young Cheerilee! Young Bon Bon! A kid who rides a hippo has a voice like he’s 22 or something! Female shopkeepers wearing Flim Flam Brothers hats! Flying Pinkie Pie! Contortionist upside-down crab-walking Pinkie Pie! Gummy stares and does nothing no matter what universe he’s in! Hawaiian shirts exist in Equestria!
A sandwich gets punched in the face! Tank flies around! Derpy sticks her head in a chocolate fountain! Pinkie Pie can not only read faster than Twilight (Pinkie Apple Pie), but can also make giant checklists without Spike’s help! The fake mustache is back without Applejack around to ruin it for all of us!
And so much more! But I only want to call attention to one other thing.
Even Diamond Tiara, she who kicks the disabled when they’re down and is proud of herself for it, can’t hate a Pinkie Pie party. If ever there was proof of Pinkie’s brokenness!
She turned into an alicorn, but other than that, she’s literally the only thing that could have made this episode better. I’m not saying it should have been her birthday, though, because…
Rainbow Dash Focus
…it’s subtle and completely unmentioned, but Pinkie Pride also happens to be a perfect showcase of Rainbow Dash! If Cheese had showed up for the party of any pony other than Rainbow Dash, I doubt they would have wanted him. Applejack, Twilight, or especially Fluttershy would have considered it overkill, Rarity’s sort of party isn’t Cheese’s sort of party, and even Pinkie’s own parties are much more low-key and personal than loud and showy.
Pinkie Pride proves why Rainbow Dash is so integral to MLP‘s character dynamics.
Episode 13: Simple Ways
In this experimental episode that serves as the return of Josh Haber (writer of Castle Mane-ia), we test this question: can Tabitha St. Germain can carry an episode entirely on her own? The answer is probably yes, but Simple Ways alone can’t prove it.
Tell me if you’ve heard this before: Rarity wants to impress an important figure, the important figure takes immediate interest in one of Rarity’s friends instead of her, her friend actually wants nothing to do with it but can’t help getting caught up in the situation, and Rarity struggles to reconcile her feelings of jealousy.
Got it? This is the premise of Green Isn’t Your Color, a very good episode starring Rarity and Fluttershy while Pinkie Pie, Twilight, and Spike play backup with concurrent subplots about secrecy and crushes.
Simple Ways, I know Green Isn’t Your Color, and you, madam, are no Green Isn’t Your Color. There are two problems with this episode, one minor and one major. The minor problem is that it’s about a romantic crush instead of impressing a fashion designer, which is a tough sell. I see no way they’ll ever commit to any of the main characters getting into a relationship (and I dearly hope they don’t), so in a sense there’s no legitimate conflict since things can’t go any direction but wrong. The major problem? Applejack Syndrome. (If you want a positive commentary on Applejack, skip ahead to part 4, but this is not that.)
Once upon a time, Fluttershy sat at the bottom of my rankings where Applejack currently resides, but Flutters pulled herself up and is now a pretty lovable pony precisely because of episodes like Green Isn’t Your Color, which was equal parts her and Rarity. They both had well-developed motivations and conflicted feelings. Rarity wanted Fluttershy to crash and burn out of jealousy, but then once she saw her crashing and burning she realized their friendship was more important. Fluttershy didn’t want any part of the fashion industry, but felt obligated to let Rarity live vicariously through her even if she was uncomfortable.
By contrast, Simple Ways is why Applejack just sinks lower and lower. (Right now she’s around thirtieth place behind such fleshed-out luminaries as Silver Spoon.) Rarity wants Trenderhoof, Trenderhoof wants Applejack, Applejack wants… nothing. Of course she wants nothing. She’s not a character, just a foil. What makes Green so good isn’t that Fluttershy wants out of modeling, but that she wants out and can’t bring herself to leave because she also wants to make Rarity happy. She had two motivations. Rarity had two motivations. One episode, two characters, four motivations. That’s a great formula.
Applejack is a perfectly fine action hero (see the beginning of Spike At Your Service), but ask her to carry an episode and we’re going nowhere fast because she never contributes anything to the proceedings (see the rest of Spike At Your Service). Her role in SW can be summarized as “can this episode please end already?”, best exemplified by the fact that she ends three separate scenes by saying she has chores to do. Is it too much to ask that she at least participate in her own episode instead of letting Rarity and a one-off guest pony do all the activity while she runs away pretending it’s not happening? Rarity’s caricature of Applejack might actually be more nuanced than the real pony.
After all, like I mentioned in Rarity Takes Manehattan, Applejack is merely whatever the plot isn’t. When she starts imitating Rarity, it’s not because that’s what she would have ever done on her own, but because first Rarity started imitating her. Rarity has to be in the wrong or there is no plot. Rainbow Dash had to be in the wrong in Fall Weather Friends or there is no plot. Spike had to be in the wrong in Spike At Your Service or there is no plot. I’m actually stunned that Fluttershy wasn’t in the wrong in Bats!, but of course they couldn’t let just Applejack be wrong; it had to be everypony teaming up on poor Flutters. Even in Pinkie Apple Pie, Big Mac screws up the road trip on his own, Apple Bloom screws up on her own, Granny Smith screws up on her own, and Pinkie Pie screws up on her own, but Applejack can do no wrong unless Granny Smith is simultaneously fighting with her over the wheel.
Somepony has to be wrong and that pony is not Applejack and that’s why people say she’s a “just there” sort of character. She doesn’t move the plot; the plot moves her. That’s a problem.
Pinkie Pie Focus
Pinkie appeared briefly and inflated her head into a giant balloon. This isn’t nearly as interesting as it sounds.
In one scene, Rarity’s having a breakdown about Trenderhoof not liking her and inadvertently hurts Spike’s feelings by saying he has no idea how it feels. I’m perfectly fine with this scene because she’s not in a right frame of mind, just like she wasn’t in Sonic Rainboom, like Twilight wasn’t in Lesson Zero or It’s About Time, and like Pinkie wasn’t in Party of One. These breakdowns are actually what improve the characters, not destroy them. (And, surprise, my favorite Applejack portrayal by this point in the series by far was Applebuck Season. Second favorite? Bridle Gossip, when she projected her own fears and insecurities onto Apple Bloom.)
The most notable thing in Simple Ways is that Tabitha performed stupendously at voicing a character who doesn’t know how to fake an accent faking an accent. There’s no taking that away from her or this episode. I just wish it didn’t take over half the runtime to reach that point. (Ashleigh Ball also did expert work, but had fewer lines.)
We cover Filli Vanilli through Somepony to Watch Over Me! I perform mental gymnastics to explain why Pinkie Pie is totally fine! The Cutie Mark Crusaders are outstripping the growth of most of the Mane 6! An entire episode never happened! Applejack is—hilarious?!