MLP:FiM Episode Reviews: Character and Story Analysis by Half the Battle

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Episode 145: "All Bottled Up"

Aired 4/15/2017, written by Joanna Lewis & Kristine Songco (their seventh episode)
    Storyline:
  • Intro: Trixie learns a transformation spell that ruins Starlight Glimmer's snack preparations for Twilight.
  • Act 1: The Mane Six go off on a retreat while Starlight teaches Trixie a teleportation spell, which accidentally sends the Friendship Map to an unknown location.
  • Act 2: As the Mane Six solve Escape Room puzzles, Starlight stores her anger-fueled magic in a bottle while she and Trixie search for the missing Map. The bottle breaks, infecting three other ponies.
  • Act 3: The infected ponies vent anger at a bewildered Trixie as the Mane Six celebrate their Escape Room victory elsewhere. Starlight finally collects the magic when she admits her anger at Trixie. The Map is found at the Ponyville Spa where the two met.

Character: This is a good story for Starlight Glimmer at this stage in her development. She still has lessons to learn; in fact, this is the sort of scenario we could imagine a first-season Twilight Sparkle having to deal with. Last episode's graduation notwithstanding, she's in about as much need of supervision as Spike is in many of his featured episodes. Nevertheless, her intentions are good. She's responding to Trixie's requests for help while keeping things from getting out of hoof, and Starlight bottles up her anger not out of embarrassment or denial but to avoid hurting Trixie magically or jeopardizing their friendship. And her irritation at Trixie is totally justified. We also see Starlight being mindful of kindness in her fixing Bulk Biceps' nut cart.

The running gag of bringing up a reformed character's dark past is pretty well played out by now. I get that new viewers may need to understand where a character came from for the sake of a plot, but the joke started getting old about midway through Rainbow Rocks. Thankfully, Trixie's reminders are dealt with seriously this time, and we see from Twilight's expression at the train station that she recognizes that's a sore spot for Starlight.

Both as exposition and as a plot point, Starlight points out near the beginning of the story that magical power is fueled by emotions. That fits with everything we've seen in the MLP universe, from the Elements of Harmony to Crystal Ponies to the Tantabus. But I'm not sure it's been spelled out on the show as a general principle before. We've seen before that Starlight's magical power is matched only by her emotional volatility. That could also explain why Trixie struggles with "real" magic, since her laid back personality has her projecting few emotions besides smugness, except when she's too frightened to think straight.

Nevertheless, Trixie does seem to have quite a bit of magical potential. For those who don't recall how difficult teleportation spells are, Twilight Sparkle struggled to zap herself and Spike back to the library in The Ticket Master, and the spell's effects seemed unfamiliar to the other ponies around. Teleporting four characters in Dragon Quest took a couple tries, and she's winded afterwards. Of course, by season six, she and Starlight are both masters of teleportation. I'd actually like to see Trixie remain relatively limited in her magical ability, but we'll see where the creators want to go with this.

One major factor in how this episode comes across is whether Trixie is deliberately irritating Starlight. At the end when she says she had no idea Starlight was angry, how honest is she? Was she trying to provoke some emotional heat from the "boringly" mild pony she saw Starlight becoming? I'm really not sure, but I have a theory. I think Trixie's testing the boundaries of their friendship: How much can she kid around, just how edgy can she be, before she crosses a line? Starlight keeps denying her anger, insisting everything's fine, so Trix just keeps pushing.

The Mane Six get a subplot involving an escape room. These started in Japan about ten years ago and have exploded in popularity in the US and other countries in the past couple years. Including something so trendy in the show may take away from its timeless quality, but it's a fitting way for Twilight to bond with her team in a task that her intellectual nature would find appealing. I think it's good that Twilight invites Starlight along (although she does stay), and I'm always happy to see the Mane Six finding time to just enjoy being together. Also, it seems the animators remember Spike's love for the spa at the end, as he eagerly joins the group for relaxation.


Lesson: Bottling up your anger: don't do it. Simple enough, but I like the twist this episode puts on an age-old lesson. As I noted above, Starlight has the best of intentions in bottling up her anger; she thinks it's the friendly thing to do. I suppose we've all had times where we've chosen not to bring up recurring problems in a relationship because it's easier not to rock the boat and ruin the mood. But Trixie makes a couple excellent points. In fact, the cool-down conversation between Trixie and Starlight is one of my favorite scenes in the whole series; every word is just right, rings true for the peculiar friendship between these two imperfect characters. First, your friends love you for who you really are, so they need to see your true self. That includes your likes and dislikes, your pet peeves, and how you're feeling. That doesn't mean you've got to be constantly sitting down and having feelings conversations all the time, but there's usually a quick and constructive way to express yourself. This is especially important if Trixie really was probing Starlight to test boundaries and see how she'd respond. Second, it's one thing to overlook one another's little flaws, and to make your peace with the things you know are not going to change. But when something really bothers or hurts, forgiveness brings resolution and strenghtens the friendship bond, whereas suppressing the pain prolongs and aggravates the problem.

Trixie uses the word love here, and I haven't made a study of this, but I believe it's only come up on the show a few select times. I'm happy to hear the word in MLP because our culture is so quick to romanticize or sexualize love, but in fact, love is what the characters often mean when they use the word friendship. My short definition of love is taking steadfast joy in someone, having heartfelt compassion for them, and giving of yourself for their benefit. Friendship and its elements are contained in that, and there is something magical about it even in our world.


Resonance: This episode hits me right square in the intellect with its cleverness. It will be remembered for the echo cuts in the third act and for its instances of self-awareness and self-parody. We even see a jab at the series' frequent repurposing of its favorite supporting ponies, such as dumbbell-lifting, nut-selling reserve Wonderbolt / CMC-client / masseuse Bulk Biceps. The humor of this episode includes plenty of fun gags from the teacup poodle, Rarity's mimicked woo-hoo, Trixie's vivid vocabulary, and Rainbow Dash being at the bottom of a pony pyramid so that her departure has its maximum effect. There's also an especially cute moment of Trixie happily skipping. But through all of this is a touching, tender plotline that has two ponies with issues exploring the ins and outs of a friendship that few shows would ever allow their antagonists to enjoy.

 

Other Impressions and Final Assessment: The song for this episode strikes a difficult compromise between being a parody of MLP's friendship songs, and a catchy, decent song in its own right. The extensive reused animation in the chorus is unusual enough for the series that it may be part of the joke...although I've also been told the production of early season seven was under some constraint as the studio's resources were stretched to the limit with the Pony movie and whatever Equestria Girls projects are currently underway, thus two standalone slice-of-life episodes instead of the usual save-the-kingdom two-parter. (Spice Up Your Life also recycled the animation for its song's chorus, and it aired right before a hiatus, so there may have been a time crunch there as well.)

I do have a couple minor nitpicks. When the bottle breaks and Trixie goes flying, she has stars circling her head, but they make chirping sounds like birds. It's not necessarily wrong, just not something MLP typically does. Also, I was taken aback by the infected ponies so casually blowing off the rage spell. I'm guessing that was intended as a joke, that they're bottling up their own anger, but a more sincere or even begrudging acceptance of Starlight's apology would have been more in keeping with the tone of the episode. Finally, and I mean this as only a mild criticism, the Mane Six subplot feels underdeveloped, as though it was only there to contrast with Starlight's troubles. But the overall retreat concept and the escape room itself are both intriguing enough that I wish their plotline had more time.

So to wrap things up, this episode has superb character work, and the main plot is wonderful in concept and execution. The B plot and its song are not quite wonderful, but still great. Put together, we have a story that's a delight to watch and watch again. I rank it nearly as good as other precious relational episodes such as Hearthbreakers, Dungeons & Discords, and Lewis & Songco's first episode Castle Sweet Castle.

 

All Bottled Up armor rating: Diamond Armor
Ranked 13th of 26 season-seven episodes
Ranked 58th of 175 stories overall

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