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

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Episode 103: "Amending Fences"

Aired 7/4/2015, by M.A. Larson (his sixteenth episode)
    Storyline:
  • Intro: When Spike points out how far Twilight Sparkle has grown in her understanding of friendship, she is troubled that she neglected her friends in the past.
  • Act 1: Twilight and Spike go to Canterlot to apologize to her old friends. Minuette, Lemon Hearts, and Twinkleshine are accepting, but Moondancer has rejected friendship in favor of studying.
  • Act 2: Twilight's efforts to make amends only make Moondancer more resentful and Twi learns that the party she skipped in the first episode was Moondancer's last effort to prove she was worthy of friendship.
  • Act 3: With Pinkie's assistance, Twilight throws a party where Moondancer's once was, and allows Moondancer to vent her feelings. At length, the two are able to reconcile and Moondancer ultimately enjoys time with more friends than she knew she had.

Character: One natural result of growing as a person is that you may look back with regret at who you once were. It's important to remind yourself, as Sunset Shimmer did, that "My Past Is Not Today." But on the other hand, if your past involved hurting other people who may still be hurting, you can take to heart Twilight's advice to Spike a couple episodes ago: "One of the most important things a princess can do is realize when she's made a mistake and fix it." And that is what Twilight endeavors to do in this story.

I had never considered that it might have been a problem that Twilight let her five Canterlot friendships drop in exchange for five Ponyville ones, perhaps because I've moved around so much and basically started a new chapter in life each time. But Twilight is horrified at this realization; she's forgotten where she came from and (as is her wont) exaggerates most of the damage left in her wake. She's consumed with guilt, much as Luna will be next episode.

Notice that I said "most"; Twilight unwittingly caused Moondancer real emotional harm, and to those who might say this was unavoidable given Twilight's mission, go back and watch the first episode. Twilight dismisses Moondancer's party before she has any idea Nightmare Moon is returning; she only has a research question about the Elements of Harmony. The Summer Sun Celebration is the day after tomorrow at that point, and she doesn't travel to Ponvyille unti the day before. She could have attended the party and said her farewells. But whatever happened before, I'm very glad that in this episode Twilight makes no excuses and does all the hard relational work herself, only enlisting Pinkie and Spike for logistical help.

Some viewers may have been surprised that Twilight had friends, or ponies she considered friends, back in Canterlot. But it's not as though no one cared about her: Since coming to Ponyville, she has learned two major lessons: First she's learned to properly treasure her friends and the time she can spend with them, and second, she's moved from merely having friends to being a friend. Few things in life give you more security than having loved ones who wouldn't let an error in judgment, a past secret, or a quirk of personality diminish their regard for you. But are you being a friend to them? At the heart of Twilight's concern is that she neglected the ponies who cared about her, and it's a relief to see that while Minuette and the others noticed Twi's earlier negligence, they chose not to hold it against her.

This story includes Spike's best role so far this season. Spike has understood friendship since the beginning, and he demonstrates that understanding in his friendship to Twilight. I especially like the fact that he stays by her side at the end of the second act, not letting her wander off alone. It's also nice that Minuette greets him by name and he converses with Donut Joe in the background of the next scene.

Moondancer, yet another name from the G1 era, is to Twilight Sparkle what Lightning Dust was to Rainbow Dash: a maturity foil. But where Moondancer once might have been merely dismissive like young Twilight, over time she's grown bitter and given up not only on friendship but on herself. No longer taking care of her appearance and property are classic danger signs; that plus no aspirations and no supportive relationships means she's one step away from really hurting herself. What really makes this character work is Kazumi Evans, giving what I judge to be the best voice performance of anyone in the entire series. You can hear the pain in Moondancer's anger, and you can feel the years of suffering come to a boil before being released as Twilight's words finally break through.

The operative phrase for Moondancer comes from Minuette, observing that she was just starting to "let her guard down" when Twilight left. Many avoid relationships for fear of the potential heartbreak if things don't work out, but Moondancer opens herself up to receive Twilight's answer as to whether she was worth caring about. Taking Twilight's absence as a firm "no," her guard is back up, and all the defense mechanisms are in play when she returns.

Why be so concerned with Twilight, when Minuette and the others were right there? I choose to think of it this way: Call it chemistry if you will, but I can kind of sense whether someone's being friendly to me because they're generally a friendly person, or whether they're being friendly because I personally am someone they want to be friends with. And that makes a world of difference. Bubbly Minuette could be friends with just about anyone. But Twilight was the only pony Moondancer knew who was remotely like her, and perhaps her only hope of a friend she could really connect with. That one potential true, true friend...didn't show up. The party that was actually an experiment to determine her own value wasn't worth Twilight's time. And now years of seeing no worth in herself has left Moondancer with issues that won't be resolved in a single party. She'll need these other friends close at hoof for a long time to grow beyond this.

On the subject of voice work, Minuette is also a standout character thanks to an enthusiastic vocal performance by Rebecca Husain. Finally, between this episode and Slice of Life, the barrier between background ponies and supporting characters has pretty well been broken down. There's still a technical difference; plenty of on-screen ponies have never been designated as defined characters in a script. But who knows which one will be next to attract the writers' attention and cross over?


Lesson: Between imperfect people or ponies, love entails risk, and any close relationship involves a healthy amount of confession and forgiveness. This is the series' best example of seeking reconciliation with action as well as words. But as for words, sometimes "I'm sorry" won't cut it. Sometimes making things right involves dropping all your arguments and just letting the other person yell at you. Twilight only breaks through with the magic words, "You're right," and "I hurt you." She acknowledges her mistake was a big deal and then takes her own interests out of the equation, showing more concern for Moondancer's emotional needs than her own need to have her apology accepted. Even if it hadn't worked, what Twilight does here is beautiful.

MLP has consistently conveyed that it's worthwhile to pursue wayward friends. But how insistent should you be in pursuing reconciliation when it's refused. There is a limit, and it's ultimately up to the offended party to accept. Reconciliation is by defintion a two-way street. But context is also important. In this case, Twilight was the pony in the wrong, Moondancer is still hurting, and she's unwilling to admit how hurt she is. This is a friend headed toward a life of sorrow at best, and only Twilight can save her from that fate.

As usual, there are a couple secondary lessons here. For one, Twilight finds her other friends not as hurt as she'd expected by her leaving without saying goodbye, but as Minuette says, "It's not like we weren't used to that from you." Other people don't spend as much time thinking about you as you might suppose, but they do have an impression of you. Mistakes and embarrassing moments just become funny stories to tell, but your friends do recognize how you treat them. Also, Moondancer's studies lack direction and raise the question, what is the best purpose of learning? We don't get an answer here, so I'll just leave that as a topic for discussion.


Resonance: Some hilarious moments lighten what's otherwise a very serious story. It's no surprise to see Spike's claw over the camera lens when taking Minuette's picture. I laughed at Minuette's pose with Twilight, the reference to Twinkleshine spitting out her oats, and Lemon Hearts' little accident (although technically that's a flask, not a beaker). It's too low in the mix, but there's a crashing sound about three seconds after heli-Pinkie flies off screen. I also chuckled at the pin-the-tail-on-Celestia game. Twilight has an awesome magical moment as she turns herself into a book illustration.

On the serious side, this story's first little tug at the heartstrings comes from the music at the window in Twilight's old home. I felt bad for Twilight when her friends laughed off her first apology. That moment creates a need in us to see something more meaningful come out of this. The conflict between the two central characters and the emotional trauma under the surface are pretty strong stuff for a kids' TV show, and Moondancer is really harsh by MLP standards. The weight of this episode is felt in the third act, which dwells entirely on the reconciliation party. The climactic conversation takes almost a full three minutes and is absolutely a work of art. And it's not just Moondancer and Twilight. Lemon Hearts adds to the feels with the meek little smile she gives as she offers her friendship, and I love the long hug Moondancer gives her sister as the party ends.

 

Other Impressions and Final Assessment: We get a nice cameo of Fancy Pants with Fleur de Lis, and I assume the ponies are playing hoofball at the very end. It seems Moondancer, Lyra, Minuette, Lemon Hearts, and Twinkleshine were all part of Celestia's school, especially since they were able to arrange a private party in the castle courtyard. That suggests they're all capable of some impressive magic. The lab full of unicorns reminds us that science and magic are not incompatible in Equestria; recall Twilight's scientific description of comets in Owl's Well that Ends Well, in a world where ponies control the sun and the moon. The trail of books gag recalls the trail of candy Twilight used in Luna Eclipsed, which was Twi's first time really pursuing a pony in need of friendship.

There's a great example of screen composition in the climactic scene: When Minuette says, "You've got a lot of friends," all ten characters are on screen. We cut to Moondancer and Twilight for the final apology, we see just Twilight as she talks about her feelings, then just Moondancer as she processes what Twilight just said. The two are on screen together as they reconcile. We have a quick zoom out to everypony as Moondancer says, "Come on, let's party," then back to her and Pinkie for a minor punch line.

I could easily spend another ten or fifteen minutes praising this story up and down. I love it for its character work, lesson, resonance, and boldness in approaching life's darker side. This is my new favorite episode, earning my highest award of Genji Armor.

 

Amending Fences armor rating: Genji Armor
Ranked 1st of 26 season-five episodes
Ranked 1st of 147 stories overall

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