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

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Episode 146: "A Flurry of Emotions"

Aired 4/22/2017, written by Sammie Crawley & Whitney Wetta (their first episode)
    Storyline:
  • Intro: Ready for a busy day cheering up sick foals at Ponyville Hospital, Twilight is interrupted by a surprise babysitting request from Cadance and Shining Armor.
  • Act 1: Ignoring Spike's misgivings, Twilight agrees to take Flurry Heart while the parents view an art exhibit. But even getting out of the castle is a challenge.
  • Act 2: Twilight brings Flurry along on the day's preparations, but lack of attention to Flurry leads to messes and delays at each stop. At the hospial, an ignored Flurry throws a fit and then loses her prized doll.
  • Act 3: Flurry's magic-powered search for her doll causes havoc until Twilight shouts her down. Twilight follows up with a scolding that frightens Flurry and makes Twilight realize she's at fault for failing to give her charge proper attention. Cadance and Shining Armor return eager to have Flurry back and promising to give more notice in the future.

Character: Twilight Sparkle hasn't had many standalone episodes in recent seasons. Prior to Celestial Advice, I believe Amending Fences and What About Discord are the last times she hasn't had to share the spotlight with another member of the main cast. Most interesting to me this time around is seeing her well-established determination pitted against her equally well-established hatred of tardiness. Her creativity allows her to overcome the obstacle of time, but it isn't enough to let her fulfill her responsibilities and show proper regard for Flurry Heart at the same time. We get to see an addition to Twilight's character here, as she's actively in aunt mode here...and not just an aunt, but the "Best Aunt Ever." Based on all the playtime we see in the first act, I'm convinced Twilight's aspirations here arise not from her general need to excel but from her tenderhearted enjoyment of Flurry Heart. As an uncle, I know that feeling, although Twilight is better able to just let loose and have fun during playtime than I've ever been, even as a kid. Anyway, these various facets of Twilight's personality make her especially entertaining to watch throughout the episode.

Twilight may be the lesson learner, but Flurry Heart is the perspective character, which is a refreshing twist on the baby-episode formula. Typically in television, especially cartoons, infants are objectified as either props or plot devices. They are there to look cute and create situations for the "actual characters" to respond to. They don't often have their own personalities, they're just generic babies, doing what all babies do, which usually means a long string of clichéd baby jokes. But in real life, babies are people, and much of who they will be later in life is already there. And so these first-time MLP writers, assisted by brilliant storyboarding, tell us the story through Flurry's eyes and make her her own character. I've found this is even more obvious if I watch the episode with the sound turned off. Her thoughts and motivations are clear from her facial expressions and body language.

What we find is that Flurry is both intelligent and well-intentioned. She's not just generically happy or mad, either. You can see her feeling bored or neglected, scared or relieved, excited, frustrated, and reassuring, trying to alert her elders to concerns, trying to find productive ways to entertain herself, and thinking up her own solutions to problems. Baby Cakes handles the standard formula reasonably well, from the standpoint of entertainment, but A Flurry of Emotions pushes forward into virtually virgin territory in presenting an appealing, nuanced individual who just happens to be a preverbal baby. I love Flurry's defense bubble, by the way.

I'll give a shout-out to Spike as the voice of reason here, and we see the Cake twins definitely older now. But are their eyes always going to look that way? Another odd trait from Mrs. Cake's side of the family, I presume. Castle guard-turned-artist Spearhead was previously seen and heard in Rarity Investigates, which makes me wonder if we'll see his two companions return at some point. And Cadance and Shining Armor handle the B plot–I'll interject here that MLP traditionally hasn't had many B plots, but this is the second in a row for this season. And the parents' physical need for a break from their child, followed soon thereafter by an emotional need to reunite, should ring true for anyone who's ever been a father or mother. And Shining seems to have the worst of it, which makes sense given Cadance's royal duties.


Lesson: I have to admit I was multitasking during my first viewing of this episode, so I missed a lot of the setup. Honestly, I expected it would be yet another babysitting episode, an unfortunate retread of Stare Master, Baby Cakes, and Just for Sidekicks, with callbacks to The Crystalling thrown in.. So I interpreted Twilight's predicament of juggling babysitting and racing around town in that light. When Twilight snapped at Flurry at the end and then apologized for being a terrible aunt, I cringed. What else was Twilight supposed to do? Are parents being terrible when they use their command voice to jolt their child away from a dangerous situation? Hadn't Flurry been misbehaving throughout the episode? Are we getting a lesson against the concept of parental discipline? Well, by now I know MLP well enough that I was sure that wasn't the case, so I rewatched the episode. Following Flurry's perspective Twilight's apology captures the reality of the situation:

As Twilight gets absorbed in her duties, Flurry becomes an afterthought, and babies are in need of frequent attention and supervision. At no point does Flurry disobey or intentionally get into mischief. She means well but isn't old enough to comprehend consequences yet. Even her drawing on the blackboard is an attempt to get Twilight's attention back to what, in Flurry's mind, they should be doing. But when Twilight's not ignoring her, she's shutting her down, even heartlessly erasing the drawing of them playing the bear game. And once Flurry's desperate search for her Whammy in interrupted, Twilight lowers the boom on her as though she'd done something defiant or cruel. Blowing up at a child for innocently being a child is bad parenting, and terrible aunting.

Nevertheless, the actual lesson of the episode is quality time. Set aside time to focus on the one you love, and if the task on your plate won't permit that, then reschedule one or the other. It's a good counterpart to Three's a Crowd, which teaches that sometimes just doing life together is enough. But that works best with friends and family who understand our circumstances and responsibilities. And even then, I find that those hours of focused attention, of just hanging out, talking, playing, or partying are what cement the bond that carries a relationship through life's interruptions and entanglements. We need to get close in the good times so we can remain close when things get more complicated.


Resonance: You can watch this as a comedy episode, and it plays well enough as one. We get a messy feeding time, but otherwise the scenarios are fresh. Flurry's Solomonic solution to the twins' fight over the balloon is particularly laughworthy. I get a chuckle out of Flurry checking her bottle and a patient's mouth for her Whammy. Twilight and Spike get some fun moments commenting on books, which also provides us with a heartwarming Spikey close to the episode. The decision to take Cheerilee's class photo despite the students' sickness is pretty funny, although "horsey hives" is a little too cutesy a name for my tastes. Those who can only take babies in small doses can take comfort in the fact that the shenanigans are intercut with a hilarious B plot at the art gallery.

However, if, as I've mentioned above, you look at the episode from Flurry Heart's point of view, it gets really sad and frustrating. It makes me wonder how any of us made it out of toddlerhood well-adjusted, in light of the drama that must be generated by living a world we can't begin to understand or control, and being dependent on adults who often don't understand us. But the bear game at the beginning really is adorable as well as impressive, as we see Flurry's young mind at work. Flurry's forgiveness and re-bonding with Twilight is also touching, and with the balance between the fun and the serious, I found the entire episode emotionally satisfying.

 

Other Impressions and Final Assessment: A Flurry of Emotions is well titled. If you think about it, the whole story from beginning to end is structured around the feelings of all the characters; emotion takes center stage. And it's all handled in a realistic and entertaining fashion. I'm so glad this episode didn't go the stereotypical route. There are episodes that are funnier or more dramatic, that teach more vital lessons or introduce favorite characters, but this story is exactly what it needs to be. I rank it between last week's All Bottled Up and the Crystalling two-parter that introduced Flurry's character, at about the same level of enjoyment as 28 Pranks Later and The Fault in Our Cutie Marks.

 

A Flurry of Emotions armor rating: Diamond Armor
Ranked 10th of 14 season-seven episodes
Ranked 56th of 161 stories overall

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