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

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Episode 9: "Bridle Gossip"

Aired 12/10/2010, written by Amy Keating Rogers (her third episode)
She's bad, bad, evil, demented, and mad;
She'll smother your brother and blister your sister
And torture your mother and dad.
Her mind is a pile of malice and guile;
But kindness, not even a tad!
    Storyline:
  • Intro: Twilight finds Ponyville deserted and her friends hiding from a mysterious stranger.
  • Act 1: Twilight's friends warn her of a zebra they fear is a witch. Curious, Apple Bloom follows the zebra into the Everfree Forest. The others notice and pursue her into a field of blue flowers. Zecora issues a stern warning, and Twilight wakes from a fitful sleep the next morning with her horn deprived of magic.
  • Act 2: All the Mane Six gather with maladies they attribute to a curse. Apple Bloom leaves again to fix the situation, and the others find Zecora at home with a cauldron of soup "perfect for ponies."
  • Act 3: The Mane Six angrily enter Zecora's hut, and Apple Bloom appears and explains that the flowers are the source of their sickness and Zecora was preparing a cure. Twilight apologizes and escorts Zecora into town for a missing herb to complete the mixture. The Mane Six recover by bathing in the brew at the local spa.

Character: Introduces Zecora as a different kind of magical character. The African associations are a perfect fit. (And is the Caribbean islander accent meant to carry voodoo overtones?) The only potential deficiency is her total lack of any negative traits or limitations. In fact, her fawning portrayal is almost on a par with Celestia's, to the point that just about any character flaw would seem out of character for her.

This is also the first major outing for Apple Bloom, after her one-line appearance in the premiere and a two-second cameo in Dragonshy. Her fearlessness contrasted with the adult ponies' irrational prejudice speaks well of her.

I generally like Twilight's penchant for deadpan snark, but I think she's a little too free in her mocking of her friends' fear during the first act. They're in the wrong here, but their concerns are sincere and they're still relatively new friends to her.


Lesson: A skillful treatment of a difficult subject. The racial subtext is obvious to adult viewers, and with this in mind the warning scene can be unpleasant to watch as we see four of the Mane Six shouting threats at Zecora. The episode's stated moral applies to prejudice of all sorts, and associates it closely with irrational fear. As of this writing we haven't really seen an episode focused on forgiveness, but it's featured in many stories as the characters make mistakes and learn lessons. Most of these take place within established friendships, where forgiveness is generally easier. Here the friends must apologize to a stranger. For hating her. Zecora's graciousness is remarkable here. Twilight's contriteness—as usual, expressed without a second thought—is also an excellent takeaway.

My take on this episode is based on my understanding that the racial subtext is just that, a subtext. If the episode were really intended to address racism, it's not explicit enough and is more focused on the ponies' reactions of fear than on the usual racial motivations of contemptuous assumptions and feelings of superiority. My opinion, however, is that Equestria has moved beyond that thanks to a thousand-plus years of multiple types of ponies living in peace (as well as griffons, cows, and other non-ponies). The second season's Hearth's Warming Eve makes that explicit and deals with racial chauvinism as an issue that culture has left in the distant past. Accepting the world of MLP as post-racial, I believe the issues addressed in this episode are handled properly.


Resonance: While most of the curses are only somewhat amusing, Fluttershy's voice and her jazz rendition of Pinkie's song are hilarious. "Appletini" on the branch and lassoing Rainbow Dash are fun moments. Rainbow crashing around inside Zecora's hut is funny for about 15 seconds, but she continues for almost 45. Her flight of destruction actually blunts what would have been the dramatic high point of the episode, in which also Zecora is only momentarily offended rather than deeply hurt. As a result, the "feels" of this episode come more upon reflection than during the viewing itself.

Zecora charging the screen during Twilight's dream sequence may be very frightening for preschool-age viewers.

Apple Bloom is just ridiculously cute—a result of her proportions, stubby walk cycle, and the giant bow on her head; the accent doesn't hurt, either.

 

Connections: Originally imagined as a local mentor to Twilight, Zecora eventually becomes the go-to character for crisis situations, though this usually requires an excuse for Celestia to be out of contact. By the early second season (Luna Eclipsed), we see she's been accepted by the town and is even given care of the children.

 

Other Impressions and Final Assessment: The choice of a zebra (the most exotic recognizable equine) was wise given that we haven't encountered any sort of tension between the various types of ponies. (Per Hearth's Warming Eve, such tensions once existed but are treated as a thing of the distant past.) The writer also shows a flair for the clever by managing to work the literal judging of a book by its cover into the plot, for use in stating the lesson of the show. The show's weaknesses are that most of the jokes fall flat, Zecora's rhymes aren't as witty as in later appearances, and Pinkie's original song is musically jarring and near-incomprehensible. But as she said, "It's a work in progress."

This is a pleasant slice-of-life episode for its overall premise and execution, but the comedy misses enough to keep it from being all it could have been, dropping it below Applebuck Season. Still, I respect the lesson and how it's presented, and overall it's a reasonably strong episode.

 

Bridle Gossip armor rating: Iron Mail
Ranked 17th of 26 season-one episodes
Ranked 118th of 147 stories overall

Click HERE for Character Appearance List and Screentime.

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