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

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Episode 69: "Daring Don't"

Aired 12/7/2013, written by Dave Polsky (his seventh episode)
  • Intro: Fluttershy's flying lesson for a pair of chicks is interrupted by Rainbow Dash's enthusiasm for the next Daring Do novel.
  • Act 1: At a party with the Mane Six, Dash learns the Daring Do book has been delayed. She convinces the others to visit the author to relieve her of any distractions. Upon arriving, they find her house in shambles. The author finds her hidden golden ring safe but is challenged by three attackers, whereupon she reveals herself to be Daring Do in real life.
  • Act 2: Daring fights off her attackers as the Mane Six look on, but the villains get the ring. Daring gives chase with Rainbow following, eager to help despite Daring's insistence that she works alone. Dash's interference allows both Daring and the ring to fall into the hands of Ahuizotl. ('Cause Ahuizotl actually has hands.)
  • Act 3: The Mane Six mount a rescue, freeing Daring Do and assaulting Ahuizotl's temple. The villain's plan is foiled and his rings destroyed. Dash later receives an advance copy of the next novel, with herself and Daring Do together on the cover.

Character: In terms of screen time, this is Dash's biggest episode since Mare Do Well. In this episode, I believe we're seeing her not at her best, but at her most real. In my own life I've found that it's when we're indulging our obsessions that we're most transparent. For most of this episode, Rainbow's mind is not on herself and how she's perceived (her biggest ongoing issue), and this allows her to truly be herself. She still lacks due consideration for the effect she has on those around her, which leads to her emotional crash at the beginning of act three. Dash is brought so low, as much due to Daring's dismissals as to her own well-intended mistake, that she momentarily loses her sense of loyalty. Her nothing-really-matters reaction to Daring's capture is depression in a nutshell, and not even someone like Rainbow Dash can shake herself out of that on her own. This is where her friends are most needed.

A minor theme in the early season-four episodes is Dash's effort to exercise self-control and restrain her impulses, something she's not used to, and it leads to a lot of second guessing. This is a fun bit of character development that has lots of potential for humor, as long as it's handled with creativity. (Running gags can get monotonous if they're repeated without variation, right Owlowiscious?)

I can't let this episode pass without noting the parallels to Scootaloo's situation in Sleepless in Ponyville. Just like the orange pegasus, Dash has a hero of her own, and all her efforts to impress are counter-productive. There are differences, of course; Dash has never tried to brush off Scootaloo or discourage her admiration. But it's looking more and more like the foundation of their sisterly relationship will consist of seeing themselves in each other.

Twilight gets leadership points here for trying to keep Rainbow Dash under control, including a well-deserved scolding of the sort she would usually reserve for Spike, softened by some genuinely caring motivation following Daring Do's capture. And just a brief comment on the cold open: Dash's excited interplay with Fluttershy echoes her exhuberance when Dash first expressed an openness to having a pet in May the Best Pet Win! In each case, one pony tries to bond with the other over an interest that they don't exactly share in equal measure, with the result that their desire for closer friendship makes a bigger impression on the viewer than the interest itself.

The fight makes good use of all the ponies (except for Rarity, who is mostly absent despite her gleeful lust for combat in other episodes). I'm very happy to see Pinkie Pie making herself useful during the fight, since several gags this season and elsewhere have revolved around her not being on task at critical moments. I think their recent adventures have all the ponies more willing to go into action. This even applies to Fluttershy, who is the first to suggest helping Daring Do during the fight in the cottage.

Lesson: Following Castle Mane-ia, friendship lessons are now being recorded in a diary. Rainbow Dash's entry focuses on hero worship, which from her unique perspective entails forgetting one's own awesomeness. On a meta level, this is perhaps the most complimentary way of telling certain fans of the show that they really need to calm down. Rather than idolize the makers of the show, instead find your own creative talent, tell your own stories, make your own music, write your own episode reviews (ahem), and contribute to the show's universe in your own way.

Thinking more along the lines of friendship (as Polsky likely was while writing), it's common for young children to mimic and follow around their older siblings or, in the older elementary years, wish they could be like popular kids at school. True friends treat each other as equals rather than employing pedestals. You have your own place in the world, your own ways to contribute. This spin on the lesson ties in nicely with the moral of the next episode, Flight to the Finish.

A secondary lesson is the one learned by Daring Do, a more conventional kids'-show lesson about teamwork. In the end, Daring really does need Rainbow Dash's help, and in fact even Dash's interruption of the jungle fight makes Daring's capture gambit more convincing. Daring's biggest contrast to Rainbow Dash is that she's a loner who really hasn't been introduced to the magic of friendship. It will be interesting to see if this is followed up with later appearances.

On a more minor note, we see a parallel with Polsky's Over a Barrel from the first season, with main characters working to solve a problem they view as their fault, except this time they're instrumental in the resolution. (In Over a Barrel, all they could do was watch.)

One other lesson to be drawn from this story: Intervening in a potentially violent situation really can get you taken hostage, so watch out for that.

Logic: For those interested in the map, it matches the official one and places Ahuizotl's territory in the northwest, not far from Vanhoover. Connections: Daring Do and related characters were introduced in Read It and Weep.


Resonance: Loads of awesomeness from Daring Do. Also awesome are Twilight's speeches as mentioned above, as well as her teleporting trick during the final battle. The purpose of Pinkie's party and everypony's hats are hilarious, as are the epic spit take and Daring's Trottingham accent while in disguise. I also enjoy Ahuizotl's hamminess.

Rainbow's uncharacteristic self-pity is played effectively for drama, and in the category of heartwarming, though she's initially pushed off, Pinkie delivers the most-needed hug of the series as the gang tries to bring Rainbow out of the dumps. That scene is really enhanced by the fact that it takes some time to turn Dash around. It seems the creators are developing more sensitivity to the need to slow things down for the sake of "feels" now and then.


Other Impressions and Final Assessment: There is strong real-world precedent for autobiographical adventure stories. To name just three examples, check out Brazilian Adventure by Peter Fleming, Touching the Void by Joe Simpson, and Adrift by Steven Callahan. Teddy Roosevelt even wrote one. However, these are usually billed as non-fiction because the true-story nature of the book is a selling point. Novelists like Jack London used their experiences as inspiration, but he created new characters to write his stories. I'm not aware of a real-life author putting their story on paper but marketing it as fiction, but Daring's case is one in which the reality of the threats she confronts must be kept secret. One could even theorize that she's an agent of the royal sisters, keeping that region of Equestria under control while the Mane Six deal with threats that are more public and closer to Canterlot. In any case, the decision to make Daring Do real makes Equestria a bigger and more dangerous place whose problems are not all solved by the series' main characters. And I like the idea that a prosperous society requires a lot of behind-the-scenes adventure we're better off not knowing about.

My first impression was that this is a middling episode, but I've liked it more with each viewing. It has plenty of action, a good dose of drama, perfect pacing, and a heaping helping of lessons without taking away from the story at all.


Daring Don't armor rating: Golden Vest
Ranked 13th of 26 season-four episodes
Ranked 135th of 233 stories overall

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