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

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Episode 155: "Discordant Harmony"

Aired 8/5/2017, written by Michael P. Fox & Wil Fox (their fifth episode)
    Storyline:
  • Intro: Struck by the lengths Fluttershy goes to host their weekly tea parties, Discord offers to host the next tea at his home.
  • Act 1: Despite having no experience hosting a tea party, Discord determines to pull out all the stops for Fluttershy. As he gathers supplies, he insists on the most magical and strange, as shop ponies express doubt that he and Fluttershy could actually be friends. Pinkie tells Discord all he needs to do is make Fluttershy feel comfortable.
  • Act 2: Discord decides his weird home would make Fluttershy uncomfortable and aware of their differences, jeopardizing their friendship. He normalizes his home and himself, to Fluttershy's disappointment and concern. As his normal behavior continues, he begins to turn transparent.
  • Act 3: Fluttershy realizes Discord is fading away because he's not being himself. He dissipates to the point that he cannot use magic, so Fluttershy begins acting strange and making the house chaotic to bring Discord back. She succeeds and explains to him that she values the things that make him different.

Character: Discord is most definitely the star of this episode, with almost a thousand seconds on-screen and almost exactly five minutes at home talking to himself (or selves, as the case may be). Granting a couple sinister moments, this is the most congenial we've ever seen Discord–naturally so, as he's focused on his one true friendship. However complicated his feelings may be toward Twilight and the others, and as intrigued as he is with Starlight Glimmer, Fluttershy is his first and best friend. It seems they adore everything about each other. Most significantly, this story gives us a glimpse inside Discord's head: To him, Fluttershy is the pony "who gave us a chance when no other pony would." She makes him "want to be a better draconequus." As often happens in real life, Discord's sincere efforts at reform and restraint are motivated by a personal attachment; Fluttershy is his moral anchor.

I like how Discord's actions early in the story subtly communicate these insights before they're spelled out later. Why does Discord shop when he could simply conjure what he needed? His aim is to go to some trouble for Fluttershy as she has for him. He needs to invest time and energy for his favor to have any meaning, even if she wouldn't know the difference. And why pay the pony shopkeepers so generously when they annoyed him? He knows it's the right thing to do. We see that in his better, Fluttershy-grounded moments, he's internalizing the kindness he sees in his friend.

Front and center is Discord's insecurity about this odd friendship. At the beginning, Discord's merely concerned with preparing the best tea party, but the doubts of other ponies lead him to misinterpret Pinkie's casual consolation and act like his friendship with Fluttershy is hanging by a thread. We've seen this anxiety once before with Discord, but also with Twilight Sparkle, Pinkie Pie, and Spike. I think we all worry from time to time about losing a cherished friendship, and if you're not used to being loved, it can be hard to believe that love is secure when you find it. And so once at home, Discord isn't so much trying to make Fluttershy comfortable as he is trying to hide his true self from her. The character who introduced himself to us by asking what fun there was in making sense, is now obsessed with forcing himself and his rapport with Fluttershy to make sense.

As excellent as this story is, what sets it apart from similarly uplifting episodes is the twist that Discord, of all characters, actually faces an existential threat on account of his anxiety. Turning an awkward tea into a time of peril not only drives home the lesson and keeps the episode interesting, it also hints at the nature of Discord as a being. If he is, as Fluttershy says, a "creature of pure chaos," then if the chaos goes away, he goes with it. Fluttershy says his normality is destroying him–dire words by MLP standards. Kudos to the creators for "going there" and for giving a near-omnipotent character such a fitting weak spot. Even better, the episode's final act reminds us that Discord's chaos isn't an aspect of his villainy, to be left behind as he continues to reform. It's an essential element of his personality, part of what makes him himself, and a key to understanding what draws Fluttershy to him.

As for Fluttershy, we've known for a long time that she genuinely looks forward to time with Discord and even sticks up for him when he's not around. With her, it's never been about the reform assignment from Celestia or social niceties. When she befriends someone, it's for real. As seen in the cold open with the bread crusts, she pays attention to Discord's preferences. And by now, she knows him so well that in the third act she does many of the same things he did in her absence, even guessing his interior design despite not having seen his house before.

This is the first time we hear spelled out just why the reserved Fluttershy who hates drawing attention to herself has become so attached to the obnoxiously peacocky Discord. As she says: "You've opened me up to so many possibilities and impossibilites! I guess what I'm trying to say is, I like you because you're so different from me." As in any healthy relationship, he stretches her as much as she does him, and they're both growing and learning from each other. In fact, I'm betting that a good deal of her development into a stronger and more confident pony, she owes to him.


Lesson: The moral comes to us via Fluttershy, as she assures Discord that acknowledging and appreciating their differences is key to their friendship, and that as long as it works for them, it doesn't matter if their relationship doesn't make sense to anypony else. This is, of course, one of the main themes of the series, having been called out with nearly the same language as early as Look Before You Sleep and Sisterhooves Social. Viewers young and old alike need this constant reminder, as the world around us uses innocent differences as occasions to exclude, to fight, or to write off as evil, or else, in the interest of equality, to suppress or deny those differences. There's still such a thing as right or wrong. Destructive behavior is not condoned as such a difference, and Fluttershy herself made clear to Discord that she would not permit a friendship based on betrayal or manipulation. Even so, MLP's heroes make it a practice to overlook transient faults and to push for reconciliation and self-improvement in a relational context.


Resonance: Discord's episodes are always full of hilarious sight gags. The "finger foods" bit made me uncomfortable for some reason, but five Discord-related moments that deserve attention are: the jet pack buildup with zero payoff, the little cart used to wheel the volcano away, the stamps covering the box of tea bags upon their return, the Fluttershy costume, and most of all, the joke that piñatas are afraid of bats. Fluttershy is adorably funny as she tries to weird things up. Her eager "What's it do, what's it do?" is precious, as is her frequent giggling. And a couple of her faces just melt my heart everytime I watch. Really, the warm fuzzies just permeate the whole 22 minutes. If anyone ever uses My Little Pony as visual comfort food, this is one of the great feel-good episodes of the series.

 

Other Impressions and Final Assessment: As much as this episode feels like hot cocoa and a soft blanket, it doesn't play as sappy or trite. There's a sincerity to it, and just as importantly, a context to all of this that allows MLP to not have to pull back from the sweeter moments. Besides, we have the aforementioned moment of peril to punch things up a bit. For the first part of the story, we get a little bait-and-switch as we're tempted to think Discord's going to spoil his party by being too weird for Fluttershy, when in fact at that point he's doing the right thing. I'll point out just a couple extra touches: Fluttershy's Discord pillows are a wonderful addition to the scene, and I still like the fact that Discord actually has a Thinking Tree.

Though not as flashy as A Royal Problem, Discordant Harmony earns a place not too far from the top of this season's list. I rank it a little above Filli Vanilli and No Second Prances, and just shy of Discord's original two-parter.

 

Discordant Harmony armor rating: Crystal Mail
Ranked 11th of 26 season-seven episodes
Ranked 43rd of 175 stories overall

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