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

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Episode 149: "Forever Filly"

Aired 5/13/2017, written by Michael P. Fox & Wil Fox (their fourth episode)
    Storyline:
  • Intro: Rarity's enjoyment of work at her Canterlot boutique is disrupted when she misses Sweetie Belle.
  • Act 1: Past memories of bonding with Sweetie Belle compel Rarity to return home, where Sweetie is busy with Crusading work.
  • Act 2: Rarity interrupts Zipporwhill's commissioning of the CMC and takes Sweetie Belle to a puppet show, an ice cream shop, and a balloon animal giveaway while the other CMC try to help Zipporwhill reconnect with her puppy. Both efforts to bond are unsuccessful, and Sweetie Belle runs off in anger at Rarity for treating her like a small foal.
  • Act 3: Sweetie Belle finds Zipporwhill and realizes her problem (that she's treating her grown dog like a puppy). As Rarity looks on, she realizes this is her problem with Sweetie Belle as well. The sisters reconcile with a return to the ice cream shop.

Character: Like season four's Somepony to Watch Over Me, this episode focuses on the fact that the Cutie Mark Crusaders are growing up. They may not look it, but a glance at older episodes reveals they've gotten a little bigger, or at least a little taller. The CMC have celebrated two Hearth's Warmings since getting their cutie marks. If, per my revised timeline, they were eight years old at the beginning of the series, they should be thirteen now. This is a good time to focus on Sweetie Belle's maturity, since her VA Claire Corlett has "grown up in the most delightful way," having turned eighteen just two months after this episode first aired.

Sweetie has come a long way, as shown by her accomplishments, and we're reminded of the fun she and Rarity have had together since way back in Sisterhooves Social. Still, these two have had a bit more friction in their relationship than, say, the Apples. I think Sweetie Belle's explosion at Rarity at the end of Act Two is partly for this and partly for their mutual penchant for melodrama. If you have siblings, you know that rivalries and age differences subside for the most part upon adulthood, but that some of those old feelings still resurface from time to time. You're getting along fine, hit some minor stress or inconvenience, have a blow-up, and wonder afterward, "Where in Equestria did that come from?" But hopefully, as siblings you "get" each other, and so a minute later all is forgiven and you're bonding again.

Rarity is set up as the sympathetic character from the beginning. Her motivation is a tearfully tender love for her sister, and she doesn't want to miss out on the last years of her childhood. But being so much older than Sweetie, she can't help seeing her as her "baby sister." Furthermore, with three shops in operation, Rarity hasn't spent much time with Sweetie lately. Since Crusaders of the Lost Mark, they were together in The Cart Before the Ponies and 28 Pranks Later, and that's about it. I have a sister ten years my junior, so I know exactly how Rarity feels.

I like how Rarity's handled in the first half of the story. If she comes across as overly patronizing at the clubhouse, pay attention and you'll see she's seriously proud once she notices the photo wall and realizes that the CMC aren't just play-acting. They're actually touching ponies' lives, and Rarity finds it genuinely moving. In the latter half of the second act, though, Rarity misses the mark pretty heavily. This is somewhat understandable; your parents probably had trouble keeping up with your changing interests and tastes as you grew. Nevertheless, Rarity fails to pick up on some VERY heavy hints from Sweetie Belle, and it's odd how little attention Rarity seems to be paying to how her efforts to bond are being received. Again, this sort of thing happens in real life, but I don't like our main characters being quite this dense.

I see a big missed opportunity at the 16-minute mark. Giving up on hints (and perhaps only just now realizing what Rarity's disconnect is), Sweetie Belle gently and reluctantly starts to explain her perspective. We should be heading for a resolution at this point, whereupon we could spend act three resolving the Zipporwhill story and seeing the sisters doing some less childish things together. Instead, when Rarity fails to immediately follow Sweetie Belle's reasoning, Sweetie mouths off in anger and leaves in a huff, the likes of which we haven't seen since she ruined Sapphire Shores' headdress. As I noted above, it's not necessarily unrealistic, but it comes like a cymbal crash in a piano concerto. At the act break I was tearing up for Rarity and furious at Sweetie Belle. If she's really growing up, Sweetie Belle ought to be past this cruel a tantrum. Then once away from Rarity, she gets to be her happy self, going back to her CMC work. With the help of a little eavesdropping, Rarity puts two and two together and approaches to make amends. I was expecting Sweetie Belle to be pretty darn contrite. We need her biggest apology ever right here. But as sweet as the reconciliation scene is, it plays as mostly Rarity apologizing to her little sister. If younger viewers are supposed to be identifying with and modeling Sweetie in this episode, that's more than a little troubling.

With the exception of their scene with Chipcutter, Apple Bloom and Scootaloo are especially slow here. The dog scenario should be a no-brainer, especially since Apple Bloom's family has a dog. It's my least favorite kind of subplot: one that wouldn't naturally happen but must in order to tie in with the main lesson, and further, one where the characters have to be dumbed down or otherwise out of character to create or perpetuate the story's problem. Thankfully, this is only a small portion of the episode, and we can expect the CMC to be back up to their usual post-cutie-mark level of competence next time around.

One little positive moment in this episode is excellent use of a background character, as balloon-maker Twisty Pop does what he can to try and console Rarity.


Lesson: Sweetie Belle delivers the lesson as she counsels Zipporwhill to treat Ripley "like the dog he is, and find new favorite things to do together." A grown-up won't become a puppy, a foal, or a child again. Trying to re-create that past doesn't strengthen a relationship; it puts pressure on it. Once upon a time my parents and I played on the swings together, played games like Sorry! and Operation, and read picture books. Now we do more adult things, like take a walk through a park, change the oil in one of the cars, discuss theology and politics, and watch My Little Pony. Without the puppy B plot, we could have had a full act to explore the positive side of this lesson, seeing the new things Rarity and Sweetie enjoy, along with an abiding interest or two that they'll carry throughout their lives. We can imagine this takes place after the episode.

As it is, watching with a view to the lesson is kind of a slow burn, since everypony's holding the idiot ball. The issue is obvious from the very beginning, but all the characters keep failing to realize it even though they get right to the edge of it multiple times. It's also not entirely clear whether Sweetie Belle's trying to be polite and just can't spit out the problem, or whether she herself isn't sure why Rarity's activities clash with her interests until things reach the boiling point.


Resonance: There's great potential for laughter from Sassy Saddles' nervousness in the cold open (and the sudden role reversal there), and from the costumes in the photo shoot. The storyboarding and animation are top-of-the-line creative work. But the cute and funny animation feels a little out of place. The story is written as a drama but drawn as a comedy, resulting in a somewhat uneven episode. I have to wonder whether this is the result of late changes to the episode itself, or simply because MLP's production process is more compartmentalized than it once was. I usually don't concern myself with behind-the-scenes matters. But regardless of how you feel about the quality and consistency of the episode or the "true-ness" of the characters, this is mostly a sad and frustrating story since that's how the perspective characters are feeling, and it could all so easily be resolved if only.

 

Other Impressions and Final Assessment: Apparently there's a mountain just outside Ponyville, and it's unfortunately not the one from Dragonshy. That could just be Discord having fun again.

I know I've harped on a couple of issues here, but the lesson is a good one and the story does have its moments. The bit with Chipcutter and the wall of accomplishments at the clubhouse are moving and memorable as the CMC continue on their Crusading path. I like seeing Rarity so eager to connect with her sister, and continuing a functional working relationship with Sassy Saddles. Zipp is a fun character, and there are a lot of little joys in the background of the scenes. And while I think Sweetie Belle's less sweet and everypony else less smart than I think they ought to be, none of it is hard-and-fast wrong. And so I rank this a little above Rarity Investigates and Spice Up Your Life, where the issues were a little less defensible, but below Stranger Than Fan Fiction, which was fine but just not quite to my taste.

 

Forever Filly armor rating: Iron Armor
Ranked 23rd of 26 season-seven episodes
Ranked 118th of 175 stories overall

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