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

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Episode 173: "Fake It 'Til You Make It"

Aired 4/7/2018, written by Josh Hamilton (his fourth episode)
  • Intro: Fluttershy agrees to watch Rarity's shop while she manages a fashion show.
  • Act 1: Fluttershy is nervous and unprepared to handle customers, but on Rarity's recommendation and her raccoon friends' encouragement, she copes by dressing and acting as a severe, snooty shopkeeper and makes a sale.
  • Act 2: As she encounters different kinds of customers, Fluttershy adopts new personas but grows more and more contemptuous and off-putting. The raccoons alert the rest of the Mane Six, but Fluttershy insults the raccoons as rodents and kicks all her friends out of the shop.
  • Act 3: The friends bring Rarity back to the shop, and she fires all Fluttershy's alter egos. Fluttershy is apologetic, and uses her "inner strength" to defend Rarity's new products as herself.

Character: Rarity is in good form here, and given her panicked mustering of all her assistants for the fashion show, combined with the snooty reputation of Manehattanites, it's understandable that she has difficulty finding somepony to staff her shop. And if you've ever worked retail, you know that closing up is an absolute last resort. Perhaps knowing Fluttershy will say yes even if she's not up to it, Rarity saves asking her for last. And she knows Fluttershy well enough that hearing of her unkindness to her animal friends immediately convinces her that the poor pegasus is having a serious emergency. It says a lot of Rarity that the fashion show she was so worried about, she drops without a second thought once she knows Fluttershy is in trouble.

I have a small degree of concern about Fluttershy's lack of preparedness here. It's no surprise she has difficulty with problem customers, but what ever happened to her "freaky knowledge of sewing"? She once made Rarity's Gala dress, but her elephant tea cozy is unforgettably bad, and she doesn't seem to understand so simple a concept as thread count. She's also acted before. This is probably just a case of a later writer not knowing some of the character's seldom-referenced traits, and most viewers probably won't notice.

More in the foreground is the mean streak displayed by the Element of Kindness. There have been indications throughout the series that Fluttershy has some pent-up anger issues and a deep-down contempt of ponies who are unkind or inconsiderate, and this comes out when she's not herself. I wonder if that relates to her history of being bullied. I'm not saying most people with that in their background are this way, but in my case, even in my forties, if someone reminds me of the sort of people who picked on me in my formative years, there are feelings deep down that I have to keep a handle on. I've never let them rise to the surface, but they're always there.

There's actually some logic to Fluttershy's toffee-nosed disposition. Customers come in challenging whether the clothes are worthy of them; they actually want to elevate themselves by a superior wardrobe. So the sales strategy is to steer those customers toward a quality they'll see as just barely within their reach. But just as Fluttershy once failed hard at bargaining with bits, she overreaches and takes the position that the merchandise is so unworthy of the customers, it shouldn't be sold at all. Even though she starts out trying to connect with the patrons, by the end she's driving them out on purpose. It's not really clear to me why Fluttershy takes things this far, or why she fires in all directions like she does, beyond getting lost in her role. But it's entertaining enough that I can accept it.

The only problem I have with the alter-ego side of the story is that Fluttershy's apology at the end is way too underplayed for her. Somepony like Rainbow Dash might dismiss a bout of insensitivity as no big deal, but in the past, Fluttershy has gotten pretty visibly upset with herself when she's been forceful, even when it was the right thing to do.

Lesson: The moral aspect of the episode strikes me as a blending of Putting Your Hoof Down with The Saddle Row Review. When Fluttershy gets assertive, it's sharp, fiercely confrontational, and tends to turn things back around on whoever set her off. It seems she's still not sure how to tap that "inner strength" in a healthy way. The costumes actually soften her tone compared to what we've seen before. But I think the best lesson to draw from this is that you need to be kind even when you're not being "you." Whether online, in costume, on the job, or trying to present yourself a particular way, your words and actions can still help or hurt people just the same.

In The Saddle Row Review, the ponies tried to set up the shop the way Rarity would, when in fact she was hoping to see them apply their individual styles and ideas to the task at hand. She has the same expectation here. Rarity wants a friend she knows is kind to run the shop, but Fluttershy adopts the snootiness of the Saddle Row ponies as the way to succeed instead. Being her kind, gentle self with these customers would have taken a lot of courage and might have lost some sales, but the high road is always the better path.

Resonance: For all my character and lesson analysis, I surmise this story was really just written to see what sort of fun could be had with Fluttershy. Like Games Ponies Play and The Saddle Row Review, the comedy is the point and the lesson is more of an afterthought. Ill advised as it is, Fluttershy's roleplay shenanigans are hilarious to watch. I especially liked the pointy "found item" fashion and how drastically different the three personas were. Rarity's need to issue three separate terminations, and her serial freak-outs at the Fluttershy brigade, make for the funniest moment of the season so far. It's also amusing to see the running gag with the word rodents being treated like an appalling profanity. The raccoons' part in the show is as fun to watch as any of the pony characters. Honestly, on first viewing I wasn't thinking much about the logic of the story; I just laughed a lot. I don't like that little bit at the end, though. This last critical pony seems pretty mild and even perhaps tongue-in-cheek in her tone, so Fluttershy's snapping at her seems way over-the-top and even hurtful, certainly not something for her and Rarity to laugh about.


Other Impressions and Final Assessment: So this is a fun episode to watch, from beginning through the termination scene. Most of the gags work. And it's a bit of a nitpick to find fault with the cartoony nature of Fluttershy's transformations, but that's the sort of thing I think is better reserved for Pinkie Pie. As entertaining as the show is, the lesson feels to me like a bit of a retread and doesn't put Fluttershy in a good light even at the end. Everything is at least defensible, but the story falls short to me at certain points. Don't get me wrong, this is still a very good episode, but for these reasons I put it in the lower tiers, ranking it just above Simple Ways, with which it shares a lot of similarities.


Fake It 'Til You Make It armor rating: Iron Armor
Ranked 18th of 27 season-eight episodes
Ranked 151st of 233 stories overall

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