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

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Episode 148: "Fluttershy Leans In"

Aired 5/6/2017, written by Gillian M. Berrow (her second episode)
    Storyline:
  • Intro: When Angel breaks his foot practicing parkour, Fluttershy finds the vet's office overrun with animals.
  • Act 1: Since the vet's problem is due to Fluttershy's recommendations, Fluttershy asks her friends for help building an animal sanctuary, and they recommend experts.
  • Act 2: The experts are too set on their own tastes and methods and ignore Fluttershy's animal-centered designs. She fires them.
  • Act 3: Fluttershy calls in Big Daddy McColt for design help, and she and her friends complete the sanctuary.

Character: Fluttershy is one of my favorite characters. In earlier seasons, she was hampered by inconsistent writing and a focus on her fearfulness. By season 7, as Twilight has become more neurotic and Applejack more frequently stubborn and temperamental, Flutters may be the pony who best exemplifies friendship. Without question, she exhibits the humble attitude that a life of authentic kindness requires: giving place to others, being teachable and considerate of alternative points of view, not having to be in control, not seeking power over others, yet having the wherewithal to act on others' behalf. That much was with Fluttershy from the beginning. Where she's grown is in understanding that a certain degree of self-care and assertiveness is necessary in order to secure the means and opportunity to provide others with help and happiness. This week's episode demonstrates that she's pretty well got that down by this point, and it's a joy to behold.

Some may complain that Fluttershy gets a little snappy toward the end of her ordeal, but that's okay. First off, we've seen in the past that Fluttershy tends to keep her frustration under wraps before letting out all at once. But second, the experts she fires need to understand they've upset a client, so that they're motivated to correct their behavior for the future. It's one thing to be courteous and gentle when a store or restaurant or contractor makes an honest mistake, but when you're deliberately mistreated or dismissed in a professional situation, as Fluttershy is here, it's not improper to register your displeasure. So the chewing-out scene is both in-character and circumstance-appropriate.

Let's talk about the experts. Fluttershy has a major construction/landscaping project in mind, so her friends helpfully respond in "I know a guy" fashion. That's all well enough, and each of the contracted helpers seems capable in their own idiom, but each one ignores or disputes the very heart of Fluttershy's vision. Her manner of presentation may be amateur, but it's not as though she's unclear or non-specific about what she wants. Her expectations as a customer in an obviously designer project are dismissed or outright contradicted. I do like the fact that the contractors aren't one-note jerks. Dandy Grandeur is snooty, Hard Hat is just task-oriented and limited in his thinking, and Wrangler seems well-intentioned and friendly enough but locked in, so to speak, to her cage idea.

So what should the experts have done? Realize that they're out of their element; admit that they're not the right ponies for this particular project, and if they can, refer to somepony more familiar with open-range animal care. If Fluttershy's ideas were unworkable or she was misinformed, you can try to gently guide a customer to something that will suit her needs. But here, she's the expert and they're the ones who fail to understand what's going on.

I welcome the return of Big Daddy McColt, from an often-overlooked gem of an episode from season five. And while background ponies are nowhere to be seen, we do get the Mane Six, the CMC, Spike, Starlight, and Big Mac all working on the project together during the final montage.


Lesson: Let's clarify what this episode's lesson is and what it isn't. This is not an anti-expert episode. We do get a reminder that just become someone has skills and knowledge in one area doesn't mean they're always right or that they necessarily know better than the people they serve. But this is a project that requires experts; it's just that the relevant experts here are Fluttershy and Big Daddy McColt. Including Big Daddy in the story helps keep viewers from getting the wrong impression here. Nor is this a generalized lesson on how to be a good worker or how to deal with customer service problems.

This is also not about failure to communicate one's vision. When Fluttershy first unveiled her dream board, I thought that might be where the story was going, but as the scenes played out, Fluttershy explained things simply enough; there was just a failure to listen on the experts' part.

No, the focus here is believing in your dreams, by which I mean following through on your dreams, being committed enough to them to do what it takes to make them happen. Of course, both the goal itself and the means you use to get there need to be just and true; villainy and extremism are beyond the scope of this episode. But if you look at Fluttershy, she shines as a positive example of assertiveness: She's not being selfishly demanding; she's not being needlessly temperamental or uncooperative. She knows what ought to happen, so she makes it a priority for herself, is friendly, gracious, and clear in seeking help, and insists that others do what's fair and what they've committed to. That lesson applies in personal relationships as well as in business transactions and in the larger society.

Fluttershy's chewing out and firing of the experts is the key scene of the episode, and it puts me in mind of what Aristotle said about anger. In his work on Moral Virtue, he wrote that we demonstrate a good temper when we are angry at the right things and at the right people, for right reasons, in a right manner, to the right degree, at the right time, and for the right length of time. Fluttershy illustrates that righteous anger in the firing scene, and afterward she's right back to being positive and moving forward.


Resonance: I'll start with Lola. During the early days of Friendship Is Magic, creator Lauren Faust was doing volunteer work and fundraising for the Wildlife Learning Center. While there, she had the opportunity to feed a sloth named Lola, and as Lauren says it, she "just melted into a puddle." Having had a few slothportunities of my own, I know that feeling. As a tribute, we get a sloth with more screentime than Twilight Sparkle, and Fluttershy even calls her Lola at the very end of the episode. Following the mildly humorous gags at the vet's office, we get scene after scene of heartwarming awesomeness as Fluttershy shows how far she's come in being motivated, knowledgeable, and even fearless in her pursuit of the sanctuary.

 

Other Impressions and Final Assessment: There are a lot of nice details in the animation, from the new animal designs and their little background antics to showcasing the Sweet Feather Sanctuary by beginning and ending the final montage from the same "camera" angle.

Fitting for Fluttershy, this is a relatively quiet, pleasant episode. The character work with is fantastic, I love the support of the Mane Six here, and I wouldn't change a thing about the dialogue. This one is a bit talky, though; we could stand to lose a minute or more of discussion and vision-casting in exchange for a couple more montages, perhaps of Fluttershy planning and the experts building. I definitely wish the final scene were longer, so the cast could spend more time celebrating with Fluttershy. But whatever I might say about the pacing, this is must-see material for anyone following Fluttershy's development through the series, and a good reference for writers who want to account for Fluttershy's growth to this point. I end up ranking this story between Too Many Pinkie Pies and Sweet and Elite, two episodes that are highly successful but with similarly minor critical issues.

 

Fluttershy Leans In armor rating: Golden Vest
Ranked 10th of 13 season-seven episodes
Ranked 88th of 160 stories overall

Click HERE for Character Appearance List and Screentime.

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