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

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Episode 174: "Grannies Gone Wild"

Aired 4/14/2018, written by Gillian M. Berrow (her fourth episode)
    Storyline:
  • Intro: The Wonderbolts tell Rainbow Dash about a thrilling roller coaster ride in Las Pegasus that will be closing down soon. She excitedly tells her friends about it.
  • Act 1: Applejack agrees to cover Dash's classes if she chapperones Granny Smith and her gang of Gold Horseshoe Gals on the trip. But she gives Dash a long list of strict rules in light of their age. Once they arrive, Dash has the Gals turn in for a nap but finds the roller coaster line is too long for her to be away from them. Returning to the hotel room, she finds they have slipped out.
  • Act 2: Dash locates the Gals and, following Applejack's rules, she throws their horseshoe toss game, insists on bland food at the cafeteria, and interrupts their dancing. As the Gals prepare for the magic show they have been looking forward to throughout the trip, Dash is reminded that the roller coaster is about to close.
  • Act 3: At the magic show, the Gals volunteer for a dangerous-looking trick, and Dash stops the act. In no real danger, the Gals are furious. Dash confesses she was only following AJ's rules so she could ride the roller coaster, and the Gals reveal their club membership allows them to bypass the line and ride the coaster. On the way back to Ponyville, they induct Dash into their club.

Character: In short, this is a story about a pony who's asked to chaperone some older ladies on a trip to Las Pegasus, under strict orders to make sure they don't have too much fun. And that pony is Rainbow Dash. Using the Dash character for this story does two things: It distinguishes it from the Apple-focused episodes Family Appreciation Day and Somepony to Watch Over Me, and it puts Rainbow in the ironic position of being the spoilsport.

For her part, Rainbow Dash seems accepting and even enthusiastic about the girls' fun—minus the flirting. But she's been told that if these supposedly frail elderly ponies overdo it, they might have to go home early. And Dash can't go home early because her heart is set on riding the Wild Blue Yonder roller coaster before the ride is permanently shut down. Dash's challenge comes from the gals' own fun-loving agenda, which not only puts them at odds with the instructions Dash has received, but also leaves her no time to slip away to ride the roller coaster.

Rainbow Dash makes a couple curious decisions in this episode that are the source of her growing tension with the gals. First, she doesn't tell the gals about her desire to ride the roller coaster until the very end. We're never told why she does this, though presumably it's because she knows the gals would never let Dash ride it without them. That makes sense enough. I wonder, though, how Dash managed not to blurt it out, since she was so excitedly telling everypony about it before the trip. But also, she seems to keep her list of Applejack's rules a secret as well. Her efforts to hold the ladies back are phrased as though she's coming up with them herself. I really can't think of a good reason for her to do this. Obviously she should have laid out everything from the beginning, and even if she had a reasonable motivation for hiding AJ's involvement, we know she's terrible at keeping secrets. So I'm not really sold on RD's side of the story. But we do get a good show of remorse from her when she finally comes clean, and all the gals are understanding once she does.

I'm much more positive about the showing put in by the four Apples of the Gold Horseshoe Gals. We've met them all before, and their voices and personalities are in tune with their previous appearances. But they also line up quite nicely with the cast of the late 80s TV sitcom The Golden Girls, as is the intention here. I'm only passingly familiar with the show, but it seems to me Apple Rose fits naturally into the Betty White role, and the stallion-hungry Great Auntie Applesauce is a shoe-in for Rue McClanahan's character. The other two I'm not sure about, but these seldom-seen ponies are balanced out by Granny Smith and Goldie Delicious, whose countryisms and catch phrases we know very well by now.

In understanding these gals, it's important to notice a throw-away line at the beginning, that their usual chaperone is not Applejack but Big Mac. If, as is likely for Big Mac's more timid and laid-back personality, he just lets the girls do whatever they want, leaving AJ none the wiser, then they're probably not used to any actual restrictions. In fact, there's an early hint that they're used to being on a looser leash, since they know what they want to do in Las Pegasus as soon as they get there. I like how Granny Smith's forthrightness puts an end to the conga line of screw-ups, while it's Apple Rose's more gentle approach that finally gets Rainbow to fess up.

Applejack's severed head is a real killjoy, and that's in line with her protective attitude toward her kinfolk, as well as her tendency to vastly overdo anything she does. She's a stickler when it comes to anything that's her responsibility. Besides, that one time she tried to liven up a hayride, things didn't turn out so well, and it's amazing nopony got hurt.

On a trivia note, one new character in this episode is revealed out-of-story to be Trixie's father.


Lesson: On the lesson side of things, the takeaway for this episode is a little bit elusive. Besides the fun provided by these old mares' antics, I find this episode interesting because I'm not exactly sure what would be the right thing to do in this circumstance. I've been in work situations where you need to keep someone in line without letting them know you're keeping them in line. But sometimes the rules are overly restrictive and even unfair. So there's the question: Should Rainbow Dash be following Applejack's directions openly, secretly, or not at all? I don't actually have a final answer for that one, though the measures Dash takes to rein in her ward are rash, inconsiderate, and improperly motivated. Even if she's doing the right thing, she's doing it the wrong way.

The motivation problem is the obvious part of this: The scenario Applejack implies is that these elderly ponies, who need a lot of care, might face a medical emergency if one of them overdoes it, and they'd have to come home. It's a realistic enough concern. And since AJ isn't coming along, the only way there'd be trouble for breaking these rules is if something like that happened. But Dash is only worried about this roller coaster. Think about that for a second. "Gee, I hope Granny Smith doesn't have a heart attack or choke herself into a coma, because then I'd miss my coaster ride." Her concern ought to be their health, if anything.

However, the way the story plays out, these gals appear to be in no such danger, and both Applejack and Rainbow Dash are presumably in the wrong for underestimating these ladies and trying to hold them back. The lesson, then, is a repeat of Family Appreciation Day, where Apple Bloom couldn't see Granny Smith's worth past her age. I'm sure that's what we're supposed to get from this episode, that as Ronnie McDowell once sang about, older mares know how to have fun, and they've gotten there through lots of practice.

But to fully accept that lesson, we need some clarity that this really is just Applejack's overprotective nature showing through. Old people often do need to take precautions, and I'm a little uncomfortable with the conclusion some might draw from this, that we should blow off actual medical restrictions when a doctor advises us or someone we love to take things easy. Think how differently the story would have played out if Dash had let the gals have a good time and one of them had gotten hurt? Honestly, that's actually where I thought this episode was going: that Dash would slip away at some point, ride the coaster, and come back to find something bad would have happened.

Listen to your doctor. Obey medical restrictions. But yeah, not everyone who's old is necessarily weak and frail. It would have helped this episode's lesson to have some assurance from the ladies that they were in top health, or perhaps that their doctors have recommended they be more active; maybe Granny even needs to put on a little weight.


Resonance: That aspect of the episode only really bothered me during the coaster ride itself. The Gold Horseshoe Gals are enough of a delight to watch that it's hard to do anything but cheer them on when they're on-screen. I like how each of them gets their own moment in the sun. I enjoyed seeing the magic show and was as disappointed as the live audience to see it interrupted. There all sorts of little jokes in the background, such as the cat going on the roller coaster, Lyra emoting something during the dance scene, a quick shot of Svengallop not having the time of his life, and some hypocritical humor when Dash helps herself to a plate of nachos right after dumping Granny's serving. Applejack's ghost is funny every time she appears, too. The tone of writing is very much on-point as both the gals' fun and Dash's quashing of it are a joy to watch, but we still feel a bit of the let-down once the fun is over. The animators also throw in a wide array of extreme faces for Rainbow Dash, which fits with the slightly more cartoony direction the series seems to be moving in.

 

Other Impressions and Final Assessment: It would have been nice to have this story in an earlier season, so that we could see Rainbow Dash's relationship with these gals develop. Perhaps they could even go off and save Equestria now and then. I could even see a bond with Granny Smith draw Rainbow Dash and Apple Bloom closer together, since they don't get to interact much. As it is, we get some neat continuity notes here (besides the cameos), with Flim and Flam having left their mark on the hotel, and the fact that to leave town, Rainbow Dash will need somepony to cover her classes.

I like the mid-sentence location cuts in the cold open, during Dash's description of the Wild Blue Yonder. That is, by the way, an excellent name for a roller coaster; I'm amazed it wasn't already taken. The only thing that irked me about the execution of the episode was the hand-clapping sound of the applause during the magic show.

Dash's uncharacteristic secrecy and my concerns about the lesson bring this down in my estimation, about the same as the previous episode. I end up ranking it just above the similarly vacation-themed Stranger Than Fan Fiction.

 

Grannies Gone Wild armor rating: Iron Armor
Ranked 19th of 26 season-eight episodes
Ranked 159th of 233 stories overall

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