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

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Episode 48: "Hurricane Fluttershy"

Aired 3/24/2012, written by Cindy Morrow (her eighth episode)
    Storyline:
  • Intro: Rainbow summons all Ponyville pegasi to a meeting. Fluttershy tries to duck her duty by disguising herself as a tree.
  • Act 1: With Rainbow Dash as their trainer, the pegasi must create a tornado to transport water up to Cloudsdale to provide Equestria's rainclouds. Fluttershy is afraid to fly with the group because of memories of bullying when she was a filly, but she finally agrees.
  • Act 2: Fluttershy has a miserable flight test that gets worse when other ponies laugh, sending her crying into the woods. Her animals motivate her to train for another run, but it isn't much better. She quits again.
  • Act 3: On the day of the event, several pegasi are out sick. The first attempt to raise the water fails. On the second attempt, Fluttershy finally joins and pushes the team over the threshold by putting away her fears. The water is delivered, and Fluttershy reports her lesson to Princess Celestia.

Character: Now this is how to write Fluttershy! She's been easily intimidated and a weak flier since the premiere, and the bullying background was established in The Cutie Mark Chronicles. Yet we've also seen her break through this in moments of extreme need such as The Return of Harmony Part 2. It's like the stories of a mother lifting a car off an injured child in a rush of adrenaline. Here it's all brought together in a way that gives us a sense of resolution. And I can't tell you how good it feels to see her cheered on after the treatment she received a few episodes ago in Putting Your Hoof Down.

Rainbow is written equally well here, continuing along her trajectory this season. She still has her impulsive nature but she catches herself and tones it down as she realizes Fluttershy's in a truly sensitive spot and not just being her normal reserved self. Looking back over her episodes, I think May the Best Pet Win! had a dramatic effect on Rainbow's outlook, and her partnerships with Fluttershy in Secret of My Excess and The Last Roundup showed her what her yellow friend is capable of. I believe this is the first time we've seen Dash officially leading the pegasi since Winter Wrap Up, and she leads like a natural. Her element of loyalty is on display here: Her primary concern is the pride of the town, not her own reputation. Rainbow does appear willing to risk somepony getting hurt for the sake of a second try without consulting the others first, but that's a lesson she'll learn in Wonderbolts Academy.

After unfortunate showings in Sonic Rainboom and Secret of My Excess, the Wonderbolts take another hit here in the eyes of some viewers, since Spitfire never offers to help out. I believe her critics miss the point of the event. Ever see a referee shoot a basket for one of the teams? This event is a chance for the pegasi of each town to prove their worth by accomplishing an honorable and challenging feat—which seems a fitting observance from what we've seen of pegasus culture. If they can't do it, Cloudsdale will still get its water from another town (Spitfire is NOT putting all of Equestria at risk of a drought!), but Ponyville will have lost the honor fair and square.

Spike's insensitive remarks are really the only character-related flaw I see in this episode. He's done this before, but at this point in the series he really should know better. He sees retribution in the form of Twilight dragging him off screen for what I'd expect is a pretty harsh lecture, of the "remember how you felt last episode" variety.

One thing that makes this episode memorable is the number of minor characters it introduces, complete with name-drops and spoken dialogue. Most of them return for later episodes, but already they're more individualized than most of the eight or ten background pegasi we've seen in almost every episode since season one.


Lesson: The motif of bullying shows up again, but here it's in retrospect. Once we've lived through a trauma, whether bullying or something else, do we allow it to limit us forever or do we use it for motivation, as Fluttershy does here? The letter's more general lesson about small contributions making a difference is also important and has a number of applications: little acts of kindness, simple encouragements like Favoriting someone's first fanfic, and even responsibilities like voting and contributing to charities.

Logic: Can we use the wing power numbers to estimate the number of pegasi in Ponyville? Maybe, maybe not; we can't assume we can simply add up the wing power of the individual ponies. In fact, it appears the effect builds beyond the mere sum. Rainbow calls for an average wing power of ten (which may be overly optimistic from the tests we see), but eight ponies dropping out is enough to drop the wing power from "smashing" the 910 record to right on the edge of 800. Graphing it all out, I'm getting a curve, but we don't know how smooth or steep the curve is, so it could be anywhere from 55 to 85 pegasi. There are about 60 distinct pegasi seen in this episode, and at one point we see about 80 lined up through the use of cloned background ponies. If we add fillies and the eight sick adults, there are probably at least 100 pegasi residents.

 

Resonance: Among the more effective comedic gags are the tree-related bits, Twilight's description of the anemometer, Fluttershy's training montage, Blossomforth's overflexibility, and the entire character of Bulk Biceps. On the serious side, the "wall of eyes" shot is pretty horrifying, and as I elaborate on below, I was taken off guard by the one-two-three punch of Fluttershy running away after her first flight test, Rainbow almost literally kicking herself for not knowing how to help her, and the scene in the woods afterwards. This is offset by the heartwarming scenes of Rainbow's light touch and care for Fluttershy's feelings, the animals' support, and the cheering at the end. Also, not sure if this was intentional, but during the celebration at the end, the more you know about dragons' squamate anatomy, the more disturbing Spike's forked flute is.

 

Other Impressions and Final Assessment: So much of this episode is fun, both humorous and exciting while dealing with a dramatic issue. On first viewing, I was expecting a Dragonshy-style handling of Fluttershy's fears. The wall of eyes should have been a wake-up call, but when she turned around and answered "YES!" to Rainbow's question, I was not prepared for that level of emotion. Instead I was shocked into absolute despair and missed most of the training montage. It's not really the most saddening moment of the series (though it's close to the top), but it seemed to come out of nowhere since Fluttershy's shyness is usually played for laughs, and her parallel "I can't" moment in Dragonshy was tame by comparison.

The writers color outside the lines here in a remarkable way: How many kids' shows would dare to break a good-hearted character, rebuild her through a pep talk and a training montage, and have her return triumphantly only to put in another pathetic performance, all to show that she really can't do it after all? Of course, that's not the end of this story, but it's a step farther than most writers would go in presenting a character's limitations realistically. (I remember The Simpsons doing something like this in "Bart Gets an F," which is therefore remembered as one of the best early episodes.) MLP's habit of doing things like this is part of what keeps it from being a saccharine show.

By now we're so used to the clever dialogue and the great effects that I haven't really bothered to comment, but what we see here is as impressive as ever. The comedy, drama, character, and relational elements are all here in force for another superb episode as we move out of a long mid-season slump and into some consistently strong territory.

 

Hurricane Fluttershy armor rating: Crystal Mail
Ranked 8th of 26 season-two episodes
Ranked 34th of 147 stories overall

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