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

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Episode 39: "Hearth's Warming Eve"

Aired 12/17/2011, written by Merriwether Williams (her second episode)
    Storyline:
  • Intro: The Mane Six take the train to Canterlot and play "I Spy" on the wintery streets.
  • Act 1: Backstage, the Mane Six quarrel before their performance in the Hearth's Warming Eve play. Spike narrates as the three pony tribes' animosity creates a blizzard, and a summit over the crisis leads nowhere.
  • Act 2: The tribal leaders set out to find a new land but plant their flags in the same vicinity. As they fight over the land, the blizzard appears there as well.
  • Act 3: The ponies take shelter in a cave, but their fighting causes the ice to enter the cave sealing them in and freezing them in place. The ponies' assistants discover the snow is created by Windigo creatures that feed on hate. They renounce hatred, bringing warmth to the cave. The ponies go on to found Equestria together. The play ended, the cast and crowd sing a carol, and the backstage quarreling ceases as the Mane Six remember the lesson of the play.

Character: I love the layers in this episode, with the Mane Six playing historical (?) figures who sort of resemble their personalities. With no other point of reference, we can't know whether their roles were assigned because of a personality match or whether each of our ponies is inserting herself into the role. In any case, there's not much to analyze here since we don't see these ancient characters portrayed anywhere else. I will say the decision to cast the more level-headed ponies as the underlings helps the credibility of the story as it plays out, since they're the sages of the play. The casting also provides us the opportunity to see some Applejack/Pinkie interaction, which we've seen very little of so far, and which is good prep for The Last Roundup.

Spike's turn as narrator deserves special mention. We've seen him on the mic before in Fall Weather Friends and Suited for Success. Here he's performing in Canterlot for a kingdom-wide audience. The affected accent is a nice little addition to his performance. I am surprised he doesn't make a bigger deal of it backstage, either before or after the play.


Lesson: Ah, back to friendship, and a very basic lesson about it. Here we confront hatred and quarreling, somewhat on an individual level (backstage and underling vs. leader) but mostly in terms of groups. The applications are many: cliques, racial conflict, national bias, school and team rivalries, etc. A strong sense of group identity may bind friends together within the group but can also be a barrier to outsiders and may even evolve into hatred of outsiders altogether (xenophobia). I was wondering when we'd see conflicts or stereotypes addressed among the three main types of ponies, given their differences in their abilities and the cultures of their main habitats. What we see here is simple enough for a child to catch but a story well told, with the Windigos providing just enough tension and representing the chilling effects of resentment.

I'm not as keen, however, with the quarreling backstage. It seems redundant given the sufficiency of the play itself, and Fluttershy's stagefright seems to evaporate too quickly. That sort of thing generally takes years to overcome; it doesn't go away just because you've been dragged out on stage. I suppose she may have been able to lose herself in her character or channel her nervousness into her performance, but it seems more like the stagefright was put in as an afterthought.


Logic: One could easily speculate on the historicity of the play within the MLP universe. How closely does this fit the actual founding of Equestria? Given what we've seen of the lack of common knowledge about history, and judging by the accuracy of most of our own Christmas pageants, skepticism is warranted here. The presence of the two royal sisters on the founding flag is probably for the sake of audience recognition, for example. Yet it's not typical for any group to make up stories that make their founders look bad, so the idea of hatred and rivalry among the tribal leaders has the ring of truth. We may be seeing a presentation simplified and adapted—the pair of characters from each tribe representing the good and bad sides of the tribe as a whole, perhaps—but the play probably follows the broad outlines of what actually happened. (Historicity is pretty much confirmed now that The Journal of the Two Sisters has been released.) By the way, we now have at least three Equestrian holidays: the Summer Sun Celebration, Nightmare Night, and this one here. A fourth is coming up shortly. Connections: Star Swirl the Bearded receives mention here and was first referenced in Luna Eclipsed.

Body Count: Cmdr. Hurricane says, "We cannot let anything distract us from the mission at hand" (possibly to rhyme with "a new land" in the next line). Princess Platinum says "on the other hand" in the next scene and "unhand that rock" later on.

 

Resonance: There's plenty of humor in this episode, present in all the tribes' scenes. Naturally, Pinkie's lines are the best; my favorite scene is the cottage sequence. But there's a lot of suspense as well. The frightful Windigos are only on screen for about thirty seconds, but the ever-present snow and ice present a constant threat, and the climax of the show is one of the most suspenseful moments of the second season. This is the second episode in a row that takes what we expect to be an episode of fluff and swerves into horror territory, and we'll see this trend again in the season finale. This is definitely not your old-school kids' show.

 

Other Impressions and Final Assessment: Though produced after Baby Cakes, this episode was moved up in the schedule to air in time for Christmas. follow the order of episodes on the Season 2 DVDs, so this is counted as S2E13.

I think it was a good idea to include traditional Christmas decorations (e.g., wreaths and candy canes) and set this celebration during winter to suggest that as happy a place as Equestria would have something like Christmas. (Christian or not, there's something especially dreary about being in another part of the world on December 25 where it's just another day.) For Equestrians, though, this is actually more like their Fourth of July, or First of July for the Canadians among the cast and crew.

The creators make a wise move having the tribes overcome their struggles and found Equestria for themselves. Their harmony in the preclassical period and their uniting here are done without the assistance of the Princesses, and this is important from the show's standpoint. Celestia and Luna may be powerful, but their pattern is to encourage their subjects to live their own lives and solve problems together rather than relying on royalty to save the day. That pattern is well justified if ponies were generally able to take care of themselves already and only needed help dealing with mystical threats like Discord and Sombra.

It's hard to write a good carol. I've tried. Twice. And I've failed. Twice. I know I should like this song, but it's purely a taste thing. The music just doesn't resonate with me. The Russian dub is awesome, so it's probably just a matter of lyrics. The episode as a whole is a fun romp through the woods but didn't move me dramatically the way most episodes do until the ice entered the cave. I think the reason was just too much going on between the play angle, the comedy, and the history lesson to really feel the story and put myself in the characters' place. It's still a good episode, though a bit busy. Cutting the backstage conflict entirely would have moved this episode up a few slots. As it stands, I consider it almost a tie with the similarly historical Family Appreciation Day.

 

Hearth's Warming Eve armor rating: Learther Armor
Ranked 19th of 26 season-two episodes
Ranked 125th of 147 stories overall

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