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

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Episode 88: "Inspiration Manifestation"

Aired 4/26/2014, written by Corey Powell (her fourth episode) & Meghan McCarthy (her sixteenth)
  • Intro: Rarity designs a puppet theater for the Ponyville Foal & Filly Fair, but the puppeteer rejects her design as non-functional.
  • Act 1: Rarity whines to Spike, and he goes to the ancient castle seeking a spell to boost her creativity. He brings her a spellbook that translates her ideas directly into reality, and she creates a better theater out of thin air. She asks to keep the book for a while, and Spike consents despite warnings from Owlowiscious.
  • Act 2: Increasingly possessed by the spellbook, Rarity begins projecting gaudy transformations that disrupt the activities of Applejack, Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, and Pinkie Pie, and places a crystal costume on Spike. Twilight Sparkle notifies Spike of suspicious activity and is told that ponies are trapped in a crystallized town hall.
  • Act 3: As Twilight rescues the ponies, Rarity begins transforming the whole town, and Spike decides to take the spellbook back. Rarity's powers continue in the book's absence until Spike refuses to continue supporting her behavior. His rebuke frees her from the spell, and Spike records his experience in the diary as Twilight returns from cleaning up Rarity's mess.

Character: This is the biggest Spike episode we've had in a year, and this week's challenge hits him at his weakest point: his crush on Rarity. As he's usually written at this point in the series, Spike is normally extraordinarily competent, organized, observant of the ponies and events around him, eager to help and give advice, and willing to challenge or correct others (mostly Twilight Sparkle) when he disagrees. His main weaknesses are that he tends to be a jumpy worrier and is insecure about his self-worth. However, the Spike I'm describing is the one we usually see in his supporting roles. For some reason, his featured episodes often find him clutzy, oblivious, conniving, or otherwise out of character. The same thing happens here, though to a lesser extent than in Owl's Well That Ends Well, Spike at Your Service, and Just for Sidekicks, all of which featured off-model Spikes. The only real departure I see is in the castle scene, where he's blasť about obvious dangers in the very place he was spooked throughout Castle Mane-ia earlier this season.

More justifiable is his hesitation in confronting Rarity. If Spike has anything akin to an elemental virtue, it's his willingness to counsel and confront. We've seen it umpteen times since the very first episode. And so this could be considered Spike's "key" episode, were he one of the Mane Six. For a young guy like Spike, smooth relations with the object of one's affection are very often a higher priority than doing the right thing. Besides that, it's evident from many episodes and from the early scenes of this one that Rarity does not take criticism well AT ALL. Thus Rarity is the perfect pony to put his virtue to the test. His fear that she'll be upset if he doesn't support her is a rational one, although she tends to bounce back from such things within a few days at the most.

Three long-established characteristics drive Rarity's behavior in this episode. The first is her preference for style over substance, which prompts the perfectly valid criticisms of Claude the Puppeteer (whose appearance reminds me of W.C. Fields' occasional feuds with ventriloquist dummy Charlie McCarthy). Taste is what it is, but she does need to take practicality into account when she ventures beyond fashion to designing stages and functional objects. The second is her tendency to sulk and shut herself away, which we saw in Suited for Success and Green Isn't Your Color. The fact that she lets Spike be with her during such a time shows some progress from those early episodes.

Lesson: Rarity's third trait is where I initially thought this episode was going: Rarity must do everything Rarity-style, even when it's being done for someone with very different tastes. She lucked out in Sweet and Elite by failing to finish Twilight's dress, but her dazzling gaudiness and tendency to "help" without permission have gotten her in trouble before and never been adequately addressed as a lesson to be learned. Thus when the spell has its "Alicorn Amulet" effect on Rarity and she begins imposing her tastes on everyone around her, the spell is amplifying her already-present tendencies. Nevertheless, the spell ends up receiving the blame for Rarity's behavior, and no lesson is learned on her part.

My next guess as to the moral of the story was the dangerous and addictive nature of power, particularly any power that comes easily and feeds on one's desires. The ability to simply will things to happen is bound to have a corrupting effect, not because magic has a dark side, but because people do. We've seen this exemplified before in The Cutie Pox and Magic Duel, and it has many applications even in a world without magic. In fact, reading a magic spell got Spike into trouble in his last featured episode, Power Ponies, and Twilight doing so even caused the cutie mark switching in Magical Mystery Cure. I'm hoping after Twilight's reprimand in this week's final scene that our heroes will be more careful in the future.

The real lesson here is the need for honest confrontation. It's very similar to the moral of It Ain't Easy Being Breezies, and I don't mind the repetition since it's such a hard lesson for children to learn. Loyalty to your friends doesn't mean unconditional positive regard. With Owlowiscious standing in for Spike's conscience, we see the little dragon struggle with this throughout the episode, increasingly wanting to say something but not quite able to spit out an absolute refusal. To be fair, Spike does recommend time and again to Rarity that she stop, but he either soft-pedals his advice or backs down as she insists on carrying on. The stubborn spell won't come off until he really puts his foot down. I personally think the delivery of the lesson stumbles a bit at the end of the second act, when Spike's ought-to shifts abruptly from talking to Rarity himself to telling Twilight, and then back again when we come back from the break. It's probably best for clarity's sake to stick to one or the other as the right thing to do in the episode, unless you have a character in a good position to explain which action to take when.

Resonance: The castle retains its creepiness, as it looks like the restoration project has stalled out. The death traps around the book make no sense whatsoever but add to the atmosphere and bring some effective humor into the scene. At least, it works better than the hoo/who jokes we're still getting. Rarity's ice cream eating, complete with fun vocalizations, was entertaining, and her facial expressions throughout the episode fit well with Tabitha's voice work. No one goes over the edge quite like Rarity. Nevertheless, Twilight's final scene is the best part of the episode for me. Not much serious in this episode, but enough laughs to keep it from getting boring.


Other Impressions and Final Assessment: This episode drags a lot, especially on subsequent viewings, because there's not a lot of progression, no twists and turns, no reveals. Once Rarity reads the spell, she, Spike, and Owly are basically running in place storywise until the resolution. The parallels between this spell and the heart's desire potion from The Cutie Pox, and between this lesson and the one from the Breezies episode, make the story feel like a retread.

I really like Spike. He was great in Simple Ways, Rarity Takes Manehattan, and Power Ponies, and fine in Castle Mane-ia. He had decent smaller roles in Testing Testing, For Whom the Sweetie Belle Toils, Twilight Time, Pinkie Pride, and Pinkie Apple Pie. I love what they did with him in Magical Mystery Cure, Equestria Girls, and this season's premiere. But his big episodes tend to be weaker ones, as is often the case with Fluttershy. Oddly enough, they also tend to come near the end of the season, as though Spike is only thrown these stories once the writers are out of ideas. (I'm sure that's not actually the case, but I'm groping for an explanation.) Spike thankfully does better in the next episode, but this one turns out to be the only truly mediocre episode of the fourth season.

(Note: As much as the show's creators care about their work and interact with fans, it's possible they may come across this review. If you helped make this episode and I'm offbase in my understanding of it or have overlooked its strengths, you're welcome to give me the "Marshall McLuhan from Annie Hall" treatment and show me the insights I've missed.)


Inspiration Manifestation armor rating: Leather Vest
Ranked 26th of 26 season-four episodes
Ranked 215th of 233 stories overall

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