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

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Episode 62: "Keep Calm and Flutter On"

Aired 1/19/2013, written by Dave Polsky (his fifth episode); story by Teddy Antonio (his first)
    Storyline:
  • Intro: The Mane Six and Spike await an announced visit from Princess Celestia.
  • Act 1: Celestia arrives with the petrified Discord, assigning the team to free him and reform him since she has a use for his magic. Fluttershy arrives late from negotiating with beavers who built a dam at Sweet Apple Acres. Celestia suggests Fluttershy is the best choice to befriend Discord. The Princess leaves, and Discord is freed only to cause barely-restrained havoc, including secretly sending corrupted beavers back to their work on the dam.
  • Act 2: Fluttershy takes Discord into her home while her friends prepare for the worst. Discord tries Fluttershy's patience while putting on a veneer of innocence, and the two host a dinner party for the rest of the Mane Six that ends when Angel announces Sweet Apple Acres is underwater.
  • Act 3: Fluttershy demands Discord fix the flooded farm, and he agrees on the condition that she promise not to use the Elements of Harmony against him. She does, and he turns the water into an ice rink, openly mocking her friendship. Fluttershy keeps her promise but disowns Discord. Feeling the dismay of losing a friend, Discord relents and returns the farm to normal. He is presented to Celestia as tentatively reformed, but she leaves the Elements of Harmony with Twilight "just in case."

Character: Polls consistently show Discord to be bronies' favorite villain/antagonist in the series, and though actor John de Lancie performed the first time without giving MLP much thought, his subsequent embrace of the fandom and general sardonic persona in real life have only increased Discord's popularity. Bringing him back was a no-brainer. The idea of "reforming" him was likewise a risk, to say the least. Viewers tend to like villains largely for how they undertake their villainy. Were I on the show's staff, I probably wouldn't have made the decision to reform or moderate Discord, but I'm in full support of how the writers pulled it off.

Consider first who Discord is. As I said in my review for The Return of Harmony, he's not in love with evil so much as with chaos and unpredictability, so switching sides isn't out of the question, given a proper incentive. Also, his failure to understand friendship and its power was his undoing last time around, and he may be aware of this. Consider second, therefore, the power that friendship has in this show, not just in weaponized form, but in bringing characters to new ways of thinking. In "the magical land of Equestria," saying that friendship is magic isn't just a metaphor, and we shouldn't be surprised if its transforming effects are more pronounced in the world of MLP than they are here.

It makes sense, in light of this, for Celestia to believe reform possible among the bearers of the Elements of Harmony, just as it makes sense for Discord to try to take full advantage of the situation and be several steps ahead of the ponies at any given time.

Fluttershy is indeed the perfect pony for this task, since (1) she held out against Discord's manipulation last time completely unfazed until he used brute force, (2) on her own initiative she's befriended Cerberus and a manticore, and (3) she's had the strength of will to stand up to a dragon and a cockatrice to protect those she cares for. She embodies longsuffering throughout this episode, except that she will NOT tolerate Discord putting down her friends. She's also no fool, as she reveals her understanding of the situation near the end.

As the official guidebook The Elements of Harmony summarizes Discord's turn, "it slowly dawns on him" that losing his only friend is too great a price to pay for his misbehavior. In the show, that realization is immediate (eight seconds at the most). It is precisely at this point that critics reject the credibility of Discord's reform, thinking a gradual change would be more realistic. On the contrary, I hold that nothing "slowly dawns on" Discord. If he's really based on Star Trek's Q ("with an IQ of 2005" as he once joked), it's more in character for him to evaluate a new turn of events and know right away what he should do, just as he does when he's freed from stone and gets the beavers going right away.

By the way, this immediacy also makes Discord's new condition dangerous and almost certainly temporary. The moment he calculates that his own aspirations are worth more to him than friendship, or that he can have friends who will permit his villainy, it's on. He definitely needs watching. Then again, if he just goes back to being a villain, that undermines everything Fluttershy accomplished in this episode, which is why this whole idea is so risky.

The rest of the Mane Six have a few in-character moments, but they're basically there to represent the viewing audience as we and they are suspicious of Discord and aghast at Fluttershy's supposed naiveté. We haven't seen them this judgmental since meeting Zecora. Given what Discord did to them last time, it's understandable, but for character's sake I would have liked to see a couple more moments with them giving Fluttershy a chance, and probably an additional scene celebrating her accomplishment at the end of the episode.


Lesson: Continuing that last thought, my suggested improvement for this episode would be the aforementioned celebration, with Fluttershy's letter to the Princess in voiceover, thanking her and revealing what she learned. I'm not sure how best to frame this for a kids' show, but there's a balance to be had between being patient with a friend and having standards and boundaries you insist on.

The lesson Discord learns is, as he puts it, "I guess when you're friends, you can't exactly have things your way all the time," but I think it's at least as valid to approach the lesson from Fluttershy's point of view.


Connections: Discord was introduced in the season 2 premiere, The Return of Harmony, Parts 1 and 2. Body Count: Twilight Sparkle says, "I suppose we can just use the Elements of Harmony against him again if it gets out of hand."

 

Resonance: Discord is full of funny; the dead-bunny slippers in one scene are an especially nice bit. But the greater interest is seeing the wheels turning and trying to figure out what he's thinking at any given moment. Angel's devotion to Fluttershy is heartwarming here, but he's just as good for physical comedy. The creators provide a rare and hilarious end-credits gag by including Gravy Boat among the cast. Twilight's confidence in Celestia's faith in her brings a smile, given her past fears.

I haven't really included "jaw-droppers" as a category under the Resonance tag, but I experienced the effect quite literally when I first heard Fluttershy promise not to use her Element of Harmony; I really had no idea where the writers were going with that. When all is said and done, Fluttershy's control of the whole situation and her mastery of Discord make this her most awesome accomplishment so far in the series.

 

Other Impressions and Final Assessment: This episode is based on a premise submitted by a teenage brony whose parents have written for cartoons since the 80s. Evidently his idea of reforming Discord (or at least having him live in Fluttershy's cottage) was too good for the writing staff to pass up.

I was elated to see a scene between my two Mane Six favorites, Applejack and Fluttershy. They had a couple important interactions in Applebuck Season and Dragonshy, and the deliberately sappy line in The Last Roundup, and this one here with the beavers, and I think that's about it. We did see Fluttershy walking Winona in the previous episode, but Big Mac was the one dropping her off.

The wrap-up scene is very short compared to the long scene of flooding. I believe this is deliberate; there's rarely a lot of cool-down time on this series. There are some two-parter exceptions, but The Return of Harmony similarly goes to credits less than a minute after the climax.

There's not as much moralizing in this episode as one might expect given the premise. Fluttershy never really lectures Discord on what being a friend is; she simply befriends him and lets that speak for itself. As a result, most of the episode consists of Discord antics by the truckload, with enough going on the background to occupy the audience for several viewings. The animation here is as complicated and meticulous as ever. Even those who don't buy into the idea of reforming Discord ought to find this plenty entertaining. There's room for improvement, but the episode is good and I applaud the writers for taking a route I would have found too risky to attempt in their place.

 

Keep Calm and Flutter On armor rating: Iron Mail
Ranked 9th of 13 season-three episodes
Ranked 110th of 147 stories overall

Click HERE for Character Appearance List and Screentime.

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