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

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Episode 8: "Look Before You Sleep"

Aired 12/3/2010, written by Charlotte Fullerton (her first episode)
    Storyline:
  • Intro: Applejack helps clear loose branches to prepare for a storm, but Rarity is more concerned with the mess being made by the preparations.
  • Act 1: As the rain starts, Rarity refuses Applejack's suggestion of hiding under a bench in the mud, and the two take refuge in Twilight Sparkle's home. Twilight suggests a sleepover and Applejack's animosity toward Rarity grows as Rarity enjoys a makeover mud mask after being appalled at mud earlier.
  • Act 2: Applejack and Rarity are at each other's throats, disrupting Twilight's efforts at ghost stories, S'mores, truth or dare, a pillow fight, and even just getting to bed.
  • Act 3: Lightning strikes a tree and Applejack's attempt to steady it brings it crashing into the library. She and Rarity put aside their differences to clean up the mess. They enjoy the rest of the night.

Character: Since this review is fairly negative, let me express the great admiration I have for Charlotte Fullerton, both personally and as a writer. All her episodes have fun and memorable moments, and May the Best Pet Win! and Suited for Success are excellent examples of her best character work. If other episodes of hers rank fairly low in my reviews, it may be because she's more daring and experimental in her use of humor, in ways that depend heavily on the taste of the viewer. Since I weight character consistency and a clear moral lesson so heavily compared to other viewers, a few very entertaining episodes suffer as a result when the humor seems to cut against those criteria. It's also true that most of Fullerton's episodes come early in the series, and the show as a whole has improved in just about every way since the first season. So while I call 'em as I see 'em, understand that none of the criticisms below should be understood as a mark against Fullerton or her place on the show.

 

All that being said, one of my pet peeves in a character-based series is when a character is given a trait or a role to play in one episode that's never been demonstrated before, simply to further the plot. I'm afraid that's what's happening here. There's animosity between AJ and Rarity that we've never seen before or since, and which goes beyond Rainbow's (arguably exaggerated) contempt for Fluttershy in the previous episode.

Until now, Applejack has been supportive and tolerant of all her friends and is generally the most admirable. We can understand her frustration with Rarity's superficiality, but she is downright juvenile here and we don't get a heartfelt apology as in other episodes. It's even AJ who initiates the hostility in the intro. The tomboyish Rainbow Dash would have been a more in-character choice, but she'd already been paired up in two other episodes and Applejack hadn't received much attention yet. Also, Rarity is sorely in need of some positive attention after Dragonshy, and this episode doesn't do her any favors. In fact, if the Cutie Mark Crusaders had been introduced at this point, they could probably have carried this story better.

On the plus side, this episode nails the "Aspie" aspect of Twilight's character in a fun way that reminds us how rare it is to see a socially naive, bookish character at the center of a TV series. (Note: I am not diagnosing Twilight with the syndrome here, but there are parallels to Asperger's in the basic patterns of her personality, to a mild though not debilitating degree.)

In light of later episodes, I will say something about the potential for conflict between Applejack and Rarity. It's twofold: First, their culture and priorities are vastly different, in a Green Acres sort of way that is brought out very well in this episode. Secondly, for various psychological reasons it's very easy to dislike someone with a personality similar to your own, and both Applejack and Rarity would probably fall into the same Myers-Briggs personality category (ENTJ). Both are extroverted, preferring to spend leisure time with others than alone; both tend to be more in touch with themselves than with those around them; both are spurred to action more by thoughts and ideas than by their feelings; and both have strong convictions and are quick to make decisions. Furthermore, NJ's often have trouble tolerating other people's quirks. That's an oversimplification of what an ENTJ is, but the similar personality underneath their surface-level differences may be part of what the writer was thinking about when she put this together. But I still think Applejack is a bit more self-disciplined and accepting than she appears to be here.

And since you asked, my guesses for the Meyer-Briggs types for the rest of the Mane Six would be ESFP for Pinkie Pie, INFP for Fluttershy, ISFJ for Rainbow Dash, and usually ISTJ for Twilight Sparkle.


Lesson: Twilight's letter refers to embracing each other's differences, but the actual message is more a mix of "I should have listened" and "Let's put our differences aside for the moment to deal with a more serious problem." More than anything, we see a protracted and unsettlingly realistic example of how kids should not treat their friends and how not to argue—escalation, going out of your way to point out faults, having to get in the last word, saying or doing the thing you know will hurt most, etc. I for one put a lot of stock in presenting lessons positively and winsomely, and that was lacking here.

Growing up, I was in Twilight's position often enough that I would have benefitted from a lesson on what to do when two of your friends are fighting like this. A swerve into that lesson in the third act (replacing the falling-tree predicament) would have gained the episode a few more points from me.


Connections: The headless horse story is told by Rainbow Dash in a later episode. Rarity and Applejack are present again (along with the CMC), but they're not impressed the second time around. The differences between Applejack and Rarity resurface in the fourth-season episode Simple Ways.

 

Resonance: I enjoyed the return of Rarity's "It is on" catch phrase (previously uttered in Boast Busters), and the ensuing pillow fight is awesome. Usually the straight pony, Twilight carries most of the on-point humor with her adorkable approach to a "by-the-book" slumber party. I wholeheartedly accept her efforts to integrate the tree crash into the concept of a sleepover.

 

Other Impressions and Final Assessment: We could use some of Ponyville's storm prep strategy around here. I live in the Louisville area, where fallen limbs, downed power lines, blocked roads, and damaged cars and homes are commonplace whenever we get more than a light sprinkle.

If I may, I'd like to suggest an alternate route this episode could have taken. It's common for conflict to arise in sleepovers, long car rides, camping trips, and other situations that put friends in unusually close quarters for extended periods. (I have two younger sisters, so I've seen my fair share.) You could have AJ and Rarity enter as friends and gradually rub against each other as the night goes on. This would be more realistic and in-character while still teaching the same lesson. It would also make the resolution more solid, since they'd be settling a one-night conflict and not a supposedly long-standing one.

This episode's likeability depends heavily on one's taste. Some viewers find clashing personalities more realistic and mature than the chumminess and inclusiveness the cast usually displays. For personal reasons, I get really uncomfortable watching characters bicker, which is most of this episode's content. As a result, I am perhaps a bit harder on it than necessary; some reviews see this as one of the most entertaining episodes of season one. But I imagine a lot of viewers are in the same boat as me because they're unfamiliar with (or too familiar with) petty bickering in real life. Later episodes, such as Flight to the Finish and Pinkie Apple Pie, show more sensitivity to this in their presenation of squabbles, and I think that shows how much the series' writing has grown.

Regardless of taste, this episode would have come off better with some build-up in the series. The conflict between AJ and Rarity seems to come out of nowhere, and we've already seen the seeds of conflict potentially planted between Rarity and Rainbow Dash, or between Dash and Fluttershy. The Ticket Master alone provided potential grounds for a grudge between AJ and Dash, or between Rarity and either Fluttershy or Pinkie Pie. My point is not that I wish the writers had built more enmity into the show, but that they could have used the episodes so far to establish issues between AJ and Rarity if they had wanted to. This episode would then have resolved a pre-existing problem within the circle of friends and therefore been meaningful, especially if it was followed up on with a positive "cooperation" episode between the two soon after. But we can probably ascribe this missed opportunity to the early vision of the series as stand-alone stories that could be watched in any order. In short, this episode could have been a lot better than it was, and Fullerton's next effort (Suited for Success) is one of the best of the season. I still enjoy cueing up the pillow fight scene, though.

(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.)

 

Look Before You Sleep armor rating: Leather Vest
Ranked 26th of 26 season-one episodes
Ranked 144th of 147 stories overall

Click HERE for Character Appearance List and Screentime.

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