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

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Episode 85: "Leap of Faith"

Aired 3/29/2014, written by Josh Haber (his third episode)
    Storyline:
  • Intro: As the Apples play in a pond, Granny recounts how a diving injury in her past led to her fear of water.
  • Act 1: The Apples stumble upon a carnival tent where the Flim Flam brothers are selling a cure-all tonic. Granny buys a bottle, but Applejack is suspicious.
  • Act 2: The next day, Granny shows up swimming happily and full of energy, crediting the tonic for her rejuvenation. Applejack investigates, corners the Flim Flam brothers' shill (named Silver Shill), and learns the tonic is a fake, but she decides to keep it to herself for the sake of Granny's happiness. Granny then talks of entering the local swim meet, and AJ's reluctant endorsement of Granny's purchase of more tonic convinces other ponies to buy some for themselves.
  • Act 3: Flim and Flam tout their "Applejack-approved" tonic at the swim meet, where Granny and Apple Bloom score high for synchronized swimming and Granny attempts a high-dive act. AJ rescues Granny and reveals the tonic is a fake. Silver Shill backs her up and gives her a coin as a memento. Flim and Flam disappear once the town learns the truth.

Character: Two of my complaints about The Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000 were (1) that Flim and Flam were fast-talking but mostly legitimate salesponies who were nevertheless portrayed as villains, and (2) Applejack was very antagonistic toward them before having any good reason to be. The brothers turn out much better in this episode as outright bad guys who take unfair advantage of every development in the story but nonetheless make a good enough point halfway through to put Applejack's Element to the test. Since this is the second time they've worn out their welcome, it's doubtful whether they can credibly show up again in Ponyville, but here they prove to be entertaining and believable characters. One more observation on the brothers: Whereas their first musical number drew inspiration from The Music Man, this time around they're heavily indebted to the "Passamaquoddy" number from Pete's Dragon.

Applejack is known on this show for two things: forthrightness and devotion to her family, both of which have been especially prominent this season. As the rainbow-effect episodes have done for the other characters, this story tests AJ's Element of honesty by pitting it against that other high priority. In fact, her test is very similar to Fluttershy's, with the present case of tough love involving truth that spoils a false hope. Presumably, this should be a much easier test for AJ than for Fluttershy, since AJ has had no problem delivering blunt truths to her friends and even being sensitive about it. What makes this case more pressing is Applejack's high profile in Ponyville. As a respected pillar of the community, AJ's public reputation is in actual jeopardy, recall the fears that once drove her to leave Ponyville in The Last Roundup. It takes an immediate threat to Granny's safety to get AJ to act. The writer thus does a fine job of using Applejack's main character qualities to drive the ups and downs of her role in this episode.

The wording of Applejack's endorsement, "It seems to work for Granny," is well chosen. It's less than a blatant falsehood and is something AJ feels like she can persuade herself is technically correct. But its entirely foreseeable effect of misleading other ponies exposes it as contrary to the idea of honesty. As Applejack might say in a better moment, if you have to convince yourself that something isn't technically a lie, it's a lie. In fact, Applejack's non-answer resembles Discord's dodgy protestations of innocence in the season premiere. Realizing both the intent behind her statement and its effects, Applejack rightly admits that she lied. And when she commits to win back Ponyville's trust, that's one of those commitments we know she will take very seriously.

Growing up with such an honest big sister, Apple Bloom is naturally trusting, and her character really shines at the end of the first act, as Applejack makes her first break from the truth by saying the nature of the cider doesn't matter "as long as it works." AB's response, "If it doesn't matter to you, then it doesn't matter to me either, sis," is sweetly and beautifully delivered. It would even feel like one of the "lesson" moments of the show if it weren't so wrong. Earlier, when Applejack was suspicious, Apple Bloom matched her eagerness in cornering Silver Shill. Though this is a fairly subtle aspect of the episode, her dependence on Applejack for guidance is as good a reason for AJ's integrity as Granny's safety is later.

We're seeing a very different Granny Smith than the near-invalid pony of the first season or the sometimes senile one of the second. Her normal third/fourth-season self acts about ten years younger, even before the tonic. This allows the writers to do more with the character (such as the road trip in Pinkie Apple Pie), but it is an issue for those of us who prefer continuity. I personally think this episode carries her a bit too far. Overcoming her fear of the water is one thing, but if there's really nothing at all in the tonic, I don't think the placebo effect quite covers the agility we see in Granny. (I'm told the beets may have something to do with it, since they've been found to increase certain kinds of athletic/exercise performance, but only slightly.) I also think somepony as stubborn as Granny would refuse to let go of her trust in the tonic without a little more persuasion.


Lesson: A particular facet of honesty is in view here, or rather, the danger of a particular type of lie. We all have things we place our hope in, truths that we rely on for our confidence and motivation. One word for that is faith. But faith is only as good as the reliability of its object. Whether false advertising, false science, or false religion, anything that's not dependable will ultimately leave those who depend on it out to dry. As one who strives to be "the most dependable of ponies," AJ knows that, but it's still hard to be the one who shatters someone else's hope, empty though it may be.

This is a good counterpart lesson to the messages contained in a couple other episodes. The first-season episode Feeling Pinkie Keen taught that we shouldn't dismiss a friend's ideas just because they don't make sense to us; our friend may have knowledge or understanding that we don't. But Leap of Faith clarifies that sometimes we're the ones with the greater knowledge, and we shouldn't stand by and let a friend suffer as a result of ignorance or deception. Also, earlier this season, Pinkie Apple Pie began with Applejack insisting on learning the real truth about her possible relationship to Pinkie but ultimately deciding to consider Pinkie part of the family despite inconclusive evidence. Yet even in that episode, we saw several instances where incorrect beliefs led to problems (e.g., the cart and the cave). The crucial point, per Applejack's journal entry in Leap of Faith, is the possiblity of being hurt by believing a lie.

MLP's various episodes about truth ultimately raise philosophical and ethical questions that are beyond most younger viewers and introduce the sort of depth and discussion fuel that make this show so appealing to many adults. Nevertheless, I believe this episode delivers an important message that most kids can understand in its basic form, and does so winsomely and without causing needless controversy, as some shows might, by introducing political, religious, or scientific debates that could have left some viewers feeling insulted. The placebo effect is about as frictionless an example as one could imagine to get this lesson across.


Logic: By real-life physics, Granny would have lost a limb in that sudden-stop rescue. It's common for stories to ignore the fact that going from freefall to zero in less than a second is equally hard on your system whether you're at ground level or a few inches above it. Connections: The fifth "key" episode. Flim and Flam previously appeared in The Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000.

 

Resonance: Like most Apple family episodes, this one is lighthearted and easy-going, with Flim and Flam's song giving the story some necessary early energy. I get some smiles from the Apples' playing at the water hole in the cold open and from Lyra's scoring and facial expressions in the third act. In between are a number of effective little gags, such as Big Mac using an apple for fishing bait, and Silver Shill donning a beard for a con the morning after he's caught. Most of the sickness-related gross-out visuals are probably meant to garner a laugh, but it's not my kind of humor. There's some decent suspense during Granny's dive, and I found Applejack's confession to be genuinely moving, owing largely to how solidly her sense of pride in her dependability has been established over the course of the series.

 

Other Impressions and Final Assessment: So many humanlike poses... But I've harped on that enough in previous reviews.

As with the first Flim and Flam episode, the animators had to do a lot of crowd scenes as well as a long musical number. Here they pull out all the stops and introduce over a dozen new ponies. High praise for going beyond assorted bandages and actually showing ponies with a wide variety of physical impairments. I appreciate their use of the medieval clockwork technology of the show's first season, as opposed to the modern wheelchair that Rainbow Dash used in Read It and Weep and Rainbow Falls. This episode's inclusion of disabled ponies also sets the stage for one's appearance a couple episodes later in Trade Ya, where his condition isn't a story point, just part of his character that's accepted without comment.

With all the over-the-top episodes this season, it's nice to a have a relatively quiet, down-to-earth slice of life episode. In this case, the lighter touch helps keep the focus on the episode's strong presentation of a great moral. I could get nitpicky if I chose to. I've already commented on Granny Smith, and one minor gripe I have is the prominent placement of Granny's father in the crowd during the musical number. But taken on its strengths, this episode lands between Flight to the Finish and Somepony to Watch Over Me as a highly excellent entry in the series.

 

Leap of Faith armor rating: Gold Armor
Ranked 12th of 26 season-four episodes
Ranked 67th of 147 stories overall

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