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

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Episode 107: "Made in Manehattan"

Aired 9/26/2015, written by Noelle Benvenuti (her second episode)
    Storyline:
  • Intro: Twilight Sparkle's boredom is momentarily relieved when Rarity arrives at the castle with a flashing cutie mark. But to Twilight's dismay, only Rarity and Applejack are being summoned.
  • Act 1: The Cutie Map sends Applejack and Rarity to Manehattan, but while the ponies there are generally unfriendly and unresponsive, a specific friendship problem for them to solve is nowhere apparent.
  • Act 2: A flyer advertises a community theater revival project for which Coco Pommel is seeking volunteers. Applejack and Rarity learn that the neighborhood was once a friendly community, but they fail to attract volunteers, and the park and its stage are in shambles.
  • Act 3: Applejack builds a streetside stage, and the hired acting troupe begins a play on the life of the theater's founder. Passers-by stop to watch, and by play's end, the locals learn by example that simple efforts can make a difference in the life of their city.

Character: Applejack gets slightly more attention here than Rarity, and AJ is both a learner and a teacher in this story. Recall that she was a fish out of water in Manehattan once before, during her fillyhood. I was actually surprised this didn't come up in dialogue, since it's the first thing long-time viewers will think of when they see AJ is being summoned there. (We do see Aunt Orange with Babs for about five seconds.) It's rare to see AJ this intimidated; that culture must bring back some dreadful memories for her. Partly as a result, she spends most of her time facing what we might call "Winter Wrap Up" syndrome, rehearsing Twilight's dilemma in that episode. With that in mind, it's easy to see why she jumps at the chance to do some nature-work in cleaning up the park. Her work montage speaks to her willingness to get her hooves dirty and to her determination despite a job that's way too big for her, in a scene which is funny but speaks better of her than Applebuck Season did. Here she's going it alone because nopony else is there to help. It seems right and natural that AJ is the one to hit on the idea of building a simple streetside stage and playing to passers-by.

Just as Rarity and Rainbow Dash got along well in Rarity Investigates, Rar's friendship with AJ has matured as well. Aside from a couple eye-rolls from Applejack, they're accepting of each other, ready to make the best use of their differences for the sake of the mission, and seamlessly taking turns in leadership based on the need of the moment. They're both encouraging to each other and to Coco, and at the end they both display humility and an eagerness to share the credit. It's all very grown up.

Which is just what Coco needs. She said in her last episode that working so long for Suri had led her to believe she could only depend on herself. By all appearances, she still lacks the support of friends, and she's prone to anxiety and despair. She's admirable, though, in that she doesn't seek friends just for herself; she's out to transform the community to make the whole place friendly again. With such a selfless attitude, Coco deserves all the help she can get. In that respect, I have far more liking for her than for her namesake Coco Chanel, who by all accounts wasn't a very nice person. One neat bit of consistency for Coco is that, given her early background in theatre, it makes sense that she's not at all intimidated by the attention at the end of the episode, and she handles public speaking very well.

I was puzzled by the Method Mares on first viewing. Their entrance leaves the impression they're the sort of stuffy, high-society types we've often encountered in Canterlot. But their acting is stilted and hammy, and the blue one seems good-natured later on. The inconsistency is too stark to be anything but a deliberate choice on the writer's part, but I'm not sure of the reasoning behind it. After giving this some thought, I think the idea is that Coco was only able to attract a subpar local dramatic group, probably amateur but with aspirations toward acting professionally, and they may have been putting on airs to make a good first impression. Maybe.

I'm also surprised we didn't see Charity Kindheart at the end. It seemed like they were building up to that, and there's a curious amount of time given to the elderly background pony watching the play, so I wonder if her appearance was dropped somewhere during story development. Moving closer to her grandfoals is something I've seen older folks do; it's a realistic reason for her departure and acknowledges the passage of time since Coco was a filly.


Lesson: Plays in the park and other fixtures of social capital have all sorts of benefit to a neighborhood. In the context of MLP, the focus is on the friendly atmosphere of people coming together for that sort of entertainment, where the show is put together by members of the same community as the audience. The various institutions of society (government, businesses, schools, churches, large charities, etc.) serve vital purposes, but there's something about doing stuff together outside of any institutional framework that gets us thinking about how we treat one another and benefit other people on our own time. So Coco is right on target in her effort to bring healing to an unfriendly community from the bottom up.

And that's right in line with the episode's stated lesson, that little things done by everypony from day to day can have just as important an impact as a large project that most ponies never seem to have time for. When every bit counts, excuses don't hold up and even apathy begins to give way when it takes little time or trouble to lend a helping hoof. This is another grown-up lesson that has application to younger viewers as well, and the episode's greatest strength is the way the story's structure and the actions of everypony involved, including the damaged hat and the low-talent acting by the Method Mares, helps to drive home the point.

Applejack learns a related lesson, as she's assuming her lack of a clearly relevant talent makes her an ill-suited choice for the map's metropolitan mission, yet a little creativity is all it takes to find a place to make a difference by doing the things she can do.

Finally, this is another "meta" lesson illustrated by the series itself. There are over 150 names in the show's credits. A lot of people work on MLP, but for all the hours they put in, each one has only a small piece of the project. No one animator, director, or foley artist could put something like this together alone. Most of those names are people doing grunt work on a computer, unnoticed and contributing a tiny fraction to the quality of any given episode, but only in that way to we get such a magnificent end product.


Resonance: The episode as a whole warms my heart, with standout scenes being Coco's description of the theatre, topped off with her receiving the bow in her mane; and all the ponies gathering for the play and softening toward each other as they take in the performance. I feel the impact there especially for the variety of responses from the audience: some are focused on the story, some remember the experience of watching plays like this, and some have memories stirred by the story of Charity, whom many of them no doubt remember.

There's plenty of hilarity as well, beginning with Twilight's bored groans and spits in the cold open. I delight at Rarity's laugh when she first sees she's being sent to Manehattan. We get some incredible faces in that scene, and my two favorite AJ/Rarity moments are Rar's defense of her fashion-police intervention and her melodrama and muffled response to a hoof in her mouth. The Peanuts shout-out is exceptionally well done, combining the setting, music, dialogue, and a background pony to make sure we don't miss it. We've seen the Midnight Cowboy thing once before. A special blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment has Whoa Nelly getting a simultaneous double cameo.

The first act does a great job of conveying the hustle-and-bustle atmosphere of the big city, but the third act fell a little flat for me. I think it's because we get so much of the play. I realize it's deliberately bad, but that sort of thing needs to be kept short. Personally, I'd rather have seen the acting on a professional level (cheap props notwithstanding), or else trade some of that time for a quiet moment between AJ, Rarity, and Coco afterward.

 

Other Impressions and Final Assessment: Ugh, moons again. Charity left the midsummer theatre "several moons ago," but from the park's appearance and the seasonal nature of "midsummer," it would seem more like several years have passed. In fact, you could just replace "moons" with "years" and the dialogue would be fine...which would also work with just about every other moon unit in the series, the main exception being the first one, where Granny Smith said the Apple family reunions are a hundred moons apart. So at this point, I'm just going to ignore that particular phrase and assume the show's creators haven't nailed down how long a moon is.

Little observations: We see Spike is still reading comics. The scoffing noises Rarity's making now sound a bit like beat-boxing. There's a floating Arimaspi head on the Cutie Map. And I'd never noticed how wonky the diamonds on Rarity's cutie mark were, but we get a good closeup of them in her first scene.

This is an excellent episode, stronger than last week, but it could have used a bit more punch in the third act. Its success is limited by its premise: Somepony has thought of something nice to do, but it might not get done on time because she couldn't find enough help. That's the essence of a slice-of-life episode, but it could have used some antagonist or potential negative outcome to provide a little more tension and higher stakes than what we get. Otherwise, the execution is delightful. It feels very first-season, in the best possible way, and with the main characters mature enough to teach a very mature lesson. For that, I rank this alongside other mostly succesful stories likes Pinkie Apple Pie and Sweet and Elite.

 

Made in Manehattan armor rating: Golden Vest
Ranked 19th of 26 season-five episodes
Ranked 82nd of 147 stories overall

Click HERE for Character Appearance List and Screentime.

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