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

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Episode 98: "Make New Friends but Keep Discord"

Aired 5/16/2015, by Natasha Levinger (her third episode)
    Storyline:
  • Intro: Discord's hopes of being invited by Fluttershy to the Grand Galloping Gala are dashed when he learns she invited her new friend Tree Hugger instead.
  • Act 1: Unable to find Twilight Sparkle as she's organizing the Gala, Discord asks the rest of the Mane 6 about the Gala and finds they too have guests already. He gets a belated invitation at home and ponders whom to bring.
  • Act 2: Discord arrives at the Gala with The Smooze and tries to play up their friendship to make Fluttershy jealous. Fluttershy and her friend seem oblivious, and Discord reachines his boiling point just as The Smooze floods the Gala in slime.
  • Act 3: The Smooze resists magic, but Tree Hugger uses her understanding of rare creatures to calm The Smooze. Enraged, Discord attempts to send Tree Hugger to another dimension, but once Fluttershy lectures him on jealousy, he backs down and apologizes. The Gala resumes as Celestia reveals it was she who invited Discord to make things interesting.

Character: This is a Discord episode, and as in the previous appearances of the Master of Chaos, that means there's something new to notice every second. Discord always brings a load of parental bonuses in the form of shout-outs, though nothing that would alienate the younger audience. For example, five-year-olds won't notice the Eddie Murphy and Rodney Dangerfield outfits, nor would they know who Gallagher is, but they can still enjoy an exploding watermelon. For those concerned about "pandering," recall that the writers and animators are themselves just the right age to enjoy 80s and 90s pop culture references. I believe Discord episodes give them the opportunity to create references for their own amusement. Even so, most of the references this time around have some sort of logic to them. Thus Discord sees Fluttershy transfer her compliment of funniest friend from Discord to Tree Hugger, so he resorts to standup comedy to prove how funny he can be.

We get our first sight of where Discord lives, including his thinking tree and some reverse housekeeping. I think it's a nice touch giving him a cane with the Symbol of Chaos, which (by the way) was devised by novelist Michael Moorcock around 1960. I wouldn't mind seeing that in future appearances.

With Discord's first friendship comes his first opportunity for personal jealousy. He makes an awfully resentful Cinderella, and it's really the first time we've seen him show animosity toward anypony. The music and the edge to his voice clue us in to the fact that his capacity for villainy is still their underneath the surface. Part of Discord's problem is that he's really good at being bad, and kinda bad at being good. As long as things go smoothly, and goodness knows Fluttershy's pretty easy to get along with, he can be the reformed Discord. But when he's thrown for a loop like this, he looks within for answers and finds a bad guy there.

The cold open indicates that Discord still enjoys weekly activities with Fluttershy, and so he's probably a familiar presence to the Mane Six by now, even though we viewers only catch him a few times a season. It seems Discord's jealousy initially catches Fluttershy off guard, but he's not exactly subtle, so I'll bet she's as on to him as she was in Keep Calm and Flutter On. She avoids giving his feelings any recognition, however. At the Gala she's there for Tree Hugger, and she expects him to respect that. Discord should realize by now his efforts to get under her skin are doomed to fail: She's not easily perturbed and not easily corrupted, and one thing she will not tolerate is maligning her friends.

Back in 1985, G.I. Joe gave us the character of Footloose, whose casual attitude, off-beat vocabulary, and hippie references set him apart from the more down-to-earth members of the Joe Team. That same distinctive vibe comes off masterfully here with Tree Hugger, courtesy of Nicole Oliver. Writer Natasha Levinger gives this character an original twist that takes her beyond the hippie stereotype by the degree to which she exudes friendliness and just a touch of vulnerability underneath her near-imperturbable surface. Also, as I listen to Beatles music from time to time, I liked the sitar sounds placed under her lines. Tree Hugger's background involves the rare creatures society mentioned in the previous Discord story Three's a Crowd. Her understanding of non-equine life forms is a talent similar to Fluttershy's, just more exotic.

And so it was simple bad planning that Discord chose a magic-resistant exotic creature as his instrument of wrath. I take it they're not actually very close, and I appreciate the fact the animators gave him solid emotional responses to every beat of his story. For anyone not in the know, this "it with a heart of blob" is a G1 import, specifically the purple antagonist in the 1986 My Little Pony movie that immediately preceded the first TV series, My Little Pony and Friends. (Two standalone adventures had aired in 1984 and 1985, the first of which had Tirek as the main antagonist.) Here he's green, he's friendly, and he's the one who truly brings the chaos in this story.

Princess Celestia turns out to be the chief instigator as usual. Recall that Celestia enjoys chaos and dreads boring Galas. Fluttershy also indicates that Celestia and Discord have become friends in the months since Twilight's Kingdom. He does indeed get his own ticket. So Twilight may find it incomprehensible that Celestia would invite Discord, but it's pretty well hinted at ahead of time.

The other characters are mostly there to react to events. Pinkie treats Discord as a friend (and the mention of her mom is cool), and I consider the prickliness of the other main characters justified here. They're not bitter over past events; rather, Discord is rude and inconsiderate at every turn, and at the Gala he shows up as a disaster waiting to happen. Twilight Sparkle in particular sees this as her Gala, and she addresses him not as a villain, but as a friend who's prone to misbehave. The CMC are present as a way of occupying three characters' guest spots, and I like the fact that, as noisy as they are, their sisters are amused rather than annoyed at their younger siblings' excitement.


Lesson: This story teaches an important lesson, especially for kids: not to be possessive of one's friends. There are interesting paralells here with Griffon the Brush Off, for both the Pinkie and Gilda sides of the story. We also have a hint of Pinkie's lesson from Party of One that you shouldn't assume the worst of your friends occasionally leaving you out of the loop. Fluttershy's lecture to Discord is an impressive, concise and logical argument for accepting a friend's right to have different companions for different contexts.

One secondary moral we see demonstrated in this episode is the importance of a sincere apology, rather than a forced or reluctant one. Within the story, this is important because the only way to stop Discord is to make him realize he's in the wrong. But also, Tree Hugger can't really forgive Discord until she knows she's accepted. I'm impressed that she asks for some time to cool down so she can be as sincere in forgiving as Discord was in asking forgiveness. The apology to The Smooze is important as well, since Discord's treated him like a prop for most of the story.

Unaddressed in this episode is that Discord should have asked somepony for advice on how to handle this. I like to think this was his intention in looking for Twilight, but if she was busy planning the Gala, he knew she wouldn't put things on pause for him. Nevertheless, the path toward understanding usually starts with asking questions.


Resonance: Hilarity abounds in this episode from beginning to end. Most of it doesn't come from Discord, although I laughed at the literal dust bunnies, the Smooze nicknames that may have been a Rob Schneider reference, and yet another scene reminsicent of Q. Fluttershy gives us the unintentional humor of a non-smile and "a lot of skoshes." Celestia provides a few laughs as well, giggling at Discord's standup, howling while pushing along a stunned Twilight Sparkle, and addressing her invitation to "Discord or Current Resident." Also very funny are Applejack blowing her nose on Dash's tail, Rarity getting slimed, Apple Bloom blowing bubbles in the ooze, and Masquerade's simple pronounced cough. And I guess I have to mention Maud Pie's heckling, but what really brought me out of my chair was her fitness for use as a flotation device.

Again, I'm touched that The Smooze got an apology, and Pinkie befriending him was heartwarming as well. It's been a while since we've seen Pinkie at work. There's an awesome background moment as we see Celestia and Twinkleshine both prepared to go to town against The Smooze. And the drama of Tree Hugger's side of the story comes as we get a couple glimpses of her looking hurt by the proceedings.

 

Other Impressions and Final Assessment: Among the little things to notice in the animation and sound design: Tree Hugger's dreadlocks move independently of one another. And we're getting characters with eyebrows now; I hadn't noticed that before. Rarity and Twinkleshine both have some great facial expressions around the twelve minute mark. And as a fan of ponylike behavior, I love the neighing and galloping sounds we're still getting. Altogether, this episode is almost as good as Three's a Crowd, which has the magnificent Tatzlwurm fight. For its skill with the lesson and for fun things to watch, I'd rank Make New Friends somewhere around Simpe Ways, One Bad Apple, and Twilight Time, close to the median but still excellent by objective standards.

 

Make New Friends but Keep Discord armor rating: Golden Vest
Ranked 20th of 26 season-five episodes
Ranked 83rd of 147 stories overall

Click HERE for Character Appearance List and Screentime.

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