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

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Episode 83: "Maud Pie"

Aired 3/15/2014, written by Noelle Benvenuti (her first episode)
    Storyline:
  • Intro: Pinkie Pie invites the rest of the Mane Six to Sugarcube Corner to taste test large piles of rock candy.
  • Act 1: Pinkie explains they'll be making best-friend rock candy necklaces for her sister Maud, who is visiting for a week as she's about to go on a research trip. When Maud arrives, her odd habits and total lack of expression leave the ponies uncertain how to connect with her.
  • Act 2: Maud joins the Mane Six and their pets for a picnic and introduces them to a frustrating game involving her pet rock. Twilight suggest they search for shared interests, so Rarity helps Maud pick out fabric, Fluttershy shows her animals, Twilight asks about poetry, Applejack makes cider with her, and Rainbow Dash engages her in a rock-throwing contest, only for awkwardness to ensue in every case. When they admit they haven't been able to make friends with Maud, Pinkie is devastated.
  • Act 3: As her friends wallow in regret, Pinkie gathers them for an obstacle course incorporating all their interests. Pinkie's demonstration ends with her trapped in a rock pile with a boulder tumbling toward her, but Maud uses incredible speed and strength to rescue her. Maud then takes Pinkie back to the rock farm, but the Mane Six beat them there and decide she's a friend based on their common ties to Pinkie. At the end of the week, they exchange rock candy necklaces at the train station as Maud leaves for her research trip.

Character: Viewers have long wondered about Pinkie's feeings toward her family, since she described her rock farm upbringing in such negative terms in The Cutie Mark Chronicles. She mentions having been "perfectly happy being a Pie" in Pinkie Apple Pie, but we see her throwing parties in Ponyville as a filly in Pinkie Pride's flashback. Here it's revealed that Pinkie is very close to her older sister. Since Maud has presumably always been the way she is, Pinkie understands and accepts her, and she's easily able to find parallels between Maud and her Ponyville friends, even if the friends themselves don't see it. Pinkie's behavior throughout the episode combines her cock-eyed optimism, her presumption that everypony else thinks as she does, and her apparent lack of attention to other ponies' reactions, all of which have been on display in most of her featured stories, especially this season. Her weird conjunction of immense creativity and lack of foresight is also present on the obstacle course.

We get a really great quiet moment on the train ride, with Pinkie neither hyper nor crushed, just calmly sad as she and her sister comfort each other. It's nice to see a rare moment of tenderness with her, and especially appropriate that it's when she's with family. I'd like to see more of this from her in the future.

The other regulars acquit themselves well, showing in-character initial reactions to Maud and then going to extremes to try to befriend her, each according to their own gifts. They're aware (Twilight especially) how much it will hurt Pinkie if they can't, but they're also honest enough not to try to fake it. This is maturing friendship of the same sort we witnessed in Rarity Takes Manehattan. I also really liked the way each of the ponies' necklaces at the end reflects her own personality, with Dash's necklace being so large it drags along the ground.

Maud is, in my opinion, a masterpiece of a guest character. It's already a challenge to establish a character or activity as "boring" without boring the audience at the same time. (Consider this Homestar Runner short as a borderline example of success at this.) They succeed here by placing little hints here and there, in her subtle departures from her general lack of expression, leaving her wide open to interpretation. Following the clues, especially on subsequent viewings, we can see some of what Pinkie sees in her, with the suggestion that there's even more beneath the surface. Two examples are Maud's appreciation for irony (giving a tiny pebble the lofty name of "boulder") and her enjoyment of the "way more intense" prank/game of camouflage. Maud and Pinkie even share a certain family resemblance in their thought process, which becomes evident if you imagine Pinkie saying or doing most of what Maud does.

One neat tie-in with the series' magical foundations is Maud's facility with rocks. As an earth pony, her latent magic gives her a connection to the land: not with soil, fruits and vegetables, or grass, but with minerals.

Viewers attentive to psychological issues responded well to this episode. Noticing Maud's flat affect, restricted behavior, narrow focus, and a couple spots of sarcasm/metaphor failure, one might suppose Maud is somewhere on the autism spectrum. Some viewers in the episode livestreams and reaction videos declared (quite dogmatically, I might add) that she represented emo, goth, or some other rebel culture. I'm not convinced any of these is the case, since most of Maud's personality and interests are in line with her having grown up on the rock farm that Pinkie remembers, especially since she's older and probably never left the farm except to study. I actually suspect the writer's intent was to write Maud generally enough to encompass a broad range of reasons for not fitting in. What's important to the story's point is that through no fault of her own, she's someone that even the (former) Bearers of the Elements find it hard to make friends with, without being the least bit unfriendly.


Lesson: Whether it's something our society would consider a disorder, a subculture, or just general eccentrism, an inwardly directed personality is a challenge for many people to accept as okay or normal. I shudder to think how many other kid's shows would have had Maud "come out of her shell" and learn how to be friendly. Knowing MLP:FiM, I never really worried about that happening here. The creators understand that Maud probably can't change and is in fact just fine the way she is; it's the others who need to change by accepting her as a potential friend. By contrast, Twilight in her first episode needed to learn friendship because of her priorities, not her personality, which has instead been an asset to her friendships rather than a liability. In fact, this episode is so forward-thinking that Maud herself never shows a hint of difficulty accepting who she is, or wondering whether she's the problem. (Most introverts aren't internally fretting over their personality.) The focus is kept entirely on the need for others to find a way to include her.

Truth be told, I believe this is one reason Derpy became so beloved by the fandom. As the odd-eyed pegasus grew out of mere slapstick and was made the subject of more serious stories, even being given a family, she became the symbol for all who are laughed at or dismissed for not fitting in, and who yet maintain a positive attitude about themselves. I'm happy to see Maud occupy that role in canon.

As the ponies seek to befriend Maud, there is an assumption that friendship requires some kind of common ground, not just a desire to be friends. I'm a little surprised the show has taken so long to address this, since it's absent from the series premiere. We do see Pinkie try a common-ground approach with Cranky in A Friend in Deed, when she offers to be "wagon buddies," but the concept hasn't received extensive treatment before now. The Cutie Mark Chronicles introduced a common past event that destined the Mane Six to be together, which implies that their friendship is providential. But you can also look at Applejack, Fluttershy, Pinkie, Rainbow, and Rarity having been brought together by having a mutual friend in Twilight Sparkle. In fact, there are indications in the early episodes that some of them either didn't know one another or at least didn't hang out much prior to Twilight's arrival. In that case, there's a precedent for their making Pinkie the common bond between them and Maud.

As of the initial writing of this review, I'm actually undecided on what constitutes the minimum common ground for real friendship. It's fascinating to ponder, and it'd be a fun question to ask the writers on a convention panel.


Resonance: Rocktorate, hee hee. This is a really funny episode, yet Pinkie's antics take a backseat to Maud-centered humor. Well, Pinkie's cider-gurgling deserves a mention. But from the get-go, Maud evokes laughter by one of her first lines ("It doesn't talk, it's a dress") and by introducing Boulder. I caught Boulder "eating" the sandwich on my second viewing. Yay. The poetry scene is delivered and portrayed beautifully, as are each of Maud's simple statements that just destroy each pony's hopes for a shared interest. Maud's extreme strength, totally unexplained unless by extension from Pinkie's physics-defying comic abilities, is both fun and awesome. I got a chuckle out of her donning of a Picklehaube during the rescue, as well as the glimpse of her cutie mark. (It's a rock.) Other little smile moments include the shot of the bored pets, a friendly spider, and Applejack's reaction to the remains of a "peeled" apple.

There's some serious drama in this episode, too, with the highlight being the train scene mentioned above. The admission to Pinkie outside Sugarcube Corner and the ponies' expressions of regret at the library are effective because they show us how much the friends care about what's important to Pinkie and how hard they've tried to accept Maud. I've said many times before that I believe Pinkie's feelings are too-often neglected, though her near-constant smile makes it easy to assume she's doing ok. Here her friends are more sensitive, and I'd like to think it's because they're learning.

 

Other Impressions and Final Assessment: We (US Americans and Canadians) live in a culture that gives a lot of attention to encouraging diversity of race, gender, religion, lifestyle, personal morality, and cultural custom. "Geek chic" is tolerated now, thanks largely to the Internet. But there's still pressure to conform to certain ways of thinking and to a narrow range of "mainstream" personality types, and mental/personality issues still carry a heavy stigma. Maud Pie impresses me as a bold demonstration that even caring people with strong friendships may still have a long way to go to reach out to those who don't fit in.

It's rare to see such a fun-filled episode deal meaningfully with so serious a message. Now, I considered at one point whether the lesson angle could have been even stronger with mention of Maud having been openly rejected by other ponies at some point, but that sort of backstory has already been done with Cheese Sandwich. As it stands, Maud Pie is one of this season's best stand-alones and currently ranks as my all-time favorite Pinkie episode.

 

Maud Pie armor rating: Crystal Mail
Ranked 7th of 26 season-four episodes
Ranked 35th of 147 stories overall

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