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

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Episode 21: "Over a Barrel"

Aired 3/25/2011, written by Dave Polsky (his second episode)
    Storyline:
  • Intro: On a train transporting one of Applejack's trees to Appleloosa, she treats the tree as if it were her own child.
  • Act 1: The Mane Six spend the night on the train and are awakened the next morning to a buffalo herd that steals the caboose containing Spike and the tree, and Rainbow and Pinkie give chase.
  • Act 2: Applejack's cousin Braeburn gives the others a tour of Appleloosa while Spike introduces Rainbow and Pinkie to the buffalo. The Mane Six learn of a dispute over an orchard planted on buffalo stampeding grounds. They are reunited, but their involvement in the dispute and Pinkie's failed reconciliation song lead to a threat of attack.
  • Act 3: The town prepares for an attack, ignoring the pleas of the Mane Six. The buffalo attack the town, which defends itself with apple pies. When the chief is hit with a pie, its taste prompts him to reach a compromise with the townsponies.

Character: Everyone's in character here, and the guests are all likeable and interesting. I find it easy to accept the Mane Six's differing allegiances having heard only one side of the conflict, escalating the disagreement because they don't see how a friend could possibly take the other side, and then struggling to repair the breach they'd caused. The fact that all the characters' natural responses contributed to someone else's problem is a nice twist. I'm also fine that the resolution comes from the buffalo chief's discovery, rather than from any of the Mane Six.

It is odd that Applejack is not present during the fight, neither with the Appleloosans nor with the Mane Six. It seems someone so dependable would be with those she cares about in a crisis. (Maybe she's guarding Bloomberg?)

In real life, large-scale conflicts are often exacerbated by the hateful, the power-hungry, the bloodthirsty, the perpetually unreasonable. There are evil people and organizations out there. But within a personal relationship (a non-abusive one, at least), both parties would rather be at peace than argue, and their disagreements often arise from having only a partial understanding of a situation. I believe this explains why the guest characters in this episode are written to be as amiable as they are.


Lesson: I'm more charitable toward the message of this episode than most reviewers seem to be. That the lesson would be missed or dismissed by so many indicates that its delivery was not effective, probably because it works best on an interpersonal level but was presented on a large scale, town versus tribe.

The prospect of enemies becoming friends through understanding and compromise depends on the cause of the enmity and a mutual willingness to set it aside. I have seen many cases of children and teens going from friends to enemies and back again over trifles, and within that context this is an important lesson. Even as adults, we are often too quick to label someone an adversary without engaging them to find the point of difference or appeal to them for a solution. But even then, reconciliation is a two-way street and a willingness to compromise may not help if the other side proves unwilling to listen. In other words, it's not as simple as "you gotta share," and the reaction to Pinkie's song helps to make that point.

One secondary lesson of this episode, demonstrated by the Mane Six but not dwelt upon, is the futility of trying to resolve someone else's dispute uninvited. You have to win someone's trust before they will heed your advice; otherwise it's just pointless song and dance.


Logic: Not so much internal logic as extrapolation, but many viewers took exception to this episode as a simplistic or even racist adaptation of the tragic story of clashes between white settlers and the Native American tribes in the 1800s and earlier. I really don't think the writer is suggesting the two historical sides had equal complaints that could have been ironed out with a compromise. More likely, he's using an old-fashioned cowboys-and-Indians setting to teach the above-stated lessons about personal friendship. And it's based not on American history but on the Western film genre, though they did use a Native American consultant for the sake of accuracy and sensitivity. The buffalo are nobly presented and both sides have legitimate grievances.

Oh, and I'm only slightly bothered by some of Ponyville's more prominent background ponies showing up here. Maybe they're visiting relatives as well.

Connections: Braeburn shows up at the next family reunion, and the town and a few buffalo show up in Pinkie Pride and Twilight's Kingdom.

Body Count: Rainbow says (referring to a buffalo), "Nobody tricks Rainbow Dash and gets away with it." Twilight says, "Why won't anybody be rational and reasonable?"

 

Resonance: The beginning and end of the show are lots of fun, with laughs coming from Applejack's treatment of Bloomberg, the Fluttershy=tree discussion, Braeburn's tour of Appleloosa, and the pie fight. I cheered at Carrot Top's buffalo ride and the anvil ruse. This series really knows how to use its anvils for maximum effect. Not much resonates with me during the larger middle portion of the episode, but Fluttershy tackling Pinkie Pie is a funny and absolutely unexpected moment. The fall of Chief Thunderhooves is especially well-played, giving a classic Western-style tearjerker a hilarious surprise twist.

 

Other Impressions and Final Assessment: Using apple pies as weapons is one of those obvious-but-brilliant moves I like to see in adapting material for a kids' show, right up there with VeggieTales turning the David-and-Bathsheba affair into the theft of a rubber duck. (As I write this, it occurs to me that that VeggieTales episode also involves a pie fight.) In this case, the use of pies actually helps resolve the plot, and so I commend the writer for his lateral thinking here. Also, it's becoming evident that Rainbow Dash is the go-to pony to demonstrate the Worf Effect—a guest who can out-maneuver Rainbow is a force to be reckoned with.

A fair outing for an adventure show. It lags a lot in the middle and is clumsy with its message handling, so it falls into that uncomfortable category of hindered-by-problems-but-still-decent shows. Some strong sight gags and a couple iconic character moments put this just below Boast Busters.

(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.)

 

Over a Barrel armor rating: Leather Vest
Ranked 23rd of 26 season-one episodes
Ranked 138th of 147 stories overall

Click HERE for Character Appearance List and Screentime.

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