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

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Episode 49: "Ponyville Confidential"

Aired 3/31/2012, written by M.A. Larson (his tenth episode)
    Storyline:
  • Intro: Featherweight gets his cutie mark, and Apple Bloom suggests the Crusaders get their cutie marks through the school paper. Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo put the paper to various uses before AB clarifies she meant pursuing journalism.
  • Act 1: The Crusaders join the paper only to learn Diamond Tiara is the new editor. Diamond rejects their first articles, but they strike gold when they cover a gum related mishap involving Snips and Snails. The CMC are then assigned to be the paper's gossip columnists.
  • Act 2: Rarity finds a copy of the school paper and shows interest, inspiring the Crusaders to expand their coverage and distribution to all of Ponyville. The Mane Six enjoy the paper, though Twilight Sparkle has reservations. The CMC likewise develop a conscience about their slanderous reporting but are urged on. Opinions turn when the Mane Six read articles that invade their own privacy.
  • Act 3: Rarity confronts Sweetie Belle and convinces her to quit, but Diamond Tiara threatens blackmail. The whole town gives the cold shoulder to the CMC, so they release an open letter to the town apologizing for their reporting. They reconcile with their friends, and Cheerilee assigns Featherweight to replace Diamond Tiara as editor.

Character: We sure have seen a lot of the CMC this season. Thankfully, their role in the show has not been a monotony of cutie mark quests, and they're actually due for a cutie mark story lest we forget the team's established purpose.

It wasn't until my third viewing that I noticed how dominant Sweetie Belle is in this episode, not just for her scenes with Rarity but in the CMC bits as well. This is really her story. That makes three Sweetie Belle episodes this season (the others being Sisterhooves Social and Hearts and Hooves Day) and two for Apple Bloom (The Cutie Pox and Family Appreciation Day), but none yet focused on Scootaloo, unless you count her two-minute supporting role in The Mysterious Mare Do Well.

No character problems with the CMC here, and Diamond Tiara is definitely in character. It is interesting to see how quick she is to commend them when they're on the "dark side." The implication is that her usual antagonism toward the CMC isn't really personal; she just enjoys being bad. There's definitely a J. Jonah Jameson vibe to her role in this episode.

Silver Spoon doesn't play a bully role in this episode. In fact, she's one of the fillies celebrating Featherweight's new cutie mark at the beginning. See, she's nice when Diamond Tiara's not around.

Is Cheerliee oblivious to Diamond Tiara's issues, or is this a test to see how she handles responsibility? That question's left open, though Diamond does seem to have many of the qualities important in a leader, with the notable exception of kindness. In fact, I suspect there's probably a fanfic out there where Fluttershy mentors Diamond Tiara in hopes of instilling that virtue. Diamond also demonstrates some good business sense she no doubt inherited from her father. Let's not assume this incident will be enough to peg her as a budding criminal or anything, either. After all, the gossip was the CMC's idea at first, and they seemed fine with it for a while.

Hypocrisy on the part of the Mane Six (Twilight excepted) and the rest of the town for enjoying the gossip until it was about them? Definitely; that's the whole point. Read the Gabby Gums farewell letter if you missed that. Usually those who claim they're "giving the ponies what they want" actually are. It doesn't excuse them, but it damns the rest of us.


Lesson: Rarity and Sweetie Belle both draw the conclusion independently of each other, that the entertainment value of a story does not justify the hurt it causes if there is nothing constructive or redeeming about it. I've occasionally heard the acronym THINK used for evaluating whether to say something: it should be True, Helpful, Inspiring, Needful, and Kind. Even when something is true and necessary, it still needs to be communicated in a way that's caring, encouraging, and constructive. Even on the Internet.

A show like this raises the question of how well the MLP series lives up to its own lesson here. It's worth noting that as much physical comedy and snarkiness as we see on the show, neither the heroes nor the antagonists are held up to humiliation and scorn unless (as here) they've dealt out exactly that, and even the funny background events rarely call on us to laugh at a character's misfortune. It only seems to happen in episodes that are already problematic for other reasons.

A letter to the Princess is unnecessary here, since the material is laid out in an open letter that Twilight will no doubt pass along. The humility with which it is written, with no attempt to shift blame, is a moral in itself.


Resonance: There are some good sight gags in this one: Truffle Shuffle's fez, the fun with cucumber slices, and Twilight's hoof separator. I found it hilarious when Rarity wondered if Sweetie Belle was raised in a barn. Get it? Oh, you don't? Well, because they're pon... Oh, you were kidding? You do get it? Pretty good, huh? No? Anyway, Rarity gets a cute giggle in that scene.

The third act is appropriately serious. The Crusaders' rejection by the town is very sad, and taken together with Bridle Gossip suggests Ponyville can really make a pony feel unwelcome if they want to. It actually inspired a plot point in one of my fanfics. But the public apology and reconciliation are heartwarming enough to balance it out. The show thus leaves the viewer with a strong emotional response and a sense of the ordeal the Crusaders have just been through.

 

Other Impressions and Final Assessment: The first two-thirds of this episode are sort of a relaxing comedy. Most of the jokes hit, and the spa sequence is really a delight, but the real weight of this episode, as stated above, is in the third act. As sad as it was to see the CMC shunned like this, I think it was important to show how badly they'd misjudged and how many they'd hurt. From a less literal perspective, it represents the relational breach that forms when trust collapses. On a show where friends are very quick to forgive, we sometimes need to see real consequences to the characters' mistakes, and we get that here, if only for a couple minutes of screen time.

Aside from the shunning scenes, this is a pretty light episode. No songs, no real crises, not a lot of big laughs, WAY too many unponylike postures, but still an enjoyable episode with an important, well-delivered lesson and a powerful ending. And a brief mention of Trixie. I'm not trying to grade these CMC episodes the same, but they keep coming up around average, and this episode is no exception. And average is not bad; it's still a solid MLP episode.

 

Ponyville Confidential armor rating: Leather Armor
Ranked 18th of 26 season-two episodes
Ranked 123rd of 147 stories overall

Click HERE for Character Appearance List and Screentime.

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