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

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Episode 150: "Parental Glideance"

Aired 5/20/2017, written by Josh Hamilton (his first episode)
    Storyline:
  • Intro: To complete a school research project on Rainbow Dash, Scootaloo catapults to Cloudsdale and meets Rainbow Dash's parents.
  • Act 1: Rainbow's parents show off their house full of memorabilia and shrines to their daughter, but Scootaloo discovers they have not been told Dash is a Wonderbolt.
  • Act 2: At Scootaloo's invitation, Mom and Dad follow Dash's Wonderbolt activities, but their cheers and support are obnoxious and disruptive. Embarrassed, Dash ultimately chews out her parents and sends them away.
  • Act 3: Seeing Scootaloo disenchanted, Dash recounts how her parents' unconditional loud support caused embarrassment and drove Dash's friends away. Scootaloo counters that some fillies (including her) can only wish for parental support, and Dash realizes how her parents made her the confident pony she is. She and Scootaloo arrange a Wonderbolts salute to her parents, and the family cheers Scootaloo on at school when she gives her report.

Character: This episode helps explain some of the quirks and apparent inconsistencies in Rainbow Dash's personality. Why is such an exuberant, fun-loving pony such a loner? Why is she often revulsed by sentiment, but often gets sentimental herself? Why does she alternately crave attention and suffer from stagefright? What's the deal with her hero worship? Why did she choose the low-key Fluttershy to cheer her on way back in Season 1? And why does she initially flee Pinkie Pie? A lot of that, as well as more obvious aspects of Dash's character, evidently goes back to the near-worshipful support she received from her parents, a support she mostly hated but secretly, perhaps only unconsciously, craved. If Rainbow Dash dropped out of flight school, and if in fact she left Cloudsdale to move to Ponvyille in her early adolescence, as suggested in the published version of The Friendship Journal, it may have been to get away from her parents. But recognition of her awesomeness was always a need, and she's desperately lost without it.

More generally, we've known for some time now that Equestrian magic is fueled by emotions, and Rainbow Dash has mentioned before that a major element of pegasus magic derives from confidence. Having received an excess of confidence from her parents is likely why Rainbow Dash is such a skilled and speedy flyer. In short, Dash is being quite literal when she says her parents made her the awesome pony she became.

Scootaloo apparently sees this, and she has the Jiminy Cricket role in this episode. She serves as the perspective character, approves the parents' actions, rebukes Rainbow Dash, corrects her thinking, and delivers the moral with a glancing reference to her own as-yet-unrevealed family situation. And while the parents' enthusiasm is exaggerated to a full order of magnitude beyond Pinkie's, so that they really do need to take it down a notch, I am 100% behind Scootaloo here. Rainbow Dash's parents are gold. Let the world be bothered; the pride of one's parents is a treasure not everyone has and that can never be taken for granted.

More about that in a minute. First, we should also observe that Rainbow Dash's behavior is also understandable. I find her lashing out at her parents less problematic than Sweetie Belle's blow-up at Rarity last week. Both are cases of immaturity and ingratitude toward well-meaning family members. But Sweetie's explosion came after only a couple hours' frustration, at a moment when her sister was trying to make amends. Dash is dealing with years of resentment, possibly never expressed before, that bottled up anger Starlight Glimmer tried to deal with earlier this season. And her parents' excesses aren't just embarrassing but unrelenting, invasive, and even putting other ponies in potential danger. So yeah, I understand. Still, Dash crosses the line in what she says: She attacks their support itself. She's tired of it, and they need to leave. And not just leave the locker room, apparently. All we see points to them being out of contact with their daughter for years. They probably hear this as meaning she wants them out of her life. That's probably what Scootaloo hears, too. So there's the dilemma. Imperfect parents, imperfect daughter, moment of anger. It happens. What's important is what happens next.

All of this is wonderful writing, by the way. I thought the Rarity/Sweetie Belle situation in Forever Filly served both ponies' characters poorly. But this really isn't surprising coming from Rainbow Dash, and cartoonish exaggeration aside, her parents' pride makes sense, too. Scootaloo's the one who brings it all together, although it's Rainbow Dash's monologue that gives us the context that drives her realization. As for the ending, it's perfect. Whatever guardianship Scootaloo has, she covets the support she sees in Dash's parents, and big-sister Dash makes sure she has that support coming her way.

Also, I'm not sure whether it's deliberate that we see a photo of Rainbow Dash's friends for most of the scene where she's at her least friendly; we've seen it before. But if it is, that's a nice touch of irony. And yes, I notice what they do with Derpy, and her upbeat attitude is inspiring.


Lesson: Parental Glideance isn't a story about parenting; it's about how to deal with your parents. Some parents are balanced, some are neglectful or even abusive, some are clingy. Some are loving but strict. Some are pushovers. Some are over-protective. In some cases you may need to learn to face the world on your own, while some parents believe it's part of their job to embarrass their teenage children with their support and affections. You don't get to choose your parents, and they usually decide how to parent without your input, so that's pretty much outside your control.

But there's no greater joy under the sun than to have the love of your family. Whether you feel you're appreciated and supported too much or not enough, they know you are their legacy, and they are moved when they see persistence and strength of character in you. Rainbow Dash has a mom and dad who love each other and stay together, which is the number-one predictor of happiness and lifelong success. But even in the worst situations I've encountered in my interactions with young people, parents and other guardians love their children and want them to do well, even if they're going about parenting in foolish and even harmful ways.

As Scootaloo points out, not everyone has even that. I remember one of my first times dating a girl, I was telling her about my family. As I described how my home was a refuge from bullying and problem teachers I occasionally had at school, she broke down crying. Home was where she needed a refuge from. Neither she nor most of her friends had ever experienced the support that for me was commonplace. But perhaps you can do what Scootaloo has done: find older role models, reach out to someone wise and gentle, a responsible person who can provide that moral support. And in the meantime, the best path to healing within your family, whatever your role or situation, is to conduct yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.


Resonance: You know what, I don't need to say much here. We get jokes. We get awesome air shows. It gets sad. It gets happy again. But for me it's the issue itself, more than the story, that makes this one of the series' most moving episodes. All of us have, or once had, families, and all families have issues. So there ought to be something in this that resonates with any viewer. Act one is candy for Rainbow Dash fans. In act two you're probably going to be upset with either Rainbow or her parents, maybe both, but hopefully act three puts things in perspective as she and Scootaloo hash things out. But the pace is slow enough to get us thinking about the role of family for youth and adults, how that's influenced us, and what we owe those who've invested in our lives. And that's worth a tear or two.

 

Other Impressions and Final Assessment: This is from a first-time MLP writer? The story's incredible, the pacing is perfect, and the dialogue is spot-on. Of course, he's a veteran of respected works like Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Legend of Korra, and the most recent incarnation of Voltron. And this particular story relies not so much on mastery of the ponies as a grasp of family dynamics and the human condition and just the right balance of boldness and sensitivity in presentation. The other elements of the episode come together to have it scraping the top of the Crystal tier. It's right up there with the best work of Larson, Rogers, McCarthy, and Lewis & Songco. What I respect most about Parental Glideance is the wise risk-taking in allowing Dash to really vent at her parents and at Scootaloo, opening herself up, and just as authentically receive Scootaloo's rebukes. It's simultaneously wonderful to watch the characters grow personally, heal, and build relationships right before our eyes, and painfully resonant for viewers with family conflicts of their own, whether they identify with Rainbow Dash or Scootaloo.

Even beyond the parent reveal and backstory tidbits, this episode is everything I hope for when I sit down to watch MLP. In my judgment, it edges out Top Bolt as the best recent Dash story, being beaten only by The Mane Attraction and the Genji-tier episodes.

 

Parental Glideance armor rating: Crystal Armor
Ranked 3rd of 14 season-seven episodes
Ranked 15th of 161 stories overall

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