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

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Episode 75: "Rainbow Falls"

Aired 1/18/2014, written by Corey Powell (her third episode)
    Storyline:
  • Intro: Rainbow Dash coaches Fluttershy and Bulk Biceps, hoping they will qualify for the Equestria Games aerial relay. Pinkie is present to cheer.
  • Act 1: Following the train ride to Rainbow Falls, Dash helps her limping team but is shown up by the Wonderbolts flying for Cloudsdale, until Soarin takes a fall.
  • Act 2: Dash rescues Soarin and is invited to practice in his place. She does so secretly until confronted by Twilight Sparkle. Spitfire and Fleetfoot ask Dash to join the Cloudsdale team permanently, and Dash is torn.
  • Act 3: Rainbow Dash fakes an injury to avoid having to choose between teams, but a conversation with Soarin convinces Dash to choose Ponyville instead. She comes clean and helps the Ponyville team qualify.

Character: Rainbow Dash's Element of loyalty is best shown by her willingness to drop everything to come to the rescue or help a friend through a crisis. In the regular day-to-day of life, though, she's outshone by Applejack, whose devotion is quieter but more steadfast. We've seen this in many episodes by now. Dash's loner nature, her competitive ego, and her often abrasive demeanor make her less overtly "friendly" than the other main characters. The fact that this friendship-focused series still treats her with as much respect as the other lead ponies says a lot for the writers' appreciation for diversity of personality. By the fourth season, Dash has learned to restrain her abrasiveness, but the rest of the above characteristics all set the stage for her test here.

This is the second "shimmery rainbow effect" episode, after Rarity Takes Manehattan. As I follow these episodes, it appears these tests are not about losing the Elements and then regaining them, but refining each pony to make them more fit for their Elemental virtue. Rarity's naivete and self-focus both interfered with the proper exercise of her generosity, and now Rainbow confronts her own selfish tendencies that keep her from being consistently loyal.

One thing I find interesting in Rainbow's test: We have seen Rainbow confused, worried, regretful, even in despair, but we've never seen her paralyzed with indecision. She's usually very quick to take sides. At least when she was choosing a pet, she could hold a contest. To see her pleading with Twilight for a way out, and then "choosing not to choose," is to recognize how strong her feelings are on both sides. She knows the right thing to do and wants to do it, but her dream is being offered to her on a silver platter, and the two are mutually exclusive. Recall that she decided once before to quit the Wonderbolts Academy, but only when her friends were nearly splatted. This time, all her hopes and dreams are on the line, just as Rarity's career was jeopardized in her episode. Besides that, it's just plain hard to be on a team with far weaker partners, and few ponies care more about winning than Rainbow Dash. But she cares about her friends more, right? For a while, even Dash isn't sure, and it's killing her..

It also seems in these episodes that the Mane Six are becoming teachers, with Coco Pommel and Spitfire learning friendship from their example. We even see Princess Twilight moving into the same sort of guidance role as Celestia. (By the way, I agree with Twilight's insistence that Rainbow make her own decision. Doing the right thing on your own initiative is a great deal different from merely taking good advice.) This is a natural development for the characters.

Applejack has fun here with her carbo-loading bit, and Pinkie and Twi's cheerleading efforts are a delight. Rarity's costume designs seem way off her usual good judgment, however. There really wasn't anything for her to do in this story, but leaving her out would have been as conspicuous as neglecting Spike again. Oh, wait...

Two more character notes: First, why is Fluttershy competing? It doesn't look like she's been pushed into it, and she never lacks in her enthusiasm. Her sacrificial kindness leads her to offer any medals won to Rainbow Dash, but her positive attitude here is striking. It seems that she genuinely wants to represent Ponyville, and that's especially encouraging when we think back to the events of Hurricane Fluttershy.

Second, Spitfire is tantalizingly ambiguous in this episode. Is she sincere in her apologies at the end? Just how teachable is she? Does she just not understand friendship the way Rainbow does yet is willing to learn, or is she just a smooth talker who knows what to say to Rainbow Dash both before and after their confrontation? You can come away from the episode with either impression; I'm withholding judgment for now and considering her a moral Wild Card. Considering this episode along with Sonic Rainboom, The Best Night Ever, Secret of My Excess, Hurricane Fluttershy, and Wonderbolts Academy, I think it's fascinating the writers have left the Wonderbolts' competence and nobility so open to interpretation. All things considered, I'd say Rainbow should question more than ever whether the Wonderbolts are something she ought to be a part of.


Lesson: Two morals here. Rainbow's lesson for the diary is about loyalty to one's friends being more important than personal ambition. She's known that from the start, but there's often a gap between knowing a truth and living it out. I personally think that lesson would come across stronger with less of Fleetfoot's shady no-one-needs-to-know peer pressure in favor of a more generous-sounding, friendly invitation from the Wonderbolts, alongside greater awareness/anxiety from Fluttershy and Bulk Biceps with regard to how much they're depending on Rainbow Dash to make up for their weakness—in other words, higher relational stakes, with the right thing to do being slightly less obvious.

The second moral, the necessity of choice, is handled extremely well. "When in doubt, do the right thing" sounds trite and tautological, but the more conscientious we are, the more we find ourselves in situations where doing what we know is right is sacrificially hard. And rather than making the choice just about Fluttershy and Bulk Biceps, Twilight wisely expands the circle of affected ponies to include Pinkie, Rarity, and Applejack, but restricts her words to facts and consequences, leaving it to Rainbow Dash to connect the dots and act on what she knows. Twilight's advice is caring and confrontational without being patronizing, and her reminder in the hospital makes it clear that Rainbow's Element remains in doubt until she addresses the dilemma.


Logic: The passing of the horsehoes/batons give us the clearest evidence yet that MLP hooves are "sticky," relying on magnetism, suction, or some other adhesive power to grasp objects. (One of several relevant theories is described here.) Connections: The second "key" episode. The plot of this story has a lot in common with Sweet and Elite, where Rarity tries secretly dividing her time between the Mane Six and new acquaintances who could advance her career. In that episode it was Rainbow Dash who called her out.

 

Resonance: For whatever reason, most of the gags really don't "hit" for me, and Bulk Biceps' difficulty getting off the ground is a little over the top since we've seen him fly just fine before. But Rarity just dropping that outfit on Twilight's head is funny, full stop. I enjoy seeing Twilight's cheerleading, both her early lame attempt and her more enthusiastic cheer with the wig later on. Pinkie's cheerleader outfit has hilariously unmistakable parallels to that worn by the Tara-Strong voiced video game character in Lollipop Chainsaw. Derpy's first scene is perfect, and I'm delighted that she spends the rest of the episode with the main characters. The conversation between Soarin and Dash in the hospital is very moving, and I find myself cheering Rainbow on as she confronts the Wonderbolts more than when she flies in the actual competition.

 

Other Impressions and Final Assessment: The first question that came to my mind was why, of all the pegasi in Ponyville, Rainbow Dash is teamed up with the town's two weakest adult fliers. The scene on the train answers that question: Each pegasus can only compete in one event. Most racing-type events rely on a single competitor's performance, whereas a relay is a good place to put your weaker athletes since the stronger ones can make up the time. However, the Wonderbolts commit their BEST fliers to the relay, which may be why all the other Ponyvillians avoid it. Bulk Biceps isn't one to be intimidated, and Fluttershy would insist on an event where all the pressure and attention isn't on her.

For the most part, this is a mild episode, especially in the context of the early fourth season. The first act and a half consist mostly of gags on Ponyville's team and Dash's two-timer montage. The story picks up when Twilight approaches Rainbow Dash, and things only get really interesting at the hospital. As a result, the episode seems to drag until the midway point, but I'm not sure how the pacing problems could be solved. It would probably be taking Dash out of character to leave her in indecision any longer than she is, but there's not much else to the story. I really don't find fault with the episode on any grounds other than that. I would have assumed Bulk Biceps would be a little better flier since he was at the Academy, but we really didn't see him in the air that much and there may be some confidence issues he's hiding under that macho exterior. Also, the cheerponies' bipedal postures can be explained by the fact that they're pegasi (who seem to have extraordinary flexibility in their limbs compared to other pony types) and the fact that they're cheerleaders, for whom limberness is a prerequisite.

In a season so tightly focused on the Mane Six, I'm glad to see our characters including other ponies in their circle. I'm also glad the rest of the Mane Six are there actively supporting Dash and Fluttershy, though Spike's absence is all the more noticeable as a result. (Grumble, grumble.) I believe the staff made the right choice saving Derpy's return until she could get a proper reintroduction as we see here.

This is yet another very good episode, but the impressive stuff doesn't kick in soon enough to qualify for gold. Instead it has the feel of some of the better early first-season episodes. Still, the hospital scene with Soarin is definitely one of the highlights of the season, and Rainbow's test has as much potential significance for her character as Rarity's did two weeks ago.

 

Rainbow Falls armor rating: Iron Mail
Ranked 24th of 26 season-four episodes
Ranked 115th of 147 stories overall

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