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

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Episode 73: "Rarity Takes Manehattan"

Aired 1/4/2014, written by Dave Polsky (his eighth episode)
    Storyline:
  • Intro: Rarity's friends are set to join her in Manehattan for her Fashion Week competition, and she surprises them all with tickets for the most popular Bridleway musical.
  • Act 1: In song, Rarity confronts the impersonal big city with displays of generosity, but she loses track of time. A cabbie she helped gives her a lift to the contest, but she forgets her dresses.
  • Act 2: A grateful bellhop delivers Rarity's dresses just in time. A competitor asks for some of Rarity's fabric "for accents" but uses it to copycat her entire line. Rarity's friends help her create new designs, but in her distress Rarity treats them like sweatshop workers. The next morning at the show, her friends' seats are empty.
  • Act 3: After a fruitless search for her friends, Rarity returns to the contest to speak with the director. Rarity's friends reveal that they overslept, and she makes up with an exclusive showing of the musical. Her cheating competitor's assistant then shows up to reveal that Rarity won the contest and gives her a spool of rainbow-colored thread as a gift.

Character: Rarity's Element of generosity is consistent but easily overlooked. Throughout the series, it has often been mentioned or displayed, but it's never been featured very prominently. Her major episodes have focused on her flaws and the lessons she had yet to learn, and in the background she's often been used as comic relief. Her actions in the first act match what we've seen in the past: She gives naturally to anypony, without a second thought. And though it's not done for the sake of reward, "give and it will be given to you" is a truth she's observed and which saves her multiple times in the course of the story. It's quite obvious that Rarity has a lot to give, monetarily. This makes sense given the success of her business and her endorsement by other important ponies. (Think of the Canterlot orders she received at the end of Sweet and Elite.) How much of this generosity can be written off as a business expense for tax purposes is a question not likely to be answered on a children's show. But in any case, we see both that her tastes are aligned with those of the fashion industry and that the innocence of her "Ponyville values" still sets her apart from her big-city competition, with both positive and negative effects.

Rarity's character flaws show here as well, particularly her willingness to use other ponies (and a dragon). This goes way back to the first season and hasn't been directly addressed before now. Writing from the standpoint of the post-season hiatus, I've observed that she's better behaved after this episode, asking for help rather than assuming, though she's still used to operating with assistance as a natural consequence of her profession and social status.

The rest of the Mane Six are at their best here, reflecting the lessons they've learned over the past three seasons. Notice the fun they all have doing things together (including Fluttershy's exuberance), Rainbow Dash's instant concern upon spotting a sad Rarity, Twilight's "whatever it takes" rallying of the troops, and most notably the fact that abandoning Rarity was the furthest thing from their minds. As Twilight says, "We would never let one thing like that change how we feel about you." The drama of the ponies' absence at the contest is still keenly felt, and it's realistic for Rarity to believe they really are that angry; but four years in, it's no surprise that they're willing to forgive their panicked friend. And as Applejack demonstrates, they do so honestly, acknowledging the hurt and deliberately setting it aside. We're seeing mature friendship here, and with it a sense of security that confirms the season premiere's lesson that it's not the physical Elements of Harmony that has bound these friends together, but friendship itself. As a minor observation, we see Rainbow Dash's self-imposed self-control lessons continuing, although this example drifts back into the looking-cool issues she's struggled with in the past.

Spike is in the background in this episode, but he's not neglected. Rarity displays seven tickets in the cold open, and he eagerly volunteers to be the luggage carrier. We do see that eagerness disappear pretty quickly, and his burden furthers the long-running gag of one character or another laboring beneath a mountain of Rarity's luggage. However, Rarity offers at least one carrot dog as compensation (he's seen with another one later), and he's similarly weighed down by the rest of the Mane Six after their day on the town. For those who see Spike's treatment as being in conflict with Power Ponies, remember that the issue there was that he wanted to help and wasn't given the chance to. In this story he's put to plenty of use. I personally think Spike's best moment is in the theater, when Rarity admits her new arrangement will keep her in Manehattan. In the next shot, Spike's spines are wilted, and he looks extremely distraught.

This episode also introduces three named guest characters who are instantly memorable from their look, voice, and characterization. We shouldn't be surprised if we see any or all of these again. Suri was called many not-very-family-friendly names by bronies watching the livestream, and she earns every single one of them. Coco seems to have stolen the hearts of the fandom in a manner we haven't seen since Babs and Lightning Dust. But my favorite new character this time around is Prim Hemline. She combines the all-business, no-nonsense approach of Ms. Harshwinny with the stylized attitude demonstrated by her perfectly-timed tail flick. The result is a character who's intimidating without any indication of being self-absorbed or unfair, and we really don't know how such a character will respond to Rarity's dilemma.


Lesson: The lesson of generosity is conveyed beautifully in the first act's song, with the second act offering an objection and the third act answering that objection. Manehattan's problem, from Rarity's perspective, is the lack of pervasive generosity, so she should be even more giving there, not less. However, being "as innocent as a dove but as wise as a serpent" is a difficult balance to maintain, and Rarity's simple-hearted generosity carries a certain risk. When taken advantage of, Rarity has a breakdown - not because of the threat to her career as in Suited for Success, but because of the personal betrayal. Manehattan "killed her with her own loving heart," to quote one of my favorite Nightwish lyrics. But at the turning point, she realizes friendship is more important to her than any of this, and she tears herself up out of remorse. The rest of the story rewards her for rediscovering the importance of friendship, with Rarity displaying generosity toward her friends and one kind stranger.

Like all the best episodes of MLP, this one has a couple other lessons in the background. The first act ends with Rarity almost late for her contest, which is a nod to the simple reality of schedules. You don't want to schedule yourself so tightly that you don't have time to be nice, but if you drop everything at every interruption you won't be able to fulfill your commitments. This actually got Rarity into trouble once before, in Sweet and Elite, although that time her interruptions were more self-interested than sincerely generous.

In the second act, the Mane Six's spring into action is well-intentioned but implicitly shortsighted: They don't take time to deal with the hurt and betrayal that Rarity's experiencing. Instead they get right to work, leaving her to nurse her anger for hours until it explodes. Yes, get a plan of action to take some of the pressure off, but then address the pain with some tender comfort before diving into your next task.

The stability of the Mane Six's friendship and their understanding of one another (discussed in the character section) is on display in the third act, but also present is a subtle dig at dishonesty. Since we as viewers have long since classified Suri as a villain, we take for granted that she's deceitful in her last words to Rarity. But when Coco says "she lied," the other ponies' reaction shows how distasteful they find lying to be. We see "social white lies" occasionally on the show, but lying really hasn't been called out like this since The Cutie Pox. The issue shows up again in Rainbow Falls, and I believe the writers may be building up to a larger point about this, perhaps coming to a head in Applejack's key episode.


Logic: Chatter during the livestream broadcast of this episode indicates that many viewers still overestimate Twilight's ability to teleport. Couldn't she just teleport Rarity to her destination? Typically Twilight only teleports across a room or a similarly short distance. On the few occasions she's teleported longer distances, say a block or two, it has really worn her out. It's also naturally risky to teleport to an unfamiliar destination, lest you end up inside a wall or over a body of water. Teleporting up or down a long spiral staircase, from Canterlot to Ponyville, or across Manehattan, is simply out of the question. A better question to ask would be why Rainbow Dash doesn't fly Rarity across town, since she's carried Rarity at high speed before, and the pegasus traffic is shown to be minimal. (The dresses would still be a problem.) The first "key" episode, as revealed in the two-part season finale.

 

Resonance: This episode has its share of gags—Pinkie's "I love jumping up and down" is my favorite—but this is one of the more serious stories. The sad parts are really sad: Suri's briefly seen mistreatment of Coco, the beginning of Rarity's breakdown, and the dark reprise of her song. The whole first act and the return of Rarity's friends are extremely uplifting. I haven't been this moved since Magical Mystery Cure.

The staying-in-Manehattan fake-out (resolved by Rarity handing the job off to Coco, which I imagine still has to be worked out with the costume designer) really got me the first time through. If one of the Mane Six were to leave the show, whether temporarily or permanently, I'd want it done this way: as a total shock, not hinted at or revealed beforehand. The resolution thus came as a great relief and not as a cop-out or a cheap trick.

 

Other Impressions and Final Assessment: This is really good stuff. The structure of the episode gives equal weight to character and lesson in driving the plot. It both encapsulates the themes of the series and shows how far the characters have come since the beginning. Fashion focus notwithstanding, this is definitely a good starter episode for anyone wishing to introduce a friend to the series. And kudos to the writer for making the dilemmas relatable. Rarity doesn't have a legitimate excuse for being late, she just lost track of time doing other things. She's blindsided by a rival eager to take advantage. The other ponies oversleep. This is real life; who hasn't been in these situations?

One thought occurred to me after several viewings: If Coco has Rarity's trophy, she must have gotten it with the permission of Prim or some other authority. It seems natural to think she must have said something to them about Suri's misbehavior. We don't see Suri after this, but I imagine she's being asked some difficult questions.

Two other issues deserve mention. First, previous seasons of MLP have really deemphasized the importance of winning. On the heels of the Cutie Mark Crusaders' victory in Flight to the Finish, we see Rarity win this contest. Does this hurt the story at all? I do find it counterproductive when a character decides winning doesn't matter and is then given the most important reward of all...winning. Here I think it's ok for three reasons: (1) The alternative of Suri winning would seem to reward her behavior and teach that generosity really does hurt you. (2) The dramatic flow of the episode is such that when Rarity pronounces she doesn't care about the outcome, we don't either. (3) Rarity's win is natural considering the audience response to her design, her previously demonstrated genius, and her connections in the industry. Nevertheless, I am keeping an eye on this. With all the build-up to the Equestria Games, we'll have plenty more opportunities to see how season four handles its competitions.

Second, in Princess Twilight Sparkle—Part 2, the Tree of Harmony destroys the vines with a shimmering rainbow effect, and a rainbow-colored trail runs down the tree to the spot where the keyhole box emerges. In this episode, at the precise point Rarity remembers the priority of friendship, we see the same shimmering rainbow play across a stanchion. That effect shows again on the spool in the final shot. A tweet from Meghan McCarthy when RTM first aired drew special attention to this effect, and so I don't think it's meant to be any surprise that this has something to do with Rarity's key. As I finish this review, Rainbow Falls has aired and I'm noticing a pattern. If that pattern holds, over the course of the season we will see each pony's elemental virtue tested. Each will initially fall short of the virtue for which she's best known, but upon rediscovering her Element, we'll see that rainbow effect, and at the end she'll receive a small gift from somepony who has learned that Elemental virtue herself. That gift will then answer the "key question" of the season in due time. [Update: The finale upholds this interpretation, which was pretty much acknowledged by show staff in the weeks prior, with Meghan going so far as to refer to these as "key episodes."]

Of course, I also have to mention that we're treated once again to the incredible voice of professional opera singer Kazumi Evans for Rarity's songs. This is easily Crystal, just a superb episode with no significant drawbacks and an expert treatment of the show's most complex main character. An excellent way to kick off this season's "arc" episodes.

 

Rarity Takes Manehattan armor rating: Crystal Mail
Ranked 8th of 26 season-four episodes
Ranked 38th of 147 stories overall

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