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

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Episode 112: "Scare Master"

Aired 10/31/2015, written by Natasha Levinger (her fourth episode)
    Storyline:
  • Intro: As Fluttershy prepares to spend Nightmare Night hiding under her bed, Angel indicates he's run out of carrots and insists she get more in town.
  • Act 1: Spooked by the town's decorations and by Granny Smith's promotion for the Apples' haunted corn maze, Fluttershy goes to Twilight Sparkle's castle seeking lettuce for Angel. Spike and the others talk her into spending the evening with her friends.
  • Act 2: Fluttershy selects the plainest costume and is too scared for any of her friends' activities, so Twilight suggests she do the scaring. At Fluttershy's cottage, her efforts to terrify them with social faux pas fail epically. Determined to conquer Nightmare Night, Fluttershy turns to Angel for ideas.
  • Act 3: The rest of the Mane Six enter the corn maze. The standard tricks soon give way to threats of skittering shadows and floating ghosts. The ponies run only to fall into an underground cavern where they are sealed inside. They encounter Granny Smith's corpse, a swamp creature attack, and a giant spider web, before emerging atop a hill where they're attacked by Flutterbat. Seeing their terror, Fluttershy reveals she was behind the scares, but she still doesn't like Nightmare Night because she simply doesn't find fear enjoyable. Her friends accept her tastes, and she returns happily to her cottage and her usual custom.

Character: Fluttershy is who she is. Her great desire is to prevent or alleviate the suffering of herself and anyone she can help, whether pony or critter. So it's no surprise she hates even the pretense of threat, and her great compassion means she suffers along with any creature who displays fear or pain. Naturally, then, Nightmare Night is not her holiday. Nevertheless, her care for Angel trumps her own discomfort, so she braves the festival preparations in search of food. She may be showing a little bit of tough love in seeking out hay and lettuce instead of the carrots Angel insisted on; if so, that's a nice bit of continuity. Without question, her great step forward here is to face Nightmare Night head-on rather than let her fears keep her from something she might be able to enjoy with her friends. Not only is she growing, but she's doing so deliberately and with great courage. And creativity, too, as others point out multiple times.

Some of us would be creeped out by the animals Fluttershy feels comfortable with, but to her they're like family. But anything associated with the horrible holiday is unfamiliar, and when you're already on edge, anything unexpected can seem scary. At the boutique and Sugarcube Corner, Fluttershy keeps centering on her fear of being attacked and her need to defend herself. That suggests she's envisioned that as the risk of her ever going out on Nightmare Night, but it also tells us she stays alert and has an idea of what to do in case of real trouble. For all her imagined fears, she's quite the capable pony. However, tonight her friends are right there, and she needs to learn to trust them to protect her.

I always like seeing the Mane characters just enjoying a fun time together, especially now that their friendships have matured. We see a lot of care and consideration. Rainbow Dash still has an edge to her personality, which is important for her distinctness, and she's still irritated by Fluttershy's squeamishness, but Rarity and Twilight are quick to keep Dash in line if she says anything that might be hurtful. The rest are admirably supportive of Fluttershy, and Pinkie in her flexibility doesn't miss a beat as she adapts to her friend's reservations.

Spike fares the best of all the characters in this episode, beginning with a fantastic scene where he hones his skills of encouragement and guidance. It's his persuasion that convinces Fluttershy to push beyond her comfort zone. He also displays heroism in going back for Rarity and Pinkie during the chase.


Lesson: One of the best things an MLP story can do is follow up on a previously learned lesson so we can see how a character is doing. Here Fluttershy explicitly recalls the events of Filli Vanilli, where she learned to face the fears that were keeping her from doing something she loved. This time she's acting more for the sake of time with her friends, and after a couple missteps, she flies way beyond anypony's expectations. But the new lesson is that it's okay not to like something your friends enjoy. I recall many a childhood party at a roller rink, where every time someone or other would offer to teach me how to skate. I accepted a couple of times, enough to know I could probably learn to skate if I stuck with it, but also enough to know it was not something I would ever enjoy. Likewise, I and anyone reading this review can enjoy watching My Little Pony, but others never will, regardless of anything we say or do. And that's okay. The lesson is delivered wonderfully; I believe the writing, animation, and vocal delivery in the resolution scene are all extremely well done, and having Fluttershy be a true "scare master" allows her to make her point from a position of strength.

On a minor note, Fluttershy's unsuccessful series of scares at the cottage table make their own point about the importance of hospitality, which is a vital element of friendship. Some of us are pretty easy-going about such things, but whether you're the guest or the host, it's good to try not to be a cause of stress to the friend you're sharing your time with.


Resonance: From the moment Fuzzylegs used his webbing to shut the cottage window, I was impressed by the sheer quality of this episode. The creepy atmosphere is all over the place, even during the aforementioned table scene. Most awesome is the establishing shot of Twilight's castle and the angles inside. The corn maze scene opens with a delightfully blood-curdling scream, and the sealing of the underground cavern is also effective in ratcheting up the suspense. We move quickly to the most intense chase scene in the series so far, including a giant-spider scare without having to really show a giant spider. At the climax the animators do an incredible job portraying actual terror on the faces of the main characters. Luna Eclipsed remains one of my favorite stories as a character-driven friendship story, but Scare Master is the real "Halloween" episode.

To offset the creepy atmosphere, we get a few heartwarming Rarity/Spike moments, along with plenty of Fluttershy-appropriate cuteness. Applejack's costume is adorable, and Rarity gets a fun playful laugh as she runs out of the eyeball cave. Disappointed mummy Big Mac got an "aw" from me, as did Fluttershy pawing subtly at the bat costume. Even the animals get into the act, with Angel being a vampire, and Fuzzylegs giving a salute that's returned by Applejack.

Prior to the tense third act, there's a ton of effective humor to keep things interesting. My first laugh came from Granny getting carried away with her spooking, followed by a nice reaction from Big Mac. Spike's intro cues Fluttershy's "war face," and I also laughed as he made his second head nod to agree with his advice. Rarity's mermaid tail provides several moments of slapstick humor, and at one point she just pushes roller-Pinkie straight into a wall for absolutely no reason. Nightmare Moon has never looked sillier, and while some viewers may have found them annoying, I chuckled at Fluttershy's increasingly ridiculous rationalizations. (Hey, that's just who she is.) Pinkie's candy bag artwork is hilarious, as is Rainbow Dash dumping the candy into her helmet. Rei Ayanami among the "unplanned guests" is the funniest part of the table scene, and I can't not mention Derpy dressed as Princess Twilight.

 

Other Impressions and Final Assessment: If it seems odd that an autumn episode would follow one about Hearth's Warming Eve, this episode was produced before Rarity Investigates! but was rescheduled to air on the holiday. My post-season timeline will reflect the production order.

We get a name for the spider from Maud Pie, and in-show confirmation that the bear's name is Harry. (Recall that Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy once claimed to be housesitting for a bear called Harry.) The few new background pony costumes we get this time around are neat, and I like the fact that Fluttershy's usual Nightmare Night routine includes peanut butter sandwiches. The story's climax does a fun perspective flip on us, as Flutterbat looks real during her attack but is clearly a costume upon the reveal.

I have just a couple very, very minor criticisms, first that if Angel "kept scurrying after" our heroes, we should have seen that happen more than once. And since they emerge from the cave on a hill overlooking the corn maze, perhaps we could have seen them running on an upward incline during the chase. A few viewers expressed confusion over Fluttershy's asking for hay for Angel, but hay or grass is actually an important part of any rabbit's diet, and is in fact much healthier for a rabbit than carrots.

This is the fourth episode this season to break into my personal top ten. High praise to the creators at every stage of the process.

 

Scare Master armor rating: Crystal Armor
Ranked 5th of 26 season-five episodes
Ranked 15th of 147 stories overall

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