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

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Episode 58: "Sleepless in Ponyville"

Aired 12/8/2012, written by Corey Powell (her first episode)
    Storyline:
  • Intro: Scootaloo's scooter tricks draw praise from Rainbow Dash
  • Act 1: Scootaloo wants to spend more time with Rainbow, so Apple Bloom suggests inviting them on her upcoming camping trip to Winsome Falls with Applejack, along with Rarity and Sweetie Belle. They travel through the woods and stop for a campfire story before bedding down. Rainbow's tale of the Olden Pony causes Scootaloo to have nightmares.
  • Act 2: Tired from a restless night, Scootaloo fights sleep as the group travels on. She is now afraid of the woods when it grows dark and is terrified by Rainbow's next campfire story about the Headless Horse. They sleep that night in a cave, and the Headless Horse appears in Scootaloo's dreams.
  • Act 3: Luna visits Scootaloo's dream, reassuring her but telling her she must face her real-life fears or the nightmares will continue. Scootaloo awakens but is startled by noises and runs out into the woods. She falls into a river and is headed down a waterfall when Rainbow Dash rescues her. Scootaloo confesses that she's afraid of Rainbow finding out she's not as tough as she pretends. Rainbow reassures her, and everyone has fun together the next day at the falls.

Character: Finally, Scootaloo gets an episode, and this one's a doozy. Her admiration for Rainbow Dash is treated seriously here, as it has in many a fanfic. This is a filly in need of a role model; whatever family she may have, she evidently does not have a big sister like the other Crusaders. Since she has always been the most adventurous of the CMC, focusing on her fears gives her some needed depth. I especially like the fact that her fear is not just scary stories, the woods, or the dark: These things frighten her only because she's so stressed out about impressing Rainbow Dash. Her fear of being rejected as uncool is what's really at work here, as Luna helps her discover.

Rainbow Dash herself is partly to blame. While she's always been friendly and has known of Scootaloo's admiration since The Cutie Mark Chronicles and Owl's Well That Ends Well, Rainbow's constant and vocal attention to the coolness factor can come across as intimidating to the uncool, and can lead ponies like Scootaloo to put up a false front. This in turn arises from Rainbow Dash's own fear of being thought uncool, from her secret reading to her pet contest to her desperation for attention from the Wonderbolts. A close look at her various episodes suggests her competitiveness is more about reputation than personal satisfaction. She knows she's awesome, but she feels a constant need to prove herself and remind others just how good she is. Now, Rainbow's been getting better about this a little at a time, and her admission to Scootaloo here is a crucial step, setting the stage for the next episode, where her priorities will be put to the test.

Apple Bloom's willingness to turn a weekend with her own sister into a six-pony outing shows a security about her family that was probably cemented by the events of Sisterhooves Social, which episode is also key to understanding Rarity's willingness to brave "ugh, nature," and Sweetie Belle's longsuffering in towing the luggage. The teamwork the unicorn sisters show setting up their tent is a nice touch to indicate their closeness and perhaps even their similarities. Sweetie Belle gets to do "bad" singing in this episode for comedic purposes, to everypony's annoyance except Scootaloo, who bobs along to the noise until the end. After all the dark time in the woods (which is never said to be the Everfree Forest, by the way), the bright and colorful Winsome Falls provide a great ending as we see Rarity relishing a race with her sister and Rainbow helping Scootaloo fly.

The raisin in the sausage here is Luna. Her ability to visit the dreams of her subjects helps clarify her role as Princess of the Night: How else could she really serve her subjects as they sleep? This ability also makes her former turn as Nightmare Moon all the more frightening. She can basically see directly into the minds of ponies in a way that even Celestia apparently cannot. Or can she? When you think about it, we really know more about Luna than we do about Celestia by this point, despite the latter's many appearances on the show. She may be bright and sunny, but Celestia is the mysterious one. Luna is refreshingly straightforward and, as seen here, tells ponies exactly what they need to do rather than steer them into victory by a more circuitous route.

Further reflection on this episode gives added weight to Luna Eclipsed, where Luna was dismayed that ponies feared her and was perplexed with the idea that sometimes ponies enjoy being scared. With her access to dreams, she knows the deep-seated fears of her subjects and sees how painful and disruptive fear can be.


Lesson: Given by Princess Luna, thereby making it unnecessary to report the lesson to Princess Celestia. Actually, it seems the writers have given up on the letters. We only get one more after this, in Apple Family Reunion. A pity, but they may simply be trying to make the episodes less formulaic.

Anyway, the main lesson is the importance of facing your fears. And this becomes a friendship lesson as we discover that Scootaloo's fears are interpersonal. She's afraid of what her friend will think of her, and this fear is disrupting her ability to talk honestly with Rainbow Dash and enjoy her time with the others. This is such a common wedge between people; I'm glad the show tackles this in such a powerful way, even bringing in one of the Princesses to do it.


Connections: The trees in Scootaloo's nightmares were also seen in Friendship Is Magic part 2. Applejack and Rarity have heard the story of the Headless Horse once before, as told by Twilight in Look Before You Sleep, and were quite creeped out by it. Scootaloo briefly describes the climax of Sonic Rainboom. Body Count: Before the first campfire story, Rainbow says, "Okay, everybody get comfortable."

 

Resonance: It seems we get equal helpings of the silly and the serious here. Taking the serious first, the suspense/horror elements of the story are played straight and are very effective, especially the genuine peril Scootaloo faces at the climax. We also feel Scootaloo's silent suffering throughout the second and third acts, and her tears as she breaks down in front of Rainbow Dash are heartbreaking. But the delight of seeing Rainbow literally take her under her wing, and the whole scene of the ponies at the falls more than make up for the hardship. Rainbow helping Scootaloo "fly" in the final shot remains one of my favorite moments of the series.

Along the way, we find moments of fun throughout, most of them derived from the characters themselves, such as Rarity's predictable dread of "nature" and her outfit and palace tent, and Sweetie Belle regaling us with an obnoxiously repetitive song. Her collapsing into sleep immediately thereafter is hilarious. I also laughed at Rainbow's snoring, Scootaloo calling to the branches, and Rainbow's good-natured impression of Rarity. We get some awesome here, too: Scootaloo's scooter ride from The Show Stoppers is redone almost shot-for-shot, this time taking into account the upgraded Granny Smith, and Rainbow's building of the campsite is deliciously unbelievable.

 

Other Impressions and Final Assessment: There's so much gold in this episode, it's impossible to mine it all in one viewing. There are a lot of little background events, facial expressions, animation that lasts only a few frames, and short lines of dialogue that call back to previous episodes or are just funny in their own right. And whether you're drawn to laughs, dawws, awesomeness, feels, or the creeps, this story will tug you wherever you're inclined to go.

Sleepless is definitely the finest of the season and is in the running with The Cutie Mark Chronicles and The Last Roundup for my all-time favorite episode from the first three seasons. Comparing the three, I think Sleepless has the strongest ending and the tightest focus on one central character. The other two candidates may be better entry episodes for the series because of their inclusion of the adult cast. My personal tastes, whereby I find Luna to be my favorite character overall and Scootaloo to be my favorite Crusader, tip the scales toward this episode as my choice for all-time best. (Note: Since the time of this writing, a few episodes from seasons 5 and 6 have actually beaten this one as personal favorites.)

 

Sleepless in Ponyville armor rating: Genji Armor
Ranked 1st of 13 season-three episodes
Ranked 5th of 147 stories overall

Click HERE for Character Appearance List and Screentime.

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