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

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Episode 17: "Stare Master"

Aired 2/25/2011, written by Chris Savino (his second episode)
    Storyline:
  • Intro: Sweetie Belle's desire to help Rarity with her sewing predictably leads to disaster.
  • Act 1: As Fluttershy returns Opalescence from grooming, Apple Bloom and Scootaloo arrive at Rarity's for a Cutie Mark Crusaders sleepover. Rarity is too busy, so Fluttershy volunteers to take in the girls.
  • Act 2: Twilight Sparkle tells Fluttershy she's on a visit to Zecora's in the Everfree Forest. At the cottage, the Crusaders run wild until Fluttershy puts them to bed. Sweetie Belle's lullaby awakens the chickens, and the Crusaders follow one into the forest.
  • Act 3: Fluttershy follow the girls and finds Twilight in the forest, turned to stone. As the Crusaders call for the chicken, Fluttershy warns of a nearby cockatrice, which attacks them. Fluttershy uses "the Stare" to force the cockatrice to back down. It flees and returns Twilight to normal, and the CMC thereafter show a special respect for Fluttershy.

Character: Fluttershy is well balanced in this episode. On one hoof, everything she says has an almost brilliantly cutesy twist on it; she's like the Joss Whedon of adorableness. On the other hoof, she seems to have gained some assertiveness since her afraid-of-her-own-shadow appearances and takes her responsibility over the children seriously. (Is every babysitter willing to risk death to defend her charge?) Her "stare" ability is an extension of her connection with animals; we never see it effective against ponies or other sentients, though she gives it a try with Discord.

Though they were introduced in Call of the Cutie, this is the first outing for the Cutie Mark Crusaders. We find out in the open that Sweetie Belle is Rarity's sister. (As of post-season 4, we still don't know where Scootaloo comes from. Apple Bloom would probably guess an egg.) I haven't devoted much attention to the differences between the three CMCs, but Sweetie Belle seems a bit on the slow side in this story. That "torch" is passed to Scootaloo in most subsequent episodes, whereas Apple Bloom appears to be the brains of the outfit. In any case, it's evident they're not clones or aged-down equivalents of any of the Mane Six. Also, they're not bad kids; in fact they're remarkably good-natured. As we see when they break the table, they get carried away as children do and are simply oblivious to the consequences of their actions until things have gotten out of hand. This makes their example to young viewers more appealing, and their instant snap-to-attention response to Fluttershy more impressive.


Lesson: The stated moral is Fluttershy's, about not biting off more than she can chew (an expression applied also to Rarity and the CMCs in the dialogue). But while babysitter-age viewers would do well to mind that lesson, children will be paying more attention to the Crusaders. Hopefully they will notice the negative example of ignoring their ward, her care for them, and how much better things go when they listen. ("Girls, behind me now!" is a great moment.)

Connections: This is the first mention of Zecora since Swarm of the Century, and a friendship is implied by Twilight headed there for tea—speaking of which, this is the first episode to mention tea. Also the first episode without Applejack. The Stare comes up again in the third season's Keep Calm and Flutter On and the fourth season's Bats!, by which time she has conscious control of the effect.

 

Resonance: Whether you're in it for the cute, the laughs, or the cheers, this episode is full of smiles, though jarringly disrupted at two points by the discovery of Twilight's fallen form. I was not expecting the story to swerve into horror movie territory and was delighted when it did. The Crusaders' antics are fresh and new here since this is their first episode, and the creature chase and table repair are great fun. I also enjoyed the halo effect and the origin of the "Scootachicken" concept. Michelle Creber's voice is amazing; we've known her as Apple Bloom's twangy speaking voice for some time now and her Sweetie Belle singing voice is an outstanding contrast. Of all Fluttershy's encounters with dangerous creatures, I find this the most awesome since she's so pointedly vulnerable and yet snaps out of her fear to protect the helpless Crusaders even while being turned to stone.

 

Other Impressions and Final Assessment: Rarity is now getting overwhelmed with orders thanks to her popularity, so this takes place after Green Isn't Your Color and Suited for Success, and possibly after A Dog and Pony Show.

This episode uses a recognizable and easily adaptable musical motif I would have liked to see associated with the Crusaders in later episodes. As for the story, pacing is good. We get some nice long scenes, a really good look at the Everfree Forest, and a decent build-up to the cockatrice attack. Yet the antics of the CMC keep the story energetic; not a minute goes by without a "moment." It is extremely difficult to make a lesson on obedience appealing to children, but the writer's "show don't tell" approach works here.

One thing I missed was background ponies. In the scene on the way to Fluttershy's cottage, the town looks really bare without them. Just three or four figures in the background would have helped fill out the scene.

I'm not sure whether it's an audio glitch or just a cracking voice, but somehow in Sweetie Belle's line, "Get over here, you rascal," the final R doesn't register and so the line is easily misheard as something else. It's jarring on first encounter but adds a little bit to the humor.

Overall, yet another winning episode. It's not quite Sonic Rainboom, but the musical number and the more dark/serious moments give this one enough of a push to outrank Swarm of the Century and Dragonshy.

 

Stare Master rating: Iron Armor
Ranked 9th of 26 season-one episodes
Ranked 98th of 147 stories overall

Click HERE for Character Appearance List and Screentime.

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