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

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Episode 100: "Slice of Life"

Aired 6/13/2015, by M.A. Larson (his fifteenth episode)
    Storyline:
  • Intro: Cranky and Matilda discover the day before their wedding that the invitations were misprinted with that day's date.
  • Act 1: Derpy's fretting over selling the misprinted invitations reminds Dr. Hooves that he needs a suit tailored. He ends up joining a bowling team in exchange for the job. Meanwhile, the Mane Six begin battling a monstrous bugbear, forcing Matilda to recruit Sparkler as wedding planner to replace Pinkie Pie.
  • Act 2: Derpy tries but fails to pick up the Donkeys' floral arrangements early, so she decides to use Dr. Hooves' flameless fireworks instead, distracting him from his bowling. Bon Bon explains to Lyra that the bugbear attack relates to her past as a secret agent and reveals that she has been living under an assumed name. Matilda meets Cranky's old friend Steven Magnet while getting made up at the spa.
  • Act 3: As Octavia rehearse music for the wedding, Vinyl Scratch adds her musical style, and they ride Vinyl's DJ booth to the ceremony, picking up many of the guests on the way. Everyone makes it to the wedding (except for the Mane Six, who have just defeated the bugbear), which goes off without a hitch.


Character: According to Mitch Larson, the decision was made by Hasbro to devote the series' 100th episode to the so-called "alt-Mane Six," whose character development lies almost entirely within the brony fandom rather than in the show itself. Larson initially resisted this idea since these background ponies are animated props rather than true characters from a writer's perspective. (He discusses the writing of the episode in detail here.) But after accepting that the episode was going to be a love letter to the fandom, the creators jumped in with both feet.

By the measures of screen time and influence on the plot, Matilda is the star of this episode. She was a pleasant, calming presence in A Friend in Deed, so her frantic appearance here can be chalked up the understandable stress of moving up the wedding. She recruits a new wedding planner, asks Derpy to handle the flowers, gets prepped at the spa, and takes care of getting the wedding cake to the ceremony. Any other preparations are presumably either handled by Sparkler or were already in place for that day based on the invitations. Though momentarily rattled by Steven Magnet's superficial priorities, Matilda is fine at the ceremony itself. Also, I find it touching that Matilda had Pinkie Pie as her initial wedding planner, and it's a reminder of how responsible a pony Pinkie is. Cranky definitely shows his softer side here, and we get some neat backstory about his long-time friendship with our favorite sea monster.

Derpy is the second most important character, being responsible for the invitation and flower/fireworks elements of the plot, and acting as a companion of sorts for the Doc. She has her voice again, and it sounds to me like a fine middle ground between the little-boy voice of the original Last Roundup and some of the voices I've heard in fan videos. Though she's still prone to mishaps, we get to see her demonstrate how adorable, admirable, funny, and friendly she is throughout the story.

The pony known as Dr. Hooves, formerly just the show's most common random stallion, is a combination of Back to the Future's Doc Brown and that other Doctor. Whereas Matilda and Derpy are active characters here, Doc is the pony things just happen to. His purpose is to get bounced around and react in an entertaining fashion, which he does splendidly. He has an intriguing rant about science helping us understand what magic can't explain, giving the impression that in a magical world, devotion to science is something of a weird, fringe interest. Or alternately, there could be a racial subtext here, given that the Doctor is an earth pony who doesn't have access to the unicorn magic that seems to have a spell for everything.

The second alt-Mane Six pair, Octavia and DJ-Pon3, whom most of us know as Vinyl Scratch, are a couple whose musical cooperation forms the insane climax of the episode. Vinyl's silence on screen is a trait carried over from her Rainbow Rocks counterpart. The third couple is Bon Bon and Lyra, who are both tangential to the plot, but Bon Bon's backstory as Special Agent Sweetie Drops explains the bugbear's origin and provides the show with some character conflict that reveals the strength of the feelings grounding their relationship.

Beyond the Donkeys and the alt-Mane Six, we get Sparkler as a pony who was once a pillar of the Ponyville community (a Winter Wrap Up team leader, in fact) who was displaced by Twilight Sparkle. She acknowledges this without any indication of resentment, but you could wonder whether she once felt the same about Twilight coming to town as Pinkie felt about Cheese Sandwich. And yes, I know she's officially Amethyst Star, but if Hasbro gets to rename Derpy as Muffins, I'll keep calling her Sparkler, at least for now. We also get some new material from Steven Magnet and the Big Lebowski ponies, some delightful squabbling from the royal sisters, and the usual routine from the Flower Ponies. Also, we see that Lotus Blossom has retained her accent from way back in Bridle Gossip.


Lesson: This entry in the series closes with Mayor Mare delivering the moral commonly associated with day-in-the-limelight episodes, that everyone is the star of her own story, whether donkey, background pony, or sea serpent. The clerk behind the checkout counter is just as deep a person with just as meaningful a life as me, my parents, and my best friends. And on the flipside, to the clerk I'm just another customer, a background pony if you will. That message is reinforced by the structure of the episode, where the set pieces, shifting perspectives, shout-outs, and fake-outs make us believe that any figure on the screen could become the new focus of the story. The whole episode is therefore a slightly-veiled lesson on humility and consideration for others. And the turnout for the wedding, though I'm sure it's partly the result of Pinkie Pie's connections, demonstrates that even in a pony-centric world, these two donkeys are surrounded by a large and diverse array of friends.

I'll also point out that Gummy's soliloquy ties this story into the running theme of the season about cutie marks and one's life purpose. This moment may be a hilarious gag, but his questioning of whether cutie marks are really the be-all and end-all of that purpose—that line of thought really seems like it's going somewhere. It's similar enough to the issues raised in the season premiere and Bloom & Gloom that I suspect we'll see it surface again before the end of the season.


Resonance: Important lesson notwithstanding, this episode is very much not to be taken seriously. You're free to feel along with the characters in their own private crises, but this is "throw caution to the wind, turn your analyzer off, and just enjoy yourself" time. The electric cello dubstep is awesome and reminiscent of the snippet of "Existence (VIP)" from the fan video Epic Pie Time. (I have no idea whether that was intentional.) Everything else is either funny or just plain fun. Just to name a few of my favorite moments: Pinkie's actions during the bugbear fight, the whole Sweetie Drops reveal, Lily's little leg twitch after she collapses, Matilda's face as her hair is being combed back, Button Mash rotating on Vinyl's turntable, Lyra's sly Ponies with Hats reference ("I cooked them up and ate them"), and the whole series of stills as the wedding guests spill out of the DJ booth. And beyond specific moments, part of the fun lies in the whiplash effect of one crazy development after another being thrown our way.

 

Other Impressions and Final Assessment: My first viewing of this episode reminded me of a three-hour movie I'd watched a couple weeks before, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, which follows twelve characters seeking a buried treasure, all either individually or in small groups, with their stories weaving in and out of each other. By its focus on background characters, Slice of Life is also similar to several Star Trek stories, including Deep Space Nine's ten-part finale, as well as the Star Wars anthology novels that fleshed out cantina characters, bounty hunters, and denizens of Jabba the Hutt's palace. Structurally, it's probably most similar to the Simpsons episode 22 Short Films About Springfield. While the Donkeys' wedding gives us the framing device, it's really Derpy and the Doctor who give us the main story thread, with the rest of the episode consisting of vignettes with side characters, and a bugbear to keep the Mane Six away from the real action. Everything moves at lightning speed because the creators are throwing in as much as they can fit into twenty-two minutes. The pace seems all the more frantic by the fact that most other episodes this season have been focused a single idea, without a significant B plot.

Although fan shout-outs alone don't establish a story as a high-quality episode, what makes this an impressive entry in the MLP canon is the risk the creators took in pulling this off. First, you have Hasbro insisting on a premise that appeals mostly to the periphery demographic and focuses on characters who aren't heavily merchandised.

Next, there's risk involved in doing anything with characters so solidly developed in fan material. Half an hour of fan favorites doing the same thing they've done in amateur fanfic would be both boring and unprofessional, yet upending years of fanon could be taken as an insult. What we have, I believe, is a fabulously successful tightrope walk, incorporating some agreed-upon ideas, but with a twist each time: Bon Bon as a secret agent, Lyra as the straight pony of the duo, the Doc Brown elements of the Doctor's dialogue, the two-tone house that speaks volumes about Octavia and Vinyl's relationship, and an amplification of Shining Armor's manly tears to the point of hilarity.

Finally, you have the risk that some of the more entitled among us might expect this indulgence to become a frequent thing, and that more critical viewers would fear this to be the case as well. Hopefully bronies will receive this validation as a special, one-time gift and then let the show resume its natural course. For all the risk, though, you can tell that everyone had a blast making this. Remember, the creators are fans, too, and they have their own things they've longed to put on the screen.

Random observation: Most of the ponies at the wedding are sitting very ponylike in their chairs. I still notice and appreciate little things like that.

This is a magnificent, if unorthodox, episode with a great lesson brilliantly communicated. The only thing that fell flat for me was Matilda's false cliffhanger at the end of Act Two. No real serious drama here, but the entertainment value propels it to the top half of the Crystal tier.

 

Slice of Life armor rating: Crystal Armor
Ranked 4th of 26 season-five episodes
Ranked 14th of 147 stories overall

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