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

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Episode 10: "Swarm of the Century"

Aired 12/17/2010, written by M.A. Larson (his first episode)
    Storyline:
  • Intro: Fluttershy meets a tiny, cute, and hungry buglike creature.
  • Act 1: Twilight cleans the library for a visit from Princess Celestia and inspects the town's preparations. Fluttershy shows off her parasprite, which has reproduced, and the ponies each take one of their own, except for Pinkie Pie who begins gathering musical instruments. The next morning there are hundreds swarming around Twilight, Rainbow Dash, and Rarity. They bring their bugs to Fluttershy for help only to find that she is being assaulted as well.
  • Act 2: Twilight imagines the parasprites carrying off Celestia and recruits Applejack to herd them back into the Everfree Forest. One bug held back by Fluttershy creates a new swarm of its own, which Rainbow gathers with a tornado. Pinkie's instruments disrupt the tornado, releasing the swarm into town. The parasprites begin consuming all of Ponyville.
  • Act 3: Twilight finds no help at the library or from Zecora, but the chaos abates as Pinkie Pie uses her instruments to lead the parasprites away from town. The Princess arrives to see the bug parade and reschedules her visit.

Character: A crucial episode for Pinkie. Here the problem is not her perception of the situation but her difficulty communicating it. Her constant attempts to explain herself are fairly direct (by her standards) but she keeps getting shut down. We've already encountered several "that's just Pinkie" comments by the rest of the Mane Six, and their dismissiveness will have more personal consequences when Pinkie is corrupted in The Return of Harmony. Fortunately, the writers don't have to make any of the others outright mean to accomplish this. They ignore Pinkie casually out of habit, not realizing it's still hurtful—just as we might do with our more out-there friends if we're not careful.

We haven't had any backstory for the characters yet, but it's evident that Pinkie has some knowledge of parasprites and that it goes beyond Zecora's. She knows from the beginning that only a pied-piper approach (or Pinkie-Pied piper, if you will) will work. Nonetheless, credit should be given to the others' competence in almost solving the problem themselves twice.

I love the work done with Celestia here. She is very much in the background in this series and doesn't get to do much besides give assignments and commend the main characters. The brief daydream sequence is about the only way we could ever see her screaming in terror. More importantly, though, her wink and clever wording in canceling her visit to Ponyville showcase her respect for Ponyville's town pride and her ability to think on her hooves. In case anyone missed it, "the poor town" is a sly reference to Ponyville. It's clear that Applejack gets the joke, at least. Celestia knows exactly what's going on and but leaves the hard truth unspoken for the sake of Twilight's dignity. (She probably has business she could do in Fillydelphia, but I doubt there are actually parasprites there.)


Lesson: Basically the same lesson as Dragonshy, but more clear and emphatic this time around. Skills, knowledge, insights—even the most unlikely of friends have them.

Connections: We see Celestia's rescheduled visit a few episodes later in A Bird in the Hoof (with an intervening surprise appearance in Fall Weather Friends). The parasprites and Pinkie's one-pony band ability show up again in the third season's Magic Duel, and parasprites appear once more in the fourth season's Leap of Faith.

 

Resonance: The whole episode is fun and exciting. Applejack's herding skills are at least as impressive as in Applebuck Season since she's leading a team of ponies and giving directions. This is the first demonstration of Rainbow's incredible tornado-making power. That scene also develops some tension as Pinkie's cymbals zip through the tornado. That could have been really messy. Celestia not missing a beat as she encounters a bizarre scene is both impressive and hilarious.

Pinkie Pie is in serious mode here, so she doesn't give us as many gags as usual, but her heroic arrival at Rarity's toward the end has a twist that made me chuckle. Twilight Sparkle's brush with insanity was a nice touch of (probably unintentional) foreshadowing that's well suited to her issues in other episodes.

 

Other Impressions and Final Assessment: The creators claim the film Gremlins as their inspiration here. Comparisons can also be made to "The Trouble with Tribbles," although in the celebrated Star Trek episode the humor came from the characters rather than the tribbles themselves. Here, the parasprites and their victims supply equal amounts of fun. I think I hear some nods to Gremlins in the music, too. And kudos to the writer for not allowing the funniest character to be only a joke. Finally, this really is a rapid-fire episode: Until the parade, it's mostly one quick scene after another, almost like one of the old Looney Tunes shorts consisting of endless blackout gags.

While previous episodes had their share of humor, I consider this the series' first effort at a zany comedy episode, and it's freaky enough that the lesson might slip by unnoticed. It's a good introduction to Pinkie Pie's quirky thought process and to Larson's off-beat brand of humor.

 

Swarm of the Century armor rating: Iron Armor
Ranked 10th of 26 season-one episodes
Ranked 103rd of 147 stories overall

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