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

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Episode 96: "Tanks for the Memories"

Aired 4/25/2015, by Cindy Morrow (her eleventh episode)
    Storyline:
  • Intro: Rainbow Dash is excited at the prospect of enjoying her first winter with Tank, but the tortoise merely yawns and acts lethargic.
  • Act 1: Dash denies Fluttershy's explanation that Tank needs to hibernate, rejects Spike's shared opinion, and takes her anger out on Pinkie before deciding to prevent the hibernation by stopping winter.
  • Act 2: Dash sings while trying to thwart the other pegasi's efforts at bringing winter. With only piecemeal success, she then infiltrates Cloudsdale's weather factory and causes an explosion.
  • Act 3: The explosion blankets Ponyville with snow. Dash's friends find her in bed, depressed. Fluttershy forces Dash to confront reality, they all cry together, and Dash agrees to say goodbye to Tank for the season.

Character: So far the season is three-for-three in giving its standalone episodes character-driven storylines. Tank's impending hibernation is merely the setting for the story, and Rainbow Dash provides all of the subject matter. We begin by noting that Rainbow Dash goes through each of the Five Stages of Grief described by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. While the order, duration, and intensity of the stages may vary, there is this general pattern: Faced with sudden loss, we experience denial as a defense mechanism, a buffer to the shock of the revelation. It helps us cope with the initial pain we're not ready for. But denial must eventually give place to reality. The wrongness of that loss hits us hard, resulting in anger and indignation, which may be aimed any direction, whether inward or outward, depending on the person and the circumstances. Our fierce conviction that things are not as they should be, logically leads to a desire to gain control of the situation and make things right. Often this manifests itself in bargaining with God; but as we see in this episode, it may also involve futile efforts to force some path back to normalcy. When these efforts fail, we're left with feelings of depression, sadness, and regret. Nothing seems to matter anymore, and perhaps we even feel that being happy again would be unfair to the one we've lost. Given time to heal naturally, and hopefully with the support of friends, we eventually reach acceptance. And acceptance doesn't mean exhuberant happiness but calm, along with a period of withdrawal as we make the transition from letting go to re-engaging with those who are still with us.

For somepony as expressive as Rainbow Dash, what we see in the show isn't an exaggeration at all, and as a result I believe it's the most effective off-the-deep-end episode we've had so far. Her closeness to Tank is also no surprise. While we haven't seen much of the tortoise, his appearances consistently include some show of covert affection with Dash. Rainbow may choose to spend a lot of her time alone (though not so much recently), but introverts like her need companionship as much as anyone, and this often takes the form of one close friend, and just as commonly, a beloved pet.

In a world where ponies control the weather, Dash's plan to stop winter seems plausible, but it's a bad idea even if successful, almost on the same level as Princess Luna refusing to lower the moon. It would be bad for Ponyville's ecology, and it would also be bad for Tank. Dash's reasoning that Tank is only hibernating because it's cold is as absurd as saying we only need sleep because it gets dark. I find it interesting that what thwarts Dash's plans is her own obsession-caused carelessness, which actually puts Tank himself at risk.

But the greatest thing about this episode, character-wise, is that we finally see Rainbow Dash totally dropping her "cool" facade. I don't know that she's ever opened up like this, giving no thought to what her friends think of her. It shows not just how far Rainbow has progressed in her personal development, but how intimate these friendships have become.

Fluttershy's forthrightness does wonders for her character as well. It's precisely the kind of boldness she ought to have, and it recalls the lesson she learned last season in her key episode. A couple other tidbits from the climactic scene: We already surmised that Applejack tries to keep her tears out of view; here that's confirmed. Twilight nudging AJ to comfort Dash says a lot about both ponies. Twi really is uncomfortable around these displays of emotion and doesn't really know how to respond, so she volunteers Applejack, no doubt believing her big-sis instincts will be of help. I find it impressive that five seasons in, this show can still add nuances of depth to our main characters.


Lesson: Friendship may be magic, but relationships with friends, family, and pets do come to an end sooner or later, and it's inevitable that MLP would address this eventually. Wisely, this episode doesn't give us a simple lesson about accepting the loss of a loved one, or that it's okay to feel sad. Instead the story follows the whole process of dealing with such a loss. It's an important lesson because losses do happen—as I write, I myself have lost two grandparents in the last 14 months, with a third in the final stages of cancer. Loss will bring these conflicting and seemingly irrational emotions, and it helps tremendously if friends can recognize and understand what's going on, so that the bereaved can go through the healing process naturally. More generally, in all of life, emotions are part of the human (and pony) design and need to be dealt with honestly and, if possible, expressed in a way that's not destructive.

On a secondary note, it's important to both personal and relational growth that you be willing to cry with your friends. In our society, we're pretty good at rejoicing with those who rejoice, but not so much into weeping with those who weep. That was, in my opinion, what the Mane Six missed in Rarity Takes Manehattan, rushing to a solution without really dealing with Rarity's feelings of betrayal, leaving those feelings to fester until she exploded at them. In Tanks for the Memories, there is no alternative solution, but we're nevertheless left with the feeling that Dash is going to be okay.


Resonance: Let's hit the obvious part first: I'm glad they kept the crying scene serious enough to have a solid heartfelt impact, but with enough lighter moments to keep it from getting too melodramatic. The length of the scene helps here; at least for me, my compassion takes a while to well up and I get teary-eyed right about the point Fluttershy begins to break down. On a happier note, I love the solo in the second act and consider it MLP's greatest love song. As it happens, the praise band I sing with at church does music that's very similar in style and it seems like it fits Dash's personality to a tee.

There's plenty of comedy here in the last two acts: the fake goose bill, a cloud used for the old mobile shrubbery gag, Tank's tortoise-shaped labcoat, the trope of No OSHA Compliance played to the hilt in the factory, Pinkie's wall-walking, and Tank and Dash wearing slippers of each other. Oh, and I adore Fluttershy's little giggle when introducing the concept of hibernation, and she looks really cute when she's getting the book, too.

 

Logic: In formal terms, by the dominant modern definition, hibernation is for mammals, whereas reptiles brumate. In climates where it gets cold in the winter, reptiles reduce their activity because they're cold-blooded. This obviously wouldn't apply to fire-breathing dragons, by the way. Now it is possible to manipulate the environment of some reptiles in captivity to keep them awake, but others such as box turtles will brumate pretty much no matter what you do. (For more on this, go here).

To make the story work, this has to be Rainbow Dash's first winter with Tank, as we're told in the cold open, and this forces two changes to my series timeline. First, I had supposed the fourth season lasted more than a year since both Episodes 1-2 and Episode 20 look like summer while it seems chilly in Episode 8. Second, since there are 62 episodes between May the Best Pet Win and Tanks for the Memories, including season 2's winter episode Hearth's Warming Eve, I've moved the winter-related episodes and May the Best Pet Win to the end of Seasons 1 and 2. That simple move gives us a timeline with Season 1 starting at the 1,000th Summer Sun Celebration, Season 2 stretching from the next spring to the beginning of the one after that, Season 3 occupying the remainder of spring, and Season 4 carrying us through another summer and fall, which brings us here. Now I believe this story would have a stronger impact if the series kept us visibly in winter for a few more episodes and then gave us a Dash/Tank reunion, but that's probably too much to expect from an episodic TV series.

 

Other Impressions and Final Assessment: Each season of MLP has advanced the show in its own way. Obviously the animation is continually improving. But also, Season 2 gave us a "story bump," ratcheting up the drama and complexity, and bringing us into a larger world. Season 3 had a continuity bump, with most of the episodes tied to previous developments and a sense of progress and arrival in the characters' lives. I'd say season 4 had a zaniness bump, with the longevity of the show giving the writers license to take some liberties with the show's premise as well as with its ponies. Season 5 seems to be giving us a character bump, diving deep into the identity and psyche of the show's stars and finding lessons there even for people with healthy friendships. That's right up my alley, as long as the lessons stay relational, and so far Tanks for the Memories is the best of the bunch. I award this story Crystal Mail, ranking it alongside Hurricane Fluttershy, Maud Pie, and Testing, Testing 1 2 3 as one of the most excellent standalone episodes.

 

Tanks for the Memories armor rating: Crystal Mail
Ranked 8th of 26 season-five episodes
Ranked 37th of 147 stories overall

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