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

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Episode 115: "The Mane Attraction"

Aired 11/21/2015, written by Amy Keating Rogers (her seventeenth episode)
    Storyline:
  • Intro: As Applejack helps set up the stage for Pinkie Pie's upcoming music festival, Pinkie announces the headline performer will be Countess Coloratura.
  • Act 1: AJ finds out the Countess was a humble childhood friend she had nicknamed Rara, but she now arrives as a gaudy goddess of techno-pop music.
  • Act 2: The Countess is friendly enough, but her performance is all style and no substance, and her prideful manager Svengallop looks disdainfully on everything and tries to steer her away from interest in the charity aspects of the event. AJ confronts Rara about Svengallop's attitude, but she defends her manager.
  • Act 3: AJ approaches Rara again and sets up a sting that exposes Svengallop using threats to take advantage of his position. The manager leaves in a huff, but AJ assures Rara she is at her best when she is her true self. That night, she gives a sincere acoustic performance and then honors Applejack with the song she sang when they were fillies.

Character: While some of her past featured episodes have focused on her pride, here Applejack is on her best behavior, with the humility of a simple farm pony who can't believe she knows a celebrity like Countess Coloratura. But by that same token, she knows perfectly well just where the Countess came from and easily pinpoints the cause of the less friendly changes to her personality. I like how smoothly AJ is able to transition from friendly conversation to potential confrontation over Svengallop, and she does so with just the right balance of concern and rebuke. Applejack is also wise to let the Countess's anger roll off and approach her a second time with a plan to prove her accusations. And once Svengallop is out of the way, Applejack is right by Rara's side with support and affirmation. All along the way, the Element of Honesty doesn't assume trust; she earns it.

I also appreciate how Pinkie maintains a professional demeanor in the face of celebrity demands, even as we see how much trouble it is for her. Only when she's directly abused do we see her wilt, and this shows an impressive amount of self-control. Rarity also has an important but subtle role consoling Applejack, providing some defense of Coloratura, and helping the singer prepare for her performance.

The Countess is the most heavily featured new character in this season's stand-alone episodes, far ahead of Moondancer, Sassy Saddles, Trouble Shoes, and Tree Hugger in terms of screen time. And one of the thrills of watching the initial airing was Lena Hall's live reaction to seeing her Coloratura character on screen. Coloratura's rediscovery of herself is a journey familiar enough to long-time MLP viewers. What's special about her is the kindness she never lets go of, even as she slips into "Countess" mode a couple times, and the fact that she defends Svengallop in such a professional way before AJ makes things personal. It is in fact her generous and grateful heart that prevents her from seeing how she's being manipulated. And her real shift of attitude, realizing she's "just a pony," tees up the season finale by reminding us that we can shine as our true selves and exercise our special talent in a way that's humble and uplifting to those who have a different sort of magic inside them.


Lesson: That brings us to the lesson, which could easily have been as mundane as the seductiveness of celebrity or the reality that friends sometimes change and drift apart. Rarity teases the latter message, but Applejack demonstrates the series' running theme of pursuing one's wayward friends to help them be their best, just as AJ was once pursued literally in another of my favorite episodes. AJ's example of how to do this also mirrors Twilight's struggle with Moondancer earlier this season. Meanwhile, Coloratura learns two lessons: first, the aforementioned humility, but also the need to be wary of opportunists who may take advantage of her success.

One minor message comes across in Rara's enthusiasm for the schoolpony contest, in contrast to Svengallop's distaste for them as brats: A willingness to engage with younger and older generations, and not just one's own peers, is an important way to make connections and keep a humble and authentic perspective.


Resonance: At this point, I typically watch an episode ten or twelve times, mostly for viewers' reactions, for the first week of its release. In that process, I quickly fell in love with this episode. That's not really the objective language I prefer to use in a review, but I can't think of a better way to describe my regard for this episode. I just adore every scene, and I still can't hear The Magic Inside without getting goosebumps.

Applejack impresses me with her well-choreographed scheme to catch Svengallop, and the manager is equally impressive in his total shamelessness, both toward Pinkie and toward the Countess when he's found out. His hammy, sneering performance makes him the sort of antagonist we really want to see something bad happen to. The humor is light, just a couple of Pinkie Pie moments. Heartwarming doesn't begin to describe the concert, and the entire camp flashback and Rara's interaction with the schoolponies are similarly feel-good scenes. The songs in this episode are phenomenal, even The Spectacle, which, while intentionally shallow and overdone, is an entertaining effects extravaganza.

 

Other Impressions and Final Assessment: This is the ultimum opus for writer Amy Keating Rogers. She leaves MLP having written five of my top twenty episodes; she wrote or co-wrote seventeen overall. She's been precious professionally, personally, and by her encouragement and transparency with the fans. She is now writing full-time at Disney, and I wish her well.

Svengallop's name is a reference to the classic novel Trilby, whose title character had no talent unless hypnotized by her master Svengali. While both characters are sinister, the name sets up a contrast between the tone-deaf Trilby and Coloratura, whose talent comes into full blossom only once Svengallop is out of the way.

I could go on and on; this episode is without question one of the best things to come out of My Little Pony. In my rankings, I reserve the special Genji tier for the one or two highest-scoring episodes of each season, and Season 5 already has two of those: Amending Fences and Crusaders of the Lost Mark. But this story is definitely a close third, so it sits at the very tip-top of the Crystal tier, easily earning Crystal Armor.

 

The Mane Attraction armor rating: Crystal Armor
Ranked 3rd of 26 season-five episodes
Ranked 12th of 147 stories overall

Click HERE for Character Appearance List and Screentime.

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