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

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Episode 172: "The Maud Couple"

Aired 3/31/2018, written by Nick Confalone (his seventh episode)
    Storyline:
  • Intro: Maud Pie's stand-up comedy routine elicits only confusion and discomfort from her Ponyville audience, except for Pinkie, who laughs uproariously.
  • Act 1: Pinkie has missed hanging out with Maud lately, so Maud promises to spend the next day together. But in the morning (which is the day before Maud's birthday), Maud is nowhere to be found. Pinkie goes about preparing a surprise party for Maud and meets a strange and irritating stallion named Mudbriar. Maud then shows up and tells Pinkie that Mudbriar is her new boyfriend.
  • Act 2: Pinkie and Mudbriar fail to connect, and Pinkie complains about him to Starlight Glimmer. Starlight suggests the two bond by planning Maud's party together. Things go south when Mudbriar tells Pinkie that Maud doesn't like surprise parties and has only pretended to for the sake of Pinkie's feelings. Maud confirms this, and Pinkie runs off upset.
  • Act 3: At the Pie farm, Pinkie confides in her other sisters, who help her understand that Maud finds things to appeciate in Mudbriar even if she doesn't. Pinkie returns to plan a party with Mudbriar that Maud can watch with them from a distance.

Character: Maud's new beau must have been a challenge for the writers. It's difficult to portray a featured character as boring or irritating without boring or irritating the viewer...especially where, as in Mudbriar's case, he's not meant to be charming or endearing the way Maud is. I think the creators pull off his presentation just fine, and with a minimum of cringe comedy. He's also just a tad more expressive in his emotions, though nearly always to Pinkie's disadvantage.
Mudbriar's smug tone and his tendency to criticize really bring down his likeability factor, although it's possible that's just how he comes across, or perhaps he's offended that other ponies don't put forth the effort to understand him and the things he cares about. Yet he's not a bad pony, and never for a minute do we ever get the impression of any negativity toward Maud. What we see between them is love, enjoyment of each other's interests, and care for each other's feelings. We get a sense of his softer side with his pet Twiggy, his concerns about "stick abuse" and his choice of "See you later" as a farewell when Pinkie runs off.

Pinkie Pie is the character with a friendship problem this week, and at first blush, she may seem uncharacteristically immature. Is she regressing to her season-one self? Is she being hypocritical in her distaste for Mudbriar? Is it believable that Pinkie would have this much difficulty befriending somepony who, at worst, is mildly annoying when she had no hestitations about a guy as hostile as Cranky Doodle?

Well, let's get some perspective. First of all, Pinkie's concern isn't about herself, it's about Maud. In Cranky's case, Pinkie had set up to welcome a new stranger to town, and not only did he reject her friendship, a challenge to her ability to befriend anypony, but he let out hints that he was looking for a lost happiness, and so Pinkie was determined to cheer him up whatever the cost. But here, Pinkie meets Mudbriar as an obstacle to rekindling her friendship with Maud, as they're not spending much time together anymore. And what she sees as his uncaring demeanor makes him a potential threat to Maud when she finds out they're an item. Pinkie has always been especially vulnerable and protective regarding Maud, and her dialogue reflects a very real-world concern that he may have, as she says, tricked Maud into liking him.

Second, Pinkie really tries to give Mudbriar the benefit of the doubt. Even early on, she apologizes to Mudbriar for insensitive comments and tries several times to start things fresh. But reconciliation is a two-way street, and Mudbriar doesn't give her anything to work with. I like how she phrases her dilemma: "I love Maud, and I want to love Mudbriar, but I can't see anything to like about him." It takes her sisters' counsel to help her simply accept that Maud may see something in him that she doesn't.

Third, Pinkie has known her "amazing older sister" all her life. There have been hints from Maud's first episode that Pinkie literally doesn't see Maud's plain exterior. She sees only the crystally part of Maud's geode. So whereas Starlight Glimmer immediately gets Maud's connection with Mudbriar, Pinkie has the same unsettled reaction to him that her friends had to Maud. In fact, what really sets Pinkie off—the real sticking point, if you will—is when Mudbriar asserts that Maud doesn't like surprises, and the resulting implication that Pinkie doesn't know Maud as well as he does, that Maud isn't being honest with her. And we know how upset Pinkie gets when ponies aren't honest with her. (Rainbow Dash certainly does.)

So Pinkie's behavior is understandable, and she's doing the best she can. But what about Maud? The writers do a fantastic job with her here. She is every bit as open and caring, gentle and diplomatic as a pony like Maud could be. She is remarkably sensitive to everypony's feelings throughout, and Ingrid's underplayed, subtle performance really sells that. And Maud hanging out with Pinkie less makes perfect sense when we consider that she's friends now with Starlight, Trixie, and Sunburst as well as Mudbriar. (And I'm sure Pinkie is pretty well occupied with teaching now, too.)

Guidance Counselor Starlight shines in this episode as well. She does everything she can to get the situation worked out. She really seems to understand tact and negotiating in interpony relationships. I'm not sure whether she gets that from her leadership background or her lessons with Twilight, but she's the confidant Pinkie needs at the moment. I think it's neat that her first solution, for Pinkie to bond with Mudbriar over their common love for Maud, is the same sort of solution that helped Pinkie's friends accept Maud in the first place, as they all shared a mountain-moving love for Pinkie. And kudos to Starlight for making a way for Pinkie to have a quick one-on-one with Maud when things really start to fall apart.

Finally, Limestone and Marble play a pivotal role in this story. We get little glimpses into Limestone's character as she expresses jealousy and hints at a long-standing unhappiness behind her gruff disposition. But she also imparts some real wisdom here. Marble, in her own quiet way, contributes via her desire to hear out Pinkie's concerns and her nudging Limestone to give her helpful advice.


Lesson: We have here an excellent late-series lesson that's well suited for a maturing MLP audience whose older siblings may now be dating. And given Pinkie's outgoing yet protective nature, she's the perfect main character to address this. That moral is NOT that we should welcome a loved one's relationship choices absolutely and without question. But we should be careful to distinguish matters of preference such as personality, things we should work to welcome, from genuine problems like destructive behaviors or abusive treatment, which are fair cause for warning. I have two sisters; I've been there, though I'm thrilled that they've both ended up with great guys. It's ok if you and a potential brother- or sister-in-law don't quite "click": They're not dating or marrying you; they're with your sibling. If they're both happy together, it's all good. And also, nopony's perfect, so it's to be expected that Mudbriar still has some lessons of his own to learn. He's a far better catch than, say, Zephyr Breeze or Garble.

There's a secondary lesson as the episode begins, of how the addition of a romantic partner complicates friendly relationships. Maud apologizes that she and Pinkie haven't hung out lately. And it's implied that Starlight is the one who ensures that she and Maud have some kite-flying time together to free up Mudbriar for Pinkie. In fact, I seem to recall (though it's been a few years so it's a faded memory) that one of the reasons the creators have resisted featuring romantic pairings with the central characters in the show was for precisely that reason, that it would mess with the dynamic of the Mane Six. Recall that line from traditional wedding vows about "forsaking all others." That issue is raised here but not resolved. What I can say from experience with both friends and family is that it's not an impediment, just an adjustment, and the flavor of your relationship may change as they redirect a portion of their emotional energies elsewhere.


Resonance: It's possibly because of that experience that I found both the drama and the comedy of this slice-of-life episode especially strong. There are some remarkably cute moments, such as the happy couple watching Boulder and Twiggy playing together, and anytime we see Limestone or Marble smile. Pinkie offering a literal olive branch is a nice touch...though my mom immediately identified it as an oak on her first viewing. She beat Mudbriar to the punch on that one. The best of all the jokes is Pinkie exclaiming "How can she like someone so weird?" as she reverse-inchworms her way across the room.

On the sad side, I hated seeing the comedy club crowd take Pinkie's compliment of Maud as a joke and laugh all the way to the intro. I hope that doesn't hit Maud as hard as it hit me. Starlight's face sells her compassionate disappointment when Pinkie runs off. And it physically hurts to see Pinkie cry the way she does when she believes Maud no longer needs her to be happy.

 

Other Impressions and Final Assessment: What else is there to observe about this sticks-and-stones matchup? I like the structure, with the cold open grounding Maud in Pinkie Pie's world with the familiar Ponyville earth ponies we've seen since season one, and Pinkie's dealings with Mudbriar interspersed with her going to others for advice. Her need to talk things out goes all the way back to season one as well, and has been consistent ever since. The show is mature and emotionally realistic enough to show Pinkie still ambivalent toward Mudbriar in the end. And I personally dig the concept of party you only have to observe from a distance.

I can't leave this without mentioning the new opening sequence, a major overhaul from previous seasons that accounts for the later-series greater focus on supporting characters. I see Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon in there, so I'm hoping we finally get some significant follow-up with these two.

My verdict for The Maud Couple? It's a good fit for a late episode, true-to-life and sufficiently nuanced that it strikes a chord with adults but is still simple enough a story for its main demographic. And it has the sort of tone, sensitivity, and surprise factor that made me a fan of the show back in seasons 1 and 2. I rank it alongside other highly entertaining episodes such as It's about Time and The Best Night Ever.

 

The Maud Couple armor rating: Diamond Vest
Ranked 9th of 26 season-eight episodes
Ranked 94th of 233 stories overall

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