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

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Episode 34: "The Mysterious Mare Do Well"

Aired 11/26/2011, written by Merriwether Williams (her first episode)
    Storyline:
  • Intro: Rainbow Dash eavesdrops on a meeting of her own fan club.
  • Act 1: Dash rescues a foal trapped in a well and soon thereafter stops a baby carriage from falling off a cliff. Crowds begin cheering Dash on, and by the time she saves seniors on a falling balcony, she's taken charge of her own promotion, to the disgust of her friends. But she is shown up by a new hero whose masked heroics earn the title the Mysterious Mare Do Well.
  • Act 2: Mare Do Well outdoes Rainbow Dash rescuing tourists and construction workers and repairing a dam break, and Dash's friends torment her by bragging on Mare Do Well's feats and style. Dash grows desperate trying to get attention.
  • Act 3: As Rainbow mopes, she learns of a ceremony to honor Mare Do Well. She chases Mare Do Well from the stage and through town. RD learns that all her friends wore the Mare Do Well outfit at various times to teach her a lesson on humility.

Character: Rainbow's boastful pride is her first establishing characteristic and has never really been dealt with as a plot point up to now, except to temper it with stagefright in Sonic Rainboom. While she's grown in her acceptance of other characters, her ego is unabated as recently as the previous episode. Here it ascends to new heights as Dash is now being treated like a superhero. Her bragging here is unsurprising, and we've already seen that she really does not handle rejection or neglect well at all. She's always tended to be hostile or suspicious of strangers but has never shown an ounce of jealousy toward her friends. So Rainbow is definitely in character here. I guess. Actually, her past heroic efforts were more altruistic, and genuine shows of appreciation have touched her rather than gone to her head and taken her rhetoric to Daffy Duck proportions. Then again, exaggeration is stock and trade for cartoons. Is Rainbow's ego trip really any more exaggerated than Twilight's nervous breakdown in Lesson Zero? I'll give the benefit of the doubt on this one.

It's the rest of the Mane Six whose actions are in question in this case, not only for moral reasons but because their habit on the show has always been to talk through problems, to be present when a friend is feeling down, to give lectures, etc. We see none of that here; instead they snark about Rainbow behind her back, resort to trickery in order to give Dash a taste of her own medicine, and even laugh at her to her face. Also, contrary to the show's point, they are vocally proud of their turns as Mare Do Well both before and after the reveal. All this is done in an entertaining way, and it actually helps keep the viewer guessing the first time through. But in the interest of character consistency, I would think at least Applejack and Twilight would have misgivings about this, as would Fluttershy and probably Pinkie. And perhaps Rarity too, given that her own life was saved by Rainbow Dash just months ago.

The minor characters are okay here. We've seen Scootaloo's admiration for Dash before, and Spike has been a fan from day one though she's spent less time with Dash than with any of the others. Daisy, Sparkler, Cherry Berry, and a number of other background ponies get something to say here. Snips and Snails admire Dash just as they admired Trixie in their first appearance.


Lesson: "Heroes don't brag" is a good lesson, albeit a common one. We already had a similar lesson in Boast Busters, which despite its flaws had a more winsome presentation by approaching it from the opposite angle (i.e., Twilight being embarrassed by her strengths and afraid of being thought a show-off). From the viewer's standpoint, the moral is hard to miss as we see the lead character being decidedly unheroic in how she reacts throughout the episode. But it's more heavy-handed than the show usually gets and I'm just not happy with what the writer has to do to the other characters to pull it off. From a moral standpoint, I could see the gang resorting to extremes after attempting more honest ways of addressing Dash's issues, but we see no sincere attempts here. I have racked my brain trying to understand how the Mare Do Well scheme was supposed to teach Rainbow humble heroism rather than just make her upset. And say, wasn't honesty the lesson just two episodes ago?

Logic: In this episode we have no fewer than seven near-fatal accidents that would have been local tragedies if not for superhero-style intervention, and it appears this all takes place over the course of a couple weeks or less. Ponyville is normally just not that much of a danger magnet. The public appreciation after the well rescue is something new to Rainbow, so she hasn't been doing this all along, and things go back to normal after this. There's no indication the Mane Six are now rotating "hero duty" to continue saving the town. I normally don't downgrade kids' shows on matters of feasibility, but it's just too obvious that the events of the episode are contrivances to force a plot. (I know, my rule is to review with light-heartedness and good cheer, but I still call 'em as I see 'em.) There are other plot holes relating to the right Mare Do Well being at the right place at the right time, but I'll let those slide. Body Count: Referring to Mare Do Well, Applejack says, "Gotta hand it to the girl."

 

Resonance: The heroics in this episode are pretty impressive, and the peanut butter scene was kinda funny. "I hate being all alone" heads toward teary territory but doesn't quite get there since Scoots interrupts the moment about five seconds in.

 

Other Impressions and Final Assessment: I feel bad. I don't like jumping on bandwagons, so having heard that this episode was despised by many bronies, I went into it determined to like it. I didn't, which was a first for me. I'd always come away from my first viewing of an MLP having at least enjoyed it. In preparing these reviews, I searched this story again, hoping to find some profound message, some logic to the strategy, some character turning point that would save it from the bottom of the list. I found none. It's certainly action-packed. The animation is standard second-season quality. (Compare the animation of the water in the dam scene with the Steven Magnet sequence, for example.) The costumes are neat and I liked the background music. The other technical points in terms of voice acting and witty dialogue are all there. The moral, as stated, is true enough. But the same could be said for virtually every other episode of the series. What makes this episode distinct is where it falls short. Most glaringly, the contrivances that drive the story for the sake of teaching the lesson are counterproductive, out of character, and arguably unethical.

Could I have done better? Well, here's my suggestion for making the episode work: Have Mare Do Well be a guest or background pony who stages disasters in order to teach Dash a lesson and then rebukes Twilight and the others for failing to address RD's longstanding ego issues. The main characters acknowledge their failing but disapprove of Mare Do Well's methods and point out any apparent hypocrisy, and it's only in talking through the crisis with her friends that Dash learns the lesson. Then have Dash's new, nobler outlook carry over into future episodes.

The story we get is not what we've come to expect from MLP, and the departure from the standard is that much more jarring following so many really good episodels. Still, even at the bottom of the list, it's an episode with a good lesson and several enjoyable moments.

(Note: As much as the show's creators care about their work and interact with fans, it's possible they may come across this review. If you helped make this episode and I'm offbase in my understanding of it or have overlooked its strengths, you're welcome to give me the "Marshall McLuhan from Annie Hall" treatment and show me the insights I've missed.)

 

The Mysterious Mare Do Well armor rating: Leather Vest
Ranked 26th of 26 season-two episodes
Ranked 146th of 147 stories overall

Click HERE for Character Appearance List and Screentime.

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