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

Previous: Leap of Faith Testing, Testing, 1 2 3 Next: Trade Ya!

Episode 86: "Testing, Testing, 1 2 3"

Aired 4/5/2014, written by Amy Keating Rogers (her thirteenth episode)
    Storyline:
  • Intro: Twilight Sparkle is annoyed that Rainbow Dash is blowing off her Wonderbolts history exam and insists on helping her study.
  • Act 1: Twilight walks Rainbow through reading and highlighting, a lecture, flashcards, and a pop quiz, all to no avail, and Rainbow becomes worried she'll fail the test.
  • Act 2: Rainbow angrily disputes the effectiveness of Twilight's study methods until Fluttershy breaks up the argument and suggests alternate forms of learning. But a play from the pets, a rap from Pinkie, a fashion show from Rarity, and irrelevant apple trivia from Applejack just leave Rainbow Dash confused.
  • Act 3: Twilight joins Dash in a flight over Ponyville to cheer her up and discovers that Dash subconsciously notes everything happening around her as she flies. During a second flight, other ponies use visuals and shouted cues from the ground to trigger the history facts Dash has been trying to learn, and she retains the material. She thanks her friends and aces the exam.

Character: As with Twilight Time, Ponyville's resident princess is in teacher mode, but the story is about something she still needs to learn. She's got a great attitude about education and really cares for her students, as we saw in that episode as well as this one. But she's as restricted in her teaching methods as she was in season one in her views about magic. She's also totally unaware of this at first; nevertheless, she stays with Rainbow throughout the other ponies' various experiments, always willing to learn and grow. Twilight seems especially interested in Rarity's fashion history. But what really makes Twilight's role in this episode is her heartfelt concern for Rainbow Dash, from her giddiness in the teaser to her persistence in the third act. The character chemistry in this episode is impressive, especially since we really haven't had a devoted Twilight/Rainbow episode before. They have had lots of great scenes together, though (e.g., in Daring Don't and Rainbow Falls). Come to think of it, I suspect Twilight acts as a source of conscience and encouragement to Rainbow Dash more than to most of the other main ponies. One nice moment here is Twilight being out of breath as she catches up to Rainbow Dash, even though Dash is just drifting in sulk mode. It shows Twi pushed herself to her limit to comfort her friend as quickly as possible. I like it when the characters just go to each other rather than pausing for dramatic effect.

Way back in Sonic Rainboom, Rainbow Dash disputed a claim that she was kicked out of flight school. Not much has been said about the circumstances of Dash leaving school early, but she's been dismissive of academic/"egghead" interests enough in the past that we're not surprised to see her disinterested in this exam. It's also in character that she's initially overconfident rather than anxious. To be fair, she's not really blowing it off; she admits later that she'd read a lot but it somehow didn't stick. She really thinks she knows this stuff until Twilight quizzes her. And once Twilight's quiz throws cold water on her attitude, she descends into the self-pity that consistently marks the breaking of her character. Other ponies go crazy; Rainbow just gets down on herself and is inconsolable until she finds her own way out of a dilemma.

Rogers' stroke of brilliance in this episode is her pinpointing Rainbow's natural learning method. The subconscious observational skills she displays go beyond normal flying (or defensive driving, for us earthbound bronies) and are likely part of what makes her an excellent flyer. This explains a number of her ultra-fast rescues, and going back to previous episodes, I'm finding this is not a new trait for Rainbow Dash, though it's never gained attention on the show until now. I haven't run across subconscious/peripheral learning as a real-life phenomenon, but there are ultra-observant people out there. There is a condition called hypervigilance, and it's often associated with the suspicion of outsiders we often see in Rainbow Dash. This also fits well with Dash's being briefly overwhelmed during the "LOOK AT US!" moment in the fashion show: She can't turn her observational skills off. I'd really like to see this facet of Dash's character explored in greater depth.

The other characters in the show are used well, particularly Spike as play director and Applejack as the scene-stealer at the end of Rarity's fashion show. Fluttershy's assertive side comes out in the best way possible here, no doubt a follow-up to what she learned in her key episode.


Lesson: It's sad that I still sometimes underestimate this show, but my ears drooped when I first saw the synopsis, which amounted to, "Twilight helps Rainbow Dash study for a test." Yes, kids often need help with basic study methods, but I thought it was something any other show could do and that it might miscast Dash as a "dumb jock" character. (I did not know Amy was writing this episode, or I would have known better.) My greatest concern was that it might neglect the fact that the student is often not the problem. It turns out the writer was thinking along the same lines, and we're instead treated to a very positive message about differing ways of learning that fits right in with the series' emphasis on different but equally valid talents and personalities.

Part of what makes this episode so winsome is the fact that we're not given a specific reason why Twilight's methods don't work on Rainbow. It's not that Rainbow Dash has some condition or disability and that Twilight's lectures and flashcards ought to work for anyone who's "normal." On the contrary, it's only important that Twilight's methods work for her, and Dash has a different method. How to make Dash's method work for everyday learning (that is, without enlisting the entire town for cosplay and topiaries) is left as an open question. In real life, there are actual disabilities, which may be severe and which require special care, but even those afflicted still have a purpose, a place, and a lot of potential. Underestimate no one.

Let me also say, with all respect to my teacher friends, that as a matter of history, a good deal of our traditional classroom methods originated in the medieval university and were developed for intellectuals and scholastics of the clergy and upper classes. That works just fine for an "egghead" like me, but when universal education became a thing in the Western world, the differences among the children to be taught got left out somewhere along the line. It's only in the last couple generations that much attention has been given to providing special help to students who don't fit the mold, but I fear too many are either being drugged docile or made out to be slow, when what is really needed is a reinvention of the entire education system. Pinkie Pie style! Okay, maybe not Pinkie Pie style, but you get where I'm going with this.


Logic: I accept for the sake of cartoon simplicity that Rainbow only has about a paragraph of history to memorize here. Still, we get more names and backstory here than in just about any other standalone episode.

 

Resonance: Even Rainbow Dash had to watch twice to catch all the goodness that's packed into this episode. A few funny highlights: the reference to Twilight's "freak-out aria" from The Crystal Empire—Part 1, the tall Twilight centerfold, Spike and Owly clowning around but then leaving Dash hanging when Twi gets upset, Gummy hanging off Tank's foot, judgy Pinkie, Applejack's three blunt-force truths in a row, and Sassaflash's unsettling turn as Admiral Fairyflight. The best cute moment goes to Twilight's exclamation as it first enters her mind to tutor Rainbow, and I find it endearing how many ponies turn out for Dash's last flight. Pinkie Pie's rap is one of the most awesome moments of nostalgia I've had watching this series. But most endearing and awesome of all is Amy's nod to the creator of Friendship Is Magic, Lauren Faust (aka Fyre_flye) in making General Firefly the founder of the Wonderbolts.

 

Other Impressions and Final Assessment: Show writers, take a note. This is how you show off your characters. This is how you use the pets. This is how you write dialogue and character interaction. This is how you teach an important lesson. With this entry in the series, Rogers has written three of my top ten "regular" (not premiere or finale) episodes, the others being The Last Roundup and Filli Vanilli. High praise goes to the actors and animators as well, with lots of subtleties and gags that make the show such a delight. Another fantastic episode to close out the strong middle portion of the fourth season.

 

Testing, Testing, 1 2 3 armor rating: Crystal Mail
Ranked 9th of 26 season-four episodes
Ranked 39th of 147 stories overall

Click HERE for Character Appearance List and Screentime.

Previous: Leap of Faith Testing, Testing, 1 2 3 Next: Trade Ya!