Episode [2.08] – “The Mysterious Mare Do Well”
This week, on My Little Pony…
“Never fear, your friendly neighborhood Rainbow–”
“Excuse me, uh, do you think you could skip your catchphrase and just hurry up and save us?!”
Did you have enough Rainbow “Narcissism” Dash last episode? No? Well then you’re in luck, because here we have what is quite possibly the absolute zenith of Rainbow’s self-centeredness thus far (and, in my opinion, to date)!
If there’s one pony who adores Rainbow Dash more than she adores herself, it’s Scootaloo. So, as any self-respecting fan would do, she heads up her own Rainbow Dash Fan Club to share the love! Of course, Snips and Snails are members too they’ll follow anypony who self-declares her amazingness. Rainbow even joins in herself, if only in the form of a disembodied voice that catalyzes even more praise for her using words that may not actually be words. But hey, whatever works to feed that insatiable ego!
Now, to be fair, some of this adoration is definitely deserved. In what appears to be rather short time (it’s never quite clear how close together the events in this episode occur), Rainbow Dash saves a filly trapped in a well, prevents a runaway baby carriage and its foal occupant from barreling off a cliff, and saves a group of elderly ponies on a rickety balcony from crashing to their doom. All of these actions required some respectable amount of courage to pull off, and Rainbow was certainly a hero in all of them. At the beginning she takes the praise pretty well, and even her little quip about something being wrong with the baby because she isn’t cheering for her was kind of funny (if mildly d-baggy). However, from there it becomes quickly and painfully obvious that being lionized is more important to her than the actual heroic deeds themselves, a fact exemplified by her deeming it more important to sign a few more autographs than to rescue somepony plunging to earth in an out-of-control hot air balloon.
But what is this? Another mystery masked mare in a dashing (ahem) purple outfit has emerged from the shadow to save the day! Definitely a reason for all of Ponyville to totally throw Rainbow Dash under the bus and declare her to be the new town hero! Of course, this doesn’t sit well with the resident Ponyville hero, Rainbow “Hey Pay Attention To Me” Dash, who makes it a point to one-up this mysterious do-gooder. However, no matter what she does, the Mare Do Well is either too strong (saving a large runaway cart), too quick-thinking (nimbly rescuing workers from randomly falling debris at a construction scene disaster), or just too darn OP (magically rebuilding a broken dam and then flying away… wait, she flies too? Oh for the love of Pete). We all know how much Rainbow hates losing, so getting shown up so many times in such (apparently — again, no real time reference) rapid succession is just far too much for her to take. That her friends go and very loudly praise the Mare Do Well right in front of her face does not help the situation any.
Desperate for the attention (patting her own back for “saving” the dam apparently didn’t cut the mustard), Rainbow takes a page from Twilight’s book and begins actively seeking out catastrophes in progress or just waiting to happen. Look! Granny Smith can’t possibly make it across the street on her own — no matter she didn’t want to anyway! And look! That jar of peanut butter is tragically stuck! And the grass! LOOK I TOTALLY SAVED IT FROM THOSE WEEDS… yeah okay point taken. Her pride thoroughly pummeled and bruised, Rainbow retreats to her clouds (which immediately turn grey and stormy) and tries to convince herself that she’s awesome and everypony else just doesn’t see it. This scene is rather reminiscent of what happened last episode when circumstances forced Rainbow to drop her guard and let her insecurities out a bit, and to some extent succeeds in probing into her psyche a bit more than last time but still perhaps not quite as much as it could have.
Rainbow then follows Scootaloo to a Mare Do Well
Fan Club parade, during which she finally confronts the Mysterious Mare Do Well face-to-face, only to see her dash off (har har) into the alleyways. Rainbow “OH NO YOU DON’T” Dash gives chase and quickly finds that MMDW apparently is also able to teleport and/or break physics (either that or Dash is still on that crazy trip from last episode). Eventually Rainbow gets the better of her purple rival and unmasks her to reveal… Pinkie Pie? And Applejack and Twilight?! Yep, they were all in cahoots to teach Rainbow a lesson about humility (and teach us that AJ names her back hooves Bucky McGillicuddy and Kicks McGee; EPIC). Roll credits!
While the pacing of the episode was a little wonky (it seems as if the events took place over the course of several days or weeks, but we never get any sort of temporal reference frame to work with) and the entire town seems to have been hit by the idiot ball in their immediate praise for Dash followed by their immediate and mutually-exclusive praise for MMDW, I think my biggest “issue” with it is actually its placement relative to the other episodes. We just got done with Dash’s ego last episode… is this really the best time to inflate it yet again? Placing the episode later on in the series to give us a bit of time to recover from dat ego probably would have made it more fun to watch.
Now… lest you get the wrong picture here, I want to make something clear: I love Rainbow Dash. She is one reason (one of six, to be precise) why I enjoy this show so much, and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic would be lacking that multicolored spark without her. I may talk horseapples about her a lot, but underneath that is respect for a pony who is keenly aware of her weaknesses and is trying her best (though not always successfully) to work through them. That, and if I were ever in a dire situation, I would want to be rescued by Rainbow Dash.
Picking a song for this particular episode was pretty easy: Mare Do Well by General Mumble does a great job at compressing pretty much the entire episode down into a 4:21 song. But in deference to the most super-ultra-extreme-awesomazing pony this side of Equestria, I also have to heartily recommend Cerulean Blue by Replacer. And finally, how better to stroke Rainbow’s ego than listen to an entire album dedicated to her: Four’s Fall Down by Rainbow & Rooted (from the makers of Balloon Party). This album is freaking fantastic: I bought it around the summer of 2013, put it on an MP3 CD, put said CD into my car, and quite literally didn’t take it out for at least a year. Amazing stuff.
I really wasn’t expecting a second Rainbow Dash right after the last one. Even Tessa declaring it in caps lock last week didn’t prepare me.
In a series where the Status Quo is God, there’s a limit to how much a character can grow or change. Even in a series like My Little Pony, with such well-rounded characters, they can’t diverge too much from established patterns. Merchandising is probably part of that, the age and attention to serialization of your target audience another.
Rainbow Dash, I think, is always going to be prideful and arrogant. It’s her thing. She tempers it with loyalty and friendship, but humility will always be difficult for her. In fairness, she’s earned a bit of pride. Ponyville seems to be a magnet for trouble, even when it isn’t attracting Discord or Nightmare Moon. Runaway carriages, uncovered wells, plummeting balloons, a cracking dam. The poor ponies of Ponyville suffer perpetual problems. Without intervention, I suspect the town itself wouldn’t even last as long as a barn with a Parasprite infestation.
Still, all the hero worship goes to Rainbow Dash’s head, and someone decides to take her ego down a notch by doing the hero thing better than she can. At first, I suspected that it was just Applejack stealing her thunder, but after the events at the dam it had to be either Princess Luna (highly unlikely) or three-plus ponies wearing the same costume. That Dash doesn’t pick up on that indicates how badly pride has blinded her.
I completely wasn’t expecting all five of the other Mane 6 to be in on it. Costumes don’t just make themselves, so Rarity had to be involved, but Pinkie Pie and her Pinkie Sense? Totally unexpected. Granted, Pinkie Pie is never expected.
The denouement concludes with the girls confronting Dash about the bragging and rubbing her accomplishments in everyone’s faces, which… isn’t that exactly what they do while describing the feats of Mare Do Well? They certainly beat Rainbow Dash at her own game, which is great if you’re looking to prank someone or knock them down a peg, but less great if you’re trying to convince them not to do that thing anymore. Or more likely just cut back, because good luck trying to get Rainbow Dash not to brag about thrilling heroics.
Rainbow Dash is the hero Ponyville needs. The Mane 6 are the heroes Ponyville deserves.
The Mysterious Mare Do Well, aka “Dashie is a jerk to ponies for 20 minutes”.
Straight up – I don’t like this episode. Gerf is right in that the placement of this episode is awful and contributes to my feelings on it, but I don’t think that’s entirely to blame for what’s going wrong here.
This is the first episode written by Merriwether Williams, who has a tendency to write a Ponyville that doesn’t quite mesh with the rest of the series for various reasons. Overall her episodes come off feeling more mean-spirited, and she has a tendency to write the 6 as being at least moderately antagonistic towards each other. We also get situations that never seem to replicate themselves before or after, like how Ponyville is apparently a deathtrap for a handful of days and then goes back to being pretty much as safe as it ever has been. Admittedly, quite a lot of disasters do seem to hit the poor little town, but they’re mostly from external forces. This episode begs the question of how the town has ever managed to maintain it’s population with poor design choices in landscape, buildings, and dams threatening the lives of everypony on a nearly constant basis before Rainbow Dash hit hero status or Mare Do Well showed up (and considering neither thing appears to hold true to the extent that it does in this episode afterwards, how they survived after the two entities stopped performing their heroics).
And that stabs at the core of what I think rubs me the wrong way about this episode. I give Dashie a lot of flak for the combined storm of ego that makes up this episode and the previous one (and she’s very much deserving of it), but the other 5 don’t come out looking much better in this episode either. A lot of people have made the point that Mare Do Well as a tool to prove a point is an exceedingly passive-aggressive move from the other five, who don’t at any point make an attempt to confront Rainbow directly about the problem her attitude is quickly snowballing into. Had we had a scene where they at least tried to talk to her about it and gotten brushed aside (which I could very easily see happening), it might have made MDW feel a bit more justified. As it is, all we really get is some muttering from mostly Twilight and Applejack behind Rainbow’s back. That… kind of sucks, especially since they’re intended to be the voices of reason in this particular narrative. That isn’t a healthy and constructive way for friends to deal with each other, it’s actually one of the more destructive things friends can do to their relationships, and echoes a more bothersome social tendency that tends to plague relationships between girls (especially pre-teen through adolescent, although definitely not restricted to just that age range) specifically. While Rainbow Dash is definitely being hoisted by her own petard in this episode (as her ego snowballing out of control and showboating attempts to make more straightforward rescues more dramatic was very likely going to start resulting in some deaths had MDW not shown up in a few cases), her friends wind up being catalysts pushing her downfall along by whipping her up even further, as opposed to actually trying to help stop things directly or even just being passive observers like they were last episode.
Of course, that isn’t to take away from the fact that Rainbow is just an enormous butt in this episode, and I was thoroughly sick of her by the time I got through this episode the first time, and it would take a decent amount of time before she really won me back over again. The fact that this comes right on the heels of her supposedly learning a lesson in humility makes it seem like she learned absolutely nothing meaningful from last episode, as she’s not only right back into making everything about how great she is, she’s doing it to an even further extent than she was last time. It’s clear from the second instance of her rescuing somepony that the entire thing is at least equally if not predominantly about receiving praise – between her “something’s wrong with the baby!” line and her carelessly tossing the infant aside in favor of a photo op, you get the feeling that she doesn’t actually care all that much about the ponies she’s rescuing once the praise has gotten to her head. I guess if you’re already a Rainbow Dash fan this episode doesn’t hit that too hard, but as someone who was struggling to find reasons to like her from the start and with the last episode already having chipped away at the foundation last season built, this brought the whole thing crashing back down for me.
To keep this entire thing from being a parade of complaining and negativity from me, though, there are some things that I actually like in this episode. Mare Do Well’s design is pulling pretty heavily from Darkwing Duck (also possibly The Spoiler, I’ve been told, although I’m not nearly as familiar with that character the design similarities are pretty apparent). We also get our first look at baby pony designs in this episode. I like that Pinkie Sense is nodded towards again in a meaningful way. And, interestingly enough, there’s a rather clever bit of foreshadowing snuck into the construction scene through the music. Just prior to the disaster occurring, the background music sounds awfully familiar to anyone who remembers Gummy’s after-birthday party from Party of One. Which of the five is playing Mare Do Well in this scene again?
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I don’t hate this episode. There’s a lot of fun scenes, the superhero bits are nicely done, I don’t mind the short-hand of the town pulling a fickle 180 fandom flip, and I’m vastly intrigued by a world where horses have five o’clock shadows (I know we’ve seen moustaches before, but have any full beards appeared?). That said, it’s not a particularly great episode. Less that it makes me angry, more it just doesn’t do anything for me either way. All for reasons mentioned above, especially bizarre placement in the season. Someone really dropped the ball there.
I don’t entirely feel it’s wrong to have our lead cast in opposition or even fully antagonistic at times, but it needs to be justified by actually go somewhere with it, which it doesn’t here. Yeah, Dash’s friends never try any other route to help her, just mutter and roll their eyes behind her back, then set out conspiring to deflate and shame her, and turn the public against her. Which, given she’s being such a huge butt, isn’t completely undeserved (that bit with the baby was so out of place here), but in a show about education and morals and inspiration and friendship, this is a really lousy way to show people being there for their friend. And I don’t even get how it ultimately pays off. This needed a Spider-Man moment, where everyone hating and being turned against him never stopped him from doing the right thing. Instead of creating a situation where Dash has to put the safety of others before the recognition she gets, we get a direct confrontation at a ceremony where the friends trying to show modesty leap through a paper banner onto a stage in front of applauding fans decked out with souvenirs, and as soon as she unmasks them, she’s all, “Guess you’ve got a point there! My bad.”
While there’s nothing as bitingly mean as I’ve seen in some AKR episodes (the baby bit comes close), there is a clunkiness to Williams’ handling of the characters, and a simplicity to their portrayals that does feel off and out of place in the overall tone and world they’ve established here. Honestly, I’m surprised to see she’s one of the writers who didn’t come out of Powerpuff Girls, as I could totally see this plot playing out in that even more stylized series to more successful effect.
My problem with MWW’s tendency to write the Mane 6 as antagonistic towards each other is less about the fact that she does it and more that when she does it tends to feel very arbitrary to the story both in the setup, the execution, and which ones are supposed to be “in the right”, which the reasoning for usually comes down to “the plot says that they are”. There are exceptions (I definitely don’t hate all of her episodes, and she’s absolutely not bad at writing funny and memorable moments), but the ones that stick out to me tend to follow those trends.
In this case in particular, the rest of the Mane 6’s actions are definitely problematic and their plan doesn’t even make a ton of sense for something that would actually work and have a lasting effect – but we both don’t explore or question any of their actions and stuff just works because the story decided they were the ones in the right.
To be absolutely fair to her, there’s really only two of her episodes that in my mind stick out as particularly egregious with this – and this is one of them (the other is in S4). I don’t like some of her others so much, and for some of the same reasoning as here, but the points of why only really all come together one more time after this episode.
Ok, that’s something I’ll definitely be on the lookout for as more of her episodes come along. There is a laziness to why things play out the way they do. It’s not especially egregious to me (lord knows, I’ve loved the work of far worse writers than her), but I’m still relatively new and these characterizations don’t mean as much to me as they do to yourself and others. I can definitely see why it sits as poorly with you and others, but for me, it’s just clunky writing, and nowhere near as offensive as others you’ve all heard me go into well enough by now. 🙂