Episode [2.19] – “Putting Your Hoof Down”
This week, on My Little Pony…
“Woah! He’s blocking your path! What are you gonna do about it?”
“Um, politely walk around him?”
“Gingerly tiptoe around him?”
“Go back home and try again tomorrow?”
“No! ‘When somepony tries to block, show them that you rock!”
This is an episode I’ve always had trouble working out exactly how I feel about. From a concept level, I don’t dislike the “aggressiveness vs assertiveness” lesson at all, and Fluttershy is the natural character from this series to go to for it. But on some of the specifics, it rubs me the wrong way.
A lot of my issues with the episode comes down to just how downright unpleasant just about everyone in this episode is. This is the same town that just the episode prior joined in on a full-blown musical number together about making everyone smile, and in this episode just about everyone in the episode (our main characters included) kind of come off as total jerks. The entire thing just feels mean spirited, and while I get that it’s setting up the real need for Fluttershy to make a change, I can’t help but feel that it could have been done with a bit less of an edge to it. The market scene is especially guilty of this, as the message that sort of winds up getting sent is that the treatment Fluttershy is getting is her own fault for not fighting back… which, if the incidents were more benign might work okay, but as the majority of the ponies she’s running into are just being downright rude, manipulative, and cruel, for all of the blame for that treatment to fall on Fluttershy and seemingly none to fall on the other ponies really bothers me.
Speaking of the market scene, Pinkie and Rarity’s attempts to set an example for Flutters to follow are just kind of… odd. Which does work for Pinkie (and her Looney Tunes style haggling scene is immensely entertaining) given that she tends to come at things from totally off-the-wall places anyways, but Rarity’s case is a touch uncomfortable, as she charms a bundle of asparagus off of a stereotypical male nerd pony (right down to his name, while never actually mentioned in the show, Poindexter). It’s not something we haven’t seen from her before, but prior to this you could at least kind of make the potential argument (weak as it might have been) that her flirtatiousness wasn’t intended to be openly manipulating. With this example, it’s kind out just nakedly out there. She’s well aware of what she’s doing, and it’s not a particularly pleasant side to her character, and makes pretty much every example of her doing this sort of thing prior to and after this hard to shrug off. But beyond that, neither one of the two are really demonstrating much in the way of assertiveness or doing giving any usable examples of standing up for themselves, which is of course why when Fluttershy attempts to emulate the two of them it’s sort of a disaster.
And can we talk for just a second about how much of a spoiled rotten little buttface Angel is in this episode? He really does seem to only ever be written one of two ways, he’s either the counterweight to Fluttershy’s tendency to sugar coat things and pushing her towards actually acting on what her anxieties are stopping her from doing (which are the times when I actually really like him), or he’s a complete and utter abusive monster taking total advantage of those same anxieties and her inability to say no to him. Where it actually gets slightly disturbing in this episode is how quickly and often he’s outright violent towards her when not getting his way, slapping her across the face for daring to suggest he eat something other than his gourmet salad recipe and throwing her and said salad out the door of the cottage when it isn’t completely perfect. It’s being played as slapstick, and it is there to drive the point home that Fluttershy can’t even stand up to her pet bunny, but at the same time, Angel could totally have been used in so much better a capacity for this story. He’s never not spoiled even at his best, and that’s part what defines him as a character, but I vastly prefer him as Fluttershy’s shoulder angel of assertiveness as opposed to… this other extreme that he’s playing in this episode.
On the other hand, I kind of love Iron Will. The pro-wrestler inspired Minotaur is so completely over the top even when he’s not in show mode, and while his methods are clearly faulty, I do actually really like that he holds to his word in the end, not charging Fluttershy for the lessons when she insists that she wasn’t satisfied with them. He’s actually arguably one of the most decent people in the episode. He’s in this awkward place as far as MLP characters go of sort of being an “antagonist” (he tends to get grouped with other villains in group shots), and yet there not actually being too much terribly antagonistic about him, aside from his lessons being somewhat misguided (while at the same time, admittedly, doing exactly what it says on the tin).
Where things turn back around to being just a touch weird and dark again is seeing Fluttershy’s application of his lessons. For the most part it seems to be relatively effective, if a bit mean, with her reacting to genuine attempts to take advantage of her by firing back with equal force. Where it starts getting weird is the fact that she’s now apparently taking everything as an affront to her, reacting to Pinkie’s usual awkward humor as if she were the butt of the joke, which she clearly isn’t. It’s not terribly clear if this was something that she picked up as part of the lessons themselves (some have pointed out that she appears to be reacting to specific triggers, especially with her quoting Iron Will’s lessons as she reacts), or if she herself is just getting carried away and drunk on the confidence, and with the positive feedback from her friends over “New Fluttershy” is now looking for any excuse she can find to puff herself up further with her new aggressive defense strategy. In which case, we’re starting to see her transition from the bullied to the bully, as the entire thing feeds on itself as a positive feedback loop.
The thing is, this isn’t exactly the first time we’ve seen Fluttershy like this. The further the episode goes, the more and more New Fluttershy starts looking quite a bit familiar. We’ve seen Discord’s version of what Fluttershy could potentially become, and this appears to be that idea coming to fruition…
…or it would be, except that eventually things snowball to the point that Fluttershy herself realizes exactly what she’s doing, and it horrifies her. To the point that she has herself locked in her house and tied up within it. Exactly how much time has she spent isolated by the time Rarity and Pinkie come back for her? The dialogue suggests that it’s relatively soon after their fight, and yet the state her cottage is in when they get there would seem to indicate she’s been in there for a while. I get it’s supposed to be reflecting her own mental state at that point, but it’s kind of confusing overall.
And then Iron Will comes to collect, and Rarity and Pinkie desperately try to buy time for Fluttershy to collect herself to face him, which easily makes for the best scene in the episode. For all of the awkwardness of their brands of “assertiveness” at the market, seeing them reprise both of their techniques with Iron Will with mixed success was entertaining, especially Pinkie’s.
Also, this happens.
Overall, I don’t particularly dislike this episode. There’s a lot in it that I really enjoy. The story as it’s presented isn’t terrible, and the lesson at hand in it is one worth delivering… I’m just left somewhat lukewarm to the execution of it, and wish they’d gone about a couple of the specifics differently.
But the episode also gave us this, and I’ll always love it for that :
At the risk of sounding totally “Meee tooooo!” here, I have to give a hearty “Amen, sistah!” to Tessa’s observations above about… well, pretty much everything, as my thoughts about the episode followed a very similar track. Beginning with Angel, of course: sweet Celestia, the crap Fluttershy puts up with when he is around is mind-boggling. Fluttershy’s kindness knows no bounds, but even still I don’t know how she puts up with that grumpbag. Sure, her being a pushover and being easily taken advantage of is what this episode is all about, and Angel knows exactly how to press those buttons when he wants to get his way, but still… I can’t help but feel so bad for her when she’s always treated so poorly. Yes, part of this is because I
kinda very much have a thing for Fluttershy, but come on, slapping someone in the face who shows you nothing but love and kindness? Who does that?
Fluttershy could have totally gone with the phrase “You make me cry, I make you die!” here, but A) she didn’t cry and B) she hadn’t yet met Iron Will, so oh well.
Continuing with the “Me too!”, I’m also a bit confuzzled about how Rarity’s and Pinkie’s examples of “assertiveness” can be characterized as anything of the sort. True, Fluttershy is denied asparagus partially due to her own doormat-ness, but moreso due to some genuine rudeness on the part of a bunch of other ponies, but the way Rarity gets the asparagus back isn’t so much “standing up for oneself” as it is outright seduction. As for the tomatoes that doubled in price: Fluttershy probably should have looked at the price first to make sure it was the same before making her purchase, and maybe the price inflation was indeed outrageous, but Pinkie’s sideways psychology is hardly the right way to haggle. I’m sitting here scratching my head over what the message is supposed to be: smarminess and mind games are acceptable methods of getting what you want out of others?
As such, I’m kind of glad Fluttershy does neither smarminess nor mind games well: I’d hate to see her go down that path.
I find it kind of funny how practically the entirety of Ponyville (Derpy alert!) is present for Iron Will’s assertiveness seminar. Maybe they all realized they needed a lesson on how to buck up when confronted with mortal danger rather than just scream/faint/run in circles? In any case, that the seminar itself takes place in the middle of a giant topiary maze is brilliant. Yet another gem that would probably zip right over the heads of the target audience but would register with the older crowd watching the show. Great stuff.
As Fluttershy begins to take Iron Will’s advice and assert her, uh, assertiveness, I find myself wondering if perhaps her doormat-ness made her particularly susceptible to this “assertiveness training.” In other words, when bowing to others’ desires (no matter how rotten or rude they may be) is your status quo, then complete acquiescence to a new mindset seems to almost be a given. In the process of trying to better herself, Fluttershy was really just once again bowing to external pressures and submitting to their effects; this time those effects were more profound and disastrous. Her descent into monsterdom is heartbreaking and a little scary to watch.
As far as supporting roles go for this episode, I think Pinkie Pie and Rarity were definitely the best fit. Twilight or AJ probably would have approached the whole New Fluttershy thing with stone-cold logical disapproval, and Rainbow Dash probably would have just said, “Meh, do what you have to do, I’m too busy being awesome.” Pinkie and Rarity, on the other hoof, both have a tendency to do random or seductive things, respectively, to get their way, and as such see value in being “assertive” (quotes intentional for previously-mentioned reasons) and as further such could be forgiven for effectively egging Fluttershy on to becoming the monster she ultimately wound up as. Then when that monster started turning against them, their fear and sadness was quite heartfelt and powerful. Indeed, it was Fluttershy who was able to suppress that monster and use the lessons it taught her to learn the “right” way to assert herself, but without Pinkie and Rarity she may never have taken those first steps in the first place.
And Pinkie did this, too. I mean, really, “wat?”
Speaking of totally random, I happened to be listening to Roseluck by Silva Hound when I got to Tessa’s animated GIF of Iron Will doing his groove thang, and even though the beat of the music isn’t quite in sync with the pumping of his arms, they just so happened to glide into perceived synchronicity right as I scrolled down to the image and I had to laugh quite a bit.
Anyway, lots of mixed feelings about this episode. The obvious bias incurred on account of it being a Fluttershy episode is rather tempered by the sheer amount of meanness that seems to permeate much of the episode’s 22 minutes, but at the end of the day (or at least episode, anyway) at least the moral is sound: you can be assertive without being mean. Watch carefully and you’ll see that this nugget of wisdom isn’t completely lost on Fluttershy as the series progresses: a subtle treat for those who stay in it for the long haul.
There’s really only one song that can go with this episode, and that’s New Fluttershy (MONSTER MIX) by the ever-talented Foozogz. For those of your who are also ITG nuts like me, that song was used in the WinDEU Hates You 5EVR tournament to great effect. Mild language warning on that one… but then, if Fluttershy threw arrows at you like that, you’d probably drop an F-bomb or two as well. And not a Flutterbomb, either.
My son really wanted to watch My Little Pony today. I’m pretty sure he likes Rainbow Dash best. I am tickled to death, to say the least.
There’s a distinct difference between being assertive and being aggressive, and someone who is very passive may not be able to see it. Fluttershy certainly does not, at first. She’s been the doormat of the series, allowing others to take advantage of her in all but a few instances, and on those occasions she’s been very good at asserting herself without edging over into aggression.
This time… not so much. Iron Will gave her the tools to bully people and the confidence to use them, and by golly she’s going to use them. Goodbye doormat, hello battering ram. New Fluttershy knows what she wants, how to get it, and how to get rid of the ponies who are standing in her way.
I’m pleasantly surprised that her moment of clarity wasn’t Fluttershy striking fear into Angel. That would have been painful to watch.