Episode [1.22] – “A Bird In the Hoof”
This week, on My Little Pony…
“Hi, Fluttershy! I just wanted to drop by and say thank you so very much for making such a good impression on the princess today… *GASP* What is Celestia’s pet doing here?!”
“I couldn’t just leave the poor thing there. She needed my help.”
“Oh no. NonononononoNO! This is bad.”
“How could I just walk away and not do anything?”
“But… but… she doesn’t belong to you!”
“I had to do something.”
“Without telling anypony?! Without asking permission?!”
I took nearly 20 screenshots of this episode as I went through it. I’m actually going to have to struggle to not just post all of them.
For whatever reason I tend to think of this episode and Green Isn’t Your Color in the same breath. Or something. Maybe it’s just because they’re so close together in the season, maybe it’s because they’re two really solid Fluttershy episodes, or maybe it’s because both are stuffed full with visual gags, but regardless, this episode is pretty much tied with the other one for the runner up for my favorite episode from the season.
Interestingly enough, this makes for one of the cartooniest episodes from the first season (it may actually beat out Feeling Pinkie Keen for that), and the typical cartooniest pony choice is barely in the episode. No, instead the cartoon antics fall to the pony who is arguably the least likely out of the bunch to wind up in that situation, and it makes for incredible amounts of fun.
It’s always great getting to see Fluttershy interacting with animals when there aren’t any other ponies around, because it’s really the only time we see her open up completely. As severe as her social anxiety is with her peers, she doesn’t seem to have any of those issues when caring for animals, and spending most of the episode just with her attempting to cure Philomena means that Flutters is off her leash for a larger chunk of time than we’ve ever seen up to now. Throwing back just a bit, this is the kind of thing she’s used to when it comes to watching over something, and is likely the kind of thing she had in mind when trying to take on babysitting.
Of course, with Philomena, nothing actually seems to work in her favor. Between her treatments backfiring to the bird just stubbornly refusing to accept any help, Fluttershy’s attempts just become a series of exercises in futility. Philomena herself manages to be the source of a lot of the physical humor, with her massively overdramatic (and it turns out likely exaggerated) reactions to her own illness and the attempts at treatment, and later her mischevious shenanigans once she escapes.
And then there’s Twilight. We’ve seen her go completely neurotic like this before, similarly leading up to the last time Celestia was supposed to come visit Ponyville, but this is probably the most extensive we’ve seen her freak out to date (although even this falls way short of her worst freak outs). To be entirely fair to her, she has some reason to be worried by the time Fluttershy shows up to the brunch, as the rest of their friends are less than well behaved to varying extents, with Rainbow Dash outside taunting the royal guards, Applejack overwhelmed by the social mannerisms, Rarity utterly paranoid about the potential of ruining her dress, and Pinkie just being completely out of control (and likely earning herself a write-up from the Cakes afterwards), shoving her face into chocolate fountains and swiping one of Celestia’s cupcakes while it’s on the way to her mouth.
Of course, the likelihood of Celestia not approving of Twilight’s friends is pretty low, since as Fluttershy points out, she’s met them all before, and has heard about them through Twilight’s letters (not to mention that the 5 of them are the other embodiments of the Elements of Harmony and helped to save the world and bring back her sister), but it doesn’t stop Twilight from worrying, and blowing things significantly out of proportion once she realizes Fluttershy’s taken Celestia’s pet. Of course, Twilight losing her cool tends to also be equated with Tara Strong just going absolutely nuts voicing her, and therefore is often when she’s at her most entertaining.
Speaking of Celestia, I love getting to see a bit more of her here. She never really gets to have a ton of screen time, and seeing her play a bit more of a role in this episode as well as just getting to see her be herself is really nice. I love that she has a mischievous streak herself, which we get to see in the form of her tricking the Cakes into overfilling her teacup once she realizes they’re so insistent on refilling it every time she takes a sip.
In a way, I think this plays into the idea that she might deliberately downplay her overall position within ponydom (remember, not even Twilight knew she was the same being from the Nightmare Moon legend or that she’d been around for as long as she apparently has). She clearly doesn’t seem to like being treated as important as she is, and that’s just her position as royalty. It makes sense that she might not be terribly up front about the fact that she’s effectively the closest thing the ponies have to a god as well.
In any case, Fluttershy and Twilight’s efforts at curing Philomena end with her on top of a fountain, losing her last feather before making an overdramatic show of her last breaths, before falling down and rather traumatically bursting into flames and falling into Fluttershy’s hooves as ashes.
Of course, from the point the bird bursts into flames most of the adult watchers can probably peg it as a phoenix before the reveal, but I actually kind of have to wonder what this was like for kids watching who weren’t familiar with the legendary creature beforehand. The scene is pretty much played straight for a good minute before Celestia reveals what’s actually going on.
- Love the Alice in Wonderland reference at the very beginning, both with Angel playing the White Rabbit and Fluttershy proclaiming that she’s “late for a very important date”.
- The Benny Hill music that isn’t Benny Hill music from the second episode is back again.
- I love the differences between Fluttershy’s method of caretaking, which is far more nurturing and gentle, and Twilight’s, which she quite literally identifies as “tough love, baby” as she completely refuses to take any of the bird’s nonsense, shoving a pill down her throat, slapping a cone of shame on her, and would have proceeded to force-feed her had she not managed to get away afterwards.
- Pinkie’s baking abilities must be really, really good for the Cakes to have not fired her by now considering the absolute terror she can be at undoing their work. Incidentally Pinkie was the same force of destruction last time Celestia was supposed to come around, she just happens to be doing it this time with her right there in the room.
Everypony in Ponyville has some sort of job or life calling: Rarity creates dresses, Applejack harvests apples, Rainbow Dash wrangles weather (when she’s not asleep), Twilight manages the town library, and Pinkie Pie bakes (and is Pinkie, which is a full-time job in itself). Yet of all the responsibilities, I think Fluttershy’s is the greatest: nothing short of ensuring all the animals in Ponyville are cared for, healthy, and generally happy. We’ve seen little snippets of Fluttershy’s animal caretaking throughout the series, but this is the first time we really catch a glimpse of just how deep the rabbit hole goes: in addition to the “lighter” stuff like feeding the birds or ensuring frogs are transported safely, she’s doing “heavier” stuff like fixing broken bones or, in the case of Philomena, putting up with animals coughing and spitting and vomiting on her without really flinching. That’s dedication to her calling right there.
And yet when non-animal matters arise (well, animal in the sense of non-pony animals, anyway), she goes right back to her usual timid, nervous self. If she were always shy and anxious like this, I might think differently of her. But the fact that she can be and is truly happy and at peace when she’s in her element (in this case, surrounded by animal friends) really shows that she’s got some depth to her character beyond boundless shyness, and perhaps even some backstory that can be explored in future episodes as to how she got to be that way.
Also, she totally throws a mean suckerpunch. Exhibit A: Twilight hysterically asks if Fluttershy has any idea what Princess Celestia will do to her as punishment for abducting Philomena, to which she coolly replies, “Do you?” BAM. KO. At least she picked Rarity up off the ground in Suited for Success after her relentless critique barrage. What a smooth criminal.
But yes, the episode. It doesn’t do a whole lot for me personally, largely because of the abundance of slapsticky gags that I know Tessa and Noel enjoy but tend to be more of a turn-off for me for whatever reason. That, and we see our favorite characters at their worst (or at least not their most favorable, anyway), as evidenced by everypony’s exaggerated antics during their party for Princess Celestia. They’re funny, yes, but just seem woefully out of place given that all of them have been in similar situations in the past (or at least know they will be in the future). That said, Twilight’s double-eye-twitch that sneaks in just as the camera is panning away from her when she’s talking to Fluttershy at Celestia’s party? Absolute gold.
Personal tastes aside, this episode did do a good job at focusing on just those characters who were important to the plot (largely Fluttershy and, later, Twilight), but not to the complete exclusion of all others (see Dashie’s interjection above). Like I mentioned last time, trying to cram equally relevant roles for all of the Mane Six into an episode tends to be an exercise in tedium. However, focusing on just one or two characters and not even acknowledging the existence of the others can also sometimes be a little off-putting. Keeping the main characters in the spotlight but letting the others flit in from time to time seems to be a happy medium between the two: it’s entirely possible that our equine protagonists can have adventures in smaller groups or by themselves, but an occasional reminder of the greater friendship the Mane Six share (even if it’s just Rainbow Dash “dropping in” on a “race’) is certainly a welcome treat.
Another thing this episode did? Spawn brony memes. SO MANY MEMES. The four “big ones” I counted were Trollestia, “Oh my,” Fluttershy holding things (a.k.a. Fluttercry), and “Works every time” (if not the phrase, then at least the face). I’m sure there are a few “lesser memes” in there that didn’t register on account of being drowned out by the others, but dang. Us bronies latch onto the silliest stuff.
Oh, non-just-about-to-be-reanimated Philomena. Epic awesomeness. Her “apology” to Fluttershy is too cute for television.
This parting song is… well, I suppose it’s one of the aforementioned “lesser memes,” and is also an example of “Bronies have far too much time on their hooves.” So have FlutterTrain by WarpOut, which is the “music video” to Assertiveness (Fluttershy likes Trains) by VSi, which itself is a ponified remix of Never Comin’ Down by Toby Emerson (remixception!). If you’re impatient and/or boring, be sure to at least skip to 1:40. It gets cooler by a certain unspecified percent.
This is a great episode. Gerf isn’t wrong that I love a lot of the gags, but what actually sells them for me is how deeply character based a lot of them are. Right from the opening, where Fluttershy is so worried about every little detail as she leaves for the party, that she keeps leaving and coming back and leaving and coming back, to the point where Angel has to literally lock her out of her own home… and even then she comes back and tries the door. As an anxiety sufferer who’s often looping back around to see what I’ve forgotten before I go out anywhere, I very much related to this scene.
And then we get the party, and I wouldn’t so much say everyone is at their worst as Twilight’s awareness of their quirks has been cranked up a paranoid degree. Rarity is Rarity, showing off one of her beautiful gowns but terrified of ruining it in any way by getting it near any food or beverage, and I actually love how she has to cautiously back herself out the door. Applejack is incredibly civil, quietly sitting by herself with plates of food, but panicking as she doesn’t remember the “proper” order in which meals are meant to be consumed on formal occasions, ultimately deciding to wait until it’s too late to eat any of it. I love Rainbow Dash being a butt to the guards out front, both envying their role in a career she may some day aspire to, but also having fun with their orders to not react to any distractions. What sells her the most is that it’s a thread that carries on throughout the episode and has a payoff later.
I’m not so much into Pinkie. Not just because her making a mess out of everyone’s hard work is still a bit much (though the hardening and cracking of the chocolate fountain mask made me laugh), but just walking up to people and eating food straight out of their hands is pretty mean and thoughtless, which doesn’t fit with the caring and sharing mentality we see when Pinkie’s at her best. Either she should be staring right in Celestia’s mouth with bubble-eyed eagerness to see if the Princess enjoys one of those cupcakes as much as she does, or just have a moment later on where it’s revealed her behavior was a part of her own anxiety, that when she really fires off and gets weird, it’s because she’s all wound up. Alas. It’s not bad as is, just a bit jarring.
Going into the main story, I saw on the show’s wikia page that they originally intended to make this more of a tearjerker episode about having to accept and learn from the loss of a pet. While I don’t entirely dislike the more slapstick approach we get here, I would have liked that at least a bit more of that angle, if only to create a deeper emotional bond with Philomena, so when we realize what she is and that she’ll be back (Tessa’s right that I picked up on her being a phoenix the moment she ashed, but it’s not an unwelcome or poor twist at all) it would have more of an emotional punch. But again, it’s such a fun episode that this isn’t a huge loss in any way. And it’s not unexpected, given how often this show has rolled over more challenging issues in the past.
What bothers me more is in the portrayal of Fluttershy as she tries to nurse Philomena back to health. Mostly, it’s the tactics she employs, which seem very amateurish and uncertain. She not only takes care of animals, she is the animals person in this town, so we should actually be seeing some highly trained and honed veterinary skills beyond the basic soup and thermometer tactics of a teen baby sitter with a sick kid on their hands. Especially that thermometer scene, where she keeps flipping the ice pack and blanket, doesn’t make Fluttershy seem like all that competent of a professional at all, and confuses me more than anything. And as fun as Twilight is, stumbling onto the crime and suddenly whipping through the treatment with her “tough love” mentality (I absolutely love how much Tara Strong gets into that part), it also doesn’t say much about Fluttershy to have her literally called out as a pushover. We’ve seen Fluttershy with animals in the past. She’s gentle, but she’s also firm and never fails to get them to bow to her will. Heck, isn’t that what The Stare is all about? Where is The Stare? Why do we not see Philomena take on The Stare?
But again, this is more nitpicky than actual deep criticism. I still really enjoy the episode, and all these slapstick scenes take on an amusing new angle when we learn Philomena is far more aware and capable than she was letting on, seeming to just be playing along out of amusement and mischief, and I like that her rebirth is preceded by Celestia telling the pile of ash that it’s time to let up as people are genuinely scared. And speaking of Celestia, I really like that aspect of she herself being visibly awkward as she gracefully does her best to deal with everyone’s worry and fussed formality as they go about interacting with her. This episode more than any other really humanizes her as a person and makes me curious to see more. And I even love that bit at the end where Twilight is eager to fire off another letter, and Celestia’s all like “whoa, I’m here, I saw it, we’re good”.
This is a really great episode. It does feel off in certain parts, but it’s never bad. It’s a good story, good juggling of the ensemble, has some hilarious gags (Philomena gets so much use out of that moustache, and I love how long she’s running around with those feathers held on with tape), and is just an overall good bowl of sweetness. Though could somebody tell the Cakes to lay off packing up till I’m actually done with that bowl? Thanks!