Episode [3.10] – “Keep Calm and Flutter On”
This week, on My Little Pony…
“You know what I see? I see that Discord’s far from perfect, but I also see none of you giving him a chance!”
“What’s gotten into you?! Why do you keep cutting him so much slack?”
“Because that’s what friends do.”
Twilight and friends have a monumental task from Princess Celestia – help reform a newly freed Discord and convince him to utilize his powers for good. Discord, however, has no intention of changing his ways, and only the threat of re-imprisonment by the Elements of Harmony are keeping him from running amok. With the others quickly running out of patience, Fluttershy thinks she might have the answer for bringing Discord around, but is she just being played for a fool by the lord of chaos?
John De Lancie, fillies and gentlecolts.
With Discord pretty much consistently throughout the series since his appearance being the most popular villain to grace Ponyville with his appearance, his inevitable return was pretty much expected by most of the fans. A lot of fandom works revolved around the draconequus breaking free from his statued prison and wreaking calamity upon Equestria in vengeance, so the fact that he did make his return within the series wasn’t terribly surprising.
What was a bit more of a surprise was the way he returned. I don’t think anyone really expected the Mane 6 to release him willingly, or at least not under the circumstances in this episode.
I remember having very mixed feelings about this episode when I first watched it, and I still kind of do. I don’t dislike the premise necessarily. Celestia wants to get Discord out of her rogues gallery and count him as a resource instead, and figures if anypony is going to be able to do that effectively, it’s Twilight and her friends. With the elements on hand as backup and enchanted so that they can’t be messed with (why exactly wasn’t that spell on them before now?), there’s seemingly little in the way of a downside (or at least, a reversible downside), and I guess she figures that a behaving un-statued Discord is more valuable than a misbehaving statued one. That’s not a terrible premise, although I think there were far more potentially interesting ones that could have been utilized to reach a similar end.
Of course, regardless of any other factor, Discord himself elevates the episode considerably. Pretty much all of his shenanigans are immensely fun to watch, and he’s still the same devious blend of Q and The Genie that he was at the start of Season 2. His short stay at Fluttershy’s cottage as he does everything he can to drive her out of her mind makes for some really amusing visual gags with reality just ceasing to make any sort of sense. Watching him bash heads with Angel is especially fun, as we finally see the butt bunny meeting his match for once.
The other high point of this episode is Fluttershy. It does make sense that she’s the one tapped specifically by Celestia to work at reforming Discord, both due to her kind demeanor being well suited to potentially getting through to him, but also because of the sheer amount of patience she was able to put up with Discord last time around. Just like before, she’s able to take an extraordinary amount of Discord’s guff, fending off pretty much all of his attempts to get under her skin. I especially like the reveal that she’s completely aware of what’s been going on the entire time, calling her friends out on assuming that she was too naive and dense to notice. Being the optimistic nice girl with faith in others doesn’t mean she’s also stupid or oblivious, she’s just operating full steam on the “more flies with honey than vinegar” strategy.
And of course, when that faith is ultimately betrayed, she gets angry, but it’s not the explosive bottled up anger we’ve occasionally seen from her in the past. This is the calm, directed, firm disappointment that seems like something stuck from her run-in with Iron Will last season. Rather than caving and breaking her promise, picking up her element and retaliating (which seems like enough of a possibility that I can’t help but feel that Discord’s boasting is a bit premature), she sticks to her guns and makes the loss of her friendship and trust the threat rather than re-imprisonment, and, much to everyone’s surprise (Discord included), it works.
If there’s a major complaint to be made about this episode, it is this ending, and the fact that Discord’s sudden turn is rather abrupt. Where it works for me, though, is that it’s clearly as much a shock to him as it is to everyone else that it’s happening. He definitely didn’t intend for this to be the outcome, and thought he was successfully manipulating Fluttershy the entire time. It’s only when he blurts out what’s intended to be boasting but instead turns out to be his actual feelings that it sinks in for him that it’s true, and at least on enough of a level, he actually cares that what he’s doing is pushing away the only pony in recent history (perhaps ever) who he’s ever felt even a little close to, regardless of how much of it was intended to be a trick.
On top of that, I don’t actually see that as terribly out of character with what we saw from him before. There was a moment back in the Season 2 opener where Discord appeared to be just the tiniest bit lonely, where he seemed genuinely excited to show off his pranks to someone. Granted, it was also hand-in-hand with him rubbing his victory into Twilight’s face at the time, but especially with how this episode plays out, I can’t help but feel that there was something real going on there before.
Admittedly, this episode benefits from hindsight. I do recall feeling a bit more conflicted about it when it wasn’t clear there was going to be more to Discord’s heel-face turn. It is kind of cheating to bring this up, as it isn’t part of this episode or even this season, but seeing this as the beginning of Discord’s arc instead of the entirety of it does make it feel significantly better.
When all is said and done, I like this episode. It’s definitely not the return of Discord episode that I or anyone else really expected, but with how it plays out here and in the future, I’m really glad that it’s the one we wound up with. It puts Discord back into play for future stories, and gives the foundation both for his continued strong friendship with Fluttershy and the skepticism and distrust from the rest of the Mane 6. It’s definitely more of a “moving pieces around” sort of episode rather than a major event in and of itself, but it’s definitely fun for what it is, and sets up for more to come down the line.
Also Twilight is apparently still totally cool with mind control spells. Why do we let her do anything with magic again?
As I’ve mentioned in some previous posts, I have a bit of a past when it comes to bullying and reckless shock-jock behavior, so I can very much relate to the central idea of this episode. Sure, it can all seem like fun and games, and there can be a rush as every single reaction you get out of people can feel like interest and attention when it’s not. There’s an allure there that can drive one to keep pushing others, for more and more, bigger and bigger reactions. Ultimately, it just tires people out and drives them away. When that person is a friend, it’s the worst as it really does suddenly flood into your head how you’ve treated them, how you’ve disappointed and hurt them, how you’ve made yourself unbearable to be around and how you have nobody else to blame but yourself. I really, really know that feeling and identify with Discord when that lightbulb goes off for him. Fun isn’t fun if you’re the only one having it and everyone else is left miserable as a result. Thinking it’s otherwise is the quickest path up to being butt. Bare and simple.
There’s a lot to enjoy about this episode. The evil beavers. Angel’s charade of horrors on the farm. The house spinning over and over and over again. The opening with Rarity primping herself in Pinky’s polished hooves. Heck, I love the entire concept, that everyone gathers for the visit of Celestia, arms up with the Elements when they learn they have to set Discord loose, and Fluttershy of all people is the one given the task of training him. It’s an interesting choice given that he’s not an animal and she doesn’t exactly people very well, but it’s a good one, and I like how he tears through every tactic she has: politeness, tenderness, The Stare. Even when things go to pot, I like her admission that she’s not naive, that she’s knows full well that it’s all his fault. And I love that it gets to a point where she just has to fold and walk away. See, that’s what I always thought the power behind the stare was, that Fluttershy is so nice and wonderful that disappointing her was the ultimate failing. That’s why I’m a little surprised she broke it out as early as she did, and why she sometimes uses it while expressing anger. That shouldn’t be how the Stare works.
On top of that, my broader issue with the episode is that it feels… slight. Like we have this magnificent setup, this return of a beloved big bad, and… this is it? The chaos to the farm was good on paper, but never really sold or turned into a grand spectacle of chaos. While he was a pest, it never felt like Discord was cutting loose like he used to as he kept everything fairly light and simple. When the big twist of him learning his lesson comes, it just kinda happens and while I love and relate to the sentiment, it lacks impact, it lacks punch. I don’t know, maybe this is one of those plots they had bigger plans for but had to overly tighten it up when they were only given half a season. I have read about Teddy Antonio, the teenage who sold the story pitch, and him saying they needed to rush the script together in a few days. That’s unfortunate because this is the type of story they could have taken some more time to really dig into and expand on. It’s not bad as it is, not as all. I do still enjoy the episode and feel most of what’s in there is fine. It’s just a followup to a fantastic two-parter that in itself needed to be fantastic… and it’s not. I’m seeing this a lot in Season 3, where it’s not so much that episodes are bad, they just feel rushed and crunched down, like they want to roll as many of their unfilmed ideas in as they can, but didn’t have the time to fully work them out. We’re nearing the end, so I’m very curious to see if this continues leading into the finale, which I know they produced with the belief that it might be an actual finale instead of just closing off a season.
On a sidenote, I’d like to apologize for having held up a number of the posts lately, this one especially. Life has been… interesting.
Hooray, Discord’s back!
I think I have to talk about Q for a second here. First off, if you haven’t watched Star Trek: The Next Generation, I strongly recommend it. The first season is a little weak, with Picard and Data acting circles around everyone else, but it gets so much better once Riker grows a beard. The very first episode introduces a character called “Q”, an omnipotent entity who messes around with the crew because he’s bored. He plays games with them and manipulates them and tosses them around in space and time because he has no one to do things with. He’s looking for… well, not friends. Playmates.
There’s a lot of that in Discord. Literally the only thing on Equestria that can force Discord to not be a chaotic jerkface is the Elements of Harmony. This entire episode is about convincing him, through the Power of Friendship, that he doesn’t want to. That means finding something that he wants more than superbeavers or hulkrabbits or flying rolling houses: He wants an audience. He wants someone to acknowledge how great and amazing he is. Even better, once he gets a little bit of approval from Fluttershy, he wants someone to cheer him. He wants to get laughs instead of tomatoes when he cracks a joke. It’s addictive. And that’s how Fluttershy gets him. She gives him something that she knows he needs, and then takes it away. She does it knowing exactly what she’s doing. She does it knowing that he knows exactly what she’s doing.
In conclusion, Fluttershy for President.
Poor Applejack’s farm is flooded twice. Poor Twilight’s library loses a bunch of pages from her books… though it sounds like nothing usable was lost there. Poor Angel gets a taste of his own medicine. Poor Pinkie Pie doesn’t get a single cotton candy cloud with chocolate milk rain.
I’ll say this about Discord: My days of not taking him seriously are certainly coming to a middle.
“Hay Twilight, I’ve got an errand for you. Remember Discord? Yeah, I know he nearly tore you and your friends asunder a while back, but I want you to tame him now. After you release him from his stony prison, of course. Cool? Cool. I’mma head out now and leave you all to do this extraordinarily dangerous task while I take care of some unspecified business I must attend to that is certainly more important than the near certain chance that Equestria will be plunged into incomprehensible chaos once again. Ta ta!”
I’m amused but also unsettled how laissez-faire Princess Celestia’s acts here. Discord was such a problem for her and Luna for so long, yet now she seems so carefree… neigh, downright eager to set him loose. Yes, I know it’s a plot device to and all, but it’s still a pretty large pill to swallow. And then she just up and leaves with no real explanation? Yes, I know horse pills are big, but land sakes gal.
(Also, surprise super shipping between her and Fluttershy. You don’t even need shipping goggles for that one. Can’t say it’s a ship I’ve ever seen actually sail, though.)
Akward set-up to the episode aside, I did find Discord’s reaction to The Stare to be amusing. Did it not work on him because he’s immune to its effects, or because Fluttershy actually wasn’t using it? Fluttershy did admit that it just sort of happens sometimes and that she can’t really control when it does, so it’s entirely possible it just wasn’t coming out at all. Of course it’s almost certain that The Stare is completely ineffective against the God of Chaos himself, but having just recently finished reading some fanfics that provide some interesting backstory and spares few details as to the… er, horrifying power of The Stare, I’m going to let fanon influence my interpretation of canon and say Fluttershy just didn’t manage to call it out on Discord. Said fanfics are Upheaval: Breaking Point and Upheaval: Reckoning by Visiden Visidane, which are riveting and absolutely worth the long reads if you’re into high-fantasy adventure stories (though it does come with a PG-13-ish warning for violence, but nothing graphic). I can’t say I’ve read any other fanfics that have gone into such depth on The Stare and Fluttershy’s control (or lack thereof) over it, and while these stories don’t specifically focus on The Stare they do provide an appropriately high-fantasy spin on its origins and effects. And in case you don’t care about The Stare all that much, don’t worry: every character gets her (or his, in the case of Spike) own high-fantasy treatment, so there’s something for everypony!
Unless you’re specifically looking for Smarty Pants. Sorry, no High Fantasy Smarty Pants.
Anyway, this episode again! I was very impressed with the attention to detail paid in the scenes involving the interior of Fluttershy’s rotating cottage. Even though the focus of the scene is Fluttershy’s and Discord’s conversation, all the chaos going on in the background largely following the laws of physics pretty faithfully. It could have been really easy to cut corners and just spin a static image around, but as usual DHX went the extra mile to make it look awesome. Mad props. (Well, except for the books in her bookshelf… but I’ll just assume they were glued in place in preparation for just this occasion.)
Also, Angel gets the distinct honor of providing this episode’s Wilhelm scream in this scene.
For the remainder of the episode, we see Fluttershy giving Discord space to be himself and granting him the benefit of the doubt, which sure seems foolish in her friends’ eyes and results in a lot of friction. I certainly can’t blame them for thinking that way, either: given Discords less-than-stellar reputation, leaving him alone to do his thing seems like a stupendously dangerous and short-sighted idea. Truth be told, I found myself agreeing with that sentiment more than once during the episode as well. But this goes back to something Tessa and Weston touched on above: Fluttershy knows exactly what she’s doing. While everypony else is sure Fluttershy is falling prey to naïveté, she’s demonstrating a strength of character we haven’t seen surface for quite some time, one that has been there since day one but is usually hidden behind that pink mane. In some ways it’s somewhat like how Rainbow Dash has inner demons but is either too arrogant or too afraid to face them, and instead puts on a fearless face to prevent others from noticing those flaws. Fluttershy, on the other hoof, has incredible inner strength, but is often unable to harness that power because she is so easily hampered by her more outward challenges. The end result of all this is that Rainbow Dash is perceived by others as brave and fearless and poor Fluttershy is perceived as weak and naïve; I wouldn’t go so far as to say the truth is actually exactly the opposite, but at least I think we could all agree that outward appearance is in no way an accurate representation of true character.
The timid yellow pegasus one might quickly write off as harmless has the power to tame the god of chaos himself. Who woulda thunk it?
Best pony, this Fluttershy. <3
A word about the above screencap: it reminds me a lot of an excellent drawing by an artist named Sajira, which was turned into a t-shirt and also a resin sculpture. (And yes, the former is a favorite shirt of mine and the latter is part of my Fluttershrine. 😛 ) This episode spawned the whole “Fluttercord” or “Discoshy” ship, something I never imagined I’d very much like, but something I’ve grown very much fond of over the years. It’s a friendship that is revisited on many occasions in the television series, the official IDW comics, and fanon, and it’s great.
I also must echo everyone’s sentiment that the ending to this episode felt quite rushed and… erm, somehow incomplete. I think the pacing was actually pretty good right up to the last scene depicted above (which, as the alt-text implies, is so full of wat my head hurts), but the abruptness of said scene feels almost like the writers were being played off the stage as they tried to get a few final words of thanks in. Had things ended with “Discord’s reformed, hooray” and the topic was never brought up again then yes, that would be a terrible truncation indeed. Fortunately that’s not the case; still an awkward episode ending, though.
This episode turns out to be a pretty pivotal/foundational episode to the rest of the series and does include a very strong showing on the part of Fluttershy, but it’s not up there on my list of personal favorites. The excellent middle is bookended by a hasty episode setup and a hasty episode teardown, which makes the whole package look a little unappetizing. Outward appearance not being an accurate representation of true character, though, I’d still chalk this one up in the “solid episode” category.
I’m going to break from my traditional song here and instead recommend a fanfic: The Library of Discord by Chinchillax (and the excellent, excellent audiobook version as well). Do you like books? Do you like large numbers? Do you like unfathomably large numbers of books? How about geometry, algorithms, combinatorics, astronomy, or metaphysics? If you’re a fellow math/science/computer geek or just like a good story, you may very much enjoy this entertaining little romp through the absurdly large. While most of this story actually focuses on Twilight Sparkle, it eventually comes back to the events that occurred in this episode in a very big, very important, and very touching way. I can’t recommend this story enough. The only caveat is that it does involve spoilers for those of you who haven’t made it through all of Season 3 yet, and while normally I try to keep music/fanfic recommendations in-line with where we currently are in the canon, there’s just no way I can restrain myself here. If you’re not through Season 3 yet and are quite spoiler averse, do yourself a favor and bookmark this story to read when you’re all caught up. I’ll remind you after the Season 3 finale, too. 😉