Welcome back to another rousing edition of TRS Round Table! This edition examines “Keep Calm and Flutter On,” the episode of Friendship is Magic that first aired on January 19, 2013. TRS Round Table is our group analysis and chat about the episode, and maybe you’ll learn something new or look at it in a different light. Joining the Round Table today are Dr.Dinosaur, Headless Horse, Wayoshi, ComradeCosmobot, drunkill, Pineapple, BartonFink, and KefkaFloyd. Find out our thoughts beyond the cut.
KefkaFloyd: Well, it’s what everyone’s been waiting for. Everyone’s favorite scenery chewer, John de Lancie, is back as Discord. His first appearance was so out of the blue and over the top. Topping the expectations would be a Herculean task of any creative team.
BartonFink: This turned out to be a major episode for both of the featured characters. But on some level, if we’re having Discord back, the expectation is for some pretty strong visual gags and surrealist imagery that would make Dali proud. They really pulled it off here – the rotating house was appropriately nauseating, the gravy boat (which Tabitha got credited for playing – go check) was original and quite funny, even the cool way the paper-eating started as an amusing surrealist gag and wound up a legitimate plot point. The episode met its Discord quota, so to speak.
Headless Horse: Discord even rocked a Dali moustache at one point, I think.
BartonFink: We report. You decide.
Wayoshi: I particularly enjoyed the rolling eyeballs, with Discord replacing the ground once the eye-golf balls rolled in, Grannycord pinching cheeks, Discords giving 10s on the ice lake, and John completely hamming up the Stare and completely selling that entire scene as mocking the Stare. That was really a great way to use the Stare again as a major plot point in an episode, with Fluttershy at first treating him as a quasi-animal (good to get that distinction out of the way early).
Headless Horse: It’s in keeping with the rest of this season: callbacks a-plenty to previously established gags that deserve to be seen again, not to mention characters everyone’s been clamoring to revisit and plotlines everyone’s wanted to see progressing. The Stare showed up briefly in Season 2, but popping up here in a subverted way, like Watto shrugging off the Jedi Mind Trick (only done correctly and in chronological sequence, thank you very much)—it was a really neat way to bring it up again without it feeling gimmicky. It played out in a very true-to-life way, not to mention conveniently defanging what could be an “overpowered” trait of Fluttershy’s in the vein of Pinkie Sense.
Dr.Dinosaur: I always thought the “stare” was a bit of a deus-ex-machina trait for Fluttershy to have and I thought it was quite good that it was made clear it would not work early in the episode. The way discord handled it was incredibly perfect. Acting like he was succumbing to the power and then laughing, laughing in their smug, unthinkable faces.
Discord himself was fantastic for the rest of the episode. His dialogue was written well, and the animation! Oh! The animations, they were fantastic. Visual puns and surreal imagery galore. I would expect nothing less for the embodiment of chaos.
KefkaFloyd: Now that we have a requisite Fluttershy episode, we were all kind of wondering how they could change up the old formula of “Fluttershy escapes her timidness to save the day” plot and retreads thereof. This episode wasn’t about her becoming brave—instead, it was about how to utilize her kindness in a different way.
BartonFink: Fluttershy is my favorite character – but I recognize her flaws, namely that the ‘overcomes her inherent nature’ plot has been used a few too many times (“Hurricane Fluttershy” was the pinnacle of this, in my view). As discussed above, here we have her being resourceful, confident in her own abilities in the face of long odds, and perhaps even one or two steps ahead of her peers, and all of us without any changes to her fundamental character. It was a new “flavor” of Fluttershy episode, and I like it.
Headless Horse: She sure does give us an intense character moment with that “You think I’m just a silly gullible fool, don’t you?” comment. I think that’s considerably more powerful and layered than the comically over-the-top callout she gives Rarity and Pinkie in “Putting Your Hoof Down”.
BartonFink: I hardly caught the importance of the scene on first viewing, in no small part because of the hilarity of the rest of the cast’s reaction. It really takes a second viewing, and perhaps some more confirmation of Fluttershy’s plan’s competence, to appreciate what Fluttershy is really saying here.
Headless Horse: Not to mention that now she’s got enough self-confidence to call her friends out when she thinks she’s being belittled. I don’t think it quite goes against her scene in “Return of Harmony” where she cops to her weaknesses and claims to be glad her friends have a low opinion of her; it was a long time ago, and by now she’s covered enough ground that she’s rightfully a bit offended that her friends still tend to underestimate her.
Dr.Dinosaur: At least her friends are being consistent. There seems to be a parallel here between the deeply held opinions for both Fluttershy and Discord the ponies hold and refuse to let go of.
ComradeCosmobot: I think it ended up exaggerating her character a bit much. Her “doormat-ness” never really led to actual gullibility in the show as far as I recall… I mean signing up for Iron Will’s class isn’t quite in the same category as buying into your average pony multi-level marketing scam… Even so, this episode had, on the whole, a reasonably good characterization for Fluttershy.
KefkaFloyd: While Dave Polsky wrote this episode, there was a new and unusual credit at the opening of the episode. Apparently the story idea was contributed by one Teddy Antonio, a fifteen year old fan of the show and progeny of former television writers. Who to the what now? The last time I remember something where a non-writer kid contributed to a cartoon show was “Dexter and Computress Get Madark!”
ComradeCosmobot: I caught wind of this before I watched the episode (since I generally don’t watch it live) and while I tried not to let it color my opinion, I definitely did not really come off with a very good impression of the episode. I know that people have criticized other episodes this season for being worthless “fan-pandering”, so I’ll gladly state that this one is mine. Fluttershy again plays the doormat and the whole “obviously Discord made Sweet Apple Acres flood” conclusion drawn by the rest of the Mane Six struck me as one pulled out of thin air, never mind Discord’s all-but-inexplicable change of heart, which strikes me as the most absurd element of the whole episode (this all discounts, of course, the whole cringe-worthy “Friendship is Magic” quote at the end). In short, there was simply too much “off” about the episode for me to particularly enjoy it; it more or less serves as a “wish-fulfilling” love-and-tolerance-fixes-everything episode that, until now, had never actually been the point of any episode.
Headless Horse: Well then, it’s funny you should bring that up, because it didn’t strike me as problematic at all. It was such a bizarre premise, you’re right about that—but all it did to me was make me giggle like an idiot at how silly everything was. But then to have it resolve with such an in-your-face appeal to the magic of friendship, well… I read that as a pony-flavored version of Q’s grudging fondness for humans once he’s experienced their foibles first-hand. This really is the first time Discord’s had something genuinely new happen to him in millennia, and with that in mind I think he’s kind of a special case when it comes to suddenly having a friend being a magical and transformative event.
Dr.Dinosaur: I do not feel that the “obviously Discord made the flood happen” conclusion was not out of place. Sure it was out of thin air, but the way the others were acting around him for the entire episode seemed to indicate that if anything bad happened anywhere in ponyville at all they would blame Discord, whether it was him or not. They just happened to be correct this time.
Wayoshi: I feel like fan pandering here would have been Discord returning for his cameo and then returning to the status quo. Going through all the way with the reform caught me by surprise and felt pretty bold. They did a very good job leaving it impossible to guess which way the ending was going to go. I don’t think the age of Antonio really is a big factor in much of this in the end.
ComradeCosmobot: I dunno. That might be more “fan-pandering” in one way, but redeeming Discord at the end also strikes me as a bit of a cop-out. PictishBeast made a good point on our forums when they stated that, for all his love of chaos, in “Return of Harmony”, Discord comes off as much more subtly sinister and cruel than he comes off here. The resolution we get here more or less kills off any sort of malevolent Discord once and for all.
Dr.Dinosaur: Well malevolent, sinister, and cruel is one way to read the Discord from return to Harmony Episodes 1 and 2, but I honestly do not think he was. I do however agree that he spread quite a bit less chaos in this episode than in his last appearance. Which isn’t necessarily good or bad.
BartonFink: It’s worth noting that what we’ve seen of his initial proposal is quite a few steps removed from what we’ve got – not too surprising given the medium and all. I give him a ton of props, regardless of how his proposal got there – being involved in the writing a TV show at 15 is objectively impressive – but I’m not ready to credit this as the ‘brony authored episode’ based on what we know.
Dr.Dinosaur: Indeed, I didn’t know about this fan involvement until after I watched the episode, so I looked more into it. The very basic idea seemed to have come from this fan writer, but it seems to end there. And I agree with Barton, it’s very cool to have one of your ideas plucked for a show’s premise, but I really think saying it was written by a fan is taking it too far.
Wayoshi: If that proposal, which really had no details in common with the final product, and “The main thing was that in the original version, Discord was NOT trying to turn everypony against each other” are anything to go by, the story credit was really just for show & tell and we’re overreacting since it is convenient to pin anything unique about this episode on the new guy, so to speak.
Headless Horse: He submitted the story premise something like a week after “Return of Harmony Part 2” aired, didn’t he?
Wayoshi: Just 4 days, if we take Meghan’s tweet at her word. And apparently the call to hurry up came 2 days later, on that following Monday. I can’t imagine how zany that time was for them while we were still absorbing the insaneness that was Return of Harmony part 2.
Headless Horse: I know that at the time I was sweltering in a cramped convention space above a Chinatown sock factory with Jayson Thiessen at that first BroNYCon when apparently he and the rest of the staff were going crazy with the realization of what they’d evidently created. It was like watching everything exploding in real-time.
KefkaFloyd: A lot of people were expecting a two parter for the return of Discord, but given the reduced numbers of episodes this season, it looks like the creative team had to make do with what they had. Could he have used even more time to wisecrack and make life miserable?
BartonFink: This has been a bit of a season 3 problem, hasn’t it? In this particular instance, it seems a little too much time was spent on the setup of the premise, including one or two not particularly important potential loopholes (i.e. the spell Celestia put on the elements), at the expense of showing some more scenes of Discord coming around to his gradual personal revelation.
Headless Horse: The pacing was just so strange. I paused it halfway through and commented to someone that it felt like the episode thought it had an hour to play with. All those scenes and all that dialogue spent fleshing out the premise, setting the ground rules, pointing out potential plot holes and the ways they’re mitigating them… I mean, the show’s done that a lot ever since things like Twilight’s “magical lightning rod” addressing Applejack’s concerns in “Look Before You Sleep”, but here it just kept happening. It ended up being a very “talky” first half.
ComradeCosmobot: I agree. Hell, I was shocked by the time we reached the third act, thinking that there had to be more time to finish this than 7 minutes. I’m not sure they did a great job of it, all things considered.
BartonFink: And for all the time for ground rules at the beginning, they might’ve tossed in why Celestia needs Discord’s magic. A full explanation, a throwaway line, a foreshadow if they’re bringing him back, any of those would’ve worked.
ComradeCosmobot: It really would help explain why Celestia didn’t try this before, at any rate. Why bother reforming Discord now? He was locked up for some untold number of years as punishment, comes out and causes the same amount of havoc… And now that he’s been locked up for maybe a year at most before he’s good to go? Maybe there’s a huge debate going on in Canterlot about the “statue penalty” that we haven’t heard about before now?
drunkill: The Equestrian justice system is a bit odd, Fluttershy feared banishment and imprisonment in “A Bird in the Hoof” even if she was dreaming up a delusional scenario. Who knows if there is a method to Celestias madness regarding a reformed Discord.
KefkaFloyd: Something else i’d like to touch on is Fluttershy’s nature in this episode. She’s completely in control the entire time, and gave Discord just enough rope to hang himself. I see it as her way of being assertive. Even in the face of the doubt of her friends, she sticks to her guns and sets boundaries for Discord and manages to impose her will without being mean. Though it does help having backup with the Elements of Harmony, just inc ase.
ComradeCosmobot: As mentioned above, I disagree; she still allows Discord to have free rein over her household instead of actively reining him in. Fluttershy is still allowing herself to be a doormat for Discord. Granted, unlike in the past, she actually chose to be a doormat under the premise that being so would be crucial to reforming Discord rather than simply rolling over as she did at the beginning of “Putting Your Hoof Down”, but I really don’t see her actions here as much of an improvement. Part of being a good friend (as she presumably wants to be to Discord) is knowing when to say no to your friends. That’s something that wasn’t properly addressed in “Putting Your Hoof Down” and remains unaddressed in Fluttershy’s character here.
KefkaFloyd: But Fluttershy does say no, and she does it in the right way—she walks away from what she doesn’t like and holds firm to her promise.
ComradeCosmobot: Rolling over and acting like a doormat to earn friendship as Fluttershy does here is actually rather dangerous. I’ll grant that Fluttershy’s actions are not the same as if she were actually being a doormat, but their inherent naïvete is in many respects indistinguishable from the same: either one allows others to willfully take advantage of her kindness (much as Discord actually does in the first two acts!) The only reason Fluttershy doesn’t end up hurt by Discord’s very obvious betrayal in this episode is due to the inexplicable change-of-heart Discord has in his desire for friendship preventing him from continuing to abuse Fluttershy’s willful kindness. Not everyone in life is that willing to make and keep friends.
Pineapple: I’m gonna chime in that “Let people take advantage of you and they’ll come around if you put up with enough” is possibly the worst possible moral. Especially in a focus episode for a character that lacks self-confidence and assertiveness.
BartonFink: Man, with you guys, no wonder Fluttershy underestimates herself. Fluttershy was tasked by Princess Celestia the seemingly impossible task of taming the chaotic Discord, including Celestia giving a nod of approval to her instincts. Fluttershy determines that, indeed, friendship is magic. In the face of the disbelief of her group of friends and Discord’s implied mockery, she remains confident in herself – I guess those previous lessons came in handy—and sticks to her plan of being a friend. At the moment where Discord loses her trust (which, let’s remember, is the fastest way to lose a friend forever), Fluttershy declares their friendship officially over while keeping true to her word—a combination which makes Discord reevaluate, and the plan lead to a complete success.
At every step of the process, I find it hard to believe that Fluttershy isn’t in full control – if anyone is manipulating, it’s her, not Discord. I also find the concept that Discord’s change of heart was an inexplicable plot contrivance or a result of bad writing to be unconvincing, given that her actions directly lead to Discord fulfilling her objective, and not even a few moments later.
Dr.Dinosaur: There is a place for being passive though. Sometimes it’s important back off a bit on forcing conformity on an entity. It becomes a problem when the second party is becoming victimised and I don’t think Fluttershy ever got to the point of being a victim in this episode. She still seemed to know what she was doing.
ComradeCosmobot: I still feel that some better writing could have turned that final scene into a much less objectionable one for me. As it was though, it felt far too forced and unnatural and really hurt the episode for a number of reasons. There’s just not enough to go on previously in the episode to actually expect Discord to “suddenly” value friendship other than by way of a “deus ex machina”, which makes it that much harder for me to believe that Fluttershy actually planned it all to go like that from the get go.
Dr.Dinosaur: There is something I’d like to mention here. Yes, the pacing was a bit off, and Discord probably could have used a little longer to actually go through his transformation by friendship, but I just don’t think Discord realised what having a friend was like. He was trapped for more than a thousand years, and, as established in the episode, he could hear everything said to his statue. Imagine, yearly trips by teachers and their you classes coming up to you and the teacher of the group telling everyone how much of a horrible creature you were. countless negative comments and remarks from passers by. It’s not hard to imagine that when Discord got out of the statue he just assumed nobody would ever have him as a friend. He simply did not know what losing a friend would be like until just that moment.
BartonFink: I would say Fluttershy doesn’t need to be in complete puppet-master mode to know what her general plan is and to improvise around it in order to believe she was successfully following through on a plan. She felt there was something in Discord, despite all evidence, that would lead him to where he wound up – and Celestia seemed to agree, hence giving her the task.
Headless Horse: Discord thinks he’s trolling Fluttershy, Fluttershy thinks she’s trolling Discord, and we don’t have any idea who to believe until the end. I think there’s a lot more intricacy to the way this plot is written than some of you guys are giving it credit for.
Wayoshi: Am I the only one here who came in not minding which direction they decided to go with this episode? Fluttershy and Discord tease at both potential directions all episode, so even going into the final act I was prepared for both. However, because there was just that one quick point where Discord softens up, I figured Fluts would have to come to terms with a very valiant but failed attempt. Looking at Discord’s facial expressions in the final act you can pick up on more subtle hints, but overall I don’t think they did quite enough to make the transition feel organic. And then even with the feel-good resolution, there’s a bit of doubt in the closing scene.
KefkaFloyd: At the end of the day, Discord says he will use his magic for good… most of the time. Do we believe him? What does this mean for his character? I never much gathered that Discord was truly evil in that he wanted to kill people; he’s just a sociopath. The “most of the time” means he can still be mischievous, but I’m feeling that the showrunners want to bring back Discord more often, probably in a Q or Loki-esque role of mischievous deity rather than a true force of evil that wants to conquer Equestria.
Pineapple: Neither Celestia nor Discord himself seemed really sold on his “face turn.” I’d have said there’s a double cross in the works for the finale but there doesn’t seem to be. Well the wedding surprised me with
xenomorphs changelings, so who knows?
BartonFink: There’s an odd, kind of cool disconnect here. I felt the episode worked entirely fine if we take Discord’s turn at (no pun intended) face value. However…Celestia doesn’t quite look convinced in that shot, does she? Discord did say “most of the time” under his breath, didn’t he?
Headless Horse: Yeah, and he gave his “Oopsie” comment directly to the audience. It was even a plot point, having us be in on it and the ponies unaware.
BartonFink: This isn’t accidental stuff, the show still wants there to be a question mark lingering around Discord. Is this just an escape hatch for when a future villain is needed? Is this the setup for a specific future move – maybe even in this season? Is it just meant to get nerds riled up on the Internet? Only time will tell, but there’s something here.
Headless Horse: Doing a Discord episode—to say nothing of a Discord/Fluttershy episode of all things—seems more like the writers just goofing around and having a laugh than playing some kind of carefully planned long game; but even so, Celestia giving the Elements to Twilight and the gang for safekeeping feels like a potentially big move. There was literally no other reason for them to have made a point of saying that, was there?
drunkill: It could just be the crew trying to capitalize on JDL’s involvement with the show in the Season two openers while having a fun once off episode, but the way it ended had me feeling we’ll see Discord sometime in the future. Perhaps as a force for good.
Wayoshi: The episode wrapping up with all those heartfelt emotions, but then being tinted with Celestia showing uncertainty twice (and it should be noted this isn’t just storyboarding, one is in the dialogue), certainly feels like it’s leading up to something in the future. I think this contributed to the general negative reaction to the pacing too: it wasn’t too surprising once we only had 4 minutes left for Act III that there would be barely anything after the climax, but suddenly there’s even more questions and bam, it’s over.
Over as soon as Fluts firmly establishes Discord’s growth this episode, the last “essential” or “key” line so to speak this episode. In many ways I feel like Act III was very barebones in this manner.
Dr.Dinosaur: I really think there is a problem with this question here. The problem is with the word “good”.
First off, I’d like to warn everyone reading this that this has little to do with the show or episode, and is me waxing about meta theory that I personally like to think about, and something that does colour my perception. I understand that the concepts I think about surrounding these particular themes are not practical to be used in a children’s show. I certainly do not fault the writers or the show itself for not adding in ideas like these but I do find them fun to think about. Perhaps you may find these thoughts slightly interesting to hold and play around with yourself.
This is a problem I have had ever since Discord’s first appearance in Return to Harmony 1 and 2. Chaos itself is portrayed as bad or evil, but why? Has anyone exactly stated why chaos is necessarily bad? None of the characters think to find out why Discord likes chaos so much. No one asks the questions “is chaos is inherently bad?”, and “is order inherently good?”, they just blindly follow Celestia’s ideology and turn Discord back into stone. I always felt this was the biggest tragedy in the season openers and now I’ll attempt to explain why.
I want you to imagine a world without chaos. A world where everything went exactly as it was supposed to, everything was perfectly in place and there were no surprises, no confusion, no conflict, no obstacles for anyone to overcome. This is a world that is not alive, it simply exists. With no uncertainty, with no surprises good or bad, with no chaos there is simply no life.
Chaos is what makes jokes funny.
Chaos is what makes creativity possible.
Chaos is what makes life interesting.
Chaos is the sriracha in your spicy tuna roll.
Up to this point, you probably think that I am arguing that chaos is good. This would be a false assumption. Chaos can also be destructive. Wars, strife, harmful accidents, these also wouldn’t be possible without chaos. Chaos has two sides to it, constructive and destructive. Chaos is neither good nor bad it is simply a necessary force for our universe to function.
Chaos also has an opposing force: Order. Order is not divorced from chaos, instead it is a part of it. Without order there would be no words, no language, no musical arrangements, no science. This is the constructive side of order, and much like chaos, order also has a destructive side. Order is also at the root of bureaucracies, fascism, environmental destruction, irrational hatred, and fear of the unknown. Order is also neither good nor bad, simply a force.
For there to be constructive chaos, there must first be destruction of order. For there to be constructive order there must first be a destruction of chaos. There is a constant fluctuation between order and chaos, and the problems arise only when one gets out of balance. Too much chaos is not a good thing, but neither is too much order. What the main six should have been striving for is not a of reapplication of total order on the world, but instead achieving a harmony between these two complementary forces.
And now back to this week’s episode. Even though all of the other ponies are still unable to let go of the idea that chaos is evil, Fluttershy tried to at least let chaos be and accept it for what it was. Up to a point. Fluttershy’s actions did not try and control chaos in such a dramatic way as encasing it in stone, but instead toned it down enough to restore a little balance between chaos and order.
To answer the original question ‘Is Discord truly good?” I would say no. Discord is an embodiment of a force that needs to be in balance and thus cannot be inherently good or evil. I would go as far to say that creating dichotomies like good vs. evil is fallacious and disregards the importance of accepting that one cannot exist without the other and the quest for balance between the two.
Dr.Dinosaur: Also Screwball didn’t show up. :(
Pineapple: DrD gettin’ all Discordian philosophy up in here. I have my Principia here somewhere… ah!
“To choose order over disorder, or disorder over order, is to accept a trip composed of both the creative and the destructive. But to choose the creative over the destructive is an all-creative trip composed of both order and disorder. To accomplish this, one need only accept creative disorder along with, and equal to, creative order, and also willing to reject destructive order as an undesirable equal to destructive disorder.”—Principia Discordia, THE CURSE OF GREYFACE AND THE INTRODUCTION OF NEGATIVISM
Dr.Dinosaur: You see!
KefkaFloyd: And with that, we’re done with this week’s Round Table. Come back to The Round Stable in the future for more discussion and analysis of your favorite cartoon about miniature colored horses! ■