» TRS Round Table 028: Flight to the Finish

Welcome back to another edition of TRS Round Table! This discussion examines “Flight to the Finish” the episode of Friendship is Magic that first aired on December 14th, 2013. TRS Round Table is our group analysis and discussion about the episode, and maybe you’ll learn something new or look at it in a different light. Joining the Round Table today are ComradeCosmobot, Dexanth, drunkill, Headless Horse, MochBean and The Doctor. Find out our thoughts of the episode beyond the cut.

 

drunkill: We’re three for three in terms of new writers the past two seasons with Corey Powell, Josh Haber and now with Ed Valentine penning his first episode for the show. He fits in well with the existing style for the writers and puts in a flag carrying performance of his own with this debut script.

ComradeCosmobot: That’s one way to put it!  I think Valentine did a good job with this outing.  I’m not going to necessarily put it up there as an outstanding performance like Powell or Haber, but Valentine clearly has the chops to write for MLP, and I think he did a reasonably good job of it.  If the other new writers (Levinger, etc.) are as good as Haber and Valentine have been, I don’t think we have anything to worry about this season.

The Doctor: Certainly a strong first outing, and like Powell, the first outing came with some need for character development.  Whether by coincidence or design it was development of the same two characters.  I think this made for a much more difficult job than Haber had, as his first outing with “Castle-Mania” was less development and more old fashioned pony fun.  He did great and I look forward to seeing more of what he has to offer in the future.

Headless Horse: It must have been quite a prestigious assignment, for Valentine’s debut assignment on the show to be one with so much significance to the overall storyline, and which explicitly calls attention to aspects of the pony world that had only been alluded to in the past. Scootaloo’s flightlessness? The infamous “disability episode”? Seems like quite an honor. Or maybe it was more of a “3—2—1—Not it!” kind of situation, come to think of it.

MochaBean: He’s off to a great start. I really appreciated the humor he put forward in this episode, which more than anything demonstrates that he “gets” the show. There were lots of great self aware gags – Silver Spoon’s blank flank taunt lament, the Zucker-esque freeze frame jump, and even Sweetie and Apple Bloom looking embarrassed when Scootaloo earnestly repeats the montage song’s chorus in defiance of the bullies. He gets that this show is for kids, but isn’t afraid of poking fun at itself or the usual conventions of its genre. The characterizations were spot-on, too.

Dexanth: This is another awesome entry from a great new writer. While not quite hitting the high of Levinger or Haber, it’s like complaining that K2 isn’t a challenging mountain because Everest exists. The most accurate criticism I have heard here is the episode occasionally forgets to follow the ‘show, don’t tell’ mantra – Rainbow Dash’s insistence on keeping professional being the best example here. Still, such is a minor fault in an otherwise glimmering gemstone.

 

drunkill: Ms. Harshwhinny returns to the show with a more developed personality since her debut in Games Ponies Play when we saw her last.

The Doctor: I don’t know if I’d say she had more development, than she had more screen time.  We already got the impression in “Games Ponies Play” (and also from her moniker) that she is a harsh person, and it showed.  I think the whole “professionalism” joke went a bit too long, but it was needed for the story.  Without Rainbow Dash thinking professionalism was key she would have been gushing over the Crusader’s performance from the start, and with praise like that, it’s possible that Diamond Tiara’s and Silver Spoon’s taunts would not have had much of an impact on Scootaloo’s psyche.

Headless Horse: One thing that was definitely developed further here was Harshwhinny’s facial animation. Did you see that? Who let the animators off the chain this week? They’ve been experimenting a lot lately, but some of those faces on the Harsh in that opening few minutes were just unbelievable.

The Doctor: Pony faces have been great this season, but Harshwhinny really seemed to go all out with more horsie faces.  I hope it continues.

Dexanth: She worked well as a foil for Dash, but I do wonder what else remains for her to do. Part of being so staid and serious is that she remains somewhat of a….

One trick pony.

Professionalism, a core value Professionalism, a core value

drunkill: An episode addressing Scootaloo’s lack of flying has been a long time coming, and everyone had wildly different expectations for how it would go down. How do you think the show handled this subject, especially in relation to the target audience?

Headless Horse: If I’m not mistaken, or if this interview is to be believed, it was Faust’s original intention to paint Scootaloo as a “disabled” character—the role typically filled by a kid in a wheelchair whose plucky spirit or unique skills allow her to transcend her handicap. I don’t know how close this episode came to what she might originally have been planning, but I would really like to think that it’s following her vision as closely as the current showrunners can claim to know it.

The Doctor: At the same time Faust has commented on her DA page that she just hasn’t learned how to fly yet.  Seems Faust herself was indecisive about this as well.

ComradeCosmobot: It’s worth pointing out that this episode remains incredibly non-committal as to the whole Scootaloo-vs.-flying issue.  But it does a good job striking at a surely sensitive part of Scoot’s inner fears: that she’ll never fly.  I think it might have some repercussions in fanon (woobie ho!) but as a canon development this has been a long time coming and really isn’t a huge leap.  It also leaves the door open to developments in the future, which really is the hallmark of the good writing in this show.  With every closed door, a new one seems to open, so I think we’ve still got plenty more to work with in Scootaloo’s character.

The Doctor: Part of me thinks it was a bit of a cop out.  After building up the episode since the Comicon preview, and showing that Scootaloo’s flight status would be an issue, to give a resounding, definitive “maybe” as an answer seems a bit weak.  However, I think they went about that “maybe” quite well.  Showing that Scootaloo does fear never being able to fly can certainly mirror fears children have (disabled or otherwise).  I will admit that I see her as a late bloomer, but making the episode’s message boil down to “does it really matter?”, was a very tactful way to handle it.

Headless Horse: Remember, the fact that the CMCs are still missing their cutie marks is already a “late bloomer” story; that’s almost literally the entire reason they’re in the show. It seems almost like the universe has a cruel sense of humor if it’s going to make Scoots wait unusually long to get off the ground too.

MochaBean: Going into the episode, I’ll admit I was one of the ones hoping they’d outright discover that Scootaloo had a permanent disability of some kind. It wasn’t due to fanon or wanting any kind of headcanon preserved or anything like that, but mostly because it looked like a good opportunity to insert a bit of representation into the show. There are kids out there in real life having to cope with very real disabilities themselves, and all too often the characters that are injected into these shows for them to relate to are terribly tokenized and two dimensional, with the handicap put forth as their sole defining trait. In Scootaloo’s case, we’ve already spent three years getting to know this kid, and we’ve watched as she’s developed into a fully realized, three dimensional character. We know enough about her to know where her true strengths lie, and we know that through her own perseverance and the love of her friends she’d be able to focus on these strengths and triumph through them, fending off any attempts to put her in a box. For a child, seeing a cartoon character confront the same issues they face can be comforting, letting them know that they aren’t alone in the world, and it’s all the better when that character is actually presented with some depth. Even if a kid isn’t dealing with those issues themselves, these kind of stories can teach a lot about empathy. I have enough faith in this writing staff that I believe they could pull it off in a respectful manner if needed.

 That being said, I’m still ultimately happy with the direction they took. They legitimately brought up the issue by pointing out how weird it was that Scoots hasn’t learned to fly at her age, so the possibility of disability is still there, but also didn’t state anything definitive, so she could just as easily be a late bloomer. Kids watching at home get to fill in the blanks the way that best works for them. I can see how someone might see that as a copout, but what I love is how Rainbow Dash effectively renders the whole question moot like The Doctor mentioned. She very rightfully points out that it doesn’t matter one way or the other: A person should define themselves based on the strengths unique to them, and not worry about holding themselves up to someone else’s ideal. That holds true for everyone, regardless of their personal situation.

Dexanth: From a writing point of view, I found it an incredibly elegant way to let everyone walk away happy. Those who wanted her to fly/not fly can interpret the episode as they wish, while at the same time, the key message of not defining someone by what they can or cannot do is still very effectively delivered. This episode had the potential to leave some viewers upset, rightly or not, and yet found a way to have its cake and eat it too.

ComradeCosmobot: Remind me, was this explicitly stated to be the “show that talks about disabilities” that McCarthy mentioned?  Or has that been something bronies have been reading into it since Comicon?

The Doctor: I do not believe she has said if this was the episode or not, but I think it would be a safe assumption.  I can not imagine they would do another story with a possible disability angle.

Headless Horse: I certainly don’t think I can see there being another episode this season, or maybe even at all, that addresses the question any more directly than this one did. The way they left it, showing Scootaloo learning to fly—or learning that she’ll never be able to—would make this one seem sort of cheap in retrospect. It feels to me like we’ve seen the furthest they’re going to take Scootaloo along this particular arc… and maybe if they’re going to do any more exploring of “coming-of-age” material, Sweetie Belle and magic will get their turn being the subject matter.

I believe I can flyy For Scootaloo, the sky’s the limit

drunkill: Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon are common antagonists for the Cutie Mark Crusaders, but they’re starting to get a little more character of their own. Silver Spoon blurting “What are we going to do? We already called them blank flanks!” was one of the best lines.

MochaBean: I loved that line, it was a great example of the self-aware humor I mentioned earlier. DT and SS have been using that stock taunt for so long that it’s lost all its effectiveness against the CMCs, and Silver Spoon is just shallow enough that she’s already exhausted her quiver once she fires it off. She is not a clever pony.

Headless Horse: Diamond Tiara, on the other hand… she’s evil incarnate, isn’t she?

MochaBean: Sweetie Belle summed it up best: “I do not like them one bit.”

Dexanth: Which makes them good villains. They help catalyze the CMC into acting together – DT&SS in a way should be thanked, because without them the CMC wouldn’t learn so many friendship lessons.

The Doctor: I would not mind seeing Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon fleshed out a little bit if they’re going to continue to be antagonists to the CMC.  Right now their characterization is limited to “those two jerks”.

Crush the CMC Up to no good

drunkill: The season-spanning arc of the Equestria Games continues with another mention, how do you think the big event will impact the show later down the line?
The Doctor: I don’t know that the Equestria Games will have an Earth shattering impact on the show, but it does seem a fun event to be the focus of a few episodes.  It reminds me a lot of the build up to the Grand Galloping Gala in season one.

MochaBean: It’s interesting that we actually have two possible season-spanning arcs, with both the keys to the box and the Equestria Games. I agree that it’s a fun throwback to the atmosphere of season one – along with a lot of other things this season – and won’t be surprised if the two themes wind up intersecting at some point.

 

drunkill: One of the more heartbreaking moments was the CMCs deciding to split up after losing their cool about Scoots’ inability to fly. There’s a lot of emotions going on there, as all three of them have very different reactions.

ComradeCosmobot: That was an interesting plot point to me that really showed off Valentine’s characterization.  A lot of the criticism of the CMC way back in season one was how fundamentally identical and inseparable they were.  Now obviously they’ve all gained their own motivations and characters since, but here we see the first real rift in their relationship, and it’s executed so well and in such a way that we can really comprehend it.  Who hasn’t ever run into someone who wants to perfect everything so badly that it becomes an all-consuming effort?  That can often be draining on others, and the way Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle react doesn’t feel forced in the least.

MochaBean: It was also perfectly in character. Apple Bloom comes across as a jerk at first, but then you remember who her big sister is and what family she’s a part of, and it makes total sense that she’d react the way she did. Apples aren’t quitters, and when people do give up, that’s a failure of character. Being a kid, she hasn’t really learned to temper that worldview with a sense of empathy just yet, and her lack of sleep sure wasn’t helping. I imagine kids out in the real world often get taught that same message, so I was glad to see Dash call her out on it and trump it with a better message: You don’t give up on your friends.

The Doctor: It fits with Apple Blooms family values, but at the same time it came off a bit too quickly for me.  I thought it also called back to Apple Bloom apparently ditching Twist once she got her cutie mark.  She, much like her sister, is set in her ways about how things should be.  It ended up providing a great chance for Rainbow Dash to be the good pony and give them a talking to.  Having her not only go back to Scootaloo, but tell off Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle in the process made the sequence so much more effective than if the two just followed Rainbow Dash back to Scootaloo’s house.  This gave them part of the shows lesson as well.

I'm outta here Breaking up the band

drunkill: Even though this is mostly a CMC episode, Rainbow Dash had a pretty important role as a coach. She did the right thing by calling out the CMCs on their breakup and having the right words at the right time for Scootaloo.

ComradeCosmobot: Which is interesting, of course, given the evolution of Rainbow Dash’s attitude towards Scootaloo in the series so far.  From a character who was once described as “not the kind of character who would treat siblings as well as they’re expected to be treated in MLP, Dash has come a long way.  Of course, this isn’t all that surprising in the light of “Sleepless in Ponyville” but it really shows an interesting maturation on Dash’s part.  But it also raises the question as to whether it’s actually in line with Dash’s reckless character…

The Doctor: While Rainbow Dash is most certainly reckless at times, she has proven to be reliable.  “Hurricane Fluttershy” showed that she put the job above winning a contest when she quickly abandoned her desires to set the wing power record, and move to just getting the job done.  And certainly after “Sleepless in Ponyville” there is that relationship between her and Scootaloo.  When Apple Bloom says they left her behind, Rainbow Dash I think took it a little personally.  They ditcher her kind-of-Sister.  But it was nice to see her show some empathy, which is something Dash has always had to work hard on.  Seeing her talk sense in the Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle, followed by her giving Scootaloo a pep talk was an excellent moment for her character.

MochaBean: Additionally, It was a good example of Dash living up to her status as the Element of Loyalty, which sometimes gets downplayed.

Headless Horse: What I’m intrigued by is how much maturity and tact it took for Dash to deliver her pep talk in just the right way. Nobody’s ever thought of calling her Rainbow “Maturity” Dash or Rainbow “Tact” Dash.

The Doctor:  She did give Scootaloo the pep talk about flying while flying the entire time in her room, showing our lovably tactless Dash is still there.  Doesn’t diminish what she said, but continues the theme that’s always been in the show that Dash flies all the time, where most other Ponyville Pegasi seem to be fine walking from place to place.

Rally the team Bringing the band back together

drunkill: And how about that shot of Scootaloo’s flank.  Was it an effective fake out, giving the impression that she was about to get her cutie mark?

MochaBean: It didn’t come across as a fake out to me, but then I wasn’t expecting her to actually earn her mark this episode. She learned that she needs to quit worrying about what she can’t do and instead focus on the things that make her awesome, but she still hasn’t really given those awesome things enough attention. She had an epiphany, but not the epiphany.

The Doctor:  I had to admit I fell for it.  The look of realization, the zoom in on her flank.  Would have been quite the event.  They did manage to write off the fake out with Scootaloo’s line about getting a cutie mark in flag waving, showing that whatever character development may happen, the CMC are still oblivious to their true talents.

Headless Horse: I sure hope that the CMC arc the show seems to be setting up (starting with The Show Stoppers) will end with a kind of reprise of the song performance from that episode, only executed with the kind of skill and properly applied talents that seem to be on display now. It looks to me as though they’ve gotten pretty darn good at putting on stage shows, possibly even doing them all the time just for fun, like Brendon Small and his friends making movies.

 And speaking of continuity, let me just say that the scooter encounter in the town square with Granny Smith is getting to be one of the best running gags in the show. It does my heart good to think that even now, after all the fits and starts, all the fake-out half-seasons and all the Crystal Empire distractions and all the uncertainty over the show’s direction post-Faust, the team still is able to see it as a coherent long-term story with the potential to build on itself in a manner that looks like it was planned that way from the start. I just get a really warm feeling seeing that high-hoof where there used to be indulgent indifference or incoherent rage.

The Doctor:  The episode also brought us our first song of the season.  Was nice to see a song, and was surprised it took us until episode five to get one.  It was quite a catchy one for me.

MochaBean: I’m a sucker for anything with a college-style drumline, so it certainly sucked me in. Michelle and Maddy were awesome as always, but we also got to hear Claire sing in earnest for the first time, and I think she did a knockout job. It’s interesting that she’s almost kind of growing into Sweetie Belle’s role as a singer, and I’m interested to see where it takes her. I definitely want to hear her perform a solo some time this season.

Headless Horse: As soon as I heard the chorus I pegged the song as being as much of an homage to “Strangers Like Me” from Tarzan as “Art of the Dress” was to “Putting It Together”. Daniel Ingram tweeted as much, and I think he has every right to be proud. It’s not the most amazing thing in the world lyrically, but musically it’s Ingram on his “A” game again. Especially in the reprise, where the montage visuals take it to transcendent dramatic levels like some of the best stuff from Season 1 as far as I’m concerned.

 

drunkill: Next week is the superhero themed Power Ponies, and it’s one I’ve been anticipating since the storyboards from Comic Con. It looks like it might even be a Spike-focused episode.
The Doctor:  I am not a fan of the last superhero themed outing the show did, but I can’t help but be excited for this episode.  It looks to be less a lesson to be learned episode, and more a fun pony adventure.  After the strong outing Spike had in “Just for Sidekicks” and more recently in his very own issue of the micro-comics, I really hope he gets to be more than Twilight’s assistant again.

Headless Horse: At the very least it figures that Spike would be a comic-reading dreamer, even if that’s a side of him we haven’t seen yet in the show, huh? 

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  1. One of the most charming and positive things about the show is the laser like focus it has for staying on message, and avoiding any fostering of the idea that vengeance is somehow satisfying. No matter how badly Diamond Tiara acts, the worst she ever gets is to get covered in ink, or mud, and in this case there was no punishment or revenge for her bad behavior at all, other than for the CMC to win the contest. It’s great that they would be so dedicated to telling the story, rather than try to give the audience pleasure in seeing Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon suffer for what they did.