» TRS Round Table 045: Leap of Faith

This week we have an intimate Round Table discussion for the episode Leap of Faith, written by Josh Haber and originally airing March 29th, 2014. Joining the RT this week for an honest chat are drunkill, Barton Fink, KefkaFloyd and Headless Horse.

drunkill: Leap of Faith is Josh Haber’s third episode for the show, and he’s been a great addition to the staff this season and has once again created an entertaining, fun twenty minutes of television.

Headless Horse: I was sold on Haber within the first five minutes of Castle Mane-ia, with that scene of Rarity guilefully manipulating her trustful doormat friend Fluttershy into accompanying her to the castle to loot some tapestries. The guy knows his ponies.

And just in general the writing staff has really been on a tear with Applejack this season, hasn’t it? It feels like a century ago that we were all bemoaning the fact that AJ was the least well-served of all the Mane Six when it comes to character-development stories.

KefkaFloyd: Applejack has always been a tough character to write, but Haber’s first try was a real winner. She’s not my favorite pony, but I can enjoy a good story about her, and this one was a surprisingly good story about the little lies that people tell.

BartonFink: This episode, Somepony to Watch Over Me, and Pinkie Apple Pie are roughly even with the rest of the series in terms of really giving Applejack some meaty characterization. I think the key has been digging a bit deeper into the dynamics of the Apple family.

While sister relationships have been explored, and other parents have shown up, Applejack is the only character where her family is at the center of her as a character. I loved the little swimming scenes: Apple Bloom’s daydreaming, Granny’s changing attitudes presented as elderly wisdom, the fact they’ve figured out a way to give Big Macintosh an actual character. It’s the sort of thing that “Apple Family Reunion” hinted at, without going into the same depth.

Diving Champion Former pony-diving champion

drunkill: Backstory! We’ve seen the old-timey footage of Granny Smith retelling her youth, this week we got a glimpse at her more daredevilish side as a former high diver. I thought it was another unexpected thing for the show to do, but it fits in just fine with the fabric of the show.

BartonFink: Given how the show seems to enjoy playing around with artifacts of different eras, I have to wonder if this all started from the visual idea of Granny Smith in those old time swimsuits. I do not object to this, if true.

Headless Horse: I sure wasn’t expecting aquabatics as a new angle on the Apples.

KefkaFloyd: I think it shows that Apple Bloom takes after Granny in a few other ways. They both have an appreciation for death-defying stunts.

drunkill: The inevitable return to Ponyville of the travelling salesponies Flim & Flam. They’ve returned to showboat a cure-all elixir. How do you like their musical salespitch compared to their introduction in Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000? Is this cure-all tonic a placebo or is there something special in there?

BartonFink: I’m surprised we don’t see more musical sales pitches in real life, they’re obviously effective. This all has a basis in vaudeville cliches, of course, but I really enjoy the way their songs play out. They start out by effectively terrifying the audience while introducing themselves. After presenting grandiose claims, then call themselves out on their own inflated salesmanship and demand proof. A mock demonstration serves to prove the point they wanted to make to themselves. If challenged, they mock respect the complaint while gradually turning the audience against the challenger. Then back to grandiose claims – except now with the full support of the marks in the audience, now providing their backing vocals. They’re good at this!

I don’t know if the song was Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000 levels of memorability, but I have no problem with them going for that style again. Heck, I wouldn’t mind a third.

Headless Horse: Part of the act is that the vaudevillains have to be likable, even irresistible, in a way you’re reluctant to admit. The brothers have a kind of debonair appeal in their demeanor and the way they’re drawn and the way they talk, the catchiness of their song—you want them to be for real. And that, of course, is the secret sauce in the dish they’re serving up. It’s what puts a crowd on their side.

KefkaFloyd: Vaudevillains! Now there’s a great term. A lot of great salespeople have a certain magnetism to their personality. They know how to work people, what makes them listen. Flim and Flam seem like guys you’d want to hang out and have a cider with, except they’d leave you holding the tab at the end while they ate all the food.

BartonFink: This episode also made me realize what perfect enemies the Flim Flam Brothers are for Applejack. They aren’t Sombra level villains, of course, but they represent an ethos against everything she stands for. The half-truths, the style over substance, the endless quest for a quick dishonest buck. Their general manipulative style, in an episode which specifically highlighted how well-liked and trusted Applejack is in Ponyville. All these factors were implied in “SSCS6k”, but it plays out at the center of the conflict here.

There’s maybe a connection to be drawn to (pre-reformed) Trixie and Twilight.

The Getalong Gang Endorsements shift stock

drunkill: Just throw in a letter to Princess Celestia and to me this episode felt like it could have easily existed in Season One, with it’s TV-Y-ish lesson about honesty for kids. It was charming to see the show go that route once more.

Headless Horse: This is part of why I’m bullish on Josh Haber. The moment I saw AJ confront Flim and Flam and them shift seamlessly into Plan B mode (“So what if it isn’t technically real? The placebo effect can be worth real money. Are your principles so important that they trump other ponies’ happiness?”), I knew I was up against some next-level shit compared to “Just let go, that’ll show you how important honesty is”.

Honesty is not a difficult theme to build a kids’ show around. What’s kind of incredible in retrospect is just how little this show has made hay of it. This is the first time they’ve really made it the centerpiece of an Applejack story, and up till now I’ve been coming up with all these convoluted and needlessly congratulatory theories about how the intervening seasons of Pony have created character development stories about ponies’ coming into conflict with their Elemental traits. Rarity has had episodes about greed and ambition, Fluttershy has gone overboard with her repressed rage, and Applejack’s stories have frequently involved her hiding the truth or being diplomatic to spare someone’s feelings—but it’s never come right out and said “Here is a lesson about Honesty, starring Applejack”. It’s kind of amazing that the show has avoided being so direct about its basic premise for so long.

KefkaFloyd: Perhaps it’s that the lesson isn’t just “don’t lie to people,” because duh, but it’s more that the episodes try to tackle something with a bit more depth than just “don’t lie.” The reality is that people lie every day, and lying is insidious. People lie by omission, tell half-truths, and simply ignore things they don’t like every day. It’s a surprisingly real scenario that doesn’t talk down to the audience. A lie that makes someone happy is still a lie. Kids know that lying is bad, but they might not know all the ways that something could be twisted into a lie. I’m thinking of the classic Calvin and Hobbes strip where he mails away for a beanie hat, lured in by the sales pitch on the back of his box of Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs. It turns out that it’s a complete phony, that his beanie hat won’t grant him the ability to fly or make him the coolest kid. It’s a far more real and relatable situation than just saying “buyer beware.”

drunkill: We finally for to see Applejack’s key for the season, are you happy that it isn’t just an apple?

BartonFink: I’m glad the key isn’t an apple, but I still find it pretty funny it’s a bit. Brings back memories of her goals in The Best Night Ever.

An honestly earned dollar to counterpoint the methods of the flim-flammers? I’ll go with that.

KefkaFloyd: Honestly, I’m surprised that her key isn’t some form of hat. Tee hee!

drunkill: Final verdict, are Flim and Flam simply con-men looking to make a quick bit or could you see them returning with legitimately fine items for sale, such as SSCS6K?

Headless Horse: I honestly don’t think the show even means to provoke such in-depth analysis of those two. They’re supposed to be hucksters through-and-through, with their real strength being their turn of phrase and their unassailable self-confidence that allows them to hold an audience spellbound and sell them the saddles off their own backs. Whether it’s an ingenious new invention they’re hawking or just a bottle of snake oil is much less important to them as characters and as story elements than the fact that they can stand there listening to your accusing them dead to rights of pulling a scam, and smirk to themselves while turning it right back around at you like there’s nothing on earth you can do to get ahead of them in the conversation.

BartonFink: The little visual cues during the accusation scene – how the nervous hoof fiddling effortlessly becomes another one of their performance pieces, tailor-made and complete with smug grin – underline the point.

When you can take My Little Pony characters, modify a few things, and have them as believable side characters on Boardwalk Empire, you’re probably doing something right.

KefkaFloyd: Flim and Flam are interested in whatever makes them the quickest buck. If being honest did so, then they would do that, but it doesn’t. They could return with a multitude of problems in dealing with business, like cheating on taxes or obligations or even stealing, which the show hasn’t really addressed all that much. Either way, if they do come back, it’ll be grist for the mill at another TRS Round Table. Thanks for reading! 

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