» TRS Round Table 048: Inspiration Manifestation

Just how fabulous can you make something without going too far? Glad you asked us! The TRS Round Table is a group review, where we come together to discuss the goings on in ponydom. This week we’re talking about Inspiration Manifestation, the episode of Friendship is Magic that aired on April 26, 2014. Joining the Round Table today are Fizzbuzz, Niels Olof, ShieldedDiamond, Mr. Big, Pocket, and KefkaFloyd. Read on to find out what we thought.

KefkaFloyd: Corey Powell returns for her second episode of season four after the early-season Rainbow Falls. She’s joined with Meghan to bring us a cautionary tale about what happens when you want to make everything gorgeous.

Fizzbuzz: While I wasn’t especially pleased with “Rainbow Falls,” both of Corey Powell’s S3 episodes (“Sleepless in Ponyville” and “Just For Sidekicks”) were favorites of mine, and I was excited to see her come back for this. I always felt like she wrote Spike particularly well in JFS and she definitely did the same here.

Niels Olof: I agree that Powell does Spike really well. When it comes to Rarity, Corey Powell  has always struck me as one of the more extreme writers. In Powell’s hands, Rarity usually goes to eleven for comical effect (ill-considered sportswear, camping de luxe, etc), sacrificing some of the character’s depth, I think, to the Rule of Funny. While it was indeed funny to see Rarity consume improbable amounts of Vanilla Oat Swirl in abject dejection, we have seen her accept critique before with nary an eye twitch. But, the story had to be set in motion, this time by a despairing designer.

ShieldedDiamond: I agree with Niels. Spike seemed to be written fine to me, however, I have to say I wasn’t too happy with the set up of the puppertier, and then the buckets and buckets of ice cream. But Niels is right, the story had to start somehow. I felt that after that little hiccup, the episode played out very well. It’s just that I felt it would have been better if Rarity didn’t do the crazy stuff in the beginning, and saved it for the end. That way, there could have been a much bigger down slope to how she acted, rather than starting right off with the golden puppet box.

Clearly a case of form over function

KefkaFloyd: There’s been a bit of a back and forth on the forum on whether this is a Rarity episode, or a Spike episode. There’s certainly something for fans of both the fabulous horse and the little scaly dude, both from story and comedy.

Fizzbuzz: Saying it only counts for Spike or Rarity would be like saying “Secret of My Excess” was only for one of them. While Rarity wasn’t exactly herself for much of this episode, her dramatics in the first act were more than enough to make it about her.

Mr. Big: It features both characters prominently, although much of it is from Spike’s POV, and he was the one facing the dilemma, and the one who learned the lesson. Take that for what its worth.

ShieldedDiamond: I think if there is anything that Season 4 has changed, it’s the previous notion of “certain pony episodes”. Aside from maybe the Key episodes, I felt there were more episodes that focused on pony character relationships, than single pony episodes. This one I felt being a Rarity/Spike episode, showing, in a great way I might add, how the characters see each other.

Mr. Big: That’s a great point about S4 in general.

Niels Olof: Indeed. With Seasons One through Four nearly behind us, we have by now a rich back history for these two characters, and this is an episode that, without being repetitive, still references earlier episode for related themes or elements. The Radiance power from “Power Ponies” (I was almost surprised that Rarity’s first test was not to conjure up a tea set), honesty between friends from “Green isn’t Your Color”, the perfect and not too inconveniently hidden book from “Too Many Pinkie Pies”, etc. Crucially, it provides us with a role reversal of “Secret of My Excess” with Spike finally being able to save the day from a, if not rampaging, then at least redecorating monster. This episode was also notable for how well it used the other Mane Six characters: even when their appearances were short, they were spot-on, and served a purpose.

KefkaFloyd: In the past, Meghan’s said a lot about not doing a “very special episode,” but this episode takes a lot of inspiration from those relics of (some of our) youths. It’s not in your face like the Pinkie Pie rap from Testing, Testing 1 2 3, but the Saved by the Bell reference was a nice nod.

Fizzbuzz: And I completely missed that reference. Which is good, since a bad reference gets noticed even by people who don’t understand it. When I watch this episode again I’ll have to keep an eye out for it.

Mr. Big: This is probably the closest we’ll get where Rarity takes crack throughout the episode, and it was fabulous :P.

Niels Olof: I was, until the discussion thread in the forums, unfamiliar with the cited show, so I didn’t catch the reference either. It was plainly obvious though that what Rarity went through and what Spike did to repeatedly reinforce her behavior over the episode had a parallel to substance abuse. Such episodes can all too easily become heavy-handed, but that did not happen here.

Pocket: It’s also a continuation of the trend of not spoiling things that the audience may one day watch and enjoy unironically. ;) I’m only familiar with that scene from the many times it’s been referenced on the Internet before now as an example of clumsy portrayals of drug addiction on TV. In a way, this is almost like My Little Pony’s answer to the Buddy Bears, an explicit reminder that this is the kind of junk we used to put up with and that this generation of writers knows what not to do.

ShieldedDiamond: I apologize, I don’t know the “Saved by the Bell” reference, but going off what is being said, I enjoy how the show tends to draw parallels to real life issues, without explicitly stating “This is what we’re talking about.” Why, there is talk about this in the most recent “Equestria Games” episode of something similar, but I’ll save that talk for next RT.

Addicted to fashion Addicted to fashion

KefkaFloyd: As a creator, I enjoyed Rarity’s side in the story. Without any limits, she just spits out item after item, but it’s so unlike her. She’s her own worst critic, and when she has no limits or inhibitions, she just bedazzles EVERYTHING.

Fizzbuzz: Even when she was all buffed up with dark magic, Rarity still had one limit in that she needed praise and approval from someone; in this case, Spike. With him there to fuel her own self-worth, she thought she was doing the right thing. He supplied so much of it that she felt like she didn’t need to listen to anyone else. While the customer isn’t always right (see “Suited for Success”), neither is the creator.

Pocket: Anyone who’s been led to believe that they’re an expert in some field—not just aesthetically-focused ones—tends to fall into the habit of wanting to “fix” other people’s work. Whether it’s the guy from IT who wants to install Firefox on your computer or the “grammar Nazi” who points out typos in Internet conversations (full disclosure: I did some corrections on this very article while I was adding my contributions). And Rarity has shown before that she’s no exception; from the very first episode we saw her trying to coerce others into unwanted makeovers, and her offer to make her friends dresses for the Gala started out because she couldn’t bear the thought of Twilight showing up in “that old thing” she’d brought in to be mended.

 “You’re your own worst critic” has always seemed to me like a gross oversimplification to me anyway. It’s only one side of the coin. The fact that artists are willing to share their work with the public in the first place indicates that they still have a high opinion of it. It’s likely the reason why some of the worst creators tend to also have the worst egos—if they didn’t, they wouldn’t be oblivious enough to think their work was up to snuff in the first place. It’s a constant war between self-confidence and self-consciousness, and sometimes the undeserving side happens to win out. In that regard, it was clever to start the episode off by showcasing her latest misstep as a designer, to remind the audience that she may be the best at what she does, but she’s still not perfect and tends to emphasize form over function. A hint of what was to come, in hindsight.

Niels Olof: I think it says something about Rarity that even when imbued with dark magic, the height of her corruption were ill-considered decorations. (And do listen to experts. They probably know). Rarity’s gradual loss of control (as well as central aspects of her personality) was well handled, from the both gorgeous and functional puppet theater addressing all of (Uncle) Claude’s concerns (still the professional designer listening to her client’s critique), over the work of years completed in a night, and then, in quick succession, the breaking down of her faculties. Not only were her aesthetic choices increasingly questionable (excepting Rainbow Dash’s fabulous kimono), she did not even want to take credit for them! (Generous? Check. Beautiful heart? Absolutely. Modest? Not so much). Put in a situation where reality became the malleable substitute for her sketchbook, she drowned in the brainstorm of her own creativity, unable to resist any impulse. Creation without (internal or external) critique turned Ponyville into a series of stream-of-consciousness objects d’art. This was not an artist choosing to share her work, this was an artist compelled to showcase every scrap of sketch paper ever touched by pen.

A step too far “Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

KefkaFloyd: This is two weeks in a row that we’ve gotten ponies who are pastiches on historical actors. Last week it was Charles Nelson Reilly, now we’ve got a W.C. Fields-alike in Claude.

Mr. Big: W.C. Fields caricature was a staple in animation. Looney Tunes even had a short-lived character based on him (Merlin the Magic Mouse) in the 1960s. As a classics fan, that was wonderful to see, and he was used perfectly here. I don’t know if he actually is Snips’ dad, but he’s perfect if he is.

Niels Olof: (Uncle) Claude was a great nod to vaudeville (a show tradition still going strong in Equestria, I should think). While I do not expect to see him again, his unimpressed demeanor played well against Rarity, and could be used again.

Pocket: I had just watched Doug “the Nostalgia Critic” Walker’s audio commentary of his Disney Afternoon episode when this aired; he said something to the effect of “a bad impression is a new character”. Numerous characters, even lead ones, have started out as impressions of celebrities and former celebrities. The Brain is Orson Welles, Wakko Warner is Ringo Starr, Peter Lorre- and Vincent Price-alikes are entire horror archetypes unto themselves, and everybody has their own version of Christopher Walken. Some characters, like Foghorn Leghorn, have become so famous as to fully eclipse the person they were patterned after. So it’s great to see this show continuing in that proud tradition.

 

KefkaFloyd: Spike’s enabling behavior is not often the subject of TV morals, especially in kids shows. It takes the right tack, though—that a good friend will tell you if something is wrong, versus simply just going along all the time for fear of upsetting someone.

Fizzbuzz: I get the feeling that the show has kind of had that lesson before, but I can’t remember where it’s come up. Am I just imagining things here? Anyone?

Niels Olof: Honesty is something that the show by now has touched upon from many angles. Each time it has been different, either in situation or in the nature of the relationship between the involved parties. Enabling seems to be a new topic — the closest I can think of is Pinkie Pie gleefully egging Applejack and Rainbow Dash on at the end of “Castle Mane-ia”.

Pocket: It’s probably “Lesson Zero” that Fizzbuzz is thinking of. “Green Isn’t Your Color” also touched on this in a way. Incidentally, both started out looking like they were going to be about one thing (overreacting and jealousy, respectively) and then it turned out that the writers had too much faith in the audience to think they still needed to learn about that and instead veered into lessons about being forthright with your friends.

 It’s a good way for writers to take advantage of characters’ flaws without expecting them to be over them by the end of the episode, too. In the real world, not only is nobody perfect, but nobody becomes perfect either. Learning that certain behavior is wrong doesn’t magically stop us from acting that way ever again. Being able to recognize when our peers are slipping back into their old ways and willing call them out on it is important to maintaining a functional society.

Niels Olof: Certainly, but precisely enabling behavior seems to be a new one for this episode.

Spike the enabler Spike the enabler

Fizzbuzz: One thing to note is how Spike consistently referred to Rarity as his “friend,” eschewing much of the obsessively mushy language and behavior he used to use in the past. Has he finally gotten over his crush on Rarity, accepting that he can still be friends with her even though she’s not romantically interested in him?

I definitely think this is the case. I always saw “Secret of My Excess” as the resolution to that, with Spike bringing it up at the end and Rarity cutting him off in acknowledgement. While he still appreciates her moments of affection (see how he blushed in this episode or in “Simple Ways,” for example), I feel like he’s gotten over her by now.

ShieldedDiamond: If anything, I felt this episode solidified the “I like Rarity but of course I’m not going to be with her romantically” thinking. Because it’s the first time he’s actually denied Rarity something. Throughout the episode, and the rest of the show, all he’s done is helped her, and tried to make her happy fastest, whether she wanted it or not. He’s done crazy things, even holding needles in his back. This was the first time he did something that was for the better for her (by being honest in the end), not just to please her. As a result, I felt it showed the end to his crush, yet they’re still great friends.

Mr. Big: It can go either way, personally. Maybe Spike is enough of a realist to know it’s not gonna happen, judging by how he wasn’t jealous of Trenderhoof, but he does still like to be with her whenever possible.

Niels Olof: I am not really sure. I think it depends on the writer — some will play up the crush, and others will have him move past it. While he was not generating hearts in this episode, he was blushing a lot early on. By now I largely think that the comedy has been well and truly mined to exhaustion, and it is time to move on. Besides, the message that you can have awesome female friends strikes me as an important one. In this episode, Rarity repeatedly emphasized their friendship (the very lesson being that she valued his honest input over his fawning) putting them on equal footing. A major step forwards for Precious Scales.

Spike goes a long way to help Rarity, too far perhaps. Spike goes a long way to help Rarity, too far perhaps.

KefkaFloyd: At this point it seems likely that we have had the last episode of the season focusing primarily (among the Mane Six) on Rarity, and it is perhaps a good time to take stock. From the rarity of Rarity in Season Three, how do you think Season Four has treated this particular member of the ensemble? Has she evolved as a character in the hands of the writers?

Mr. Big: I almost get the feeling that the writers were aware that Rarity hasn’t gotten any focus episodes in years, so they decided to write several in order to make up for it. She’s doing great, I think. She has great moments in the show, and she reacts to other characters really well. Can’t wait to see what they have in store for her in season 5.

Pocket: I think Rarity has reached the point where Applejack seemed to be by season two: There aren’t a lot of new directions left to take the character, but we can still get enjoyment out of seeing her get into new situations and react exactly the way we suspect she would.

Niels Olof: I have in general been happy to very happy with what has been done with Rarity in this season. There have only been a few missteps, and the top episodes have been very good indeed. She is more rounded than before — as a driven (and driving) designer, a devoted (and sometimes oblivious) sister, a supportive friend, and as a pony generous to a fault. The writers surprised me this year — I would not have expected to see her in a matching sweater leading an a cappella ensemble, and I am not ruling out that they might well reveal new facets of her personality. We still do not know what made her what she is. She is a self-made mare, yet she was already quite recognizable as Rarity in “Cutie Mark Chronicles”. At some point, she decided to become something other than her parents, an example so compelling it caused her sister to follow her, and that story has yet to be told.

ShieldedDiamond: Rarity has been handled very well this season in her episodes such as Rarity Takes Manehatten, and others like Filli Vanilli. (With the exception of Simple Ways for me, and I felt was the worst portrayal of the dress horse of the season.) Pony focus episodes aside (which I feel we need to stop saying, as I mentioned earlier, the show seems to be straying from that) Rarity’s personality has again been shown in a spectrum. We’ve gotten Rarity’s concern for her sister, something we didn’t see much of before. We’ve gotten Rarity and her caring for Fluttershy, and how she wants what’s best for her. And in this episode, we’ve seen the extent of “Crazy Rarity”. I hope we can see more of the “Rarity Personality Spectrum” next season.

Fizzbuzz: To be quite honest, I don’t feel like Rarity was given an especially large amount of attention in this season. It’s just that she tends to have a very… commanding presence, to put it politely, so she gets noticed a lot when she’s on screen. Niels Olof is right that we got a wide range of scenarios for her, but that’s something I think we got for all the main characters (even including Spike and the CMC, to some extent) save for Twilight Sparkle. 

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