|Wait, is she holding that baby by the…
It’s November 26, 2011. The top song is and top movie continue to be Rihanna and Breaking Dawn. In the news, the Egyptian revolution continues, with violence mounting in Cairo, where dozens have been killed and thousands injured. Six people, three of them children, die in a plane crash in the Superstition Mountains. And a “supercommittee” within the U.S. Congress fails to agree on budget cuts, making the sequester–massive across-the-board budget cuts that will do extensive long-term economic damage–inevitable.
We need a hero. Fortunately writer Merriwether Williams and director Jayson Thiessen are here to give us one with “The Mysterious Mare-Do-Well,” which blends a Rainbow Dash character episode with the introduction of Ponyville’s first masked hero as a foil for her. The episode functions in part as a way to try to move Rainbow Dash’s character forward. Thus far, while she’s certainly loyal to her friends, she’s also lazy, not mindful of others’ feelings (as demonstrated by her impatience in “Dragonshy” and pranking in “Griffon the Brush-Off” and “Luna Eclipsed”), and more flash than substance. At the same time, the episode is a chance to celebrate some classic superhero-cartoon moments, with Rainbow Dash flying in the iconic Fleischer Superman pose and using a variant of Spider-Man’s catchphrase, Mare-Do-Well posters reminiscent of Batman the Animated Series, and Mary-Do-Well’s costume strongly resembling both the Shadow and Disney’s Batman parody Darkwing Duck.
But for some reason, this episode is extremely unpopular, often coming last in episode-ranking polls (although now “Magical Mystery Cure” gives it a run for its money in the unfairly-disliked-episodes sweepstakes). Williams is overall something of a punching bag among bronies–her episodes tend to have a lot of dread built up before them–but the criticisms of both her in general, and this episode in particular, are unfounded. As this is the most widely disparaged of her episodes, it’s here that I’ll make my stand against the haters.
Like the last widely disparaged episode I defended, “Feeling Pinkie Keen,” one of the most common complaints about this episode is its friendship lesson, which can be summed up as “don’t brag.” For some reason, a lot of fans take this as an extreme position of “don’t show any pride or do anything that makes you stand out, or your friends will smack you down.” That’s ridiculous; it is neither explicitly stated in anywhere near such extreme terms nor implied by the events of the episode.
Rainbow Dash is obnoxiously full of herself right from the cold open–the dividing line, I’d say, is somewhere between accepting people’s accolades and suggesting ways for them to praise you. When she saves the foal stuck in the well, on the other hand, her behavior is fine–she is appreciative of the praise, nothing wrong with that, but doesn’t milk it. After she saves the baby, though, she’s awful. She implies that a baby was hurt–scaring the town and no doubt panicking that baby’s poor mother–just so she can make a joke and garner more cheers. Think about it from that mother’s point of view: Seconds ago she was no doubt terrified that her baby was going to die. She gets a few seconds of relief, only for Rainbow Dash to tell her something is wrong with the baby–it’s a surprise she didn’t either faint or try to murder Rainbow Dash! Twilight Sparkle says she can think of a few new words to describe Rainbow Dash, and Applejack says modesty isn’t one of them. I can provide a new word to describe her behavior here, too: complete and total dickweasel.
By the time Mare-Do-Well appears, it is blatantly obvious that Dash is more interested in her newfound celebrity status than actually helping anyone. She is, after all, willing to spend time signing autographs rather than saving the pony in the crashing balloon. Note that she was wrong about how much time she had–she missed the balloon, so if Mare-Do-Well hadn’t already saved that pony, they would have died due to Rainbow Dash’s negligence and fame obsession.
Her friends are not overreacting in the slightest. They do not even show up until Rainbow Dash pulls her assholery with the baby, and don’t enact the Mare-Do-Well plan until it’s very obvious that Rainbow Dash needs to be brought down a peg before she gets someone seriously hurt. Their plan is an excellent way of doing so because it involves doing nothing but good. Mare-Do-Well doesn’t taunt or lecture Rainbow Dash, doesn’t set out to humiliate her; Mare-Do-Well just saves people and leaves. It’s Rainbow Dash that ruins Rainbow Dash’s reputation, not Mare-Do-Well, because she is simply unable to handle not being the center of attention, and her attention-seeking aggravates everyone around her.
The second major complaint I see about this episode is that the characters are behaving out of character. Again, I don’t see it. Rainbow Dash’s personality is being dominated by the negative aspects, true, but not in a way that contradicts the behavior we’ve seen from her before. This isn’t like “A Dog and Pony Show,” where someone previously willing to enter the Everfree Forest and kick a manticore is suddenly dirt-phobic; this is a pony who has consistently been depicted as a show-off and somewhat prone to callousness in regards to others’ feelings. If anything, the episode it most resembles is “Lesson Zero,” where Twilight’s long-standing worry-prone, neurotic nature comes back to bite her. In the same way, this episode is Rainbow Dash’s long-standing self-centered, prankster nature coming back to bite her.
The rest of the Mane Six are not out of character either. Applejack in particular has been shown to have little patience for Rainbow Dash showing off, and none of the others seem likely to object to a plan that consists of them doing nothing worse than serving as a better example. They’re not being overly harsh or judgmental; Rainbow Dash is presenting herself as a hero, but really she’s just seeking attention. That’s dangerous, and she needs to be taught a lesson. Now admittedly, it may seem a little odd that they don’t just talk to her. On the other hand, there’s that scene in Sugar Cube Corners where she offers them a chance to be in her ghostwritten autobiography. That could easily be read as them trying to talk to Rainbow Dash, but giving up when they see how far into her celebrity persona she’s gotten.
I understand why this episode had a backlash. This episode does not portray Rainbow Dash in the best light, but that’s necessarily going to happen from time to time now that the show is willing to depict characters other than Twilight Sparkle developing. There is no way to depict a character as growing without first depicting them as needing to grow. That’s all that’s happening here.
And Rarity makes Darkwing Duck costumes for everypony! How can anyone not love this episode?