|In this picture, Clara is cleverly disguised as the Hub logo.|
It’s March 1, 2014. The top song is still Katy Perry with “Dark Horse,” and the top movie is something called Non-Stop, which appears to involve Liam Neeson and hostages on an airplane or something. Most of this month will be pretty bad for movies, I fear.
In the news, the U.S. military announces plans to reduce the army to pre-World War II levels, Ukraine crisis reaches a peak as Russian military and pro-Russian local militia forces seize control of strategic locations in Crimea, and Australia officially ends its involvement in the Afghanistan War.
On TV, Natasha Levinger returns to pen her second episode, “It’s Not Easy Being Breezies,” a worthy follow-up to her fan-favorite freshman effort “Pinkie Apple Pie.” This time, her talents are turned to a “key” episode, and so we are once again in the realm of the Sephiroth.
Fluttershy, back in the premiere, was associated with Chesed, “loving-kindness,” which is perhaps the most perfect match out of all the characters. In Judaism, chesed is a tremendously important concept, being the emotional and mental state which underlies charity, one of the most important elements of Jewish ethics. The essence of chesed is helping those who cannot help themselves, not out of ego or a desire for reward, but because it is necessary. It is healing and comforting the sick, feeding the hungry, aiding and supporting those in need, while maintaining throughout an attitude of patience, gentleness, and love. It is, in other words, Fluttershy through and through.
The importance of this principle is emphasized by Chesed‘s position on the Tree. As the fourth sephirah, it represents the point where the rarefied, purely spiritual and mystical upper sephirah first enter the realm of the active and material. It is, in other words, the point at which spirituality begins to translate into action, which is to say that at the root of all true spiritual activity is a sense of love for others and a desire to do good in the world.
Because Fluttershy so perfectly encapsulates the essence of her Element and her sephirah, then, Levinger deviates in an interesting way from the usual formula of the “key” episodes. Up until now, every episode in the arc has involved one of the Mane Six failing at their Element and rediscovering it through teaching another. This episode, however, contains a subtle difference: rather than failing to be kind, Fluttershy is being inappropriately kind. The unnamed Breezies take advantage of her kindness, exploiting her willingness to continue caring for them in order to avoid the difficult journey home.
This is an idea that could easily go very badly wrong. The Breezies are small, weak, and foreign to Equestria, fragile creatures that Fluttershy is determined to protect and care for. This could easily become some horrifying Randian parable, in which the “mommy state” represented by Fluttershy, in its determination to care for the Breezies, makes them dependent and perpetuates their helplessness, encouraging them to stay where they are safe and cared for instead of continuing their journey. Or it could have an equally horrifying anti-immigrant read, in which the Breezies are foreigners taking advantage of local charities and services to live “where they don’t belong,” and must be denied those services and forced to go “home.”
Thankfully, it navigates deftly through these traps, first through the strength of the surprisingly nuanced character Seabreeze. Seabreeze belies the weakness of the Breezies by being equally small and fragile, but with a ferocity, bravery, and determination beyond most of the ponies we’ve seen. He serves as the tough drill sergeant of the Breezy group, yelling and insulting them as a form of encouragement, trying to drive them to continue their journey home. But interestingly, his positive qualities are shown to not derive from him being a Randian ubermensch, but rather from homesickness and fear, which also leads to his cruelty towards the other Breezies.
This demolishes the Randian read, but what of the anti-immigrant read? That read has its own obstacle: it must contend with the fact that the Mane Six become Breezies themselves to accompany them on their journey home. If the Breezies are immigrants, then the episode seems to be saying that the solution to any problems involving their presence in the community necessarily requires first seeing things from their point of view, in turn rendering any anti-immigrant reading incoherent.
No, the Breezies are not some sudden, disturbing invasion of conservative politics into the utopian realm of Equestria. There has been a running theme this season of invasions from outside the show, but nothing that dark or alien. Instead, they are something we have seen several times already in the “key” episodes: qlippothic shadows from the Hermetic understanding of the Sephiroth. In this case, the qlippah of Chesed is Gamchicoth, the Devourers, who seek to consume and waste the bounty before them instead of participating in charity. This helps explain the presence of Seabreeze among them; rather than an exception, he is an intensification, wasting Fluttershy’s offering by rejecting it and self-destructively trying to set out alone. With the help of Fluttershy, however, Seabreeze is able to penetrate this corrupt state and reache the sephirah within its qlippothic peel, learning the value of sometimes being kind, gentle, and supportive to his companions on the journey home.
Fluttershy, on the other hand, has to learn to limit her loving-kindness, to recognize that sometimes kindness becomes enabling. It is a difficult and narrow path to tread. On the one hand, if you do not allow the helped to determine the form of help you provide, then you are saving rather than helping, imposing your will and ego rather than proceeding from a place of loving-kindness. On the other, sometimes providing the help someone wants, rather than what they need, can become destructive, even abusive (in either direction). Fluttershy learns from Seabreeze the necessity of placing limits on her kindness, which is to say that the sephirah must have a shell. The notion of a protective shell around a sephirah is, of course, the Jewish conception of the qlippah–which is to say that Fluttershy has discovered the function and necessity of the qlippoth.
This is a powerful lesson, and powerful foreshadowing as well: to defeat the shadow one must embrace the shadow. The Sephiroth require the qlippoth. To truly ascend the Tree of Life, one must accept the Tree of Death. A rigid and exclusionary utopia is no utopia; harmony, in the end, cannot be harmony unless it can accept discord.
Next week: How to make Applejack interesting.