"Read It and Weep"
An Overthought Review of MLP, FIM: Season 2, Episode 16.
Note: Everything here is purely opinion, and is obviously going to be biased, because I really liked this episode.
0:00-0:38: That's going to leave a mark.
Well, we were all wondering how Rainbow Dash was going to end up in the hospital, and now we know. The fact that we don't actually get to see her crash seems like a bit of a cop-out at first, but when you think about it it makes some sense; we saw her destroy a barn (admittedly a crumbly about to collapse barn, but still) by crashing into it in "Lesson Zero", so we know that she can take a pretty big beating. And in "May the Best Pet Win" she got hit by a boulder and apparently made a quick recovery. So basically, if something is bad enough to send her to the hospital, it must be pretty epic. Since we've seen so much slapstick in the show so far, it's hard to really visualize something big enough to seriously injure her, so they simply leave it offscreen so the viewer can imagine whatever they want. Plus we get Pinkie tying a knot in her own neck, which keeps the focus on the grounded ponies from being too boring.
1:15-3:48: Horse, M.D. (I apologize, I just wanted to get the bad pun out of the way)
Okay, RD is obviously not going to make her recovery go any smoother by lying on her injured wings. And of course then there's the whole question of what the crap the hospital gown is even for; when the cast is naked 95% of the time anyway the standard "the gown doesn't close in the back" gags don't really work. Especially as it actually makes sense for there to be a gap due to her wings. It's just that the presence of the gown makes no sense. But that's really irrelevant anyway and I'm not sure when I spent a paragraph talking about it. Also, apparently none of the cast has ever spent any time in a hospital before. The food is most decidedly not a point in its favor.
Anyway, this scene includes one of the two weak points in the episode, primarily because it goes a bit overboard with RD's flip flop attitude on reading. It seems to be pushing the point a bit too hard by making RD too vehement in her disdain for reading; she seems opposed to the very concept. If they would have toned it down a bit to "but reading is boring" or something like that it wouldn't have seemed so much like the writers are belaboring the concept a bit. That said, the fact that every other pony bursts out laughing at the statement makes it a lot easier to swallow than if they had tried to take the statement at face value. RD's condemnation of reading is treated as ridiculous even by the other characters.
Twilight is also really clever about which book she dumps on RD; she seems to have basically picked out something that is not only within Rainbow's area of interest, but also a book that allows RD maximum repeatability to the protagonist, what with the messed up wings. Besides, there are a couple of good gags in this scene; Pinkie's question about whether RD got superpowers and her little rambling thing about fruit are both hilarious. As is the bandage-mummy pony, as long as you don't think too hard about it.
3:48-6:43: I'm booooooooooored
Dash runs through the full litany of "typical things you do when you're bored", missing only "throwing playing cards into a hat" and "twiddling your thumbs", and those are omitted only because she doesn't have playing cards, a hat, or thumbs. It's somewhat telling that she literally exists all her other options before resorting to trying the book. I'm also just going to note now that when she gets the glass stuck on her face, when she pulls it off and her face gets stretched, she looks a lot like the ponies from the earlier My Little Pony cartoons. Also, I hear that there's a musical cue from the old show at that moment, but I'm not familiar with it, so I'm not sure. But if it's true, it's certainly an interesting joke.
Then when she actually does start reading, the episode kicks into high gear. For one, for a book-within-a-show, it's actually written pretty decently. It's not going to win a Nobel prize any time soon, but it's still obvious that they didn't half-ass it. But that takes a back seat to Dash's imagination pretty quickly. Pretty much all the Daring-Do scenes are right out of Indiana Jones, in the best possible ways.
The animators pretty much nail the jungle setting, and the entire sequence is choreographed amazingly well. Between the sepia tones, the extra bloom, and the change in aspect ratio, the show really captures the feel of a jungle adventure without losing the style of the show in the process. It's truly an impressive mix of genres and it's a lot of fun to watch. Granted, this scene is pretty simplistic when compared to later Daring-Do scenes, but it's a great introduction to the character, and it shows Dash's reaction to the work very effectively. You can just tell that as the action picks up, Dash's enthusiasm is rising the whole way through until the end. Not to mention that the gag where all the dangerous jungle cats get followed up by a the kitty from "May the Best Pet Win" is awesome.
The second weak point of the episode pops up when the action snaps back to Rainbow Dash. Her begrudging admittance that she enjoys the story is great; it totally fits in with her prior attitude. The problem is when she jumps from "I love this story" to "I love reading!" She's apparently gone from disliking the mere idea that she might read to apparently loving the heck out of it, after reading a few paragraphs. Now, I can totally buy the fact that that could capture her imagination and snap her out of her "I'd never like reading" mentality. But she's so inexplicably enthusiastic that it edges on overkill, like the writers are overdoing the "reading is awesome!" moral. Sure, a good book can get her to admit that reading is alright, but going from "reading is totally uncool" to "I LOVE reading!" after reading about a page is a bit much. Of course, this doesn't stop her "I'm and EGGHEAD" self realization from being hilarious, so it's all good. But I still feel like they're overplaying the moral a bit.
6:43-8:05: The Shrine of the Silver Monkey
Okay, even if this wasn't a My Little Pony cartoon and was a show that's actually focused on action, the sequence of Daring-Do dodging the hallway of traps would still be impressive. It's just a lot of fun to watch, and it does complete justice to the Indiana Jones-esque sorts of stories that it's paying homage to. And it still manages to toss it's own touches into it, like the ceiling crocodiles. It's incredibly random and funny, yet it doesn't mess up the pacing or feel of the sequence. Same goes for the unseen trap that gets triggered immediately after the hallway; even though we don't see it, Daring-Do's reaction and the result of the trap are entertaining on their own.
There isn't much plot relevance here, but it doesn't matter that much.
8:05-9:50: Unwelcome Guests
This isn't a big scene, but it sets up a couple of really interesting points. First off, it's just a nice gesture that Rainbow's friends came to visit her. Second, it really plays up both RD's shame in her hobby; she's incredibly nervous that her hobby will be found out, even though her attempts at hiding it are really kinda pitiful. Third, it really plays up just how much she enjoys it; despite the fact that Twilight and Fluttershy brought her favorite game, she deliberately loses as quickly as possible so she can get back to her book. Given how absurd RD's competitive streak is, it says a lot that she's willing to not even bother trying to play her favorite game in a meaningful manner, even though she's apparently never lost at it before. Her dual sort of shame and adoration over her enjoyment of reading that's established in this scene is a recurring element in the episode; and those trends pop up again on several occasions.
Aside from that, there are some really funny moments here, my favorite of which is probably Rainbow Dash making an actual horse noise upon losing the game. Either that or her horribly fake snoring. And the look Twilight gives RD when she's pretending to be asleep. Twilight probably knows exactly what's going on here.
12:10: Lava. Why did it have to be lava?
Then we get to the statue. There are three built-in references here. The whole deal with the stepping stones is straight from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and the Raiders of the Lost Ark reference is pretty obvious; even if you haven't seen the movie this scene has been parodied and remade so many times that you're probably familiar with it anyway. The lesser known one comes in the way that she acts really careful and meticulous about nabbing the statue, then gets a sort of "ah, screw it" look on her face and just takes it without bothering about the counterweight. I'm pretty sure this is a Shout Out to the introduction of UHF, which also parodies Indiana Jones and features none other than Weird Al Yankovic doing pretty much the exact same thing.
Also to the credit of the writers/storyboarders/whoever, they didn't go with the obvious "Daring-Do gets chased by a boulder" routine, in favor of a more original booby trap with some lava. Like the earlier sequence, this whole sequence is really fun to watch, and despite the fact that we all know that Daring-Do is going to get out of it alive, it actually manages to build a decent amount of tension.
Then at the end we get to see Ahuizotl, although we don't get the name yet. It does, however, provide one of the best jokes in the episode when it starts talking in Pinkie Pie's voice. It's totally unexpected, yet it totally fits into the episode and it creates a nice segue into the next section of the episode.
Okay, this is a really brief scene, but it's pretty hilarious. It also pretty much follows up on the things I mentioned in the previous scene with Twilight and Fluttershy; it builds on her shame over reading, and her devotion to the book as well as getting AJ, Pinkie Pie, and Rarity some more screen time. Not to mention that Dash's horrible manners are pretty funny, in a gross way.
13:08-14:07: Daring Do, again we see there is nothing you can possess which I cannot take away.
This scene introduces Ahuizotl, who's pretty much an animalistic amalgam of pretty much every Indiana Jones villain. Also, an ahuizotl is a creature from Aztec mythology, the description of which lines up pretty much with what we see here. It's a really obscure legendary creature, but it really shows that the writers are going the extra mile with finding cool stuff to fit into the show. Background aside, from what little we see of him, he's really entertaining. He's an enormous ham who perfectly fits the tone of the story being told. It's honestly kind of a pity he doesn't show up more often, because he pretty much owns the few seconds of screentime that he actually has. Not to mention the way his jungle cat minions are armed with clubs and flails, which is just awesome.
Even when he isn't actually onscreen, he's entertaining. You can just tell what kind of guy he is by the incredibly over-the-top deathtrap he leaves Daring-Do in. We've got the walls closing in, with spikes, which have spiders on them, while the room fills up with quicksand and cobras. Ahuizotl is clearly not a guy who does stuff by halves. In any case, his cliffhanger provides the necessary cliffhanger to drive the remainder of the episode.
14:07-14:59: I'm pretty sure that real hospitals don't do this
And Rainbow Dash ends up reading all night. The only relevant thing there aside from the fact that she really enjoys the book is the implication that the book is a lot longer than what we actually see. Either that or Rainbow Dash is a really slow reader, which we know isn't the case because we saw her reading when she started the book and she wasn't that slow. The way she puts out the lantern by blowing the fireflies out of it is also pretty clever.
So then Dash gets basically kicked out of the hospital, firmly establishing that the doctor is kind of a jerk. I mean, I've been checked out of a hospital, and I know that they don't just kick you out the door with a wheelchair. You don't always get to keep the wheelchair. But seriously, if anything they want you to stay so they can charge you more. Most importantly, though, it separates RD from the book, which technically belongs to the hospital, as we saw Twilight get it from their cart.
The shift in story here really helps keep the episode from getting old. If it had kept up the alternation between RD in the hospital and the Daring-Do scenes, it would basically kept the actual plot of the episode from moving forward. This basically takes Dash's newfound desire to read and ups the ante on it. We saw in previous scenes that she's willing to pull some stuff to get back to her reading, and this is definitely pushing that trend as far as it can go.
14:59-16:18: In which Rainbow Dash is a Hypochondriac.
I realize that booting someone out of a hospital is usually bad form for a doctor, but he kinda has a reason for assuming that RD is faking it. When she tries to convince him that her wing is still injured, she shows him the wrong wing. Given that he discharged her quite a short time ago, it's pretty obviously that yeah, she's faking it, and he's had enough of her shenanigans, so RD gets ousted again. Also, this totally establishes that the Doctor and nurses are NOT ponies to be screwed with. This, of course, forces RD to hatch a plan. And what a plan it is.
16:18-21:28: Petty theft. Yeah, it's that good.
Okay, first off there doesn't seem to be any indication that RD has really done much of anything after being discharged other than plan this heist, which is a pretty good indication of how badly she wants to find out the ending of her story. She might have gone to see her friends or something in there, but it wouldn't surprise me at all if she spent the day procuring that catsuit without attracting attention. Which, by the way, looks adorable, although the fact that it doesn't cover her tail makes it totally useless.
The actual sneaking in process actually has some nice moments. The orderlies are apparently dead serious about hospital security, and the way the light lands on the door is totally a call back to the Daring-Do scene where she first sees the statue. It shows that Dash is totally imagining herself in Daring-Do's position.
Anyway, she gets into the room and discovers that she was apparently kicked out to make room for another patient. I know everybody is going to jump right to "OMG HE HAS CANCER" here because bald + hospital makes that the most obvious option, but at the same time I want to note that he has a dark patch on his head where his mane would usually be, which implies that he was shaved for some reason rather than having his hair fall out on its own.
Also, he's apparently really protective of his slippers. And the hospital staff takes potential slipper-theft very seriously. As in, "drop everything and abandon the hospital to catch the culprit" seriously. Not to mention that Twist's sister is apparently a nurse.
Rainbow Dash's escape is a pretty interesting sequence. The start of it in the hospital throws in a reminder that her wing is injured (that cracking noise sounds painful), and limits the chase to the ground, which again puts RD in Daring-Do's place. The chase through the trees confirms it, as compositionally it's almost identical to Daring-Do's escape from the jungle cats, right down to the swing over the gorge. Of course, the chase doesn't end there, as the jungle cats didn't have a convenient bridge to run over.
The entire sequence is full of little gags like the one with the bridge. The best on is probably the barking mental patient pony, who's totally unexpected, especially since it happens after the chase sequence has already ended. The rest of the moments are the ones where the ponies pop out of their homes. Especially Pinkie's. It fit's with the whole "waking up everypony" theme while still fitting Pinkie's character perfectly. Also, the fact that Fluttershy is wearing a robe is inexplicably amusing to me in light of the start of last episode. Apparently she was embarrassed about RD catching her sleeping in the nude and decided that it wasn't going to happen again. It's also kinda weird that AJ and Fluttershy are there, as they don't live in the town, but RD led the hospital ponies all over the place, so I guess it's not that odd that they might have heard her.
I really liked the way that Rainbow Dash's "I'm an egghead" admission was handled. There was a lot of potential for smugness on the part of the all the other ponies; it would have been really easy to have given Twilight react in a "See, I told you that you were going to like it!" and pile on the whole "reading is awesome" thing even more. As is, though, it comes across more as showing that Rainbow Dash's fear of embarrassment is unfounded; her friends don't really make a big deal over it. Twilight's response basically boils down to "Well, it's a good book. Why wouldn't you like it?" except that her "petty theft" line is much funnier. Twilight's obviously happy about it, but it's more because she's glad that Rainbow Dash enjoyed the book than because she was right. Same goes for the rest of the cast; none of them are condescending about RD's revelation, and more than anything else they seem baffled that she's making it into such a big thing.
I know some people have been confused about the fact that the book RD is the first in the series while Twilight takes the third book from the shelf, and I'm not sure what the issue is. If the book series is that long, there are almost certainly some prequels in there, and Twilight being Twilight put them in chronological order rather than publication order. If anything the confusing thing is that Twilight doesn't seem like the kind of pony to be into such an action-packed series.
My only real complaint here is that Spike's little joke, while funny, feels kinda shoehorned in, like the writers went "Crap, we forgot Spike. Toss him a joke at the end." It's not bad just a bit jarring because it's the only time he's actually in the episode. It would have helped a bit if he had at least been shown visiting RD in the hospital with Twilight and Fluttershy. It would have had the bonus of giving both visits three characters. It's just a minor thing, but the first thing I saw when Spike appeared was something along the lines of "Oh right, he's in this show".
So Rainbow Dash finally learns that reading is cool, and we learn that Daring-Do apparently have a magic hat. It's exactly the kind of corny, contrived solution that we'd expect her to use to escape from a deathtrap. And the final scene of her snatching the statue from Ahuizotl is pretty awesome. We never really why it's so important that he doesn't get it, but again, we almost certainly didn't see the whole story, so we can just assume that it has some mystic power and that Daring-Do did in fact save the day.
Also, RD's little leg-wiggle at the very end is super adorable for some reason.
Okay, this episode is nowhere near as deep with characterization as previous episodes have been; there aren't really any epic self-realizations or amazing takes on existing characterizations. The closest we get is that the plot is driven by RD's desire to maintain her reputation, as well as illustrating the lengths that she'll go to to protect it, but we already knew all that. Thing is, that isn't necessarily a strike against the episode.
While yeah, there wasn't as much depth as usual, the episode was still a ton of fun to watch. It manages to cram a ton of action and humor into 20 minutes without ever really feeling rushed. The action sequences were totally worthy of an actual action cartoon, and the entire "book within a show" was amazing entertaining on it's own merits. It managed to be spectacular in it's own way and add a lot of flash to an episode that was otherwise extremely mundane.
In fact, the mundane nature of the episode is one of the things I liked about it. A lot of the previous episodes have been more about unusual occurrences in the town, so seeing one that was focused on something more down to earth and grounded in day-to-day life was actually kind of refreshing. It proves that the characters can still function in a plot that doesn't involve them being thrust into unusual situations.
The other great thing is that we finally get a Rainbow Dash episode where she's shown in a much more endearing light. She's definitely much more sympathetic here than she was in "May the Best Pet Win" or "The Mysterious Mare Do Well". She was in pretty dire need of an episode that didn't make her look like a big jerk, and this episode did a great job of that. It also did a good job of delivering the moral at the end rather than a gratuitous "reading is totally radical!" sort of moral that a lot of shows tend to cast it as.
In short, there were a few missteps in the early scenes that oversold the moral a bit, and there weren't really any spectacular character moments, but the ride was incredibly fun, and that's what really matters.
- The Daring-Do sections nail the feel of the stories they're supposed to evoke
- The entire sequence where Dash tries to steal the book is hilarious
- For the most part, the moral is handled better than most shows tend to handle it
- Even the sections of RD in the hospital are entertaining, there aren't any boring sections in the episode.
- In the early scenes, RD flip flops from "reading stinks" to "reading is awesome" too quickly.
- Spike's appearance at the very end feels like an afterthought.