"Putting Your Hoof Down"
An Overthought Review of MLP:FIM Season 2, Episode 19
Note: Everything I say here is personal opinion, not fact. If you disagree, fine. Just don't yell at me about it.
0:00-1:01: Eat it, it's good for you
Well, it's always nice to see Fluttershy back in action after being sidelined for so long. And as usual she's taking care of her animals. Unfortunately, I can't really say the same about Angel's return, as he spends pretty the entire scene acting like a petulant child. Thing is, it does a pretty good job of introducing Fluttershy's inability to stand up for herself, which is the point of the episode, so I can't say that it's really bad writing or anything outside of the fact that Angel's brattiness is overdoing it a little. I can kinda see him refusing to eat something he doesn't like. But smacking Fluttershy and forcing her to make a shopping trip so she can make him an elaborate salad is a bit much. Especially when we've seen him be perfectly willing to eat carrots and whatnot in previous episodes. Even if Fluttershy is spoiling him, he's almost unjustifiably bratty. Of course, it sets up the following scene, so I guess we have to send Fluttershy into town for some reason.
1:36-6:25: Let's go shopping
Okay, this scene is a bit rocky for a couple of reasons. Let's start with the whole asparagus stand first. There's a really disproportionate number of jerk ponies here. While that's a bit weird (and it comes up again later), it makes sense for the purposes of the scene. The issue comes up when Rarity tries to demonstrate the whole assertiveness thing. First of all, she targets one of the ponies that really hadn't done anything wrong (the other being the old pony, who was deaf and oblivious. Can't really fault him). The nerd pony didn't cut Fluttershy in the line; she left the stand to talk to Rarity and Pinkie and the nerd pony just came by when she wasn't there. I mean, it sucks for Fluttershy, but you don't get to keep your place in line if you leave the line.
Second, Rarity doesn't really demonstrate "how not to be a doormat", she demonstrates "how to use your feminine wiles to manipulate people". If she was being assertive, she would just have said something like "my friend really needs that asparagus and is willing to buy it from you." As is, it doesn't really reflect well on her character if this is her go-to plan whenever she doesn't get what she wants. I don't think she does (she's not enough of a moocher for that), but it doesn't come across well.
Next up is the tomato stand. Now, I enjoy a good Looney Tunes shout out as much as anyone, but the particular way that Pinkie uses the "Duck Season, Rabbit Season" switcheroo (look it up on TvTropes if you don't know what I'm talking about) here just rubs me the wrong way. The thing is that Pinkie basically uses it to trick the salespony out of her money. The sign posted pretty clearly indicates that the tomatoes are 2 bits, despite what last week's price is. What Pinkie is doing is kinda like showing up at a gas station and demanding to pay last week's prices.
I suppose it can be rationalized by saying that they're bartering but...they kind of aren't bartering. Pinkie isn't haggling over the price, she's arguing what the actual price of the tomatoes really is, and that's kinda up to the person who's selling them. I mean, I hate it when prices go up, but that doesn't mean I get to decide to pay the old price. The shopkeeper didn't actually do anything wrong in raising the price, and Pinkie basically tricks her into losing money. Not to mention that just because the salespony misspoke doesn't mean that the price actually changes, especially since Pinkie's the one who caused it. To go back to the gas station analogy, it's like going to a station, changing the sign to read last week's prices and then expecting to pay that much.
Of course a lot of this is softened by the fact that Pinkie and Rarity's advice isn't really treated as being particularly awesome; it just sort of happens and the show doesn't make much of a comment on it other than Fluttershy utterly sucks at utilizing either method. Even so, though, neither Pinkie nor Rarity come across as more finagling and less trying to give good advice. If they're supposed to be giving lousy advice it's not quite obvious enough, which is problematic.
The cherry stand is a bit better. The cherry pony isn't quite as sympathetic; he's quite obviously pulling some price gouging here, as he jacks the price up when he hears that she wants it. This scene is also a step up in terms of entertainment value, as Fluttershy's attempts at emulating Rarity and Pinkie fail in hilarious fashion. Not to mention that Pinkie and Rarity's reactions are golden. I think this is the point where the episode starts to find itself a bit more.
That said, there are a couple upsides to this scene. First off, Pipsqueak gets a cameo in the background when Fluttershy is checking her list. You can also see Lyra sitting dejectedly at a table in the background, and later in the scene Bon Bon has showed up and they're just hanging out. It's great now the animators insert stuff like that in the background. Not to mention Derpy showing up at the asparagus stand with what looks like a muffin clasp on her bag. Also, despite the fact that their advice is rather questionable, Rarity and Pinkie are genuinely trying to help Fluttershy out, which is nice. It's also a bit odd that Rarity and Pinkie are just sort of hanging out together. You wouldn't expect those two to really hang out much due to their personalities, so it's great to see that they can get along without the rest of the group forcing them to interact. It's definitely a step up from the end of "The Last Roundup" where Pinkie was on Rarity's last nerve.
Long story short, the scene is a bit shaky, but I think it finds its legs by the end.
6:25-7:02: Fluttershy sure gets a lot of mail.
Okay, I very very rarely wish harm on fictional characters, but I really really wanted to smack Angel upside the head after this scene. Tossing the entire salad out the door and booting Fluttershy out of her own house just because it didn't have a cherry goes straight past spoiled brat and right into "Okay, you can get your own food from now on" territory. I have no idea why it bugs me so much, but seriously, Angel was just being an entitled little jackass. I get that Fluttershy has probably spoiled him a bit, but we've seen him act a lot nicer in previous episodes, so this just seems needlessly jerkish.
Anyway, Fluttershy finds one of Iron Will's brochures in the mail. While Fluttershy has definitely been a pushover this episode, at the very least she takes the initiative in trying to overcome it. She decides to attend Iron Will's seminar or whatever of her own free will. Yeah, it doesn't exactly end well, but seeing a character recognize a flaw in themselves and take steps towards fixing it. It would have been really easy for the writers to have had Rarity and Pinkie drag her to see Iron Will, so I have to give them credit for having Fluttershy make that call herself.
7:02-10:24: IRON WILL
Okay, I laughed my head off at the fact that Iron Will's seminar is set up in the middle of a maze. Nice classical mythology reference there, guys. Anyway, this scene really drives home just how much of a pushover Fluttershy is. When you're attending a presentation for people with assertiveness issues and you're still the doormat, you definitely have a problem. Alternately, even the ponies here have been infected with the "jerk syndrome" that seems to have affected just about everyone in this episode.
Then Iron Will himself shows up, and he's just ridiculous. He's a bizarre mix of Trixie, Mr. T ("I pity the fool!" FTW), Tony Robbins, and assorted professional wrestlers. And it's not just the intense hamminess that makes him a great character either; it's certainly a big part of it, but far from all of it. Over the course of the episode, he actually strikes a pretty nice balance between being a jerk, and actually having a few points. In this scene he skews closer to the jerk end of the spectrum in how over the top his advice is, but at the same time he's not just mindlessly blowing air either. He legitimately believes that he's helping, and to a degree, his advice isn't entirely bad. It's definitely way too harsh most of the time but stuff like "Don't be shy, look 'em in the eye" isn't really bad advice for somebody who wants to be assertive.
It also introduces the whole "100% satisfaction guarantee" thing that's kinda important at the end of the episode. Also, Fluttershy is pretty much entirely adorable when she's on the stage. She just looks so genuinely happy at the prospect of getting over her issues.
10:24-11:11: ...What's the hose attached to?
So Fluttershy makes her first attempt at being assertive. It's a bit of a big first step, as she goes straight from "Doormat" to "being really aggressive", but spraying the old pony in the face is really pretty mild, so it works decently. Not to mention that she can't really strike the right balance of being assertive but not a jerk without breaking the episode somehow. If she stands up to him without being a jerk about it, there are two options: It works, and the episode ends there, or it doesn't work and the moral of "you can be assertive without being a jerk" kinda falls flat. So it's a bit of a necessity that she makes that jump. Besides that, she looks so happy when she realizes that she pulled it off that it's hard to be angry at her.
11:11-11:52: I'm actually kinda curious about what that joke was..
Really, the way this scene is set up is actually funnier than whatever joke the pony was trying to tell. I mean, you have two valley girl ponies (one of whom is Bon Bon with yet another voice swap) harnessed to two wagons full of trash, and they're sitting on a bridge for no reason. Even if you didn't know the rest of the context, it's just kinda bizarre. Not unlike the fact that Fluttershy totally and utterly fails to remember that she has wings. Then again, Fluttershy being Fluttershy, it's not too surprising.
She's escalated a fair bit here; dumping garbage on somepony is a pretty nasty thing to do. Then again, there isn't a whole lot of space to work with in showing her assertiveness turning to jerkishness, and it's not too big of a leap. We've seen Fluttershy be rather harsh before, it was just aimed at characters who actually deserved it. She isn't really changing her character so much as being willing to rage at things that don't really merit it. Basically, Fluttershy is just allowing herself it get angry much more easily than she usually does. Not to say that she's usually repressing her anger or anything, just that she basically trying to work herself up.
11:52-13:35: New Fluttershy: Slightly better than New Coke!
And now we get to see Rarity and Pinkie's reactions to the new Fluttershy. They seem okay with it at first, which makes some sense as Fluttershy did get cut in line and everything. And they're suitablely surprised when Fluttershy quite rudely knocks the punch bowl off the table, and basically starts acting like a maniac and overreacting. She also breaks out a Royal Canterlot Voice that would make Luna proud.
It's pretty important that Pinkie and Rarity get freaked out because it's Fluttershy's interaction with them that ultimately triggers her realization that she's being a jerk. Allowing her to demonstrate her jerkishness to them in a more indirect fashion also makes her direct attack on them sting a bit more. This scene is set up to imply that Fluttershy still views Pinkie and Rarity as her friends, so they have a somewhat reasonable expectation that they'll be spared of her wrath. This makes it hit closer to home when she goes off on them later.
This scene is basically the one where Fluttershy is shown to have gone off the deep end. In earlier scenes, her responses were a bit over the top, but here they're wildly disproportionate to to the perceived problems. Before she was primarily reacting to ponies that were actually being mean or inconsiderate to her; here she's basically looking for reasons to go off on everypony. The mailpony is totally nice and merely made an honest mistake, and the tourist pony didn't really do anything; Fluttershy dropped the letter herself.
Pinkie and Rarity then show up to call Fluttershy out on the fact that she's basically reverted to her Discorded form. What follows is a nice bit of character-based interaction. While Pinkie and Rarity are totally happy about Fluttershy's assertiveness, they want her to knock off the jerkishness. She misinterprets it to mean that they want her to go back to being a doormat. While Fluttershy is obviously wrong about that, it's still understandable that she might think that, which makes the interaction a lot more charged because she isn't just blustering; she honestly thinks that they have an ulterior motive.
In turn, that aspect of the scene makes it hurt even more when Fluttershy finally goes off on Rarity and Pinkie and basically rants about why they suck. There's obviously going to be a lot of discussion about exactly how much Fluttershy actually meant what she said. My take on it is that there's a tiny grain of truth to what she says (they probably focus a bit too much on their respective pursuits), but she basically exaggerates it as much as she can so her insults are as painful as possible. She essentially calls their lives' work completely meaningless, which given the way cutie marks work is basically the meanest thing she could have said. As noted, it probably hits a lot closer to home because they were probably assuming that she was still their friend, which just makes the whole thing worse than it was. Seeing Fluttershy of all ponies go on the attack like that is really kinda disconcerting.
Of course, the way her friends run away in tears is what ultimately causes her to realize that she's basically become a terrible person. The fact that she recognizes it on her own helps a lot, especially in that she immediately tries to fix the problem.
16:25-21:07: The Lonely Pony's Theme
It really shows what good friends Pinkie and Rarity are that they go to check on Fluttershy after what she said to them. They genuinely care about her enough to want to help her in spite of how she treated them. Fluttershy also shows that she was willing to go to rather extreme lengths to keep herself from hurting anyone else like that.
And then Iron Will shows up. I have to say, I really like the way he's handled in this scene. Despite the fact that he's still a bit of a jerk, it's pretty obvious that he's hardly a genuinely nasty person. He does throw Rarity and Pinkie around a bit, but they're kinda standing in the way of what he thinks is an entirely valid payment collection. As far as he knows, Fluttershy is supposed to pay him, and they're trying to get her out of it. He's extremely abrasive, but he's hardly trying to extort them or anything. Also, it's rather hilarious that he gives the viewers a thumbs up. Even Pinkie is confused.
Really, given how abrasive he is, he really is quite reasonable in this scene. He's willing to agree to put off the payment a bit, and he doesn't physically remove Rarity or Pinkie until they physically try to stop him. Not to mention that he doesn't exactly bust into Fluttershy's house. He rips the boards off, but then knocks nicely on the door and only even threatens physical force when she refuses to pay. And when she explains why she's not paying, he ultimately accepts it without giving her any other trouble, and ultimately even considers incorporating Fluttershy's response into his seminars. Ultimately, he comes across pretty well, if a bit rough around the edges.
The other great thing about this scene is that it loads on the irony when we finally get Fluttershy's genuine assertiveness; it's directed against the guy who taught her to be assertive. The fact that she's able to stand up to him shows that it's genuine growth and just not posturing. He's actually threatening, and she knows what he's like, it's not just some random pony. If she can stand up to the guy who gave her her confidence, it proves that it's genuine character development.
What sets this apart from Fluttershy's moments of bravery and assertiveness here is that there's nothing to trigger it; in every previous episode her moment were the result of something threatening to hurt her friends. In this case, Iron Will isn't quite that threatening, so she has to force herself to come up with that assertiveness in a non-extreme situation. And she pulls it off. The end of the scene is adorable; Rarity and Pinkie aren't just glad to have their friend back, but you can tell that they're proud of her and happy that she's making progress despite all the trouble she caused.
Lastly, I love how they're totally using the "Lonely Man's Theme" from the old Incredible Hulk tv show. Last thing I'd have expected them to reference.
21:07-21:29: Title Drop!
Not much else to say here. I think the moral is a good one that fit into the show really well, as well as being one that the episode actually showed very well. Also, it's immensely satisfying to see Angel get Stared into submission at the end. All in all, it was a good cap to the episode.
Overall, this episode was pretty solid. The beginning was rocky, and Fluttershy's descent into jerkitude was a bit rushed, but neither of them damage the rest of the episode that much. There was great interaction between the characters, and Iron Will was awesome. The episode did a great job of handling him in that they managed to make him a source of conflict without just making him a straight-up jerk. For all his posturing and hamminess, he's actually pretty reasonable, and even though he goes a bit overboard with it, he really does seem to think he's doing his customers a service. A lot of the previous antagonist-types were quite unambiguously supposed to be bad. They weren't really two dimensional, but it was pretty obvious that say, the Flim Flam brothers or Trixie were the bad guys in the episode. This episode sets up Iron Will like that, but reveals that he's actually an okay guy.
Aside from that, he's just fun to watch. He's a very visual character; all of his gestures and whatnot adds a lot to his personality, and a lot of them are just funny on their own. Like how he randomly starts punching the air or uses the fence as a wrestling ring rope. His constant movement helps keep the energy up.
I also have to say that I really like the way that Pinkie's antics are handled in this episode. Aside from the trickery of the Duck Season Rabbit Season thing with the tomato seller (I also love that Iron Will realized what had happened when Pinkie used it on him) they work really well. The thing I like most is that they're much more restrained than in most episodes; Pinkie doesn't bust the fourth wall as much, and her little sight gags are more subtle (like twisting her head around a lot). Most of her humor is based on more realistic (in the context of the show) slapstick or wordplay rather than hugely obvious gags. It fits the overall tone of the show better when Pinkie is more limited in scope and doesn't single herself out so much with her ridiculous stunts.
Overall, the episode is really good aside from a few issues, such as rough start to the episode and the fact that pretty much everyone in town is a jerk. (I think that Merriwether Williams has a habit of exaggerating the setting to fit the plot; she did the same thing in "Mysterious Mare Do Well", although it's not nearly as annoying here). But for the most part the good outweighs the bad.
--Iron Will is awesome and very well written.
--Pinkie and Rarity get some good interaction
--The moral fits the episode really well
--There are all sorts of awesome shout outs; Mr. T, Incredible Hulk music, etc.
--The opening scenes are rather rough, especially the bits with Rarity and Pinkie Pie --demonstrating their versions of assertiveness
--Pretty much everypony in the episode is a jerk for some reason.
--Fluttershy's descent into jackassery is a bit rushed.