Princess Twilight, “Inspiration Manifestation”, and “Equestria Games”: sometimes, the best payoffs are the subtle ones

Before I get to my main point, let me just say this; holy shit, Rarity was hilarious in “Inspiration Manifestation”.  Whoever was in charge of her facial expressions completely nailed it, and Tabitha St. Germain was on.  There was rarely a time FashionHorse was on screen that I wasn’t at least chuckling.

Adderall is a hell of a drug

Adderall is a hell of a drug

Now, moving on:

I have a friend who’s one of those people who insist that Rarity is a bad character.  I’ve spent a lot of breath arguing with them over this, but there is one point they make that I think is valid; we seldom see Rarity being generous in those episodes that aren’t about her being generous.

In any episode of FiM, you can usually count on a few things; Pinkie will be bubbly and party-throwing, Twilight will be studious and borderline-OCD, Applejack will be dedicated to her job and her family, Fluttershy will be timid (except when she’s not), Dash will be kind of an asshole, etc.  Even if the episode isn’t about the character, we’ll often still get to see some aspect of them.  This is an important part of what makes FiM so well-written.  The consistency and presence of the other characters makes the world feel more alive and vivid, and makes it easier for the audience to emotionally invest.

Sadly, we don’t often see this in the case of Rarity’s generosity.  This means that whenever the topic comes up, it loses some credibility among the audience and hurts suspension of disbelief.

But despite being about “Inspiration Manifestation”, this post isn’t about Rarity.  It’s about Twilight — who, until late in Season 4, had a similar problem.

Twilight’s Alicornication(TM) being the huge in-universe deal that it was, we would expect her new status to be evident in a lot of episodes, rather than just the ones focusing on her.  But this hasn’t been the case.  The worst offender was probably “Rarity Takes Manehattan” — many people took issue with the fact that Equestria’s newest princess couldn’t even get to the front of the cab-line.  And in most episodes that weren’t specifically about her princesshood, there wasn’t much acknowledgement that anything had changed, beyond her new wings.  This made her ascension feel cheapened — almost as though the world forgot she was a princess when the subject wasn’t a central point of the narrative.  It created this sense of “oh yeah, Twilight’s a princess, that’s a thing.”

Or at least, that was the case until “Trade Ya.”

Books for the book god!  Lists for throne?  This joke worked better before I told it.

Books for the book god! Lists for the…um…list throne? This joke worked better before I told it.

Here, we finally see Twilight being a princess in an episode that isn’t about her being a princess (at least not primarily).  And we see her newfound status having a major effect on the episode — she has to be an arbiter of the episode’s central conflict.

In “Inspiration Manifestation”, Twilight’s role was less central.  In fact, the KegHorn Brothers discussed this as a flaw in the episode:

KegStandard: You know another thing that was some bullshit in this episode was Twilight’s entire role.  She appears in the middle of the episode to half-say a sentence that could go somewhere, and then immediately leaves.

PhantomHorn: She stops mid-sentence and leaves before getting to the juicy part.  What a bunch of bullshit.

KegStandard: And then at the end, she comes back and she’s like “ooh, that was some cleaning I had to do!  Damn you, Spike!” and then goes to bed.

PhantomHorn: She shows up these two times, and you kind of get the sense that she’s on the case, trailing after Rarity, trying to solve the mystery — but you don’t feel it at all.  It’s so fucking phoned-in!

But in a weird way, she works even better here, and the fact that she’s incidental to the plot actually makes her more effective.  It communicates that yes, Twilight is a princess now; yes, that will have an effect on the other characters; yes, she will always be a princess even when we aren’t specifically concerned with her as a princess; and yes, it will be awesome.

Seeing Twilight handle this crisis like a bawss is just great in itself.  But furthermore, the fact that she has to run around cleaning up Rarity’s mess communicates that Rarity’s newfound powers and obsession are causing serious problems.  It would have been easy for the conflict here to seem inconsequential and boring — “oh no, Rarity can suddenly make stuff way faster than she used to.  Watch out, someone might get blinded by all that glitter.”

Or, you know, fall from a great  height and die horribly.  That might happen, too.

Or, you know, fall from a great height and die horribly. That might happen, too.

Watching Twilight rescue ponies from Rarity’s creations shows that this isn’t just an inconvenience.  Rarity’s escapades are causing real danger, and it’s just a matter of time before someone actually gets hurt.  It’s impressive that her Princesshood has been used to enhance the central conflict of the episode that has very little to do with her, rather than distract from it.  This might be my favorite instance of payoff from the coronation, and it’s so effective precisely because the narrative doesn’t make a big deal out of it.

And this has me thinking about the critiques of “Equestria Games”.

Apparently, the only sure thing about a Dave Polsky episode is that people will argue about it.  This time, Tommy Oliver (with special guest British!Digi) argued that the series failed to deliever on the plotlines it had been setting up for more than a full season.

Does someone want to explain to me why we built this event up for two seasons for this kind of payoff?

We dedicate four episodes to building up the Equestria Games, and when we finally get to it, we don’t even focus on the games.  It’s literally just a backdrop for Spike’s confidence issue.  The games could have been anything in this episode, and nothing would have been lost.  And by that same logic, the Equestria Games as a set piece, and a plot point, added nothing to this series.  Certainly nothing worth dedicating so much buildup towards.

Look, I’m sorry if this is making you upset, but this is bad storytelling.

jenga-shit-just-got-real-333x223But is Tom right that there’s no payoff?  We saw the (kickass) repercussions of many past episodes here.

The CMC’s perform their routine to great applause, Dash races neck-and-neck with Spitfire, and Twilight presides over it all, along with Celestia, Luna, and Cadance.  So, how is it that there’s no payoff?

It seems more accurate to say that the payoff isn’t the focus of the episode.  But in that sense, it’s similar to Twilight’s role in “Inspiration Manifestation” — the payoff isn’t framed as a huge deal by the narrative, it’s just there (and really cool).

And what other sort of payoff could there really be?  Most of the actual conflicts that were referenced by the episode were resolved earlier in the series; Scootaloo came to terms with her inability to fly, Dash developed further as a flyer while deciding to stay loyal to Ponyville, and Twilight got a feel for her royal duties.  Making a bigger deal out of these would probably have involved hitting the audience over the head with the concepts, and kind of spoiled their value.  Like Twilight’s role in “Inspiration Manifestation”, the payoffs we get here are made more potent by not being made a big deal.

I suppose in one sense, this is just a case of the classic narrative rule of “show, don’t tell” — by just showing the advancement of the characters, rather than having them actively declared, the narrative is more effective.

I guess the take-away is this; really flashy denouements are fun, but sometimes a narrative payoff can be more effective when you don’t make a big deal of it.  When you just show the way the world has changed as a result of the characters’ actions, you can provide a ton of satisfaction to the audience.

Want to know when I’ve thought of something new and interesting about the narrative techniques of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic?  Yeah, neither would I, probably.  But just in case, you can follow The Pony’s Litterbox on Tumblr, or follow me on Twitter.

This entry was posted in Analysis, Storytelling technique and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Princess Twilight, “Inspiration Manifestation”, and “Equestria Games”: sometimes, the best payoffs are the subtle ones

  1. Pingback: The biggest improvement from Season 4 to Season 5: Princess Twilight | The Pony's Litterbox

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s