Analyzing “Sleepless in Ponyville”

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Oh my dayum, I love this episode. It’s great for some of the usual reasons, like being hilarious and adorable, but this episode had a unique quality to it, in that it featured one of the show’s most realized visions of its principal characters.

Sleepless In Ponyville is written by Corey Powell, who hasn’t written any previous episodes of the show, which explains why it doesn’t quite feel like any other. The meat of the episode for me is in how it portrays the densely flawed nature of its characters.

It’s hard for me to find a starting point in talking about this, so I’m just going to run through the episode in order and cover everything.

For starters, the story of this episode is something which fans have been speculating about for eons. Up until now, Scootaloo’s only real traits were her sportiness and her obsession with Rainbow Dash, and fans have been running in every direction with this for over a year. I’d go so far as to say that Rainbow Dash training Scootaloo, or generally acting as her older sister, is one of the most common fanart subjects in the fandom. A hell of a lot of people are going to be really happy to see this stuff canonized.

Okay let’s do this bit by bit. Speaking of bits, I guess Rainbow was just hittin’ the bank.

The foundation of this episode’s character building is that Scootaloo kinda has a shitty role model. As cool as Rainbow Dash is, she’s not very considerate or attentive, is completely self-centered, and has no experience in being a big sister. My favorite thing about this episode is that in spite of the fact that Rainbow does take Scootaloo under her wing at the end, the episode did a good job of convincing me that she ISN’T the big sister that Scootaloo needs. But that might not be so bad.

Wait, I lied. My real favorite thing about this episode is the relationship between Rarity and Sweetie Belle. At the start of the episode, Sweetie Belle manipulates Rarity into coming along on Applejack’s camping trip, knowing full well that Rarity hates camping, but would feel bad about not spending time with her sister. This is a brilliant way to continue on the points of Sisterhooves Social, and it was one of the most relatable scenes in the show for me as an older brother.

Rarity forces Sweetie Belle to carry her heavy-ass luggage, but Sweetie Belle seems to consider this a fair trade for getting her sister out of the house. Consider that this means Sweetie Belle manipulated Rarity into spending time with her knowing that it was going to lead to her carting Rarity’s shit around. Again, the relationship I have with my little brothers is a lot like this. Even though we’re all grown-up now, they still beg me to come with them wherever they go, and I still force them to do all kinds of shit for me in return.

Their relationship may be a little dysfunctional, but it’s a strong connection. The more obviously functional relationship is that of Applebloom and Applejack, whom, and this is speculation, seem to have that, “dead parents, raised by sister” sort of relationship going on. I really, really, really would like to see this addressed in the Apple Family Reunion.

Back to Scoots and the Sonic Rainboom. Scootaloo’s big failure throughout the episode is that she wants to impress Rainbow Dash through force of inauthenticity. This is portrayed with countless shenanigans throughout the episode, all of which are hilarious. Scootaloo’s antics may be repetitive, but they are repetitive with purpose, because they constantly further her mental state of sleep deprivation and utter panic. The episode follows something similar to the panic structure of Applebuck Season, Party of One, and Lesson Zero, which are three of the best episodes of the show.

Rainbow Dash asking Scootaloo to go get firewood is another case of hilarious adult laziness. Seriously, this is just like how my last camping trip went. My dad pitched the tent, I was all tired from climbing the mountain, and my little brother was out looking for firewood.

So, Rainbow Dash scares the piss out of the fillies, and this is where the episode starts to develop a prevalent sense of loneliness. I feel this is possibly one of the darkest episodes of MLP, not just because of the spooky imagery, but because of how harsh it is on Scootaloo. Her friends can seek comfort and reassurance in their sisters, but Scootaloo is trapped in her own inauthenticity with an inattentive partner.

I loved seeing Scootaloo all sleep-deprived and stuff, which sounds horribly sadistic, but I’m always a sucker for stories about insomnia and sleep deprivation. (Probably why Applebuck Season is my favorite episode of MLP.) Scootaloo has a bunch of hilarious near-brushes with death, which raise the stakes on her lack of sleep beyond an emotional conflict, and help set the stage for what will happen later.

Two of the most important lines in this episode come from Applejack, who recognizes that something is up with Scootaloo. This is hugely important to realizing Rainbow Dash as a poor sister figure. Rainbow never once questions Scootaloo’s actions, and never seems to pay her more than a cursory amount of attention. Applejack, who hasn’t even been spending any time with Scootaloo, notices with a degree of ease.

Had these observations not been made, it might’ve felt more squarely like Scootaloo’s fault that her inauthenticity is leading to all of these problems; and had Rainbow Dash made these observations, she might’ve seemed more fit to be a sister. Instead, Applejack making these observations instructs us that if Scootaloo had been staying with someone better suited to being a big sister, her problems may have been realized sooner.

The appearance of Princess Luna in this episode is a thing of brilliance. Rainbow Dash was never going to learn what Scootaloo was hiding. Applejack could have, and she would’ve disillusioned Scootaloo by revealing that Rainbow Dash isn’t the best mentor. However, Luna pushes Scootaloo to get over her problem in continued pursuit of her ambition of being taken under Rainbow Dash’s wing. She guides the filly in the best way, because it really takes a village to raise a child. Tidbits about how she appears in dreams and has learned to talk in a soothing, beautiful voice are just the icing on a super-sweet cake.

Scootaloo’s last big flea is impressively desperate. Did you expect her to get rescued when she was hanging from the branch? I did, but nope—she’s already falling off the waterfall by the time Rainbow happens to swoop in and find her.

And yet again, Rainbow Dash plays the role of an adult who doesn’t know how to talk to children. She chastises Scootaloo and still doesn’t get to the heart of the matter. Applejack would’ve worriedly asked what was wrong. Scootaloo instead gets Luna pushing her to conquer her fears. Scootaloo might just grow up to be a badass.

When Rainbow learns the truth, she empathizes, and agrees to take Scootaloo under her wing. This isn’t comforting, but it’s VERY interesting and totally awesome. Even if this relationship never gets to truly develop, the setup has my mind racing all over with possibilities. The best way this could turn out is if we get to see a really dysfunctional pairing that brings Scootaloo a ton of hardship, but grows her into a truly badass and mature character whose depth quickly exceeds that of her friends.

If you’ve never read the webcomic Slice of Pony Life by Egophiliac, I highly recommend that you do so. There’s a link in the description. The series takes place in MLP’s future, and there’s a comic wherein Scootaloo talks to Pound Cake about going to flight camp. Egophiliac’s representation of Scootaloo is a lot like what I just described. And interestingly enough, the comic actually states that Scootaloo never truly got lessons from Rainbow Dash because she eventually realized that Rainbow wasn’t nurturing and would never be able to teach her well.

This fits in perfectly with the portrayal of Rainbow Dash in this episode. One of the most obvious ways to go with this relationship is for it to fall apart in the way that Scootaloo describes, though it would be pretty shocking if the show actually took this route.

Assuming the show does try to continue this plot thread in a meaningful way, it can be done correctly without the relationship falling apart. It just has to be done very carefully, with Scootaloo having just enough strength, ambition, and help from others to help her deal with Rainbow’s attitude problems. If Rainbow Dash was proven to be the best flyer in Equestria, it would make all the turmoil worth it when Scootaloo eventually inherits the title. I’m handing you a novel’s worth of fanfiction material here—I’m god damn tempted to write one myself. This is the most excited I’ve been over my own reading of the show since A Friend In Deed; but we’ll talk about that later.

Next week is another Rainbow Dash episode. It’ll be a little sad if the events of this episode don’t come up again, but no matter what happens, I’m intensely curious.

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5 thoughts on “Analyzing “Sleepless in Ponyville”

  1. Watching this again, it now seems to me that this could be a Scoot/RD episode in a real sense, rather than just an ironic one. Useful for picking up on this, I think, is (1) not taking RD’s sort-of-apathy too seriously and (2) understanding that Scoot isn’t like the other two fillies.

    Consider the conflict of Sisterhooves Social: “giving in.” You can *try* to set limits as to where you receive help and where you don’t, but it isn’t necessarily the best use of your time. On the flip side, you also need some kind of active, “go with it” approach, where you honestly try to direct another’s potential. Both methods can easily go awry; deception may or may not be an acceptable tactic. At the end of the ep, Sweetie Belle remains very much a dork, Rarity the picky drama queen, but they both work with and through their personalities.

    I’m still unsure about the implications of RD’s association with loyalty. RD seems to have a “superequine” commitment to “matters at hand”—often to impatience. I’m not convinced that we can ever be loyal to an “ideal” or “dream,” the way people often say—but RD’s capable of readily apportioning her time and energy to a pressing threat before her. If you can show her what the big problem is, she’ll face it head-on, with drills a-drillin’ and Spiral Power a-blazin’. She’s the first one out, the vanguard. But someone like that needs to be directed, and that’s her weak point. She’s usually the first one swatted down, doing things in stupid, yet somehow aggressive ways (the other ponies aren’t quite so aggressive). I’m not so sure she really could be the amazing asset she is if she *had* been “the thinker” or “the empathizer.”

    That’s not to say she doesn’t “care in her own way.” She’s the person who says, “X is the problem. I’ll behave in Y fashion, and sacrifice Z.” She discards what she (subconsciously?) deems less important; exactly what AJ (and, to a degree, the other mares) strives not to do, and doesn’t do. Friend in Deed’s a great example of this, isn’t it? RD communicates to Pinkie how annoying she is, which really is close to the root of conflict she has with Cranky (if not the root itself); whereas Twilight continues to think within the box, as usual. RD’s tendency is also why her choice of a pet is so strangely satisfying/nuanced/“mature”.

    Why do I bring all of this up? This ep emphasizes another side to mutuality: people’s legitimately working through their issues. Even now, I’m not sure if RD was trying to toughen Scoot up or not; I really think one could make the argument. Her behavior points out to viewers that part of the game *is* theatricality; it’s too easy to pretend there’s a way to face our fears that is completely free of facing down the hulking, phantasmagorical gargoyle for ourselves. Let’s be honest—when you tell a kid “you’re tough, that’s why,” do you usually mean that straightforwardly? It’s a sort of test or encouragement: “keep it up,” or something to that effect. Very true, RD didn’t necessarily get that Scoot was upset; then again, how much did everyone actually pick up? Not satisfactorily more, to the degree that would please us. Which suggests that it was supposed to be a little difficult in the first place—“nobody picking up on obvious issues” trope aside.

    Not putting in too much thought here, I figure that’s the significance of RD’s constant snoring: Scoot was so obsessively afraid of compromising how she looked in front of her idol that she couldn’t see past her own idolatry, even though the truth was staring her in the face. Her otherwise “dumb” fears (which, we’ll remember, she actually got around to dismantling) became not mere nightmares, but *phantasms*. They looked like reality, and felt like reality—but they weren’t. They were twisted reality, and Luna (as the emissary of the night) was the only one able to help her understand that from the inside. AJ might have figured out the problem and told Scoot what to do, at least eventually. But she—and this is a leap—wouldn’t have helped the filly push past the developed conflict. I’d even venture to say that she *couldn’t.* Destroying an idol doesn’t really fix the problem the story’s setting up, Scoot’s real problem. Scoot needs to see *through* the idol, while still appreciating it, and I think she’s picked up the first glimmer of that. I’m not sure that AJ, as much as I like her, could have pulled this one off. Not necessarily because of her own weaknesses, but because of the delicate spot that Scoot is in.

    It was initially hard for me to believe, but the three Crusaders are finally characterized; Scoot’s finally been set up as “RD, mediated version.” She actually fucking stops, and actually fucking considers where she is. That’s an awesome development.

    Was it “right,” or “healthy,” this exchange between the two? I think it’s severely flawed (a bit sadistic), but also that I can’t ignore the less-bad thing that came of it. I don’t like the fact that RD’s so “hands-off” in her approach, because we all know a fuckton of examples in real life and fiction where that’s exploded in people’s faces. Then again, there are counterexamples. You may or may not have watched King of the Hill, but Bobby’s a great example of a kid—fat, goofy, a bit dependent—who’s turns out (maybe miraculously) mature, for all the pettiness and bigotry of his parents. I, like you, think there’s the huge danger of *actually* “going over the waterfall,” so to speak—without RD to catch her. Even without considering the possibility of growth in RD, we can still suggest some hope here. Luckily—and at the very least—Scoot has the first hint of potential in understanding what RD can do for her, as well as what she can’t.

    • Excellent comment. You’ve made the point I think a lot of my youtube commenters are trying and failing to make. There’s definitely more to these characters than what I’ve said in the episode and more to how this could turn out. As I mentioned, I could write a novel-length fanfic about this. Each step of the way in my video series it really feels like this won’t all come together until I’ve covered every episode, and then looked at everything again afterwards and summoned some over-arching convictions about the characters and themes.

      RD deserves a half-hour video analysis on her own, is what I’m saying, but I’m not ready to make it.

      • I read your reply and immediately jumped to the YT vid to read the ones you’re talking about.

        Pretty much with you, here. We really are supposed to question whether RD can actually be the onee-sama/senpai Scoot needs. RD’s “apathetic” and in character, while AJ’s supposed to be tantalizing as a mentor figure; that much is clear. And Scoot really does have to come to grips with what RD can/can’t give her.

        Is there the possibility of a equalish sort of interaction? *Possibly*. But I think that’s speculation. The story itself suggests nothing of the sort, not as an isolated one, anyway. RD may not be static, but her reactions are patterned. *That’s* the point. We want to do nice things all of the time, but fall into our not-saintly, not-demonic ruts. It’s a silly (though understandable) illusion that characters learn for-all-time messages at the end of a story; one you have to quickly swat aside if you’re going to do any analysis at all.

        As things stand now, it would take a hell of a lot of growth, change, and respect before RD would actually begin to take advice from a kid. RD’s not miraculously going to become nurturing; not without story or something unexpected happening. That’s how story works; unexpected events cause us to reevaluate. To make her into a AJ would be beside the point, and unravel what the writers are most likely trying to do.

        P.S. I added you to my blogroll, though I know I don’t write much, and you don’t read it. That okay? MSIUD is the only blog I consistently read.

        • About the blogroll thing, yeah of course! I’m always happy to be linked to in any context. I’ll add you to mine as well since I don’t read half the others on there anyways LOL.

  2. Pingback: [Pony Ep. Quips] “Sleepless in Ponyville”: Folklore and Viscerality | Things in the Fridge

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