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.