Analyzing “Party of One”

Text version:

Party of One is structured around a clever ruse of misdirection. The episode can be broken up into four acts based on what goes on, and what reactions are caused in the viewer, and in Pinkie Pie.

The first part is Gummy’s birthday party, wherein Pinkie entertains her friends with games, food, and dancing. The first, and most important misdirection happens during this scene. Each of Pinkie’s friends states that they’re having a good time, and we believe them, just as Pinkie does. However, each of them encounters something a little uncomfortable.

First, Rainbow Dash and Applejack run into the traps in the apple-bobbing tank. They don’t seem upset by it, but maybe a little jarred. Next there’s Rarity, who’s enjoying the punch until she realizes that Gummy’s been swimming in it. Rarity seems the most uncomfortable with this development, spitting out her drink, politely taking another sip, and then spitting that one out, too. Finally, there’s Twilight and Fluttershy, who are enjoying themselves, but are dizzied by the way Pinkie knocks them into the walls with her dancing.

When the party is over, the friends all say that they had a wonderful time. Pinkie invites Twilight in to finish the cake, and Twilight passes, but it’s not enough reason to think that Twilight didn’t really enjoy herself.

The point of this scene is to tread a careful line between making Pinkie’s parties look uncomfortable, and making it look like the ponies genuinely enjoy the party anyways. Rewatching the episode, we know that the truth is the ponies all love Pinkie’s parties regardless of the weird stuff, but the weird stuff is the key to the next act.

Said act consists of Pinkie visiting each of her friends to invite them to another party, “this afternoon.” Each friend blatantly blows Pinkie off, with increasingly random and desperate excuses. During this act, the viewer begins to suspect that something’s not right here. Our first instinct is to believe that because Pinkie’s parties are demonstrably exhausting, the ponies are trying to get out of having one two nights in a row. (It’s fun to rewatch this act and see the looks of confusion on each pony’s face when they realize that Pinkie has no idea it’s her birthday.) We realize even before Pinkie does that her friends are avoiding her party, so we become suspicious of them before she does.

It’s because of this that we totally understand Pinkie’s feelings and how she will eventually go off the deep end. Even though we empathize with what we see as desperation on the part of Pinkie’s friends, we empathize even more with Pinkie, because we hate to be lied to and abandoned by our friends as well.

This dual empathy is what guides us through the third act, in which it quickly becomes apparent that there’s more going on than what meets the eye. We easily recognize that the friends are planning something, and we suspect that there’s no malicious intent on their part. However, being as we recognized the secrets and lies even before Pinkie did, and we understand that Pinkie is receiving this treatment from her own friends, we totally get why she starts to feel hurt and suspicious towards them.

Some of the episode’s key moments depend on the honest personalities of Rainbow Dash and Applejack. Fluttershy, Rarity, and Twilight seem to relish in the whole spy scenario that they’re acting out, being extra careful and keeping Pinkie in hiding. We suspect that if Pinkie confronted any of them, they would have brushed her off more easily.

However, the first pony Pinkie comes into contact with is Rainbow Dash, who immediately goes into a full-on panic. Unable to formulate a good lie, but also not wanting to spoil the surprise, she takes off, leading to a clever re-use of the gag that Pinkie is faster than Rainbow Dash, in the same way that it was used in Griffon the Brush Off. This gag has symbolic importance, because the last time it happened was when Raibow Dash genuinely didn’t like Pinkie Pie, and was actively avoiding her. As Pinkie re-enacts this memory, she grows increasingly frustrated and suspicious.

Rainbow Dash tosses the problem off on Element of Honesty Applejack, who’s excuse is every bit as terrible as her execution. Again, the fact that Applejack is supposed to be honest makes her disingenuousness even more disconcerting.

Pinkie finally reaches her tipping point and brings in Spike, who has nothing to do with anything, and no idea what Pinkie’s getting at. Pinkie gets him to speak her mind, which to her is a verification of her suspicion, and she mentally breaks.

Pinkie’s psychosis is surprising, but it cleverly uses the Cutie Mark Chronicles as a precedent through the simple act of having Pinkie’s mane deflate, and her coat turn dark. We know that there was a time before Pinkie discovered fun, when she worked on a rock farm and never smiled. Now, we see Pinkie regressing into her old self, and it all seems to add up. It goes beyond being an out-there gag, and becomes a real part of Pinkie’s character.

For me, this is the first part in building Pinkie as the most interesting character in the show, which is followed up by A Friend In Deed in season 2. I’ll have a lot to say about that episode when I get to it, but we’ll save that for another time.

At the end of the episode, the twisting misdirection pays off. Our act-three suspicion that Pinkie’s friends had no malicious intent proves true. If act three made us suspect that the excuses made in act two were more than just excuses, act four makes us realize that in act one, the ponies were being genuine about loving Pinkie’s parties, in spite of whatever discomfort they may have felt.

Outside of this core narrative, the episode is loaded with fun stuff. Andrea Libman turns in one of the most diverse and amazing vocal performances in the show, covering a range of emotions from joy, to rage, to utter sadness, which is a place Pinkie isn’t used to going, and making every line memorable. Not to mention creating a bunch of funny voices that Pinkie talks to herself through..

The episode is chock full of funny little sight gags and details, from Rarity absorbing a cake into her tail, to Pinkie looking all rejected while wearing this ridiculous disguise, to her amazing face-off with Applejack that pushes the expressiveness of the ponies’ faces into a fun new direction.

But of course, the most legendary scene in the episode, and the one which made it one of the most popular episodes of MLP, is Pinkie Pie totally losing her shit. I don’t really need to go into what makes this great, as it should be obvious. Pinkie’s wacked-out facial expressions, the splatter-paint backgrounds, and the fact that she’s talking to inanimate objects. I think Madame LeFlour is supposed to be a reference to the classic animation test in which animators are told to give weight and personality to a bag of flour.

Anyways, that about does it for this ep. While you’re waiting for my next analysis, why not go check out this new portfolio site I just made called Modal Hsoul Productions? It’s got links to all of the videos and writing I’ve done over the past couple years, be they analytical, original, pony, video game, comedy, fiction, non-fiction, whatever. If you like my style, check some stuff out, maybe you’ll find other stuff you like.

5 thoughts on “Analyzing “Party of One”

  1. I did like your viewpoint-to-viewpoint close-reading approach (there’s something richer about this one, somehow, despite the superficial appearance of mere summary), but I don’t have much to say here in the way of praise. Though Pinkie’s my favorite (the kid in me wishes I *was* Pinkie), and I appreciate the characterization, somehow the episode doesn’t shine for me. Somehow, the second time around, it’s harder for me to see the point of view of the ponies. It isn’t that I don’t understand the reasoning (that might be worth re-examining), or that I outright reject it (black-and-white thinking is the bane of close reading), but that I as the viewer am not even meant to believe what they say. The lies are meant to be obvious rather than implied. But—firstly—such a narrative decision doesn’t make sense. Assuming that Pinkie Pie was going to bounce around like a Superball on the day of (as she usually does), why not utilize some handy excuse that they could tailor to the absurd situation they needed? Or even say, “Maybe I’ll show up later?” Isn’t that what they would do? After all, a Pinkie-style party, at the end of the day, is just spending time with Pinkie. Secondly, in order to have a fair plot, and not just some one-sided Pinkie reverie (that’s how the story comes across—some kind of fantasy), don’t we need to really see the fairness in their point of view? Then again, I don’t know what that would entail: better lies, maybe, or legitimate creepiness on Pinkie’s part toward them.

    I do think it’s interesting that Pinkie decides on the meaning of the events after everything’s said and done; it isn’t as if she’s actually reading the fullness of their lies and facial expressions in real time. In the end, this is a fantastical Pinkie ep, through and through; I wonder whether the characters we encounter are truly the characters, or strange images of them. If this is all just weak writing, though, I’m talking out of my ass. That Pinkie can miss such obvious cues suggests that her suffering wrong (if she indeed did suffer wrong, or at least misfortune—this may be debatable) is less of a big deal, because in her very nature she’s too hyper and lenient.

    This, of course, is my awkwardly-worded point from a few days ago: uncomfortable conclusions/endings should be expected in MLP:FIM, because the goal is less happiness or didactic “truth,” than it is depiction of gaps between moral axioms and character arcs. In the case of “Feeling Pinkie Keen,” few deny that the ep scenes are clumsy. But while forums elected to get obsessively tangled in making the moral “better,” many (maybe most) completely missed the possibility (and likely not-far-off reading) that Pinkie Pie’s claims and convictions are set up not to be seen as straightforwardly right or comprehensible in the first place. Many missed the fact that, even following the events of “Bridle Gossip,” Twilight’s bias might very well remain against superstition. Or that her tailing Pinkie was meant to be something of an inept chase. Or that she isn’t even a meticulous science genius. The only real issue (and it is a serious, legitimate can of worms) I even find is the Report’s phrase “have to choose to believe in them,” which is a huge ethics debate, anyway. Hell, it might have been less bad if it was changed to “can move toward stronger belief in them,” just to cover all of the bases (uh, i.e. assuming that belief is possibly *not* binary). And even then, who would risk rewriting the message to say something like that?

    It almost seems that people are trying to dissociate empirical research from human attachment in a slightly-disingenuous way. Twilight doesn’t say, “I’ll believe, even though I don’t understand.” She says, “I guess I do believe: upon further consideration, here was my underlying conflict and thought process.” To which Pinkie says something along the lines of “What a realization!” A hell of a lot of these stories make more sense of people consistently work to keep in mind that these characters are totally free to do unlikable things. Sometimes we’re more consciously objective than others. Clumsy story or not, it’s our work to tease out (hopefully with not too much frustration), the conundrums and doubts.

    Well, it isn’t a new view, I suppose; I’ve been working with it for months.

    Stupid digression. Anyway, what the choices in narrative structure seem to come down to is the fact that the Mane Six reacts uncomfortably to Pinkie’s pushiness (it’s not like Gummy’s necessarily aware that he even had a birthday party, let alone an afterparty), and they’re okay with letting things slip when it comes to her tendencies. Of course, uncomfortable can be good. Things went wild on Pinkie’s end; it’s a little strange that Pinkie was completely off, while it’s like the others appear never to have been wrong. But if you agree (a lot of people don’t) with Aristotle’s model of tragedy, it comes down to mistakes, rather than “character flaws” or whatever, like English teachers tend to bring up. Pinkie made a mistake of judgment, and so did her friends. All of the lies were hard-to-formulate, or inconvenient (though RD, as is typical for her character, is the one explicitly doing so with goals and purposes in mind).

    I guess I wish there had been less of a green-light to their actions. It is true that lies are sometimes a “better” choice (there’s no point in setting hard and fast rules), and it’s also true that they may not have known about Pinkie’s psychosis. And thinking about that, maybe there was something deeply significant to the Report, though not all that clever or rewarding. Simply: sometimes best intentions hurt, even when you’re trying to be positive about them (everyone has different emotional thresholds). The question is, should the Mane Six have realized that? And did they?

    By the way, what’s the deal with Pinkie’s breakdown? There’s no way I’m the only one taking note of how fucked up psychosis actually is. Maybe this is that 2-D psychology nonsense I’ve read aniblog rants about. In actual 3-D, a tsundere (not the original ones like Tohsaka, but the “fake” ones Minoru ranted about in Lucky Channel) would be a terrifying and dangerous person to be around. It wouldn’t be safe to date her. Pinkie doesn’t only need friends; she needs genuine, loving care. I’m exaggerating here, and I’m not exaggerating.

    Keep up/expand this style of analysis, if you can; narrative level-headedness, as well as didacticism-level-headedness, I think, is a large part of what makes your work unique.

    • I’m not really sure where you’re coming from, and also I don’t want to reply about the psychosis until I’ve covered A Friend In Deed. Maybe I’ll answer your doubts then? When I cover that episode I intend to really get into everything there is about Pinkie Pie.

      • Respond however you like to this clarification:

        1) I like the fact that you’re describing events from each party’s POV (audience, each mare, etc.) as the story unfolds. Basically, “each character does this, and this is how we read it.” You make clear what our reactions are contingent upon. Usually, you sprinkle that throughout the analysis, and sometimes in order/out of order.

        2) The lying is too obviously terrible; when you plan a surprise, your first instinct is to come up with decent lies. Pinkie bounces all over the place, all of the time; this makes contact with her very likely. This is inherently incongruous (and off-putting, for me); it should be easy to lie to someone as gullible as Pinkie, or it should be harder to lie to someone who happens to be clever. Secondly, the lies have less sympathetic force because if they had planned better, the lies would have been softer or more thought-out. How do you suggest we think about this?

        3) The point about reading expressions was poorly-phrased. I’m saying that Pinkie doesn’t really grasp just how off their comments are until she’s back home, thinking about it (“Excuses!”). This, combined with the facts that 1) the actions of the Mane Six really do look legitimately terrible, 2) Pinkie goes off the deep end, 3) we never really get the chance to fluidly sympathize the Mane Six’s POV, suggest that the story functions near-exclusively from Pinkie’s warped POV. In other words, if you really think about it, the ep is really random. Pinkie’s off in her world the whole time, with a jarring break-in from the other side at the end—a morally-questionable other side. That’s all I mean by fantastical. It’s kind of a sick dream, but you don’t realize it until she’s talking to inanimate objects.

        4) The issue of questionable conclusions at the end of an ep is something I have little issue with, since this tends to be the way I expect episodes to register. Rarely do I expect characters to do “precisely the right thing” at the end. But they do “better things,” from their POVs, or better comprehend the risks of their positions. That’s the only reason I digressed into bringing up “Feeling Pinkie Keen.” I care less about the Reports (“morals”) in the straightforward sense, and I immediately doubt them when close-reading: I no longer look to the show to preach to me, and the underlying issues seemed sound as an individual character arc—clumsy as the eps may be.

        5) A repetition of the notion that lying can hurt people—one overarching way to take apart the ep and the Report. A repetition of the fact that the Mane Six’s lying is unplanned, rather than calculated. It seems that, possibly for good reason from their POV (though the ep fails to convince me of that), we’re meant to think that lying was the best call they could have made. But why lie at all? The ep isn’t even clear. Which is cause for discussion. So—did they make a decent call, and should they have worried about doing so? The ep might have done better, if Pinkie was constantly questioning (not reasonably questioning), to the point that better-thought-out lies were beginning to unravel (maybe she sees them in places where they said they wouldn’t be). As it is, it just looks like the Mane Six was treating her awfully. Which is “fine,” because they are arguably in character (they do patronize her), but it’s murky. The point should have been more delicate.

        6) Not sure if this point confused you, too: tsundere that are tsun out the outside, deredere on the inside (as opposed to tsun early on, deredere as time goes on) tend to be very dangerous in real life—for example, dealing with a real Taiga Aisaka. But we think that they make decent significant others; some people even idolize them. We give them a pass. Same here. Psychosis is a big deal, but we give Pinkie’s thought patterns a pass. Unless we’re really taking note. Pinkie’s reasoning is complex, but it also comes from an unhealthy way of thinking. So the experts might say.

        • Okay, I will certainly agree that the lying isn’t well thought-out. I don’t know why, I never really noticed it or thought about it before, probably because until you’ve seen the episode already, then you don’t know that it was planned all along, and the hope is that by then it’s gone over your head.

          I always hate this in cartoons, movies, etc., and it’s been done other times in MLP, the conceit wherein the ends ignore/justify the means of narrative presentation. Like when a character reveals that They Planned It All Along, even though the way their character acted would’ve been beyond the impossible acting skills to pull it off. There was one time in MLP when they played it straight: in Magic Duel, we know that Twilight and friends are putting on a charade with the final battle against Trixie, and anything we don’t understand is explained afterwards, yet it’s still hard to believe that the ponies pulled this ruse so perfectly. These are the same ponies who will go on to try and trick Spike in Spike at Your Service and fail MISERABLY. It’s annoying, but almost too common of a thing for me to complain about.

          In Party of One, it’s the inverse of the same issue. This time, the episode needs the ponies to *not* know what they’re doing, even though the conclusion makes it illogical for them to be so bad. I bet this show has done this shit countless times if I take it apart.

    • “By the way, what’s the deal with Pinkie’s breakdown? There’s no way I’m the only one taking note of how fucked up psychosis actually is. Maybe this is that 2-D psychology nonsense I’ve read aniblog rants about. In actual 3-D, a tsundere (not the original ones like Tohsaka, but the “fake” ones Minoru ranted about in Lucky Channel) would be a terrifying and dangerous person to be around. It wouldn’t be safe to date her. Pinkie doesn’t only need friends; she needs genuine, loving care. I’m exaggerating here, and I’m not exaggerating.”

      You’re not the only one, don’t worry. Though to be honest the reason I take note of it might be because I’ve actually experienced acute psychosis, in a way at times similar to what Pinkie experienced. For those out there who don’t know, the ‘crazy twitch’ gag comes from (as far as I know) how antipsychotic medications will at times leave the people taking them with uncontrollable muscle movements, most notably in the mouth and face in the case of some medications. Though I don’t think the creators meant to implicate that Pinkie is on medication, it is an interesting thought, since she is a bit ‘twitchy’ in other ways, even when not experiencing psychosis. I wonder if any fanfic writers have noticed that and used it as a partial explanation for why she randomly twitches so much (a somewhat darker take on Pinkie sense).

      I actually saw a lot of myself in Pinkie in this episode. I’m diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder with Psychotic Features, also known as ‘Psychotic Depression’. From what I understand of psychotic depression, when you’re going through an episode of depression, it may also trigger an episode of psychosis, which can generally lead to delusions, hallucinations, and pretty much losing grip with reality.

      Personally, probably because of my experiences with psychosis, I get a bit let down when people seem to see Pinkie’s psychosis in Party of One as just a gag, because the scene and the buildup actually makes sense to me. Pinkie might be the type of pony that didn’t used to have many friends until she got her cutie mark, and that might have left some lasting effects on her personality. I could see her being prone to depression when not given said genuine, loving care. The fear of losing her friends, or the fear that they really don’t like her, could have drug her into true depression, with psychosis following soon after.

      In fact, it’s my personal head-canon that Pinkie does have issues with psychosis and just handles them very well. Delusion isn’t just wacky conspiracy theories or paranoia, it can be thinking that’s just a bit ‘off’ and out of touch, which I think we see in Pinkie on a regular basis. From personal experience, before I started taking medication, my main symptom was one that almost nobody picked up on because I was just considered the ‘weird’ one. Delusional thinking on a small scale. Like Pinkie’s inability to understand why her attempted go at friendship with Cranky wasn’t working out as planned, or her sometimes strange comments that just get brushed of as a gag. There are a lot of elements to the way she acts and her personality that are realistic to how someone with a mental illness might act when given proper support and love. How things are when it’s not a crisis.

      That’s not to say that I think that was the creator’s -intent-, but I find it something interesting to analyze and discuss, and I’m glad for it because it gives me a character I can relate to on that level (do you have any idea how hard it is to find a non-evil psychotic character to relate to? I can think of two).

      Sorry for the ramble, I just really find the implications of this episode interesting.

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