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.