Analyzing “Rarity Takes Manehattan”

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In a way, the instinct to be generous towards others is inherently selfish, insofar as the desire to make the world a better place is also the desire to live in a better world. This episode is about the difference between treating others the way you wish to be treated, and doing nice things for people with the expectation of compensation. It treads a very fine line to keep Rarity’s friends from quite being wrong, yet keep Rarity totally forgivable in the circumstances.

What fascinates me about Rarity is that they write her to be both amazingly generous, and amazingly egotistical, without painting the latter as a problem. And why should they? I may be speaking vainly as one of the most egotistical sons-of-bitches on planet earth, but I’ve never understood how ego is a bad thing, unless it clouds your ability for self-reflection. Rarity thinks she’s amazing because she IS amazing. She sings about setting the bar because she DOES set the bar, and she wants people to follow her example. And they SHOULD!

Rarity introduces Manehattan as a place with a fixation on karmic balance, although it’s never really explained why this city in particular is like this. I think it’s meant to suggest that in a city this big with this much going on, there’s a constant possibility for good things to happen, and the more good things you put into the city, the more you’ll get out of it. This sort of pay-it-forwardism works because when people have their problems taken care of, it leaves them more capable of taking care of the problems of others.

The structure of this episode interestingly enough both introduces us to the concept of Manehattan’s karmic mechanisms and shows us how they pay off all within the first act. We see Rarity give generously and then receive generously, so it’s established immediately that, yes, generosity to others can often lead to generosity in return. When Rarity gets fucked over by her old acquaintance, it’s easy to see coming that her outpouring of generosity is going to come back to save her at some point, and it’s pretty obviously going to come from Coco Pommel. Far more interesting is the conflict which arises out of the pressure that this puts on Rarity.

On one hand, Rarity has done massively generous things for her friends throughout the episode, which she didn’t have to do, and she brought them along for the primary purpose of supporting her at the competition the next morning. Twilight tells Rarity at the start of the episode that she should ask if there’s anything they can do to help her. So when Rarity eventually does need to fall back on her friends for help, she’s being pretty reasonable overall considering the circumstances leading up to it.

In this scene, everyone fucks up a little, but in very human ways. Rarity’s friends fuck up by making it too clear that they’re disappointed, but their disappointment is perfectly reasonable. Likewise, Rarity fucks up by flipping her shit on them, but considering her frustration and everything she’s done for them, it’s hard to really blame her.

But the bottom line is that the mane six DO in fact finish the dresses, yet Rarity, at least in the moment, does not forgive them. None of them actually had to do the work for her; at no point when Rarity was doing them all favors was it established that they’d owe her one, so treating it like a transaction with a demand for compensation is a dirty tactic, and when they complied anyways, thankfulness should’ve been mutual. It’s such a subtle level on which Rarity comes out more wrong than the mane six. Like, all she had to do was treat them a little better and paint the situation in a gracious light instead of a commanding one, and it would’ve changed everything, but the way she puts it makes her seem like a dick. And this is the kind of difference that only the emotional, illogical part of our brains can make; yet it’s an important and very real distinction nonetheless.

In the end, all of the ponies are at least a little bit wrong, but none of them are worried about how the others are wrong. The mane six don’t seem to see themselves as wrong at all, but Rarity doesn’t mind. Rarity asks for forgiveness, which has already been given. The conflict almost doesn’t exist in reality, yet Applejack’s outburst of honesty shows us how the effect was felt even if forgiven, and Rarity’s apology absolves any possibility of bad blood. If it sounds like I’m just basking in the details of this exchange, it’s because I’ve had so many moments of this nature among my group of friends that seeing it play out so pitch-perfectly here just leaves me in awe of how true to life it all is.

The episode’s finale has a significant standout moment wherein Rarity says that she’s going to stay in Manehattan for a while. It doesn’t follow through, with the position going to Coco Pommel instead, but I thought it was an interesting placement of this idea that Rarity might leave because deep inside, we know that one day it’s going to happen. The more clout she gains and collaborators she pulls, the closer she’s going to get to being wrapped up in one of these culture centers and have to leave Ponyville. There was a moment where I really thought we weren’t going to see Rarity for a little while, and it had a sort of poignance that reminded me of the later episodes of K-On!

Some random notes! I thought the Grumpycat cutie mark was random and dumb, but mostly because the symbol doesn’t move with the guy’s body so it looks like it was just slapped on there at the last minute when someone realized he made a grumpycat face. The “WOW Applejack” line left me in stitches, but my favorite line in the episode is when Rarity screams “CONGRATUPONYLATIONS” which is a clear ponification of the phrase “congratu-fucking-lations,” and that makes me very happy. Also Coco Pommel is adorable.

Before I wrap up though, I’ve gotta end on a bit of a low note. You’re probably going to see this brought up in every review of the episode, but Twilight’s getting denied for a cab is kind of really fucking disturbing. It’s bad enough that in any episode where her princesshood isn’t explicitly mentioned, we never see her fly or do anything remotely princess-worthy, but the idea that even random pedestrians don’t treat her like a princess is kinda daft.┬áThere’s really no excuse here, cause you’re not gonna tell me that no one around noticed a fucking ALICORN asking for a ride. Even if they didn’t know who she was, the wings and horn are a dead giveaway. I don’t want to dwell on this too much since I already ranted about it in the last video, but this whole ignorance of Twilight’s princesshood is starting to get really jarring and obnoxious. I’m pretty sure even little kids can tell that a princess shouldn’t be getting denied a cab ride and call bullshit.

Anyways, despite that point, which has more to do with this episode’s place in the overall narrative than it has to do with this episode, I thought Rarity Takes Manehattan was fantastic. It’s dense, it’s got two solid songs, lots of little things to think about like how Applejack lifting this cart probably proves the idea that Earth ponies are exponentially stronger than others, several memorable new characters, and a strong ethical backdrop for the dialog. It’s definietly my favorite episode of the season so far, probably my favorite Dave Polsky episode to date, and possible one of my favorites in the entire show.

3 thoughts on “Analyzing “Rarity Takes Manehattan”

  1. The fact that Twilight’s princess hood is not reacted at all from the part of the common manehattaner’s (how ever one spells that) could be explained with numerous ways, all of which would make sense either in our world or in the pony universe. Royalty are not necessarily treated in the same way in all the places of a realm; in some parts they may be more popular than in others. Or it could be that the power of Celestia, and that of alicorns, doesn’t reach Manehattan, which is a separate administrative district. Not unhead of. Explanations such as these are easy to manifacture, and although basing them into the shows reality would take more time and effort than I have at the moment to spare, I firmly believe that this could be done.

    But my actual point is that you are right on this. The writers should start to pay attention to Twilight’s elevated position, but not because the pony world’s logic expects that, but because it would make sense. But it’s important to notice that this sentiment can’t really be argued for on the basis of any reason that bases itself on some kind of logic of the ponyworld. It’s just something that “most” spectators would except to happen, what they would like to see happen. I, too, am one of those people.

    Perhaps the writers are afraid that if they make everypony kneel in front of Twilight the Princess then that eats away attention from rest of the episode and from the rest of the five. This could be a very serious concern, although I still see it wrong to keep away all the acknowledgements of Twilight’s new status, which is exactly what the writers have done ever since the pilot of S4. But I’m sure they have their reasons, whatever they are.

    Thanks for the analysis!

    • I personally amuse the idea that there’s just so much weird shit going down in equestria (sun and moon almost regularly interrupt their cycles, too many sapient species to keep track of, dragons, 1/3 of the population is capable of magic, etc.) that everyone’s desensitized. It’d be hard for me to notice if princess Kate had walked past if I had seen a sea serpent take a tour of the Statue of Liberty yesterday and my kid turned the dog into an orange the day before, and I’m just trying to figure out what to feed it. Besides, what are the chances that adventures happen all the time to the cast and nobody else? It’s more likely that everybody else lives a slice-of-life day-to-day, with ancient evils/ botched magic interspersed. (Theory thanks to Fred jones, who made a similar assertation in the last scooby doo movie)

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