Time for the episode review, this week Ryan is flying solo with it, don’t abuse him too much. Artwork Aftershock and maybe some BGMs by tomorrow. Episode review after the page break.
s3e06 – Sleepless in Ponyville
Written by Corey Powell
Review by Ryan C
I miss “One Bad Apple”. Not because it was a great episode with a catchy song and an interesting new character, but because having to sit through the triumph of mediocrity and idea stagnation that was “Magic Duel” made me wish for something better. But this isn’t a review for “One Bad Apple” (which I regret not writing in hindsight), nor a review for “Magic Duel” (which I think the world is better off forgetting). No, this is a look at “Sleepless in Ponyville”, an episode whose title is rather deceptive as very little of it actually takes place in Ponyville, and which may very well be a dark horse candidate for one of the best episodes of the entire “Friendship is Magic” series.
“Sleepless in Ponyville” is unique in that it is the only episode of the series so far to focus on Scootaloo, the spunky orange Pegasus of the Cutie Mark Crusaders. The other two Crusaders, Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle, have gotten their fair share of episodes so far, usually with supporting roles by older sisters, but Scootaloo’s apparent lack of a sister (or any family at all, as a matter of fact) has seemed to have kept her from getting her day in the limelight. As it so happens, she can finally have her starring role, but only with the safe accompaniment of the other Crusaders, their sisters, and Rainbow Dash. She’ll take what she can get at this point. Even though Scoots isn’t the most popular Crusader, it is odd that she hasn’t had an episode of her own yet, considering she had been one of the only oft-recurring characters who still hadn’t.
This episode attempts to answer a question about Scootaloo that fans had so far not had an answer to: Will she ever get Rainbow Dash to take her under her wing? Make no mistake, despite the presence of three of the Mane Six and the entirety of the CMC (minus Babs, of course), “Sleepless in Ponyville” is firmly about Scootaloo. It gives a better glimpse into how she perceives herself and RD, and the main premise and of the episode is Scoots attempting to conquer her own inner fear of not being ‘cool enough’ for Rainbow Dash.
The perfect opportunity to impress Rainbow Dash comes in the form of a camping trip with the other Crusaders, Applejack, Rarity, and RD. Scootaloo has never really gotten a chance to hang out with Rainbow for an extended period before, so she very much treats it as a first impression, since of course first impressions are the most important and she doesn’t want to make Rainbow think any less of her right off the bat. Her attempts at impressiveness are short-lived, however, as Scootaloo is terribly frightened by Rainbow Dash’s campfire stories, but doesn’t have the shoulder of an older sister to grab for comfort. This security blanket is what she wants Rainbow to be, but doesn’t yet feel comfortable or confident enough with it to ask it of her.
The effect of spooky stories are what you’d expect on a child’s mind. She has terrifying nightmares of Rainbow’s stories and they force her to insomnia to avoid having to go back into the dream world. Despite her best efforts to stay awake, the fatigue from this sleepless night eventually cause her to crash back to sleep and into her dream world, where she is confronted by probably the most unexpected special guest the series has seen so far: Princess Luna. It is revealed that Luna, as the Princess of the Night, can enter and even influence ponies’ dreams as they sleep and she uses it to dispel the ghastly image of a headless horse from Rainbow Dash’s campfire story.
Luna serves as a soft-spoken counselor to Scootaloo, urging her to realize that her real fears are not the monsters from Rainbow’s stories, but her own psychological fear of disappointing Rainbow Dash. She explains that the fears in her dreams are not real, and unless she is able to deal with her own inner turmoil, the monsters from her nightmares will continue to haunt her through her waking hours. Scootaloo pops awake and, sure enough, she is still frightened by the images in her dreams and attempts to run away from them through the forest. After a daring rescue by Rainbow Dash, Scootaloo reluctantly admits that she isn’t as brave or strong as she wants to be, but only desperately wanted Rainbow Dash’s approval and tutorship. Rainbow is able to empathize with Scootaloo and agrees to take her under her wing, despite any shortcomings Scoots may have.
The scenes beginning with Luna’s reveal and ending with Rainbow’s acceptance of Scootaloo are some of the most poignant and touching of the series so far. The simple fact that a topic such as the ‘fear of failure/and or disappointing someone’ is tackled in a childrens’ show is interesting on its own, but the way it was handled and how Scootaloo was finally able to deal with her fear head-on was done in a way that can only be considered impressive. It was dealt with in such a way that the characters were shown to be feeling real emotion and turmoil, but also provides a good Aesop for viewers in how they should handle this particular issue. It was heartwarming, informative, and emotionally satisfying. My first reaction after finishing “Sleepless in Ponyville” was, “Did they really make and episode that was entertaining, fan-pleasing, and emotionally satisfying, while also making it able to stand on its own with other television programs?” The answer is, thankfully, a resounding “Yes”.
In short, I really enjoyed this episode. Like “One Bad Apple”, it took a more mature topic that is not normally covered in traditional childrens’ shows, the fear of failure, and managed to present it in such a way that will please not only the fanbase, but also be entertaining enough for its target audience and casual observers.
This episode, as with most of the episodes in season three so far, is aided by excellent pacing and clever writing combined with familiar personalities we’re used to. It’s worth noting that “Sleepless in Ponyville” is the first episode written by Corey Powell, a veteran writer for childrens’ programs but a newcomer to “Friendship is Magic”. Despite her supposed freshness to the FiM series, Powell manages to expertly grab hold of the series’ strong characters and setting and use them in such a way as to have “Sleepless in Ponyville” compete with the best-written episodes by M.A. Larson and Meghan McCarthy. I certainly look forward to what new and exciting things Powell can do with the familiar characters in the future.
A topic I would definitely like to touch on before I end this enormous mountain of text is the character progression of the characters so far in season three. DHX Studos deserve a round of applause for their work so far in just these six episodes (“Magic Duel” notwithstanding) for the amount of thought and design that has gone into advancing the existing characters we know and love. Most other shows for this age group would be content to simply have their characters stay stagnant and simply give them new situations from week to week to deal with, and indeed this was mostly the case in season one of FiM, but DHX and Hasbro have shown that they aren’t afraid to change the status quo with the new season and even with parts of season two.
It’s a testament to just how in-control of these characters they are and how much the directors, writers, and all others involved really care about presenting a show that is objectively good – not just entertaining. From Luna being given more to do, to Scootaloo and Rainbow Dash finally interacting in a special way with each other, to Twilight being given a greater, albeit yet unknown, greater purpose in the overarching plot, we’ve been treated to having our favorite ponies actually grow in a meaningful way, and I for one am very excited to see what’s next.