S03E07 – Wonderbolt Academy
Written by: Merriwether Williams
Storyboarded by: Tom Sales & Johnny Castuciano
Yet again this weeks episode review is helm by freelance derpateer Ryan C, all after the page break.
DHN Review by Ryan
I’m going to go ahead and get all of this out of the way right at the beginning: Maverick, Goose, Iceman, Danger Zone, “The need for speed”, “Negative, Ghostrider the pattern is full”, “You can be my wingman anytime”. Good? Good. Now that we’ve got all that out of our system, we promise to never mention any of it ever again.
Season three of “Friendship is Magic” has been a strange ride so far. We have some ups and downs, high points and low points, good, decent, and bad episodes, and then we have “Wonderbolt Academy”. If you’d like to save yourself reading the next few paragraphs, I’ll go ahead and summarize for you: “Wonderbolt Academy” is the single biggest missed opportunity in the entire “Friendship is Magic” series. There has never been an episode with so much potential and amazing ideas executed so poorly in the entirety of the series (Crystal Empire parts 1 & 2 notwithstanding).
Perhaps this one should come as no surprise, though, seeing as how it was penned by Merriwether Williams, the writer behind such fan unfavorites as “Mysterious Mare-Do-Well” and “Dragon Quest”. “Wonderbolt Academy” is merely another chapter in her ongoing magnum opus, which I can only assume is entitled “Rainbow Dash’s Amazing Adventures in Character Inconsistency”. Despite writing a full five episodes, Williams still has yet to grasp exactly what makes these characters tick, and manages to make a fan favorite character such as Rainbow Dash look distasteful even in the eyes of her biggest fans. When Williams does attempt to take Rainbow in a different direction with her personality, it comes off as jilted and unnatural — perhaps being necessary in the context of the episode, but these sudden radical changes in personality are utterly out of character for the multi colored Pegasus.
“Wonderbolts Academy” is seemingly the episode that Rainbow Dash fans have been waiting for since the series began. Indeed, in the pilot episode of FiM, Rainbow expresses her admiration toward the Wonderbolts and her almost obsessive desire to join their ranks. It’s a continuing theme for her throughout seasons one and two, and it would appear that RD is finally getting her chance at fame and glory when she receives a letter of acceptance to the prestigious academy. The Wonderbolts themselves have never been given a clear purpose, and even after “Academy” we’re still left to wonder what exactly it is they do. The ‘Bolts are clearly based off the Blue Angels, which despite being comprised of Navy pilots, are not an actual combat squadron but simply a flight show main event. However, in “Secret of My Excess”, we see the Wonderbolts being called on as a supposed active military entity (although they prove to be horribly ineffectual).
The actual academy, however, is decidedly military, at least in appearance. Fan favorite secondary pony Spitfire makes another appearance as the hard-as-nails drill instructor, with a new voice courtesy of Kelly Metzger, who loses some of Spitfire’s sly charm from her previous VAs but manages to effectively capture the gruff drill sergeant persona, borrowing from R. Lee Ermey’s almost cartoonish personality, but with just a bit less foul language. Also returning are various ponies from previous Pegasus-themed episodes such as Cloud Chaser, Thunderlane, Raindrops, and Roid Rage. Or Snowflake. Or Big McLargehuge. Whichever name you prefer.
The main non-Rainbow Dash focus of the episode, though, is Lightning Dust. She is a new Pegasus pony also present at the training camp, and to put it simply, she’s just Rainbow Dash’s personality on steroids with a color swap. It seems ironic in hindsight that the thing Rainbow Dash would dislike the most is basically herself. Lightning Dust is just as fast, agile, and daring as Rainbow Dash, matching her speed and dexterity in every way and even surpassing it in others. LD proves herself to be the Maverick to RD’s Goose and Spitfire makes her the ‘Lead Pony’ and Rainbow Dash the ‘Wing Pony’, to Rainbow’s dismay. During a series of trials and tests, Lightning Dust proves time and again to be Rainbow’s equal if not superior, but she consistently does it at the cost of potential and actual harm to the other trainees. Rainbow finally has enough when the rest of her Ponyville friends come to deliver a care package to her only to get swept up in one of Dust’s attempts to blow away the competition (I couldn’t resist).
This is where Rainbow’s supposed character development starts to break down a bit. We’ve been shown in “Mare-Do-Well”, “Hurricane Fluttershy”, and even in smaller ways in “The Crystal Empire” and “Dragonshy” that Rainbow Dash isn’t above putting other ponies’ lives or emotions at risk to get what she wants or what she thinks is right. Rainbow’s actions and inactions would, if this wasn’t a children’s cartoon, resulted in the deaths or at least serious injury of many other ponies. Lightning Dust, up until RD’s friends were in immediate danger, hadn’t done anything that Rainbow Dash probably wouldn’t have done herself. That said, Rainbow’s rebuke of Lightning Dust and resignation from the academy comes off not as righteous and upper-handed, but as envious and passive-aggressive.
Consistently during the episode we’ve seen that Rainbow has a hard time just keeping up with Dust and it feels more like her jealousy boils over when she confronts Spitfire rather than Dash taking the moral high ground. The fact is, up until the point that Rainbow tattled on her to Spitfire, Lightning Dust had been impressing Spitfire far more than Rainbow had around every turn. Obviously, Lightning Dust was well aware of what it took to become a Wonderbolt and was doing everything that she thought was necessary to do so.
And so, instead of coming off as an interesting development, Rainbow Dash’s supposed character advancement falls flat given that she is going against everything she had been showing us about who she is for the entire series. The extremely hasty resolution of the episode with Lightning Dust being disgraced and Rainbow Dash becoming what seems to be by far the best cadet to become a full-fledged Wonderbolt comes off as hollow, rushed, and self-serving. It was even confirmed by Meghan McCarthy that the current ending was either an alternate ending, and perhaps not even their first choice. This revelation seems to make sense given the short amount of time the “conclusion” arrived in.
The biggest issue I can see in this episode, though, doesn’t directly have anything to do with Rainbow Dash, though. No, the biggest issue is finality. We’ve had two episodes in a row that have had a some large measure of closure for two popular and important characters. Scootaloo finally gets Rainbow to take her under her wing and Rainbow finally gets her chance to become a Wonderbolt, and will likely succeed unless something incredible gets in her way. They both have gotten exactly what they wanted, and even Twilight has a season-arcing story involving Celestia, Luna, and who-knows-else to lead Twilight down an as-yet-unknown path to greatness. If all the characters have nothing left to strive for, where are they left to go? It’s worrying that we’re being given such a great measure of conclusion for these characters, because the moment you give someone what they want, they stop trying for anything else. I sincerely hope it doesn’t head that direction for “Friendship is Magic”, because these characters can give us so much more.