You know, if you’d have told me about four years ago that I’d make about twenty or so new friends and become seriously into writing thanks to a show about pastel-palette ponies originally made by the girl who helped make The Powerpuff Girls and Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, I’d have probably called you insane and oddly specific. And yet, here I am in the early autumn of 2015, eagerly preparing myself for the continuation of the fifth season of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic after a months-long hiatus.
To that end, as perhaps my first non-news contribution on Gravis Ludus, I’d like to talk about one of my favorite episodes of the fourth season, Inspiration Manifestation. Specifically, how the episode is essentially one of the best examples of how to do an addiction story and still make it palatable to children.
To start us off, Pinkie Pie (one of the show’s six major characters, and a known reveller and generally happy-go-lucky mare played by Andrea Libman) informs the town of Ponyville (and by extension, the audience) that the town’s essential children’s fair is almost ready to open. After she bounces around a bit and showcases some of the show’s trademarked diverse background characters, we cut to a boutique where Rarity (another major character, best known for being a charitable, if melodramatic dressmaker with an artistic streak a mile wide played by Tabitha St. Germain) is preparing a particularly pristine theater for puppetry, stating that “just because the attendees are young doesn’t mean they don’t deserve my very best creative work”. An apt metaphor for this show, at some points. Spike (a baby dragon who has perhaps the most endearing child-adult crush in all of fiction, played by Cathy Weseluck) nervously praising her work, which is rewarded with the classic “I couldn’t have done it without you” reply and a statement that he is her favorite dragon. It’s worth pointing out that they’ve had this angle ever since the first episode, and while it’s not always a plot point, it’s mentioned decently often whenever the two share screen time.
Rarity is hopeful that her work was well worth the amount of effort it took her to make, only to have the puppeteer commissioning the theater tell her that it was awful, mostly due to the fact that Rarity designed it for form over function, when the puppeteer wanted a traveling puppet theater. Spike tries to cheer her up, but being the perfectionist she is, Rarity gallops off, and we fade to the opening.
I won’t dwell on the opening theme or anything, because while I still feel some visceral reaction to it, it’s neither my fault nor the show’s. It just smacks of being way too sweet, and sometimes, it’s kind of an odd contrast, depending on the episode. If you wanna see a better use of a cutesy, sweet intro as a dramatic contrast, watch Puella Magi Madoka Magica at some point.
So after the opening credits, we fade into the boutique, where Rarity is crying on a couch while Spike tries to console her. If there’s one thing I always love about this episode, it’s that Tabitha St. Germain’s delivery of Rarity’s utter misery at rejection is just a treat to watch. Spike tries to console her (in an astonishingly alliterative manner, I might add) by saying that while the puppeteer didn’t like her puppet theater, she can still make another contribution to the fair. Rarity sobs that she may as well forget it, saying that she’d never finish anything in time before magically floating a comically-sized gallon of ice cream and chowing down. Rarity laments that she only wanted to leave her creative mark on the fair, and it’s clear her failure has destroyed her creative drive.
This leads Spike to head to the ruins of an old castle which was introduced back in the season premiere as the original castle of the series two main rulers of the realm, Princess Celestia and Luna. There, he searches for something to help Rarity make a form of creative contribution, and he and Owlowiscious (Twilight Sparkle’s pet owl, introduced in Season 1, Episode 24 and owner of one of the most easily confused names in the entire series) partake in the easiest joke you could possibly make, while also referencing the episode in which the owl premiered. Eventually, Spike happens to find a secret door linked the one of the books, which houses an object that is totally not the Necronomicon. Spike comments that obtaining the book was surprisingly easy and has loads of spikes like himself before he casually walks off the crumbling stairwell without even dropping a beat, and we learn of where the title is derived–there’s a spell in the book called Inspiration Manifestation, which instantly brings ideas to life, which Spike believes as perfect.
Back to Rarity’s Boutique, and Rarity is still bawling her eyes out, and has eaten at least eight or so gallons of ice cream at this point. That’s not even an exaggeration: I actually paused and counted. More alliteration about emotional affectation, and Spike shows Rarity the Inspiration Manifestation spell. Rarity’s initially dismissive as she stuffs chocolate into her mouth, but once Spike convinces her it can help, she’s supposes it’s worth a try. As she incants the spell, a ghastly green smoke surges out from the book and into her horn, making a distinct green line through its ridges. She then tests the spell by thinking about making the spellbook more beautiful, which to her delight, works like a charm. Then she does the same to the couch, which becomes incredibly extravagant. Rarity praises Spike for coming through for her, and plans to see the puppeteer to provide him with the most fabulous theater she can ever imagine for him. The two go to parlay with the puppeteer, who’s had to use the entrance to Pinkie Pie’s bakery as a theater in response to Rarity’s failure, to which Rarity believes she can be redeemed. Naturally, thanks to the spell, she succeeds, and she thanks Spike again. However, as Spike attempts to return the book, Rarity seems reluctant to part with it. While Spike doesn’t see anything wrong at first, Owlowiscious seems quite suspicious.
Once we fade to later that day, Spike goe to visit Rarity, and we hear the sounds of some rather intense magic going on before the door bursts open to reveal a metric buttload of dresses and a slightly disheveled dressmaker.
It is at this point I’d like to diverge a bit and get back to the real point of this article. see, by this point in the story, Rarity’s showcasing a few signs that are not too dissimilar to cocaine addiction. Don’t believe me? Let me break it down. Increased energy? Check. Restlessness and feeling of superiority? Double-check. Euphoria, recklessness, and erratic behavior? Triple Check. Dilated pupils and a lack of need for food or sleep? Oh, sweet merciful Epona, check.
It’s at this point Rarity’s gone a tinge cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs, and is showing a classical sign of dependency, to which Spike is oblivious to as she decides to try and beautify the town with the spell’s power. By the time she gets it in her head that she’ll surprise the ponies with her work and starts referring to the book as a person, it’s starting to get through to Spike that she’s left the building. Spike, not wanting to hurt her feelings, agrees, but not without apprehension. Throughout more of the episode, we behold Rarity’s attempts to beautify the world while Spike continues to support Rarity by playing yes-man. However, his attempts to try and get her to stop fall on deaf ears as she officially goes straight off the deep-end. Spike doesn’t want to implicate Rarity, however, as he doesn’t want to lose her friendship, even as she disrupts the town. By the time he considers destroying the book a-la The One Ring, Rarity’s paved the streets golden!
It’s worth noting that this episode directly references an episode of Saved by the Bell called “Jessie’s Song”. In that episode, Jessie is part of a singing group called Hot Sundae, and is using caffeine pills to keep up the demand between that and her studies. Near the end of the episode, Jessie is confronted by Zack, where she breaks out into “I’m So Excited” by the Pointer Sisters before crying out that she’s scared.
While this episode doesn’t reference the moment from that episode (itself a drug addiction episode), it does give it a shout-out through an exchange between Rarity and Spike.
Back to the episode, where Spike moves to get the book away from Rarity. While he initially fails, he gets Owlowiscious to distract Rarity while he steals it away from her, eventually swallowing it just as Rarity decides to expand her work to all across Equestria, poofing a chariot into existence. Spike is amazed she managed such a feat, which makes Rarity realize the book is gone, which makes her quite furious. Spike tries to blame the owl, but Rarity’s discovered she doesn’t need the book, and starts to go global as the spell remains active while she delivers a frightening monologue. Finally, Spike fesses up to Rarity, tells her that while Rarity was indeed changing things, she wasn’t making them better. He didn’t want to say the truth because he wanted to remain a support friend in her eyes, but instead, he’s let her become something awful. And it’s this spilling of the truth which breaks the spell, which was established early on to only set the user free when someone tells them the truth. When Rarity learns what happened and why, Spike explains what she did and that he didn’t want to hurt their friendship by telling the truth, to which Rarity replies, “You should never be afraid to tell me the truth; we’re friends, remember?”
We end the episode thus with the moral that being a good friend means being honest with them. Well, that, and you should never take a book from an ancient library in an abandoned castle without permission.
All in all, when I revisited this episode for this review, I am amazed how well it holds up. While the comedic bits between Spike and Owlowiscious do wear thin after a while, it’s solid moral and spookily-well done premise more than make up for it. If there’s anything to take away from this episode, it’s the fact you can in fact tell a serious story with a serious message and still make it appropriate for children without lessening the impact. This episode managed to be one of the best allegories of addiction ever made in children’s fiction, and the fact it has the confidence to reference a show over ten years older than it shows just how much it managed to do better.
To those of you who are skeptical of this series purely because of its name and legacy, I challenge you to watch this episode and tell me with a straight face that you didn’t enjoy it, because I damn sure did. Who knows? Maybe I’ll make this a weekly column, now that Season 5’s soon to return.