Can conveniently credible Fluttershy deliberately dissemble long enough to save her friends?
The two part story brings us the most carefully crafted and fully realistic villain of the series, a person so confident she is doing good that she can’t see she’s walking the edge of doing evil. The previous episode saw Starlight Glimmer steal the cutie marks of the Mane 6 and we find them imprisoned in a room with brainwashing patter over loudspeakers. Weak and unable to use any real magic, they cannot escape, and will not be released until they accept their enforced equality. Of the group, only Fluttershy had previously publicly demonstrated that she thought the townsfolk were friendly and nice. When Twilight realizes that only Fluttershy might credibly be thought to have converted, they task her to pretend so. When Fluttershy is tentatively accepted, then quizzed to point out who of the townsfolk had wanted their cutie marks back and is later made to stay in Starlight Glimmer’s home, she begins to worry if her delicate constitution is up the role of savior. When an opportunity literally stumbles in front of her, will she be able to swoop down to take it?
The first episode carefully sets up a morally questionable leader who helps emotionally distraught ponies by providing them a choice to magically give up their cutie marks (read: their individuality) in return for a shared mediocrity and a sense of comradeship easily mistaken for friendship. We learn clearly during this episode, in a frustrated tirade after being rejected by the townsfolk, that Starlight Glimmer considers that she was doing good things and that her brand of equality benefited everybody. It was the arrival of Twilight that changed the equation, bringing the possibility that if she could convert a Princess of the realm to her form equality, she might attract thousands not just the few dozen that had come to her. Not stated, but well implied, is that hosting a Princess also brought a risk that the moral iffiness of her practice might lead to banishment or arrest. It’s in this framework that she crossed the line and stole the Mane 6’s cutie marks.
This episode shows Starlight Glimmer’s entire moral creation unravel. Never having had to deal with ponies that did not choose to relinquish their cutie marks, she ineptly tries brainwashing. While it’s questionable it could work at all, it begins to widen a growing gulf between her and the townsfolk. When Double Diamond brings Starlight Glimmer the stolen cutie marks, that she worries the Princess might want hers back leaves him wondering why his leader is worried, and sets him thinking about what might be wrong. Keeping Fluttershy close inadvertently provides her a glimpse of Starlight Glimmer’s Achilles’ heel: that Starlight Glimmer retained her cutie mark and that her talent is removing cutie marks. When Fluttershy just barely successfully reveals Starlight Glimmer’s cutie mark under a painted equal sign cutie mark, the fact that she had lied about using her cutie mark talent and covered it up with a fake magical staff is enough to make the townsfolk rebel. It’s not the criminal act of stealing the Mane 6’s cutie marks, but her hypocrisy that destroys her.
In a final complication, Starlight Glimmer escapes. Unlike Queen Chrysalis from A Canterlot Wedding pt 2 or Trixie from Magic Duel, Starlight Glimmer has clearly lost but is neither punished nor diminished in power. In this, she is like only one other villain, Sunset Shimmer, who is eventually redeemed in Rainbow Rocks. It would be a shame if Starlight Glimmer did not return in another episode.
What to watch for (or comment upon):
- Tweets. Is Fluttershy a social network newbie?
- How does Twilight remind Fluttershy to follow the plan?
- Where do laughs come from?
- Look for Fluttershy’s Spidey powers.
- In what episode did Fluttershy have better aim with a bucket of water?
- What is Party Favor’s talent?
- What is Applejack’s special talent?