• "Rainbow Falls": Episode Followup

    When Rainbow Dash touches down, the ground is already shaking. Everypony in Rainbow Falls is roaring with approval, their hooves outstretched towards her, the sky, and the timer that’s egging them all on from the center of the pitch. She’s just flown one of the fastest steepleflight splits in history and, with fractions of a second to spare, put the team from the town of Ponyville on her back and qualified for the Equestria Games.

    But even as the shouts and cheers wash over her, even as Spitfire and the other Wonderbolts walk up to congratulate her, Rainbow’s thoughts are on something else. She’s the reason Ponyville was able to qualify, but she wouldn't have even had the opportunity to try without her flightmates. From across the pitch, Bulk Biceps strides solemnly forward, parting the crowd with ease as Fluttershy follows close behind him. As Spitfire smiles and starts to talk, Rainbow Dash raises a hoof right in her face, sidesteps past her, and meets Bulk halfway.

    “You,” he growls, raising his foreleg to point at her nose. A moment later, the leg drops, and he smirks. “You’re still dangerous,” he admits. Caught up in the emotion of the moment, he can’t bring himself to say it, so Fluttershy puts a hoof on his shoulder and says it for him.

    “You can be our wingpony anytime,” she says. Rainbow takes one last glance back at the Wonderbolts, then turns back to Fluttershy and shakes her head. Earlier today, she wouldn’t have thought twice about leaving her team behind for a chance to join the fastest ponies in Equestria. Now, though, she couldn’t imagine flying with anypony else.

    “Horseapples,” she says with a grin. “You guys can be mine.”

    I’m Aquaman, this is the “Rainbow Falls” episode followup, and if you aren’t listening to Kenny Loggins right now then I have nothing else to say to you. Let’s take off.

    “I call this one ‘Punch McSquatthrust’, and the other one ‘Sir Liftington of Smashtershire’.”

    I bet none of you noticed that Angel was standing next to Fluttershy right as the episode began. This is because it takes about three seconds for Bulk Biceps to shout him all the way back to Season 2.

    Celestiaspeed, you furry little tyrant. Celestiaspeed.

    Meanwhile, Rainbow Dash’s insistence that “it’s gonna take more than muscles and ‘YEAAAAHs’” to get them to the Equestria Games is great for two reasons: 1) it’s a clever callback to Bulk’s prior appearances in the show that doesn’t depend on him just shouting that himself, and 2) Rainbow Dash is awesome enough to boss around a pony who looks like what would happen if Yaplap started wrestling with a thousand-gram tub of creatine.

    “I’m not gonna tolerate any slacking or goofing off from you two! I expect you to take our training regimen one hundred percent seriously!”

    “You hear me? One hundred. Percent. Seriously."

    I tend to rag on Fluttershy a bit for being a one-note character, but dangit if she doesn't go full-metal lovable when the need arises. Even this early on in the episode, you can tell that she’s not really that into the whole “drive our competitors before us and hear the lamentations of their fans” thing, but she’s still willing to take one for the team so her friend can accomplish her goal. Way to be loyal there, Element of Kindness.

    “Verily, to frolic have her exultations compelled me,” Bulk Biceps thought to himself. “And yet circumspect I nevertheless remain. For they say it is we for whom the pink one parties, but might it truly be we who party for her?”

    “BAD NOISE,” Fluttershy thought simultaneously. “WANT BUNNY.”

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    I’ve heard a few people say that the cold open here wasn’t strictly necessary for the episode’s plot to work, but I see this less than explicitly part of the plot structure and more as just a framing device, which is really all a cold open needs to be. All of the pieces involved in the episode’s major gags and primary moral concern are moved into place here, and once the episode begins in earnest, they can start shifting around in whatever direction the plot needs them to move. Granted, its execution isn’t completely flawless, but it’s not like it’s pointless either. Besides, those two minutes were plenty of time for Dash to take a commanding lead in this week’s round of the EFC (Epic Face Competition), so really it was worth it just for that.

    “Man, that is one fine hunk of horse over there. You don’t look bad too either, Bulk.”

    I’m still pleasantly surprised by how much mileage they get out of the Ponyville Express train in this show. It seems like one of those things that would normally just be a one-off toy plug that the Hasbro execs mandated, but the writers seem to have adopted it as the de facto mode of transportation for the Mane 6. Not exactly the most masculine design ever, but hey, at least it’s not Applejack’s truck.

    That’s full of Apple Family Apple Brown Betties, of course. And the spinal columns of the last six ponies who refused to try one.

    There’s an new twist to the Games that's brought up in this episode: each pony can only compete in one event, which is why Rainbow’s forced to resort to two admittedly weak fliers for her relay team. I’ve never encountered a competition like that in my own athletic career, but on the other hand, it’s interesting that the Equestria Games aren’t necessarily a direct parallel with the Olympics. It leaves more room for the writers to explore their options with how to work the Games into individual episode plots. In any event, Blossomforth’s voice is great and I want to hear it say more words sometime, even if they aren't coming from Blossomforth’s body.

    I’m pretty sure there’s something else I’m supposed to say here about Thunderlane, but I’m totally blanking on what it is. I’m sure it’ll come to me eventually.

    Now that we’re up into title card territory, this feels like a good place to give a shout-out to this episode’s writer, Corey Powell. Known primarily as the mind behind "Sleepless in Ponyville" and "Just For Sidekicks", she tends to excel at writing for characters like Scootaloo and Spike that most other episodes don’t even include at all, let alone focus on. Given her treatment here of Bulk Biceps, Soarin, and… y’know, that other horse whose name I can’t recall (man, I’m just terrible today), it seems that trend is alive and well.

    “I still don’t see why you can’t fly on our relay team yourself, Twilight.”
    “Because Equestria Games Committee regulations specifically prohibit government officials and Equestrian royalty from participating in the Games, in the interest of preserving the integrity of the competition.”
    “You just made that up so you don’t have to admit you still can’t fly.”
    “And also because you have no way of proving that before registration closes.”

    Seriously, though, as weird as their relationship is at times, Fluttershy and Bulk Biceps really do work well together from an interpersonal standpoint. Fluttershy’s always been comfortable in a submissive, nurturing role, and Bulk Biceps seems like the kind of guy who needs a pony like that to tell him which way is up.

    It’s the other way, Bulk. For pony's sake, we went over this.

    AJ talking about carbo-loading is making the former swimmer and triathlete in me very happy. It’s just another reason why she’s the best pony in Ponyville, and I am in no way being bribed, coerced, or threatened with bodily harm in order to ensure that I share that opinion with you all.

    Have I mentioned how delicious and nutritious Apple Family Apple Brown Betties are? Buy some today. Please.

    And here we have our first establishing shot of Rainbow Falls, which appears to be a town all its own as opposed to just a scenic location for the Games qualification to take place in. You can’t see it in this image, but the actual qualifying pitch is on a lower plateau that ends in a dropoff just like the one on the right side of the town itself. Makes you wonder what kind of natural events could’ve caused the mountainside to take on that staircase-like shape, or whether the entire place is pegasus-made for some reason related to the collection of liquified rainbow deposits, or whether I’m just doing that thing where I read entirely too far into a cool cartoon setting again. The possibilities are limitless.

    And I think we should definitely keep discussing that, and not whatever’s implicitly going on in the background here.

    We can definitely talk about the fact that griffons are competing in the Equestria Games, though, not only because it’s one of the incredibly rare times we actually see them appear in the show, but also because it seems to imply that some of them live in Equestria somewhere, or at least close enough that they’re allowed to field a team for the Equestria Games. I don’t know what part of me it is that insists these three here know their way around Stalliongrad, but I like that part and I think I’m going to listen to it.

    Pegasus warmup routines will never fail to confuse me.

    I’m not sure what the logistics are behind the Wonderbolts flying for Cloudsdale, but I suppose it’s not out of the question that it’s kind of just home base for every pegasus in Equestria. Plus, the Wonderbolts kind of just do whatever they want. They’re the Wonderbolts. Who’s gonna stop ‘em?

    What Rainbow Dash calls “personal space”, Fleetfoot calls “team-building territory”.

    “Methinks the pink one seems unconscious of our plight, Fluttershy.”
    “Indeed, my reticent friend. Indeed.”

    Three things:
    1. That’s a pony version of the trainer from the movie Rocky in the center.
    2. That’s yet another background alicorn off to the left.
    3. That’s what looks an awful lot like some foreshadowing in the foreground that most of us probably missed during our first viewing.

    Extending upon point #2 for a minute, though: if we’re going to try to explain the non-zero number of times alicorns have popped up as background ponies in this show, we probably have to assume that being an alicorn isn’t completely unheard of in normal Equestrian society. Because of the fact that alicornism does seem to be inherently linked with princessism, though, perhaps there’s some social stigma about alicorns that they’re supposed to be physically and intellectually gifted above most other ponies. Truth be told, it’d probably suck to be a sole non-regal alicorn living among normal ponies. Unless you have a black-and-red mane and happen to be the long-lost sibling of one of the Mane 6. For some reason, everything always seems to work out for those guys.

    “I told you, Cloudchaser. I told you a hundred times that if you kept showing off how you can bend yourself in half backwards, you’d get stuck like that.”
    “Thanks for the tip, Nostradamus. Now shut up and call an ambulance.”

    And now for another brief word from our sponsor:

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    You know, it’s one thing to not have much endurance or struggle with sloppy form, but let's be real here: if you can’t even hold onto the baton/magically magnetic horseshoe, you're pretty much beyond all salvation. That’s not even Relay Racing 101, Fluttershy. That’s, like, Remedial Basic Motor Skills. Even Bulk Biceps passed that, and he only got through the Walking In A Straight Line unit by shouting at the guard rails until the instructor left the room with a headache.

    And then there’s Rarity.

    It might just be me, but I seriously feel bad for Rainbow Dash in this episode. Being on a team that you know is physically inferior to your opponents is an awkward, awful situation, especially if you’re friends with your teammates and have to be really subtle about the fact that all you can really do is try hard, have fun, and hope the opposing coach puts the second-stringers in after halftime.

    You can’t see Rainbow Dash gritting her teeth here and praying for an unexpected heat death of the universe, but it’s happening. I guarantee it.

    And with a single fleeting glance and a grin down at the cheerleaders, Soarin invalidated an entire wing of the brony fandom’s Shipfic Library. Given that he’s one of like six male characters in all of Equestria, though, it’s probably not exactly a tragedy that he’s a fan of the ladies, as far as that whole “propagation of the marshmallow pony species” situation goes.

    “I wish I didn’t know how to quit you, Braebuuuurn!”

    I’m just gonna let The Hub take care of captioning this one for me.

    Pegasi seem to have this weird tendency to be really insanely durable in every place except their wings. It makes sense given what we can of their external anatomies, but it does make you wonder how much of Rainbow Dash’s insides are made of sugar and sunshine versus pure adamantium.

    “You gentlemares appear distraught over the impairment of your comrade. Allow me to alleviate your consternation with a brief session of therapeutic screaming.”

    On the one hand, Spitfire is an immensely accomplished adult mare with a take-no-crap attitude and both the bureaucratic authority and the physical capability to justify it. On the other hand, her voice cracked so badly when she suggested that Rainbow could compete for Cloudsdale that the offer essentially came out as a squeak, and now all I want to do is grab her and squeeze her until that noise comes out again.

    “Look, you know I’d swap sides and chill with you guys in a heartbeat, but that dude back there could fold me into a paper football and I’m not entirely sure Fluttershy would stop him. So if we could just, like, extend the trade deadline for a couple hours or something, that’d be peachy.”

    Nice (and well-warranted) callback to 'Wonderbolt Academy" there, Spits, but I have a couple questions. First of all, wasn’t Bulk Biceps accepted into the Academy too? And two, stop being so adorable. That wasn’t a question, but it still needs to be addressed.

    “We’re here to eat pie and win the Equestria Games, kid.”
    “I have no idea what that means.”
    “And we just lost Soarin.”
    “I can’t feel my face.”

    Again, athlete part of me coming out again, but I’m really not too bugged by Rainbow Dash’s choice here so far. Her friends wanted to represent Ponyville well, but they also understood that Rainbow was a lot more invested in the competition than they were. At this point, she’s just taking advantage of the chance to work out with the best in the business. Or, in the words of Allen Iverson: “We talkin’ 'bout practice.

    ”Rainbow, Rainbow, she’s our mare! If she can’t do it, no one… uh…”
    “This was a lot easier with that Gary Oak kid.”
    “Yeah, it really was.”

    “Pull his hoof, Fluttershy?”
    “W… w-what?”
    “Pull his hoof. You gotta get the baton!”
    “Oh… sorry. My mistake. For a second there, I thought you were trying to make a joke about

    (I was.)

    The point has been many times by many people that this episode hearkens back to “Sweet And Elite” in a lot of ways, particularly in how Rainbow Dash tries to be in two placesand kind of be two different poniesat once. The stakes aren’t quite as high in this one, given that Rainbow Dash is just waffling over her final choice right now rather than expressly trying to do both, but the similarities are definitely there all the same.

    (Gotta say, though, the fact that the Wonderbolts have matching aerial feed bags has gotta be a plus.)

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    Looks like Rainbow Dash got over that whole thing about ponies touching her hooves. Also looks like ponies generate electricity by attaching butterfly clamps to unicorn’s horns and rubbing them on shag carpet or something, because I have no idea what else that thing is supposed to be plugged into out there.

    “It’s two hours to final call, we got a full Cloudsdale relay team, half a bottle of hoof wax, it’s broad daylight… and we’re wearing flight goggles.”
    “Hit it.”

    Meanwhile, Corey Powell couldn’t be shipping these two any harder if she stenciled product numbers on their butts and stuffed them into FedEx boxes.

    So now with the two-sided training montage over and done with, Twilight finally brings up the fact that it’s kind of obvious Rainbow’s playing for both teams at this point in the episode. This is actually a welcome change from the “Sweet and Elite” formula: this way, the major conflict in the episode isn’t over whether both parties will find out that they’re being played, but rather which one Rainbow Dash will ultimately choose to side with. Getting the liar reveal out of the way this quickly, so to speak, puts the focus more squarely on her and her internal moral struggle. It’s a nice touch, not to mention one that’s probably more suited to her character. After all, Rainbow Dash and subtlety probably aren’t the best of friends, and the same can be said for her teammates and their prospects of qualifying for the Games without her.

    Case in hilarious point.

    Twilight’s guilt-tripping of Rainbow over her decision is probably warranted but still pretty harsh, especially when she gives Dash the cold shoulder after she asks for advice on what to do. Plus Pinkie Pie could totally cheer for Rainbow Dash wherever she ended up, but I digress. The last point Twilight makes is the important one: at the end of the day, it’s all about the Apple Brown Betties.

    “Applejack said I have to sell five hundred Apple Family Apple Brown Betties before sundown, or she’ll never tell me where she buried my parents.”

    Thankfully, when faced with the choice of who she’d rather leave hurt and disappointed, Dash comes up with the perfect solution: when all else fails, fake a horrific injury and disappoint everyone equally.

    Hey, it worked for Ricky Bobby.

    Rarity just realized Rainbow Dash won’t be able to compete in Equestria Games qualification, Pinkie Pie just realized she never actually dyed her hair to look like that, and Twilight just realized no one’s seen Fluttershy or Bulk Biceps for forty-five minutes.

    Rainbow’s little mumbled excuse she tries to slip past everyone here is just one of the many reasons I find her so entertaining. The fact that she’s so bad at lying and yet constantly tries to anyway is somehow really endearing, and the fact that Pinkie Pie completely buys it just doubles the fun.

    “I got just the thing to cure what ails ya: an Apple Family Apple Brown Betty!”
    “Seriously, AJ, I’m not
    “Eat the Apple Brown Betty, sugarcube.”
    “I will literally cut you, sugarcube.”

    And then there’s Rarity.

    And y’know, there are a few other things that happen in this scene, like Bulk Biceps trying to squeeze his round body through a square hole, and Fluttershy giving him a cute little smile that she’s pretty sure nobody noticed. (Spoiler alert: We noticed. All of us noticed, Flutters.) But really, none of you care about that. There’s probably a good number of you that didn’t care about anything else in this followup other than the part I’m about to reach. So without further ado, I’ll stop leading all you poor souls on and get down to brass tacks.

    Let’s talk about Derpy for a bit.

    She’s kind of a big deal.

    So let’s start with the obvious: Derpy’s entered the show with a flourish again, and while she wasn’t explicitly named at any point, there’s no question that she was included specifically as a big ol’ nod to the brony fandom. And as you may seen either on Twitter or right here on EqD, she’s apparently here to stay for the rest of the season too, which at this point could mean anything from a return to her prior status as a background easter egg in some episodes, to a full-on recurring role in one or more episodes down the road.

    Ever since she was first officially canonized in "The Last Roundup", Derpy has undeniably had quite a controversial history with regard to how the showrunners can portray her while remaining in good straits with Hasbro, us, and the rest of their viewers. I highly doubt we’re going to see anything close to the backlash she got the last time she popped into frame, especially since she wasn’t given any chance to say anything that could cause a backlash here. Instead, I think the show staff have found a comfortable middle ground for her: they never explicitly reconfirmed her fanon name, but they also didn’t give her a different new name to placate some undetermined minority that might be offended by what we prefer to call her.

    Regardless of what the future ultimately holds for Ponyville’s resident wall-eyed mailmare, I think we can all agree on one thing: Meghan McCarthy all but flew a prop over Los Angeles with a banner reading “WE’RE BRINGING DERPY BACK” earlier in the week. Tweeting about knowing the exact moment bronies were going to freak out on Saturday? Musing about getting muffins the day before the episode premiered? Real sneaky of ya, Meghan. Never change.

    Now if someone could just peel Derpy off the ceiling and get her heart rate back down into double digits, we’ll be good to go.

    Getting back to the episode, though, the scenes following Derpy’s introduction are where Corey’s signature talent with minor characters and intimate (platonic, of course) moments really shines. Aside from Fluttershy’s awareness of what she presumes is Rainbow Dash’s crushing disappointment, we also get a quick but surprisingly heavy-hitting glance at how Soarin’s been doing this whole time, and how both his team and the audience watching kind of let him fall by the wayside. Part of me is convinced I’m reading too far into things again, but I honestly think that there’s something really touching about the conversation Rainbow and Soarin have about what their teammates want from them and the realities of the world they both live in as top-tier athletes. What with how dopey and lovable he is, I really wouldn’t mind seeing Soarin show up a couple more times this season too.

    “... man, I am trippin’ MAJOR haystack right now.”


    I want to imagine that Twilight’s “no offense” comment to Derpy after she says their relay team still doesn’t have a shot at qualifying has a double meaning. Let me rephrase that, actually: I want to believe it does.

    “I ain’t even mad, homes.” - Derpy Hooves, 2014

    “You know, Pinkie, the Lorax DID warn you abo
    “One more word, Twilight. I swear to Celestia.”

    And then there’s Rarity.

    You know what’s nice? The fact that Rainbow Dash doesn’t wait to be found out by all of her friends before she admits to her deception. She doesn’t even break it up into individual conversations; she just comes out right and tells everyone all at once. Smooth move.

    “Nothing is over until WE decide it is! Was it over when Germaneigh bombed Pearl Harbor? HAY no!”

    And even with the secrets and lies (it’s just all secrets and lies with these ponies, y’know), everything works out in the end: Soarin gets his spot back on the Cloudsdale squad, Rainbow Dash just barely manages to secure Ponyville a spot in the Games as well, and the stallion manning the timer just looks dapper as all hayfire the whole time.

    I mean, seriously, would you just look at this suave motherhubber. I’m gonna call him Split Second. Let’s see if that sticks.

    Also, this happened. What’s the over/under on what the meme for this episode’s going to be? I feel like I’ve got a pretty decent shot at guessing now.

    “Applejack, darling, I’ve been meaning to ask: what IS in these Apple Brown Betties anyway? And didn’t you say Apple Bloom came with us to see Rainbow Dash?”
    “She did.”
    “Well, then why haven’t I seen her?”
    “You have.”

    It’s worth pointing out that in the medal ceremony after qualifying’s over, the griffon team we caught a glimpse of early on in the episode appears to have finished second behind the Wonderbolt squad. Interesting connotation about pony/griffon physiological relations there. I’m also pretty sure this is the largest crowd in the foreground that I’ve ever seen in this show, so that’s pretty neat too from an animation standpoint.

    Also, on the subject of Dash’s concluding entry in the Mane 6’s journal, I don’t think the Rainbow Dash we first met in Season 1 would’ve made that kind of choice. In addition to “Sweet and Elite”, this episode also hearkened back a whole lot to "Wonderbolt Academy", not just in lip service but in the sense that Rainbow Dash has matured a lot from the headstrong, somewhat self-centered prodigy she used to be. It’s always nice to see an athlete with a healthy sense of perspective in the real world, so seeing Rainbow Dash follow that ideal here is pretty great too.

    And because we can’t possibly leave a single episode this season without an ending stinger, have what’s very likely a nod towards this mysterious “Rainbow Power” concept we’ve hearing about. Might this have something to do with that box Twilight found in the season premiere too?

    Well, that about wraps things up on my end. I’d offer some substantive summary of the episode as a whole now, but I’m going to refrain from that for two reasons: 1) I’m pretty sure I already covered up there everything I would’ve just repeated down here, and 2) it’s 8:30 AM, I’ve been working on this thing for eight straight hours, and I would very much like to go to bed and/or die as soon as reasonably possible. Until next time, that’s all I have to say about that. You may now proceed to paste your own reviews and manifestos into the comments section below. Good hunting. I’m out.

    ~ Aqua