Friday, July 20, 2012

Fluttershy and the Virtue of Friendliness: Part 1

      Putting Your Hoof Down: Character and Plot Overview


Before I get to the episode, allow me a few words of introduction for the character of Fluttershy. She is timid in temperament and extremely shy. In fact, she frequently seems apologetic for even getting into a conversation (consider the number of times she says “um, excuse me, you wouldn’t mind…”). Overall, she displays an extreme sensitivity in her relations with the other residents of Equestria. Among the Main Six, she exemplifies the Element of Kindness (or good will). She goes out of her way to be agreeable to everypony and to avoid causing offense. Another notable trait is her love of animals. She keeps several pets, including one rather mischievous rabbit ironically named “Angel.” She enjoys singing with the birds.

In short, Fluttershy is a very likable character. In many ways, she reminds me of St. Francis of Assisi, famous for his gentle nature and fondness for animals.

But, of course, Fluttershy is no saint and, like the other Main Six, betrays flaws that sometimes lead to conflict. As I mentioned before, she’s not very brave (even her own shadow sometimes spooks her), the complete opposite of Rainbow Dash, who is daring if not foolhardy. (In Fluttershy’s defense, when pushed to the brink, she unveils her special ability: her stare.)

You wouldn't want to be on the business end of this...

In “Putting your Hoof Down,” FS’s agreeable disposition morphs into the vice of obsequiousness, which she unfortunately attempts to overcome by taking on the opposite extreme of disagreeability. Now, Fluttershy has had a few outbursts before, but these moments were rare. In addition, the short-lived turn to cruelty instead of kindness in “The Return of Harmony” came entirely from Discord’s influence (notice that she didn’t initially fall for his trickery).

                            A Summary of the Plot and Some Random Commentary

The episode begins with Fluttershy in her secluded cottage feeding all her pets – and she does indeed have many pets! She keeps several rabbits, rats, skunks and squirrels, but one rabbit in particular, named “Angel,” is rather close to the yellow pegasus. He’s also a picky eater and the local grub just isn’t cutting it for him, so he demands that Fluttershy make him a special salad with a cherry on top. Since FS doesn’t want Angel “to starve,” she sets out to the marketplace in search of the necessary ingredients.

Angel the Bunny, aka Mr. Picky Pants

Fluttershy isn’t in the marketplace for very long until we start seeing hints of her problem. She’s waiting in line to buy some asparagus and several ponies begin taking advantage of her unfailing politeness to cut in line. Fluttershy isn’t fond of confrontations so she avoids complaining. Then when two valley ponies from somewhere in Las Pegasus spring up as if out of the ground in front of her, Fluttershy finally appears to summon the courage to stand up for herself. But when the valley ponies start talking in their west coast speak about having their “personal space” invaded, FS just backs away.

"And then I was, like, OMC!"

Luckily, just nearby Rarity and Pinkie Pie, two members of the Main Six clique, happen to be hanging out and they watch all the events unfold. Rarity offers some advice, telling Fluttershy to “stop being such a doormat, a pushover.” Both Rarity and Pinkie Pie then start trying to teach by example. Rarity uses her marely charm to convince some skinny nerdy stallion to part with the last asparagus.  Next, Pinkie Pie uses her Bugs Bunny negotiating skills to convince a seller into bringing down the price for tomatoes. Of course, the usefulness of this lesson for Fluttershy is questionable at best, as she hasn’t a clue how to flirt or haggle. Thus, the last cherry eludes her clutches and she returns home to make an incomplete lunch for Angel.

Angel doesn’t take kindly to eating his favorite salad recipe without a cherry and literally kicks both the bowl and Fluttershy out of the house (yeah, he’s like that sometimes). Lying on the ground outside her door, Fluttershy laments her “doormat” status until a letter arrives, advertising an “assertiveness seminar” led by Iron Will.

The Fluttershy Doormat, by Hasbro!

Fluttershy swears an oath to Celestia to stop being a pushover and heads on over to the seminar. After some ponies attending slap her around, FS manages to find a comfortable spot face-first on the ground just behind the large rabble. Iron Will, a minotaur and not a monster, makes a testosterone-charged presentation. He’s Hulk Hogan, Mr. T, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, Johnny Bravo and Hercule from Dragon Ball Z all rolled into one! Promising to turn anypony from a doormat into a “lean, mean, assertive machine” and “pitying the fools” who doubt his methods, Iron Will calls out a volunteer from the audience for a demonstration. Fluttershy is the lucky winner and she goes up on stage. One of the goat assistants blocks her path and after unsuccessfully trying to walk around him, Fluttershy gets some encouragement from Iron Will… in the form of a little nudge. FS knocks down the assistant and then proceeds, with IW’s urging, to sort-of harshly criticize him (“um, next time get out of the way!”).

Why would Fluttershy even need "assertiveness training" with smiles that can melt the heart of anypony?

Fluttershy proves a quick study of Iron Will’s techniques and the next morning she is ready “to attack the day.” It doesn’t take long for the “New Fluttershy” to strike. The gardener Mr.Greenhooves overwaters FS’s plants and instead of kindly pointing out his mistake, she gives him “the once over.” Excited by her newfound boldness, Fluttershy heads over to the bridge into Ponyville. Bon-Bon (the mare of a thousand voices) and Cherry Berry block the bridge with their garbage carts and their mule jokes. But when somepony tries to block, the New Fluttershy shows them that she rocks… by dumping trash onto both background ponies!

You're making her angry, you won't like New Fluttershy when she's angry!

Fluttershy, triumphant in the Battle of the Bridge, moves on to Sugarcube Corner, where her friend Pinkie Pie runs the confectionary store. Once again, a pony cuts her in line, but this time, Fluttershy is more forceful in pointing out the injustice. She growls at the mare to get back in line! The offender follows suit as do the rest of the ponies already in front of FS. Now, Fluttershy is first in line! Pinkie Pie and Rarity (who pops in out of some void) are pleased with Fluttershy’s new attitude. But when FS misinterprets Pinkie Pie’s laughter as aimed at her, she takes out her wrath on Pinkamena’s bowl of punch!

Fluttershy leaves and hails a taxi. Yet again, a pony tries to take advantage of Fluttershy by getting in before her (what a day!). But Fluttershy takes what is hers, beats up the stallion and kicks him out. Before leaving, she declares to friends and strangers alike, “Nopony pushes new Fluttershy around!”

Now all of a sudden, Rarity and Pinkie Pie are not so thrilled…

Pinkamena and Rarity are shocked, shocked by New Fluttershy! 

The next morning, Fluttershy is more aggressive such that even her disobedient animals begin to fear her. The day is hers, she says. Nopony is going to take it from her! Not the farsighted mail pony (shades of Derpy), who delivers the wrong letters to FS’s house. For his indiscretion, FS stuffs him into a mailbox. Also feeling the blown fuse of new Fluttershy is a random tourist pony looking for a watchtower landmark, who asks the pegasus for directions. When FS drops a letter into a puddle, she takes out her anger on the tourist, sending him flying into a hay pile.

New Fluttershy is not satisfied with the mail pony...

Pinkie Pie and Rarity finally confront Fluttershy and tell her that she’s taken her assertiveness too far, that they’d like the old, nice Fluttershy back. But FS will not listen and instead accuses her own friends of wanting to push her around like a doormat. She even gives Pinkie Pie and Rarity the most unkindest cut of all (at least as far as this show is concerned), personal insults meant to wound. Pinkamena is the pony of very little brain, partying away her life. Rarity is “petty,” concerned with nothing but fashion.

New Fluttershy takes it out on her friends

Seeing her friends running away crying appears to wake Fluttershy from her unpleasant slumber. “I’m the monster,” she says as she slowly paces back to her cottage in a manner reminiscent of Bruce Banner hitchhiking at the end of The Incredible Hulk episodes from the 70s.

Fluttershy begins to rethink the whole assertiveness idea...

Rarity and Pinkie Pie return later to Fluttershy’s cottage to make amends, but Fluttershy refuses to open the door, afraid that she might turn into the Incredible Hulk again… or perhaps just say more things she will regret later.

But the pair has bigger problems on their hooves as Iron Will shows up to collect payment for his assertiveness training. After attempts to stall by Rarity and Pinkie Pie meet with failure, Fluttershy emerges to face Iron Will. However, instead of surrendering her bits over to the minotaur, FS stands up for herself, this time without the nastiness displayed earlier. She finds a technicality in Iron Will’s promotion she can use: “100% satisfaction guaranteed.” Well, Fluttershy is “not satisfied” with Iron Will’s advice, simple as that. As the minotaur is a rational creature and not really a monster, he can do naught but walk away. Thus, FS saves the day with no broken bones or hurt feelings!

I pity the fool who doesn't get all these references!

Fluttershy apologizes for her rudeness and the trio embrace, still friends. 

P.F.F (Pony Friends Forever!)

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