Sunday, 16 December 2012

Review: "Wonderbolts Academy" (S3E07)

Rainbow Dash in her Wonderbolts cadet uniform
How does she get away with a manecut like that in the military?
This was a really interesting episode. Very different to what I was expecting, certainly. I liked a pony I thought I wouldn't; I didn't like a pony I thought I would. Merriwether Williams isn't my favourite MLP:FiM writer, as a rule, but maybe she's come up trumps this time. Let's get going with the review and find out! Join us after the cut for more.

The pony I unexpectedly liked was Rainbow Dash; this was one of her best appearances. We saw several sides of her in this episode, starting off with her love of pranks when she (briefly) pretended not to have been accepted to the academy. Then she became full-on brash Rainbow, full of confidence and with more than a touch of arrogance about her, something which allowed her to pal up nicely with Lightning Dust -- of whom I'll talk a bit more later on. The scenes with the two of them at their fastest were undeniably impressive.

But when it comes right down to it, Rainbow Dash represents the element of loyalty. She both played her part as wingpony honourably and — later on — put her friends first, saving them from being "smashed to pieces" with an absolutely awesome bit of high-speed cloud-condensing. (This makes sense: Dashie is an accomplished weather pony, after all.) Rainbow stood up to first Lightning Dust and then Spitfire over this; I'm sure it was the fact that it was her friends who were at risk that really brought things home to Dash. This more mature side to her character was a nice follow-up to last week's episode.

Spitfire at her desk
I want whoever installed these blind-pulls fired now
I didn't like Spitfire, who played (a TV-Y version of) the sort of Full Metal Jacket drill sergeant I've always deeply disliked. I don't know why the US military (specifically) requires recruits to yell "YES MA'AM" at the top of their voices, but it grates quite a bit. I wouldn't have minded Spitfire being tough and demanding, but she was teetering on the edge of being a bully in the early scenes, surprising when we've only recently seen an explicitly anti-bullying episode. To give her credit, she did accept Rainbow's arguments in the end. Oh, and I liked her phoenix cutie mark.

Pinkie was... Pinkie. Probably a bit overdone for what wasn't much more than a bit part -- and yes, Pinkie can be overdone! The PinkieDash shippers will have a field day with how obsessed she was at not getting a letter, too. There was an interesting throwaway reference to Celestia teaching Twilight "new spells"; I hope that had some real meaning. And the scene where the ponies were caught in mid-air was amusing, especially the unimpressed look on the face of the pony who realised that Fluttershy was a pegasus and could easily have flown for herself! Oh, and the blackboard with cutie marks for names was nice.

Lightning Dust, then. She was basically what Rainbow Dash would be if Dashie didn't have her friends around her to keep her... well, "grounded" isn't the right word for a pegasus, but you know what I mean. Lightning did have a great character design, even if she was a bit of an idiot, and if there's some way to get her back in the future, I wouldn't be surprised if it happens. I did like the way that she bucked open the mess hall doors at one point; there didn't seem to be any handles on said doors, so maybe that's how you're supposed to do it. I'd love to know what happens if somepony is coming the other way, though!

Lightning Dust offers Rainbow Dash a hoof-bump
Out-brashing Rainbow Dash must be an Academy record in itself
The ending came as a real surprise to me. Right up until the last few moments, I was fully expecting the story to be that Rainbow had seen what the Wonderbolts Academy had to offer, and was impressed, but that the lure of being with her Ponyville friends was too strong. Instead, she stayed on, and that brings with it all kinds of questions about her future in this season. Three options present themselves: she makes it as a Wonderbolt, she doesn't, or she goes CMC and ends up in a permanent quest for her cutie mark Wonderbolt status.

It's really hard to arrive at a rating for this episode, since I loved some parts and had little enthusiasm for others. (Roid Rage? Meh.) It's probably not that far off the mark if I say that I would have awarded 9/10 for the Rainbow stuff, 7/10 for the Mane Six stuff and 5/10 for the Spitfire stuff. The only straightforward thing I can do to get a single score is to take an average, so that's what I'm going to do. That makes this a good episode, and probably Rainbow's best sustained showing since "Read It and Weep"... but it's not quite classic material.

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