At first, I wasn’t sure if this episode would even have anything to DO with Rainbow Dash. Sure, with the word “Rainbow” in the title, one assumes, but then I thought, well, “Rainbow Falls” sounds like a place. So who knows! Maybe it’s about the place and not her. Turned out it was both.
Right off the bat, we have the return of Snowflake.
I know, I know… he’s officially been given a name now, and that wasn’t it. Bulk Biceps isn’t a bad name, really, but I have to say, I think Snowflake is better. So I’m gonna keep calling him that, at least for the length of this review. It’s not like you can stop me anyway!
I really like how we have this continuing arc with the Equestria Games. In this kind of show, it’d be really easy for that to just be a thing that is brought up in the one episode (season 3’s “Games Ponies Play”), and then just kind of slip away. We used this idea to drive the story in that one episode, and that’s it. But instead, we’ve had not one, but two season 4 episodes acknowledging that it’s still happening, it’s still coming, and it’s a big deal.
Of course, while I’m patting them on the back with one hand for this sense of continuity, I’m slapping them across the back of the head with the other for forgetting that Snowflake Biceps can fly just fine. We saw him do so in his debut way back in “Hurricane Fluttershy”, and then again in “Wonderbolts Academy.” Why was he in that episode, again? Oh, that’s right; he was a Wonderbolt Cadet. Yet all of a sudden…
My friend J. Allen (who also writes things. Things you should read!) commented that maybe he can “fly in short bursts, but anything requiring finesse or grace is just beyond him.” Which almost kinda works – I doubt it’s what the show’s creators had in mind (it’s quite likely they simply forgot or goofed or even just didn’t care about this little inconsistency), though it’s a bit shaky with his Wonderbolts appearance, since you’d think he was a stronger flyer than what we see in this episode if he made it that far.
Overall, I’m willing and able to just shrug and move on when it comes to this particular nit. So! Having shrugged, we move on.
Rainbow Falls (talking about the place now, not the episode… note the lack of quotes) itself deserves mention, because it was gorgeous. Really cool location, conceptually as well as visually.
Background ponies! There were several in this episode, including Lyra & Bon Bon sitting on a bench, and a Flitter+Cloudchaser sighting!
She really likes showing off that famous flexibility, apparently. Now all we need is Blossomforth to turn herself into a pony pretzel again.
It was cool to see Fleetfoot actually talk this time. She strikes me as a less disciplined, younger Spitfire – similar drive, determination, and raw talent, but younger and less experienced, and more prone to risky, headstrong behavior, of the kind that would have Spitfire having to pull her back a bit every now and then, while telling Fleetfoot that she reminds her of her own younger self.
Wow, that was much more detailed than I thought it would be. I should write a Wonderbolts fanfic, apparently. Anyway.
Soon enough, the ‘Bolts are trying to convince Dashie to sign on with them, at least for the duration of the practice sessions. Now, from some corners, I heard complaints that Rainbow’s character arc for this episode is too similar to the one in season 3’s (excellent) “Wonderbolts Academy.” I disagree. It wasn’t so similar that it felt like a retread – in fact, I’d say the callbacks to that episode were intentional and well-executed. This didn’t repeat the character development of WA, it complemented it.
“Wonderbolts Academy” was entirely about her relationship to the Wonderbolts as an organization, and how that relationship was brought into question by the seeming rewards given to the pony who was advancing her own status at the expense of those around her. Spitfire was representing the official policy of the Wonderbolts. Furthermore, Dash’s loyalty to her friends was not in any way a part of that episode’s story, whereas it was at the core of the story in “Rainbow Falls”. This time around, the Wonderbolts weren’t being examined organizationally, or in terms of how they reward ponies for what kinds of actions, but in terms of what happens to the personalities of these ponies who join them and basically become celebrities (and in this case, we were seeing this unfold during a time when they weren’t acting AS “The Wonderbolts”, per se). And Dash had to make a more direct choice between loyalty to her friends and to her dream. I also really like the fact that they didn’t have Twilight just tell Dash “Hey, this is wrong, you need to fly for Ponyville!” Instead, she says, I can’t help you or decide this for you, only you can do that, forcing Dash to face what she had done and come to terms with it. The “choice” in WA wasn’t really a choice at all. Her friends showed up out of nowhere, which she wasn’t expecting, and were falling to their death; of course she was going to save them, and it was that incident that really brought into much sharper focus her misgivings about what was going on with Lightning, and the perception she had of how the Wonderbolts viewed such recklessness. And, one could still take that action (saving those you consider friends from peril), but in the larger sense, choose the dream over the loyalty – she could have thrown herself into the Wonderbolts 100%, moved back to Cloudsdale, etc. She could have removed herself as an everyday part of the lives of the rest of the mane 6 in order to truly pursue that dream. But she didn’t do that, and in RF, no one is in any danger, and when she has to make a conscious, reasoned choice between the two, we see that she DOES choose her friends, and during her journal entry at the end, she states – with no ambiguity and no reservations – that winning plays second fiddle to her friends. Would she have been able to just come out and admit that so openly and easily in season 1? I don’t think so, personally. What we’ve been seeing is a continuing development arc for this character, in particular with respect to how her once-all-encompassing desire to join the Wonderbolts interacts with everything else that goes on in her life. Increasingly, it’s seeming like ultimately joining that organization may not be what she ends up doing, or even what she most wants to do. We’ll see what else happens going forward.
I also really liked the little bit of character evolution we got for the three Wonderbolts themselves in this episode. Without going too deep into the subject (because it is still a kids show, and it’s easy to imagine that this is an area where they’d want to tread carefully), it did bring in the downside of being a celebrity. Soarin may have slipped, just a bit, enough that the other two – caught up in the expectations of their own fame and talent – jumped at the chance to replace him with someone that was on his level, at the very least. They lost sight of the fact that he was their friend and teammate, and deserved better than that, to say nothing of the fact that he clearly was able to come back sooner than anyone else realized, but they basically lied to him in order to hold onto the new and exciting thing that had entered their field of vision – that thing being Rainbow Dash. And of course, Dash, for her part, got caught up in the hype of the entire situation right along with them, as she had always been wont to do when it comes to the ‘bolts.
Rainbow’s solution to feeling like she can’t choose between her loyalty to the Ponyville team and the opportunity that Spitfire and Fleetfoot are presenting her is to choose neither, and fake (in hilariously – and Dashingly – over dramatic fashion) an injury to get out of the training sessions entirely.
While in the hospital, she encounters Soarin, and the whole thing unravels, but not before Fluttershy and Bulk Snowflake show up to inform her that they have found a replacement – after a fashion – to fly in Dashie’s stead on the Ponyville team. And then, the door opened, and as Meghan predicted, bronies everywhere no doubt lost it.
This was a fantastic moment to suddenly have her show up again after what turned out to be a relatively brief absence (the last time we saw her, of course, being the small appearances in “Magical Mystery Cure”). And yes, she was absolutely heart-meltingly adorable with her little flag and big smile and squeeee
Ahem. Anyway, her conversation with Soarin’ leaving Dashie even more confused, we see that the Ponyville team’s chanced for qualifying are not too good with the loss of Rainbow Dash – a fact which Derpy takes in stride when Twilight points it out, which was a fun little moment. Of course, Dash does ultimately come around, and she more or less takes the Wonderbolts with her as they come to realize what it is they were doing, and that they didn’t so much care for it after all. Their team makes the cut easily, surprising no one, but then, with Rainbow Dash back in play, the Ponyville team just barely manages to eke out a good enough time to qualify, with the cheering section led by Twilight, her descent into fashion madness now complete.
I’m told this is a Lollipop Chainsaw reference, in which Tara Strong also does voice work. I’ve never played LC, so I can’t say too much about that, but it’s certainly, ah, quite an… ensemble.
There was lots of other fun stuff in this episode, too – more than I can reasonably name here, really. Overall, this is a fantastic example of what this show is like when it really fires on all cylinders, with a lot of great humor, a fun story, and a nicely crafted bit of character development for Rainbow, with a well-earned positive ending.
“Rainbow Falls” earns a 10.