My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and all the images you see in this recap are owned by Hasbro.
Episode directed by Denny Lu and Tim Stuby
We’re back with another episode of It’s A Wonderbolt Life! Now I haven’t had the most flattering things to say about the episodes that focus on Rainbow Dash as a Wonderbolt, and I think it’s similar to when the CMC finally got their Cutie Marks. I agree that it would be a lot worse if they dragged out the character reaching their goal indefinitely, but the episodes since then haven’t really done a good job of expanding on what their lives are after they’ve gotten their Happily Ever After despite there being plenty of directions for them to go in. Does this episode rectify that issue for the Wonderbolt episodes, or will Rainbow Dash episodes prove to be the low points for the series going forward? Let’s find out!!
The episode begins with Rainbow Dash at the Wonderbolt Academy’s locker room where, surprisingly enough, they AREN’T talking about sexually assaulting other ponies! WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT!?
Revelry is in the air as it’s the end of Spring Training and Rainbow Dash has some plans on how to CHILAX as the kids would say. Nothing could possibly bring down her mood, could it? Oh look! It’s that MacGuffin that only shows up every once in a while and hasn’t really lived up to its potential yet! Sure enough, the Cutie Map summons her to Twilight’s Doom Fortress where she gets her latest assignment. Apparently the map has a sense of humor (or sadism if you prefer) by having her go BACK to the Wonderbolt Academy to resolve some sort of friendship problem. Oh! Is this the chance for Rainbow Dash to finally confess her love for Spitfire!? Speaking of which, what’s she up to right now?
While observing Spitfire doing her R Lee Ermey impression to traumatize the new recruits, the duo come up with a great idea on how to find the one who has the friendship problem! Okay fine, it was all Twilight’s idea, but Rainbow Dash is going along with it! Apparently there’s a classroom portion to the newbie trials that no one likes doing which, as you can probably tell, gets Twilight all starry eyed and instantly volunteers herself and Rainbow Dash to take over that part of the training. That way, she can form close bonds with all of her students and they will confide in her with their friendship problems! Easy enough, right?
So maybe it wasn’t THE BEST idea to have Rainbow Dash be the TA. At the very least, it becomes clear right away what the friendship problem is this time. Some cocky mother fucker named Sky Stinger (definitely an appropriate name for a little prick like him) who has this all in the bag and is ready to coast his way to glory. With him is his best friend Vapor Trail who he ALWAYS flies with whenever he’s breaking flight speed records. Gee. I wonder where this is going…
After observing these two in action during paired training, it’s clear to both Twilight and Rainbow Dash (though Rainbow Dash does pick up on it sooner) how much of a crutch Vapor Trail is to Sky Stinger; sort of like how Cal Naughton Jr was toe reason Ricky Bobby went from a really good racer to the number one driver in NASCAR. While I would LOVE to see a scene where Sky Stinger is trying to summon Tom Cruise to use his witchcraft to put out invisible flames, Twilight and Rainbow Dash aren’t as interested in seeing him crash and burn; especially if this is what they were sent here to resolve. Now this isn’t a perfect setup (how has NO ONE else ever noticed this and why hasn’t Sky Stinger ever had to fly solo?) but this is a really solid premise for one of these friendship missions! Hell, looking back it might be the best setup since the original Cutie Map episode, which I will remind you had a Pony Cult, communism allegories, and a reeducation center filled with propaganda and torture! Okay, MAYBE this episode won’t be THAT good, but it’s still really great to see the writers tackle something that feels realistic and relatable while also not having a completely obvious and easy fix. Even Twilight and Rainbow Dash can’t agree on how to handle this… though I will say that Twilight’s argument is MUCH stronger than Rainbow Dash’s. The latter is worried about shattering Sky Stinger’s confidence which can be a really tough thing to get over for an athlete (just look up The Yips), but then again it doesn’t look like Sky Stinger has either the skill or the temperament to get very far as a Wonderbolt, so it’s probably in everyone’s best interest to meet this challenge head on which is what Twilight wants to do. That and he’s REALLY mean to Vapor Trail for no reason despite the fact that he says he worries about her.
They end up splitting the difference here and confront Vapor Trail about what the heck is going on between them rather than crush Sky Stinger’s dreams entirely. After some prodding (and a lot of sweating), she tells our heroes the sad tale of Sky Stinger’s troubled upbringing. Okay, it’s not THAT troubled, but compared what we’ve seen from this show already it’s damn near What’s Eating Gilbert Grape in terms of fucked up living situations.
Okay, it’s not THAT bad. In fact, I’m reminded more of the Protestant family from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life; in that these parents seem to LOVE fucking each other’s brains out, but aren’t willing to wear protection so they have too many kids. Needless to say, Sky Stinger gets overlooked quite often which means he has to keep finding ways to get noticed. Normally this manifests as behavioral problems or starting fires, but luckily his friend Vapor Trail keeps him from going down THAT road at least. Vapor Trail, having had enough familial attention from her over-doting parents, decides she’s ready to take on a project and therefore encourages Sky Stinger to fly; secretly helping him out along with way whenever they did so together.
It’s impressive how well they’ve set up the characters and the stakes of the situation when those tend to be the weaknesses of these Cutie Map episodes. True, they aren’t talking to each other which is the most common trope imaginable for these kind of stories, but they went to the trouble to give us a believable reason why Vapor Trail is so invested in this falsehood she’s been living with for so long. Hell, I can look at it and even see it as something less than selfless (I have to keep helping him because if I don’t, maybe he’ll realize he doesn’t need me) which only makes the situation that much more interesting to see play out. Now that Twilight and Rainbow Dash have proper context for the situation, they decide to try and fix this as discretely as possible in the hopes of saving both Vapor Trail and Sky Stinger some heartache. Twilight will take Sky Stinger to cover some fundamental training while Rainbow Dash teaches Vapor Trail to fly on her own so that both have a shot of making it through the trials and get accepted into the Wonderbolt Academy… even if Vapor Trail isn’t as enthusiastic about it, but I’m sure they’ll get back to that later. Needless to say that one of them has a lot of work to do, and the other one… well I wouldn’t say they’re a LOST CAUSE, but they aren’t doing much to prove otherwise.
You can hardly blame him I guess considering he’s been coasting by his entire life without having to work at it. Hell, Maverick was basically the same way only he was actually good at what he did, so what are Sky Stinger’s chances of not living his life as total tool? This revelation, along with Twilight’s clear exasperation at her protégé’s bad attitude, is enough to convince Vapor Trail to blurt out the fact that Sky Stinger sucks. Needless to say that Twilight takes this with all the aplomb and solemnity that the situation warrants.
Naturally Sky Stinger has a total meltdown when he realizes that his whole life is a lie; something that’s totally understandable and absolutely necessary to get his head out of his own ass, but Vapor Trail isn’t taking it all that well so everyone’s feeling a bit bad right now. That, and Spitfire is shitting bricks over two of her recruits now acting like a couple of Debbie Downers.
So after maybe an hour or two of letting these two mope, our heroes go back to their respective pupils to snap them out of their funk and get their heads back in the game; especially now that Vapor Trail has decided she really DOES want to be a Wonderbolt. Okay… well I’m glad THAT subplot just kind of wrapped itself up. Now to get to the important stuff! These two need to make up, and we’ve got to get started on that training montage!
The training montage proves to be a total success as they both start to improve and manage to give each other tips on flying techniques they’re actually good at. Yes. Sky Stinger is ACTUALLY good at something. Who would have thought that stripping him of his cocky demeanor would have let him focus on stuff he’s truly skilled in rather than thinking he’s good at everything!? The training goes so well that by the time they have to take their solo exams, they end up passing with flying colors and both are accepted into the Wonderbolt Academy! And so the episode ends with Twilight and Rainbow Dash finishing their mission while also getting off of Spitfire’s shit list… at least for the time being! Oh, and the ship is most definitely confirmed.
For season that I’ve been pretty nonplussed about, it’s refreshing to get an episode that works so damn well in every aspect; to the point that it’s disappointing the rest of the season wasn’t really up to this level. It’s not even like this is a big event episode or even all that different from what we get from the other Cutie Map episodes. All it needed to do was have interesting characters, a believable friendship problem with pragmatic if not entirely easy solutions, and a few good gags for good measure. THAT’S IT! THAT’S ALL WE NEED!! The only real weakness here is that I felt Vapor Trail’s story was a bit on the weak side, especially with that resolution to her not being all too excited about being a Wonderbolt. A more interesting take would be for her to decide not to follow Sky Stinger into this new phase in his life, or even for her to still be a Wonderbolt but for it to be clear she’s still doing it for him rather than herself. If they hadn’t wrapped it up so neatly at the last minute then I wouldn’t have minded it so much, but even with that this is one of the strongest episodes of the entire season, and even one of the stronger Cutie Map (and even Wonderbolt) episodes. Hopefully the season finale will have just as much going for it as this episode does, and we can end the somewhat ho-hum sixth season on a high note.