Actually, Twilight Sparkle, I’m the main singer tonight (Sleepless in Ponyville)

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“Do you know what Freud said about dreams of flying?
It means you’re really dreaming about having sex.”
“Indeed? Tell me, then, what does it mean when you
dream about having sex?
“Uh… where are we going?”
“We are already here. It has begun.”

It’s December 8, 2012. Rihanna and her “Diamonds” still top the music charts, while the top movie is Skyfall. In the news, the Syrian civil war continues to worsen, prompting the U.N. to withdraw from the country; the U.S. Supreme Court agrees to hear two major gay-marriage cases on California’s Proposition 8 and the federal government’s DOMA; and massive protests against a power-grab by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi result in him withdrawing the decree expanding his power, but continuing with efforts to revise the country’s constitution.

On TV, we have Corey Powell’s debut writing effort, “Sleepless in Ponyville,” directed by James Wootton. Powell’s other two credits, “Just for Sidekicks” and “Rainbow Falls,” are respectively mediocre-bordering-on-bad and mediocre-bordering-on-good, and his initial effort splits the difference. The episode contains nothing objectionable, has a few mildly amusing moments, and a fairly interesting interpretation of Luna, but overall, it trudges where it should fly and squawks where it should sing.

At the core of the episode are a series of dream sequences, triggered by Scootaloo’s fears of looking vulnerable in front of Rainbow Dash, in which Scootaloo encounters the monsters from Rainbow Dash’s campfire stories. While these sequences have some nice touches, such as the return of the fear trees from the series premiere and the relatively subtle appearances of Luna prior to her full reveal at the end of the second dream, they are overall quite pedestrian. They are straightforwardly linear, with none of the surreal imagery or disjointedness of real dreams. To expect otherwise would, of course, be unreasonable in most children’s shows, but given that this is a show that has done “Return of Harmony” and “Too Many Pinkie Pies,” at least a touch of something odd and out-of-place would seem reasonable. Instead, the dreams are fully coherent, excessively so for dream sequences–even Twilight’s imagination spots in “Lesson Zero” were more dreamlike than this!

The revelation of Luna’s role as a protector of dreams somewhat salvages them. Luna is not too different from a pony version of the main character of Neil Gaiman’s famed Sandman, Dream of the Endless–haughty, mysterious, impulsive and yet bound by complex rules. Gaiman’s character is also the Lord of Stories, which fits with Luna’s role as the initiator of the series, its first antagonist; in a way, she encompasses all the stories it tells. However, as this episode demonstrates, stories aren’t dreams; dreams are disorganized, chaotic things, while stories are products of craft and art, deliberately and consciously constructed. Scootaloo’s dreams are too coherently a part of a story, and thus do not feel like dreams at all.

If only the rest of the episode suffered from coherence! Unfortunately, it does not; Scootaloo’s fear is of being rejected by Rainbow Dash, but her dreams do not particularly reflect this, which would partially justify their excessive straightforwardness. The first dream, in which she is pursued by “the olden pony” looking for her “rusty horseshoe,” comes closest to reflecting that fear. The olden pony, in demanding something of Scootaloo that she does not possess, can, with a stretch, be viewed as signifying Rainbow Dash’s unintentional demand that Scootaloo show a fearlessness she does not feel. To a lesser extent, the threat of the Headless Horse, as expressed by Scootaloo in her second dream, is that Scootaloo will “never be heard from again,” that is, not die, but be silenced and erased.

But these links are fairly tenuous, and so instead we get Luna spelling out Scootaloo’s “real” fear–which again makes no sense. If her fear is not of Rainbow Dash’s stories, but that Rainbow Dash will see her fear, where is the fear coming from that she’s afraid Rainbow Dash will see? And then she has a third dream, in which the olden pony chases her again, only to be fended off–not by Scootaloo or Luna providing the rusty horseshoe, but by Rainbow Dash. The implication is that it’s Rainbow Dash who must provide the thing that Scootaloo lacks and Rainbow Dash wants, which would make total sense if this were a Rainbow Dash-centric episode–but it’s not. Except for that one moment, the entirety of the episode and all of its character development (indeed, even the overwhelming majority of individual shots) are focused on Scootaloo.

More inconsistencies abound. How does Rainbow Dash know where to find Scootaloo when she wanders off into the woods? Why has Sweetie Belle suddenly lost the ability to sing? Why is Rarity willing to go camping, and why does she treat Sweetie Belle so callously and cruelly along the way? Even the episode’s ending, in which Rainbow Dash agrees to become a surrogate sister for Scootaloo, is never followed up on in their later interactions, and runs counter to Lauren Faust’s assertion that Rainbow Dash would be a terrible big sister. (Although, to be fair, the lack of later follow-up itself is consistent with that assertion.)

Basically, this episode is a mess of thematic incoherence and character inconsistency that has been entirely ignored by later episodes despite containing what could have been an extremely significant development in character relationships. At the same time, well, there is much, much worse to be found in Season 3. I’ve already excoriated one episode from this season, and am likely to be quite harsh regarding a couple more, so the question is, is there a redemptive reading available for this episode?

And there actually is one, suggested by the last major incoherent element: the episode title. “Sleepless in Ponyville” implies, well, Ponyville, yet the episode is set almost entirely in the woods outside Ponyville. How to reconcile that? Well, the complaint about the dreams was that, taken individually and in isolation, they were too coherent, while the episode as a whole in incoherent. But what if the entire episode is a dream? Scootaloo is in Ponyville the entire time, her apparent sleeplessness itself part of a dream she is having in Ponyville, an incoherent working-through of her jealousy of her friends’ relationships with their big sisters, her hero-worship of Rainbow Dash, and her fear of not measuring up to Rainbow Dash’s standards. In that regard, the ending of the episode, in which Rainbow Dash takes Scootaloo flying, takes on a new and rather bittersweet meaning: it is Scootaloo taking a first step toward acknowledging her disability. She cannot fly, and on some level knows that she will never fly under her own power, yet her hero-worship of Rainbow Dash demands that she dream of flying. Her answer, then, is to dream of her hero carrying her.

The way she dreams her friends is also telling: they are quietly obedient to their sisters, a relationship Scootaloo doesn’t really understand. Apple Bloom’s normal chatty dominance of every situation she finds herself in is absent, as is Sweetie Belle’s flair for performance and dramatics, allowing, just for once, Scootaloo to take center stage. Even the Princess of the Night takes a personal interest in her–and note that it is the princess who was broken, but has been repaired, who appears not the proud, unbending, outwardly flawless one.

This is what Scootaloo dreams of. To be the special one, to have a sister, and in the end, above all, to fly. Isn’t that what everyone dreams of?

Next week: Now this is more like it!

2 thoughts on “Actually, Twilight Sparkle, I’m the main singer tonight (Sleepless in Ponyville)

  1. As much as your dream theory is brilliant the show DOES acknowledge their relationship in the one episode both Scootaloo and Rainbow Dash are in focus. Flight to the Finnish has Rainbow drag the other CMC members from the train back to Scootaloo just to make sure Scootaloo isn't left behind. She comforts her when Scootaloo seems to have lost a sense of hope. She doesn't directly say “we're sisters” but neither would Applejack or Rarity in a similar situation. The unaffiliated coach doesn't go that out of her way, which is why Rainbow didn't do something earlier when she was trying to be “professional”.

    As for Sweetie Belle and Rarity, Rarity doesn't dislike camping because she doesn't like nature mostly. She dislikes camping because it's a lot of hard work. Sweetie Belle really wanted to go camping and Rarity was willing to go with her if Sweetie Belle did most of the work. The song Sweetie was singing was “100 bottles of Pop on the Wall” a song that's meant to be a terrible time waster, and Sweetie Belle sung it as such.

    And Luna being a bit less broken here works for me. She sees Princess Celestia doing her duties constantly with an air of dignity and grace. When she's acting as Princess to her subjects she mimics her older sister's behavior… Like the CMC mimic their older inspirations.

    Like

  2. I dunno, that seemed like something Rainbow Dash would do for anypony. She has something of a saving people thing, y'know?

    But VERY good point about Luna imitating her older sister. I'm not sure where I suggested she should be “broken,” though? We've already seen her starting to adjust in the Nightmare Night episode, which is over a year ago at this point.

    Like

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