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|Keep the Rainbow, she’s here for the Rocks.
It’s March 15, 2014. The top song is “Happy.” It is by Pharrel Williams and not rock music. The top movie is Mr. Peabody and Sherman. I only go to movies about rocks. There is news. Sbarro’s goes bankrupt. They make pizza. The best pizza ovens are made of rocks. Rockets are fired into Israel from Gaza. Rockets are not tiny rocks. I will never make that mistake again. Tasmania and South Australia have state elections. Mt. Augustine is the largest rock in the world, but it’s in Western Australia. Some people say Uluru is the largest rock but they are wrong.
This episode is “Maud Pie.” It was written by Noelle Benvenuti. She has no other credits in television or film. It introduces Maud Pie. She is Pinkie’s sister. She always speaks in a comedic monotone. She is quite terse. She takes things literally. She is difficult for the other ponies to get along with.
She is the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen (let me put it this way: I forgot this episode had Tank in it) and there’s no way I could keep that up for an entire essay, nor am I so cruel–or so enamored of Maud Pie–that I would inflict it on you even if I could.
Maud is a fascinating character, one who catapulted quickly to immense popularity after this episode, despite this being her only major speaking role to date. The reason is simple: she is hilarious, quite simply the funniest thing on the show to date.
Analyzing humor is both notoriously difficult and somewhat dangerous: rather like mystical experience or a game of Mau, to over-explain the rules is to kill them. But the most striking thing about Maud is that there really is only one joke to her: she is extremely deadpan while saying and doing very odd things. This episode, effectively, is a series of escalating gags in which Maud does something strange while showing no apparent emotion. The excessive flatness of her affect serves to emphasize the strangeness of her behavior by contrast, and this dissonance creates the humor.
It is interesting to compare her to another character who has extended the same joke across several entire seasons of another show, Parks and Recreation‘s April Ludgate. As played by Aubrey Plaza, who is an absolute master of this kind of humor, Ludgate is a cynical, angry loner who uses her deadpan comments about death, suffering, and her hatred of all humanity as a defense mechanism against engaging emotionally with the people around her. Her relationship with the goofy, childlike, playful Andy (Chris Pratt) is the key to the other side of her, the genuine emotion hidden under the snarky shell, but she still generally maintains the same way of communicating. The primary difference once Andy is in the picture is that she participates willingly in his ridiculous games, because that’s how she shows that she loves him.
The similarities to Maud are quite noticeable, with the major difference that Maud isn’t a cynic (which is to say, a disappointed romantic defending against further disappointments), so she has a very different set of odd statements for her particular form of the joke. In her case, the oddity contrasted with her deadpan delivery is twofold: a passionate interest in rocks, and a unique aesthetic that values directness and simplicity–thus, wearing a dish towel as a scarf because he likes the pattern of stains on it, smashing apples instead of peeling them, or–best of all–her poetry, which consists entirely of brief declarative sentences about rocks. This distinction makes sense; after all, Equestria is a far less cynical place than Parks and Recreation
‘s Pawnee, Indiana.
Nonetheless, it is understandable why the Mane Six (Pinkie Pie excepted, of course) don’t like her: one of the few traits shared by all of them is emotional availability. All of them are quite expressive of their feelings and generally willing to talk them over with others. Maud’s comedic lack of affect and tendency toward terse statements that shut down conversation are both anathema to the relational styles of the other ponies. Compound that with the way her mode of enjoyment of shared activities clashes with theirs (most obviously, that she easily beats Rainbow Dash in their competition yet does not care about winning), and a clear personality clash is afoot.
Unfortunately, that is where this episode commits its one major stumble. As I have alluded to before, I believe quite strongly that Friendship Is Magic needs to counteract the notion that friendship is therefore mandatory, because that is both a very prevalent and highly toxic notion, particularly among young girls. I want an episode that ends with a character writing, “Today I learned that sometimes two ponies will never get along, and that doesn’t mean that either one of them is bad. They just don’t go together, like chocolate ice cream on a pizza. It’s okay to be friends with someone that doesn’t get along with your other friends, as long as you make time for each of them. And it’s okay to not be friends with someone the rest of your friends like.” This episode comes as close as any has yet to expressing this concept, but fumbles the landing: instead of concluding that it’s okay for Pinkie’s Ponyville friends to not get along with Maud, so Pinkie can spend her time with Maud and then go back to her other friends, they instead abruptly decide the exact opposite, that their shared caring for Pinkie Pie ought to be enough common ground for them. In other words, after an entire episode of setup for the lesson that Friendship Is Not Transitive, they declared by fiat that no, actually, it is transitive.
Still, it is a stumble, and one more to do with my wishes for the show than an actual flaw in the episode. Maud remains an extremely entertaining character, and the episode is still a great deal of fun. Sometimes, that’s enough.
Next week: Dream on.