Saturday, 2 April 2016

Episode review: "The Gift of Maud Pie"

In season 5, one of the stand-out episodes was "Rarity Investigates!," which set the under-used pair of Rarity and Rainbow Dash against the mutual achievement of their dreams. Although it was a thoroughly entertaining episode on its own, there was also a subtle level of pathos in the two's mutual respect for each other, especially with Rarity demonstrating how much she cares about her friend. "The Gift of Maud Pie" takes what worked in "Rarity Investigates" and rebuilds it around Rarity and Pinkie Pie, while injecting it with the new confidence and vitality that was demonstrated in the season 6 premiere, "The Crystalling." In other words, season 6 continues to impress.

In "The Gift of Maud Pie," Pinkie Pie joins Rarity to Manehattan, where she intends to open a new boutique. Although Pinkie is happy to be joining her friend on a business venture, she's also vacationing with her sister Maud, who greets them at the train station. This vacation is part of a tradition that Pinkie has where she spends a day with each sister, and Pinkie's worried about not having a good enough gift for the day's gift swap. The plot unfolds from there in a slice-of-life fashion, focused more on Pinkie's gift-buying panic than on Rarity's new boutique.

While Pinkie's hyperactivity is a little more aggressive  than it was in season 5, it's still grounded in the situation at hand and Pinkie's own emotions. While she's a bit too enthusiastic about getting Maud "the best gift ever," it's clear that this is driven by her love for her sister, even if the direction she takes it in is misguided. The main lesson here is that gift-giving isn't a competition, but although Pinkie views it as such, she only wants to top Maud's gift because she wants to match the quality of gift that she feels Maud got her. Attaching this worthwhile message to a character who's merely misguided rather than one who's missing the point entirely allows it to resonate more, and further demonstrates the show's sudden leap in maturity and nuance.

The deadpan humour that accompanies Maud is further refined here, but "The Gift of the Maud Pie" uses her as more than just a source of comedic relief. Like in season 5's "Hearthbreakers," Maud is fleshed out, and her own affection for her sister is palpable despite her emotionless mannerisms. Her dialogue is structured so that what she's actually feeling is apparent, and the episode never relies solely on the disconnect between her emotions and her expressions for comedy. Later in the episode, Maud tone of voice even changes a bit as she expresses concern for Pinkie.

In order to get what she believes is the perfect gift for Maud, Pinkie ultimately gives up her party cannon, an object which was previously only ever used for visual comedy. Not only is this cannon finally addressed as an object, but it's discussed that Pinkie has a strong attachment to it. While this is our first time really understanding that attachment, it's treated like something the characters already knew about, and both Rarity and Maud are distressed by the news that Pinkie would give it up. This subtle character-building is rapidly becoming one of season 6's high points, and giving new context to recurring elements is exactly what the show should be doing at this point in its lifespan.

Rarity, meanwhile, is a bit more hyperactive than usual, but the episode does show a strong understanding of her characterization at this particular moment. As was seen in "Rarity Investigates!," much of her uptight snobbishness has worn off, to the extent that, at one point, she imitates Pinkie Pie's usual hyperactive nature without question. Also like "Rarity Investigates!," she very clearly cares about her friend, and although it's less prevalent due to Rarity's plotline not being the episode's focus, Pinkie clearly cares just as much about Rarity. The Pinkie/Rarity dynamic isn't quite as solid as the Rainbow/Rarity dynamic, but it's still excellent and fresh, especially in how their different personalities complement each other rather than contrast. The two characters' development lends itself well to stronger dynamics, as each have become more receptive to the other's personality.

But, much like "The Crytsalling," what makes "The Gift of Maud" so excellent is how all of these great aspects come together with humour and heart, and how the episode never feels scattershot or messy. It will be a good thing for this season indeed if the season makes that something to be expected rather than to be praised. "The Gift of Maud" is set in a living universe, and in this living universe it expands on a touching family relationship while also delivering a nuanced take on a strong theme. Rarity is great, Pinkie is great, Maud is great, and most importantly, the episode itself is definitely great.

If the show continues like this, I might need to reconsider how I conclude these reviews.

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