Saturday, 4 June 2016

Episode review: "Flutter Brutter"

As early as season 5, news abounded about an episode where we learn about Fluttershy's layabout brother. Considering the increased prominence of Pinkie Pie's family since then, curiosity has been high about the families of Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash, the only members of the mane six whose families we haven't seen. Now "Flutter Brutter" has finally arrived, months after news of it first surfaced, and it turned out about how I expected it to: a solid Fluttershy showcase with an entertainingly loathsome new character and a solid moral. Perhaps next we can see Rainbow Dash's family! 
Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash are having lunch with Fluttershy's parents when they learn that her brother, Zephyr Breeze, is once again freeloading off of them. Zephyr is lazy and conceited, carelessly damages his mother's garden and clears out his father's cloud collection, and flirts obnoxiously with Rainbow Dash. However, due in part to his distinctive personality and to the episode's fast pace, his bad behaviour is entertaining, which is good, because he's present for a good deal of the episode. That he's tolerable does rest more on the pacing and humour of the episode than on his personality, because he's generally unlikable, but later events in the episode demonstrate that the character has some deceptive depth. I might actually like him. 

Fluttershy knows that her folks mean well, she's frustrated that they're allowing him to push them around. This leads her to stand up to Zephyr, which helps her parents ask him to leave and find somewhere else to live, which turns out to be Fluttershy's cabin, much to her dismay. Fluttershy allows him to stay on the condition that he finds a job, a task that Fluttershy chooses to help him out with by having him work with her friends. Unfortunately, Zephyr dodges all of the work that Fluttershy's friends put him to, leading to Fluttershy kicking him out. However, Fluttershy regrets her decision when she sees Zephyr struggling to live out in the woods, unable to find anywhere else to live. 

It's here that Zephyr has a change of heart, and it's also here that he becomes more than a mere hate sink. As it turns out, his bad attitude was borne from a fear of failure. If you never try, you can never fail, so he simply chose not to try. This doesn't really account for his gross flirting or his lack of consideration for others, but it does go quite a way towards making him more sympathetic, especially since he has a genuinely relatable plight and a believable reaction to such. His time in the woods gives him a change of heart, and he finally commits to working hard and accomplishing something. I think that being robbed of his support network and forced to face his insecurities really woke him up to his challenges and to the necessity of overcoming them. This hidden depth and character development turns an initially easy to hate character into one that I genuinely wouldn't mind seeing again. 

Meanwhile, Fluttershy is in top form here. One of season 6's biggest strengths, Rainbow Dash aside, is putting characters back on even ground. Fluttershy especially has struggled from flanderization and stagnation, but "Flutter Brutter" emphasizes her increase in assertiveness without detracting from her caring nature. She wants to help Zephyr, but she's not willing to let him walk all over her like he does her parents. This makes for a really strong character showcase, as Fluttershy's responses to Zephyr demonstrate both her growth and the core traits that make her so likeable. Similarly,  the contrast between Fluttershy and her parents is a great way to emphasize her character development, because it underlines her assertiveness and thus emphasizes her character development. Fluttershy's parents are even bigger doormats than she once was, and as a result, she comes across as stronger by comparison. After the weakness of Rainbow Dash's character showcase and the tedium of Applejack's, it's nice to see Fluttershy's work out so well. 

Much like "Applejack's 'Day' Off," "Flutter Brutter" is built like an episode from an earlier season. Whereas the former ultimately failed to pack enough laughs or depth to carry its lighter tone, the latter takes advantage of this simplicity to provide a fast-paced, character-driven, humorous episode that is very reminiscent of season 2. It doesn't reach the heights of season 2's best episodes, but it does resemble the mid-quality episodes that kept S2 afloat between its peaks. After a season which has largely consisted of either more complex episodes or overly lightweight episodes, this basic character showcase is a delightful change of pace as well as the strongest episode of its type this season. 

There's also a song here, but although it reinforces the main theme about Zephyr needing to try even though he's afraid of failure, it's ultimately fairly bland. The harmonies are as lovely as ever, but it's not especially catchy, and the melodies, while charming, feel very squarely within the show's comfort zone. For all of the show's improvements in season 6, the music is one thing which hasn't bounced back. It needs to move further out of its comfort zone in order to be interesting again. 

"Flutter Brutter" isn't the season's best episode, but it's easily the most satisfying Fluttershy episode since at least "Keep Clam and Flutter On," if not even since the excellent "Hurricane Fluttershy." Zephyr is an interesting and entertaining character, the lesson is worthwhile, seeing Fluttershy's parents is neat, and most importantly, the entire episode is a phenomenal character showcase for Fluttershy. Zephyr still has room to grow, but he has the potential to be a legitimately great character, and Fluttershy's better here than she has been in years. It's yet another great entry in what's shaping up to be a legitimately good season, and I could not be happier for it. 

Now, can we get a solid Rainbow Dash episode up in here? 

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