Sunday, 7 May 2017

Episode review: "Parental Glideance"

There's a reason humour is my highest priority in this show. A funny or cute episode with narrative inconsistencies, a predictable storyline, or flawed characterization is still a funny or cute episode, whereas a boring episode with zero inconsistencies, is still a boring episode. The wonderful "Parental Glideance" is a strong example of that, demonstrating how energy and charm can overpower even a weak moral, and while I can't help but feel frustrated with the direction the moral took, everything around that is so plainly entertaining that it's still hard to resist. The fact is, I'll take a fun episode with a weak moral over yesterday's dull episode with a strong moral, and getting some lovely new characters in the form of Rainbow Dash's parents certainly helps.

When Scootaloo is researching for a school project on Rainbow Dash, she visits Rainbow's parents in Cloudsdale, who proceed to tell her all about their daughter's life before Ponyville. While there, she discovers that the couple didn't know Rainbow became a Wonderbolt, and although Scootaloo is excited to break the news to them, she soon finds that Rainbow is less enthused, and in fact finds her parents' loud support highly embarrassing.

Introducing Rainbow's parents follows a surprisingly consistent motif of familial relations this season, and it's also the last of the mane six's families we had to meet, since Fluttershy's parents were introduced last season. What makes these ponies, named Bow Hothoof and Windy Whistles, so delightful is just how much they care about her daughter, and while they obviously go overboard, their noisy behaviour hits the sweet spot where it's easy to understand why they irritate Rainbow so much but it's not unpleasant to watch them. The other Wonderbolts all adopt knowing grins whenever the parents show up, and combined with the upbeat music choices and the couple's unabashed sweetness, they're nearly impossible to hate no matter how loud and overbearing they get.

I think part of this comes from how the episode makes clear that they're not bothering anyone other than Rainbow herself, who doesn't outright tell them to stop at first. The episode is asking us to be amused by something which Rainbow doesn't like, and while I do have some problems with that, the episode never depicts them a mere nuisance like Pinkie in "Rock Solid Friendship." It's easy to understand where they're coming from, and they're ostensibly not causing Dash much more than embarrassment and mild irritation, and so the context provides little cause for secondhand embarrassment. Furthermore, the episode is rife with creative visual gags, ranging from the reactions of other ponies to Rainbow's parents to the parents somehow bringing a firework cannon to a show. All this creativity prevents the episode from becoming tedious, which it easily could have been in lesser hands.

While Scootaloo's project ultimately doesn't have much to do with the story, she maintains a consistent premise, and she's even the first pony we see in the terrific cold open, where she literally slingshots herself up to Cloudsdale. She's every bit as obsessive as she was in the past, and like Rainbow's parents, she's made a lot less irritating than she might have been simply because her admiration comes from a nice place and her obsession leads to silliness like squealing so sharply that she breaks Windy Whistles's plates. I can't help but question whether her attitude towards Rainbow is healthy, but she's sufficiently adorable in this, and one of the more interesting moments in the episode comes from when she's disappointed in Rainbow's reaction to her parents. We still haven't met Scootaloo's absentee family, but we get just a slight hint of her lonely home life, and having her in an episode about Rainbow's family simply feels right.

Rainbow herself is at her best here, balancing the expected degree of egotism with her frustrations and just a hint of humility when needed. As proud as she is of her accomplishments (and she has every right to be!), she wants to earn those boasts, and so the fact that her parents praise even her failures is deeply frustrating to her. It makes sense that such a supportive environment would push her to feel good about herself, but also that she would push herself hard to actually earn all that praise, just as it makes sense that Rainbow, being so sensitive about her image, would be bothered by anything which could be construed as embarrassing. Best of all, Rainbow doesn't even need to be told the moral before she understands it. All she needs is the confirmation that she has disappointed someone who looked up to her, and that's exactly how a Rainbow Dash episode should work.

All of that is excellent, but I simply cannot accept that Rainbow was wrong to feel embarrassed by her parents. While nobody thinks less of her because her parents are so supportive, it's not hard to understand why she's so bothered by them, and the episode never really acknowledges that they are overbearing, that they should back off just a little. That bad blood between them and Rainbow didn't come from nothing, and while part of it does come from Rainbow not fully appreciating their support, their antics are something which anyone would be at least a little bothered by. Sure, they're not helicopter parenting or anything like that, but there's no reason they couldn't support Rainbow without all the megaphones and fireworks, and I'm not sure the show should be encouraging this kind of behaviour, as benign as it might seem.

But it's not a bad moral, especially because obnoxious support is still a form of support, and it's something which ought to be appreciated even if the form it takes leaves something to be desired. Scootaloo's presence helps with this regard, as she confirms that her parents are somehow not around to give that support for her, and so Rainbow should realize how lucky she is to have such loving parents. The thing is, Rainbow expresses early on that she loves her parents, so it seems that her needing to learn to appreciate them simply means that she's not allowed to criticize them for not giving her some space, which is clearly the real problem. It's nice to encourage children to appreciate their parents, but those parents should also respect their children's feelings.

Even with those issues, however, "Parental Glideance" is exactly the surge of energy this season needed, and as an introduction to Rainbow's parents, it exceeds expectations. It intelligently paints a nuanced relationship between Rainbow Dash, her parents, and even Scootaloo, and is able to mine a lot of emotional depth even if its moral is heavily flawed. Rainbow's parents are adorable, and although I still wish for her to show a little more humilty sometimes, Rainbow's better here than she's been since early season 4. It's just a fun episode with a lot of smart touches to its characterization, and its moral isn't nearly bad enough to ruin that. Just a delight all around.

Entertainment: 9/10
Characters: 9/10
Themes: 6/10
Story: 8/10
Overall: 80/100

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