Cookie Fonster Reviews Every MLP Episode Part 74: Top Bolt

Introduction / Navigation

< Part 73 | Part 74 | Part 75 >

Season 6, Episode 24

I feel bad that I’ve missed so many weeks when going through season 6! Though my love of this show is as strong as ever, my motivation for writing these posts has decreased over the past few months. That’s how it always is with my ambitious projects: motivation comes and goes in waves, leading to months at a time of hiatus. Once I am done with season 6, I’ll take a break during which I’ll scratch an itch to start a brand new blog post series—I’ll announce what it is later today. (It wouldn’t be quite as long as my Homestuck or MLP post series, but longer than my Regular Show post series.)

Season 6 Episode 24: Top Bolt

In five words: Bookworms discover well-intentioned lies.

Premise: The Cutie Map sends Twilight Sparkle and Rainbow Dash—the Mane 6’s bookworms—to the Wonderbolts’ flight camp, where they encounter two childhood friends in training who have unknowingly been holding each other’s flight skills back by secretly giving boosts.

Detailed run-through:

Going by the position of Rainbow Dash’s shadow, it looks like her locker is fifth from the right, on the bottom row.
This will be important later.

The start of this episode is a clever bait-and-switch. As she prepares to go back home, Rainbow Dash banters with her fellow Wonderbolts. Spitfire grumbles that she has to run trials week, then admits she loves putting on her aggressive act. This seems like it’ll just be a quick reminder that Rainbow Dash has fully established herself as a member of the group, making viewers think the rest of the episode will take place somewhere unrelated.

Indeed, when her cutie mark starts glowing, she flies right to Twilight’s castle and excitedly asks where the map will take her. It turns out she needs to go back to Cloudsdale, much to her annoyance. Twilight Sparkle could have easily gone there earlier to find Rainbow Dash, but instead she waited for her friend to show up and waste time flying. Maybe this was a deliberate prank on Twilight’s part? Maybe she has a skeevy, trickstery side that she normally hides? Or maybe Twilight was a bad friend and forgot where Rainbow Dash was over the past few days.

Obligatory mention that the third pony from the right was designed and voiced by a fan through the Make-a-Wish foundation.

This scene perfectly captures the feeling you get when you visit a school or summer camp you graduated from and see all those tiny-looking kids being guided by adults close to your age. You now can sympathize with the adults’ stress, and you see all the students bursting with potential—some will realize that potential, some won’t. At least, I’ve had that experience a lot. Not sure about you.

Twilight Sparkle’s bright smile when asking if there’s a friendship problem cracks me up so hard. This scene shows an important trait she and Rainbow Dash share: they’re the most self-absorbed of the Mane 6. Rainbow Dash can’t resist showing off to her mentor-turned-colleague Spitfire, and Twilight Sparkle approaches friendship problems with amusing overconfidence. I’m glad we got a friendship mission episode pairing them up, because their interactions are such a joy to analyze. They’re a dynamic duo consisting of a purple nerdy egghead who loves books, and a blue nerdy egghead who loves books. They rival Applejack and Rarity as my favorite Mane 6 pairing.

Anyway, Twilight’s face lights up when she learns the prospective Wonderbolts are about to do their least favorite part of training: the classroom.

After all this time, Twilight Sparkle is still the cutest dork in the history of cute dorks.

Twilight Sparkle: Thank goodness I had time to whip up a few charts on flight patterns and wing symmetry. It’s fresh in my mind from when I learned to fly. THIS IS SO EXCITING!
Rainbow Dash: Maybe for you. I practically fell asleep when I went through this.

You might think Rainbow Dash hates learning and finds it a slog to memorize information, but that’s not true at all. A classroom just isn’t the right way to get her focused, as shown when she struggled to retain information for her Wonderbolts history test.

Honestly, I have trouble remembering which is Vapor Trail and which is Sky Stinger.

Let’s talk about the writers of this episode. Joanna Lewis and Kristine Songco, the power duo who wrote this and various other episodes mostly in seasons 5-7, have a knack for introducing one-time characters with a surprising amount of depth.* The new ones in this episode are a contrasting pair of wing ponies: a brash and confident boy named Sky Stinger, and a humble and shy girl named Vapor Trail. Rewatching this episode, you can already sense the effects of Vapor Trail upholding her years-long secret: his overconfidence in his flight skills, and her fear that someday the truth will slip.

* The ultimate example is The Perfect Pear, my favorite episode of the entire show. It introduces four one-time characters—Applejack’s parents, Grand Pear, and Burnt Oak—who each have a heck of a lot of depth.

After the class session ends, Twilight Sparkle and Rainbow Dash notice something peculiar with Vapor and Sky.

Sky Stinger is looping in circles, and Vapor Trail is making gusts of wind below him.

Twilight Sparkle: (gasp) I think you’re right. Vapor just created a gust of wind that caught Sky’s wing at a 45 degree angle propelling him into a flipping loop.
Twilight Sparkle: Somepony paid attention in class.
Rainbow Dash: Sky obviously has no idea he’s not actually amazingly awesome.
Twilight Sparkle: And Vapor’s so busy making her friend look good, she’s not focused on her own flying at all.
Twilight Sparkle: (gasp) This must be our friendship problem. And there’s only one thing to do.
Twilight Sparkle: Tell them the truth. / Rainbow Dash: Fix it without telling them.

With Twilight’s skill in logical deduction and Rainbow Dash’s ability to hyperfocus when flight is involved, they’re quick to figure out the friendship problem. The hard part is agreeing on how to solve it, which sets this apart from other friendship mission episodes and gives an interesting moral quandary. The only similar case is when Rarity and Pinkie Pie had different ideas for how to give the restaurant better ratings, but that was because they didn’t tell each other. They proceed to debate over which solution to do, and Rainbow Dash raises a good point that a big portion of flight skills are confidence.

Spitfire: Come on, Vapor Trail! You’re gonna have to build up your endurance if you want a shot at the academy. Wonderbolts don’t get winded.
Spitfire: Angel Wings! You call that cloud busting? That cloud barely knew you were there!
Spitfire: I love my job.

These little asides make Spitfire a much more interesting character than she ever was before. While she truly is a no-nonsense leader, she plays up her brashness when the Wonderbolts are involved. I love when episodes give new sides to supporting characters that aren’t their main focus.

Remember when I said Rainbow Dash’s locker was fifth from the right at the start? Now, we’re back in the same room, and Vapor Trail’s locker is sixth from the right. Does she know her lock is right next to that of the legendary Rainbow Dash? Maybe their names are written in small text on the shield icons… though the more common way to write ponies’ names in this show is to draw their cutie marks.

Rainbow Dash: Hey, you did great. You’re a really strong flyer.
Vapor Trail: Uh, me?
Twilight Sparkle: Vapor Trail, we know what you’ve been doing—
Rainbow Dash: You’ve been doing great!
Twilight Sparkle: (groan) You’ve been helping Sky.
Vapor Trail: Uh, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Sky doesn’t need anypony’s help. He’s amazing.
(Twilight Sparkle nudges Rainbow Dash)
Rainbow Dash: (sigh) Not without you. And it’s gonna be pretty obvious during the solo trials, when he can’t get enough air to do a flipping loop.

I appreciate that this episode doesn’t spend too much time with Rainbow Dash trying to uphold a lie—Applejack already did a ton of that last episode. Instead, this episode focuses on the perils of admitting a difficult truth. We’ve had episodes focused on difficult truths before, but this one stands out for being about childhood friends.

Also, Twilight Sparkle’s nudge and Rainbow Dash’s exasperated response is a nice demonstration of their dynamic. It shows that Rainbow Dash deeply respects Twilight beneath all her teasing. She knows that her purple friend is unmatched when it comes to solving friendship problems.

Vapor Trail: Oh no. I can’t let that happen! I mean… uh… euh… aw, sugarcubes!

If Vapor Trail is aware her locker is next to Rainbow Dash’s, then it’s possible she specially requested it, which means she really must view Rainbow Dash as a legendary hero. That would explain why she sounded like she was about to swear but stopped herself, instead opting for an incredibly goofy word starting with a “sh” sound. She probably curses all the time and only restrains herself in front of authority figures.

This scene demonstrates that some pegasi, like Fluttershy, prefer living on the ground.

Fun fact: Vapor Trail is the only character in this show who’s explicitly stated to be an only child.
(Though Rainbow Dash and Scootaloo are also heavily implied to be.)

I said it about Starlight Glimmer and Sunburst, I’ll say it again about Vapor Trail and Sky Stinger. If you think they automatically have romantic tension just because they’re male and female childhood friends, you are way too heteronormative. Like, I get it, most humans are straight, and I am too. But there is nothing in these flashbacks or their present-day interactions that implies even the slightest semblance of romance. They’re frankly more interesting as platonic friends.

Anyway, another pattern of Lewis and Songco’s episodes is that they give new characters a strong backstory. Sky Stinger had lots of siblings and struggled to get attention in his family, while Vapor Trail was an only child who resented her parents’ constant attention. This is an interesting contrast that explains a lot about their present mannerisms and shows that opposites attract, whether it’s romance or plain old friendship. The contrast in upbringings makes it slightly more understandable that some fans view them as shippy, but only slightly.

As a foal, Vapor Trail discovered a way to cheer up her friend: flapping her wings to create a gust of wind, which makes him think he’s a spectacular flyer. She gradually became addicted to this habit.

Vapor Trail: Flying together gave us both what we wanted. But I never told Sky how much I was helping him.
Vapor Trail: It started with a small boost here, or a little gust of wind there… but I didn’t think my help could actually hurt his chances.
Twilight Sparkle: I understand. But now, you’re both in trouble.
Rainbow Dash: You need to work on your tricks. And Sky needs to be able to fly without you, or he won’t make it.
Vapor Trail: Oh, but he has to. Flying with the Wonderbolts has been Sky’s dream ever since he was a colt.
Twilight Sparkle: What about you?
Vapor Trail: I… I guess I haven’t thought about it. I just want to be with my best friend.

It seems like Vapor Trail’s parents pushed her through life so hard that she never paused to consider her own aspirations. It’s so common for every character in a show to have known what they wanted to be since they were little, and I like that this episode acknowledges that some people just don’t grow up knowing that. Vapor Trail is concerned mostly with keeping her best friend happy, and she joined the Wonderbolts’ flight camp so that she could keep this illusion afloat just a little longer. Maybe she tried talking Sky Stinger into waiting a little longer to make sure he was ready, but he was set on attending the camp, and she had no choice but to join him.

Since Vapor Trail is horrified at the idea of admitting her secret, Twilight Sparkle begrudgingly agrees to try Rainbow Dash’s method, much to the latter’s joy. I have to admit, I love being right just as much as Rainbow Dash does. Few feelings are more satisfying than when someone stops being thick and realizes my obviously correct answer to a question is right. Not that Rainbow Dash’s idea fully works out—a different solution from either of theirs will eventually be done.

It would be easier to fool people with an eye mask if blinking wasn’t a thing.

Twilight Sparkle mentors Sky Stinger to help his flying skills, and Rainbow Dash helps Vapor Trail with hers; the trainer who’s had wings her whole life has more success. Vapor Trail learns flying skills quickly, while Sky Stinger remains overconfident and clumsy.

Sky Stinger: You’re right! I don’t need to practice at all.
Vapor Trail: Um, maybe, Sky, you should.
Sky Stinger: I’m already the best, and everypony’s gonna know it when they I’m asked to join the academy tomorrow.
Vapor Trail: But, not if you don’t practice.
Sky Stinger: I wouldn’t be surprised if they asked me to become a Wonderbolt straight out of the trials. Boom! Dream achieved.

I think Rainbow Dash can see some of herself in Sky Stinger. He has the same overconfidence Rainbow Dash once had about being a Wonderbolt, and she wants to stop him from falling in the same traps—this girl has had no shortage of downfalls from overconfidence. Even if Sky Stinger were told that Wonderbolts only get hired full-time when a slot opens, he would probably think they’d bend the rules to let him in.

Vapor Trail: Sky, you’re not as good as you think you are!!! (covers her mouth)
Sky Stinger: What did you say?
Vapor Trail: Sky, I want you to get in as much as anypony, and you’re amazing. But…
Sky Stinger: But what?
Vapor Trail: I’ve been… helping you.
Sky Stinger: Puh-lease. I don’t need your help. Watch.

Just as Vapor Trail is reluctant to tell the truth unless forced to, Sky Stinger won’t accept the truth unless forced to.

Sky Stinger: (heavy panting) How could you do this to me? Did you all know?
(Vapor Trail nods)
Sky Stinger: Oh, great. So everypony but me knows I’m a joke. Was this your plan the whole time? To embarrass me?
Vapor Trail: What? No! Don’t you know me at all?
Sky Stinger: I guess not, since it took me this long to find out you’re a terrible wingpony.
Vapor Trail: I can’t believe you!
Sky Stinger: I can’t believe I was ever your friend! (blasts off)
Vapor Trail: Thanks a lot.

It may be unusual to have an episode focused on honesty where Applejack is absent, but I think that’s what makes cutie map mission episodes fun. They put Mane 6 members in a situation they may not seem best at handling but ultimately learn and teach something new from. If Applejack was sent by the map, then… for one thing, Twilight would have to use the cloud walking spell and probably replenish it now and then. But more importantly, Applejack would take the first opportunity to reveal the harsh truth, without seeing the negative consequences or importance of building confidence.

After a few more mishaps, Twilight Sparkle gives some encouragement to Sky Stinger that amounts to a topic I’ve already extensively discussed: the only way to become good at something is through tons of passion and practice. By now, the show has made that point plenty of times because it’s important for viewers to realize.

Rainbow Dash: You know, you’re really good. You’re lead pony material.
Vapor Trail: Hm. That’s sweet of you, but no. I couldn’t handle all the attention.
Rainbow Dash: But you’ll never become a Wonderbolt if you’re too afraid to shine. That is what you want, right?
Vapor Trail: Oh, not at first. I just wanted to be with Sky. But learning to do all those fun tricks with you… it made me realize this is something I want for myself.
Rainbow Dash: I was hoping you’d say that. Come with me.

Vapor Trail’s message is also something a lot of fans need to hear: you’ll never figure out your calling if you don’t try something on your own. She has the skill of flight tricks inside her, having assisted Sky Stinger for years undetected, but her lack of confidence means that she only has one half of the equation for Wonderbolt material. Sky Stinger has the other half, and they’ll soon learn from each other.

After a hug of reconciliation comes a training montage interspersed with a few lines, so it only kind of counts as a training montage. Can I just say, I love the wacky technology this show has devised for the sake of Wonderbolt training. A lot of creativity was put into designing this stuff, especially since athletic flight doesn’t have a human counterpart—I’d say the closest thing is skydiving.

At the end, these two friends land next to each other, and the split screen line fades.

Aww, Vapor Trail is such an affectionate hugger.

Sky Stinger and Vapor Trail put on a solid show together and get rewarded by both making it into the Wonderbolts academy.

Spitfire: Whatever you did, it worked. These two have a lot of potential.
Spitfire: Who knows? They might even be better than you, Crash.
Rainbow Dash: (nervous laughing) OK, let’s not get too carried away.

I like how at this point, Rainbow Dash finally gets the Wonderbolts’ mindset of using jabs as encouragement. There are so many times she’s painfully forgotten previous lessons, and this thankfully isn’t one of them. If these new students make it into the Wonderbolts, I wonder which nicknames they’ll get? How about Whimper Trail and Sky Stinker?

Twilight Sparkle and Rainbow Dash’s cutie marks flash, they hoof bump, and they head back home. Then the episode ends where it started: Misty Fly enters the castle saying Rainbow Dash is needed for a Wonderbolts emergency. She freaks out and faints in Rarity-esque fashion, then Twilight and Misty Fly share a laugh. I am convinced this was a prank to Rainbow Dash, and Twilight Sparkle was let in on it. Otherwise, she’d be maliciously laughing at her friend’s expense, which is unbecoming of the Princess of Friendship.

Overall thoughts:

This episode is a great sendoff to seasons 5 and 6’s series of cutie map episodes, putting a familiar pair in a familiar location to help two new faces get on the right track. These new faces, Vapor Trail and Sky Stinger, are great as far as one-off characters go, with a backstory explained in enough depth to get you invested in them, but not so much that this becomes a backstory episode. This episode has some great character development for Rainbow Dash, who is now accustomed to the ways of the Wonderbolts, and Twilight Sparkle has the right mix of egghead moments and heartfelt reflections. Mix that in with a new side of Spitfire’s character and multiple friendship lessons, and you have a great last “regular episode” of season 6.

I suspect the map mission episode format was mostly done to explore unusual Mane 6 pairings and visit new locations, but some episodes opt to explore a familiar pairing in a familiar location, which is just as fun. Plus, I find the patterns between these episodes elegant: seasons 5 and 6 each have three different pairings in three different locations, and when watching these episodes for the first time, I was excited to see who would be paired up next. In later seasons, the map will send supporting characters on missions, and those should be fun to analyze. Some fans think the cutie map is a contrived device, and while they aren’t totally wrong, it saves the trouble of needing a complex excuse for characters to go somewhere, giving more time for the cool part of the episode.

Grade: B

While most of the cutie map episodes aren’t as strong as this one, I had a lot of fun analyzing each one.

Miscellaneous notes:

  • In the episode’s opening, Starlight Glimmer stands by Twilight Sparkle and Spike while looking at the map, and she doesn’t appear for the entire rest of the episode. I wish Starlight got a bit of dialogue so her appearance would have a purpose, whereas haters of Starlight would be annoyed she’s shoved in there for no reason. This is a negative for all sides.
  • When Spitfire breaks from her aggressive coach voice, I’m reminded of her calmer voice back in The Best Night Ever. While this may just be early installment weirdness, it makes sense when you consider that Spitfire greatly loosens up when she’s not pressuring new Wonderbolts.
  • One last observation about cutie map episodes is that Coco Pommel (please stop to appreciate how adorable she is) is the character in need of help in two episodes following a season-wide formula: one of season 4’s key episodes and one of season 5’s map episodes. She’s the only character with this distinction, probably because she’s such a fan favorite.

Next up is the season 6 finale, when the stakes are far more dire than a mere friendship problem. I hope you’re excited!

Given the slower pace I’ve been writing blog posts in, the next post may take a while. See you in most likely two weeks as I finally dissect the glorious season 6 finale.

>> Part 75: To Where and Back Again, Part 1 + 2

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s