Rainbow Dash leaves Ponyville for a week for the “Wonderbolt Academy”, where she hopes to place high enough at the exercises to be made into an official Wonderbolt. Soon after arriving, she meets an equally ambitious pegasus named Lightning Dust, and the two are soon blowing away the competition and breaking academy records. Yet after two days of independent trials, the pegasi attending are paired into teams of “captain” and “wingman”…and Rainbow Dash, who has managed to inch out victories over Lightning Dust, is surprised to find herself named as her wingman rather than the captain. The Wonderbolt in charge of the academy, Spitfire, says she did so because Lightning showed even more ambition than Rainbow. Although Rainbow reluctantly consents to her new placement, she’s soon stunned to find that Lightning’s passion for being the best shows no regard for the safety or well-being of the other candidates…or even Rainbow Dash herself. When the other members of the Mane Six try to visit to give her a care package and a tornado that Lightning spurred Rainbow on to help her make to get a new trial record endangers their lives, Rainbow manages to save them all, but also has had the last straw and confronts Spitfire again with Lightning’s behavior. Yet when Spitfire seems like she only is interested in the fact that Lightning is breaking more records, Rainbow Dash declares that if the Wonderbolts are about being the best without showing concern for your teammates, she doesn’t want to be one. She turns in her badge and packs up to leave. However, on going out, Spitfire rushes out to see her and tells her she’s had a change of heart based on what she said, and strips Lightning Dust of her leader badge and expels her before giving it to Rainbow Dash instead.
Isn’t it amazing how two minutes can turn what could have been one of the best episodes in the entire series into the worst one of Season Three? And all because of another infamous “Have-It-All” ending?
There are two “frustrations” that, after four seasons, I wish would just get resolved on the show already. The bigger one is that the CMCs still don’t have their Cutie Marks after four years. The lesser one, but still annoying, is the inordinate number of “hoops” Rainbow Dash keeps finding herself having to jump through to become a Wonderbolt when as early as the first season she was proving she was as good as them, if not better. By the end of Season Four, she’s only passed an exam to get in the Wonderbolt Reserve. And that’s after two of the Wonderbolts wanted her to fill in for an injured member of their team when it turned out she was better than him even at his best. This episode wasn’t the “breaking point” in terms of audience patience…but it was getting pretty darn close to it.
That said…this episode was nearly one of the most moving episodes in the series. Ever since the pilot episode, it’s been made clear again and again that Rainbow Dash’s dream is to be a Wonderbolt. It’s all she’s practiced for her entire life. It’s her constant ambition in everything. Every time she does tricks or stunts of any kind, it’s always with the goal of becoming a Wonderbolt one day.
So what happens when that dream suddenly looks in reach this episode? She’s shocked to find out that her idols only care about “winning”. About “being the best”. Even at the expense of others. And, in all honesty, it’s a big moment. She realizes the group she’s looked up to her whole life is in opposition to her “loyal” nature to always be faithful and devoted to your comrades. Instead, they encourage “winning at any cost”. She has a choice to make…the biggest choice of her life. Being a Wonderbolt is her dream…what she wants more than anything else in the whole world. But she also has too much character to be able to abide an organization that doesn’t care if you step on the heads of others to be on top. In probably the greatest test of character she, or any of us, could ever face…choose either your dream or your integrity…she ends up doing the unthinkable: she chooses her integrity. She abandons her dream of becoming a Wonderbolt because she wouldn’t be able to live with herself in that sort of organization.
That takes guts. That takes something that’s always in short supply in the world…character. In that moment, Rainbow Dash showed she may have more character than any other member of the Mane Six. She won’t “sell out her integrity” for anything…not even the thing she craves more than anything else. That could have been the biggest lesson that the show had ever taught, and a lesson that very few programs, adult-orientated or otherwise, have ever touched on. That there may come a time in your life when you have to, to paraphrase Dumbledore from “Harry Potter”, “choose between what is right and what is easy”. To have the price of a “clean conscience” be saying goodbye to what you want the most. And it’s amazing that she was able to do it. It would have been an inspiration for every little kid, and even many adults, watching the show.
…Would have been.
And then…the biggest act of BS in the show’s history had to ruin it.
Spitfire decides “wait, I guess I prefer integrity over records”, runs out, tells Rainbow Dash, who she neither respected nor cared for early in the episode, that she’s “seen the light”, so to speak, and immediately changes her attitude and gives her a promotion. Because that’s what life is all about, isn’t it? Hard choices always leading you to get the best of both worlds? Never having to actually sacrifice one thing for something else?
Oh, and get this… She expels Lightning Dust. That’s right…the pegasus that she encouraged by making her “captain”, who she “winked” and “nodded” at when she did things that endangered the other pegasi, and who she reinforced this whole time…oh, because she’s suddenly “seen the light”…well, now she’s going to make up for past mistakes, isn’t she? She’s not going to demote Lightning Dust to wingman. She’s not going to punish her. She’s not going to explain why everything she did was wrong and chastise her or something like that. No…you, the Wonderbolt who kept encouraging her by your actions and lack of actions alike, to develop this “winning at any cost” attitude…you’re going to expel her.
How about expelling yourself from the Wonderbolts while you’re at it, you flaming hypocrite?
Even if Spitfire hasn’t been assenting to everything Lightning Dust did, she made it clear she was only interested in “winners” the entire time. That makes her just as guilty as Lightning Dust…if not more so. My guess is Spitfire was once a pegasi just like Lightning Dust when it came her turn at the Wonderbolt Academy. And, frankly, she’s only reinforced that idea in Season Four when she was willing to betray one of her own teammates to win. That makes her worse than Lightning Dust, in my opinion. Lightning Dust I actually excuse due to age and inexperience. She never had anyone sit her down and teach her respect for others. Even when Rainbow Dash confronts her with her behavior, she defends herself on the grounds that she was made “captain”. That’s right…and WHO made her captain? Who caused her to believe she was doing the “right thing”? The one who went on in Season Four to backstab her friend and is still a Wonderbolt while Rainbow Dash is stuck taking exams to be in the Wonderbolt Reserve.
The ending is such a downturn that it plunges this episode into my personal picks for “worst episodes in the series”. It has no mistakes or “plot downturns”, but the fact of the matter is taking what could have been the greatest lesson on the show and dumbing it into this is unforgivable.
Rainbow Dash lives in a cloud, but her mailbox is on the ground. Convenient for the postman. 🙂 Also…rather good timing on that letter. She literally had to leave for the Academy the moment after getting it. 😛
Wonderbolt Academy is obviously a takeoff of forts training new recruits from military movies.
Spitfire’s character seems to change to fit whatever character is necessary for an episode, and this one is no exception. Now she’s a gruff “drill sergeant” character. And she still suffers from “Mr. Burns Syndrome”. She says she bets Rainbow Dash is the “worst flier” when she not only has demonstrated her skill to her multiple times, she saved her life at one point.
Honestly, the standards have to be somewhat lax to get in Wonderbolt Academy if Bulk Biceps got accepted too. 😛
To help accent Rainbow Dash’s “opposite” in Lightning Dust, she has a streak of lightning in her wake just like Rainbow Dash has a rainbow behind her. However, there was a Wonderbolt in a “dream sequence” in Season One who also had lightning behind her.
Applejack mentions that Princess Celestia is having Twilight Sparkle “work on some new spells”. This might be foreshadowing of the season finale.
2 Stars out of 5