The Wonderbolts have formed a new accessory group, the Wonderbolts Reserve, and Rainbow Dash is set to join them…provided she can pass an exam on the history of the Wonderbolts. She blows off the test at first, until Twilight finds out about it and insists on helping her study. Soon after, Rainbow realizes that she knows absolutely nothing about the history of the Wonderbolts and has no chance of passing the exam, causing her to start to panic. Things get worse when all of the Mane Six struggle to help her with different study/learning techniques, and none of them do anything for her, causing her to think of herself as stupider than the others and fly off in depression. Twilight attempts to fly after her to get her to try again and, as a result, learns Rainbow Dash subconsciously absorbs information from all around her while flying. Getting an idea from that, Twilight rallies the girls with a plan. Later, she invites Rainbow Dash for another flight to try and get her out of her depression and it seems to do nothing, until at the end of the flight she’s shocked to realize she’s somehow learned the history of the Wonderbolts. It turns out while she was flying, the whole town was “acting out the history” under her flight path and she subconsciously committed their actions to memory without even realizing it. Rainbow Dash aces her exam, and Twilight writes about how just because someone doesn’t learn the same way you do doesn’t mean they’re a fool.
Again, this is an episode dealing with a rather “modern” theme and does it pretty well, especially in USA culture. I don’t think this would translate very well across cultures in, say, Japan where there’s a different way education is approached, and this episode does have quite a bit wrong with it even if the “central message” is pretty solid.
Starting with the “good” for once… I was exposed to the public school system better than most because I had a stint in college where I tried to get my Teacher’s Certification to teach Biology. A lot of effort was devoted to cases like Rainbow Dash. Although it’s never directly “stated”, it’s implied pretty heavily Rainbow Dash has a learning disability or, at minimum, she has an alternate mental makeup that keeps her from absorbing information the same way as everyone else. The fact is a lot of people in school have that. The media and society likes to dismiss ADD and ADHD, for example, as “myths”…but the fact of the matter is there are students in the US school system who were told for 10-15 years essentially “get used to being a poor student”, then they become diagnosed with ADD/ADHD and receive treatment, and soon they’re becoming great students. That’s the most “textbook” example, but students with dyslexia, illiteracy, or other physical impairments suffer from the same problem and, due to lifetimes of embarrassment or simply not knowing any better, commit themselves to underachieving in school without even knowing about it. And, much like Rainbow Dash’s case, someone who appears to be a “slacker” or disinterested in learning is only that way because methods used to teach students don’t ever “impact” them, and so they learn to shut them out because it’s all just “boredom and white noise” to them. It actually makes the fact that Rainbow Dash dropped out of Flight School years ago…a bit tragic. Like she could have been a great student if the teachers had been able to “reach” her. I thought it was a good moral to do in an episode, and the two best characters of the Mane Six to handle it were Twilight Sparkle (the ace student) and Rainbow Dash (the chronic slacker).
That said…I don’t think it was handled quite as well as it could have been.
The last two thirds of the episode are pretty solid and even a bit endearing, but the first third, considering how many times we’ve heard Rainbow Dash rant about how boring she thinks learning is and how she runs off whenever “education” is brought up and the fact that she really does “goof off” for most of it…it makes Rainbow Dash appear in a more negative light. While in the latter two-thirds it’s clear Rainbow Dash is trying but not succeeding, in the first third it looks like she’s just blowing things off. It’s not until the “pop quiz” that Rainbow Dash starts not only accepting that she has to learn this stuff but, more importantly, realizing she’s not learning it.
The fact that Rainbow Dash had to learn so much also makes me eye roll a bit. Rainbow Dash is a total Wonderbolts “fangirl”. In “Sweet and Elite”, it was alluded to that she knows pretty much everything about the modern team. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never become a rabid fan of anything without learning a great deal of their background and intricacies in the process. That Rainbow Dash wouldn’t know anything about their history, especially since in “Read It and Weep” and “Daring Don’t” it’s been demonstrated that once she gets into something she learns all about it and not just “whatever’s current”, is a bit hard to swallow. Even more so when, at the bare minimum, she should know about the Celestia/Luna rift considering she’s a part of that history. Seriously, that’s like asking General “Stonewall” Jackson about the Battle of Antietam and he answers: “The what now?”
And of course, the biggest glaring problem…Rainbow Dash is still “jumping through hoops” just to get in the Wonderbolt Reserve. For crying out loud! The CMC Cutie Mark subplot has gotten old by now, but at the bare minimum the writers know not to “draw attention” to it anymore. This, on the other hand…it’s starting to feel like a slap-in-the-face or insult to audience intelligence. It’s bad enough that comments in “Rainbow Falls” made it seem like the whole “Wonderbolts Academy” episode ended up being little more than a glorified “summer camp” for pegasi to “play Wonderbolt for a week” rather than something that would actually get Rainbow Dash into the group, but…ugh…
In Season Five, they need to either resolve this plotline or the Cutie Mark subplot. Seriously.
Other than that…I’m going to go ahead and let my “schoolyard bias” impact my rating of this episode, because even if this is something people don’t have a personal interest in, they should.
RAINBOW: “Your freak-outs are so epic, you sing whole ‘freak-out arias’ about freaking out.” …It’s true. 😛
When Twilight drops the book on Rainbow’s desk, she’s wearing sunglasses and then looks distracted. My guess is that means she was napping and hiding the fact her eyes were closed.
I think Rainbow Dash’s complaint on why she has to even know the history in the first place is actually a fairly good point. Somehow I doubt from what we’ve seen of the Wonderbolts so far that they really worry about being “good representatives”… More like they’re just obsessed with being the best fliers, and Rainbow Dash has fit that bill about 10 times over.
Most would agree the highlight of this episode is where Pinkie Pie seems to warp reality (yet again) and suddenly teleport herself to a late-80s, early-90s rap out of nowhere. Vinyl Scratch/DJ-Pon-3 cameos in it.
All of the study techniques displayed in the episode are ones used by teachers to try and educate students. Twilight Sparkle’s methods are ones that are more “traditional”, based on enhancing literacy, and designed to give the most content knowledge. Fluttershy’s is more of an “enhancement tool”; showing related media to either spark interest or reinforce learned material. Pinkie Pie uses mnemonics; tying things to be learned into something more catchy or “memory-lodging” content. Rarity uses a field trip/museum approach, a technique used with history to make it seem less abstract and more “real” to students. Applejack’s “method” may seem like just a throwaway joke…but pretty much is “learn by experience”, which most would agree is the best way to retain knowledge. How Rainbow Dash actually ends up learning, however, is somewhat more analogous to a “savant” or stereotypically “autistic” approach, by exploiting aspects of her mental framework that just “absorb” information subconsciously without filtering or processing.
RAINBOW: “Ah! Pinkie, you’re real!” …I’m sorry, I have to bust out at that one.
Twilight’s “Commander Easyglider” uniform is similar to that worn by General Douglas MacArthur in World War II.
One of the “more serious” parts that I think flies over a lot of viewers heads takes place during Twilight and Rainbow’s first discussion while in flight after she flies off. Students with learning disabilities often get the idea that they’re “naturally stupid” and that they should “get used to being underachievers”, which is a real tragedy. Rainbow Dash was naturally feeling that way too as she wasn’t able to learn anything through any technique that worked fine for the girls. Twilight Sparkle was pointing out that she’s obviously not stupid because she reads books all the time and is often clever and inventive. Good teachers have to do that, or at least “look for it”, to demonstrate how “underachieving” students are actually as smart as the rest of the class.
The episode uses a “rewind view” that appeared on VHS tapes twice, when going back over the “flights” of Twilight and Rainbow.
In the sequence happening on the ground, Rarity plays Princess Luna…who are both done by the same voice actor. “Meta”, no?
I think the “cleverest” joke in the episode is when the CMCs shout: “E.! U.! P.!” and then Big Macintosh springs up underneath them and goes: “Eeyup!” …Get it? EUP? :3
It’s kind of weird the girls managed to get the whole town in on the “history lesson”…but also kind of touching too.
I wish they had that pegasus at the end grading my old tests. I could have just taken a Scantron exam and it still would have been three days before I saw the results…
3.5 Stars out of 5