Fluttershy isn't necessarily my favorite character - sometimes she is, sometimes she's all the way down at third place - but she is without a doubt one of the biggest reasons I love this show. I've been immersed in genre fiction since I could process it, and that means most of the female characters I encountered were some variety of Action Girl. They were smart and brave and strong, and they loved adventures and overcoming great odds. Some of them were pretty darn cool.
Fluttershy is something different. She's shy. She's fearful. She's kind. Like all of the ponies, she has her issues, but deep inside there's this wonderful person who just wants to love and be loved and doesn't really know how to go about it. I sincerely hope that there are little girls who can relate to all of the ponies and their themes, but this? For me, this is home.
To summarize the episode, Fluttershy's friends notice that she too often lets others take advantage of her, and they encourage her to stand up for herself. She attends a seminar on self-assertion and her entire personality turns around - suddenly she's pushy and mean. I haven't looked at anyone else's reactions to the episode yet, but I wonder if her progression in this manner is seen as unrealistic. It appeared that way to me at first, but once I thought about it, I not only felt that she would act in exactly this manner, but I understood why.
For starters, people (in the real world) who seem awfully nice are often just scared. She doesn't want to let you have the last cherry because she thinks you need it more than she does; she wants to let you have it because the alternative is risking your irritation, which is hard to bear even if there's never a reliable sign that you're actually irritated. She's looking out for her own welfare, but her own welfare is so intrinsically tied to the moods of the people around her that all she can do, for her own sake, is try to keep everyone pacified.
It's a Catch-22 and it can easily have the "nice person" feeling like crap at the end. You tell yourself that the cherry doesn't matter, since you made somepony else happy by giving it up, and while it's true on one hoof that the other pony's happiness is of greater importance to you, on the other hoof you're wondering why you're the only one evaluating those options. The resentment builds up with each incident until the initial feelings of kindness are just inaccessible.
So it makes sense that being offered a release from Fluttershy's mental trap would give her a feeling of elation. She doesn't have to keep everyone pacified if her own contentment isn't dependent on them, and she's already got all the justification she needs for ignoring their desires - they always ignored hers. She can do anything.
Soured empathy has at least one especially dangerous facet: it knows exactly how to hurt someone. Even with all the friendship-centered conflict in the show, it's pretty darn rare to see one pony make another cry. Pinkie and Rarity looked adorably hilarious doing it, sure, but in a heartbreaking way. Fluttershy was mocking parties and fashion! That is so terrible! And it's even more terrible when you think about how parties and fashion are commonly seen as shallow interests - no doubt Fluttershy has thought so a few times. Her insults are real.
And that's when the crash comes. The elation that comes with a newfound power fizzles right out when you realize that it's a power you never wanted. It would have been better to remain a pushover after all. Asserting yourself just makes you even more alone.
After we saw Fluttershy locking herself up in her cottage to avoid causing anymore damage, it was inevitable that the Aesop would amount to, "You can be kind to others without letting them walk all over you", but I really liked it that Iron Will came back for the demonstration. Socially confident people are always trying to convince their timid loved ones to speak up and stand firm, but one thing they often don't get is that they're the ones that the loved ones need to stand up to. It's a rough thing for a Fluttershy to handle: your dear but aggressive friend keeps saying, "Don't let them bully you!" and one day you reply, "Okay, then stop bullying me," and everything after that is disaster.
It doesn't have to be, though. "No means no." Empathy doesn't just mean letting other ponies define the way you feel - it also means that you can learn to read a social situation and decide for yourself the right thing to do. Add a little bit of self-assertion, and you might even be able to do it.
Twilight is my other favorite pony (Celestia and Luna don't count; they're demigods, not ponies), so these two episodes coming back-to-back was a delight. But they were so different! This was an episode about TIME TRAVEL! And Pinkie was a fortune teller! And it kind of didn't have anything to do with friendship!
So I didn't do all that much thinking about this one. It was fun and wild and a bit brony-centric. But it got to the end and replayed the scene in which Twilight gets a warning from her future self, which it had been leading up to all along in a fairly obvious manner, and I felt a tad disappointed that there wasn't a twist or a different angle on the scene or anything. Then I remembered, as I sometimes do, that this is a children's show. Using the exact same sequence didn't just save their budget, it delineated the plot in a way that a young child could understand. And then I realized exactly what that meant: the paradox of conflicting time streams had just been packaged in a cartoon about ponies. They might as well have called the episode My First Time Travel Story.
My Little Pony, training the next generation of geeks since 2010.