Spitfire: Well, lookie what we got here. Bet y'all think you're Wonderbolt material, don'tcha? All cadets: Yes, ma'am! Spitfire: Think you got what it takes to be an elite flyer? All cadets: Yes, ma'am! Spitfire: Well, then, let me be the first to tell you: You don't! If you had what it took to be an elite flyer, you'd already be a Wonderbolt!
Written by Merriwether Williams
Rainbow Dash finally gets to live her dream of training for the Wonderbolts when she receives an acceptance letter for a week of boot camp at the Wonderbolt Academy. There she becomes fast friends with Lightning Dust, a hyper-competitive pegasus cadet in her class who manages to keep up with her as they leave the other cadets in the dust while flying laps. For their first exercise, the cadets are strapped to the Dizzitron, a device that dizzies them up to test their flight recovery. Rainbow Dash sets an Academy record by recovering in 6 seconds, while Lightning Dust clocks in a close second at 6.5 seconds, but not before requesting the Dizzitron to be set at max speed.Judging from the test results, Wonderbolt captain and instructor Spitfire pairs the cadets into teams of a leader and a wingpony the next day. Rainbow Dash is confident her record flight has earned her the rank of leader, but is devastated to find she's been made Lightning Dust's wingpony. She complains to Spitfire about it, but the captain shrugs her off, saying that she thinks Lightning Dust is better leader material because she pushes herself more.Despite this disappointment, Rainbow Dash and Lightning Dust become an unstoppable team as they continue to blow the rest of their classmates away during exercises. However, Lightning Dust proves to be the more reckless of the pair: she disregards Rainbow Dash when she clips Dash's wing during the flag hunt, and she carelessly blasts their classmates off-track while zooming ahead on the obstacle course. Rainbow Dash asks Lightning Dust to take it easy from now on, but Lightning Dust is dead set on proving herself as the best flyer in Equestria and refuses to go soft on anyone.Things take a disastrous turn when Lightning Dust coerces Rainbow Dash into helping her make a tornado to speed up a cloud-busting exercise, only for the tornado to spin out of control. To make matters worse, the rest of the Mane Six happen to be taking a Twinkling Balloon ride nearby to deliver their friend a care package (at Pinkie Pie's insistence), and are sucked into the tornado. With the help of the other cadets, Rainbow Dash saves her friends from certain doom. Rainbow Dash then blows up at an indifferent Lightning Dust for constantly endangering everyone's safety with her carelessness. Lightning Dust smugly retorts that Spitfire still made her team leader, so Rainbow Dash decides to give Spitfire a piece of her mind:
Rainbow Dash: No disrespect, ma'am, but there's a big difference between pushing yourself as hard as you can and just being reckless. And if being reckless is what gets rewarded around here, if that's what it means to be a Wonderbolt, then I don't want any part of it.
With that, Rainbow Dash quits the Academy and dejectedly returns to her friends, certain her dream of being a Wonderbolt is over...when Spitfire catches up and admits that Rainbow Dash made a valid point about pushing oneself. As such, she unceremoniously tears off Lightning Dust's lead pony badge and gives it to the more deserving, ecstatic Rainbow Dash. Rainbow Dash proudly flies off with her class to finish their training (all while Pinkie complains that Rainbow Dash never opened her care package).
Tropes present in this episode (YMMV tropes go here):
10-Minute Retirement: Not even two minutes, since it happens right before the episode's end, but Rainbow Dash quits the Academy—and her dream of becoming a Wonderbolt—when she feels Lightning Dust's reckless behavior is tolerated too much. When Spitfire rectifies this by punishing Lightning Dust and letting Rainbow Dash stay, Rainbow Dash is more than happy to come back.
Always Save Your Best Friends: Rainbow Dash gives up on her dreams of being a Wonderbolt when she assumes becoming one would lead her to make reckless decisions and endanger her friends again.
Always Somepony Better: In the initial examinations, Lightning Dust proves to be at as good as Rainbow Dash at everything they're tested on (keeping pace with, but not beating, Rainbow Dash when it comes to speed, although Dash did not perform her signature supersonic move). While Rainbow Dash sets a record time on the disorientation test, Lightning Dust loses by only half a second with the machine on the maximum setting. This leads to Lightning Dust being made The Leader of her pairing with Rainbow Dash. Initially, the conflict in their team dynamic is Rainbow Dash learning to try and accept somepony else as her leader. However, it quickly becomes clear that Lightning Dust isn't so much better but less restrained.
An Aesop: There's a difference between pushing one's limits and being reckless at the expense of others.
Arrogant Flyer Pony: Lightning Dust takes pleasure in making other ponies eat her clouds and dismisses the harm she does as a result.
Awesome Moment of Crowning: What happens to Rainbow Dash after she demonstrates the strength of character to resign her commission when she has a moral objection to the Wonderbolts' skewed priorities. At this, Spitfire not only convinces her to stay on, but promotes her to team leader, and she is saluted as such by her teammates.
Bear Hug: Pinkie Pie to Rainbow Dash when she gets accepted into the academy. Rainbow Dash's eyes bulge when Pinkie puts in an extra squeeze.
Big "NO!": Rainbow Dash when she sees her friends plummeting to their doom.
Big "YES!": Did you think an episode with Bulk Biceps in it would go by without him at least once saying his Catch Phrase? "YEAH!!!"
Bling of War: In this episode, Spitfire wears a dark blue uniform jacket with several rank insignia and decorations over a white shirt and black tie. This is distinct from the light blue shirt and black tie that Soarin' wore to Princess Cadance's wedding.
Rainbow Dash spends the first half of the episode bluntly overconfident of her abilities, until she is placed as wingpony to Lightning Dust. When she complains to Spitfire, she is very quickly put in her place, and spends the remainder of the episode humbled and earnest as a contrast to the increasingly reckless and arrogant Lightning Dust.
The smug Lightning Dust is quite visibly heartbroken after Spitfire strips her of her team leader badge and has her escorted off the premises.
Broken Pedestal: Spitfire and the Wonderbolts overall for Rainbow Dash, on account of their approval of Lightning Dust's recklessness. It doesn't last long, as Spitfire chases after her to give the response that Rainbow Dash didn't stick around for.
The Cameo: Some of the pegasi from "Hurricane Fluttershy" make an appearance, including Cloudchaser, Thunderlane and Bulk Biceps.
Character Development: Rainbow Dash is shown to be a lot more caring, cautious, and responsible than in earlier episodes. Even after an initial objection, she seems to swallow her pride to accept the wingpony position and perform to the best of her abilities in a team where she's not the leader, and she doesn't hesitate to ditch the Wonderbolts if their work comes at the cost of other ponies. Since Lightning Dust behaves much like Dash did at the beginning of the show (with added sociopathy and lack of Dash's defining loyalty), the difference shows pretty well.
Chekhov's Skill: Rainbow Dash is shown in the Cold Open to have the ability to shape and pack clouds quickly. Guess what skill comes in handy to save her falling friends?
Centrifugal Farce: The Dizzitron is very similar to a centrifugal spin-recovery trainer, but turned on edge; instead of just spinning the ponies, it launches them in the air to see how long it takes them to recover from dizziness.
Conspicuous CG: Averted as the Dizzitron was DHX's first use of CGI (atop the Flash animation) within the show, according to artist Nayuki, though far from as obvious as its used later in "Spike At Your Service".
Tornadoes have been used to clear clouds (and snow, and parasprites...) in a hurry before—Rainbow Dash made a small one on her own in "Swarm of the Century", but it took an entire team to make a full-sized one in "Winter Wrap Up".
Not to mention "Hurricane Fluttershy", where a giant tornado created by every pegasus in Ponyville was a major focus of the episode.
Two to "Sonic Rainboom": This isn't the first time Rainbow Dash has had to save a friend—or friends, in this case—from falling to their doom on her own, and there's also Rainbow Dash's repeating "Omigosh!" line when Spitfire names her team leader.
Rainbow's decision at the end of the episode is a nod to her demonstration of the Element of Loyalty in the pilot, where she turned down her lifelong dream out of loyalty to her friends. This time, though, it wasn't a trick.
Cool Shades: Spitfire and her staff don aviator sunglasses for most of the episode. Try not to question what the ear hooks are for.
Curb-Stomp Competition: Lightning Dust and Rainbow Dash dominate the cloud-clearing exercise. Before the tornado destroys the scoreboard, they have a recorded score of 70; the next highest score is 10.
Diagonal Cut: Rainbow Dash and Lightning Dust do this to multiple clouds during the final exercise of the episode.
Dick Dastardly Stops to Cheat: As Dash points out, they are already way ahead in the cloud-busting exercise, but Lightning Dust wants to "literally blow away the competition". Not technically cheating since Spitfire is willing to allow it, until she learns that it almost killed someone.
Dramatically Missing the Point: When Rainbow Dash calls out Lightning Dust on how she nearly killed her friends, she retorts that her friends survived.
Earn Your Happy Ending: After spending the entire episode forced to play second banana to a reckless mare who (albeit unintentionally) nearly killed her friends, and being yelled at, injured, unfairly lectured, and yelled at some more, Rainbow Dash is finally one step closer to her life long dream of being a Wonderbolt and her chances of getting in for real have gone from highly possible to inevitable.
The Dizzitron is a training device designed to help pegasi master this trope by, you guessed it, spinning them.
Subverted when Lightning Dust deliberately creates a tornado to bust clouds but instead endangers Rainbow Dash's friends.
Facehoof: Twilight Sparkle's reaction to Pinkie Pie's Insane Troll Logic about Rainbow Dash forgetting her friends over the course of three days.
Feather Fingers: While Rainbow Dash is walking through the academy, one pony in the background can be seen doing push-ups with her wings while another is bench-pressing using her wings. How this can work can only be explained as falling under this trope.
Friend or Idol Decision: Rainbow Dash has to choose between following her dream and enabling Lightning Dash's reckless actions, or sticking by her friends and resigning. Being the Element of Loyalty, she chooses to resign.
Free Range Flight Cadets: For a paramilitary organization, the Wonderbolts don't seem to supervise what their cadets are doing during their training exercises...
Funny Background Event: All of the other cadets race to help catch Rainbow's friends on the rebound from the cloud. Bulk Biceps gets the task of rescuing the already crushed care package, and he looks pleased as punch at doing it.
The Gadfly: Rainbow Dash pretends she didn't get into the Wonderbolt Academy just to see the looks on her friends' faces.
Gale-Force Sound: The sheer force of the sound from Pinkie Pie's oversized megaphone moves mountains.
Rainbow Dash and Lightning Dust clap wings when they introduce themselves.
Later defied when Lightning Dust wants to give Rainbow Dash a hoof bump following the Mane Six's rescue from the tornado, but is rejected and gets a "The Reason You Suck" Speech instead.
Homage: To Top Gun, but with a different direction: it's not Rainbow Dash playing Maverick, but Lightning Dust, showing how being a reckless flyer isn't always a good thing. Rainbow Dash more plays Goose's role here, being a loyal but hesitant second and trying repeatedly, without success, to rein in her headstrong flight lead. (Element of Loyalty, after all). She also channels Iceman's "You're dangerous" line in her "The Reason You Suck" Speech. Likewise, Spitfire's role effectively combines Viper and Charlie into one character, even though one of her subordinates is clearly meant to look like a pony version of Viper. At the end, Spitfire and the other instructors side with Rainbow Dash, much as real life military flying instructors would normally favor a by-the-book regard for safety and teamwork over casual recklessness, even in an unusually skilled student. (For that matter, even inTop Gun, it was Iceman who won the trophy for top student...)
Innocent Bystander: The rest of the Mane Six show up at the worst possible time to deliver their care package to Rainbow Dash as their Twinkling Balloon is caught in an out-of-control tornado, prompting Rainbow Dash to rescue them.
Insane Troll Logic: Twice by Pinkie, who specifically details the most contrived worst-case scenarios if events don't unfold exactly to her original intent, such as how her not receiving Rainbow Dash's letter will inevitably ruin Rainbow's life:
Pinkie Pie: If I'm not here when Rainbow Dash's letter arrives, I won't be able to read it right away. And if I don't read it right away, I won't be able to write her back right away. And if I don't write her back right away, she might think I didn't get her letter, and then she might worry it got lost, and if she's worried about her letter she'll be distracted, and if she's distracted then she won't do well at the Academy, and if she doesn't do well at the Academy then she'll get kicked out, and if she gets kicked out THEY'LL NEVER LET BE A WONDERBOLT, AND IF SHE DOESN'T GET TO BE A WONDERBOLT,ALL HER DREAMS WILL BE CRUSHED! And it'll be all...my...fault!
Applejack suggests sending a carepackage and Pinkie is all for it...until she considers the possibility that somepony else will get it instead of Rainbow Dash and that pony will somehow recover the friendship memories that Rainbow Dash lost over three days and become their friend instead of Rainbow Dash.
Insignia Rip-Off Ritual: Both variants are played back-to-back. Rainbow Dash turns in her wingpony insignia when confronting Spitfire in her office because they had rewarded Lightning Dust for her dangerously reckless behavior up to that point. Spitfire responds in kind by bringing Lightning Dust over and ripping her team leader insignia off her suit, with Lightning walking off in disgrace.
Lack of Empathy: Lightning Dust doesn't care at all that she nearly killed Rainbow Dash's friends, which is the last straw for Rainbow. It also costs her her leadership position when Spitfire realizes it. Considering the Wonderbolts do rescue work in several episodes, this makes a lot of sense.
Laser-Guided Karma: Lightning Dust's attempts at pushing herself, which earn her rank as team leader, eventually cost her that rank when she does it at the cost of those around her. Justified in that the academy practices the sort of strict discipline you'd expect from a boot camp.
The karma is even more laser guided when the pony who punishes her for her behavior is the pony she was trying to impress.
The Leader: Lightning Dust is a Headstrong type because she likes to push herself. Rainbow Dash is deemed a Levelheaded type at the end of the episode.
Madness Makeover: Pinkie Pie starts to undergo one while waiting impatiently at the mailbox for three days.
Musicalis Interruptus: During the obstacle course, the music starts picking up as Rainbow Dash and Lightning Dust are picking up speed, right until they get stuck behind a slower team, where the music stops. The music picks up again as they pass them.
Name Tron: The machine that the recruits ride is called the Dizzitron.
Never My Fault: Lightning Dust doesn't express any responsibility for people hurt by her recklessness, brushing it off as the others' own failing or as an overreaction on their part.
Never Say "Die": Rainbow Dash says her friends could have been "smashed to pieces", "taken out", and "demolished" by the tornado.
No Kill Like Overkill: Lightning Dust, despite already having a massive lead at the cloud-clearing exercise, attempts to best the others even more by causing a tornado to eliminate the remaining clouds. This is lampshaded by Spitfire, who considers it excessive (but still approves until she learns it nearly killed someone).
Non-Standard Character Design: Thus far Dash has been the only pegasus (outside the Wonderbolts when they perform) who leaves a trail behind her as she flies; this episode introduces Lightning Dust, who leaves a trail of lightning behind her where she flies.
Not the Fall That Kills You: Rainbow Dash catches her falling friends by condensing a cloud so it will support their weight. It shoots them back up like a spring.
Offscreen Inertia: Early on, we see Pinkie Pie checking the mailbox every few seconds. We cut back to her later with a slight Madness Makeover, having continued this process for three days straight. Her friends are, naturally, concerned.
Omniscient Morality License: Played with. Spitfire is supposed to shout at cadets and create problems (so they can learn), but she's also supposed to monitor those problems so she can see if the cadets are learning, and to step in the moment things get out of control. She's never admits that it was wrong but Dash protests her perceived willingness to condone reckless behavior.
One-Dimensional Thinking: During the obstacle course, Lightning Dust bitterly complains at being "stuck" behind two other cadets, and ultimately blows right through them when a chance comes to "pass" them.
The Plan: To prevent Rainbow Dash from forgetting them (or somepony else remembering them) Pinkie plans to create a care package, go to Cloudsdale, and deliver the package in person. Twilight notes that the care package is a good idea but the rest is Insane Troll Logic.
Power Incontinence: Lightning Dust and Rainbow Dash create a tornado to get rid of the remaining clouds but Lightning can't resist the turbulence, causing her to be thrown out, followed by Rainbow Dash a few moments later.
"The Reason You Suck" Speech: Rainbow Dash chews out Lightning Dust for her recklessness after the tornado incident nearly kills her friends.
Reasonable Authority Figure: Spitfire wastes no time in booting Lightning Dust from the class when Rainbow Dash points out her reckless attitude nearly got her friends killed.
Red Oni, Blue Oni: Lightning Dust is the red (reckless) to Rainbow Dash's blue (cautious).
Remembered I Could Fly: Not surprisingly, Fluttershy's wings lock up in fear when Dust and Dash's tornado destroys the Twinkling Balloon. She's rather sheepish when she remembers she has them after the rescue.
Reset Button: Subverted. Many viewers expected Rainbow Dash to leave the Academy by the end of this episode, thus maintaining the status quo. For a second, she is going to leave, but instead the episode ends with Rainbow staying in the Academy. While things may not change drastically, this will still probably have some impact considering this show's tendency towards Continuity.
Retcon: Sorta. The Enterplay trading card depicts Spitfire's cutie mark as being identical to her Wonderbolt insignia, while here it's a surprisingly complexflame shaped like a phoenix.
For the Wonderbolts as a whole: it seems that anytime they're important for the episode's plot, there will be some characters falling to their doom (Sonic Rainboom, Secret of my Excess), tornado creation (Hurricane Fluttershy) or both. Also, Rarity had always been among the characters needing to be rescued from the fall.
It may or may not be intentional, but one of Spitfire's uniform badges closely resembles the rank insignia from the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Future Imperfect," while the three red pips underneath it are very reminiscent of the stars worn by Royal Manticoran Navy officers to denote their previous hyperspace-capable starship commands.
The Dizzitron may be a Shout-Out to a very similar training centrifuge used by the Blue Angels to combat disorientation and train for spin recovery.note Watch the rest of that video if you want a good look at one of the Real Life inspirations of the Wonderbolts!
As explained in the Wacky Sound Effect example, they used a StuKa divebomber whistle for an impending botched landing.
Status Quo Is God: Zig-zagged. On the one hand, Rainbow Dash prepares to quit the Academy together with her defining dream of becoming a Wonderbolt (thus returning to Ponyvile) only for Spitfire to keep her from leaving and make her team leader for her class at the last minute. Her prospects of joining the Wonderbolts have increased significantly thanks to her leadership skills, to the point where, in the Deleted Scene, RD tells her friends the Wonderbolts outright have their eye on her.
Sweet and Sour Grapes: Rainbow Dash abandons her dream of joining a Wonderbolt because she finds their abetting of Lightning Dust's recklessness morally abhorrent. However, Spitfire stops Dash from leaving just in time to tell her that the Wonderbolts need recruits of such fine character, and not only convinces Dash to withdraw her resignation, but promotes her to team leader.
Ticket Line Campout: Pinkie effectively does a mailbox campout, holding out for a letter from Rainbow Dash for three days straight.
Pinkie Pie's doing weird stuff again, including suddenly popping out of the mailbox when she'd been standing next to it a moment before.
In the MLP universe, clouds can support the weight of any pony, not just pegasi, if they can be made dense enough. Of course, the cloud in question was specifically put together by Rainbow Dash in a hurry and on purpose, so it may simply be pegasus magic in action. The process also completely destroys the cloud in question. Alternatively, Twilight could have performed the cloud-walking spell on everypony from Sonic Rainboom once more in anticipation of the visit.
Training from Hell: It feels this way to everypony not named Rainbow Dash or Lightning Dust. They breeze through it while the rest struggle.
Lightning Dust isn't necessarily a hero, but Rainbow Dash still respected her for the majority of the episode so this trope still counts when Dash reads Lightning Dust the Riot Act for not caring about the collateral damage from her tornado, even when that collateral included other cadets and Dash's friends.
A minor example, but after dropping out of the Academy, Rainbow Dash is stopped by Spitfire, who proceeds to call her out on storming out of her office and not giving her a chance to commend RD for her worth as a leader.
Yellow Lightning, Blue Lightning: Lightning Dust's color scheme, having light bluish-green fur with a yellow mane. The motion trail she leaves behind reflects this, even having a yellow, zigzagging distortion reminiscent of a lightning bolt.