The Cutie Mark Crusaders hit the stage, and the stage hits back.
Episode 17: "Stare Master"
As I've mentioned before, this show is exactly as serialized as it needs to be; autumn can follow winter by just a few episodes if it makes for good storytelling. At the same time, it was wise to open the next episode after "Sonic Rainboom" with a scene of a harried Rarity running about her shop, trying to find everything needed to make 20 custom robes due in Trottingham the next morning.
It's an important reminder that, for as much her sometimes destructive self-absorption can make her unlikeable, she also works hard for a living.
Young filly Sweetie Belle, introduced in "Call of the Cutie" and now established as Rarity's younger sister, wants to help, but Rarity's too busy, and Sweetie Belle's attempts to help take a turn for the Rube Goldberg, nearly destroying, the shop. Same thing usually happens when I try to help, too.
Sweetie Belle has her own agenda: Maybe her cutie mark will appear if she helps Rarity. Rarity appreciates this, but she just doesn't have time for these shenanigans. And speaking of cutie marks, Sweetie Belle's fellow Crusaders -- Scootaloo and Apple Bloom -- appear for their scheduled sleepover.
Inspired by her sister, Sweetie Belle has made them awesome capes. Also inspired by her sister, she uses silk that Rarity was going to use for the Trottingham gown order. Whoops.
Keeping her cool remarkably well, Rarity realizes this means she'll have to work all night. Ergo, no sleepover.
Enter Fluttershy. She'd actually entered earlier, returning Rarity's cranky cat Opal from a grooming, something Rarity can't accomplish because she's nowhere near as good with animals as Fluttershy. Therefore, Fluttershy reasons, she must be good with kids, too! She offers to take them off Rarity's hooves. Rarity, knowing how deeply outmatched Fluttershy will be but needing to get work done, reluctantly agrees. The girls are excited.
On their way through town, Fluttershy runs into Twilight Sparkle, who says she's going to Zecora's place in the Everfree Forest to stock up on tea. Will that information return later in the episode? It just might.
Wackiness ensues at Fluttershy's, as does property damage.
Their attempts at carpentry lead to 33 seconds pitch-perfect of comedy. The "Hammer!" gag and the punch line are as old as the hills, but they've lasted this long because they're still funny.
Fluttershy persuades them to go to bed, and when her lullaby fails to put them to sleep, Sweetie Belle offers her own rendition, one that could also be used to try to get Blue Lou and Matt "Guitar" Murphy to not leave with Jake and Elwood. (What I'm saying is, it reminds me of Aretha Franklin's "Think.")
Of course, nothing wakes the chickens like faux-soul, and Fluttershy rounds them up using of her superpower, The Stare.
When the girls realize that one of the chickens got away and into the Everfree Forest, they don their capes and head out on a chicken-rescue mission.
Fluttershy gives chase, and, being Fluttershy, is far more scared of the forest than they are. Finding that her erstwhile chicken Elizabeak and Twilight Sparkle have been turned to stone doesn't help Fluttershy's nerves, either.
Fluttershy deduces it's the work of a cockatrice (not to be confused with cockamouse), a creature with the body of the snake, the head of a fowl, the eyes of Medusa, and a history dating to the late 1100s.
The girls are finally, rightfully scared, and we get one of the squickiest images the show will ever produce: a snail crawling across the petrified Twilight Sparkle. Eww!
Fluttershy has a stare-down with the cockatrice, and before she can be thoroughly stoned, she wins. The cockatrice is properly humbled, and all are de-petrified.
Instead of the typical "Dear Princess Celestia..." voiceover for the Shoehorn, Twilight instead transcribes Fluttershy's story into her letter, as well as Fluttershy's discovery that being good with animals does not in fact guarantee being good with kids. What does that have to do with Twilight learning about the magic of friendship? Nothing. Nor has the show really been about that for some time -- which is a big part of why it's gotten so good.