This is the second week in a row where an episode I never had much interest in proved to be a pleasant surprise. "A Health of Information" is kinda simple and rather expository, but it's got a breakneck pace, a strong collection of jokes, and some surprisingly high stakes which lend the episode a lot of intensity. As I've said before, this show doesn't need a strong emotional core or a sharp eye for continuity to impress me. Those things are nice, but before it has that, all I want from it is to be fun. "A Health of Information" is probably one of the 5 most entertaining episodes this season. Not bad for a story which seemingly only exists to set up the finale!
While helping Fluttershy find a moss for her sanctuary, Zecora catches a rare disease called Swamp Fever, which has no known cure and, if untreated, will eventually turn her into the same type of tree which gave her the disease. Blaming herself, Fluttershy immediately enlists the help of Twilight and spares no expense in finding the cabin of the Mage Meadowbrook, a healer famed for curing a great many diseases before vanishing suddenly. In the process, however, Fluttershy forgets to take care of herself.
First and foremost, it must be noted that "A Health of Information" is easily the funniest episode since at least "Discordant Harmony." From Zecora's heartbeat sounding like a drum roll to Twilight becoming excited about Meadowbrook's diary, the silly gags keep coming, and they come at a much faster rate than other funny episodes this season like "Triple Threat" or "To Change a Changeling." The plot moves by so quickly that it never has time to lull, and the episode smartly fills that space with clever gags and cute character moments. A lot of the dialogue consists of characters just explaining the plot to each other and exclaiming how they feel, but even that is tied to individual personalities much more successfully than the likes of "Daring Done?."
The cutest of these moments all come from Fluttershy, whose sheer determination is super endearing. Even more than "Flutter Brutter," this episode finds a comfortable balance between her soft demeanour, her caring personality, and her newfound assertiveness. This all seems quite admirable, but ironically, Fluttershy's determination is presented as an issue, since it leads to her not taking care of herself. Eventually, this culminates in her catching Spring Fever herself, which she continues trying to persevere through despite visibly suffering from severe symptoms.
What makes this work so well is that it's so easy to relate to. Fluttershy starts neglecting her own health because of things which we usually admire in characters, and her feeling of being responsible for Zecora's illness is relatable and sympathetic. It's easy to imagine an alternate version of this story where Fluttershy's insistence is treated as a good thing, so when that's subverted and shown to be ultimately causing more trouble for both herself and others who worry about her, it's somewhat surprising, which makes for a very effective moral.
Still, the characterization here does have issues, and a lot of them stem from the rapid pacing. While Fluttershy is mostly alright, she comes across as uncharacteristically hyperactive, which is a double edged sword. On one hand, it leads to a lot of the episode's funniest and cutest moments, but on the other, it's kinda distracting to see Fluttershy acting so weirdly. Maybe she had too much coffee. This weird hyperactivity extends to everyone else, especially Twilight, which is ironic given how the latter serves as the voice of reason here. Twilight tells Fluttershy to calm down, and even falls asleep on a pile of books at one point, but she too often comes across like she drank a whole case of energy drinks.
Thankfully, this is yet another example of Twilight being great this season, and even her role as a voice of reason makes a little more sense here. Because we've so often seen Twilight becoming equally stressed out over much less important things than this, it makes sense that she'd know how to handle such stressful situations. Furthermore, it comes across better here than in "P.P.O.V." simply because she's been much more fallible this season, and it helps that she's also very funny in this episode, as in a brief scene where she and Spike are having a "cook off."
This episode also introduces a new legendary character in the form of Mage Meadowbrook, and her flashback is perhaps the best one yet. Like Somnambula, we don't get a particularly deep sense of Meadowbrook's personality, but also like Somnambula, she comes across as charming and admirable, and the cultural aesthetic here is a bit less rote than any of the preceding legends, showing muted Cajun/Louisiana Creole influences without incorporating any tired mystical elements. This flashback is all about observing the natural world, and while its parallel for the main story is about as suspicious as that in "Daring Done?," that parallel also gives it the flavour which was missing from "Campfire Tales."
Finally, and most intriguingly, the episode has surprisingly high stakes, as if Fluttershy and Twilight fail, Zecora (and later Fluttershy as well) will potentially be subject to a fate worse than death. This show can't directly mention death, but it can refer to characters slowly having their body warped into an immobile, toxic form, possibly being robbed of their sapience in the process. That's even worse than real swamp fever, which just causes death through anemia, and it gives the story a much higher level of tension than it might otherwise have. Rarely is there this much at risk in the show, and that makes the episode feel genuinely refreshing.
Just when I was starting to give up on this show, it has surprised me with two unexpectedly enjoyable episodes which offer a lot of the things I missed this season. "A Health of Information" is upbeat and fast-paced, and gains a lot of energy just from having really high stakes. Top it off with a solid moral, some fun characterization, and the best "legend" yet, and what issues the episode does have seem minor given just how fun the whole thing is. See, this is what I want from the show. Give me more like this.
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