Good evening, everypony, and welcome back to another edition of "Batbrony Reviews"! Goodness me, at this point the amount of exceptional episodes this season has become so commonplace that it's almost starting to lose its effect. But just almost. This past week we had yet another delight of an episode in "A Health of Information," and easily Fluttershy's best episode of the season. It was well-paced, well-written, had great appearances from new and old characters, and a side of its main character that we rarely get to see. Without further ado, let's begin, this is "A Health of Information."
"Ya'll ready to learn all about the magic of... the perfect gumbo recipe?"
So first things first, even though she appeared in this episode less than last week's, I'd say this was easily the better of Zecora's two appearances this season, so far at least. For starters, we got to see her helping somepony *gasp* outside of her damn hut! OK, fine, I know this is hardly the only time she's stepped outside of her house, but still, it's a rare enough occurrence that it stood out to me, plus it was interesting that she wasn't helping somepony brew something like she usually is. She was specifically helping Fluttershy track down a moss for some oxen visiting her animal sanctuary whose location in the Everfree Forest she was familiar with, though I have to admit this opening scene raises to points of concern. (1) Does this mean that oxen aren't sapient in this universe? If so that's fairly confusing considering both yaks and cows are. (2) Why the hell was Zecora fetching the moss when she ended up falling into the water in order to get them? Look, I know it set off the whole plot in the first place, and it even tied into why Fluttershy felt so bad about everything, but still, let me reiterate a common sense point that both Fluttershy and Zecora should have been well aware of... FLUTTERSHY CAN FLY!!! Like, I know Fluttershy doesn't like flying that much, but it's not like she would've been flying over a mountain, she would've had to hover like two feet over the water while she was gathering moss! It's not something that breaks the whole episode, but still, I kinda found it to be a silly oversight by both characters all the same.
Why does Zecora look so bucking cute in this still image?
Wings. You have them. USE THEM!!!
Anyways, it's not long before this episode goes from being a pleasant bit of slice of life to a medical drama. Oh wait, my mistake, it doesn't become JUST a medical drama... IT BECOMES BUCKING NIGHTMARE FUEL!!! Why, you may ask? Well because of the disease in question which Zecora (and later Fluttershy and Doctor Horse) catches from a mysterious flower pod called Swamp Fever. I don't know what sick bucker on the MLP writing staff came up with this disease, but get a load of this... you've got silly symptoms like it causing you to exhale bubbles or causing you to break out in spots (which aren't exactly pox so much as polka dots), but it also gives you fatigue, confusion, causes you to eventually start sneezing lightning apparently, and worst of all is the end result. This bucking disease causes its victims to eventually TURN INTO THE TREES THAT DROP THE FLOWER PODS WHICH SPREAD SWAMP FEVER?!?!
Well, I think it's safe to say that this is the appropriate response to that...
Holy. Bucking. Shit. THAT IS THE STUFF OF NIGHTMARES!!! I mean, let's wrap our heads around what this disease in a children's television show does to ponies. It transforms their entire biological structure into a form completely unnatural to their own, and assuming they lose sapience, more or less kills them in the process of slowly transforming them into a bucking tree. That sounds like some bucked up idea that you'd find in a 1980's children's television show or film, and again, I have no idea who the buck came up with it for here, but it's bucking terrifying in concept alone. Not that I'm complaining, it certainly raised the stakes from the very beginning for everypony involved, but still, definitely wasn't something I was expecting here.
Once Zecora's been diagnosed, we get to the real meat of this episode where Fluttershy shines, and on top of that a very solid, subtle moral is delivered as well. Feeling guilty for putting Zecora in a position to come down with Swamp Fever in the first place (and she's not wrong technically, which is possibly the only thing that KIND OF takes away from a still very powerful moral), Fluttershy throws herself into frantic efforts to find a cure. She sifts through Twilight's library even more ardently than the alicorn princess herself, and in the process (through some excellent research) discovers exactly where they need to go to find a cure, Hayseed, the old village of Mage Meadowbrook, a legendary sorceress and healer (some question how an earth pony was a sorceress, but we know that earth pony's do have their own type of magic and the ability to interact with and use magical elements, so I certainly think it's possible for an earth pony or a pegasus to be a sorcerer/sorceress in their own way). Once there, they track down her old home and even stumble across her descendant (seemingly sole descendant by the looks of things), Cattail, and also hunt down information recorded by Mage Meadowbrook in her old diaries leading them to conclude that the key to a cure for Swamp Fever is the honey produced by Flash Bees, who are immune to the effects of the Swamp Fever flower pods. During all of this, Fluttershy foregoes getting any rest for herself, and soon it becomes apparent that she too is coming down with Swamp Fever. In desperation, she frantically attempts to use her natural charm on animals, and when that doesn't work the Stare itself, to get honey from the Flash Bees, but neither works, and after getting stung by them, Fluttershy faints from her fatigue and remains unconscious for three days while nothing Twilight or Cattail do to retrieve the honey works. When she awakens, Fluttershy realizes that in not getting herself any rest, she not only endangered herself but also Zecora as well, since if she'd been fully rested she might have managed to retrieve the cure sooner. Realizing that Mage Meadowbrook successfully got honey from the Flash Bees by wearing a healer's mask with a stripe pattern similar to those of Flash Bee queens, who the males are subservient to, Fluttershy uses the mask to get the honey and heals herself, Zecora, and Doctor Horse of Swamp Fever, in the process also rediscovering the cure for Swamp Fever for good (very odd that Mage Meadowbrook only recorded the cure in her personal diary, but given that she seems to have lived centuries ago long before printed works in Equestria, we can give her a bit of a pass for not more widely publishing her medical knowledge).
Fluttershy's character arc in this episode is at the heart of a very mature, subtle moral, especially personal and meaningful to people who can relate to it (such as at least one very dear friend of so many of us on the forums here). People who've had a loved one get diagnosed with a bad disease or debilitating medical condition in general often go through hell to help them get through it, if they can. They try everything they can to make it better, whether that be financially or just anything at all they personally can do for the one they love. They might drive themselves to such lengths that they even start blaming themselves for what's happening in the first place, or keep convincing themselves that they're not doing enough. Again, this message was just slightly undercut by the fact that this was technically Fluttershy's fault, but again that is easy enough to ignore when you consider just how good the message is. It is not good for one to neglect their own needs when trying to care for another, no matter how much you love them or how bad things may be for them. They wouldn't want you to do so since they love and care for you as well, and on a more pragmatic level, not looking after your own needs might actually make it more difficult for you to take care of them, much less yourself. While such perseverance and determination to aid another as Fluttershy displayed is certainly admirable and capable of achieving much, it needs to be tempered and balanced if one hopes to sustain such a drive in the long run. This is a mature message both on an intellectual and emotional level, and I am sure those who can personally relate to Fluttershy in this episode were very much affected by it and knew exactly what the show was doing.
Beyond these core elements, the episode had a lot of other great things to offer viewers as well. Twilight had one of her best supporting roles in sometime, and a true one at that. Oftentimes a risk with having Twilight as a supporting character is that, by the sheer nature of who she is as the show's main character, she will dominate the screen time. Heck, we've seen her paired up (rarely) with Fluttershy in past episodes, such as when they visited the Hooffields and McColts, and while they were both supposed to be main characters in that episode, one could argue Twilight stood out far more than Fluttershy. Here, however, she was firmly a supporting character; Fluttershy took the lead on most things, while Twilight offered good support and mature advice the whole time. It wasn't even out of deference to Fluttershy or anything, Fluttershy just had a better handle on the situation from the start than Twilight did and she knew this. Her intro with Spike in which they were having a cooking competition was also rather cute and funny, a more normal side of Twilight we don't get to see nearly as much these days like we used to, plus it was fun seeing her do something not related to her love of intellectual pursuits like baking (also, those sweet potato muffins honestly sounded REALLY good if I'm being perfectly honest).
OK, Twiley looks ridiculously adorable with flower on her little hoovesies and her horn!
Remember kids, this is what baking too much does to you. Before you know it, you're having fever dreams about pans!!!
Cattail was another fun, new element added to the episode. The entire village of Hayseed seems to have had an Equestrian version of Cajun-bayou culture, which was pretty unique to see in this show. While the real world parallels could only go so far, the show has never made a habit of stereotyping other cultures when it does have shades of cultures similar to ones in our own world, and the same was true here. In addition, his willingness to simply help Fluttershy and Twilight as soon as he learned what they were after was admirable to see seeing as he'd just met them, not to mention he basically opened his home to them as well (well, after they inadvertently broke into it, though in their defense they had no idea it was occupied to begin with). The lore with his distant relative and ancestor, Mage Meadowbrook, was quite cool as well, and it was nice learning about the last of the Legends of Magic (though I still think it would have been cool if Fluttershy's allegory among them were Somnambula). But all in all, the best elements of this episode that will stick with me going forward are those relating to its message and just how great of an appearance Fluttershy herself had. That's not to say the episode as a whole wasn't exceptional, it really was. It's just that these elements in particular are what make it particularly unique in its own way as an exceptional episode, especially in a season like Season 7 where there have been so many great episodes already.
Well, that's all I've got for you everypony. I feel fairly certain that by the end of Season 7 this episode will still stand out as Fluttershy's best of the season, so it was a pleasure getting around to finally reviewing such a great episode. Until next time, this is Batbrony signing off. I'm off!!! *cue dramatic exit*