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Further thoughts about the Minor character Lightning Dust (Post "The washouts" episode) and faults with reformed villains and Equestria in general · 2:24pm Aug 29th, 2019

Further thoughts about the Minor character Lightning Dust (Post "The washouts" episode) and faults with reformed villains and Equestria in general

A lot has happened in MLP since Twilight made her mark beating Nightmare Moon with the help of her friends and the elements of Harmony hasn't it?
Her home went from a tree, to a castle and now she's even opening a school of friendship that seeks to reach out to every corner of Equestria so that everyone can savour the value of the most powerful magic of all which comes in neither the form of a spell or a tangible artefact.
The magic known only as "the magic of friendship".

Villains are getting reformed in every corner of the realm, renouncing their fight against Equestria and their evil ways along with it.
Starlight Glimmer agreed to become Twilight's apprentice after finally getting it through her thick skull that Cutie marks weren't what caused her and Sunburst to become distant in the first place.
Diamond Tiara finally stopped bullying the Cutie Mark Crusaders after many years of getting away with it with no adult interventions.
And even the great and powerful Trixie is quickly making a name for herself as a rising hero who deserves her own honourable mention in a newspaper filled up with stories of the Mane 6's heroism as the honoured protectors of the land.
Yet one pony never achieved a feat seemingly easily enough obtained by her fellow felons and criminals so to speak.
One pony who even now has been declared by Wonderbolt member Rainbow Dash as "Her rival for life" and marked as "very dangerous".
A pony whose bright and beautiful yellow Mane is a sight reviled by every pony just as the Cutie Mark Crusaders were briefly reviled by every pony in Ponyville after being commanded to write hurtful stories, except for this pony the scorn is likely to last a lifetime rather than an afternoon.

...I might be one of those few people who feel that Lightning Dust isn't quite as bad as the majority seems to believe. Lightning Dust for me at least, is a strange sort of pony.
She's a pony you can't help but revile.
She's also the a pony you can't help but pity to a degree.
Perhaps I should explain.
In Lightning's debut episode "Wonderbolt Academy" she was indeed portrayed as somewhat crass and rough. But here's the real kicker.
So was Spitfire. And Spitfire was certainly a leader that the writers were trying to cast in a positive light along with Rainbow Dash and she was portrayed as being in the right for not being easy on the cadets and working them hard to the bone to test their skills to secure the future of an elite group of fliers who could only afford to have the best and most prepared recruits among their ranks to ensure their continued reputation, so to speak.
And a couple episodes later near the Equestria games, Miss Harshwhiny was supposed to come off also as a strict but still reasonable pony who was not incapable of giving credit where credit was due, but who would also not be easy on the ponies who she was put in charge of inspecting.
Many high entry requirement university lecturers have much the same personality, as do many high level students who must often sacrifice some degree of "friendliness" to truly concentrate on perfecting their test scores and grasp of their subjects. (Think Moondancer from "Amending fences", Episode 1/Friendship Games Twilight Sparkle or even Sunburst from "The Crystalling". I can go on and on with examples from the show)
The wonderbolts academy is clearly not a place for sub-par students who don't take their studies seriously, as evidenced by the many ponies who were soundly outdone by Rainbow Dash and Lightning, one example being the pony who completely and utterly flopped at the Dizzitron because she was too dizzy to do anything other than flail aimlessly.
The aformentioned ponies were clearly supposed to be cast in a sympathetic light, and is Lightning Dust who tried extra hard to perfect every exercise she was given, much different from any of them?

Many successful buisnessmen sacrifice a lot of things including time for hobbies, time with friends (especially ones less succesful than they are) and even time for sleep.
And since it is clearly portrayed that Lightning Dust wants to advance in the Wonderbolts in any way possible, her supposed lack of friendliness towards Dash may be more single-minded concentration towards her goal than out of any hostility. And that is surely admirable as a trait in any pony. Learning to avoid distractions and temptations is actually useful even as a friendship skill, since how many relationships have failed because one member was being unfaithful by hanging out with a stranger instead of respecting commitments they specifically made to their supposed friend or partner.
If a friend told you he would be at a dinner party with you but you later discovered he had fallen alseep watching a movie in the cinema, surely this would be an example of a bad friend.

The one line where Lightning asks Dash if she would like to get some food from the mess hall together is another important point in the episode.
Lightning Dust: "Wanna grab some grub in the mess hall?"

Not simply the content but the delivery and tone of this line seems friendly and frank enough, which may reveal that despite Lightning's workaholic attitude towards her future career as a Wonderbolt (Much like Dash), she does have a more relaxed and genuinely sympathetic side which is expressed more commonly during times of rest than times of study and work.
A lot of people in real life are like this, seemingly cold and no-nonsense during their working day but much less uptight and easy to connect with once work is over.

Lightning Dust first appeared like a sudden bolt of lightning (pun intended) from out of seemingly nowhere, seeming almost instantly for some reason to develop an inherent closeness with Rainbow Dash.
They flew together for the net total of maybe two or three minutes before this bond was formed.
It is made clear in Wonderbolts Academy that Lightning is not a very social pony despite all her bravado and apparent confidence.
So what caused this sudden perceived connection apart from the fact that both of them were good flyers. It would make more sense for Lightning to be more hostile since Dash would surely present a rival who would threaten her position as the apple of her teacher Spitfire's eye.

Considering episodes such as "Pinkie Pride" where Cheese Sandwich came specifically to Ponyville to express his gratitude to Pinkie for bringing joy and laughter to his life and to show off the party throwing skills she imparted to him, along with episodes such as "Sonic Rainboom" where a large crowd of ponies were there to witness Rainbow Dash rescuing Rarity while simultaneously performing a stunt said to be nigh-impossible to all but the best flyers, it isn't unreasonable to assume that the Mane 6 are at least somewhat known and celebrated as Celebrities of some sort in at least the cities closest to Ponyville if not all of Equestria, which is justified considering the amount of heroic deeds they've done at this point.
It would not be far-fetched to assume by this Season 3 episode, that Lightning may have at least heard about Dash along with the other members of the Mane 6.
And considering the size of the crowd during "Sonic Rainboom" who were gathered to watch Dash perform the titular stunt, it would not too much of an ass-pull if Lightning was also among the spectators.

Since it was clear from her establishing shot that Lightning was interested only in a talented and dedicated flyer, her at least hearing about some of Rainbow Dash's victories would be at least one solid reason as to why she seems innately attracted to the blue pegasi even though there were probably a bunch of other at the very least fairly good flyers to choose from.
Who better to choose as a partner to curry favour with than a local celeberity who has saved the world multiple times and succesfuly pulled off a near-impossible stunt (Secretly Rainbow Dash has done a Sonic Rainboom twice if you count the time she was younger and challenged the bullies to a race from "Cutie Mark Chronicles").

Cheese Sandwich did not reveal his past connection to Pinkie Pie until near the episode's end when Pinkie was beginning to lose all faith in her talents because of his supposed upstaging of her. Spitfire did not seem to provide Dash any superior treatment despite witnessing Dash perform the Sonic Rainboom and seeing Dash motivate the Pegasi in Ponyville reach the required wing power to lift water to Cloudsdale (Hurricane Fluttershy) at least in the start of the episode.

Its not too implausible to believe that Lightning didn't regard her prior knowledge of her soon to be Wingpony as important enough to be worth mentioning especially with the amount of attention that even being a Wonderbolt cadet demanded.
And to reveal such information after she was kicked from the Wonderbolts might only have worsened Dash's already low view of her or served to make her look even more pathetic and desperate than she already appeared. It's made clear that honour is an important ideal in the Wonderbolt's and so Lightning would at least want to appear halfway presentable even as she was dragged from her former Wingpony's sight to soon be evicted from the organisation she dedicated her life to impressing.
This is different to "Pinkie Pride" in that while Pinkie Pie was jealous, she held no personal hostility against Cheese Sandwich while here its clear that Dash's fury at Lightning bordered on hatred.
The tornado is the instance the episode tries to use to portray Lightning at her worst.
Yet I don't think this was Lightning's fault completely.
First and foremost, Dash joined Lightning in the creation of the tornado even if Dash did briefly try to talk Lightning out of it. While this does cast Dash in a slightly more sympathetic light for this fiasco, it also makes her an accomplice in the "crime".
This incident also undermines Dash's earlier desire to be Lead pony in Lightning's place, as a good leader knows when to stand up and to disagree to submit to peer pressure.
Dash being roped in by Lightning to play her part in creating the tornado, shows poor leadership and even to an extent poor teamwork skills as a good teammate would vehemently refuse to play a part in a potentially dangerous action that could get both of them in trouble.
This would be done not just for their own benifit but for the benifit of the team.

If you see your friend about to jump from a cliff in real life, surely it would be the morally right decision to yank him away and then angrily shout at him that what he was about to do was dangerous while warning him not to do it again as you explain in detail why it was an irresponsible action.
We get no such response from Dash aside from a very weak attempt to refuse. Dash's nervousness while attempting to refuse to do the tornado may show that either her loyalty is clouding her judgement or that she at least partially believes Lightning's idea will be a good one despite her own doubts.

Pinkie's concern for Dash in this episode was admirable but also excessive and dangerous.
If you see your friend taking an important exam that could determine his future for many years to come, it is surely better to wait until he finishes the exam before you rush in to talk to him.
It's made clear that the Wonderbolt's academy is a potentially dangerous place to fly something as fragile as an air balloon because of the constant quick flying by the cadets as they perform stunts and race around creating constant air currents as they go.
Even if Lightning and Dash had not been creating a tornado at that exact moment, there would still be the danger of Twilight and Co not being able to see through the clouds that were there as part of the cloud clearing exercise, the danger of being hit by a passing flyer going too quick to change directions, being rocked around by strong turbulence and unexpected changes in wind caused by the constant zooming through the air that is par for a flying school teaching cadets to become elite flyers of a rapid-fire stunt team that relies on quickness to maintain its popularity.

Your friend if they truly cared about you would generally want you to be sensible and safe. And if you valued your friendship, you'd do well to respect your friend's wishes when they are as much for your benifit as theirs.
It is not considered sensible behaviour to run on to a runway where many planes prepare to zip at high speeds before taking off.
It is equally irresponsible to jump into the middle of a military practice zone where soldiers are practicing shooting targets (Or in this instance clearing clouds)
Yet Pinkie was in a sense doing both, the unexpectedness of this bizzare decision made all the more glaring by Dash's shocked reaction and her almost being too slow to do anything.
If the other Wonderbolt cadet pegasi had been one step too slow or Twilight had not been logical enough to at least cast the cloud walking spell before arrival, Dash's reaction would have been not enough and her friends sans maybe Fluttershy would have plummeted to their deaths. It was luck rather than Dash's response (even though I think we should still praise Dash for at least trying to protect her friends from a disaster she herself sadly had a hand in) which saved the remaining members of the Mane 6.

There are a myriad of reasons why I believe Lightning is at least partially exempt from some of the guilt in this situation apart from Dash's partial involvment.

Firstly, she did not even know that Pinkie Pie and company would be coming to where she was at that particular moment and neither did Dash. From her perspective she had a clear shot at the clouds at an angle which would not hit anything or anyone but the clouds.
This might even reveal that Lightning is taking to heart some of Dash's concerns since in the previous exercise where Lightning injured Dash's wings and some of the other Pegasi in an attempt to go faster since this time Lightning is actually trying to make sure she doesn't hit anyone, even if it is only briefly.

Secondly from the nonchalant response by Spitifire as Dash later mentions the tornado, at least some tornadoes seem to have been used in the past which would make Lightning's tactic an uncommon but not unheard of method of completing this exercise assuming all cadets must take similar exercise. Spitifire even refers to the tornado as " a bit excessive".
Not very. Not dangerously. A bit. And Spitfire is clearly meant to be the grand judge in this crime.
Thirdly, Lightning was caught by her and Dash's tornado. She couldn't have helped even if she wanted to which means that it was simply by luck that Dash was able to help rather than it being a case of Dash being kind and Lightning being cruel. Remember Lightning wanted to succeed and impress Spitfire and overtly showing a lack of compassion is counter-productive even from a pragmatic viewpoint. And if she was dizzy from the spin, it would not be too big of an error not to see her tornado nearly killing Rainbow Dash's friends.
This might give some justifcation why the guilt didn't drop on Lightning Dust as quickly as it did Rainbow Dash. It's still not the most justified reaction to nearly killing five ponies but it might not be as damning a response as some suppose it to be.

At no point does Spitfire ask Lightning what happened, at least from what we see in the episode. Pinkie Pie and her friends are also not questioned about their involvement seemingly thrown to the wayside as Pinkie even mentions that Dash forgot to take the care package she delivered at the end of the episode. The other Wonderbolt Cadets also did not come forth confirming or denying the accusations levied against Lightning nor were they questioned.

This would make it a case of Dash simply being first to tell and to a degree denying her own involvement since at no point does she mention that even if it was Lightning's own idea, Dash had a hand in the tornado.
And did the lesson in "Lesson Zero" not state that if you sense your friend is not well or potentially about to do something you know to be dangerous, you should step in to help instead of ignoring them.
This would make Dash not trying harder to stop Lightning's Tornado and other reckless behaviours a mild case of Aesop Amnesia(Forgetting a moral learned). This would also be the second time Dash has forgotten that lesson since in "A Canterlot Wedding", she and Twilight's other friends ignored Twilight despite her clear distress, instead dismissing Twilight's words as pure jealousy despite the clear fact that Twilight has shown integrity and incorruptibility many times in the past and been the driving force that alerted the group to evil threats in most cases.

The problem with Spitifre taking Dash at her word is a rather simple one. Dash's clear jealousy towards Lightning having the Lead Pony badge while she doesn't means that Dash is despite her past heroism far from a reliable or impartial narrator in this instance.
It would have been more fair if Lightning Dust got a trial with proper evidence, witnesses, a jury and a chance to defend herself. This would also make Lightning's expulsion a more effective act of discipline as the other members of the Wonderbolts would take note of this incident and quickly fall in line having learned that Lightning's actions have consequences.

Spitfire herself is not completely impartial in the situation either. When she hears that Dash will soon quit the Wonderbolts she probably realizes that this scandal will severely impact her credibility as leader and the repuation of the Wonderbolts as a whole.
And from "Secret of My Excess" after failing to defend Ponyville from a rampaging Spike, it would stand to reason that Spitfire would be battling to restore her organization's image in any way possible.
Dash has a quality that Lightning does not.

It's called Patronage.
Patronage is when someone has enough friends in high places which will support them almost no matter what when push comes to shove.
It was common in the old days of ships for instance for the son of an admiral or parlaiment member or even king to be given the most profitable assignments, quicker promotions and more lenience in the event they failed in their duties.
Rainbow Dash is one of the ponies chosen to use one of the elements of harmony which can basically do anything.
Rainbow Dash also has close relationships with Twilight Sparkle who herself has close relationships with the ruler nay physical goddess of Equestria as her personal student (Which would give Twilight and to a lesser extent Rainbow a seat on the royal council or at least their ideas would be given far more priority than other comparable ponies)
Rainbow Dash has helped defeat a lot of dangerous monsters. This automatically wins her a lot of goodwill.
And furthermore, Spitfire herself is grateful for Rainbow Dash saving the lives of some of her fellow Wonderbolts from "Sonic Rainboom" and Spitfire has personally witnessed Rainbow Dash actually perform the Sonic Rainboom. Having a state hero who can pull off seemingly impossible stunts is something that any sports team would want.
Spitfire clearly knew from earlier that Dash wanted the lead pony badge. She probably also knew that if Dash quit, Dash's words could do a lot of damage to the already declining reputation of the Wonderbolts (remember that as a state hero, Dash's words carry a lot of weight). She also probably knew that Dash openly resented Lightning at this point and would do anything to see Lightning gone.
The giving of Lightning's lead pony badge to Dash could be considered a saving throw by Spitfire as an apology to Dash after she genuinely realized that the Wonderbolt's rules needed work. It could also be seen as a bribe of sorts to pacify Rainbow by stroking her ego.
Once Dash saw that Spitfire will take her side over Lightning and once she gets the lead pony badge, all thoughts of quitting the Wonderbolts quickly vanished and taken from the episode, Rainbow yelled excitedly "Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh".

I find this very inconsistent when a moment ago Dash was passonaitely speaking over Spitfire about how the Wonderbolt attitude towards pushing oneself was morally wrong and how she wanted no part in it along with her clearly hurt but still determined expression as Twilight tries to comfort Dash over losing her lifelong dream.
It seems that a promotion really was all that was needed to make Dash go back on her decision. And this is very weak-willed and once again not the mark of a good leader and makes Dash look like a desperate beggar who kneels to any benefit.
Spitfire's underhanded actions in "Rainbow Falls" which involve trying to get Dash to replace Soarin so that Ponyville wouldn't qualify for the Equestria games while not informing Soarin about any of it further undermines my view for her.

Another interesting point to note is that Lightning Dust's shocked yet still fairly civil expression as she was led away. She never once gave Dash a nasty look or a threat which at least seems to imply that she wasn't all that angry at Dash.
When you look at some of the now reformed villains, you begin to see that in her first episode at least, Lightning didn't seem all that bad.

-Diamond Tiara was happy to spend many seasons tormenting the CMC for various petty reasons even when they hadn't done anything wrong to her. She blackmailed them with embarassing photo's in "Ponyville Confidential" and didn't show any gratitude when they continued to find more hurtful stories for her even as their feelings were more hurt.
She threatened their cousin Babs into becoming another bully by mocking her blank flank in "One bad apple" and insulted the CMC's float. She also began insulting Babs again the second Babs turned against her and back to the CMC showing she has no loyalty even to her allies.
There was also "Flight to the Finish" where Diamond insulted Scootaloo's inability to fly. That's like insulting someone who lost their leg in an accident.
Just about every episode Diamond appeared in, she found ways to try and hurt three young fillies who had done her no wrong and she did it an a sneaky and underhanded way so that neither Cheerlie nor any of the adults tried to intervene. (Applejack tried to intervene in "One bad apple" and Cheerlie in "Ponyville Confidential" but that's it).
She also used her high position and money to try and undermine Pip in "Crusader's of the Lost mark" showing that her petty hatred extends to more than just blank flanks.
So by the time she "reformed" she had done a lot of psycological damage while getting away with it almost every time and only being lightly punished rarely. And she didn't show that much remorse for her past actions.
-Sunset Shimmer was willing to ruin two universes just to try and get Twilight's crown (If Twilight doesn't go back through the portal, then pony Equestria is screwed) out of petty jealousy and was willing to resort to blackmail and lies to accomplish her ends.
She also spent years bullying the human Mane 5, fracturing a tight friendship just to keep herself in power, after ditching her clearly loving mentor Celestia in a very shallow way. She was quickly forgiven though by the end of the second Equestria girls movie.
-Starlight Glimmer brainwashed many ponies into giving up their talents (Which are very important to Equestria's well being) and tried to forcibly remove cutie marks from those who didn't submit to her brainwashing scheme. She was not willing to give up her own cutie mark showing great hypocrisy and was willing to ruin multiple timelines which would result in the end of the world just to spite Twilight.
It was all because of one relationship that went badly for her and she didn't even consider that maybe if Sunburst was so willing to ignore her over something so small then maybe he wasn't a very good friend in the first place.
This is ignoring the fact that many ponies have had their first relationships go not so well but stayed good ponies regardless in the show.

-Gilda spent her debut episode shunning all of Rainbow Dash's friends, stealing food without paying and being downright unpleasant to ponies who were just trying to make her feel welcome in Ponyville. She couldn't even be reasoned with when Rainbow herself tried to calm her down by the end despite being childhood friends.
-Wallflower Blush removed important memories from people simply so that she could feel less bad about being lonely. While she did apologize and feel guilt by the end, the point still stands that she did what she did out of spite and jealousy.
It's not that Lightning Dust threw a tornado deliberately to try and kill Rainbow Dash's friends.
She may have been somewhat insensitive to Dash at times but certainly she was no Diamond Tiara. In fact I argue this is Lightning's biggest problem. She was so fixated on trying to impress Spitfire that she didn't pay enough attention to the wing pony who she was supposed to lead.

I used to compare Lightning Dust with Fluttershy in that they both had difficulty communicating effectively sometimes and deserved better than what they got sometimes.
Now I feel that a better comparison would be Twilight from "Lesson Zero".
Twilight did much the same thing as Lightning Dust when she cast a "Want it Need it spell" to try and "make a friendship problem". That spell could have been just as damaging as a tornado if it were left to spread (there was already a big fight when Celestia arrived) and Twilight could have realized it was wrong and chose not to cast it in the first place. And like Lightning Dust, she was trying to stay on good terms with her mentor not knowing how much damage she was about to cause. Only Twilight was a state hero and Princess Celestia's student while Lightning Dust wasn't.
I can see why the writers made the change to Lightning Dust in "The Washouts", they wanted this time to portray her as unambigiously the bad guy and not give her any sympathetic points.
Unfortunately, it ends up instead making a much awaited returning character into a strawman (Or this case Strawpony) who is simply existent to make the main cast look better in comparision. Lightning Dust certainly didn't create the tornado maliciously in "Wonderbolts academy" and she certainly didn't show so much overt hatred towards Dash even as she was being led away.

Her main qualities about pushing herself as hard as possible and having immense respect for ponies who could match her talent along with seemingly respectable authority figures were non existent in that episode. It just seems like the writers have forgotten the qualities that made her such an interesting watch several seasons ago and merely brought her back because they were running out of ideas and desperate to pander to fans.

Perhaps the one reason I might be inclined to give for Lightning's poor behaviour in her second episode would be that her actions were the result of rapidly declining sanity...
She did seem far less reasonable and logical after all.
If I were Spitfire, I would have put Lightning and Rainbow on different teams as Lead ponies each for a less competent and confident flyer. A chain is as strong as its weakest link after all and doing this might bring out their sensitive and caring side as opposed to their reckless and needlessly competitive side as well as being better for every Wonderbolt Cadet.
The weaker flyers become stronger while the stronger flyers learn the other important team skills that their time spent practising practical skills has not allowed them to learn such as empathy and patience.

This would teach a moral that sometimes two people who are too similar might not be good friends since variety is the spice of life. It could also teach the moral that if you push closeness you often get seperation instead since Rainbow clearly expressed to Spitfire she was not happy about her place on Lightning's team so separating them even then could have improved Rainbow and Lightning's relationship.
I would also have given both Lightning and Rainbow Dash punishments after the tornado. Neither of them would be fired permanently since this is the first time this type of incident has occured and there was no precedent along with the fact that they didn't know Pinkie and the others would be entering at such an unexpected moment.
Instead both of them would be given probation for a month with plenty of chores for them around the academy such as cleaning the toilets, making the beds and renovating the academy in general etc.
Lightning should have been more sensitive to Rainbow's concerns and Rainbow should not have been so jealous about Lightning's position. Lightning should also be a little less reckless.
Tough labour is known to have a calming, humbling and uniting effect as shown in "Apple family reunion" and it may be the reason why Applejack is definetly one of the most level head and least reckless members of the group who doesn't brag that much.

Then at the end of the month if they are at least civil with each other and humbled by the experience, I would give them the option to re-enter the academy as Wing Ponies for different Lead ponies since it is clear that both of them are not yet fit to be leaders yet.
Meanwhile Twilight, Pinkie and the others would be chastised about their stupid and potentially dangerous decision to enter such a hazardous area in such a fragile balloon and told that other Pegasi as well as them could have been seriously hurt.
They would not be punished but warned that next time I would not be so lenient following the new rules I firmly impose stating that tornadoes are no longer acceptable by Wonderbolts (both cadets and professionals) in the area and that balloons and other delicate pieces of flying equipment must stay a certain distance from this airspace (there would be warning signs).
So in essence, Equestria is despite its improvements still a heavily caste system which gives too many rights to some ponies and too few to others. The Ponies are fat and lazy from years of peace and six untrained ragtags have to do jobs the royal guard and Wonderbolts should be doing instead.
Its a good thing Twilight is building her friendship school so that maybe soon she and her friends can get some much deserved rest instead of having to solve every problem everywhere.

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