I loved the storyline, and the fact that it was not a rehash of earlier episodes, with Fluttershy's previous character development being ignored or downplayed; there was so much that was good about the plot, so many points where a lesser series would've gone for the obvious or taken shortcuts that the MLP:FiM writers avoided. For instance: Fluttershy actually said "no" to performing with the Ponytones (that's still due to Iron Will's lessons — and on a side note, I still think that minotaur deserves a medal for how much he actually did for her, all things considered). Rarity accepted that, and didn't try to persuade, pressure or force Fluttershy to participate anyway (which would inevitably have ended in disaster). When Big Mac became hoarse (*groan*) and they went to Zecora, the shaman did not end up being the deus ex machina (i.e., her cure could and did not cure Big Mac in time). And when Fluttershy, at the very end of the episode, finally relented after considering what was so bad about being admired and cheered for, she did not suddenly do a 180° turn and start touring with the Ponytones; she merely performed for her animals and her closest friends.
That last bit in particular stood out to me. As Fluttershy says, it's all about baby steps; and with crippling anxiety of the sort she's dealing with, a baby step is actually a huge leap. I also found the drastic display of how terrifying being in the spotlight is for her (the second such display after Hurricane Fluttershy, no less!) to be spot-on in its intensity; surprising for a children's show at first glance, perhaps, but very realistic, and relatable. It's difficult at best to understand just how that sort of anxiety can feel if you've never experienced it yourself, but I think the show did a great job at getting across just how terrifying and paralyzing it is.
It was wonderful to see Fluttershy come out of her shell a little more again, too; out of all the Mane Six, she's perhaps changed and grown the most over the course of the series, second only to Twilight. Rarity also seemed to have learned something in this episode, what with paying attention to Fluttershy's feelings and taking her anxiety serious.
Twilight, Applejack and Rainbow Dash only played bit parts today, so that leaves Pinkie to talk about. Goodness, I think I've never seen her so callous! The first time that she frightened Fluttershy might be forgiven — she obviously didn't realize what effect she was having on the poor pegasus there, but the second time? She could've known better and she should've known better, and doubly so after Fluttershy'd run away, obviously having a panic attack again. I mean, Pinkie and her friends are looking for Fluttershy to try and calm her down, and when they finally find her, Pinkie feeds right into her friend's anxiety again to the point where Fluttershy bursts into tears? Isn't Pinkie supposed to be the Element of Laughter? I think she crossed the line from being oblivious/careless to being negligently cruel and callous there. (On a side note, just so there's no misunderstandings: I'm not criticizing the writers here, far from it. The writing was great; I'm criticizing Pinkie-the-character.)
I actually wouldn't be surprised if this were picked up again in a later episode, with Pinkie finding herself overcome with crushing guilt over how she acted and how she made her friend feel. It'd make for an interesting episode, and much as I like Pinkie being happy, I also enjoy episodes that show that there's more depth to her than her usual zany antics. And with Fluttershy being the Element of Kindness, I'm sure Pinkie would be forgiven again, and maybe – hopefully! – she'd learn something in the process.
Speaking of the rest of the Mane Six again, I also wonder if it wouldn't have been better to leave Fluttershy be when she was running away repeatedly, rather than constantly popping up and getting in her face about how her worst nightmare was actually an objectively positive experience. True as it may have been, Fluttershy was in far too much emotional turmoil right there and then to process any of that, and they should've given her room, let her decide who she wanted to deal with and when, and offered her support and comfort until she calmed down again, and only THEN reason with her and try to build her up. They all still have something to learn — even Twilight.
But yeah, I have to stress it again: great writing; great plot. It's really hard to believe they fit all that into 22 minutes again, too, and without ever making it seem unnaturally rushed. (The only moment where I thought they were trying to squeeze out a few seconds was Applejack's correctly guessing everything that'd happened when grilling Big Mac, but that a) was funny, and b) could just as well be chalked up to not wanting to rehash all the events that the audience just experienced first-hand anyway.)
On a completely different note (no pun intended), the Ponytones were great! And wow, Big Mac sings — whoda thunk we'd ever see that? But I think it's wonderful, though, and it gives him a lot more depth again, making him more than just AJ's taciturn big brother whose signature lines of "Eeeyup" and "Nnnope" can be counted on two hooves.
I loved the songs, too, both Fluttershy's and the quartet's. Speaking of the quartet, I wondered how Rarity and Big Mac find the time to perform on a more or less daily basis: between concerts, rehearsals, and getting to places (even locally, in Ponyville), how does Rarity have time to take care of her design work, her boutique, and her little sister, and how does Big Mac manage to do his no doubt numerous farm chores? Oh well, as they say, sleep is for the weak. :)
Seeing Zecora again was wonderful (she's such a great character), and of course I loved the return of Flutterguy. Words can't express how giddy with excitement I became when I realized why Zecora was wearing that enigmatic smile. ^^ Flutterguy's always been one of my favorite moments of the show, and all these throwbacks and references and nods to earlier seasons, all this continuity — that's one thing I love about this show. The show's gold, and the writers know it.
Naturally, there were a lot of other background ponies again as well. I think I spotted Apple Fritter (yay, one of my favorite Apples!), and I was utterly delighted to see the spa ponies make a fairly prominent appearance. In fact, in the scene at the spa, there was a third spa pony in addition to Aloe and Lotus that was not Vera — makes sense, as I vaguely recall from the MLP wiki that a bunch more spa ponies are actually known. I'm intrigued, but of course I'll continue thinking of Aloe and Lotus as the spa twins.
Then there was the pony who booked the Ponytones for his daughter's cuteceañera. Was he a reference to anyone? He had an unusual deisgn, and reminded me of the Walter Sobchak lookalike pony from The Cutie Pox, but the MLP wiki doesn't give him a name or raison d'être. (His daughter's called Zipporwhill, though — how appropriate! And speaking of her, she also looked directly at the viewer once; fairly unusual.)
Little things that you may have missed: Cheerilee swooning over Big Mac at the festival, and Silver Spoon being as happy as all the schoolponies when the Ponytones come to school to perform. I didn't see Diamond Tiara in that scene, but still — see? Even those two are not all bad, especially Silver Spoon, who always struck me as the pushover who's merely tagging along (as opposed to Diamond Tiara, who's clearly the mastermind and the dominant one of the two). And Fluttershy had jackalopes among her animals (I'm hardly surprised those exist in Equestria); and Angel Bunny reminding her of the time may well have been a reference to Alice in Wonderland, seeing as how Angel is a white rabbit as well. Oh, and Goldie Delicious is still a cat hoarder, apparently.
Pinkie winning the Turkey Call was funny — shame they didn't show that scene. I wonder if Big Mac would've won if he hadn't lost his voice. (And Gummy trying to swallow a turkey whole... that was adorable.)
Best face: Fluttershy, when Big Mac agreed to let her perform in his stead one last time after he regained his voice. Even cuter than he squee from The Stare Master!
Best quote/exchange: Rarity: "Don't be ridiculous!" — Pinkie Pie: "Aww, but I'm so good at it!" A rare moment of clarity and reflection for Pinkie, even if she completely failed to draw any useful lessons from her conclusion.
And finally: great episode title. It's another of those things that'll fly right over the head of any six-year old watching the show, but those of us old enough to remember the whole Milli Vanilli story surely got a good chuckle out of it. A 90s throwback that's a perfect fit for the episode's plot, AND a pony pun? It doesn't get better than that.
So, yes, again: wonderful episode.
Elsewhere: discussion in broniesaremagic. Episode follow-up on EqD.