See, as regards ‘A dog and pony show’ I don’t think it actually undercuts Rarity as much as it appears to, I think they just bungled the explanation.
Thing is, all that bursting into tears and whining and being insufferably vapid is a ruse Rarity cobbles together to engineer herself out of the situation (indeed, by the time the rest of the Mane Six arrive, with Spike Whiteknighting the bejesus out of the scene, she’s basically about to waltz out of their with cartloads of gems).
She even says something like “A lady should always be able to get out of any situation” – it’s intended to be far in the ‘unflappable Lady Penelope’ than ‘airheaded Penelope Pitstop’. I think where the problem comes from is that the fact it’s deliberately contrived high-maintenance isn’t made clear until that point, so until you hit the one line intended as a payoff there’s no indication that Rarity doesn’t genuinely believe an appropriate response to being asked to pull a cart is to burst into tears.
What it needs, I think, is a couple of cutaway scenes where she pauses from whinging to check the effect the plan is having and then reacts accordingly: they were probably going for a “gotcha” reveal which would leave the audience equally surprised and amazed at Rarity’s resourcefulness and they missed because society conditions people to assume that a woman playing up to the high-maintenance gender stereotype must actually be an empty-headed bimbo because at the point when she bursts into tears at being kidnapped and insulted, she’s clearly too hysterical to do anything but whine about it.
But the following section of the episode script is really interesting:
Rover: Enough! Search, pony!
Rarity: Well, since you insist… But I must say the working conditions in here are simply dreadful. Musty and damp, it’s going to wreak havoc on my mane. And this air is stifling, suffocating. And when I try to take a deep breath, the stench of all you dogs makes me nauseated.
[Two puzzled guard-dogs sniff their armpits and pass out]
Rarity: You look and smell like you haven’t bathed in weeks. Have you never heard of soap? You could all do with a good round of soap and water. Oh water, oh water, I’m terribly thirsty. Could I please have some water?
Spot: Good gracious, I can’t take this anymore. Be quiet, pony!
Rarity: And that’s another thing. I would appreciate if you stopped calling me “pony”. I am a lady and I wish to be addressed as such. So you may call me “Miss” or “Rarity” or “Miss Rarity”.
Rover: Enough! Your whining! It-it-it hurts!
Rarity: Whining? I am not whining. I am complaining. Do you want to hear whining? Thiiis iiis whiiining! Oooh, this harness is too tiiight! It’s going to chafe. Can’t you loosen it? Oooh, it hurts and it’s sooo ruuusty! Why didn’t you clean it first? It’s gonna leave a staaain! And the wagon’s getting heeeavy, why do I have to pull it?!
Spot: Aaah! Make it stop!
Rover: Stop whining!
Rarity: But I thought you wanted whiiining!
Rover: Geh! We’ll do anything, pony!
Rover: Oh, uh, uh, we’ll do anything, “Miss Rarity”. [nervous laughter]
Rarity: [dreamily] Anything?
Because the first three times I watched this episode with the Bobbin I just took it at face value, and it doesn’t seem to be teaching a good lesson.
But a very minor rewrite – literally a find-and-replace of ‘Rarity’ with ‘Applejack’ completely flips it on its head: the problem is the way we, as viewers, interpret Rarity not because of how she reacts in the diamond mine, but because outside the diamond mine we know she’s into fasion and takes pride in her personal appearance… so we have an automatic and possibly unconscious bias which encourages us to assume she means every word she says. Whereas, we know Applejack isn’t afraid to get her hooves dirty or pull a cart, so we can instantly she if she was saying such things in the exact same situation then she must be up to something.
I still think there’s better ways to make her ruse explicit (if you’re teaching someone something, or hope to teach them something, you need to be clear what you’re trying to teach, and the episode clearly falls down there), but I don’t think the episode is showing a failure in Rarity’s character so much as a flaw in the way society conditions us to interpret her character and Jesus fucking wept I’m deconstructing the identities and portrayals of pastel-coloured children’s toys on the fucking Internet and I may actually have to leave the country and go live in the wilderness until I can bear to live in a place where there are mirrors that might accidentally make me meet my own gaze…