Skipping one review, a weird filler about Pachirisu, sand, and TR robots.
Okay. Many, many things happen in this episode.
Reggie, Paul's older brother, makes his first appearance. He's a pokemon breeder, which is funny in a way, since he's a very cool and in-control guy. I better explain what I mean. My feeling is that when pokemon breeders have episodes about them, the episodes tend to be full of instances where specific pokemon knowledge is needed, as if this is the only thing pokemon breeders are good for (which is why Brock episodes tend to be pretty generic, I think). However, this episode is not like this at all. Reggie's breeder qualities are pretty much only referenced to when he offers to teach Ash's Staravia Brave Bird.
I'm not being completely fair, I realize. Reggie is not an average pokemon breeder. He's pretty experienced as a trainer, which Brock finds out when he asks Reggie whose gym badges/frontier symbols those are, displayed above the fireplace? Reggie answers those are his, with a confident smile. And yes, the small detail that suggests itself when the frontier symbols are shown turns out to be SUPER important way, way, way down the road. This is why it's easy to be paranoid about small details in pokemon episodes nowadays, since a few times they have led to whole episodes. You never know, and it's kind of fun that way. Ah! The point I wanted to make about Reggie and his gym badges is that it's obvious that he holds back against Ash in their battle, pokemon wise. Reggie wanted to give Ash a chance to win, I think, and so used pokemon that were at about the same level as what he judged Ash's pokemon to be at. This is what gym leaders have to do, as well. But where do you draw the line? When are you going to easy on a challenger and when are you going too hard? A gym leader can't just give gym badges away to unworthy opponents (or can they? Ha ha. That's an interesting episode to compare to this one.), but they can't be so hard that it's impossible for an up and coming challenger to win. I think that's sort of the crisis Maylene is in. Paul told her she was the easiest gym leader he ever faced, and she's bothered by that because winning and losing is such a big deal as a gym leader due to the influence it has on the challenger. If she's too hard on a challenger, then the challenger might just end up feeling like...Dawn is right now. This isn't the connection Dawn makes when she talks to Maylene; instead, Dawn shares her doubts about being able to make it as a coordinator, which Maylene compares with her own doubts about being a gym leader. Dawn's talk with Maylene, however, has the failing that most talks in life do: they make you feel a little better at the time and it's wonderful to speak clearly about what your problems/fears are, but the problems are still there. What talking can't fix, maybe a battle can; so Dawn offers to battle Maylene, who hesitantly accepts.
There's so much more I want to say. Actually, I really haven't said that much. So let's keep going. Okay. I think there's an interesting contrast in the way Ash and Dawn react to Maylene's troubles. Dawn wants to help right away, while Ash is willing to come back at a later time (Brock is with him on this as well). Why? I think this is another example of mature Ash vs inexperienced Dawn. I'm sure, back in the Kanto days, Ash would have stayed right there and pleaded and pleaded for Maylene to battle him on the spot. But Sinnoh Ash is more respectful and understanding; he's willing to come back at a later time. I say this with a frown, b/c of that other episode I was talking about with a different gym leader. Ash tries to fix the problem right then, and is VERY adamant about it. However, I think that's a different enough problem from this one. The blackbelts at this gym, plus Reggie, are going to help Maylene out. At that other gym, the gym leader is unchecked; he's been doing what he's been dong for awhile and there's nothing to stop him. So maybe that's why the difference. Dawn's reaction to Maylene's troubles is that this is something she understands and can help out with; in fact, I think helping Maylene out helps Dawn out as well. So Dawn tries, but I don't think she gets very far if not for Ash's help (that's more in the next episode, but a little of it here as Dawn explains to Maylene how hard Ash has worked on energy ball, getting Maylene excited).
Reggie takes advantage of his battle with Ash to try to inspire Maylene to battle Ash as well, so Paul's older brother was thinking about the gym leader's problems. But Dawn is determined to have her gym battle, and so that's where this episode ends. But Reggie's actions make me think maybe Dawn's attempts weren't entirely necessary. Although I certainly appreciate that she tried, and like her for that.
Side note: We in pearlshipping land like Dawn's comment about her contests maybe holding Ash back from achieving his dreams. I'm still, to this day, surprised she said that, and I wonder if that'll be important at all. The remark really came out of nowhere.