Season 1, Episodes 3-5
Season 1 Episode 3: The Ticket Master
In five words: Season’s overarching gala arc introduced.
Premise: Princess Celestia gives Twilight Sparkle two tickets for the Grand Galloping Gala, but she can’t decide which of her friends to give the second ticket to because they all have different reasons for wanting to go.
The episode starts with Twilight Sparkle helping Applejack gather apples, then Spike burps out a letter from Celestia inviting Twilight to the Grand Galloping Gala, plus two tickets. Both ponies are excited to go to the gala, while Spike insistently dismisses it as girly nonsense he wants no part in. His dismissal is humorously performative and reminiscent of the many people who are in denial about being a brony, like I was for years. More on Spike’s hammy denial when I get to the end of the episode.
Applejack’s and Rainbow Dash’s fantasies, respectively.
Applejack’s reason for attending the gala is to sell apple products and raise funds for Sweet Apple Acres. Rainbow Dash then pops in with one of the hasty, destructive entrances she likes to do in early episodes and provides a very different reason to attend the gala. She plans to join in on the annual flight performance of the Wonderbolts, a group she has obsessed over and wanted to join all her life, and get promptly invited into the group due to her unmatched awesomeness.
Applejack and Rainbow Dash both have this ideology that they can just waltz in on the gala and steal the show completely, the former fueled by her pride in running Sweet Apple Acres and the latter by her high self-image. It’s clear that they each have very different presumptions for what the gala will be all about. They proceed to squabble over who should get the ticket, but Twilight stops them and reminds them that she gets to decide who has the best reason to attend.
None of the ponies know much about the Grand Galloping Gala, do they?
Twilight decides she can’t choose under an empty stomach and goes to get food, but is promptly interrupted by Pinkie Pie who provides her reason to attend the gala. Pinkie does a musical number about how she thinks the Grand Galloping Gala will be the most amazing and fun party to ever exist, which is quite unlike Applejack and Rainbow Dash’s fantasies. To Pinkie Pie it’s not even a question that Twilight intended to give her the tickets; she’s the number one party pony after all.
Spike’s embarrassed face is much like a boy whose parents caught him watching MLP.
He so obviously wants to go to the gala as much as everyone, I mean everypony else.
I really like how Rarity’s fantasy is rendered as a photo montage unlike the others. Shows how much she romanticizes the gala, and I do mean *romantic*izes.
Rarity knows a thing or two about the gala already. She designs outfits for it every year and although she has never attended it, her fantasy of the gala is easily the most accurate to what it turns out to be like, featuring high-class ponies wearing fancy suits and dresses of her design. Her reason for attending the gala is to meet the stallion of her dreams, Prince Blueblood. She thinks she’ll be able to capture his attention through her fanciness and charm, which is much like the high self-image Rainbow Dash presented. While Rarity’s fantasy is visually accurate to the gala’s atmosphere, the events of it come across like an idealistic fairy tale.
And finally, Fluttershy’s reason for attending the gala is to explore the beautiful plants and animals that she believes the gala’s outskirts must be filled with. I don’t have anything to say about her fantasy that I didn’t say the others’ fantasies; they all have their own idealized perceptions of what the gala will be like.
Interesting that “Twilight” and “Pinkie” stuck as shorthand nicknames, but “Rainbow” didn’t. I guess it doesn’t roll off the tongue quite the same way “Rainbow Dash” does.
Twilight Sparkle has trouble deciding who to give the other ticket to, so the other ponies start doing her random favors in the hopes that they’ll win the ticket competition. For instance, Rainbow Dash creates a hole in the clouds so Twilight won’t get rained on, and Applejack makes a hefty pile of food that she refuses. Those are all rather nice favors, but Twilight refuses to accept them because the motivation for them comes from the wrong place. There’s a message to be taken here about doing favors just for the sake of winning someone’s approval rather than kindness; more on per-episode messages when I get to the end of this episode.
The problem only escalates when Pinkie Pie brings a crowd of strangers on board and tells them about the gala, leaving Twilight to run from them until she teleports herself and Spike to the library. There, she is met by all five of her friends, who apologize to her and say they no longer want the ticket. Rainbow Dash is initially triumphant that she gets the ticket by elimination, but then she apologizes too. This leads to the first of many “Dear Princess Celestia” letters throughout the first few seasons:
Twilight Sparkle: Dear Princess Celestia, I’ve learned that one of the joys of friendship is sharing your blessings. But when there’s not enough blessings to go around, having more than your friends can make you feel pretty awful. So, though I appreciate the invitation, I will be returning both tickets to the Grand Galloping Gala.
All others: WHAT?!
Twilight Sparkle: If my friends can’t all go, I don’t want to go either.
The whole “Dear Princess Celestia” shtick is used to explicitly spell out each episode’s friendship message. This pattern comes in handy for the show’s initial target audience, but I’m glad it was phased out in favor of showing the episode’s message(s) rather than telling. The phasing out allows viewers to draw their own conclusions from episodes, which gives the show more depth and freedom of interpretation.
This episode has a second friendship moral that’s not explicitly stated: you should do favors to a friend out of kindness, not to compete or court approval. I really like how MLP gives a lot of episodes multiple morals without having the “A plot and unrelated B plot” structure that many cartoons have. The episodes are all very focused, giving 22 minutes of time to flesh out and explore an idea, and they generally succeed at doing so.
Celestia replies to the letter by giving six tickets so that Twilight’s friends can all attend, giving this episode a happy ending that shows this won’t be the last we hear of the Grand Galloping Gala. The gala serves as something of an overarching story arc of season 1, with several episodes focused on the gala until we get to the season’s finale, The Best Night Ever. Every season has an overarching story of sorts, and the gala is a good choice to tie the relatively low-stakes first season together.
After all six grab their tickets, Spike receives a ticket of his own. Celestia knows him well enough to guess he would transparently pretend to be uninterested in the gala. He’s adorably excited to get his ticket, then waves it off when Applejack notices. The episode ends with the camera focusing on the Canterlot castle, leaving viewers in anticipation for the gala arc to be continued.
This episode was pretty interesting to dissect knowing the later episodes where we see the Grand Galloping Gala in action. All the ponies’ fantasies are wildly inaccurate and demonstrate their self-images, but the happy ending where everyone gets tickets leaves us convinced that the gala will go swimmingly. Aside from comparisons to later episodes, The Ticket Master succeeds at being the first “regular” episode.
As per my grading system established last post, this episode doesn’t have any significant flaws that hamper its message and presentation, but it isn’t quite one of the season’s big highlights, hence the B grade.
- This episode is the first appearance of Angel, Fluttershy’s pet bunny. This guy makes an excellent complement to Fluttershy’s personality, expressing his thoughts through gestures and clearly showing whenever he disapproves of something she’s doing, like the insinuation that her spring cleaning was for any other reason than convincing Twilight to give her the ticket.
- There’s a third moral in the episode that I didn’t discuss before: as Spike demonstrates, it’s OK for boys to like girly things. At least, I consider it a moral of the episode. This moral is comparable to Read It and Weep, a season 2 episode that’s always been one of my favorites because it feels like a retelling of me becoming a brony.
Season 1 Episode 4: Applebuck Season
In five words: Applejack experiences early installment weirdness.
Premise: For her family’s annual [insert episode’s title here], because her brother Big Mac has a back injury, Applejack insists on harvesting her entire farm’s apple trees all by herself. You can guess how well that goes.
Could it possibly be that a changeling is impersonating Big Mac?
Nah, that’s SUCH a fallback excuse for inconsistencies. Besides, we aren’t supposed to know what changelings are yet.
This episode opens with the first speaking appearance of Applejack’s older brother, Big Macintosh, or Big Mac for short. His first line is his signature “eeyup”, but after that the two have a conversation where he says far more than the “eeyup” and “nnnope” he’s typically known for. Talk about some big early installment weirdness right here! Applejack’s portrayal in season 1 is also quite different from in later seasons, being more notable for her stubbornness and insistence on doing things her way than her unrivaled honesty, not to mention having a much higher voice. That makes at least two of the three Apple siblings portrayed very differently from how they are later in the show; not sure about Apple Bloom.
Applejack: This is your sister Applejack, remember? The loyalest of friends and the most dependable of ponies?
Big Mac: But still only one pony, and one pony plus hundreds of apple trees just doesn’t add up to—
Applejack: Don’t you use your fancy mathematics to muddy the issue. I said I could handle this harvest and I’m gonna prove it to you!
Applejack in this episode doesn’t even get her own element of harmony right! Somewhere in the distance, Rainbow Dash is screaming. Those two do have a rivalry of sorts, but still, their roles are kind of flip-flopped in the first seasons. Applejack even nervously gulps after promising she’d do it all by herself, which arguably contradicts her element of honesty. Perhaps I shouldn’t be too hard because later seasons remedy this issue, but still, the other four of the Mane 6 ponies have always fit their elements to a T.
Taking on an extremely ambitious project all on your own and burning yourself out in the process? Ha ha, couldn’t be me!!!
(For real, past experiences like that are why I’ve made a point to put my MLP posts on a laid-back weekly schedule. They won’t be finished until well into 2022 if not later.)
Applejack starts bucking every tree until a bunch of cows come and start a stampede, so she and her dog Winona must redirect the cows so they don’t destroy Ponyville. And then it turns out the cows can talk just as well as ponies can, which is exactly the sort of weird one-off you’d expect from a season 1 episode. There are plenty of non-pony species in MLP who can talk, like dragons or yaks or changelings or what have you, but unlike cows, those all have their own cultures separate from ponies. That’s why the talking cows here are so jarring.
In celebration of saving Ponyville from some perfectly rational-minded and sentient cows, Mayor Mare apparently feels the need to hold a gigantic ceremony celebrating Applejack. This is an extreme response considering that the Mane 6 (sometimes with others by their side) later save all of Equestria many times, in most of the season finales and many of the season premieres, and don’t get such absurdly huge celebrations. I’m telling you, this entire episode is early installment weirdness.
Twilight Sparkle begins a speech in honor of Applejack but keeps getting interrupted by her friends who all give their own words of praise to Applejack, so she gives up. Her speech was probably meant to be at least an hour long considering her massive stack of index cards, and yet she forsakes it entirely after a few interruptions. These absurdly long lists and papers are par for the course for Twilight Sparkle, but it’s still weird that she discards that speech she so lovingly prepared.
The true moral of Applebuck Season: don’t drag objects against the floor.
Applejack arrives on stage late and drowsy. She quickly gets distracted staring at the trophy and how it distorts her reflection, then Pinkie Pie joins her doing the same—funny that Pinkie Pie regularly does the same goofy things that most ponies would only do when their brains are fried. Then she grabs the trophy with her teeth and drags it against the floor. I guess this scene, with its emphasis on how great and dependable a pony Applejack is, works as juxtaposition against her extremely drowsy and sleepless self.
… and that’s basically how the rest of the episode goes. Applejack being all drowsy and spacey, everyone else spouting out early installment weirdness like saying “what on earth” instead of “what in Equestria”. Twilight Sparkle tries to get Applejack to stop overworking herself, Rainbow Dash tries and repeatedly fails to get Applejack to help her with a see-saw stunt to impress the Wonderbolts until she’s abruptly and unceremoniously launched skywards, and Applejack mishears all the ingredients in Pinkie Pie’s muffin recipe and ends up poisoning at least twelve Ponyville citizens, including Pinkie Pie herself. Yes, the same Pinkie Pie who gladly swallowed a cupcake drenched in hot sauce. When a food ends up poisoning Pinkie Pie of all ponies, that’s how you know it’s dangerous. Though the inclusion of literal worms probably didn’t help matters.
The animation of Applejack bucking all the apples off a tree in one swoop is so satisfying to watch.
Not that this relates to the image above, just wanted to point that out.
Spike, on the other hand, is enjoying these muffins. This little gag scene raises lots of implications on the evolution of dragons compared to ponies and how they came about having such exotic tastes in food. I’m willing to bet dragons can eat just about anything but simply choose not to. This scene also serves as a quick reminder that Spike is an entirely different species from most of the show’s cast (at least in season 1), and there are several episodes that examine his identity and nurture by ponies. Many of those Spike episodes are rather polarizing, but I should probably save further discussion on this matter for when I actually analyze a Spike episode.
Twilight Sparkle: *groans* That pony is as stubborn as a mule! … No offense.
Mule: None taken.
Because one random reveal that a farm animal species in MLP talks wasn’t enough. Well, a farm animal species besides ponies, that is. The show quite reasonably did away with farm animals after this episode, unless there’s something I’m forgetting, which I doubt. These jokes about common horse-related idioms are funny though. There was also Twilight saying Applejack was “beating a dead… tree” shortly before.
This twist of fate actually IS ironic. It’s not like how many people try to pretend they only like MLP “ironically”.
In an ironic twist of fate, while trying to help Fluttershy with a bunny census, Applejack causes a stampede of bunnies who end up ravaging some innocent ponies’ plants, contrasting against the stampede of cows she successfully averted. This leads Twilight Sparkle to give Applejack a full-on intervention, with no more indirect talk or politeness. However, she comes right at the moment Applejack bucked the last tree… or so she thinks, until Big Mac points out a whole bunch more trees she hasn’t done.
In her letter to Celestia, Twilight Sparkle says Applejack is “the best friend a pony could ever have”.
Let’s hope the other four didn’t hear her say that.
And that revelation finally gives Applejack a change of heart, allowing her other friends to help finish her monumental task and make it far less monumental. The message is as clear as can be: don’t be afraid to ask for help. Though Twilight doesn’t say as much, another reasonable takeaway is that if you take on a task with friends, it doesn’t just get done quicker but also becomes more enjoyable. I can only imagine all the funny things Pinkie Pie has to say about all this apple harvesting, or the cool stunts Rainbow Dash performs to help get it done. Twilight Sparkle casually lifts a bunch of apples from what must be at least thirty trees using unicorn magic, which has strong implications about how much insane magical prowess she’s holding back. The episode ends with Applejack somehow no longer exhausted, providing her friends some apple cider as they all share laughs and good cheer.
Season 1 doesn’t know what it wants to do with Applejack’s character. She’s said to represent the element of honesty, but she’s lauded here as being dependable and loyal, as well as completely lying about how she doesn’t need help. Applejack gradually evolves throughout the show at an imperceptible rate, making it jarring to come back to her portrayal in early episodes. Between that awkward portrayal and all the early installment weirdness, this episode is a weird one to come back to. The moral is conveyed very well, but the leadup to it not so much.
Giving an episode a D might sound harsh, but it’s nothing compared to giving an F. I like MLP:FiM a lot, but the fact of the matter is some episodes are weaker than others. A D is really a relative grade. Think of “A, B, C, D, F” in my grading systems like “S, A, B, C, D” in tier lists people like to make, where the F rank is done away with for some reason and everything else is effectively pushed up a notch.
- Applejack’s pet dog Winona is introduced here. Winona is easily the most normal of the Mane 6’s pets: she’s just an ordinary, eager, and loyal dog. A fitting pet for the most serious and down-to-earth one of the group.
- The scene where a bunch of background ponies eagerly await Applejack and Pinkie Pie’s muffins is the origin of the common fandom meme that Derpy Hooves likes muffins, because she’s one of the ponies who moves their mouths during a barely audible word that sounds vaguely like “muffins”. It’s too bad the show never decided to canonize that meme or make Derpy a recurring character. She’d make for an absolute laugh riot if she was.
- On this topic, I don’t like muffins all that much. English muffins on the other hand… THOSE are quite the treat.
- I know I gave this episode a bit of flack, but I insist you take a moment to appreciate this memorable face Rainbow Dash makes in it:
Have you appreciated this face yet? If so, we can move on to episode 5, the last one in this post.
Season 1 Episode 5: Griffon the Brush Off
In five words: Title unfortunately spoils Gilda’s personality.
Premise: Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash find a common interest in pranking, but the latter’s childhood friend Gilda throws a wrench in that and plays much more brutal pranks than the other two do.
This episode starts with Twilight Sparkle being a little rude to Pinkie Pie, uh-huhing her way through Pinkie’s story about Rainbow Dash’s crazy stunts so that she can resume reading her book in peace. I had already discussed Twilight Sparkle and Pinkie Pie’s dynamic in my last post though, so not much to add here.
After that, several minutes consist entirely of Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash starting a bond over their shared interest in pranks, which I don’t have much to say about. They play various tricks on their friends, but Pinkie insists they draw the line at Fluttershy, which is a good call. The thought of Fluttershy falling victim to a prank is just so upsetting. In this episode’s case, this refusal is mostly used for contrast against Gilda’s favor of pranks introduced later in the episode, especially considering there are quite a few episodes where Rainbow Dash isn’t particularly nice to Fluttershy.
I like how Gilda’s scenes are accompanied with aggressive rock music, much like Rarity with harpsichords and Applejack with country music.
Then the next day, Rainbow Dash introduces Pinkie Pie to Gilda. The two recite the chant from Junior Speedster Flight Camp (which I’m just going to assume is capitalized), Rainbow Dash with enthusiasm and Gilda with reluctance. Aside from being a character establishing moment for Gilda, this scene also shows what’s endearing about Rainbow Dash: she puts on an act of being too cool for school, but she isn’t that way at all. She gets as excited as anyone else about things she likes and has an intense nerdy side with her Wonderbolt knowledge and later the Daring Do books. Call me a doofus if you like, but I think the notion of being “too cool for school” is total nonsense—not just school as in school, but also school as in nerdy interests and fixations. I bet you’re real surprised to hear that from someone writing a blog post series about My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic.
Pinkie Pie starts feeling excluded from Rainbow Dash and Gilda’s fun times and sets up humorous contraptions to intrude on their adventures. Gilda rids Pinkie from the scene each time which kind of feels like she’s too obviously a big meanie; more on that in the “Overall Thoughts” section.
After Twilight Sparkle suggests that Pinkie Pie might simply be jealous of Gilda, we see Gilda pull pranks on much more questionable victims, like Granny Smith for one. Pinkie narrates her typical flavor of denial that someone may not be the nicest person around, with passages like:
Pinkie Pie: Aw, poor Granny Smith! She didn’t even know it was a joke. How mean!
Pinkie Pie: No, no. I can’t misjudge her. It WAS kind of a funny prank… I guess.
[Gilda steals and eats an apple]
Pinkie Pie: (gasps) I DID misjudge her! She’s not only a meanie mean pants, she’s also a thief!
Pinkie Pie: No no no no no. She might give it back. It’s… just a joke!
Pinkie Pie does this sort of thing a lot. Putting together elaborate explanations because she doesn’t want to confront the possibility that someone might not be perfectly sweet and friendly. In this case she remains chipper, but in several other episodes these speculations have led her to undergo complete mental breakdowns, which have inspired some horrifying fanworks that I’m far too much of a wimp to tread near.
And then Gilda intrudes on dear, sweet Fluttershy, which shatters any of Pinkie Pie’s remaining doubt and leads her to take extreme measures. Treatment of Fluttershy is a breaking point when it comes to determining a character’s degree of kindness. Likewise, if something drives Fluttershy of all ponies insane, that’s how you know for sure it’s total bonkers.
Poor Gilda. She can’t make the slightest dent in Pinkie’s joyful personality.
By “extreme measures”, Pinkie Pie meant hosting a party for Gilda filled to the brim with pranks. Gilda proves how much of a hypocrite she is with her angered reaction to Pinkie’s electric shock prank and the many subsequent japes. Her reaction gives this episode a secondary moral about not doing things to others you wouldn’t want done to yourself. Back in the early seasons, it felt like each episode only had one “official” takeaway in the “Dear Princess Celestia” letter, leaving the many other takeaways rather shadowed. I like it better having the show let viewers draw their own conclusions from each episode.
Gilda gives a dramatic speech about how she’s leaving the party, asking Rainbow Dash to come with her and claiming that Pinkie Pie’s pranks didn’t faze her in the slightest. Rainbow Dash responds that she was the one who set up all those pranks, which is a clever bait-and-switch if I’ve ever seen one. Gilda’s speech is funny because Pinkie Pie was the resilient one this whole time, and if anyone in this scene was fazed, it was no doubt Gilda. Rainbow Dash responds with a speech telling Gilda off, to which she can only respond with clumsy faltering. Then Gilda leaves the scene and slams the door behind her. Twilight Sparkle narrates her per-episode letter to Celestia, basically talking about the difference between good friends and bad friends, and the episode ends.
As I said in this episode’s five-word summary, this episode is considerably weighed down by its revealing title, which tells us in advance how much of a jerk Gilda is. It isn’t quite like the surprise factor in later episodes where we meet a seemingly friendly character who turns out to have no sense of decency. But what can I say, early episodes are early episodes. The reveal that Rainbow Dash set up those pranks was a great prank on viewers, I’ll give it that.
I would give this episode a D, since I think its execution is kind of weak, but Pinkie Pie’s shenanigans raise the grade up to a C.
- During the party scene, in response to Pinkie Pie calling herself “Auntie Pinkie”, Fluttershy tells her, “I’m a year older than you.” I’m pretty sure that single line has played a big part in crazy complex calculations regarding the show’s canon timeline. Kind of amazing that this show has fans dedicated enough to piece together timelines based on offhand (offhoof?) remarks in episodes.
- When Gilda breathes out fire in frustration, Pinkie Pie gets a marshmallow seemingly out of nowhere and roasts it. Though it’s certainly possible marshmallows were lying around in Sugarcube Corner, I like to imagine she can freely summon marshmallows because she does not care at all about logic or sense.
- Rainbow Dash says “hey G” to Gilda multiple times, and it always makes my mind divert to The Fesh Pince of Blair, a godlike video that makes me wheeze laughing every time I watch it, please watch it if you haven’t.
And that’s all for this week! Next time I’ll go over Boast Busters, Dragonshy, and Look Before You Sleep.