Cookie Fonster Reviews Every MLP Episode Part 4: Bridle Gossip + Swarm of the Century + Winter Wrap Up

Introduction

< Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 >

Season 1, Episodes 9-11


Season 1 Episode 9: Bridle Gossip

In five words: Basically just Zecora’s introductory episode.

Premise: The Mane 6 get inflicted with various curses and get to the bottom of the mystery by confronting an irrationally feared zebra named Zecora.

Detailed run-through:

Oh look, it’s an accurate depiction of the world in March through May 2020!

This episode begins with Twilight Sparkle and Spike taking a walk through Ponyville on a pleasant, sunny day… except everyone has secluded themselves in their homes. Twilight remarks it’s odd to do that on such a nice day, which is an early hint that the town’s residents have a strange misconception about a certain zebra. Spike brings up the possibility of a zombie apocalypse, which seems laughable at this point, but just you wait until the various two-part episodes where the entirety of Ponyville is brainwashed and essentially becomes zombies. But that’s off-topic and teetering into spoiler territory.

Twilight Sparkle and Spike join the rest of their friends in Sugarcube Corner, hiding from Zecora because of arbitrary paranoia and conspiracy.

Apple Bloom: Did you see her, Twilight? Did you see Zecora?
Applejack: Apple Bloom, I told you never to say that name.

“Never say that name” is a foolproof way to demonstrate that a character thinks another character is absolute pure EVIL. It probably makes most people think of Voldemort, including me and I barely know anything about Harry Potter. This passage establishes very efficiently how terrified Ponyville is of this zebra.

Oh yeah, this episode is also where Apple Bloom gets her first major speaking role, starting with Applejack being very strict and protective of her. I’ll discuss Apple Bloom’s character later in this episode, then talk about her in much more detail when I review Call of the Cutie.

Twilight Sparkle is the only one in the room who knows what a zebra is; everyone else loudly says “a WHAT?” Zebras are apparently very obscure in the MLP universe, which makes for an interesting repurposing of a species that exists in real life—compare this to dragons or changelings or the many other species in the show that do not exist in real life. Unlike those other species, however, Zecora is the only zebra featured in the show, which gives her a cool uniqueness.

Twilight Sparkle and Apple Bloom are also the only ones in the room not convinced that Zecora is an evil demon, the former due to her inherent skepticism and the latter due to her open-mindedness that contrasts against Applejack. While everyone else is squabbling—Pinkie Pie even sings a song about how evil she thinks Zecora is—Apple Bloom sneaks out and follows Zecora into the Everfree Forest, leaving the Mane 6 to go follow her when they notice she’s gone. They catch up with Apple Bloom and ignore Zecora’s warning about the blue plants in front of them. Twilight Sparkle explains how she doubts the veracity of curses and then they all go home.

If this were a season 9 episode, tiny Applejack would be talking with her season 1 voice.

The next day, Twilight Sparkle wakes up to find her horn floppy and dismisses the possibility of it being a curse, even ignoring a book Spike presents her about the “supernatural”. Then the rest of the Mane 6 ponies reveal the curses they’ve been inflicted with. All their curses are visible in the image above except for Fluttershy’s deep voice. Apple Bloom is safe from the curse which admirably shows she heeded Zecora’s warning. The rest are stuck with various curses that each embarrass them in their own different ways, like Pinkie Pie’s love of talking and Rarity’s love of fashion. Rainbow Dash’s upside-down wings are an interesting curse because while I’m sure there’s a way for pegasi to fly with wings like that, she tries flight the way she’s used to and crashes into everything.

When the ponies make it to Zecora’s lair, Fluttershy uses her deep voice to sing a jazzy rendition of Pinkie Pie’s “evil enchantress” song with a walking bassline and light percussion, which is a fun musical genre swap if I’ve ever seen one. This show has a fair share of scenes that twist up and play with music like that, which I appreciate a lot as a casual musician.

Twilight Sparkle starts to lose her doubt that Zecora is evil, especially as she says something that could possibly be interpreted as brewing Apple Bloom’s body into a soup, which goes to show how hivemind beliefs work. When enough people believe something, it’s easy to fall into that belief through popularity alone, making the belief spread even further. This effect has certainly afflicted Ponyville’s perception of Zecora; it’s kind of scary when you think about it. This episode is often considered an allegory for political beliefs or racism, which I’ll discuss in the overall thoughts section.

Gotta hand it to Apple Bloom for being so open-minded.

Twilight Sparkle losing her doubt also demonstrates through contrast what I consider to be Apple Bloom’s primary trait: her unmatched open-mindedness. Unlike the other two Cutie Mark Crusaders, Apple Bloom doesn’t have much of a defining interest and is instead persistently open to try new things, which makes her an oddball among the Apple family. Her defining interest is not having a defining interest.

Anyway, Zecora reveals that the ponies stepped into a plant called the Poison Joke, which gives them humorous curses instead of poisoning them. Since she becomes a recurring character after this episode, I might as well give my thoughts on Zecora here: she’s a cool zebra who speaks using clever rhymes and brings a unique flavor to the show’s massive cast, end of story.

Zecora reveals she owns the same book that Twilight Sparkle dismissed as complete nonsense—a book about natural remedies for poisons that are “simply super”, or supernaturals for short. Then she goes to Ponyville and gets the missing ingredient for the soup to clear the Poison Joke, with Twilight telling the city’s citizens that Zecora isn’t evil.

As the ponies take a bath to cure their curses, Twilight narrates her letter to Celestia about the common saying, “don’t judge a book by its cover”, a moral that the episode conveys both through Zecora and the supernaturals book. And with that, the episode ends.

Overall thoughts:

I feel that this episode is a little too strongly designed around the saying “don’t judge a book by its cover”. Some episodes present their morals in multiple ways at once, which can make for cool parallelism if done right, but this episode’s presentation of its moral feels a bit clumsy. I do like how this episode portrays Apple Bloom as open-minded and that it introduces Zecora who is a very fun character. Fluttershy’s jazzy musical number is also a highlight.

As for the comparisons to racism… Zecora’s character and residence are heavily based on African culture, making the allegories especially clear to American viewers. This episode clearly is meant to teach viewers not to be racist, but getting over stereotypes is unfortunately easier said than done, and Ponyville immediately getting over its prejudice against Zecora isn’t very believable. As cool as Zecora is, later seasons (especially seasons 8 and 9) do a better job at conveying how important it is to respect and appreciate cultures outside of your own, with many friendships between the show’s varied species and societies that we gradually get to know. Respect for other cultures is something better shown using what you should do rather than what you should not do.

Aside from not judging a book by its cover, this episode has another potential takeaway: as Apple Bloom demonstrates, adults aren’t always infallible and you shouldn’t necessarily trust everything someone says just because they’re older than you.

Grade: C

This one gets the neutral grade from me. As I said, the show later gets a stronger grasp on how to convey cultural diversity.

Miscellaneous notes:

  • When the Mane 6 leave for the Everfree Forest, Twilight Sparkle tells Spike to stay in Sugarcube Corner in case Apple Bloom comes back. I can’t help but notice that Spike is left out of a lot of the ponies’ adventures in season 1, almost like he’s mostly there for comic relief. Thankfully, later seasons remedy the issue of Spike being left out.
  • Twilight Sparkle uses magic to lift her brush before she notices her horn is floppy and unusable, which is a major lack of attention to detail. There’s no story justification for this, it’s just a lack of attention to detail on the animators’ part.
  • Although the Poison Joke’s effects on characters outside the Mane 6 are left for fans to speculate, I think we can all agree that it turns Derpy Hooves into a completely normal and level-headed pony without any googly eyes.

Season 1 Episode 10: Swarm of the Century

In five words: Pinkie Pie is unnecessarily cryptic.

Premise: Ponyville is under attack by parasprites and no one knows how to stop them… or so it seems at first.

Detailed run-through:

I think I can go through this one at a brisk pace. It starts with Fluttershy encountering a parasprite and being kind and sweet to it as usual, then with a zoom-in to the barrel to suggest there’s more to these little bugs than meets the eye.

And shortly after that, while we see Twilight Sparkle display her typical “must not disappoint Princess Celestia!” attitude towards preparing Ponyville for a visit from her, we get the only instance of legible English text in the entire show. I’m not quite sure why the show normally does away with written text, but it does help provide a distinction from shows focusing on human society and allows visuals instead of text to take the lead. It also probably makes the show easier to translate into other languages, since there’s no need to edit the text or make awkward subtitles for it—now that I think of it, translation is probably the real reason there’s almost no English text in this show.

Fluttershy excitedly reveals to Twilight Sparkle and Pinkie Pie the parasprite she found, only for two more of them to turn up out of nowhere. Twilight is excited to see them and keep one, but Pinkie Pie displays a very different reaction:

Fluttershy: Pinkie, do you want the other one?
Pinkie Pie: [grossed-out noise] A parasprite? Are you kidding?
Fluttershy: [imitates Pinkie’s noise questioningly]
Twilight Sparkle: A para-what?
Fluttershy: How could you not like—
Pinkie Pie: Ugh. Now I gotta go find a trombone.

Twilight Sparkle is confused as Pinkie leaves but dismisses it as her just being Pinkie Pie. Even though this episode is supposed to be about trusting your friends, I can’t blame Twilight for being so skeptical here. Fluttershy is the animal expert; it’s surprising that Pinkie is the one who knows what these things are called. I guess we’re just supposed to accept that Pinkie somehow knows how to deal with parasprites? Pinkie does know a lot of things she shouldn’t, but I think Twilight Sparkle has a reason to doubt her on this animal-related matter.

This parasprite infestation didn’t happen overnight… wait, it actually did.

The next day, parasprite duplication has gone out of control, making it clear that these little creatures are bad news. Twilight Sparkle’s biggest worry is that the parasprites will prevent Ponyville from being perfect for Celestia’s visit, which is exactly the sort of priority one would expect from her. She’s so dutiful and loyal to Celestia that it tends to cause her to make a total mess of things.

Oh Rarity, just you wait until you learn that some animals commit the horrifically disgusting act of laying eggs.

While Rainbow Dash is endlessly hassled by these bugs, Rarity has found a good use for them… at least until she is exposed to their method of reproduction, which involves coughing up a sticky substance that turns into another parasprite. I find it funny that she’s grossed out by simple animal biology; clearly she doesn’t understand how animals work, or that all creatures have their own different methods of reproduction.

While Pinkie Pie is searching for musical instruments, the rest of the Mane 6 take their own shot at dealing with the parasprites using the power of teamwork, which they’ve gotten quite accustomed to by now. But then Pinkie comes in and asks for more instruments without explaining what she needs them for, because obviously who needs to explain things that might not make sense? Explaining things is important, and I’d argue that should have been the moral of this episode.

Pinkie then storms off and the rest of the ponies think they’ve dealt with the parasprites until a whole bunch more burst out of Fluttershy’s cottage because she kept just one.

Oh no.

And so, chaos ensues and the parasprites are ravaging all the food of Ponyville. Twilight Sparkle casts a spell to make them stop eating all the town’s food, so instead they start eating the buildings because they still have to eat something. And then they start eating Rarity’s outfits and the words from Twilight Sparkle’s books. Twilight goes to Zecora for help, but she can’t provide a way to deal with the parasprites either, which heightens the tension given that the last episode showed us how much she knows about bizarre creatures.

The cleanliness of Twilight Sparkle’s mane is a helpful visual indicator of her current degree of sanity. Right now, her mane is just slightly frazzled, indicating that she’s panicked over Celestia’s imminent visitation to Ponyville but not enough to lose all sense of logic and reason.

And then Pinkie Pie finally saves Ponyville from any further damage by playing the exact correct combination of musical instruments somehow all at once—certainly one of the weirder cases of Pinkie knowing things you wouldn’t expect her to. It’s hard to say the surprise factor works as well here as it does in other episodes focused on Pinkie Pie; here it’s more confusing than anything.

Celestia arrives in Ponyville, only to reveal that her visit has been pushed back to another time because of an infestation of dangerous creatures in Fillydelphia, giving the ending of this episode a weird “here we go again” sort of feel that you don’t normally get in this show.

Oh yeah, Twilight Sparkle gives her friendship report to Celestia in person about trusting your friends even when their opinions don’t seem to make sense, which this episode demonstrates through a very extreme example of Pinkie Pie using musical instruments to get rid of parasprites. Pinkie Pie provides this gem of a line:

Twilight Sparkle: You’re a great friend. Even if we don’t always understand you.
Pinkie Pie: Thanks, guys. You’re all great friends too. Even when I don’t understand me.

It’s impossible to insult Pinkie Pie, isn’t it? She knows full well that she’s the member of the group who doesn’t like making sense.

Even though Pinkie Pie saved Ponyville from complete obliteration, the town still has a lot of rebuilding to do, which will all happen offscreen, don’t worry. Most episodes end on less weirdly one-off notes like this; the show generally strays from having entire buildings destroyed then inexplicably rebuilt in the very next episode due to its strong focus on continuity. Again, I guess that’s season 1 for you.

Overall thoughts:

How hard would it have been for Pinkie Pie to say that she needed all those musical instruments because it’s the only way to get rid of the parasprites? She says she tried to tell her friends that, but it doesn’t seem like she did. As I said earlier, this episode would have perhaps been better if its moral was about explaining your motives, because if Pinkie Pie explained herself better, maybe others would have been willing to help her find the instruments she needed before the parasprites ravaged too much of Ponyville.

Grade: D

Certainly one of the weaker season 1 episodes, not much else to say.

Miscellaneous notes:

  • I had so little to say about this episode that anything I would have normally put under miscellaneous notes I instead discussed in the detailed run-through.

Season 1 Episode 11: Winter Wrap Up

In five words: Twilight reveals her leadership skills.

Premise: Ponyville is doing its annual [insert episode’s title here], but Twilight Sparkle is having trouble finding a role to play in it because the event prohibits magic.

Detailed run-through:

This episode starts with some exposition about Ponyville’s Winter Wrap Up tradition.

Spike: Clean up winter? Who cleans up winter? Don’t they just use magic to change the seasons like we do in Canterlot?
Twilight Sparkle: No, Spike. Ponyville was started by earth ponies. So, for hundreds of years, they’ve never used magic to clean up winter. It’s traditional!
(saddle falls off, Twilight sighs)
Spike: It’s ridiculous. No magic, pfuh.

Spike is right, this banning of magic during the Winter Wrap Up is a little ridiculous. Did the earth ponies who founded Ponyville have a grudge against unicorns? Pegasi aren’t restricted from using their special powers, but apparently everyone decided it was okay to force unicorns not to use magic. Perhaps in the old days of Ponyville, earth ponies were fine with pegasi but resented unicorns for their special magical abilities and decided it was only fair to restrict their powers, and those restrictions are still in place because no one cares enough to change them. That kind of goes against the supposed harmony between all three types of ponies, but hey, such contradictions are typical of season 1. MLP doesn’t even do too badly when it comes to early installment weirdness.

Now, it would be cool if Twilight convinced everyone it was OK for unicorns to use their special talents in the Winter Wrap Up and that didn’t mean they would completely steal the show, and that was the episode’s moral. But instead, it’s about Twilight realizing her skill in leadership, which is cool in itself but not as cool as my idea.

… Just kidding, MLP:FiM is a great show and I respect all the people who worked on it.

After Ponyville’s citizens are officially split into three teams, we get one of the best-known songs, if not the best-known, in the entire show: the extremely catchy Winter Wrap Up. This song has gotten stuck in my head many times even after my old brony phase ended and I forgot most things about the show, which goes to show how catchy it is. This show has tons of catchy music, but this one may well be the catchiest of all.

The song’s memorability is probably helped by the fact that it takes up a whole three minutes of the episode—maybe because nobody was quite certain how to fill up all 22 minutes so they decided to extend the musical number? I can’t complain, because my god is this song catchy.

The inconsistent magic color in this scene is an animation error, but it’s season 1 so I’ll give it a pass.

As Twilight Sparkle struggles to find a team that she fits well in, we get treated to Rarity being a filthy cheater and using magic to make a nest. I’m not just pointing out this error for the sake of it—rather, I’m using it to suggest that the whole excuse that unicorns can’t use magic in the wrap up wasn’t very well thought out. The rule probably isn’t strictly enforced anyway, but Twilight Sparkle is a very dutiful rule-follower.

I love coming up with elaborate justifications for continuity errors.

After failing to make a nice-looking nest on her first try, Twilight walks away in disappointment, because clearly there’s no such thing as starting off bad at something and gradually getting better at through practice. Again goes to show this episode is one of the more hastily put together ones.

I’ve been skipping over plenty of scenes I don’t have anything to say about.
I’ll probably do less of that when I get to later seasons.

Fluttershy explains hibernation to Spike and it’s very easy to forget that this show was originally intended as (or mandated to be?) an educational show. Scenes where ponies explain real-world scientific concepts are surprisingly rare now that I think of it. Twilight Sparkle accidentally wakes up all the animals through aggression, not kindness like Fluttershy wanted.

Twilight Sparkle complains about how hard it is to do this wrap-up without magic but insists upon following the rules in typical Twilight Sparkle fashion. I’m not too fond of how much this episode shows her giving up on something after a failed first attempt—normally she’s much more patient to learn new things. But she soon gives in to Spike’s advice and uses magic to help out, to disastrous results.

After argument breaks out among the ponies, Twilight Sparkle finally gets to play a unique role in the Winter Wrap Up: spearheading the event through organization helping everyone get their jobs done. Though the whole rule of her not being allowed to use magic is forced in, this episode serves well to answer the question, what is Twilight Sparkle good at besides magic? The answer to that question is leadership of course. The ponies finish wrapping up winter set to the instrumental of Winter Wrap Up, which is quite a good musical choice.

After the wrap up is finished, Mayor Mare declares Twilight Sparkle to be the “all team organizer” of the Winter Wrap Up complete with her own vest. Twilight narrates her letter to Celestia about needing patience to find your hidden talents, ending the episode. I don’t think patience is exactly what Twilight demonstrated in this episode, but at least her new organizational role in the wrap up is satisfying to see.

Overall thoughts:

This episode has lots of contrivances and is based upon an insistence that makes no sense and seems like it was specifically designed just to teach Twilight Sparkle a lesson. But on the other hand, that lesson did have a nice end result, plus Winter Wrap Up is a super catchy song.

Grade: C

The catchiness of Winter Wrap Up considerably mitigates the many things I find weird about this episode, which is why I gave it a C instead of a D.

Miscellaneous notes:

  • In the final chorus of the song Winter Wrap Up, we see a pony who looks identical to Derpy Hooves except with purplish red hair, even with the same cutie mark. We don’t see her eye color because her eyes are closed, which clearly means that it must be Derpy’s twin sister who put on red hair dye by mistake.
  • Rainbow Dash and some other random pony mention a certain Ditzy Doo later in this episode; clearly, she must be the same pony as that red-haired Derpy lookalike. There is no other even remotely logical explanation.
  • Near the end of the episode, we see another pony who looks like Derpy but with purple hair, flying along with a bunch of birds. Is she in a group of triplets, or are all three of those ponies just Derpy with different hair dye?
  • Yeah, who am I kidding, all I ever do in the miscellaneous notes section is talk about Derpy Hooves. This wasn’t even interesting or remarkable at all; MLP loves recycling the same design for background ponies.

That’s all for this week! See you next week as I go over two episodes instead of three—one about the founding of the Cutie Mark Crusaders and another about Twilight Sparkle’s secret athletic side.

>> Part 5: Call of the Cutie + Fall Weather Friends

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