Season 1, Episodes 12-13
Season 1 Episode 12: Call of the Cutie
This review will contain spoilers for up to season 8! The reason why is because this episode introduces the Cutie Mark Crusaders and thus makes for a good one to analyze in light of what they do in later seasons.
In five words: Cutie Mark Crusaders’ introductory episode.
Premise: Apple Bloom goes on the first of many quests to earn her cutie mark and meets two new friends who also don’t have their cutie marks at the end. Those three dub themselves the Cutie Mark Crusaders.
Detailed run-through (and by detailed, I mean DETAILED):
This shot near the very beginning of the episode has quite a bit to unpack—one silly thing and one less silly thing.
The silly thing is that two of the ponies in the front row are just recolored versions of Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo, which is lazy even by season 1 standards. Well, the Scootaloo recolor does lack wings, but that arguably makes it even lazier. While the pony in the middle of the front row is a minor character named Twist, the other two are total enigmas—almost as enigmatic as the three sitting in the back, who all look about the same aside from coloring and don’t have names as far as I know. Early installment weirdness is clearly at play here.
The less silly thing is that Apple Bloom is seated in the middle row between Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon, and I can take a guess at why that is. Cheerilee probably noticed those two were giggling to each other in class constantly and thus decided to put Apple Bloom between them as a buffer of sorts. To Cheerilee, Apple Bloom is probably the “oh yeah, that one” of the class, since she hasn’t met her two best friends in the world yet and thus is kind of lonely, not helped one bit by the two classmates she has to sit in between always picking on her for not having her cutie mark.
Speaking of Cheerilee…
I’m pretty sure all nine of these cutie marks are just the stock ones that appear on various background ponies. Again, typical season 1.
… man, that poor teacher never gets her character fleshed out. She starts the show as The Teacher and ends the show as The Teacher, or rather The Teacher Who Is Overshadowed And Essentially Usurped By The School Of Friendship Since Season 8 And It’s Never Addressed Or Talked About Because The Show Has A Truckload Of New Characters That It Would Rather Focus On. I can’t help but compare her to other “adult” characters like Princess Celestia or Big Macintosh, both of whom get very nicely fleshed out beyond their authority figure roles. And yet Cheerilee is just there, never focused on outside of being a teacher. I’d be getting way too ahead of myself if I gave my thoughts on the School of Friendship now of all times, but for now just know that I think the group shot in the seasons 8-9 theme song is a total wet fart compared to the group shot in seasons 4-7, with much of the space taken up by random unnamed students where there could have been actual recurring characters like in the prior four seasons. Note that “wet fart” is in relative terms, because I really really like the group shot in the seasons 4-7 theme song.
Also, I’ve seen plenty of people point out how ridiculous it is that the ponies are only learning about cutie marks after most of them have gotten theirs. Like, I get why the scene is there, to teach viewers what a cutie mark is, and I guess Cheerilee is a fitting choice to teach the concept because she’s an Authority Figure™, but it still has negative implications about the quality of Ponyville’s school system, which I must admit is an observation I stole from some random video I watched years ago.
Why were the 1980’s so much weirder and wackier than any other decades? At least if 80’s movies are anything to go by.
As she explains the origin and meaning of her cutie mark, Cheerilee presents a picture of herself in the Equestrian equivalent of the 80’s and reminds the class that such absurd mane styles were fashionable back then, which is a rather simple example of the show appealing to parents of young viewers. It’s mildly amusing to me as someone who wasn’t born yet back then. I like to imagine that the moment midnight struck on January 1, 1990, everyone’s hairstyles and fashion senses magically poofed back to normal and the whole world agreed to never speak of the 80’s again. Well, it would have had to happen separately for each time zone, but I digress.
Diamond Tiara passes a note to Apple Bloom, and guess who Cheerilee blames it on. That’s right, it’s Apple Bloom! I swear Diamond Tiara has some mystical psychic powers that prevent Cheerilee from noticing whenever she does something troublesome. Though Diamond Tiara’s character is very satisfyingly fleshed out in Crusaders of the Lost Mark, the same episode where the Crusaders finally earn their cutie marks, Cheerilee’s still isn’t and Diamond Tiara is weirdly shafted after that. The note is blank, which is a mean-spirited but rather creative way to tease Apple Bloom about her blank flank.
Wow, I had a lot to say about even just the opening of this episode! I’m letting myself divulge as many spoilers as I want just this one time, much like my posts analyzing a certain other work of media.
After Diamond Tiara invites Apple Bloom and Twist to her so-called “cute-ceañera” while mocking them, Applejack and Apple Bloom have an interesting exchange:
Apple Bloom: I can’t go to Diamond Tiara’s cute-ceañera without one. I just can’t!
Applejack: ‘Course you can! You know, I was the last pony in my class to get a cutie mark, and I couldn’t be prouder of it. I knew my future was to run Sweet Apple Acres, and these bright shiny apples seal the deal.
Applejack: Come to think of it, Granny Smith was the last one in her class too. Huh, same with Big Macintosh.
Apple Bloom: I really don’t see how that’s supposed to make me feel better.
Apple Bloom is right, it’s never reassuring to learn that family members suffered the same mishaps you did, at least not while you are suffering that mishap. It’s especially fitting for Apple Bloom not to be reassured by this family tradition, since she’s so unlike the rest of the Apple family with all their traditionalism.
But then, when she realizes that getting your cutie mark late runs in the family, Apple Bloom becomes enthusiastic about getting an apple-related cutie mark and causes some mishaps while selling apples along with her sister. This is the first of her many failed attempts to find a special talent, most of which she undergoes together with the other two Crusaders. Not a single one of those escapades has the Crusaders realize their special talents; rather, they discover their skill in helping other ponies find their cutie marks through the course of their adventures, and the main thing they accomplished aside from that was having fun as friends.
I should also note that in this episode, Apple Bloom basically does the same thing Twilight Sparkle did in Winter Wrap Up, giving up on everything that she doesn’t immediately prove herself to be good at. It makes more sense for Apple Bloom to do it though, because she’s a child character who is adventurous but short-sighted. In this scene Applejack is the one who calls off Apple Bloom’s apple-selling days, but the point about her still stands.
Apple Bloom, shouldn’t you be at least a little happy for your classmate?
Apple Bloom visits Twist but is shocked when she turns out to have gotten her cutie mark, specifically in making candy. Instead of absorbing this live demonstration of a pony discovering her special talent, Apple Bloom is simply bummed out about being an odd one out once more.
Upon coaching by Rainbow Dash, Apple Bloom tries her hoof* in athletic skills one by one and gives up after every failed first attempt, because there’s obviously no such thing as gradually becoming good at something through practice. The Cutie Mark Crusaders completely miss the point of discovering your talents through practicing and honing your skills, which is just as well because they discover their shared special talent through the course of all those failed attempts.
* Ponies don’t have hands, so “tries her hand” would be a lie.
Pinkie Pie provides a good benchmark for when food is straight-up inedible. The fact that she can stand to eat these cupcakes shows that Apple Bloom at least tried.
Apple Bloom then tries baking cupcakes with Pinkie Pie, and with this skill I guess it’s a little more justified to decide it’s not her thing, since she fails to make edible cupcakes (unless your name is Pinkie Pie) after two attempts instead of one. Apple Bloom almost thinks she earned her cutie mark, but it turns out to just be flour that landed on her flank.
Apple Bloom gets Twilight Sparkle to try and use magic spells to make her cutie mark appear, but her marks always fade away, presumably due to the cosmic rules of Equestria. While it’s possible to rid a pony of their cutie mark and replace it with a new one, as Starlight Glimmer proves, it doesn’t seem possible to give a pony a cutie mark if they hadn’t already gotten one before—the magically generated mark just fades away.
And when Apple Bloom turns her back for one second, Diamond Tiara’s party happens. Apple Bloom apparently forgot the party was to take place at Sugarcube Corner, which is exactly the sort of forgetfulness one would expect from her.
In a panic, Apple Bloom covers her flank with a tablecloth and fabricates an excuse for not showing her supposed new cutie mark:
Apple Bloom: My cutie mark is so unbelievably amazing, I’m afraid that if I show it off, everyone will start paying attention to me instead of you.
Apple Bloom: Outshined at your own cute-ceañera? Can you imagine how embarrassing that would be?
Diamond Tiara: Uh, forget it. I didn’t really want to see it anyway.
Is Diamond Tiara really that gullible? Or is she playing it off as being too cool to care about dorky little Apple Bloom? If the latter is the case, then both seem to agree that it wouldn’t be right to make Apple Bloom steal the show—perhaps that’s why Diamond Tiara doesn’t feel like taking the cloth off and proving she’s full of nonsense. It’s a moot point anyway, because soon enough the cloth slips off and Apple Bloom is exposed as a blank flank.
But then, two other fillies come from under the table and defend Apple Bloom’s blank flank status, saying that she still is full of open possibilities for what she will turn out to be good at. Then the two reveal that they are blank flanks too, stealing the show in Diamond Tiara’s party after all.
Apple Bloom: You don’t have your cutie marks either? I thought I was the only one!
Scootaloo: We thought we were the only two!
Naive as such assumptions may be, it’s all too common for people to assume they’re the only person in the world who has a certain characteristic when that couldn’t be further from the truth. Overestimating your own uniqueness is natural and believable, and a good takeaway from the founding of the Cutie Mark Crusaders is that you often aren’t as alone as you think.
And with that, the Cutie Mark Crusaders officially become a thing. They become friends instantly after realizing how much they have in common, which is endearing but also believable. Shortly after that, they come up with the group name “the Cutie Mark Crusaders”; at this point, I might as well talk about them, both as a group and individually.
The very existence of the Cutie Mark Crusaders is funny because it feels like they were meant for the show’s younger school-age viewers to relate to and enjoy, even though school-age girls were the show’s initial target audience in the first place. The Crusaders get plenty of episodes focused on them, and they always feel somewhat more child-oriented than episodes focusing on the Mane 6, but I generally enjoy their episodes anyway. These three tend to take longer to learn their lessons or understand how the world looks than the older characters do, which adds a layer of realism and believability to their characters. It’s incredibly satisfying when the three finally get their marks in season 5, and from there on their bond is only strengthened with their focus on helping other ponies earn or understand their marks. I remember thinking during the run of season 4 that the Crusaders would just stay blank flanks forever, but I’m glad I was proven wrong.
As for specific members of the group, Sweetie Belle is easily my favorite of the Cutie Mark Crusaders. She’s always been my favorite, even when I originally watched the show all those years ago. I don’t quite know why she’s my favorite—maybe because she’s the sharpest of the group, maybe because she’s creative-minded, maybe because she has an interesting relationship with her sister Rarity—but she’s my definite favorite. It’s probably just because she’s adorable.
I’ve already talked about Apple Bloom a fair bit in these posts. As I’ve said, the most notable thing about her is probably her open-mindedness, which contrasts against the rest of her family. Her lack of a strong defining interest makes her role a bit unfocused, but I still like how she’s portrayed as eager to try new things.
So where does that leave Scootaloo? I’d describe her as a foil to Rainbow Dash, who she has a sisterly relationship with. Both have the same love of adventure and athletic feats, and the same supposed disgust at girly things, but Scootaloo never disguises her enthusiasm or acts at all aloof, nor is she anywhere NEAR as big of a nerd as Rainbow Dash. She’s just all around an extremely excitable pony.
And that’s pretty much it! Obligatory letter to Celestia, blah blah blah, it’s awkward to have Twilight always give the letter in season 1, you know the drill.
Now that we’ve had some time to get to know the Mane 6 and the atmosphere and workings of Ponyville, it’s fitting to have an episode introduce us to a new group of characters. This makes for an episode that pretty much does what it needs to, which is introducing the concept of cutie marks and the Cutie Mark Crusaders.
Same deal as the two-part season premiere: this episode has some weird contrivances here and there, but it does everything it needs to.
- Early in the episode, Cheerilee asks “can anypony tell me when a pony gets his or her cutie mark”, which makes me wince because there’s literally nothing weird about using “they” as a gender-neutral pronoun. A bit later, she uses “he or she” and “them” in the same sentence, which… I guess is a balance between sounding unambiguous and not too clunky, so whatever.
- At one point in the class scene, the recolored Sweetie Belle is briefly replaced with the real Sweetie Belle. Sweetie Belle, more like Sneakie Belle. Or Animation Errorie Belle.
- I might as well come up with names for recolored Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo. How about Bitter Belle and Tootaloo respectively? I’m sure those two have more widely agreed upon names by fans, but I don’t feel like looking it up.
- Near the start of the party, we see that Apple Bloom’s inedible cupcakes have been covered with an appealing-looking exterior. Just look here:
This random yellow background pony whose name I don’t know ends up spitting the cupcake in disgust.
This cupcake is a fitting metaphor for several of the show’s villains, both major and one-off. I won’t spoil which villains exactly, just in case you ignored my warning about spoilers in this review and haven’t finished the show.
- I also might as well say a bit about Silver Spoon. She’s Diamond Tiara’s sidekick who mostly serves to give her more grounds for being a jerk to the Crusaders, but also makes her somewhat more sympathetic because it shows that even the school’s bratty jerk has a genuine best friend. I don’t know what else to say about Silver Spoon; she exists, I guess.
- Sweetie Belle’s name is NOT spelled Sweetie Bell, you doofus.
Whew, this review was a doozy! Now on to episode 13.
Season 1 Episode 13: Fall Weather Friends
In five words: Friendly competition becomes aggressive feud.
Premise: Applejack and Rainbow Dash compete in the Running of the Leaves to see who is the better athlete and forget what it means to be a good sport.
This episode starts with Applejack and Rainbow Dash competing in throwing horseshoes. The first interesting thing that happens is when Rainbow Dash throws a horseshoe too far and it makes an exaggerated cartoony glass shattering noise; I’m pointing this out because it’s a good example of exaggerated sound effects, which is one of my favorite things about cartoon humor. The two debate about which of them is the better athlete, so they agree to answer this question by holding an Iron Pony competition.
There’s something inexplicably charming about Fluttershy being a scorekeeper.
Surely you know how sports games always go in children’s media—it’s formulaic to the point of absurdity. The hero (or hero team) plays an intense match against the villain (or villain team), it seems like the villain is for sure going to win, but then at the absolute last possible minute the hero strikes a victorious goal and wins by the most narrow margin possible, which is an extremely tired and clichéd trope. But since Applejack and Rainbow Dash are both among the show’s main protagonists, they both consistently tie, which is also clichéd—the rules of fictional sports all but dictate that such a tie happens until one of the characters decides to start cheating. Luckily, this show has a good understanding of how to subvert the viewer’s expectations, which it does at the end of this episode, but in this competition scene these tropes are played straight.
As the various challenges progress, Spike is the brunt of slapstick humor quite often, which is typical of season 1. The show takes quite a while to figure out the ideal way to treat Spike’s character, so for now we have quite a few scenes where I can’t help but feel bad for him.
Rainbow Dash then gets the idea to start exploiting her wings and wins the competition by a landslide.
Applejack: You used your wing power to help you win over half those contests!
Rainbow Dash: Sounds like sour apples to me.
Applejack: Are you saying you didn’t use your wings?
Rainbow Dash: Well, no… But you never said I couldn’t use my wings!
Although this episode’s official moral is about being a good sport, I think you could take a secondary moral from it about making rules clear and foolproof, to prevent people like Rainbow Dash from taking loopholes. I must say, I really enjoy devising secondary morals from MLP episodes.
Anyway, Applejack and Rainbow Dash agree to race in the Running of the Leaves, which is the fall equivalent of Winter Wrap Up and thus matches the theme of Ponyville’s citizens hosting group events to progress the seasons rather than the forces of nature taking the reins. As I said in my review of Winter Wrap Up, events like this do a cool job distinguishing Equestria from the human world.
Spike is excited for the Running of the Leaves because he hopes to be the event’s announcer, but Pinkie Pie beat him to the punch. Luckily, Pinkie is kind enough to let him serve as her co-reporter, which gives a message of allowing people to do things they’re excited about.
Twilight Sparkle joins the race and says that she prepared for it by reading a book on running, which cracks Applejack and Rainbow Dash up. The two doubt the usefulness of merely reading about athletic skills, but just you wait until Twilight teaches her friends (and the viewer) the value of learning things.
Aw man, no triple copies of Derpy Hooves.
The race begins and man, this is some lazy background pony copy-pasting, even for season 1. The background ponies all appear in a crowd and seem to run at about the same rate, with Twilight Sparkle lagging behind until the end. This is again lazy even for season 1, but in all fairness, background ponies weren’t very elaborately thought out back then.
Also, I have to wonder why Rarity and Fluttershy aren’t taking part in the race. I’m going to guess that Fluttershy is too nervous to participate, and Rarity stays in her boutique during Ponyville’s weather events because she hates getting her hooves dirty. This explanation of Rarity’s absence would make sense considering the lack of weather knowledge she demonstrates in Look Before You Sleep.
Applejack: Rainbow Dash just tripped me!
Twilight Sparkle: She did not.
Applejack: She did too!
Twilight Sparkle: She did not. And if you slowed down and looked where you were going like me, you’d see that you tripped over a rock!
There are probably all sorts of metaphors you could take from Applejack not looking where she’s going and tripping over a rock. Like rushing through a task without stopping and considering the best way to get it done, or without even making a plan. Also, as Spike gives his commentary on the race that he’s been so excited about, Pinkie Pie keeps getting distracted with random metaphors in her commentary, which is pretty funny and very Pinkie Pie.
Imagine the text “I’M AN EGGHEAD” written above the sign.
Because like it or not, Rainbow Dash is a gigantic egghead.
After Rainbow Dash trips on a stump, she and Applejack take turns deliberately disadvantaging each other because they’ve gotten carried away with pursuit of victory. There’s one instance where Rainbow Dash demonstrates that she isn’t the element of honesty: she flips a sign so that it faces the wrong way and misleads Applejack. I can’t imagine Applejack doing something like that, not even under the worst possible circumstances.
All the background ponies somehow avoid the disadvantages posed, like the sign Rainbow Dash flipped or the puddle of tree sap that Applejack spilled. This lack of attention given to background ponies makes them seem somewhat like NPCs (non-player characters, in case you know even less about video games than I do) and is much unlike the many little details the show later puts into its extras.
Applejack and Rainbow Dash tie for last place, whereas Twilight Sparkle wins fifth place. Twilight reveals that her book told her to take it easy through most of the race, then sprint to the end while everyone else is worn out, which is very clever. It also adds a tinge of realism for Twilight to only win fifth place, rather than being the number one winner—this is an example of how good this show is at subverting tired-out tropes.
And then Celestia appears at the end and tells Applejack and Rainbow Dash that there are plenty more trees that need their leaves shaken down, so the two go on a run together as friends. Twilight Sparkle makes this episode’s moral clear without a formal “Dear Princess Celestia” letter, and with that, the episode ends.
This is a decent episode overall, but I find the secondary takeaways from this episode more interesting than the main one about being a good sport. Those takeaways are that you should plan a task out instead of diving right in, that you shouldn’t underestimate the power of reading books, and that it’s a good idea to make rules as clear and foolproof as you can. Twilight Sparkle earning fifth place is a clever subversion of expectations and is the highlight of this episode. Twilight Sparkle, more like Highlight Sparkle.
Points up for the surprise twist at the end; points down for how lackluster the background ponies and scenery are handled.
- It’s commonly pointed out that this episode should logically take place before Winter Wrap Up, unless nine months canonically passed between Winter Wrap Up and Fall Weather Friends. Season 1 is not one for strong continuity compared to later seasons, so it’s not terribly surprising such an oddity would arise.
- Twilight Sparkle is numbered 42 in the race; I must sadly admit the whole 42 thing is all I know about The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. This is another rather basic instance of the show referencing media kids aren’t likely to know about.
- Aside from Twilight Sparkle, most of the racers’ numbers consist only of zeroes, ones, and eights. Maybe because those digits are easiest to animate? 0, 1 (when drawn as a line), and 8 are all very symmetrical and can thus easily be flipped and rotated without looking wrong.
That’s all for this week! See you next week as I review Suited for Success (one of my all-time favorite episodes) and Feeling Pinkie Keen.