Cookie Fonster Reviews Every MLP Episode Part 17: Read It and Weep + Hearts and Hooves Day

Introduction

< Part 16 | Part 17 | Part 18 >

Season 2, Episodes 16-17


Season 2 Episode 16: Read It and Weep

This review contains spoilers for season 4, but only in the overall thoughts section. Still coloring the title red to signify as much.

In five words: Allegory for becoming a brony.

Premise: At the hospital, Rainbow Dash finds herself captivated in a book that she had aggressively waved off, but she refuses to admit it to any of her friends. Does this sound familiar???

Detailed run-through:

Warning you now: this review will be more than a little self-indulgent because the entire episode reminds me of how I became a brony. It’ll be one of my reviews where the detailed run-through is extra super detailed.

Imagine what it’s like watching this episode for the first time, unaware of what it’s about. Twilight Sparkle, Pinkie Pie, and Rarity watch Rainbow Dash perform stunts in the sky, until she gets out of control and injures herself. We don’t see the injury, but rather hear sound effects and reactions from the ponies shown above, loosely indicating that it’s not something good. This cleverly leads up to the dire circumstances that cause Rainbow Dash to become the in-universe equivalent of a brony.

For a pony as action-oriented as Rainbow Dash, a hospital may as well be a prison. She’s forced to stay there for a few days, and she is incredibly unhappy about it. Rainbow Dash’s imminent obsession with Daring Do comes about through circumstances that would be dire and grueling specifically for her—circumstances that cause her to reach the absolute peak of boredom. This episode is much like a story that takes place in prison, except more kid-friendly. Then again, people often use “prison” as a figure of speech anyway.

Rainbow Dash: Few days? Might as well be a few months. Or a few years!
Fluttershy: It’s not so bad, Rainbow Dash.
Applejack: I bet the chow in here is hoof-lickin’ good!

Rainbow Dash’s friends try to assure her that the hospital will be a reasonably pleasant place and not the dreary confinement she thinks it will be. While hospitals do tend to be designed with a comforting and welcoming atmosphere, this doesn’t make it any less of a prison for poor Rainbow Dash.

Rarity: And the hospital gowns… they match the curtains!

Rarity displays an endearing moment of awkwardness when she tries to say something reassuring about the hospital, but quickly realizes it’s something that only she would even remotely care about. This pony is endearing in all the most subtle ways, especially when she fixates on such trivial details as colors complementing each other.

I wonder what the most common fan interpretation of the guy on the other bed is?
It’s tough to speculate on what he must be like, especially without seeing his cutie mark. But fans have probably given him a name anyway.

Pinkie Pie then reveals Rainbow Dash has another patient in bed beside her, but she simply turns her head aside. She’s not at all interested in socializing with this suffering patient and probably views him as a sobering reminder of her dreadful situation, so she simply tries to get some sleep so that this nightmare will be over.

The pony on the cover looks a lot like Rainbow Dash…

… but she’s too caught up in her aggressive refusal to read to notice.

Twilight Sparkle then has a brilliant idea. She sees a nurse pony carrying a bookshelf, takes one of the books out, and gives it to Rainbow Dash.

Rainbow Dash: What’s this?
(picks up book)
Rainbow Dash: Daring Do and the Quest for the Sapphire Stone.
Twilight Sparkle: This is the first story in the series. I own all of them.
Rainbow Dash: (tosses the book aside) No, thanks. I so don’t read. I’m a world-class athlete! Reading’s for eggheads like you, Twilight.
Rainbow Dash: Heh, no offense, but I am not reading. It’s undeniably, unquestionably, uncool.

With her angered tone, especially with the way she says “what’s this”, Rainbow Dash is acting EXACTLY like how I talked about MLP before I watched the show. I would get all aggressive whenever bringing up or coming across the show, and I think I would often bring it up when no one asked for it just to talk the show down. I had this huge presumptuous hatred for this show that I had loosely heard of adult men somehow liking. Before Friendship Is Magic, I was exposed here and there to those unbearably sugary and girly old MLP shows, and I thought this new one wouldn’t be any different. While my reaction to the old MLP when I saw bits of it on TV was bored dismissal, my reaction to MLP:FiM was outright anger. Like I thought I was the coolest guy in the world for so fiercely tearing into this show and anyone who would dare enjoy it. Rainbow Dash has a very similar reaction to the Daring Do book. She’s massively set off by the insinuation that she would ever dare to read a book in her life and lets it out through this exact same flavor of anger.

The sequences of words that start with “undeniably” and “unquestionably” and then lead to a third word starting with “un” bring a delightful sense of cohesion and theming to this episode.

The other ponies laugh at Rainbow Dash and explain how they all like to read from time to time, not just Twilight Sparkle. Right after most of them leave, Twilight Sparkle gives some genuine words of recommendation:

Twilight Sparkle: I think you’d like Daring. She’s a lot like you! Adventurous, fierce, and undeniably, unquestionably, unstoppable.

Can you appreciate how much of a kind gesture of friendship Twilight Sparkle just did? She didn’t give Rainbow Dash any random old book. She picked out a book that she thought Rainbow Dash would like, and the outcome of this episode shows that she knows her friends very well! There are few better feelings in life than recommending a work of media to someone and they end up loving it and constantly talking about how great it is.

In her hospital room, Rainbow Dash does exactly the sorts of things a bored prisoner would do. She plays with a bouncy ball for a good while until she accidentally breaks the loop due to a misaim and can’t reach for it anymore, which is a clear demonstration of her athletic personality and her distaste for being forced to do nothing. Her expression in the scene shows that she isn’t exactly having fun bouncing the ball, but she still looks somewhat determined to pass the time as best she could, and disappointed when she breaks the loop.

I can relate to Rainbow Dash here. I can never quite stand still when having to wait for something.

This humorous take on a “bored prisoner” tale continues with Rainbow Dash flipping her lamp on and off, akin to clicking a pen or toying with a light switch. It isn’t by any means fun, but at least it keeps your fingers (or in Rainbow Dash’s case, her hooves) busy. Still, she gets tired of it eventually.

Rainbow Dash tries talking to the injured pony beside her, but all she can do is tell basic jokes like “why did the chicken cross the road”, which she quickly gives up on. Could this failure to bond with this patient be a hint at Rainbow Dash’s social awkwardness; an example of how she’s often not the best at connecting with others? I’m being (relatively) facetious now, but I can easily see myself saying a lot more on this matter as her relationship with the Wonderbolts continues to evolve.

The book is sitting right next to Rainbow Dash, bursting with temptation and potential for a whole new world of adventure, waiting to be read by this insanely bored pegasus. This is incredibly reminiscent of the alluring temptation I felt in both the days leading up to me watching MLP for the first time, and to me watching MLP for the first time since my initial brony phase. In both cases, I was nervous to watch the show and worried it would be a boring drag, but it was incredibly tempting nonetheless.

And then, Rainbow Dash finally gives in. She reads the start of the Daring Do book aloud, first with this performative tone of disinterest much like my initial insistent disinterest in MLP, but that tone fades away quickly as she gets entranced in the book.

I don’t strongly remember the circumstances under which I first watched MLP, though I do remember my immediate reaction was “whoa, this show is actually good!” On the other hand, I clearly remember the circumstances under which I finally got back into MLP: I was sitting in bed home alone, and I was wowed by how genuinely good this show is all over again. I think it’s pretty neat that I got to experience this surprise sensation with MLP twice, simply through going a whole six years without watching the show. It’s such an amazing feeling to watch a show or read a book or play a game for the first time and immediately be wowed by it. It also has happened with, um, a certain anime involving cute girls in high school making music, and I’ve said in other blog posts how precious and adorable Yui Hirasawa is tons of times so I won’t repeat that.

Uh… anyway, back to MLP.

Rainbow Dash: “If only she could escape the suppressive atmosphere and fly up into the cool, blue sky. But her crash landing in the jungle had injured her wing, and she was grounded for a few days. Few days… it might as well be a few months. Or a few years.”
Rainbow Dash: I’m right there with you, sister.

For Rainbow Dash, this is the point where she’s forever crossed the line. She’s realized that the protagonist of the Daring Do books, Daring Do herself, is an incredibly easy character to relate to, and from there on out there’s no turning back. She’s now officially a brony (or the in-universe equivalent thereof).

The Daring Do scenes have a more movie-like widescreen aspect ratio from the rest of the episode.

And this makes for a perfect point for the scene to switch to Rainbow Dash’s imagination of the events inside the book. She’s now fully absorbed in the book and is excitedly imagining these scenarios, which is part of the magic of books: through reading adventures described in text, your brain is allowed to freely wander and imagine all the exciting scenarios the book is describing. Rainbow Dash is experiencing this sensation for the first time in her life. I don’t think she’s even stopping to think about how Twilight Sparkle was right all along. She’s just completely invested in Daring Do’s thrilling adventures, finally taking her attention away from the grueling experience of being confined to a hospital bed. By the end of the scene, Rainbow Dash’s tone has evolved to immense excitement, leading to the following scene:

Aw, look at how she’s in love with this book.

Rainbow Dash is an egghead indeed, and she’s uncomfortable with this realization.

Rainbow Dash: I hate to admit it to myself, and would really hate to admit it to my friends. but… I love this story! … I, I… I love reading!
Rainbow Dash: … I’m an egghead.

This scene mirrors my first-time reaction to watching MLP perfectly. I quickly realized that I LOVE this show, which felt joyful until I realized the unsettling implication: I’m a brony. I had become the very type of person I had long waved off dismissively, and I felt I could never tell anyone or else my reputation would be ruined.

Now, my second time experiencing the joy of realizing how good MLP truly is, I didn’t have the same horrified reaction to being a brony. Instead, I found myself laughing uncontrollably about how I spent six years trying to deny that I ever liked this wonderful show in this tsundere way that was really transparent in retrospect. But still, the part about realizing that I love MLP was just as strong.

The story’s action continues with a thrilling and well-animated scene where Daring Do narrowly makes it through the temple’s insane gauntlet of hazards. The show’s never had intensive action quite like this before, and future episodes involving Daring Do will continue to deliver with these action scenes paying homage to Indiana Jones. Right as Daring Do makes her way to the sacred artifact, Rainbow Dash is forced back into reality as two friends greet her.

This scene is equivalent to the many times when family members barged into my room and I abruptly switched tabs to something that wasn’t MLP.

Twilight Sparkle and Fluttershy greet Rainbow Dash and come in with one of her favorite board games to keep her entertained, but Rainbow Dash hurries along and pretends to lose the game so she can go back to reading her book. Such haphazard excuses are commonplace for a closeted brony who was interrupted from watching MLP. Twilight Sparkle is confused as to why Rainbow Dash so quickly ended the game given her normal love of competitions, and the word “do” is enough to get Rainbow Dash to think of Daring Do and deny she’s interested in reading—a good symbol of how incredibly enthralled she is with this story. She makes sure her friends are gone before resuming the story.

This is the most action-oriented MLP has been thus far!

And to think I once thought this show was only for 5-year-old girls…

MLP is going extra far with exciting action, further than it ever had before, all for the sake of showing a story that Rainbow Dash is REALLY invested in. The show is setting a new bar for how far it’s willing to go with action through this in-universe novel, and I think that’s super cool.

She barely made it out alive!

Daring Do encounters the fearsome Ahuizotl, who unexpectedly greets Rainbow Dash in Pinkie Pie’s voice, snapping her back to reality. This transition does a great job showing how immersed Rainbow Dash is in this book. Normally, this sort of transition only occurs when a character wakes up from a dream, and when you’re dreaming, you typically think the dream is real until you wake up. The transition occurring simply from reading a book does a great job showing the effect of being immersed in a book: it feels like you are the one experiencing those events to the point where it’s startling to get shaken out of it.

Aw, look at these three. As far as they know, Rainbow Dash is in sore need of company right now.

Rainbow Dash is sweating with nervousness right now. She’s desperately hoping that her friends didn’t notice her reading the book for a split second as they unexpectedly barged into her room. She really, really wants it to be possible that she hid the book quickly enough, and her sweat indicates that she doesn’t feel good about it.

Rainbow Dash gets out of this situation by grossly eating her food until her friends walk away so she can get back to reading her book. This is an oddly clever way to drive her friends out as she embarks on this private journey of introspection through her egghead soul.

Poor Rainbow Dash is cut off at yet another cliffhanger.

The inner lamp being powered by fireflies is a fun touch, if not terribly consistent with how electronics usually work in this show.

It turns out Rainbow Dash stayed up all night reading the Daring Do book, much like the times I’ve stayed up way too late watching episode after episode of MLP. She thinks it’s still the evening until the doctor tells her otherwise, which goes to show how absorbed she is in her book.

With the hospital’s staff oblivious to how invested she was in Daring Do, Rainbow Dash is forcibly yanked out of the hospital, presumably to make way for a new patient, with her book left behind. And she is horrified about it. She’s panicked about what happened to Daring Do and desperately wants her book back so she can find out, and it’s adorable how absorbed she’s gotten in a book of all things.

Rainbow Dash first thinks of asking Twilight Sparkle for her copy of the Daring Do book, but she decides she can’t do that because she’s afraid her friends will make fun of her. So instead, she tries getting back into the hospital by pretending she’s still hurt.

I’m sure fans have given this guy a name, but I’m just going to call him “Doctor”.
Not to be confused with Dr. Whooves!

Doctor: Rainbow Dash? What are you doing here? Anything wrong?
Rainbow Dash: Well, uh… my wing! It’s still hurtin’, doc.
(Doctor lifts Rainbow Dash’s wing)
Rainbow Dash: Oh, ouch! Right there.
Doctor: I was touching your good wing.

Let’s take a moment to discuss the implications of the doctor having a better memory of Rainbow Dash’s wing injury than Rainbow Dash herself. I think Rainbow Dash forgetting which wing of hers was injured is a testament to how thoroughly absorbed she is in the Daring Do book: she forgot all the troubles of the world as she read this thrilling story. For the first time in her life, Rainbow Dash is experiencing a phenomenon that you’re probably well-versed in if you’re reading this: the phenomenon of fandom. Fandom is a powerful thing: it can fuel strong friendships and create passionate, vibrant communities, but it can just as well incite nasty, petty drama that viciously tears those friendships apart. It can provide a hearty escape from the hardships of the real world, but if you aren’t cautious, it can become the real world for you and drive you insane. While Rainbow Dash was always a massive fan of the Wonderbolts, only now is she experiencing the concept of fandom as it is familiar to most bronies: putting great investment in a work of media that leads to friendships and rivalries alike.

And so, Rainbow Dash is pushed out of the hospital yet again. Her next plan is to take advantage of her inability to sleep due to being stuck on a cliffhanger, and sneak into the hospital late at night.

And she does exactly that, sporting a black jumpsuit but keeping her rainbow tail visible for… some reason, I don’t really care, that’s not important. What is important is the extreme lengths she’s willing to take for the sake of her new favorite work of media. She’s willing to sneak into a hospital undercover if it means getting to finish her Daring Do book. I know exactly what it’s like to take extreme lengths for a work of media I love—the very words you are reading right now are a direct result of that effect.

Aw, look how happy she is reading this book.

Towards the end of the book, Daring Do says that the harder she struggles, the tighter the ropes get, and I think it’s pretty clear what this corresponds with: Rainbow Dash struggling to get her book back without letting it slip to anyone else. Rainbow Dash is yanked out of her book with another transition, this time with a spider saying that a burglar has been caught (she is the “burglar”, it’s her), and she now has to escape the hospital with the book.

Rainbow Dash would rather pretend she’s stealing slippers than admit she left a book behind and wants to finish it, huh?

Rainbow Dash is so hasty to get out of the hospital that she forgets her wings are hurt and briefly lives up to her derogatory nickname, Rainbow Crash. She’s trying to do a cool narrow escape à la Daring Do, but she’s clumsy enough that she comes off as a desperate buffoon instead.

Not shown: a barking background pony who just might have a screw loose.

Rainbow Dash loses the book once more and causes more reckless havoc trying to escape the hospital’s staff, waking up all her friends in the process. And then they confront her, finally leading her to admit the harsh truth.

And by the harsh truth, I mean something harmless that all her friends are perfectly OK with, and that Twilight Sparkle is especially happy about. She’s surprised that Rainbow Dash loved the book so much that she was driven to petty theft, and Rainbow Dash responds with why she was embarrassed to admit she likes to read. She thought reading was something only for super-smart ponies like Twilight Sparkle, and Twilight politely tells her what a load of nonsense that is.

Twilight Sparkle: Reading is something everypony can enjoy if they just give it a try.
Rainbow Dash: Yeah, I get it. I shouldn’t knock something until I’ve tried it.
Twilight Sparkle: That’s a great lesson. And it would make a great letter to the princess.

Not knocking something until you’ve tried it is an incredibly valuable lesson to learn, but for the show’s adult male viewers, it’s one that they already learned—why else would they be watching this show? Then again, this episode has some additional related morals that aren’t as explicitly stated: there’s no need to be embarrassed about media that you like, and you shouldn’t go through a whole bunch of effort to hide it from your friends. Perhaps adult viewers are also meant to think of the explicitly stated moral for other works of media or interests they’re dismissive of, since they were so open-minded towards MLP, or at least open-minded enough to begrudgingly give it a shot.

Rainbow Dash then finishes her book, or rather a copy that Twilight Sparkle let her borrow. Daring Do narrowly escapes the trap by cleverly flinging her hat around the temple so that it bounces around and flips a lever, nicely showing the benefits of having a hat through some more enthralling action. Then she snatches the artifact from the Ahuizotl, and victory is hers. The plot of the first Daring Do book nicely parallels the plot of this episode, and both conclude around the same time.

Hey, it’s our first look inside Rainbow Dash’s house!
… Never realized that we first see inside it as early as season 2.

And so, Rainbow Dash goes right ahead and excitedly starts the second Daring Do book. It’s quite heartwarming to see her gain a new interest that sticks through later episodes, and it’s a great way to end this episode.

Overall thoughts:

I love this episode, and I’ve loved it ever since I first watched it back in 2013. I don’t think there’s a single other episode in the show that’s as relatable to me as this one. But there’s so much more to love about this episode than just being relatable. Rainbow Dash’s newfound obsession with Daring Do plays an important role in the show’s continuity, specifically as an in-universe counterpart to the MLP fandom. This leads to quite a few episodes directed at the show’s adult fans, most of all season 6’s Stranger Than Fan Fiction. The introduction of Daring Do also permanently ups the ante when it comes to action scenes. From here on out, the show noticeably steps up in willingness to show tense action, especially in the later episodes that feature Daring Do. Daring Do’s action scenes in this episode are quite a joy to watch, and we’ll get plenty more of those starting from season 4 where Daring Do is revealed to be real and Rainbow Dash gets to take part in her adventures.

Another cool thing about Rainbow Dash’s obsession with Daring Do is that it adds a great layer of depth to her character. She’s normally brash and action-oriented, but she also has a massive nerdy side, which I find adorable. It shows that no one is too “cool” to have nerdy niche obsessions, which is a valuable thing for MLP’s fans to know. But it also makes Rainbow Dash, at least in my opinion, a much more interesting character!

Grade: A

Ever since I started this post series, I knew I was going to give this episode an A. It’s just that good.

Miscellaneous notes:

  • Applejack’s line “hoof-lickin’ good” is a reference to the fast food chain KFC, making it a rare moment where the show indirectly references consumption of meat. Perhaps the show has a fast food chain that sells fried vegetables with exactly that slogan? Maybe the hospital’s food comes from that exact chain.
  • Please, please, please, please, please watch K-ON! if you haven’t. Come on, just do it already. What are you waiting for?
  • In the interest of pointless flimsy trivia, Daring Do solving a puzzle by realizing rats are the only animals on the tiles that aren’t predators might count as another reference to consumption of meat.
  • Out of Rainbow Dash’s friends, we don’t get to see how Fluttershy and Applejack were woken up, so I’m going to guess why they’re awake this late. Applejack had to stay up all night doing farm work because she lost a bet with Big Macintosh, and Fluttershy was woken up by Angel since he could sense that mischief was nearby. I say this because Fluttershy is wearing pajamas and Applejack isn’t.

If you thought my review of this episode was unbearably meta, then just you wait until I get to Stranger Than Fan Fiction… well, after we make it past 87 other episodes, the first of which is Hearts and Hooves Day.


Season 2 Episode 17: Hearts and Hooves Day

In five words: Crusaders unwittingly fuel romantic tension.

Premise: In an attempt to do something nice for their teacher Cheerilee, the Cutie Mark Crusaders use love potions to set her up with Big Macintosh and quickly regret it.

Detailed run-through:

This episode starts with the Cutie Mark Crusaders doing something as heartfelt as it is clumsy, as is characteristic of them in the early seasons: they make a big heart as a present for Cheerilee for the pony equivalent of Valentine’s Day, and when Cheerilee mentions offhand that she doesn’t have a “special somepony”, the Crusaders are horrified and shocked. They are unaware that her teacher’s love life is none of their business, and it’s quite generous of Cheerilee to so casually mention she doesn’t have a romantic partner.

Sweetie Belle is so cute when she’s excited.
Well, in all fairness, she’s extremely cute in general.

Sweetie Belle shows a bit of her big sister’s inclination towards romantic matters by excitedly proposing to find Cheerilee a special somepony, which the other Crusaders blindly agree to. These innocent kids mistakenly think it’s right for them to meddle with an adult’s love life, and though they have the best intentions, it still shows how childish they are at this point. They get a second shot at helping with an adult pony’s love life in season 7 (the episode Hard to Say Anything), and I’ll have more to say on that in the episode’s overall thoughts.

We then get a silly little musical number sung by the Crusaders (or at least two of them, with Scootaloo chiming in verbally) where they search for the perfect stallion for Cheerilee. They rule a lot of them out based on incredibly silly criteria, many of which rhyme. I view this as an example of the Crusaders’ hasty, childish way of exploring interests, perpetually flitting between ideas, moving to the next one the moment they see the slightest flaw.

But then, the Crusaders finally settle on Big Macintosh, deeming him the perfect match for Cheerilee. I bet that if he wasn’t Apple Bloom’s brother, he probably would have been eliminated in the musical number due to some silly criterion like being too much of a farmer. But since he is Apple Bloom’s brother, the Crusaders get right to action and consider the difficulty of him being quiet and shy. They decide to solve this by placing him in a romantic setting with Cheerilee, where she would be the one to propose.

I find it endearing that Sweetie Belle is the eager leader of this romantic date setup…

… even if it doesn’t go too well.

The Cutie Mark Crusaders set up a picnic for Big Mac and Cheerilee, and the two turn out to have arrived through trickery: Cheerilee was called over supposedly to identify a tree, and Big Mac was called to fix a gazebo. The Crusaders then demonstrate how they’re much less subtle than they think:

Scootaloo: As long as you’re here, why not have a bite to eat from this romantic-looking picnic?
Scootaloo: Oh gosh, seems like there’s only room for two!
Apple Bloom: I guess we’ll just be going then!

The supposed “couple’s” blank, confused reaction is clearly a result of them not knowing why the Crusaders want them to be together, but these three kids are, well, kids. As such, they probably think they weren’t being obvious enough. Their moments of snickering are another way they aren’t masters of subtlety at all.

Look at Sweetie Belle popping out of the bush, saying “Oh, come on!”

This is one of many scenes in this episode that comes off vastly different between kid viewers and adult viewers. Children will probably feel for the Cutie Mark Crusaders’ frustration as Big Mac and Cheerilee’s romantic date ends up a dud, but adults are more likely to sense that these two are genuinely having some semblance of romantic tension. They’re both single and around the same age, and while Cheerilee is being friendly and awkward, Big Mac is stuck inside his shell, unable to say more than “eeyup” and “nope”.

Does Twilight Sparkle always stuff her saddlebags this full of books?
She’s probably toned it down a little since moving to Ponyville.

I think this is the same book Twilight Sparkle read at the very beginning of the show.

Dejected about their apparent failure, the Crusaders bump into Twilight Sparkle, who is reading a book about Hearts and Hooves Day that includes a recipe for a love potion. Upon Sweetie Belle’s polite request, Twilight happily lets them borrow the book and recommends another before realizing the fillies dashed off, causing her to make a humorous annoyed face. Much like we saw in the last episode, Twilight isn’t stingy at all when it comes to books; she’s happily willing to share her love of reading with others.

Even though Scootaloo can’t fly like most pegasi, she can still interact with clouds.

And so, the Crusaders get to work brewing the potion in a cute little sequence: take a piece of a cloud, suck the color out of a rainbow, and stir it with a pegasus feather, except all this is phrased as a rhyming poem. It’s always endearing to see these three work together like this, even if the intention is a little mischievous.

Apple Bloom: I feel kinda bad tricking my brother and Miss Cheerilee this way.
Sweetie Belle: What’s the problem? We all agreed these two are perfect for one another.

While Apple Bloom doubts that this is a good idea—an opinion that Sweetie Belle finds herself in far more often—Sweetie Belle insists on going along with it, which is a stance more typical of the other two Crusaders. This is an interesting inversion whose reasons are easy to pinpoint: Sweetie Belle is caught up in romantic matters, while Apple Bloom sees Big Macintosh as a regular pony with feelings and thoughts because he’s, well, her brother.

Not shown: the Crusaders pretending they’re getting Big Mac and Cheerilee to test their fruit punch. Together.

Cheerilee: I’m very sorry about this. I mentioned to the girls that I don’t have a very special somepony, and I believe they’re putting us in these awkward situations because they’ve decided it should be you.
(Big Macintosh and Cheerilee laugh)
Cheerilee: I suppose we should just humor them for a moment… this punch does look delicious.
Big Macintosh: Eeyup.

The romantic tension is there, and I feel it’s much more evident to adult viewers than to child viewers. I think this episode is probably the most fleshed out Cheerilee gets in the entire show. This poor lady doesn’t get to be in the spotlight much, always a side character in the Cutie Mark Crusaders’ episodes. But here, we do get hints of her romantic side plus some light snarking… at least until they drink the potion.

At first, Big Mac and Cheerilee are genuinely heartfelt and romantic, but then…

Cheerilee: He’s my shmoopy-doopy sweetie-weetie pony pie!
Big Macintosh: You’re my shmoopy-doopy sweetie-weetie pony pie.

Their absurdly saccharine exchanges go on like this for quite some time, and the Cutie Mark Crusaders quickly realize they made a big mistake. Scootaloo is grossed out the most of all, much like how she reacted to the Mane 6’s group hug in The Cutie Mark Chronicles. The previously romantic music gets more and more off-key and dissonant, making this scene far more hilarious than it should be. This exaggerated sappy romance cracks me up so much, I don’t even know what to say. But it’s a bit more worrying when the Crusaders realize that Big Mac and Cheerilee are unable to focus on or notice anything other than each other.

Through investigating the book that Twilight Sparkle gave them, the Crusaders realize that they actually made a love poison.

Sweetie Belle: Apparently, some prince a long time ago whipped up a recipe and gave it to this princess he liked. He meant it to be a love potion, but things didn’t turn out so well.
Apple Bloom: How “not so well” did things turn out?
Sweetie Belle: Well, there’s something here about a dragon, a kingdom falling, chaos reigning… OK. Apparently, it was all because the prince and princess were so lost in each other’s eyes that they couldn’t perform their royal duties.

I wonder if the section with a dragon and a kingdom falling and all that outright mentioned any deaths? Maybe Sweetie Belle knows that her two best friends aren’t well-equipped to handle death, so she kindly skims over that section of the story. The part of the story after that reveals that the Cutie Mark Crusaders unwittingly are repeating history, which is exactly what those who do not learn history are doomed to do.

Luckily, Sweetie Belle finds out there’s an antidote for the love poison: preventing the two ponies from looking at each other for exactly an hour.

Even Mrs. Cake, who is affectionate and lovey with her husband, looks very uncomfortable here.

When Mrs. Cake mentions Big Mac and Cheerilee will probably plan a wedding soon, the Crusaders decide wedding preparation will be the perfect way to keep them apart. Sweetie Belle watches over Cheerilee as she gets a wedding dress, while Scootaloo and Apple Bloom team up to keep an eye on the latter’s big brother as he picks out jewelry.

It’s the same couch from Lesson Zero, and the same kitchen sink from Suited for Success.
Lots of callbacks in this episode!

In this whole tricky situation, Sweetie Belle is the best at keeping her cool. While she manages to keep Cheerilee stuffed inside a closet, Apple Bloom and Scootaloo turn their backs for one moment too long and Big Macintosh hurries out. Those two are heavily grossed out by these brainwashed lovebirds, both for good reason: Apple Bloom is uncomfortable seeing her brother act so brainwashed, while Scootaloo has always been put off by others being excessively mushy.

Apple Bloom sees Big Mac bouncing merrily and struggles to stop him due to his already extreme strength, fueled further by his brainwashed love for Cheerilee. His strength and love combine for him not to be weighed down by a cart full of anvils pulled by a pair of bulls: when Apple Bloom catches him with a rope from the cart, Big Mac keeps bouncing onward and pulls the cart effortlessly.

You have to wonder how much of his physical strength Big Mac holds back on a daily basis.

He then manages to pull an entire house on his way to Carousel Boutique, where Cheerilee has been stuffed inside the closet.

I’m just going to pretend it makes sense for Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo to have dug such a huge, cubic pit.

They were that close.

The Crusaders succeed in keeping Big Mac and Cheerilee apart for an hour, but VERY narrowly. In the last few seconds before an hour has passed with them apart, Cheerilee escapes the closet and breaks the door open like a zombie, which makes sense because she’s basically a zombie. The Crusaders block Cheerilee from seeing Big Mac, and the two meet each other’s eyes on the very moment they’re healed from the spell, leading this to happen:

With Big Mac and Cheerilee back to normal, the Crusaders learn their lesson about forcing others to be in a relationship and meddling in adults’ love lives, leading to the show’s first romance-oriented friendship lesson. MLP strays from tackling romance much at first, and it gradually gets more and more comfortable discussing romantic topics, which are especially useful to its many adult male viewers who lowkey really need a girlfriend. Or a boyfriend, if that’s more their cup of tea.

All Cutie Mark Crusaders: We’re sorry.
Cheerilee: And you can think about how sorry you are while you’re doing all of Big Mac’s chores at Sweet Apple Acres. Does that seem like a fair punishment to you?
Big Macintosh: Eeyup.

I’m not quite sure why Cheerilee has decided it’s in her place to come up with a punishment for the Crusaders that extends outside school. Maybe she came up with the punishment because she knows Big Mac says very little and wanted him to merely respond with “eeyup” or “nope” to confirm whether he would agree to such a punishment? I think that makes sense to me.

Looks like these two escaped the pit! Somehow.

As the Crusaders are doing Big Mac’s chores, he and Cheerilee come and lightly tease them by saying they’re going to a picnic at the gazebo followed by exchanging affectionate nicknames, then winking. The Crusaders are horrified at this, and Big Mac and Cheerilee walk away happily. While child viewers are no doubt similarly panicked at this scene, adult viewers are more likely to notice that these two genuinely have something going on now, which is a fun and open way to end this episode.

Overall thoughts:

This is a fun episode that tackles some serious, heavy topics with a good sense of humor. Two topics specifically: romance and drugs (yes, really). I’ll discuss those topics in a paragraph each.

As for romance, I had already said the show takes quite a while to warm up to discussing romantic matters, and that those romance lessons are especially useful for a certain portion of adult viewers. But this episode is also significant as the start of Big Macintosh’s romance arc, an arc that’s relegated to the background as we first get hints of a relationship with Cheerilee, then a bit of tease with Marble Pie, and finally a full-out love interest in the form of Sugar Belle (a character who doesn’t exist yet). It’s quite nice to see the show slowly get a handle on romantic matters, since when it comes down to it, romance is a form of friendship, is it not?

As for drugs, if you think hard enough about it, the Cutie Mark Crusaders basically drugged Big Mac and Cheerilee by feeding them the love potion. Part of what this episode is telling viewers is not to secretly feed others drugs, but in a kid-friendly way. Drugs are a very tough topic to sensibly handle in kids’ media, because when you emphatically tell kids not to do drugs, chances are this is the first time they’ve even heard of drugs, and drugs will start coming off as an enticing forbidden fruit; something the rebellious so-called “cool kids” will try. This episode instead discusses the dangers of drugs more implicitly, telling viewers not to feed others substances without telling them what the substances will do, which is a useful thing for kids to know.

Grade: B

I had already said this is a fun episode with a good sense of humor, but I also have to appreciate how this episode appeals to both kids and adults for different reasons.

Miscellaneous notes:

  • The very beginning of this episode uses the same music that begins the show’s first episode, which threw me off for a second and made me think, “am I watching the right episode?”
  • Amidst the episode’s cheerful musical number, we see what appears to be a funeral. Talk about severe tonal whiplash that viewers are likely to miss! I’m not sure what a funeral is even doing in this episode, honestly.
  • In the book Sweetie Belle reads when she learns she helped make a love poison, the prince is an earth pony, while the princess is an alicorn. Given how rare alicorns are, I wonder whether the common consensus is that the princess was real or fictional? Maybe she’s a severely distorted mythical figure that blurs the line between real and fictional, with a story passed down through generations like a telephone game.
  • When Sweetie Belle mentions “chaos reigning” in the story, I wonder if she’s unknowingly referring to Discord’s rule of Equestria and providing a hint as to how he managed to take over? Man, this is probably completely basic lore to most people who care enough about MLP to be reading these posts. I’m such a disgrace to MLP’s fandom, I’m sorry.
  • I don’t think Rarity is going to take it well when she gets home and sees Carousel Boutique in such a mess, but maybe that’s just me. Let’s hope she doesn’t get too mad at Sweetie Belle!

A romance-themed episode elegantly leads to another romance-themed episode, A Friend in Deed.


See you next week for another batch of two episodes! The first is generally well-liked, but the second is more controversial.

>> Part 18: A Friend in Deed + Putting Your Hoof Down

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