Cookie Fonster Reviews Every MLP Episode Part 25: Wonderbolts Academy + Apple Family Reunion


< Part 24 | Part 25 | Part 26 >

Season 3, Episodes 7-8

Season 3 Episode 7: Wonderbolts Academy

This review has spoilers discussing the various villains who get redemption arcs; one who gets reformed only a few episodes from now, and several who don’t get reformed until season 5.

In five words: Rainbow Dash’s friend becomes rival.

Premise: Rainbow Dash gets accepted to the Wonderbolts’ training camp and meets a pegasus who matches her evenly… or so it seems at first.

Detailed run-through:

I love how Twilight Sparkle’s friends are right there, and yet she’s still reading a book.

I think I’m noticing a pattern here. If an episode starts with the Mane 6 having a picnic (as is the case here), it’s soon to be followed by a letter announcing something huge. This time, Pinkie Pie is bouncing like crazy and waiting for the letter to come. Yes, for whatever reason, Pinkie Pie is more nervous about the letter than Rainbow Dash is, even though the letter concerns the latter and determines whether she will get into the Wonderbolts. Rainbow Dash being confident she’ll get in makes total sense, but Pinkie Pie’s nervousness is harder to decipher. Perhaps this is an indication that she cares about her friends’ happiness to degrees more extreme than she usually lets on? Or maybe Pinkie just plays a gag role throughout this episode.

Rainbow Dash reveals she got into the Wonderbolts’ training camp in the most Rainbow Dash way possible. She puts on a convincing act of disappointment while saying she didn’t get in, then says “gotcha”. She is a very skilled prankster and knows herself well enough to fool her friends, much like how she often puts on an act of confidence to downplay her fears. However, in this scene she was always confident she would get in the camp.

Continuing her exaggerated role, Pinkie Pie gives Rainbow Dash an absurdly tight and long hug, then screams “don’t forget to write” through a megaphone at the top of her lungs. I can’t decide if it’s a better idea to appreciate the gags for what they are or try to gather serious implications about Pinkie Pie’s character.

Bulk Biceps’ presence at the camp might be intended to tell viewers not to be afraid to get out of their comfort zone.
(yeah, it’s probably just a gag)

Rainbow Dash arrives at the academy, and we see Spitfire putting on her aggressive trainer persona and saying that these ponies do not have what it takes to be Wonderbolts; a persona that she takes great pleasure in maintaining. If you look at the trainees, there’s a bunch of male and female background pegasi who aren’t big mainstay background ponies (I think???), Bulk Biceps (who still doesn’t have a name yet), Rainbow Dash, and a brand new character whose name we soon learn is Lightning Dust.

As the seasons progress, pegasi start to more commonly use their wings to imitate hand gestures.

It doesn’t take long for Lightning Dust to establish her character: she immediately offers to show off her flight skills with even more enthusiasm than Rainbow Dash. Spitfire responds to this by telling all the pegasi to do 500 laps. Most of them are reluctant, but Rainbow Dash and Lightning Dust are eager to take the challenge on. They keep up with each other far better than any others, and all indications are that they’re two peas in a pod. No one else in the camp flies quite as fast as them, or displays the same brash, confident attitude towards becoming a Wonderbolt.

Pinkie Pie checks the mail over and over again, and it’s a clear reference to constantly refreshing your email inbox or a webpage waiting for an update, except the logic of the reference is lost in translation. She’s just being absurd checking the mail like this when she could easily see if a mail pony delivered it, unless she thinks the mail might have been secretly teleported here? In any case, this gag of Pinkie constantly checking the mail has some strong implications about her desperation to keep tabs on all her friends if it is to be taken seriously, especially considering that Pinkie gives a slippery slope of worries about Rainbow Dash not hearing back from her. As it so happens, this episode’s resolution hinges on Pinkie Pie’s desperation.

The next task for the Wonderbolt trainees is to get onto a machine that I can’t decide whether to call the Dizzatron or the Dizz-a-Tron, be spun around like crazy, and regain their momentum with a smooth landing. Rainbow Dash completes the task as planned, but Lightning Dust insists on going the extra mile:

Spitfire: Okay, Lightning Dust. You’re up!
Lightning Dust: Ma’am, can you put the Dizzatron at maximum speed? I want to push my limits.
Spitfire: You sure about that?
Lightning Dust: Yes, ma’am.
Spitfire: Okay. You asked for it.

I can see Lightning Dust’s line of thinking here. She sees that the machine has a maximum speed setting that’s not normally used, so she figures, why not use it? I presume that the maximum setting is only to be used in emergency situations, but Spitfire agrees to let Lightning Dust use it, perhaps to teach her a lesson the hard way. But Lightning Dust succeeds after all, nearly beating Rainbow Dash’s time.

I think Lightning Dust is the kind of villain whose traits could very well be used for good deeds, much like many of the show’s villains who later get redemption arcs. Think to the likes of Discord, Diamond Tiara, or Starlight Glimmer. But the problem with Lightning Dust is that all her positive, admirable traits are qualities that we already have in Rainbow Dash. As such, I can understand why Lightning Dust never got a redemption arc, not even in The Washouts which is the season 8 episode where she returns. Her positive traits are redundant with one of the show’s main characters.

Spitfire announces that the trainees will be practicing in pairs starting tomorrow, and each pair will have a lead pony and a wing pony.

Rainbow Dash’s reaction to being the wing pony strongly resembles her faked reaction to getting rejected from the Wonderbolts.

Then comes a scene which very closely resembles a childhood memory of mine. Rainbow Dash checks the boards, excited to see who her wing pony is, except she turns out to be Lightning Dust’s wing pony, and she’s mortified. This is a lot like my experience in a school play back in middle school: I checked the names on the board and I was so sure I’d get the part I auditioned for, except I ended up being the understudy and some other kid got the part. I broke down in tears and had a huge freakout for the next few weeks because I was a stupid kid, and that memory taught me the hard way to accept when things don’t go my way.

I like how Rainbow Dash keeps calling Spitfire “ma’am” like her life depends on it.

Again like this childhood memory of mine, Rainbow Dash thinks this must have been a huge mistake, but Spitfire says it wasn’t. Spitfire’s reasoning is as follows:

Rainbow Dash: I had the best time on the Dizzatron. Only six seconds!
Spitfire: And?
Rainbow Dash: And you made me a wing pony.
Spitfire: Because I believe you and Lightning Dust will be an unstoppable team. Do you not think you’ll be an unstoppable team?
Rainbow Dash: Yes, ma’am! I mean, no, ma’am. I mean… we’ll be an unstoppable team, ma’am.
Spitfire: Than what’s the problem?
Rainbow Dash: I think I should be lead pony, ma’am.
Spitfire: And I think Lightning Dust likes to push herself a little harder than you do. That’s why I made her lead pony. Got it?
Rainbow Dash: Yes, ma’am.

Knowing the end of the episode, Lightning Dust’s assignment as lead pony was a mistake. But this makes sense because everyone makes mistakes sometimes.

There’s a lot of subtle animation details here that show Rainbow Dash is more hesitant than Lightning Dust.

In the next training exercise, the pairs of pegasi are all split into two teams, and each has to collect as many flags as they can. Here’s where Lightning Dust’s tragic flaw becomes clear: she is an extremely talented flyer, but she’s terrible at looking out for others. Rainbow Dash injures her wing on the way to getting one of the flags, but Lightning Dust insists that they keep going anyway.

Meanwhile, Pinkie Pie has been waiting three days straight for a message from Rainbow Dash to no avail, and she’s extremely worn out. Come to think of it, maybe this situation isn’t quite as unrealistic as I had initially thought. Waiting days on end to hear from a dear friend again? That’s a situation I’ve been in before. It isn’t healthy for Pinkie Pie to exhaust herself through all this waiting, but I can see why it would happen to her.

Twilight Sparkle suggests that Pinkie Pie send Rainbow Dash a letter, but Pinkie changes it to sending Rainbow Dash a care package. Maybe Pinkie Pie has prescient knowledge that Rainbow Dash could have easily hurt herself at the camp? I mean, she does know her friends very well. All this desperate panic has strong implications about Pinkie Pie’s character, and it’s also incredibly convenient for the plot given what’s about to happen.

Pinkie Pie: I’ve got it! We’ll deliver the care package to Rainbow Dash in person.
Rarity: I wouldn’t mind a little trip.
Twilight Sparkle: I’ll go.
Applejack: Count me in.
Fluttershy: Me too.
Pinkie Pie: Me five! But don’t be upset if she doesn’t recognize you at first. It may take a while for her to get her memory back.

Now that I think of it, Pinkie Pie could well be speaking from experience here. She had an insane mental breakdown in Party of One all because she thought her friends abandoned her, so from her perspective, it may not be unreasonable for her to conclude that Rainbow Dash could similarly forget about all her friends.

The next challenge for the prospective Wonderbolts is an obstacle course focused on precision flight. Spitfire emphasizes that this is not a race, and Lightning Dust winks. The normally competitive Rainbow Dash is loyal and dutiful to the Wonderbolts, and Lightning Dust treating this as a race anyway warns us that she doesn’t care about being a team player. She only cares about winning.

I can tell Lightning Dust thinks it’s the coolest thing in the world to break the rules.

Even though Spitfire said the obstacle course was focused on precision, not speed, Lightning Dust is annoyed that the ponies in front of her are so slow, so she knocks the others out of the way and zooms to the finish line with Rainbow Dash. Lightning Dust is basically Rainbow Dash minus loyalty. A skilled athlete whose talents are tragically compromised by her selfish personality.

Lightning Dust’s recklessness started out subtle, but it gradually gets more extreme.

Rainbow Dash: Um… Lightning Dust?
Rainbow Dash: Next time, maybe we don’t cut the other teams off like that.
Lightning Dust: Hey. You snooze, you lose.
Lightning Dust: Besides, Wonderbolts are supposed to be able to recover from a spin-out. You saw them on the Dizzatron. They could use the practice.
Lightning Dust: I mean, it’s not our fault that we’re so much better than those other guys.

As much as Rainbow Dash likes to show off her skills, I imagine she’s a little put off by Lightning Dust’s last line here—it’s obvious that Rainbow Dash got good at flying through tons of practice and determination. Maybe Lightning Dust really is a natural talent though; a flashback in season 7’s Parental Glideance suggests as much. In any case, Lightning Dust clearly views herself as the big brave hero who’s so much better than everyone else, and Rainbow Dash as her loyal sidekick—perhaps as the Spike to her Twilight Sparkle.* But this relationship ultimately falls apart due to a little something called “Rainbow Dash caring about her friends”.

* This time, Spike is the old Rainbow Dash.

Lightning Dust: Not everypony is destined to become a Wonderbolt. Only the best of the best, right?
Rainbow Dash: Yeah… I– I guess you’re right.

Dramatic irony, anyone??? Lightning Dust knows that the Wonderbolts have high standards, and she falsely believes she meets those standards perfectly.

Next up, the pegasi have a cloud-busting exercise. Lightning Dust and Rainbow Dash are way ahead of everyone else, and Lightning Dust is evidently bored of being so far ahead—why else would she suggest making a tornado to spice things up? She convinces Rainbow Dash to join her, and with their powers combined, the tornado quickly gets out of control. Lightning Dust is normally proud of her own skills, but this time her own creation has gotten the better of her, and the rest of the Mane 6 in a hot air balloon get caught in the tornado.

I love how the pegasus carrying Fluttershy looks annoyed when she realizes Fluttershy can already fly.

The hot air balloon’s strings break in the tornado, and the ponies in it fall out of it screaming. That’s when Rainbow Dash stops what she’s doing and springs to action, demonstrating not just her strong care for her friends, but also her skills as a team player. The rest of the pegasi in the camp stop what they’re doing and each rescue a member of the Mane 6, while Bulk Biceps rescues the care package; clearly the most effective use of his strength.

The Mane 6 reunite, and before I get to the important stuff, I’d like to point out a secondary moral that this scene provides. Pinkie Pie is extremely relieved that Rainbow Dash remembered her name, and Rainbow Dash says that of course she remembers. This tells viewers that your friends won’t forget you just because they’ve been gone for a few days.

Rainbow Dash then tells off Lightning Dust for what all she did. Lightning Dust is proud of the tornado that she and Rainbow Dash made, not caring at all that she nearly killed* the rest of the Mane 6 and the other trainees. Rainbow Dash knows what it’s like to want to be the winner, and she’s disgusted at the way Lightning Dust is going about it.

* Referred to in-episode by various euphemisms.

Lightning Dust’s actions took such a big dump over Rainbow Dash’s moral values so hard that she nearly forfeits her number one goal in life. Here’s what she has to say to Spitfire:

Rainbow Dash: Lightning Dust decided to use a tornado.
Spitfire: A bit excessive for cloud busting, but judging from your time, it was obviously an effective tactic.
Rainbow Dash: Yeah, well that “effective tactic” nearly took out my friends!
Rainbow Dash: No disrespect, ma’am, but there’s a big difference between pushing yourself as hard as you can, and just being reckless.
Rainbow Dash: And if being reckless is what gets rewarded around here… if that’s what it means to be a Wonderbolt… then I don’t want any part of it.
Spitfire: What are you saying, newbie?
Rainbow Dash: I quit.

Think about how Rainbow Dash takes the ultimate blame for her friends’ near death not on Lightning Dust, but on the apparent nature of the Wonderbolts. In villainous fashion, Lightning Dust is very good at deflecting the blame to others and making herself seem innocent. She proved herself hard enough to become a lead pony in the training camp, and she’s taking advantage of that power to wreak selfish havoc everywhere she goes. And Rainbow Dash nearly falls for this deflected blame. She almost gives up on her dreams because she’s so offended, and she leaves the room looking heartbroken.

But then, Spitfire responds to Rainbow Dash by saying she has proven herself as Wonderbolt material, with a great understanding of how to lead and be a loyal friend, then kicks Lightning Dust out of the training camp. Rainbow Dash provides us another endless stream of “oh my gosh”, and the teams are reorganized so that Rainbow Dash now leads the rest of the trainees in further activities. Here is Lightning Dust’s expression as she’s escorted out of the camp:

It’s obvious through her expression that Lightning Dust really did lose her childhood dreams. Unlike Rainbow Dash, she brought it all upon herself, and she was forced out instead of willfully resigning. This brings me back to how Lightning Dust, unlike so many other villains, never gets redeemed. Her lack of a redemption arc tells us that sometimes in life, you’ll encounter people who are nasty and vile to the core, and you’ll have to live with that. The episode ends with Pinkie Pie telling Rainbow Dash she forgot her care package, finishing it off on a lighthearted note.

Overall thoughts:

This episode is an important step in Rainbow Dash’s character arc of joining the Wonderbolts. She proves her worth through contrast against one of the show’s best-portrayed villains to date, Lightning Dust. Rainbow Dash and Lightning Dust play off each other very well, having just the right degree of similarity to make their crucial differences stand out, bringing out the best in one and the worst in the other. If I had to criticize something about this episode, it’s that the grand resolution hinges on an exaggeration of Pinkie Pie’s character, specifically her extreme desperation to hear from Rainbow Dash again. Other than that, this is easily one of the highlights of season 3.

Grade: B

I went back and forth on whether to give this episode a B or a C. Imagine the letters B and C doing an intense wrestling match, and the letter B emerges victorious.

Miscellaneous notes:

  • Unlike prior episodes that heavily feature pegasi (like Sonic Rainboom and Hurricane Fluttershy), Derpy Hooves makes no appearances in this episode whatsoever, not even the slightest cameo. I recall the show’s staff saying that Derpy’s near-complete absence from season 3 and early season 4 was deliberately done so that fans would be extra surprised at her grand return.
  • I wonder if the yellow pegasus shown below was originally supposed to be Derpy, but she was changed to not be Derpy so as to align with the show’s tentative policy of shafting her. I mean, she does have the same build.
  • I miss Derpy Hooves so much, even though I know she comes back later. Seriously, the show just isn’t the same without her. It was probably painful for the show’s animators to restrain themselves from putting Derpy in this episode.
  • How many times have I dedicated the miscellaneous notes section entirely to Derpy? Not enough, that’s for sure.

While this episode ends giving Rainbow Dash a role in leadership, the next one has Applejack struggle with leadership.

Season 3 Episode 8: Apple Family Reunion

In five words: Applejack misses point of fun.

Premise: Applejack offers to take the reins organizing her latest family reunion, but she gets carried away with perfectionism and makes it less fun for everyone.

Detailed run-through:

This episode starts with Applejack and her immediate family preparing for their family reunion, which is going to have a ton of relatives this time. The most interesting thing to point out here is probably that Apple Bloom is excited to see Babs Seed again. Babs Seed has a voiced role in two episodes close to each other, but as I said last time we saw her, she’s then shafted for the rest of the show. Maybe forgetting about Babs Seed after a short time is in-character for Apple Bloom though. Her mind flits between different interests in rapid succession, and spending time with her favorite cousin could well qualify as such an interest.

Just as Applejack is pondering what all supplies she’ll need for the reunion as Granny Smith tells stories from the photo album, I’m going to ponder how Applejack’s promise ties in with her element of harmony.

Perhaps there’s a little more to Applejack’s trademark honesty than just telling the truth. Given her promise to organize the reunion and lift a weight off her grandma’s back, maybe another aspect of her honesty is sticking to her promises. Now, I know that’s sort of an overlap with Rainbow Dash’s loyalty, but I don’t think it’s unusual for ponies’ elements to overlap, especially with two characters who regularly compete with each other. And that could explain Applejack’s honesty trial all the way back at the beginning of the show, where she promised that Twilight would land off the cliff safely. As we saw in Applebuck Season and The Last Roundup, sometimes she will stick to a promise too much for her own good, and that can get in the way of her ability to tell the truth.

For some reason, I feel like I will be smited if I don’t include a picture of baby Applejack.

One of the flashbacks ends with showing us baby Applejack. Normally, when a character in a show is shown as a baby, they will exhibit traits classic to that character as best as possible, but the trait baby Applejack demonstrates here is… having the appetite of a full-grown stallion? At least that’s what Granny Smith tells us. Maybe this flashback goes to show that Applejack isn’t the kind of pony who was born with her signature traits, but rather had to learn them through hard work.

While Apple Bloom pays attention to all those flashbacks, Applejack’s head bubbles up with thoughts about what she will need for the reunion. She misses the point that the reunion is about having fun above all else, and given how much value Applejack places in hard, honest work, it’s easy to see why she would miss that.

I presume Applejack is crying on the inside right now.

As Granny Smith says that the whole Apple family will be there this time, some rather somber visuals remind us of a glaring gap: Applejack’s parents. Apple Bloom is too young to remember anything about her parents, but Applejack knows that as much as she wants it to be a full reunion, nothing can fill the hole her parents left behind. This absence is shown very effectively: no words are needed, just Applejack looking outside and seeing two shooting stars. The show is nowhere near ready to handle the topic of dead family members, so for now we just have some subtle hints.

While Applejack and Big Macintosh both remember their parents fondly, Apple Bloom arguably has it easier off: she never grew up with a concept of parents, instead raised by her grandmother, which seems normal to her. She probably doesn’t feel a big gap in her family like her older siblings do.

Wait, wait. I’m not supposed to be analyzing The Perfect Pear here, I’m supposed to be analyzing Apple Family Reunion.

Applejack is reminiscent of Twilight Sparkle right now, with her staying up late organizing huge stacks of paper while pacing up and down. I wonder if it’s at all crossed her mind to let Twilight organize the reunion, since she loves organizing so much. If it did cross her mind, then she probably immediately refused the idea—not because Twilight isn’t an Apple family member, but because Applejack wouldn’t feel right passing those duties to someone else.

Applejack: Apple Bloom, what are you doing up?
Apple Bloom: I was gonna ask you the same thing.
Applejack: I can’t sleep. My gears are turning in my head about this reunion.
Apple Bloom: (yawns) I can’t wait to see my cousin Babs. We’re gonna do so many fun things together.
Applejack: Fun? That’s just the beginning of it. Granny Smith handed me the reins of this reunion, and I’m gonna make the most of it.
Applejack: Apple Bloom, I’ve got so many things planned, you won’t even have a minute’s rest.
Apple Bloom: (snores)

Here’s more of Applejack missing that the reunion is supposed to be fun. She’s strangely technical-minded on this topic, not thinking for a second about how excited her relatives would be to simply spend some quality time together. This makes for another situation where one of her friends would be better suited for the task, in this case Pinkie Pie; no pony knows how to make an event fun quite like she does. Though after the events of Pinkie Apple Pie, it wouldn’t surprise me if she was put in charge of organizing future Apple family reunions.

Though Applejack is misguided in how she’s organizing the event, it’s good character development for her to get some help from her friends and siblings. As shown in this montage, Applejack is much more willing to get her friends’ help than she was in Applebuck Season or The Last Roundup. I’ve noticed that Applejack’s early episodes tend to focus more on her obstinacy than her honesty; more on that in the overall thoughts.

Even Spike gets to help set up the reunion, which is refreshing to see. Applejack uses him like a lighter to start some fire and get a bunch of kettles boiling. This is a step in the right direction with the show being kinder to Spike, which makes it ironic that it’s right before, uh… Spike at Your Service.

And then all the Apple family relatives arrive, bringing us a fanservicey mix of familiar faces and new background ponies. Here’s a few highlights:

Granny Smith mentioned that Apple Rose was her favorite cousin as a kid.
Now that’s a long-lasting friendship right there!

Hey, I remember this guy from Sweet and Elite! (The one on the right, I mean.)
Never realized before that he was part of the Apple family.

And after Applejack announces the first event of the reunion…

Apple Bloom: Babs!
Babs Seed: Cous!
Apple Bloom: I know it hasn’t been that long since we we’ve seen each other, but
Babs Seed and Apple Bloom: it felt like forever!
Babs Seed: I can’t wait to tell you about my new school!
Apple Bloom: I can’t wait to hear all about it!
Babs Seed: Jeepers, where do I start? OK, so first day—

Babs Seed gets her second speaking role in this episode, but she keeps getting interrupted throughout because the reunion is so jam-packed with activities. This means that she provides lots of hints at what she’s been up to lately without us getting to hear the full story. Is there any other character in the show who begs THIS much for fans to speculate about them? I sure don’t think so. Babs Seed excitedly mentions that she’s attending a new school, which implies that her old school was far rougher on her than Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon could ever dream of being. This makes for a subtle hint at a tragic backstory, which as I said is something left for fans to speculate.

Applejack presents an absurdly long and complicated seven-legged race without a hint of self-awareness, and I have mixed feelings about Apple Bloom’s deadpan “seriously?” It feels like the show knows that Applejack is being ridiculous here, but it doesn’t try to explain why she’s being like this. Did Applejack swap brains with Twilight Sparkle or something? That’s a stupid theory, I know, but it’s the best I can come up with.

Not shown: Auntie Applesauce, another old lady relative of Applejack’s who flaunts a supposedly youthful complexion.

Applejack then checks on her older relatives, telling them that this is the family reunion where they will finally finish making the quilt they’ve been working on bit by bit since the first reunion. Now here, I can sort of see where Applejack is coming from. Since she’s a work-oriented pony, she probably thinks the quilt is an obligation that’s been repeatedly put off, rather than an ever-growing symbol of how far the Apple family has come.

I’ve been skipping plenty of scenes I don’t have anything to say about.

Babs Seed mentions she’s made two new friends who are also blank flanks, and at this point I’m convinced that the fanfic fuel is deliberate. I feel like the hasty, cramped nature of this reunion played a part in Apple Bloom never getting to have a strong friendship with Babs Seed like she does with the other two Cutie Mark Crusaders.

Poor Apple Bloom thought Applejack wouldn’t find her if she hid behind a haystack.

Apple Bloom is really disappointed that she hasn’t gotten any time to catch up with Babs Seed, and that’s the most upsetting part of the episode to me. I feel bad for these two more than anyone else in the Apple family since they were so excited to see each other. Alas, it looks like their strong bond wasn’t meant to last. Or maybe it was meant to last, but Applejack kept getting in the way and they both moved on to other endeavors. I know the real reason Babs Seed was shafted was probably because there were so many other new characters to focus on, but coming up with in-universe reasons is more fun.

The next activity for the Apple relatives is a fast-paced hayride where Applejack puts on a show of rainbow fruit bats. While stunning at first, this backfires as the bats attack the fruits on Auntie Applesauce’s hat and then destroy the Apple family’s barn. Only when her personal property is destroyed does Applejack finally realize how much she screwed up. This ties in with a common pattern in Applejack’s early episodes, which I’ll discuss further in the overall thoughts.

Wait a minute… is the violinist on the left just a palette swap of Octavia Melody?
And what is Bon Bon doing here? Is she purposely blending into a crowd to keep a low profile… oh whatever, I shouldn’t get distracted here.

Not shown: Apple Bloom and Babs Seed finally being happy to partake in activities together.

Applejack has one last idea for a family activity, and this time, it’s one they will all remember for the right reasons. Everyone at the reunion (plus a few extras, apparently) works together to rebuild the barn, set to an upbeat country song called Raise This Barn. The fact that the barn is rebuilt this quickly and with this much joy is a testament to the sprawling size and work ethic of the Apple family, and the barn itself from this episode onwards also serves as such a testament. I bet everyone in the scene is remembering why they’re proud to be Apples. They’re a family that gets stuff done and does it with style.

Is Apple Bloom just going to ignore that she has this many relatives who don’t have their cutie marks?

The Apple family poses for their group picture, showing that their family reunion was a success after all. It’s a perfect example of making fun times out of dire circumstances, and everyone in the picture is shimmering with pride, most of all Applejack in the center.

Apple Bloom and Babs Seed being excited to meet up again is sort of sad in retrospect.

Granny Smith: Aw, you did it, Applejack. You put on a reunion that everypony will remember.
Applejack: Just had a couple of minor hiccups along the way.
Granny Smith: Yeah. Just a couple. (winks at the camera)

Applejack expresses pride in her accomplishments in a way that’s not unlike Rainbow Dash, who she has several traits in common with. Both of them tend to downplay the troubles they went through on their way to great feats, and Applejack is probably taking a slight sense of humor in understating them.

Season 3 has been on and off with the letters to Celestia.

As Granny Smith shows pictures from the latest reunion to Apple Bloom and Big Macintosh, Applejack writes her letter to Celestia. The letter is themed upon spending good times with family, and Applejack outright states something the show had already demonstrated: family is the first group of friends you ever make. It’s very appropriate for a show about friendship to have episodes themed about family, and that’s especially an overarching theme of season 7. Applejack’s letter says that when you’re spending time with family, you don’t need to do anything exuberant and fancy because being with family is the important part, which is a fitting takeaway from this episode.

And the very end of this episode ties together the family theming with two shooting stars once more, representing Applejack’s mysterious parents. It’s a subtle hint that one day, we’ll learn the full story about them.

Overall thoughts:

This is yet another episode where Applejack is aggravatingly stubborn until near the end, which is what most of Applejack’s early episodes are like. She gets carried away with thinking she’s in the right, and only after something extreme happens does she realize her foolishness. She’s true to herself and her beliefs; true to what she thinks is right, even if it’s misguided in the long run, and whether it be working to earn money she was supposed to win at a competition or setting up an extravagant family reunion with barely any breathing time. I’m starting to realize that Applejack’s portrayal in the early seasons isn’t as unfocused as I thought. It’s more that her later episodes focus on honesty in a more straightforward sense; Leap of Faith and Honest Apple are good examples. I think Applejack is a tricky character to make memorable episodes focusing on her, since she’s more grounded in reality and less zany than the rest of the Mane 6. But the show eventually gets better at it!

Aside from musings about Applejack episodes, this episode is also quite a fanservicey one, with tons of familiar faces and callbacks to prior episodes featuring Apple family members. By this point, the show displays no hesitance in throwing a bone to its fans.

Grade: C

One day, I will give an Applejack episode a grade higher than a C. Be patient, OK?

Miscellaneous notes:

  • At the start of the episode, Granny Smith mentions the last family reunion was 100 moons ago. The show never makes it clear how long a “moon” is, and it feels like a fallback unit of time used in scenarios where the show would rather not indicate its characters’ ages.
  • The guy from Sweet and Elite is named Hayseed Turnip Truck, in case you forgot. He’s got quite a long name, and I didn’t want to shove it in a snappy image caption. If I hadn’t taken my sweet time analyzing Sweet and Elite, I probably wouldn’t have remembered him.
  • I never had stopped before to think about how strange it is that Braeburn’s cutie mark is simply a plain old apple. Talk about an uncreative cutie mark! Maybe his cutie mark being one big apple, instead of three smaller apples like Applejack, suggests that his specialty is in perfecting big individual apples instead of working with them en masse?
  • Babs Seed’s shafting heavily contrasts against Maud Pie, who gets an episode dedicated to introducing her in season 4 and then becomes a prominent recurring character. I’m not complaining that Maud Pie gets so much screen time—in fact, I’m very happy that she does—but I thought that was an interesting point of contrast.
  • Granny Smith winking at the camera towards the end is a point in favor of Pinkie Pie being related to the Apples, because Pinkie also interacts with the camera now and then.

The next episode unfortunately has Applejack on the receiving end of painful obliviousness.

See you next week as I go through the worst episode of season 3 by far, followed by the best episode of season 3 by far.

>> Part 26: Spike at Your Service + Keep Calm and Flutter On

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s