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Season 5, Episodes 1-2
After a two-week break from writing MLP posts (was going to be a month, but I wrote this post midway through June starting when a power outage happened), I’m ready to dive into season 5! Since I wrote this post earlier than I planned to, I decided to release it a week earlier than I originally planned to, which still allows me plenty of leeway with my weekly queue.
I may as well explain how season 5 will be divided into posts. Some posts will cover two episodes each, while others will get posts all to themselves. As of this post’s publication, six episodes are planned to get their own posts: Castle Sweet Castle, Bloom & Gloom, Slice of Life, Amending Fences, Brotherhooves Social, and Crusaders of the Lost Mark. I’ve already written the first two of these, and it’s possible they won’t be the only season 5 episodes to get their own posts. It all depends on how long my reviews get!
I’m really excited to start analyzing season 5, partly because it’s my favorite season, and partly because it’s the first one that I didn’t watch until after the show ended. And as you may have guessed from my plans stated above, season 5 is going to have some EXTREMELY detailed reviews. Like the one you’re about to read, for example. Now let’s jump right in!
Season 5 Episode 1: The Cutie Map, Part 1
This review contains spoilers for the season 5 finale, plus a bit of season 9.
In five words: Ponies discover freakish equality village.
Premise: The new map in Twilight Sparkle’s castle points the Mane 6 to their first friendship mission of its kind: a journey to an unsettling village where everyone is equal, led by a new character named Starlight Glimmer.
The very beginning of season 5 of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic—a zoom-in on Twilight Sparkle’s big fancy new castle with some everyday residents of Equestria in the background—serves as a good excuse to discuss what it was like watching this show for the first time in six years. Best to get the self-indulgent stuff out of the way before I analyze all the insanely cool content this episode has to offer.
In the days leading up to the show’s tenth anniversary—October 10, 2020—I had been considering getting back into this show that I had told myself for years wasn’t that great, but deep down had the fondest memories of. I had worried that maybe now that I was six years older, I wouldn’t like it anymore. I thought that perhaps my sense of humor or tastes had evolved to the point of no longer being able to like MLP. Or that I would find the show a garish eyesore, or a bunch of tepid hyper-girly nonsense. Or maybe I thought I’d realize the show had no real merit beyond some silly little memes or the absurd idea of grown men watching a show about cute cartoon ponies.
But just like when I first watched the show way back in 2013, it didn’t take me long to fall in love with this show all over again—specifically when our lovable squad known typically as the “Mane 6” meet up in Twilight’s castle. All my memories of these cool characters and the show’s fun atmosphere and sense of humor came flooding back, and soon enough, I couldn’t stop laughing to myself (thankfully I was home alone, since I’m told I laugh rather loudly) about how great this show is, and about how I spent six years pointlessly neglecting it or trying to downplay how much I liked it. In fact, I think I enjoyed the show even more than I initially did now that I was a lot older—21 years old instead of a mere 15. This was a fresh new journey for me; a journey through the fifth to ninth seasons of the show that would culminate in me shedding tears at the final episode. A journey that would soon be followed by me finally doing the project I had dreamed of so many years ago: reviewing every single episode of the show in detail.
The Mane 6 sit on their fancy crystal chairs, each one flashing with their cutie mark as they sit on them, showing the increasing role these ponies are going to have solving friendship problems on their own without Celestia’s guidance. Then we get the first dialogue of the season:
Twilight Sparkle: Let’s go through this one more time.
Rainbow Dash: (sigh) We’ve been over it like a million times, Twilight. We found all six keys, defeated Tirek, and got this sweet castle. End of story.
Twilight Sparkle: Yes, but why?
Rainbow Dash’s snappy recap of the season 4 finale wasn’t just useful for me watching this episode for the first time. It must have also been useful for fans who watched this episode as it came out, since it had almost been a whole year since season 4 ended. The viewers had been left hanging long enough, and now the Mane 6 are in charge of figuring out where to go next. Much like the start of season 4, our heroes and the show’s staff alike are left to deal with a grand new change in Twilight Sparkle’s storyline: this time, her getting a new castle and being named the Princess of Friendship.
I wonder if the map would have activated if Spike wasn’t sleeping on his chair? Hard to say for sure.
When the Mane 6 all sit on their chairs, a three-dimensional depiction of Equestria called the Cutie Map bursts out of the floor. We’ll be seeing this map a lot from now on, and its purpose is to direct the Mane 6 (and sometimes other characters) to locations where they need to solve friendship problems. It serves as a handy excuse for them to explore Equestria due to plot lore, giving episodes more time to explore the friendship problems themselves.
May as well mention that season 5’s only change to the theme song is that it now features Twilight Sparkle’s castle.
The Mane 6 and Spike take some time to examine the map, and Pinkie Pie is the first to make out a specific location in Equestria. She says “hi, mom and dad!” when she sees the rock farm her parents live on, and I can’t decide if this is an indicator of her unique ability to memorize insane hordes of information, or simply because the rock farm was right in front of her.
I like how Spike’s glove is based on a dragon claw rather than a human hand. It demonstrates this show’s ever-increasing attention to detail.
The Mane 6’s cutie marks flash on their own bodies, and the Cutie Map indicates that they need to go somewhere they’ve never gone before. Most of the Mane 6 are excited about this adventure, but at first Fluttershy isn’t.
Fluttershy: Um, maybe I’ll just… stay here with Spike.
Spike: Awesome! Me and Big Mac have a huge weekend ahead of us, talking hoofball, and trading hoofball cards, arguing about hoofball stats…
Fluttershy: On second thought, maybe I’d better go with them. In case they need me!
Unlike in past two-part episodes, this one gives Spike a genuine reason to be shafted: he doesn’t have a cutie mark, so the premise of this episode doesn’t apply to him. His staying behind also hints at a new friendship, one between two male characters for once. Though the show gives male characters more attention as its seasons progress, dynamics between two of them don’t tend to show up often. Later seasons redeem this weak spot to a certain extent, especially when Spike, Big Macintosh, and Discord form a little friend group, but relationships between male characters remain uncommon in this show.
I love that the village’s houses are shaped like an equal sign.
And the lone house at the end hints that Starlight Glimmer is only pretending to participate in this supposed equality.
It takes quite a long journey for the Mane 6 to get to their destination. It’s a remote village in the middle of nowhere, and I think its location says a lot about Starlight Glimmer’s character: specifically, how desperately she wanted to get away from it all due to her jealousy that Sunburst got his cutie mark. But maybe this topic is better discussed in season 5’s finale, where we learn about Starlight’s childhood. Besides, I’ll have a LOT of Starlight Glimmer analysis to come even disregarding her backstory.
Most of the Mane 6 don’t have a strong impression of this humble-looking village: Rarity simply wants to find its spa, and Rainbow Dash is excited to go through dangerous obstacles without considering what lies ahead. But Pinkie Pie immediately can tell something is off given how plain and boring the town looks. She uses her trademark cartoon physics to roll down a hill and then sneak around beneath a bunch of rocks. While Pinkie Pie was her ordinary spacey self at the start of this episode, her expression is determined throughout this scene, showing how strongly she feels something’s off. One thing I really like about this season premiere is the various roles specific Mane 6 members play that aren’t just methodically participating in magic spells or using their abilities one by one. Pinkie Pie plays a pivotal role in this episode because she senses from the start that something’s wrong with this town, and she knows a fake smile when she sees one. Fluttershy, on the other hand, thinks the town is lovely and quaint and doesn’t see anything amiss, which causes her to play an important role too.
Can you appreciate just how creepy Our Town is? Everyone in there is walking around with plastic, robotic smiles, and they all have the same cutie marks too: an equal sign. I don’t think anything else in the entire show before or after this episode is anywhere near as freaky as this! And it’s only going to get more disconcerting as we progress.
Twilight Sparkle: An entire village with the same cutie mark? How can that be?
Rainbow Dash: I bet there’s some sort of horrific monster behind it.
Twilight Sparkle: What makes you say that?
Rainbow Dash: ‘Cause fighting a horrific monster would be super awesome!
This episode is teasing the pattern of two-part episodes introducing big, scary villains, and Rainbow Dash’s excitement over taking down a horrific monster shows that she knows the pattern too. And when viewers have gotten used to a pattern, that’s the perfect opportunity for the show to subvert it. The villain of this episode turns out to be a seemingly ordinary unicorn!
Unlike prior generations, MLP is at a point where everything being completely merry and happy 100% of the time is extremely jarring.
As the Mane 6 explore Our Town, its residents all say “welcome” one by one in an extremely static voice. It’s the kind of voice you might hear from an automated system on the phone, or at a train station announcing which stops are coming next. It is not the kind of voice you’d normally hear when people excitedly welcome you to their town. This episode does an excellent job at making the welcoming attitude of these equal ponies come off as artificial. I love Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy’s contrasting reactions to this; fitting because these two play the most important roles in this episode.
The storm of welcomes is followed by two of the so-called “Equal Ponies” introducing themselves: the blue one on the right is called Party Favor, and the white one is Double Diamond. Their names are vestiges of them all having varied personalities and interests; Party Favor’s name suggests that he would hit it off with Pinkie Pie, and Double Diamond would be the action-oriented type, if it weren’t for this town’s supposed equality. This town has just the slightest hints at normal lively ponies beneath its off-putting atmosphere, which helps make it even creepier.
Double Diamond reveals the name of the leader of the town: Starlight Glimmer. Now if you don’t mind, here’s a problem with the existence of Equestria Girls. I feel like the reveal of Starlight Glimmer’s name is supposed to make viewers think, “hey, this name sounds an awful lot like Twilight Sparkle.” But since Equestria Girls happened, first-time viewers when the episode came out were probably more likely to think the name sounds like Sunset Shimmer, which it is indeed closer to. While Starlight Glimmer and Sunset Shimmer have obvious commonalities, I think Starlight Glimmer’s name is far more emblematic of her contrast with Twilight Sparkle. Both of them grew up as purple unicorns skilled in magic without very many friends: Twilight Sparkle had Spike growing up, Starlight Glimmer had Sunburst, and that’s about it. But while Twilight was raised under Celestia’s wing and became a beloved superstar alicorn princess, Starlight got caught up in petty jealousy and became a fearsome monster who brainwashed an entire town. I think this contrast is extremely interesting, but alas, since Equestria Girls happened, Starlight Glimmer is instead compared to, and often even conflated with, Sunset Shimmer.
Wow, we haven’t even met Starlight Glimmer in person yet and I’m already writing long paragraphs about her. She’s almost like a certain controversial character in… nah, I’ve written way too much about that one work of media already.
OK, now we meet Starlight Glimmer in person. She sounds like a sunny, welcoming teacher when she enters the scene. In fact, she comes off much like a teacher throughout this episode until the truth about her is revealed, which is funny in retrospect knowing her later role in the School of Friendship, where she eventually takes Twilight Sparkle over as the head mare. I think being a teacher suits post-reformation Starlight well, and affinity for teaching is something she has in common with Twilight Sparkle; leadership is another thing they have in common.
Starlight Glimmer: Forgive my bluntness, but I’m assuming it’s Princess Twilight Sparkle? We don’t get many alicorns around here.
Twilight Sparkle: Yes, but Twilight is fine.
Starlight Glimmer: So! How did you hear of our little village?
Twilight Sparkle: It’s kind of a long story. Let’s just say we found it on a map.
Pinkie Pie: Technically, it’s a tree chest castle map! (glares at Starlight in disapproval)
Starlight Glimmer: Well, however you found us, we’re happy to have you. We’re happy to have anypony who wants to experience true friendship for the first time.
Notice the way Starlight Glimmer talks about “true friendship”. This implies a contrast against ordinary friendship, which must not have worked out well for her. When Sunburst got heaps of praise for earning his cutie mark, Starlight Glimmer felt that her friendship with him was all a big lie, so she can cross that out of the qualifications for true friendship. Then she started devising this crazy idea of how true friends have no differences and no special talents, and you know what came next.
This episode has tons of brilliant symbolism involving the equal sign, but there’s something subtler here as Starlight adjusts the picture to be straight while she explains her ideology. The fact that this picture wasn’t already hanging straight may serve as a hint that Starlight is the only pony in this town who doesn’t have the equal cutie mark. I’m not sure whether that hint was intentional, but it’s fun to imagine it is.
Obligatory mention that “Our Town” is the only name we have for the village seen here.
Starlight Glimmer then explains her philosophy on equality in musical form with a memorable song called “In Our Town”. Fitting the song’s theme, it is done in a very even rhythm with slight traces of dissonance that quickly resolve themselves. Before the lyrics begin, Starlight Glimmer gathers all the residents of the town and says that no pony is left behind; knowing her backstory, it’s likely that her mindset of never leaving anyone behind was born out of her bitterness when Sunburst got his cutie mark and she was ignored. This theme is further indicated with these lyrics from the song:
Starlight Glimmer: ♫ Life is so grand in Our Town ♫
♪ We’re always filled with cheer ♪
♫ We never have to look around ♫
♪ To know that we’re all here ♪
But it’s not likely that first-time viewers will sense that Starlight felt bitter about being left behind as a child. Instead, fans tend to compare the lyrics of this song, and Starlight’s philosophy in general, to communism. How could I analyze this episode without mentioning the meme that Starlight Glimmer is a communist? It’s a comparison that is both humorous and logical.
One portion of the song’s lyrics leaves Rainbow Dash particularly unsettled: the residents sing about how competition is bad and brings out the worst in others, and how in Our Town no one’s the best at anything. Given her backstory, it’s easy to see that Starlight truly believes competition ruins friendships forever—she has one example in favor of this theory, and zero examples against it. This song is such a good way to tell us about her philosophy towards friendship, with the music greatly adding to the disturbing factor.
Does this girl have a name? She must have been a lot like Rarity before the brainwashing.
While she sings, Starlight Glimmer notices a mare in the crowd with a unique-looking mane, which is another trace of the ponies’ old special talents leaking out. Without interrupting her singing, Starlight braids the mane to make it look most of the others. She has to put active work into maintaining Our Town and keeping it stable, and she can’t do it without her special talents: a skill in magic rivaling Twilight Sparkle, and a knack for leadership also on par with Twilight Sparkle.
Look at how completely unfazed Fluttershy is here. She’s always either extremely easy or extremely difficult to scare.
The brown mare dances more excitedly than the other three until she sees Starlight and stops.
Another example of these ponies’ talents momentarily seeping out.
In the bridge section of the song, Starlight Glimmer sings about how disagreements are another thing that completely ruins friendships, and the ponies as a chorus refer to their town as “our utopia”. While most of the Mane 6 are rightfully set off by this idea, Fluttershy enjoys it and even dances along with the music briefly. Her being swayed in favor of this viewpoint is what lets her see firsthand how full of lies Starlight Glimmer is.
This episode is full of all the most delicious symbolism, and here’s another such instance towards the end of the song. The residents of Our Town form a perfect equals sign, and the Mane 6 look like they’re about to form a six-pointed star but don’t quite make it. This nicely symbolizes how their imperfections and differences are what make them who they are, in contrast to all these brainwashed ponies.
It feels so amazing to get to talk about Starlight Glimmer without it being in some absurd tangent that’s barely related to the episode!
The residents of Our Town make a perfectly symmetrical formation to conclude the song, and their rigidity and evenness are incredibly disconcerting. Everything being rigid and consistent simply isn’t how the world works, which is why it feels so fake when people come across that way. Like a group of people who all share the exact same beliefs about everything and shun anyone who would dare disagree with them… like a cult. People in such groups tend to come off as all being one and the same, stripped of any individuality they once had, and it really freaks me out.
After the song ends, Rainbow Dash thinks Starlight Glimmer must be joking about getting rid of cutie marks, but the others pay more attention to her. Starlight Glimmer claims that everyone in the village was once blinded by false promises, and she raises a compelling point to Twilight:
Twilight Sparkle: When we were sent to this village, we assumed it was to help in some way. But… well, it doesn’t seem like you need any help.
Starlight Glimmer: Have you considered perhaps that you might have been sent here so we could help you?
Starlight Glimmer: After all, nopony has ever come to our village and wanted to leave. Why should you be any different?
This is the Mane 6’s first ever mission from the Cutie Map, and they aren’t totally sure yet how this thing works. So you could argue, do they know any better than Starlight does about why the map sent them to Our Town? Starlight is incredibly good at being persuasive, and if she could use this skill someday for good instead of evil… nah. Like that would ever happen.
(I didn’t mean to sound bitter here. I think Starlight Glimmer continues being an interesting character after her reformation!)
After telling Double Diamond to deal with the Mane 6, Starlight Glimmer monologues about her evil plan to capture an alicorn princess so she can take over Equestria. This monologue is a great way to confirm her malicious intent and show how far off the deep end someone with a similar childhood to Twilight Sparkle can go.
Double Diamond guides the Mane 6 through Our Town some more, and they start to notice how disturbingly equal everything is. Rarity nearly throws up when she sees the extremely bland cloaks one pony is selling, and then comes a heartwrenching scene that shows how messed up this town is.
I always forget how muted Sugar Belle’s original design is.
The Mane 6 gather at a table together and debate over why the map sent them here and how politely they should behave. Their argument doesn’t even get that bad, but a resident of Our Town named Sugar Belle breaks from her eternal creepy smile because she’s worried about the Mane 6, and she asks them if their friendship is ending. Sugar Belle is portrayed as an especially kind-hearted type after her cutie mark is restored, and she lets enough of that trait slip through the course of this episode to allow the Mane 6 to succeed. She presents a menu to the Mane 6, which consists of only one item: muffins. If no one in Our Town ever disagrees on anything, what’s the use of having multiple options in a bakery menu? The Mane 6 order twelve muffins.
Sugar Belle smiles through most of this scene, but she has this expression when she recites part of Starlight’s manifesto.
Sugar Belle: Forgive me for overhearing, but… just a moment ago, you were disagreeing. And now it sounds like you’re agreeing.
Sugar Belle: Well, you had such differing opinions, and cutie marks.
Rarity: We have differing opinions all the time, darling.
Sugar Belle: But… you look like you’re friends.
Twilight Sparkle: We are friends. A simple disagreement wouldn’t change that.
Sugar Belle: I’m sorry, I’m just having a hard time understanding. Different talents lead to different opinions, which lead to bitterness and misery. So… why aren’t you bitter, and—
(Pinkie Pie spits out her muffin)
For a few moments, Sugar Belle comes off as a normal friendly pony who overestimated the severity of the Mane 6’s disagreement. But then she switches to a teacher-like tone when she talks about differing talents, indicating how much this messed-up mindset has been implanted into her head. She briefly seemed different from all the other equal ponies, but just like that, she snapped back to the beliefs Starlight spread to them—a surefire sign of getting wrapped up in a freaky cult.
Applejack doesn’t know yet that this is her future sister-in-law.
Pinkie Pie, who normally can eat just about anything with ease, is grossed out by Sugar Belle’s muffins and even cleans every crumb of them off her tongue. This is like what I talked about way back in Applebuck Season: if Pinkie Pie can’t digest a piece of food, that’s how you know for sure it’s inedible. Perhaps her reason for cleaning her tongue is so that she doesn’t get sick from it like back when she had the so-called “baked bads”. Sugar Belle glumly remarks she’s no better at cooking than anyone else, then tells the Mane 6 to go inside.
Man, Applebuck Season feels so long ago now. Back then, my episode reviews were much shorter.
Unfortunately, it falls into Pinkie Pie to eat those nasty muffins anyway, since her stomach is stronger than the rest of theirs. The Mane 6 noticed that they’re being intensely watched, so they decided to make Pinkie Pie eat the muffins and then go into Sugar Belle’s place supposedly to ask for more. Applejack is the one who says they need to get more, even though it’s incredibly easy to tell when she’s lying. But I’m willing to wave this off as the residents of Our Town not thinking too hard, or them being secretly supportive of the Mane 6 too. I wonder if Sugar Belle was one of the most recent additions to the group, and thus her memories of her old self haven’t faded away? This would certainly make her history less tragic, since after this episode, she gets the second most screen time out of any of the residents of Our Town behind Starlight Glimmer herself, and thus it’s messed up to think she spent so long brainwashed.
Ooh, I like the shadows in this shot.
The Mane 6 land in Sugar Belle’s basement, where she and two other equal ponies talk about the prospect of getting their cutie marks back, which is something Starlight Glimmer strictly forbids in villainous dictator fashion. Though they all would love to have their special talents back, their extreme degree of brainwashing is demonstrated when one pony (the dark blue one on the left) claims the cutie un-marking to be a “beautiful experience” that is done using a magical staff. She then says that Starlight Glimmer allows them to visit the vault containing their cutie marks anytime they want. Such acts of pseudo-generosity are exactly the sort of things the leader of a cult would do to keep the cult members from rebelling. Cults are a terrifying concept to me, but there are times when I can’t help but laugh at how ridiculous they are. What’s-her-name’s “beautiful experience” line is one such example.
Starlight Glimmer leads the Mane 6 to the Cutie Mark Vault, and let’s stop and appreciate how much work went into designing it. It’s not just a bunch of stock cutie marks you see on tons of background ponies. No, they’re a bunch of custom designs that surely led fans to speculate on what all the characters who had them must be like. Here’s some examples:
Could the pony with the chess cutie mark perhaps be one of Cozy Glow’s relatives?
(Wait, Cozy Glow doesn’t exist yet. Oops.)
Whoever had the spilled milk cutie mark was probably an unpleasant type anyway.
Maybe Starlight did us some good by removing that mark.
This right here is some EXTREME original character bait. I love how this grid could have easily contained a bunch of generic cutie marks like Bon Bon’s sweets (or bows?) and Doctor Whooves’ hourglass, but instead it has a variety of custom cutie marks to demonstrate the abundance of special talents Starlight Glimmer has washed away. Starlight Glimmer became a major fan favorite villain when this episode aired, and I can easily see why. I’d say she is scarier than any other villain we’ve seen yet! And we JUST got done getting to know Tirek.
We’ll learn a lot more about Mage Meadowbrook when season 7 rolls around.
Cool to see one of the Pillars of Equestria mentioned this early!
Starlight Glimmer presents the Mane 6 with the item she supposedly uses to remove ponies’ cutie marks: the Staff of Sameness, which she claims to be one of Mage Meadowbrook’s nine artifacts. Twilight Sparkle narrows her eyes in response to this; she doesn’t blurt it out just yet, but soon she’ll tell us that Meadowbrook only had eight artifacts.
Starlight Glimmer: I’m curious. How did the subject of the vault come up?
Pinkie Pie: Oh… some ponies were telling us how much they missed their cutie marks, and—
Twilight Sparkle: Pinkie!
Pinkie Pie: Oops!
Pinkie Pie knew from the moment she entered Our Town that something was wrong with the town, and her airheaded nature unfortunately causes her to try solving this problem a little too soon. She blurts out a secret to Starlight Glimmer, hoping it would cause her downfall, but this instead leads Starlight to take care of these rebels and get rid of their free thinking. But in Pinkie Pie’s defense, if one of the Mane 6 came up with a lie, Starlight probably would’ve easily been able to tell. She has the Mane 6 cornered, and she isn’t easy to fool. She is, however, excellent at fooling others.
A bunch of equal ponies who remain loyal to Starlight surround the Mane 6, and Twilight Sparkle leaps to action only for this to happen:
Notice that Starlight is using her versatile magic skills to make it look like the magic is coming from the staff.
She truly is a worthy rival to Twilight!
Twilight Sparkle gets ready to shoot a magic beam at Starlight Glimmer, but Starlight’s magic outdoes hers, which is an excellent usage of the Worf Effect (a character’s extreme power being demonstrated by defeating a seemingly powerful character). It’s an even better demonstration if you rewatch this scene knowing that Starlight is using her own magic, which makes her an even more fearsome villain in retrospect.
Twilight Sparkle screams in pain as her cutie mark is removed and locked in a vault next to five empty slots. I can only imagine how long Starlight must have been waiting for the Mane 6 to stumble upon her village, given that she reserved these six slots for them. This is something she’s been anticipating for a long time, and she was incredibly well-prepared for it. I bet that she rehearsed the musical number for Our Town dozens of times to make sure it was perfect, because such extreme degrees of evenness don’t come by accident. The same goes for practicing her friendly teacher image and honing in her magic skills, the latter of which is something she has in common with Twilight. The Mane 6 have been viewed as beloved heroes of Equestria ever since they defeated Nightmare Moon back at the start of the show, and this means that villainous figures have learned a lot about them too.
And just like that, Twilight Sparkle’s cutie mark has been replaced with an equals sign. Remember when Twilight Sparkle failed to give Apple Bloom a cutie mark way back in season 1? It seemed like cutie marks were exempt from the workings of magic, but Starlight Glimmer just proved us wrong. Starlight didn’t give up on experimenting with cutie mark magic after some failed attempts; she figured out how to strip ponies of their cutie marks! The one thing she can’t do is destroy cutie marks, which is why she locked them inside a vault that purports to be a reminder of the perils of being different.
Starlight Glimmer has also outdone Pinkie Pie’s reality-bending powers! Again not an easy feat.
With their powerful leader defeated, stripping the rest of the Mane 6 from their cutie marks is no challenge for Starlight Glimmer. She gloats to the Mane 6 and tells them how much better life will be without their cutie marks, and the episode ends with this cliffhanger:
The symbolism of the equal sign is so cool, can you please appreciate how cool it is???
This shot fades to a white equal sign on a black background.
Oh, and a “To be continued…” screen.
- Here’s an animation error only a minute into the episode, a recurring one in season 4 and one that apparently season 5 isn’t immune to: Twilight Sparkle having pegasus wings instead of fancy alicorn wings. It’s only for a second, and I sure didn’t catch that when watching this episode for the first time.
- I wonder if this “hoofball” sport Spike mentions is closer to American football or to soccer? I’m going to guess it’s closer to soccer, which is a game that actually makes sense to call “football” because you kick a ball using your feet. Unfortunately, my brain is accustomed to the less logical meaning of “football”.
- “Emblematic” is a good word. I almost want to use it more often, but then it wouldn’t have quite the same pizzazz.
- I was almost going to throw another tangent about King of the Hill into this review, but I stopped myself because this episode’s review is monstrous already. It was going to be about the episode where Peggy and Luanne get sucked into a cult focused on everyone being equal, with some similarities to this episode. When it comes down to it, King of the Hill and MLP:FiM are practically the same show, don’t you think?
Season 5 Episode 2: The Cutie Map, Part 2
This review contains spoilers for about the same parts of the show as that of part 1.
In five words: Ponies overthrow freakish equality village.
Premise: With their cutie marks removed, the Mane 6 struggle to escape their brainwashing until Fluttershy discovers a shocking secret about Starlight Glimmer.
As this show progresses through its seasons, the two-part episodes’ recaps get more and more substantially edited from their first parts. There are a lot of spoken lines placed over scenes in which they didn’t originally play, and the only words we hear directly from characters’ mouths are two lines from Starlight Glimmer and one short line from Twilight Sparkle. I think Starlight Glimmer removing the Mane 6’s cutie marks is even more shocking in the recap than in the full-length part 1.
Rainbow Dash has been banging on the door, which seems to be locked tight.
Now, we see the Mane 6 trapped in a room where they listen to words broadcast from the speakers above that largely consist of contradictory statements like “to succeed is to fail” and “be your best by never being your best”, very much akin to a dystopian novel. These lines are spoken in an unsettling robotic voice that once again heavily reminds me of train stations. This is a terrifying way to show how Starlight Glimmer brainwashes the residents of Our Town: by forcing them to listen to her philosophy on equality and cutie marks until it sinks in and they internalize it. But it’s perhaps even more chilling to see the effects of the Mane 6 losing their special talents. Look at Rarity, for one:
Rarity: Oh, this is horrible! (cries)
Fluttershy: There, there, Rarity. It’s not so bad.
Rarity: Yes it is! Look at those drapes. I have no idea if they’re tacky or not.
Fluttershy: Well, I think they’re nice.
(Rarity’s cutie mark flashes and she bursts into tears)
Rarity: So do I.
Rarity’s freakouts often tend to be over inconsequential things like curtains looking ugly, but here it’s hard not to feel awful for her. Can you imagine if you woke up one day only to find that you’ve lost a skill that you had spent years refining and being proud of? In such a situation, many people might be angered or confused that their skill vanished, but Rarity is more the type to burst into tears. Fluttershy has similarly lost her ability to communicate with animals, which would no doubt have been a great help to them. While Applejack gets her hooves hurt trying to buck the door open with her now completely average strength, the other effect of losing her cutie mark adds a tinge of humor to this sequence: she falls short on words when trying to use a country metaphor to describe this situation. Clearly, losing the ability to make country-isms is by far the most perilous consequence of being stripped of your cutie mark. Pinkie Pie loses her ability to perceive things as fun, and you get the idea here.
Do the books consist solely of a bunch of big equal signs, or is there actual text arranged in the shape of those signs?
I imagine it’s the latter.
Now that they have some privacy, Twilight Sparkle brings up something fishy about Starlight Glimmer’s staff: according to her memory, Mage Meadowbrook had only eight historical artifacts, and none of them was a staff. She remembers just enough Equestrian history through the course of this brainwashing to bring up a hint that Starlight Glimmer may be hiding something, which eventually leads Fluttershy to investigate further and discover the truth.
Also, I should say that I absolutely LOVE the equal sign that gradually forms through sunlight peeking out of the windows. It’s probably the coolest instance of this recurring symbol in the entire two-part episode. Not one to let her guard down in such a tough situation, Twilight Sparkle stays awake through this montage until an idea for how to escape comes to her. Pinkie Pie excitedly goes off about how the walls will eventually weather down and form a hole, until her flashing cutie mark curbs her hyperactive attitude. This girl ranks high on the power scaling of this show’s cast, so her equal sign cutie mark needs some extra effort to prevent her from being her regular self.
Twilight Sparkle’s idea is for Fluttershy to convince the residents of Our Town that she believes in their philosophy, since she already was the only one of them who got a positive first impression of the town, which would allow her to escape this room. It’s worth noting that this is the second time Fluttershy has been put into a pivotal role dealing with a major villain: the last time was when she reformed Discord through relentless kindness.
Pinkie Pie shouts “woo-hoo” complete with party sound effects when Fluttershy agrees to this task, but then her cutie mark reminds her yet again to not get excited. She’s needed a lot of reminders to keep it down with her enthusiasm, and it seems like Starlight Glimmer didn’t entirely wash away Pinkie Pie’s logic-defying powers. That is, if you assume the sound effects were something the Mane 6 actually heard.
Starlight Glimmer lets the Mane 6 outside their chamber to join the residents of Our Town, but they’re all still very resistant; according to her, this is a natural part of the equalization process, and after more time, they’ll believe her philosophy. They all go back inside, but Twilight Sparkle lightly kicks Fluttershy in the leg as a reminder of what to do.
Fluttershy: I’d like to join.
Look at Sugar Belle’s slightly confused expression. She knows a little more about the Mane 6 than the rest do.
Twilight Sparkle: Fluttershy? How could you?
Fluttershy: If giving up my cutie mark means I get to stay in this lovely village with these lovely ponies, then I’ll do it.
This is a convincing act on both Twilight Sparkle and Fluttershy’s part, and it helps that Fluttershy isn’t entirely lying. Fluttershy’s ability to give the benefit of the doubt helps her deal with a villain, but in a very different way from how she dealt with Discord. Even though she got locked in a brainwashing chamber, Fluttershy can’t help but view the residents of Our Town as earnest and friendly beneath it all.
The rest of the Mane 6 go back to the room, Twilight Sparkle briefly showing a smug expression, and then Starlight Glimmer shuts the door. I’m not sure if it’s intentional, but given that the door doesn’t have a visible lock, it looks like its security mechanism is based entirely on Starlight Glimmer’s magic, much like the security of the cutie mark vault. While Twilight Sparkle is passionate about magic and regularly uses it to get through life, Starlight Glimmer is much more dependent on it and often falls back on using magic to solve her problems. She’s doing so right now, actually: using elaborate magic spells and brainwashing to take out her frustration about losing her friendship with Sunburst. She surely thinks that with all the fancy magic spells she might have combined to keep the door firmly locked, there is no way the Mane 6 could ever escape even if they did have their cutie marks. And as is typical of Starlight Glimmer, these solutions to her problems eventually bite her back.
… What? Are you telling me I shouldn’t think that deeply about Starlight Glimmer shutting a door? Come on, if you’ve been reading all my MLP posts, you should know me by now. I love fixating on the smallest, most inconsequential details in works of media and going on lengthy tangents about them. I like to think it sets these posts apart from other people’s reviews of MLP episodes, but maybe that’s just me.
With Fluttershy welcomed to the group, Starlight Glimmer puts on a theatrical act about the possibility of ponies who would dare to sneak around trying to get their cutie marks back, portraying it as this horrible awful thing that no one in their right mind would do. See again: this is exactly the kind of thing a cult leader does. She then presses Fluttershy about who those defectors are, and that is something she was not prepared for. Fluttershy sweats and stammers in response, showing that Starlight Glimmer has outsmarted the Mane 6 once again.
Party Favor had some incredible abilities before he lost his cutie mark. I can’t blame him for wanting to see it again.
Party Favor: It was me!
Party Favor: It was only me. I only wanted it back for a little while.
Starlight Glimmer: And you’re quite certain it was only you?
Party Favor: I just wanted to remember what it was like.
Starlight Glimmer: And no thought to the pain you cause your friends. Such selfishness.
Party Favor seems to be the type who’s willing to take one for the team, and I bet he was like that even before his cutie mark was washed away. He puts the blame all on himself and willingly takes accusations of selfishness, since Starlight Glimmer is incredibly good at making others feel guilty for the slightest act of defiance. Party Favor is then locked inside with the Mane 6 without getting to finish his last sentence.
Even though the residents of Our Town all live under a philosophy of everyone being the same, we’ve gotten tiny hints of their usual distinct personalities here and there. While Sugar Belle’s kind-hearted nature and passion for baking get fleshed out in later episodes, the other residents of the town don’t get much focus, and these hints of distinct personality are interesting to pick up on. Another example is Double Diamond’s loyal duty watching over the residents of Our Town; perhaps he was always good at keeping others out of trouble.
Party Favor panics when he enters the brainwashing room, thinking that Fluttershy really did accept their way and all hope is lost. This leads to an exchange where Pinkie Pie says something surprisingly deadpan:
Rainbow Dash: This guy’s a barrel of laughs.
Pinkie Pie: Laughs don’t come in barrels. They come from inside you as your body’s response to delight.
The others in the room give Pinkie Pie a look of surprise (shown above) in response to this line. Pinkie Pie sounded a lot like Maud Pie both in literal-mindedness and intonation, and with her characteristic lighthearted joy washed away from her, she’s not so different from her sister after all. It sort of reminds me of that one timeline in The Cutie Re-Mark where Pinkie and Maud Pie drilled apart a rock together, both with serious expressions.
Fluttershy: Gosh, you really are the nicest ponies I’ve ever met.
Starlight Glimmer: Come, all new friends stay with me until their cottage is completed.
Starlight Glimmer: Let’s get you settled. And then you can enjoy all that our little village has to offer.
I think Starlight Glimmer is lying about new friends staying with her. Our Town has thirteen cottages (one of which is Starlight’s), which is much less than the population of the town. I bet the real reason Starlight Glimmer is telling Fluttershy to stay with her is to prevent her from doing anything sneaky.
We’re lucky that Fluttershy can fly.
And yet, Fluttershy manages to escape through the chimney anyway. It looks like even though Starlight Glimmer kept her house extra secure, she didn’t think of this escape route.
Starlight Glimmer’s clumsiness amidst her mischievous schemes reminds me of Trixie, who is incredibly clumsy.
(I’m greatly looking forward to analyzing the friendship they later develop.)
Fluttershy’s meek, quiet personality makes her highly adept for spying. After not making it very far in her attempt to get to the cave, she spies on Starlight Glimmer receiving a box with the Mane 6’s cutie marks in jars from Double Diamond, who doesn’t understand why their cutie marks need to be protected. Then Starlight Glimmer slips on a barrel of water, which is the first ever demonstration of her clumsy side—something that we’ll see a lot more of after she’s reformed. While Starlight Glimmer maintains a confident leaderly image when giving instructions to the residents of Our Town, when she’s by herself it’s a whole different story. This moment of clumsiness shows that unlike the show’s other major villains, Starlight Glimmer started off as an ordinary pony who’s as prone to slip-ups as any other, and the ordinary pony inside her showed when she didn’t watch her step.
Never before has the reveal of a pony’s cutie mark been this surprising!
Starlight is lucky that this plain gray equal sign is so easy to replicate. No artistic skills needed!
When Starlight Glimmer dries herself off, we get the shocking reveal: she had her original cutie mark all along! Fluttershy is shocked, and I remember how surprised I was at this when I first watched the episode. By that point, I was fully entranced in this show all over again, forgetting I ever abandoned it. It turns out that she merely paints over her original cutie mark with an equal sign, which makes total sense given what we had seen of her. Her color wasn’t muted like all the other ponies, and she showed a strong command over leadership and getting others to do what she says. While the evidence was there in retrospect, to her credit, she cleverly disguised her magic skills using her fabricated Staff of Sameness. But now that we’ve seen her cutie mark, which looks quite a lot like Twilight Sparkle’s, it’s easy to guess that Starlight also has a strong command over magic. She notices a noise from outside, but then waves it off and goes to bed. Presumably, she’s very tired right now, which may be why she slipped in the first place.
The next day brings us more of Starlight Glimmer’s style of cult leadership: using a dramatic, pleading tone to shame any consideration against her philosophy, as shown when Party Favor rejoins her and rescinds his hopes of getting his cutie mark back. For him, the only alternative to being washed from his special talent is the torture chamber—though the torture is of the psychological kind, it can’t be more pleasant than physical torture. This scene leads up to the climactic moment by having Fluttershy offer to close the door for the rest of the Mane 6 so she can catch Starlight Glimmer off guard, followed by Starlight tempting fate:
Twilight Sparkle: And you wouldn’t just let me just live here in the village with my old cutie mark?
Starlight Glimmer: Out of the question. A pony with a different cutie mark in our midst would destroy our entire philosophy. We are all equal here!
(residents of Our Town chatter)
Fluttershy: Then how do you explain THIS?
Starlight Glimmer could have avoided the water using a teleportation spell if she wasn’t trying to hide her extreme magic powers.
This is such an awesome moment for Fluttershy. Not every Mane 6 member can say they’ve played such a pivotal role in taking on two major villains: first Discord, and now Starlight Glimmer. She sneaks out of Starlight Glimmer’s sight and then dumps a bucket of water onto her at the perfect opportunity. Starlight dodges the attack, but enough water splashes on her anyway to let her true cutie mark slip.
The residents of Our Town feel betrayed in response to this reveal, and Starlight Glimmer’s confident leaderly image shatters like an expensive wine glass dropped out the window of a ten-story building. She stammers and tries to cover her cutie mark with her tail, but it’s no use. Fluttershy saw firsthand how clumsy Starlight Glimmer can be when she lets her guard down, and she took full advantage of this.
I looked up the name of the dark blue pegasus mare we saw earlier. Apparently it’s Night Glider.
Party Favor: How could you?
Double Diamond: You said cutie marks were evil. You said special talents led to pain and heartache!
Starlight Glimmer: They do, don’t you see? Look at them!
With her cover blown, Starlight Glimmer at first cobbles together a justification for her statement about cutie marks by pointing at the Mane 6, even though she was the one who vanquished their cutie marks to begin with. Both before and after reformation, impulsiveness is one of her biggest character traits. And while she’s going to admit the truth shortly after, she isn’t ready to admit that special talents caused her pain and heartache, which is why she founded this village and devised her whole crazy philosophy.
Sugar Belle: Why did you take ours and not give up your own?
Starlight Glimmer: I… I had to, you fools. How could I collect your cutie marks without my magic?
Night Glider: But… the staff has all the magic we need.
Starlight Glimmer: The staff is a piece of wood I found in the desert. It’s my magic that makes all this possible.
And now, Starlight Glimmer has no choice but to come clean about why she didn’t give up her cutie mark, which is an excellent way to reveal her daunting levels of power that come from nothing more than unicorn magic. She’s willing to admit the truth to her subjects because she isn’t thinking ahead about how they will respond. And boy, does she get paid back for this. Both the Mane 6 and the residents of Our Town lash out at Starlight for her hypocrisy. Starlight Glimmer would never give up her magic skills, and yet she’s forcing others out of their special talents due to her insane ideology about friendship.
Starlight Glimmer: You’d all still be living your miserable lives thinking you’re better than everypony else, if it weren’t for MY magical abilities. I brought you friendship. I brought you equality. I CREATED HARMONY!
Double Diamond: You lied to us!
Starlight Glimmer: So what? Everything else I said is true! The only way to be happy is if we’re all equal.
Party Favor: Except for you.
When Party Favor retaliates to Starlight’s rant about equality, her first instinct is to use a magic spell on him, presumably to punish him some more, before Twilight Sparkle interrupts her. Starlight Glimmer has no valid response to being such a hypocrite, and this instinct once again demonstrates her tendency to fall back to solving problems with magic.
After a few more retorts from the citizens of Our Town, Starlight Glimmer performs a shield attack with her magic and then runs off into her house. Her former cult members are now ready to get their cutie marks back, and the Mane 6 are too, but there’s one problem: their marks are kept secure at Starlight Glimmer’s place. Starlight Glimmer knows quite a lot about the Mane 6 and their adventures, which is why she’s so protective of their cutie marks; she probably fears that they’d perform another massive rainbow friendship explosion if they got their marks back. On the other hand, she clearly views all the other ponies she brainwashed as mindless peons who could never accomplish anything together, and this soon bites her back.
I find it incredibly poetic that the cutie mark vault is shattered using the very same piece of wood that Starlight Glimmer pretended to use to take away all the cutie marks. While the “Staff of Sameness” was total bogus, it did play a role in the expansion of Starlight’s cult since it was touted as such an important part of her mythology. And now it’s being used for a non-illusory purpose by Double Diamond, the very same pony who until now was Starlight’s loyal second-in-command.
Hey, this almost looks like a game of Puyo Puyo.
Aw, look at Sugar Belle’s smile here.
(Did her hairbands manifest out of thin air?)
And just like that, all the inhabitants of Our Town have their cutie marks restored, and it’s SO satisfying to watch. These are all the colorful personalities we had been missing out on! Though most of these characters don’t get much screen time after this episode except for Sugar Belle, they’re still fun additions to the show’s cast who have tons of material for fans to speculate on. Not a single one of them is a generic mainstay background pony; they’re all fresh new characters! Each one of them surely has their own intriguing story, and it’s left for fans to decide just what their stories are. Also, Sugar Belle is cute.
Watching the scene in villainous frustration, Starlight hides the Mane 6’s cutie marks in a secret passage under her bed, but she forgets to cover the passage back up. With the Mane 6 still neutralized, this is the time for the no longer brainwashed citizens of Our Town to have a moment of awesome. Night Glider busts the door open, and everyone else follows her through the passageway to a faraway mountain. This final showdown against Starlight Glimmer is such an awesome way to bring new characters into the mix, especially since we had previously seen hints of their usual personalities.
Party Favor, for example, is quite a fun one. His name suggested he might have abilities in common with Pinkie Pie, and he does not disappoint. He pulls a balloon out of thin air and twists it along with more balloons to create binoculars, which makes about as little logical sense as half the things Pinkie Pie does. I wonder if Party Favor came from a family who performs a comically boring activity like Pinkie Pie’s family… stick farming, perhaps? Maybe he’s related to Mudbriar (a character who doesn’t exist yet) and is the odd one out in their family? See, now I am getting carried away in speculating about these new characters’ backstories.
Not shown: Rainbow Dash having to fly at a gentle pace with the rest of the Mane 6, much to her frustration.
Starlight Glimmer: Are you all so willing to give up everything because of these strangers? (blasts some snow off the mountain to attack Night Glider)
Sugar Belle: We gave up everything for you, because we thought you were our friend.
Sugar Belle has a great point here. Starlight Glimmer was a stranger to her and all the other ponies before they joined her freakish cult, but they were all willing to give up what made them special because they thought Starlight was their friend. Starlight believes the Mane 6 are random strangers to her former subjects because she can’t see that they would do favors for others who perform genuine acts of friendship to them. The Mane 6 did these residents all an enormous favor by helping them get their cutie marks back, and now they’re returning the favor, as the Mane 6 who are lagging behind point out.
Sugar Belle makes a pie out of snow and throws it at Starlight Glimmer, almost making her lose the Mane 6’s jarred cutie marks, but she recovers them and blows up part of the bridge. Party Favor responds by making a bridge out of balloons, which is just so incredibly awesome. I love that all these new characters who were introduced as indoctrinated cult members are now getting moments to shine.
And the final saving move is done by none other than Double Diamond. He finds his old skis and uses them to generate an avalanche of snow that crushes Starlight Glimmer but leaves the Mane 6’s cutie marks intact. This whole sequence is so enthralling. Like, just, wow is all I can say. The jars are shattered and the Mane 6 get their cutie marks back, allowing them to defeat Starlight Glimmer once and for all. And more importantly, Applejack has regained her ability to make country-isms.
Starlight Glimmer shoots a laser beam at the others in the scene, and Twilight Sparkle proves her worth as a rival to Starlight Glimmer with a defensive shield. Starlight is baffled, saying that she had practiced this spell for years, which leads Twilight to give a heartfelt speech about the magic of friendship. After a few more angry words, Starlight exits the scene using one more magic spell, and that’s the last we see of her for now.
Given that these four are established as a group of friends in this episode, it’s a little weird that the one on the left is only named in the credits.
The four residents of Our Town shown above tell the Mane 6 that they came to the town because they felt something was missing from their lives, but then they realized that all they needed was a little friendship, leading to a group hug. They all agree to continue living in Our Town, this time getting to know each other in earnest without a brutal cult leader in charge, because it’s their home, which makes for a heartfelt resolution to this banger of a season premiere.
And so, Our Town hosts a lively welcome party that Pinkie Pie can tell is filled with real smiles. The Mane 6’s cutie marks flash yet again, indicating that their friendship mission is complete—a pattern that they’ll get used to as the Cutie Map sends them on more missions. After a few more heartfelt moments, Pinkie Pie has the following to say:
Pinkie Pie: This feels like an ending. It doesn’t have to be an ending yet, right? ‘Cause that Sugar Belle can BAKE!
Twilight Sparkle: Maybe we can stay a little while longer. Come on!
This scene does feel a little like an ending, but when I watched this episode for the first time, I knew this was more of a beginning. It was the beginning of the long-awaited second chapter of me being a brony, the first chapter of which was tragically cut short after less than a year due to a whole story that I explained at the end of the last post. For six years, I had felt that I would never get back into MLP again, but it happened after all, and I don’t regret it one bit. It’s always such an amazing feeling when something that you thought would never happen ends up happening, and I can tell that all the ponies over at Our Town are experiencing the same joy. This triumphant feeling continues over to the credits, which are once more scored with unique orchestral music.
Not even a question: The Cutie Map is my absolute favorite two-part episode of the entire show. It’s an incredibly strong start for my favorite season of the show, and a strong start for my resumption of being hopelessly obsessed with cartoon horses. It surpasses anything else the show had to offer before in creepiness with the robotic atmosphere of Our Town and the cult ideology, and it’s had the scariest villain in any episode so far (at least in my opinion). Starlight Glimmer is a divisive character among fans, but so far I’ve found her an absolute joy to analyze, and I know for a fact she will continue to be. She’s different from other major villains in that she shows hints of being an ordinary pony beneath it all, which makes her extreme powers and nightmarish actions all the more frightening. Our Town brings a lot of fun additions to the show’s cast who get great moments to shine, and you have to give props to Fluttershy for uncovering the truth about Starlight.
Really, what more can I say? Oh yeah, the theme throughout this episode is that differences are what makes friendship work, and it’s conveyed incredibly well all the way through. I took a lot away when watching this episode for the first time: it’s important to make friends with people who have differences from you, and disagreements are an inevitable part of every friendship. I’m sure my love of this two-part episode has a little bias because it’s the one that got me back into this show, but it’s still a masterwork of an episode that made me remember why I loved this show so much.
Come on, do I need to explain why this one gets an A?
- Fluttershy’s line “even tweets don’t make sense” is quite amusing to people who know about Twitter. Speaking of which, Twitter (like pretty much all social media sites) is a brainwashing website that thrives on people getting offended over the stupidest things, and it would be wise to avoid using it. Ending an addiction to social media is easier said than done, but take it from me: it’s possible!
- I wonder if it would have been smarter for Starlight Glimmer to brainwash the Mane 6 all in separate houses? Maybe her magic can’t provide such extreme security for more than one door, or maybe she feels one house to brainwash others is good enough.
- When he sees his old skis, Double Diamond mentions that this mountain is where he met Starlight Glimmer for the first time, but Night Glider tells him that there’s no time for him to reminisce. It almost feels like Night Glider is telling us it’s the fans’ job to decide what backstories these new characters have.
While I had no idea what to expect when I watched this episode for the first time, when I saw the title of the next one I knew exactly what it would be about.
Whew, my review of The Cutie Map was MONSTROUS! I expect that to happen a lot in season 5. See you next week as a question I had been wondering about since season 4 ended is addressed: how Twilight Sparkle is going to adapt to her new, bigger residence.