Cookie Fonster Reviews Every MLP Episode Part 53: Brotherhooves Social


< Part 52 | Part 53 | Part 54 >

Season 5, Episode 17

Season 5 Episode 17: Brotherhooves Social

In five words: Big Mac’s day in spotlight.

Premise: Feeling down about how his youngest sister perceives him, Big Macintosh fills in for an unavailable Applejack at the Sisterhooves Social and pretends to be Apple Bloom’s cousin named “Orchard Blossom”.

Detailed run-through:

This episode starts with Big Macintosh going about his day, helping Granny Smith look through boxes in the attic for an item she misplaced. He looks down to see Applejack and Apple Bloom playing and laughing with each other. In any other context, this would be a happy scene, but for Big Macintosh it’s easy to tell that this stings hard. I really like that this episode starts with a mundane scene: it sets up how much Big Mac’s life contrasts against his siblings’ wild adventures.

I wonder what that toy on the bottom right is.
Did Big Macintosh once have an interest in those weird near-impossible toy puzzles that ruin your self-esteem?

Granny Smith then stumbles upon an old toy in her boxes while searching for the ribbon for the Sisterhooves Social.

Granny Smith: Oh, would you lookie here!
Granny Smith: My, how Apple Bloom used to love watching you make that thing fly. It’s like she thought you used magic.

Four episodes ago, we saw Big Macintosh dream up his wild fantasies of being a brave anime hero with a huge buffet of magic powers. While it seemed like a silly Sailor Moon homage at the time, if you stop and think about it, it’s clear that he wants to be viewed as a hero to someone, but sees himself as nothing more than a simple farm pony. Perhaps he feels he lacks his sisters’ ability to put themselves out in the world, which is how they worked their way up to accomplishing cool things in their respective friend groups.

Big Macintosh leaves the attic with the old toy, then the mood is lightened with a slapstick sequence where Granny Smith falls into a box and finds the ribbon. We didn’t hear a single word from Big Mac in this intro, but I already had a fair bit to say about him. I am going to dig extra hard into this character for the rest of this review, just so you’re warned.

The later we get into this show, the more varied in tone Big Mac’s eyups and nopes are.

This scene where Apple Bloom expresses a storm of Cutie Mark Crusader-style excitement about the Sisterhooves Social makes very good use of facial expressions to convey mood. While Apple Bloom is filled with excitement, Applejack can sense that Big Macintosh feels like he’s being ignored, and Big Mac is keeping a lot of insecurity bottled up.

Apple Bloom: Applejack, you are the most awesome sister ever.
Applejack: Aw, gee whiz. Well, I think it’s sweet that you hold that opinion, but…
Apple Bloom: It’s not opinion. It’s objective fact! You saved Equestria like a gazillion times, you’re smart, funny, strong, like… you’re the best sister of all time! Probably the best Apple of all time. Right, Big Mac?
Big Macintosh: (briefly looks startled) Eeyup.

We’re now at a point where the Mane 6 have saved Equestria so many times that other characters start feeling inferior to them, and season 5 has given us several examples of this: Moondancer, Starlight Glimmer, and now Big Macintosh. The last example is significant because he’s a character we’ve known since season 1 who never got very much screen time before, and this season is a perfect time for us to see things from his point of view.

What’s with this hill in the background? Why’s it so ridiculously steep?

Although Apple Bloom feels like a very believable child character in this episode, the next scene shows that she’s grown up some since the show started. She doesn’t have much of a reaction to Big Macintosh playing with the old spinning toy other than “neat”. Her interests have shifted, and a lot of things that blew her mind when she was little don’t seem so special now. But she still has that childlike excitement which makes her brain filter out anything unrelated to what she’s so pumped up about.

Considering Applejack took some time to explain the situation to her sister, it makes sense that Rarity arrived at Twilight’s castle first.

Applejack takes a moment to check in on Big Macintosh and see if he’s doing OK, but it’s quickly interrupted when her cutie mark starts flashing. I can only imagine how excited Big Mac would be if his mark flashed; he’d finally have unlocked some semblance of the magic powers his sister seems to have gained from being one of Twilight Sparkle’s friends. Apple Bloom gets jumpy and excited until she realizes that this means Applejack is going to have to miss the Sisterhooves Social, and her excitement fades into angry bitterness. Applejack tells her sister that maybe it’s a false alarm…

… except as we already knew from the last episode, it isn’t.

Apple Bloom: But you said it was a false alarm!
Applejack: I said maybe it’s a false alarm. Well, it’s not. Rarity and I have to go to Manehattan.
Apple Bloom: Can’t you just tell that map it’ll have to wait a couple days?
Applejack: No can do, sugarcube. When duty calls, I gotta answer right away. What kind of an example would I be setting for my little sister if I didn’t?

There’s Apple Bloom’s childish way of thinking again: her brain filtered out the word “maybe” because she was so stoked about the Sisterhooves Social. She won’t accept the unfortunate truth until it hits her in the face, and when it does, she’s devastated. Finding herself in a mediator role typical of middle siblings, Applejack asks Big Macintosh to cheer Apple Bloom up some.

The next morning at breakfast, Big Macintosh tries cheering up Apple Bloom by making himself look like a goofy vampire, but it doesn’t work. I like this small look at Big Macintosh’s humorous side, which he’ll show a lot more of with his Orchard Blossom act.

The other two Cutie Mark Crusaders join the scene, Scootaloo excited to partake in the Sisterhooves Social together with Rainbow Dash. Sweetie Belle interestingly sounds slightly annoyed when she says that the social let them participate even though they’re not technically sisters. Compared to the other two Crusaders, Sweetie Belle has always been the most focused on respecting order and rules, so she probably just accepted she can’t participate this year. That may also be why she didn’t think to team up with Twilight Sparkle, who we saw bored out of her mind in the last episode, which is something that some fans wish had happened. But that’s not really the point of this episode, is it?

Granny Smith responds by saying the Sisterhooves Social has always had a loose definition of sisters, and suggests that maybe Apple Bloom could do the social with one of her second cousins. This leads Big Macintosh to have an idea, which we’ll see very shortly.

Some fans argue that Big Macintosh could have easily gone as himself instead of putting on a drag queen act, but it’s reasonable to think he assumed from the event’s title that it was exclusive to mares and fillies. I wonder what preconceptions about gender roles he has internalized? Probably quite a lot, going by this episode’s plot.

Since it’s not the primary focus of this episode, Scootaloo and Rainbow Dash’s sisterly relationship gets a very nice victory lap here. Sweetie Belle remains a spectator through the event, and as for Apple Bloom…

… she’s joined by Big Macintosh, who pretends to be her nonexistent second cousin named Orchard Blossom. His pretend-mare act is divisive among fans, especially those in the LGBT community: some find it a humorous homage to drag queens, while others find it so creepy that it ruins the whole episode for them. I personally find the act both humorous and insightful into Big Mac’s character. It shows that he’s perfectly capable of speaking in lengthy sentences, but just chooses not to most of the time. This is further cemented when we see his younger self in Where the Apple Lies, as well as when he gets more talkative in seasons 7-9.

Hey look, Lyra and Bon Bon are standing together again!

Big Macintosh: Oh, hi. I am so delighted to meet your little friends, Apple Bloom. Would these be your dear and beloved Cutie Mark Crusaders?
Apple Bloom: (sigh) Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo, cousin Orchard Blossom.
Big Macintosh: It is my extraordinary pleasure to make your acquaintance.
Sweetie Belle: That’s Big Mac in a dress.

I love how deadpan Sweetie Belle is when she points out this is just Big Mac in a dress—another example of child characters being less gullible than you’d think. While holding up his Orchard Blossom act, Big Macintosh compliments how observant Sweetie Belle is. Sweetie Belle then proves this point when she starts playing along with the act, because she knows that’s what Big Mac wants.

The only pony Big Macintosh is fooling is the male judge on the right, who seems to find “her” attractive.

After Rainbow Dash whispers to Big Macintosh that she won’t go easy on him just because he’s a stallion, he proves that the Sisterhooves Social wasn’t designed around muscular stallions when he breaks the sign-up table with his hooves. The Apple family has been hosting this event for many years, and if they had been informed that one of their strongest stallions was participating, maybe they could have adjusted the event to give him some accommodations. Instead, due to his literal interpretation of the event’s title, Big Mac is about to make an enormous mess of things.

Apple Bloom says she has to go to the bathroom and hides in a barrel behind Sweetie Belle, worried that the judges will call Big Macintosh’s bluff, but they don’t after all.

Apple Bloom: I can’t believe they bought it!
Sweetie Belle: It’s sweet he wants to help you out like this. Weird, but sweet.

Sweetie Belle is right on. She’s always been quick to notice when someone genuinely has others’ best interests at heart, even if they’re doing something bizarre. It’s not until this episode’s final scene that Apple Bloom has the same realization about her brother.

Apple Bloom and “Orchard Blossom” sing a song called Sisterhood, which Apple Bloom remarked that it took Applejack a long time to get the lyrics down. Big Macintosh impressively manages to sing it smoothly all the way through, only slipping into his deep voice right at the end. This music ability has precedent, given he was part of the Ponytones in Filli Vanilli.

Big Macintosh: Oh my, that certainly didn’t go as I planned. But don’t you worry. We’ll get you a blue ribbon yet, Apple Bloom.
Apple Bloom: You sure about that?
Big Macintosh: As sure as my name is Cousin Orchard Blossom.
Apple Bloom: But that isn’t your name!

Big Macintosh is unknowingly foreshadowing that things are going to fall apart (literally and metaphorically) the further we get into the Sisterhooves Social. He’s so desperate to keep up the Orchard Blossom act that he eventually ruins the competition, all because he wanted to give his sister a good time while staying true to the event’s title.

We get a montage of Apple Bloom and Big Macintosh fumbling their way through the next few events, including reciting a sister chant that they clumsily edit to say “cousins”, a jump rope challenge that Big Macintosh is too, well, big to properly get through, and juggling pins that get tangled up in his dress. Meanwhile, Rainbow Dash and Scootaloo are rocking it through the competition, which is mostly relegated to the background. It’s cute to imagine them holding intensive practice sessions in their own brash, sisterly manner.

Apple Bloom: I really appreciate all the effort, Big Ma— … Cousin Orchard Blossom, but maybe we just skip the whole obstacle course thing and call it a day.
Big Macintosh: Why, Apple Bloom, I wouldn’t hear of it. Your cousin Orchard Blossom may be many things, but she is not a quitter.
Apple Bloom: I’m sure she’s not, but… it’s like Applejack said. There’ll be more Sisterhooves Socials down the line, and… I’m sure she’ll help me get a blue ribbon next time around.
Big Macintosh: But you wanted to win it this Sisterhooves Social, and no matter what, I am gonna get you that win! Why, I simply have to.

Look how incredibly ultra-determined Big Macintosh is to make his baby sister happy. After his initial few attempts didn’t work, he’s going the extra mile all for the sake of her, because he feels he has to prove he can be a hero to her too.

I wonder what draws the line between a hoof bump and a high hoof? The counterparts to fist bumps and high fives respectively.
(I’d say this interaction counts as the latter.)

At the start of the race, Rainbow Dash and Scootaloo recite all the techniques they practiced to win the race, showing that unlike the event’s hosts and most of its participants, they are treating this as an ultra-serious athletic competition. It’s their own way of expressing their special sisterly bond, and it’s a great way to show how much their relationship has blossomed in the past three seasons.

Granny Smith isn’t doing any of the “old lady can’t use technology” shenanigans from the last Sisterhooves Social.
Maybe this time, Big Macintosh gave her a rundown on how megaphones work the day before the event?

The race begins, and while most sister teams progress through the race as usual, Big Macintosh smashes through everything due to partly his physical strength, and partly his extreme desire to get his sister the blue ribbon. He’s not intentionally breaking rules; he’s just so focused on giving Apple Bloom what she wants that he’s distracted from anything else.

Noticing that he and Apple Bloom are running behind after the egg-carrying part, Big Macintosh grabs his little sister and smashes through all the bars of wood they were supposed to jump over. He did not prepare well for this event, and while it may seem like a selfish attempt at victory, he’s really doing this to give Apple Bloom what she so badly wanted. He’s sticking to this goal no matter the cost, and his idea that Apple Bloom wants to win the competition above all else shows that he views her as more childish than he really is—a very common way the oldest sibling views the youngest sibling, which can cause friction between them.

Could the pony on the right be Berry Punch’s grandma?

Apple Bloom and Big Macintosh beat Rainbow Dash and Scootaloo to the finish line at the last second, then Big Macintosh’s cover is blown—not that any of the judges had fallen for it.

Judge: Oh no, we’ve known all along. The Sisterhooves Social has always had a loose policy when it comes to what counts as a “sister”.
Judge: But we do have a strict policy when it comes to sportsponyship. In your “sister’s” desperation to win, he used brute strength to physically take out the competitors.
Judge: Oh, that kind of behavior is not just unbecoming of a lady, but quite frankly, of anypony. And for that, you two are hereby… disqualified.

This scene provides an interesting message to male viewers, one that many of them need to know: that you shouldn’t think you can get away with brutal behavior just because you’re a man. While this show has developed an enormous male audience regardless of its dominantly female main cast, male characters are often necessary to convey morals about masculinity. The show’s cast gets much more gender-balanced as it progresses, with character groups like the Pillars of Equestria or the Young Six/Student Six having a hearty mix of males and females.

Due to this disqualification, Rainbow Dash and Scootaloo win the Sisterhooves Social, and they earned it so hard. I wonder if this was the first ever victory between non-biological sisters? If so, this would be a landmark event in Sisterhooves Social history, and it would break down barriers in the legitimacy of sibling-esque friendships.

This sunset is just begging for an emotional reconciliation to occur.
I think watching such a dramatic natural scene incites people to be honest with each other, regardless of narrative forces.

After a gag where the one judge who fell for Big Mac’s act comes in late with a bouquet of flowers, it’s time for the best part of the episode: Apple Bloom and Big Macintosh watching a sunset while having a heart-to-heart.

Apple Bloom: You know I’m not mad, right?
Big Macintosh: Eeyup.
Apple Bloom: I mean… let’s face it. You dressing up as my cousin Orchard Blossom was a pretty crazy idea in the first place.
Big Macintosh: Eeyup.
Apple Bloom: And… it’s not like you got me disqualified from the social forever or anything. I could participate next time with Applejack. Everything’s fine.
Big Macintosh: Eeyup.
Apple Bloom: I just don’t understand why you went so crazy there at the end of the race. I mean, I know you like to win and all, but… you want to tell me what’s going on?
Big Macintosh: Nope.

Big Macintosh starts this emotional scene tight-lipped and curt as ever, because he already knows everything Apple Bloom is stating. He wants to keep up an image of strength and bravery for the sake of his sister, not letting emotions get the better of him…

Apple Bloom: Alright. Well, it’s getting late. You coming?
Big Macintosh: Nope.
Apple Bloom: Okay. See you later, I guess.
Big Macintosh: Apple Bloom.
Apple Bloom: Yeah?

… except since he’s alone with someone he loves, he eventually feels comfortable opening up. Big Macintosh dropping his youngest sister’s name is a shocking line that makes for an excellent leadup to this final reconciliation, where Big Macintosh speaks his thoughts loud and clear for the first time since Ponyville Confidential.

Big Macintosh: When you were little, you used to look up to me. Thought I was the best thing since zap apple jam. Things are different now.
Big Macintosh: Applejack’s the hero of the Apple family, always rushing off to save Equestria, and I’m just here on the farm, doing chores, helping out the way I can, nothing special, nobody’s hero, I guess I just thought… aw, never mind.
Big Macintosh: Here I am about to start blabbering on about my feelings. You don’t want to hear all this.
Apple Bloom: Yes I do!

Big Macintosh’s speech about wishing he was seen as a hero is incredibly touching, even for a show that’s already full of touching scenes. It hits different knowing how much of a blabbermouth he was in Where the Apple Lies—it’s clear that he regrets his old ways and thinks it’s better if he just shut up and let others have their fun. This scene hits close to home for me because I’m the oldest child of three, and I often feel like my siblings are better at getting out there and accomplishing cool things than me.

Big Macintosh: I just thought if I could… fill in for Applejack at the social and get you a blue ribbon, well… I could be somepony you looked up to again. Your hero again. Even if it was for just a day.
Big Macintosh: It was foolish, and I’m ashamed. So please… I just want to be alone right now.
Apple Bloom: Yeah, well too bad, you big goof! ‘Cause I’m not going anywhere. And I know you’re always gonna be here when I need you.
Apple Bloom: Heck, you’d do a whole obstacle course in high heels if you think it’ll help me get something I want.
Apple Bloom: You’re my big brother. You’ve always been a hero to me, Big Mac, and… you always will be. I’m real sorry I hadn’t been letting you know that’s how I feel.
Apple Bloom: Guess both of us have been holding back when it comes to expressing ourselves, huh?
Big Macintosh: Eeyup.

D’aww is all I can say here. It’s so lovely and sweet for Apple Bloom to reveal she still looks up to Big Macintosh to this day, and in retrospect, why wouldn’t she? With such a large age gap between her and her older siblings, she’s always viewed both of them as cool and heroic people; she just hadn’t found the time to tell her brother as much. It also makes scenes where Big Macintosh tells off his youngest sister, whether in real life or in dreams, hurt harder in retrospect. This scene drops the eeyup/nope running gag and shows us Big Macintosh for who he is: an introverted but sweet guy who will do anything for those he cares about.

Granny Smith says that Applejack is home and has a big story to tell about her trip to Manehattan, but Apple Bloom doesn’t join just yet in favor of some quality time with her big brother, which is very sweet.

Apple Bloom: Hey, Big Mac.
Big Macintosh: Eeyup?
Apple Bloom: How do you think Cousin Orchard Blossom would describe this sunset?
Big Macintosh: (chuckles) “Why dear, I do declare this is the most beautiful sunset my eyes have ever looked upon. Though sitting here on these tree roots is a trifle uncomfortable for my hindquarters.”
(Big Mac and Apple Bloom laugh)

This scene is such a perfect way to end this episode: while it starts with Big Macintosh feeling left out among the Apple siblings, it ends with him and Apple Bloom sharing a laugh over his flamboyant drag queen act. I love that this episode shows us both Big Macintosh’s sentimental side and his sense of humor, both great things to have in the show’s first episode focused on him.

Overall thoughts:

This is a very “love it or hate it” episode mostly because of Big Macintosh’s drag queen act, and I am firmly on the “love it” side. It’s a great sequel to the already memorable Sisterhooves Social, focusing on a little-explored sibling relationship instead of the usual “Cutie Mark Crusader’s relationship with her big sister”. I imagine that how much fans enjoy this episode correlates to whether or not they have siblings, and since I’m an oldest child of three just like Big Mac, I find it this episode very easy to connect to. For viewers who don’t have any siblings, or don’t have strong relationships with their siblings, it’s understandable that they wouldn’t like it nearly as much. It’s nice to have a sibling-focused episode where both the older and younger sibling feel believable in their portrayal, since many episodes focused on the Cutie Mark Crusaders’ relationships with their older siblings make the older sibling ultra-exaggerated. The main thing that sells this episode for me is the ending scene, which is extremely touching and memorable. It’s satisfying to get to because Big Macintosh ordinarily says so little and Apple Bloom had barely ever interacted with her brother before.

Grade: A

Unlike last time, this grade isn’t because of bias towards one particular character.

Miscellaneous notes:

  • On the topic of Sweetie Belle’s relationship with Twilight Sparkle, I’ve realized that I enjoy both their characters for similar reasons: they’re both sharp-minded and rational, not willing to let extraneous dreamy nonsense get in the way of their goals. While the two of them don’t interact one-on-one much if at all, I recall a few times where the other Crusaders jabbed at how much they have in common.
  • In the episode “Sisterhooves Social”, the part where Sweetie Belle teamed up with an undercover Rarity consisted solely of the race at the end, and Sweetie Belle didn’t seem to do the other events with Applejack that Apple Bloom and Big Macintosh do in this episode. Does the Sisterhooves Social give ponies free reign to skip out on events they don’t want to do? The event’s rules seem far more laid back then any of its mainstay character participants seem to think.
  • Also on the topic of Sisterhooves Social, while I noticed that it ends with a pair of birds being happy siblings, I only recently realized that the episode starts with the same birds arguing. It doesn’t feel right to edit my older episode reviews to put in stuff I forgot, so instead I am pointing it out here.

While this episode is a highlight of season 5 for me personally, I don’t think anyone would disagree that the next one is a massive highlight in the entire show.

See you next week for the show’s biggest bombshell of a musical number episode yet—a bigger bombshell than Magical Mystery Cure, I’d say.

>> Part 54: Crusaders of the Lost Mark

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