Cookie Fonster Reviews Every MLP Episode Part 54: Crusaders of the Lost Mark


< Part 53 | Part 54 | Part 55 >

Season 5, Episode 18

Season 5 Episode 18: Crusaders of the Lost Mark

This review contains spoilers for things that happen up to the season 8 finale, and for things that don’t happen for the entire rest of the show.

In five words: Cutie Mark Crusaders’ ultimate payoff.

Premise: In the show’s third musical episode, the Cutie Mark Crusaders discover a surprising secret about Diamond Tiara’s upbringing after they made her lose a school election. This is definitely the only notable thing that happens in this episode. Totally.

Detailed run-through:

Something unique about this pivotal episode is that it was scored entirely by Daniel Ingram, the usual composer of the musical numbers. I didn’t learn that until I wrote this post, and it explains why the background music transitions so seamlessly to and from the songs. Having the same person handle the background music and songs suits this musical number-heavy episode well, setting it apart from most of the show—not that I’d ever want to discredit William Anderson for his scoring work.

Similarly to Magical Mystery Cure, this episode starts off with a musical number—technically with a few lines from the Crusaders, but set to background music that clearly starts a song. The song is called “We’ll Make Our Mark (Prelude)”, and the Crusaders sing about how they aren’t going to give up on getting their cutie marks. Something I really admire about this episode, at least from what I’ve been told about it, is that the previews and trailers made absolutely no hint at the Crusaders earning their marks, and fans were caught completely by surprise when it happened. This is a MASSIVE contrast against Magical Mystery Cure, whose previews shoved alicorn Twilight Sparkle in fans’ faces.

Pipsqueak enters the Crusaders’ clubhouse, saying that he’s running for student body president and wants them to be his campaign managers, which they eagerly agree to. This makes the episode seems like just another “Cutie Mark Crusaders try something zany to earn their cutie marks” story, since Apple Bloom says they haven’t tried getting their marks in campaign management before. I could compare this story arc to real-world politics, but anything political makes me feel cranky and hate the world so I’ll pass. Instead, I’ll go for the good old approach of analyzing character arcs while going on tangents about inconsequential details.

The last moment before the theme song has a small touch I’d like to point out: Sweetie Belle’s magic has gotten strong enough that she can lift Pipsqueak with ease, assisting him in the shared high hoof. She enjoys practicing her magic skills and makes some versatile use out of them in later seasons—perhaps she’s taking some inspiration from Twilight Sparkle?

When I got to the theme song when writing this review, I burst out laughing to myself as I realized that after nine years, I am still hopelessly obsessed with these cartoon horses just like I was in my first year of high school. The same show where I used to think that any grown man who liked it has completely lost his mind; the same show that a lot of people probably still think is solely for girls in preschool but is genuinely such a blast to watch. I know I’ve gone on this same train of thought like five times in this post series, but this bombshell of an episode is a good time to reflect on my relationship with it.

The two candidates for the school’s election present what they would do if they won the election. Pipsqueak says he would help repair the playground equipment that got damaged when Twilight Sparkle fought Tirek, then Diamond Tiara steps in with her own counterarguments.

There are a lot of phrases of the form “school ___” that I’m unsure whether to make them two words or one.
I’m pretty much going with my gut here.

Diamond Tiara: Well, I think that’s a ridiculous waste of money. It’s just like when Twist proposed to repair the window that Discord destroyed. She just wanted to repair it like a plain old schoolhouse window.
Diamond Tiara: But you all know voting for me was the best choice because I convinced the schoolboard to give that window visual appeal!

The stained-glass portrait of Diamond Tiara on the school’s window is done in the same style as the portraits in Celestia and Luna’s castle that honor the Mane 6’s accomplishments. I wonder how Diamond Tiara convinced the schoolboard that she was worthy of a similarly fancy portrait? Perhaps her argument was that she’s descended from Stinkin’ Rich, an important figure in the founding of Ponyville, which is the hometown of ponies who have saved Equestria again and again. I can imagine her arguing that since Twilight Sparkle and her friends got so many portraits in the windows of Celestia’s castle, she’s at least worthy of one in her schoolhouse.

Apple Bloom: Course, it doesn’t hurt that her mother, Spoiled Rich, is president of the schoolboard.
Silver Spoon: Exactly! Which is why when Diamond Tiara is voted student pony president, the school will be putting a statue of her in the center of our schoolyard!
Diamond Tiara: Silver Spoon! That was MY big announcement for when I’ve won!
Silver Spoon: (whimpers) I was only trying to help.
Diamond Tiara: I don’t need that kind of help.

Let’s think about this from Silver Spoon’s perspective. While obviously I’ll have a ton to say about Diamond Tiara in this episode, it’s also my last real chance to go in depth on her oft-overlooked sidekick, because for some stupid reason neither of them ever speaks again after this episode, even though both of Diamond Tiara’s parents do.

Anyway… pay attention to how Silver Spoon says “when Diamond Tiara is voted for student pony president”, as though it’s a certainty. From her perspective, it’s not even a question who will win. Does she think that meek little Pipsqueak, who needs the Cutie Mark Crusaders to hold his hoof in order to accomplish anything, stands even the slightest chance against her cool best friend? I imagine Silver Spoon has spent years telling herself that Diamond Tiara is kind-hearted deep down, and this episode is where she hits her breaking point.

I could analyze the musical composition of these songs in much more depth, but that’s not the point of this post series.

The second musical number is called “The Vote”, and it alternates between sections promoting Pipsqueak sung by the Crusaders, and sections sung by Diamond Tiara promoting herself. The Crusaders’ sections are in a major key and 4/4 time signature, while Diamond Tiara’s are in a 3/4 time signature and minor key, and yet the transitions between them still feel smooth and natural. In Diamond Tiara’s sections, she sings about how she apparently knows a bunch of her classmates’ secrets and will keep them safe if she wins. This shows that she’s starting to get desperate, but the tone is kept lighthearted to allow for enormous mood whiplash when we meet her mother.

Maybe I should hold back my ranting about how Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon get shafted after this, because it’s not this episode’s fault.

Silver Spoon then sings a section of the song in a 3/4 time signature and major key:

Silver Spoon: ♪ I’ve a tiny suggestion that you should be aware ♪
Silver Spoon: ♫ You could probably win this election if you showed them all you really—
Diamond Tiara: I don’t recall asking you to speak!
(the other foals gasp)
Sweetie Belle: Well, if that’s how you treat your best friend, then I choose Pipsqueak!

This episode has shown Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon’s friendship to be more lopsided than you might have thought, and I’m willing to bet it always was like this. I think Silver Spoon never feels confident in being on her own, and is much more at ease playing second fiddle to Diamond Tiara. She’s the type to prefer assisting and supporting others over taking charge, and she spent so long sticking with Diamond Tiara because she sees an inner warm heart in her best friend, no matter how vile she may seem. She probably finds it cool and inspiring that Diamond Tiara is always so confident, and I imagine that when she’s not by her best friend’s side, she’s very humble and pleasant.

It seems like Diamond Tiara views Silver Spoon as not so much of a friend as a loyal assistant who will always do what she says, which up until this episode has consistently been the case. As a type naturally inclined towards leadership, Diamond Tiara misunderstands what having a good assistant means: it should be someone who provides her new insight and alternative viewpoints, not someone who only reaffirms her existing ones. Silver Spoon tries to do the former but gets shot down.

Look at Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon’s contrasting expressions as the Cutie Mark Crusaders sing about how their class should vote for Pipsqueak. Silver Spoon looks heartened by this display of friendship, forgetting for a moment she’s supposed to pick on the Crusaders. Diamond Tiara is annoyed that everyone is turning against her, and we’re soon to discover how she learned to be so perpetually grouchy.

I see some probably unintentional symbolism in another student raising Pipsqueak on a seesaw so he can be high and proud above the class. It shows that Pipsqueak in this election is a figurehead boosted by other ponies whose sole qualification is that he’s not Diamond Tiara. But in this situation, not being Diamond Tiara might be all that’s needed to make a compelling candidate.

I am holding off comparisons to real-life politics both for my sake and yours.

Cheerilee: The votes have been counted. The student pony president is… Pipsqueak!
(everyone except Diamond Tiara cheers)
Apple Bloom: Oh my gosh, Crusaders. Pip won!
Pipsqueak: I couldn’t have won without the hard work of my campaign managers: the Cutie Mark Crusaders!
Sweetie Belle: Campaign manager cutie marks!
(Crusaders look at their flanks and see they’re blank)

We’ve seen it over and over again since season 1: the Cutie Mark Crusaders think they’ve earned their cutie marks in a new skill, but they’re still blank. This time, the fakeout almost feels convincing: they did get an underdog to defeat Diamond Tiara in a school election, and normally cutie marks are earned after major accomplishments. It’s all part of the setup so that viewers are surprised at the grand moment.

Diamond Tiara demands a recount for the votes, and there’s probably like a hundred MLP reviewers who compared her to George W. Bush instead of observing that she’s stubborn and can’t easily accept defeat, or remarking that this is probably a trait Silver Spoon normally admires about her. She goes in the class building and finds out that she only got one vote, which was from herself.

Diamond Tiara: Silver Spoon! You didn’t vote for me?
Silver Spoon: No, I didn’t.
Diamond Tiara: But… you’re my best friend.
Silver Spoon: Am I? ‘Cause I tried to help by mentioning your surprise statue, and suddenly I wasn’t even allowed to speak. You could have actually won this election if you just listened to me. You wanna know how?
Silver Spoon: Sorry, I’m not allowed to speak.
Diamond Tiara: (screams and runs off)
Silver Spoon: What? I don’t have to follow her drama anymore.

And just like that, Silver Spoon has pretty much been redeemed. Among the show’s “reformed antagonists”, Silver Spoon is in a weird gray area where she was never that villainous in the first place and thus got an easy reformation. She shares this spot with Trixie, who I firmly believe was never villainous but just self-absorbed. Similarly, I don’t think Silver Spoon was ever villainous either; she’s merely too willing to stand behind a powerful figure and loyally follow her orders. But now, she’s finally grown a spine and stood up for what she thinks is right. Please give Silver Spoon a round of applause for this moment; she deserves it.

We’ve met Diamond Tiara’s parents before even a cameo from three of the Mane 6’s.
Well, unless you count that one guy who fans thought was Rainbow Dash’s father.

The Cutie Mark Crusaders know that fighting aggression with aggression doesn’t work, so they check on Diamond Tiara to make sure she’s doing alright, and this is where we finally meet her mother Spoiled Rich. I greatly respect that this episode shows us that not everyone’s parents are kind and decent people; it’s not an easy thing to convey to children, but this episode pulls it off. It’s an understandable choice to do this with a supporting character instead of the Mane 6, since giving one of them such a nasty parent might have been a little too heavy.

Although the adult appeal of the show was originally put in so that parents could watch it with their children, many teenagers and adults got into the show to get away from the difficult perils of life, and one such reason might be having an aggressive parent. Now, the show is at a point where it acknowledges viewers with such difficult lives by presenting characters in similar situations and giving some morals applicable to them. This is a common pattern in episodes that feature characters’ parents, which tend to be among the heaviest in the show.

This is the face of a girl who doesn’t WANT to hate her mother.

Spoiled Rich: Diamond Tiara? Why are you making that face? That is not the face of a winner.
Diamond Tiara: Because… I didn’t win.
Spoiled Rich: What?! You mean I hefted all these party supplies to celebrate NOTHING?
Diamond Tiara: Sorry, mother.
Spoiled Rich: It’s bad enough that you lost to that transplant from Trottingham. But imagine if you lost to one of those blank flanks.

With her insults to ponies she sees as lesser types, angry reactions to things not going her way, and overall cranky demeanor, our first impression from Spoiled Rich changes everything we thought we knew about Diamond Tiara. Unsurprisingly, not all fans like the idea that the blame for Diamond Tiara’s bullying should be deflected to her mother. The best counterargument I can think of is that such behavior is much more excusable from a child than an adult, but it’s a complex moral question whether children should be let off the hook for their actions. A counterargument to that would be that Cozy Glow, another child character, is portrayed as an absolute psychopath with no backstory justifying her actions, and the show pulled no punches in punishing her crimes. These are all difficult questions that I can’t confidently give a stance on, but I can confidently say the show benefits from including an emotionally abusive parent in its cast.

Spoiled Rich: As a rich pony, you must always think of your social standing.

Spoiled Rich: That starts here in Ponyville and all over Equestria. Don’t ever forget that, Diamond Tiara. EVER!

Spoiled Rich looks thrown off for a second when Fancy Pants and Fleur de Lis pass by, then puts on a friendly act and waves at them. She is indeed thinking of her social standing: she knows that if such big names see her treating her daughter so harshly, it’s over for her. Sometimes facial expressions tell you more about a character than words could.

Now it’s time for the third musical number: The Pony I Want to Be. It’s the resident sad song of the episode, where Diamond Tiara says she wishes she could be someone other than the kind of pony her mom raised her to be, but she doesn’t know how. She doesn’t sing about her father at all in this song, which makes me wonder: in the toxic relationships of this family, where does Filthy Rich fit in? My best guess is that he’s too busy with work to make time for his family or know how his wife treats his daughter. If he does know what sort of relationship they have, maybe he tries to remain a neutral party in their interactions, preventing him from having honest interactions with either of them.

Some viewers might argue Diamond Tiara feeling uncertain about life and wishing she was someone different came out of nowhere, but I think this is a perfectly natural thing to happen when you get older. Just as the Cutie Mark Crusaders have had a coming-of-age story throughout this show, Diamond Tiara is now old enough to realize there could be a different, better way to live her life. It’s likely she had never thought of that until Silver Spoon, the one pony whose friendship she took for granted, ditched her earlier today.

Sweetie Belle: Is… it weird that I feel bad for her?
Scootaloo: If it is, then… I’m weird too.
Apple Bloom: She wants to change, but… she doesn’t know how.
Sweetie Belle: Seems like she could use a friend or two to help her figure it out.

The Cutie Mark Crusaders warming up to Diamond Tiara isn’t completely sudden either. She and Silver Spoon treated them more kindly than usual back in Twilight Time last season, and by now they’re old enough to understand that Diamond Tiara has feelings too. The next day, they do something that would have been unthinkable at the start of this episode: invite Diamond Tiara to their clubhouse. They know that a filly without friends must not have a pleasant life, and they’re taking initiative to amend that.

Diamond Tiara: So… do you three just sit around here plotting out different ways to try and get your cutie marks?
Apple Bloom: Actually… yeah.
Diamond Tiara: You three are… really lucky.
Cutie Mark Crusaders: We are?

When Diamond Tiara says “you three are… really lucky”, she looks and sounds like she’s going to make fun of the Crusaders until she thinks for herself and drops the abrasive act that her mother taught her. She knows that the Crusaders aren’t going to constantly affirm her usual viewpoints like Silver Spoon always did, so she can’t put on the mindset she usually does.

Diamond Tiara: Yeah! You get to explore all these options, learning who you really are before you’re stuck with something you don’t understand.
Apple Bloom: But… you’ve done that. Right?
Diamond Tiara: Yeah?! ‘Cause I have my cutie mark, and I’m not struggling at all to figure out who I’m supposed to be and what I’m supposed to be doing with this mark that’s already on my flank.
Apple Bloom: Uh… are you sure about that?
Diamond Tiara: That’s a weird question.

I really like that Diamond Tiara doesn’t just turn into a complete softie after we saw Spoiled Rich yell at her. She angrily denies her uncertainty about identity because she wants to keep up the image instilled in her for so long. That’s the challenging part about redeeming antagonists: after their redemption arcs, their personalities shouldn’t be entirely replaced. Discord post-redemption is still a mischievous trickster, Starlight Glimmer shows traces of her villainous side after befriending the Mane 6, and Diamond Tiara still can’t help being smug and snooty.

The Cutie Mark Crusaders tell Diamond Tiara that they overheard her yesterday and saw some unfortunate things unfold, but they’re interrupted when Pipsqueak comes in and shows that political leadership is not an easy job. Though it was a noble idea, Pipsqueak’s proposal to build a new playground was rejected due to a lack of funds, and he couldn’t contribute any money. Diamond Tiara’s instinct is to run off and retake her rightful place as student body president, because she knows in her heart that’s what she’s meant to do—she doesn’t know she needs the Crusaders’ help to outright realize that’s the meaning of her mark.

I’m really digging the smooth transitions between background music and songs.
You won’t get that in any regular old episode.

The fourth song is called Light of Your Cutie Mark, and it stands out for being the most dramatic song in a musical episode yet. Instead of being a happy triumphant song or a moody sad song, its instrumental is the kind of tense piano-heavy minor key music you’d hear in a chase scene in an action movie, with lyrics alternating between Diamond Tiara and the Crusaders. The Crusaders try telling Diamond Tiara that she doesn’t have to be aggressive and could take a moment to see the meaning of her cutie mark, but Diamond Tiara feels no choice but to yell at everyone and deter the Crusaders’ path to get her way.

The song transitions to a more uplifting major key section as the Crusaders tell Diamond Tiara there’s another path her life could take, and this scene weirdly blurs the line between symbolic musical number scenes and actual events in Equestria. The dark path which Diamond Tiara takes leads to the school where her confrontation occurs, which doesn’t exactly match the symbolism the Crusaders are presenting. Maybe the choice of path shows that Diamond Tiara knows she must go through a few more daunting troubles before she can see the light of her cutie mark?

Spoiled Rich so easily forgets that everypony used to be a blank flank.

After the song ends, Diamond Tiara finally calls out her mother for her aggressive attitude towards blank flanks, and proudly claims the Cutie Mark Crusaders to be her friends. Then she says an interesting line with debatable truth value:

Diamond Tiara: I have to thank you, Crusaders. Obviously I’ve known since I got my cutie mark that my talent is getting other ponies to do what I want.

This line may seem confusing given that Diamond Tiara was just singing about how she doesn’t know what her purpose in life is. But when you realize something big about yourself, it’ll often feel like you always knew it in retrospect. After all, she did get Silver Spoon to follow her orders to pick on the Crusaders for all those years. Additionally, do you think she would admit to a whole crowd of her classmates how uncertain she was about her special talent? That wouldn’t match with the brash and confident attitude she presents.

Diamond Tiara then reveals she convinced her father to donate money for the school to get a new playground, leading to the fifth musical number: The Pony I Want to Be (Reprise). I kind of wish the song had a separate name because it’s so different in tone from the non-reprise version, but that’s a small complaint. Something cool Diamond Tiara does in this song is use her knowledge of secrets about a few of her classmates, like super strength and strangely huge teeth, to their advantage as she gives special tasks for them to do. Diamond Tiara’s knack for leadership has tons of precedence in prior episodes, but her kind-hearted side, well… UGH, WHY COULDN’T THE SHOW HAVE GIVEN HER AT LEAST ONE MORE VOICED APPEARANCE AFTER THIS EPISODE??? It’s kind of weird to redeem a villainous character and then never have them speak again, and this is done plenty more times in seasons 8 and 9, though to be fair, that was towards the end of the show anyway.

For some reason, I find it hilarious that Twilight Sparkle appears for only two seconds in this song, and not even with properly animated alicorn wings. Maybe this is a remnant of more scenes with her that were cut due to time constraints? Or was she shoved in after the storyboarding process? This cameo is weird and inexplicable, but in a way that cracks me up.

Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon’s friendship breakup didn’t last long.

I find it so annoying that the rebuilt playground is another thing that never shows up after this episode. Maybe if it was a season finale, then the show would have remembered events in it other than the Crusaders getting their marks? But in that case, it would have been far less surprising for them to earn their marks.

Apple Bloom: I’ve been thinking, Crusaders. We’ve spent an awful lot of time fussing and fretting, trying to discover our true talent, but when we take a little time off, we end up helping other ponies figure out their true talents!
Sweetie Belle: Yeah! And I think that’s way more important than worrying about our cutie marks. Don’t you?
Scootaloo: Absolutely! I don’t care if I ever get my cutie mark, as long as I get to hang out with my best friends.

The Cutie Mark Crusaders are right about to win a test of patience: as soon as they stop constantly fussing about their reward, they finally get their reward. This scene symbolizes the value of being patient. Realizing you aren’t going to get your rewards instantly is a major sign that you’re starting to grow up, and this makes the cosmic forces of Equestria deem the Crusaders ready for their reward.

Apple Bloom: So what do you say, Crusaders? Want to just focus on helping others find their cutie marks?
Cutie Mark Crusaders: YEAH!

The Cutie Mark Crusaders are like explorers in a tunnel who are too focused on enjoying the ride to notice the light at the end.

Apple Bloom doesn’t know it, but she just stated what the Crusaders’ shared special talent is. This is the realization that finally gives them their reward.

Now they’re like explorers whose eyes feast upon the blinding joy of proper daylight.

It’s happening, it’s happening, it’s finally happening!!! If your mind wasn’t blown during this scene, then either you’re lying or you were spoiled about this episode ahead of time.

One of the greatest feelings in life is when something that you’ve been starting to think would never happen finally happens.
(I speak from experience here.)

Can I just say how AWESOME it is that this show went ahead and gave the Cutie Mark Crusaders their cutie marks????? When I was watching season 4 for the first time, I was starting to think the Cutie Mark Crusaders would never earn their cutie marks and remain stagnant. When I first watched season 5 after the show ended, I suspected from the episode titles that the Crusaders would earn their marks here, but I thought it would be in the two-part “The Cutie Re-Mark”, not this season’s innocuous-looking eighteenth episode. I had the biggest, dumbest smile on my face when watching this scene for the first time, and I still get a smile on my face every time I watch it. This show could have easily been just another generic dumbed-down cartoon where media executives suppress its full potential, but instead the characters go through real, actual development with moments that have maybe possibly made me squeal out loud.

I love My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic so much. I’ve loved it since the day I first watched it nine years ago, and I think I still secretly did during my six years of denial of liking the show. If I didn’t love the show so dearly, then I would NOT be writing reviews of every single episode. This isn’t a complicated love-hate relationship like with the other work of media I wrote a huge blog post series about. It’s pure love and respect for this show and all that it stands for.

Only in MLP would it be so exciting for symbols to appear on a bunch of ponies’ butts.

Now if you don’t mind, I am going to rant about one of the dumbest criticisms people make about this episode.

Season 1 purists: “wah wah, the Cutie Mark Crusaders should’ve gotten their cutie marks in house building, singing, and athletic stunts, it was FORESHADOWED in The Show Stoppers, the show’s staff are so stupid for dropping this plan”

Well, I raise you this, fans who think you’re so smart. Given how obvious the hints at the Cutie Mark Crusaders’ talents are, wouldn’t it be more interesting for the show to put a twist on this and bring something new to the table, especially considering how many years fans have waited for them to get their marks? I really don’t understand why people make this criticism; my best guess is putting season 1 on a huge pedestal. Seriously, you guys are NOT that smart for picking up on clues that Sweetie Belle’s special talent might be singing. And I get it, season 1 is important and foundational to the show, and if it wasn’t good then the rest of the show wouldn’t have happened. But it’s still really childish to deride any episode that even slightly contradicts or changes something from the first season. The initial suggestions as to what their talents might be are indicated at the center of their marks, so it’s not like those old hints were forgotten at all.

This scene is the first canonization of the popular headcanon that Derpy is a mailpony.
EDIT: I’m so stupid, I forgot Slice of Life already did that.

The final song of this episode is called We’ll Make Our Mark, and it always gives me some shivers, especially in the chorus. The Cutie Mark Crusaders sing that now that they’ve earned their marks, the journey of their lives has only begun, making this a happy ending to a coming-of-age story. A happy ending for now, at least; On Your Marks in the next season is a “now what?” epilogue where Apple Bloom doesn’t know what to do with her life, but I’ll talk more about it when I get there.

An instrumental break in the song has Pinkie Pie take us where the Cutie Mark Crusaders started by hosting the biggest cute-ceañera ever—presumably one where she has to triple every cake ingredient, triple the time it lasts for, and put in three times as many confetti decorations. Then Applejack has some emotional words to say:

Big Macintosh can barely hold it together here.

Applejack: Oh, sugarcube. If Mom and Dad were here, they’d be so proud of you.
Apple Bloom: Aw… thanks, Applejack.
Applejack: Now go on and party with your pals.

This is the show’s first explicit mention of Applejack’s parents, who were visually hinted at in Apple Family Reunion. Though this passage doesn’t explicitly say they’re dead, Applejack and Apple Bloom’s tones of voice make it obvious they are, giving this episode another milestone moment in the show. Applejack’s last line shows that she doesn’t want her little sister to dwell too much on the sad stuff and instead enjoy her big day. We’ll learn the full story behind their parents another time, so I shouldn’t dwell on this too much either.

Rainbow Dash: ♪ I’m so proud of you, little buddy ♪
Rainbow Dash: ♫ You’ve taught me a thing or two ♫

It’s interesting that Apple Bloom’s parents were mentioned during these congratulatory scenes, because Scootaloo doesn’t have any biological family congratulating her. Though season 9 gives its own answer to the mystery of who Scootaloo lives with, this scene suggests that Rainbow Dash is a more important figure in Scootaloo’s life than any of her relatives, and it probably drove the common fan theory that she’s an orphan.

Sweetie Belle can be frustrated with her big sister sometimes, but her blush shows that she truly views Rarity as a hero.

Rarity: ♪ You’ve inspired everypony around you ♪
Rarity: ♫ And you’ve inspired me too ♫
(Sweetie Belle blushes)

The very same thing goes for Sweetie Belle and her big sister, which is a little odd because we’ve already met their parents. Though the official justification for this oversight is that Sweetie Belle’s parents were on vacation, I think this scene symbolizes that the main authority figure and role model in Sweetie Belle’s life is not her parents, but Rarity. Given the disastrous cooking scene at the start of Sisterhooves Social, I like to think Rarity and Sweetie Belle’s parents were the type to shower their children with praise no matter how badly they performed. Rarity is the total opposite, with uptight standards for her life and creative work, and that’s why Sweetie Belle finds her so inspiring.

The rest of the song consists of a minute or two reminding us how far the Cutie Mark Crusaders have come, including a little montage of all their adventures, allowing viewers to get emotional as they process that the Crusaders now have their marks. Then we get a fun little callback to the show’s theme song:

I can imagine Celestia saying, “Luna, I think you’ll want to see this.”

In the last shot above, Celestia is showing the paper with the group picture to Luna, who looks especially excited to see the Cutie Mark Crusaders earn their marks. This makes perfect sense knowing that through dreams, Luna has formed friendships with all three of them, and it’s nice to see that acknowledged in the episode’s conclusion.

And so, this episode ends on a group picture much like several of the season finales do. Since it’s so common for something huge to happen in the last episode of a season, if you want to really catch viewers by surprise, you can make something big happen in the middle of a season. And this episode did so perfectly.

Overall thoughts:

With most episodes as pivotal as this, any little criticisms I may have are outweighed by my deep respect for this show. I cannot think of a better way this show could have given the Cutie Mark Crusaders their cutie marks, and I would have been livid if the show ended without that happening. Doing it in an episode that initially seems innocuous matches with the theme that the Crusaders get their reward when they least expect it—right when they realize a new special thing they could be doing instead of constantly trying to earn their marks. It also nicely bookends the first half of the Crusaders’ arc by having them make amends with Diamond Tiara, the pony whose bullying made the group happen in the first place. The scoring and musical pacing of the episode are done perfectly, feeling smooth and natural all the way through, and it gives viewers ample time to process these characters’ victory.

Grade: A

It’s episodes like this which make me remember this show is truly something special.

Miscellaneous notes:

  • I hate to say it, but the Cutie Mark Crusaders singing “the ultimate reward” in the first song momentarily made me think they were going to create a universe by breeding frogs, then enter the universe through a house-shaped door. It’s been a whole year since my Homestuck blog post series ended, but my brain still diverts to it way more than I’d like to admit.
  • The fact that both of Diamond Tiara’s parents get speaking scenes after this episode while she doesn’t makes it obvious that Hasbro executives had some bullshit reason not to give Diamond Tiara any more speaking scenes. It was probably a reason that the show’s staff didn’t feel was worth fighting because the show had so many other things to do.
  • Hidden among the crowd of upper-class ponies is a fancily dressed Bon Bon, who I presume blended into the crowd to gather insider information. Perhaps she had a pony who knew nothing about her secret identity like Rarity design an outfit for her? She appears in her usual lack of clothing in the next scene, seemingly done collecting information for her latest spy mission.
  • I wrote this entire review thinking it was the halfway point of the show’s 221 episodes in broadcast order for some reason, but the next day I realized it’s actually Hearthbreakers two episodes later. This means that there were a few passages in this post I had to awkwardly edit out.

While the show’s staff and executives did an excellent job keeping this episode’s twist a secret, Pinkie Pie has much more trouble keeping a secret in the next one.

See you in one or two weeks for a pair of episodes both focused on Pinkie Pie.

>> Part 55: The One Where Pinkie Pie Knows + Hearthbreakers

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