Cookie Fonster Reviews Every MLP Episode Part 57: The Hooffields and McColts + The Mane Attraction


< Part 56 | Part 57 | Part 58 >

Season 5, Episodes 23-24

This is it, guys. I’m at the second last post of season 5, and after I finish this season, I am definitely taking a break. Between this blog post series and a fanfic I am working on, I’ve been grinding out pony-related content left and right. As much as this show means to me, I will need a breather once I reach a stopping point, perhaps to focus on other projects or real-life matters.

Also, you should know in advance my review of The Mane Attraction is one of my longest in season 5. I had way more to say about that episode than I expected!

Season 5 Episode 23: The Hooffields and McColts

In five words: Ancient village rivalry gets resolved.

Premise: The Cutie Map sends Twilight Sparkle and Fluttershy to the Smokey Mountains, where they must settle a generations-long conflict between two rivalrous families: the Hooffields and the McColts.

Detailed run-through:

This episode begins with Fluttershy hosting a book club meeting with her animals, which is cut short when her cutie mark starts flashing and she has to leave. Despite this, her animals continue discussing the book on their own. This scene cleverly reminds us of something that will become important later in the episode: animals in this show are highly sentient, but they can’t communicate with most ponies.

Twilight has the funniest dorky smile in this shot.

It turns out Twilight Sparkle has been summoned to the map too, and within five minutes, she’s somehow gathered tons of books and written graphs and charts in preparation—perhaps she used some time-slowing spells to assist her?

Regardless, Twilight Sparkle and Fluttershy are an interesting choice for the last of three Mane 6 pairings in season 5’s map episodes. While Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash have had their dynamic heavily explored since near the start of the show, as have Applejack and Rarity, Twilight Sparkle and Fluttershy are more of a rarepair. Given that Twilight appeared in every season 1 episode, her dynamics with all the Mane 6 have been decently explored to some degree, though Fluttershy not as much as most others. As such, it’s nice to give these two some quality time and see how they play off each other.

Heh, look at Twilight hugging her book.

It turns out the only information Twilight could find about the Smokey Mountains is one picture book. Going by the pages we see inside the book, I’m not sure if it’s a picture book meant for kids to read, or a travel guide that heavily uses images. Given how much more lush the Smokey Mountains look here than when we see them in person, I think the picture book theory is more likely. The Smokey Mountains at this point are probably regarded as a long-forgotten part of Equestrian lore, cut off from the rest of society.

Fluttershy: Are those… for us?
Twilight Sparkle: Yup! I’ve prepared our things. Snacks, books, blankets, books.
Fluttershy: You said “books” twice.
Twilight Sparkle: There are a lot of books.

Though Twilight Sparkle is typically the “straight man” (yes, I know, that isn’t a very gender-neutral term) among the Mane 6’s antics, when she’s paired up with Fluttershy, the roles are reversed. This is good because I enjoy Fluttershy’s snarky side very much.

This was the closest I could get to a screenshot with both ponies carrying bags.

Twilight Sparkle easily carries her bags while walking merrily, but to Fluttershy, they feel like bags of lead. I wonder where this difference arises from? Do alicorns have earth pony strength in addition to flight and magic? Or did Twilight Sparkle research magic spells within the last five minutes to decrease the weight of objects she’s carrying? The second explanation is much funnier, so I’ll go with that.

Twilight Sparkle having pegasus wings is an animation error rare enough that I feel obligated to point it out each time it appears.
Or at least, each time I notice it.

Fluttershy and Twilight Sparkle board a hot air balloon to the Smokey Mountains, and when Fluttershy struggles to fly with her bags, Twilight carries them both with magic. Then they find themselves in the middle of a food projectile conflict, and they fly to one of the mountains to see what’s going on. This is where they meet the Hooffields.

Ma Hooffield: Hey, wait a tick. Who are you two? You’re not spies for the McColts, are ya?
Twilight Sparkle: I am Twilight Sparkle, the Princess of Friendship, and I am here to solve your friendship problem.
Fluttershy: I’m Fluttershy and, um, I’m here too.

If Fluttershy’s meek, mumbled greeting didn’t make you go “d’awww”, then you are a liar. When an episode of MLP pairs up two Mane 6 members, it should be sure to provide them a major point of contrast, and this scene does so perfectly while also being adorable.

The Hooffields describe the McColts as their sworn enemies and have been damaging each other’s houses from afar for many years without knowing where the conflict originated: the Hooffields with pumpkins and squashes, the McColts with rocks. Fluttershy rescues some mice from being shot out of a cannon at the last second, leading to a somber implication that these two families have accidentally killed tons of animals.

Next up, Twilight Sparkle and Fluttershy head over to the McColts to learn their side of the story. It’s admirable that they’re now willing to see both sides of a conflict—this was something they had to learn back in the early seasons.

The McColts are supposed to be portrayed as out of the loop on society, given they’re surprised to see an alicorn and thought Equestria only had three princesses. However, unlike the Hooffields, at least they noticed the presence of an alicorn in the first place. That’s a tricky situation with putting alicorn Twilight in new places: the first thing anyone who doesn’t recognize her will notice is that she’s an alicorn, and pointing that out can get old after a while. But here, it’s a good indicator that both families are secluded from the rest of society.

In the middle is Big Daddy McColt, who, contrary to his name, is quite small.

The McColts contrast against the Hooffields in areas of expertise: they construct sturdy buildings but have no idea how to farm, while the Hooffields are the other way around. Big Daddy McColt destroys one of the Hooffields’ farms just by shouting, using cartoon logic to hint at something the families could learn from each other if they would just stop fighting for one minute.

Fluttershy gets a lot of cute animal moments in this episode, like feeding a squirrel a piece of a pumpkin after it’s swept away. Twilight Sparkle has some endearing book moments too, where she flips to pages of her carefully annotated book to try out numbered friendship solutions. Right now, it seems like they’re too distracted with animals and books respectively to come anywhere near solving this problem, but it turns out these preoccupations will soon come in handy.

“How hard was that?” I can hear Twilight thinking.

Flying halfway between the peaks of the mountains, Twilight Sparkle gives a speech to the two families to get them to work out their differences, her voice boosted by a magic spell. When that’s done, she confidently thinks she solved the friendship problem.

Twilight Sparkle: There! That should do it. Ready to go home, Fluttershy?
Fluttershy: I’d love to, but… if we solved the problem already, shouldn’t our cutie marks be glowing again?
Twilight Sparkle: Oh, yeah. They should be glowing any minute now.
(Twilight Sparkle looks at her cutie mark and gets hit by a tomato)

Fluttershy’s role in this episode is much like Applejack’s in Made in Manehattan. While Rarity was the obvious choice for a mission in Manehattan, and Twilight Sparkle is a natural pick to solve problems between opposing leaders, both of them need someone more grounded in reality to stop their confidence from getting the better of them.

Fluttershy yet again has to rescue an animal from the crossfire, and here’s something the Hooffields and the McColts have in common: they both don’t know how to take care of animals. This is a relevant piece of the mystery of their conflict’s origin.

If this was season 1, I guarantee you mainstay background ponies would be everywhere in these scenes.
And I greatly appreciate that they aren’t.

Twilight Sparkle: Pardon us, Ma. Do you remember what started this whole feud in the first place?
Ma Hooffield: They know what they did.
Big Daddy McColt: They know what they did.
Twilight Sparkle: I’m starting to think neither of you know what either of you have done.
Big Daddy McColt: Sure they do. Them Hooffields did us a grave injustice some time ago for some reason.
Crowd: Hear, hear!

This scene kicks off a montage where Twilight Sparkle and Fluttershy alternate between getting information about the two families’ rivalry, and their statements always go in circles. There’s already a clear message to be taken about rivalry: if two people or groups quarrel for long enough, they will get distracted from everything else and forget where the conflict came from.

Twilight Sparkle convinces the Hooffields to send the McColts an apology cake, except it turns out to be a Trojan horse and the brawl continues. This fakeout feels pretty obvious, but that’s mostly because it’s just over halfway through the episode.

Twilight Sparkle: Ma Hooffield, you planted ponies in that cake?!
Ma Hooffield: Yeah, haha!
Ma Hooffield: Wait. Were you serious about apologizing?
Ma Hooffield: Why in Equestria would we do that? We didn’t do anything wrong!

Though the Hooffields fully intended to fool the McColts, I don’t think they meant to deceive Twilight Sparkle and Fluttershy. When Ma Hooffield heard the idea of an apology cake, she immediately assumed they meant a fakeout apology cake, because reconciling with their rival family is inconceivable to her.

Tomatoes are an interesting choice of weapon to use in the battle between families, because the splotches of tomato feel like a stand-in for blood and help make the fight look more intense.

As Fluttershy tries to get others to stop fighting in her usual polite manner, Twilight Sparkle sits down to lament her failure and rips pages out of her book. Even if she isn’t working directly for Celestia, Twilight does not feel good about failing a task, and she has an insecurity complex about letting others down.

But after this moment of failure, Fluttershy and Twilight Sparkle both show us why the map picked them. Fluttershy gathers a bunch of animals around her, and they explain through animal noises how the feud originated. This is why the first scene of the episode was important: it reminded us that animals in this show can store plenty of knowledge, and now Fluttershy is putting that skill to use.

Did Twilight Sparkle need to freeze all the vegetables?

Twilight Sparkle then calls back to Castle Mane-ia with a much more powerful freeze spell to get everyone’s attention. Unlike prior friendship missions like the one in Manehattan, this is a situation where a magic spell is truly necessary.

Fluttershy then tells the story of the ancestors of the two families: two best friends named Grub Hooffield and Pies McColt, who stumbled upon the valley between Smokey Mountains. They both wanted to take care of the animals there, but they disagreed on whether to start with a farm or a shelter. Pies started building a shelter where Grub was going to build his farm, so they soon entered a lifelong conflict that carried on to their descendants. If you think about it for a second, this is a friendship that got permanently ruined from an old conflict, perhaps because it took place in such an isolated corner of Equestria. These two former friends have long passed, so their reconciliation can only be done in spirit through the families they left behind.

I hadn’t shown what the Smokey Mountains look like in the present day, so here it is now.

What’s interesting about this conflict is that it’s one of the longest-running friendship conflicts in the entire show, one of the few that transcends a usual pony’s lifespan. It might not be the longest if you count villain backstories like Luna’s millennium of imprisonment, but it’s still a very long one. I would presume Grub Hooffield and Pies McColt were the grandfathers of the families’ current leaders—this is a long enough time for the ponies to forget where the rivalry originated, but short enough that the tale being passed across animals is somewhat plausible.

Ma Hooffield and Big Daddy McColt almost start another argument, but the animals stop them and they call a truce. I presume the animals have been trying to do this for generations, but only now do the families know what the animals want from them.

The leaders of the families declare a truce, and the Hooffields and McColts carry on their ancestors’ long-lost spirit by finally working together. We even see a Hooffield and a McColt getting married, and I wonder what sort of “forbidden love” backstory they have? Perhaps it’s similar to the story behind the married couple in The Perfect Pear, but with a happy ending instead of a bittersweet ending.

Let’s hope the sculpture on the left gets regular maintenance. It will need some!

The ancestors of the Hooffields and McColts get statues in their honor, or rather, one statue and one piece of plant artwork. These things normally take quite a while to make, so I’m going to guess that Twilight Sparkle sped up the process with magic spells. It’s much like how Rarity used magic to make some art out of plants in Look Before You Sleep, and if you’re wondering why I remember something so small, it’s because I am reviewing every episode of the show in meticulous detail. Bet you didn’t know that, did you?

Twilight Sparkle and Fluttershy’s cutie marks flash. Fluttershy says an enthusiastic “yay”, and Twilight Sparkle speculates about where the map will send them next—perhaps another mission with all six of them. Since we’re near the end of season 5, I bet viewers were meant to speculate that in the season finale, the Cutie Map would send the Mane 6 to another surprising location. But instead of that… well, we’re going to see what happens soon enough. Fitting the episode’s theme, the credits play some bluegrass music.

Overall thoughts:

I’ve consistently enjoyed each season 5 episode that pairs up Mane 6 members. As with the other such episodes, this one gives Twilight Sparkle and Fluttershy plenty of time to be themselves while solving a genuine friendship conflict. And like the other two friendship mission episodes, the conflict resolves around restoring a faraway place’s long-forgotten sense of community and friendship. The conflict in Griffonstone is probably the oldest of the three, given that it’s regarded as ancient bogus folklore, while the problem in Manehattan is easily the most recent (unless you think Coco Pommel is secretly hundreds of years old); the situation in the Smokey Mountains is in the middle. All three of the season’s friendship mission episodes successfully follow a formula while bringing out new accomplishments from the Mane 6, letting each one use their skills to do something cool.

Grade: B

Though B is the most common grade I’ve given episodes of this show, season 5 has actually gotten ten A’s so far—eleven if you count The Cutie Map twice—and only seven B’s.

Miscellaneous notes:

  • For some reason, I could have sworn this episode was called “The Hooffields and the McColts” until I wrote this episode review. Clearly, this means someone tampered with my memories through weird psychic powers, and not that humans’ memory of things is ever flawed or anything.
  • It’s a bit strange that Fluttershy spits out hay after a stack of it fell on her, because ponies in this show have been shown multiple times to eat hay. Maybe they prefer to eat hay that’s heavily refined and processed, like how humans don’t usually eat raw meat?
  • When freezing all the fighting ponies, Twilight Sparkle claims it’s a lot harder to freeze an army of ponies than just six of them. She remembered things wrong: in Castle Mane-ia, she only froze four ponies. Pinkie Pie was busy playing an organ, remember?

Childhood friends become estranged once more in the next episode, which is the last regular episode of season 5.

Season 5 Episode 24: The Mane Attraction

In five words: Music star celebrates being earnest.

Premise: Ponyville is hosting a concert starring Countess Coloratura, an extravagant pop star who turns out to be Applejack’s childhood friend. She’s nothing like the sweet girl who Applejack remembers, so Applejack suspects something is off.

Detailed run-through:

Amethyst Star’s assistance organizing the event is a lovely callback to Slice of Life, which is itself a callback to Winter Wrap Up.

The last regular episode of season 5 starts with the Mane 6 working together to organize a concert for Ponyville’s Helping Hooves Music Festival. Applejack claims it was easy because setting up a concert is a lot like setting up a rodeo. This season almost went by without having a pure Applejack episode, but now it has one after all.

I’ve always had a hunch Pinkie Pie is Amy Keating Rogers’ favorite character to write.
This is the last episode she wrote, and her episodes tend to have a lot of gags involving Pinkie Pie.

Pinkie Pie reveals she booked a concert for the most famous pop star in all of Equestria—not Sapphire Shores as Applejack guesses, but someone named Countess Coloratura who everyone except Applejack has heard of. If there’s any resident of Ponyville who could get in touch with such a big name, it’s Pinkie Pie. She has an insane degree of connections and knowledge of other ponies, which would only be possible with her massive memorization skills.

Applejack: Pinkie Pie, who is this “Countess Coloratura” pony?
Pinkie Pie: Oh, I just told you that she’s the biggest pony pop star in Equestria. How, how, how, how, HOW have you not heard of her?
Applejack: Don’t know. Though I did know a gal named Coloratura when I was just a filly. (snorts) Wouldn’t it just be the funniest thing if that Coloratura and this Coloratura were the same Coloratura?
Pinkie Pie: Do you mean to tell me that you actually know Countess Coloratura?
Applejack: Well, I don’t think it’s the same pony, since my friend wasn’t any sort of high-falutin’ countess.

A quirk of Applejack’s character is that she’s very selective in what she believes. She denies that her old friend and this uptight pop star could be the same pony, despite them sharing a name, which feels extremely Applejack to me. She likes to cling tight to what she believes in, even when evidence points to the contrary.

Applejack learns they’re the same pony after all when she sees Coloratura’s cutie mark, but she still thinks there’s a misunderstanding.

Applejack: Well, fancy that! That there’s the very same cutie mark.
Pinkie Pie: Do you have any idea the number of hoops I had to jump through to get her to perform at the festival?
(Applejack shakes her head)
Pinkie Pie: A whole lot of hoops! That pony is very demanding!
Applejack: Naw.
Pinkie Pie: Yaw!
Rarity: I completely understand. We artistes require certain necessities in order to do our best work.

Rarity has a good point here: it’s common for artistic types to like things a very specific way, and she’s a perfect example. For many people, getting into a creative mindset requires optimal conditions or else they can’t focus at all. But Applejack insists Coloratura was never so high-strung, and even reveals a childhood nickname for her: Rara.

I forgot Coloratura had already earned her mark at this camp.
My brain remembered this scene as the one where she earns it.

Applejack met Coloratura at a summer camp, where near the end they prepared a song called “Equestria, The Land I Love”. A hint at Rara’s true personality is shown when she briefly looks at Applejack with a nervous face before she starts singing. She sings in the adult voice of Lena Hall—a little jarring, but also an indication of the character’s supreme singing talent, which even made her cutie mark flash as she was singing. After playing guitar to accompany the singing, Applejack concludes the performance by striking a triangle.

Come to think of it, does this episode count as a musical episode? It has four musical numbers, the last of which is a reprise of the first, so it’s kind of a borderline case, plus season 5 already had a musical episode six episodes ago. But if it weren’t for Crusaders of the Lost Mark, this would probably be considered season 5’s obligatory musical episode. Even though “obligatory musical episodes” were only a thing in seasons 3 to 6.

While we’re at it, this is also season 5’s obligatory celebrity guest episode, a pattern that we have from seasons 4 to 9. In season 9, instead of a new celebrity guest, we get the return of two prior guests: “Weird Al” Yankovic and Patton Oswalt.

Applejack: After camp, we wrote to each other for a bit, but… then we lost touch. But Rara always did want to go to Manehattan to try and make it big. But a demanding diva?
Applejack: Just you wait, Pinkie. Once Rara gets here, you’ll see she’s just a plain old pony like you and me.

The tricky part about introducing a new character who one of the Mane 6 knew since childhood is explaining why we had never heard of that character before, and this episode does it well. Applejack describes a believable thing to happen with friends from summer camp, and it’s similarly believable that their lives have diverged this much.

Countess Coloratura arrives to the stage coming out of a fanciful high-tech, um, golden device thing. Note that her cutie mark is placed above the couch she rests on—normally, if a pony’s cutie mark is used in branding, that means it’s the doing of this specific pony. Her cutie mark inside this device was no doubt included to deceive her fans into thinking this is her true personality.

The symbolism of the veil covering Coloratura’s face is as obvious as it is clever.

Countess Coloratura is briefly happy and excited to see Applejack, but when her manager Svengallop whispers something into her ear, she goes back to her sharp diva image and stamps a heart-shaped horseshoe on Applejack’s cheek. As is clear from the contrast between her past and present self, Coloratura has fallen into a trap of managers pushing her into a fake image. She didn’t wear a single piece of jewelry in the flashbacks, and she was as willing to get dirty as Applejack.

Rarity thinks this the stamp on Applejack’s cheek is unique and special until we see Coloratura has given the same “hoovesies” to a bunch of other random ponies in line. Applejack wipes the stamp off her face, because she knows better than anyone else when someone is being insincere.

This episode so far has been one of the most fun to analyze in season 5.

Svengallop scolds Coloratura for interacting with such a commoner, and he’s such a clear parody of corrupt media executives. I can’t help but notice that in two of the last episodes Amy Keating Rogers wrote—this one and Canterlot Boutique—the plot is heavily focused on jabs at executive meddling. I don’t know if she quit writing for the show because of that, or if she simply moved on to other affairs, but it’s clear that she has quite a distaste for the ways of executives. It’s also clear that she was passionate about this show, since she started writing for it in season 1 and her episodes gradually improved.

Svengallop: Speaking of which… Where is the pony Pinkie Pie?
Pinkie Pie: Ooh! I’m the pony Pinkie Pie, Mr. Manager Sir.
Svengallop: Do you have the water imported from Rainbow Falls that I requested for Countess Coloratura?
Pinkie Pie: I have twenty glass containers full right here.
Svengallop: Did I not tell you to provide straws in all of Countess Coloratura’s beverages?

I can easily see why Svengallop set his eyes on Pinkie Pie to help with concert management. Her improbable reality-bending powers are one of few things that can keep up with Svengallop’s high demands, and it’s very difficult to break her plucky demeanor. And yet, even Pinkie Pie finds this guy excruciating.

Pinkie Pie: Uh… I don’t think so. But lucky for you, I have the biggest straw collection in all of Equestria!
Pinkie Pie: I call this straw Fernando.

Fernando is clearly the most complex and nuanced character in this entire show. For each lengthy paragraph I have written analyzing Rarity, I could write ten paragraphs about Fernando. Take a look at the shape of Fernando as he rests on Pinkie Pie’s hoof, for instance. It resembles how some people write the number 1, which clearly means he is the number one best character in the show. But if you rotate him just the slightest degree, he looks like 7, which matches with the seven main characters of this show: Twilight Sparkle, Rarity, Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie, Applejack, Rainbow Dash, and Fernando. And notice the shadow that Fernando casts over Pinkie Pie’s hoof. This represents that all other characters in this show are massively overshadowed in importance by this little tube of plastic. Similarly, the purple background shows that he’s a much more important character than even Twilight Sparkle. And if you have any doubts that Fernando is a true, proper character, note that he’s standing up all on his own. If he was merely an inanimate straw, he would be an “it”, and it would collapse mercilessly.

I could totally go on about Fernando, but for the sake of your sanity, I won’t. The rest of the items Pinkie Pie brought are callbacks to prior episodes by this episode’s writer, such as Gustave Le Grand’s desserts and a set of cherries separated between red and yellow.

Lyra and Bon Bon are now seen together enough that I don’t feel a need to point it out each time.

Applejack: Pinkie’s right, Rarity. The Rara I knew didn’t hide behind a veil giving out fake stamped kisses, sipping up imported water, and needing her cherries separated.
Rarity: Oh, I do understand. Sometimes, it’s hard to see our friends change.
Applejack: She’s become a whole other pony!
Rarity: Trust me. Once you see Countess Coloratura perform, you simply won’t believe it.

Rarity has a point here about people changing and growing, but she doesn’t have a personal record of the young Coloratura like Applejack does. When she says Applejack simply won’t believe it, she thinks she means it figuratively, and not that Applejack truly won’t believe what sort of pony her old friend has become.

As a rehearsal, Countess Coloratura performs a dance song unlike anything else we’ve heard in the show before called “The Spectacle”. As someone who’s not into this gaudy modern flavor of electronic music, filled with flashy effects and barely intelligible lyrics, I think this is an on-point imitation (or rather, ponification) of such music. Unfortunately, a lot of fans didn’t get that this was supposed to be a parody of this genre, and I can think of two reasons why. The first is because (sigh) Equestria Girls had to fucking happen, and fans were thus exposed to musical numbers of this kind that were genuinely meant to be cool and stunning. The second reason couldn’t have been prevented: this genre of music has become enormously popular in the 2010s, because you can’t deny that songs like this are catchy and sell extremely well. The show knows how to do a purposely bad musical number, which it did back in The Show Stoppers. But many fans dislike the episode because of the ear-grating singing, and even then, “bad on purpose” is difficult to achieve in such a genuinely good work of media.

For me, though, the parody factor in this song is as clear as can be. That’s because this show knows how to be earnest and heartfelt, two things that I aim to be in every creative project I do. There is no feeling of earnesty in this song, much like Equestria Girls never feels very earnest.

I wonder what would happen if this spell was done on a pony while speaking.
It would probably sound quite hilarious.

A cool detail that couldn’t have been easy to convey is that one of the unicorns on stage uses an autotune magic spell on Coloratura when she sings an “oh-oh-oh-oh” that quickly jumps between notes typical of modern dance music. The spell is aimed directly at her larynx, and it’s impressive that unicorn magic in this show can replicate modern music technology.

Knowing that this musical number is meant as a parody, I laughed quite a bit at the dancers in the background. Their extravagant gestures are meant in-universe to look cool and flashy, but to me they just look goofy.

Svengallop gives some compliments to Coloratura’s performance, but Applejack can tell he’s merely complimenting his own work. Coloratura is yet another character from the middle seasons who’s humble and friendly but is rolled all over by someone who only cares about money, much like Coco Pommel with Suri Polomare, or Silver Shill with the Flim Flam brothers.

Coloratura: Oh, if we’re all done here, I’d love to go back to my trailer and rest, Svengallop.
Pinkie Pie: Actually, right now you’re scheduled for your meet and greet with the school ponies!
Svengallop: (sigh) I can totally get you out of meeting with the school ponies, Countess.
Coloratura: Absolutely not. My favorite part of any event is meeting with the school ponies.

I feel that part of why Coloratura enjoys the school pony part of the event so much is because it’s the one time she isn’t a puppet of executives who use her persona for cash. She’s totally into performing music too, but she hasn’t gotten to be herself while doing so in forever.

Indeed, Coloratura does look fairly happy when greeting the school ponies. Maybe for her, this serves as a small breather between being bossed around.

I just imagined Svengallop bossing Coco Pommel around, and now I am sad.
This guy shouldn’t be allowed near the number one cutest character in the entire show.

Svengallop takes the nicest, most innocent ponies he can find and bosses them around like crazy, which hurts a lot. He does a lot of the same stuff with Coloratura that he does with Pinkie Pie, and he even threatens to pull Coloratura from the show if Pinkie doesn’t comply with his demands. Pushing a character to their limits is a good way to get insight into them, and that’s a common way to give Pinkie Pie some depth beyond being happy and bouncy.

I love how Apple Bloom is walking backwards so she can stare at this pop star.

Apple Bloom: Did you see, sis? Did you see?
Coloratura: Is this the little sister you wrote to me about, AJ?
Apple Bloom: Hold on, Applejack. You wrote to Countess Coloratura about me?!
Coloratura: AJ said you were the best little sister ever, Apple Bloom.

One thing in the show’s timeline that has perplexed me as of late is when the Cutie Mark Crusaders were born. Was it before or after the Mane 6 earned their cutie marks? There’s conflicting evidence between flashbacks scattered throughout the show. According to this episode, not very long after Applejack earned her cutie mark, Apple Bloom was old enough for Applejack to make a judgement on how good of a sister she is. And yet, in Where the Apple Lies, where Applejack looks quite a lot older, Diamond Tiara’s parents are engaged which implies Apple Bloom, who is clearly about the same age as Diamond Tiara, wasn’t born yet. On the other end of the scale, a flashback in Going to Seed shows Applejack without her cutie mark, and Apple Bloom as a baby. So which is it?

My advice about the Crusaders’ birth dates is that you should decide whichever placement in the timeline makes the most sense to you, even if it means contradicting an existing episode. This should be especially handy if you’re writing a fanfic that takes place in this ambiguous time period. And hey, if you want to wave off flashbacks you don’t agree with through time travel or changelings, no one’s stopping you!

Applejack: Hey, Rara. You mind if I talk to you about your manager?
Coloratura: Sure. What about him?
Applejack: Well, while you were meeting with the school ponies, he was demanding all sorts of stuff from Pinkie Pie.
Coloratura: Svengallop works very hard as my manager, AJ, so if he needs some things when we’re on the road, I don’t see anything wrong with that.

“Oh, he works hard and is stressed out a lot, so it’s OK if he’s mean to me”… that’s the EXACT same excuse I had speculated Coco Pommel told herself about her abusive boss. If you tell yourself something for long enough, you start genuinely believing it, much like I told myself for years that I only liked this show because of peer pressure and almost let myself forget for good how much I genuinely love MLP. You’re probably a little bored of both comparisons to Coco Pommel and comparisons to my denial about liking the show, but I just can’t help myself.

Applejack: Well, do you see something wrong with him telling Pinkie that if she doesn’t get those things by tomorrow, he’d pull you from our charity festival?
Coloratura: What? But… he knows how important charity is to me, and leaving the festival would completely ruin my image.
Applejack: I’m afraid Svengallop doesn’t give a pickled pippin about your charity work.
Coloratura: That’s not true. Svengallop has always supported me in all my interests. You’re just saying those things because you’re jealous.
Applejack: Jealous of what? A pony who hides behind a veil so thick, she can’t see when somepony is using her? No, I’m not jealous of that, Rara.
Coloratura: I am not Rara. I am Countess Coloratura. And while we may have been friends when we were young, we have clearly gone in different directions.

Coloratura’s switch into lashing out at Applejack and accusing her of jealousy may be a little abrupt, but it’s easy to justify. She’s refusing to face the reality of a situation, so she makes excuses to justify things as they are. She’s the type of person who is afraid to make a big change in her life—even at summer camp, she needed a push from Applejack to perform in front of a modest audience.

While most ponies would be filled with sweat and exhaustion, barely even able to breathe, if they did all these insane things Svengallop is requesting, Pinkie Pie merely has slight bags under her eyes and an attitude of annoyance. Svengallop knows well which types of ponies to exploit, and he’d be quite a terrifying leader if his actions were larger-scale. He sees a pony with reality bending powers, so he gets her to do all his bidding.

Applejack convinces Coloratura to pretend she wants to cancel the school pony part of the event, so she can see Svengallop’s true side. In this scene, there’s some symbolism to be taken in Coloratura standing high above Applejack. She’s up top and has everything she ever wanted… or does she?

Svengallop: Here I am. Did you need something?
Coloratura: Yes. I was… considering… m-maybe cancelling the contest with the school ponies.
Svengallop: Countess, this is wonderful! I’ve been waiting forever for you to cancel that pointless school pony contest.
Coloratura: You… have?
Svengallop: You do it at every charity event, and it does absolutely nothing to promote the Countess Coloratura persona that I built! Consider it cancelled.

Svengallop really likes to point out that he was the one who designed the Countess Coloratura persona, so much that it almost feels like the episode wants to make that fact extra obvious to viewers. But at the same time, I can’t deny it’s a good indicator of his insufferable ego.

This episode has been showing some of the wildest applications of unicorn magic yet. First, we see a unicorn serve as a walking autotune machine, and now Twilight Sparkle is a walking video camera. This is just insanely overpowered, even for a unicorn. Despite this, Twilight Sparkle didn’t seem to strain herself too hard when recording Svengallop demanding a spa treatment from Pinkie Pie. The best explanation I can think of is that this spell can only be used for a few seconds at a time before you need to recharge your magic, so if you want to use it, you’d better make it count. Indeed, she only recorded four seconds of the encounter—just enough for Coloratura to learn how her manager treats other ponies.

Svengallop: But I work incredibly hard for you. I deserve everything I get.
Coloratura: But not because you scare ponies into thinking I won’t perform for their charities otherwise. I would never do that to my fans. Which is why you should have known that I would never cancel the school ponies’ contest.
Svengallop: Hmph. All this charity and school pony contest nonsense is just remnants of that boring little Rara I met back in Manehattan.

Manehattan sounds like a risky place to go big in—you could just as well work your way up to genuine fame and glory as you could fall into the clutches of an abusive manager like a certain other resident of Manehattan did. And as enamored as Rarity is with this city, if she grew up in Manehattan, it’s possible she would have fallen into a similar trap.

Coloratura flips her veil back in a grand symbolic moment: she’s no longer blinded from the abusive management of Svengallop, who walks off in anger claiming Coloratura will be nothing without him. But instead of looking proud and happy, she looks bummed out and unsure how to proceed with her life. Her upset reaction feels a lot more believable than a moment of pride would, because until then, Coloratura thought she had gotten everything she wanted.

Rarity gives Coloratura a makeover which, though well-intentioned, misses the point of being true to herself and just gets her more panicky. I can imagine Rarity promising this ensemble would look simply fabulous on Coloratura, because the last time Rarity helped a friendly Manehattanite out of a toxic work environment, it worked splendidly. But this time, Applejack has to lend her childhood friend some help.

Applejack: Now, why’s it gonna be so terrible?
Coloratura: Because Svengallop was in charge of everything. The lights, the visuals, the sound. Without Svengallop I have nothing!
Applejack: Now, now, don’t go getting yourself into a tizzy there, Rara.
Applejack: Svengallop turned you into Countess Coloratura, and acted like your friend so he could enjoy the perks that came with being a star. But the real perk of friendship is getting to see your friend being true to their self. And Rara, when you’re simply yourself, you’re the brightest star I’ve ever seen shine.

That last sentence from Applejack puts a warm smile on my face. This may be one of many episodes whose moral boils down to “be yourself”, but it does so in a unique and special way.

The veil that once covered Coloratura’s face is now covering her plot instead.

And so, Countess Coloratura’s performance begins, and it’s not what the audience expected. Here are her opening words:

Coloratura: This song may be familiar. But yet, it’s totally different. Kind of like me, Rara.

This is a good time to discuss a criticism with this part of the episode. Some people think that this episode glorifies one genre of music (emotional piano ballads) while denigrating another (dance pop music) as soulless garbage. But you should remember that Coloratura is just one pony. It’s perfectly possible that for some people, this flavor of pop music is their way of being true to themselves; for Coloratura, it’s merely something she was pushed into for the sake of money.

A closely related criticism is that realistically speaking, a heartfelt piano ballad won’t get anywhere near as much attention as something like The Spectacle. This is completely true, but I doubt that Coloratura cares what kind of music sells the best. This new chapter of her musical career probably won’t make her as much money as the last, but happiness matters so much more to her.

I should probably talk about the song itself, called “The Magic Inside”. The Spectacle and The Magic Inside are as different as day and night—they were even performed in daytime and nighttime respectively. I hope you’re ready for my deepest dive into the lyrics of any MLP song yet!

Coloratura: ♪ I’m here to show you who I am ♪
Coloratura: ♫ Throw off the veil, it’s finally time ♫

Right with her opening lyrics, Coloratura makes it clear that this song is a new debut for her. Just like how not every fan of the show likes this song over The Spectacle, I’m sure there are some fans of Coloratura’s in-universe who stubbornly prefer her old music. That’s something you will inevitably have to face when making creative works: not everyone will like the direction your work goes in, and you’re just going to have to deal with that.

Coloratura: ♪ There’s more to me than glitz and glam, oh oh ♪
Coloratura: ♫ And now I feel my stars align ♫

The phrase “glitz and glam” is a clever callback to lyrics from The Spectacle, and I like to think that Coloratura devised these lyrics out of spite for Svengallop and his pushy management. Also, I’m a sucker for symbolism involving stars.

You don’t need to see her in full to know the silhouette of a cellist third from the left is Octavia Melody.

Coloratura: ♪ For I had believed what I was sold ♪
Coloratura: ♫ I did all the things that I was told ♫
Coloratura: ♪ But all that has changed and now I’m bold ♪

Coloratura is not at all disguising that this song is about herself. While some people find it obnoxious when people make their creative works so blatantly about themselves, if done right it can become beautifully earnest. This entire episode is themed upon being earnest, which is a trait I deeply admire. It’s what makes media shine the brightest for me, far more than an ironic sense of humor or a subdued, neutral tone ever could.

Coloratura: ♪ ‘Cause I know I am just a pony ♪
Coloratura: ♫ I make mistakes from time to time ♫
Coloratura: ♪ But now I know the real me ♪
Coloratura: ♫ And put my heart out on the line ♫
Coloratura: ♪ And let the magic in my heart stay true ♪

The chorus is another point of contrast against The Spectacle, whose lyrics ended with “not just a pony, I am the Countess”. When you’re a fan of such a popular artist, it’s notoriously easy to forget they’re still a regular human with feelings, and Coloratura finds it important to remind all her friends of the same. The lyric “true” is followed by another “oh oh oh oh” moving between notes, but this time with her natural voice, proving the autotune in her previous song was unnecessary. After that line is repeated, she ends with “just like the magic inside of you” and moves to the second verse.

She looks so much happier here than in her last performance.

Coloratura: ♪ And now I see those colors right before my eyes ♪
Coloratura: ♫ I hear my voice so clearly and I know that it is right ♫

This part of the lyrics represents Coloratura taking off her veil of darkness. Until she took it off, everything around her looked a little grim and muted, both literally and figuratively, and now the world around her is so much more colorful. It’s an excellent metaphor that flows nicely in the song’s lyrics.

Coloratura: ♪ I thought I was weak but I am strong ♪
Coloratura: ♫ They sold me the world but they were wrong ♫
Coloratura: ♪ And now that I’m back I still belong ♪
Coloratura: ♫ ‘Cause I know… ♫ (chorus repeats)

This song serves as a moment of triumph for Coloratura. It’s so freeing to express her true self for once, and the payoff is greater than she ever expected. This is probably the first public performance of hers in ages where she looks happy.

The second chorus, whose lyrics are the same as the first, is accompanied by the audience cheering and Coloratura’s cutie mark flashing like it did in the flashback. She lets out some genuine tears in the performance, as does Applejack in the audience, allowing the viewer some time to absorb this moment of triumph.

Coloratura gives a speech thanking her audience and then gives a special surprise for Applejack: a reprise of “Equestria, the Land I Love” sung by her and the Cutie Mark Crusaders. These three fillies don’t have a great track record with stage performances, so it’s very nice that Coloratura throws them a bone. It’s interesting that Coloratura remembered the lyrics to the song after all those years and I bet she noted them down somewhere, but Svengallop never let her perform it because he thought it was too cheesy. But now that she’s been freed, she’s willing to share that song with the world.

Instead of some last words of triumph, the episode simply ends with Applejack striking a triangle to end the song, just like she did back in summer camp. Sweetie Belle was the one who lifted the triangle, showing the Crusaders were let in on this special surprise and thankfully managed to hold in the secret.

Overall thoughts:

Wow, I was not expecting my review of this episode to be so detailed! I thought for sure this would be a short and quick review, but instead it’s one of my longest reviews of the season. But considering the many thoughts I have about popular music and the value of being earnest in your art, I should have known I’d have this much to say. This episode is a touching tale of childhood friends growing far apart but still having a special connection, with Applejack having to encourage Coloratura to step out of abusive management and shine as the earnest, heartfelt singer she really is.

There’s no denying that not everyone likes the way this episode played out. With a premise involving a musician with a demanding manager whose childhood friend thinks something is off, there are many ways its story could have gone. It could have been about Applejack having to accept her friend has changed, or it could have had Svengallop redeem himself and become a better manager. But instead of this, the episode shows the value of being earnest, which is something I deeply respect. So many people come off as constantly insincere, like everything has to be ironic or it’s wrong to express pure, heartfelt joy. I think the world would be a better place if people could throw that mindset aside and embrace sincerity like Coloratura did. Embracing sincerity doesn’t come easy for everyone. I, for one, spent six years wearing a metaphorical veil that prevented me from seeing how beautiful this show is. But then I took it off and realized this show kicked ass the whole time, and I don’t care in the slightest how dorky that sounds. It feels so much better to be earnest than to hide under a veil.

Grade: A

I was not expecting to give this episode the elite, coveted A grade at first. But through analyzing it in full, I’ve come to truly understand its message of sincerity.

Miscellaneous notes:

  • The summer camp where Applejack met Coloratura is called “Camp Friendship”, which sounds like the name of a camp the Mane 6 (led by Twilight Sparkle) would organize akin to the School of Friendship, not a camp that existed before they had all met.
  • “Earnesty” is a completely real word, and I mean that in all earnesty. I know spell check doesn’t recognize it, but come on, if you can turn “honest” into a noun by appending it with the letter Y, there’s absolutely no reason you can’t do the same with “earnest”.
  • Given that Svengallop demands Pinkie Pie to import oats from Appleoosa, I’m going to guess that’s also where Bon Bon’s expensive imported oats came from.

Though this episode would have made an excellent finale if season finales were still done like The Best Night Ever, the real finale of season 5 is a truly unprecedented bombshell.

See you next week (I mean it this time) for a deep dive into all the little details and sheer freak factor of the craziest season finale yet.

>> Part 58: The Cutie Re-Mark, Part 1 + 2

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