Premise: Apple Bloom is left to watch over Sweet Apple Acres while the rest of her family is gone, but Applejack frustratingly won’t stop being overprotective. Apple Bloom thus sets out on her own to prove herself capable of being on her own.
To start the episode, Apple Bloom and her fellow Cutie Mark Crusaders listen in on an unintelligible conversation between her immediate family, then Granny Smith breaks the good news: Apple Bloom has been deemed old enough to watch over Sweet Apple Acres on her own for the afternoon. Apple Bloom keeps up a serious image through this big decision, but as soon as she thinks her family can’t hear her, she and the other two Crusaders break into excitement. This scene establishes the episode as one focused on the difficulties of growing up and gaining your family’s trust, an experience that’s familiar to many viewers of the show. To younger viewers, this episode is likely to be immediately relatable; to older viewers, it’ll more likely bring back older memories, or maybe even remind them of their own children or younger family members.
While the other Apples prepare for their journey to deliver pies to some dangerous places, Applejack gives her sister a long, detailed list of chores and instructions to take care of. Here’s where I’ll address probably the most common criticism of this episode: Applejack being extremely overbearing.
Looking at the lineup of season 4 episodes left for me to analyze, here are the ones that I’m the most excited to go through:
Episode 18, Maud Pie (because I think Maud Pie is awesome)
Episode 19, For Whom the Sweetie Belle Toils (because I think Sweetie Belle is cool)
Episodes 25-26, Twilight’s Kingdom (the absolutely epic season finale)
The rest of the remaining season 4 episodes I’m not nearly as excited to go through; I’ll have fun with them for sure, but the really exciting ones are listed above. And then when I get through season 5, I am looking forward to analyzing pretty much every episode of the season. You can expect my season 5 reviews to be some of the most long-winded ones yet.
Season 4 Episode 15: Twilight Time
As with several other episodes involving the Cutie Mark Crusaders, this one contains spoilers for midway through season 5. Also a few for the season 4 finale. Plus a bit of early season 6.
In five words: Crusaders exploit Twilight’s big name.
Premise: The Cutie Mark Crusaders come to Twilight Sparkle to help them learn skills, but they get carried away in using Twilight’s princess status to their advantage.
We haven’t been to Twilight’s place that often in season 4. It sort of feels nostalgic being in here now. Also, I like how this scene teases the mystery of the chest with six keys.
This episode starts with the Cutie Mark Crusaders at Twilight Sparkle’s place practicing skills they want to learn: Sweetie Belle with magic, Scootaloo with assembling a unicycle, and Apple Bloom with brewing potions. Each of the Crusaders is at least partly hoping to get their cutie mark through these activities, and they’re all reluctant to read detailed instructions. I think there’s something interesting to analyze from each Cutie Mark Crusader’s choice of activity to learn.
For Sweetie Belle, I’m not sure what the common fan consensus is on how long it usually takes unicorns to learn magic, but my view is as follows. Unicorns typically learn magic through tons of practice, and Sweetie Belle never had much reason to use magic while growing up. But now that she’s getting older, she feels that it’s her duty as a unicorn to properly learn magic, and through enough determination, she admirably figures it out by the end of this episode.
But while Sweetie Belle’s motive is to rectify her lack of a fundamental unicorn skill, the other two Crusaders are pursuing activities that relate more to their usual interests. Scootaloo wants to branch out her interest in athletic stunts by assembling vehicles on her own, while Apple Bloom, the one who perpetually flits between various interests, wants to hone in her potion-making interest a little more.
I had said in an announcement post that I would probably go on a decently long hiatus after finishing my review of Simple Ways. And I did go on a hiatus for nine days (several of which I spent extremely sick), but it was short enough that it didn’t interrupt my post series’ weekly queue.
Season 4 Episode 13: Simple Ways
In five words: Rarity bends herself for love.
Premise: A travel writer named Trenderhoof who Rarity has a crush on visits Ponyville, but when he ends up obsessing over Applejack, Rarity tries to overhaul her personality in response.
This episode starts with a Ponyville town meeting where it is announced who will get to be the master of ceremonies for a festival celebrating the town’s founding, and Rarity wins. This sets up the premise for the episode and gives Rarity a reason to meet her celebrity crush face-to-face.
You know what? I’m going to skip to the part where Rarity reveals her crush on Trenderhoof, a travel writer who she hopes to impress during the Ponyville Days Festival.
I’ve heard that some people criticize this episode for focusing on romance, supposedly because Lauren Faust didn’t want the show to have any, which is total nonsense because Rarity has had crushes since the start of the show. I think the real reason this episode’s focus on romance gets flack is one of two things: (1) Twilight Sparkle’s romance arc with Flash Sentry in Equestria Girls left a sour taste in fans’ mouths, and they doubted the show’s potential to have good romance arcs in the future, or (2) fans don’t want canon material to intervene with their favorite ships. After Prince Blueblood turned out to be a disappointment, it makes sense that Rarity would set her eyes on a new love interest, who she’s revealing at long last. I really don’t see the issue with Rarity having a crush in this episode. It’s not like Trenderhoof was an already existing character; he’s introduced as Rarity’s love interest, and he’s, well… not much more than that. Rarity gives some exciting descriptions of the guy, saying that he’s good at predicting trends and wrote an article about Las Pegasus before the place got popular, but once we see him in person, he doesn’t get much of a personality. But I’ll get to that.
While waiting for Trenderhoof to arrive at Ponyville’s train station, Rarity does many things that people with crushes tend to do: bring a friend along for emotional support and get hyper-panicky waiting for her crush to arrive, worrying that he won’t come after all. Twilight Sparkle’s presence makes me think about how her crush on Flash Sentry came out of fucking nowhere if I’m being brutally honest. If you are to assume Equestria Girls canonically happened, Rarity did Twilight (and the viewer) a kind favor by not pressing Twilight about her crush, even though she easily could have. The point I’m making is that unlike the case of Flash Sentry, the way Rarity’s crush on Trenderhoof is introduced and portrayed feels quite realistic.
Twilight Sparkle succeeded in emotional support; she’s the one who pushed Rarity to talk to Trenderhoof. Literally pushed, using her magic powers.
Here’s the tragic problem with this episode: once we meet Trenderhoof in person, it doesn’t take long before his character devolves to “the guy with a crush on Applejack”. He gets two lines before Rarity takes him over to Sweet Apple Acres: one telling Rarity she can call him “Trend”, and another saying he’s reminded of an article he wrote about a wedding in Manehattan.
And then, when Trenderhoof is taken to Sweet Apple Acres, that’s where he truly falls in love.
Trenderhoof: I’ve heard about it, of course. But to see it in verité, to stand on the soil of a working farm… You can really feel the authenticity. Rarity: Oh, yes, uh… they, they really do grow apples here. Trenderhoof: Thank you, Rarity. Thank you for bringing me here. This farm is truly something special. Rarity: Ah… I had planned to transform it into an elegant country inn for the festival… but now I see just how special it is… au naturel. Trenderhoof: Au naturel indeed.
Notice how Rarity is caught off-guard by Trenderhoof getting so joyed to see the farm of all things. She thought she knew everything about this guy, but here she is blindsided by him showing an unexpected love of homemade agriculture. She doesn’t take long to reevaluate her perception of Trenderhoof and regain her composure. She’s willing to shuffle her idea of how to please Trenderhoof by cancelling her plan to turn the barn into a country inn, which is very on-brand for Rarity: she bends backwards to make others satisfied, and she’s only just begun that in this episode.
And her willingness to reassess the world around her if an odd new factor is introduced is why Rarity is completely thrown off when Trenderhoof falls in love with Applejack. That’s how it is with romance: love doesn’t follow the rules of other emotions. It’s a chaotic spirit that defies sense and reason. It drives people to do insane things if left uncontrolled, and it can bite you back when you least expect it, as Rarity learns here. Fiction has been enthralled by the concept of love for as long as fiction has existed, and I can easily see why. I view humans as inherently knowledge-seeking creatures who want to know everything they can about the world, and few things give humans greater frustration (or greater drive to write flowery stories) than topics they can’t pin down like the nuances of emotion. The same holds for dreams, which are another concept that eludes the grasp of science.
Hey… you don’t mind if I go into a tangent about King of the Hill, do you?
The two-part episode Returning Japanese is easily one of the most touching episodes of the show, and it’s heavily focused on the strange things that love does to people. There’s one line in the episode that struck me above all else. For context, Bobby met a girl who doesn’t speak English except for one word, “dance” (which she says like “dansu”) and had a romantic fling with her through playing dance pad games out on the streets, and then he remarks to his family that love doesn’t care what language you speak. And his normally rude and crass grandpa is understanding of this, since the whole reason they came to Japan was so that he could reconcile with a nurse who he fell in love with long ago. Bobby’s line about love got me thinking about the inscrutable workings of this emotion, and this sort of thing is what I like about King of the Hill. The show feels much more down-to-earth, much closer to reality, than most adult cartoons out there, and it’s gotten me thinking a ton about various topics in life, not the least of which is the strange workings of love.
Alright, back to MLP.
Spike stops by Rarity’s place and finds her having a dramatic meltdown over her crush. Given his relationship with Rarity, he makes for an interesting counterpoint as she lets out how distraught she is.
Rarity: (interspersed by panting) Oh Spike, how could you ever know what it’s like to be totally obsessed with a pony only to find out they’re obsessed with somepony else? Spike: (looks silently with his arms crossed)
Another strange thing that love does to people is decrease their self-awareness. Rarity normally knows well that Spike is infatuated with her while she has her own separate subject of infatuation, but since that object of infatuation just backstabbed her, her entire worldview has collapsed, and nothing matters to her except getting this guy’s heart back.
This episode focuses on three unrequited crushes, and they’re all connected to each other. Spike to Rarity to Trenderhoof to Applejack.
Rarity tries to get Trenderhoof’s attention by portraying herself as more of the farming type, but his feelings for Applejack remain unbroken. Applejack is put off by Rarity trying to make a fake image of herself, which matches with her element of harmony in a deeper way than just telling the truth; also with being true to herself.
Spike is doing a great job keeping his cool in this episode. All he wants here is for Rarity to also keep her cool.
Spike: Rarity, why do you want to plow a field? Rarity: Is it me, or could this use a splash of color? Maybe a wash. Spike: Don’t we need to check on the gala decorations? Rarity: Yes, yes, of course. But Trend obivously has a thing for farm life. If I can’t convince him that I’m just as much of a farm hoof as Applejack, I’ll never get him interested in the festival. Spike: The festival. Right.
Here’s an interesting instance of Rarity procrastinating on her tasks. Her job to prepare Ponyville for the city festival has been derailed by her desire to impress Trenderhoof, and her last line quoted above shows that she’s kept telling herself that this is all in the name of the festival. Sort of like how when you’re distracting yourself from a project you’ve been putting off, you might jump through hoops to convince yourself that the thing you’re doing is relevant to the thing you’re supposed to be doing. Spike knows what it’s like to be hopelessly in love with another pony, and even he thinks Rarity’s actions are over the top.
Maybe it makes sense that Trenderhoof at this point is portrayed as fixated entirely on Applejack, given how much I was talking about love doing weird things to people’s minds.
Trenderhoof: Rarity, can I ask you something? Rarity: Oh, why Trend. You can ask me anything. Trenderhoof: I’ve been meaning to ask for a while, and… frankly, I’m… sort of embarrassed. Trenderhoof: Rarity… do you think… Applejack would be my date for the festival? Rarity: WHY DON’T YOU GO ASK HER YOURSELF? Hmph!
I can see that Rarity still held a tiny sliver of hope that maybe Trenderhoof likes her after all, and that her crush fawning over Applejack instead was just a bad dream or a misunderstanding. She so badly wants the romance she dreamed of to be true, and it feels like a slap in the face for Trenderhoof to talk to her about Applejack this, Applejack that yet again. Her logical brain should accept that Trenderhoof isn’t interested in her, but she can’t help but hold out some dreamy hope.
As honest as ever, Applejack tries talking some sense into Rarity and says she has no idea why Trenderhoof is obsessed with her. But Rarity has convinced herself that Applejack is deliberately stealing this guy’s heart, because that absurd theory is easier for her to accept than the idea that her crush doesn’t like her back. See again: love does weird things to people’s brains. She’s decided to crank her country act up a notch, which she teases at the end of the scene by putting on an accent that imitates Applejack’s.
At her boutique, Rarity presents the new theme for the festival, called Simple Ways (the old one was called Small Town Chic). While she had gotten Spike to participate in this presentation, the rest of the Mane 6 all laugh at it. That’s the only way they’re able to react to Rarity doing an exaggerated overhaul of her personality in a desperate attempt to win Trenderhoof’s heart.
Twilight Sparkle: (laughs) Rarity, you aren’t serious, are you? Rarity: Well, of course I’m serious! (clears throat) Rarity: (in country accent) Why wouldn’t I be?
Rarity briefly slips out of her country accent when questioned because maintaining this charade requires her to twist her brain into knots too strenuous for her to handle. That’s how strongly she’s refusing to face the truth about her celebrity crush.
Applejack: Because you would never dress like that. You like fashion and high society and fancy things. Rarity: And I can like plowing fields and hauling apples just as much. Applejack: But you don’t! Rarity: How do you know what I like? Applejack: Because I know you. Rarity: Well, maybe you don’t know me as well as you think. Applejack: And I suppose it’s just a coincidence that Trenderhoof seems so interested in country life too?
A master of honesty, Applejack can easily see that Rarity isn’t facing the truth, and that gets her frustrated. She can see that Rarity is convincing herself of a complicated fake reason for putting on this country act, when the real reason is clearly because she wants Trenderhoof’s love. It’s sort of like how I spent years telling myself fake reasons why I was supposedly a brony when the real reason was sincere enjoyment of the show itself. Applejack is set off by seeing someone suppressing the truth like this because it goes against her own values. Rarity’s eyes perk up at the last line here, but then she continues denying her reason for doing all this.
Time to fixate on Sweetie Belle again! Notice how Sweetie Belle doesn’t look too shocked to see her big sister pretend to be a country pony. Could it be that Rarity has had episodes like this before? Episodes as in previous times she bent herself backwards for a love interest, not as in episodes of a TV show. Or maybe Sweetie Belle thinks her sister has a good reason for doing this and doesn’t want to question her. There are a lot of fascinating explanations you can gather from Sweetie Belle’s lack of a reaction to her sister’s country shtick.
Rarity tells the kids in this scene that if you want to be simple, more is more, and proceeds to dump a whole bunch of ridiculous country clothes on Apple Bloom. I think this may be a metaphor for how Rarity is going through as extreme of a personality overhaul as she can to avoid facing the truth.
And here’s where things get really fun. Applejack presents a supposed overhaul to her personality that’s like Rarity’s overhaul, but in reverse. Their conversation mirrors Applejack and Rarity’s prior argument that I had quoted, where Rarity tells Applejack that she’s into farming and not fashion, but Applejack insists otherwise. I think a mirror is a good analogy for this because when you look in a mirror, you’re technically seeing the world in reverse, with backwards text and people’s right and left body parts flipped. Applejack showing Rarity what her act like from an external perspective is much like showing someone a mirror so they can see how ridiculous they look.
Applejack and Rarity are a fun pair of characters to contrast against each other. Their dynamic is much more productive at this point than it was in season 1.
As Applejack and Rarity argue pretending to be exaggerated versions of each other, Rarity lets her regular self’s way of talking slip a few more times. Then she unwittingly does the last push to bring her regular self back when she covers herself in mud and then screams in terror. While Applejack gave her a nudge to realize how ridiculous she was being, Rarity herself did the last step to push her country shtick out of her. She apologizes to Applejack, then freaks out when she learns that Applejack stole one of her dresses for this affair and got it dirty.
But then Trenderhoof enters the barn, dressed as a farmer and ready to abandon his prior life in favor of Sweet Apple Acres. Rarity tells him what she just learned with Applejack’s help: that you shouldn’t change who you are to please someone else. It looks like Trenderhoof also got carried away with love, and unfortunately, this means most of his screen time was spent obsessing over Applejack, which prevents his character from having much depth.
Applejack is still wearing her fancy outfit in this scene. Perhaps because she wants Trenderhoof to ignore her?
Rarity narrates the episode’s moral as she returns to her original idea for the Ponyville festival, and it proves to be a success. Trenderhoof even gives her a rose as thanks, and it looks like he’s gone back to his regular self too.
This episode does many things well: Rarity repressing the truth through overcomplicated endeavors, Applejack teaching her a lesson about honesty, some humorous personality swap shenanigans, a demonstration of how love can do strange things to people, and voice acting during Rarity’s country shtick that must have been difficult to pull off. But it has one glaring flaw: Trenderhoof barely has any character to him. He has a promising start when Rarity describes the cool things he did as a travel writer, but when we see him in person, he doesn’t have much personality besides being obsessed with Applejack. Normally, Rarity’s episodes do a good job bringing fun additions to the show’s cast, especially the last Rarity episode I went through (and I’m not saying this solely because I like Coco Pommel), and this one unfortunately doesn’t really. But this episode is a step in the right direction when it comes to this show handling romance, which it gradually does more of in later seasons.
Another episode with a flaw too glaring to give it a B.
The King of the Hill tangent was something I had been holding in for quite a while. I’m willing to bet that if my Homestuck blog posts were running today, I would have found quite a few excuses already to talk about that show in them. That’s one of two things that can happen when I decide to watch through a show: either I give up early on, or it worms its way into my subconscious and I start having ridiculous dreams about it.
Trenderhoof points at Derpy Hooves when referring to “the unappreciated”, which is a blatant lie that shows he doesn’t know Ponyville as well as he likes to think. It’s also an indirect statement of how the show’s fans and staff alike love this clumsy delivery pony.
I could have sworn this episode featured Rarity eating tubs and tubs of ice cream while crying to herself. It must have been a different season 4 episode; I know for sure it was in this season.
In the next episode, Fluttershy takes a turn to suppress her fears and worries, specifically her stage fright.
Season 4 Episode 14: Filli Vanilli
In five words: Fluttershy temporarily circumvents stage fright.
Premise: When Big Macintosh, a member of an acapella group called the Ponytones, loses his voice, Fluttershy fills in for him in through a sneaky loophole that lets her avoid having to conquer her stage fright.
This episode starts with Fluttershy having an ordinary, pleasant day at her house, which quickly leads her to sing about the music all around her. She doesn’t show it often, but since the very first episode we’ve had evidence that Fluttershy is quite a musically oriented pony; remember, she was in charge of setting up the music for the Summer Sun Celebration by directing a choir of birds. But since all the Mane 6 burst into song quite often, Fluttershy singing by itself wouldn’t demonstrate much about her musical interests, which is why she’s singing about music here.
These shocked reactions demonstrate how infrequently Fluttershy demonstrates her singing skills.
Fluttershy: Ohhhh. You, um… you didn’t hear me… um… Pinkie Pie: Singing in the most beautiful voice EVER?! Rainbow Dash: Uh, yeah we did! Fluttershy: (gasps and shudders)
This scene sets up this episode’s premise very well. Fluttershy has a strong skill that she’s unfortunately far too nervous to share with the world. She genuinely has no idea how good she is at singing, and it shows because the rest of her friends are blown away at her performance. It’s an elegant way to lead to her arc of stage fright.
Rarity is so impressed by Fluttershy’s singing that she suggests that Fluttershy join the Ponytones, a group that happens to be performing tonight at Fluttershy’s pet center fundraiser. The rest of the Mane 6 are on board with this idea, while Fluttershy stammers and keeps getting interrupted. This is a situation Fluttershy finds herself in a lot: she tries to say something and get her friends’ attention, but her friends never let her talk and assume they know what she wants.
Fluttershy declines Rarity’s offer to join the Ponytones despite being one of the group’s biggest fans, and after a little more stuttering, she says that she has stage fright. Pinkie Pie immediately asks if stage fright is contagious, and while this silly question leads to a proper explanation of this common fear, I also think it has strong implications regarding Pinkie Pie’s character. I think a pony as extroverted as her might have trouble understanding how stage fright can possibly be a thing. Her immediate assumption is that “stage fright” must be some infectious disease that makes ponies scared of stages, not a lifelong condition that some of them struggle with.
I imagine Spike would eagerly admit to being a fan of the Ponytones, but insist it’s not solely because of Rarity.
While preparing for the fundraiser, the Ponytones practice singing a song called “Find the Music in You”. It’s worth noting that the Ponytones’ lineup consists of two existing characters (Rarity and Big Macintosh), who have a new interest of theirs revealed through presence in this group, and two new characters left for fans to make their own stories about. Big Macintosh’s presence in the group shows that not every shy pony has stage fright; either that, or he’s found a good way to deal with his stage fright.
As the Ponytones practice, Fluttershy happily and quietly sings along to the song, then gets embarrassed when others walk by. This tragically shows just how intense her stage fright is: she’s incredibly worried that others will notice her apparently beautiful singing voice and pile her with unwanted attention, even when she’s just humming along in the background. She doesn’t want to face her fear of attention, and it hurts.
In a move of extremely inconvenient timing, Big Macintosh has lost his voice on the day of the performance. It turns out he used up his vocal ability on a competition that he had won six years in a row, but not this time.
Rarity: A– a– a turkey call? You lost your voice doing a… TURKEY CALL?! Pinkie Pie: Lost his voice and the title! (makes turkey noises)
Rarity is humorously annoyed at Big Mac’s reason for losing his voice. It shows how prestigious she regards the Ponytones: any Apple family competitions to her are pointless distractions in comparison, which shows some haughtiness on Rarity’s end. Still, Rarity is right to react to this extremely unfortunate coincidence with such annoyance: sometimes for an episode’s plot to work, something specific must happen at a remarkably convenient (or inconvenient) time.
Man, Bridle Gossip feels so long ago now.
When Rarity mentions that Big Macintosh would need a remedy for his lost voice, Fluttershy decides they should go visit Zecora to see what she can do about it. Zecora says that she can’t immediately heal Big Mac’s voice, but she can use leaves from the Poison Joke to make Fluttershy’s voice sound deep. This episode gives us a flashback to Bridle Gossip, reminding us of the deep voice Fluttershy was inflicted with—a suitable replacement for Big Mac’s voice that gives Fluttershy an opportunity to sing without having to deal with attention, since she will sing behind the curtains while Big Mac moves his lips. It’s a clever callback that turns an old one-off joke into a serious part of Fluttershy’s character arc. After a bit of convincing, Fluttershy agrees to do it.
Big Macintosh looks nervous at first, but he warms up quickly enough.
The Ponytones (with Fluttershy secretly filling in on the bass) perform “Find the Music in You”, which is quite a catchy song, successfully. Fluttershy is really enjoying herself and singing her heart out behind the curtain, glad to exert her musical interest without others seeing her. When the performance ends, the illusion comes close to breaking when Applejack says Big Mac’s voice sounds better than ever—another way Fluttershy is unaware of her own singing skills—and the others notice Fluttershy was on the wrong side of the curtain. Rarity says that Fluttershy was making sure everything in the performance went smoothly, which isn’t technically a lie.
I completely forgot this girl debuted before season 7’s Forever Filly. A clever reuse of a minor character!
A filly named Zipporwhill particularly enjoyed the show and wants the Ponytones to sing at her cute-ceañera tomorrow, and here’s where Fluttershy starts being secretly overloaded with responsibilities due to her natural talents. This is something that’s happened to her before: falling headfirst into a glamorous position and now everyone’s suddenly all over her. But unlike her stint as a fashion model, here she’s enjoying her responsibilities, performing behind the scenes so that she doesn’t have to tackle her stage fright.
Though Rarity normally goes to great lengths to please others no matter how much it strains her, here she’s reluctant to accept all the offers for the Ponytones to perform at more and more events. Perhaps the difference here is because Rarity is part of a group and would rather not put too much pressure on her fellow singers? In any case, Fluttershy convinces Rarity to accept the offer each time by saying in her deep voice that she wouldn’t want to disappoint the mayor or the spa ponies or whoever they’ll be performing for next. I like to think Fluttershy knows that a deep manly voice tends to come off as a figure of authority who you can’t say no to, and she’s taking full advantage of that effect so that she can continue to sing her heart out. Towards the end of this montage, Fluttershy starts improvising on her bass part while Big Macintosh sweats and struggles to keep up, which shows how strongly she’s enjoying this undercover gig.
Rarity tells Fluttershy that Big Macintosh’s voice is all healed, and Fluttershy is bummed out about this. She was so joyed about this secret loophole that let her sing without being seen, and it leads her to use her manipulative side once more. She asks Big Mac to let her sing for him one last time, and her characteristic teary pleading face sells him on it.
How can anyone say no to this face?
Look at how starry-eyed Fluttershy gets when she’s allowed to fill for Big Mac again. She’s a very passionate singer, and stage fright is a big obstacle that gets in the way of her exerting this passion the way one normally would. She knows that singing unseen like this is not sustainable, and she wants to extend this rare opportunity as long as she can. But in the long run, all she’s doing is dancing around her problem of stage fright, which she knows she will have to face head-on at some point…
… especially because in the next performance, she gets so carried away with the joy of singing that she accidentally blows her cover. While magic potions in the MLP universe have their genuine uses, here Fluttershy used one to artificially bypass her stage fright, and whenever characters in this show try to artificially bypass problems, it’s never long before their stopgap solution bites them back.
Fluttershy’s reveal is met with brief shock, then with cheers and applause, which to her is terrifying. We get a nightmarish scene that visually conveys what stage fright feels like, which is good to have because many emotions are hard to put into words and can’t fully be understood by everyone. This scene, which shows how unsettling it is for Fluttershy to be met with a loud and enthusiastic audience, is a great way to give viewers without stage fright a taste of what stage fright is like. It reminds me of Fluttershy getting haunted by traumatic memories in Hurricane Fluttershy, which culminated in her being surrounded by a tunnel of eyes.
After Big Macintosh answers a series of questions from Applejack about what all happened with a sequence of eeyups and nopes, the rest of the Mane 6 search for Fluttershy, which soon enough leads to this infamous part:
Twilight Sparkle: You in here? Fluttershy: Yes. I’m here. Pinkie Pie: That was totally unbelievable! I mean, the curtain came up, and there you were, singing in front of everypony! Pinkie Pie: And you know, I don’t think anypony was jealous, ’cause there certainly wasn’t an angry mob, but it must have been horrible standing there on stage, all eyes glued directly on you. It’s like you were living your own personal worst nightmare! Fluttershy: (cries) It was. (cries more and flies off)
Why would Pinkie Pie EVER say something like that?! Is she somehow that oblivious to how serious of an issue stage fright is for Fluttershy? Is she that insistent on refusing to understand this insecurity that’s been haunting Fluttershy from within?
Actually, I’m not going to rationalize this part. Pinkie Pie may be clueless or thick at times, but not to the point of driving someone to tears without being able to see how genuinely hurt they are. She was insensitive to Fluttershy a few times in this episode, but this is easily the peak point. Her rant to Fluttershy about how horrible it must have been to be in front of the crowd was solely done to drive Fluttershy to tears and lead to her grand emotional catharsis. So maybe Pinkie Pie could sense on a narrative level that Fluttershy needed a catharsis and thus decided that driving Fluttershy to tears was for the greater good? Wait, I think I ended up rationalizing this painfully out-of-character rant yet again even though I said I wouldn’t. Pinkie Pie may break the fourth wall at times, but that never gets in the way of how she’s pleasant and easygoing and loves seeing others smile.
Twilight Sparkle: What Pinkie meant to say was that you were really great. Pinkie Pie: Wait! Didn’t I say that? Rarity: Hardly. Pinkie Pie: Whoops. (runs out the house) YOU WERE GREAT!
See again: Pinkie Pie can be thick-headed at times, but normally not to the point of forgetting to compliment someone and instead reminding them how much of a traumatic experience they had. I have to wonder if Twilight Sparkle knows Pinkie Pie well enough to understand that she didn’t mean harm, or if she’s just covering for Pinkie in a last-ditch attempt to make Fluttershy feel better. The rest of the Mane 6 try to compliment Fluttershy, but all they do is scare her more as they appear from every corner. And Pinkie Pie certainly doesn’t help when she says that Fluttershy sounded like a dude. I interpret that as more of Pinkie being oblivious but not in a way that I feel is aggravatingly out of character, because Pinkie sounded confused as to why Fluttershy’s voice sounded masculine and never quite got the scoop on why Fluttershy chose to do that.
Wait, I got it! Pinkie Pie in this episode is a changeling! Of course! (Nah, that’s the cheapest excuse you could ever come up with.)
Fluttershy tells her friends she is never going to sing in front of anyone again, but then when they all catch up, Rarity reminds Fluttershy that she was the one who insisted the Ponytones perform for all those silly events. This proves that Fluttershy’s declaration to forsake singing was a heat-of-the-moment statement, and she really does enjoy singing. Shortly after that, the ponies realize how traumatic it really was for Fluttershy to be met with all this thunderous applause and loud screaming. Often, it takes a friend confirming that it really was that bad for you to truly understand what a condition like stage fright is like.
To bring this episode full circle, Fluttershy joins the Ponytones in singing an arrangement of the song she sang at the start of the episode, and it’s quite a joy to see a song from this show rearranged in a new style.
But at the end of the performance, it’s revealed that the audience was nothing more than Fluttershy’s closest friends and some of her animals, which is a refreshing moment of realism. While it would be stunning for this episode to end with Fluttershy having a triumphant moment where she proves her singing skills to a grandiose crowd, it also wouldn’t be very realistic. Insecurities such as stage fright can only be truly dealt with one step at a time, as Fluttershy says here, and this scene nicely sets the stage for Fluttershy’s character arc of slowly becoming less shy. She remains introverted throughout the show, but she gradually becomes more willing to take on challenges and prove her worth. She even says this after declining Rarity’s offer to perform at a big Apple family event:
Fluttershy: I’ll get there someday, but for now, baby steps, everypony. Baby steps.
This line feels like promising that there’s plenty more to come with Fluttershy getting over her fears. She’s taking steps to redeem these issues, and she knows it’s something you can’t resolve immediately, because that’s not how life works.
To end this episode, Fluttershy writes a friendship journal entry saying that you can’t run from your fears if they prevent you from doing something you love. This is a moral that suits Fluttershy’s episodes very nicely, given that her arc focuses on facing fears.
Most of this episode is very good and gives a believable portrayal of stage fright that shows how serious of an issue it is for those who have it. It introduces a new interest of Fluttershy’s that has plenty of precedence in prior episodes, then gives her an opportunity to use that interest while avoiding her fears that bites her back in a very fitting manner. All this is done through a fun callback to a season 1 episode that shows how highly this show regards its continuity. And it ultimately leads to a step of character development from Fluttershy that feels far more realistic than a grand moment of triumph would. All these points of praise make Pinkie Pie’s ultra-oblivious and insensitive characterization in this episode all the more frustrating. It’s by far the biggest low point of this episode, and it tragically prevents this episode from being one of the best of season 4 in my mind.
I would love to ignore Pinkie Pie’s needlessly rude rant to Fluttershy and give this episode a B, because I think everything in it that doesn’t involve Pinkie Pie is really great. But unfortunately, enough of this episode hinges upon that rant that I can’t sidestep its existence.
In the flashback sequence showing the turkey call competition that Big Mac had won six years in a row, everyone participating seemed to be an Apple family member. Therefore, Pinkie Pie winning the competition this year is a subtle reference to the ambiguous revelation from Pinkie Apple Pie, which shows that the Apple family is laid-back enough to eagerly allow Pinkie Pie to compete in their events.
“Bridle Gossip” is such an annoying episode name to type now that I’ve had to type it multiple times in this review. I keep typing “Bridge Gossip” by mistake.
In this scene, Lyra is standing alongside another background pony (I think fans call him Noteworthy?) whose cutie mark, like hers, is music-related. I wonder if this scene caused an outbreak among fans who prefer to ship Lyra with Bon Bon? Maybe the reason Bon Bon is playing ball with a seal is to distract herself from the harsh truth that the love of her life is suddenly hanging out with a totally different stallion.
The next episode shows Twilight Sparkle having something in common with Fluttershy: difficulty being in the spotlight.
See you next week as I inch closer and closer to Maud Pie’s debut. (If you couldn’t tell, I’m very excited to get to Maud Pie’s debut, but that won’t be until two weeks from now.)
Premise: Twilight Sparkle and Cadance plan on spending an ordinary day together without Equestria’s fate in the balance, but Discord gets in the way of their times by purporting to be ill.
This episode starts with Twilight Sparkle getting exciting news: a letter from Cadance confirming that the two will get to spend some quality time together as sisters-in-law this weekend. Then Fluttershy barges in sharing some exciting news: she’s been given a chance to observe these tiny creatures called Breezies, which serves both as leadup to It Ain’t Easy Being Breezies a few episodes later and as a reason for her to be absent from most of this episode, since Fluttershy is normally the one who keeps Discord’s eccentric ways in check. It’s interesting that the Breezies are being teased ahead of time, but it also makes sense since those creatures originated from one of the older MLP cartoons, and some fans would no doubt be excited to see them return. And finally, Pinkie Pie barges in sharing some exciting news: she got a flyer for a sale for used, broken patio furniture. This is nothing more than her being comically zany, breaking up the pace a little before this episode’s plot begins.
I may as well say here that since writing my review of Rarity Takes Manehattan which came out last week, I have kind of maybe gotten obsessed with Coco Pommel and how adorable she is. She hits a sweet spot of character cuteness by being meek and cutesy but not a full-out exaggerated smushy baby. After so many years, I finally know what it’s like to fixate on a minor character in MLP, like so many fans are prone to do. Maybe it’s weird for me to say, but I think part of the charm of this show is that every character, no matter how minor or trivial, has some set of fans out there who think they’re the coolest thing ever. Slice of Life a season from now is a celebration of that fact, and I plan on going as hard as I possibly can when reviewing it.
Season 4 Episode 9: Pinkie Apple Pie
In five words: Genetic relationship cemented as ambiguous.
Premise: Pinkie Pie discovers evidence that she may be distantly related to Applejack, and she sets out on a journey with Applejack’s family to discover if she really is.
You know what I find incredibly satisfying? When the very first scene of a MLP episode has something I can pick apart in depth, so that I don’t need to start with some empty fluff. This episode is a good example thereof.
Pinkie Pie: Whatcha doin’? Twilight Sparkle: AAA! Pinkie Pie: “AAA!” yourself! But that doesn’t answer my question, silly. Twilight Sparkle: Just some genealogical research. Pinkie Pie: Ohhhhh. (falls out of bookcase) Pinkie Pie: (whispers to Spike) I don’t know what that is. Spike: Genealogy is the study of family history! You know, where ponies come from, and who they’re related to.
While Rarity Takes Manehattan is one of the most adult-oriented episodes so far, by which I mean one more easily digestible for adults than for children, this one feels like a blast from the past with the strong amounts of slapstick humor and Pinkie Pie not knowing what a complex word means, leading Spike to explain it as though this were an educational TV series. By which I mean a show that was always unambiguously educational and didn’t just have an educational mandate of some sorts marked by an “e/i” symbol that was dropped after season 1. Not that this is a bad thing at all—it’s nice for MLP to vary the pace with its episodes.
In five words: Fluttershy becomes one-off vampire.
(Arguably I could have squeezed one more word in, but if I were to count two words connected by a hyphen as one word, I would be able to cheat very easily.)
Premise: Sweet Apple Acres has been run with an infestation of a certain animal species—I bet you can’t guess which one. Applejack wants to get rid of the bats, but Fluttershy doesn’t. An agreed-upon solution leads to surprising consequences.
She was so excited and proud, and THIS is what she’s met with.
This episode starts with Applejack confidently waiting for apple bucking day to begin. The moment the sun rises, she gets right to it and bucks some apples, basking in their delight for a few seconds until they turn out to all be rotten and mushy. It turns out that the nasty vampire fruit bats have returned. The intro to this episode sets Applejack as the proud traditionalist who likes things the way they are, in contrast to Fluttershy who she gets into a moral debate with.
Applejack rings the bell at her barn, saying this is a code red at Sweet Apple Acres, so the rest of the Mane 6 and Spike come aboard. It’s weird that Applejack’s immediate family aren’t the ones who come, but the episode gives a justification for that later on—a justification that allows this episode to focus on the Mane 6’s dynamics instead of the Apple family.
Premise: The Cutie Mark Crusaders prepare an opening routine for the Equestria Games, but when Diamond Tiara mocks Scootaloo for her inability to fly, they’re discouraged from going further.
Been a while since we last were at the Cutie Mark Crusaders’ school.
To start this episode, Cheerilee brings two special guests to the class she teaches: Ms. Harshwhinny and Rainbow Dash. They announce that the kids may get to take a part in the Equestria Games, specifically through a competition where they each need to come up with a flag-carrying routine, and the winning team gets to perform it in the games. This is the point where I remember that the Equestria Games are the other overarching plot of season 4—the one that doesn’t involve finding the keys for the mysterious chest, that is. But those plots do intersect in Rainbow Falls, which is a few episodes from now.
Ms. Harshwhinny and Rainbow Dash play off each other in fun ways as they explain the rules of the opening routine. Ms. Harshwhinny insists on keeping a reserved, professional attitude, while Rainbow Dash can’t control her excitement and brags about the time she carried the flag as a filly, which Scootaloo of course swoons over. When Ms. Harshwhinny mentions that Rainbow Dash will accompany the winning team to the Crystal Empire, the Crusaders’ faces light up one by one. To them, this is their chance to see the place they got a taste of when Spike wrangled them up in babysitting antics! And opportunities to go such places don’t come easy for them, being fillies and all.
Premise: The Mane 6 explore the ruins of Celestia and Luna’s old castle. Spooky shenanigans unwittingly ensue.
Some of the show’s seasons have the third episode directly follow up from the two-part premiere, either to tie some loose ends or to begin the season’s overall arc. This episode does both, showing that Twilight Sparkle has combed through every book in Ponyville and found no information about the chest that came from the Tree of Harmony. It never fully sinks in for Twilight that she can’t learn everything from books; it’s a cute little quirk of her character that she still resorts to books after all this time.
Twilight Sparkle having wings makes it easier to show when she’s hyper-excited.
Twilight Sparkle initially considers checking out the libraries in Canterlot, but then she gets a letter from Celestia saying she should visit the ruins of her and Luna’s old castle in the Everfree Forest. It’s the same castle we previously saw Nightmare Moon ravage in a flashback, which explains why it’s in ruins and makes for some nice attention to continuity. It’s also the same castle the Mane 6 first got the Elements of Harmony from, which I admittedly forgot until Rainbow Dash brings it up about six minutes in, then retroactively added to this paragraph. Spike is creeped out by this place, but Twilight Sparkle is overjoyed.
Time to begin analyzing season 4 of MLP:FiM! As I’ve said before, this is the only season that I followed live as it was happening, making it distinct from all the others in my mind. My reviews of these episodes therefore may read a little differently from the rest, with more commentary on how it felt watching them for the first time.
If you’re wondering how season 4 will be divided into posts, my tentative plan is to keep things simple and do two episodes per post all the way through, making part 41 the end of season 4. But it’s entirely possible that I’ll have enough to say about a certain episode that I’ll give it a post to itself, and in that case, I would also have to pick another episode to dedicate an entire post to, because there’s no way I’m squeezing three episodes into one post again. My episode reviews have become too detailed and thorough for that to be viable.
Season 4 Episode 1: Princess Twilight Sparkle, Part 1
This review discusses events up to early season 6—modest as far as spoilers go, but spoilers no less.
In five words: Twilight Sparkle adapts to change.
Premise: Now that the dust has settled, Twilight Sparkle must learn all the responsibilities that come with being a princess as a new threat closes in on Equestria.
Season 4 of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic immediately kicks off with showing a ramification of Twilight Sparkle becoming an alicorn princess that’s far less peachy and perfect than what we saw in the last few minutes of Magical Mystery Cure. Specifically, Twilight Sparkle clumsily practices flying with Rainbow Dash serving as her coach. This scene sets the tone for season 4’s overarching arc: the challenges Twilight Sparkle faces in her newfound princess role. It’s an arc whose handling thoroughly exceeded my expectations as I watched through season 4’s episodes week by week. I was so worried that the Twilight Sparkle we know and love would be overwritten with merch-driven princess shenanigans, but this opening scene already shows us this won’t be the case. Magical Mystery Cure is done and squared, so now we can go back to regular old MLP:FiM. And let me tell you, few things bring me more consistent joy and delight than regular old MLP:FiM.
To hammer in that this is still going to be the same show that bronies love so much, we get a silly little slapstick sequence where Twilight Sparkle flaps her wings too hard, loses control, and lands on a tree branch with googly eyes. This sequence serves a similar purpose to doors slamming Spike in the face shortly after the expository scene that opens the first episode: it tells viewers that this show will be far more than girly ponies doing girly pony things, and it’ll be filled with tons of slapstick and other such humor. In this case, the scene reinforces that the regular lighthearted tone of this show isn’t going anywhere, which was very reassuring to a random 14-year-old boy who was excitedly watching the premiere of the show’s fourth season and would later become the person who is writing the words you’re reading. And now here I am, not far off from turning 23 years old, analyzing the impact of this scene in far more depth than is probably necessary, all because this show is extremely super special and important to me.
But I probably shouldn’t waste too much time reflecting on memories that feel like a lifetime ago and then some. I probably sound like I’m clouded by childhood nostalgia here, but believe me, I love this show just as much as an adult as I did when I was a young teenager.