An Overthought Review of MLP:FIM Season 2, Episode 14.
Note: Once again, this is purely opinion and interpretation. Also, there be spoilers.
0:00-1:13: We need some cheesy 80's training montage music here.
Hey, Applejack, where's your hat? Oh, Apple Bloom has it. Anyway, this scene is pretty much setup for the whole rodeo thing. Specifically, it goes to (partially) explain why AJ get so broken up about not winning the competition. The fact that she's got so many ribbons establishes that she's extremely competent, and that she has a pretty good reason for expecting to win some prizes at the big Rodeo in Canterlot. Of course, it also shows that she's not perfect, as she nicks one of the obstacles. I'll come back to the importance of that later.1:13-1:48: Title
1:48-3:51: IT'S OFFICIAL
Okay, let's face it, this is the scene that everybody is going to remember. And it isn't for no good reason; Derpy was all but created by the fanbase, so seeing that acknowledged in such a way is pretty awesome. I know that for a lot of people, it's not going to match that closely to their personal interpretation of the character, but I can hardly complain about that. The mere fact that the writers took the time to do something like this for the fans is an amazing gesture on their part, so I'm not going to make a big deal about whether they handled the character in a way that I like. I know that some people seem to be a bit put off by how "retarded" she sounds, but really, I think she's portrayed as just a bit of a klutzy ditz rather than as having any really mental issues. It was somewhat inevitable that she was going to be portrayed as not quite all there given that it's the most popular fan characterization, and I think her portrayal in the episode is fairly consistent with how the fans portray her.
Anyway, the scene with Derpy is pretty funny, although I think it goes on a bit longer than it needs to. Still, the entire thing has some great physical humor, and for some reason I find it adorable when she sticks her head into the hole to see if Rainbow Dash is okay. Not to mention that I laughed my head off when Derpy broke the floor just by sitting and then dragged Rainbow Dash into the hole with her.
But onto the actual plot relevant stuff. This scene goes a long way toward explaining why Applejack reacts the way she does when she doesn't fair as well at the rodeo as she hopes. First off, the town throws this big sendoff for her, so naturally she's going to feel bad when she doesn't live up to their expectations. Second, and more importantly, she promises to contribute her winnings to fixing up the town hall. As we learned in "Applebuck Season", Applejack really really doesn't like leaving ponies in the lurch after offering them her help, so once she tells the town that she'll bring money back, she's going to bring the money back. Someone over on the Tvtropes forum actually pointed out how this fits into her Element of Honesty: she doesn't want to make herself into a liar by not giving the help that she promised.
The other thing is that her confidence that she'll bring back some cash isn't entirely unfounded. We see in the opening scene that she's won first prize a bunch of times (although we don't know if it's in this particular rodeo, but still), and the town basically treats her as their top athlete, so it isn't just Rainbow Dash-esque posturing and ego talking when she says she'll bring money back. She has every reason to believe that she'll actually win.3:51-4:55: The Send-off
There isn't a whole lot going on in this scene, although it definitely builds up some more pressure on Applejack to do well in the rodeo, as everypony seems to be working on the assumption that she's going to win. The only one that doesn't is Twilight, who goes with the standard "just do your best". It's subtle bit of foreshadowing that AJ isn't going to win, although that's kinda obvious, and only becomes more and more obvious as the episode proceeds. It basically just compounds AJ's eventual embarrassment at her failure; doing badly is a lot harder to swallow when everyone just assumes matter of factly that you're going to do real well. It's kinda weird that no one from the town is attending the rodeo, given that in the past they managed to do stuff like go to Cloudsdale for Rainbow Dash's flying competition, but we'll just attribute that to offscreen stuff that needs to be done, because the plot doesn't work otherwise.4:55-7:05: Oh come on Applejack, you could have given them a little more info.
Given that the town is throwing a party for AJ, it's kinda understandable that she wouldn't want to come back having totally not accomplished her goals. I mean, if you knew that the entire town was planning a party to celebrate something that you actually failed at, you'd probably be reluctant to show up.
Anyway, there are some great gags in the first half of this, especially Pinkie's practicing her surprised face and then messing it up anyway. There's also the telegram pony. The way Pinkie goes to the trouble of giving him cake is just hilarious for some reason. It's a nice little detail.
Then there's the telegram, proper. It's incredibly brief, and explains pretty much nothing. The entire episode basically revolves around the fact that they assume that she intends to leave for good. I don't think that's the case; most likely she planned to come back after she earned the cash and didn't include the details in her letter because she didn't want them suspecting what she was trying to do. I mean, a message like "I'll be back in a month with the money" is a bit suspicious. Also, it's a telegram, which implies that AJ had to pay by the letter, so of course she's going to make it short. I can't honestly buy that AJ would permanently leave her family over something like this; it would be out of character for her to just up and leave, so I'm assuming that she just did a bad job communicating her plan.
But still, the important thing is that the cast thinks they're on the verge of losing her; that's what drives the plot. And it isn't an unreasonable assumption; Applejack's telegram doesn't include any indication that she's coming back anytime soon. It's actually pretty sweet the way the cast decided to just drop everything to go bring their friend back; it really drives home how much they care for her. Rainbow Dash's reaction is especially cool in light of the fact that her past episodes haven't exactly shown her good side. Seeing that her first reaction to hearing that her friend is gone is "well, let's find her" is a good reminder that she really does care.
Also, Big Mac, Apple Bloom, and Granny Smith have like the saddest expressions ever. 7:05-8:02: AppleQuest!
You'd think somepony would recognize Applejack, given that it turns out that she apparently won more ribbons than anyone else in the rodeo, even if she didn't get first in anything. As it is, precisely one pony actually notices it. Which is a bit weird. But oblivious rodeo attendees aside, this is a pretty well-executed silent scene; there's no dialogue, yet you know exactly what's going on during every part of it. It's fairly simple, but it doesn't need to be more complex. It's quick, and efficiently establishes that Applejack hopped on a train to go someplace after the rodeo. Dialogue isn't really needed to get that done.8:02- : You'd think they'd have bathrooms on the train
Interestingly enough, the brief dialogue at the start of this scene actually creates a bit of foreshadowing. The ponies talk about how terrible it would be to come back without Applejack after they promised they'd bring her back, and that's very similar to the precise reason that Applejack didn't come back. She promised the town something and didn't want to come back without it.
I was caught off guard by the whole joke about Pinkie having to use the bathroom. Not that it was a bad joke (it was actually pretty funny), but I just didn't expect a show aimed at little girls to go there. Or rather, I didn't expect them to make it into a plot point. Pinkie needing a toilet on the train was a cute joke, and I didn't really give it a second thought. Then it turned out that Applejack was in there, and I did a double take. It's a great moment; I love how they take what looks like a throwaway joke and incorporate it into the plot.
Applejack is obviously somewhat reluctant to talk about what happened, regardless of how her friends are obviously incredibly worried about her. It's a bit odd that she doesn't even make an attempt to reassure them of anything, but she's kinda in shock from the fact that they tracked her down. Which is also odd, as you'd think she'd know them well enough to assume that they wouldn't just sit around after she announced that she was leaving the town.
There are couple little interesting things here that make a lot more sense in retrospect. Cherry's statement that she'd never seen anypony win so many ribbons is a pretty good red herring; it throws the viewer off the track of assuming that Applejack's disappearance has anything to do with her performance at the rodeo. This scene gives every indication that she performed quite well. It also reveals (in retrospect), just how embarrassed AJ is at her failure; we know that working the apple farm is basically her life, so the fact that she's willing to work on a cherry ranch means that she's stooping pretty low to pay her way.
It also establishes Applejack's extreme reluctance to tell the ponies about anything. I think that her complete silence on the matter is a bit extreme for her as she's usually more reasonable, but there are a few reasons that she might want to keep quiet. The big one is that if she lets too much go they might figure out what's going on, which she obviously doesn't want. The other one is that she might feel like she's misleading them if she withholds only some of the info, so she just decides to be totally quiet about it. I still think it's a bit odd; I feel like she'd be more likely to pull a "Some things happened that I'd rather not talk about, so I'll be back later". But still, it's not a big deal, and the plot kinda hinges on the rest of the cast believing that AJ is leaving for good.
This scene also establishes the basic plan for the rest of the cast: figure out what the heck happened by getting AJ to tell them. And for the most part, that's a pretty good plan. AJ is pretty obviously having some issues, and it isn't a bad thing for her friends to try to get her to talk about it. It's really the only option at this point. It does lead to a bit of an issue, but I'll get to that later.8:02-13:43: "Pinkie, how many times I gotta tell you, you can't be in the-" Wait. She is in the show. Nevermind.
It's kinda hilarious that the cast goes to the trouble of getting jobs at the same place as AJ for the sole purpose of having an opportunity to talk to her, but it's a good way of showing the lengths they'll go to to get her back, which is pretty cool.
Of course, it's fairly obvious that the entire setting here is basically built to set up the massive shout out to the famous chocolate conveyer belt scene from I Love Lucy (go look it up on youtube if you haven't seen it). That's hardly a bad thing, as the inherent cartooniness of the gag translates really well into an actual cartoon. It's a nice contrast with the somewhat serious conversation going on with Applejack.
Speaking of which, the ponies' plan starts up here, trying to talk to AJ about why she left by segueing into it from other subjects. It's just about the most subtle way of doing it; they're basically just asking her why she left. If you look closer at the subject matter, you can also see that they're primarily concerned if it's their fault; the obvious intent is that they want to make amends for any insult or offense they may have given AJ. It might not seem like much, but it's pretty important that they start small before escalating, as we see at the end of the scene when Rainbow Dash decides that they need to stop being so nice about it.
AJ is still entirely reluctant to discuss it, and her frustration with her friends is understandable as they indirectly caused the enormous mess by way of the conveyer belt gag. Which is, by the way, another good example of taking a joke and working it into the plot. It's not a huge deal, but it's nice to see that that gags aren't totally unrelated to the rest of the show.13:43-15:31: Escalation
Okay, I'm not gonna lie. This scene bugs me. Specifically, the way the other ponies essentially weaponize Pinkie's annoyingness in an attempt to get Applejack to spill the beans. The entire tactic of "We're going to cause AJ mental distress until she would rather talk than put up with it any more" just rubs me the wrong way. AJ has made it entirely clear that she'd rather not talk about what happened, and the fact that her friends decide to attempt to coerce her into talking feels like a rather blatant disrespect for AJ's desire for privacy. Now, I'm not trying to say that AJ is right for not telling anypony what's going on. She's not; she should admit what she's trying to do and apologize for not being able to get the money, or at the very least tell them that she'll come back to Ponyville in two weeks or whatever. But at the same time, that doesn't excuse the rest of the cast's decision to browbeat her into talking about something she clearly doesn't want to discuss. She's quite clearly in some degree of distress as is, and making it worse is unnecessarily mean, especially when they could have used other methods. I mean, sitting her down and telling her that her family was reduced to tears by the telegram would have been a bit more effective than trying to bother her so much that she cracks.
That said, It's nowhere near as bad as it could have been. While I did get a slight bit of "Mysterious Mare Do Well" vibes from the plan, this episode handles it much better. For one, it doesn't use the plan as the first resort; they rest of the cast at least makes an attempt asking nicely and just talking to AJ before resorting to this plan. The other mitigating factor is that they're kinda in a rush here and are basically just making up plans as they go; they don't really have time to come up with anything more elaborate. It also helps that it's Rainbow Dash who came up with the plan; it's by far the most in-character for her to come up with this sort of insensitive plan. Another point in the scene's favor is that like "Baby Cakes" Pinkie's annoyingness is intentional and actually identified as such in the show. Whether or not she's actually annoying (as in, she annoys the viewer as well as AJ) depends on the individual viewer.
The only other thing that bugs me about it is that Twilight and Fluttershy were apparently totally on board with it. You'd think that Fluttershy wouldn't like the idea, but desperate times call for desperate measures, I guess. AJ didn't really help her position either, as she doesn't even seem apologetic; she's actually pretty harsh to her friends, which in turn makes them a bit more desperate. In short, the scene still rubs me the wrong way a bit, but it could have been a lot worse.
AJ ultimately kinda gives in, and we get the Pinkie Promise, which is moderately important in the next scene. Also, the fact that Rainbow Dash is wearing earplugs during Pinkie's spiel is hilarious.15:31- :The animators must have had a lot of fun with this scene.
Okay, so Applejack is once again nowhere to be found. Despite the fact that she technically didn't break her promise, the fact that she ran out on them is still pretty deceptive, which shows just how freaked out AJ is over this whole thing. You know it must be serious if she's willing to pull something like this to get out of spilling the beans. Also, Pinkie freaks right the heck out, which is pretty par for the course given how seriously she takes this sort of thing. Remember her whole secret thing from "Green Isn't Your Color"?
But the obvious draw of this scene is the action-movie caliber chase scene. It's choreographed (not sure that's the right word, but whatever) amazingly, and it's a lot of fun to watch. At the same time, there are plenty of little gags all over it that make it even more amusing. Like Applejack's "get the heck out of Dodge" joke, which was actually set up a few scenes earlier when Twilight identifies the town as "Dodge Junction". Then there's AJ and Twilight getting a bidding war over the ponies pulling AJ's cart (despite AJ having no money, what?)
The scene were Pinkie jumps over to AJ's carriage is also pretty funny, as AJ has to weasel her way out of her promise, which again, shows that she's dead serious about this. The element of Honesty isn't going to pull something like that unless she means business. I know there have been a few waves over AJ's "I can't tell you the truth" thing, but it wouldn't be the first time that pony had difficulty living up to her element. Although at the same time, AJ isn't really lying, she's just not talking, which is a marked difference from say, Rarity's approach to a similar situation in "Sweet and Elite". Also, Pinkie's uberquick "RARITYCATCHME" at the end and subsequent squashing is hilarious.
The train thing is another great example of that "gag getting worked into the plot" thing I mentioned earlier. It's a bit more an action-movie setpiece than a gag, but it's the same idea. At first it seems like it's just tossed in there because no western themed chase scene would be complete without one, but it leads directly to Twilight, Rainbow Dash, and Fluttershy catching up to AJ when all the ponies quit on her and Fluttershy and Dash just fly right over the train.
But anyway, it's only when Dash finally catches up and tackles Applejack that we finally figure out what's going on. Or at least, that would be what happened if it wasn't pretty easy to figure out what happened, but whatever. When Applejack finally explains what happened, it's a real testament to the skill of her voice actress; she just sounds incredibly humiliated and disappointed in herself. It also really shows that her disappointment is just as much if not more due to her failure to bring money back to the town than to the fact that she didn't win first prize.
It's a really great piece of characterization for Applejack, one that really build on the end of "Applebuck Season". Unlike Rainbow Dash, Applejack is more disappointed in the fact that she let down ponies who were relying on her. It's definitely related to "Applebuck Season", but it develops that same aspect of her character in a different direction. In that episode, Applejack was driven primarily by a sense of personal pride; it's not necessarily a desire to be the best, but a desire to protect her reputation. She was the most reliable pony in Ponyville, and she's not about to lose that reputation. Here it's less about her reputation, and more about the fact that she failed in her stated objective. Again, it relates back to her element: she feels like a liar because she said she'd bring money back. Her decision to earn the money back is basically due to her desire to be true to her word. It's a really great exploration of her character.
The tail end of the scene is also incredibly heartwarming as the other ponies reaffirm how much Applejack means to them. Fluttershy's "hole in our hearts" line is a bit sappy, but it works, because it's Fluttershy. And the fact that Rainbow Dash is totally aware of how sappy makes it a lot more palatable. It's a cute way to end the scene.20:44-21:05: Homecoming
The moral is pretty standard, so I don't have a lot to say about that. I will say that it's totally adorable how like the entire town is waiting for Applejack's return. They really do appreciate her, even if she didn't manage to get the money for the town hall. Her family's reactions to her return are especially heartwarming, although it's kinda weird that Big Macintosh's first reaction is to dogpile on top of her. But yeah, the fact that the whole town turned up to welcome her home is a nice touch. 21:05-21:28: Oh right, there were two other ponies.
Not much to say about this scene, other than the mere fact that it happens at all is a pretty good joke, as most people had probably completely forgotten that Pinkie and Rarity were still stuck out in the desert. And it's still amusing that Pinkie is finally treated as annoying by the other characters.Other Stuff:
Okay, there's one other pseudo problem that I had with this episode. It's nothing major, but it's kinda stuck in the back of my mind, so it's worth noting. The thing is this: The episode never makes it clear whether Applejack was planning to leave Ponyville permanently. It makes a lot more sense that she isn't, and that's what I'm assuming. It would be incredibly petty of her to abandon her family and friends over something like this; yeah she's disappointed in herself, but vanishing completely is way too much of an overreaction for her.
The thing is that if she wasn't planning on leaving permanently, the fact that she doesn't mention it makes no sense. I get that she wants to be secretive, but "My return will be delayed; see y'all in a week" is definitely going to raise fewer questions than "I'm not coming back". The rest of the cast probably wouldn't have pressed her so hard if they thought she would be back earlier. If AJ would have just said that she'd come back to town in a week and didn't want to explain why at that time, I'm guessing that they probably would have been curious, but would have been a lot more inclined to trust her. As is, she gives no indication that she's ever coming back, which naturally isn't going to get her friends to leave her alone. AJ has enough common sense to realize that she'll get a lot more privacy if she gives them something, even if it's just "I'll come back to town next month, okay?"
I get that the episode basically requires the cast to assume she's leaving for good, but it just seems like if she isn't leaving for good, she isn't even making a token effort to inform her friends of that fact, even though it would help her. The alternative is that she's genuinely planning to leave Ponyville, which makes even less sense and is startlingly out of character for Applejack. She's way too down to earth to abandon her entire life because she botched a rodeo. It's not an enormous issue, it just seems weird to me.
Lastly, what kind of el cheapo rodeo doesn't award prize money for any place other than first? I mean, this is a national competition. You'd expect that at least the top 3 prizes would have some sort of money. And while we're at it, I gotta point out that AJ apparently did pretty well regardless. If Cherry's statement about the ribbons is accurate, AJ got more ribbons than any other pony, which implies that the other ponies in the competition were more specialized and that AJ is more of a jack of all trades. (Or an Applejack of all trades. I'm sorry, I couldn't not say it.) So basically, she did well enough to place in every event, while the ponies that got first place apparently didn't do very well in other events. So AJ is way more well rounded. The intro scene showed that off pretty well: she does pretty good at practice, but not perfect. She bumps one of the obstacles, which is just the sort of thing that mars a perfect run and puts you out of first place. Also, she didn't have all that many blue ribbons, which implies that she was more specialized in past years; she spread herself too thin this time around.
So yeah, TL;DR, overall this is a really solid episode that just has one or two particularly noticeable flaws.Summary:
- The gags are actually worked into the plot rather than just being randomly tossed in. They're also hilarious.
- Applejack's character is developed really nicely.
- The carriage chase scene is awesome
- Derpy is now canon. Regardless of how you like the portrayal, it's just cool that the writers took the time to put her in there.Cons:
- The way the cast tries to coerce Applejack into telling them what's going on seems more mean than it has to be.
- There's a bit of ambiguity over whether AJ was leaving permanently or not, and it makes some of her actions seem a bit odd
- Pinkie's in-show annoyingness borders on actual annoyingness at some points, although that depends on the viewer