An Overthought Review of MLP:FIM Season 2, Episode 15.
Note: As usual, nothing here is objective, this is all just opinion.
0:00-1:29: I can already hear the shippers monopolizing on this scene.
Okay, let's just get this out of the way: yes, Fluttershy apparently tries to cover herself after Rainbow Dash steals her blanket despite the fact that she's naked most of the time anyway. Normally I'd be tempted to write it off as the fandom having dirty minds, but there's literally no reason for Fluttershy to react like that except. The entire joke is that there's no reason for her to cover herself like that. It wouldn't be the first time the show has pulled that sort of gag. "The Best Night Ever" had one as well.
Moving on to actual relevant things, I'm really happy that Fluttershy got part of the scene. While a lot of the focus of the episode is on Applejack, it avoids being exclusively focused on her, which is good. But the point of the scene is setting up how big of a deal the cider thing is. The fact that the entire town goes to the point of camping out in line allows the rest of the episode to make more sense. The fact that the cider is treated as dead serious business would be almost hilariously bizarre if it wasn't established just how important it is to the town.
Rainbow Dash also gets a nice little characterization moment, although it very nearly gets drowned out in all of her complaining about Pinkie. Despite the fact that Rainbow Dash is pretty much dead set on getting her hooves on the cider, she still goes to the trouble of going to get Fluttershy first, and then lets her go ahead of her in line, when it probably would have been trivial to have switched places with her.
2:01-5:00: Supply and Demand
The thing I said before about cider being serious business applies here as well. And lets face it, I can kinda sympathize with the frustration of the ponies who didn't get any. I mean, if you're going to have to sit in line for a ridiculous amount of time, it really sucks to finally get up there and not get anything. It's especially nasty for Rainbow Dash, as it seems that this happens to her pretty much every year. I have to admit that buying like a zillion mugs is a nasty thing for Pinkie to do, especially knowing that the cider typically runs out. It's like if Bill Gates was at the head of the line for the latest iWhatever (another Apple product, lol. That has to be an intentional joke from the writers), and used his vast resources to buy out the entire stock. Actually, that would be kind of hilarious.
But anyway, the scene where the cider runs out is actually pretty important for the rest of the episode to work; it not only creates an opening for the Flim Flam brothers to move in on the Apple Family's turf, but all the complaints from the townsponies help explain why Applejack is so dead set on earning their good graces back. We know from previous episodes that AJ doesn't really react well when she disappoints other ponies, so it kinda makes sense that she utterly rejects the Flim Flam's offer of cooperation; accepting it would be an admission that she's kinda let down the town by not producing enough cider, and that someone else can take her place. But more on that later.
It also sets up AJ's attitude towards selling the cider, namely the fact that she never compromises the quality of her product to meet demand. Again, it opens things up for the Flim Flam brothers to interfere with everything, but at the same time it's a pretty vital element of the episode's primary conflict, and it's what draws the line between her and the brothers. The fact that the town doesn't respond well is a less-that-subtle message about consumerism.
5:00 10:02: Trouble in Ponyville
And then the Flim Flam brothers show up out of nowhere. With a massive shout out to "The Music Man" in the process. I'm not quite sure how I feel about the song. On one hand, it's catchy and it introduces the brothers quite well. On the other hand, I really think that it went longer than it had to, particularly with the repetition in the chorus. If this would have been a part in a longer musical it would have been okay, but the episode only has about twenty minutes to cram everything in and it probably didn't need to spend so much of that on the song. It's not a bad song, it could just stand to be shorter.
That said, there are a lot of great little moments during the song, like when the camera zooms in on Berry Punch when one of the brothers points out that there's no cider anyway or when Rarity swoons and Spike catches her. There are also some little plot things during the song; most notably Granny Smith trying the Flim Flam brothers' cider and not hating it. It's a rather important point, because it shows that when the brothers aren't cutting corners, they're product isn't complete crap. There's no confirmation that it's as good as what the Apple Family makes, but it's good enough that Granny Smith didn't think it was terrible. The reason I bring it up is because the main conflict of this episode isn't entirely about the quality of the product; the primary issue at hand in the episode is not "who makes better cider". But again, I'll cover that when we actually get to the relevant part of the episode.
At the moment, the main problem is the question of whether the family is going to go into business with the brothers. Now, the kneejerk reaction is "of course not", because on it's face, it looks like this episode is about sticking with traditional methods, but that's really not the case. And really, the offer that the brothers make isn't entirely awful. Granted the split of the profits is pretty terrible, but with a little bit of haggling, they could theoretically come up with something decent. I mean, it wouldn't be a terrible call to let the brothers pick up the slack and make cider for the ponies that didn't get any of the first batch. I'm not a businessperson, so I don't know all the options at hand here, but my point is (and numerous people have pointed this out, so it's not just me) that there's almost certainly some arrangement that could me made which would benefit everyone involved, likely by generating profits for Flim and Flam, lessening the workload for the Apples, and making more cider for the ponies.
However, I think there are a couple of good reasons for them to reject the deal anyway. Putting aside the fact that they obviously don't want to part with their tradition, it's pretty understandable that they want to keep their business within the family rather than bringing in outsiders. Not to mention that they have zero reason to assume that Flim and Flam are all that trustworthy. I mean, the fact that the brothers start their offer with a really crappy split of the profits shows pretty well that they're only in this for the money rather than because they care all that much about what they're doing. Then throw in the fact that AJ (and the family in general) takes great pride in their abilities, and wouldn't want to lose their reputation in the town by resorting to a machine when it might compromise the quality of their product.
Of course, then when the family ultimately rejects the offer, we get some more characterization of the brothers. They jump right to "Fine, we'll just drive you out of business then", which pushes them into jerk territory moreso than if they had just been competition. But still, at this point they come across more as amoral businessponies who are just looking out for number one rather than real villains. Eliminating competition is pretty good business practice after all.
10:02-13:04: Oh, It. Is. ON!
I don't know why, but I find it hilarious when Flim and Flam break the fence again right as Granny finishes fixing it up. It just sort of highlights how little they really care about anything outside making money by means of hawking their cider. The scene is basically structured around Flim and Flam basically goading the Apples into a head-to-head competition. They're actually really smart about how they do it; they seem to know that Applejack and Big Macintosh are really unlikely to concede anything, so they target Apple Bloom and Granny Smith.
By having Granny Smith be the one who ultimately makes the bet, Applejack gets spared from the ignominy of being the one who loses the farm. It's shown pretty clearly that she believes that her cider is good enough that she doesn't have to prove herself in a contest, so having her be the one who caves and accepts the Flim Flam's challenge wouldn't fit her character at the moment.
The other important thing to note here is the nature of the challenge: it's purely one of "who can make the most cider". And it's actually pretty ingenious for them to structure it that way. The main problem that the Apples have run into is that they can't create enough product to meet demand, and Flim and Flam are attacking that weakness for all it's worth. Like I said before, the contest isn't at all about who makes better cider, the entire contest is about who can make more of that. The Flim Flams know they can win that contest because unlike the Apple Family they're perfectly willing to take shortcuts to sell more. That mentality (caring only about the numbers) is eventually what screws them over, but at the moment by removing quality as a criteria for victory, they're swinging the contest in their favor.
As a final note, I'm kinda curious why Applejack jumps to "if we lose, we'll lose the farm" after the challenge gets accepted. I might just be missing something, but I'm pretty sure that the bet was solely about cider production rights. Nothing implies that they have to leave the farm or stop selling anything else, so it's a bit weird that this assumption seems to be made throughout the entire episode. Even if the cider was an important part of Sweet Apple Acres' income, you'd think that they'd try to come up with an alternate revenue stream rather than jumping right to abandoning the farm.
13:04-21:28: There's no rule against it, after all.
Turns out that the Flim Flam brother were actually right that they could make more cider than the Apple family. So Twilight decides that it's time to find some loopholes. The whole "honorary family" thing is definitely stretching the rules a bit, but Flim and Flam don't seem to mind at all due to their extreme overconfidence. So yeah, while it's a bit of an unfair advantage to bring in reinforcements, it's really Flim and Flam's fault for allowing it. It doesn't help their case that they basically do it in the most condescending way possible. I was actually kind of hoping that after they made their "all of Equestria could help!" remark that Celestia and Luna would show up and fry them or something.
In any case, I'm totally willing to forgive the loopholing here because it really shows a lot of character development on Applejack's part. When you look back at "Applebuck Season" and her utter refusal to accept help from anyone, it's pretty obvious that she learned the lesson really well. The show isn't really big on continuity, but this is a pretty obvious followup. She doesn't hesitate to accept her friends' help, and the fact that she's close enough to consider them family is adorable.
Even once the other ponies get in on the competition, the show still capitalizes on the characterization; Twilight has been shown to be good with organization, and the way she delegates jobs to her friends really fits their strengths; Rainbow Dash is the athlete so she works the treadmill, Rarity sorts apples, etc. I know that Twilight has gotten a couple "Y U NO PICK ALL THE APPLES WITH MAGIC" responses after the display in "Applebuck Season", but it's worth noting that they can only go as fast as Rarity and Granny can sort the apples, so picking massive amounts really won't help much unless they can process them all faster. If they can't, they're stuck with a massive pile of apples that they can't really do anything with.
We all know how the Flim Flam brothers react; my first thought when they jacked up the power was that the tree they sucked up would ruin the machine, and when that didn't happen it was pretty obvious where things were going. Unfortunately, it's a bit predictable; as soon as they turned the quality control off I think everyone knew exactly what was going to happen. I have to admit that it was an interesting touch to make the Flim Flams actually win the competition, but we all knew that the cider was going to be disgusting. Of course, the fact that they're willing to basically sacrifice the quality of their product in favor of sheer numbers is pretty much the whole point of the scene; it shows that they really don't care about what they sell as long as they can sell a bunch of it, while the Apples actually take the trouble to make good cider and utterly refuse to stoop to the level of the competition. Later on it's even more clear, when they keep trying to sell the disgusting cider despite knowing that all the ponies think it's nasty.
But yeah, the brothers end up technically winning, and again, this sort of brings up the question of why everypony is equating "cider distribution rights" with "owning Sweet Apple Acres". I mean, Flim and Flam basically assume that the farm is theirs when they win even though that wasn't part of the agreement. Yeah, Applejack says that they need the proceeds from the cider to get through the winter, but that doesn't at all imply that the family is going to abandon the farm to the brothers rather than trying to think of some other way to make money. At the very least, they have no reason to help the ponies that are trying to put them out of business by handing the farm over. I have no idea why that's their first inclination when there are probably dozens of other things they could do to try to save the farm.
Moving on, this scene also pushes the Flim Flam brothers into more villainous territory; being an amoral businesspony is one thing, but gloating about how you're going to destroy someone's home in front of them and basically mocking them by telling them that you're better than they are at their life's work is just nasty. It's crossing the line from "looking out for number one" to "jerk". In fact, this might be a part of why the townsponies run the brothers out of town. Obviously the terrible cider is a major sticking point, but if you look at the background ponies in the scene where the Flim Flam's mock the Apple family they very clearly feel horrible about the fact that the Apple family is leaving. It's subtle, but it seems like they're recognizing that it's kinda their fault that this whole mess happened and part of their motivation for rejecting the brothers is because they feel bad about all their earlier complaining when they see how terrible the Apple family feels.
So in any case, Flim and Flam get run out of town, and all is well. Then we get what is probably the best letter to Celestia in the entire show thus far. There are two reasons I think it's awesome. The first is that it takes some serious stones on the part of the writers to put a moral like that in a kid's show. The second is that it's just a very interesting take on the concept of a moral in general. Yeah, Applejack didn't really learn anything, but the letter still highlights the point of the episode really well. It's rather nice twist that the town as a whole ends up learning the moral rather than a specific member of the cast. It's a really interesting way of doing things. Not to mention that "take pride in your work" is a moral I can totally get behind.
Now, I know a few people think that AJ's letter is pretty arrogant, and I can see how it might come across that way, but at the same time, she has a point: She was actually right about everything. From the beginning, her stance was "I'm not going to compromise the quality of my work just to be able to make more money off of it, I'm going to make it as good as I possibly can" from the beginning and over the course of the episode she sticks to that. Not to mention that the other half of her letter, the stuff about how she can count of her friends, is really a bit of an update on the lesson that she learned in "Applebuck Season". Even if she didn't learn anything new, it's definitely a way of pointing out how she's been applying her previous lessons. In short, her letter isn't so much about her learning a new lesson, but about a belief that she already had being validated.
Okay, there are a few things I'm rather on the fence about concerning this episode. A minor one is the running gag about Rainbow Dash not being able to get any cider. On one hand, the idea of her getting continually shafted is pretty funny, but on the other hand, I actually sympathized with her a fair bit. This is obviously something she looks forward to a lot, and seeing her basically get screwed over is actually kinda sad, especially when she goes as far as eating the dirt that the cider got spilled on. The fact that Pinkie is basically hoarding the stuff but doesn't offer RD any until there's already a surplus. The fact that RD gets some at the end of the episode softens it a bit, but still. Then again, how funny the gag is is up to the individual. I actually got some Trix Rabbit vibes from it, in how the universe basically conspired against her.
More importantly, I'm not quite sure how I feel about the Flim Flam brothers. The good part is that they basically hit the nail on the head with the "slimy snake oil salesman" sort of characterization; it fit the episode perfectly. The thing I'm a bit wobbly on is whether it was really necessary to have two of them. Aside from the mustache, there isn't really anything differentiating them; character-wise, I couldn't really see anything unique. They seemed to basically be the same character. It wasn't really detrimental to the show at all, but I'm still curious about why they decided to have two characters instead of one. They do get some nice banter in, and they do have different voices, so that's something, I guess. Not really a good or bad thing, just a curiosity.
Overall, this was a pretty strong episode; I enjoyed it more than I did the previous episode. There are a few minor problems, but nothing that really undermines it too badly.
- This episode is a great follow up on Applejack's development since previous episodes
- The brothers' machine isn't treated as being inherently a bad thing, which is a nice change of pace from most other similar plots of this kind.
- Best moral so far.
- The song goes on longer than it needs to.
- Everypony treats the contest as though it's for ownership of the entire farm, when that isn't actually the case.