"Hearts and Hooves Day"
An Overthought Review of MLP:FIM Season 2, Episode 17.
Note: As usual this is pretty much all personal preference stuff.
0:00-00:49: What they don't show you is the seven hours of cleanup
Well, the big establishing scene is the fact that it's Hearts and Hooves day, and that H&H is, for all intents and purposes, pretty much analogous to Valentine's day. It also establishes the CMC's affection for Cheerilee which is both adorable, and also rather important for the rest of the episode, as the whole "let's set her up with somepony" is basically brought about because they think she deserves to have a coltfriend. And as usual, it's nice to see the CMC simply hanging out with each other and having fun rather than worrying about their cutie marks. The second season has been a marked improvement in that regard.
Also, the way they try to put the enormous card into the normal envelope is hilarious.
Also also, in the very opening shot, if you look closely you can see Lyra and Bon Bon standing together in the background. Normally I wouldn't make much of it, but this is the Valentine's day episode after all...
00:49-1:24: Title Sequence
1:24-2:57: It's gonna be a pain sweeping up all that glitter
Okay, first off, the chubby gray pony in the back corner of the class is a pimp. Twist is all over him, and the other pony in the back row is apparently saddened by the fact that Twist got to him first. Then there's the fact that the pony right behind Diamond Tiara is apparently offering her a card. And then Cheerilee makes some hilarious faces when she reacts to the CMC's card, not to mention their reaction when they learn that Cheerilee is single.
It really is kinda sweet that they like her so much; it's a nice thing to see after previous episodes where they seemed largely ambivalent. (It doesn't help that Cheerilee gets a lot of the blame for the bullying, even though most of it happens when she isn't around) It goes past just being fond of her into actually caring for her well-being and thinking she deserves better than what she has. Seeing that they care enough about her that they go to all this trouble trying to make her happier is a nice, if extremely misguided, gesture. Of course, the CMC being the CMC, you just know that their idea is going to fail horribly.
2:57- 4:42: Musical break!
And the CMC finally get their own song that isn't intentionally horrible. Or rather, Sweetie Belle sings and Apple Bloom and Scootaloo do the backup vocals, which makes perfect sense because Sweetie Belle has always been the best singer anyway. The real draw of the song isn't the song itself; it's nice, but it's nothing spectacular. The good stuff is what's happening on the screen, starting with the wide shot of the town. You can see both Lyra and Bon Bon standing together, as well as Derpy standing with Doctor Whooves; I find it pretty hard to believe that that's a coincidence, especially since "The Last Roundup" and "The Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000" included nods to Derpy and Doctor Whooves, respectively.
The animators are really stretching themselves here. They toss out a pretty wide variety of character models, expressions, clothes, backgrounds and other stuff as the go back and forth between all the different ponies that the CMC consider. None of it is really all that relevant, but it's a nice opportunity to experiment with the designs and see the kinds of weirdness that the animators can come up with without seeming shoehorned in.
Of course, there are all sorts of weird little things going on during the song as well. Apparently Equestria has arcades, or at least arcade machines that sit out in the town square for some reason. More disturbingly, Sweetie Belle apparently interrupts a funeral when she jumps on the old pony's back. I mean, that's pretty dark for My Little Pony. And unlike the apparent cancer pony from last episode, there really isn't much wiggle room here; the old pony has a friggin' priest collar, and he's standing next to a casket. Unless we really want to stretch it and claim they're rehearsing a play or something it's pretty unavoidable. And really, it's pretty impressive that they managed to get away with including it.
Anyway, there are a couple other hilarious things going on here. Caramel has a marefriend, which shoves about half of the m/m shipping in the fandom into alternate continuity (it's not like it's gonna stop them). The clown and the disco ponies are both awesome just by their designs, and the jelly-obsessed pony is just one of the bizarrely humorous things that makes the show so accessible; the absurdity of a pony so obsessed with jelly that he sits in a giant jar of it is pretty funny whether you're a little girl or a 25-year-old guy.
Once pretty much every other pony is out of the running, they finally settle on Big Mac. He's the obvious choice, being Ponyville's most eligible bachelor. The little skipping thing they do when they find out he's single is absolutely adorable, and the way the song grinds to a halt as Apple Bloom realizes that it's her brother they're talking about serves as a punchline to the sequence.
4:42-5:24: Cutie Mark Crusader Matchmakers Yay!
Well, the plan is pretty simple here: get Big Mac and Cheerilee together in the same place and let love blossom. Not much really happens here that we didn't already know. We get to see that Big Mac is apparently a bit more efficient at bucking apples than Applejack is; he gets more apples out the tree with each kick and carries more of them at once. He's also shy, but given that he pretty much never talks, we could assume that much. Either that or he's just quiet and the CMC interpret it as shyness, but Apple Bloom probably knows what's up with him. The scene largely functions to explain what's going to happen later. It's honestly kind of superfluous, but it's so short that it really doesn't mess up the pacing much.
So the CMC trick Cheerilee and Big Macintosh into showing up the gazebo where they've somehow managed to put together a surprisingly nice brunch. While the plan is rather simple, it actually makes sense in this context. Cheerilee is either unnaturally gullible or just has a high tolerance for weirdness ("Family Appreciation Day" could imply either), and Big Macintosh just seems like he probably wouldn't raise any questions even if he were suspicious.
I'm pretty sure that the CMC's reactions to the scene basically mirror that of a lot of the fans; this would be the first time that any actual romance factored into the show. That in and of itself could be either a great or horrible thing depending on the viewer, and fortunately the episode more or less sidesteps that issue, but I'll come back to that later. Mac and Cheerilee actually build up a fair amount of tension here; you could almost believe that something is actually going to happen, especially with the the obviously seductive expression Cheerilee has right before everything crumbles.
And while Mac ends up friend zoned by Cheerilee, it does show that they apparently know each other well enough that they consider each other friends. It's not much, but it does imply that there's a bit of interaction between side characters other than that which we actually see; it's really easy to assume that say, the Apple family doesn't really do much other than what we see them do in the actual episodes. This is a reminder that yeah, Big Macintosh probably does do things other than chill on the farm and has his own circle of friends. Same goes for Cheerilee; it shows that she has some sort of life outside the school. It's subtle, but it makes the characters feel more complete; it gives Cheerilee more depth than just "the teacher pony".
Of course, if they're already friends, it begs the question of why their interaction is so awkward. My theory is that it's the setting that's awkward. Given the fact that it's Hearts and Hooves Day, and the CMC are terrible liars, Big Mac and Cheerilee probably know exactly what's going on (on the second attempt, Cheerilee definitely knows, as she says they should just humor the CMC), and they find it awkward that their friendship is being put in such an obvious romantic context. I know I'd find it awkward if somebody tried to set me up on a date with one of my platonic female friends.
7:36-8:31: Love Potion Number Nine
Seriously, Twilight? You should know better than to give those three the recipe for a love potion. I mean, come on. There's no way that this could possibly end well. My best guess is that she was just happy that they were asking about a book and didn't really hesitate to hand it over. Either that or she's inexplicably assuming that they'll actually read the rest of the story before they actually attempt to make the potion.
That aside, this sort of marks the point where the CMC lose track of their actual goal. The original goal was "find Cheerilee a romantic partner so that she'll be happy". They seem to have forgotten the second half of that mission and settled on "get Cheerilee into a relationship at all costs". Their first attempt fit the actual plan; their new plan shows that their losing focus, which is important because the moral doesn't make any sense otherwise. There wasn't really anything wrong with their primary idea; it's only when they force it that it's a bad thing.
8:31-12:07: I think my ears are about to fall off.
Okay, this is minor, but the show does a cool thing with the potion components. All of the things that go into it are fanciful-sounding (cloud, rainbow, pegasus feather), but in the context of the show they're actually pretty mundane. Also, I'm just going to note that apparently it wasn't much of a big deal for Scootaloo to lose the feather. "Read it and Weep" did show that pegasus wings have feather-bone kinda things, but not in every feather, so apparently they don't need all the feathers. It's just a reminder of how magical the show is that the normally fantastical ingredient is something that's pretty common in the setting. Especially after "Sonic Rainboom" where we see that rainbows are actually made that way, and vacuuming the color out of one doesn't seem that strange.
It's interesting that Apple Bloom is hesitant to use the potion; I'm assuming that that's in there because it explains the motivation behind it a bit better: they aren't necessarily trying to force the relationship, they just see it as a nudge. They're obviously still missing the point, but at least they aren't fully aware of the implications. Cheerilee is pretty much entirely aware of what they're trying to pull, which is good because she'd seem a bit dense otherwise. Not to mention that her decision to humor her students keeps the plot going.
The great thing about seeing the love potion kick in is that the way that it backfires is almost immediately obvious. Yeah, there's about a minute or so where it looks like everything is going pretty well, but it's only long enough for the CMC to get caught in the midst of their celebration when the side effects kick in. It makes it that much more hilarious when things go south. The negative repercussions are immediate and obvious. Of course, that doesn't change the fact that the show is pushing it a bit on the mushy nicknames.
I will say that the fact that pretty much every character in the show reacts with the same sort of revulsion that the audience is inevitably going to have goes quite a long way in making it less painful. If it wasn't for the fact that the show constantly acknowledges how horrible the nicknaming is, it would be nigh unwatchable. Even as is, it's...uncomfortable at points. Cheerilee isn't too bad; she's kind of loopy and overenthusiastic so it sounds relatively natural coming from her. But Big Macintosh...it's like the writers want to punish us for wanting him to have more dialogue. As funny as it is, I can't help but cringe whenever he starts talking. It just doesn't fit him at all.
At the very least, the CMC at least realize that they've done something horribly wrong. Most people who watch this are probably going to know that the love potion isn't going to work right, so there's no real reason to spend much time trying to convince the audience that things are going to work. It's way more efficient to just show how horrible the side effects are and move on to trying to fix the problem.
12:07-14:00: Probably should have read the whole story ahead of time.
Twilight probably should have told the CMC that the potion turned out to actually be a poison; it would have saved a lot of trouble. There are all sorts of bizarre implications for the universe contained in the story, but thebig one is the fact that there's a holiday based around the destruction of a kingdom. I mean, it seems a bit weird to have a holiday based on a love potion incident, but it kinda makes sense when you think about it. I mean, if using a love potion led to all of these disasters, it makes sense that they'd have a holiday that celebrates love that occurs naturally like it's supposed to. I mean, if you drive home the point that love happens on its own, there's a lot less chance of more love potion shenanigans happening. Unfortunately the CMC didn't get the point soon enough.
At least they do realize that this is a very bad thing. Apple Bloom's imagination goes hilariously far; apparently the entire town will crumble due to Cheerilee and Big Mac's absence. The sequence is so over the top that it's kind of awesome. Although given how easily Ponyville gets destroyed they might not be that far off. But all that is irrelevant, because at the end of the imagination sequence we get Apple Bloom flailing her forelegs in the air. The animation, combined with the sound effects, is the most hilarious moment in the episode.
The CMC also seem to have shot themselves in the foot by choosing Big Macintosh as their target; if the spell can only be broken by keeping them apart for an hour you just know they're going to have a lot of trouble. Of course, this raises more questions about the backstory: how the heck did the prince and princess ruin the kingdom that fast? I mean, unless they just didn't sleep at all, you'd think they'd break the spell after a day or two when they go to bed. Maybe the spell adapts to cover that loophole or something. Or maybe the writers just didn't intend for us to really think of it that hard beyond the initial annoying repercussions. Those horrible mushy nicknames could totally start a war or something.
14:00-16:02: Oh yeah, lets go to Sugarcube Corner. That's just what we need. Even more sweetness.
If you're going to pitch a wedding to the lovebirds, you could have at least gone with the standard "the groom can't see the bride the day of the wedding" thing. Would've solved the whole problem without having to resort to attempts to phsycially restrain Big Macintosh. I'm also really happy that Mrs. Cake is freaked out by Big Mac and Cheerilee's mushiness; if there's anyone in the recurring cast who'd be sympathetic to the mushiness, it's probably her (you know, being happily married and everything), so if she finds it overkill, you know something weird is up. Of course, she doesn't find it so weird that she realizes something is horribly wrong, but still.
The wedding thing is a....not quite a bad idea. Sweetie Belle actually kinda does have a point that it's a good excuse for them to stay apart that they'll actually agree to. I mean, it's obviously not going to be that simple, and the consequences if they fail are pretty spectacular. It would be a rather large problem if the spell ended up getting broken after they tied the knot. Now that the game plan is established, let's see how well it works.
16:02-16:23: Her sister is going to love this...
It's kinda bizarre that Rarity is nowhere to be seen. She lives and works in the boutique, so the fact that she's not here is kinda weird, especially as it would be easy to capitalize on her reaction to Sweetie Belle trapping Cheerilee in the dressing room. Either way, Rarity isn't going to be happy when she gets back. I'm also curious why Sweetie Belle doesn't try to get Cheerilee to try everything on and waste time that way before trapping her. I think that piling crap in front of the door would clue her into the fact that Sweetie is plotting something.
16:23-17:04: At least he didn't get it out of a Cracker Jack box
Okay, Mac's headshaking here is hilarious to me for some reason, as are Apple Bloom's rather pitiful attempts at keeping Mac from buying anything. If the best you can come up with to "make diamonds sound bad" is "too shiny" you should probably let somebody else do it. And once again, even the background ponies are vaguely disgusted by the mushiness.
17:04-21:01: The unstoppable pony
Yeah, Big Mac is confirmed for super strength. Some people attribute his ability to tow the house to the love potion, but I doubt that because it doesn't make any sense for a love potion to do that, and we've seen other earth ponies do some pretty ridiculous stuff. I mean, if four ponies can pull a train (which granted, it has wheels, but also likely weighs dozens of times as much) for an extended period of time, Big Mac dragging a house for a short while doesn't seem like much of a stretch. This scene also has the inherent hilarity of Big Mac doing that same sort of happy skipping thing that Pinkie does a lot of the time. It's also hilarious that after she ties him to the house, Apple Bloom grabs onto him, as if that's going to slow him down more or something.
The pit is actually probably the best idea they come up with, as Big Mac's strength won't help him too much to get out of it, so it really will slow him down. Not sure where they found a mattress to put at the bottom, though. It's surprising that Sweetie and Scootaloo didn't get pit-digging cutie marks by digging it so quickly. But unfortunately, the pit isn't deep enough to keep Cheerilee from hearing him and getting the motivation to bust out of the dressing room. Also, she seems to have developed an aversion to opening doors, instead electing to just knock them right out of the wall.
The result is that the CMC foolishly try to keep their teacher from seeing Big Mac, which results only in a really funny shot of her knocking them all into the air in slow motion. Fortunately enough, the whole mess delayed her long enough for the potion to wear off, leaving Big Mac and Cheerilee wondering why on earth they're apparently getting married in a hole in the ground.
The resulting moral, that you can't force two people to fall in love because love should happen naturally, is perfectly good, although it's rather bizarre for the show. Given that the morals are targeted at young girls, it's a bit odd to have that as the lesson of the day, as I'm quite sure that most girls don't have access to love potions. I get that they might be tempted to try setting up their brother or something, but in the vast majority of real life cases, it isn't really all that applicable.
An interesting take I've heard on it is that it's actually a message from the writers to the shippers in the fanbase who are rather obsessed with pairing certain ponies in fanfic and whatnot, but I'm not sure that really works. First off, I doubt that the writers would co-opt an entire episode to send a message to the peripheral audience. Little nods like the Derpy Hooves scene work okay, but the morals are kinda the point of the show, and I doubt they'd mess with them over something like that.
The other problem is that the main issue in the episode is the fact that the relationship is so forced; the issue isn't that the CMC tried to set up Cheerilee with Big Mac, it's that they went too far in trying to accomplish it. While yeah, some shippers go waaaaay overboard defending certain pairings, as a general rule shipping between characters who aren't in canon relationships don't have to be forced. It's entirely possible for someone to write a story about say, Rarity and Big Macintosh going on a date, and be completely true to the spirit of the show and the characters. If, in the context of the story, the relationship isn't forced, the moral doesn't really apply.
The final problem is that the writers could come up and say "shipping is bad", and it probably wouldn't stop anybody, so there's no reason for them to bother about it. It might be a sort of undertone, but it's not the main point of the episode.
Lastly, I'm quite happy that the CMC actually got punished for all the trouble that got caused. It's fairly common for the pony who learns the lesson to get out of the consequences, so the fact that they actually get in trouble over it is refreshing. It would be quite unfortunate if they got off scot-free after all the stuff they pulled.
21:01-21:32: Okay, now they're just messing with us.
This episode is pretty open ended. It's pretty obvious that Big Mac and Cheerilee are messing with the CMC here, the question is how far it's really going. The easiest interpretation is that they're still just platonic friends who are messing with the fillies, but it's also entirely possible that they are in a relationship and are playing it up to mess with the fillies. The show gives no indication of which, which leaves it pretty open for later.
I probably should have put the shipping stuff here, but I'm too lazy to move it, so I'm not going to bother. Overall, I found the episode pretty enjoyable. There aren't any horrific glaring issues, but at the same time there's nothing spectacular going on here either. There are some great expressions though; the animators were really having fun with that. It doesn't exactly break any new ground, but it handles the plot quite well. It's nice to see Cheerilee and Big Mac a bit more, but it's also kinda unfortunate that only one of the main cast members appears, and that appearance is incredibly brief. So in short, it averages out in the neighborhood of "pretty good".
- The animators are clearly stretching themselves in the character designs and expressions
- Big Macintosh and Cheerilee get some more time onscreen
- The basic plotline is handled about as well as it could be
- Apple Bloom's flailing is hilarious
- I know it's supposed to be bad, but all the mushy nicknames are just a bit too cringeworthy
- Twilight loses a bunch of IQ points for a few minutes when she forks the book over
- The main cast is almost entirely absent, even in cases where it would have been easy to put them in.