An Overthought Teview of MLP:FIM Season 2, Episode 6.
Note: Nothing here is objective, it's all opinion and personal preference.
0:00-2:00: Buck it, Dude. Let's go bowling.
The introductory scene establishes right off that his is going to be a Cutie Mark Crusaders episode. While I know that's going to get a lot of eyerolls, it's not necessarily a bad thing. Lesson Zero and Sisterhooves Social proved that the characters can be entertaining if utilized well. The question is whether or not this episode is differentiated enough from the other CMC episodes to be entertaining. The opening scene feels like a bit of a rehash of all the other episodes where the CMC try various things to earn their cutie marks, but there's enough fresh material in this scene that it isn't problematic. Both Scootaloo's attempt to buck the ball, and Apple Bloom's confusion about how to actually get the ball down the lane are comedic gold.
More seriously, the scene serves to re-establish Apple Bloom's angst about not having her cutie mark. She's obviously embarrassed at her rather obvious failure, so it makes a bit more sense when she gets desperate later on.
Also, I'd be remiss if I failed to mention the Big Lebowski ponies that show up in the bowling alley. I really did not expect them to be there, and I basically did a perfect double take when I noticed it. It's kinda creepy that they included a pony version of Jesus Quintana, but I'm just going to assume that the resemblance is purely visual.
2:35-3:45 Cheer up, emo filly!
The important thing about this scene is that it emphasizes Apple Bloom's (and only Apple Bloom's) desire for a cutie mark. Interestingly, Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle don't seem to be too worried about their cutie marks; Apple Bloom is the only one who seems to be genuinely worried about it at the moment. It sets Apple Bloom apart even more than she already was due to her lack of a cutie mark; even among her friends, she probably feels a measure of isolation. That's an important part of what eventually drives her to fake a cutie mark with a magic potion.
This scene is also adorable because it emphasizes the friendship of the CMC; Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo basically pull out all the stops to try to get Apple Bloom to cheer up. It doesn't work, but it's nice to see that they went to the effort. It was also a nice way to get Rarity and Pinkie Pie involved in the plot, if only for a few shots.
3:45-7:03 Witch's brew, or something.
Oh, a Zecora scene. Very nice to see that the writers are going to more effort to incorporate her into the plot. I'm kinda curious about exactly why Apple Bloom ends up going into the Everfree Forest; my guess is that she's going to see Zecora to see if she can get a cutie mark potion or whatever. On the other hand, she looks kinda surprised to see Zecora, so I don't really know. It's entirely possible that she just wanted to be alone for a while. It wasn't exactly a good idea for Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo to let her go into the forest by herself, but Everfree Forest tends to be only as dangerous as the plot requires.
Another interesting thing that this scene builds on his Apple Bloom's relationship with Zecora. Way back in season one, Apple Bloom was basically the first pony to actually make an effort to get to know Zecora better (Twilight also had the same idea, but at the time she actually met Zecora, she thought that she was actually cursed, and Apple Bloom got there first anyway). In light of the fact that Apple Bloom and Zecora have a bit of a connection, it makes some sense that Apple Bloom would want to go talk to Zecora if something is on her mind. It also makes sense that Apple Bloom would know the way to Zecora's house, as she found her way there before, and there's no reason to believe that she hasn't visited at other times.
Anyway, Apple Bloom's chipped tooth is probably the least painful looking chipped tooth I've ever seen (seriously most times things like that make my teeth hurt). Weirdly enough, the tooth issue and resultant voice change is actually kinda adorable, which is weird because normally I'm not really a fan of lisps.
Moving on to more plot-relevant stuff, this scene really emphasizes Apple Bloom's cutie mark issues. While the scene is written well and well executed, I did have a minor issue with Apple Bloom's characterization, namely the fact that I think her obsession with getting her cutie mark here is a bit of a step backward. Specifically, the fact that she apparently can't deal with the idea of waiting for the cutie mark. I get that she's just a kid and all that, but the fact that she doesn't get the idea makes it feel like the character is stuck. The first season had four episode that boiled down to "the CMC try to get their cutie marks" (Call of the Cutie [technically just AB, but that just proves my point], Stare Master, Show Stoppers, and to a lesser extent Cutie Mark Chronicles), and in pretty much every one of those episodes, everypony tries to get through to her that no amount of effort or cheating is going to get her a cutie mark before it's her time, and the fact that she still hasn't gotten it into her head yet irks me a little. I feel like she should develop at least a little bit.
However, what keeps it as merely a mild annoyance rather than "Y U NO GET IT?" is the fact that she's actively opposed to the idea. It implies that she actually realizes the truth of what she's being told, but doesn't want to accept it. Her dialogue with Zecora basically says that she knows she needs to wait but she doesn't want to and she wants a shortcut. While Apple Bloom is still hung up on the idea, it's at least a different kind of hung up.
As soon as Apple Bloom notices all of Zecora's potions, it doesn't take a genius to figure out what's she's thinking. When Zecora pulls out a plant called "heart's desire", it's fairly obvious what's going to happen. And sure enough, Apple Bloom decides to take matters into her own hands. Given that she already tried (and failed) magically forcing a cutie mark in Call of the Cutie, she should know this isn't going to work, but I doubt she really thought this through.
7:03-12:23: Show off
I have to admit, I really like the way this scene shows Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo's reactions to seeing that Apple Bloom has a cutie mark. Given the importance that they put on these things, it's nice to see that they're primarily happy for her rather than jealous of it. It would be easy to see how they might be bitter, especially with the way Apple Bloom shows it off here. Of course, it also might be because they simply have no idea what the cutie mark is supposed to be.
Also, a lot of people seem to notice that Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo seem mildly annoyed at Twist for sticking her head in. While I suppose it could be residual resentment from how she apparently stopped being Apple Bloom's friend after she got her cutie mark, I think it's more the fact that Twist's guess at what Apple Bloom's cutie mark is supposed to be is rather ridiculous. Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo don't really look vitriolic enough for anything other than mild annoyance.
Another thing that a lot of people question is Cheerilee's decision to cancel class in favor of watching Apple Bloom show off her talent. Yeah, it seems a bit odd, but one has to remember that getting a cutie mark is one of the most important events in a pony's life, so putting aside an hour or two to celebrate it really isn't that absurd, especially as she's probably well aware that Apple Bloom's been down about the whole cutie mark thing and probably thinks that she needs the attention. Not to mention that Cheerilee could pass it off as physical education when Apple Bloom starts giving lessons.
This scene also shows the way in which pretty much anything can become a cutie mark; at first you'd be inclined to agree with Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon about how pointless a hula hoop cutie mark is, but when Apple Bloom uses it to fly, it's actually quite impressive. Then the second cutie mark appears, and you know something weird is going on. While it's an interesting development, I'm not entirely sure that the pacing of this scene is as good as it could be.
Basically, I feel like the entire "Apple Bloom shows off her special talents" scene goes on a bit too long. The purpose of the scene is to build Apple Bloom up so it's more striking when things start going south. That's all well and good, but the grandstanding just takes up too much screentime here that could have been used for other stuff. Don't get me wrong, there are some great gags here (Twilight's mane getting Raritified, Apple Bloom messing with Rainbow Dash's cloud, etc.) but I seriously doubt that it would have killed them to shorten it by a minute or so, maybe by cutting out some of the more boring hula hoop tricks, or compressing them or something. The whole deal is over five minutes long; if you take out the introduction and credits, that's over a quarter of the episode. The scene in and of itself isn't at all bad, but I think that some of the time that was used here would have been better spent elsewhere.
12:23-15:47: "Quit cloppin', Apple Bloom! I'm tryin' ta sleep!"
And here comes the real conflict. When I said that the scenes of Apple Bloom showing off could have been shortened, I was basically referring to the fact that this scene could really stand to be lengthened. There's nothing at all wrong with it, but I think that it would have been nice to see a bit more of how Applejack deals with her sister's affliction, as well as more of how Spike and Twilight react to it and attempt to fix the problem. As it is, they basically hit the nail on the head; it only takes a matter of minutes for Twilight to figure out that Apple Bloom as Cutie Pox, and pretty much immediately realizes that Zecora is their best bet. But really, it's not really a bad thing that the plot keeps moving, so I can't really complain outside of saying that I personally would have liked to see more, like how Applejack somehow managed to get Apple Bloom all the way to the library.
I'm not sure exactly how seriously that the show wants us to treat the Cutie Pox. Twilight's knowledge of the disease could be taken either way; they have no clue where it came from, but it sounds like it kinda went away on it's own. My personal theory is that in the past somepony accidentally mixed some of those heart's desire plants into some food without anybody else catching on. They ate it and got Cutie Pox, which eventually went away once it got out of their systems. Maybe the fact that Apple Bloom put it in a potion made it work differently in this case; it certainly doesn't seem contagious.
Anyway, this scene is quite strong; it gets all the important information across quickly (Twilight identifies the disease, and the ponies decide to get Zecora's help), and throws in some good gags while they're at it. Really, Apple Bloom's Fleur-de-lis cutie mark was epic, and the way Twilight bucks Spike off of her back for making a bad joke had great timing. There's an excellent balance of plot points and jokes.
This is probably the most entertaining single scene in the episode, with Apple Bloom gaining a whole bunch of cutie marks in rapid succession as well as the town once again freaking out over something, although granted, the fact that Spike informed the three most panic-prone ponies that Apple Bloom was suffering from an incurable disease was really just asking for disaster. Most of the actual stuff the cutie marks make her do are just jokes; it's already been established that it's a highly problematic disease. This is another scene where the time spent on Apple Bloom's showing off may have been better spent; either adding more cutie marks, or giving each individual one more time rather than rapidly cutting between them.
Or rather, it could have shown them actually contacting Zecora somehow rather than just coincidentally running into her. That was a bit contrived, although it leads to an interesting moment where she assumes that all the townsponies have reverted to being terrified of her when she shows up to shop. It's fairly obvious that she pretty knows exactly what Apple Bloom did, and what can be done to reverse it.
Interestingly enough, the show actually seems to take her tendency to rhyme and incorporate it into the scene; she's quite clearly trying to tell Twilight and Applejack that the seed will only grow if Apple Bloom confesses to faking her cutie mark via potion, but her obsession with rhyming everything keeps them from understanding what she's trying to say. Particularly, her claim that the seeds only bloom when somepony tells the truth is a bit misleading or confusing. In this context her admonition to "tell the truth" has an implied "instead of the lie" tacked onto the end of it. She's obviously not referring to a statement of truth in general; if that was all it took, she could just say "I'm a zebra" or Applejack could say "I'm orange" or "I like apples" or something and it would work.
Of course, this doesn't stop the rather weird incongruity of the pony with the element of honesty having trouble understanding what Zecora is talking about when she means "the truth", but on the other hand, the fact that Applejack is a terrible liar might also mean that she isn't the best at recognizing other ponies' deceptions, which is kinda unfortunate. The real reason is probably because it's her sister in question; Applejack probably expects better of Apple Bloom and would probably be reluctant to believe that she would do that.
At the very least, it lead to Pinkie Pie's anguished confession of eating the corn cakes, which is totally irrelevant to anything, but it was hilarious, so I don't really care. Anyway, Apple Bloom finally gets the hint and confesses to stealing the potion, at which point the plant blossoms and cures the Cutie Pox. It's actually quite a cute interaction between Apple Bloom and Zecora as she apologizes, and it's just interesting to see how they get along. They have an interesting relationship that's unlike anything else on the show. Similarly, it's nice to see Apple Bloom get back together with the other CMCs.
So finally, she gets around to dictating her letter to Celestia, which boils down to "some stuff you just have to wait for, don't take shortcuts, etc.". It's all sort of undermined at the end when she basically decides she's waited long enough and goes back to crusading, but it's a lot more palatable because 1. it's fairly obvious that the "crusading" is really just an excuse to do stuff with her friends and 2. she did learn that magically cheating the system isn't going to work, so she has to do it the old fashioned way.
Also, Zecora is clearly Batpony, if the way she inexplicably vanishes is anything to go by. And Apple Bloom is crazy strong, judging by the way she lifts that giant barbell with just her tail.
Overall, taken on it's own merits, this was a pretty good episode. I still think that the scenes where Apple Bloom demonstrates her hula hoop talents goes longer than it has to, but other than slowing the pacing in that scene a bit it doesn't really hurt too much. There is another issue, however, although it only becomes apparent when the episode is taken in the context of the show as a whole.
As I noted before, this is the fifth episode where the plot basically boils down to "a member of the CMC attempts to get cutie mark, shenanigans ensue." This isn't a bad plot by any means, but the problem is that some variation of it happens pretty much every time that the CMC get their own episode, and if it keeps happening it'll turn them into one note characters. Bridle Gossip and Sisterhooves Social (as well as Lesson Zero, however briefly) showed that the CMC can be used well in plots that don't involve attempts at getting their cutie marks, so I'd much rather see that than another episode of "the CMC go crusading".
However, I'm going to be forgiving here, because the plot of the episode could really only be done with the CMC. One could theoretically have another pony catch Cutie Pox, but it makes more sense to give it to one of the CMC. And additionally, the episode itself is written well enough, and is perfectly entertaining. The problem is that it's the fifth episode with a similar plot with the same characters. The plot itself isn't so much the problem (all of the CMC episode have varied enough plots), it's that the characters are only being used in Cutie Mark related plots. I don't want to see them get pigeonholed into characters that only do cutie mark related stuff. There can be more to them than that. The fact that cutie marks never came up in Sisterhooves Social was one of the things I really liked about it.
Thing is, that's more of a complaint about how the characters are being utilized in general more than any particular problem with this episode. Again, taken on it's own, there isn't too much of a problem. To sum it up, this episode is basically what would happen if you tossed Show Stoppers and Bridle Gossip into a blender. We've seen a lot of the elements of this episode in earlier episodes, but at this point it's kinda inevitable, and the episode is still perfectly good on it's own merits. Even on a meta level, I think the CMC have been used far better in this season than last season (in season 1, Bridle Gossip was the only episode involving a member of the CMC that wasn't about cutie marks, in season 2, they show up in every episode and cutie marks haven't been mentioned until now), so as long as they don't revert to what they did in season one (having them do nothing else but worry about cutie marks), I think everything will be fine.
TL;DR: The episode is fine on it's own except for minor pacing issues, but it's a bit similar to some of the first season episodes.
-Zecora gets integrated further integrated into the cast
-Develops the CMC and their interactions a bit
-There are some really good humor moments here, especially when her cutie marks go out of control
-Overall plot is basically that of every first season CMC episode, with a bit of Bridle Gossip mixed in; the CMC are still worrying about the cutie marks and making a big deal out of it
-The scenes of Apple Bloom showing off are longer than they need to be