Monday, April 6, 2015

Episode Talk: S5E1-2, Cutie Map

Hey, new pony episodes!  And that means a chance to talk about new pony episodes!

It's been a while, so a quick refresher: I don't comment on every episode, only the ones where I have at least a few things I want to say.  By the time this goes up (two days after the episode premiered) we've hopefully gotten the hottest of the hot takes out of the way, which is nice.  And note that this post isn't intended as an analysis of the episode (there are plenty of youtubers on the job already, I'm sure) so much as a collection of my thoughts and impressions, hopefully arranged into something approaching coherency.  With that all said, click down below the break to see what I thought of Cutie Map.

-The two-parters have never been my favorites in MLP, so I wasn't expecting a lot going in.  But I have to say: I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this.  And I think there are two primary reasons why this particular two-parter worked for me.  First, I've always enjoyed the lower-stakes/slice-of-life episodes, and while this obviously isn't one, it's still small in scale.  Previous "major" villains have pretty much all been of the "destroy the earth" variety, and while Starlight Glimmer has obviously got all sorts of potential to do harm... at the moment, she's just lording over her little backwater.  Leaving aside how the villains might stack up morally, it was nice to see the show go less "WWIII" and more "Jonestown."

And second, the show addressed an actual issue!  I get the feeling I'm in the minority among fans on this, but I like there to be some sort of clear moral (whether it comes with a friendship lesson/diary entry or not), and while other two-parters have had those lessons, they've tended to get lost; A Canterlot Wedding gave us "trust your friends," for example, but that was mostly discarded in the second half in favor of daring escapes, pitched battles, and love-shield-blasts, or Twilight's Kingdom had something about knowing who your real friends are, buried beneath the laser battles and artifact-ing.  The S5 premier, though, stuck with its message: that friendship and cooperation aren't the same as absolute conformity.  That's a good message, and I liked the fact that it didn't get lost along the way.

-Not so much a fan of Pinkie's muffin-faces, though; I'll take my ponies cute and on-model, not green and bloated, thanks.  I also have to admit that the Fluttershy head-bobbing gif that everyone's in love with didn't do anything for me.  I mean, it's not like I disliked it or anything, it was just... eh.

Looking at this, I feel nothing

-But you know what was great about Fluttershy?  That she was finally used for something other than a lesson about learning to be assertive!  I am so sick of her re-learning that lesson, and it was refreshing to see her take center stage for another reason.  And one that fits her character, to boot!  Her quick defense of everything about Our Town sometimes felt strained, but the idea that she'd feel comfortable there at least has basis, and it made for a nice turning point when everypony was being brainwashed.

-I found it interesting that AJ's "countryisms" went along with her cutie mark.  I've seen a couple of people interpret this as "AJ being a southerner is her cutie mark," but I think it goes a little deeper than that.  The "countryisms" she uses aren't real sayings, they're barely-sensical pastiches.  And remember, she got her cutie mark when she realized that she didn't like being a socialite and wanted to go back to the farm, even though she fit in perfectly in Manehattan.  I think the real lesson here is that AJ's cutie mark represents her ability to pretend to be a country girl, even though she's a poser at heart.  Heck, that also explains why her accent doesn't seem tied to any particular region (drawing tonal hints and word choice from the deep south, Appalachia, the Ozarks, and probably more, at times): it's because it's all been an act, all this time!

-There were two big things that bugged me about the episode.  The first was how Twilight got her cutie mark sucked off: Glimmer just straight-up zaps her and takes it?  Why doesn't Twi teleport herself and her friends away?  Why doesn't she put up a shield (you know, like she does at the end of the episode)?  Why is Glimmer able to get away with this when she doesn't even have the element of surprise?  It seems like it would have been really easy to have Twilight be caught unawares somehow... and yet, instead, we just get "one of the most powerful creatures in Equestria momentarily forgets she has magic" at a crucial point in the episode.

-The other thing I didn't really like was how Spike got left behind.  Both the fact that he was ditched for no obvious reason, and because the hoofball jokes were so lazy.  Why do writers have such a hard time writing decent-sounding sports jabber?  People in real life jabber about sports constantly!  They're all around you!  Listen once in a while, take some notes, and get some hoofball dialogue going that sounds like something an actual hoofball fan might say!

-Semi-related: I really, really wish that, at the start of the second episode after the "Previously on" card flashed up, we'd just gotten thirty seconds of Spike and Big Mac talking sports.  Then, when time's about up, Spike says "You know, it's been a while since we heard from the girls.  Do you think they're doing all right?"  To which Mac replies "Yup," and cue theme song.

I mean, come on; you don't need the recap if you're showing the episodes back to back.  Might as well have a little fun with it, and show us that Ponyville's holding together with the girls gone.

-The song was a nice match for the episode, I thought.  It wasn't the catchiest that MLP's put together, but it wasn't supposed to be; it was supposed to be creepy and, despite the upbeat tempo and style, feel distinctly wrong, and I thought it did that very well.

-All told, I was very happy with this episode.  I'm totally okay with the Tree-Map of Harmony sending the girls off every once in a while this season (as long as we still get some lower-key stuff, too), and if the nine eight artifacts come back too, I'm open to that also.  At the end of last season, I was very worried about how the show could combine the elements I enjoy with the new HARMONY-APPOINTED FRIENDSHIP OVERLORDS motif which had just emerged, but if this two-parter was any indication, I'm feeling pretty positive about season five.


  1. [...] "one of the most powerful creatures in Equestria momentarily forgets she has magic – again"

    Fixed that for you :P

    1. I was gonna say, by this point it'd be OOC for her not to forget!

    2. Actually, Twilight reacted fairly well. She teleported up to where she could get a clear line-of-sight on all the townsponies and then lit her horn to unleash... something. (Really. Pause the episode at that point; she's winding up for something big.) Starlight Glimmer just beat her to the draw, something a more experienced pony who had planned the ambush in the first place might be expected to do.

    3. YES

      Why does everyone complain they just stood there and took it? Discord stood there and took it. Twilight was just a little too slow and the rest were a little too distracted by Twilight getting knocked out first.

    4. Don't look at me. I haven't even seen it.

    5. There's no reason to believe Discord could have done anything except stand there and take it; who knows how easy it is to avoid or disable the EoH once they get going.

      On the other hand, we know that Twilight is perfectly capable of teleporting herself and her friends out of the cave, throwing up a shield pretty much instantly after coming out of a teleport, and laser-blasting the staff right out of Shimmer's grasp. These are all abilities she's specifically demonstrated in the past, and there's no reason why she shouldn't have done either of the first two, especially with the townsponies around her (the third, as it turned out, wouldn't have stopped Shimmer, and actually might have made for an interesting reveal/reversal... but that would have messed up the pacing of the episode pretty badly).

      My point is that it would not have been hard to come up with a good reason why Twilight got hit, and the show failed to do so.

    6. >There's no reason to believe Discord could have done anything except stand there and take it; who knows how easy it is to avoid or disable the EoH once they get going.

      While I am glad to see that you came away from Just Dodge! with the lessons I intended to impart, I'm pretty sure that Present was actually referring to Discord's failure to teleport away from Tirek in the S4 finale.

      Actually, Twilight also failed to teleport away from Tirek, when he grabbed her with telekinesis during the DBZ showdown and tossed her into that mountain. I remember it stood out to me because Twilight failing to teleport there could've very easily ended with her getting her magic stolen if things went differently.

      ...Hmm... In fact, between this new episode and two separate instances of characters failing to teleport away from Tirek, I actually suspect that the rule is that you can't teleport if you're being grabbed by someone else's magic. It's only a theory, but it kinda makes sense from everything we've seen. Least, I think so.

    7. No, I was talking about S2. I criticized him for the same thing. It's not like with Chrysalis, who wouldn't have been able to avoid a spherical shockwave no matter what. This is how headcanon wars get started. :B

    8. Oh. Well, in that case, the statement I quoted from Chris still stands.

      I have never been able to accept any headcanon in which the Elements of Harmony aren't capable of chasing a teleporting target.

      Still lazy writing on the part of the staff, don't get me wrong. You should never NEED headcanon to explain away confusing elements. But create headcanon I shall, otherwise too many things about this show simply do not make sense.

    9. ...I don't know why I went anon for that. For the record, that was me.

  2. So, AJ's the changeling? :p

    Fluttershy's always been overrated, ever since she barely opened her mouth in that first episode. Loved their handling of her Saturday, though

    Maybe the writers are like me and just tune you sports nerds out. Probably not a good idea when writing a scene involving sports, but do you really expect them to do research?

    That Spike and Big Mac bit would've been amazing!

    I'm totally agreed with on the quality of this episode. It's helped to alleviate some fears about this season, and I would've hated to wait this long only to be disappointed. I'd also like to add that the intercom was absolutely the perfect touch to the whole thing

  3. I won't rehash too much, since I already left my thoughts about this in Present Perfect's blog on the subject, but I did like this episode for pretty much the same reasons Chris outlined.

    What really stuck with me is that even though Twilight and Her Amazing Council of Friendship exposed what was going on, it was the townsponies themselves who ultimately confronted and chased down the villain. Twilight did step in with a shield save, but essentially it was the main characters inspiring the others to solve their own problem. That's something I can't remember the show doing before (well, maybe the chest keys had a little of that), and I think it's a great direction to take things. I hope more of the scenarios will play out that way.

  4. Quick! It's a Friendship Crisis! Send up the Butt Signal!

    (snort) I've got to admit, with only 22 min in an episode, they have to get the plot hook to the adventurers really quick, and this is a clever way to do it. Still, I chuckled every time.

    1. Pony butts are consistently hilarious (maybe that should be the show's subtitle)

    2. My Little Pony: Butts are Hilarious?

    3. My Little Pony: Butts are Consistently Hilarious. It's funnier that way

  5. I really enjoyed this one, especially for not trying to out-epic the S4 finale. Spike's omission didn't really bother me, though that might just have been a case of being used to it by now. Mind you, taking him along would have been really interesting: what would Starlight do with a creature with no cutie mark to start with? As far as I can recall, there wasn't a single non-pony creature in Our Town. Was that deliberate?

    I found myself (unreasonably?) irritated by one little thing. As the last verse of the song starts, we see the Mane Six walking along, with Fluttershy standing with them, smiling but head still. The scene then cuts to her doing the head-bobbing thing as though she'd started a while back. If they'd just had two seconds focusing on another pony in between, it wouldn't have bothered me at all.

    1. Gah, forgot about the bird. Oh well, there goes that idea.