-So, let's start with the big thing: the CMC have their cutie marks!
And... it's nothing. In terms of "how will MLP look going forward," I mean; the execution here changed absolutely nothing about the CMC, by design. They're going to serve exactly the same narrative purpose in future episodes as they did in previous ones, which is to be the "kids" relative to the main six's older teen/young adult roles. There may be aesthetic differences, of course; they'll be doing stupid things not to get cutie marks, but because they're trying to help some other blank flanks/they're playing games/they're still in the kid role on a cartoon show... but the actual things they'll be doing aren't liable to change significantly. Given that, this whole episode felt like a conspicuous non-event to me. For all the talking-up going on around the fandom, those cutie marks don't change the status quo in any meaningful way.
-Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon's stuff, though, does alter the dynamic, at least for the foal-centric episodes (at least, it does if the new characterizations stick--we've seen plenty of times before, most notably with seasons 2 and 3 of Fluttershy, that the show writers have no problem reverting characters to their original archetypes
-To start, Silver Spoon: she's been DT's lapdog since season one, and now they're no longer friends because Diamond got mad at her for telling everypony something Diamond told her not to reveal yet? That doesn't make Silver a compelling character; all it does is retroactively weaken the previous episodes showing the two of them joined at the hip. Silver standing up to Diamond would have been a great B-plot, or even a main plot, for an episode, but as something tacked on to the setup? All it does is render their characterization less interesting by rewriting their friendship (co-bullying, whatever) as something almost accidental, a triviality that can't weather even a marginal shake-up.
-And of course, there's the matter of Diamond's new characterization. Turns out she's an innocent victim! I can't stress how frustrated I was by this revelation. Not that her mother's a bad pony, mind; if DT was a bully because she had bad role models and/or insufficient attention at home, that'd make sense. But no, the reason she acts the way she does is because her mother literally tells her specifically what slurs to use against the other ponies at school. This takes away Diamond's agency in an important way, because she's not just imitating her mom; she's following her mom's orders. It also short-circuits any possibility of a meaningful redemption angle (what does she have to be sorry for? This is firmly in "just following orders" territory, and nobody should expect young children to be able to defy their parents on matters like this). This really bothered me about the episode.
-I suppose this is as good a place as any to talk about the music. I was not a fan. Most of the episode sounded like it came off of a High School Musical soundtrack--this is an issue I've had with individual songs before, that they adopt the banalities of teen pop, but I don't think I've ever had that issue with an entire episode. The awkward, mid-sentence breaks to accomodate the genre's need for off-beats are a never-ending source of frustration to me; a good song melds the cadence of the libretto and tune, it doesnt' subjegate one to the other, and yet throughout the episode, we're constantly watching ponies stare silently at one another for a beat or two while waiting for their entrance. That's without even getting into the libretto itself ("Stop! Diamond Tiara, this is not the way / You know you're better than this hostility") I'm honestly not sure how much of this is Daniel Ingram's fault; Diamond's "woe is me" song felt like it could have been a decent ballad, if the the musical VA (apparently the same one who sings Pinkie's lines; I try not to notice when there are different speaking and singing VAs, but the switch in DT's voice on this one was really, distractingly obvious) hadn't been slurrily, scoopily crooning all over it. The songs have slowly but surely been moving in a new direction over the past few years, and I think it's safe to say it's not a direction I enjoy (I'm trying to remember the last song I really enjoyed; Our Town, from the S5 premier, maybe?).
-Good news: more Carrot Top! Bad news:
(will I keep including Carrot Top screenshots in all of these posts? Maybe!)
-Cheerilee's decent into bad-teacher purgatory continues unabated. In this episode, she watches silently, with a passive grin on her face, while her students go out of their ways to say hurtful things to one another! I mean, "Cheerilee the terrible teacher" could be a thing, I guess, but I kind of liked it better in the early seasons when she seemed to be... well, I don't know if we ever saw her being terribly competent, but we didn't see this kind of incompetence. Plus, she tended to seem a little more engaged in the whole "teaching" thing.
-Who's that buck-toothed colt with the carrot cutie mark? Is he related to Carrot Top? Is he a brother, maybe? A cousin? Or maybe he's related to that green-haired Carrot Top from Boast Busters? I always assumed that was just regular CT with her hair dyed green for a one-off joke, but what if she is a different pony?
-Too many reviews of this episode that I've read have tried to read something into the election, and to compare it somehow to the US presidential elections. Sure, you can compare DT to Trump if you want to (they both insult the opposition!), but let's not pretend that that's anything other than projecting; this episode made the obvious election jokes using its chosen characters. That's it.
-If you want to project, though... I think it's worth noting that Pipsqueak promised the world (well, the playground), but couldn't actually do anything when push came to shove. Diamond's promises were less exciting to the crowd (I'd rather have a new playground than a new statue too), but she only promised what she could actually follow through on. The moral of the story? If you want to know why politicians lie, look in a mirror: it's because the electorate rewards clearly fantastical promises over realistic projections!
-What was up with the ending? Did the animators realize they were half a minute short when they finished, and need to come up with some filler? Because although I didn't think it was awful or anything, reusing the opening animation (and writing to Celestia in the first place...) was pretty random. Speaking of random: why did the CMC glowsplode when they got their marks? Were the animators afraid we wouldn't notice? Did they forget how literally ever other cutie mark we've seen appear on the show came on without those kinds of magic-flying-pyrotechnics?
-On the subject of the marks: Scootaloo gets a wing when she still can't really fly? Damn, fate has a cruel sense of humor.
-Although I didn't enjoy it, this episode didn't actually anger me the way a few of the worst ones have; it's got disappointing music and it wastes a lot of potential with Diamond and Silver, but they probably handled the Cutie Marks about as well as they could, if we accept the premise that 1) they needed to give the CMC marks, and 2) they didn't want to write the CMC out of the show or lose their ability to be young child-analogues. What really baffles me is how much praise the episode seems to be getting. Are people still just excited about the marks themselves? Am I the only one who's not enjoying the musical direction the show's taken? I'm pretty sure I haven't turned into a nostalgia-goggled grump just yet; Amending Fences was on of my favorite episodes to date, and there've been plenty of other S5 episodes I liked. But the fandom reaction to this, compared to my own, makes me wonder if I just don't like the same things as everyone else who watches the show.