Monday, November 30, 2015

Episode Talk: S5E25-26, The Cutie Re-Mark

We got our last episode of the season over the weekend--a two-parter, no less--and presumably the last for some time, complete with Starlight Glimmer's return, post-apocalyptica, and all the rest.  So, was it any good?

Well, as usual, I'll leave reviewing the episodes to the numberless masses of youtube folk who enjoy doing that.  I will, however, share some personal opinions on quality, coherence, impact on headcanon, and the like.  And I'll probably include some screenshots of Carrot Top.  Look, if you don't want Carrot Top screenshots, I don't know what you're doing here; clearly, you hate all things good and right in the world, and should probably go back to framing puppies for arson, or whatever it was you were doing before you came here.  Anyway, thoughts on The Cutie Re-Mark, below!

-Personally, I had no strong opinions about whether Glimmer's return was a good or bad thing, coming in, but I think her introduction was handled in a perfectly acceptable way.  Give her a magic scroll that can conveniently excuse any power imbalances (Well, that and the fact that the past seasons have pretty clearly established that Twi doesn't think on her hooves well when it comes to fighting/tricking opponents), kick off the plot, boom, we're in business.  The way time travel works doesn't seem to make sense, but a) time travel almost never does, and b) again, we can just say "the scroll did it" for a lot of the problems it brings up.  As far as Twilight expositing the exact way in which Glimmer will attack her (or rather, Rainbow) at the start... in a written work, I'd call that lazy, but in its actual medium, I'd call it an acceptable shortcut.  All in all, not a bad start.

-Once we get to the first alternate past, there's... hey look, it's Carrot Top!

To be fair, I'd also be more than a little concerned if, in the middle of a continent-spanning war against a foe straight out of myth and legend, a dragon showed up outside my house.

-I have to say, I liked the idea of the Sombra alt-history more than the presentation.  The battling looked far too silly for me, making the whole situation seem low-stakes when both the descriptions and the other visual cues (Dash has a prosthetic wing, an eye scar, and only half an ear left, for goodness' sake!) suggested that this wasn't supposed to be at all goofy.  I mean, the slap-fighting that the armies are doing is about on par, seriousness-wise, with the pie-chucking in Over a Barrel.  Magic blasts and rock-dropping feel a lot less goofy, and I think the show would've been better served by sticking to those kinds of battle events; stuff where nopony needs to be hurt on-screen (which presumably wouldn't make it past the sensors), but where, at least nominally, it feels like somepony could be.

-The changelings were up next, and in a lot of ways, they were the weakest history we got.  Sombra was intriguing in theory, and NMM was an incompetent scenery-chewer... but an in character incompetent scenery chewer (I mean, that was her whole shtick in the pilot).  The changeling scene, though, feels very forgettable to me, because Twilight and Spike don't do anything.  With Sombra's alt-history, they explore, discover what's going on, and learn about their predicament through their own initiative.  With NMM, they're again active participants (at least, nominally; "tricking Nightmare Moon" seems to rank somewhere below "tie shoelaces" on the universal difficulty scale, but my point is that they do something).  With the changelings, though, everything they do is dictated by Zecorah; they don't make any decisions of their own the entire time they're there, and all the exposition is spoon-fed to them.  As an alt-universe, it's about as inherently interesting as Tirek, Discord, or Flim & Flam's scenes... but unlike them, it's not two seconds long.

-On the other hand, it's got Carrot Top with green anti-changeling mud/cameo!

Not just anypony can combine such stunning amounts of "badass" and "adorable" into a single look.

This is the new cutest pony, supplanting "Carrot Top with a green headband."  The top five are rounded out by "Carrot Top with a saddle," "Carrot Top in a dress," and "Carrot Top sans accouterments."

-I want to point out that Flim & Flam's scene came before "total wasteland," but after every "major" villain from the show to date.  And in the "total wasteland" scene, Twilight says "...every world I come back to is worse than the last."  Flim & Flam apologists take note: the brothers are canonically a greater threat to Equestria than any other foe we've seen the girl's face!

-Speaking of the brothers, it was around their alt-history that I realized something that made me re-evaluate the episode.  See, it had bugged me up to that point that this was another "Twilight and the rest of the main six is the only important pony in Equestria" episode, which always makes the world feel small to me (You can say "it's her destiny," but that just kicks the problem up another level; why does no other pony in Equestria have the agency to do anything about X, Y, or Z?).  But then I remembered what Twilight said near the start: "The map is connected to the Tree of Harmony! It must sense that something isn't right! That's why it's still here!"  If the Tree can exert enough influence on the timeline to keep the map present, why couldn't it exert enough influence to pick (or at least, impact) what of the many possible timelines Twilight sees?  And, since it "wants" the past to be left un-tampered with, it's got a vested interest in showing her whatever alt-universes would convince her and Glimmer not to change history at all.

Whether you think that the Tree of Harmony doing that has more disturbing implications than Twilight simply being that important is up to you, but I found it really helped my enjoyment of the episode when I viewed all those timelines as having been specifically selected for the purpose of getting us to a status-quo "happily harmonically ever after."

-Still hate the CGI Timber Wolves; they break my immersion just as much as the live-action stuff we've seen in the past, and I think they're less visually interesting than the original flash-animated ones in their own right, to boot.

-One of my favorite bits was Glimmer convincing the young ponies that they should all get along.  Not only was it funny, but Twilight managed to get out what I think is an important lesson (albeit not very cogently--like I said above, she doesn't do so well when she's put on the spot, poor girl): that there's a difference between thinking and feeling the same things, and just getting along.  Sometimes, I've felt like the show has smushed that line, so having her recognize there's a difference was nice.

Of course, that still left her in the awkward position of endorsing bullying for the greater good, but like I said: it was funny!

-I really disliked how Glimmer's redemption was handled.  I thought having her whole backstory be "I didn't stay in touch with my friend when he moved, so I became EVIL" was cliche, but not intolerably so for a show like MLP.  At first I thought maybe they'd change the past by telling Old!Starlight and Sunburst to remember to write or something, thus making her grow up happy and creating an even better future than canon (after thinking about the implications of that for more than a few seconds, it's probably just as well the show writers didn't go that route).  After Glimmer decided to give peace friendship a chance, I thought the episode would end with her having/getting to track down Sunburst and reconnect, but no; he's never mentioned again, and is off jaunting along with the main six instead.  Leaving Sunburst as a giant loose end doesn't make any sense to me, especially since they took the time to have her do stuff like reconnect with the (thematically much less important) denizens of her Equality Town instead. 

-As for what this means for the future?  I don't know.  If Glimmer ends up like Discord, reappearing for a few episodes next season, I think that'd be great; it gives Twilight a chance to start sliding into a mentor role, helping establish her as more of a Princess (I mean, it's been two seasons; I think we're at the point where the wings and castle can't be mostly aesthetic anymore).  If we're going into a "main seven" situation, though... well, this was a really weird way to do it.  Spending an entire two-parter on just how important the semi-mystical connection between six specific characters is doesn't make for a very smooth transition into "...and here's their new friend, who is of equal (heh) importance."  I guess we'll have to wait until next season to see what happens, but I'm really hoping the show doesn't go that direction.

-All in all, I probably enjoyed this as much as any of the two-parters to date, though I admit that the possibility of Glimmer becoming a main character leaves me rather more concerned about the future direction of the show than I'd like.  All in all, season five hasn't been perfect, but I can safely say I've enjoyed it oodles more than seasons three and four; it's had plenty of episodes I enjoyed, and a few that are probably on my shortlist of personal favorites.  We'll see what the future brings, but if nothing else, I'm ready to assume the best of what comes.

This will be the last screenshot I take of Carrot Top for the foreseeable future, and it's one where she and Derpy are singing together.  Gotta say, I'm okay with this.


  1. My thoughts are here, but I think I'm going to makes some additions to it (later today), because I began to think about it a little more, and to be honest, it's actually made my opinion worse not better (no, it has nothing to do with what I read here).

    “(which presumably wouldn't make it past the sensors)”

    That made me laugh. Please don’t correct it.

    “Flim & Flam apologists take note: the brothers are canonically a greater threat to Equestria than any other foe we've seen the girl's face!”

    That’s according to one mare, who at times has shown to have mental health issues and at times to be okay with other morally disgusting things (like slavery). In short, Twilight Sparkle’s view on this is not support for given that she is an unreliable source.

    Also, the idea that Twilight kept going to a worse and worse alt-universe can also be disproven by realizing that it would imply that a world where Discord treats Celestia and Luna like a pair of circus clowns is worse than one ruled by Chrysalisis or Nightmare Moon, and through a hard, back-breaking, carefully researched, scientific analysis and survey (i.e. I thought about for five secs), it is shown to be false.

    1. I'm sure you're not implying that Twilight's ever been wrong about anything, are you? Because I'm pretty sure Twilight is right about everything, 100% of the time.

      And, since you asked nicely, I'll leave "sensors." Comedy trumps correctitude!

  2. Look, I agree that Carrot's friggin' adorable, but she can't dominate the Top 5. I mean, how can this not be on there? And have you even seen Rarity in an SS uniform?!

    I was opposed to the idea of Glimmer being reformed, but felt her actual reformation worked as a conclusion (even if the execution could've been better). My problem wasn't so much with her being reformed — that was probably a good idea — but just how many villains had been reformed already. I'm just sick of it!

    "...this was another 'Twilight... is the only important pony in Equestria' episode..."

    I can see why you'd get that impression, but that wasn't my takeaway. In fact, I thought the entire point of the episode was that wasn't the case. Yes, the Bearers play a very important role and have greater capabilities than others, but the fate of Equestria depends on all friendships. Starlight and Sunburst only shared one friendship out of a countless many, yet it clearly made a huge impact on history. All the alternate timelines weren't merely a product of the Mane Six's friendship (or rather, their lack of one), but hers as well. Not every friendship will have such obviously drastic consequences, but they are all interwoven and important. That's why there are representatives of Friendship (including a princess), and why the map sends them out each week to solve friendship problems

    That said, Twilight's still full of herself and seriously needs knocked down a peg or two

    "Still hate the CGI Timber Wolves..."

    Preach it, brother! I can't stand CGI in pretty much any cartoon. It almost always looks bad. I finally got around to watching Sailor Moon Crystal now that there's an English dub, and that was one of my many complaints (along with Luna's voice. Seriously, what were they thinking?)

    1. Yeah, but that's still a handful of friendships in, what, a population that must number at least hundreds of thousands of ponies? As much as it emphasizes the power of friendship, it has some pretty weird ubermensch implications.

  3. Fridge horror: Fluttershy's childhood had to suck in order for Equestria no to be doomed. In fact, her becoming friends with the bullies triggered one of the bad ends, undercutting the message that friendships change the world for the better. Still, that scene was one of the best in the episode.

    I'm also somewhat uncomfortable with the idea that the fate of Equestria hangs on the fate of just six mares, but it's kind of needed to get their message across that friendships can change the world. Plus, showing that history depends on the actions of a few exceptional individuals helps counter the anti-individualistic, anti-exceptionalist philosophy that Starlight advances in the season premiere.

    1. "I'm also somewhat uncomfortable with the idea that the fate of Equestria hangs on the fate of just six mares"

      Eh, it's been like that since the first season premier. If Applejack had been even slightly dishonest, everyone would be stuck under eternal night by now. Elements are judgemental little ****s, don'cha know? ;)

  4. I still say that the finale was a wonderful scenery romp and didn't do anything to change the status quo, leaving it in a bizarre epic-yet-unimportant location, and I don't expect we'll see Starlight Glimmer ever again.

    1. After a song/montage like that, I'd find it really weird if we never saw her again. But then again, I still think it's weird that they clearly showed Sombra's horn surviving the lovepocalypse in his episode, yet nothing ever came of that (to date).

    2. It's funny when I think back on this viewpoint. Because this is literally what I believe, and yet season five in particular has been all about revisiting previous seasons and bringing back old characters. I don't think my claim really holds water, I just can't shake it, because it's how things went for three seasons straight (Trixie aside).

    3. But Sombra has come back . . . in the comics.

  5. I liked this one quite a bit. My only real problems with it were that they dropped any sort of connection with Sunburst, as you said, since either rekindling that friendship or showing her that he didn't have to be her only friend (okay, they kind of did that, but only by implication, not directly saying so); that Flim and Flam's supposedly penultimate horror strangely was the only one without an implied reason why the princesses failed to prevent it; and that convincing Starlight Glimmer to play nice took a weird arc. I mean, she goes from "this apocalyptic vision is some kind of trick" to "okay, I believe you now, but I don't care" to "I need a friend!" rather quickly. If that second step had been more immediate horror at what she'd done, I think it would have been more plausible in both plot and pace. And I get that they wanted to end with a song, but really, that was some wasted airtime that could have been spent developing these things a little more.

    Still, I thought it was a pretty strong episode and one of the better two-parters. Starlight's shining (heh) moment as a villain was definitely convincing the bullies to leave Fluttershy alone, because Twilight can't argue with that. The most dangerous villain is the one who's right.

    I knew as soon as I saw Carrot Top peering out that window that this would automatically be a good episode. She has that effect. Now if only we could get some more prominent speaking roles.

  6. The one major(?) villain we didn't actually see was Trixie. Therefore, Trixie caused the wasteland.

    Either that or it was Fluttershy using a megaspell. Look, if Hard Reset can get a reference...

    Talking of 'Shy, I was surprised how convincing I found her in her anti-changeling warrior role. She looked as though she knew how to use that spear -- and her line hinted that she might actually have done some "destroying" in the relatively recent past.

    1. I'm glad I'm not the only one who came up with that idea about Trixie. :D (I think ROBcakeran's newest fic might be based on it, too.)

    2. The way I see it, Trixie would only become a powerful villain if she gets her hands on the Alicorn Amulet, which should only happen if she actually meets Twilight. In other words, changing the timeline would only leave Trixie as somewhat conceited, not Omnicidal.

      The Darkest Timeline is clearly the result of Diamond Tiara bullying the other nations to the point of Nuclear War.

    3. Fools. It was the yaks. They smashed the entire world to nothing more than dust. Then they smashed each other.

    4. You're all wrong. It was obviously the breezies that brought about the end of days. In that timeline, the breeze was the only thing left!

    5. So naive. Have you all forgotten the parasprites? True, Twilight wouldn't have cast that spell on them, but she's hardly the only unicorn. That outcome was an eventuality. Pinkie, however, is an anomaly. Without the Sonic Rainboom, she would never have become the mare we know today. The only other pony capable of stopping them would be Cheese Sandwich, except he wouldn't be able to either because Pinkie would never have influenced him!

    6. Either that, or one of the Doctor's scientific experiments went horribly wrong.

    7. It was obviously all of these things! The world couldn't take the madness and the writers quite after the second season!

  7. Adding to what PP said, I think the best thing about this episode is that it's a possibility romp.

    And, yeah, CT rocks the Tribal Cutie look.

  8. For one small vanishing moment, I was afraid they were going to use one of those nasty *male* characters to resolve a character arc. /snark

    I mean Sunburst. Really. All of the tags were there. Youthful friend. Taken away. Long absence. And the missing tag. Rediscovered in horrible future in terrible distress, calling out “Why, Starlight? Why did you do it?”

    They could have even used a line that snuck up on me once. “You can never really lose a friend. All you can do is misplace them for a while.”

    Then at the tail end, reunion of the little cuss with Little Miss Cutie Mark Remover, lots of hugging. And stopping there (you dirty minded people).

    Unless they’re planning to do something in the next season with both unresolved youthful friendships, it seems to be a waste of drama. (and it would give them one more plastic pony with brushable mane to sell)