Sometimes, after watching an episode and seeing a few peoples' thoughts, my opinions on the episode change, and in this case, my feelings toward it became even a bit more negative after seeing what other people wrote. Interestingly, though, it wasn't the people panning the episode who drove it a little deeper on my personal "worst of FIM" list; it was the people defending it. Although I didn't have a big problem with the hazing when I watched the show (again, friendly teasing--it's how a lot of people bond, especially in highly competitive environments), the way people were defending it was almost entirely using Stockholm logic, trotting out classics like "it's not abuse if it's just verbal putdowns," "That's just how they show love," "If she really didn't want it, she should have said so" (and, when it's pointed out that she did unambiguously show her displeasure, the goalposts are immediately moved to "well, she should have said it more clearly/forcefully/often"), and that classic, "This is what they did to me, and I turned out fine, so I get to do it to you." Don't get me wrong, I still think that a little jocular mockery is a staple of bonding... but I'm really uncomfortable with the way some of this episode's fans are trying to justify it.
Anyway, the good news is, the beginning and end of the episode were excellent.
After we headed up to Wonderbolt training, I feared this would be the only Carrot Top we'd see all episode. Luckily, my patience was rewarded!
Poor Carrot. Three spacious stands with six levels each, and she still ends up behind the one pony who brings a giant, view-blocking hat.
Anyway, reviews! Below!
The Three Travelers, by Caerdwyn
Zero-ish spoiler summary: A fable of three ponies from long ago, who came upon a great fortune... and of what they did therewith.
A few thoughts: Let's be honest, this is my kind of story. I like Celestia and Twilight's notes on the story, in that they ground it as a piece of in-universe writing and provide some wonderful temporal placement. They let the author shed light on little touches, like the way the story never specifies species, which I might not have considered the full implications of otherwise. That said, they might have felt more needed had the story itself not spelled out its own moral quite so explicitly. Still, this is a good lesson, not to mention one that feels at home in Equestria, told in that storyteller's cadence which practically cries out to be shared aloud.
Recommendation: This is an easy rec for fans of folklore and fairytales. It is very traditionally preachy, though, so readers who don't enjoy having explicit morals unambiguously spelled out for them might not find it to their tastes.
My Mountain, by LunaUsesCaps
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Rainbow Dash wheedles Derpy into competing in a race--something Derpy absolutely wants no part of, for very good reason.
A few thoughts: It's strange; all the characters in this story (Derpy, Cloudkicker, Dash) are unambiguously cast in their backstories and personalities from The Life and Times of a Winning Pony, yet this doesn't try to fit into that continuity in any way. Odd. Anyway, to the story itself! The writing here isn't the strongest--I'm pretty lax about saidisms, but in this story they even started to bother me--and at times the lessons are a little too convenient or on-the-nose... but "on the nose" is something that seems to me like it fits Equestria pretty well, much of the time. I liked how everything from Derpy's job to the race itself was kept thoroughly Equestrian/pegasi-ian, especially the little details that a reader might not even notice; that kind of attention to setting made this stand out for me.
Recommendation: If you're looking for something with a good mix of drama and (race) action, and don't mind a fair bit of cynicism and bitterness along the way, this would be a fine choice.