But before we get to good ol' CT, let's talk about the episode itself! Click below for my mostly-disorganized impressions of Buckball Season.
-This is one of those episodes I wasn't expecting to enjoy very much, because made-up-sports-themed cartoon episodes are always awful. Well, actually I can think of a few classic cartoons (e.g. Bugs and co.) that did good stuff with it, but I can't think of any cartoon in the past few decades that has used a fictitious, one-off sport to good effect. And the show's track record has varied between tolerable (Ice Archers) and awful (that painful faux-sports-jabber in Cutie Map). And yet... it was pretty good!
-A lot of that comes down to the Buckball itself; it looked like a real sport! Granted, it was hard to tell what a "real" game of buckball might look like, in the same way that it would be hard to tell what a real game of football might look like from watching M*A*S*H, but we've got the core of a sensible, entertaining game here. Figure out the details on where various ponies can stand/fly, where buckets can be positioned, and contact rules, and you'd be good to go! That all was a pleasant surprise to me; I came into the episode ready to have my disbelief (and patience) taxed sorely.
-Also awesome? Snails! My all-time favorite Canadian pony (narrowly edging out Celine Dion) in a significant role, and they actually found a use for him beyond "stock idiot!" The whole zen angle was a funny, pleasant one to explore with a pony who's special talent is literally "being kinda slow, no offense," and his reassuring Dash and AJ that he was still game to play was a laugh-out-loud line for me. Good stuff.
-On the subject of Snails: how did he get so darn good at... well, anything? I have a theory. See, we know (much as I hate it) that unicorns have levels, thanks to Magic Duel. Presumably, you need to gain experience to level up, then, right? Well, if there's one pony in Ponyville who we might expect to adopt the South Park strategy of staying in the beginning area and
-Gotta say, they found some terrible unicorns to try out before they stumbled upon Snails, though. How do you get a crowd of that many ponies who aren't even capable of holding a barrel steady while the ball streaks directly towards it?
-I was initially disappointed that Carrot Top wasn't at the train station to see the girls off, thinking that that might have been her one shot at some screentime. But low and behold, there she was on the train!
Carrot Top isn't much for pro athletics; she'll take part in casual events like the Running of the Leaves or the Sisterhooves Social, sure, but she's always been broadly dismissive of "sportsball," to the annoyance of Written Script in particular, and everyone who has to listen to her belittle one of their favored forms of entertainment generally. But, while she doesn't know much about buckball, she does know a thing or two about betting lines. So, when she saw how awful Fluttershy and Pinkie were during their practice session (she wasn't spying! She can just see Applejack's farm out her window, that's all! And those binoculars are for birdwatching!), she grabbed every bit she could lay her hooves on, got herself a ticket to Appleoosa, and when she got there, made a beeline for the local bookie. The good news was that she was able to get even money on a sure thing. The bad news was that that "sure thing" was a Ponyville loss.
She ended up having to borrow two bits to send a telegram to Written, asking him to wire some money so she could get home. He did, but only on the condition that she never use the word "sportsball" again.
-My one issue was with the moral, because of course it was. I feel like I always complain about the moral in some shape. Anyway, the expressed moral here is fine, but what bothers me is how easy it is to see a different, unintended moral: "no matter how hard you try, people with a natural talent will always be better than you, and no amount of hard work or desire on your part can ever overcome their natural talent." I really wish that Fluttershy and Pinkie had had to work hard to get good enough to beat Braeburn and co.--you could still have your "not everyone likes pressure" moral, and even show that Dash and AJ's workout routines are in contrast to Pinkie and Fluttershy's preference for game-based practice. Then again, in a world of predestined talents, maybe "innate inclination trumps any amount of effort" is just the way things are.
-Also, the stupid faces. I hate the stupid faces. Why do the ponies keep making stupid faces?
-Still, this was a very solid, enjoyable episode for me. As several other people have commented, it feels like one that could have come sometime in S1-2. That's true (and it's no coincidence that S2 is still my favorite season), but it's worth noting that it works just fine in the show's present day. SoL episodes are where the show has always shined, I feel like, and it's nice to see that there's still ground to be covered here that doesn't require characters to backslide personality-wise, or to un-learn previous lessons.