Last week I was talking about how it was going to be really hard for me not to make a summary of the plot before jumping into the review of the episode. Once again, I prove myself to be an idiot. I don’t think I will be submitting you guys to episode summaries for a while. I've discovered with terrifying dread that, every time I sum up an episode in one of these reviews, I abuse the terms “as it turns out”, “and then”, “the following”, “in the next scene” or “what happens next”. It’s boring, it’s robotic, and some of you don’t even need it. I am pretty sure nobody reads these reviews without watching the episode first, and it’s going to save the both of us a lot of time. You don’t need to read my pointless summary and I don’t need to write one. This means I’ll have to sacrifice my “oh so witty” comments in each one of the acts, but I’m pretty sure you guys won’t even notice. I can only come up with so many jokes before I resort to quoting Top Gear in every screen cap that I use.
With that said I am going to try this one out. If it works fine then all episode reviews will follow this format. If it doesn’t, well, I can always go back to the old one even if it takes me longer to do. But you are not here to read about the what ifs; you are here because you have nothing better to do…and probably read my episode review. Either way, let’s get down to it. Needless to say, you should watch the episode before you read any of this, so if you haven’t watched it yet go ahead and check it out.
I honestly think “Twilight Time” is the best Cutie Mark Crusaders episode since “Ponyville Confidential”. I don’t say this lightly, mind you. It’s taken me a while to figure out how to write my thoughts on this episode, because when it comes to the CMC I sure have my issues with them. While the interaction between the three of them has always been really good, really organic, and it has given us some really memorable moments (the CMC theme song, the Scootaloo Chicken joke, trying to get rid of Granny Smith, the bowling scene in “The Cutie Pox”) their interaction with their surroundings and those in them has always been kind of dry. They don’t do many interesting things, or participate in many interesting events (the Equestria Games might be the very first one) they are just there. Even in “Flight to the Finish”, an episode that so many people regard as great, they don’t do anything worth mentioning with those around them. Also, they aren't always written in very interesting ways. Their chemistry is perfect, that is true, but there are only so many times you can write “and then they go crusade for their cutie marks, they fail miserably and there was much rejoicing (yaaay)” until you make the line so tiring not even Monty Python can save it up. I have always said that, when it comes to writing for these three characters, the best writers are M.A. Larson and Corey Powell. Corey Powell in particular managed to make the CMC a group of very realistic kids who want to find what they are good at, but who can also have fun and enjoy life outside of looking for their special talent. The episode that started her in this TV Show has them going on a camping trip with their sisters, and they don’t do any crusading whatsoever, they are just being kids. No other writer of the show has achieved this kind of thing before or since then.
|Cindy was alright, but her scripts were more tries than they were successes.|
But then came Dave Polsky. Dave Polsky has never have the chance to write for the CMC until this episode. Think about that for a moment. One of the writers who has been in the show since Season one, and he has never written an episode where the CMC were the focus. I think every other writer has written something for the CMC’s, but Polsky never has! So I had no idea how this episode would go. Well, I am happy to say that he did a great job on it. Not only were Applebloom, Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo heavily in character, but they also showed some growth in it.
|And the winner for funniest thing in the planet goes to...|
It was good to see Sweetie Belle finally messing things up and being the one that gets the rest of the group in trouble. For the longest time she has been the voice of reason and the smart one when it came to ideas and trying new things. She was in dire need of a humbling episode, like her sister Rarity needed “Simple Ways”, Sweetie Belle needed “Twilight Time”. Here her confidence ends up biting her in the ass, and she throws the rest of the group under the hooves of Ponyville’s school due to an overdose of confidence.
|Relax, I have a thousand actions of The Lehman Brothers. This will work great.|
Scootaloo on the other hand showed an uncharacteristic lack of it. She remained sporty and tomboyish of course, but when the school ponies started taking pictures of her in the restaurant she started making faces, and forcing smiles, and posing. Why would she do that? Well you see, she does that because she’s worried of looking sad when people take pictures of her. She is too self-conscious about what others might think of her, and that’s surprising. Perhaps some of Rainbow Dash’s confidence issues have rubbed up on her.
|Quick, before they see what I tattooed on my wings.|
Applebloom wasn’t as developed as the other two, but she was determined and kind of a moral compass, always questioning if Sweetie Belle’s ideas were the right ones. While Scootaloo never questioned anything, Applebloom did so several times, which shows how she wasn’t comfortable with what they were doing. She seems to question their methods a lot more, and that’s remarkable. It’s like the tables have turned when it comes to characters. This is really interesting because back in Seasons one and two Applebloom always lacked having any set of morals. She just wanted her cutie mark, and she wanted it now. No she seems a lot more level headed about it.
|She has the same face you get when your squad members glitch in Mass Effect.|
Speaking of which, I like how the show itself is slowly moving on from portraying these three as if they have a rampant case of ADD. They were not trying silly stuff to find out what they were good at; those days of scuba-diving, and cotton-candy making are gone. Here they are focused on tasks that have to do with what they are good at. Sweetie Belle is practicing her levitation magic, in the second time we have seen her use magic in the entire series (the first one was an unintentional burst during “One Bad Apple”); Scootaloo is learning how to disassemble a unicycle to then put it back together again; and Applebloom is learning potions to grow apples. It is clear that they are getting more focused and they aren't just throwing stuff to the wall to see what sticks, and that’s good! There are shows out there that don’t even bother giving their characters some development, not even the main ones. To have the CMCs finally growing up is a pretty wonderful thing to witness.
|Even Sweetie Belle rarely squeaks anymore.|
Although they were not focused on this task all on their own. It was all thanks to possibly my most favorite thing of the entire episode (next to the restaurant scene). Twilight Sparkle, or should I say, Princess Twilight Sparkle. The journey this character has gone through since the beginning of the series is one for the books (pun intended). She started as a student of Princess Celestia since she was a little filly, then she grew up into an adult, defeated Nightmare Moon and Discord, rescue the Crystal Empire, turned into a Princess, and now she has her own group of students to teach and pass her knowledge upon. She was loving every single second of teaching them to get better at what they do. She was diligent and careful, as well as caring and attentive. She didn’t make things easier for the CMC and kept on encouraging them to get better. Even when they bring in more fillies and colts to their classes, she isn't even upset. She loves to teach and impart her knowledge on others! And you can see how utterly crushed she is when she realizes that they are not there to learn but just to hang out with a celebrity. When she calls out Diamond Tiara she sounds broken, disappointed that those around her see her more as someone famous than as someone who’s smart and passionate about teaching. But that’s gone when she sees how her teachings have actually left a mark in the CMC’s, as how they can build scooters, grow flowers and levitate things without her help. That’s why she doesn’t give up on them, because she knows they are as passionate for what they are learning as she is for what she’s teaching.
|She's as excited as a Potterhead last summer.|
So the Cutie Mark Crusaders are great, Twilight Sparkle is great, and the interactions and chemistry between each other are just perfect. What about the other characters?
|I'm sorry, put what where?|
Very briefly, I didn’t hate Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon as much as I thought I would. I didn’t really like how vicious they were in “Flight to the Finish”, and how they acted like the type of boring cliched bullies that’s so common to see in lazily written media. That’s fine, if it serves for storytelling purposes, but it ruins the character. In this case they were portrayed as the whiny type of bully who’s more pitiful than hurtful, and in how flawed they are they show how weak they are. The moment when Twilight opens the door and they squee like two brats was painfully adorable. They are very shallow and care only for looks, but they are also afraid of being one-upped in their popularity. They are the most recurring villains of the entire show, and it was inevitable for them to start becoming three-dimensional. I just wasn’t expecting that would happen in this episode.
|"Insert very clever well written Tale of Two Cities joke here"|
It was also really cool to see Pipsqueak come back in a speaking role, with that diabetes inducing adorable British accent that’s directly pulled out of a Charles Dickens novel. His involvement was somewhat uneventful, as he was just part of the mob of fillies and colts that invades Twilight’s house, but I am far away from complaining in that regard. Pinkie Pie’s cameo was a lot of fun too, and quite welcome given the circumstances. It wasn’t until the episode was over that I realized Twilight and Pinkie are the only ones of the Mane Six that show up. I always take it as a sign of good character writing when I don’t miss the rest of the main cast by the time the episode is over.
|Four? What other four? I only know you Twilight, there are no other main characters.|
The comedy was alright, as well as the drama. It wasn’t as good as other episodes, but the good bits were really good. The restaurant scene is just fantastic. Like many other good scenes in this show, I want to take it, frame it and hang it up on a wall for all to see. The writing is great, it has good timing, and the character dialogue flows brilliantly. Seeing Twilight eating hamburgers like there is no tomorrow was so weird, but at the same time so satisfying. She is not one with this Alicorn Princess protocol. Besides, we have seen Princess Celestia eat lots of cake, and Princess Luna plunged her face deep into cherry pie in the comic “Zen and the Art of Gazebo Repair”. If Twilight wants to stuff her face full of burgers and horseshoe shaped fries, who are we to stop her? She reminded me of Hillary Swank when she won an Oscar for “Million Dollar Baby”. The next thing she did was eating a burger with her husband and colleagues. This scene shows how Twilight takes her status as a celebrity, which is with complete and absolute levity. She gives it the importance it deserves, because what matters is not who she is but what she can do for others. I also feel there is a very clever subtext to the whole scene, especially when the kids show up with their cameras and they start taking pictures. Can this be a soft jab at the obsession we have with celebrities and their regular lives? I’m just saying this, because Polsky worked in South Park, and if that show likes something is to satirize how obsessed we can become with celebrities. Also related to food is the scene with the nachos. The delivery is perfect and it ends in an ingenious double brick joke, first with Spike arriving with a tower of nachos, and then seeing said nachos in the trashcan outside of the library.
|If you look close, you can see the harpies of TMZ.|
As for the drama, it does feel really heartbreaking to see Twilight finding out that all the fillies and colts of Ponyville came to the library just because they wanted to hang out with a celebrity, and not because they wanted to learn new thing. She looks so thrilled, organizing the ponies in different groups and asking them what they want to do, only for them to turn tail and leave. It only gets more intense when the CMC realize the error of their ways and they themselves walk away from her of their own volition. If you notice Twilight never says a scolding word to them. She doesn’t need to lecture them, they realize they have fucked up, and they punish themselves before Twilight does. But seeing how they do have the potential to improve she gives them a second chance and welcomes them back. It’s a really great scene, it speaks volumes of their friendship, it’s very touching, and it justifies everything the Cutie Mark Crusaders put themselves and Twilight through.
|Like having to deal with really annoying fangirls.|
Besides those scenes, the comedy is just as uneventful as the drama. In fact I could safely say that in between them stuff just happens and nothing else. I don’t think the rest of the episode is weaker, it’s just that those scenes are so good they make everything else feel rather dull. And I think here lies the problem of the episode.
|Scenes, why do you have to be so good, and make me look so bad?|
This episode’s biggest strength is also its biggest weakness. It’s too normal. This might be the most normal episode of the entire Season, probably the entire series. It doesn’t have any earth shattering event, no monster, no personal conflict or inner turmoil, no new character, no crisis, no external event or celebration in it that makes it special, no nothing. It’s a one hundred percent pure slice of life episode with a couple of really weird and really good scenes that make it stand out above the rest. It makes it more relatable and grounded in reality, but this comes with the price of not making good use of the setting which makes the episode almost forgettable.
|RUN! He's starting to sound like another Brony Analyst!|
Does that mean I consider this episode uneventful and not really memorable? Of course not. Having a very simplistic story has never been an impediment to make some of the most remarkable episodes of this series. The writing staff is working hard in developing what makes Friendship is Magic such a popular cartoon: Its characters. The stories in this cartoon have never been terribly original, and some of them feel taken directly from Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth. But that has never bothered me because these characters are so interesting and they are so well developed that they make the stories feel so original and unique. It’s not about how you adapt the characters to the story, but how the characters make the story adapt it to themselves. This episode’s story is nothing really special (hell, it’s take straight out of an 80’s cartoon, all the way down to the lemonade stand and a scene in a burger restaurant) but the characters and their interactions are so well made they kept my interest peaked during the emptiest moments.
|Which, in scenes like this one, is quite an ironic thing to say.|
So, overall, I shouldn't think too much of this episode but the more I think about it the more I find myself enjoying it. Sure it has a lot of empty spaces of nothing but when stuff happens it really stays with me. The characters and their interactions are great, the resolution is great, and there are a couple of great moments in it. Do I think this is the best episode of the Season? Not really, but is it a much better episode than other Cutie Mark Crusader episodes? Definitely. It lacks the frustration of “The Show Stoppers”, it pops out more than “Call of the Cutie”, it’s more likable than “Hearts and Hooves Day”, it has a much better rhythm than “One Bad Apple”, and it’s a lot less awkward than “Flight to the Finish”. In my personal ranking this one stays on top next to “Ponyville Confidential” and “Sleepless in Ponyville” (though this last one was more a Scootaloo episode than a CMC on, but I can’t not include it).
|There is something very scary that prevents me from not including that episode in.|
Now let’s find out if this Generation of ponies is good enough to salvage the one good thing that Generation 3 left to us, though that’s a story for next week’s review.
- Defining Moment: Twilight Sparkle and the scene in the burger restaurant.
- Moral: You shouldn’t start acting differently just because those you hang out with are more popular than you. You should just focus on what makes them special, and that’s that they are your friends.