MLP:FiM Episode Reviews: Character and Story Analysis by Half the Battle

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Episode 97: "Appleoosa's Most Wanted"

Aired 5/2/2015, by Dave Polsky (his twelfth episode)
    Storyline:
  • Intro: The Cutie Mark Crusaders decide to seek their cutie marks at Appleloosa's rodeo, but the sheriff warns of a "low-down varmint" on the loose.
  • Act 1: A large hoofprint at the scene of an accident prompts a meeting where the sheriff announces the outlaw Trouble Shoes is responsible. Applejack confines the Crusaders to Braeburn's house, but they sneak out, hoping to find the outlaw.
  • Act 2: As the Crusaders wander, Braeburn reports them missing and the sheriff believes Trouble Shoes may have kidnapped them. Seeking shelter from a rainstorm, the CMC enter Trouble Shoes' home. He turns out to be clumsy rather than a criminal, having loved rodeos but only causing problems there. The sheriff's posse finds Trouble Shoes with the CMC and captures him.
  • Act 3: The CMC break Trouble Shoes out of jail as the rodeo begins. They compel him to join the rodeo clowns' antics, and his misfortune sets the crowd laughing. Once he is recognized, the truth is explained and he is forgiven, but the CMC are put on cleaning duty for sneaking off.

Character: Featured for the second time this season are the Cutie Mark Crusaders. Apple Bloom is slightly more in focus, as the other two seem to be there at her invitation, and she is the leader and chief instigator for most of the story this time around. Scootaloo's the enthusiastic follower, while Sweetie Belle takes another turn as the goody four-shoes who goes along only reluctantly. As I've mentioned before, these roles tend to get passed around among the three depending on the episode. We do get a couple character-specific moments: Sweetie Belle is getting more adept at using her magic and can surely identify with Trouble Shoes' penchant for misfortune; and we get a reminder of Scootaloo's forest-related scares. In terms of character development for the whole trio, it's possible they're on a track similar to last year's theme of the Mane Six becoming teachers of friendship. Here, the CMC have a gift for helping others find their own talents. This still raises the question of how they don't have their own cutie marks yet, since they seem to be aware of their respective skills at this point, but perhaps that question will be answered later this season.

Trouble Shoes is our first major guest character since the two-part premiere, and he's the series' largest equine. Specifically, he's a Clydesdale horse, which are roughly five and a half to over six feet high at the withers, whereas full-grown ponies are significantly under five feet. Interpreting his points-down horseshoe cutie mark as bad luck, he sees everything in his life through that lens, although most of his troubles seem to be clumsiness as a combination of his size and carelessness. (For example, I question the wisdom of someone prone to pratfalls storing loose bowling balls on a high shelf.) I was expecting we'd get a lesson on how pessimism can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, but under the Crusader's guidance he seems ready to accept his penchant for disaster as part of his true calling. And most admirably, he doesn't try to use it as an excuse to escape responsibility for the accidents he causes.

As in other recent CMC episodes, we only get to see one of the Mane Six, this time Applejack. She's characteristically protective here, and understandably so with an outlaw saboteur at large, from whose deeds she's already had to rescue her charge once. I'm actually surprised she trusts Braeburn to watch the fillies after the incident; I'm pretty sure that won't be happening again.

Speaking of Braeburn, he gets some interesting treatment here in his first speaking role since Over a Barrel. He plays up his injury to change the subject from his first failure to watch the girls, and you could even infer that he faked or exaggerated the injury in order to bring Applejack into the competition and thus give his team a better chance of winning. He then falls asleep on guard duty, and he gets some comeuppance during Trouble Shoes' later performance.


Lesson: Obviously, the season's cutie mark theme continues in this story, and the main lesson seems to be that what you regard as a weakness may well be part of who you are and may help guide you toward your intended path. It's an admirable lesson, and it's illustrated by Trouble Shoes' journey from loving rodeos to aspiring to be a rodeo clown. But while it makes the point, the specific case of Trouble Shoes doesn't stand up to much scrutiny, and it may very well lead young viewers to misinterpret their own clumsiness.

Taking the kids' perspective first, children are naturally accident-prone. Like Trouble Shoes, they're a different size than their world is designed for, and they haven't yet developed the mental skills to watch where they're going, consider other people, or properly anticipate the consequences of their actions. They're not misbehaving; they're just kids, and they'll grow out of that as their brain develops and they're trained to be more considerate. So, clumsiness may be part of who you are now, but it doesn't always have to be that way. For a lesson about accepting the more lasting traits that may make life less convenient but are nevertheless part of who you are, you're better off watching Flight to the Finish.

For the adult perspective, and I only include this because most MLP episodes get better the more closely their analyzed, I fear the CMC are giving Trouble Shoes insufficient advice here. For one thing, Trouble Shoes could perhaps improve his life by living it with more care and a positive attitude, and that's never mentioned. Second, becoming a rodeo clown isn't a destiny so much as it is making the best of his clumsiness. Like it or not, he's not a clown, he's a klutz. Clowning requires the skill to create havoc safely and on purpose. Now in all likelihood, Trouble Shoes has been focusing so much on his misfortune that he's blinded to whatever things he can do. We're not really given any data on what that might be.

Here's how I see this working: The God who made me and prepared good things for me to do also decided whether I should be hearing or deaf, sighted or blind, etc., as I do them. I hope I never end up in a wheelchair, or disfigured in an accident, or lose one of my senses. But if that happens, that's now part of who I am, and I must learn to accept it as part of who I'm meant to be, just as I would want my friends to accept me for who I am. From there I can find a way to contribute according to my gifts, which may or may not be related to the things I can't do. This show and its fans are themselves examples of that. Meanwhile, if I'm being held back by habits and choices that I'm making, I should try to improve in those areas in the interest of being my best self. Like I said, it's an admirable lesson, but again I think the point could be better made using Scootaloo than Trouble Shoes.

There are some secondary morals that help offset any missteps here. I'm impressed with Trouble Shoes' willingness to make restitution for the damage he's caused. The CMC are put on clean-up duty as a consequence for their disobedience; I think it was important not to let them get off scot-free this time. That being said, I'm not sure it's a good idea to show your child characters so trusting of strangers, especially ones they've been warned about, even if they seem okay.

There is a brief tie-in here to friendship, as Apple Bloom teaches Trouble Shoes something she learned about life just two episodes ago. So the good of sharing new insights with your friends is one more positive take-away from this story.


Resonance: To be honest, I found this episode kind of bland. There aren't a lot of laugh-out-loud moments for me, though I did grin at some of the fun the creators had with the setting: the chili pepper burger, Scootaloo's hat, the harmonica (filed under Left the Background Music On), and the torch-and-pitchfork gag we're treated to twice. I like Apple Bloom's term "cutie markapalooza," and I think her little walk to untie Trouble Shoes is pretty cute, as is Florina's wet mane (in the barn scene).

Sweetie Belle has a few special moments here: not being a good climber, sticking her tongue out while using magic and being congratulated afterwards, her face when Apple Bloom says "About that," and trying to levitate a heavy barrel. Also, casually tossing characters aside as Scootaloo does after the mud slide is a cartoon joke that never gets old.

 

Other Impressions and Final Assessment: I like the attention given to the making of this episode, keeping Sheriff Silverstar's voice from way back in season 1, giving us more buffalo, and finally providing Appleoosa with its own background ponies. It took some boldness to introduce a major guest character as essentially a suspected terrorist (though technically a terrorist threatens or commits violence against peaceful targets for a political or social cause). Just a couple of nitpicky questions, though: Aren't you not supposed to bump the barrels in a barrel race? And I have to wonder where the expression "Let's ride!" comes from when the posse can just gallop off on their own.

In the end, no major problems here, and with a little tweaking it could have been an episode about learning to take responsibility for your actions. But the lack of strong comedy or drama and my concerns about the lesson aspect of the show drive me to rank this somewhere between the CMC episodes Ponyville Confidential and Family Appreciation Day.

 

Appleoosa's Most Wanted armor rating: Leather Armor
Ranked 25th of 26 season-five episodes
Ranked 124th of 147 stories overall

Click HERE for Character Appearance List and Screentime.

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