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

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Episode 95: "Bloom & Gloom"

Aired 4/18/2015, written by Josh Haber (his fourth episode)
    Storyline:
  • Intro: The Cutie Mark Crusaders' discussion of Babs' new cutie mark prompts Apple Bloom to fear what may happen if she gets a cutie mark she doesn't like.
  • Act 1: Applejack reassures Apple Bloom as she goes to bed, and she awakens with a pest control cutie mark. Dissatisfied and mocked, she meets a shadowy figure who removes the cutie mark by request, only for Ponyville to be attacked by twittermites.
  • Act 2: As the twittermites destroy the farm, Apple Bloom wakes up from her dream. Now with a potion-making cutie mark, she is ejected from the Crusaders for having it, has it removed, and then learns the other Crusaders now have their own cutie marks. This too is a dream, and in her next nightmare she is disowned by her family for having a cutie mark not related to apples.
  • Act 3: Frustrated, Apple Bloom confronts the shadowy figure, and Princess Luna reveals that it is only AB's own shadow, a reflection of her fears. Luna reveals that Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo are having similar dreams. Gathered together by Luna, the three Crusaders are encouraged and agree to send Babs a care package to alleviate any anxieties she may have. Apple Bloom then awakens without a cutie mark but nevertheless relaxed.

Character: Of all the main characters, I find Apple Bloom the hardest to define. I think perhaps it's because she's the original "everypony" character, a filly introduced alongside the adult ponies, sometimes a step behind them and sometimes a step ahead, but in either case a pony the younger viewers can identify with. It seems to me, though I haven't done the hard research to say this with authority, that in the CMC and Apple family episodes, Apple Bloom is more likely to voice the thoughts of the viewer, while the others are more likely to introduce ideas that further the plot. That would explain why AB seems a bit more loosely drawn than Sweetie Belle or Scootaloo, more like a Wedge Antilles or a Harry Kim, so she can connect with viewers of different personalities.

Nevertheless, we know Apple Bloom to be a bold little pony who can take danger in stride. We see this here as she responds to the twittermite crisis by refusing to run and instead tries to save the day; and later when she charges after the shadowy figure in the third act. But she is a worrier when it comes to her cutie mark. By now she's gotten used to crusading for one. The desperation has faded and it's become a quest that gives her purpose. But then what happens when she gets one? Then this part of her life is over, and the endless potential of being a blank flank will be no more. This naturally raises concerns, some of which are obvious in the show, such as not liking her new talent, and some that are more subtle, such as responsibilities taking up all of one's time. In short, this ambitious filly now fears that in growing up, she may lose herself.

The final morning of Apple Bloom's dream contains a reassurance that this will not happen, when for a moment her cutie mark is, literally, her own self. It's subtle enough that I didn't catch its significance on first viewing, beyond seeing it as a silly gag and a call-back to her mentioning having herself as a cutie mark once before. That suggests to me that deep down, she knows the answer, but it's just being drowned out by all the questions.

The other two Crusaders have a couple signature moments but aren't dwelt upon. The other main character of the story is Luna, winning the Triple Crown by guiding the third Crusader and bringing them all together. Amid viewer remarks about Luna's various voices, I've come to the conclusion that she presents herself to her subjects with remarkable sensitivity to their context. To an adventurous Scootaloo plagued by supernatural horrors, she is regal, ethereal, and mysterious, and she emboldens her by a commanding presence. In addressing Sweetie Belle's pride and vengeful selfishness, she is gently corrective and somber in her admonitions. For this down-to-earth Apple, Luna is encouraging and conversational in tone, natural and approachable enough that we're not surprised to see her almost giggle at funny noises. This Luna may be the closest we've seen to her youthful self as described in her journal.

A few random character-related observations: Mean as it is, Silver Spoon's friend-catching joke is about the cleverest thing we've heard her say. Too bad for her this is Apple Bloom's mind and not her own. We get the season's first appearance for many background ponies and Apple relatives here, as well as an image of Winona. And it's nice to see Orchid Dew once again. As for Babs Seed and her new cutie mark, I have to wonder how an earth pony operates a pair of scissors. (The barber we saw a couple episodes ago was a unicorn.)


Lesson: The twin lessons of The Cutie Map and Bloom & Gloom together capture one of life's dualities. In the former story, we're told your cutie mark is an important part of who you are, and to deny it is to deny yourself. Here, "A cutie mark won't change you, no matter what you get." It's only a reflection of what's already there. Both are true. For us humans, as much as you have opportunity, you want to pursue whatever education, personal connections, and other means necessary to make a living doing something you really enjoy and excel at. Your job is the primary way you will contribute to making the world a better place. But a lot of people, entire societies of people, don't have that choice. And even if you're free and prosperous, you are not your job. There's more to life than a degree and a career. The blessings of family and friends, and your contributions and practice of creativity in your free time, can be so much more rewarding.

The cutie mark concept in MLP is larger than the concept of a job or career. It's a reflection of a fundamental aspect of who you are, and a running theme of the series is becoming your authentic and best self. So earning a cutie mark is about finding who you were made to be and being faithful to your calling. In our world, that means trusting our Maker's provision for us and learning how to live according to His design for creation and for you personally. In the world of ponies, there is an unspoken, magical design, evidently transcending the knowledge and power of the princesses themselves, that suits each individual pony for their place in society and also helps define their friendships with one another. In either case, there is a truth about who you are that supersedes who others might want you to be, and which is far more wonderful than what you fear you might be. And as we saw with Sunset Shimmer in Rainbow Rocks, you may not yet be what you want to be, or what you're going to be, but neither need you be weighed down by what you once were.

Also in the lesson category, but a bit less positive, is something that weighs down most of the CMC episodes in my opinion: the attention given to identity issues moves us away from the topic of friendship. I believe the best use of child characters would be to learn relational lessons that should already be second-nature to the adult Mane Six, but which still need to be taught to a young audience, as we see done well in Flight to the Finish and One Bad Apple, for example. I am encouraged at Bloom & Gloom's final clubhouse scene, where Sweetie Belle reminds her friends and us of the original purpose of the CMC: moral support, which is an inherently relational concept. On that note, I really like their care package idea, since it gets to what I believe would have been a superior answer to Apple Bloom's fears: that whatever changes meet her in life, she will still have the love and support of the ponies who mean the most to her.


Resonance: What resonates most for me here is Applejack's lullaby. That's 180-proof distilled sweetness. We also get a heartwarming moment from Luna as she blows away Apple Bloom's personal raincloud and gives her the most endearing head pat ever. The awesome animation continues this episode with Luna's entrance and the incredible shading on Apple Bloom.

Since this is, I presume, the final entry in the CMC nightmare trilogy, there's a lot of creepy atmosphere. Having Michelle's voice double-tracked and pitched down for her shadow is a tried-and-true way to raise goose bumps. Two particularly nice creep-events are AB being sucked into the vortex, which I take as a shout-out to the end of Evil Dead 2, and the sight of Apple Bloom's face cut out of the family photos: She's not just disowned, she's being un-personed. (Or un-ponied?) Viewers suspect from the beginning that this is all just a dream, but even a dream is pretty traumatic while you're having it, especially if you're unable to wake up.

Nevertheless, there's plenty of humor here. Just to name a few laugh-out-loud moments, we have Apple Bloom repeatedly throwing off the blanket as her sister tries to tuck her in, an egg-laying rooster, that weird third breakfast complete with dog biscuits, and the Pinkie cameo. I like the voice switching by the Apple family and the egg beater transition. This episode also boasts one of the better show-ending punch lines we've seen in a while. Finally, I find this story intellectually interesting, as it raises Crusader-related cutie mark questions long discussed by fans of the show.

 

Other Impressions and Final Assessment: I'm impressed by the structure of this episode. After a quick cold open that gets our attention with the news about Babs, we move straight to Apple Bloom going to bed, and the first dream sequence lasts all the way to the beginning of the second act. Since the scene lasts so long and we cut away from AB for a couple establishing shots, the viewer begins to question whether it's really a dream. As the still-in-the-dream scenes play, each starts with some clever variations before veering off in a new direction. It reminds me a lot of the Star Trek episode "Cause and Effect" in that regard. You can tell the creators had fun putting a dozen or so marks on Apple Bloom while giving us a deliberate un-reveal in the cases of Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo. Speaking of these last two, by their dreams it's pretty obvious that these characters have moved well beyond the obliviousness to their true talents displayed in The Show Stoppers and now understand their respective skill sets.

Sleepless in Ponyville showed us Luna's ability to enter a pony's dreams. For Whom the Sweetie Belle Toils added that she can control the flow of a dream and move elements of one pony's dream into another's. A new ability for Luna is revealed here too, as she not only shows Apple Bloom the dreams of her friends, but pulls all three Crusaders into a group dream together. And in that short sequence, Scootaloo learns she's dreaming and immediately takes to the air, reminding us of her struggle in Flight to the Finish and provoking all sorts of emotions in the viewer by that one act.

I consider this episode par for the course at this stage of the series, which is to say it's an excellent story that represents the creative team's standard output that we've gotten used to over the past couple years. That being said, I won't call it average; this is a terrific entry in the series, and a reminder of how consistent the quality of Friendship of Magic is.

 

Bloom & Gloom armor rating: Diamond Vest
Ranked 16th of 26 season-five episodes
Ranked 66th of 147 stories overall

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