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

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Episode 152: "Honest Apple"

Aired 6/3/2017, written by Kevin Lappin (his first episode)
  • Intro: Rarity distributes flyers for an upcoming fashion contest to be judged by Photo Finish, Hoity Toity, and Applejack, much to the latter's surprise.
  • Act 1: Rarity requests Applejack's opinion on the basis of her honesty and practicality. Talking it over with family, AJ consents but quickly finds herself at odds with the industry judges.
  • Act 2: As the designers arrive and begin preparing unusual outfits, the pros give them high praise while Applejack grows increasingly critical. Unable to comprehend the insiders' critiques, she ultimately declares fashion istelf ridiculous. The judges and designers leave in protest and Rarity runs off in tears.
  • Act 3: Applejack insists she's in the right for giving her honest opinion, so Rarity introduces her to a pony who hates apples and mocks AJ for liking them. Realizing her error, Applejack rounds up the judges and designers, apologizes, and ensures that the contest take place. She casts the deciding vote for all three contestants, so that everypony wins.

Character: This is a tricky episode to review because we're seeing characters at their worst. But the key question, as we've had to consider in several episodes this season, is whether our favorite masters of friendship are making believable mistakes that reflect and/or reveal traits that are natural to them, or whether they're being artificially manipulated by the writer for the sake of the story.

First of all, what was Rarity thinking in asking Applejack of all ponies to help judge a fashion show? Well, it's pretty clear within the episode that we're supposed to see this as a terrible idea from the beginning, and that everypony but Rarity can see it. But Rarity's specialty is finding value in the unlikely, and she's trusted her friends with fashion-related tasks before and things have turned out alright in the end. As she explains, she wants an outsider's perspective, somepony not caught up in the industry, who will see what the consumer sees and not simply go along with the others' opinions. AJ's eye for practicality is an additional selling point, and her brief stint as Apple Jewel indicates she knows enough to dress herself up if she sees a reason to. It's still a risky choice; the problems are forseeable. But I think Rarity is counting on Applejack being better behaved than she is here.

And Applejack? She's my favorite of the Mane Six, so I'm a little biased here, but I've always seen her as one of the more constructive, sensitive characters. From the first season, she often softens her voice for hard truths and uses the epithet "sugar cube" to preface her criticisms and advice. We see the "good AJ" in this episode as she advises Apple Bloom about her hat early on, and as she repeatedly checks with Rarity to make sure she's not overstepping in her comments. On the other hoof, Applejack can fly off the handle in moments of personal offense and moral indignation, and her stubbornness has been known to make personal problems escalate from time to time. As she finds herself butting up against everypony else at every turn, despite her observations being so obvious to her, she grows more and more insistent. And as things start to fall apart, Rarity's attempts to bring peace leave AJ with the impression she's still doing great.

One of the ironies of this story is that Rarity's failure to be honest and direct with Applejack at this point is as much a part of the problem as Applejack's failure to hold back. Now, that doesn't excuse Applejack's behavior at the climax, especially in destroying Lily Lace's hat just after Lily says how hard she worked on it. "Fixing" the outfits without asking goes way beyond her prerogative. Likewise, her blown temper when called out is inexcusable.

But the question is, again, is this believable? Can I see my Applejack doing something like this? I hate to say it, but under these circumstances, yes. We all have the potential to be mean in our worst moments, particularly when we're backed into a corner. And AJ has always had a bit of a self-righteous streak that drives her to ridiculous lengths to avoid confronting her failures. Fortunately, it's that same determination to fix things that compels her to give a solid, heartfelt apology and put the contest back on in the third act.

Lesson: The real flaw at issue is Applejack's contempt for the fashion industry. Until now, she really doesn't respect the tastes and the labor of fashion designers. She believes it's all a silly fuss to no purpose, whereas her own occupation is the most practical of all: she grows food. What good is there in fashion in a society where ponies don't even normally wear clothes? (On that point, it would be good to remind Applejack that clothes are fairly standard in Canterlot.) Her scorn clouds her judgment, and she applies that disdain to every outfit until the larger truth finally comes out. It's that attitude, more than her honesty, that needs to change.

Nevertheless, the fashion ponies would not have been so hurt if AJ had kept this attitude a bit more under wraps. Friendly honesty does not require that all ideas need to be expressed. Much of what passes for honesty and authentic self-expression nowadays is basically tough love without the love. It seems we demonstrate how strongly we feel about a topic by how harshly or rudely we state our opinion. If we practice the virtue of gentleness, we fear we either won't be heard, or that people who agree with us will think we aren't passionate about the issue. Think about it: The last time you opined on an issue in the news, did you address the "other side" with love and grace, or would your words give the impression you think the people who disagree with you are "the enemy"?

When it comes to matters of taste, not liking something doesn't mean you have to denounce it. In matters of prudence, even a foolish plan of action can have a good intention behind it. And even in matters of moral principle, there's an approriate time and manner to broach sensitive topics. Often our disagreements come because of our limited perspective or differing priorities, the environment we come from shapes our point of view. Perhaps we've been exposed to different sets of data. If you assume that your opponents must be stupid, evil, or insane to disagree with you, then perhaps you're not as devoted to what is true and right as you think you are. I have friends whose beliefs I think are misguided or whose habits I believe are foolish or even self-destructive. They may likewise think much the same of me. But such matters can be addressed sensitively and with respect for the person and their perspective, and that takes place best within a relationship that's strong enough to bear the weight of hard truth.

Getting back to the episode, I love the lesson but I think Honest Apple falls short of really getting it across in two ways. First, the fashion ponies' critiques are all positive and AJ's all negative. Experts tend to be the harshest critics; if I'm out of my element, I often don't have much to offer except to say, "That looks fine. I like that. I don't really like that. But I'm couldn't really tell you why." Given our past experience with Hoity Toity and Photo Finish, I would have expected them to be harder to impress, while AJ should have more "identical belt" situations where her lack of experience left her with little to say. I think the lesson could be clearer if we were pitting vague, unhelpful criticisms against respectful, constructive critiques that helped the designers improve their designs.

I also believe the lesson is undercut by Applejack getting to vote for all three ponies. Here was an opportunity for AJ to express an actual opinion, selecting a winner, in a way that was sensitive to other contestants. I miss getting that example. And I believe this is the third time the "Everypony wins" mindset has crept into MLP in recent years, and I hope it's the last because real life simply does not work that way.

Resonance: This strikes me as one of the less serious episodes, so I took this in as a comedy. Most of my enjoyment of this episode came from watching Lily Lace. As soon as she opened her mouth, I thought, "This is my new favorite pony." Not, um, literally, but she's instantly the most memorable new character in the story. She's consistently hilarious. I like Inky Rose's smiles as well. Applejack's encounter with Strawberry Sunrise is expertly played and brings Applejack to her Heel Realization in an entertaining and believable way. I'm not as keen as other fans on Rarity's side of the guitar gag. (I thought it worked better with Sunset Shimmer.) However, I do laugh at Pinkie's difficulties with the instrument, recalling her flugelhorn fun in the third season. Applejack's rounding up of the judges and giving her apology to a captive audience brings some excitement and fun to the third act, which works much better with this story than a more dramatic and serious take.


Other Impressions and Final Assessment: We get our first look at the eyes of Hoity Toity and Photo Finish. Spike's crush gets a little attention here; I'm happy to see that brought back. And kudos to the artists for designing unique characters and multiple outfits, as has become the norm for MLP's fashion episodes. The outfits we see on display at the end really do look nice, in my honest opinion.

I think the fan debate on the characterizations of Applejack and Rarity in this episode is legitimate, but I'm on board with what we see here. As I mentioned, the quality does take a hit from the missed opportunity that we don't get good examples of true constructive criticism, either from the judges in the middle of the story or from AJ at the end. (To be fair, there is a hint of it in Rarity's backpedaling comments.) But it's still a strong, fun episode. After several viewings, I'd say it's just a notch above Forever Filly as an enjoyable viewing experience.


Honest Apple armor rating: Iron Armor
Ranked 22nd of 26 season-seven episodes
Ranked 163rd of 233 stories overall

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