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

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Episode 111: "Hearthbreakers"

Aired 10/24/2015, written by Nick Confalone (his second episode)
    Storyline:
  • Intro: On Hearth's Warming Eve, Applejack and Pinkie Pie visit Twilight Sparkle before leaving to spend the holiday with the Pie family. Twilight mentions that rather than waiting until morning, she and Spike are about open presents that night, a tradition foreign to both Applejack and Pinkie.
  • Act 1: Applejack reviews the meaning of Hearth's Warming to Apple Bloom on the train ride to the rock farm, where the Apples meet the Pies. But dinner is rock soup instead of the feast they expected.
  • Act 2: The Apples bond with the Pies over rock-based traditions of doll-chiseling and flag finding, but Applejack frets all the way that the Pies have never had a "real" Hearth's Warming. Overnight she decorates the farm so that the Pies wake up to a complete change of scenery.
  • Act 3: Offended by Applejack's behavior, the Pies send the Apples home. But an epiphany over the meaningfulness of the Pies' traditions compels Applejack to return to the farm, where the families enjoy Hearth's Warming morning, Pie-style.

Character: Applejack is the perspective character and the one to learn this episode's lesson. The traits that create her dilemma are part of her basic profile: embracing love of family as a top priority, proud of her home and traditions, slow to accept change, and quick to become cheerily pushy in her haste to make friends. Her problem and its solution are both foreshadowed before she even meets the Pie family. In the cold open, she takes an explicitly "everypony knows" attitude toward her family's way of celebrating Hearth's Warming, which is probably the standard tradition followed in Ponyville. She assumes that Twilight and Spike's deviation of opening their gifts on Hearth's Warming Eve can't be how Pinkie does things. Her attitude also comes through later when she says Pinkie's family never had a "real" Hearth's Warming, and that their traditions would be better if they were more like hers. The other bit of foreshadowing comes on the train, as Applejack recounts the history of Hearth's Warming to Apple Bloom. Besides being important exposition for new viewers, her tale illustrates that Applejack knows the meaning of her own traditions and believes that meaning to be important. That sets up her epiphany later on: She appreciates the Pies' traditions once she understands the meaning behind them.

While Applejack struggles, the rest of the Apple family seems to get along with the Pies just fine. Granny Smith shines particularly well here. She shows sensitivity and wisdom in recommending that the Apples give the infuriated Pies some space while holding out hope that they can be friends another time. It's also appropriate that she's the one to explain the story behind Holder's boulder, since her story of Ponyville's founding likewise shed light on her ways of preparing zap apple jam, which on the surface were just as kooky as the Pies' rock-based traditions. Her interest in acquiring a hunk via the Choosing Stone draws notice as well. As Granny herself might say, she may have snow on the roof, but there's fire in the furnace.

Pinkie Pie's role in this episode is to take the lead in bringing the two families together, but she shares Applejack's flaw of assuming her traditions are obvious. Comments like "How else would we do it?" and "That would be weird" suggest she would find Applejack's Hearth's Warming customs as odd as AJ finds hers. The difference is that Pinkie is infinitely flexible while Applejack is not; recall that Pinkie "likes ideas that make her funny at first." And since we know Pinkie has a habit of supposing other ponies think like she does, she expects the Apples to just roll with it. I wondered after this episode whether Pinkie had spent every previous Hearth's Warming at the farm. It's certainly plausible that she's never celebrated the holiday in Ponyville but consistently gathers with her family, just as so many families travel home for Thanksgiving and Christmas here.

We see some character growth from Pinkie as well, as she catches herself being insensitive to Applejack. In previous seasons, she'd just barrel on through without noticing the effect of her words and then wonder what went wrong. She could still probably use a whole episode on that issue, but it seems she's learning.

Maud is back, and you can tell the writer did some research for her rock references. I'm hoping we get a book of Maud poems and carols at some point; her writing is just solid. The other Pies aren't thoroughly fleshed out yet, but the parents are obviously being sketched out along Amish lines. The reference to providence implies some sort of religious orientation, which is probably also the point of their pipe organ motif (except that Amish don't use pipe organs in their services, and I believe the use of musical instruments at all is generally discouraged in most Amish traditions). Nevertheless, they're not literally Amish, so don't count that as an error...although I do feel compelled to point out the old-timey English is off in a couple places. I'm curious to know more about Limestone and what makes her tick (and ticked, for that matter). I suspect she's full of story potential, and her disposition may shed light on Pinkie's encounters with bullies in the series. Like many viewers, I instantly fell in love with Marble Pie. I've seen lots of cute on this show, but Marble is two or three steps beyond the degree of adorableness I have words for.


Lesson: By now we're all familiar with the series' running theme on embracing differences and making the most of them. Here we have two main-character families, possibly related and thus with a good reason to spend the holidays together, and that provides an excellent opportunity to apply that theme to an intrafamily context. This sort of thing happens in the real world anytime a marriage, adoption, foster situation, etc., brings together people from different households. Often a decent amount of surprise, insistence, resentment, and begrudging compromise must take place before a new, blended tradition arises. Going by Applejack's statement at the end of the episode, she sort of half understands this from the beginning, but she rushes things and does so with the idea that it's her job to add her traditions and make the Pies' Hearth's Warming better by doing so. Perhaps it's her pride, perhaps she's more used to being the host than the guest, but either way, she's crushed when she realizes she's jeopardized her highest priority of family togetherness by her actions and attitude. The resolution shows her and the other Apples enjoying exclusively Pie customs, so we see that she's pulled back. We can probably assume the Apple traditions will be introduced some time in the future when the Pies visit Sweet Apple Acres. Will the Pies ever be ready for Apple customs? Iggy's "Yeehaw" gives me hope, but I expect Limestone will still be a piece of work.


Resonance: Twilight's treats in the cold open look delicious, and we're treated to an awesomely decorated castle and a gorgeous crystal mine. The animators really go all-out for episodes like this. The humor is milder than the average Pinkie episode, but I liked the cameos of the film characters going home for the holidays. I giggled along with Big Mac when Apple Bloom called out AJ's lecture voice. Applejack's rusty fiddle expression was good for a chuckle, as was her weird Hearth's Warming doll. Limestone has the best "big no" I've heard in a long while, and Pinkie got a couple laughs by her reference to "team old" and her suggestion of a new knock-Holder's-boulder-into-the-quarry tradition. I judge the best visual gag to be Pinkie's physically impossible moving of the characters into their teams.

Heartwarming moments are an essential ingredient of any holiday story, and Hearthbreakers has those in bulk. We see that for all their sternness, the Pie parents love each other. Apple Bloom and Maud have a neat bonding moment, as do Big Mac and Marble. I love seeing Apple Bloom petting Boulder, and Maud's little smile. It's also cute seeing Apple Bloom's eyes light up at the sight of presents, and Big Mac gets a good relational moment as he assumes a protective stance while Limestone introduces herself to Apple Bloom.

And yes, the episode gets plenty sad at one point. Applejack running off by herself to cry, and finding Pinkie there, inconsolable. How is that not just the end of the world? Happily, things get better, but wow, they didn't pull any punches this week.

 

Other Impressions and Final Assessment: We diehard bronies may sometimes forget that not everyone has seen every single episode of the series, but most viewers may well skip a week from time to time or just tune in occasionally. Since most MLP episodes stand on their own or draw from well-established concepts, that's usually not a problem. This episode depends heavily on previous stories for its premise: specifically, Hearth's Warming Eve, Pinkie Apple Pie, and Maud Pie, with Pinkie's other family previously shown in The Cutie Mark Chronicles. Although the idea of Applejack and Pinkie being possibly related may come out of nowhere for anyone who missed that episode, the dialogue otherwise does a pretty good job of ensuring that any viewers who missed those stories are caught up.

Even if you've never seen MLP before, I believe you could start with this episode and feel like you knew all ten of the featured characters. I appreciately how effortlessly the episode introduces multiple holiday traditions for three households (counting Twilight's), with all of them having their own appeal (except for rock soup). The story flows from the characters, and the lesson is Applejack-appropriate and fits right into the series while still being new in its application. Much like this season's earlier Castle Sweet Castle, Hearthbreakers is a great example of what a Friendship Is Magic episode ought to be.

 

Hearthbreakers armor rating: Diamond Armor
Ranked 9th of 26 season-five episodes
Ranked 40th of 147 stories overall

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