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

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Episode 151: "Hard to Say Anything"

Aired 5/27/2017, written by Becky Wangberg (her first episode)
    Storyline:
  • Intro: The Cutie Mark Crusaders notice that Big McIntosh has been making an excessive number of apple deliveries to Starlight Glimmer's old village.
  • Act 1: The CMC stow away on Big Mac's apple cart and learn he's been spending time with Sugar Belle. The two clearly like each other. Big Mac readily admits his crush to the CMC, and they encourage him to say something, but he is shown up by another pony named Feather Bangs.
  • Act 2: Sweetie Belle consults a storybook to advise Big Mac. At the CMC's urging, he rescues Sugar Belle from a purse-snatcher (a disguised Scootaloo) only for Feather Bangs to catch and return the purse. He tries kissing Sugar Belle in her sleep, but Feather Bangs whisks her away on a chariot. Finally, Big Mac's serenade turns into a clumsy sing-off with Feather Bangs that leaves Sugar Belle infuriated at them both.
  • Act 3: Ditching the storybook, Big Mac hatches a plan to win back Sugar Belle. As Scootaloo distracts her, Big Mac rebuilds a display case that was wrecked during the sing-off. The CMC apologize for their antics and Big Mac and Sugar Belle affirm their love.

Character: Let's start with the Cutie Mark Crusaders. The fairy tale book may belong to Sweetie Belle, but the CMC have about equal time in this story and take turns suggesting plots. Apple Bloom comes up with the "damsel in distress" scheme, Sweetie Belle prefers the wake-up kiss, and Scootaloo opts for the romantic musical number. Keep in mind they don't seek out romantic intervention this time; they stumble into it. I'd say they're believable in their intentions and strategies throughout.

This is the seventh episode with a feature role for Big McIntosh, and all of them reveal something special about his character. (The others are, in order, Hearts and Hooves Day, Pinkie Apple Pie, Filli Vanilli, Brotherhooves Social, Dungeons & Discords, and Where the Apple Lies.) We know that he's the classic Gentle Giant, kind and (in his adulthood) soft-spoken, a sentimentalist with strong emotions and firm convictions. For this to manifest itself in a romantic side is not surprising. He's also not immune to the charms of a mare who likes bananas.

Nevertheless, I do find fault with the writing for Big Mac on a couple points here. First, glad as I am that the characters bring up the events of Hearts and Hooves Day, just on principle Big Mac really shouldn't let himself be led along by three preteen fillies who've never had a real relationship. Second, I'm especially troubled that part of Big Mac's plan, after the lesson has been learned and we're supposed to be doing the right thing now, involves enlisting Scootaloo to provide a deceptive distraction for Sugar Belle. It's so off in every way that it makes the story fall apart for me. Perhaps you can chalk it up to the old trope that Love Makes You Crazy, but he doesn't display any sign of desperation aside from these departures.

I love how Sugar Belle is depicted here. The Cutie Map left her as largely a clean slate aside from her baking. Her soft personality combined with her forwardness makes her a suitable match for Big Mac. I especially like the way various emotions play across her face throughout the sing-off, particularly during the first verse. She also gets some range by losing her temper, in a context that totally justifies her being upset.

And despite my issues with Big Mac's scheming, I am okay with how easily Sugar Belle forgives him. It's clear that she's liked him from the get-go and is seeking an excuse to look past the shenanigans.

Vincent Tong voices Feather Bangs, and it would have been hilarious to see Tong's other character Flash Sentry face off against Big Mac here. As it is, I like the parody of pop stars and boy bands. The twist at the end is in the spirit of the show, as he goes from annoying rival to insecure supplicant. Honestly, he's not acting all that different from Big Mac. In fact, it seems he can only copy what he sees and then take it up a notch. His cutie mark appears related to his love poetry, and in that respect the CMC will be helping him fulfill his cutie mark. It's still weird to me that an adult would turn to these youngsters for romantic advice. But...maybe their reputation's preceded them?


Lesson: The lesson is delivered in a couple spots here: The "big grand gestures" that always work in fairy tales may not work on a real pony. Our heroes "should've been thinking about what would mean a lot to Sugar Belle." And as Apple Bloom says later, "Romance isn't about impressing somepony; it's about doing something that means something special to that pony you love." And indeed, Sugar Belle indicates in the first act that the "something special" she wants is a new display case.

I like MLP's defining romance in terms of servanthood. Throughout this series, friendship is not a mere vehicle for self-fulfillment but is proven through action for the sake of a friend's good. If more people would see romantic relationships that way in the real world, those relationships would be a lot more stable.

There's a second moral present in the contrast between the two rivals. There's a lot of as-yet-unrequited love out there. We're designed to be attracted, if for no other reason than that the vast majority of us need to pair up and bear fruit in order to preserve the species. (Not that that is the only reason.) But as young people sort through those feelings, they need to consider whether they're really drawn toward that person as a person, as Big Mac is, or whether they're just in love with the idea of being in love, like Feather Bangs.

That's not to say the second approach is wrong, but it's good to be honest about it, and in either case, one's advances must be sincere and tailored to the individual. What is love, after all, but a devotion to the needs and desires of the one you love? Of course, I'll say to you guys that it helps if you're already friends on a close enough level that you can find out what those needs and desires are without getting stalkery. But if not, you can at least start with things that most women commonly want and will accept. Once I figure out what those things are, I'll be sure to do a video about it.


Resonance: It's cute to see Sugar Belle liking Big Mac from the beginning, and I'm touched that they're able to come to an understanding by the end of the story. My heart is warmed by Big Mac's description of Sugar Belle after the sing-off. As for humor, I get a chuckle out of AB's instruction to "act like apples," as well as the lines "How many spies do you know?" and "I was younger on the way here." The rest is all cringe comedy, with the cringiest being the kissing scene, appropriately portrayed as disturbing and wrong. The cringe might have worked for me if I'd found Big Mac's actions believable, but my repeated exclamations of "What are you doing?" came from frustration rather than amusement. I will say the sing-off is remarkably fun to listen to since the singing itself is good; the lyrics are just really cheesy.

 

Other Impressions and Final Assessment: As with any MLP episode, there are little shining moments tangential to the plot: yet another Apple pirate reference (we've had two others), the Charlie's Angels pose, the Band Aid on the blue pony, and some great angry looks from Big McIntosh and Sugar Belle. And are we pairing up Party Favor and Night Glider now?

I'm sorry, but there's not a lot else here to offset my issues with the story. A key element of the plot, Big Mac's willingness to be steered by the CMC, is just a major problem for me, as is the scheming bleeding over into the resolution via Scootaloo's actually-kind-of-mean distraction. The fact this passes without mention just kills the reconciliation scene for me. After all, love is nothing without honesty, as any Apple should know.

I admire the lesson and I think it's good we have an episode that teaches it. But I think Big McIntosh was the wrong pony to have as the bad example here. With a more clueless stallion and a more noble ending, this could have been great. As it is, with extra credit for the fun music and some snappy dialogue, this story is about on par with The Cutie Pox and Ponyville Confidential.

 

Hard to Say Anything armor rating: Leather Armor
Ranked 26th of 26 season-seven episodes
Ranked 147th of 175 stories overall

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