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

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Episode 56: "One Bad Apple"

Aired 11/24/2012, written by Cindy Morrow (her ninth episode)
    Storyline:
  • Intro: Apple Bloom learns that her cousin Babs about to visit from Manehattan doesn't have a cutie mark.
  • Act 1: The Cutie Mark Crusaders greet Babs and invite her to join their group. Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon show up to mock them and the float they've built for the harvest parade. Babs joins Diamond and Silver in the bullying and wrecks the float.
  • Act 2: The Crusaders try avoiding Babs to no avail, and Babs eventually commandeers the clubhouse. The CMC decide to fight back by building a new float that is booby-trapped, counting on Babs to steal it, which she does. Applejack then informs the CMC that Babs has been dealing with bullies in Manehattan.
  • Act 3: The CMC chase down the float and get Babs to safety before crashing in it. They and Babs apologize to each other, and Babs inducted into the Crusaders, intending to start a new chapter in Manehattan. She also stands up to Diamond and Silver at the train station before leaving.

Character: Apple Bloom is in the foreground for most of the first act since Babs is her cousin, but the other two Crusaders have roughly equal amounts of time and dialogue here. Their predicament is shared and their reactions are appropriate to what we've come to expect. They have advanced beyond previous episodes by at least considering telling an adult what's going on. (Or at least, Sweetie Belle has.) They try avoiding Babs and asking her earnestly and politely what's wrong before fighting back. When they do hatch a scheme, it's done with a bit more competence than past episodes would suggest they have, but we have seen Apple Bloom's construction skills highlighted before.

One nice touch here is Scootaloo's fluttering and Sweetie Belle's magic sparks as they're waiting for Babs to arrive. Time will tell if they're beginning to grow up and are going to develop normal pegasus and unicorn abilities, but the fact that this is just their excitement and not the result of effort (even going unnoticed by them or anypony else) fits with the recurring concept of growing up being a matter of time that can't be forced.

Applejack handles the CMC well when she's on screen. Since one of the points of the episode is that they should have spoken to an adult, the adult has to remain in the dark until after the disaster. I'm not sure how much of an Idiot Ball Applejack is carrying here, since we could variously interpret Applejack's state of mind when she tells the CMC about Babs being bullied, but I hope character hasn't been sacrificed for the sake of the message. I conclude it's not, but other viewers may reach different conclusions.

Babs herself is wonderfully written here. She's introduced as a filly who seems to lack confidence and is sensitive about her lack of a cutie mark. It's with that view of her that we see her look back and forth between the Crusaders and the Diamond/Silver bully duo. We've already seen this type of moment of choice several times in the series; Rarity at the garden party in Sweet and Elite is the first that comes to my mind. But I think this is the first time the character makes the wrong choice, so it comes as a shock to any who didn't notice the spoileriffic title. So she's bad for the duration of the episode and then softens once the truth of her backstory comes out. Typical kids' show, right?

Only she's not a stereotypical "jerk with a heart of gold" or merely misunderstood. The specific motivation behind her bullying is a real-life motivation for some (though certainly not all) bullying that young people have to deal with. And the twist is nicely foreshadowed by Babs hiding her "blank flank" whenever cutie marks are mentioned, and by her initially freezing up at the appearance of Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon. Sharp eyes will also catch that she's momentarily dismayed at the collapse of the pumpkin float and is still subtly uneasy as late as the "bump, bump" routine at the commandeered clubhouse. Even as she steals the float, she's somewhat desperately looking at her new friends for validation. The writers thus never let her go all the way to the dark side, and since she's only bullying to avoid being bullied herself, it's not hard to believe her being nice again once that threat is removed.


Lesson: The main message is expressed clearly enough at the end of the second act and the middle of the third, only not in the form of a letter to the Princess. (Celestia may not want a letter every week, but I do.) Bullying the bully isn't the right solution, and we can't assume the motives of those who mistreat us. That's not to say everypony is good at heart; Diamond Tiara in particular seems beyond redemption, barring some major trauma. But we say that having seen her in eight episodes, and there may be a surprise or two later.

By the way, Babs confronting Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon on the Crusaders' behalf sets a good example. When a mean kid is mean to your friend (or to your own kid), threatening to tell the bully's mother is one of the most effective ways of dealing with the problem. (It's not 100%, because some parents actually encourage the bad behavior, but that's usually the fathers.)


Connections: Babs's Big Bad Wolf outfit recalls Scootaloo's costume from Luna Eclipsed. A more sincere version of Babs appears in Apple Family Reunion. Shady Daze being the school photographer is a callback to Ponyville Confidential.

 

Resonance: There's lots of fun to be had from the Crusaders' antics, especially the clubhouse tour and the induction ceremony. My three favorite moments (out of many) are Apple Bloom's snorkel outfit, Scootaloo's expression as she hits the drum for the last time, and the wobbly saw sound effect when Apple Bloom waves at Sweetie Belle (also heard in Hearts and Hooves Day). The A-Team Montage was concentrated awesome, and of course there are plenty of cute expressions and situations. The Crusaders' reaction to the loss of the clubhouse is a particularly sad moment, especially with Sweetie Belle's scream-cry followed by quiet sobbing in her bedroom.

 

Other Impressions and Final Assessment: Yet another bullying story, this could have been just an average throw-away episode, but the deft handling of Babs's character and the authenticity of the CMC throughout cause it to surpass our expectations once again. The music is very different from the other showtuney songs we've heard on the series. With the imaginative/stylized graphics, the poppy tune, the simplistic refrain, and the adult-voice guide track singing along with the characters, it's a deliberate homage to the old Hanna-Barbera Saturday morning toons, circa 1970. Its style is also compatible enough with the CMC's questing music from The Show Stoppers to seem especially appropriate to these three characters. (Also a possible homage to Hanna-Barbera is the wraparound background of ponies watching the parade as the Crusaders chase the sabotaged float. I say possible because it's not difficult to find other examples of this in MLP.)

One little-noticed new location here is the house of Rarity and Sweetie Belle's parents. The establishing shot places the parents' house by the river and next to the windmill. It looks like Dad is fishing, which suggests they either are not vegetarians or else have pet ferrets to feed.

I really have nothing to complain about here. In fact, this is easily the best CMC episode so far to focus on the Crusaders themselves (as opposed to their relationships with the adult cast), and an excellent episode in its own right.

 

One Bad Apple armor rating: Golden Vest
Ranked 7th of 13 season-three episodes
Ranked 89th of 147 stories overall

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