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

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Episode 82: "Somepony to Watch Over Me"

Aired 3/8/2014, written by Scott Sonneborn (his first episode)
    Storyline:
  • Intro: The Apple family announces Apple Bloom is old enough to be left home by herself while the others are gone for the afternoon.
  • Act 1: Granny leaves to visit a relative, while Applejack and Big Mac depart to deliver pies. Applejack frets over leaving Apple Bloom alone and decides to head back. Apple Bloom has been doing well but is startled by AJ's return, resulting in a mess that confirms AJ's sisterly concerns.
  • Act 2: Applejack refuses to let Apple Bloom out of her sight and even baby-proofs the entire farm. The Cutie Mark Crusaders concoct a plan whereby AB will prove her worth by making her sister's pie delivery while the others take turns lying in bed so AJ will think she's asleep. Applejack finds out hours later and is horrified.
  • Act 3: As AJ rushes out, Apple Bloom finds herself in a fire swamp and is cornered by a chimera. She survives long enough to hide the pie cart and for AJ to come to the rescue. Applejack defeats the chimera and is impressed that Apple Bloom still has the pies. They finish the delivery together.

Character: Applejack is established from the beginning of the series as honest, dependable, noble-hearted, usually level-headed and mature, self-disciplined, and devoted to her family and friends. In short, her personality doesn't revolve around a prominent flaw such as Fluttershy's shyness, Twilight's insecurities, or Rainbow Dash's fragile ego. As a result, the writers of her better episodes have devised stories where her normal strengths become a hindrance, either because they're taken to extremes (as in Applebuck Season) or the situation sets one strength against another (as in The Last Roundup). In this story we have an extreme form of Applejack's protective streak, which was seen as early as Bridle Gossip. In fact, way back in Friendship Is Magic part 2, Applejack demonstrated her Element by insisting Twilight Sparkle can trust her because (as I understand the scene) by extending friendship to Twilight, AJ has taken on a commitment to protect her, and she MUST be true to that commitment. Not only does AJ have a natural bond with her sister and would obviously guard her for that reason, it's extremely likely AJ made a promise to that effect upon the loss of their parents.

AJ's behavior here also draws from the control issues she displayed in Apple Family Reunion: In her mind, the best way to ensure success and avoid problems is to take everything into her own hooves. This points at the pride problem I've brought up in a couple other reviews, though the problem in the spotlight here is her lack of pride/confidence in Apple Bloom. We got a little hint of this just last episode, when Applejack compared the cuteness of the incredibly fragile Breezies to an image of AB as an infant.

Apple Bloom is the perspective character here, and her maturity beyond her years (however many that may be) is evident from Bridle Gossip and all the Crusaders episodes. Though normally respectful of her elders, Apple Bloom is fiercely independent, a little prone to worry during the planning of a scheme but fearless while pulling it off. I'm sure Applejack has no idea how daring some of the CMC's adventures have been. In this episode, Apple Bloom is a good role model for responsibility both at home and in a crisis, with the exception of her rash decision to run off on the pie delivery (which is clearly presented as a mistake in-story).

On a minor note, the many bows and hats we see in this episode suggest that the characters aren't always wearing the same one. Much fanfic has assumed a single bow and a single hat, often with great sentimental value. The supporting characters in the story are all what they're supposed to be, and Big Mac gets a little development with his cheery "Eeyup" farewell and his delivery scene with Applejack. The chimera's personalities show a clever and humorous parallel with Apple Bloom's family issues without being too heavy-handed or drawn-out. I was concerned on first viewing that the chimera would turn friendly upon discovering what she/they and Apple Bloom had in common, but thankfully the writer kept the story on an actiony course.


Lesson: This story hits both sides of the big sis/little sis dilemma of responsibility and independence. Children of the show's target age may have older or younger siblings, or both, and therefore need both perspectives. Of course the story doesn't say all that could be said for the caretaking issues involved, but AJ's behavior is a corrective to the often condecending attitudes kids may have to a "baby" sister or brother, and the end urges by positive example that we should appreciate and (verbally) recognize the things they are capable of. For those on the younger side, they will connect with Apple Bloom's frustration and desire to be trusted, and the show can help them understand their elders' heartfelt concern for their safety, as well as the existence of real dangers they may not be prepared for.

I really was not expecting the show to leave the setting of the farm. I welcome the fire swamp sequence, which is a fun swerve into the thriller genre and places Apple Bloom in peril she hasn't experienced since Stare Master. It is true that farms can be dangerous and are the site of many accidents, with so much equipment that's heavy, sharp, or filled with belts and gears just waiting to cause a major injury. But in retrospect, if Apple Bloom really had run into danger at home, it would have spoken poorly of the family's decision to leave her there in the first place. For the sake of the story's lessons, she really did need to leave the farm, run into trouble, and manage it well enough yet still need her sister to come to the rescue. I applaud the writer for making each turn of the plot seem natural and fun.


Logic: Since Ponyville doesn't appear to have a telephone system, just how did Apple Bloom get Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo to the farm? I'm guessing the CMC have devised a way to contact one another from a distance for meetings and crusading. My best guess is that AB used Winona as a courier, and the pyramid of hay bales would have made it easy for them to get into her room unnoticed.

 

Resonance: My two favorite moments are the song fake-out and the cameo of Smarty Pants, who was last seen in Big Mac's possession in Ponyville Confidential. There's a lot to laugh at in this episode. I chuckled just a bit at the baby-proofing/helmet scenes, but the fun really picked up with the Crusaders (sleeping with sass, Scoot's response to being discovered, etc.) They may have been right in The Show Stoppers in identifying comedy as their special talent.

The entire fire swamp sequence is a thrill ride, "scary but fun" in the best tradition of MLP, with a chimera whose fearsomeness isn't softened by the "cuteness" of earlier monsters such the manticore and Cerberus. The chimera's explicit desire to eat Apple Bloom is several steps beyond where the creators would have allowed themselves to go in the first season. That level of danger makes Applejack's cavalry arrival and creative defeat of the creature all the more satisfying in its awesomeness.

 

Other Impressions and Final Assessment: The first 2/3 of the episode is good enough on its own, with plenty of clever humor, good character development, and a surprising shout-out to Django Unchained (replace the springy pie on the cart with a large tooth). But it's the third act that demonstrates this episode's fourth-season strength. Beyond what I've said above, I cite the design of the chimera, whose behavior, appearance, and setting all match the underlying mythology (swapping out the lion's head for a tiger's to distinguish it from the manticore), and developed as an interesting character as opposed to the more generic threats of the hydra and the cragadile. I also consider it a brilliant move to have Applejack's seemingly ridiculous questions to the CMC pay off in the manner she staves off the chimera's three heads. Having a dash of Cajun culture in Equestria is just icing on the cake.

Altogether we have an episode that combines action, funny stuff, a relevant, well-delivered lesson, and believable and balanced presentation for two characters who deserve a lot more love and attention from the fans. One of the very best stories to come from a first-time MLP writer.

 

Somepony to Watch Over Me armor rating: Gold Armor
Ranked 14th of 26 season-four episodes
Ranked 77th of 147 stories overall

Click HERE for Character Appearance List and Screentime.

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