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

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Episode 32: "The Cutie Pox"

Aired 11/12/2011, written by Amy Keating Rogers (her seventh episode)
    Storyline:
  • Intro: The Cutie Mark Crusaders try to get their cutie marks by bowling. They fail.
  • Act 1: Refusing consolation for her blank flank, Apple Bloom wanders into the Everfree Forest and falls, chipping a tooth. Zecora heals it but leaves Apple Bloom alone with her potions, including one that grants desires.
  • Act 2: Apple Bloom arrives at school with a loop-de-hoop (hula hoop) cutie mark and soon gains a second one for spinning plates. She shows off all day but finds at night that she can't stop performing her talents, including a third that forces her to dance.
  • Act 3: Twilight discovers that AB has cutie pox, and her condition worsens as they head through town on their way to Zecora's. Zecora arrives with a flower that sprouts at Apple Bloom's confession of taking Zecora's potion. She writes a letter to Princess Celestia articulating a lesson of patience, but that lesson is promptly forgotten.

Character: By now the CMC have spent enough time doing other things that we're ready for another cutie mark episode. But here we return to Apple Bloom's case in particular, where it all began. Now that she's a year behind in getting her mark, it's understandable that she's despairing. Her actions seem natural, both her deception borne out of desperation and her conscience about it, given her closeness to Applejack, the Element of Honesty. Following on the heels of Sisterhooves Social, the closeness of the Apple family is extended here to Big Mac and Granny, and the horrifying moment when Applejack discovers her sister's affliction is touching in retrospect as we see her genuine concern. The loyalty of the CMC to Apple Bloom, without a hint of jealousy or resentment anywhere along the line, is also a highlight of this episode. Also, it's a small moment, but I liked seeing Applejack rushing Zecora's cure; it's very in-character for her. And are Pinkie's confessions payback for her treatment of Spike in Party of One?

Recall that it was Apple Bloom who first trusted Zecora, so there's also a special relationship here. This makes AB's error more egregious, but it also sets up an opportunity for Zecora to show her graciousness toward the end. I'd still like to see more depth to Zecora rather than have her 100% full of positive traitsóbut not villainy so much as vulnerability. A pain or weakness, or perhaps some bad advice she has to apologize for, would help round out her character.

Granny Smith, also seen in the previous episode, seems more spritely than she was in season one, and I'd like to credit Discord for that. Unless Applejack got her that hip replacement, the only on-screen explanation for her new-found mobility is the scene of her dancing under Discord's influence in The Return of Harmony Part 2. From a storytelling standpoint, the upgrade is necessary for her featured role in Family Appreciation Day later this season.

Oh, and Spike gets a demonstration of his abilities as "number-one assistant" and even a word of appreciation.


Lesson: Scheming is a tried-and-true method of providing the comedy or drama of a story. In a show like MLP, it works best for characters who are immature, fearful, or at a point of desperation. And for the sake of the show's morality, we like to see the characters called out on it or at least face some poetic justice for their missteps. Since honesty is itself the lesson of this episode, this is where a plot like this belongs, and Apple Bloom is just the right character for the reasons articulated above.

One nice thing about Apple Bloom's letter is it understands dishonesty encompasses more than lying itself but also includes inauthentic shortcuts. Even as adults, we're tempted to cut corners and often don't think of the potential consequences of deviating from the way we know things ought to be done. Like a steak, life has a grain to it, and cutting against the grain takes a lot of extra work and leaves a messy end product. One weakness of the CMC episodes, speaking solely in terms of the premise of the series, is that the lessons spelled out for young viewers tend to be about life or family rather than friendship. So although we're shown that the CMC stick together through all this, I would have liked to see the friendship angle addressed more explicitly. It is there, since Apple Bloom is friends with Zecora, but the other Crusaders are more affected since getting a cutie mark is the main point of their team. (Perhaps the writer could have taken the unprecedented step of a second letter in the same episode, from Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo?)


Logic: So do cutie marks actually give a pony talents and powers? No other evidence supports this, so I take it this is restricted to the Cutie Pox disease or is a result of the unnatural means by which Apple Bloom acquires the marks. Connections: Connections: Refer to Bridle Gossip for the introduction of Zecora and the beginning of her friendship with Apple Bloom. Also, as of this writing, this is the last panic scene for the three flower ponies.

 

Resonance: Most of the episode is played light, with plenty of laughs. The Crusaders' attempts at bowling are hilarious, and the shout-out to The Big Lebowski is effective because it's so rare for the show and so daring, given that the film is not particularly kid-friendly. The cartoonish nature of Apple Bloom's later talents/compulsions fit the tone of the show, but I enjoyed better the town ponies' Hazmat suits and Pinkie's anguished confessions. Zecora's Batman-style exit drew a cheer from me as well.

The Crusaders' efforts to cheer Apple Bloom, their concern for her, their delight over her achievement (rather than jealousy), and their return at the end provide a seriously warm context for the comedy. As for more serious reactions, I had some major cringing at Apple Bloom's tooth injury (I've been there), and the late-night dancing scene got me. It only takes about twenty seconds of playing a situation scary to affect viewers for the next several minutes, and this is a great example. I have read at least a couple fairy tales that involved shoes that caused someone to dance to death. This made Apple Bloom's "Help me!" moment downright nightmarish, with the prospect of her literally dying of exhaustion. I was worried enough for her during the third act that I had to do a second viewing to catch the humor.

 

Other Impressions and Final Assessment: I felt the pacing was off in the first half. Following a fun and decent-sized cold open, we get a too-quick montage and then a long scene with Zecora, followed by five minutes nonstop of Apple Bloom showing off her new talents. Her showing off in town is awesome, but I felt the schoolyard portion could have been cut in half. Things pick up in the third act as her new marks come one after another. By that point I was too caught up in the story in both viewings to pay attention to pacing (which is what you want, of course). The resolution takes its time but ends just a tad abruptly.

It's a nice touch to have Apple Bloom speaking French without any of the characters using the word "French." (We also heard a little bit of French in Party of One.)

This is a decent episode; there's a lot to commend it. It definitely meets the standard the series has set to this point. But pacing concerns and some missed opportunities to drive home the relevance of the story to friendship tap the episode down below Applebuck Season and Bridle Gossip. As it stands, I place it about on a par with Call of the Cutie.

 

The Cutie Pox armor rating: Leather Armor
Ranked 17th of 26 season-two episodes
Ranked 121st of 147 stories overall

 

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