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

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Episode 116: "The Cutie Re-Mark Part 1"

Aired 11/28/2015, written by Josh Haber (his fifth episode)
  • Intro: With Spike's help, Twilight Sparkle prepares a speech for Canterlot's magic students
  • Act 1: Twilight's speech involves the mystery of simultaneous cutie marks (of the Mane Six and of the CMC). Twilight sees Starlight Glimmer at the speech and later at the castle in Ponyville, where Starlight uses a scroll and the Cutie Map to activate a portal. Twilight and Spike follow her through the portal and find themselves in Cloudsdale in the past. Starlight freezes a young Rainbow Dash, preventing the sonic rainboom that prompted the Mane Six's cutie marks, and sends Twilight and Spike back to a changed present.
  • Act 2: Twilight finds Applejack, who sees her as a stranger. AJ explains that Equestria is barely holding its own in a war against King Sombra. Twilight uses Starlight's scroll on the Cutie Map to return to the past and preempt Starlight's action, only to find Starlight waiting for her. Starlight freezes Twilight and Spike in crystal and they plummet toward the ground.
  • Act 3: Twilight breaks free and returns to the clouds, where Starlight has prevented the rainboom again by lecturing Fluttershy's bullies on friendship and equality. She then sends Twilight and Spike back to the present, where they are surrounded by ponies who suspect them of being Changelings.

Character: Twilight is back to magic-related princess duties and in a teaching role once again. I find it refreshing to see her humility front and center. That along with her eccentricities and her anxiety about Starlight Glimmer allow us a nice build-up to the power and resolve she'll demonstrate in the latter half of the story. Twilight anticipates the pattern of previous two-parters when, upon her first return to the present, she says the problem is "too big to handle on our own." She's wise to recognize her friends' role in kingdom-saving, but this time the solution really will be up to her.

That's not to say she doesn't have help along the way, and much of that comes from Spike. He's there for the usual guidance and observation, and he seems to understand the implications of time travel a little better than Twilight, probably because he reads comics. (Of course, for those of us who grew up watching space and time adventure shows, all this is old-hat, but for our characters and younger viewers, this is all new.) On the subject of Spike, I am happy to see him in the group slide during Twilight's speech, and cutie mark or no, he's an important part of the rainboom story as well.

Starlight Glimmer's return is long-anticipated; I was very surprised the story doesn't point out her mid-season appearances. The focus in part one is on her power and strategic thinking. She's definitely ready for this, and her magical power at least rivals Twilight's own. I have to wonder, if she had followed Sunburst to magic school, might Celestia have taken notice of her instead of Twilight? In my favorite part-one scene, Starlight's lesson-based approach to preventing the sonic rainboom mirrors Twilight's own habits, and it also foreshadows what becomes obvious by part two, that she believes the philosophy she was preaching in the season premiere. Her anger is thus more than personal, and it's not just about her loss of power; she feels justified in her cause, and Twilight did major damage to that cause.

Let's not forget Rainbow Dash's part in this episode. She's the only one of the Mane Six to have been engaged in an act of interpony friendship per se during the cutie mark event, and she seems friendlier now than she is by MLP's season one. There's still something in her backstory left to be explored, perhaps involving her early departure from flight school and her move to Ponyville in her fillyhood. While played for laughs, it's also a good move to show young Rainbow Dash so cautious around Twilight, who is quite the suspicious stranger from Dashie's point of view.

The Map is treated as a character again, or at least a character conduit, as Twilight speculates that its time-related actions are connected to the knowledge and guidance of the Tree of Harmony. If the Tree has the power and wisdom to preserve the Map because something's not right with the timeline, that has tremendous implications. The Journal of the Two Sisters mentions that before Celestia and Luna received their cutie marks, they were observed on the tree (along with Twilight's). I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the Tree of Harmony is responsible for the whole phenomenon of cutie marks.

Lesson: Since we spend so much of this episode just finding out what's going on, most of the lesson aspect of the story is in part two. The primary moral I see in this part is the pettiness of personal revenge. Starlight's plan is a one-sided version of the feud between the Hooffields and McColts, except that the collateral damage is not confined to a valley but extends to the entire kingdom. But Starlight's bad example is offset by her message of equality. She's still wrong, but we get a fairer presentation of her viewpoint than we got in the premiere. It's not just about keeping down special talents, but about protecting the disadvantaged from bullying or exclusion. That's an especially important element of this story, since it trips up Twilight's arguments, makes Starlight more sympathetic, and creates a possible opening for persuasion that Twilight can lock onto.

Resonance: Two things really impress me in the animation: the fact the creators either redid or improved the Cloudsdale race rather than simply reusing first-season footage, and the visuals and clockwork sound effects on the portal. Most of the awesomeness is concentrated in Applejack's flashback, from Dash's damaged ear and prosthetic wing, to Maud and Pinkie's tag-team destruction, to the sight of Celestia in battle, to the World War-style scenes on the homefront.

There's some humor as well, starting with trembly Twilight on the way to the castle, and most of Spike's expressions during Twilight's scene with Rainbow Dash. I also chuckled at Twilight's Superman pose the second time she rescues Spike. I'll reiterate the combination of awesomeness, humor, and heartwarming of the no-bullying scene. There's a poignant moment as well: When Twilight mentions that the war with Sombra wasn't supposed to happen, Applejack's ears droop. It's an expression of loss, but I'm not sure whether her regret is over the kingdom or if the loss was more personal. We don't see Granny Smith or Apple Bloom in this scenario.


Other Impressions and Final Assessment: Viewers who joined the show after season one get a needed recap of how the Mane Six got their cutie marks, especially important since cutie mark magic has been the theme of the whole season. For adult viewers, most of the fun of this story involves thought exercises in possible futures; each trip through the portal gives us a ten-year alternate history for creatives to play around in. One trivia note: The end of this episode marks the first time Queen Chrysalis has been named on the show.


The Cutie Re-Mark Parts 1 and 2 armor rating: Crystal Mail
Ranked 6th and 7th of 26 season-five episodes
Ranked 47th and 48th of 233 stories overall

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