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

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Episode 117: "The Cutie Re-Mark – Part 2"

Aired 11/28/2015, written by Josh Haber (his sixth episode)
    Storyline:
  • Intro: Recap.
  • Act 1: The ponies guarding Twilight and Spike are led by Zecora, who believes Twilight's story and distracts a Changeling attack so that Twilight can return to the past. After a stalemate battle with Starlight in Cloudsdale, Twilight's next trip is to a present where the Map is guarded by Timberwolves, and Nightmare Moon rules the kingdom.
  • Act 2: Twilight tricks Nightmare Moon into leading her past the Timberwolves so she can return to Starlight Glimmer. More failed attempts to stop her get her sent to presents ruled by Tirek, Discord, and the Flim-Flam Brothers, before Twilight takes Starlight with her to a wasteland to show her the significance of her actions. Starlight in turn gives Twilight a view of the childhood loss of her friend Sunburst, who was sent away to magic school after getting his cutie mark before her. In Cloudsdale one last time, Starlight begins tearing her scroll to make her change to history permanent.
  • Act 3: Twilight pleads with Starlight Glimmer to give friendship another chance. Starlight eventually relents and allows the sonic rainboom to take place. They return to Twilight's castle, and the Mane Six agree to accept Starlight into their number. Starlight befriends each of them and even reconciles with the ponies of the village she once controlled.


Character: Within the TV series, we've had 28 characters besides Starlight Glimmer that I would count as villains. Of these, only five have been reformed, plus an apology from the possibly semi-reformed Trixie. Reconciliation and forgiveness have been themes all season long, so we shouldn't be surprised to see an effort to redeem Starlight. Nevertheless, I think it's smart that Twilight resorts to action first, since her lecture was so harshly dismissed last time around. The glimmer of hope visible in Starlight is the sincerity in her message of equality; it means her purpose in Our Town was at least somewhat altruistic. She wants a society where nopony suffers as she suffered. Yet she's petty in the way she seeks revenge for the loss of her village–"cutie marks for cutie marks," as she says. She has personalized the conflict without considering the larger consequences. Twilight plays to this dissonance by showing Starlight that everypony in Equestria will suffer if she goes through with her plan. Along the way, Twi keeps reiterating that the bond between her friends serves as proof that friendships with differences CAN work, and even beyond their specific actions, Equestria's future depends on the existence of such friendships.

I misjudged Starlight in my review of The Cutie Map—Part 2. Once things fall apart, she acts not out of temper but out of pain and she's now bitter that her lifelong effort may have been mistaken. You can see the truth beginning to sink in when Starlight is taken to the wasteland. She uses anger as her defense, working herself into a fury to avoid facing the fact that she's the cause of her own misery. Her philosophy's fatal flaw is that it assumes that happiness depends on how you compare with somepony else, and so she wasted what should have been a joyful moment with her friend, and instead gave up on her chances for any other friendship, fearful of the risks that love always entails. Everyone loses friends to natural changes in life, but she cites Sunburst's success as a childhood trauma and blames society for her loss. Twilight's not buying it. Setting aside their differences in philosophy, Twi pinpoints Starlight's original error, her assumed helplessness. Faced with the possibility that future friendships may fail, Twilight's message is, "I guess it's up to you to make sure they don't." She can continue to be an eternally traumatized victim, or she can be a hero, a reconciler like Twilight. It's her choice.

Beyond Twilight's arguments with Starlight Glimmer, she demonstrates her cleverness in all sorts of ways. Recall that in part one she said the problem was too big for her and Spike to handle on their own. Well, the rest of the Mane Six aren't much help here, but she builds enough trust with Zecora to get a well-needed distraction, and she enlists the help of Nightmare Moon to get past the Timberwolves. Her manipulation in the latter scenario is one of the finest points in the writing of this episode. Twilight is also smart not to waste her energy trying to fight the evils of the false presents she encounters. She knows if she succeeds in her primary task, all will be made well again.

Of all the alternate future characters we see, my favorite is Zecora. Her role is much like that of Guinan in Yesterday's Enterprise. That Star Trek story saw an alternate timeline created in which the Federation was on the losing side of a war with the Klingons. Only Guinan mysteriously sensed that history had taken a wrong path; she even sensed that one character was alive who was supposed to be dead. I would have liked to see Zecora given the full-on Colonel Kurtz treatment. (I refer to the character from Apocalypse Now). By the way, despite Zecora saying, "We are the ones who should not be," I don't believe these alternate characters cease to exist when history is restored; they simply return to being who they are supposed to be.


Lesson: The conflict between Starlight and Twilight is no longer a battle of friendship philosophies. It's about personal responsibility versus resigning yourself to being a victim of whatever might happen to you. No doubt it's true that cutie mark inequities do ruin friendships sometimes; that's one more reason for Twilight to keep spreading the magic of friendship. The problem is in Starlight's heart; that's what needs to change. So Twi is right to point Starlight toward the future, to try again, rather than give her assurances about the past or merely contradict her wrong thinking.

For anyone who can identify with Starlight, the message here is very personal: This show is more about pursuing reconciliation than fomenting personal conflict. While it's true that many interpersonal problems are not solved, MLP's standing invitation is that many more of them can be than you realize. But it's up to you. The way to address regret is to repent of everything that's wrong with you rather than blame others for everything that's wrong with them.

Consistent with this, I'm touched by Starlight's willingness to accept punishment. It's not that she's content to be an enemy, but a recognition that the punishment would be just. She's owning her crimes, which is a vital part of personal responsibility that proves her change of heart.


Resonance: What I get most from this episode is an overall sense of adventure, wonder, and satisfaction. The awesomeness continues in this episode, with a scene-chewing role for Nightmare Moon, her bat ponies, two epic battle scenes, and Twilight's instant crystallizing of Starlight, which reminds us of Twilight's rarely referenced ability to mimic spells. Bon Bon puts some intensity into her performance as well. I laugh at Starlight's mocking applause, and at Discord's cane and the princesses' clown costumes.

There's some serious heartwarming going on through all of Twilight's appeals to her adversary. A couple sweet moments that stand out are Mango Dash giving a wrapped gift in the background, and the reconciliation at the village. The closing song doesn't grab me the way last week's did, but it allows Starlight's turn to sink in and gives us some follow-through before closing out the season. Also, this story actually made me feel sorry for a Timberwolf.

 

Other Impressions and Final Assessment: Any time-travel story raises lots of metaphysical questions. Since this isn't "hard sci-fi," I won't probe too deeply. However, I take Zecora's river analogy to mean that all the differences we see between timelines arise not from some inherent instability in the flow of time, but from how the actions of our characters in Cloudsdale vary each time around. With a little imagination, it's possible to extrapolate each of the outcomes, and I've done so here.

A few random observations: I like the fact that the Map is a different color in each timeline, implying its awareness of what's going on. The fact that nature appears to be thriving in Nightmare Moon's world can be explained by the ponies' control of nature; presumably NMM can keep plants growing even though it's dark. My best guess for the cause of the wasteland is Ahuizotl; he and the plunder-seed vines are the major potential large-scale threats not referenced here.

I'm not clear on the criterion for Twilight saying each world she encounters is worse than the last. That works for Sombra, Chrysalis, Tirek, and the wasteland, but not so obviously with Nightmare Moon, Discord, and the Flim-Flam Brothers. I also miss the processing that Chrysalis' voice had in her previous appearance.

This two-parter features excellent character work and a wonderful message that brings together the running themes of this season. We get the celebrated return of several fan-favorite characters, though that makes the story heavily dependent on a lot of other stories. I recognize that spending only minutes or seconds in each timeline raises many questions and leaves many viewers wanting more, but I count that as a strength that leaves the world-building to our imagination, much as the first season did. The other main characters' relative absence is felt, and the story's time limit forces the rest of the Mane Six to accept Starlight pretty much immediately and without question, which is the only weak point of an otherwise measured and well-paced reform process. All things considered, I rank this story above The Return of Harmony but below the more recent finales.

 

The Cutie Re-Mark – Parts 1 and 2 armor rating: Crystal Mail
Ranked 6th and 7th of 26 season-five episodes
Ranked 28th and 29th of 147 stories overall

Click HERE for Character Appearance List and Screentime.

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