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

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Episode 40: "The Last Roundup"

Aired 1/21/2012, written by Amy Keating Rogers (her eighth episode)
  • Intro: Apple Bloom cheers as Applejack practices for the upcoming rodeo in Canterlot.
  • Act 1: The town gives AJ a big send-off as she promises to bring back prize money to fix the town hall. At the welcome party, a letter arrives from Applejack stating that she is not returning to Ponyville.
  • Act 2: Applejack's friends search Canterlot for Applejack and are directed to Dodge Junction, where they find Applejack now working at a cherry ranch. AJ refuses to say why she's not coming back.
  • Act 3: Pinkie Pie pressures Applejack into promising to explain herself, but AJ skips town. Her friends pursue and AJ ultimately confesses to failing to win any prize money. They assure her she's welcome back.

Character: This is, and probably will always be, my favorite Applejack episode. It takes her root desire, which is usually noble and is the root of her Element of Honesty, and pits it against that very Element through an entirely believable circumstance. As a result, she takes actions that seem at first glance directly contrary to everything we've come to know about her but are instead compelled by her personality once the whole truth is known. Applejack's great desire is to know she's living up to her commitments, whether it's to her word, her family, her friends, or the town. Here she's put under great pressure to come through for the town but fails, and admitting this is both an emotional impossibility and an impediment to ultimately fulfilling her perceived obligations by earning the money she promised to bring in. She does everything she can think of to avoid a direct lie or at least rationalize that she's hasn't gone back on her word, and her anger all along the way is quite clearly a frustration with herself and the lengths she's being driven to by her friends' insistence on helping her. In short, this is the basic setup of Applebuck Season brought to maturity by an experienced creative team. It's no coincidence that Rogers wrote both episodes.

The other ponies get roughly equal time among themselves, but Pinkie's in the foreground both in her comic bits and in her dogged pursuit of AJ throughout the episode. She has essentially weaponized fun and silliness, deploying both in full force to find and win back her friend. The others all shine here as well, particularly Rainbow as the first to suggest tracking AJ down. RD's attempts to reason with AJ are also admirable given their past clashes. We should remember they've clashed because they're so similar; Dash probably understands AJ better than any of the others do. Fluttershy doesn't let up for a second during the chase. It seems she gets more determined each time she's in a situation like this. For all the characters, the flow of various emotions throughout the episode feels very real and comes directly from all the interactions we've seen thus far. Nothing felt out of place.

Someone somewhere wondered why Big Mac didn't come along, but with Applejack gone, somepony has to stay there to do the farm work.

The Derpy scene is one of the most oft-discussed and controversial points of the entire series, so I'll just say I went bananas when I first saw it and leave it at that.

Lesson: Problems can drive you toward your friends or away from them; it's up to you. It helps that AJ has friends and family who will support her no matter what, but going back to Applebuck Season, she's a giver rather than a taker as a matter of personal pride, so we understand why she's still working on this. It also seems the others have learned from Lesson Zero that confronting the problem head-on is the right strategy regardless of what it is or whether it will be as big a deal to them as it obviously is to AJ. Restoring a wayward friend takes courage, and it's tempting to just adopt a "live and let live" philosophy and watch her throw away something of great value under the guise of "respecting her decision." Real friends challenge each other and press into each other's lives to bring out the best in them. Dash and the other ponies take a noble route in pursuing Applejack.

A personal point of relevance for me here is holding one's self to unrealistic standards. As a college student I had a literal fear of finishing a course with a B grade and ruining my 4.0 average. My insistence on academic excellence was entirely self-imposed; probably no one would have been disappointed in me had I slipped. My undergraduate achievements are practically meaningless now, aside from the degree itself. To the MLP writers, using one's gifts is vital but coming in first is utterly unimportant.

Admirably, despite Applejack's misplaced priorities, this isn't about personal pride or self-aggrandizement. Her thoughts are on the town and her promise to the mayor. She understands, as articulated way back in Boast Busters, that the talents we have are to be used to help others, and she's found a way to do that with her rodeo skills.

One minor gripe I have is Applejack's little train maneuver. With all my memories of having railroad safety drilled into me as a youngster, I was expecting somepony to call her out on that. She gets ditched by the stallions, but I'm not sure that's direct enough to drive the point home to younger viewers.

Logic: The writer manages to slip a "get the heck outta Dodge" line into the dialogue, which raises the question of what "heck" means or stands for in the world of MLP. Feeling Pinkie Keen has "one heck of a doozy," Too Many Pinkie Pies has "heck if I know," and Games Ponies Play has "where the heck is she." It may or may not be a minced mythological/religious reference; all we know is that it's used as a free-floating expletive that's mild enough that AJ, Twilight, and Pinkie have no qualms about it.


Resonance: Derpy's scene (as originally aired) is heartwarming because it's a love letter to the fans who turned the show into a phenomenon, canonizing the dearest aspect of brony character development. The scene is awesome because the name-drop comes originally as a total shock and is followed by goofy antics that rise to the level of heroic legend. The scene is hilarious because, well, just look at it. As for the main characters' portion of the story, the conveyor belt scene is a magnificent adaptation of a famous I Love Lucy sequence (which itself was a shout-out to the assembly line scene in Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times), and Pinkie carries her humor across the episode, from her "surprise" preparations and belated shout, to her rambling, to "Raritycatchme." Oh, and never break a Pinkie promise. Seriously.

Heartstrings are pulled here, too. I liked seeing the mail pony getting his cake, and Applejack's greeting from Winona and the ensuing pile-on is a happily weepy (and I would say absolutely necessary) moment. Some sad moments as well, as Big Mac cries twice and the friends are momentarily in despair at the Canterlot arena.


Other Impressions and Final Assessment: I liked the misdirection in this episodeŚWe're set up to be sure Applejack is MIA because she did terrible at the rodeo (the mention of money in the letter is a dead giveaway), BUT then we're told right after she's found that AJ won a lot of ribbons. This leaves the viewer in the dark what Applejack's story is until the reveal. On a minor note, I'm very happy to see the return of pony-like stomping applause.

There's not much else to say. I was with the show all the way through, felt the whole range of emotions, and was thrilled by the time I got to the end. The music has lots of little moments, like the motif that plays as the friends leave the surprise party to search for AJ. This is about as perfect and friendship-focused an episode as we can get, particularly with its focus on the Mane Six without relying on a guest character such as Luna or Trixie for interest. Bravo for good storytelling.


The Last Roundup armor rating: Genji Armor
Ranked 1st of 26 season-two episodes
Ranked 11th of 233 stories overall

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