MLP Friendship is Magic, Season One, Episode Twenty-One, "Over a Barrel" Review

Welcome back everybody.

Once again this review will contain spoilers. Those of you who haven't watched this episode yet, you have been warned.

So the episode starts with the six main ponies plus Spike on a train heading for a town on the frontier known as Appleoosa. The ponies were sent there to deliver a special apple tree from Applejack's orchard to the region to help their own orchards develop. Rarity complains to Applejack about this but once the situation gets explained, we're led into the episode's title sequence.

As the episode begins proper we find that the trip is taking longer than expected. So much so that the group is going to have to stay on the train overnight to reach their destination. Despite some characters attempts to sleep the rest have some conversations with each other, much to the sleepers' annoyance. The next morning they awake to find a massive herd of buffalo charging alongside the train. However, it soon transpires that the her have hostile intentions towards the train. Rainbow Dash, hearing a noise above, goes up to find out what's going on. It turns out that a young buffalo is on the top of the train and heading for the back car where the apple tree is located. Despite Rainbow's attempts to stop her, the buffalo succeeds in her goal and the car is lost to the rest of the train, including Spike who chose to sleep there the previous night. Dash goes after the lost car and the herd to try and rescue Spike

When the train arrives in Appleoosa, the remaining ponies meet up with Applejack's cousin, Braeburn, who, after showing them around, is informed about the attack on the train. He then explains that this is the latest in a long line of disputes between the ponies of Appleoosa and the buffalo herd. I turns out that the herd has demanded that the people of Appleoosa remove all of the apple trees that they planted just outside the town, though did not explain why.

Back with Rainbow, she's still tracking he buffalo and comes across Pinkie Pie, who followed her during the chaos earlier. As they talk it's clear the buffalo have them surrounded. When brought to their encampment they come across Spike, who is not in danger as assumed but welcomed because of his status as a dragon. They then meet up with the young buffalo Rainbow clashed with earlier, named Little Strongheart and they try to explain what was going on. To this end they bring them to their leader, Chief Thunder Hooves. He explains that the ground where their people traditionally stampede over every year has been blocked because of the apple orchards planted by the ponies of Appleoosa. After hearing this, Rainbow offers to help them explain the situation to the townsfolk.

Bringing Stongheart with them, Rainbow and Pinkie explain the situation to Braeburn and the other ponies. Applejack however points out that without the orchards, the town's population will starve. They argue over who is in the right and despite an attempt by Twilight to mediate the matter, no-one backs down on their position. Just then, Pinkie Pie comes up with a brilliant plan. Well, a PLAN anyway. She sings a song to both the townsfolk and the buffalo, which I'll get into later. The message of the song is that compromise is the solution. However, as the two sides were very much unimpressed with her performance, they decide instead to take action against one another.

Despite the attempts by the main ponies to calm everyone down, no-one is listening. Soon the day comes and both sides prepare for battle (not something I ever thought I'd have to say on My Little Pony). However, much to the delight of the main ponies, it looks as though the buffalo Chief is having second thought on the whole war idea. That is until Pinkie decides then and there to give a reprise of her song from the previous day, enraging the buffalo a second time and starting the battle.

The battle starts and in typical kid's show fashion, they use non-lethal means of engaging their enemies, in this case having the Appleoosans throw apple pies at the buffalo. The buffalo charge, apple pies fly everywhere and it's just a complete melee. Soon it comes down to the Chief himself against Appleoosa's Sheriff. They have a tussle which results in the Chief taking a Pie to the face. After a brief "mourning" scene, the Chief comes out of it, saying he has an idea. We then cut to the aftermath of the whole conflict. The people of Appleoosa would be allowed to keep the land provided that they take away only some of the trees of the orchard, enough to let the buffalo stampede over the land once more, as well as providing the buffalo with some of their apple pies during the time of stampeding.

And so the episode ends with Twilight narrating her letter to Princess Celestia.

So how does this episode do?

Well, much to my delight, this episode is a VAST improvement over last week's entry. The story was much more engaging and the characters worked off each other well. However, I will admit right now that this is an episode which I've been worried about reviewing for some time. The reason is that, as you can probably guess from my description or if you've seen the episode yourself, the basic conflict depicted in the episode is meant to be an allegory of the conflict between the Native Americans and the people of the United States back in the old West. If I say the wrong thing here I may accidentally come across as being insulting to the various groups involved. After all, there are people out there to whom the very fact that this story ended in a peaceful compromise is going to feel disrespectful. So here, I'm going to have to tread lightly.

First let me talk about the conflict itself from this episode. It's clear that this is less of a case of race or outright hatred between the different groups but rather stubbornness on the part of both sides. The buffalo refusing to let go of the land despite their knowing that doing so will lead to the starvation of the others. While the Appleoosans refuse to give it up simply on the basis that their well-being is more important than the traditions of a group who frankly have been rather hostile without offering an explanation as to why. Both sides continue the struggle not because they think the others are evil or stupid, but because they honestly think they themselves are in the right. Even when their respective reasons come to light they refuse to co-operate. The resolution of their conflict is, I admit, a bit of a cop-out. I know that, being a show intended for young children, they obviously couldn't have it mirror how the real conflict ended up, so a compromise had to be found. Still, having said that it did feel like a genuine dilemma by kid's show standards and while the resolution might not have much weight with me, the conflict certainly does.

Time to talk about the characters now. All of the main ponies come across as very believable here. They all play to their strengths and seem entertaining whilst doing so. However, there was a couple of issues which bugged me during this whole episode. Firstly, there's the point that Rainbow Dash sides with the buffalo very early on in the episode despite nothing but bad feeling towards them after their conflict at the start of the episode. I suppose you could argue that she was moved by their plight after hearing about it, but still to come out of nowhere and say that she'll help them seems a little off to me. Then we have Applejack. When Rainbow and Pinkie come along with Strongheart to explain the buffalo's behaviour, Applejack seems very uncharacteristically hostile towards them. Again, it could be argued that she was angry because her own family's well-being was threatened but to have her act this way even after hearing why the buffalo are acting the way they are doesn't seem like something she would do.

As with any episode not focusing on the main characters I'd like to talk about the guest characters in this episode. All of the citizens of Appleoosa and the buffalo her come across as very believable given their situation. Braeburn and Strongheart in particular seem like very nice people who are simply thrown into the middle of a conflict they really don't want to be in, and who can blame them? In fact they actually WANT to talk peacefully with each other when they first meet but it's the argument between Rainbow and Applejack that causes things to descend the way they do. The leaders of the respective groups both seem very sympathetic. You know why they're making the decisions they make. It's not because they're bad. It's just because they genuinely see no reason than to escalate the conflict to bring it to and end. Chief Thunder Hoofs in particular feels very much like someone very reluctant to fight, especially towards the episode. Plus I would be remiss if I didn't say I understood where he was coming from when Pinkie's song drove him to war.

Speaking of which it's time to talk about the song in this episode. This week's song, "You gotta share, you gotta care", is not a song I particularly enjoy I'm sorry to report. While I don't agree with a Thunder Hoof's assessment that it's "the worst performance I have ever seen", it's certainly not one of the better songs of the series. in fact I can honestly say that it's not even one of Pinkie Pie's better songs, which is saying a lot considering how much I'm not a fan of her singing to begin with. Having said that I would be irresponsible if I didn't at least give credit to voice actress Shannon Chan-Kent for putting an effort into trying to make it sound nice. Sure she didn't actually succeed, but trying counts for a lot with me.

Humour now and given the nature of what this episode is about, the jokes are a bit more sparse than usual here. Having said that though there were a few funny moments here and there. Having Pinkie Pie turn up out of nowhere to Rainbow's surprise is always a laugh. But for me one of the better sources of humour in this episode was the song. Much like the song in "Dragonshy" this one seems to have been made not to be and entertaining song, but to be a joke of some sort. Here, in a parody of other kid's shows there the "song containing the moral message of the day" solves all the problems, here it actually makes things worse, especially when Pinkie tries to reprise it. I found that hilarious.

However, the funniest part of the episode for me comes at the start of the episode. It's when they're staying on the train overnight and Rainbow Dash starts a conversation. Soon, Pinkie, Flutterhsy and Twilight join in and it's overall a very funny moment. It's not the usual slapstick we usually get but rather a very subtle scene where the character work off each other in just regular conversation. And you know what? I really like that. It's the kind of scene most kid's shows need to have. No over-the-top pratfalls or obvious jokes, just the characters in a room together talking regularly. If done right it can be one of the funniest things you see, and this scene is a great example of that.

Moral of the story now. As you probably guessed the moral this week is learning to share and to compromise. While I certainly think it's good for kids to learn to share, and you would never catch me saying the two groups SHOULDN'T have tried to compromise, it just feels like the episode was trying to hammer this message in a lot, even more so than their usual messages. Still, if the message is good I can't really complain just because of the way it was delivered.

Overall this was a good episode with a well-written story, good character moments and a fine moral message. A great return to form for the series.

Join me next week when Fluttershy takes on too big a responsibility in episode twenty-two, "A bird in the hoof".

See you then.

 

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