Once again, this review will contain spoilers. Those of you who have not seen the episode yet, you have been warned.
Our episode begins with Applebloom at home worrying about finding the right outfit for the arrival of her and Applejack's cousin, Babs Seed. Applejack informs her that she need not try to hard to impress during their first meeting, given that, like her, she has no cutie mark. This revelation causes Applebloom to run out and find her friend, Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo, leading into the episode opening sequence.
After the opener we find that the three young ponies plus Applejack are waiting at the train station. The three are excited at the prospect of having a new member to their club, as they see the train arriving. Babs arrives and the three immediately greet her in their typically over-enthusiastic way. They invite her to their clubhouse and offer her an invitation to join their club. Despite the crusaders' best efforts to make her feel like it's a good idea, Babs seems less than thrilled at the prospect.
In an attempt to impress her, they take her to a float that's being made on the farm in preparation for an upcoming local event. Before Babs can respond however, Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon show up to make fun of the crusaders as usual. When their attention draws to Babs, they make fun of her for her being a "blank flank", which Applebloom defends her over. Then, much to everyone's surprise, Babs goes over to Diamond and Silver and begins mocking the crusaders, even going so far as to wreck their float. After this abrupt rejection of the crusaders' offer, the three leave, leaving the crusaders distraught.
Back at their clubhouse, the crusader wonder what to do, with the idea of informing Applejack of Babs' behaviour rejected for fear of being branded as "snitches". They then decide to simply avoid Babs until she goes home in a few weeks. This leads into the episode's song which shows how difficult avoiding her is as she seems to hound them at every turn. Things get at their worst when Babs and the other two eventually drive them out of their own clubhouse, claiming it for themselves.
With the idea of telling someone still being rejected, they decide instead to fight back. To do so they decide to embarrass her at the upcoming celebration. In the middle of the night, the crusaders gather in the barn and begin some sort of construction project, via an A-Team style montage (complete with a variation on the theme song). The next day the celebration begins, and the crusaders trick Babs into riding in their newly-constructed float. Their pride in tricking her is short-lived however as Applejack, not knowing their plan, informs them that Babs has been through a rough time lately.
It turns out Babs has herself been the victim of bullying back in her home town and this visit was to try and get away from it for a while. Realising that this was the reason she joined in with the other bullies, the crusaders immediately feel terrible for what they've done. With Babs having driven the float away down the street, the crusaders run after her to prevent their trap from going off. To try and catch up they hitch a ride on Pinkie Pie's float, but that doesn't work out too well as Babs drives them off the road before they can warn her.
The traps sets off while Babs is still driving it and the float rolls uncontrolled down a hill. To save her, the crusaders bump her out of it, leaving them inside when it reaches the bottom, leaving them covered in mud. Back at the farm, the crusaders confess everything to Babs, apologizing for having tried to get back at her. This, in turn, leads to Babs apologising for her behaviour towards them during all this. After making up, they officially make her a member of their group.
And so our episode ends with Babs saying her goodbyes and heading back to her home town.
So then, how did the CMC's first episode of the season fare?
Well, I've made it no secret in the past that I have not been a big fan of the CMC episodes when all they do is focus on the same thing over and over again, finding their cutie marks. However, I have gone on record as saying that I'm fond of their episodes when they focus on different things. And this episode certainly qualifies as the latter. As a person who, over the years, has been both an observer of, and been on the receiving end of, bullying, this episode's story helped me a great deal in identifying with what the young ponies were going through.
Being the target of someone's bad attitude, especially when you're not entirely sure why it's happening, is a story that I think a lot of people can relate to, and this episode certainly did a good job of handling it's subject matter. In most cartoons when the story is focused on some sort of bullying behaviour, the solution has always been to try and out-do the bully or get back at them somehow. Here however, we instead get a deeper look into why this situation happened, and an attempt to try and reconcile with the person rather than making them an outright villain. I liked that.
However, I will say that on the character of Babs Seed, I was unsure of why the show would introduce her character for the purposes of this story. If they wanted a bully for the CMC, that's fine, but the problem with that is that this show already has a character that could have served that purpose. Diamond Tiara, the CMC's classmate who's been making things difficult for them in past episodes. I can't understand why they would need to bring in a new character for this role instead of using the one they already had.
But having that character influence Babs in her behaviour was, I think, a very realistic piece of writing. Many times in real life a bully will be born not out of some malicious feelings towards the victims, but because they've been pressured into it some way. They may not be bad people themselves, but they're easily influenced by peer pressure into being as bad as others. To have her be a victim of bullying herself, and to show how that can lead to being corrupted into bad behaviour, was a very good part of the story, showing just how much this problem can affect a person. I'm sure many of us have known one or two people in our lives that have gone down that road, and Babs, as a result, comes across as more of a tragic character because of this, which is certainly a thumbs up on the part of the writers.
I also believe that it was an interesting choice to make the bully in question a relative of one of the CMC. Having Babs be Applebloom's cousin did a great job of showing not only that bullies can come from one's own family, but that even in this harmonious world, not everyone is perfect. That even in a family like that of the Apples, there can be some disruptive individuals.
As for the CMC themselves, I must say that I've had fairly mixed feelings towards them in past episodes. On the one hand I've been of the opinion that several of their episodes have not only been of lower quality than those focused on other characters, but in some cases (like "Cutie Pox") outright painful to sit through. But on the other hand there have been a few instances where episodes focusing on them (most notably "Sisterhooves social") that I've really liked. This episode makes it difficult for me to rate their characters because it sits firmly in-between those two extremes. Like I said earlier, I can certainly relate to what they've gone through, but besides that there's nothing in this episode to elevate the crusaders in my eyes.
However, I will say that I think it was a good story point to have the crusaders make an offer to join their group to Babs. After all, the whole point of their group was to help ponies like themselves to find their special talents, and thus earn their respective marks. As such it makes sense that they'd make an offer to someone in the same position as them. This could prove to be a good way of introducing new characters in the future, as it stands to reason that the three of them cannot be the only young ponies experiencing difficult with this issue.
Their decision to try and get back at Babs was, in many ways, a microcosm of what the episode was trying to get across, that being the message that bullying can be infectious. The crusaders, not knowing what their bully has gone through, not realising that they have become bullies themselves in order to get back at her. The revelation they learned regarding Babs' experiences hit the audience in the face as much as it does the crusaders. And to their credit they immediately realise that they've done something wrong and try to fix the situation, even putting themselves in harms way to avoid putting Babs in danger, which helped their characters a great deal.
And speaking of which, there's an element to this story that's representative of something I've had issue with in many stories. Not just in this show, not just in animation, but in virtually every story-telling medium I've experienced, an issue can be resolved by simply informing others that it's happening. In some big-screen movies for example, a character can get out of trouble by informing the police that people are threatening them, or that they're involved in something bad. The "just tell someone" rule frustrates me because, despite being the smart thing, very few characters actually do it. Instead they simply try and resolve the situation themselves, which often makes things worse.
The same thing happens here. The crusaders have the opportunity to make the bullying stop by simply informing older ponies that they're being harassed. But, again in a very realistic way, they keep silent, choosing to simply bear the brunt of it in silence. I cannot even begin to tell you how many times this has happened in real life. People who cannot bring themselves to tell people that others are giving them a hard time, and end up getting in deeper because of it. So while the "just tell someone" rule frustrates me in many stories, this one included, I can't help but sympathise with this very real reaction.
This week's song, sung by the CMC, acts as a montage talking about how Babs is making the lives of the three young ponies miserable during her visit. It's a fairly short but energetic song that gives a fairly memorable tune that I'm sure I'll be humming long after this episode is over. I have mixed feelings on this one. While it does a good job of showing how difficult Babs is making things for the crusaders, it's not really that good. It repeats itself far too often and I'm not fond of the way it just cuts and pastes entire sections of animation from earlier in the song. Not one of the better musical pieces this show has done so far. In fact, I'd probably put it near the bottom of the list of songs we've seen in this show.
The humour in this episode is a little different than most others, given the somewhat serious subject matter the episode deals with. Nonetheless, despite being lighter on jokes there were still a few laugh-worthy moments here and there. Pinkie Pie's brief scene was funny as usual and several moments involving the crusaders, such as the lengthy initiation at the end of the episode, were amusing. I wouldn't say the episode has a particular moment I found funnier than the others, but there was at least enough levity in here to keep the whole thing from being totally depressing.
Onto the moral of the story now and this week we don't have out usual letter to Princess Celestia, so the lesson isn't quite as spelled out as usual. However it seems to be that you should be careful about how you treat bullies, lest you become one yourself. In addition to this they try and teach how you should inform people when you are being mistreated. I can personally vouch for the worth in both of these messages from my own personal experience, and wholly recommend this as the kinds of lesson kids should be taught, no matter what age they are.
Overall, like last week, there are many qualities to this episode that I both like and dislike. The main characters here are put in a believable situation and the story, while certainly interesting in having it look at different takes on the bullying scenario, wasn't really spectacular enough for me to want to watch it a second time. As I've said many times in this review, the episode does a great job of creating a realistic portrayal of what it means to be bullied, how difficult it is to tell people about it, and even how easy it is for others to become bullies themselves. As such, this episode has, for lack of a better word, a humanity about it that I don't think I've see in any other CMC episode. Because of that, I heartily recommend this episode. It may have it's flaws, but the good element in here are more than worth the bad.
Join me next week when it's long-time-no-see in "Magical duel".
See you then.