MLP - Apple family reunion - Review

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

So our episode begins with Applejack and Granny Smith talking about how much they're looking forward to the reunion, they ask Applebloom how many are coming. When she tells them that virtually all of their relatives say they will be arriving, it comes as a shock, leading into the title credits.

After the opening sequence we find that the four Apples are still looking over the sheer number of RSVP's that have arrived. Applejack offers to handle the arrangements rather than Granny Smith this year, which she accepts. When Applejack asks what's needed, Granny Smith shows them a photo album of past reunions to show them what kinds of things they got up to. After this, Applejack starts to become focused on getting the various items past reunions were lacking. The more Granny reminisces, the more Applejack adds to her list, much to her chagrin.

Understanding how important it is that every member of her family is turning up for once, Applejack resolves herself to make this as good a celebration as she can. Later that night, Applebloom finds out that Applejack can't sleep because she's worried over everything that needs to be done, even though she's still confident she can pull it off. The next morning, she, Applebloom and Big Mac all work together to get everything sorted. Eventually, they get everything ready just as the family starts to arrive. Applejack declares to everyone the events she has panned for them, which the family greets with enthusiasm. Meanwhile, Applebloom is happy to see her cousin, Babs, arriving back for the reunion.

However, rather that get the opportunity to catch up, Applebloom and Babs are pushed into participating in a race Applejack arranged. They become even less enthusiastic when they find just how long it is. Meanwhile, Granny Smith is catching up with some old friends, who invite Applejack to join in some activities, which she declines because of all the other things she has to do. Like with the children, the older ponies seem less than thrilled with the kinds of activities Applejack has for them to do. In fact, that seems to be happening with all of the family guests, as Applejack encourages them to keep at what their doing, despite many either not enjoying the activities, or not liking how fast they're being made to do it.

When it comes to taking family photos, Applejack notices that few here are having fun, she decides to take measures. This involves inviting the family for a cart ride around the farm. At first they seem happy about it, but the speed Applejack has them ride it makes it an uncomfortable trip for all concerned. This briefly take a turn for the better as Applejack unleashes a swarm of rainbow-coloured bats into the sky which the ponies enjoy. But one look at a piece of fruit in one of her relatives' hat makes the bats attack. In the panic, the cart crashes into the family barn, causing Applejack to become upset over how everything she's done turned out wrong.

Applejack admits that her plans are ruined, but Granny Smith tells her that she simply focused too hard on the least important aspects of the get together, rather than the ponies she was supposed to spend time with. Applejack's spirits perk up when she realises that there's still the family photo to take, so she declares one last activity for the family. Said activity involves the family rebuilding the family barn, all while Applejack sings. Eventually the barn is finished and the family takes their photo before leaving.

And so our episode ends with Applejack writing a letter to Princess Celestia over the lesson she learned from all this.

So then, how does Applejack's first episode of the season fare?

Well, regardless of how well I thought the episode went, let me say right now that I always look forward to an episode starring Applejack. That's not to say she's my favourite of the main cast or anything, as I've been hesitant to choose favourites from among the six, but because episodes featuring her have been fairly few and far between. I have yet to think of a reason why this is. Perhaps the writers can't think of episodes to suit her character, or maybe they feel that her personality doesn't allow for many interesting story ideas. But whatever the reason, Applejack, at this point, remains perhaps the least developed out of all the main cast, so any episode starring her is a welcome addition as far as I'm concerned.

If I had to sum up the general feel of this episode's story, I would say that it borrows similar themes and feelings from three previous episodes, namely "Suited for success", "Lesson Zero" and "Too many Pinkie Pies". In those past episodes, the characters being focused on all felt in some way strained by their various responsibilities or the demands made on them by their friends. Because of this, all characters involved experienced a great deal of stress and hardship for one reason or another. That's what a lot of this episode felt like. Applejack's responsibilities becoming a burden to her and leading to her struggling to cope. But while those elements may be borrowed from previous episodes, it never felt like a blatant rip-off of itself, so this is no criticism against the episode.

And, just as a side-note, it's really nice for me to have an Applejack episode that doesn't distract from her in some way. In most cases, an Applejack-centred episode has had things in it that the fans latch onto at the expense of the central character, like some background character who steals her thunder, or a charismatic antagonist who steals the show with their performance. That's not so say that the fans were wrong to like those things, only that it seemed like a shame that Applejack was practically being ignored by the fans in her own episodes.

As for her responsibilities, I've said in past episodes that the story and characters are elevated for me if the situation their in is in some way relatable to something I've experienced myself. And this situation manages to do just that. While my own experiences have never reached the crisis level Applejack's did, I have, on occasion, been given great responsibilities and have, in my attempts to make things as good as possible, lost sight of what I should have been focusing on. Many of Applejack's personality traits have frequently reminded me of my own, and this episode had her doing things that seemed uncannily like what I myself might do in her position. So on that count at least, the episode does very well in getting across the kind of trouble she's experiencing.

One of the recurring themes in episodes featuring Applejack in a central or heavy-supporting role is the importance, or rather, how important family is to her. And that theme carries over into this episode. Every one of Applejack's decisions and actions in this episode, as misguided as they may be, were brought about because of how important her family is to her. She's put in charge of this get-together and she wants it to be a fun event for them. True, she makes mistakes when trying to get everything perfect, but even then, she's doing it out of good intentions. That makes many of her actions here portrayed in a positive light, even though most of us can see that she was focusing on the less important tasks.

However, there is one element in this episode that I must point out, and that this episode does not address an aspect of her character that has yet to be explored. Where are her parents? I know this is something many fans have wondered, but I feel the need to point it out here because it serves as a counterpoint to the character point I've just talked about. If family is so important to this character, why is it that the show has never addresses the whereabouts or status of the two most important members of her family, her mother and father? In an episode that goes out of it's way to tell us that every single member of her family is coming to this thing, their absence hangs over the entire episode like an uncomfortable question everyone's too polite to ask.

Also of note for this episode is that this is the first time in the series where we've had a social event previously seen in the series. The Apple family reunion was first seen in the show's very first episode. This, for the first time, gives us a sense of placement and chronology. Because, unless there have been unseen reunions in-between episodes, this places the events of this episode one year after the start of the series. Plus, the idea that events from past episodes can be repeated allows for the possibility of other such events happening in future episodes, such as nightmare night or the grand galloping gala. I'm not saying that will happen for certain, only that the precedent has now been made.

As for the other characters, Granny Smith does well here in being both a source of occasional humour and as a mentor figure to Applejack. Their relationship is not one that's been explored that extensively in the series and I'm happy to see it showcased here. Applebloom and the returning Babs Seed were also a happy surprise for me. I honestly wasn't expecting Babs to make another appearance after her first episode a few weeks ago, so it's nice to know the writers aren't throwing away their characters as much as they used to. It's clear from their interactions that the relationship between the two kids has improved since we last saw them, but not so much that it seems like a forced friendship.

Time to talk about the song of the episode. This one was really fun for me to listen to. Not only is it incredibly up-beat and catchy, but it also marks the first time that Applejack has ever had a song of her own, which is something I've been hoping to see for some time. As shown back in "Best night ever", she actually has a pretty good singing voice, so it always bothered me that this talent of hers was never used. But here it's used to great effect, giving us a country-style family song that's both uplifting after the previously depressing scene and memorable. It may not be the best song I've heard, but it's certainly a fun one.

Time to talk about the episode's humour, and like the two episodes this episode draws from, much of the jokes revolve around Applejack's increasingly frantic attempts to get her situation under control. While I by no means find joy in watching others suffer, the episodes always seem to go out of their way to make their plight easy to laugh at, and as such it's hard not to fall in line with that. As this episode also features AJ's family a great deal, they also provide much of the humour, especially Granny Smith and her eccentricities. Though admittedly they seem to have been toned down a bit since the last time she had a major role.

Onto the moral of the day now and this week it seems to be that you don't really need elaborate or impressive things to have fun with your family, and that sometimes it's the simple things that really matter. I like this lesson on a personal level because it's one I've had to learn myself after going through something similar to what AJ did in this episode. Lessons about having fun with your family aren't common in kid's shows and I'm glad to see it being taught here.

Overall I'd say that this episode was a good one. While it may not have been particularly deep, neither would I call it my favourite of the season, it did a very good job of showcasing a character who deserves far more attention than the show's been willing to give her. Applejack comes off strong here and shows that she's capable of holding an episode without the other five ponies being involved. There was plenty of humour to enjoy, a memorable song and a good lesson on the values of simply enjoying the time you spend with your family. I definitely recommend this episode.

Join me next week when Spike offers Applejack some help of his own in "Spike at your service".

This was probably my 2nd favorite episode of the season so far, right behind "Sleepless in Ponyville." And as a sidenote, in regards to your complaint about Applejack's parents never being mentioned or even being referenced... apparently they ARE referenced in this episode. According to the follow-up to this episode on Equestria Daily and another site I've seen, the pair of shooting stars Applejack sees towards the beginning, and that reappear at the end, are supposed to represent AJ's parents. Which, if true, most likely means that they're dead. And if you think about it, that would totally make sense in regards to her devotion to her family, especially Apple Bloom. I haven't seen anything officially confirming this theory, but it would explain a lot about Applejack if true.

Here's the quote straight from the article on Equestria Daily:
"I'm sure a lot of us were thinking the same thing when this happened during the episode. Judging by the post about it, our suspicions were confirmed: These stars are meant to represent Applejack, Big Mac and Apple Bloom's parents. Personally, I like that it's a subtle nod to Lauren's original intentions with Applejack as a character. As far as I know, she was never really planned out to have living parents. It's most certainly a very dark and serious subject to touch on, which is why this will probably be the only hint of it for the rest of the show."

This is my favorite episode of S3 so far.


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