Episode [1.12] – “Call of the Cutie”
This week, on My Little Pony…
“Well, now that we’re friends, what if the three of us work together to find out who we are and what we’re supposed to be?”
“Ooh! Ooh! We could form our own secret society!”
“I’m liking this idea.”
“A secret society. Yeah. We need a name for it, though.”
“The Cutie Mark Three?”
“The Cutastically Fantastics?”
“How about… The Cutie Mark Crusaders!”
“This is gonna be so great!”
“We’re gonna be unstoppable!”
We’re falling a bit behind this week, all because I’m up front and hitting a wall about how to sum up this episode. You might think I’d be a little prepared for it, as this is, indeed, the episode I mentioned in our series introduction as the only one I’d already seen before starting this project. You might think that would already give me a clear line of summation as it’s what formed the initial basis of my opinion on the show. You would be wrong, as I’m finding it incredibly difficult to wrap my head around what to say.
It’s not because it’s a bad episode, not at all. It’s a great episode, a wonderful parable of the struggles of tween girl social politics, and is so richly crafted that I can see why Meghan McCarthy was quick to rise through the ranks of those running this series. I love the way it uses cutie marks as an allegory for girls who are late among their peers to reach certain goals – be it puberty development, who all has cellphones, the hoopla surrounded special birthday parties – and how those of a snobbier fashion define these as status symbols lofting them above those who are still without. We have bullying, we have anxiety, we have close friends who are suddenly on opposite sides of the equation. It’s good stuff.
And I like how they get deeper into it, presenting a “blank flank” as a crisis of identity, as Applebloom is continuously reminded that she doesn’t know where to fit in or what her future is going to be going forward. In a society so clearly defined by a person’s literally marked role, that can be a tough obstacle to face, and I love that it’s not resolved by the end, that Applebloom is taught to embrace her present lack of definition as it just means she has what the others don’t: potential. It’s a comforting lesson to learn, and one that I think further appeals to the older fans of the show. I mentioned earlier that the early 20s lead cast is something many of us can identify with as they go through trials we know all too well. Here, Applebloom is a child, but that lack of comforting definition, that lack of a secure place where she can dedicate her life to doing something she cares about, that perfectly fits us and is something many of us never settled even through our teen years. A lot of us are still bouncing around, trying different things, or trying to find meaning while stuck in a rut we know doesn’t fit us, but is the best we can get at the moment. It’s something we adults can relate to alongside the younger audience just starting that journey.
I also find it very interesting that this entire episode steps away from the main cast. They’re there, and I like the moments of a number of them trying to guide Applebloom along her journey of identity – Applejack taking her to the market to help sell apples, Pinkie Pie helping her make cupcakes, Rainbow going through a whole workout routine of trying as many tasks at once as she can handle, and Twilight showing her that magic can’t just resolve everything – but they aren’t the main focus. After spending the series up to this point with our 20-something leads, we suddenly shift to the children of the town, with Applebloom and her bestie Twist, the class snobs Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon, and newly befriended, equally blank flanked Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle. It’s such a shift in focus that this almost feels like it could be a fresh pilot for the show, a new entry point giving us a new batch of characters to meet for the first time. I wonder if that’s why I got into it so much back when I first saw it. Even the main cast has enough definition in their supporting roles to clearly establish them to newcomers.
On top of everything, its also a very fun episode, with great humor from the recurring gag of Pinkie’s cupcakes (is she unable to be anything but proud of every batch she makes?), Rainbow’s training montage, and Applebloom going nuts as she pesters every passing person in the market she can find as she tries to sell them some apples.
This isn’t the most thorough piece I’ve written for the site, but after rolling my head around the table for a few nights in a row, I think it’s the best I can offer before passing the reins to Tessa and Gerf. It’s a great episode, and has me assured that the show will come to be in good hands with Meghan in charge.
Noel’s bit may not be long, but he’s laid out the episode pretty fantastically, to the point that there’s not much more I can point to that he didn’t already hit. This episode serves a good handful of purposes, the main one being a bit of world building to establish what exactly the cutie marks are and their purpose in pony society (and, apparently, is something that zebra society shares, suggesting the two species are probably closer related than not as so far Zecora is the only non-pony to also have one). Applebloom’s struggles with not having gotten hers yet can serve as a pretty strong metaphor for quite a few different things that both the target and secondary demographics can relate to. Puberty has always been the go-to for most people when looking at or talking about this episode, but as Noel points out, there are other things it could equate to just as strongly.
This episode also serves to both establish Applebloom a little more strongly as a character (she had a presence in Bridle Gossip, but this is the first time she gets to take center stage), as well as introducing Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo to the show, and setting up the Cutie Mark Crusaders as a group. This isn’t the first time the three have appeared together (they all coincidentally wound up hiding under the same table when Nightmare Moon showed up), but this is the first time they’ve properly met, and also the first time we’re introduced to the other two as characters. We get very little time with the two of them, as they don’t really make their presence known until the very end, but we’ll see much more of all three of the CMC as the show goes on. Also a slight character tidbit that isn’t really covered here (as it’s more or less irrelevant to the plot of the episode and is exposition that wouldn’t properly fit anywhere) is that Sweetie Belle is Rarity’s younger sister.
We’re also introduced to two younger ponies who will more often than not serve as antagonists for the CMC in the future : Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon. The two are used fairly effectively – they’re a personality type most of us have likely met at some point in our lives, and the torment they put Applebloom through may look very familiar to a lot of viewers and is extremely relatable. If an episode involves any of the three Crusaders at school, expect them to show up and at least be a secondary problem to the plot if not the main one, as they never change much throughout the series (although there’s hints that Silver Spoon may have some redeemable qualities and could be an okay person if she’d just stop hanging around Diamond Tiara) no matter how many times they get any kind of come-uppance.
This is also the first episode to put the Mane Six entirely in the background. They certainly play a role, as a few of them try to help out Applebloom in their own way (to no avail), but they’re very much not the focus. We’ll be getting Cutie Mark Crusader episodes sprinkled in here and there among the ones focused on the main cast from now on, and while a few will have one or two of the Six playing an active role, generally they’re relegated to supporting background noise so the kids get a chance in the limelight. Whether or not this is a good thing largely depends on whether you like the CMC, which can be something of a split between fans. Personally, I love the trio, and largely enjoy their episodes.
Background pony time! While this isn’t the first time he’s appeared (he was present in the Winter Wrap Up number), the pony that Applebloom coerces into buying apples gets to be squarely focused on screen and have a speaking role (so far his only one). Due to the combination of the time-related hourglass as his cutie mark and his hair somewhat resembling that of a certain Doctor, the fandom very quickly latched onto the idea of the character being a pony version of The Doctor, and fanfic poured forth very quickly. The crew eventually caught onto the interpretation (which has happened with several different aspects of the show) and at this point has more or less run with it. While legal stuffs probably keeps the concept from ever being explicitly canon, the character has at this point been named “Dr. Whooves/Hooves” (the spelling has varied) on multiple bits of official merch.
Okay, let’s talk cutie marks. Let’s talk pictures that suddenly appear on your butt one day. You’d think these would make you the laughing stock of the neighborhood, but it’s actually quite the opposite: you’re the laughing stock when you don’t have one. A cutie mark is a symbol of your destiny, your special talent, how you’re different from everypony else. But it’s something more powerful than that. It’s something that drives little fillies and colts to take all sorts of stupid risks to acquire one. It’s something that compels ponies to do things on a deep, fundamental level that they can’t even consciously detect (whoops, slipping into forward references). It’s something that, were it to be damaged or disfigured, would result in unbearable emotional distress (whoops, slipping into fanon). It’s something that acts as a physical manifestation of the abstract concept that we humans in the real world strive for: a purpose.
Call me wistful, but I find cutie marks endlessly fascinating and oddly desirable. Profession and purpose are ideals that I hold in very high regard, so much so that I tend to remember people much better by what they do in life than by name, and so much so that I often prefer talking profession with people over, say, what kinds of music they enjoy. And perhaps the physical nature of a cutie mark is so endearing to me because it’s a way of really nailing down what makes you you, something I find desirable as my own profession is still somewhat fluid and therefore not entirely clear. When I was in elementary school, I was sure I was going to grow up to be an artist. When I was in middle school, I had no doubt that I was going to grow up to be a novelist. When I was in high school, I was sure I’d be an author and a musician and a computer programmer. When I was in college, I was sure I’d be a coder and a content creator. And now, eight years out of college, I’m a database and systems architect. Have I enjoyed my forays into these different areas? Absolutely. Do I enjoy what I’m doing now? Very much. Do I think I’ll be doing something different in ten years? Probably. But do I wish I could point to something on my body and say, in no uncertain terms, “That’s who I am and always will be?” Well… yeah, kinda. But that’s a nuanced discussion that requires the proper context, and we haven’t gotten far enough into the series for that yet.
So let’s talk about the episode instead!
Cheerilee. I don’t know why, but I find her so endearing; she’s my favorite secondary/auxiliary character, and I really can’t explain the reason. Maybe it’s because my mother is a teacher, or because Cheerilee brings back memories of the many wonderful teachers I had during my childhood, but there’s something about that purple mare that makes me smile. And I’m not the only one, either: this guy’s made a fantastic Tumblr called Cheerilee’s Chalkboard that has Cheerilee teaching about all sorts of aspects of Equestrian life in a way that too cute to be legal. Yeah, Luna’s pretty great too, but she’s a princess and goes into her own category; Cheerilee owns the “secondary character” category otherwise.
Applebloom, on the other hoof… well, I guess it took me a bit longer than “instantaneously” to warm up to her. I really enjoyed her portrayal in Bridle Gossip as the only character in the entire episode to remain more or less level-headed about Zecora, but this time around she really comes off as an overeager juvenile. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, since she’s right at that age where you’re overeager about everything, but… well, heh, by now you know how my initial feelings go toward characters who just don’t friggin’ quit. That said, her non-quitting did make for some pretty fun moments. Cutie mark in aggressive capitalism, anypony?
As both Tessa and Noel mentioned, the Mane Six really take a back seat in this episode. Fortunately, Meghan McCarthy shows that they can play excellent supporting roles as well. I find Rainbow’s and Pinkie’s parts to be especially endearing, as they are so certain that they’ll help Applebloom find her special talent and go all-out trying to help her. Well, Rainbow is certain, anyway; you can never quite tell with Pinkie (“Please say Bingo!” is one of my favorite quotes of this episode, despite it being 117% random). Toss in another catchy Pinkie ditty (that later warped into a wonderful alternate-universe classic) and you’ve got yourself some sweet cupcakes indeed. Er, wait, NOT the cupcakes. Trust me.
Now, when it comes to villains, I’ve been pretty flip-floppy thus far: Trixie was a bag of hot air, but she certainly has a backstory that is just dying to be told. Gilda was a jerk and a bully, but I feel like there’s an interspecies disconnect of sorts that might explain her behavior and is worth a deeper look. Despite their antagonism, I find myself liking these characters at the end of the day and hoping that we’ll get another chance to interact with them. But this isn’t something that I feel about every villain. Nope, not at all. Case in point: Diamond Tiara. Worst pony. Like, seriously worst pony. I’m sure every person reading this has had at least at least one Diamond Tiara in his or her childhood, and I think that’s what makes her such an insidious villain: we channel our own memories of such people into her and she becomes that much more unlikable. Her sidekick, Silver Spoon, is a slightly different story: while being equally rotten, like Tessa I think Silver Spoon at least has a chance at redemption. While we don’t really see it this episode, we’ll get some ever-so-faint glimmers of hope for her in the future. Will they be enough to break her away from the toxic miasma of Diamond Tiara’s worst pony-ness? Unlikely, but I guess only time will tell. Some very small part of me wants to see it happen, though.
Oh, and I love how the horse puns know no bounds: cute-ceañera? Absolute gold.
So yes, fantastic episode in my books. As with some other of these old episodes my memory had it filed in the “eh” category, but upon dusting it off and giving it a fresh look I found myself very much enjoying it. We’re going to get a lot of CMC zaniness in the future, and they’re going to see-saw between “annoyingly cute” and “cute but annoying” quite a bit, but after coming out the other end of it all it’s quite refreshing to once again see how (and why) it all began.
I’m going to drop some Cheerilee fan-music here, namely Love Me Cheerilee by WoodenToaster and The Living Tombstone, and Shadow of a Flower by StormWolf. The first is kind of an ode to those who thought their schoolteachers were just swell, and the second is a dark but oddly beautiful take on Cheerilee’s internal struggles. Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t include a Pinkie remix, so also have some Cupcakes [SweetBeat Mix] by Eurobeat Brony (this video is actually an ITG playthrough; the stepchart is fun and challenging to play at the arcade, and if I ever get a video of myself playing it I’ll be sure to stick it up here).