Episode [2.05] – “Sisterhooves Social”
This week, on My Little Pony…
“Bein’ sisters is like… apple pie. You can have amazin’ apples, and you can have a wonderfully crispy crust, but only together you can have a perfect apple pie.”
“But apart, all we are is just a pile of mush and some crumbly dry mess… I know what I need to do! I just hope it isn’t too late!”
Sweetie Belle. Oh Sweetie Belle. Best CMC, best Squeaky Belle, best Sweetie Bot. But dear Celestia can she make a mess! (Also toast.)
Before we get into the toast, I just want to say how much I love seeing Rarity’s parents! While her mannerisms suggest a super-snobby upbringing, the revelation that Rarity’s parents are closer to country bumpkins than Canterlot high elites makes for such a delightful twist on her character. I picture Rarity’s childhood as one that was blessed with wonderfully supportive parents, but unfortunately parents who really didn’t know a whole lot about fashion and design and thus couldn’t really do much but offer kind words of encouragement to Rarity’s talents. This leads Rarity into a complete reversal of the usual story of a free-spirited individual fleeing from the eloquent but stuck-up upper class whereby instead she leaves the free-spiritedness of her family into a life of high-class eloquence and stuck-up-ness. Or something like that. In any case, it’s just another reason why I maintain that Rarity has the richest and most complex character of any of the Mane Six: there’s so much going on under that marshmallow exterior, I just know it!
Seeing Rarity’s parents reminds me of an adorable moment at BronyCon 2013 when a Sweetie Belle cosplayer just happened to run into a Magnum (the father) cosplayer while walking down the street. The two were total strangers, but nevertheless the Sweetie Belle cosplayer shouted “Daddy!” and ran up to the guy to give him a big hug, which he returned along with some banter of “How’s my little daughter doing?” It was a hilarious and heartwarming moment of friendship that filled me with so much happiness.
So anyway, Sweetie Belle is a walking disaster. Everything she touches somehow gets broken, ends up splattered everywhere, or goes up in smoke. Even when she thinks she’s being legitimately helpful and appears successful (washing Rarity’s clothes or cleaning her room, for instance), she is nonetheless summarily admonished for some reason she never would have guessed (that sweater was never meant for washing! that room was never meant for cleaning!). The feeling of not being able to do anything right yet still not wanting to mope around doing nothing is an absolute drag (or a scoot, as it were; best Sweetie Scoot).
Gotta hand it to Rarity, though: despite her reputation of being a drama queen, she does a decent job of keeping her emotions in check. Eventually… and by what I can only conclude is by forcibly cramming them back down her throat, what with all the faces she makes throughout the episode. I was the big brother in my family, and boy howdy I sure could have used Rarity’s ability to bite her tongue and not buck her sister across town.
The introduction of the Sisterhooves Social brings with it a little more world-building: not only do ponies apparently read and write both left-to-right and right-to-left, but they also have multiple writing systems. We’ve seen “English” on the “Welcome Princess Celest” banner, we’ve seen runes in Twilight’s books, and here we see glyphs that are almost a combination of the two on the flyers that are strewn around Ponyville for the Sisterhooves Social. That this third type is used when communicating with the masses leads me to think that it’s the “common” style of writing, while “English”-style is a bit more educated/academic (“Celest” notwithstanding) and the runes more classical. Or maybe it’s just something that was never meant to be thought about too much… as I suspect is often the case!
Anyway, before long Rarity and Sweetie Belle blow up at each other and part ways. With Sweetie out of the way, Rarity begins to realize that her sister’s “help” wasn’t all that bad after all: her cleaned Inspiration Room actually leads to a bit of inspiration, the incredibly-expensive-one-of-a-kind-designer-crocheted wool sweater ends up fitting Opalescence perfectly, and the horrid collage of rare gems actually turns out to be a very sweet message (if still a bit horridly made). Rarity comes to realize just how much she does love her little sister and runs off to make amends. (Side note: is Rarity’s “as Celestia is my witness” the first time we hear somepony referring to one of the princesses as a worshipped deity rather than “mere” royalty? I know there’s the Summer Sun Celebration and Nightmare Night and all, but this quote seems to very explicitly paint Celestia as a goddess.)
While Rarity sees the error in her ways (though perhaps doesn’t quite know how best to mend them), Sweetie Belle comes to realize just how much she loves her older sister… just so long as it’s Applejack, that is. Much to everypony’s dismay, Sweetie Belle starts flying off the hook airing her disdain for her “unsister,” which leads the rest to collude on a clever trick to help bring her hooves back onto solid ground. While Sweetie Belle is moping around with the Apples at the Sisterhooves Social, Applebloom tells her that she can have Applejack as her sister just for a day (one day!) and run the final race together. After an early setback in the muddy first obstacle, the duo work together and come within spittin’ distance of first place… at which point Sweetie Belle realizes that it was Rarity running with her all along! I have to admit, I totally missed the eye color change the first time I saw the episode, so when the hat came off at the end and suddenly AJ sprouted a white horn I was just as shocked as Sweetie was. That said, watching it again so many years later still left me with the same great feeling I had when I saw the apple pie finally come back together.
All in all, I think this is a wonderful episode that really builds out Rarity’s family and her relationships with them (and Applejack, for that matter). I’m sure many viewers are either the big or small brother/sister of the family and as such can relate to one side of the argument or the other; and hopefully, over time, came to (or will come to, in the case of those in the actual target demographic of the show) the understanding that Rarity and Sweetie Belle did about family. And apple pie. Yum.
(Oh, and did you notice that Berry Punch is both a spectator and a contestant in the race? And you thought Pinkie broke physics. Pfft.)
For this episode, there’s only one possible song I can leave you with: Sweetie’s Big Race from Friendship is Witchcraft Episode 5. Don’t understand what’s going on? Well then you’ll just have to watch the whole episode. Still don’t understand what’s going on? Well then you’ll just have to watch all the episodes! When it comes to pony parody, few works stand as strong as FiW, and few parody songs stand as strong as Sweetie’s Big Race. Absolutely fantastic work from Sherclop Pones!
There’s an important theme that runs through another show my son loves (we’ve watched the entire series three times, send help); validation of feelings. Anytime characters express feelings, or have difficulty expressing feelings, others acknowledge them and they work together to resolve situations to mutual benefit. Usually with a song. Simple five note tunes that you’ll find yourself humming hours later. In front of people who want to know what song it is.
At first, Rarity doesn’t validate feelings at all. Not Sweetie Belle’s desire to help or frustration when it backfires, nor her own anger and frustration towards Sweetie Belle. She literally swallows her anger rather than express it, so when she does finally let it out, it explodes. Rarity realizes her error, of course (ironically referencing Scarlett O’Hara, who never acknowledged others’ emotions), but the damage is done. She’s been un-sistered, and Sweetie Belle has already adopted Applejack.
Clearly the only solution is dramatic hijinks! Because Rarity and drama go together like apples and pie.
I love how the race works out. Without prior discussion or verbal communication, Rarity and Sweetie Belle plow through every obstacle using some spectacular teamwork. They’re on the same wavelength, moving like they’ve been doing these actions their entire lives, and it’s great. My only issue with the race is how quickly Sweetie Belle forgives Rarity for both the unsistering and deceptively replacing Applejack. It’s a little surprising, given how mad she was, but it’s so gosh darn sweet that I can’t begrudge it.
Speaking of surprising things, only two of the Mane Six in this episode. That’s really neat. And I really like that Rarity sends Princess Celestia a friendship letter at the end.
Is Rarity’s dad a Unicorn or Earth Pony? I can’t tell, with his hat. Also, his cutie mark is three footballs how great is that. And wait, his name is Magnum? And he has a giant mustache and a floral print button down shirt? Is he Tom Selleck? Oh, that’s magnificent.
What really struck me about this episode this time around is how easily relateable both sides of the sister conflict is. Being the oldest of three in my family, I naturally gelled much more with Rarity’s side of things in my previous viewings (and it’s still the side I relate to the most), as I’ve been in her position quite a few times to differing extents. But as the others pointed out, Sweetie Belle’s side of things is genuine and incredibly easy to sympathize with also. While she is somewhat tied up in this episode in her “walking disaster” nature (some of her hi-jinks are genuinely destructive and it’s hard to find Rarity in the wrong there), everything she does in the episode comes out of a legitimate desire to be helpful, but the disconnect between what she thinks will please Rarity and what Rarity is actually trying to accomplish keeps getting in the way. There’s no malice between the two (at least, not at first), they’re just on different wavelengths at the time and friction comes about as a result of it. Which is, of course, an incredibly realistic portrayal of how siblings can work.
There aren’t many opportunities (outside of the Apple Family, of course, but their status as a family unit is a huge part of their identity) for us to see the Mane 6 with their families all together, and getting to see Rarity with hers all in the same room is kind of great, especially as they sort of pull the rug out from under our expectations of what everyone likely thought they would have been like beforehand. There’s a metric ton of character insight for Rarity just in the minute or so that her parents are on screen, as seeing what they’re actually like reveals that quite a bit of what Rarity is would appear to be something she purposely took on herself rather that being something that she learned from her upbringing. Her Trans-Atlantic accent is (more than likely) something she intentionally learned as opposed to coming by it from her family or location (somewhat fitting, as it’s more of a class or profession-related learned accent in the real world as opposed to being tied to region anyways), and her general striving for high-society status would appear to be an attempt to break away from the humble beginnings of her family as opposed to trying to live up to any expectations from there. And yet, she doesn’t appear to have a particularly bad relationship with her parents, as although there’s a little bit of awkwardness involved in their conversation there doesn’t appear to be any real underlying tension (the issue appears to be much more that Rarity completely forgot that she was going to have to take care of Sweetie Belle for a week during that particular week). It actually goes a ways towards explaining Rarity’s competing desires, as she obviously wants to break from her roots and achieve something more, but at the same time is still very much tied to said roots through her friends and family.
Poor Sweetie Belle. We’ve gotten very strong indications of how much she idolizes Rarity and wants to be like her, and the first half of this episode from her perspective is her attempts at spending time with her being rejected over and over again. Everything she tries comes from a genuine attempt to impress Rarity and make her happy, but every time there’s just one seemingly minor thing that throws a wrench into the attempt and causes the entire thing to backfire. She does Rarity’s washing for her, but winds up washing the wrong thing. She draws a picture to show her love for her sister, but the chest of gems she uses in her artwork were meant for a dress for an important client of Rarity’s. She does a masterful job of cleaning… a room that’s not intended to be clean. It’s no wonder she starts to feel like she can’t do anything right and that nothing will ever be good enough for Rarity, and her frustration starts to boil over. Her last-ditch effort to connect with her sister being rejected pushes her to the point that she finally explodes, rejecting her sister outright in return, and spends the rest of the episode mocking and pushing away the very thing that we’ve seen her specifically try to emulate in the past.
And yet, from Rarity’s point of view, all of these instances were obstacles getting in the way of her professional obligations, which don’t just go away for a week because her sister is suddenly in the picture. Each time, Rarity pretty masterfully keeps her own anger over the incidents in check, often to rather comedic effect as we see her struggle to almost literally swallow her anger each time. In her mind, she’s keeping herself under control and showing consideration for her sister as would-be fights or reprimands turn into much more subdued scolding as she keeps trying to push Sweetie Belle off to the side without resorting to yelling. She’s completely oblivious to the fact that what she thinks is consideration is actually leading Sweetie Belle to feel ignored, which is only spurring on the next incident as her sister desperately tries to get her attention, and that her swallowing her outright anger is only leading towards passive-aggressiveness which Sweetie is taking just as badly, but at the same time Rarity’s reactions are understandable, and neither side comes out looking completely at fault or in the wrong. Also tucked into this episode and not directly focused on is a lesson about pushing anger down repeatedly often only leading to an outright explosion down the line when too many things have piled up, as Rarity finally loses her cool and unloads everything she’d been bottling up at her little sister.
Enter Applejack and Apple Bloom. I actually really like the dynamic set up here, as Sweetie Belle using them as a direct comparison and example of what sisters should be like isn’t a particularly good idea as the family situations are entirely different. At the end of the day, Applejack has to be both an older sister and a mother figure to Apple Bloom, and the Apple Family in general are defined by their status as a family unit, so of course their relationship is going to be significantly different to the kind Sweetie Belle and Rarity have, where the former is still living with her parents and the latter is off on her own working at a profession that the rest of the family isn’t inherently involved in. And of course, it’s not like the Apple sisters don’t have their own issues and conflicts at play (which we see both prior to this episode as well as after it). But at the time, all Sweetie Belle can see is Apple Bloom getting the exact thing that she wants from Rarity, namely simply being allowed to be involved in things and getting to be just like her big sister. Applejack comes out looking perfect to her (despite the fact that they likely don’t share much in the way of interests, and I think Sweetie Belle might have been somewhat disillusioned with her “perfect big sister” if she actually got what she wanted in the moment and was able to ditch Rarity for Applejack completely). Poor Applejack, on the other hand, is stuck in the awkward position of trying to be sympathetic to both sides at once, while her own differences with Rarity leads her to being very understanding of Sweetie Belle’s frustration with her, Rarity’s still her friend, and she has to keep backpedaling to try to get Sweetie Belle to see the other side of things as well.
Rarity coming to terms and understanding exactly what she did wrong in her own overdramatic fashion is fantastic, but I also like that Sweetie Belle isn’t so ready to forgive her, because sibling bickering doesn’t always cleanly resolve itself like that. She’s still angry, and she’s not done being angry even if Rarity is admitting being in the wrong, and there is a bit of Rarity still not quite getting it thrown into the mix.
I love the end result of the Sisterhooves Social race. Yes, Sweetie Belle is relatively quick to forgive Rarity this time, but I think it’s earned here. We’ve mentioned before that knowing Rarity’s aversion to doing anything even remotely messy makes the times that she willingly does it to herself a rather big deal, and I think Sweetie Belle knows that (she’s certainly aware of her sister’s feelings on muck enough to mock her for it several times in the second half of the episode). In addition, Rarity’s participation in something she knew Sweetie Belle really wanted to do (and that Sweetie Belle knew Rarity specifically didn’t want to take part in) shows that her apology to her sister wasn’t just lip service, and I think that’s the secret ingredient in the apple pie that manages to win Sweetie back over so quickly. I also love the ending montage of their activities together, as it shows that as much as the lesson was about give-and-take and not just exclusively doing what one side wants, they mesh in a lot of places. All in all, this is a very sweet episode that gives us quite a bit of character insight for both Rarity and her sister.
Also Granny Smith will never cease to be amazing.