Rejoice all you pony fans! The long hiatus is FINALLY over!! For too long we’ve been without everyone’s favorite show about talking horses with magic powers, but it’s finally back with the traditional two part premiere! There are a lot of expectations going into this season, what with the defeat of Tirek leading to Twilight becoming the Princess of Friendship and the new responsibilities that entails! From what we’ve seen so far, this season is going to be BIG with lots of adventures in faraway lands which gives the show endless possibilities as far as stories and characters to enrich this universe with. So does the season premiere live up to the hype, or will it be crushed under the weight of unreasonable expectations? Let’s find out!! This is The Story of the Blank Flanks! No wait, this is The Cutie Map!!
The episode begins an indeterminate amount of time after the finale of season four. Twilight is still unsure what the heck her new battle fortress is meant to do other than be a gaudy landmark in Ponyville. Everyone else is pretty chill about it and seems more interested in sitting in their customized thrones with their cutie marks emblazoned upon them, and soft cushions to maximize comfort.
Once Twilight finally hops into her own throne however, the floor opens up and a giant map of Equestria (and maybe the lands beyond) appears before them. Not only that, but their cutie marks start to glow… and then a copy of each of their cutie marks comes off… and then they point to somewhere on the map. Um… okay. I don’t know why the map couldn’t just have a marker on it, but who am I to argue with cutie marks? This DOES establish some interesting rules that could be explored in greater detail, such as the fact that they ALL need to be together in order to get this thing to work. I smell future conflicts!! Anyway, there’s nothing else on the map to indicate what is significant about the location, but since they’ve got nothing else to go on, they decide to go to wherever the heck it is the map tells them to. I find it a bit odd that ALL OF THEM are ready to drop everything to go on another random quest. This one isn’t even at the behest of the princesses like in previous episodes! It’s just the map pointing them in a direction! I imagine that at least two of them (Rarity and Applejack) have REALLY busy schedules already, what with running their own businesses, so why are they so eager to drop everything on a moment’s notice? Maybe they’re saving that for a future episode as well. The Mane 6 (sans Spike for no adequately explained reason) hop on a train and ride it all the way to the middle of nowhere where they find this REALLY creepy little town.
Everyone’s sensing some bad mojo coming from the place because all the ponies are wearing creepy smiles and have the same cutie marks. Wait a minute. Equal sign cutie marks, uninspired living conditions for the populace, and they all are feigning happiness? THIS TOWN IS FULL OF COMMUNIST!!
The villagers lead our heroes to the town founder Starlight Glimmer (Doesn’t that sound like an OC for Twilight Sparkle and Sunset Shimmer’s daughter?) who explains to them that everyone in the town experiences TRUE friendship because no one tries to outshine the other. Everyone is the same and that’s why they’re so AWESOME!! So awesome in fact that she rallies the entire town to do a musical number for their guests!
After the horrifying number, everyone (but Fluttershy for some reason) is completely baffled by everything around them, yet only Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie are flat out suspicious of the goings on. Now having some of the characters being somewhat conflicted rather than seeing the horror outright (Twilight) and even having some characters find some of this appealing (Fluttershy) might have been an interesting idea if the show hadn’t done everything it could to paint this town in a negative light. The ponies always have terrified eyes whenever Starlight Glimmer is around, and she even gives a villainous monologue after prompting the group to join their town and give up their cutie marks. Wait what!? She can take away their cutie marks!? That’s it! They’ve officially upgraded from Communism to Jonestown!
All I’m saying is that any ambiguity the Mane 6 tries to inject into this episode feels completely forced after what we’ve seen already. Tensions are swiftly rising between the Mane 6, but they don’t let it get to them which is quite confusing to the local baker (Sugar Bell). The disconnect she’s having about them having disagreements while still being friends seems to slowly snap her out of whatever hold Starlight Glimmer has on her and she quietly prompts them to meet her in the basement as soon as they can. This sets up a rather cruel gag where they basically force Pinkie Pie to eat all the terrible muffins so they have an excuse to go back into the bakery and ask for more. WHY!? Couldn’t you just go in there to use the bathroom or something!?
Once they’re finished torturing Pinkie Pie, the Mane 6 heads to the basement and find not only Sugar Bell, but other ponies as well who start approaching them in a very menacing manner! OH CRAP!! THIS IS THE DEATH BASEMENT!! GET OUT OF THERE!!! No wait, they just want to fawn over their unique cutie marks. This episode is doing a REALLY great job of making everything in this town foreboding and full of possible danger. The Mane 6 never feels safe in any of these scenes! Once they realize they aren’t about to be ritualistically sacrificed, the Mane 6 start asking about the cutie marks and the townsfolk tell them about a magic stick that removes the marks, and also tells them about a vault in a nearby cave where they are stored.
With this new information, we cut to sometime later where the Mane 6 has convinces Starlight Glimmer to show them cutie mark vault. Once they get there, they finally see the vault which looks a giant stamp collection.
The magic stick in question is called The Staff of Sameness, and it’s the nine enchanted items owned by mage Meadowbrook. Who’s mage Meadowbrook? I have no idea, but I’m assuming that they will come up later in the season. The writers wouldn’t bother giving the stick this specific of a back story (one of many magic artifacts) if they didn’t plan to pay it off, right? We don’t get an explanation on how Starlight Glimmer got ahold of such an artifact, but it’s not like she gave them much time to ask questions because she then uses the stick to remove each of their cutie marks! And so, we end the first episode with the Mane 6 powerless against this crazed cult leader!
So that was the first half of the two part premiere! It was actually a damn good way to start the season, what with its dark subject matter and neigh perfect world building in terms of this new town. At the end, I only had two complaints. The first is that as far as “threats” go, Starlight Glimmer is slightly above Diamond Tiara and shouldn’t be THAT difficult to take care of. The fact that the ENTIRE Mane 6 were helpless against her magic stick is pretty unbelievable and undercuts the dramatic ending. The other problem is Fluttershy who just doesn’t make any sense in this episode. She thinks everyone in this town is nice, which is completely false. They’re brainwashed, constantly watching, and seem poised to strike if anyone steps out of bounds. They’re NICE as long as you CONFORM. Fluttershy should be able to see this, but for some reason she seems to warm up to this whole “sameness” belief without any good reason. Fluttershy has always walked a fine line between being shy and being a pushover, but this is by far the worst use of her in the whole series. Even with these faults, the creators were able to show us that season five doesn’t plan to coast on the series overwhelming popularity and intends to make good on its promise to explore the world that’s already been set up. Alright, enough waiting! Let’s get started on episode two!
The episode begins with the ponies being stuck in a Gulag where crimes against humanity (or should I say ponanity) are being committed against them.
They’re locked up in this one room (no bathroom as far as I can tell) with nothing to do but read indoctrinating texts and listen to the endless droning of someone spouting the virtues of sameness over a loud speaker. While this is happening, the equal sign cutie marks are starting to corrupt them from the inside and erasing all sense of individuality and what it was that made them special. HOLY CRAP!! This is some SERIOUSLY messed up stuff here! After enduring this torture for almost a day, Twilight comes up with a great idea. Fluttershy can feign acceptance to the cause because she’s proven to Starlight Glimmer and the other townsfolk that she already harbored some affection for their way of life! Good plan, except that for some COMPLETELY INEXPLICABLE REASON, Fluttershy still doesn’t think they’re all that bad, despite forcing their cutie marks off and locking them in a room with no escape. WHAT!? Okay, I KNOW she’s still on the Mane 6’s side here, but they STILL bother to show that she still doesn’t see this as the worst thing ever. Was the point of showing that she still likes these nut jobs to show us that she IS perfect for this job, or to set up tension about whether or not she really WILL join them? I don’t know which, but I still can’t stand this weird interpretation of Fluttershy. Starlight Glimmer comes the next morning to see if any of them will accept their fate as another mindless drone in this hellish town. As expected, most of the Mane 6 rejects her offer, while Fluttershy accepts it and Starlight Glimmer is extremely happy about this. I do also wonder why the Mane 6 don’t just try to run off when they unlock the door. As far as I can tell, none of the ponies here are particularly strong (how can any of them be if they’re all the same?) and no one appears to have weapons. Even in their weakened state, they could do SOMETHING! Hell, even if only one of them escapes, they could at least try to get some help or figure out how to release the cutie marks.
Well at least it looks like their scheme is working, right? Not if Starlight Glimmer has anything to say about it! Before Fluttershy can be accepted by her, she needs to reveal who it was the told them about the vault of cutie marks (you may recall it was the baker named Sugar Bell and two of her friends from the first episode). DAMN! That is straight up McCarthyism right there! Fluttershy is definitely put on the spot and has to decide whether to save everyone by condemning those three, or stopping the plan now so that no one gets hurt. No wait, one of the gives themselves up (Party Favor) and claims to be the only one to betray Starlight Glimmer. Eh, I guess it’s not too surprising that they gave Fluttershy an easy out here. Party Favor gets sent to the prison thingy with the others and Fluttershy is on Starlight Glimmer’s good side at least for now. For the time being, she’s staying with Starlight Glimmer (until her new house is built) and tries to sneak out that night to get the cutie marks back. Emphasis on the word “try.”
Luckily for her though, Starlight Glimmer has some evil machinations to spy on right at her back door. One of her lackeys (Double Diamond) has brought her the Mane 6’s cutie marks at her request and she plans to keep them close by in case they cause anymore trouble. Fluttershy sees this exchange go down, but also witnesses something else that’s even MORE condemning!
Oh no, the evil cult leader isn’t all they say they are. What a completely shocking twist that we’ve seen about a million times before. At least now, Fluttershy has something to bring to the others that will no doubt help in their escape and their plans to save the town. The next morning, Starlight Glimmer gives the remaining Mane 6 another chance to join them. They once again refuse, but Party Favor is more than happy to return to Starlight Glimmer’s arms.
Fluttershy volunteers to lock the prisoners up and presumably tells Twilight about Starlight Glimmer’s secret because she then agrees to accept her way of life. Of course, this is all just a distraction while Fluttershy gets a bucket of water and just barely manages to reveal Starlight Glimmer’s cutie mark.
Things devolve rather quickly as everyone’s faith is shattered and Starlight Glimmer starts to lash out at those around her. She says that she only keeps her cutie mark because she’s the only one who can take them away and reveals that the magic ninth artifact of mage Meadowbrook is actually just a stick. Huh. I don’t think they would have given such an obvious name drop to not pay it off at some later date, but it also seems weird that they declared THIS one to be illegitimate. The best part of this whole scene is when Twilight tries to start in on a speech about friendship and Starlight Glimmer nearly bites her damn head of.
Starlight Glimmer eventually just runs back to her house while everyone else heads to the cave to get their cutie marks back. That is, except for the Mane 6 who Fluttershy informs that their cutie marks are locked up in her house. Starlight Glimmer is absolutely seething about what these interlopers have done to her perfect society, so she takes her revenge by destroying the Mane 6’s cutie marks forever! Not really, she just takes them down a secret passage she has so that the Mane 6 won’t be able to get them again. While this is happening, the Mane 6 are trying desperately to overcome a locked door, but alas this is a challenge they are not able to overcome. Luckily for them, four of the townsfolk (Double Diamond, Sugar Bell, Party Favor, and a blue pegasus I don’t think they gave a name to so I will call Jet Blue) are back to help with their fully restored cutie marks!
Jet Blue is able to smash down the front door and they all discover that Starlight Glimmer has escaped and is heading towards the mountains where (supposedly) they’ll never be able to find her if she gets too far ahead of them. Thus begins an epic chase, where the Mane 6 are unfortunately not able to keep up and have to rely on their new friends to stop Starlight Glimmer from escaping! The chase itself is quite good with each of them showing off their own unique talents to stop Starlight Shimmer. Well… ALMOST everyone.
They eventually stop her and the Mane 6 get their cutie marks back. Starlight Glimmer isn’t done yet and tries to straight up murder them with an energy beam but is stopped by Twilight Sparkle who jumps into the scene and creates a force field. Then the show seems to go on a weird tangent here where Starlight Glimmer is completely baffled that Twilight can stop the spell she took YEARS to learn. Um… she’s an ALICORN PRINCESS! Mad props to you learning such a complex spell, but she was out of your league when she was still in diapers. Twilight takes this opportunity to finally give her friendship speech about how awesome friends are and how their unique traits inspired her to do better. Starlight Glimmer doesn’t care much for her monologue, so she does a Solar Flare and runs off into the mountains, never to be seen again until about halfway through this season. And so the day is saved! All the ponies get their cutie marks back and the town is happier than ever! The Mane 6 look on with pride for the good work they’ve done here and then their cutie marks start to buzz like a cell phone. Presumably there are more adventures on the horizon for our heroes, but for now they’re gonna enjoy spending some time with their new friends!
This was an excellent way to start the season! The story here is something you wouldn’t have expected, even from a show that’s taken lots of unexpected risks like My Little Pony is known to do. The themes that are discussed and the imagery that’s invoked are quite bold, yet never feel like it would be too much for kids to handle. Most of us who know what they are referencing will get the direness of the situation that they’re in, but even without the historical callbacks it still works because it doesn’t rely on that alone. The tone throughout the premiere was consistently creepy with little touches here and there to make sure nothing ever feels safe or wholesome. That said I feel that there could have been more back story for how things got this way, and the only hints we get are during the final chase scene where the townsfolk start to yell at Starlight Glimmer about everything she did to them. We never get a real reason WHY Starlight Glimmer is against individuality and why she wanted an army of brainless drones at her beck and call. It feels a bit unfinished, but the fact that she escaped means we might find out more in the future. Also, once again I want to reiterate that Fluttershy was REALLY poorly used in this episode. It feels like the only reason they used her in this way is because the writers thought she was the only one incompetent enough to not immediately fix everything once she escaped, and that is NOT how you should use her in your story. They did a similar thing in Wizard Duel but there they used her “incompetence” to comedic effect. Using her this way is just a crutch to keep the story from going too fast, and it also meant they had to make her actions in the first half completely unbelievable just to justify her escaping instead of the rest. I hope they don’t misuse her (or anyone else really) to this extent again and that this was just a small stumble for what was otherwise a great two part episode. Are there other problems? Sure, there are some nitpicks here and there (I should know considering how many I pointed out for comedic effect) but none of them really took away from the overall quality like the prior issues did. I’m very excited to see what happens next time and what the overall story for this season is going to be. Hopefully we’ll get to go way beyond the borders of Equestria and get to see this crazy candy coated world in ways we never could have imagined! Only time will tell if this season can live up to it’s potential but after this premiere, I’m more confident than ever!
Wait a minute. Isn’t the moral of this story the OPPOSITE moral of Rainbow Rocks!?
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