Super Recaps: My Little Pony season 5 (Brotherhooves Social)

What the heck!?  It’s an episode WITHOUT RARITY!?!?  Can someone stick a thermometer in the ground to see if Hell just froze over?  Well in any case, it’s time we find out just what happened at the Sisterhooves Social that Applejack and Rarity had to miss last episode.  Will Twilight get a chance to do something for once by filling in?  Maybe, but since this is called Brotherhooves Social, I’m guessing we’re going to focus on someone else and unless it’s Shining Armor, she MAY not be in this episode.  Oh well, there’s always next time.  Will this episode be able to keep up the pace that we’ve been going at since the show returned, or will we see why Rarity should be the focus of every single episode!?  Let’s find out!!

The episode begins on the Apple farm (which coincidentally grows apples) where Granny Smith is making preparations for The Sisterhooves Social while Applejack and Apple Bloom are practicing outside.  Big Mac is helping Granny because he has nothing better to do but spends most of his efforts watching wistfully as Apple Bloom continues to rain affection on Applejack who has over the years completely overshadowed him and all his accomplishments.

“Am I doomed to be the Frank Stallone of the Apple family?”]

“Am I doomed to be the Frank Stallone of the Apple family?”]

Have we ever had a Big Mac episode?  The only one I can think of is Hearts and Hooves Day and that was a CMC episode more than anything else.  The only time he ACTUALLY got a chance to shine outside of a supporting role was the two part story from the comic book series Zen and the Art of Gazebo Building.  While that one was about enjoying the journey as much as the destination, this one seems to be about trying to stand out when under someone else’s shadow.  The shadow in question has saved Equestria many times and continues to protect it from the forces of evil (which Apple Bloom wastes no time in reminding us and Big Mac), so that’s gonna be one HELL of a shadow to drag himself out of!

“You’re smart, funny, strong, well groomed, got a cool hat-”     “um…”     “QUIET BIG MAC!!!  Anyway, you’re the best apple bucker in the world, you make that country accent work, you can eat more apples than anyone…”

“You’re smart, funny, strong, well groomed, got a cool hat-”     “um…”     “QUIET BIG MAC!!!  Anyway, you’re the best apple bucker in the world, you make that country accent work, you can eat more apples than anyone…”

As you know if you saw last week’s episode, Applejack’s cutie mark starts glowing which means that Discord (sorry, I mean the “Cutie Map”) is sending her out on another mission which leaves Apple Bloom without a partner for the Sisterhooves Social (Applejack’s extreme awesome is backfiring on her as she so eloquently put it).  Well isn’t THIS fortunate for the silently suffering older brother!  If he can find some way to help her with this problem, he may just win back her love!  So how far is he willing to go for her?

“I like your dress.”     “Why this old thing?  Why this is made out of real authentic shower curtains!”

“I like your dress.”     “Why this old thing?  Why this is made out of real authentic shower curtains!”

This is long lost cousin Orchard Blossom who’s DEFINITELY NOT BIG MAC, except she’s totally Big Mac in a dress.  Now the Disguised in Drag trope has been a staple of sitcoms for decades (S1E15 of Third Rock from the Sun is one of the best examples of this) but is anyone else getting the sense that this show is trying to be subversive with it?  We’ve gotten hints before that Big Mac seems to have some feelings that don’t quite confirm to the gender binary view of masculinity which is something that distinguishes him from the other males on this series.  I mean Discord DID wear a French maid outfit that one time, but I think we could even BEGIN to comprehend his sexuality.  Also, where did he get this outfit and this identity?  This crazy scheme was thought up like two hours ago, and Rarity isn’t around to make a dress in his size.  I’m guessing that this might not be the first time Orchard Blossom has made an appearance; just the first time so publicly.

Look at that guy on the right, thinking he's got a shot!  Orchard Blossom (stallion or not) would break him in half!

Look at that guy on the right, thinking he’s got a shot!  Orchard Blossom (stallion or not) would break him in half!

They enter the competition with no resistance from the judges and it leads to a rather nice scene with Rainbow Dash (who’s there with Scootaloo) where she tells him that she’s not going to go easy on him and Applebloom just because he’s a stallion.  I really liked this line because it undercuts any sort of concern about him dominating this tournament JUST because he has a Y chromosome.  Something like that hanging over the episode would have been a distraction, but thankfully they had the foresight to deflated that question and make this about more than just some dude tricking his way into a women’s space (which is the only time this trope gets used).  Even though his actions can be said to have the same effect, his motivations here seem to be a lot less selfish than that because all he’s after is helping Apple Bloom get what she wants and they took the time to let us know that him being here isn’t going to be a disruption in and of itself.  That or I’m thinking WAY too hard about this episode for some reason.  What the hell was going on?  Oh right!  They have a contest to win!  Now unlike the LAST time we saw the Sisterhooves Social, this one’s got multiple events and lots of people running it.  I thought it was just a thing that the Apple family did each year, but apparently it’s been franchised and is now a huge event.  The first part of the competition is a singing contest!!

“And now, the song of my people.  LET IT GO!!  LET IT GO!!!  CAN’T HOLD IT BACK ANYMORE!!!!!”

“And now, the song of my people.  LET IT GO!!  LET IT GO!!!  CAN’T HOLD IT BACK ANYMORE!!!!!”

That’s actually pretty much it for the rest of the episode.  Big Mac (as Orchard Blossom) tries his best as the various events but each time he almost gives away his real identity despite the fact that I’m PRETTY sure everyone else knows who it is.  The more important aspect of this though is how Apple Bloom is taking it.  She seems annoyed overall with the whole scheme and also that he keeps messing up on a couple of the events.  This was supposed to be her time with Applejack, and I guess she’s still disappointed about that more than Big Mac’s method’s to try and cheer her up.  She also seems a bit uncomfortable about him being in drag as well because the guy is not breaking character at all which I think ALSO lends a bit a credence to the idea that they’re trying to be subversive with this episode.  He’s very much into this character and all the little affections that he’s developed for her which is a lot more than what we usually get with the Disguised in Drag trope.  Usually it’s out of duress or as an acceptable price to pay for the potential rewards.  Big Mac though seems very comfortable in this persona and I’d be interested to see if this goes anywhere after this episode.  Hell, what would the rest of his family think about this?

“Now you’re not planning on wearing that at the next reunion, right Big Mac?”     “Who?”     “You know what?  That probably answered my question.”

“Now you’re not planning on wearing that at the next reunion, right Big Mac?”     “Who?”     “You know what?  That probably answered my question.”

After these somewhat humorous antics, we get to the big race which seems to be the only IMPORTANT event which makes everything else completely pointless.  Rainbow Dash and Scootaloo are there as well and it actually feels like a missed opportunity that they focused so much on the Apples instead of giving a bit of time to other people in this competition.  Scootaloo and Rainbow Dash’s relationship in particular could use a bit more exploring.  Do they have a sisterly bond?  Is it still defined by blind admiration coupled with a never satiated ego?  On top of that, Sweetie Bell is just completely left out (Rarity is in Manehattan with Applejack) and this would have been a great opportunity for Twilight Sparkle to fix her boredom while also putting two characters together who rarely interact.  I guess the twenty two minute run time meant they couldn’t do that while still telling the story they wanted to between Big Mac and Apple Bloom, but there was definitely some fat in this that they could have trimmed.  The race itself is okay with Big Mac trying desperately to win the competition (and therefore Apple Bloom’s love and appreciation) to the point that he’s tearing up the place to do so.

“I am Orchard Blossom!  HEAR ME ROAR!!!!!”

“I am Orchard Blossom!  HEAR ME ROAR!!!!!”

The two of them win the race (practically incapacitating the other racers in the process) and are waiting to be crowned the winners when Big Mac’s costume falls to pieces on the ground.  Apple Bloom is pissed because the guy broke his cover, but the officials reaffirm that The Sisterhooves Socials rules are lax on the subject of who can be a sister (hence why Rainbow Dash can compete) but their rules are not so lax on trying to kill all of your competitors.  Seriously, this guy TORE THAT TRACK TO SHREDS to try and win this!  So despite everyone accepting that Big Mac was in the competition, the duo gets disqualified for un-sportsman like conduct… no wait, that’s un-sportsPONY like conduct.  HOW COULD I GET THAT WRONG!?  We fade to sometime later where Big Mac is staring contemplatively at the sunset; pondering his actions over the last twenty four hours.

“It’s going to be such a pain to get another one of those dresses.”     “What was that?”     “Nothing…”

“It’s going to be such a pain to get another one of those dresses.”     “What was that?”     “Nothing…”

Apple Bloom walks over to see if he wants to talk about it and after some initial resistance he starts to spill the beans about feeling invisible now that Applejack is best pony.  It’s obvious what the moral of the story is ahead of time, but the scene itself is very well executed with great lighting, excellent delivery from Peter as Big Mac, and super sappy music to drive the point home.  They wanted to make a very powerful moment here for a character that’s always been in the background and while it’s a bit cheesy, I think it does succeed in its goal.  And so the episode ends with Apple Bloom spending some time with Big Mac (even after Applejack gets home) and the two of them having fun talking about Orchard Blossom.

“So… you think Cheerilee will like Orchard Blossom?”     “Wait, are you two dating?”     “NO!  NEVER MIND!!!”

“So… you think Cheerilee will like Orchard Blossom?”     “Wait, are you two dating?”     “NO!  NEVER MIND!!!”

This was a bit light on story and a bit obvious with its laughs, but it’s also something unique for the series which is more than can be said about last week’s episode.  That actually makes them pretty good contrasts with one being a polished and expertly crafted version of something we’ve seen before, while this one was a rough around the edges approach to material to something we haven’t seen before in the series.  I honestly don’t know how much we’re supposed to read into Big Mac’s actions in the series and whether he is a transvestite (or transsexual), though one of the story board supervisors (Jim Miller) said on twitter that he is not.  Then again, as far as I can tell, he didn’t work on this episode (Timothy Packford has the credit) but it also sounds like something that anyone you’d ask who’s even willing to answer would have to say.  You know, just like how Lyra and Bon Bon are “just friends”.  A lot of my good will towards this episode is looking at it as more than just the Disguised in Drag trope again, so if it’s officially ruled that he is NOT a transvestite or transsexual, does that mean I should like this episode less?  Well that’s a question people have debated for years with the idea of authorial intent.  Is an author’s interpretation the definitive one?  Is any interpretation outside of that false?  I tend to not put A LOT of stock in that theory simply because people are flawed and can make something they didn’t mean to make and if we put too much stock in that theory, doesn’t that kind of make the idea of criticism moot?  Smarter people than me can probably tell you otherwise but to get back to this episode, I thought overall it was a well done version of this story and was somewhat subversive but not putting much stock in the subterfuge itself.  No one’s really getting fooled by Big Mac (except that one guy who wants to get her number) and no one’s even getting upset that this dude is dressing up like a woman.  Is it played for laughs?  Yeah, but I never felt it was mean spirited about it or was trying to take shots at people who actually live this lifestyle (other than an Adam’s Apple joke I guess).  The story is a bit lacking because it focuses a lot on the random and pretty much pointless events at the Sisterhooves Social other than the race, but that’s a fairly small complaint when you think of what this episode does well.  It may not be the best episode this season, but I get the feeling it’s going to be one people remember.

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My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic: Season 5

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2 thoughts on “Super Recaps: My Little Pony season 5 (Brotherhooves Social)

  1. ArthurCrane

    Short Version: On paper, it shouldn’t work. Yet, it does.
    Longer Version:
    -I’ve always had a strong sense of empathy towards characters that get neglected or never quite get their due. While Big Mac has been a frequent supporting player, his contributions have always been very limited (with the exception of his two-part comic story that still remains one of my favorites of the MLP comic series). He’s pretty much built for small stuff, what with his limited dialogue and often getting sidelined by his sisters and grandma. So, I think it was a smart idea to make that sort-of meta aspect of the show the jumping off point for the story, as it immediately made me sympathize with Big Mac, something that snuck up on me unexpectedly. If the story had been from Apple Bloom’s POV, it probably wouldn’t have had the punch that it does.
    -There’s certainly a conversation to be had about how the “man in drag” comedy trope can or should still be used today. The way I see it, it’s not about “if” you do it, but “how” you do it. I’ve seen people compare this premise to “Mrs. Doubtfire” the most, however, while that is a story about a good father who’s also kind of a shitty husband disguising himself to spend more time with his kids, which is pretty damn selfish of him, Big Mac’s purpose for donning his Orchard Blossom persona is done for the most part so that he can do something nice for his sister. While it could be said that it’s selfish in and of itself to want to get back that position as Apple Bloom’s hero, at least it’s a kind of selfishness that’s relate-able and empathetic, which made me buy the premise.
    -While this is pretty much a one-joke episode, Peter New’s performance really helps carry it all the way through. One of the recurring aspects of the “man in drag” trope is that usually the guy in disguise is uncomfortable and has trouble selling the bit. It’s impressive how naturally Big Mac slips into the character, and even refuses to break it, which does make one imagine that he was already doing something like that before the episode (and also seemed to get the wig and dress out of nowhere). Regardless of whether this has any kind of authorial intent, my takeaway is that Big Mac simply is comfortable engaging in very non-traditionally masculine things, which is kind of a big deal for a children’s show. As you can imagine, Internet reactionary culture piled on this episode and called it transphobic, even though there’s no evidence that suggests that transexuals should be ridiculed in the episode. The way I see it, people who think transexual men are just guys wearing dresses are the real problem.
    -It’s always a big deal when Big Mac says more than one word, but his heart-to-heart with Apple Bloom at the end is probably his best moment in the entire series up to this point. Themes about the importance of family have been a staple of the Apples since the beginning, and I like how this now extends to a Big Mac story as well. It was inevitable that the story would wrap up with Apple Bloom learning to show her appreciation for her brother, but the way they get their is what makes it special. It’s both of them who learn that communicating your feelings properly to your family is important (take it from me).
    -Between this and the Discord episode earlier in the season (arguably the first turly Discord-centric episode of the show), it’s nice to see some of the guys get a spotlight from time to time. Now, if this could only extend to that other series MLP is currently attached to…

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  2. Alex Throndson (@AlexanderThrond)

    I didn’t think this episode did everything amazingly like, say, “Rarity Investigates,” but I don’t need this show to be perfect. I just want it to be moving forward, and because of that, I really admire this episode for being centred around a secondary character instead of the usual cast. We had that in “Slice of Life,” but “Slice of Life” is an anomaly. This, meanwhile, suggests a much brighter future, where characters who are usually in the background have a chance to shine in the spotlight and prove that they can be deep and interesting too. In fact, I’d argue that Big Mac is deeper here than any of the mane six have been in a while, something which is admittedly a little disappointing. I didn’t mind the plot, but occasionally the awkwardness did bother me. However, I think it would have bothered me a lot more if it weren’t for the execution, which paints the main problem as being Big Mac acting badly while never dwelling too deeply on it until the time is right. Meanwhile, that scene at the end is easily one of my favourite scenes of the entire season at the very least, and considering that this season’s peaks are some of the show’s highest, that might make it one of my favourite scenes ever.

    I want more episodes like this.

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