My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and all the images you see in this recap are owned by Hasbro.
Episode directed by Denny Lu and Tim Stuby
We back with another episode of Cutie Mark Crusaders: The After Years! Considering they earned their marks towards the end of last season, we haven’t really had time to address what they would be doing now that they are no longer crusading. Will they’re post Cutie Mark debut be the start of new adventures and possibilities, or is this episode gonna be a huge admission of buyer’s remorse? Let’s find out!!
The episode begins with the Cutie Mark Crusaders decidedly not crusading for cutie marks to the Apple Bloom’ chagrin who would rather their time be spent not looking at each other’s asses.
The issue that the crusaders seem to be running into is that now that they have their marks, they have no need to crusade anymore. Oh goody! An existential crisis about finding your destiny! What DOES happen after Happily Ever After? After all, people always say that it’s the journey that counts and not the destination, so what should they do now that they’re where they wanted to be? Well the solution seems a bit obvious and they don’t take too long figuring it out; help others with their Cutie Mark problems as is their destiny, which I’m guessing is the Equestrian equivalent to social workers. The end of one journey is the beginning of another, right? It’s too bad that they live in a perfect world of candy colored ponies that doesn’t seem to have any of those pesky societal issues like domestic strife or poverty, so everyone’s already happy in this idealized society and don’t seem to be suffering with Cutie Mark issues. The CMC try their best to find someone miserable, but sadly everyone seems rather content. No wait! There’s one out there! Show yourself, you sad miserable creature!
So what problem is the pony formerly known as Snowflake currently having? He likes to lift dumbbells, but he lifted all the dumbbells in town. Well after racking their brains for about fifteen seconds, the CMC tell him that he can life other stuff AND that he can TEACH ponies to lift things! Mission accomplished! Now to face the interminable emptiness of lacking a purpose in life! Oh right… they were trying to fix that. Well darn. They had a hard enough time finding this poor bastard, how long until they find another!? Apple Bloom in particular is very worried about this (I’m getting some Lesson Zero vibes right now) and suggests that they expand their search to include all of Equestria instead of just Ponyville and she illustrates her point by pulling out a map of Equestria that they just so happened to have ready for just such an occasion.
Okay… and are they supposed to get to Appleloosa and back before bedtime or do they plan to provide their services by mail? Before Apple Bloom can start drawing up plans for travel expenses, Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo convince her to take it down a notch and instead they’ll just goof off. Perfect! The second best thing to being a productive member of society is to be a slacker! You would think that doing nothing of major significance would be easy though, right? Nope. It turns out that when they aren’t crusading, they have widely different ideas of fun. Scootaloo looks to scooter, Sweetie Belle likes to sing, and Apple Bloom likes to make potions, so unless they can figure out how to mix potions while riding on a singing scooter, it’s probably not gonna work out too well.
Now Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo don’t really see the problem here as they can pursue their own interests by themselves. Apple Bloom on the other hand doesn’t seem ready for that, so while she agrees with them to split off for the day (Sweetie Belle wants to try crochet and Scootaloo is gonna bungie jump), all she really does is mope her way through things. This scene of Apple Bloom’s isolation by the way is accompanied by the first song of the season and it’s a really good one. The idea is that despite doing things that she likes (or at least theoretically likes), she finds no joy in it because she is doing them without her friends.
She’s not necessarily doing these things alone as most of the activities she tries have other ponies around, but she still feels isolated from the rest of the world which makes sense considering that she became friends with Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo because of their outcast status; being some of the few remaining blank flanks in their age group. Sure, you could say she’s overreacting and that those other ponies are just as friendly as anyone else, but Apple Bloom is legitimately feeling a loss right now that’s gonna take some time to get over.
Her sad journey (or at least her sad song) brings her to the doorstep of a dance studio which she hopes will free her from the ennui that has become her life. Unfortunately her skills at dancing haven’t improved since the talent show WAY back in season one, so she swiftly gets the ire of everyone else there that has already gotten past beginner steps and are all the way at ADVANCED beginner. She’s offered the chance to dance on her own so as to not drag anyone else in the class down, but it sort of defeats the purpose and is a PRETTY crappy thing to say to her in the first place. Instead of accepting he offer she leaves (rather dejected), though she does get at least one sympathetic shoulder to cry on in the form of a young (and cutie markless) stallion who is the best in his class but has a fear of dancing on front of an audience, AND THE RECITAL IS THAT NIGHT!!
Considering her current state of mind, it’s not surprising that she doesn’t grasp the situation just presented to her (even if she did, she wouldn’t have fun solving his problems alone), so she just sulks away back to the tree house to listen to Linkin Park (Linkin Clop?) or something. Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo do indeed return to the tree house at some point to talk about their latest escapades (spoiler alert: they were VERY enjoyable and fulfilling) but are confronted with a less than ecstatic Apple Bloom.
Apple Bloom angrily unloads all her baggage on the two of them, letting them know just how miserable she’s been without them and isn’t happy that they won’t be hanging out anymore. Now here’s where things get a bit iffy. The episode thus far has done an amazing job at showing Apple Bloom’s loneliness and how it affects her enjoyment of anything, and yet the resolution here is kind of simplistic. Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle explain that just because they didn’t do stuff together today and that there may be times they wouldn’t do stuff in the future, that they weren’t going to stop being friends or hanging out on a regular basis. Okay, so they are gonna keep hanging out with her, but isn’t there some deeper problems that need to be addressed? One day without them and she could barely function. What’s going to happen to her if they have to spend TWO days apart? It doesn’t feel so much like she ran into a crisis and it got resolved, but more like this situation has uncovered something that’s been eating away at her for a long time. Well we still have five minutes left in the episode, so maybe they’ll get back to it. Now that everything is all hunky-dory between them, Apple Bloom finally realizes that the stallion from earlier (Tender Taps) was a perfect candidate for their unique brand of life coaching and so they head to the recital to see if they can convince him to go onstage. The do find him watching from the hallway and attempt to get his attention, but there’s this one REALLY judgmental pony who shushes them for trying to talk under the bleachers, so instead they take the conversation outside. I particularly like the look Tender Taps gives in response to this nosy mare.
Apple Bloom eventually convinces him to go on stage (she’ll go with him for moral support) but he’s having panic attacks over the stage and costumes not being prepared and how there’s no time to get that straightened out! This is where Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo come in with what they’ve learned in the last few hours, but I question the efficacy of either of their contributions. Sweetie Belle manages to crochet very crude jackets and hats in what had to be a very short amount of time, yet they couldn’t borrow an outfit from whatever the rest of the dance troupe brought? That’s downright sensible compared to Scootaloo though. So apparently in this very short amount of time, she managed to leave the theater, get the bungee jumping instructor (she can’t do what she’s about to do without adult supervision obviously!), and jumps down from the catwalk to switch out the backdrop. Something that stage hand or even the dance instructor could have done just as easily without dangling from a cable.
And the thing is that the routine the kid has planned out doesn’t have a narrative, so this whole thing is completely superfluous! Once they get that bit of shtick out of their systems, Apple Bloom and Tender Taps get on stage and the former tries to get the latter to dance. It takes a bit of doing (and at least one pratfall) before he’s able to block out the crowds and do his routine. For his troubles he’s given a cutie mark that signifies his excellence in live theater! Yeah… good luck with that career path.
And so the CMC save the day once again! Apple Bloom apologizes to Tender Taps for “moping around for no reason” (hm…) and thinks that she may continue to take dance lessons even if she’s not all that good at it. Well at least she now has a hobby… even though she already had one as she was making potions with Zacora earlier, but whatever. Everyone’s happy now! Hooray!!
The episode falters at the end, but it’s still a really solid episode and the right kind of follow up to the CMC’s storyline effectively ending in last season’s Crusaders of the Lost Mark. I like the issues they’re getting into about loneliness and how time changes all things including friendships, but there’s not satisfying payoff for that. Personally, I would have thrown Applejack in at some point to have a talk with Apple Bloom about growing up and whatnot which would have been a better way for her to deal with her problems rather than for Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo to say that she had misunderstood them. Still, it manages to have some solid moments between the CMC and the ending with Tender Taps is well done if a bit convoluted. While the last episode’s moral felt a shoved in at the last minute, this one feels like its moral was undercut and robbed of a lot of its power. Maybe we can expect a happy medium in the next episode.