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’re back with another episode of Friendship is… well pretty much anything as long as we can fit a moral in by the end of the story. Sadly enough, this is ALSO the last episode before the hiatus where they’ll finish the second half of the season later this year. I don’t remember shows pulling these kind of shenanigans before! In MY day, we got twenty six episodes IN A ROW before the show went off for a couple of months! Well as is the rule with shows that go on hiatus, they need to end it on a high note so that the audience will leave wanting more and be ready to pick it back up once the season resumes. Do they manage to pull it off here, or will we be thankful that the show is going on a break by the end of this episode? Let’s find out!!
The episode begins with The Knights of the Friendship Table gathered once again to discuss their latest efforts in fighting against the forces of enmity with the land of Equestria! The purpose of this meeting is that Twilight and Starlight can finally cast a magic spell to get the Cutie Map working back in working order which means somepony’s about to go on another mission. I wasn’t even aware that it WASN’T working, but whatever. At least we have our Plot-O-Tron 5000 up and running again!
The mission (should they choose to accept it) is to send Rarity and Pinkie Pie to Canterlot to solve some sort of friendship problem there. When they arrive, Rarity wants to be proactive in searching out a Friendship Problem, but Pinkie Pie seems to have taken a more deterministic view of things and assumes they’ll just bump into the problem at some point. I can’t really blame her to be honest. They’re taking orders from a magic map that seems to be monitoring the entire planet searching for sad ponies, and considering her tendencies towards fourth wall breaking, she may be fully aware that she is a fictional character going through the motions of a pre-written script.
Whatever deity you subscribe to (whether it be fate or TV writers), puts them on the right path immediately as Pinkie Pie’s tummy gets all rumbly and they decide to find a decent establishment at which to have lunch. Rarity takes her to the Fancy Food District which is only composed of restaurants that have received the three Michelin Star rating… I mean the three Hoof rating. I guess I wasn’t the ONLY one to see Burnt last year, but instead of a secret society of food critics (seriously, go look that up) it’s just ONE critic called Zesty Gourmand. One has to wonder what Rarity is thinking taking Pinkie Pie to ANY of these restaurants as she’s obviously not going to enjoy it. They’re gonna go in, get four leaves on a plate, pay three hundred bits for it, and will probably have to bow before the chef before their allowed to leave. I’m PRETTY sure Pinkie will feel more at home going to a Golden Corral or a Cicis Pizza, but she’s willing to give it a shot… and it goes about as well as expected. Hope you like having to sell your shop to pay for the bill Rarity!
Even Rarity doesn’t seem to like it too much and is only putting up with it because of its status, but Pinkie is under no such compunctions and tries to find somewhere where they serve ACTUAL food. They happen upon a restaurant that’s located in an alley for some reason, and it’s… well it’s certainly something.
So… this is a thing we gotta talk about. Before we do though, a big caveat. If it wasn’t obvious enough already, I am a white dude and EVERYTHING I’m about to say should be taken with a massive grain of salt and I’m sure there are people out there MUCH more qualified to talk about this than I am. Still, I’m not gonna ignore this and I will try to give a fair take on it. Okay, so the two ponies who own this restaurant (Saffron Masala and Coriander Cumin) are from… whatever the Equestrian equivalent of India is, and are hoping to make it big in Canterlot. Diegetically (i.e. within the world created by the show that the characters are aware of) this is fine… in my opinion. Sure, they’re pretty stereotypical in their depiction here, but I don’t think (again, diegetically) it’s taken TOO far as to make them walking talking jokes. The restaurant as well I don’t think is too problematic as they’re CLEARLY going for a theme here which is to serve authentic Indian cuisine in a city that seems pretty monoethnic (as well as highly affluent) so the business strategy is to immerse customers in their culture as they discover a kind of food heretofore unknown to them. So from a DIEGETIC standpoint (these characters in this world), I don’t think this is all that bad or particularly offensive. On the other hand, they DO overuse the Sitar music in the background (probably NON-DIEGETIC as background music tends to be there for the audience and is not heard by the characters) and the designs of our two leads aren’t all that original for Indian characters which can be seen as problematic. India is a MASSIVELY diverse country with various cultures, traditions, cuisines, and styles (based on my modicum of research, I think the look here is based off that of the Punjabi people) so having the ONLY representation of them being so simplified and intentionally gaudy (we don’t know how much of the style here is for the benefit of their customers or is a sincere representation of their everyday life) is not the most sensitive portrayal for a show that’s frequently tackled topics of tolerance and preconceived notions of others, but then maybe I’m the one overthinking things and this might just be a respectful portrayal of a specific group of people from another country for the intended target audience which is young kids. I have my doubts on that, but then I’m not the expert here and DEFINITELY want to hear how other people react to this. All that said, there’s still one thing about all this irrefutably ass-backwards and that’s the casting. These two are played by white actors doing an Indian accent. Seriously. That’s downright inexcusable and makes whatever possible benefit of the doubt there MIGHT have been for these characters’ portrayal fly right out the window! Look, I don’t blame the actors for taking the role (voice actors gotta voice act), but someone in casting should have known better than to ask a couple of their regulars to do their best imitation of Apu from The Simpsons. You’re telling me that Canada has ZERO Indian voice actors, or did they just not bother looking?
Alright. I think I’ve made my point on that and we can move onto the ACTUAL episode. Pinkie Pie and Rarity have their meal at the Restaurant that is run by Saffron Masala and her father Coriander Cumin and the two find the food to be quite spectacular, despite some initial hesitations from Rarity about the restaurant not having a hoof rating. It’s too bad that Daddy Cumin wants to shut the restaurant down as they never have any customers (probably due to the no-hoof rating, but ALSO because they’re located in a freaking alley) which is something that Saffron is wholly against as she’s not ready to give up just yet. Well it looks like the two protectors of friendship just found their friendship problem… I guess. Failing businesses apparently fall under the umbrella of Friendship problems apparently, so Rarity goes off to work her charm on Zesty Gourmand (off-screen) to convince her to give the restaurant a chance! The catch though? Not only can she ONLY come by that night, they have to change the restaurant up to meet Zesty’s usual standards of décor and presentation. Pinkie Pie doesn’t seem to realize exactly what this means so she goes off with Saffron to hand out fliers for the location while Rarity gets the place in tip top shape.
It’s here where we get the musical number for the episode which is very much inspired by Indian music and the Bollywood aesthetic. It’s also thematically interesting as both Rarity and Pinkie Pie are signing simultaneously about how they’re going to fix things for the restaurant even though they are essentially working against each other with Pinkie promising culture and flavor while Rarity is making the place stylish and tasteful. The only problem I have with this though (aside from some gratuitously recycled animation) is that this song inspired by the culture of Coriander and Saffron isn’t sung BY them but is sung TO them. I know that these episodes are about whichever members of the Mane6 are out to do good more than it is about those they’re helping, but we’re edging up towards cultural appropriation here as well as the Great White Hope trope (not literal in this case obviously) which is not helped by the ACTUAL Indian characters staying quiet during a song from their own culture. Then again, if they HAD been singing it STILL would have been a bunch of white people doing it, so they’d be screwed either way… unless they had cast Indian actors who should have been in this in the first place.
By the end of the song, Pinkie Pie has managed to gather… two guests. That’s it, and they aren’t even Canterlot locals who could potentially become repeat customers as EVERYONE ELSE in Canterlot is only looking for food with the three Hoof rating. Rarity on the other hand at least succeeded in her goal of transforming the restaurant into a chic and sterile nightmare that will surely be the talk of the town! Also, as much as I’m not happy with the casting decision for Coriander, he is hilariously deadpan here in what is probably the funniest moment in the episode.
So with a guest list of two tourists and a food critic in a restaurant that only half the owners are happy with (the other half is rather dispassionate either way), things don’t look good for them succeeding tonight. Speaking of food critics, Zesty Gourmand’s arrival comes very soon after Pinkie and Saffron’s return, so they have to scramble to make sure everything is perfect for her, even though the ideas of what is perfect are quite different between the two parties. Zesty Gourmand by the way is yet another pony who has the David Bowie gaunt features as well as the slicked back hair. Is this the only idea the show has for making artsy ponies, because this is like the third or fourth design like this we’ve seen this season?
As you’d expect, shenanigans ensue in the kitchen and Zesty gets a face full of delicious soup that does not live up to usual standards of excellence. She then proceeds to inform them that they have awfully blunt food, slapstick service, and wannabe décor, which means that the restaurant will not get her seal of approval. I mean it’s hard to argue the service was lousy and that the style here is just like every other restaurant trying to get her attention, and she doesn’t HAVE to like the food (what little of it she ate when it splattered all over her face) so she’s well within her rights to not give a positive review. The biggest problem I have is that she’s somehow SO popular in Canterlot that she’s the only arbiter of quality in there and that nothing outside of her own personal biases and opinions matter to the general populace. When the hell has a critic of ANYTHING gotten that much power? How are there no other critics in town that DON’T focus on the highest end of restaurants? Sure, this neighborhood may be comprised almost entirely by very affluent ponies, but even among them I can’t imagine the audience for Zesty’s reviews being any larger than a niche.
With no hopes of getting the kind of review that will save the restaurant, Corriander and Saffron’s careers in this town seem to be in jeopardy of they don’t think of something to turn things around. Rarity, getting another serving of their delicious food, finally comes to the realization that all these fancy and highfalutin trappings aren’t gonna work because it’s not the restaurant that these two want to have and can excel at. Instead, Rarity decides that the answer is to MARKET the place as a fancy and highfalutin place just to get ponies in the door which means that Pinkie Pie and Rarity switch jobs as we get an abridged version of the song from earlier for the redecorating montage. Rarity’s plan works surprisingly well as her name seems to carry enough weight to bring in the common folk who want to be super haughty and elitist.
With the new batch of customers and the return to authentic food, it seems that the restaurant is finally a success! Oh, but we haven’t reached the happy ending just yet! Zesty Gourmand JUST SO HAPPENS to be walking by the restaurant and is so shocked at the idea of ponies going there to eat that she heads inside to shame them all for their bad tastes. Okay… I’ll admit that as a critic myself I’ve been mystified by what people will tolerate and give their money over to (*cough* Pure Flix *cough*), but what kind of nerve does it take for a critic to actually go into a place of business and start yelling at people? There’s a time and place for that, and it’s your column in the paper, or your blog, or whatever. All this feels like is a pointless (and ungrounded because shit like this doesn’t happen) attack on the whole idea of criticism. Their point seems to be that the ponies of this town are stupid enough to always listen to whatever she says whether they like her opinions or not that it’s irresponsible of her to not have broader tastes; that her criticism can be OBJECTIVELY wrong and therefore hurt businesses that don’t deserve it. Yeah… that’s bullshit. A critic’s job is to give their honest opinion, and to say that’s unfair when they give bad reviews is to infantilize the audience that the critic is reaching.
Oh well. She gets summarily rejected by those who are at the restaurant and she leaves with a huff, presumably to go write a scathing editorial in the Foal Free Press. The restaurant is now a success thanks to the help of Pinkie Pie and Rarity, and… I guess they both learned something about friendship along the way. Hooray!
This is an episode that I should have liked as a lot of the elements here are solid foundations for a strong story about immigration, running a business, and prestige being a substitute for quality, but it never came together and is just a total mess in ways that I thought the creators of this show would know enough to avoid. It’s an episode that feels very tone deaf throughout; like an ally not realizing they’ve been talking over those they’re trying to help rather than elevate their voices. I mean really? You want to have a gentrification message in an episode where the minority characters are done by a white people? I’m sure their heart was in the right place throughout, but there are some STRONG hints of exoticism throughout this. It perpetuates a single view of a country that is appealing to westerners, but is in no way representative of the entity of India and its multitude of cultures and people. Diegetically, this is justified as Marsala herself says that their restaurant is the most exotic restaurant in all of Canterlot; a point of pride for the owners. If we just take that at face value though, then we’re running straight into the Thermian Argument where In-World justifications are used to shut down debate of less than laudable themes and messages (intended or not) by the work in question. The combination of cultural appropriation, white washing, and relegating the minority characters to the background of their own story should not be ignored, no matter how catchy Daniel Ingram’s song is or how funny Coriander Cumin is in this (the answer of course is REALLY funny). Aside from that (and my personal annoyance at the portrayal of critics here), there is a lot to like here as Pinkie Pie and Rarity make a good combination for episodes like this. I do like the new characters introduced here and honestly I’d like to see them again in the future IF the show realizes that they should be recast and should have a bigger part to play in the script (and also if they cut down on the sitar music). It’s not one of the best of the season and is not how I would leave things off going into a hiatus (not only because of the tone-deafness of everything but because they kicked the Cutie Map back into gear just to shut it back down for a couple of months) but it’s enjoyable if you’re willing to recognize the faults and understand why people wouldn’t be very happy about the portrayal here. I may be all alone on this though, so I’d like to hear what other people have to say on this episode.
Well that about does it for season six part one! Hopefully it will come back soon, but I’ll make sure to use the free time I have at the moment to get even more pieces up on the site than ever before, so keep checking in too see what I’m up to next!