• "The Cutie Map", Parts I & II: Episode Followup


    Cereal isn't, because he's off gallivanting at Disney World right now. All that means is that I, CouchCrusader, finally get to do a two-parter followup. The boxes on my universal domination checklist are ticking off nicely.

    It's been far too long since we've had one of these, so let's jump in and see what happens when you bring Harrison Bergeron into the world of MLP.

    Part 1

    Dash, the first rule of pre-empting exposition is not performing that exposition yourself. Nerd.

    The part where Spike eats the map and everypony spends the rest of the premiere watching Runaway Rainbow somehow didn't make it through notes. I'd think they'd have a good time wondering why Rarity of Unicornia sounded so familiar.

    Also, if the map appears only after everypony sits down, does that make it a plot device? (Thanks, Tweak!)

    Some boarder had to have put little waving figures of Cloudy Quartz and Igneous Rock in this scene. Notes ruin everything.

    No, I'm pretty sure Abreva is not indicated for flank use.

    Astute viewers will note that this is the first season premiere in the show to not feature Princess Celestia telling our heroines what to do. The new castle takes care of that by coming pre-installed with QuestHelper.

    When your train just nopes the hay outta Dodge. #JustMLPThings

    Now, if Rainbow Dash noted that her expectations for an impending monster fight stemmed from that kind of thing happening in every two-parter to date, I would have been far from displeased. Then again, asking a filly to justify herself every time she wants to engage in hooficuffs doesn't always have to happen, Media Matters.

    So that's what was hiding under Spongebob's rock all those years ago. Do you doubt me? Who of the Mane 6 do you expect to succeed best at hopping between cartoon universes? Book Princess?

    I still remember when the fandom filled forum threads discussing how... strange these Season 2 faces were. This right here is some Shingeki no Kyojin-level hubbaloo.

    Look, if I stopped to point out every instance where I giggled at "friendship" lines like these like the nine-year-old I am, this follow-up would be four times as long as it already is.

    That said, I immediately thought it odd that Double Diamond had the name he did, and I'm sure a lot of you did too, watching this first. Why such a colorful name for this be-hooved O'Brien?

    Here's AJ stepping in and taking charge like the best pony she is. The smiles you see on the villagers are those of genuine delight at meeting her and only her.

    I'm pretty sure this is how courtship rituals with horses staaaAAAARRT NOPE NO NEED TO ASK HOW I'D KNOW THAT IT'S GOOD

    All right, it takes three to establish a pattern, and the gang have only run into Sunset Shimmer so far. Technically, Starlight Glimmer brings that third element into the fold of "Names that are plays on 'interstellar lucent phenomenae + something shiny'".

    The point I'm trying to make is I'm setting up a pool on how many episodes/movies it takes these girls to collectively suspect anypony with a name similar to "Twilight Sparkle" means bad news.

    Twilight's little wing ruffle here was adorable. Watch this scene again if you don't believe me.

    "So! How did you hear of our little village?"
    "Our butts led us here."

    The notes process is why we can't have nice things.

    Pinkie's spent her entire stay in "Village-Whose-Name-We-Carefully-Danced-Around-In-Hopes-Couch-Wouldn't-Notice" throwing around enough shade for a solar eclipse or twenty.

    I don't even have to caption this scene. AJ and her "Say what?" handles that perfectly. Look at that raised eyebrow. Best pony.

    I know the argument about this ended a long time ago. Covering my bases on this topic is just a matter of habit.

    Pinkie Pies have an instinctive dislike of songs that refuse to feature syncopation. They're inherently suspicious!

    This is not an episode for introverts, or anyone who possesses any definition of the term "personal space." "Stop the Bats" was creepy in a "campy, Danny Elfman boo-and-rawr"-type way, I could barely sit through "In Our Town".

    Anyone remember how Fluttershy only decides to come along on this trip because her alternative was discussing hoofball with Spike and Big Macintosh (remind me where else those two hang out, 'cause I'm sure this has happened before)? Aren't we all glad 'Shy's found an adventure she's happy to be on for once?

    Anyone else besides me getting tired of these winking rhetorical questions?

    You literally have one job, Anne of Green Stables, and you are fracking it the stuff up.

    And then people forgot about the song and started paying attention to the animation instead.


    "Frisky" is but one of many adjectives I have on hoof to describe Starlight Glimmer, but most of the others really aren't suitable for printing.

    Then again, I like to imagine Twilight is slightly fluffier down there, and I'll hardly hold it against a pony if they wanna give her bellyrubs.

    Oh, okay. Of course Pinkie's right about this place: the mare running it knows how to break the fourth wall, too.

    Rarity's go-to confidante here continues to be best pony, but for reasons I'm just better off not disclosing here, either.

    The rapport these two have built up since the first season continues to be one of the best character arcs this show has to offer, though, and I say that with genuine admiration.

    I would watch a show titled "Sugar Belle Awkwardly Trying to Get Words In Edgewise" and never label an episode bad. When passing this scene along to the animators, the boarders must've included instructions for smoke seeping out of her ears at all times.

    You're a fine horse, Ponka. You really are.

    "Let's not argue in front of strangers. You're terrible at that!"

    Rhetorically-unaware!Fluttershy? Please give me twenty.

    Hats and heads off to Rebecca Shoichet and her murder-perfect deliveries. You will never get me to laugh harder at a line like "We have muffins."

    The writer -- Sonneborn or Larson, though I suspect it's the former -- deserves just as much credit for throwing a colon in there. Absolutely crucial. In that pause, it knows it is not prefacing a list. Its entire purpose is being mocked for comedy, and it is angry.

    Pinkie's character can sway like a flag in a hurricane at times. Take note how she does extremely well with subtle gestures -- just flop her on a table and carry on with the scene.

    "So, why aren't you bitter?" These are the words of a mare whose entire mindscape is falling to pieces between her ears.

    You'd think Rarity would be more sympathetic. She dipped an hors d'oeuvre into the chocolate fountain at Twilight's "Sweet and Elite" birthday party, spat it up, and and wasn't called out on it. Real classy, fashion horse.

    Imagine the business this stallion gets when the pegasi schedule a storm. No, do it. Either business is terrible, or else he can offer free shampoos with every trim and lets the wind sweep up for him. Haircut shampoos are the bomb.

    AJ trolling isn't anything to point out in and of itself, but recall that this is the filly who put away a table of apple fritters while she was in diapers.

    I have it on reliable board authority that sometimes you just want to tell the models to buzz off.

    They got me. I genuinely thought this was the moment the Mane 6 were getting their flanks stuffed into jars for all eternity.

    Sugar Belle don't you know it's rude to touch butts without asking um WOW

    Jayson retweeted my reaction to this and it got like 20 faves I'm so happy.

    So along with Party Favor who we met earlier, we also have Night Glider. She's legitimately cute. I won't entertain any suggestions that my standards have subconsciously lowered because we got a break from the Stepford Smilers fan club.

    "Because it seems like it's a thing here... you really should ask before you touch the butt."

    There's a quick line here about how ponies from the village could come up and see their former cutie marks at any time, but that really doesn't explain Starlight's motivation to Amon the [fruit] out of the kingdom. "World domination" has always been a valid excuse for villainy in my book, and copping to that is nothing to be ashamed of.

    I'm sure these marks aren't grouped for significant purposes at all.

    You just can't use that line anymore. I don't think there's a statute of limitations on this.

    Nice to know that all her affinity for "plans" and "rational thought" can be so easily tossed aside if the enemy opens up to a hornful of whoop-ass.

    Oh, wait. I was talking about Starlight there. Nah, her plans are thoroughly enplaced.

    The lesson we should learn here is that embarrassing tattoo removal is a fine career choice to make, and that maligning it could lead to a chunk of your flank wedged between two sticks.

    I don't know if this part of the episode's thematic overtures reached me here. Let's move onto the next one.

    PART 2

    I didn't see a commode in there.

    "Rarity is the best pony ever," echo Cereal Velocity's words in my head. I just smile, nod, and think insulting things at him.

    I don't think the staff had anything to get off their chests by Fluttershy mentioning how tweets don't make sense anymore. Something probably went over my head here.

    Applejack is that perfect combination of self-aware and unapologetic about her countryisms. On the plus side, all of you out there with apple-cutie marked OCs have a brand new dimension to their personalities.

    Slowing things down a bit -- knowing what we know now, Starlight Glimmer's special talent (or maybe it isn't even that, since she had to study this spell for years) is removing cutie marks from ponies. Any kindergartener can tell you what an equals sign means, and I suppose a force of magic cognizant enough of say a talent for candy-making to award its bearer two crossed candy canes might be agreeable to signifying "equality" with such a cutie mark.

    Does the spell itself inflict that particular mark on its victims? That makes a decent amount of sense. We remember how Tirek literally sucked the magic from the Equestrian population, de-markifying them all. For some reason or another, though, it felt like these episodes implied that, in the absence of one's cutie mark, it gets replaced with a generic one in accordance with a higher authority than Starlight's spell.

    Maybe I had to talk all of that out to get it to make sense in my head. I think I like the new cutie mark as additional effect of the spell theory better, though I'm curious to see what y'all made of it here.

    An episode Larson helped write is certainly fertile ground for introducing another obscure unicorn mage. Meadowbrook shows up in previous generations as an Earth pony just as Star Swirl did, but more interesting to me is Twilight's mention of her eight enchanted items and her Eastern heritage. The plot hooks have been cast.

    All my previous talk aside, I do like how the show wasn't afraid to really push the equals sign motif. It's supposed to be heavy-hooved and oppressive, and things happen when you stuff a bunch of art geeks in an office for six weeks boarding these scenes out.

    That moment Fluttershy realized she was a replicant.

    What she said: "I would like to join."
    What she meant: "Holy [flip] what the [heel] am I [fleeping] doing"

    Props to Fluttershy for keeping her composure here. Sure, she genuinely enjoyed the village's placid, polite demeanor, but that's still a lot of new ponies closing in on a card-carrying introvert. My housemates threw a charity party downstairs last night, so I spent most of it up here in my room trying not to freak over the fifty people I didn't know milling about beneath me.

    Party Favor came to Starlight's village the moment he was let go from being a hooftack.

    "Laughs don't come in barrels. They come from inside as your body's response to delight."

    I really don't have anything more to add to this moment. Andrea's slightly petulant reading here sold the show.

    Fun fact: unicorns are quite sincere when it comes to enjoying innocent snuggles. Just ask bae.

    Failed a spot check.

    Scrunchy face!

    Going off what I mentioned earlier -- I doubt Starlight's spell is her special talent. Her cutie mark is as abstract as Twilight's and Sunset Shimmer's, so maybe she's just good at sudoku puzzles or something.

    Hang on while I make some edits to this picture. I'm so happy my askblog got canonized.

    EDIT: Ding.

    Behold the face of a brainwashed pony who learns he's been brainwashed, then has to go back and act the part.

    By the way, if you ever want to know what Cereal Velocity looks like when he's texting me at work, there's your template reference.

    Oh, Fluttershy. You used to be such a crack shot with that bucket. Maybe they have to be pails.

    Starlight, you have a village of ponies who greet strangers with aggressive approaches to their hindquarters. You really don't have anyone to blame for this.

    I will never get enough of Fluttershy's tiny little "heck yeah" hoof raise. She deserves it.

    Look, you make Party Favor put that face on, you deserve whatever comes your way next.

    What a breathtaking breakdown. Props to the layout crew for playing hardball with all the ridiculous faces the boarders throw their way.

    No, Twilight. The correct response to this situation is "HEY! I'M LECTURIN' 'ERE! I'M LECTURIN' 'ERE!!"

    I will draw this comic myself if no one else does.

    The creepy didn't go away at the end of the first episode. There's definitely something unsettling about a piece of your rear end getting shut up with the crazy lady living at the end of the street, as 'Shy points out.

    Hoofy-beats aside, can we all take a minute to appreciate that somepony out there has a talent for crying over spilled milk? Yeesh. I'd totally seek out Starlight's help for that one.

    Someone out there has already made an askblog with these four. I'm sure of it. If I find it and follow it, the mod had better update it regularly or else I will be... unhappy.

    Night Glider isn't Rainbow Dash Lite. Her actual talent is breaking down flimsy-looking but impassable doors because Equestria isn't a JRPG.

    Party Favor, Pinkie Pie, and Cheese Sandwich find themselves in the same room one day. They accidentally invent Earth just so someone can tell their story.

    After a few seasons of "BLAST 'EM WITH ELEMENTS", I'm really digging how the writers can get other ponies to bail the Mane 6 out without doing their hero cred any serious damage. As Twilight points out, they've already done their part and that the only thing they can do now is place their faith in others to help them back.

    AJ knew that all along, of course.

    So, how did this set piece make it past corporate?

    No, seriously, Night Glider's got her hooves all over that thing how did this make it past corporate


    So THAT'S why his name is Double Diamond. He's gon' wipe you out.

    Should've gone with muon traps, Starlight. They're heavy and much less likely to shatter in case you need to brain a filly with one.

    Let's all take a moment now to appreciate the majesty of Country Horse here.

    The team's stepped up their barrier effects in the hiatus. Remember when the CMCs face-planted into a smooth purple hamster ball during "Ponyville Confidential"?

    Absent Twilight, this is one hell of an "Avengers, assemble" group shot. Awesome.

    And Twilight finally gets her lecture! Starlight's reaction.

    "This is a chance for all of us to get to know each other again for the first time!"

    After an outbreak, any residual marks retreat into the gluteal nerve network, where they remain dormant as promarks until signalled to emerge again.

    Can I post that? Of course I can! No notes to hold us back here at EqD!

    If you're going to go, go out with a group shot. Awww.

    Well, the boss DID ask that I put this in at the end. She got the cutie, she doooo.

    After the Tartarus-raising, soul-stealing, village-exploding action of "Twilight's Kingdom" last season, "The Cutie Map" ran the opposite way with its story and produced a piece of genuinely unsettling storytelling akin to what's happening with Gravity Falls' second season. Starlight Glimmer made good on her escape without revealing her motivations and origins, and there's glimpses of tantalizing world-building in Mage Meadowbrook that may or may not bear out over the course of the season. Finally, the show was never so much about Princess Celestia and Luna in the first place, and we certainly got our fill of their story with "Princess Twilight Sparkle", but you have to wonder how they'll appear in the show now that the Cutie Map is Twilight's guiding hoof.

    Props to Jim and Jayson for their direction, Meghan and Larson for story-editing, Scott Sonneborn for his script pages, the boarders, the layout artists, the VAs, the nusicians -- flip. Just thank all of 'em. 329 days have passed since Tirek's fall, but Hasbro, DHX, and Top Draw haven't missed a beat. For the most part, this fandom hasn't, either. To those who've been here before, we're glad you're still around. To our newcomers, well...


    Join us next week for "Castle, Sweet Castle" and our follow-up thereupon. CouchCrusader, out.