• "Crusaders of the Lost Mark": Episode Followup


    "I do too know Celestia's prayer!" Diamond insisted, her cheeks glowing with heat.

    If anything, the smirk on Apple Bloom's face only made her even more infuriating. "Well, I'd love to hear you say it," she replied. Addressing the rest of the class now, her toothy grin grew wider. "Wouldn't you like to hear Diamond Tiara recite Celestia's Prayer?"

    Backed into a corner by the apelike cheers of her constituents, Diamond Tiara had no choice but to accept. "If the media wouldn't mind turning off all their recording devices and closing their eyes..." she said, doing her best to wipe away her sullen mood as the crowd fell silent on the other side of her podium. Did she know Celestia's Prayer, Apple Bloom had the nerve to ask. Of course she knew it! A baby with a concussion could've recited the stupid thing!

    Now... how did it start again?

    "Our Mother... Art, who is up in heaven," she began slowly. "Aloe Vera be thy name. The thigh... thy kingdom... the magic kingdom! As it is in Equestria in, um..."

    "Snakes! Why'd it have to be snakes?!"

    By some miracle, the sudden shout turned every eye in the classroom away from Diamond. Unfortunately, its source evidently didn't see fit to stop once they landed on him instead. "I hate snakes, Scootaloo!" Pipsqueak shouted from the back of the room, a dusty brown fedora on his head and a bullwhip looped around his hoof. "And Nazis, and communists, and uh... um..."

    The attention of everypony around him finally brought a blush to Pipsqueak's cheeks. With silence restored, Diamond took the opportunity to fill it again. "What are you doing?"

    Pipsqueak bit his lip, the small motion enough to send his hat sliding over his eyes. "It's..." he mumbled as he pushed it back up. "It's the movie reference. We always start off with a... what movie are we referencing?"

    "It's The Campaign, idiot!" Silver Spoon shouted from off-screen. "We voted on it last week!"

    "Well, I voted for Indiana Jones!" Scootaloo shouted back, likewise out of the proverbial shot.

    "It doesn't matter what you voted for. We had a majority!" 



    As confusion grew up into full-blown pandemonium, Sweetie Belle turned to Apple Bloom and sighed. "You'd think he'd know better by now than to do this every time."

    "Speak for yourself," Apple Bloom muttered as she shoved a deck of playing cards back inside her desk. "I voted for House of Cards."

    My name is Aquaman, this is the "Crusaders of the Lost Mark" episode followup, and if you ask me, democracy is so overrated. Time to whip this thing into gear.

    Rejected past quests include "Cutie Mark Crusader Photographers", "Cutie Mark Crusader Animal Husbandry-ers", and "Cutie Mark Crusader We-Swear-The-Dance-Floor-Was-Already-On-Actual-Fire-When-We-Got-Here-ers".

    As far as I'm aware, this stands as one of the only episodes in the show's triple-digit catalog that gets a song going before the credits even roll after the cold open. The only other example of that quick a start I can remember is "Magical Mystery Cure"--also a musical, and also an episode that ended on a pretty dramatic series-altering twist. Full points for thematic consistency, guys.

    Minus ten or so for every time Apple Bloom makes this face in a sorely inappropriate context.

    It's also notably rare to see Pipsqueak pop up in an opening sequence--or, really, at all. This marks only his third appearance in a speaking role, but apparently he's popular enough behind the scenes to be running for class office. Good on ya, little guy. (And good on Sweetie Belle for being strong enough with her magic to lift him up completely for a contractually-binding hoofbump.)

    Student pony president, though? Jesus, Morty Pip, you can't just add a horse word to a political word and hope it means something.

    "We're your campaign managers. We're here to make you not suck."

    It always takes me off guard when ponies reference previous disasters that happened to the town--or in Pipsqueak's case today, the unintended consequences of one. Aside from the fact that someone's destroying something seemingly every other day, the rest of Equestria proper doesn't seem to recognize Twilight and co. as non-proverbial protectors of the realm all that often. On the other hand, Apple Bloom did call out Applejack as one-sixth of the Equestrian Avengers Initiative last week, so maybe we're seeing a positive trend towards recognizing their efforts in the future. In any event, "screw this playground (and library) in particular" seems a peculiar strategy for world domination.

    At least aim for a community center or something, Tirek. Red Dawn in the making, this crew is not.

    While we have a moment, let's fill it with a shout-out to Amy Keating Rogers. According to her Twitter, this was the penultimate episode she'll write for FiM, with the upcoming episode guest-starring Lena Hall being her last contribution. I'll go ahead and speak for all of us in saying thanks, AKR, for five years of fantastic writing for the show. If I'm not speaking for you in saying that, allow me to instead paraphrase Beth Sanchez in asking you to go stand in the corner, face the corner, and talk to nobody.

    Definitely a pleasant surprise to see a much-beleaguered fan favorite like this after so long an absence. And look, Button Mash and Diamond Tiara are there too!

    So long as nopony jumps through it while incoherent from snake venom, I guess it works well enough.

    I know she has her moment in the sun later, but Silver Spoon's relationship with Diamond Tiara still stands out to me as somewhat unique in this show. She seems to split her time between Scorpan-tier crony and Flavor-Flav-tier hype mare, and all the while does a lot more legwork to maintain their status as Little Tikes(tm) tyrants than Diamond gives her credit for. It's a weird friendship they have, but judging by Silver's genuine excitement about her role in it, it is two-sided in a way. If you want to call that subtle establishment of character, I'll glue the page back into DT's book and do nothing to stop you.

    The point is, in any event: eat your diamond-encrusted, gold-clock-aligned heart out, boiiiiii.

    Scrunchy face #[as if anyone has a prayer of keeping track anymore], by the way.

    "Oh Celestia, you don't even know how to trash-talk, do you?"

    The second song in seemingly as many minutes firmly establishes this episode as a musical, but it's also a good example of how these kinds of interludes still have a role in the overall narrative of such a story. With only twenty-two minutes to work with, there's very little room for anything that doesn't directly advance an episode's plot, and this song pulls double duty in that respect. In addition to establishing the protagonist's position in the election, it gives us a look at not just how Diamond opposes them as the antagonist, but also how her character makes that bad-guy behavior a tangible threat to the good guys. The end of the episode frames her special talent as an ability to get other ponies to do what she wants, and within this song we see that ability manifest in the form of insults and intimidation--while at the same time, laying the groundwork for that third-act realization and turn-around. That kind of circular structure shows up in all efficiently plotted scripts, and it only seems like a simple thing to do because it's executed so neatly here.

    Put less academically: this is the expression of somepony who's pretty sure the Equestrian medical community is going to name what she does to those stupid blank flanks after her.

    This message paid for by the Unofficial Diamond Tiara Fan Club and Passive-Aggressive Sarcasm Society, which obviously you're already a member of if you know what's good for you.
    With such a complex tune to work with, Diamond Tiarareally swung for the fences in her first significant singing role. It's old hat to say Daniel Ingram and AKR are on their respective games for music and lyrics, but Chantal Strand nails it as both Diamond's speaking and singing voices.

    Don't get her prickly. You won't like her when she's... no, see it's because of her cutie mark, it's a... look, it makes sense if you squint a bit, just... just forget it. 

    Seriously little guy, though. Like, Breezie-left-in-the-dryer-too-long tiny.

    "Generosity is its own form of power."

    "And there's no better way to overpower a trickle of doubt than with a flood of naked getting-real-with-these-clowns."

    On the subject of clowns and/or weird hats, it's odd seeing Button Mash (or at least, a reasonably close recolor of him) break out of the background and interact with the scene here for a second. I'd figured his cameo in "Slice of Life" about covered all the bases he was going to touch this season, but this seems to establish as a somewhat concrete background-classmate. Go figure.

    Somewhere in Los Angeles, a couple guys having a rough start to the weekend just felt a big-ass disturbance in the Force.

    This message paid for the Itty-Bitty Pinto-Pony Committee.

    He didn't choose the thug life. The thug life didn't make it past the first primary debate.

    "I don't get it. Don't we elect a new class president every year?"
    "We're supposed to be in math class right now. Just roll with it."

    "Of course, quid pro quo, you're expected
    to take certain duties on board..."

    Just on the off chance it means anything, I counted 32 total students in the one overhead shot we get of Ponyville Elementary's voting population. Quite a step up for Cheerilee from when she only had to deal with 12 of the little darlings.

    BREAKING NEWS: Landslide Election Won By Exchange Student Calvin Klein; Other Candidates Found Both Dead and Alive In a Quagmire of Quantum Uncertainty

    Sometimes coffee, chocolate, and the ever-looming threat of capital punishment is all that gets Cheerilee through the day.

    This show's built up an admittedly thin list of moments that truly threw me for a loop, but among them now is Silver Spoon bailing on Diamond Tiara in the election. It's far from undeserved, but it's still a pretty heavy backhand to the status quo, and animation and voicework both point towards Diamond being a lot more hurt by it than she's letting on. Guess friends really do make the worst enemies.

    "You're not the mare I knew five years ago."
    "It's not the years, Silver, it's the sass!"

    And so enters Spoiled Rich, destroyer of headcanons. This first appearance for Filthy's wife and Diamond's very own Mommie Dearest contextualizes the way she is a lot more than I reckon anyone was expecting from this episode. That kind of pressure-cooker of a home life is bound to skew a young kid's personality, especially when you can see how visibly afraid Diamond is when Spoiled calls her out. For better or for worse, even monsters have mothers.

    Something something, wire hangers ever.

    "Wouldn't it have been easier to get a cart for that statue, Mother? Or, I don't know... a puppy instead?"
    "If that's a veiled criticism about me, I won't hear it and I won't respond to it."

    Good to see that the "stroll around Equestria chuckling at the working class" industry is still booming.

    As I've phrased it to several friends at several points, Season 5 remains the may-as-well-be-official Season of Not Pulling Punches. From Moondancer to Luna to Big Mac to now Diamond Tiara (and really, we could even throw Gilda and Troubleshoes in there), we've seen several characters struggling with some very real (and real-world-applicable) issues that don't always have a neat resolution. The third song here speaks to that and then some, and in a way it's the first time Diamond Tiara's ever "broken character" that we've seen.

    Even a filly as callous as Diamond doesn't grow up that way by choice. In a different home with different folks living in it, someone with her initiative and intestinal fortitude--not to mention, that kind of dedication to putting her family before herself--would have no shortage of friends, or successes to share with them. Truth be told, I've always suspected she and Apple Bloom were more alike than either of them realized, and all this sequence does is seemingly confirm that. After all, tragedy in a nutshell is showing a villain (and the audience by proxy) realizing they could've been a hero instead.

    Sometimes, diamonds are nobody's best friend.

    Ah, the rarest of endangered species: the Equestrian Nuclear Family. Genus Equus, species Monogamia, and nearly extinct from the late 80s all the way to 2010.

    Neat callback to "Call of the Cutie" here. Aesthetic improvements notwithstanding, this is the same square where Rainbow Dash first agreed to help Apple Bloom look for her cutie mark.

    "I feel weird too, y'all. Probably a little bit 'cause of how we basically stalked Diamond as she sang her way across town with little to no interference from any observing adult, but mostly it's the Heel-Face Turn thing."
    "Definitely mostly the second one."

    "It's not like I wanted to go see your stupid clubhouse or anything. B-baka."
    (Disclaimer: I don't actually know what that word means. I assume it's a venereal disease.)

    Another unexpected angle to this conflict: Diamond Tiara really not having any more of a clue what her buttmark means than we the audience did for the longest time. More than I think a lot of us wanted to believe, it seems ponies really don't have a firm grip on how cutie marks work, even with all of them having one of their very own to crinkle their brow at in the mirror. It's interesting to see another case where somepony "discovers" their special talent years before they comprehend what it entails.

    Just think of it like being born, guys. You get a cutie mark, everyone cheers, they push you out the door, and then nothing makes sense for the rest of your life.

    Presented without context because I made this bed for myself several followups ago, and so help me God I will lie in it with honor.

    "The concept of cutie mark confusion was created by and for the Cutie Mark Crusaders, in order to make traditional Equestrian mark-manufacturing non-competitive." - Aquaman, just getting that one topical oh-hey-they-totally-have-the-same-initials-don't-they joke over and done with.

    "Look at me. Look at me. I'm the Crusader now."
    "Fine, whatever. Just don't forget to pay club dues."

    "Wait, was that... somepony screaming?"
    "Yeah. Pip gets antsy 'bout stuff a lot."
    "... but why is it coming from beneath the floorboards?"
    "He forgot to pay club dues."

    "This isn't 'Nam, Pipsqueak. There are rules."

    "Light of Your Cutie Mark" is a lot more dramatically inclined than those preceding it, and it fits with the hectic way Act 2 switches gears here. The scene changes get a little faster to keep up with the pace of the segment, and there's a genuine tone of panic underlying the lyrics. You really get a sense that Diamond knows she's making the wrong choice as well as the CMC do, and without knowing any other way to be, she's doing everything she can to convince herself she's in the right. Another layered conflict without a pulled punch to be seen. Have I mentioned I love this season yet?

    Press X to "Blank flanks!"

    Honey Bon-Bon'll gate-crash a black-tie affair. Honey Bon-Bon don't give two bits.

    "Wait, Bon Bon? I thought I just saw you at that party across town? That's where Lyra was telling everyone you'd be when she was carrying around all those mane extensions yesterday."
    "... I'll be right back."

    "Did you know that mares prefer Old Spice for their stallions one bajillion times more than filly-scented body wash?"

    Listen to the CMC, Summer Diamond. School isn't a place for smart ponies.

    I don't know why it didn't occur to me sooner that of course Spoiled Rich is on the school board. Very rarely do soulless people/ponies/individuals-of-unspecified-species not find their way onto some kind of committee.

    "What in the name of Equestria is going on out here? What was that ruckus?"
    "Uh, what ruckus, Miss Rich?"
    "I was just in my meeting and I heard a ruckus."
    "Could you describe the ruckus, ma'am?"

    Tossing out a casual "their kind" in the midst of your daughter's classmates of the last five years is a bold move. Ironically, the bourgeoisie never were ones for social graces.

    "How could she say something like that?"
    "I don't even know what 'bourgeoisie' means..."
    "I don't know what it means either, but I'm pretty sure it's a venereal disease."

    "I looked my mother in the eye sockets, I told her straight out. I just said it, man. I said it. I said, I said, I said... I said "Biiiiiiiitch!"

    It's okay, guys. Diamond Tiara dropping the F-bomb is a more-than-valid excuse for an internal BSOD.

    I mean, yeah, I'm joking about it, but at the same time, though: the specific phrasing Diamond uses in defending the Crusaders might as well have come from the parking lot out behind left field. That's a huge turnaround for--screentime-wise--perhaps the show's most notably consistent antagonist, and it really stands to testament to the old wisdom about how effective treating your enemies like friends can be.

    Sidenote: Snails is just about Cheerilee's height now. He and Troubleshoes ought to hang out sometime. Bond over all the doorframes they've left forehead imprints in.

    ... eh. We've shipped worse.

    In full and complete seriousness, though: if Diamond Tiara's well and truly reformed now, I really want to see her and Rarity together in a future episode. We've seen them both struggle with the balance between generosity and selfishness, and I could totally dig some mentoring from old hand at it to new recruit. Plus it'd be an excuse for Sweetie Belle and Silver Spoon to do something together in the B-plot, and in case you're wondering what "worse" refers to, it's that. It's that a whole lot more than I'd like to admit.

    "Tho... you doing anything later?"

    Twilight's search for a friendship problem to solve continues unresolved for another week.

    Shades of "My Past Is Not Today" in the reprise of "The Pony I Wanna Be", but I'd vote for Diamond's version hitting more of the right notes with me. Instead of concluding a redemption arc, this song sounds like it's starting one off. And more to the personal point, this is really the first time we've ever seen Diamond Tiara look truly happy, which admittedly qualifies as the kind of source bias statisticians lie awake at night thinking about.

    Eat your eerily-precise heart out, Nate Silver.

    I might be hearing things, but when the CMC decide that getting their cutie marks isn't as important as they've thought all this time, I'd swear the musical tones very subtly resemble the main theme. If I'm right about that, it just goes to show how important these three and their growth as characters really are to the overall direction of the show, even as technically supporting cast members. Between the theme of this season and their experiences before and during it, they've grown enough as characters to not just live in the shadows of their more Harmonized big sisters, but (especially now) go out and cast some shadows of their own.

    I mean, that or the ephemeral Spirit of Harmony just has a tendency to procrastinate. It's a coin flip.

    And all right, you know what? Here's the part of this thing where I break character. I have a pretty well-established formula for followups: I watch the episode live, I go back later in the day to gently poke fun at weird little quirks in the story/characters/animation wherever I can, and fill in the rest with irreverent pop culture references. Much as I like watching the show, I'm able to distance myself from it and just enjoy playfully riffing off it for a bit. It's uncomplicated, it's relatively easy, and it's a lot of fun.

    I honestly couldn't do that for this one. I did my best, and I think I still got some good material out in the end, but it's by far been a bigger struggle than I ever anticipated it would be. Let's not overstretch and call this episode "life-changing" by any stretch of the imagination, but in a lot of ways, it means a lot of things to a lot of people--and also a lot to me individually. Whether by sympathy for their situations or just a writer's fascination with characters oft left on the sidelines, I've grown quite attached to the CMC over the last five years. Seeing them achieve exactly what they've wished for--and having watched them swing for it and miss time and time again--feels like something more than just the closure of a story arc. In a way, it's indicative of everything we've achieved too--we the show staff, we the fans, even we the guys who spend way too much of their free time blogging about technicolor horses. 

    On the five-year anniversary of the show's premiere, this is the sign of how far we've come. This is the success these characters deserve to have, and that we in some small part helped to create. It's wonderfully dynamic, it's been a long time coming, and I appreciate the holy crap out of it. Mocking that, however friendly the tone, is tough, and ending the episode on a recap of everything leading up to this accomplishment just made it tougher. Thanks for sticking around, y'all.

    No screwing around in this caption. Congratulations, girls. You earned the hell out of those buttmarks.

    And also not screwing around in this one either, because Applejack explicitly brings up their parents for the first time ever and everyone is crying on the outside and I will not cry over a children't cartoon THIS IS NOT EVEN CLOSE TO FAIR

    Slight point of order I really want to make clear, though: just because Scootaloo's parents aren't visible at the end here doesn't mean they don't exist. For one thing, note that Sweetie Belle's parents (whom we know are real and proud and definitely alive GOD DAMMIT EMOTIONS) aren't there either. For another, Rainbow Dash has been a pretty consistent presence in Scootaloo's personal struggle with her identity, so her being the one to fill that limited screen time I mentioned before makes a lot of thematic sense. And finally, the shot showing all the Mane 6's marks tiled together with the CMC's all but confirms a pretty inextricable link between all of their respective destinies.

    To sum up: if you see one more Scootaorphan fic, they won't even give what I do to you a name, for fear of encouraging someone to repeat it.

    Just to end on a high note, though: really lowkey hoping those cutie mark surfboards show up in an end-of-season boss fight somewhere down the road. Anything that enables more Tirek-tier fight scenes is the stuff I do like.

    You really have no idea how hilarious it is that I'm captioning this image with my personal philosophy: "All narrative roads lead to superheroes."

    And that's all I should probably say about that. Now go have an adventure or something.