• "Buckball Season": Episode Followup

    In a dark office next to a quiet newsroom, Spotlight Splash stared out her window and sighed. Before her, Manehattan spread out like a glittering tapestry, each twinkling light a story as yet untold. Behind her, her little brother Rocket Tier shuffled through a file cabinet, humming a tune as he searched for some piece of evidence either of them might have missed.

    "It's hard not to be romantic about journalism," Spotlight murmured. "This kind of thing, it's fun for the readers. It sells papers and ad space... doesn't mean anything."

    Rocket glanced up from a stuffed manila folder, a confused crinkle in his brow. "Spotlight, we just hit our one hundredth episode followup."

    "And what's the point?"

    Rocket stumbled over his reply, seemingly perturbed by his big sister's toneless retort. "W-Well, that's a lot, isn't it?"

    Spotlight turned to him, her shoulders sagging from the effort. "Rocket, I've been doing this for... I've been in this game a long time. I'm not in it for a lot of readers, and I'm not in it for an award. That's when ponies get hurt. If we don't get it right where it counts, they'll dismiss us."


    She faced the window again, pressing her forehead against the glass. In the darkness beneath her eyelids, a face--his damnable face--haunted her. "I know this guy. I know the way he thinks, and he will erase us. And everything we've done here... none of it will matter. Any other blog author does a followup, good for them. They're getting hits, they're bringing in a good crowd. But if we get him out, on our budget, just the two of us... we'll have changed the game. And that's what I want."

    She opened her eyes, then narrowed them. The city blinked back at her, hopeful and bright. 

    My name is Aquaman, this is the "Buckball Season" episode followup, and in case you even have to ask: duh, I'm stoked for this one. Let's get to work.

    Sure, horse hooves don't really have enough nerve endings to make them viable instruments for testing wind direction, but at this point AJ's already spit on herself without a towel handy, so she's pretty much committed to whatever half-cocked idea got her in this position.

    "Is it just your goal in life to torment me?"
    "Eh. Everypony needs a hobby."

    I like how quickly Rainbow Dash picks up on the archetypical sports fan's modus operanti: up to and often including the actual rules and regulations of the relevant sportsball game, literally nothing is important to know except a) your side is awesome, and b) buck the opposition.

    And for those of you who think that's the last time in this followup I'm going to make a bucking-related euphemism: welcome to your first ever encounter with me, and rest assured that when I'm conducting it, this train has no brakes.

    Choo-motherbucking-choo, y'all.

    A warm welcome to Jennifer Skelly, by the way, who with this episode inks her name onto FiM's ever-lengthening list of writers. I can only assume (a word which here means "baselessly speculate") that her entry in the show's canon marks the first of many episodes centered around the various competitive sports native to Equestrian culture (a baseless speculation which here means "Aqua's off his meds again and won't stop mumbling about quarterbuck ratings").

    All right, not gonna lie. That last bucking pun hurt.

    Hindsight is 20/20, of course, but at first glance you really have to wonder what possessed Apples and Dash to tap Pinkster and Flutterbutt as buckball second-stringers. I feel like AJ has be on a first-name basis with at least one other pegasus in town, but I suppose short notice is the mother of necessity, or however that phrase goes.

    On a semi-related note, any combination of those four stupid nicknames I used up there would make a great title for a half-baked side series.

    Bandwagon fans, Jack. Can't live with 'em, can't go two weeks into a playoff run without 'em.

    RIP in pieces, headcanon that Pinkie Pie is secretly a unicorn with an ingrown horn poking into her brain. (2010-2016)

    We laugh like Pinkie Pie having a unicorn costume is a silly, one-off joke, but it's well-established that--in a shockingly high number of circumstances--Pinkie Pie don't play.

    I get the distinct sense that some of these folks aren't here for the "ball" component of this game.

    "The rules of the game are simple: we perform a series of acrobatic volleys and gravity-defying stunts with the ball, and you demonstrate basic magical motor skills. If anyone has questions, they're going first."

    Who's the best at a made-up game hawked by a redneck horse? / P-I-N, K-I-E, P-I-E of course!

    In all seriousness, though, buckball actually seems like a pretty functional game for ponies to play. You've got clearly delineated roles for all three races, a good amount of skill involved, and I can easily imagine it getting super intense to watch at high levels. All we need now is a fantasy league and somepony to make gameday predictions with mascot heads.

    Don't judge him too harshly. He's a marshmallow pony with hearts on his butt. High school gym class was basically his Vietnam.

    Forget Pinkie and Fluttershy being Rain Mares at Magic Kickball: what I want to know is what Applejack did with the real Rainbow Dash, and who this poser is who's totally cool and mature about getting blown out by two amateurs with superior natural talent. It's like I don't even know her anymore.

    Pictured: so many girls I went to middle school with. My over-competitive ass still has a couple chapped spots from that.

    The appearance of Snails in this episode--sans partner-in-pony-crime Snips, even--was such an unexpected turn of events here, and I couldn't be happier we ended up taking that proverbial detour. Lee Tockar's always fun to hear on FiM, and as much as his character doesn't really impact this episode's narrative too much, the dopey little giraffe still steals every scene he's in.

    Your move, Forrest Gump.

    "So, um... when do we get helmets and hoofguards?"
    "I'm gonna answer that question with another question: y'all signed the waivers before we started, right?"

    The English language was dumb and confusing enough already without your input, Pinkie Pie. Or... dumbfusing, I guess.

    God, I love the direction this episode takes once Pinkie and Fluttershy turn to be buckball prodigies. No sports movie is complete without a hard-nosed coach living vicariously through talented young players who, bless their sweet summer hearts, thought playing a game was supposed to be fun.

    "We will be perfect in every aspect of the game. You drop a ball, you run a mile. You miss a buck, you run a mile. You lose to Appaloosa, and I will break my hoof off in your brown-sugar hindparts... and then you will run a mile."

    "What are you?"
    "Mobile, agile, hostile..."
    "What is pain?"
    "F-French bread?"
    "What is fatigue?"
    "Can I go h-home now, please?"

    Experience tranquility.

    I'm a fan of "apple" being a word with universal utility in Applejack's mind. It's a noun, verb, adjective, article... we're talking "Smurf" levels of usefulness here.

    Applejack don't care if Pinkie doesn't respond to this kind of training. Applejack don't give a Red Delicious.

    "What do we think of Appaloosa?"
    "What do we think of horseapples?"

    In slight defense of Applejack and Rainbow Dash's coaching philosophy, they do seem to change tacks a bit once their first practice ends. They're still wrongheaded about what exactly the issue is, but getting the whole town riled up to cheer their team on is at least a step in the right direction away from yelling about how water breaks are for cowards.

    After all, it's not like either of these two has ever had issues before with large crowds of ponies watching their every move and silently judging them.

    "You don't want a ballplayer, you want a stable-pony! I get dragged away from my book club meeting to block some athletic-flavor-of-the-month's balls in the bus leagues? Well, buck this bucking game!"

    Intra-friendship drama notwithstanding, there's a really cool tracking shot in this part of the third act that I don't think we've ever seen in this show before. The camera pans to follow AJ and Dash as they walk back through the train to find their slightly-less-than-motivated teammates, but the other passengers and seats in the background are given enough depth of field that what's produced is an almost three-dimensional effect. It's a bit rough around the edges, sure, but it's also a neat shift towards some more complex animation techniques.

    We now return you to your regularly scheduled showing of "Horse-siers".

    "How long are they gonna go on like this?"
    "I dunno. They'll come when they're ready, I guess."
    "Hopefully that'll be sometime before the buck-off."

    Credit where it's due: Applejack and Rainbow get a clue a bit earlier than is average for a FiM episode, and do a pretty tidy job making up for their previous mistakes. With that context, it's more believable that they just got overexcited about how naturally good Fluttershy and Pinkie were, instead of being willfully ignorant about whether their friends responded well to pressure.

    As it's said in some circles: if you can't beat 'em, confuse the hell out of 'em.

    There's no need to get sassy, though, Flutters. Let's not forget who had to drag who sobbing out of a luggage car half an hour ago.

    "You bucked with the wrong ponies, applesauce."

    Is this the first time we've seen AJ with her mane braid undone like this? And on a totally unrelated note, is it hot in here?

    Not that I keep track of them on an extensive chart updated daily with live results or anything, but Snails just climbed several spots in the "Aquaman's #1 Best Pone Yes" rankings. Figured some of y'all might agree with the promotion, is all.

    The inner machinations of his mind are an enigma.

    Not gonna lie, I wasn't sure if we'd get to see any of the actual Ponyville vs. Appaloosa Royal Buckball Rumble, and I'm certainly happy we did. It wouldn't have made sense time-wise to show the entire match, but the little taste we got was enough to sate my nagging desire to see this game in real action.

    If it's crazy and it works, it's not crazy. Or it's in violation of the bylaws and punishable by player fines and a potential suspension for future league games. Six of one, half-dozen of the other.

    While the Biceps family has never been caught juicing by any NBL-licensed medical practitioners, they have been known to partake in pureeing, as well as the occasional smoothie.

    Take heart, Appaloosa. It could be worse. After all, you could be Browns fans.

    Pictured: five small-town nobodies who all believe in miracles.

    Well, you know what they say, Braeburn: when the going gets tough, get a new coach, trade half your roster, and hike season ticket prices to cover a multi-million bit stadium expansion. Next year is your year.

    And that's the final whistle for me. I'll see y'all in the next round... and don't worry about Spotlight. I'm sure she'll get a ticket too.