Monday, 30 November 2015

Episode review: S5E25&26: "The Cutie Re-Mark"

Alt!Rainbow Dash with Pinkamena and Maud
Insert the usual "you know, for kids" joke here
And so, the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic ride comes to an end for another season. With rumours that the hiatus before S6 may be the longest yet, it was particularly important that S5 signed off with something memorable. Interestingly, this season's finale was not written by Meghan McCarthy; instead, Josh Haber took the reins for only the second time this season, the first being "Bloom & Gloom". The hype for this one was off the scale, so could the episode live up to those expectations?

I think it just about did. There are problems with "The Cutie Re-Mark" that didn't end at the episode's awkward title, but they're considerably outweighed by its pluses. Haber very sensibly doesn't try to beat "Twilight's Kingdom" at its own game, a contest that would have had only one winner, but takes the story in a direction that gives it an epicness of its own. It may not be the best double episode ever (perhaps not even better than the S5 premiere), but it's certainly not a bad one.

It's no surprise that Starlight Glimmer returns: I could have guessed that even had I not seen the promo clip. It turns out that she does indeed have a fillyhood motivation for her behaviour, and one that briefly made me wonder whether Shining Armor might have felt the same when Twily was suddenly made Celestia's protégée, had he not already been living in Canterlot. Starlight is notably powerful in this episode: even allowing for Starswirl's spell, being able to hold her own with the Bearer of the Element of Magic is quite a feat. Still, she's smart enough to second-guess Twilight a fair bit.

Starlight Glimmer and the Cloudsdale foals
Filly Fluttershy being cute. Okay, so she can't be anything else
As those who've seen Friendship Games (also written by Josh Haber!) will have realised even before the episode started, time travel and alternate universes play a central part in this finale. At this point, I really must pause to note the fact that Spike says "Well, that didn't work" at one point. Coincidence? Well, maybe. About as much as "I cooked them up and ate them" was, eh Mr Larson? The story does a fairly good job of keeping things comprehensible, and each dimension we visit has something of interest – even if that's only wondering what's gone wrong for Equestria this time! The "pegasus race" link worked okay, though of course for me it just meant some adorable filly!Shy.

This episode is damn dark for a TV-Y rated show, even considering everything else we've seen in the last five years. The most obvious example of that comes in the "war against Sombra" sequence: in a ravaged semi-dystopia, one of Celestia's officers is Rainbow Dash. Who has not only a big bite out of one ear, but also – though we see it for only a few seconds – one clearly artificial wing. Elsewhere, Starlight, in pushing the encased Twi'n'Spike off Cloudsdale, seems as though she intends them to die. And, of course, that final blasted wasteland.

We saw most of the show's big villains as we bounced around the timelines, although Tirek only incidentally. Chrysalis had the most memorable role, and it was good to see her being properly evil: she's the character who I least want ever to be reformed. Sombra was, as usual, underused but the Nightmare Moon bit was quite interesting, and not just for Rainbow's odd manecut! One thing that I particularly appreciate is the comment that Celestia had been banished in the Moon. Not to it or on it; very specifically in it. Quite right, too!

Sunburst wins his cutie mark as Starlight looks on
"Yay! I got a cutie mark in turning floors into trampolines!"
All right; I said there were problems with this episode, and so there are. For a start, only filly!Rainbow ever calls attention to Twilight's alicorn status, and even she only mentions it once before being easily distracted. More annoyingly, the ending is very rushed, as though the thinking was: "Okay, epic stuff done. Time to wrap it up as fast as possible." Linked to this, the only song of the episode feels shoe-horned in, and in any case isn't a classic. More "Let the Rainbow Remind You" than "You'll Play Your Part".

I don't agree with those people who were disappointed by the very fact of Starlight's redemption, as opposed to simply the suddenness with which it happened. If you object to the power of friendship making things better on a regular basis, then you're watching the wrong show. After all, in Equestria friendship is literally magic. While I don't want them to goodify all the villains (Chrysalis, as mentioned, is the biggie here), I don't think there was a great deal more a still-evil Starlight could have done had she continued as such into S6.

Still, this is still a very good way to finish what I think has been a very good season. Although it's perhaps lacking that final bit of polish that might have made it a classic to rank alongside the real standouts of S5, "The Cutie Re-Mark" is a generally satisfying experience. It will be interesting to see what the team do with Starlight next season: maybe we could pick up the dropped trail of Meadowbrook's eight magical artefacts from the season premiere? Or find out how Starlight got her cutie mark? For now, though, I'm glad S5 ended on a high note.

Alt!Fluttershy brandishing a spear
Fluttershy looking a bit less cute. See! It's possible!
One last thing: we see Starlight waiting for Twilight on Fluttershy's throne. The Butterfly Effect...

Best quote: Fluttershy: "All servants of Queen Chrysalis found in these woods must be... destroyed!"

  • Starlight is a bit smarter than the average villain
  • All the timelines allow some excellent (alternate) worldbuilding
  • Nice to see Spike treated as a full friend at the end
  • That Hard Reset reference... that will never be officially acknowledged
  • Plenty of cute filly scenes (okay, the same one lots of times...)
  • Until the final section, pretty well paced throughout
  • The ending feels very rushed
  • Not one of the more memorable songs we've had
  • Just one acknowledgement of Twi's status


  1. I agree, the ending was rushed (same with Nightmare Rarity arc), but Starlight's character was really well done compared to Hope's in the comics.

    1. Given what you think of the comic Hope, that's not a particularly high bar to clear! ;)

  2. I don't understand the writing team's trust in Haber. His content is all decidedly mediocre. I can't think of any episodes he's written that have been better than okay, and Friendship Games was a BIG step down from Rainbow Rocks, in my opinion. So why does he get the finale? The show's producers like his content a lot more than me, I suppose.

    This episode came to a screeching halt to me at the reveal (Spoilers):

    As the stakes are raised, so is the bar for friendship lectures. This is supposedly a core part of Starlight's personality. One that has been driving her for her entire adult life. Two minutes of friendship lecture just doesn't feel enough to justify a transformation. I do agree that friendship is literally magic in this universe, but then why didn't Twilight just give a little buddy-buddy talk to, say, Tirek? Or Chrysalis? Or the Flim-Flam brothers? If we give friendship lectures the power to instantly convert the mind, then it opens a whole other terrible can of worms.

    But the thing that really brought down the episode for me was that of all the things for Starlight to suffer, THAT is the thing that drove her to the side of evil? You buddy getting their cutie mark before you is a problem that is probably extremely common in Equestria. Probably half of all foals experience it. It's like being driven into evil because you broke your arm or came in second in the spelling bee. It's so pedestrian as to be distracting. I mean, it's even set up in a way that makes her focus on it totally ridiculous to an adult perspective. Her buddy didn't reject her or think less of her. He (I think it was a he) was shipped away to a school. By parents.

    Her friend literally moved. So she's evil.

    Of all the genesis stories of a villain, that has to be the lamest one. If they'd given a bit more context, maybe I could buy it. They could have shown her trying to make other friends, but as the only blank flank, she struggled and over time became bitter. Something like that to justify it a bit. As it stands, it made me groan, and I think so much less of Starlight than I did when she arrived. That song added nothing and could easily have been cut to add in more backstory. Bleh.

    I was super sad because up until that point, this was a fairly enjoyable episode. I'm not a huge fan of time travel as a plot device, but the future timelines were interesting. I'm honestly baffled as to why they felt they needed to shove so much into this two parter. A mid-season episode could have paved the way for a lot of this, increased interest, and laid down important plot points so leave room for a less rushed ending to this story.

    In a way, I feel like this is closure, though a terrible one. I feel like MLP has handled almost all the important events in a way that I'm unsatisfied with, and so my interest in the show has waned tremendously. I'll see what season six has to offer, but I'm not excited for it in the least. I guess my time with the show has just run its course.

    1. I was expecting it to be Meghan McCarthy (until the announcement), too. Still, I'm a little better disposed towards Haber than I was: although I'm still no great fan of "Simple Ways" or "Leap of Faith", I've become considerably more attached to "Castle Mane-ia" and "Bloom & Gloom" than I was on first viewing.

      I think this finale is a story that only works if you can ignore several plotholes you could drive an Ursa through. It looks as though I found that easier than you did (which probably says good things about your writing instincts!). And yes, Starlight's origin story is one of those. It was uninspiring, to say the least; I was hoping for something sad.

      Mind you, look what happened to Twist. Got her cutie mark before the CMC, and she was never allowed to speak again! :P

      As for the last point... I don't have any right to speak for you, but you could easily be right. We've all been there at one time or another: realising that we haven't left a show; it's left us. I don't take the view you do about S5, but it's an entirely reasonable position.

    2. I actually like season five. I don't like the important canon elements since about season three. I don't like the reformation of Discord. His character is so much less than it was before. I didn't care for the Alicornification of Twilight. Not the idea of it, which I'm actually good with, but the episode in which it happened. I hated the way it was structured. I didn't much care for the Tirek episode since it began the dumbing down of Discord. I didn't care for the way the CMC were handled in their cutie marking, and finally I didn't like this finale. That's a lot of important world- and character-building that I didn't enjoy. I actually like a lot of the less-consequential episodes surrounding all of that, but that's not the meat of the ongoing story arc. The major beats are leading us down a path that I agree with less and less.

      It's such a shame because I did really, really love that show at one point. I couldn't wait for new episodes, and I joined ever pony site I could find that wasn't 4chan related. I had to be reminded that this finale was even happening. I'm really sad over the loss of it. It leaves me feeling empty.

    3. Ah. I didn't mind "Magical Mystery Cure" except for its being squashed into one episode. Discord I don't like as much as many fans seem to (you may have noticed the relative lack of Discord fic reviews). "Twilight's Kingdom" I liked a lot, but I do sometimes wish Discord hadn't been in it. "Crusaders of the Lost Mark" I loved, but in a purely emotional way; I'd always say that "Amending Fences" was far the better episode, but "CotLM" affected me more deeply.

      I'm sorry. I wonder sometimes whether I'll ever feel like that about the show. Perhaps not, simply because of the affection I have for it due to its helping me through some immensely dark times, but maybe it will happen. Emptiness is what I suspect I'd feel too if it did.

    4. I just hope the show doesn't stretch itself thin...