Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Episode review: S5E01/02: "The Cutie Map"

Starlight Glimmer and Party Favor
"Now, ponies, where should I put Party Favor's brain?"
Sorry for the lateness here, folks: a number of circumstances conspired against me. I'm not intending to take quite so long with episode reviews in future! Anyway, after a billion years of waiting, Season 5 of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is upon us. The opener, whose title was changed from "Cutie Markless" at a late stage, is a two-parter, written by Scott Sonneborn and M. A. Larson from a story by Meghan McCarthy. I haven't often been impressed by co-written episodes, so how would this one fare? Beyond the cut, you'll find out!

I'm very pleased to say that I really enjoyed this episode, and that I thought it was a very good ep indeed. Of the five season premieres we've now enjoyed, I'd probably place this one second, just behind "The Return of Harmony" – with which it actually had some similarities in terms of its relying quite heavily on psychological horror rather than flash-bang special effects. (And also in terms of desaturation effects...) I thoroughly support that decision, too: trying to out-epic "Twilight's Kingdom" would always have been a fool's errand.

The opening section is not the strongest part of the premiere: the castle still looks out of place in Ponyville, the sequence in which the map appears is rushed and Spike is (albeit understandably) sidelined in a slightly awkward way. After all, if Fluttershy had stayed home, are you really telling me that Spike would have been the only character she could have spent time with? Still, I file this under "necessary plot conveniences", and the existence of the map does further point towards this being a more adventure-heavy season.

Starlight Glimmer and creepy smiling ponies
"I will call it Our Town... and Your Grave!"
After a quick trip on the Friendship Express, which seems to run everywhere (I do prefer the slightly revised train model) we get our first glimpse of the cultish town of... well, it doesn't have a name, does it? Given that this omission is lightly lampshaded by Pinkie Pie at one point, I assume that its namelessness is deliberate. Creepy grinning ponies, lots of equally creepy "Welcome!" messages and... Starlight Glimmer. Whose name is not at all reminiscent of certain other remarkably powerful unicorns we've seen from time to time, oh dear me no.

Starlight is an odd character: it's never entirely clear how much of what she says is simply her being manipulative and how much she actually believes. Given that her story is left open at the end of the episode, and given also several strong hints from show staffers, I'd be very surprised if we didn't see her again in S5. I do wonder whether she may, like Sunset Shimmer, be a former pupil of Princess Celestia's who somehow went to the bad. What was she doing in the desert looking for oddly-carved sticks, anyway?

Still, almost everything about "Equaltown" is discomfiting, and it gets worse as you go through the episodes. We get a song, but it's not really like anything else we've had in FiM. "Our Town" is inspired by WW2 propaganda, and it works very well. Some fans don't seem to be very impressed with it, but I thought it was excellent in context. "You can't have a nightmare if you never dream" is a terrifying line when you think about it. Still, it's probably better than the "Ignorance is Strength"-style stuff the locked-in Mane Sixers are subject to later on.

The Mane Six locked in the house
"We will meet in the place where there is no darkness..."
An interesting feature of "The Cutie Map" is the heavy use made of guest ponies, ie the inhabitants of Equaltown. I think they're generally handled quite well, and they're generally given enough time for us to get to know them a little bit. Sugar Belle's name is perhaps noteworthy, Party Favor's balloon skills impress even Pinkie and Double Diamond seems set on out-surfer-duding Shining Armor. I wonder whether we may see some of these ponies again before the season is out?

I've mentioned Pinkie Pie several times already, and she deserves special mention, because this is the best-written Pinkie in... ooh, a long time. Maybe even since "Pinkie Pride". There's hardly a line from her that doesn't convince; her "barrel of laughs" response is gold. I'm also very happy to see a Larson episode do right by Fluttershy (yes, "Magic Duel" still rankles a bit) and her mildly annoying opening section turns out to have an entirely convincing use later on. It's nice to see 'Shy showing initiative and bravery in a way her S1 self wouldn't have: character development, yay!

There really isn't a lot I feel like complaining about where "The Cutie Map" is concerned. It's not perfect: Rainbow Dash, for example, is a little on the annoying side and Rarity doesn't do a lot, either. But aside from that and the aforementioned minor problems with the opening sequence, this stands up very well indeed. (And, yes, the animation is great these days.) It's very early to say whether or not we're in for something to match – or even surpass – the often excellent S4, but I feel pretty optimistic.

Starlight with the "Staff of Sameness"
"Actually, I just needed a new tuning fork."
Best quote: Pinkie Pie: "Laughs don't come in barrels. They come from inside you as your body's response to delight."

  • A brave and largely successful departure into psychological horror
  • Pinkie and Fluttershy were both notably well written
  • The guest/background ponies had a real part to play
  • Starlight yelling at Twilight to shut up was highly amusing
  • A very good, very disturbing song like nothing we've heard before
  • Looks like there's a season arc being set up here!
  • Spike was sidelined a little too quickly
  • The opening act was a bit on the rushed side
  • Rainbow and Rarity didn't have a lot to do


  1. A pretty solid start to the season. It amazes me how a cartoon that's aimed for girls can get so dark at times. More Starlight please!

    1. I'd be very surprised if you didn't get that wish! But as for being so dark... remember, back in G1 Tirek openly threatened Spike with decapitation -- so there's nothing new under Celestia's sun!

  2. I did really enjoy this one. A very strong opener, in my opinion.

    1. I enjoyed it more second time around. That's usually a good sign.

  3. The more I think about this episode, the better it gets. It really is delightfully creepy. Starlight didn't feel like the strongest of villains, but the village ITSELF definitely resonated with me.

    1. I'm reserving judgement on Starlight for now. I think she has more strings to her bow. But I also find this better with each watching!