To quote from my review of "The Lost Treasure of Griffonstone"...
"...Speaking of, I'm going to take a gamble and jot down one last thing before I go, so I can have it on the record that I said it: I'm calling it now; the Cutie Mark Crusaders will have their cutie marks by season's end..."
*regards the new episode for a moment*
I so totally called it.
As I've conveyed several times before, I've never been a big fan of the more musical side of MLP. There are, of course, exceptions to this; songs that even I particularly like. But regardless of even that, I find the songs are more detracting than helpful for the show, because they usually end up as filler for an otherwise weak plot, or even more often, take up too much time for a story that otherwise would've been very strong...had they not wasted time to focus on the song and giving the story the short end of the stick as a result.
As such, I've usually been very dissatisfied with the "musical" episodes of MLP because of the multitude of songs crammed in ultimately hurt the story more than benefit it. Thirty minutes (really more like twenty-five actually, removing commercial breaks) just isn't enough time to have all those songs and a decent story at the same time. Furthermore, because you only have thirty minutes to work with, having all those songs in there end up going very back-to-back and become very...wearying...by the end of the episode. Especially if the songs are more generic than standout, another issue MLP has with some of its musical episodes; the songs end up turning out more forced and aren't usually their best.
Let's go back to season three's "Magical Mystery Cure" for example, the first real example of a "musical" episode, and though the ending managed to pull it together decently enough, I've found it's an overall very weak episode. In my review of it, I had commented that they had more sang than said that episode, and I still stand by that. The songs are okay, but rather generic for most of them (there are a few standouts, still; "Celestia's Ballad" for example) but more importantly all those songs crowded out what was supposed to be a very key story that ended up being rather vague and rushed, and to this day a little hard to follow. And this for the episode where Twilight becomes a princess, a landmark episode in the series? It was an episode that promised much but didn't deliver and I say the crew's approach to writing that episode was all wrong from the start because of it.
Then there's season four's "Pinkie Pride," which did a little better in that it managed to squeeze out a satisfactory, if simple, story in-between the many songs...and I do believe it had more than "Magical Mystery Cure." Since the guest star was Weird Al, it made since to do a lot of songs (darn it, if you get Weird Al into the mix, of course you're going to have him sing as many songs as you can get away with) but it left little room for story, one that, looking back, could've been actually pretty good, but instead turned out more generic and forgettable. Like when I initially viewed it, I still find it a sort of episode you could skip over and practically not miss anything (except Pinkie's obtaining of her key to the box).
And I confess that I still haven't watched "Rainbow Rocks" all the way through...but a large part of that is because I just can't stand the movie long enough to do so. Of all the examples I could name where the songs hurt the story, it's probably that one, and it's probably the "climatic song-fight" that is most guilty of it. It just blows away all of MLP's credibility at that point...and considering that MLP's credibility always has been more...optional...that's saying something.
So there's a clear trend with the musical episodes and it's not really a good one. So when this episode started off with a song before the opening titles had even rolled, I was thinking with some dread "Oh great, another musical episode." My expectations were not high.
Yet, as musical episodes go, this one wasn't bad.
The songs were fair, with "Light of Your Cutie Mark" being the real standout, and were much better paced. Unlike in previous attempts, the songs didn't feel like they were quite so stacked on top of each other; there's breathing room between each one. And in-between those songs, the story gets a chance to shine.
The story of redeeming Diamond Tiara as a character, no less.
It was pointed out to me just today by another user on deviantART that I had commented earlier in the season that I didn't think Diamond Tiara would be successfully redeemed in the show "unless they pull a Pacifica Northwest with her," and was playfully jabbing at me that they had done exactly that.
Well, Pacifica Northwest still did it best (I'm still floored at how convincingly they managed that).
But Diamond Tiara's redemption is still quite satisfactory and believable too. If you must redeem her character, this is a good way to do it.
But I'm also kind of disappointed that they did redeem her too. While I'm not against the change for her character or think that she can't be redeemed (far from it!), it's also furthering the trend in MLP where the antagonist gets redeemed in the end, regardless of past choices. And while that's an excellent theme to explore, it's now gotten to the point that MLP has more redeemed former antagonists than antagonists who have not (I can only think of four off the top of my head, and one's dead, one's in prison at Tartarus, one's missing, and one hasn't appeared on the show since season 2) and it's getting hard to take the show seriously when it does that because it's just not realistic. Some antagonists really don't ever change, even when you give the chance to do so. It's not that they aren't capable of it, they just choose not to for whatever reason, and a part of me kind of wishes that was the case with Diamond Tiara because that seems in line with her character. She learns a lesson, and then promptly opts to ignore it with little change.
Furthermore, she's a bully, and writing-wise, served an important role in the lives of the Cutie Mark Crusaders. Boiling it down into the simplest of terms, if you needed the CMC to have an antagonist for whatever situation they found themselves in, Diamond Tiara was your gal. Now that she's redeemed, the crew's inevitably going to have to come up with some kind of replacement, which runs the risk of ending up with a character that either doesn't work as well as Diamond Tiara had, or is basically a carbon copy of her with a few minor tweaks. So from a writing point of view, I question if that's something the show's crew really wanted to do. Call it writer's intuition. It could mean nothing. Or it could not.
But that said, I don't want to downplay the significance of Diamond's redemption either. This is a significant breakthrough for her character and from a personal point of view, one to be cherished and rewarded, most especially the very important message it conveys, so it's something I'll be rolling with regardless.
Besides, it does serve as a means for the Cutie Mark Crusaders to receive their cutie marks.
...which I so totally called, by the way!
Okay, okay, so you're probably asking (wearily by now, I imagine) how I managed to call it.
Well, I myself am only just realizing it, but it turns out I was already on the right track as far back as season one.
See, way back then, I of course had no idea when it would happen, or even if it would happen at all, but I knew why; namely, why the Cutie Mark Crusaders didn't have the cutie marks yet. It was actually their own doing; they were going about it entirely the wrong way. Even as far back as season one, they were quick to note their talents with each other, but utterly failed to recognize or acknowledge the significance of it. In short, they already knew their special talents, but simply wouldn't realize it. They were actually more interested in exploring everything else they wanted their cutie marks to be, rather than what they would be. So back in season one, I figured that until that changed, they would remain blank flanks.
And, it turns out, I was right, because it was the CMC resolving that among themselves that caused them to get the cutie marks.
So that got me on the right track...but when did I start to suspect their receiving of cutie marks would be imminent?
Fast forward to about season four. During this time, I had thought much like other bronies, and wondered if there was no plans CMC to ever receive their cutie marks during the course of the show...but unlike others, I was okay with that. I took it to be as just one of the constants of the show's universe, something that never changed and was never meant to. Sort of like how Arthur on PBS has been on the air for about 15-20 years now (I've lost track) and yet the titular character is still eight years old and in third grade. The show's just, to borrow a phrase, timelocked. The CMC wouldn't get their cutie marks because them doing so would mean a shift in themes, or so the theory went, and some stories don't actually need that.
Or so I figured until season four's "Flight to the Finish" in which there's a scene right towards the end where, after receiving some praise from Rainbow Dash, Scootaloo looks back at her flank to look for a cutie mark. And in that moment, I suddenly and fully expected one to appear. Obviously, none did, but it was in that moment that I suddenly had to question if the show's crew was serious about the CMC one day successfully receiving their cutie marks.
But were they really? And if so, when?
"Twilight Time" a few episodes later was what settled that question, because it was in that episode Sweetie Belle started seriously using magic for the first time and the other two crusaders also grew and developed in compelling ways. What this proved is that the characters were growing within the confine so of the show, and the crew not only saw that, they were addressing it. I was now more convinced than ever that their cutie marks would be just right around the corner (I even commented as such in my review of said episode).
But I knew it wouldn't happen in season four; we had too much other stuff happening to look ahead to, including a certain puzzle box we still needed to figure out before season's end, and season four was really more Twilight's season anyway, and the timing didn't feel right. Putting off those cutie marks until at least next season seemed like the right thing to do, writing-wise.
I had figured I had received confirmation when season five began, and, right off the bat, put strong emphasis on cutie marks and their nature right with that premiere. Then, only two episodes later, brought the CMC into the matter by positing the question before these fillies on the potential downfalls of getting their cutie marks. This served to address their fears about cutie marks, and whether or not they would get a "bad" cutie mark, whether or not one of them would get their cutie mark before the others, etc, all important subjects that needed addressing, and were done all in one, actually kind of crafty, fell swoop.
...as if they were planning ahead for something...
Furthermore is the very telling reveal in that same episode when Apple Bloom dream-received that potions cutie mark was the reaction that this was the sort of cutie mark she expected to receive. Plus, Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo were later revealed to having talents they figured likely for themselves too. This showed that the the CMC already knew their talents, AND acknowledged them...they were just afraid it might still end up being something else altogether. A matter which that episode consequently resolved as well, leaving even that matter clear.
So by that point I was convinced the CMC would be getting their cutie marks very, very, soon.
But try telling that to the rest of you bronies!
Immediately following the episode in question, "Bloom & Gloom," discussion broke loose, naturally, about the CMC and their cutie marks, and I was downright shocked to see that most bronies were still convinced that the show had no intention of giving the CMC their cutie marks anytime soon, if ever, and were, if anything, stringing us along with false promises. When I tried to jump in and point out what I thought to be the very obvious pattern that said otherwise, a few even came forward and shut me down on that matter.
So, when it came time to write that faithful review for "The Lost Treasure of Griffonstone," I decided to do something I normally wouldn't, and said "you know what? Forget this! I'm calling it now" (because I was convinced by this point in time those cutie marks would appear this season) "so when it does happen, I can point those naysayers back at this and gloat."
This is me. Gloating.
Gloat, gloat, gloat, gloat, gloat, gloat, gloat, gloat, gloat, gloat...okay, okay, I'll stop that and try to be more modest about it from here on out.
But yes. I nailed that one on the head.
What I didn't expect was that it would happen mid-season like this. I was actually expecting to be a season finale sort of thing, because we all know Starlight Glimmer's going to be back to try again at her anti-cutie mark nonsense, and that sort of theme seemed like the perfect chance to also get the CMC their cutie marks. But...looking back...that's pretty much the only thing I missed. Heck, I even correctly figured that the CMC getting their cutie marks wouldn't be the end of the Cutie Mark Crusaders; they'd just turn around and start helping other ponies with their cutie marks.
Of course, the most shocking thing about this episode wasn't those cutie marks or Diamond Tiara's redemption...it was Applejack verbally acknowledging her and Apple Bloom's absent parents, pretty much all but confirming that they ARE, in fact, deceased. Why Hasbro won't just come out and say it straight up and instead must continue to beat about with this heavily implied thing though is beyond me. And I know it's all Hasbro too, because I know several of the show staff have said that they figure this to be the case with the late Apple parents, but the authorities at Hasbro have stopped them from making it show-canon.
But that's a gripe for another day.
Anyway, did like this episode. Very satisfactory. Especially as I totally called it. But also because it's just a good episode overall, too.