My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: Cutie Markless (parts 1 and 2)
April 5, 2015 12:47 PM - Season 5, Episode 1 - Subscribe

The Mane 6 arrive in a village to solve a friendship problem and find out that everyone in the village has given up their Cutie Marks.
posted by NMcCoy (8 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
My initial impression of this episode was that it wasn't terribly remarkable; par for the course as FiM episodes go. I did like that it found a very valid way to make Fluttershy the core protagonist, and it did a decent job of introducing what is presumably the season's plot motor. Then I mentioned to my partner that "this does raise some interesting questions about the metaphysics of cutie marks"... and from there, both being game designers, we ended up examining the notion through the lens of a roleplaying game, and that actually proved quite insightful and made me appreciate it a lot more. Our conclusions:

A pony's cutie mark isn't any sort of destined ability or talent, despite being often construed as such - rather, it's a sort of magic that remains dormant until the pony discovers what their true passion is, what they really want to be doing, and activates and "sets" once they've found it. The cutie mark's power is to take that one skill (as well as peripheral abilities) and make its bearer supernaturally good at it, on top of the skill that comes from practice. For mundane tasks under the purview of their cutie mark (e.g., throw a party, win a race, design a fashion lineup) a pony can succeed flawlessly without even needing to roll, at the pinnacle of any ordinary pony's ability. Furthermore, the magic of the cutie mark enables the pony to, with effort, succeed at very unlikely or even outright impossible tasks (time travel, break the rainbowsound barrier, make a rampaging dragon feel ashamed of what it's done, make functional binoculars and bridges out of party balloons with a single action). This easily explains the scale of the party-battle between Pinkie Pie and Weird Al, because it was a contest of characters who had cutie marks in the same domain, so all their opposed efforts were on the epic level.

So, a crucial and subtle point illuminated in this episode: the cutie-mark-removing curse applied by the villain didn't alter the victim's personality or motivations in any way, unlike Discord's inversion of the Mane 6's harmony elements; it just disconnected the ponies from their magical cutie mark boost, and instead applied a magical dampening effect to the pony's natural talent, as demonstrated by the pulse the equals sign gave off when the character attempted to use those skills, Rainbow Dash flying slower than everyone was running, or the best baker in town becoming the worst. Furthermore, the effect seen wasn't a stable transformation but a sustained enchantment, broken when the physical containment of the detached cutie mark was breached. All these factors in total moved the premise from "how does that make any sense" to "actually that's totally reasonable and kind of a cool plan for a session of MLP-RPG". (And notably, the villain had a magic-related cutie mark, and the cutie-mark-severing spell falls nicely in the domain of "impossible-seeming feats".)

Also, for the Fate players out there: "How did you block that? I've been practicing that spell for years!" "Well, I've been taking compels on that curse for the entire episode, and I tagged my aspects Cutie Mark: Magical Prodigy because it's a spell, The Magic of Friendship since I'm directly helping friends, and Royal Responsibility since I'm protecting those in need, for a +6 on it..."
posted by NMcCoy at 2:37 PM on April 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

With Twilight blocking the spell at the end, I think you missed that Twilight was using Starlight's own shield spell against her.

"Starlight Glimmer: Wh- I studied that spell for years! How can you-"

Because Twilight is basically a Blue Mage in addition to being a magical prodigy in her own right. Previously she was able to use Dark Magic after seeing Celestia perform it in front of her once, which is terrifying.

Overall I thought the premiere was pretty decent, and liked that it didn't need to play up the stakes to a world-destroying level. But although the creepily fascist socially-strained atmosphere of the village was effective, it wasn't that much fun to watch, so I was kind of relieved when it finally got to the point where Starlight was throwing magic bolts around. I did like that the common villagers got to be the ones to save the day- it's a nice change from the usual useless bystander civilians.
posted by Wandering Idiot at 5:16 PM on April 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

This episode was basically the entire conflict in S1 of The Legend of Korra, but handled better.
posted by Small Dollar at 12:08 PM on April 6, 2015

It's funny that you say fascist, because I felt like the village was supposed to be the kind of “Harrison Bergeron” society that neo-reactionary hat wearers fear. More than any other reason, it bugged me because it seemed like a kind of fan service to that crowd.
posted by ob1quixote at 10:22 PM on April 6, 2015

I'm probably misusing my terms for totalitarian societies. The unmutable loudspeaker propaganda reminded me of North Korea, but it's probably more accurate to relate it to your more structured cults, since control of the town seemed to be more about ideological buy-in than overt force.
posted by Wandering Idiot at 6:12 AM on April 7, 2015

Yeah, I definitely thought "Harrison Bergeron in Equestria" mixed with cult themes. You can't really do "Equality taken to an extreme is actually awful," without Harrison Bergeron coming up. There can be issues with that message though because people misuse it as an argument against other forms of egalitarianism that are not personally repressive. But hey, kids show, it's fine.

Anyway, loved the episode, among my favorites in the series. Laughed out loud at some of the jokes.

"I can't even make countryisms anymore!"

"Laughs don't come in barrels. They come from inside you as your body's response to delight."

I think the season feels really promising with the setup they have for plots now, looking forward to more questing.
posted by Drinky Die at 2:04 AM on April 8, 2015

Oh, and "You can't have a nightmare if you never dream!"

Orwell would be proud of whoever wrote that line.
posted by Drinky Die at 3:33 AM on April 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm kind of bummed out. I thought this episode was really interesting and thought provoking, especially from the perspective of a children's show. I tried to put together an FPP on it but all the links I googled up were of the, well, "shitlord" type bragging about how it was an attack on social justice which it clearly was not to my interpretation. This was all people who were like, "I would never watch this show because like, eww bronies, but somehow immediately after it aired I was made aware that it justifies all of my libertarian fantasies..." type.

If anybody better connected to the insightful parts of the mlp fan community can put something together on this ep I will grant you several favorites.
posted by Drinky Die at 2:48 AM on April 9, 2015

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