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Episode 21. “Over a Barrel”: How the West was Won, and the Pies It Got Us

Sunny Fox

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My father stampeded on these grounds, and his father before him, and his father before him, and his father before him… – Chief THUNDERHOOVES

The Mane Six are on their way via train to the Western frontier town of Appaloosa so that Applejack can give one of her apple trees, Bloomberg, to her relatives there.

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The train's engine is not very powerful, unfortunately… it only has four horsepower!

Applejack is babying the tree by reading it a bedtime story, to the annoyance of Rarity, so is also put out that the tree has a car all to himself while she is lodging with the rest. The gals are chattering excitedly, irritating both Rarity and Spike, who are trying to get some shuteye. Spike eventually escapes to Bloomberg’s car, while Rarity goes for the direct approach and shouts the others into silence.

They awaken in the morning to find a herd of buffalo are keeping pace with the train. Their delight turns to concern when the buffalo start ramming the train, sending the Mane Six bouncing around. Eventually, the smallest of the buffalo, later introduced as Little Strongheart, jumps onto the roof and heads towards the rear car, Bloomberg and Spike. Although Rainbow Dash attempts to confront the interloper, she is unprepared for how agile she can be. RD slams into a sign, and gets left behind as Strongheart uncouples the last car and the rest of the herd push it away. Poor Spike is last seen calling to the Mane Six for help as they recede into the distance.

On arrival at Appaloosa (sorry, I mispronounced that, it should be AAAAAppa<<whinny>>LOOSA! ) they try to explain the situation, but AJ’s cousin Braeburn is too busy pushing them from sight to sight to listen. He shows them the various puntastic locations, including horse-drawn carriages, horse drawn horse-drawn carriages, Wild West dances, Mild West dances, the local watering hole and the Sheriff’s office.

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Always ready to serve and protect… but only after his siesta!

After they get to the apple orchard, AJ finally gets through to Braeburn and explains that buffalo took their tree, and their dragon, while RD and Pinkie are both missing, presumably attempting a rescue. Braeburn talks about how the buffalo want the orchard to be removed entirely (although not why, an issue which I will discuss later).

While this is going on, Rainbow is indeed on Spike’s trail, although she still has both a headache and a grudge against Strongheart to nurse. Pinkie surprises her, and Pinkie being Pinkie, gets them discovered by the buffalo, due to her own obtuseness. Luckily, Spike is nearby, and has clout with the buffalo on account of being a dragon. Thus safe from trampling, the three head back to the buffalo’s camp.

As they eat dinner (gruel and gemstones, you figure out who eats what), Rainbow encounters Little Strongheart again, and is mad enough to try to leave. Strongheart apologizes for the earlier ruckus fracas and makes amends. They meet up with Chief THUNDERHOOVES, the leader of the buffalo, who explains (at enough length that even the other buffalo are falling asleep) that the Appaloosans have planted their orchard on the tribe’s sacred stampeding grounds and trapped them. Rainbow Dash decides to take their side, and resolves to talk to the Appaloosans and get them to move the trees.

As the Mane Six Appaloosa-side prepare to set out for their own rescue attempt, their missing party members meet them, and bring Little Strongheart to talk with Braeburn. The peace talk is immediately derailed by RD and AJ taking sides and starting to argue. Pinkie tries to mend the rift with a song, but it’s apparently so bad that all the Sheriff and the Chief can agree on is how much it sucks.

Chief THUNDERHOOVES gives an ultimatum for high noon the next day… the trees are either gone, or they will be trampled, along with the entire town. Sheriff tells him to “bring it” and thus both sides prepare for war. Despite the overtures of the Mane Six, back on the same side again, no pony or buffalo seems willing to listen.

As the deadline approaches, Chief THUNDERHOOVES begins to have second thoughts, and it seems like the war is averted… until Pinkie repeats her awful song, and “CHHAARRRGE!” As the buffalo advance, the Appaloosans let loose with a barrage of apple pies, as well as defensive measures that have varying degrees of effectiveness. As Chief THUNDERHOOVES charges at the Sheriff, who has run out of ammo and can only resolve to meet death with dignity, a stray pie downs the Chief. The battle comes to a halt as both sides start to mourn the Chief’s falling, until the pie also has a falling… onto the Chief’s tongue. Awakened by the taste of the pie, he announces that he has a much better idea.

The majority of the trees can stay as long as the buffalo have enough room to stampede, and in exchange, the Appaloosans have to provide them with pies. The peace restored, Bloomberg is planted in a new home, AJ and RD run off into the sunset with Little Strongheart, and Twilight tacks on the moral for today’s lesson: compromise good, conflict bad.

 

Thoughts on the Episode

I have to admit, I don’t have much of a cultural context on this one, not being American. Even so, I can see how taking something like the conflict between Native American tribes and western settlers, an extremely violent period of history, and reducing it to a food fight could be considered rather damn insulting.

The writing is really off this episode. The conflict over how the land should be used is not such a bad concept in itself (except so far as mentioned in the former paragraph) but how is it that the buffalo could have made their dissatisfaction known without actually saying WHY they wanted the trees gone? Braeburn knows the buffalo have a problem with the trees. So did they just march up to the ponies, say “Move those trees!” and then trot off back to their teepees without another word? It would be another thing if the two groups had had some sort of meeting before that, and been unable to come to a resolution. There’s no evidence of any such thing happening, so the groups on either side of the conflict seem rather unreasonable. That’s simply not realistic, and as I said, pretty insulting compared to the actual conflict it was based on.

The conflict within the Mane Six is also badly handled. Little Strongheart and Braeburn were ready to discuss the issue, and at least find out what the other side wanted and where they were coming from. This could well have led to a compromise and resolution, sans The Battle of the Baked Goods, but both Rainbow Dash and Applejack ruined it by taking it upon themselves to speak for the two parties and ending up in an argument. Yet in the scene where the Appaloosans are preparing for the fight, all of the Mane Six are together and on the same side. I think it would have been more interesting to have Applejack actually side with the settler ponies, and Rainbow side with the buffalo, with the other Mane Six ponies caught between the two. As it is, the conflict between the Mane Six members goes nowhere and so seems somewhat arbitrary.

Speaking of Mane Six characters, both Rarity and Pinkie Pie had a pretty awful outing in this episode. Let’s start with Rarity. In this episode alone, I could understand how some people could have considered her behaviour whiny.

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I am not whining, I am complaining!

I mentioned this briefly in my recap of A Dog and Pony Show, so as promised, here’s a bit fuller of an explanation. (Ghostie and the rest of the fan club will just have to forgive me for this…) First, in the opening scene, Rarity was complaining about having to sleep in the same car as the others while Bloomberg got a sleeper car to himself. Apart from her plaintive tone, she’s also being a bit of a diva here, acting as if she should get special treatment.

She was also rather abrupt in shouting at the others to be quiet… although, I sympathize with her somewhat in this. I also hate being kept up by others making noise when I’m trying to sleep, and can get very irritable. Still, it’s not a very admirable scene for Rares there. She also sounded pretty whiny when Applejack accidentally pulled her saddle bag strap too tight. (“Gently, please!”)

Now for Pinkie Pie. Oh, man, was Pinkie in poor form. First of all, she disappears to follow Rainbow Dash without apparently giving the others any explanation of where she was going, then gets them captured by the buffalo by being oblivious to the fact that Rainbow was trying to hide. Even Pinkie should have been serious, if she was there to rescue Spike as she said she was. They were lucky that Spike was there to rescue them instead by vouching for them with the buffalo.

Later on, she sings a song that escalates the situation. Oddly, it’s not all that different from any of Pinkie’s other songs, so why it made things worse is beyond me (plot convenience, I guess, so one more chalk mark under Poor Writing.) That may be forgivable, since she was just trying to help, and couldn’t have known that the song would be such an epic fail. But then right before the battle, she sings the damn song again for no reason, and sets off the buffalo, who were having second thoughts. Pinkie usually knows when to be somewhat serious, and her childish behaviour here is another mark of poor writing.

The final battle and the downing of Chief THUNDERHOOVES during it are also problematic: for the buffalo it makes sense, but why are the ponies sad he went down? To them, he’s the unreasonable enemy who wants them gone, and is willing to trash their town and destroy their food source to make it happen. They should have been glad when he gets taken out. Speaking of, how could anyone have really thought an apple pie in the face was lethal or even damaging?

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I used to be a buffalo chief, until I took an apple pie in the face…
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Tell me about it!

Unless the pie Chief THUNDERHOOVES was hit with was a dark matter apple pie, it shouldn’t have knocked him out, and it certainly shouldn’t have stopped his unconscious body from squishing Silver Star due to pure momentum. (The Sheriff’s “face death with dignity” moment was pretty awesome, though.) It's even more egregious (I love that word!) considering that we see how the pies work against every other buffalo: they don't do damage but rather make it so they can't see where they are going.

As for the final solution Chief THUNDERHOOVES came up with, it’s blindingly obvious in hindsight: clear enough space for the buffalo to stampede while still letting the rest of the apple trees grow, and share the fruit / pies. Did it really require a minor war, major property damage and grieving for a fallen leader for someone to hit upon that idea…

Actually, the thought occurs that it did. Maybe the writer was a bit more subtle and skilled than I’m giving him credit for. You see, Chief THUNDERHOOVES gets the idea because the pie was so delicious. This matters because we were shown what the buffalo eat previously, a kind of mushy gruel of unknown composition. From Rainbow Dash’s reaction, it doesn’t seem very appetizing. Pinkie likes it, but then, Pinkie likes any food that doesn’t outright poison her (and liquid rainbows aren’t food). At any rate, the hint is there. Once Chief THUNDERHOOVES tastes the pie (tastier than what he’s used to), he realizes that the trees can benefit him and his tribe as well. He no longer sees them as an obstacle and nothing more, and this opens the way to the compromise. There was even some foreshadowing of the resolution during Pinkie’s song, when she sticks an apple into both Little Strongheart and Sheriff Silver Star’s mouths… so Pinkie did have the answer after all but no one noticed! :))

Can we balance out the negatives even further? On the plus side… at least it gave Dark Qiviut an idea for an OC. Alright, that’s not really much to do with the quality of the episode itself, so let’s look for some more positives, of which Little Strongheart is one. At least she gets a name and a bit of a personality; better than the rest of the buffalo, apart from Chief THUNDERHOOVES. As her name implies, she’s determined, but kind. She was willing to apologize to Rainbow Dash, and wanted to find a peaceful solution to the orchard problem. She’s also pretty athletic, and as Rainbow admits, rather fast for being so bulky (compared to the ponies at least… except Bulk Biceps). One wonders why she’s not only the youngest but apparently the only female member of the tribe. Is she the daughter of Chief THUNDERHOOVES? Do only males and youngsters get the opportunity to stampede, and the female buffalo are just elsewhere while the episode plays out? I guess we won’t get any answers to these questions, unless the buffalo reappear for more than a cameo (Pinkie Pride) in Season 5.

As for the buffalo, although clearly the Equestrian equivalent of Native Americans, they manage to avoid many of the stereotypes. They speak perfectly good English / Equestrian, no “hows” and “ums” are heard, and they don’t dance around the fire beating tomtoms, so we should probably give the writer credit for not making them as offensive as he could have. He pretty much had to include the feathered headdress, teepees and war paint, though.

Overall, the episode has some major problems, and the things it gets right are much less in evidence. Still, on thinking more about it, I can’t give it the lowest ranking, since those things are there to be found. The upshot of this is that it gets a rescue from the bottom of the pile… but not by much.

 

Highlights/Quotes

Regarding Bloomberg getting a bedtime story and a private car.Rarity: You talk about it as if it’s your baby or something.
Applejack: Who are you calling a baby? Bloomberg’s no baby!
Applejack: <To Bloomberg> Don’t let Widdle Wawity make you all saddy waddy, Bloomberg’s a big strong apple tree, yes he is! A-coochi-coochi-coo-coo-coo!

Everyone knows the “Fluttershy is a tree” conversation, so no need to repeat it here.

After Pinkie’s song:
THUNDERHOOVES: It appears that Sheriff Silver Star and I have come to an agreement.
Silver Star: We have indeedy.
Everyone leans forward hopefully…
THUNDERHOOVES: That was the worst performance we’ve ever seen.
Silver Star: Absatively!

 

Pros: Little Strongheart is a somewhat interesting character. The tree conversation was amusing. Here and there is an instance of clever writing / foreshadowing to be found.

Cons: Mostly poor writing. Rarity is too whiny. Pinkie Pie is a bubblehead who ruins everything. Rainbow and Applejack do more harm than good. It takes a bloody conflict and great tragedy of history and reduces it to apple pies and bad puns.

 

Final Rating
5 – Celestia Rank: A great episode. It will be re-watched frequently.
4 – Luna Rank: A good episode, but with one or two problems that prevent it from being great.
3 – Spike Rank: An average episode. Positives and negatives are balanced.
2 – Discord Rank: Worth watching once. After that, turn it to stone and put it in the garden.
1 – Nightmare Moon Rank: Send it to the moon!

Stay sunny side up!

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I really liked this episode. One of my favorite scenes in all of MLP is the opening scene. I like episodes that start on the way to the episode's setting. I love that song too.

  • Brohoof 2

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AKA: "HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE PIE"

That is also a really good subtitle. :D

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