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Episode review: "The Perfect Pear"

Melodrama is one of My Little Pony's foundational blocks. So many of the most emotionally affecting episodes of the show are melodramatic in nature, from "The Last Roundup" to "Hurricane Fluttershy" to "Wonderbolts Academy." But starting in season 5, the show's most dramatic episodes have become increasingly grand and pretentious in nature. Even the most naturalistic episodes of this time, "Amending Fences" and "The Mane Attraction," strained to have a greater point and to reflect the show at large, and then there are episodes like "A Royal Problem": tense, overstuffed, high-stakes stories which bear more resemblance to the two-parters than to the melodrama episodes of old. 

Until now, the only episode like "Hurricane Fluttershy" in the past few seasons was "The Fault in Our Cutie Marks," that adorable, genuinely moving highlight of season 6. While "The Perfect Pear" has baggage which prevents it from reaching that level, it's every bit as emotionally effective in its own melodramatic, gooey way. It avoids any tough questions and builds on elements which the show never properly established, but goddamit, I wish the show were always this sweet and emotional and adorable. If "A Flurry of Emotions" represents half of what the show has been missing in recent years, "The Perfect Pear" represents the other half.



When Apple Bloom brings home some pear jam for breakfast, Applejack and Big Mac immediately seek to hide it due to the longstanding feud between the Apple and Pear families. After some discussion, they then set out to ask Goldie Delicious, the Apple family historian, about the cause of the apple feud, and in the process learn a little about their parents, an Apple and a Pear who fell in love despite their family differences. Curious, they then seek out other family friends to learn the rest of their parents' story.

The obvious question is whether this episode actually reveals why the Apple parents have been absent for the entire show. Unfortunately, "The Perfect Pear" never answers that question, and somewhat distractingly attempts to derive a emotional power from the parents' absence in spite of this. The dialogue softly implies that the parents might be deceased, but the show continues to be too cowardly to explicitly reveal that, and exactly when and how the Apple parents died is unclear. The way Applejack & co. talk makes me think even they don't know what happened to their parents, but again, the episode refuses to explicitly state that despite gaining a lot of its emotional power from the suggestion. Am I overestimating how much little kids can handle this? Death is a fact of life; would it not be nice for this show to try helping its target demographic with that?

It's also distracting that this is yet another season 7 episode which attempts to derive emotion from something which was never established. Learning about their parents seems to mean a lot to the Apple kids, but exactly what is left up to guess work, because it's not even clear if they ever knew their parents, let alone for how long or in what capacity. Thankfully, the simple fact of the parents' absence is enough to carry many of the emotional beats, and a lot of this is down to the strength of the dialogue and performances. Nearly every character in the framing story speaks with evocative tones of affection and wistfulness, and the Apples add a slight hint of melancholy as well. I usually don't emphasize the quality of the acting, as this show always excels in that regard, but the comparatively muted and nuanced performances here add a lot to the episode's emotional power.

The flashback structure of the episode is entertaining in its own right, as it allows the show to deepen secondary characters and make its world feel more lived in. Most of the ponies the Apples talk to are new to this episode, but even these new faces expand the show's world, and we also get to learn a little more about Mrs. Cake as well. Mayor Mare also appears, and her part of the story makes her feel slightly more integrated into the show, but it doesn't reveal much about her. It's also just nice to finally know who Applejack's parents were, even if we still don't know much about why they're not around and may very well never know.

A lot of the episode's emotional beats are found in the main story between the Apple parents, namely their father Bright Mac and their mother Pear Butter. This story ultimately comes down to a much happier version of Romeo & Juliet, but the characters are deeply charming and their plight is easy to sympathise with. The flashback story has an abbreviated structure, and by necessity it jumps from beat to beat, but that just enhances its emotional pull. Both parents are only lightly characterized, but they're distinctive enough, and the flashback structure gives the spotlight to their situations. We see how heartfelt their love is, and we see how they're both torn between love and family. Pear Butter's ultimate choice to stay with the Apples is clearly a difficult one, and that's exactly what makes it so heart-wrenching.

And it's just so sweet. The episode's structure carries that wistful tone from the performances, only showing us major highlights of Bright Mac and Pear Butter's romance, and while it's cliched and cheesy, I'm just a sucker for this kind of stuff, and it's structured perfectly here. We see a few small moments where they're starting to get together, then a song abbreviates their growing relationship, and then one small gesture represents its peak right before Pear Butter's father, Grand Pear, announces his intention to move to Vanhoover. It makes for a very mushy story, to be sure, but it's also an effective one, and I'm not gonna lie, I cried at the end. It's also enhanced by the framing story, which is triggered by Grand Pear returning to Ponyville to sell his wares and ends with him visiting Sweet Apple Acres to make amends. I can't discern an explicit moral from any of this, but it's all just so emotional!

"The Perfect Pear" is irresistible on a level with some of the show's best episodes. It suffers from vagueness in certain areas, and I wish it had answered more questions about the Apple parents, but what we've got is adorable, moving, and surprisingly deep between the lines. The best moments here are small ones which only enhance the subtle melancholy of the framing story, and there's a powerful message about moving on after tragedy if you're willing to read that much into it. I still wish this episode based its emotions on something more tangible, and its refusal to address what happened to Applejack's parents feels cowardly, but even as is, this is easily one of the best this season and is an absolute delight from start to finish. We just don't get episodes like this that often anymore.

Score:
Entertainment: 10/10
Characters: 9/10
Themes: 6/10
Story: 7/10
Overall: 83/100
 
You can find more like this at my offsite blog
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A very solid review overall, though I will disagree with you that the "avoidance" of explicitly stating the Apple parents fate is "cowardly."  Neither I nor @Jeric felt that the episode was vague at all; we both understand that there is a very vocal set of bronies who believe that it needs to be flat out stated what happened, but this episode was about as clear cut as the show could be without straight up stating they died (I mention Jeric here mostly because he's had some very personal connections to this episode and seemed very impressed by their handling of the subject of death here, but he could tell you his feelings about that in his own words better than I can).

(1) Multiple characters tearing up or just saddening at the mention of the parents, namely their own parents (i.e. Grand Pear - Pear Butter's father, Granny Smith - Bright Mac's mother, Burnt Oak - Bright Mac's best friend, when Big Mac asked if he could talk to him more about his dad, Mrs. Cake - Pear Butter's best friend, sadly frowning when AJ initially asks about their mom).

(2) Most characters, including the children, referring to them in the past tense many times.  They wouldn't do that if they simply didn't know where they are (i.e. Hey Arnold style, and frankly that's a show that had a bucking weird way of dealing with his parents for most of its run).

I know it's not an actual declaration, but it's as close as this show may be willing to come to making one.  I don't even think it's because they think kids can't handle the concept of death, it just may not be that they believe that being so explicit about it is appropriate for the nature of this show.

You're also not the first person I've seen complaining that we don't seem to know how much the Apple siblings knew their parents, but I believe you may be missing a very simple explanation.

Big Mac and Applejack clearly had somewhere from 10-12 and 8-10 years of knowing their parents, respectively; Apple Bloom is the only one who may have been a foal when they passed away.  Jeric himself has pointed this out, being a parent himself, and I agree readily with it, that very often there is a lot about their parents that children don't know for years.  At the age of 8-12, would you have most likely asked your parents how they fell in love or got married?  More than likely not, since that's really not something children worry about at that age; they mostly just care at that point that their parents have always been there for them, and they're not quite at the point of wondering how they got together in the first place, unless they're VERY inquisitive ones.  So did Big Mac and Applejack at least know their parents well enough that they knew what wonderful ponies they were and how much they loved them?  Absolutely, I have no doubt about that.  Apple Bloom may even have minor memories depending on how old she was when they passed away.  But it's not surprising at all to me that they'd never heard this story, especially considering there was such an awkward family situation at the heart of it.

As for it being mushy (which I know you said you liked), I will say there is more truth to that than you may think.  It may seem on the surface that it was cliche stuff they were showing, but speaking as someone who is currently very much in love with my own girlfriend (to the point that we have both told each other we very well could be each other's "THE ONE"), what made Pear Butter and Bright Mac so endearing was how very normal all of their acts of love were.  They felt, somehow, in a 22 minute episode like a couple you could see getting together exactly like this in real life.  I go into much greater detail into all of this in my episode review (which I will link you to below), but that's the best way I can explain it; the whole episode is a celebration of the remarkable beauty one can find in the normal, normal meaning a couple who, on the surface weren't anypony particularly remarkable, and yet they created something truly remarkable and beautiful simply in their loving each other.

I don't want to sound like I'm lecturing you or anything, overall you had a very good review.  And if you didn't like this episode as much as I did, that's perfectly alright, not everyone needs to have.  You just brought up a number of complaints I've seen others making about elements in the episode which I believe can be defended quite ardently.  But overall, I agree with most of your points and am glad you enjoyed the episode.  Like I said, I would be honored if you read my own review of it; it's considerably longer than yours, I must admit, but it was a real treat getting to write it and I honestly don't think I'll ever be able to write a better review for any episode.  This is undoubtedly my favorite episode of MLP now, and I don't believe that will change anytime soon.  Thank you for the fun review read, and have a nice day.

https://mlpforums.com/blogs/entry/22618-batbrony-reviews-s07e13-the-perfect-pear/

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29 minutes ago, Batbrony said:

(1) Multiple characters tearing up or just saddening at the mention of the parents, namely their own parents (i.e. Grand Pear - Pear Butter's father, Granny Smith - Bright Mac's mother, Burnt Oak - Bright Mac's best friend, when Big Mac asked if he could talk to him more about his dad, Mrs. Cake - Pear Butter's best friend, sadly frowning when AJ initially asks about their mom).

(2) Most characters, including the children, referring to them in the past tense many times.  They wouldn't do that if they simply didn't know where they are (i.e. Hey Arnold style, and frankly that's a show that had a bucking weird way of dealing with his parents for most of its run).

I know it's not an actual declaration, but it's as close as this show may be willing to come to making one.  I don't even think it's because they think kids can't handle the concept of death, it just may not be that they believe that being so explicit about it is appropriate for the nature of this show.

This is one of those cases where I wasn't really sure how someone who hadn't been hearing theories about the Apple parents' death for years would react, but when you spell it out for me, I come to appreciate the subtle way it was handled here a lot more. I'm still a little off-put by people I've seen who insist the parents must be alive, but then again, they'd probably require explicit detail to be convinced, so maybe I shouldn't consider their opinion that much. (In my rundown, I think I'd bump the "Story" score up to an 8 or even 9; I haven't enjoyed a fan favourite this much since season 4 at least.)

34 minutes ago, Batbrony said:

Big Mac and Applejack clearly had somewhere from 10-12 and 8-10 years of knowing their parents, respectively; Apple Bloom is the only one who may have been a foal when they passed away.  Jeric himself has pointed this out, being a parent himself, and I agree readily with it, that very often there is a lot about their parents that children don't know for years.  At the age of 8-12, would you have most likely asked your parents how they fell in love or got married?  More than likely not, since that's really not something children worry about at that age; they mostly just care at that point that their parents have always been there for them, and they're not quite at the point of wondering how they got together in the first place, unless they're VERY inquisitive ones.  So did Big Mac and Applejack at least know their parents well enough that they knew what wonderful ponies they were and how much they loved them?  Absolutely, I have no doubt about that.  Apple Bloom may even have minor memories depending on how old she was when they passed away.  But it's not surprising at all to me that they'd never heard this story, especially considering there was such an awkward family situation at the heart of it.

I still think the episode might have been even more poignant if we got a little more detail about the Apple siblings' relationship to their parents, but there might not have been room, and the melancholic undertones present are more than good enough. I'm not bothered that they don't know this stuff, but if there was something more specific to their reactions, I think the episode might have been even more powerful. However, this is a criticism which I don't feel as strongly about as when I wrote this review. 

37 minutes ago, Batbrony said:

As for it being mushy (which I know you said you liked), I will say there is more truth to that than you may think.  It may seem on the surface that it was cliche stuff they were showing, but speaking as someone who is currently very much in love with my own girlfriend (to the point that we have both told each other we very well could be each other's "THE ONE"), what made Pear Butter and Bright Mac so endearing was how very normal all of their acts of love were.  They felt, somehow, in a 22 minute episode like a couple you could see getting together exactly like this in real life.  I go into much greater detail into all of this in my episode review (which I will link you to below), but that's the best way I can explain it; the whole episode is a celebration of the remarkable beauty one can find in the normal, normal meaning a couple who, on the surface weren't anypony particularly remarkable, and yet they created something truly remarkable and beautiful simply in their loving each other.

I'm asexual and have never been in a relationship, so as endearing as I find romance stories, I can't really relate to them. I mostly agree with all the things you praised in your review, but while I was moved by this episode, I'm not really one to wax poetic about the wonders of love (to me, it's just one of many ways for other people to find happiness), so as moved as I was by what the Apple parents went through to be happy together, I can't really relate to the specifics, so this episode isn't really as important to me as it is to you. 

I also don't really view them as any more normal than anyone else in this show. I've always identified witch characters in this show because of their quirks and archetypes, so these characters don't necessarily resonate more with me than others in my other favourite sentimental episodes - although I have the same distant affection for them that I have for, say, Snowfall Frost in "A Hearth's Warming Tail." I think a lot of that is just me, and I see the main themes of this episode far more clearly in retrospect than I did when I watched it, but while I do love this episode, the mushy aspects don't mean enough to me to call it my favourite of the whole show.

But then, it wouldn't be the first time an episode I liked had a stronger emotional impact for me on second watch, and the only real difference between our opinions is that your affection is even more intense than mine - this is merely one of my favourite episodes ever (like, top 30, perhaps), and somehow that makes me feel like my opinion is one of the more negative out there. Good episode. 

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Hey, thanks so much for taking a look at my review and responding to my comments.  Now that I know even more about your particular perspective, I can better appreciate where you were coming from.  I would never demand that EVERYBODY consider this their favorite episode, that'd be contrary to the type of fan I try to be in general.  This is still art, and the appreciation of it is thus ultimately subjective, so if it didn't personally resonate with you as much as it did with me, absolutely nothing wrong with that.  And I apologize if at any point I came across as aggressive at all in my first reply, that wasn't directed at you at all so much as just a reflection of how passionate I am about this episode.  Thanks again for reading my review and hearing out my points, and have a nice evening! :rarity:

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48 minutes ago, seldiora said:

damn son, you got real high standards. Which episodes do you give 100/100?

I've re-watched this one since, but I only raised it to an 85/100; there's something about it which I still find a little distancing even with as much as I love about it. I think the main deal is that everything here is brand new to me, so I'm not inherently invested in the Apple/Pear conflict, which is what I think the episode's most powerful idea is based on. Otherwise, I think the romance is delightful, but cannot fathom what people find so impressive about it. 

Anyway, you can find all my scores here. It's still a little incomplete at the moment, but I'm working on that. However, I think it has all the episodes I would rate 100/100, which are as follows:

"Party of One"
"The Best Night Ever"
"Lesson Zero"
"The Last Roundup"
"Hurricane Fluttershy"
"Wonderbolts Academy"
"For Whom the Sweetie Belle Toils"
"Bloom and Gloom"
"Rarity Investigates!"
"A Hearth's Warming Tail"

Edited by AlexanderThrond

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