Because Season 9 was its last, FIM was likely going to go out and try to deliver the best episodes possible. Out of the gate, Dubuc and Haber co-wrote Sparkle's Seven, one of the best comedic, animated, and written episodes of the series. Taking ideas from the lead voice actors, they blended together a tremendous script that never let up, delivered an excellent allegory of how well-made predictability transcends poorly-made unpredictability, and used that allegory to create an excellent plot twist. If you wanna read my review, it's right here.
Unfortunately, no episode review for The Last Crusade, but my love for it from the minute it debuted early never wavered. While Sparkle's Seven doesn't take itself too seriously, this was an emotional roller coaster from the minute Scoot realized her parents were coming home. Mane Allgood and Snap Shutter were, to put it bluntly, very bad parents for not being able to spend time with Scootaloo, and the parents (and episode itself) know it. Therefore, they come up with a solution that allows them to do the job that Equestria depends them upon while simultaneously taking care of Scootaloo. Unfortunately, it completely overlooked the fact that Scootaloo has hundreds of close relations back in Ponyville and all over Equestria. In trying to resolve a dilemma, they made Scootaloo even more upset and put her at greater odds with them. The only way they were going to let her stay is to show them that the CMCs truly changed their lives for the better; with help from Aunt Holiday, Auntie Lofty, and every resident they knew, they successfully convinced Mane Allgood and Snap Shutter that separating the CMCs would only hurt Equestria over the long haul. Letting her stay in Ponyville and promising to spend more time with her when the train let them was the right solution for the story, lessons, and characters.
Both TLC and Seven are outstanding and extremely close in quality, but by the skin of its teeth, Last Crusade overthrew it. No other episode came close to toppling it…until The Big Mac Question.
Line 'Em Up!
I long repeated this, and to write it again, the dialogue since Shadow Play has really improved, the verbal comedy especially. Since Dubuc relinquished her role as co-editor, the comedic dialogue has, sadly, been somewhat of a step down. Thankfully, I'm reminded through BMQ that the same wit never really left, and that when it's on, it's great.
Discord, for that matter, was the king of these great lines. Here are just a few:
Discord: Regardless of what Spike might say, that little dragon begged me to help. And let me tell you, he can cause plenty of chaos all on his purple lonesome.
Discord: [reading] "From the Sugarcube Corner, look for your next clue. Red, delicious, sweet like you. Find it; you'll know what to do." [groans] He should stick to bucking apples.
(The line is doubly important for adding context to the episode's central lesson of how keeping things simple are what really makes things special, but I'll get back to that later.)
Discord [gruffly]: Listen up! Each of you has a job to do! Take a look at your stems!
[apples chittering, look at their stems]
Discord: Tell me about it. But regardless, [pulls down map of wooden apples] go to your designated location, deliver your messages, and make me proud! Dismissed! [salute]
Spike: I guess this can't get any worse.
Discord: As the Lord of Chaos, I'd advise against saying things like that.
But Discord's the Lord of Chaos with a childish, immature streak, too. Since he wasn't alerted of Big Mac's proposal plan, he became giddy and impatient (with a great mariachi reference [taking a page from Star Trek: TNG]). As he read a message on a painted apple, he quickly realized something was awry in his own way. Big Mac's riddles were clumsily written, sometimes confusing, and easily gave away the second location. In trying to come up with the "perfect idea," Big Mac created a major flaw in his plan.
However, Discord still isn't completely accustomed to the "friendship" aspect of Equestria, and given his long, immortal, antagonistic history, he maintains a defiant, devious streak. After he uses his magic to lay every single wooden apple around Ponyville without fully looking at the riddles, he soon caved in to Spike's glares and doubt, agreeing to double-check. From the beginning, Discord believed this game was overblown and instead should give it to Sugar Belle instead, only to have it rejected for "not being romantic" and breaking BM's rule of discovery. Afterwards, when he missed his chance to actually get Sugar Belle to see an apple, he went about spreading "the love" in, once more, his own way: giving the wooden apples life and instructing them to their own posts.
Unfortunately, like Big Mac, his instructions and direction were also not quite clear, so the apples popped up whenever another pony passed by, leading to delicious, entertaining chaos. Without it, Discord's involvement in the episode would be out of character and as bland as Cart Before the Ponies. Chaos drives Discord, and his ability to create havoc and mayhem makes for a more entertaining conflict and story, especially around Big Mac and Spike. On the other hand, it puts him into fault. Instead of thoroughly double-checking and making sure everything goes right, he cuts corners and tries to be cute and creative (tho I don't mind ), leading him to become responsible for the spider-looking apple monster.
Also, I disagree with the criticism of Discord regressing. Sure, he may not have developed like D&D and TBUBD, but he understands how much Sugar Belle means to Big Mac. Despite his severe disagreement with the plan and Spike's commitment to it, he regrets worsening things and helps rectify the errors with everyone else offscreen as BM and Sugar proposed to each other. Furthermore, this episode shows some subtle growth from Break Down: After a lot of complaining over the lovey-dovey stuff and wanting to play O&O instead, he doesn't let his opinions interfere with Big Mac's proposal and tries to simultaneously help her solve the riddles and respect Spike's pleas.
The Time Is Right
Michael Vogel's among the best writers of the current crop. The Big Mac Question adds to his résumé, and with Hader co-writing, they co-created well-done, well-timed comedy.
Discord's spilling of littler, more innocent secrets works as a joke for a big reason. As written already, Discord still hasn't fully accustomed to friendship, notably keeping a secret. FS's fright of clowns, Twilight's sleepwalking, and Octavia's date have a more innocuous, lighthearted zephyr; yes, he's spilling them to Spike and Big Mac, but not maliciously.
This joke leads to the punchline right before the intro: shouting excitedly that Big Mac plans to propose to Sugar Belle. Everyone's curious reaction to the echo is really hilarious, and even better as one of them — Shoeshine — hears it and shrugs it off.
- Even better, they repeated the very same joke while keeping it fresh. It's 100% understandable that Apple Bloom's family will soon expand with Sugar Belle becoming her soon-to-be sister-in-law. Her giddy face sells her excitement well, so when she shouts out loud and everyone's as confused as before, you still laugh.
Every single "shocking" misadventure by the CMCs:
- Scoot heads to the bowling alley and accidentally causes a Lebowski stallion to throw a bowling ball into a lamp, breaking the wooden panels below.
- When AB heads to the sanctuary, she shocks a monkey into a sleeping canopy of Smoky and family.
- SB opens a sauna, where a relaxing mare throws a body towel over her head when she finds out her privacy's invaded.
Discord: You know, thinking back, I probably could have been clearer which pony to deliver the messages to.
Spike: You think?
However, instead of actually going on a rampage to find Sugar Belle, the apple monster with its six, spidery eyes successfully delivered the assigned message in its grossest, yet most sincere, message of marriage right onto Discord. Yes, all the apple spit's gross, but not done with any ill intentions, and Discord didn't do a lot to make the problem better.
Secondly, notice how the large apple's voice is very similar to Big Macintosh's? A nice, little way to get Peter New to talk in his Big Mac voice while making it sound as garbled, menacing, and childlike as possible.
Whenever Granny Smith spoke, she was "spaced out," giving DHX plenty of leeway to pluck some great Star Trek references. Beyond "where nopony has gone before," she said this:
"And then Discord showed up and... well, you know, he was pretty much the same."
>Inspiration for Discord
Yet, the timing of the humor alone wasn't just right. As the apples chased Ponyville in Act 1, the animation crew snuck in this tender moment:
Ever since FIM started, Lyra and Bon Bon have always been side by side, and the brony fandom established a long-time ship out of it. In Slice of Life, they teased the possibility despite hammering in the "best friends" line with the cheek caressing, couple-like arguing late, and the bedroom eyes. Over the last few seasons, their "friendship" began to really evolve, especially since S8 when DHX knew the finish line. Just a few examples:
- Grannies Gone Wild: Everywhere they went in Las Pegasus.
- Break Down: Exchanging Hearts & Hooves Day gifts.
- Marks for Effort: Bon Bon buying a green cactus, presumably for Lyra.
- End in Friend: Having lunch together.
- Dragon Dropped: Sharing a milkshake together, ala Buttercup and Bright Mac.
After what happened in DD, you knew that the animators were just going to do something with Lyra and Bon Bon. From Season 5 onward, their evolving relationship was clearly no accident. While the main stories developed in front of us, their arc developed from the background. I guarantee you someone in this fandom will go back, find all the foreshadowing over the seasons, and build their story.
Why is their proposal so significant?
- Representation matters. The TV debut to Auntie Lofty and Aunt Holiday introduced a same-sex couple for the first time in the show's history. While they're secondary characters, their presence in Scootaloo's life mattered, and they helped lead the CMCs' idea for a CMC Appreciation Day.
It demonstrates how significant the brony fandom truly was to the growth of this show. In the beginning, everyone was surprised by how good Friendship Is Magic truly was. Although viewership and overall size of bronydom has dropped over the years, it still has its viewers and dedicated bronies. The brony fandom created this popular fanon ship all the way back to season one…and animator Morgan Shandro made it canon.
Lofty/Holiday and LyraBon are special in their own rights. The former gave the LGBTQ+ community well-needed representation in a very popular family show and directly impacted the story. The latter came after years and years of development, and the animators decided that this was the right time to make it official.
BTW, how apropos for Lyra to propose by dropping on one knee like a human?
Drawing to a Close
A giant reason why Shadow Play's one of the greatest episodes of FIM is how it blended so many arcs into one. Changes of editors + writers = changes of direction. The team turnover means new people post and publish episodes that match their own vision of FIM, so you have a wide array of stories that sometimes go nowhere. This two-parter blended so many arcs (the Pony of Shadows, Star Swirl's lack of understanding friendship, the Pillars, Starlight's redemption) so seamlessly that it looks like the creators intentionally left them vague so that they can be completed at the right time. It's one of the most impressive feats this show has ever done. Big Mac Question blends so many arcs in a smaller scale and closes them.
- Back in The Cutie Map, Spike explains his preference to be with Big Mac as the reason for skipping the Mane Six's first friendship quest. More than a season later, Nick Confalone expanded this little gag into its own story by including Discord in the Guys' Night Out duo. Two seasons later, they all acted like they knew each other since Spike hatched. BMQ added another chapter into this arc with one central goal.
Once Hard to Say Anything concluded, Sugar Belle and Big Mac became an item. Over this and the next few seasons, the writers and animators sprinkled in romance between 'em, solidifying their unity. This episode called back to how they became an item in the first place: Big Mac renovating her shelf to add more space for her desserts, and Scoot recognized the blueprint for it inside SAA.
Also, great call by Vogel and Haber to have Sugar Belle plan to propose to him, too. Usually, the male proposes to her, and Big Mac planned to pop the question at some point today. However, Plot 1B had Sugar Belle plan her own with Mrs. Cake's and the CMCs's help, showing that Sugar Belle had some ideas and offer of her own to prove her own commitment as his wife. Speaking of the CMCs…
- As the episode lampshaded, they earned a reputation of concocting schemes, either with success or failure, since they first met. After multiple tries, they finally got Big Mac to become an item with Sugar. Here, they felt guilty for accidentally contributing to the confusion that almost caused them to break up. (In Break Down, the delivery ponies mistook Sugar Belle for Sweetie Belle after smudging the address, leading them to believe she had a secret admirer.) For the first time all series, they're aware of the consequences. By working with Sugar and helping her to find Big Mac, they feel like they can make up for at least some of it. Yet, as what the episode showed, even their good intentions sometimes don't go according to plan.
- All series long, Spike's romanticism has had an impact on everyone and himself. In Break Down, he hinted his romantic "expertise" by reciting a poem of his unrequited crush on Rarity, only to be hilariously interrupted when Discord ignored him. XD Here, he brags to an offscreen character how he's so romantic and tries to help Mrs. Cake deliver all the proposal messages to the desserts…only to have his idea burn to a crisp.
- Lyra's and Bon Bon's series-long, evolving relationship, as explained before. Plus, notice how Bon Bon popped the question just after Lyra? Their dual proposal and rings subtly foreshadow Sugar's and BM's later on.
- Sugar Belle was one of the four ponies the Mane Six met when they first arrived in Our Town, and led them into an underground rebellion so they can regain their magical talent and break free from Starlight's tyranny. At season's end, she forgave her, and later helped invite Starlight to return to the village for the festival. After To Where, DHX slowly incorporated her into the secondary cast. The time she became super-heartbroken over losing her boyfriend and then became super-happy when they reunited was the moment I permanently bought into their romance. When Big Mac talked about how he loves her snorty chuckle, you can tell they really love each other. When they were going to marry was only a matter of time.
Aside from being part of the timeline of Dungeons & Discord, Hard to Say Anything, and The Break Up Break Down, it is the perfect sequel to the franchise's greatest episode — The Perfect Pear — and references it in so many ways.
- Decades ago, Buttercup suspected that Mrs. Cake — Chiffon Swirl back in the day — enjoyed baking, so she gave her ingredients and challenged her to be creative. Her instincts were proven right, as she got her cutie mark and became lifelong, close friends with BC, which continues long after her passing. Here, she's essential to the story by agreeing to take part in Sugar Belle's 21-dessert surprise proposal.
- When the Pears were about to relocate to Vanhoover, their parents married in secret at the rock that borders the Pear and Apple orchards. (Notice how Bright and BC planted seeds in their opposing orchards, which directly contributed to the growth of the intertwining apple-and-pear tree around the rock in which they declared their love for each other. During their walk together, they find themselves at that tree, and as they talked, the sun sets perfectly within the iconic heart, spiritually indicating their support for Sugar Belle and their romance.
- Knowing who his father was like means a lot to Big Macintosh. Here, he envisioned proposing to Sugar Belle at a similar desk like the one he built for her a few seasons ago, calling back to Bright Mac's own declaration of love to Buttercup at the rock, only to teasingly falter. Through this episode and his heart-to-heart chat with his girlfriend, we see he knows more about him now and how much his understanding of his parents matters so much. Now that he's older and wiser, he wants to respect their legacy. Sugar Belle’s poignant wisdom and subsequent glow also suggest agreement by them with her, too.
- The first time Mayor Mare officiated a wedding, she worked with Bright Mac to rush one in before they relocated far away. That wedding was set up quickly and in secret from the feuding families with no certainty if they were going to be together. Bright Mac wasn't lucky just to get her to witness their surprise, but also complete the vows before the Pears moved. This doesn’t happen here. The wedding at the now-grown tree was well-planned and included the wanted decorations, guests, streamers, and so forth. From the start, Sugar and BM know they want to spend the rest of their lives together, a massive contrast from the pressure Pear Butter and Bright Macintosh felt then.
One of the two twists within the episode: everyone explaining to Applejack, the unknown narrator. (The other being the wedding, which I'll get to later.) She was the one who agreed to go on that expedition to find out about why the Pears and Apples feuded for so long, which introduced their parents’ pasts to them, brought them closer to them, and helped them forgive Grand Pear. Her tears show how touched she was of not only the story they told her, but her brother's marriage.
- Grand Pear only had a couple of cameos here, but his biggest one was his appearance at his grandson’s wedding. The last time one took place there, he abandoned his own daughter and never saw her alive again. Several decades later, he returned to Ponyville. Their forgiveness and witnessing of the beautiful intertwined tree together began the long-awaited healing process. This time, he (and Granny) returns to the very same site, stands beside the other Apples and Burnt Oak, and gives Big Mac his unconditional blessings, closing another gap that caused a massive, increasingly bitter divide between himself and his mother-in-law.
- How poetic is this sequel to have another marriage take place at their tree. Two seasons ago, the Apple kin rediscovered their parents’ legacy, how they introduced each other, and fell in love thru very bitter times. Come to the end of the episode, and that long-standing bitterness that divided the Pear and Apple families for so long is healed. Well, BMQ breaks a second, not-so-talked-about barrier: Sugar Belle’s the first non-Earth Pony to be part of the Apple family. (Also, recall AJ scolding Twilight for using magic unsolicitedly on her farm in S1? Intentional or otherwise, this episode implicates that the Apples welcome unicorn magic full-time on the property now.)
A Lesson in Execution
BMQ's primary lesson — "When you tend to make things complicated and make mistakes, the simplest things are the most desired and cherished" — is magnificent, but the way it's taught brings that home.
- Before he takes out his ring, Big Mac wants to show Sugar Belle his commitment to being her husband matters by helping her find him. How? By using those painted apples with attached clues, she travels from one location to the next before meeting him at the hilltop near Sweet Apple Acres. Unfortunately, his plan never properly flourished. Not only did she miss the first apple, but he had to go back to his barn to pick up the screwdriver he left behind. When he realizes she wasn't coming, he walks to Sugar Cube Corner to find her.
Discord tries to help Sugar Belle find the first apple, but she misses it twice, resulting in his poor strategy of having the apples follow whoever sees them first. When he cleaned it all up, Sugar Belle still never saw it! Deciding to cut to the chase, he brought her to that same hilltop, only to realize he left. He blindfolded her and then brought her back to SCC.
He may believe in romance now, but doesn't quite understand it still.
- Instead of helping each other out, Spike and Mrs. Cake were so sworn to their own party's secrets that they created an imaginary buffer that prevented helping each other out. When Spike tried to help Mrs. Cake, he found out that Mrs. Cake messed up her desserts and later accidentally burned every one of Sugar Belle's messages.
- Spike isn't always the politest dragon, and BMQ's no exception. In order to make Sugar's search for BM as perfect as possible, he got a little too worried over the arrangement, placement, and visibility of each apple, glared hard at Discord for not checking carefully, and refused to ease the game's difficulty. Why did he blow his magical fire on the remaining notes? Because he believed they would be able to get into the desserts quickly and easily, only to screw up badly. However, he didn't accept all of the blame, bluntly criticizing Mrs. Cake's terrible desserts.
Mrs. Cake accepted a very difficult challenge of baking twenty-one desserts. Immediately, things went terribly wrong. During the rush, she had absolutely no idea what ingredients she was using and whether she used them at all. Poignantly observed by Scootaloo:
Scootaloo: I think I've seen her add sugar to that bowl six times so far.
- Sugar Belle orchestrated her entire twenty-one-dessert proposal with Mrs. Cake and added another one with its own message to call Big Mac down to the shop. The purpose of having just one word in each dessert was to help Big Mac solve the proposal puzzle after he eats each once, but to bake that many meant Mrs. Cake's margin for error significantly decreased and must work harder than usual to finish on time. On her end, discovering Discord and Spike at the doorstep meant overlooking the apple on the step and running off as quick as they can to find Big Mac.
- The Cutie Mark Crusaders tried to find Big Mac to give him the dessert as promised. But when they couldn't find him at the barn, Apple Bloom called back Granny's advice and took it a little too literally, causing trouble of their own and annoying her friends in the process.
The fact that everyone's plans were too complicated is kind of the point. Every single pony's so focused in trying to create the perfect proposal, they overlook serious flaws. What everyone had to figure out was that by messing things up, they discovered the true worth of commitment and dedication. They never had to go over the top in order to fix it, either. Pairing it down the essentials was all they needed, something Discord comprehended well beforehand.
Sugar Belle was the first outside of Discord to truly figure it out after Big Mac felt upset for screwing up his own proposal and feeling that he let the legacy of his parents down. Because he doesn't talk much, his words matter a lot, so when he expresses his sadness, you really feel it. However, despite problems of her own, she understood that this was nothing compared to what they (and when she was controlled by Starlight) endured. To her, this was merely a blip. Mistakes happen; they can use 'em to grow closer and really show their love for each other.
I read a few comments on Derpibooru calling their dual proposal cute, and it really is. <3 Their solid chemistry sells the warmheartedness!
But I won't end my review until I call out two other things in this episode:
- All episode long, Spike wore nothing. For all we know, the fourth wall or a character we had no idea existed until then interviewed all of them. What slowly began to change, though, was when he wore a suit and tie for the first time. As a result, the wedding surprise was kept under wraps from the audience; showing him wearing his suit and putting on his bow tie really makes their marriage all the more impactful. Had we knew they were eloping at episode's end, this whole journey would've felt completely pointless.
- After a lot of great humor, chaos, and a little bit of drama, Discord alerting the apples to drop and sing "happy marriage, happy apples!" was perfect, heartwarming cuteness on top of already perfect cuteness! He might've added to the problems, but he respects their wedding ceremony and uses a subtle, Discord-y twist to show it. Consider this his own, special way to appreciate his friendship with everyone, their marriage, and their future lives.
What else can I say about this one? The Big Mac Question is really funny, really cute, and really heartwarming. Vogel and Haber tackled all of the emotions at exactly the right time and provided a magnificent cap to several arcs, some of which date back to the first season. This is the new-best Season 9 episode and one of the ten best of the series.