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Good evening, everypony, and welcome back to another edition of "Batbrony Reviews"! This week's episode, while not quite as surprisingly excellent as last week's, was still, nonetheless, quite exceptional for what it was. Our last Cutie Mark Crusader episode of the season, "Marks and Recreation" features the CMC starting a Cutie Mark day camp for blank flanks, mostly so that they can help more than one at a time. However, trouble arises when Rumble decides he'd rather remain a blank flank than get his cutie mark, and convinces the other campers to do the same. Without further ado, this is "Marks and Recreation." So one thing that particularly stood out to me about this episode to start off is simply how many fillies and colts it featured. Now make no mistake, we've seen plenty of ponies from the CMC's age group before, oftentimes in episodes featuring them in school. The difference between those episodes and this one, however, are that, normally, most of the ponies there are mostly background characters. They might have some jokes or bits here and there, but for the most part they're not exactly critical to the plot. Here, however, not only was Rumble one of the main characters, but at least 2-3 of the other fillies and colts, including Pipsqueak, Kettle Corn, and Skeedaddle, were all supporting characters actively involved in the main events of the episode. Hell, Kettle Corn got her bucking cutie mark, then disowned it, and then re-embraced it all in the same episode! All in all, it was just very pleasing seeing how much young ponies besides the CMC featured in this episode, and I certainly wouldn't mind seeing more episodes like this one in that regard. Where this episode suffered for that, however, might just have been with the CMC themselves. Don't get me wrong, for the most part the CMC were perfectly fine. Their day camp idea was great, they were doing an awesome job counseling their friends, and they moved the action of the episode along just fine. However, when you get down to it, most of this episode (including its resolution even) is driven by Rumble and Thunderlane. The CMC usually facilitate most of what's going on, but this didn't really seem like an episode where they learned anything at all, they simply helped a friend learn a valuable lesson, but really his big brother helped him learn that more than they did. I wouldn't mind that the CMC kind of took a backseat in certain respects (again, make no mistake, they were still main characters, just not as explicitly as they usually are), if it weren't for one thing. The writers for some reason felt the need to force the CMC to not realize that Rumble was phoning in every one of his "attempts" to do any camp activities. The only reason I can figure they may have felt the need to do this is because the CMC didn't realize what fears about cutie marks Rumble may have had until Thunderlane told them he was good at all of the things they thought he wasn't good at, which led them to realize he was deliberately failing at them because he didn't want to get a cutie mark at something other than flying. I can kind of understand their reasoning, but at the same time, with how smart the CMC as a whole are - not to mention how obvious some of Rumble's "failure" at the camp activities were, seriously, the guy couldn't have been more obvious that he simply wasn't trying if he, well, tried - it felt really forced that they honestly thought he just wasn't good at any of these things. It doesn't break the whole episode or anything, it just felt like unnecessarily forced writing. Overall, however, the CMC had a pretty solid episode, and Sweetie Belle in particular gets props for easily the funniest moment of the episode when she straight up broke out her own version of a "Rarity freakout." They really should start charging for their cutie mark services at some point if this really is what they're meant to do their whole lives... oh don't look at me like that, YOU WOULD TOO IF YOU HAD TO!!! Thankfully, even though the CMC weren't exactly the bright spots of this episode, the true bright spots more than made up for it. First we've got Rumble, who prior to this has only appeared in minor supporting or background roles before. Here, excellently voiced by Vincent Tong (deliciously feeding the rumors that DHX intentionally casts him in roles that are at least somewhat douchey), he serves for most of the episode as its main antagonist before finally learning an incredibly valuable lesson. His fear for most of the episode is that if he tries something other than honing his flying skills, then he may accidentally get his cutie mark in something else that'll keep him from becoming a Wonderbolt like his older brother, Thunderlane. This is great on a couple of levels. First, speaking as an older sibling myself, I can totally see where a fear like this would come from for a younger sibling like Rumble. Younger siblings often can feel like they're in their older siblings shadow in terms of personal achievements and life goals, and may even struggle with figuring out what they want to do even as a result, especially if they idolize their elder sibling to a point that they want to be just like them. This is obviously not the case with all siblings, but it very often can be, and here that's clearly the case (though Rumble does seem to have some insecurity issues as well considering he clearly doesn't just idolize Thunderlane, he makes it very clear at certain points that he wants to be as cool as him, but not just thought of as Thunderlane's little brother). In all honesty, as a big brother, I do have to say as well that I wouldn't have had any complaints if Thunderlane had smacked some sense into Rumble THIS way instead On another level, it was great seeing the show once again delve into the lore of cutie marks and what concerns ponies might have about them, especially growing up. They're so commonplace in pony society that it's actually quite believable that most ponies would take them for granted and simply assume that everypony will "get" cutie marks (not just physically get them, but understand what they're deal is and what they mean to them). But the show has made it quite clear at this point that they do not mean the same thing for everypony, and that many ponies in going about getting them don't even quite understand what it'll mean for them when they do get them. With young ponies like those mostly featured in this episode, that was clearly the case, so it wasn't that surprising that they could be convinced by a pony like Rumble that cutie marks would just put them into a "special box," forcing them to pursue one thing for the rest of their lives while foregoing all other activities. That's even a relatable fear for children in general. Growing up, I think most of us at some point like to think we could basically be anything we want to be, but in the back of our heads (especially as we get older) that creeping notion that at some point we're going to have to be one thing in particular is always there, and I think a fear for kids who dwell on that too much is that they're not going to be able to try other things once that happens. Thankfully, by the show's end all of the younger ponies, including Rumble, had realized that they can do all sorts of things no matter what their cutie mark ends up being. Just because they're cutie mark signifies what they have a special talent for doing doesn't mean that's the only thing they'll ever be able to do, or even be good at or enjoy doing. Likewise, with adults in the real world, just because our careers may be in one particular field doesn't mean we can't do plenty of other pursuits in our spare time, whether they be hobbies, ways of giving back to the community, or other activities. It's sometimes hard work fitting everything we want to do in (something briefly indicated by Apple Bloom realizing she hadn't made potions with Zecora in some time), but balancing time to fit a lot of different activities into our lives is part of being an adult, and a skill that is more than worth cultivating. Overall, I was very impressed with the moral revolving around Rumble in this episode, plus just pleased to see a character like him as the episode's focus. So just how did Rumble come to his realization by the end of the episode that cutie marks keep you from doing anything else? Well, partly with the help of the CMC, but mostly because of his older brother, Thunderlane, another long time minor supporting/background character (voiced quite excellently by Trevor Devall, who actually voiced him way back in Season 2 and Season 4 as well, with, impressively enough, pretty much the exact same voice). Earlier this season we got an excellent revelation that Thunderlane, like Rainbow Dash, had actually become a Wonderbolt as well, which in many ways helped normalize the group quite a bit as well as not make Rainbow Dash look SO unusual as a member. Having two members from Ponyville makes it clear that you don't just have to be a Rainbow Dash-tier flier to get in, as well as emphasizes nicely that Thunderlane ain't too shabby himself when it comes to flying. Well here, the fact that he was a Wonderbolt was also, as discussed earlier, critical to the plot and Rumble's own insecurities about getting a cutie mark. First he got Rumble involved in the day camp to begin with, hoping that it might help Rumble explore a variety of activities he might enjoy and broaden his horizons, not to mention have fun with other fillies and colts while he was at it. But when the CMC finally confronted Thunderlane about Rumble's fears, he realized just how bad some of Rumble's insecurities were and set out to make things right, for both him and the other campers he'd persuaded to ditch the CMC's day camp. This final scene was excellent, showcasing both a Wonderbolt doing some normal, community service as a role model for younger ponies on his own time (something I've always, desperately wanted to see considering it just seems natural that members of a group like that would give back to their communities in ways like that, not just go around engaging in photo ops or autograph signings), as well as Thunderlane just trying to be a good older brother, reassuring Rumble that he doesn't have to worry about his cutie mark sticking him into one corner only. This is especially highlighted when he tells his brother how much he discovered he loved cooking once his service with the Wonderbolts forced him to take it up at points, and they then proceed to have some sibling bonding as they help cook a meal together. While Thunderlane was able to help the other ponies at the camp as a Wonderbolt, he was able to help Rumble as his older brother, and the presentation of both was fantastic. I'd love to see more of Thunderlane and Rumble in the future after this, and it was a true treat getting to see both of them get such big roles here alone. Besides those two, the rest of the supporting cast was a delight. Little Pipsqueak was adorkable as ever in his tiny, cute British-y way, though it would have been nice to see him make some progress on the cutie mark front. Ah well, I'm sure he'll discover his true calling as a worshiper of all things Princess Luna and/or the Night in general at some point in time soon enough. Skeedaddle was pretty funny here as well, both in his helping Kettle Corn discover her cutie mark in his leading the others in their haiku writing activity, as well as with some funny lines like "What if I get my cutie mark in being bored?" BUT, I have to say that out of all the supporting characters in this episode, the one who stole the show for me was, without a doubt, Kettle Corn. Holy shit, this filly had it all. First, she develops an obsession with painting circles (and they were always, ALWAYS the exact same circle, slightly unfinished even if you looked at them closely). That, however, does not turn out to be her cutie mark. What does turn out to be her cutie mark? BUCKING HAIKU WRITING, THAT'S WHAT!!! In fact, once she discovers that's her special talent, she starts saying haikus naturally in her speech (even when she's trying to repress her special talent), and it is as bucking hilarious as it sounds. And yet, despite all of that, she still loves, you guessed it, PAINTING CIRCLES!!! Even when she disowns her cutie mark and joins Rumble's group, she still. Loves. Painting. CIRCLES!!!! I don't know why I'm so obsessed with everything this little filly got up to in this episode. I think it's a combination of the fact that (1) she is pretty bucking adorable, along with (2) just how bizarre and hilarious both her special talent as well as her interest in painting circles was. In any case, for a first time character, this filly left a wonderful first impression in both how cute and hilarious she was, and frankly I kinda want to see more of her, I won't lie. Kettle Corn: she SERIOUSLY needs some circles and haikus in her life ASAP OK, I have to admit that if this is really what the writers were doing in depicting how Kettle Corn painted her circles, then I have to say... bravo, BUCKING BRAVO, that's a scary awesome and subtle detail to include for a character whose special talent is coming up with haikus! I mean... wow, talk about mind blown, right? Just got a few other miscellaneous items to cover before we wrap things up. The return to Camp Friendship, the same day camp where Applejack and Coloratura became friends as young fillies, was a fun callback to Season 5 (though I wouldn't have minded seeing AJ here if that were at all possible, even more so Coloratura even). Rumble's song "Blank Flanks Forever," while hardly one of the show's best tunes, was pretty fun and upbeat (even if it was a minor antagonist's song), though I do have one bone to pick with it that's REALLY silly. At one point in the song some of the fillies and colts in the background are waving their hooves back and forth to emulate finger snapping, like you might encounter in an old, 1950's doo-wop number. I can see why, in concept, this idea might have sounded bucking hilarious to the storyboard artists who most likely came up with it, but in execution it looked bucking stupid. I know I shouldn't overthink it, but WHY THE BUCK WOULD THEY DO THAT??? They have no concept of digits, why would they emulate finger snapping if they don't know what the buck finger snapping is??? Am I totally overthinking this? Yes, yes I am, but I don't care, this was bucking stupid, even if it was meant as a gag. Other than that, however, I had no issue with the song itself; hardly Season 7's best tune, but pretty fun nonetheless. Other than that, I've got nothing else to add. This was just a fun CMC episode with a very good, well-written lesson at its heart, and a great note to send the CMC out on for Season 7. Until next time, everypony, this is Batbrony signing off. I'm off!!! *cue dramatic exit* If we're all being honest with ourselves, we've all probably shipped Rumble with Sweetie Belle or Scootaloo at SOME point in time, so don't even pretend you haven't
With the Cutie Mark Crusaders now in the business of solving others' problems, their stories have a lot of potential to expand the lore of what "cutie marks" are, how they work, and what they mean to the inhabitants of this world. Last season, we got "The Fault in Our Cutie Marks," an adorable episode which fulfilled all of that potential and then some, exploring one of the two biggest issues imaginable for the Crusaders. "Marks and Recreation" follows up on the other half of the equation, but it lacks all of the things that made last year's episode such a delight. To be honest, I'm ready to declare season 7 a total wash. With only two episodes and the finale left, I don't see much hope that it'll step out of its usual formulas and finally pick up some humour or subtext. "Marks and Recreation," like many episodes this season, is didactic and not very funny, featuring only a few very flimsy jokes and a plot which hops from formula beat to formula beat all without providing anything of interest. This should have been a personal story on par with "Fault," but what we've got is yet another of those episodes where a dull new character needs to be taught what's right. I just can't deal with that. The Cutie Mark Crusaders are running a successful day camp when one day, a young Pegasus named Rumble shows up and declares his opposition to the entire idea of Cutie Marks. Soon, he has turned the entire camp against the CMC, and they need to find some way to get it back. The appeal of "Marks and Recreation" is dependent on two factors: Rumble's motivations, and the Crusaders' reactions to his actions. The former falls into issues I've been complaining about for a while: watching characters having no doubts and doing everything right isn't very interesting. Not everything the Crusaders do to deal with Rumble is successful, but the episode never suggests they might be in the wrong, and it's very interested in shoving them into a "mentor" role, something which I have always maintained as the death knell of this show's characterization, because the show often uses it as an excuse to shift focus onto new characters or tell overly moralistic stories, halting the characters' growth in the process. Still, this is hardly the worst example of the this mentor problem in the show. The Crusaders at least make mistakes, if only minor ones, and there's slivers of doubt here and there. The bigger issue is that the story beats are all overly familiar. This is yet another story where the main characters need to protect their work from an external threat which only escalates a third of the way in, and it's yet another episode where an ideological challenge actually stems from personal issues. For the Crusaders, there's no insight or novelty. and without allowing them to doubt their actions or values, it doesn't provide anything they haven't done plenty of times before. Whereas, "The Fault in Our Cutie Marks" was built on self-doubt and anxiety, this has the CMC just make the mature choice and move on whenever the story threatens to become interesting. Rumble, on the other hand, suffers from a lack of development and a charmless personality. It's hard to be invested in his issues, because on one hand we barely know him, and on the other hand his concerns with Cutie Marks are never taken that seriously. His main complaint is that cutie marks limit your options in life, but we've seen the CMC exploring other options before, so that doesn't ring true, even on the rare occasion where the episode lends validity to his criticisms. Eventually, he turns out to be the one limiting others' options, and by then his points have clearly been discredited. The thing is, the moral here has potential. Cutie Marks have always been a metaphor for maturity, so dealing with how life changes with adulthood could be an interesting take on the concept. When Rumble's criticisms are revealed to be projection, it reflects how he's afraid of growing up. But his motivation suffers from his lack of development. Is he jealous of his brother? Does he feel inadequate? Why does he feel he must be a great flyer? Answering these questions has potential, but they're never expanded upon. As a consequence, Rumble comes across as stubborn and selfish and little else, which makes him difficult to sympathize with. Growing up is scary, but his fears come across as childish and self-centred, simply because the episode doesn't give us enough time to really know him, and what little we understand about him is eventually just explained to us outright. It doesn't help that Thunderlane himself is little more than a bland sibling archetype, leaving us even less idea what their relationship is like. In their scenes together, we're not shown some secret insecurity on Rumble's part. He just upends the Cutie Mark camp because, as said, he's stubborn and selfish. Honestly, though, all of that could have been fine if it just had a better sense of humour. There's few real jokes on offer, and when it does conjure up a proper gag, it's nothing more exciting than a pony who likes to draw circles a lot. This sort of pedestrian humour comes across as very lowest-common-denominator, and it's absent from long stretches of the episode which rely heavily on Rumble's antics to hold attention. Unfortunately, because Rumble is such an underdeveloped and charmless character, that doesn't work either, despite a catchy song in the middle. With that said, the episode definitely builds energy during this song, and it'll work splendidly when removed from context. Might even be my favourite this season! But that's not true of the rest of the episode, which remains tiresomely on point from start to finish, building up to a moral which is admittedly acceptable enough, though not expressed as satisfyingly as it could have been. Because the Crusaders never doubt themselves, and because their role in the story is to teach Rumble the value of Cutie Marks, the episode has a broadly instructional feel which makes it a real drag outside of the musical number. It's obvious from early on that the episode will never provide any insight about cutie marks, so why waste the time? It would have been way more fun if we saw Rumble feeling insecure, or perhaps if Thunderlane was the focus character instead. In the latter case, we could focus on him worrying about his brother, which might have led to actual insight. Alas, "Marks and Recreation" isn't that, and instead is yet another crushingly dull entry in what's shaping up to be a crushingly dull season. The jokes are flimsy, the characters are flat, and while there's nothing wrong with the character interactions, the episode's just much too airless for that to amount to much. This season's new formulas were interesting at first, but now they've gotten just as familiar as the old ones, and they simply don't have as much to offer. Ultimately, I'll take a fun-but-unpolished episode like "A Health of Information" over this any day. Sorry. Score: Entertainment: 3/10 Characters: 4/10 Themes: 5/10 Story: 5/10 Overall: 43/100 You can find more episode reviews at my offsite blog.