Saturday, 18 April 2015

Episode review: Bloom and Gloom

Easily the best and most important episode of Season 5 so far.

After the previous episode's fail to properly explore its ideas, "Bloom and Gloom" is something of a revelation. This episode concludes a major arc that had been established in Season 3, where Luna visited the Cutie Mark Crusaders through nightmares. While I'm unsure if this is it for that part of the show, if it is, this is a fantastic episode to go out on, not only being an early peak for S5 but also being one of the best episodes the show has ever had. This is Friendship is Magic at its very best, and there needs to be more episodes like it: creative, bold, ambitious, deep and with potential lasting ramifications for the whole series.

"Bloom and Gloom" starts out fairly standard. The Cutie Mark Crusaders are in their clubhouse talking about cutie marks, like they do, when they find out Babs Seed has found her passion as a hairdresser, and thus got her cutie mark. At first, I took this as taking the character and basically putting her on a bus, but this turns out to be a launching off point for the episode to ask questions about cutie marks. These questions are somewhat childish and silly, but that's fitting, considering that the Crusaders are the youngest main characters in the show. Having them deal with childish problems is appropriate, and this episode, like the other episodes of its type, uses a nightmare to explore the character's fears.

The greatest thing about these nightmares, however, is just how creatively designed they are. "Sleepless in Ponyville" featured a creative haunted forest and the creepy Headless Horse. "For Whom the Sweetie Belle Toils" had unabashedly twisted imagery that felt like taking a risk. And now, "Bloom and Gloom" toys around with the medium in various ways to create its dreamlike atmosphere. At first, the episode plays out like normal, but immediately, something is off. Apple Bloom has gained her cutie mark while she was asleep. It's later revealed that Apple Bloom is being haunted by her own shadow, a manifestation of her fears regarding cutie marks. This is some really clever stuff. Within the dream sequences, the camera moves around to reveal the setting changing right under Apple Bloom's feet, or characters speaking with the wrong voice, or things around her changing in ways that would only make sense with dream logic. This episode has some of the tightest stylistic decisions in the entire show.

This is the first time since the very first CMC episode where it feels like their obsession with cutie marks is actually being addressed in a way that matters. In fact, this episode is a pretty big deal, because it has the potential to lead to the closure of the CMC's arc. As that's been a part of the show since the first season, this is huge. Here, Apple Bloom learns that a cutie mark merely comes from the realization of who she is, which she's been told almost since she was introduced. Some sequences in the episode hint towards Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle being on the verge of discovering their cutie marks, which is an extremely exciting prospect, because that would be the conclusion of one of the show's longest-running story arcs.

Of course, following in the trend of the other two CMC solo episodes, Luna makes an appearance at the end to tell a lesson. I'm really hoping that the princesses are able to step out of a mentor role this season, and though I don't necessarily want a return to the ever-popular impulsive awkwardness of "Luna Eclipsed", an episode focusing on the princess sisters is near the top of my wish list. In any case, Luna's role here is solid, as she again compares her own personal demons to the experience that the filly protagonist is going through, which results in said issue taking a universally relatable form. That element of relatability has been missing from a few recent episodes, especially ones based on a relatively silly premise. So far, S5 has been consistent in delivering mature themes, regardless of execution, and that's a trend I really hope to continue.

Could it be possible that "Bloom and Gloom" was too early in the season? It already raises the bar so high that the rest of the season will be hard-pressed to reach it. This episode ranks as one of the show's very best, and exemplifies the direction in which the show should be going: Developing its characters and growing alongside them by exploring more mature ideas and taking more risks. Just an amazing episode all around.

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