After the season premiere of My Little Pony, I thought the season was going to have more episodes revolving around characters who aren't the usual main cast. Unfortunately, this never really came to pass, with the only exceptions being one Discord episode that still prominently featured Fluttershy and "Slice of Life", which never counts. Although "Brotherhooves Social" stars Apple Bloom as one of the two lead characters and prominently features both Rainbow Dash and the other Cutie Mark Crusaders, this episode belongs to Big Mac, and contains a behind-the-scenes feel that "Make New Friends But Keep Discord" never did. It is one of the best episodes of the season.
"Brotherhooves Social", as per the name, features the return of the Sisterhooves Social competition that we were first introduced to in season 2. However, that's not the only thing returning in this episode. The attempt at consecutive episodes that we previously saw in season 3 has returned, and much more is made of it here. This episode takes place consecutively with the previous one, "Made in Manehattan", and it's by far the better of the two. In fact, the main plot is kicked off by Applejack being unable to attend the Sisterhooves Social because she's being sent on a mission. This would probably work much better if the map weren't such an awful plot device, but it works nonetheless, tying in neatly to Big Mac increasingly feeling left out due to Apple Bloom's admiration of Applejack.
Speaking of which, another neat thing that "Brotherhooves Social" does is actively acknowledge how the main six have repeatedly saved the world. Previously, this went almost completely unacknowledged, so seeing it brought up here is a wonderful change of pace. As wonderful as it is that the show is finally deciding to introduce a form of continuity, it's even more wonderful that episodes like this one are just simply great episodes. Big Mac disguises himself as Apple Bloom's "long lost cousin" Orchard Blossom, but although he's speaking in a fake voice and dressed up in over-the-top drag, the episode never treats him as a punchline for it. The only jokes made at the expense of his disguise are ones pointing out how obvious it is. Combine this with Big Mac's constant eagerness to fill this role and his voice actor's clear enjoyment of playing Orchard Blossom, and the episode never comes off as overly condescending towards him.
In fact, the only cases where it appears that the episode is emphasizing his masculinity are ones that arise as a side effect of Big Mac trying way too hard to win the social. In his eagerness to win, he negatively impacts other competitors and destroys parts of the race course. This ultimately comes back to him in the climax, a touching moment where Big Mac finally opens up to his sister about his feelings. Here, we get some wonderful character development by way of family bonding, and it's all juxtaposed against a beautiful sunset. It's a great scene. The pair's most successful moments at the competition are almost as sweet, and while they're nowhere near as frequent as the awkward moments where it seems like it might all fall apart, they stand out as some of the episode's high points.
Instead, though, the episode waits until just the right moment to rain on Big Mac's parade. The tension constantly grows but never becomes unbearable, particularly because it's clear that this event means something special to Big Mac. So when he's busting through hurdles, you can see why he's so anxious to the finish line. It helps, of course, that the episode is genuinely enjoyable to watch. There's plenty of fun, fast-paced action, and the humour works very well due to the jokes based around Big Mac never coming at his expense, and all the other gags being clever in their own right. The voice acting does help, of course, as a less game voice actor might not have made this as enjoyable to sit through. Another nice thing is seeing "sisterly" bonding between Rainbow Dash and Scootaloo. The two aren't relatives, but the Social is stated to take the definition of "sister" very loosely.
So, at long last, we get an episode like this, that happens in the background of all the world saving and shows how it affects the ponies back home. "Brotherhooves Social", if anything, proves why there should be many, many more episodes like this. Exploring secondary characters while the main characters are away makes for a really interesting dynamic, and one paired with a genuinely good adventure episode would make for something even better. What we have here in "Brotherhood Social" is still excellent, providing a different kind of story from the norm and proving, yet again, that some of this show's best stories come when it focuses on character instead of on hijinks or adventure. Fantastic stuff, season 5. Keep it up.