Nobody said it was easy being a sibling, especially when both of you love to have the spotlight. For Whom The Sweetie Belle Toils aired on March 22nd, and sitting down at the Round Table to talk about the squeakiest of sisters and her deep-seated issues are ShieldedDiamond, Corpy, Niels Olof, Tears, drunkill, and KefkaFloyd. Read more to find out how squeakiness and fabulosity learn to coexist.
KefkaFloyd: Dave Polsky returns for the spiritual sequel to Cindy Morrow’s Sisterhooves Social, and this time, the roles are reversed. It’s Sweetie Belle being the self-absorbed, insensitive sister this time around!
ShieldedDiamond: I actually think while it is a sequel to Sisterhooves, it’s not necessarily a role reversal. In SS, Sweetie Belle was doing everything she can to help, but her way of helping wasn’t the best way. And I can relate, I have a younger sibling whose “help” ends up causing more issues for me. But neither Rarity or Sweetie Belle were attempting to make things worse for the other. In this one, we have Sweetie Belle feared that Rarity was purposely trying to steal attention, and so sabotaged the head piece to get revenge. But it’s okay, they’re still best sisters!
Corpy: I wouldn’t say that Sweetie Belle was being insensitive. If anything, she was being too sensitive about herself and her place in the world. As neglectful as Rarity was towards Sweetie Belle in Sisterhooves Social, the flashback in this episode showed that she wasn’t always like that, with the effort she put into salvaging Sweetie Belle’s 5th birthday party.
Niels Olof: An episode featuring my favorite pony, my favorite filly, and one of the celestial sisters! Talk about a star-studded line-up. Sisterhooves Social is my favorite episode, and as such this episode had big boots to fill. Dave Polsky has shown himself as the writer of Rarity this season, and this episode is no exception. Sisterhooves Social is a wonderful episode for many, many reasons, one of which is the complexity of the conflict—there is no simple right or wrong, both sisters, while justified from their respective points of view, act selfish throughout most of the episode. In this episode, the conflict is much more contained within Sweetie Belle herself, which is interesting in its own right, and which reflects that she has matured since the events unfolding in Sisterhooves Social.
Tears: I always mentally mark Sisterhooves as the point at which the CMC started getting taken more seriously than “comic relief fillies”, and really stepped up the sort of stories that seemed possible with the little idiots. The development of the CMC is one of the most satisfying things about the evolution of the show for me, to the point where any one of them could headline an episode. Sweetie and Rarity’s relationship has blossomed into a deeply resonant picture of bickering, loving siblings, and even though Rarity is completely in the right throughout here, it doesn’t feel slanted because we know she can be thoughtless or self-absorbed when it comes to Sweetie too. It feels like we caught Rarity on a really good day, instead of being a picture of the good-hearted older sister and the whiny brat kid sister.
KefkaFloyd: Sweetie Belle has gotten a lot of attention this season, and she’s evolving into more than just “the white one’s little sister.” Though we’ve seen hints and other bits dropped in the past, Sweetie’s appearances this season have given her enough depth to really separate her from the other CMCs.
Corpy: That’s increasingly true of all the CMCs recently. They are showing more individuality in their ambitions and personalities, and less of the single-minded group-think that they were known for in season one. In this case, we’ve seen Sweetie Belle develop as a unicorn able to do unicorn stuff, and now we see that she’s gone from idolizing her sister to having a fear of always being overshadowed by her. Also, Rarity isn’t “the white one”.
ShieldedDiamond: Yep, agreeing with Corpy. It seems that we’ve really separated from getting “CMC episodes”, and instead we’re getting “Sweetie Belle episodes,” “Apple Bloom episodes”, and some of them building up on their relationships with their sisters, not just with each other. I hope this leads to more developments in the future, like if Scootaloo ever goes to hang out with Fluttershy, or if Apple Bloom goes to see Pinkie Pie again, etc.
Tears: This was definitely a big promotion for Sweetie. Even for one of the mane six, this would have been a lot of airtime for any one character to carry, although it’s still built on the rich backstory of her and her sister. But it felt like a gamble, to see if one of the CMC could face up to the spotlight to this extent. I feel like it was a great idea that paid off, but for balance’s sake some people did find the talkiness and sustained absence of gags a turn-off, but I think that’s dictated by the style of the episode as much as by Sweetie herself. Mileage varies on that stuff, but I enjoyed how straight-faced it was, and that the writers have enough confidence in themselves and the show’s narratives to try that.
On whether it separates Sweetie from the other CMCs, I’m not sure. They’ve all come a long way. Sleepless in Ponyville ballasted Scootaloo and Dash’s central narrative with lots of sweet, funny character-driven stuff from the others (until this episode came along I thought of SiP as the Sisterhooves sequel, for how it showed how Sweetie and Rarity’s relationship had evolved, and set up a similar line between Scoots and Dash. And AJ and Apple Bloom were as rad and in-sync as ever). I love the Scoots-Dash stuff and would love to see more of it, so that’s definitely fertile ground for me too.
I’d also love to see a serious Apple Bloom episode. Her and AJ’s relationship was set up to highlight the things missing in Sweetie and Rarity’s relationship in Sisterhooves, and how close working together every day – sisters and colleagues – had bound their ties. But Apple Bloom’s much feistier and more susceptible to peer pressure than her big sis, and I definitely think there are dramatic, touching Apple Bloom stories to be told.
KefkaFloyd:Though I may be biased, as Rarity is my favorite character, it’s amazing to see how similar and yet different Sweetie Belle and her sister are together. SB idolizes her sister and wants to be just like her (both in conscious and subconscious ways), but at the beginning she’s just copying Rarity’s outward traits, like being a diva or fashionista. She wasn’t trying to copy Rarity’s generosity, which is what Rarity is really all about.
Niels Olof: Considering what Sweetie Belle was told of Rarity’s cutie mark in Cutie Mark Chronicles, I don’t think it was a coincidence that she attempted to write, stage, direct, act, and costume a play at a real venue rather than merely providing the costumes for a school play. This filly is ambitious, and as the rest of the CMC (and, incidentally, her sister) she does not do half measures. The CMC’s quest for cutie marks may be more subdued this season, but it is still there. In this episode, however, she seems more motivated to outshine her sister. The cutie mark would be a nice bonus, but “let’s not get carried away”, the object is to get showered with praise and adoration (because that is what her sister routinely is, never mind why that is so). Contrast this with the young Rarity wanting her costumes to be spectacular because she wished to create something beautiful (but didn’t know how), gaining acclamation in the process (but not as the object), and it’s clear that while Sweetie Belle is maturing, she is not quite there yet.
(And it is not bias, it’s telling it like it is ).
Tears: I think that’s a really good point, Niels. Sweetie wants praise and attention, partially in the way a lot of kids do, but also because Rarity always draws focus, because she’s so confident and so outgoing. And she’s always striving to emulate that about her sister, out of love and out of envy, without necessarily seeing that it’s not plays or big displays or even dresses that makes Rarity draw the eye, it’s that she’s a confident, articulate person with an incredibly refined sense of aesthetics.
But even in that, she’s a lot like Rarity, because Rarity created her identity out of an idea of an imagined idea of how high-society people act.
I think a really important aspect of Rarity’s gentility, and her character in general, is that she’s entirely self-made in that respect. She grew up in a small country town, dreaming of cities and culture, and trying to inhabit the idea of what a person who mingles in high society and goes to elegant parties and gallery openings would act.
Showing Rarity’s parents in Sisterhooves was a total masterstroke that added all sorts of dimensions to her character. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was something they hadn’t thought about up to that point. Like “We need to show Rarity’s parents dropping Sweetie off… what would Rarity’s parents look like?”, and realising that snooty aristocrat horses in Ponyville would be absurd.
Or maybe it’s something that Lauren imagined about Rarity from the start but didn’t get chance to show til then. Maybe it was Cindy Morrow’s idea. Whatever the reason, it’s hard to think of another detail that features for such a short amount of time but adds so much to a character anywhere else in the series.
KefkaFloyd: I felt the strongest point of the episode was how we are all susceptible to holding grudges and acting out in anger. Sweetie Belle is an adorable marshmallow, but she is also flawed in her own ways, and her love for her sister breeds a deep jealousy.
ShieldedDiamond: Yes, I agree with that. Another very strong point I felt was present in the episode was that “Don’t hold grudges right away, you may not have the whole picture.” One of my favorite moments in the episode was when Sweetie Belle saw what really happened at her 5th birthday party, and how Rarity was trying to keep Sweetie Belle’s guests at the house. I think we all have moments like that, where we make assumptions without knowing the full story, and I think it’s a very important lesson to learn that we shouldn’t jump to conclusions until we have the full story.
drunkill: It goes to show that there are two sides to every story. Sweetie Belle missed out on a key element and misunderstood the entire situation and held a bit of a grudge against Rarity ever since her fifth birthday.
Corpy: Luna saw all this from the moon.
Niels Olof: This aspect of the episode rang true for me, and is another illustration of how the dynamic between Rarity and Sweetie Belle is the strongest and truest of any sibling relationship, we see in the show. There is love, but there is also rich potential for conflict, and those are not mutually exclusive. I was glad to have this episode to illustrate the multi-faceted relationship between the sisters (though Rarity is occupied with her own career, she is and was a devoted sister, and Sweetie Belle is now old enough to see that it is so). She gains her revelation through a deep blue Dea ex Machina, but I think (or rather hope that others share my experience in this) any younger sibling as they grow older get a deeper understanding (and potential closeness) to their seniors.
Tears: It comes from the same place as Sweetie’s idolisation of her sister. Rarity hangs the moon for Sweetie, from the way Sweetie’s explorations of her talents are always based around things that Rarity would approve of, from fashion to putting on a play. The play felt like a big sign in the sky saying “I made this Rarity, aren’t you proud of me?”
But the other side of that love and devotion is jealousy of Rarity’s poise, especially as Sweetie’s default setting is over-enthusiastic klutz. Sweetie’s inherited her sister’s mid-Atlantic accent and cut-glass diction, but she’s also a lot goofier than Rarity, and kind of a space cadet besides. And Rarity’s poise seems so effortless, and for someone who ends up breaking stuff, blundering into conversations or covered in tree sap as often as Sweetie Belle, it’s easy to see how the pedestal she places her sis on could lead to jealousy as well. The episode delves into this a little when Luna shows Rarity giving herself a pep talk earlier that evening.
The fact that Sweetie’s surprised that Rarity has moments of vulnerability shows how idealised her mental picture of her sister is in some ways, and how daunting that must be to try to live up to.
KefkaFloyd: Claire Corlette deserves a special mention for her performance as Sweetie’s voice. She gets a lot of emotion (and squeaks!) in, and it feels like the character has grown up along with her.
ShieldedDiamond: Yep! Most certainly. I would believe that there is an improvement in the character because of how Clair Corlette has grown into the role. 4 years can be quite a time to develop how she wished to fill the role.
drunkill: We had a plethora of squeaks and voice cracks this episode, enough to make up for last season. She does seem a little older and smarter, now that we’ve had a few episodes focused on the CMC they have matured a little more, especially in Twilight Time which taught the kids to grow up a bit and learn of their potential.
Niels Olof: I thought for a long time that the CMC would stay as they were as so many cartoon characters, but now that we face years of pony into the future, and given the development of Claire Corlette and her colleagues, I’m beginning to believe that CMC will, in time, move on. The show will be stronger for it, and all three could have fascinating story arcs.
Tears: I think everyone’s rooting for the CMC to get their marks now, because they’ve evolved way past the point where they need a reason to hang out other than the fact that they’re friends. The fact that cutie marks are only referred to in passing during episodes that are about the characters themselves shows how it’s become more of an albatross than a crutch for the writers (never use an albatross as a clutch, they get irritable). Clare’s voice change is completely noticeable at this point, and Maddie Peters – Scoot’s VA – sounds older too, and perhaps that’s galvanised the extent to which the CMC have grown up this season.
But if so then I’m glad for it, because, I’ve loved seeing them grow up a little and I’d love to see that continue. This is a loose-continuity show, but I definitely think the Cutie Mark Crusaders become just three friends who hang out would be great. None of them need a gimmick, and there are so many more great stories that could come out of the discovery of their thuper thpecial talents.
KefkaFloyd: Princess Luna was a perfect teacher for Sweetie. She knew exactly what SB was going through, and the consequences if she was not taken off the path of envy. Luna was as invested in this as Sweetie was, as the princess did not want to see others repeating her mistakes.
Corpy: A lot of younger siblings have problems with matching the achievements of their older siblings. Luna is the purest representation of this, as she can never match her sister, so of course she’ll be able to reach out to others who go through similar, yet lower-stakes, situations. The consequences of Sweetie Belle’s jealousy certainly don’t seem as dire as Luna’s were (as we unfortunately didn’t get to see her potentially turn into Nightmare Belle), but the sequence we got was still pretty awesome. The idea that one simple failure with the headdress could cause Rarity’s career to fall apart and her mind to snap like that… is actually believable.
Niels Olof: While I think that Princess Luna probably turned the nightmare up to eleven for her prognostication for the consequences of Sweetie Belle’s betrayal (resulting in a scene matching and exceeding any previous scene in the show for sheer darkness), she fulfilled her duty beautifully. She stands as a guardian not only of the night, but also of the mental well-being of her subjects. Where she in Sleepless in Ponyville were didactic with Scootaloo, here she left Sweetie Belle to reach her own conclusions (illustrating, I think, also Sweetie Belle’s greater maturity) by showing, but not telling. The power that she demonstrated in doing so is staggering: not only can she enter a pony’s dreams, she can evidently pull memories from other ponies’ (in this case, Rarity and Sapphire Shores) minds at will. This episode, just as Sisterhooves Social before it, recalls the very basis for the entire series (a conflict between sisters), and who better than Princess Luna to intercede?
Tears: I think the conflation of Sweetie’s deal with Luna’s was really funny in its own way. Eternal night and the end of all things, and also Sapphire Shore’s head-dress might not soar, oh no! But the underlying issue is the same, and these sibling frustrations and little petty things can underpin all sorts of huge conflicts. Mythology’s full of millennia-spanning wars and people imprisoned in the roots of eternal trees because some god’s brother thought his stamp-collecting hobby was stupid, and I liked the explicit link between the epic and the mundane. Everyone has these issues, and everyone has frailties and petty insecurities, whether they’re god princesses or tiny unicorns.
KefkaFloyd: With the dream sequences the storyboard and visual team have really stepped up their game. It’s hard to believe that this is the same show as season one, which we all thought was amazing for a Flash animation.
drunkill: It was a very trippy scene, mixing up a whole load of elements for a montage-like way to tell the story. I think the negative colours segment was unnecessary for the mood but the rest of the dream sequences worked out well, almost nightmare inducing for Sweetie Belle.
Tears: Oh man, the whole scene with the floor melting under Sweetie Belle, but the star pathway melting into an ocean melting into her fifth party… My Little Pony, ladies and gentlemen.
ShieldedDiamond: Yep, lot of great animation during those scenes. The various transitions in dream-sequence to dream-sequence was my personal favorite part of the animation aspect of the episode.
KefkaFloyd: Watching this episode, it felt far heavier, more dramatic than what we’re used to seeing. There was very little comedy, and the jokes were used mostly to set up something tragic. Little Sweetie Belle’s “big girl” getup was funny because it’s exactly what a little girl who wants to be like her fashionable big sister would do, but the gag only sets up the tragic scene of Sweetie thinking that Rarity has shown her up at her own party and runs off crying. It breaks your heart to see her hurt, and it’s even worse because it’s all a big misunderstanding.
ShieldedDiamond: I don’t think this episode was meant for laughs as much as, say, Pinkie Pride. I honestly didn’t find too many things funny about this episode, and you know what? That’s okay. Does every episode need to be jam-packed with jokes to make us laugh? I would argue against that. Sometimes what’s best is a good morale, with something that can hit close to heart. And that’s what I believe this episode did in an amazing way.
Niels Olof: It’s not quite Rashomon, but the central motif of showing the same, pivotal scene from different points of view is effective. While light in comedy, the episode has some excellent character moments, including “Uh… she has known about this for weeks, right?”, Rarity for once failing to find le mot juste, or Sweetie Belle punching her pillow, and preferring show tunes. The misunderstanding between the sisters upon Sweetie Belle’s return and contemptuous discard of the dresses (whereupon the rest of the Mane Six beat a hasty, if excusable, retreat) was telling. Rarity feared that she had failed her sister, had failed to be generous enough, and was understandably relieved to learn that it was not so. On the contrary, her generosity had, however unintentional, outshone her sister’s own efforts (admittedly, from what we saw of the play, that was perhaps not difficult to do). To grow up alongside a dazzling sister, who even has the temerity of also having a giving and beautiful heart, could bring any mere mortal to frustration, and this is the breaking point for Sweetie Belle. How much easier to ascribe her sister’s actions to malice, when it frees herself from any responsibility. This is teenage rage, furious, futile, and so self-centered as to be neigh incomprehensible to anypony else. In this episode, Sweetie Belle matures and learns empathy by seeing there can be more than her side to a story, and by realizing that her perfect sister shares some of her fears. The end of the confession scene was beautiful—Sweetie Belle told her sister to trust her, and without hesitation she did.
Niels Olof: Sapphire Shores! The Pony of Pop is back. Your thoughts?
I must admit I had not realized that I missed her. She has one of the most flamboyant personalities of all ponies, and seems to fit within her an amalgam of many familiar stars. I hope that she is not as vindictive as Sweetie Belle’s nightmare would have us believe, and I would like to see her reappear.
drunkill: This is how you do do minor characters. She’s a nice addition to the show with a unique voice and style which controls the scene. The dance routine was something short and fun, showing she has an incredibly high standard for detail and the version of her in Sweetie Belle’s future vision worked well as a potential threat to Rarity.
ShieldedDiamond: I agree, I feel one thing this show could use is more returning side-characters, like Sapphire Shores, Hoity Toity, maybe Cheese Sandwich, and so on. It kind of reminds us that there’s a world beyond just the Mane Six.
KefkaFloyd: That’s it for this week! Thanks to everyone for sharing their thoughts, and thank you for reading. Come back next time for more TRS Round Table! ■