How did The Mane Six get their cutie marks? The Crusaders find out in this pivotal, backstory-building episode.
Episode 23: "The Cutie Mark Chronicles"
In their latest attempt to earn their cutie marks, Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle, and Scootaloo learn something that Stan, Kyle, Eric, and Kenny would later discover: They should never have gone ziplining. Spike had told them it was awesome, which just figures.
No worse for the wear (and covered in tree sap for neither the first nor last time), they decide to ask to older ponies how they got their cutie marks. Scootaloo insists they should start with Rainbow Dash, her clearly being the coolest pony ever.
On their way to find Rainbow Dash they collide with Apple Bloom's older sister Applejack, who's happy to tell her own origin story, much to Scootaloo's annoyance.
THE STORY OF THE PRODIGAL APPLEJACK
The young, blank-flanked Applejack left Sweet Apple Acres for a more urban, sophisticated environment: Equestria's center of cosmopolitan culture, Manehattan.
To put it in a Scorsese period-piece perspective, this is the Manehattan of The Age of Innocence, not The Gangs of New York. She stayed with her Aunt 'n' Uncle Orange, who tried to introduce her to the lifestyle of the 1%. The urbanites found Applejack's rural dialect and references to be somewhere between quaint and baffling...
...while Applejack herself found the tiny food portions to be disappointing. Still, bendy straws!
The next morning, the homesick Applejack pined for her old life as she watched the sunrise. If the Beach Boys existed in this world, she'd probably have "That's Not Me" on repeat. (For that matter, every time I type "blank-flanked," I hear Brian Eno's "Blank Frank" in my head.)
But then, there was a rainbow over/back to Ponyville!
She took it as a sign, returning home to a happy Big Mac and Granny Smith, and ping! Applejack's cutie mark appeared.
Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom find the story to be touching, but Scootaloo doesn't care for it.
I see the Cutie Mark Crusaders as an audience surrogate in this episode. In my experience, two out of three new viewers of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic will accept the show's tone and world view, while the third will find it too earnest and unironic. And that's fine. To each their own, and no show is for everybody. (I also adore Mad Men -- I thought last Sunday's episode was just astonishing -- but to some people who are much smarter than me, it's unpalatable.)
The Crusaders' next unintended stop is Fluttershy.
THE STORY OF THE FALLING FLUTTERSHY
The young, blank-flanked Fluttershy suffered from crippling social anxiety as well as poor flying skills, and her confidence was not improved by the fact that the boys at Summer Flight Camp teased her mercilessly.
Oh, poor Fluttershy. Who would stand up for her her?
The equally young and blank-flanked Rainbow Dash, that's who.
Making it about herself (of course!), Rainbow Dash challenged the boys to a race.
Being more concerned with speed than watching where they're going, Rainbow and the boys didn't notice that they knocked Fluttershy off her cloud, and her limited flying skills were no match for terminal velocity ...
... but she was saved by a flock (gaggle? murder?) of low-flying butterflies.
Fluttershy realized that down among the animals is where she belonged, and after singing a song about it, she witnessed a mysterious explosion. The animals were terrified, and Fluttershy discovered she could communicate with them and help them to not be scared.
And thus, her cutie mark appeared!
Scootaloo pointed out the dangling thread in Fluttershy's story: Rainbow Dash's race.
Put in a pin in it for now, Scootaloo.
Speaking of putting pins in things, we next hear Rarity's story. (See what I did there? Because Rarity sews!)