For those of you don't know, Harrison Bergeron is a dystopian short story written by Kurt Vonnegut about a society in the year of 2081. In this society, individuals are forced by totalitarian government laws to be equal in every sort of aspect. They had to look the same, think the same, act the same, you get the gist. Now I wish I could delve more into the short story, but there will be more time for that later in the post. But yeah, virtually, that's what this premiere is like. It's Harrison Bergeron with ponies. I loved Harrison Bergeron back when I was in middle school, I loved it the second time I read. Heck, I like reading dystopian literature in general. So surely, I would be thrilled to see an episode like this. And I wasn't disappointed, either.
Throughout this post, I'll be discussing the overall plot, the themes it focuses on, and how it's similar to Harrison Bergeron. And I will warn you that there are SPOILERS, so if you haven't seen the season five premiere, go check it out. I gurantee you you're in for a treat. So what are we waiting for? Without further or do, I give you "The Cutie Map - Parts 1 & 2"!
After the Mane 6 discover a map of Equestria in their new castle, a pin pointer of some sort tells them to go to a certain unknown area on the map. Guessing that this location is in trouble, the Mane 6 agree to go visit it.
Once they arrive, they find this unfamiliar place to be a village. Taking note of the citizens, the girls discover that all their cutie marks are exactly the same: a black equal sign. Pinkie Pie especially notices that they're all smiling. Enormously. As a pony who specializes in happiness, she knows that those smiles "just aren't right". Determined to figure out the situation, the girls walk through the village, where they are showered with "welcome's" given out by nearly every citizen around them.
There are two characters I payed very close attention to throughout the first part: Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie. Fluttershy, being the kind and optimistic pony she is, is flattered by all the glee the citizens are expressing. She is so pleased to see so many ponies getting along so perfectly in a "cute" village. To her, it seems like paradise. But then there's Pinkie Pie. She's more skeptical than ever. I think she only smiled in, like, two frames for the first fifteen minutes. But in all seriousness, she knows something is up. All these ponies appear to be too happy, and she's looking right past the facades. The rest of the Mane 6, however, are just bewildered as to how a village that appears to be so happy, so tranquil, and so well-balanced would be in need of help.
Enter Starlight Glimmer.
Her appearance is more saturated than the rest of the civilians, and her mane is different from the rest of the female ponies. She's clearly the head of all this. She explains that nopony in her village is different or has special talents, but that's what creates what Starlight calls "true friendship". In the musical number "In Our Town", she further clarifies that making everypony the same will prevent fear, feelings of insecurity, and ego-filled conceit. As a bonus, it makes life easier. The Mane 6 are then encouraged to give up their cutie marks, but Starlight assures them that this is opitonal. This appears to be a lie, however, as Starlight silently reveals to herself her plan to strip Twilight of her cutie mark to prove to Equestria how their way of living is more efficient. Evil, huh?
After a few more creepy greetings, the girls sit down at a cafe, where they further discuss the odd conditions these ponies live under. The discussion leads to a minor argument, and Sugar Belle, a waitress at the cafe, overhears this banter, believing that their friendship is about to end. When they promise her that is not the case, she is surprised to find friends that not only remain as friends after a disagreement, but eventually agree. After being told about their different talents, Sugar Belle begins to wonder how having different talents and different opinions doesn't lead them to incompatibility...that is until Pinkie starts choking up a horribly baked muffin.Speaking of which, this is perhaps the most essential scene of the first part. Sugar Belle tells them that despite not being able to bake, she's at least no beter or worse than the other ponies in the village. But here's the thing: nopony is good at baking because no one has any culinary skillsets to to aspire other ponies to bake something suitable. This is where I drew the biggest between this episode and Harrison Bergeron. In Vonnegut's short story, individual's were forced to hide or limit their special abilities in various ways so that no one would feel inferioir. People who were prettier were forced to wear hideous masks or silly outfits to hide their appearances. Those who were smarter than others were forced to wear ear pieces that would play frightening loud noises twenty-four hours a day, thus preventing them to think. Finally, individuals who were stronger had to wear weights around their necks, arms, and legs, making them weaker. As you can tell, everybody's skillsets have been made to be hidden, limited, or forbidden by the totalitarian government.
Now how does this relate to Harrison Bergeron? Well, as you saw in the the muffin scene, Sugar Belle said that she's fine with her terrible cooking skills because no other pony is better than her. That implies that, like Harrison Bergeron, in order for everyone to be equal at everything in this village, everyone must be horrible at everything. But we need individuals to be good at certain tasks. They have the talent, knowledge, and potential to help make the world a more suitable place to live in. If everyone cooks the same crappy muffin, sure, no one would have to worry about being better or worse than anypony else, but let's be honest. Would you rather taste the same crappy muffin, or in Pinkie's case "baked bads", repeatedly and risking getting sick, yet knowing that no chef has to feel inferior to another, or taste a freshly baked muffin just like mom used to make? Exactly. How are we suppose to bake a tastier, or even healthier, muffin if there's no one who can cook, or inspire others to cook. Plus, there's also the idea that not everypony even cares about cooking the best goddamn muffin in the entire world. Are you seriously that threatened by literally everypony's cooking skills?!
Anyway, back to the plot. Sugar Belle tells the Mane 6 to meet her inside the restaurant, which they elusively manage to do. In there, they meet with Sugar Belle, as wella sher friends Party Favor and Night Glider. There, the trio informs the girls that the their cutie marks are stored up in a cave on a hill. The Mane 6 convinces Starlight to lead them up to the cave without telling her who told them about it. When they get to the cave, which has everybody's cutie marks in a vault, Starlight traps them and strips all of them of their cutie marks, preventing them to encourage anymore "free thinking".
End of Part 1.
The second part opens with Starlight speaking through a PA system about the importance of equality. Very typical of the dystopian genre. Meanwhile, Twilight and the gang are locked in a house, and it's very clear how weary they've become. Rarity is unable to judge fashion, Fluttershy can't understand animals, Pinkie barely finds joy in anything, and Applejack can no longer buck, or use any "countryisms". Which brings up an interesting twist: losing their cutie marks is not only affecting their skillsets, but their personalities as well.
Twilight eventually comes up with a plan: Fluttershy must prtend to obey their ideology to escape the house so she can go back to the cave and get their cutie marks. Fluttershy is perfect for this plan, since she's been admiring the villagers' lifestyle the whole time.. So she agrees to go with the plan.
The next morning, Fluttershy announces that she accepts their way of life and decides to "join" them. Starlight welcomes Fluttershy, but asks her to expose the ponies who told her about the cave's vault. Party Favor takes the fall for his friends and admits that it was all him, saying that he wanted to see his cutie mark just one last time. This of course gets him sent into the house with the rest of the girls for the night.
Fast forward to nighttime, Fluttershy is escaping Starlight's home, which she must stay in while her own home is being built. As she's about leave for the caves, she notices the Mane 6's cutie marks being brought to Starlight's house, which she decided to store in there for "safe keeping". Wondering how she's going to get their cutie marks back now, Starlight trips over a bucket of water, getting herself wet. As she cleans herself up, Fluttershy is stunned to find that Starlight has her own, unique cutie mark covered with pink powder and black spray paint.
That's when it hit me: Of course! No wonder Starlight has a different cutie mark. The entire society follows the idea that evrypony must be the same in every aspect at all times. However, it couldn't have been built and maintained by a bland, close-minded individual. It needs to take a pony with a maliciously special talent to build this equal society, and keep those small-minded ponies in check. This proves that having a society where everyone is the same not only shouldn't happen, but also can't happen.
Cutting to the next day, the five girls meet with Starlight outside again, and are asked if there now ready to accept their ideology. When they give no response, Starlight is about to send them back into the house, when Fluttershy asks for permission to lock them up herself. When Starlight grants her the opportunity, she then asks for Party Favor to come back out and asks him if he learned his lesson.
In my eyes, this is hooves down the most indespensible part of the two-parter. Party Favor gets on his hooves and knees and apologizes for what he did, and tells Starlight how the five girls tried to explain to him how being different helps build their friendship, but he didn't listen. How pay attention to the way he looks when delivering all of this. There are a few brief instances where he becomes cross-eyed, as if he's going insane. This particular scene engeniusly argues the whole purpose of utopian societies. The idea is to create a place where everything is perfect and has well-balanced harmony. But this goal to maintain perfection at all times can be pressuring, and with pressure comes stress, anxiety, fear, depression, or as we saw, insanity. I can only imagine how badly Starlight damaged her civilians into obeying her lifestyle. This of course leads to very thought-provoking questions: how happy can one really be living in a utopia? Is it possible to create a society that is so well-balanced, that it's not? Is a utopia then just a dystopia disguised to look happy? Does utopia even exist?
Anyway, as Twilight distracts Starlight by agreeing to "join" them and asks if she will have asatisfying life without a cutie mark, Fluttershy attempts to drench Starlight with water, but fails. A droplet of water, however, manages to splash onto her, washing off a part of the paint. As Double Diamond wipes off the rest of the paint, the whole stunned to find her with her own cutie mark. Starlight tries to explain to a betrayed village that she did what she had to o in order to maintain an "equal" society.
After a heated argument, Startlight flees back into her house, prompting the village to rush to the cave to reclaim their cutie marks. Fluttershy reveals to the rest of the Mane 6 that their cutie marks are with Starlight in her house. When they break in, they notice that Starlight has escaped through a secret passage way.
Going down through the passage way leads them to the mountains, where they find Starlight running for a mountain pass, where their cutie marks will supposedly be lost forever. A case then ensues. Sugar Belle manages to slow Starlight down with her newly baked "snow pies", Party Favor builds a balloon bridge after Starlight destroys the previous one, and with the help of Night Glider's flying, Double Diamond uses his skiing skills to cover Starlight with snow, thus causing her to drop the jars containing the six cutie marks, which return to each of the Mane 6.
Out of frustration, Starlight tries to blast the ponies with her horn, but Twilight manages to block the spell with her force field. Starlight, who studied the force field spell for years but could never master it, questions how Twilight pulled it off. Twilight explains that while she too studied it for years, studying wasn't enough. Each of her friends has taught her something important about friendship, and we, as viewers, have seen Twilight grow as a character, learning from her friends important lessons about friendship and herself. In return, she has helped her friends learn something new about themselves, and they eventually helped each other, too. Because of this ability to bond with and learn from her friends, she was able to bring out the best of herself, and master the once complicated spell. This is one more powerful reminder that it's only when we inspire and encourage each other with our special attributes that the world becomes a better place. I can even relate to Twilight's point in a certain way.
Back when I was a freshman in high school, I was very shy. Like, Fluttershy shy. I was so nervous and isolated, that I didn't want to talk to anybody. But then when I joined choir, I noticed that my instructor was very charismatic and had amazing chemistry with other students. Now instead of envying her social skills and feeling insecure about my own, I payed very close attention to how she interacted with other students, and figured out how I can apply those communication skills to my own. Fast forward to senoir year, I'm sitting with a shy freshman girl in my Individual Studies class, talking with her and ensuring her that she has a friend to talk to, and helping her better conversate with people. So just to recap, my choir teacher helped me strengthen my social skills, and as a result I helped someone else strengthen their social skills, and who knows? Maybe they're going to help someone else with their social skills, too. Like Twilight and her friends, I acknowledged the special talents another individual had, applied them to my own skillsets, and eventually helped strengthen another person abilities. Give and take is what it's all about.
Starlight refuses to acknowledge this, however, and she angrily zaps herself into the mountains. Have we seen the last of her? Who knows? Night Glider, Double Diamond, Party Favor, and Sugar Belle thank the Mane 6 for helping them see what they can be, and prove that by choosing to stay in the village, they intend on making it a better place. Before Twilight & Co. depart, as their blinking cutie marks signal them to, they decide to stay just a little longer. They then approach the village one last time, knowing that they can now enjoy it as happier, more equal society.
End of Part 2.
Now as I said before, the biggest reason why I looked forward to these episodes is because it reminded me a lot of Harrison Bergeron. However, one thing I liked about "The Cutie Map Parts 1 & 2" is that while HB focused more on how egalitarianism can be destrctive, "TCM" focused more on why egalitarianism should be avoided. As stated before, they did an excellent job at delivering that message. This was a fantastic idea for a fifth season premiere. The way it explores conformity, equality, and egalitarianism was beyond impressive, especially for a kids show. And best of all, it perfectly sets the tone for how season 5 is going to be. God, I am so pumped!