To start off the New Year, I decided to rewatch the 'Apple Family Reunion' and 'Spike at Your Service', which I consider are 'suppose to be' Applejack episodes. And I am brutally honest, for better or worse. Which is why I probably like AJ alot but nevertheless... I did some rewatch to see which is a better AJ episode and whether they are genuinely good Applejack episodes.
1. Apple Family Reunion- I was not looking forward to this episode. Finally an AJ episode... but with her family... oh... *sigh*. But then I saw that Cindy Morrow (Sisterhooves Social) was writing it so I knew AJ would be well written and the hearty family stuff will be good.
Let's start with the good
Applejack's Flaw... Probably the strongest strength in regards to Applejack. Yes, that is how you do a down-to-flaw AJ flaw. Never in the episode did she think about herself, but instead, she wanted her family to have the greatest memories from this event. Near the end, she realizes that her family isn't having fun and she tries turning that around by actually trying to have *fun* (old people knitting =/= going on a thrill ride of fun). It doesn't go as planned, it seems like she ruined the whole event, she begins tearing up but because MLP is not a Transformers cartoon, we get a happy ending and whatnot. I was impressed with how genuinely believable AJ's flaw was, here.
Then the Bad:
-Out-of-Character. Yeah, I get AJ genuinely wants this to be the greatest family reunion but I could just not buy that AJ would put the fillies in a near impossible-to-enjoy obstacle course, put the old to work, and look oblivious to the lack of 'joy' in the atmosphere until Applebloom had to flat out tell her that. Granted, I did not mention the Ride at the end because I thought that was a great exception.
-Lack of focus... Now, I actually did like AJ's family more than before in this episode (esp. Granny Smith, who I often disliked for being overly senile and nonsensical). The problem is that they take up a chunk of the episode from AJ. The AJ scenes (with the exception of her 'outside-of-character' moments) are so good yet it only is prevalent when we see AJ preparing for the event (i.e. unable to sleep and looking exhausted from preperations) and her downfall/redemption scene
2. Spike at Your Service- So, two Applejack episodes in a row, huh? That's an academy record :P But seriously, it was nice that we got two Applejack episodes before the end of 2012 and I actually had higher hopes for this episode as the definitive AJ episode (since, there was no mention of 'family' in the synopsis).
Starting off with the good, again:
-I did like AJ defeating most of the timberwolves by herself (though, I would've liked to see her buck a timberwolf like she did in A Canterlot Wedding, but oh well) which I think was written so we can have a 'awesome' AJ moment ala Sonic Rainboom of RD. It was fun to see that AJ is physically strong and can mostly handle foes on her own.
-I liked how they kept AJ mostly in character. Being honest to Spike that she really didn't need his help but at the same time she didn't want to hurt his feelings. I also really liked how selfless she was to let Spike escape so the Timberwolf won't get him at the end. In addition, I liked how Applejack did an out-of-character moment by grabbing Twilight's attention which was pretty funny. But while it was nice to see AJ trying to not hurt Spike's feelings, it is also a detriment to the story... read on
And onto the bad... real bad:
-The second half where AJ tries tricking Spike... I can't believe they just did that. I know I've said that most of these episodes are inherently unoriginal as we've seen these premises before but sometimes there's a twist or the characters bring something new to the episode. That however, doesn't happen. The second half plays out like any other story of this type, Person A tries tricking Person B into saving him, but it turns out that Person A is really in trouble and Person B saves him, thus ending the life debt or whatever.
I think it could've been been if it was, sooooo better executed action-wise like in 'Feeling Pinkie Keen' with the Hydra. AJ crushing the timberwolves with a bigger rock and Spike chocking the mega-timberwolf with a measly rock (while symbolic, ala David and Goliath) wasn't that good of a pay off and felt rather lame. They definitely could've made it more
Another thing they could've done was put Spike at a higher risk that AJ has no choice but to flat out demand Spike to end the life debt. What would've happened was Spike doing something dangerous that put his life at risk, which causes AJ to finally step in and confront this issue with a stern demand to let go of that Dragon code and that he did not have to be like the others (ala Dragon Quest, which I thought he learnt that it was okay not to be like other dragons). It would've shown that sometimes, you just have to be brutally honest.
3. So which is the better Applejack episode?
-Well, I liked how Applejack was kept in character and and was able to defeat most of the timberwolves in SAYS. Even though I am really not a fan of Applejack's family (who took a chunk of the episode) in AFR and maybe AJ didnt get as much focus as I wanted, I do think Applejack's flaw in that episode is what brings it out on top. In SAYS, not only was the resolution unremarkable but I really thought it could've been better executed action-wise or scrapped and replaced with another ending where AJ has no choice but to directly demand Spike to drop the Dragon Code because of the harm it puts him in after putting his or others' lives at risk. Whereas SAYS gives AJ alot of screentime, AFR has a better flaw/resolution to the character and story. So, AFR is the better AJ episode.
And finally, does it mean Apple Family Reunion is the definitive Applejack episode we've been waiting for?... No. It sadly isn't. To keep things short, despite it having some genuinely good moments for AJ, the family took a chunk of the episode so we're left with a few really good AJ scenes, but not enough.
It's sad that Cindy Morrow, who wrote Sisterhooves Social (perhaps my favorite MLP episode, if not cartoon episode of all time imo), write AFR because I thought she wrote Applejack soooo well in SS and even in AFR. Again, I blame the family aspect so I definitely would welcome her to write another AJ episode in the future.
So, overall, it has been a mostly good year for Applejack (more than ever, having two mostly focused episodes and great support roles in the other episodes). Nothing that blew my mind and ergo, was a bit disappointing for me. Hopefully we'll see more of AJ's support role in the remaining episodes, and better written and focused episodes in Season 4.