I usually see fandoms acting like they don’t know what they want. I am not going to give specific examples but if you know me personally you may guess what I mean with that. Sometimes I see people demanding the creators to add something to their intellectual properties. It can be a new character, a plot for an episode, or make Sonic’s legs spin faster when he’s running. My point is that fans don’t know what they want, for the most part, because when these changes appear in the show, videogame or movie of their devotion, they don’t react very well to them; which is why I still consider the bronies to be a case apart, because I haven’t seen such a cascade of positive feedback in my life. If you spoke to me, or saw my Twitter feed during the past week you would know that the best word to describe my feelings towards this episode was “dread”. I was dreading this episode as a possible base breaker that will make everyone in the fandom either very angry or very happy. I was so happily wrong. I spent around an hour reading comments on Equestria Daily and Derpibooru, trying to find any sign of whining, complaining or moaning about any aspect of the new episode, and all I found was a massive wall shaped like the word “Thanks”. So, if you allow me, it’s my turn to add my contribution to this wall. On with the review!
Okay, I don’t want to fool around this time so I am going to go straight forward with the “Too Long; Don’t Read” segment. Is this episode good? Are you kidding me? How dare you even ask this? Is this the best episode of Season 3? From what we have seen so far I can claim so, but objectively I’ll put on the same level as the premiere. Is this my new favourite episode? No, but it definitely makes my Top Ten easy, and if you want to find out why then please, keep on reading.
|It's like the intro to "Prince of Persia: Warrior Within"|
We start the episode inside an alley way, with rain and thunder as a cloaked pony runs hiding behind carts and crates before busting a door open en stepping inside a store that’s sunk in the darkness. She roams around it, knocking stuff off the shelves, pushing things away, looking for something. Then she gets interrupted by the shop keeper, who brings her to what she is actually looking for. The Alicorn Amulet, a mystical object of great power and terrible consequences. Despite his warning, the travelling pony throws a bag of bits on the counter, as she approaches the urn that contains the amulet, her smile reflecting on the glass as the wings on the jewel glow with red above it, as if her eyes beamed with rage. And then we cut to the happy theme song that tells us how wonderful friendship is. Yeah I think it’s getting to the point that the theme song is very jarring. This show, and episodes like this in particular, have a very dark feel to them, and you can see the creators went intentionally for this tone. However it kind of breaks it when you have a theme song like this right off the start. I’m not complaining (well, maybe I am) but it’s just weird. I think Hasbro should adapt the Italian intro of the show to English, now that would be awesome. However, this doesn’t affect the start’s impact. The whole scene plays pretty much silent, and it shows a side of Equestria we have never seen, which is the black market. I like to entertain the idea that the merchant has a secret entrance under his store that leads to the headquarters of a Chineighse gangster organization. Who knows? The show makers do like their movie references.
So after the intro we return to Ponyville, where Twilight Sparkle is training to improve her magic spells in juggling and animal levitation. I wonder if Twiley will put that in her magic resume.
- Defeated Nightmare Moon.
- Petrified Discord, lord of Chaos and Disharmony.
- Studied in Princess Celestia’s school of Gifted Unicorns.
- Can use both light and dark magic.
- Expert in animal juggling.
Apparently she is been tasked with the entertainment for the visit of some delegates from Saddle Arabia (this show and the horse puns make me groan, hard) so she wants to make sure her magic is at its best. I don’t know what kind of culture does this country have, but it surely sounds bizarre. I never heard of animal juggling before, but then again some people like to juggle geese, so I am not going to judge. It was really funny to see Fluttershy being over protective of her animal friends, and I was happy to see Spike making a reference to Winter Wrap Up when talking about how Twilight’s magic has improved since they arrived to Ponyville. After we see Twilight expertly juggling animals, and Fluttershy freaking out about it, Rainbow Dash crashes into the scene to bring us back to the Ponyville square. Apparently the cloaked mare that we saw in the intro has arrived to town and, for no apparent reason, is casting spells on random ponies, starting with poor Rarity putting her in a tacky dress with horrible colours. After fainting she is taken out of the scene, while Twilight arrives which prompts the mysterious cloaked mare to reveal who she is. And who else is going to be but fan favourite and Equestria Daily’s mascot, The Great and Powerful Trixie. I like how genuinely suspenseful the whole reveal is, as it’s dragged from the start to this point, but then Hasbro had to kind of ruin it by giving away the plot weeks in advance. I suddenly understand why M.A. Larson was so upset about it. If I wrote a very suspenseful reveal I would be angry at Hasbro for releasing preview clips and synopsis full of spoilers that ruin it too.
|Like this or angrier.|
The duel starts in a very impromptu manner, as Trixie and Twilight start throwing spells to each other and other things around them. It’s not usual for me to see any magic duels, and I was kind of expecting them to set up a stage or a field for them to start throwing magic at each other, but that’s my Pokémon logic kicking in so I am not complaining for the way it starts. Trixie launches a cart into the air and Twilight catches it before it flattens a pony. She returns it back to her place, while sweating bullets doing it. I take that grabbing objects in mid air is not an easy task, which would explain why she is so exhausted about it. Trixie throws her a bunch of pies, but Twilight counters by summoning a parasprite to eat them. Oh Mitch, you really wanted to bring back those critters, didn’t you? It was good to see them again though. I wonder where Twilight learnt to summon them. Trixie makes a bunch of snow fall over Twilight, and after melting it she makes a bushy moustache grow on the show mare’s face. One thing to note here is how Trixie is using offensive magic the whole while Twilight is just defending herself, and the only attacking spell she uses on Trixie is the growing magic one. I guess it all comes down to Black Mage Versus White Mage. Twilight’s good nature doesn’t allow her to use offensive magic, not even against Trixie. After cutting the moustache off, Trixie casts a spell on Snips and Snails, making them age into a baby and an old pony respectively. This shocks Twilight enough to make her stop and take a break to wrap her head around what she just saw. Age spells can only be performed by the highest level unicorns. This is another insight which I would like to hear more on.
Remember how Twilight is always such a powerful unicorn, and how her magic is so amazing? Well, apparently there are spells that are beyond her comprehension which, I will admit, makes total sense. We have seen her perform lots of spells in the past but none of them involved such a big change into a pony’s body. We have seen her change gravity, alter ponies’ personalities, re-memorize them, activate ancient artefacts with blackmagic, teleport, levitate and manipulate objects from the distance, turn rocksinto suits, create magic wings out of nowhere, manipulate a pony’s will, open adragon’s egg, create a force field and time travel, but one thing we have never seen her do is turn one thing into another. Even when she tried to control anobject with her magic it backfired, and on episode three of this season we saw her struggling to turn an apple into an orange. So we have to assume that she can’t change the shape of organic matter, be it ponies or fruit. She is talented and powerful, but she isn’t at Celestia’s level of magic. She has yet a lot to learn.
|Celestia may have taught you well, but you are not a Jedi yet.|
So, even though she puts all of her effort into counter the spell and turn Snips and Snails back to normal, Twilight is unable to upper Trixie’s spell, thus losing the duel. This gives us one terrifying evil laugh from Trixie followed by an even more terrifying outburst of contained anger and satisfaction, as she grabs Twilight with her magic, tosses her out of Ponyville like a ragdoll and casts a crystal dome all over the town, keeping the Ponyvillians inside and Twilight out. It is moments like this one when I have to pause the episode, take a step back and think about this. That whole concept is very dark. Imagine getting kicked out of where you live, losing everything you have, and there is nothing you can do about it. From Trixie’s laugh of pure contempt to Twilight landing on the dirt, I have to bring up what I always bring up. I still can’t believe this show exists. It’s so good, so shocking and so direct that I can’t believe it. This scene alone makes me want to watch the episode countless times. I’m sorry but I love to see my heroines biting the dust, especially if they are followed by scenes like the next one. So what do you expect to see? Twilight moping and crying that she got kicked out and that she will never see her friends again, right? Wrong. After she reassures her friends, and shares a small but emotional moment with Spike, she tells them to hold on and to look after each other, as she doesn’t waste a second to go look for help. I have a little tip for Trixie here: When trying to take over a town, don’t let the most intelligent and powerful unicorn in it to go outside so she could go find help. I think that, in the end, magic is not related to intelligence, because that amulet might make magic more powerful but it doesn’t make the bearer smarter, as we will find out very soon.
|It has a +100 in smugness though.|
After the commercial break we see Twilight trying to use an age spell on a flower, but she isn’t strong enough to make it work. Unable to contact Princess Celestia due to her being in Saddle Arabia and Spike being out of reach, she goes to talk with the closest mentor figure around: Zecora. We know from interviews that Lauren Faust wanted Zecora to be Twilight’s mentor in the outskirts of Ponyville, sort of a wise figure Twilight could look up to when staying away from Princess Celestia. I am pretty sure that, if Lauren kept up with the show, she’d appreciate the nod. Once at Zecora’s hut, she tells Twilight that Zecora knows magic Trixie does not, giving us another insight on the world of the show. Unicorns aren’t the only ones with magic powers, zebras apparently have them too, and from what we get to see they seem to be the mystical type, those that have more to do with concentration and trickery. Twilight is all excited about it, as she happily knocks over Zecora’s tea. Some light hearted comedy is always welcome with this bleak scenario. Speaking of which, we cut back to Ponyville where we see that Trixie’s take over just keeps getting worse. She has captured Mayor Mare inside a cage, and has the whole town building statues and banners with her face on them. As she enjoys her Orwellian dream, the ponies look as dim and desperate as one would under the reign of a megalomaniac drunk with power unicorn, so much so that Rarity pricks her hoof with a needle. I won’t make a reference to a very popular grim dark tumblr, but it was the only thing I could think of for a couple of minutes. We then return to Twilight Sparkle who is being trained by Yoda at the Water Nation’s camp. Oh I’m sorry! I mean, she is in the Everfree Forest making a delightfully obvious Star Wars reference with Zecora. This show does like to reference the classic science fiction, doesn’t it? I also want to give kudos to the animators in the animation of the floating orbs of water. When you make multimillionaire movies look bad you know you have it good. Despite Twilight trying her best to stay focused, she loses her concentration as soon as she thinks of Trixie and how there was to be something wrong with her. I think it’s becoming part of her character not to notice the obvious because she considers it to be above her level of comprehension. It’s cute, but very inconvenient. Regardless of how much of a failure she feels she is, Zecora doesn’t ease up on her, as they continue with the training. We return to Ponyville, where we see the Mane Six minus one and Spike searching all over Twilight’s library for an explanation to why Trixie is so strong. I was glad to see the library still standing. I think this show isn’t edgy enough to set it on fire, or maybe Trixie doesn’t think it’s worth her trouble to destroy the biggest hub of knowledge and information in the town. An Orwellian overlord she is not, definitely. Perhaps she learnt the whole concept of 1984 but never stopped to read the actual novel. After spending hours browsing through the library without finding anything they are about to give up, Fluttershy finds a book that tells the origin of the amulet and the powers it contains. Apparently it increases the magic while corrupting the one who wears it and the only way to remove it is if the bearer takes it off. Needing to tell this to Twilight they decide to send the perfect pony to move around the Everfree Forest: Fluttershy, dressed as Catwoman if she was a bunny. No really, go watch the episode again and check the outfit. That’s totally Catwoman mixed with a bunny suit. So after escaping from Ponyville with the help of her animal friends, Fluttershy brings the information to Twilight. With this in her possession and with Zecora’s lessons, Twilight sets up a plan to return to Ponyville and kick Trixie out. Some may wonder why we don’t see more scenes of Zecora teaching Twilight, and my answer to that is that these episodes have to be twenty two minutes long. If this episode was a two parter I think we will all be freaking out half way through, don’t you think? I think twenty two minutes is more than enough.
|Seriously, Catwoman Bunny Suit. Am I the only one seeing this!?|
After the break we return to the outskirts of Ponyville to find Twilight knocking on the shield to call Trixie’s attention. Trixie boasts and mocks Twilight, who just scoffs and shows up her new garment. She too is wearing a amulet with what must be the Kokiri Emerald from Ocarina of Time, as she explains that the magic it contains is extremely powerful magic from beyond the Everfree Forest. Catering to Trixie’s thirst for power, Twilight convinces her to have a rematch. So back to Ponyville, which seems to be trapped in an eternal windstorm of lightning, possibly from the forces of evil emanating from the amulet, the second magic duel begins as Trixie takes her butt monkeys Snips and Snails and turns them into babies once more. Twilight hoofwaves it as she calls for Applejack and Rarity. With a shot of her magic she turns them into fillies and gives the audience several cuteness induced heart attacks. But she doesn’t stop there. She turns them back to adults, then back to fillies, then one adult and an elder, then back to adults again. But she doesn’t stop there, oh no. She turns to Rainbow Dash and duplicates her. This show really likes the whole “Double Rainbow Dash all the way across the sky” joke too much, don’t you think? But she doesn’t stop there. She zaps Pinkie Pie and turns her into a one-pony band, as Trixie looks shocked to how she can become this powerful in such a short period of time. But it doesn’t stop there, as Twilight looks over at Applejack saying that she can turn a mare into a stallion. Wait, what? I couldn’t wrap my head around this fast enough. I was thinking: “Are they really going there? They aren’t going there, aren’t they? It can’t be, they can’t be going-they just went there”. That’s where I lost it. After being in the fandom fairly from the very beginning and seeing the countless recreations of the Mane Six as colts, I could only laugh and clap at what I was seeing.
So, after the demonstration of such awesome
powers thanks to this new magic amulet, Trixie can’t resist herself and
snatches it away from Twilight, as she removes the Alicorn amulet from her
neck and puts on the new one, as her magic aura turning from red to pink.
Taking advantage of her temporary distraction, Rainbow Dash grabs the Alicorn amulet away from Trixie. The showmare, not really caring for it, uses her
newly increased magic powers thanks to Zecora’s necklace, as she tickles
Rainbow Dash into submission. As it turns out, the magic necklace was a bogus,
and all the spells Twilight was casting were nothing but a clever set up of
pony swapping and character re-colouring. I think I have to point out the irony
here, because it’s too strong for me to ignore it. I love how Trixie, the
magician and trickster, is the one defeated by cheap techniques and smoke and
mirrors. It serves as a very clever take back to the character, and as a way to
avoid making Twilight a Mary Sue. I would have been worried that such a thing
as a Rule 63 transformation spell would exist in Equestria, so being this just
a set up makes the second magic duel a more intelligent way to defeat Trixie. With
her dark powers removed and the Alicorn amulet safely kept in Zecora’s hut,
Ponyville returns to normality as later that night Twilight performs in front
of the delegates of Saddle Arabia and Princess Celestia with great success.
Towards the end of the show Twilight notices a display of fireworks in the sky,
as she turns around to see Trixie back in her old wizard outfit. The showmare
approaches Twilight with her head hung between her shoulders as explains that
the amulet increased her hatred and despise towards Twilight, to the point
that she was blinded by it and didn’t know what she was doing. With a
smouldering pout mouth and tears in her eyes, Trixie asks for forgiveness and
Twilight, keeping it with the show’s theme, is very happy to give it to her.
She is not to keen on accepting Trixie as the most humble unicorn in all of
Equestria, but that’s not important, as Trixie runs away after a puff of smoke,
making fanboys punch the air in excitement and approval. And so the episode iris out, but not before Pinkie Pie breaks through again demanding to
have her mouth back. Twilight obliges and, breaking through as well, gives the
pink pony her mouth back, but not fast enough so she gets cut off by the
|"Oh dear, he just gave them so much ammunition for their fanfics"|
|In a scale from 1 to 10 this is Aladdin's Genie levels of Fourth Wall breaking.|
And that, my friends, was “Magic Duel”. How was it? It was pretty awesome. Like I said, it’s so far the best episode of this third new season, along with the premiere, as it keeps a very fast paced rhythm that doesn’t feel rushed at any moment. I kept getting worried as the days were growing closer, mostly because of the information we were given with each preview, and what worried me the most was the amount of stuff that’s going on in this episode. Because, to be honest, there is a lot going on in this episode, and with so much plot (goddamnit brony fandom, why?) there is always a big chance of something being left unattended. Just notice all that we have going on here. We have Trixie coming back with a cursed artefact, Twilight getting banished from Ponyville, Ponyville being sealed in a dome, Zecora teaching Twilight magic, Celestia coming with the delegates of Saddle Arabia, and Twilight coming back to defeat Trixie and remove the amulet from her. If you lean too much towards one storyline you run the risk to send the other ones into oblivion, and if you don’t address other storylines, like Celestia’s trip to Saddle Arabia, you run the risk of having your audience forget about them. So with so much going on and with so many elements in it this episode one would expect it to be impossible for it all to fit in twenty two minutes. But I was wrong. This episode never feels confusing or convoluted. It feels well balanced and executed with a good pacing that never goes below the thrill ride level, all the way to the very end. Going back and forth between Twilight trying to come back and improve her magic abilities, and the desperate situation in Ponyville gives balance to both stories and makes them come together seamlessly at the end. This is storytelling 101. You can use this episode to teach upcoming writers how to make things right.
We also have an endless amount of continuity nods, references, and fan service in every way shape or form. Besides having Spike talk about the Winter Wrap Up incident with the “Come to life” spell, we also have the parasprites making a return, the apple pies being used as a weapon, the growing moustaches magic spell, Trixie’s story being explained all the way back from episode six of season one, Pinkie Pie’s rock farm, and even a background event starring Lyra, Bon Bon, and a cup of haymilkshake. I have to be amongst the few who noticed this, and it was glorious. Zecora’s role in this episode was pivotal to take back Ponyville, as it proves how long we have gone since the days of her being considered an evil enchantress who does evil dances. That and the fact that Lauren’s idea didn’t go to waste are wonderful things. I love to see Zecora being a mentor figure to Twilight who can also teach her magic in different ways. It was wonderful to see our favourite nerdy unicorn still learning and getting better, and her attitude throughout the entire episode really made me realize about a lot of things about myself. I still have a lot to learn, and she doesn’t stop a second to get better. She doesn’t cry or show weakness, she downright gets to work on improving herself, and it’s fantastic. Twilight is a character of many shades, she has her moments of weakness and her moments of strength. I like how here her moment of weakness didn’t last more than thirty seconds. I like character abuse as much as the next guy, but too much makes my teeth grind *cough* Canterlot Wedding *cough*. There were enough references to satisfy fans everywhere. I already mentioned the Empire Strikes Back reference with Twilight lifting water the same way Luke lifted rocks, but there’s a few more besides that. How about that very “V for Vendetta” Trixie town look? That was pretty dark and immensely creative coming from the designers. How about Trixie taking Pinkie Pie’s mouth with a mouse cursor and sending it to the recycle bin? Or Fluttershy as Cat-Bunny-Woman? I am going to draw a blank on the whole Rule 63 Applejack, being it something M.A. Larson came up with himself, though I do entertain the possibility of him finding out about it in a website and throwing it in there for giggles. I highly doubt it, but nobody is stopping me from fantasizing about it.
|It's canon now. Oh well, everything's ruined.|
Now that I bring him up, allow me to talk about M.A. Larson’s writing for a couple of lines. It is obvious that many of the continuity nods in this show usually come from the team of animators and directors at DHX. During the past season there were some excerpts here and there that made reference to previous episodes, which means they don’t necessarily come from the writing itself. This episode did have a lot of continuity nods in the writing, some of which I mentioned already. M.A. Larson mentioned on Twitter that he had the assistance of Cindy Morrow when writing this episode and, to be honest, it shows, especially in the segments with Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash. Another great aspect of every episode scripted by Larson is how much emphasis he makes in team work. You can track this as far as his first episode. Every single one of the episodes written by him has a focus on team work. Everyone. This one is no exception and I loved seeing it. It’s becoming part of his writing traits, and it’s an important as it provides one positive message, that you can’t always do everything by yourself. Also, may I bring up the canonization of the word “Alicorn”? Because it’s not like they said it once, they mentioned that word over and over again during the whole episode, isn’t it amazing? Never before has this word being mentioned before, and one would argue that its meaning might be misunderstood. Alicorn was used to refer to a unicorn’s horn, but within this fandom it’s used to talk about winged unicorns like Celestia or Luna. Since the Alicorn Amulet has a winged unicorn in it, but it powers up a unicorn’s horn, it can be understood both ways. I personally go with the fanon interpretation and say that it’s the Alicorn Amulet because it has a winged unicorn in it. It’s simple, it’s elegant, and it will make the fandom go crazy if it happens to be true.
|All that's missing is a tag that says: "NOT AN EVIL SOUL SUCKING ARTEFACT"|
But most important of all, and if you didn’t realize I was saving this for last, is the returning character that we have in this episode, the very first antagonist to come back to Friendship is Magic, and she is doing it from an episode as early as the sixth episode from season one. There was a lot of speculation and fanon building regarding her, a lot of fanfics, and a lot of theories about her and the possible relationships with other characters of the canon. I wasn’t expecting all this to be invalidated, to be honest with you. Fanon is fanon; it belongs in its own continuity. If we were to follow the fanon and consider it part of the canon then we should all feel bad because they are all going to die in a nuclear apocalypse, out of the many possibilities. So the destruction of fanon didn’t worry me. What worried me was how the fandom was going to react to this character. I thought that, what we didn’t have with Princess Luna we were going to have it with Trixie. I was expecting a massive drama fest. Thankfully I was absolutely wrong. I have yet to see a negative comment regarding Trixie and her way of acting, and that’s because she is very well written. Let’s face it, in “Boast Busters” Trixie was just a show off who claimed to have done deeds she actually hadn’t, and in the end she had a small hint of redemption before going back into boastful mode, running away from the mess she had created. In this episode she is a pissed off mare drunk with power and with thirst for revenge who is controlled by a dark magic amulet. That’s quite an improvement in development if you ask me. Also, Kathleen Barr had way too much fun with this character. She hams it up like a pro, but it's never too much that it becomes annoying or distracting. I think that she is the unsung heroine of the voice actors for this show. Somebody should have her make an interview, or invite her to a con. However, while I did see this kind of personality coming, I was unsure about the resolution of her character arc. The way we were presented with it, it could have gone every which way. I personally was hoping for Trixie to be either completely defeated or have her redeem herself and apologize at the end. What I didn’t want to see was her running away again, leaving her arc incomplete and open for another episode. So when I saw her walking towards Twilight and asking for forgiveness I was sporting a big smile from side to side of my face, glad to see that her character arc had been completed in a satisfactory way. Seriously, sometimes I wonder why do I doubt the makers of this show.
|Don't you dare hurt them! Uhm, I mean, if that's okay with you.|
Aside from all this, I really don’t have big gripes about this episode. I guess you are wondering where all the criticism went since I’ve just been praising this episode for a whooping nine pages. If I have to bring something up it would be a couple of nagging questions like, why does Twilight have so much trouble lifting a cart or a couple of animals while she could levitate an Ursa Minor? Or, what happened to Snips and Snails after they got turned into babies if the amulet has been removed from Trixie and they were not turned back? But again, that’s not even worth bringing up and you can fill in the holes with some logic. It’s possible that Twilight didn’t have trouble with the Ursa Minor because that was only one animal and not several, and maybe catching the cart in mid air required her to use both magic and reflexes. As for Snips and Snails being babies, Princess Celestia is around town so I’m pretty sure she has the ability to bring them back to normal.
It was all round very good. It was a great way to bring back an antagonist from the very first episodes, redeem her and give us some awesome magic fights and creative spells. It moved the characters forward, it expanded the world like few other episodes have done, and it had countless memorable moments. I remember in the last days of summer I sent a tweet to M.A. Larson saying that he wrote four of my top five favourite episodes of this show, and he replied to me saying that he’d love to claim that fifth spot. Well, I didn’t like the episode enough to outrank any of my top five, but it surely has made its way into my top ten. It had everything I expected and more. It had that sense of wonder and novelty that few other shows manage to achieve, and it satisfied me beyond believe. Not just because the episode was fantastic, but because what I saw happening in the comment sections of many websites. I was concerned this might end up splitting the fandom, not severely so, but still make people divisive. Instead all I saw was people banding together on how awesome the episode was and how much they enjoyed Trixie. And that’s all that matters. People having fun together enjoying colourful ponies being awesome.
Oh, and can anyone tell me what the moral was? Because I’m starting to realize that M.A. Larson likes to toy around with the morals to the point of not delivering any! But then again, this comes from the guy who had Applejack drink cider and learn anything.
- Moral: I will make something up and say that the moral is forgiving your foes, especially when you have defeated them. You can also argue that the moral is to never give up on getting better even when you think you know everything and things don’t look good for you. Damnit Mitch, why do you make this so hard?
- Defining Moment: Both magic duels; the first one for the way it concludes with Twilight getting exiled from Ponyville, and the second one for how very well planned and executed it is. But seriously, it’s difficult to pick when the episode has so many good moments.