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29 November 2013

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic - "Princess Twilight Sparkle"

It’s difficult to measure the impact and effect of something if we don’t see the it in its entirety. Sometimes we have to wait years or decades to figure out if that one little incident that we deemed as insignificant actually has caused some sort of world collapsing disaster. It’s like that horrible movie “Cutthroat Island” causing a massive hole in the movie industry ten years after it bombed in both box office sales and reviews. It wasn’t until “Marvel’s the Avengers” came into the scene that the industry started getting better. Actions in the past can lead to horrible consequences in the future, and not always is there a pretty pony princess ready to save the day.

And then we have the Brony fandom. I don’t know about you, but had the premiere of Season 4 been pushed another month (or, Celestia forbid, to 2014) we would’ve seen riots of angry bronies setting containers on fire in the news followed by a brief report about nerdy men been affected by the visit of Aunt Irma. It’s taken 9 months to find out what kind of impact the transformation of Twilight Sparkle into an Alicorn Princess has caused into the show, so let’s stop beating around the bush and review this two parter.

Oh, it’s been so long since I’ve done this, but you guys know the drill. Here’s the TL;DR to tell you that this might as well be my favorite of the two parters and the absolute best Season premiere ever put together by the writers, VA’s and guys at DHX. If you want to find out why, please keep on reading.

So the episode stars where we left it in Season 3. The Mane Six are in Canterlot and Rainbow Dash is giving flying classes to the newly crowned Princess Twilight Sparkle. All this preparation comes to be ready for the Summer Sun Celebration, which is happening in three days and, aside from preparing the festivities, Twilight has to be ready to perform her part during the events. I think it’s very clever to  address this right away, and in the exact same way I was imagining. Having Dash teach Twilight how to fly is really cool, and it makes a lot of sense when you think about it. After crashing for who-knows-how-many-times time, Applejack helps Twilight to get up, and when she calls her Princess Twilight asks her not to do so, because it doesn’t feel right when her friends call her that. This is a good way to show how she’s still getting used to her new title the same way she is still getting used to her new wings, something that’s reflected by the fandom itself. The transition from nerdy unicorn to nerdy Alicorn princess is not an easy one and it’s a great move to show this right away and giving it the proper amount of attention. It doesn’t feel like they are dwelling into it, and it doesn’t feel like it’s poorly explained, it feels just right.

Can't say the same about Twilight's flying.
We are then hit with the new intro and oh boy, where do I start? Well, I have to admit it is pretty funny that the first thing we see is the goddamn balloon. Three seasons later, we’ve had Twilight get wings, become a Princess, fight Changelings, save Empires, defeat Gods of chaos, and she is still riding the stupid balloon. I couldn’t do anything but laugh about it because I pretty much resigned to them getting rid of that toy ploy. I was confused at the halfway point though, because Twilight jumps out of of the balloon and she doesn’t have her wings, though when she shows up at the end, surrounded by her friends, she has her wings and now the letter that is sent to Canterlot is read by both Celestia and Luna. Not to mention that Discord appears in the background inside Fluttershy’s cottage. So, this intro is a mish mash of the intros from seasons 1 and 2, and the events that took place in season 3. So I came up with an explanation as to why this new intro is like this, mostly to appease the need to buy another Twilight Sparkle Balloon toy and set it on fire. I think the intro could be interpreted as a meta narration of Twilight’s journey throughout the previous three seasons. We see Twilight arriving with her balloon in Season 1, she lands in Ponyville in Season 2 (which is why we see the train, Derpy, etc), and we see a slideshow of all her friends in Season 3 (with Discord, her transformed into an Alicorn, a big group picture taken at the end), and finally the letter is sent to both Celestia and Luna in Season 4. This is my way of seeing it, as a means to tells us where she came from, what she’s done, and where she is now. I personally prefer this interpretation than thinking that DHX and Hasbro were lazy, recycled the same intro and just added wings to it.

But hey, to each their own, right?
We then return to Canterlot castle where the Mane six are looking at the stained glass window that shows Twilight’s ascension into an Alicorn. Rarity then brings up how every pony dreams of one day becoming a Princess, to which Rainbow Dash says that not every pony ever dreams of becoming that, followed by Pinkie Pie drooling over her dreams of creamy frosting. I am really happy that this dialogue exists. I like how they are still addressing how there are many different ways to better ourselves, and how there are many ways of being a person, how not all of them include acquiring a position of power. Those who complained after what Meghan McCarthy said about every girl having the dream of becoming a princess can shut the fuck up. This cartoon still stands on the diversity of personalities and life styles one can follow, and this short little dialogue is all the evidence we need. We don’t need to dwell on it, as it’s not the focus of the scene. The focus is Twilight, and her concerns about the consequences that ascending into an Alicorn will have in her life. Applejack then comes in to reassure her that her friends will always be there for her, since they are all connected by the power of the Elements of Harmony. After coaching some more confidence into Twilight her five friends get into a train to return to Ponyville, leaving Twilight behind feeling like she is missing something.

Wait a minute, where's my wallet? Oh, don't tell me it grew wings and flew away again!
In the next scene we have Twilight organizing the upcoming Summer Sun Celebration with the help of Spike and his new pencil! I know it’s weird for me to point this it out, but of all the things that popped up to me during this scene it was the pencil the one that stuck with me. Three seasons later and he finally moves from quills to pencils, it was about time. Pencil business aside we are treated with one of Meghan McCarthy’s favorite writing quirks: Ponies losing their minds. Twilight starts worrying about making the celebration as perfect as possible and so she starts flying unconsciously until she knocks her head on the ceiling. If you thought Twilight losing her mind and going all panicky was adorkable and funny, I think Princess Twilight losing control of her flying is even more adorkable. She may have a position of power, and more responsibility than before, but that only adds to her nervousness and insecurities. I also like how they moved from “Randomly teleporting left to right” to “Flapping her wings”, it’s a much more appealing and visually interesting nervous tick than just teleporting, not to say it’s weirdly relatable. In the realm of possibility it’s easier to lose control of your body than losing control of your magic powers. All this insecurity is probably why Princess Celestia and her newly upgraded animation puppet decide to show up. It wasn’t difficult for me to notice how her animation seems to have had a revamp. Far away are those days where she looked stiff and weird. Now her animation is a lot more fluid and organic, as fluid and organic a magical flying horse can be. Celestia’s visit to Twilight isn't just to put her concerns to rest, but also to talk about what the Summer Sun Celebration has always represented for her. For the citizens of Equestria it always signified the defeat of Nightmare Moon, but for her it was a grim reminder of the time she had to banish her sister.

It was a Tuesday when I banished my sister, can you believe that?
It’s funny how we have never ever sat down and talked about that one fateful night, and how this celebration always reminded her of this. Celestia’s voice carries all the weight of one thousand years of doing this celebration, putting up a good presence and a happy face for those who adore her for saving them from Nightmare Moon, while on the inside she was broken by what she was forced to do to protect Equestria. That scene is really heavy, and it’s handled really well. No dwelling, no crying, but a lot of ominous atmosphere in it. But then the tone shifts to a happy one because it was thanks to Twilight and her friends that the celebration’s meaning changed and now it represents the return of Princess Luna and the happy reunion of the two sisters. Twilight still seems insecure about her responsibilities, so Celestia gives her a few more words of support and leaves her to attend to her duties, only to be assaulted by a snaking black vine not one minute later. I loved that. Any good writer will know how to give the scene a tonal twist, and turning it from sweet and tender to “Oh shit, we are so fucked right now”. It’s made even worse because the scene fades to black as we hear Princess Celestia scream in the struggle of the vines taking her, and that does terrible things to your imagination.

Insert "Hentai joke" right here.
Twilight then wakes up only to find that the Sun and the Moon are up in the sky at the same time, the citizens of Canterlot are freaking out, and to make matters worse the Royal guards inform her that Princess Celestia and Princess Luna have disappeared. With both princesses gone, and Princess Cadance overseeing the Crystal Empire, the responsibility of Canterlot falls on Twilight Sparkle’s shoulders. The military and the Royal guard are under her command. So what does Princess Twilight Sparkle do? Does she go berserk with panic and loses her mind? Does she freak out and curls herself into a ball? Nope, she stands resolved, confident and strong, orders the guards to keep looking for Celestia and Luna, and to report to her on anything they might find. Personally, I would have preferred her to order them to calm down the population, keep the citizens under control and ease their fears, but what matters is that Twilight didn’t lose her mind in such a delicate situation. That, my friends, was fantastic. I had no doubt that the show writers were going to portray the characters well and respectfully, but when the writing comes from the person who gave Twilight, Pinkie Pie and Rarity respective mental breakdowns you can understand why I am so pleased with this scene. It’s also great how she doesn’t sound angry or upset, or even shaky. She sounds confident but gentle, firm in her words and direct in her delivery, like a miniature version of Princess Celestia’s regality. However that doesn’t last forever as another Royal Guard comes into the scene to inform that Ponyville is being invaded by the Everfree Forest.

Also, a volcano erupted, a hurricane flooded Fillydelphia and the prom is tomorrow!
We go to Ponyville only to discover that it’s getting attacked by black vines covered in thorns and greenish plants, and crazy weather in the shape of spiky clouds. The Apple family is getting their farm ruined by these weeds, Fluttershy’s cottage has become an improvised shelter for all the frightened animals, Rainbow Dash is having an impossible time dealing with the clouds from “Kirby’s Dreamland, and Rarity’s magic has gone out of control due to some sort of spore these plants expel into the air. These scenes are well done, and they are fairly fun. Rarity’s cat Opalescence being attacked by an out of control teapot and her switching off her magic like she’s putting off the flame of a candle are very cool. But the whole thing seems too slapstick for me, so it ends up becoming slightly uneventful, at least for me. It gets the point across that Ponyville is fucked, and even though it goes on for a bit too long it still works.

Back in Canterlot we see Twilight getting her crown, taking flight ala “Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang” and heading towards Ponyville to go get her friends and the Elements of Harmony, since whatever it is that’s going on in Equestria at the moment it’s going to need a rainbow beam to the face. The flying scene is not all that interesting except for the fact that Spike manages to summon a safety belt out of Twilight’s flank. I've seen some fans scratching their heads about this, though I think it’s just DHX showing us that they worked in “Ed, Edd and Eddy”. Besides, this is a show about magical flying horses, if you question the existence of a safety belt out of nowhere you are definitely doing something wrong. Despite Twilight’s extensive training with Rainbow Dash she has yet to master the art of landing, so once they get into Ponyville territory Twilight dive-bombs into the Library and right when she’s about to crash into it she teleports inside, leaving poor Spike to crash onto a window and her into a pile books. That was a great touch that justifies her being able to both fly and teleport at the same time. It’s a good way of using both powers in a creative way. We see that the rest of the Mane Six are at the library, looking for ways to solve whatever it is that’s causing this situation, which I think is another brilliant scene. We saw them doing this before in “Magic Duel”, which also had Twilight away while the town was being invaded by the dark forces of evil, and seeing them doing this again is really cool. I like how the Mane Six have a natural instinct to move to the library to look for knowledge when things don’t go right, which shows that they don’t need to depend on Twilight giving them the answer to their problems. They can just walks towards the library and look for that knowledge themselves.

"You want weapons? We're in a library! Books! The best weapons in the world!"
Very good subtle message right there for children and adults alike.

Twilight briefs her friends in the situation, and figures out that this sort of thing has happened before, what with the crazy weather, the freaky plants, and the Sun and Moon being out of control. So they grab the Elements of Harmony, step out into town, and together they summon Discord in one of the best introductory scenes ever. Just seeing Discord taking a shower while singing “Winter Wrap Up” gives you an idea of the tone that every scene he is in is going to have. I have a big problem with this scene though. The only reason the Mane Six can summon Discord with the Elements is because Princess Celestia taught Twilight a magic spell to do so, and we are only told this because Discord brings it up. When did this happen? What spell is this? This is never explained in the series, comic books or books from all I know. This is just a hand waving excuse to how we can bring back Discord. Yeah, at least they do mention it, and they try to explain it, and it’s clear that they are just summoning him not controlling him, but it kind of annoys me. They could have done a mini comic, or a short segment explaining how there is a summoning spell that requires the Elements of Harmony, but I guess that wasn't as interesting as showing a parallel universe where everybody is a colored human.

Priorities? What the hell is that!?
Twilight is having none of his nonsense and she quickly accuses Discord of kidnapping Celestia and Luna, and making the weather and the plants all freaky and out of control. Discord simply shrugs and says he can’t be blamed for it this time, since he is reformed and has no real reason to be causing all this ruckus. I have to admit I have no problem with the pacing of the scene right now, and it flows pretty well, but the first time I watched it I felt it was going on for far too long. I felt like they were dwelling way too much in the whole “Discord used to be a bad guy, so this is his fault” theme, but after thinking about it for a couple of days it does make sense that they don’t trust him. He is the Lord of Chaos, why would you trust what he says? So my first impression wasn't so good, but the times after it felt a lot better. Maybe it was me getting used to the pacing, or maybe I was noticing things I wasn't noticing before. Besides, I love how Rainbow Dash, Rarity and Applejack (my three favorites of the Mane Six) are the ones who are determined to stone Discord again if he doesn’t cooperate.

The Elements of "I don't trust former villains", their leader is Jack Bauer.
As Discord takes the backseat for a moment we see our favorite zebra shaman come into the scene, being pushed out of the Everfree Forest because even this is too much for her. Despite how happy I am to see her, I feel like Zecora’s only role in this story is to carry a plot McGuffin and nothing else, which is rather disappointing. She enters the scene to bring a magic potion that only responds to Alicorn Magic. Why does she have this potion? Where did it came from? Why is it purple? Why does it change to white when Twilight’s magic hits it? Why white of all colors? And why does it require dark magic in particular? None of these questions is ever answered. It’s not a deal breaker for me though and, to be honest, I am a lot more concerned about the destiny of Equestria and the fate of Celestia and Luna than where Zecora got this potion in the first place, but it’s still a nagging issue that is hard to silence. I am assuming here that Zecora developed an interest in gathering Alicorn artifacts after she got her hooves on the Alicorn Amulet in Season 3, and it’s already established that she possesses all kinds of potions in “The Cutie Pox”, so it would be a very big stretch to assume that this is why she has this potion in particular, but despite this it would have been nice to have some sort of explanation.

"Do I have to drink all of it?" " don't put it in your mouth, Twilight"
So Twilight zaps the potion with her dark magic, because things worked so well the last time she zapped something with the magic made of death kittens and bad morning breath, and takes a sip of the potion which makes her eyes glow and teleports her into some place she doesn’t recognize, a castle of tall walls and columns, with tapestries of the Sun and the Moon hanging behind and over two thrones. The music is as ominous as ominous music can get, and from behind one of the thrones comes Princess Luna. She warns her not to keep moving any further, and then proceeds to stomp her hooves on the ground, which shatter the wall behind her, raises the Moon causing a solar eclipse, and before Twilight’s horrified eyes she transforms back into Nightmare Moon.

See you in a week! Cue the happy title credits!
I don’t think many people remember, but for Seasons 1 and 2 each part of the two parter was aired with a week between each other, never within the same day and one after the other. I remember waiting for seven very long days to watch the conclusion of the Discord episodes, and it was pure un-distilled agony. I don’t wish any other fan to suffer the same way we all did when those episodes were aired in 2011. Imagine what the fandom would have done if this two parter had been aired in two different weeks. To say we will be losing our minds would be way going soft.

That’s not what happened here though, but it’s not like we are thrown into a much better situation. After a rather pointless recap of what happened a few seconds ago we return to Nightmare Moon cackling evilly as she zaps the ceiling and destroys the statues, stepping out of the rubble, dust and mist looking way more menacing than what she looked in the pilot episodes. If the mood was ominous before now it’s so over the top it’s ridiculous. Then Princess Celestia appears and Nightmare Moon doesn’t waste any time and starts attacking her. Twilight tries to reason with the mare of darkness, and even after Celestia’s plea to make her stop she charges forth and chases her former sister all over the outside of the castle, in what I think is a very well shot and very well planned out action scene. This is one of the most badass moments in Friendship is Magic history. The chase between Nightmare Moon and Celestia carries tones of Harry Potter and Hayao Miyazaki. It culminates with Nightmare Moon finally hitting Celestia with one of her magic beams hard enough to make her fall through the roof. Twilight rushes to tend to the injured princess only to find her immobile on the castle floor. This leads to one of my favorite moments of the entire episode, and a recurring theme with two parters. I love seeing my favorite characters suffer, because from their suffering and grief comes resolution and strength. I love that moment when Twilight doesn’t understand why Luna is doing all this, and he she is so broken with fear, despair and sadness that the only thing she has left is to cry. That’s why when we see Celestia stand up again Twilight sounds so genuinely happy. It’s just a great moment.

Yes, yes Twilight cry, cry harder! Come on baby, come on, cryyyyy!
However, this makes Twilight realize that both her teacher and Nightmare Moon have been ignoring her the whole time. Celestia opens a trap door with her magic and out of it comes an altar with all the Elements of Harmony, but there is something odd about them. These Elements look more like Legend of Zelda rupees than what they look like right now. That’s because Twilight is not in the present, but in a flashback, and she’s seeing the night where Celestia banished her sister to the Moon. Celestia takes the Elements, summons their power and zaps Nightmare Moon with a rainbow beam, sending her to the Moon and leaving the well known unicorn head mark on its surface. This scene is incredibly powerful and says a lot about the grief Celestia had to go through, because the whole time she is summoning the power of the Elements she is silently crying, her teeth clenched and tears running down her cheeks as she is forced to banish her one and only sister for a thousand years.

No! Wait! I forgot my 3DS's charger!
Once the flashback is over Twilight comes back from her trance, only to find her friends worried about her, as they had no idea what was going on. She explains what the potion seems to do, and though she had a vision from the past it doesn’t really explain what’s going on right now in Ponyville and why the Princesses are gone. Not missing a beat she takes another sip and she’s then transported back to when Celestia and Luna battled Discord and turned him into stone. This flashback presents an Equestria with square-pattern grass, fish swimming in the air, and Discord sitting at the top of a throne eating something that looks like black sunflower seeds. He is so confident that not even when the two Princesses summon the Elements on him he seems phased or surprised about it. He even laughs when the rainbow hits him turning him to stone, leaving him in the same position that he was when we first saw him in “The Return of Harmony”. And then, without even changing flashbacks, we are taken to a completely new location and a new piece of Friendship is Magic lore, a white and blue tree with the glow of a thousand stars that Princess Luna and Princess Celestia both identify as the Tree of Harmony. What’s more interesting is that this tree has the cutie marks of Celestia, Luna, and Twilight Sparkle, as well as the six Elements of Harmony embedded in its bark. All this happened when Discord was still ruling over Equestria, which makes me wonder why is Twilight’s cutie mark embedded in the tree trunk. The two princesses take the Elements out of the Tree, as Celestia explains that even without them the tree has enough magic power to contain everything that lives around it. With this new information Twilight finally figures out that the Tree of Harmony has lost control of its surroundings, and that they need to go save it before it’s too late. So, where is this tree located?

Take a fucking guess.
Sometimes I wonder why don’t they just take a flamethrower to the forest and get rid of it once and for all. But never mind that, there is a callback to the first episodes to do! As the Mane Six stand in front of the forest determined to go in there and save the day, we are reminded of the very second episode of the series, and how Twilight acknowledges that she was reckless for thinking she should be going alone. It doesn’t take long before they get attacked by a rockodile (it’s actually a cragadile, for some reason rockodile didn’t pass legal) that almost kills Twilight if it wasn't for Applejack’s quick reflexes with her lasso and the help of the other ponies. This leads Applejack stepping forth and saying that they should keep looking for the tree of harmony without Twilight. In case you are wondering she says this is because Equestria has already lost two Princesses. Losing Princess Twilight would be too hard a hit for the Equestrians to endure, and we can’t count of Cadance because…she is doing another toy commercial or something. With the support of Rarity and the agreement of every pony else, Twilight walks back to Ponyville and leaves the rest of her friends to look for the tree. In the end the Mane Six minus Twilight end up finding the tree of Harmony being strangled and consumed by the black vines, but they have no idea how to save it. The only one who might know is Twilight. I find the parallelism really interesting here. I love how at the beginning of the series Twilight was the one who thought she could venture into the forest by herself, and now it’s the rest of the Mane Six who think they can do the same without Twilight. In the end they both reach the same conclusion: They are powerless without the other/s.

You're banned from the Everfree Server for swearin' like a truck driver, sugar cube.
Twilight’s visit to Ponyville doesn’t last long though, since it only takes a couple of minutes and Discord’s poisonous personality to make Twilight turn tail and go back into the forest to help her friends. Sadly this ends with her being gassed into unconsciousness by a group of carnivore plants. It’s in the middle of all this when Spike rushes to the Mane Six to inform them that Twilight is in danger, and just in the nick of time they arrive to save her from the plants. After doing so they tell Twilight that they are lost without her and that they shouldn't have let her go in the first place, which hopefully will lead to them never ever questioning Twilight again.

I understand those who have an issue with this scene but, to be honest with you, I think it works better than we give it credit for. Let me use an example from a movie that we all know had a similar set up. In “Independence Day” we have the President of the United States getting into battle flying a combat airship and killing aliens. Okay, it’s a sci-fi movie, but you have to admit it’s pretty irresponsible to have the President get into the freight of combat and have nobody question this. Not the Secretary of Defense, not the airforce, nobody comes out and tries to talk the President out of it. Not even Robert Loggia can make him change his mind. The scene where Applejack and Rarity tell Twilight to step down is there because the characters are smart enough to know that they are expendable, but Twilight is not. The Mane Six have always had the responsibility to defend Equestria, but now one of them is responsible to both defend it and rule it. Losing her would be too much for the land to handle. This doesn’t justify the scene being rushed, it’s rushed because the episode is only 22 minutes long, but I am really glad that the characters are smart enough to acknowledge a situation and act in consequence like any other normal and sensible person would. As much as it causes them grief to put Twilight in danger, they need her to save Equestria, and it’s necessary for her to be in jeopardy. It’s a no win scenario that the Mane Six are forced to confront. They try to get around it but it quickly revolves against them. This is them trying to fight the situation and failing at that.

Sounds familiar?
So, after they reunite, Twilight walks towards the tree and figures out the only way to save it: They need to give it back the Elements of Harmony. This is, obviously, received with distraught reactions from all of the other ponies. Rainbow Dash says they will be unable to defend Equestria without them. Rarity says that they won’t be able to put Discord back into his stone prison. And Applejack is worried that the one thing that brought them together will be gone forever. Twilight explains that the Elements might have brought them all together, but they are not what’s keeping them together. What’s keeping them together is their friendships, and that’s something that will never disappear. Twilight then takes the Element gemstones out of the necklaces, takes her own out of her crown, and puts them back inside the tree, causing it to glow and erase all the vines out of existence, freeing Ponyville, and releasing Princess Celestia and Princess Luna out of their vine prisons. Right when the three princesses are hugging after being reunited, Twilight’s eyes sparkle the same way they sparked when she first fought Nightmare Moon and when she finished Starswirl’s unfinished spell, and the cutie marks on the tree trunk shine. Out of it a sprout comes out, which grows into a flower out of which appears a sealed chest with six locks. Celestia says she knows nothing about the keys that open this chest, but assures Twilight that this mystery is one that she won’t be solving alone.

How can that stupid cane have more memes than me?
As the Mane Six return to Ponyville they are greeted by Discord, who takes the whole returning of the elements back to the tree with a caustic smug grin, before Fluttershy goes at him and reprimands him for even think about being naughty. It’s during this scene when Twilight wonders why did the Everfree Forest started attacking at this very moment, to which Discord pretty much says “Oh, this was supposed to happen years ago, but I overestimated the power of the tree of Harmony”. We are then treated to another flashback where it’s revealed to us that those seeds Discord was eating were, of course, seeds of discord, and they were supposed to take hold of the Tree of Harmony and spread all over Equestria in the case he was gone, kind of a “Fuck you” to Celestia after getting trapped in stone. Twilight gets mad at Discord, but he argues that he was just helping in giving her a lesson of humility. It was more or less at this point when I realized Discord is starting to be less Discord and more Q, and I wouldn't have it any other way. We are getting to that episode where Twilight is sleeping in bed, wakes up and Discord is laying right next to her. Believe me, it’s going to happen. Back in Canterlot the Summer Sun Celebration finally reaches its end, with Princess Luna lowering the Moon, Princess Celestia rising the Sun, and Princess Twilight flying and in between them right when Sun and Moon meet in the sky. The ponies cheer, the fans scream “SYMBOLISM!” and the two parter ends, with Twilight now cemented in her new position as Princess of Equestria.

So that was the long awaited and really hyped up two parter “Princess Twilight Sparkle”, and what can I say about it that hasn't already been said? Like I said before it is my favorite of the two parters, it has a lot of things that make it an experience to watch, but it still has a couple of problems that keep it from being in my personal top ten. None of the two parters is in this top ten, and even though this one is the closest to get there I still have to address a couple of flaws in it.

Awww how cute, you have flaws to point at.
In my opinion I think the biggest flaw in this episode is the lack of comedy in it. It’s not a complete absent of it, and in the end the kind of tone they were going with this was darker, somber, and a lot more serious than in previous two parters, but not all the comedy worked all that well. I will tell you right now, everything with Discord was perfect. It was random, witty, very creative, and it always took a chuckle out of me. Seeing him dressed as a French maid, a cowboy, or sitting on an armchair with 3D glasses and a bucket of popcorn was hilarious, and John de Lancie did an amazing work as always. However, that’s where it stops. Every other type of comedy was either hit or miss. In an episode with such a dark atmosphere you need to throw in some comedy to ease the tension and justify the horrors that the characters have to go through, otherwise you run the risk of making the drama so over the top it becomes funny. Pinkie Pie was probably the biggest flaw in this respect. Her jokes didn’t always hit bull’s-eye. I thought the joke where she sent a letter to Twilight when they were departing Canterlot was pretty funny and very in-character, but every other joke felt forced, like the frosting dreams one, or when she’s drawing on a “Choose your own adventure” book at the library. She was also relegated to the background in many of the scenes, which is something that also happened to Fluttershy. For the majority of the episode I forgot that she was even in it. Only towards the end I remembered that she was around, and it was only because she had to keep Discord under control. Aside from that it felt like she wasn't there at all.

Sir Not-appearing-in-this-film played by Fluttershy.
But if we speak of things that were not there at all probably the biggest question has to be made about the origin of the Tree of Harmony, and the Alicorn potion. These two, I am going to have a hard time letting them go, the same way it’s hard for me to let go what happened with that book that Spike found in the secret compartment at the Golden Oak Library. Why is the Tree of Harmony in the Everfree Forest? Where did it come from? And why was it holding the Elements of Harmony? But what’s most important is, why does it have the Cutie marks of Celestia, Luna and Twilight? I am going to make no assumptions, after all the season is just starting, but I hope all of these questions are answered when that mysterious chest is opened. I don’t see the Flashback potion getting an explanation, though. Zecora has it just because, for the same reason Big Daddy has a Rocket Launcher in his house. She just has it, and if you have a problem with it you can suck it. I still don’t know why the liquid turns from purple to white though, but the rule 34 side of the fandom sure is having a field day with it (I sure did).

Introduce "That's not milk" joke right here.
That’s where the things that I didn’t like end. Aside from that I loved everything else. And I don’t mean to make a hyperbole, saying that I loved almost everything and then there are two or three things that I liked just okay, but that’s not true. I literally loved everything else.

Ready to start listing!
Starting with the voice acting, the writing and the characters, this show has gotten deep and really interesting, even more so than before. Twilight Sparkle is presented as a fully flexed out three dimensional character with no signs of Flanderization. She has her insecurities and fears, but when the shit hits the fan she is able to put all of that aside and focus on the problem, tackling it as a very no-nonsense leader. She is strong, but she is flawed, and it’s clear that she needs the support of her friends to pull through her problems, something that’s present in this episode several times. Tara Strong was right when she said she didn’t change her performance as Twilight, though she does add a lot of new tones we have never seen in Twilight before. There is a lot of genuine emotion going on in the scene where Twilight thinks that Celestia is dead, that broken sobbing just tears me apart. Applejack has definitely moved away from her stubborn stigma and is now more of a motherly figure to the entire group. She too is brave and very no-nonsense, but she knows when to be tender and when to be direct. She says things like they are, and doesn’t try to dress them to make the impact less hurtful. She can be able to get Twilight happy, and when to tell her that she’s way too over her head. She might not be all resourceful when solving a problem (since everything she knows to do is just bite the weeds out of existence), though there is only a number of things an earth pony can do before it runs out of options, and she compensates this by letting others help her with it. Rarity of all ponies was the one that supported Applejack the most during the episode. I would have never imagined these two agreeing with anything, but it’s clear that they have come a long way and now are able to support each other when discussions arise. Rarity was great, not only in the side of comedy (of which she had a little but very effective) but also in the active side when it came to fighting the evil vines, or looking for a solution. She is also there to support Twilight and give her the bit of confidence she’s missing. Rainbow Dash stayed in character, both in how bold and secure of herself she is, but also how quick she is to jump to conclusions, and how these always end up kicking her in the ass. Despite what I said about how Pinkie Pie wasn't all that funny and how Fluttershy didn’t appear enough, they were respectively harmless and welcoming. They stayed in character, even though they didn’t have enough screen time.

We will make up for it with lots of badassery.
The episodes look gorgeous, and I mean jaw-dropping, state of the art, honest to God gorgeous visuals. These are probably the best looking episodes of Friendship is Magic we have had to date, surpassing the likes of “Sonic Rainboom”, “Luna Eclipsed”, “The Return of Harmony” or “A Canterlot Wedding”. Everything in them looked and felt as epic as the story they are telling. The camera angles are dramatic and carry very well the impact of the scene, as well as showing us sceneries that are both haunting and beautiful. Luna’s transformation into Nightmare Moon is horrifying, and the subsequent chase scene on the outside of the castle is memorable and award worthy. Seeing Ponyville covered in black weeds was frightening, and added a lot of tension to an already tense story. Their animation made them a silent antagonist, the one that snakes behind you and doesn’t tell you it’s there until it’s too late, and even though the powers they gave them seemed like they were making up as they went (like the magic interference one), I will consider them to be a genuine threat. The Everfree Forest continues to be a source for creative creatures, like that rock crocodile, or the sleep inducing carnivore plants, and it looks and feels as threatening as ever. The flashback to when Discord was reigning was really interesting too, with how the music warped, and the scenario acquired this dream like feel to it.

Flash. DHX, you guys are the best.
The keyword to describe the look of these episodes is definitely atmosphere. You could cut it with a knife and serve it in portions. It went from heavy, to confusing, to poisonous, to overwhelming. It sucks you into the world of Equestria and the incredible crisis is going through during these two episodes. I didn’t think the visual style of the show could get better after what we have seen in the previous two seasons, but it’s clear that DHX is pushing the envelope when it comes to doing amazing things with Flash. With Flash! I still can’t believe that, it looks so beautiful and stylized, it’s just impressive and magnificent.

The writing is also great too. I already mentioned my two problems, what with the Tree of Harmony and the Flashback potion, but everything else flowed and moved very naturally. We go from scene to scene with good segues and seamless transitions, and the timing when it comes to reveal something dreadful or delivering a joke’s punch line is right on. But if I am going to compliment the writing in one thing that is the tone of it. Yes, it can be too dramatic and too dark at times, but that’s one of the reasons why I enjoyed it so much. I can ignore the lack of humor in some scenes so I can bask in the pressing atmosphere of dread and drama this episode brings in. It shows that play time is over; things have gone beyond real. It’s like the series has a line, they crossed it, and then they set the line on fire. It’s so good and so enjoyable how it puts Twilight to the test and how she comes out of it victorious, a validation for turning her into a Princess and ascending her to alicornhood. This two parter justifies giving her wings, a higher position in Equestria’s ranking, and the power to take decisions and face the consequences. And what’s most remarkable about it is that this whole feat is accomplished without fighting any villain whatsoever.

In the end, vines proved to be a more effective villain than stairs and doors.
Yes, kind of interesting, isn't it? When you really think about it there is no real villain in these episodes. One might argue that Discord was the one behind it all, since he was the one who planted the seeds, but he had lost control of his own scheme when the seeds of chaos didn’t sprout when they were supposed to. There is no evil villain in the castle, or satanic overlord that wants to recover his empire. The real villain here is a situation that can only be compared with a natural disaster, and those are probably the scariest situations one can confront; the situations where you are completely powerless to fight against, where all that’s left is to stay together and renounce to some of the things you hold dear the most, kind of like how Twilight has to give up the Elements of Harmony in order to protect Equestria. You can’t fire your rainbow beam to something that doesn’t even have a face, especially when you know it’s not going to work, you need to find another solution even if you and your loved ones have to lose something in the process.

We might not have the Elements anymore, but we still have each other.
So, overall, these were some great episodes, definitely my favorite two parter out of all the ones this series has gotten. There were great moments, really well written dialogue, gorgeous visuals, great music, the characters were spot on, their relationships felt strong and their interactions really natural, there was lots of world building, it brought in new mythos to the lore of Friendship is Magic, it had an insightful view in the history of Equestria, it presented the conflict and its resolution really well, and it set up a season long history arc that I seriously hope pays off in the end. It will be a disappointment if they open the box only to find another smaller box inside.

Though, come to think of it, that would be a really funny twist.

Seriously though, this better be worth it or else the streets will run red with...ketchup.
- Defining Moment: The first flashback where Twilight is all confused about what’s happening around her, and its resolution with Celestia banishing Luna to the Moon. Three minutes of pure solid storytelling with almost no dialogue and some of the most haunting visuals this show has ever had.

- Moral: Sometimes it’s necessary to make sacrifices for the greater good.

And now, have an extra addendum where my good friend Norman Sanzo and I review these two episodes!


  1. Fantastic review! I'm glad to see you back! =D

    "In the next scene we have Twilight organizing the upcoming Summer Sun Celebration with the help of Spike and his new pencil! I know it’s weird for me to point this it out, but of all the things that popped up to me during this scene it was the pencil the one that stuck with me."

    Hah! I thought I was the only one. Spike finally using a pencil stuck out to me too, more than it really ought to have.

  2. Not much I can really add to this since you covered a lot already including some of what I had said in my original review I posted on the episode followup page. That being said there was a major theme I saw in this episode. I saw that the bulk of the interactions and conversations with the Mane 6 involved them emphasizing that they will be together. Either with Applejack talking about how they are united or the group and Twilight seeing that they need each other and shouldn't be split up it all continues to drive home the point that the writers wanted to make sure us bronies got in our heads: that Twilight is still going to be Twilight and she is still going to be with her friends. They even covered the "what about Twilight's importance in the kingdom" question here when they send Twilight back to town and since I know this question had to be asked to make sure that the point was fully driven home that Twilight would be with her friends I actually had no problem with it being a tad rushed. It had to be asked and if it hadn't been done then I don't think it would have been done.

    All in all I personally consider this not only the best season opener but the best FiM episodes thus far. This will now be the episode that I can be like "Oh you want to see why this show is awesome? Watch this episode." For months I've had a friend I've been slowly getting into the brony fandom but aside from the Discord episodes (he loves Star Trek so I knew starting there would be good) I really couldn't think of many episodes he would like without already being a brony. Then this episode happened and I got him to watch it and he thought it was awesome so that's huge progress. Since I guess you didn't get around to reading my comment on your Turnabout Storm review I just wanted to say thanks again for reviewing that and I can't wait to read the rest of your season 4 stuff as it comes out.

  3. You know James? I must admid it, Meghan McCarthy made me worried after her works in the S3 (Crystal Empire and Equestria Girls, I'm not a big fan for both of them), but now that she made my new favorite two-parter in the entire show, I've not problems anymore.

  4. - ehm I seem to recall Lord of the Rings bringing life back to the movie industry and make the room for blockbuster two hours long pieces. And before that was Titanic which came less than two years after Cuthroath Island. And why does everybody hates that movie? I barely recall it and I loved the sega genesis game.

    - Love you intepretation of the intro =)

    - Yeah, I was one of those who complained to Mcharthy but she later retracted for that statement. Honestly, had she said they were going to adress that issue, it would have been better. I honestly think she has nobody to blame but herself for the things she says. That womans needs a tumblr.

    - ouch, that jab at Equestria Girls hurt. Meh, I have no problem with that scene, in fact, it helps explain a point that Polsky missed in Keep Calm about the Elements working individually. Makes sense to me, I guess I´m saying.

    - For what I understand, Pinkie originally got a scene trying on different hats while the weather kept changing, which was more slapstick. I would have traded Rarity scene for that one but then you´ll be complaining of lack of best pony XP

    - SYMBOLISM!!!

    Yup, great review as always. Hope you´re feeling better since I read you were kind of down in your twitter =)

  5. It's very serendipitous how in the same year we got Iron Man 3, we get a second story about a hero renouncing their powers as a metaphor for how much said powers have made them stronger, better people in the process.

    "You can take away our fancy necklaces and crowns, but there's one thing you can't take away: WE ARE THE ELEMENTS OF HARMONY"

    ...still I'm pretty sure that whatever's in the box is just gonna replace the EOH anyway.

  6. I have to admit this is my favorite two parter story also. It had a lot of good points that you listed and the tone, while serious, worked really well.

    I do wonder about the Tree of Harmony though. And the fact that Celestia and Luna pretty much stole the elements from it. Before the Discord seed reveal I was persuaded that the whole thing was a belated revenge plot by the tree to punish the two alicorns who stole from it. And that after getting back what it had lost the tree was calmed down and freed the two sisters.

    Cadance's existance seem to always flip flop in this. We know she's busy with the cristal empire so she can't be bothered to rule both or something but even with the tree. We had Celestia, Luna, and Twilight's cutey mark but no Cadance. So I guess it rules out the "Alicorn power tree" theory.
    My theory right now is that since it seems Celestia and Luna are a immortal legend type of alicorn maybe Twilight is too. And that she, unlike the two, is rebirthed from time to time into a different pony but always with that cutey mark.

  7. Great review, as always.

    I didn't mind the lack of comedy at all, personally, as well as the absence of explanation about the Tree of Harmony (it keeps some mystery intact, which is always a good thing). Zecora's potion was a bit out of nowhere, though, but oh well, like you said, it's not that big of a stretch.

    But I'd like to know what you think about the Nightmare Moon flashback, aside from its flawless and gorgeous execution: it does give the impression that Luna turned into NMM for literally 5 minutes before being sent to the moon. Do you think that's how long lasted her rebellion?


  8. Good to see you come back.

    Best Season opening until now.

  9. Thanks for the great review!

    I use to read your reviews on MLP episodes because I'd like to broaden my mind. Your reasoning is so intelligent that I can fully understand your opinion even if I disagree with some points. So, I decided to write short comments with my opinions on all your episode-reviews of Season 4 -a true brony doesn't just take, but gives back something in return :). I'm not a professional reviewer (and I'm not a native English speaker as well), hence my thoughts will be mostly subjective and simplistic. I'm a moral-centric viewer; besides, there are four other aspects that I'm touchy about: humor, drama, cuteness and insaneness.

    This two parter was a good one, but not good enough for my taste. My rating is: 3/5. However, be careful with this rating! The first double episode "Friendship is Magic", which turned me (and other thousands of people) into a brony, got the same rating. This is the MLP standard average rate, far beyond the level of any other cartoon created so far.

    So, the episode has some really good points and some bad points too.

    Good points:

    It has a uniquely intricate plotline with great twists (almost-time-traveling potion, parts of Discord, AJ send Twilight home, small hexagonal chest). It is the strongest feature of this two parter and I enjoyed it the most. I hope we can see more episodes of this kind.

    The 'best scene award' goes to the one, where AJ send Twilight home! It was like AJ would have said, "We are all expendable, but you are a princess. We will defend you by all means." Oh, my God, the air froze in my room and my heart stopped bumping for a moment! What is a drama, if not this!? It was the most touching moment in the whole episode.

    There are other important and serious things here.

    Twilight have to deal with being a princess. What are the problems that a new princess should face with? The story fulfils this purpose in every aspect. Here, I mean EVERY aspect. I counted at least eight of them, which is awesome!

    The flashbacks were really long-awaited and filled huge gaps about the most important events of Equestrian history. At the Nightmare Moon scene I do not know that it will be a flashback, which is funny, and I was surprised at the end. The animation was spectacular. The fight between Celestia and Nightmare Moon was also well-made and enjoyable.

    I am fully convinced that Discord is reformed. The humor was concentrated around him, and he was such an excellent and hilarious character. Sadly, the others were not so funny. Though, one can easily find out that this double episode wasn't a humor-centric one.

    At the end, we had the Tree of Harmony, which is probably the most powerful thing near and far, and the small hexagonal chest, which made me just more curious about season 4.

  10. (cont.)
    Bad points:

    There was less humor than usual. The few funny and dramatic parts were scattered along the plotline and it didn't give a smooth feeling.

    The atmosphere was a bit too dark. To think of it for the second time, it could have been a good thing, if it would have supported a strong moral. However, I felt the moral weak for this purpose because it was unemphasized. The ponies of course sacrifice the elements of harmony for they have no other choice. I rather think, the moral is supposed to be about what friendship means in this new situation. The Mane 6 learned that they are getting nowhere without each other.

    Sometimes it felt like Twilight was forced to do things to show she is prepared to be a princess -and maybe, to assure us that "Magical Mystery Cure" makes any sense-, e.g. when she instructed the royal guards.
    Pinkie was out of character in most of the time -though, it is a long-lasting tendency and isn't totally the fault of this episode. She does random things around, but nothing, which shows her other sides. It was perfectly done e.g. in "Bridle Gossip", "Green Isn't Your Color" or in "The Last Roundup", where Pinkie was a great supportive character.

    There are some inconsistencies and unanswered questions. The two most annoying one:
    Where is Cadence in the meantime? Did she have a spa-therapy in the Crystal Empire? Didn't she noticed the moon and the sun being together on the sky?
    Why didn't RD fly right off to save Twilight in 10 seconds flat, when she was captured by the evil carnivore plants? She could have done it and it would have fitted better to her personality.

    The graphics were all good, but Celestia looked a bit weird.

    All in all, if season 4 keeps up this level and get over the problems of season 3, there won't be problems.

    If you think about it, you can realize the similarities with "The Crystal Empire" in story structure and atmosphere. Luckily, here the implementation was undoubtedly better. However, I still reckon "The Return of Harmony" is the best two parter (maybe the best MLP episode) so far.