MLP:FiM Episode Reviews: Character and Story Analysis by Half the Battle

Prev.: MMMystery on the Friendship Express A Canterlot Wedding Part 1 Next: A Canterlot Wedding Part 2

Episode 51: "A Canterlot Wedding Part 1"

Aired 4/21/2012, written by Meghan McCarthy (her eighth episode)
    Storyline:
  • Intro: Princess Celestia requests help from the Mane Six for the upcoming wedding of Twilight Sparkle's brother.
  • Act 1: Twilight frets over the fact her brother told her nothing of the wedding. Her friends are excited about the event, but she can only sulk.
  • Act 2: Twilight's brother blames his faux pas on heightened security and reveals he's marrying Princess Cadance, Twilight's foalsitter. Cadance brushes off Twilight and is unappreciative of her friends' efforts. The friends think Cadance is delightful and perhaps a bit stressed.
  • Act 3: Twilight approaches her brother but is interrupted. When she witnesses Cadance perform an apparent brainwashing spell, Twilight is convinced the bride-to-be is evil and confronts her publicly at the rehearsal. Cadance runs out sobbing and everyone abandons Twilight. Alone, Twilight somehow finds Cadance still there, and Cadance suddenly zaps Twilight, who disappears into the darkness.

Foreword: In October 2012, the MLP Wedding Castle playset appeared on my niece Addison's Christmas list. I had heard whispers about the current generation of MLP being a big deal and that there was some controversy concerning its fan base. With the episodes so easily available, I decided to watch a few to see what I might be getting my niece into. A few quickly turned into all of them, but I went as far as this two-parter before accessing any fan material. I therefore went into this episode familiar with the series up to this point but totally unspoiled. I also deliberately waited 48 hours before watching Part 2 so the cliffhanger aspect would sink in. (The two parts were originally aired one right after the other.) For me the experience was like watching one of the classic Disney films, which is the highest compliment I can pay to a piece of animation. Subsequent viewings have allowed me to see ways it could be better, but perhaps the foregoing will help readers understand why I rate these episodes more highly than some reviewers do.

 

Character: We come to a deeper understanding of Twilight in this story. Growing up in the company of such caring ponies as her brother and her foalsitter (as well as her parents and Princess Celestia) gave her an understanding of love and relationships that helps explain (1) why Twilight didn't see a need to make friends, since she wasn't lonely, and (2) why she so easily committed herself to her friends once she had them. It's very apparent, by the way, that Twilight was raised by her family and not by Celestia, who on the show is consistently in the role of teacher. She's warm and friendly, but never maternal in the way Twilight often is with Spike. Beyond exposition, the BBBFF song also adds poignancy to Twilight's concerns about the wedding. Not hearing the news directly isn't just a personal slight; for Twilight it indicates the possible loss of that relationship: "I hoped that he would stay my big-brother-best-friend-forever." She's wondering, how long has he not cared? No wonder she's crying at the end of the song.

We've seen Twilight's killer observational skills many times. The previous episode showed her caution and objectivity when dealing with somepony else's predicament, but we've also seen several times (Winter Wrap Up, Lesson Zero) that she pretty much leaps at shadows where her own problems are concerned. But watching this episode with other viewers has led me to rethink what's going on here. Is Twilight jumping to conclusions as Pinkie did in the previous episode? My judgment is that she's not. Twilight knew Cadance well, over a number of years. She no doubt saw her interact with Shining Armor. This alicorn may have the same face and voice, but Twilight finds her unrecognizable. She witnesses plenty of evidence that this is not the Cadance she knew. I think Pinkie's scene clinched it for her, as the bride's insult to Pinkie is also demeaning to children and what they enjoy. It's the very opposite of the perspective the world's best foalsitter would have. For all we know, Cadance may have planned Twilight's own sixth birthday party. You could say that Twilight instinctively knows there's something wrong, and even tries to consult her friends and her brother about it, but holds back from certainty until she has solid evidence. But the assault on her brother is too much for her to remain cautious. She's overcome and goes into full-on defense mode.

Twilight's failing here is that she sounds stubborn and petty when trying to convince her friends. What she sees, we see, enough for us to be suspicious of Cadance but still uncertain and ready for the show to reveal that it was all a misunderstanding. What we don't have is Twilight's intimate knowledge of a mare who was once her only friend outside her family. Twilight's friends have access to none of this. If you focus only on what Twilight's friends have witnessed, it amounts to comments from the bride that could well be the result of nerves, contrasted with wild accusations and bitterness from Twilight, which just happens to fit the mood Twilight was in at the picnic and getting off the train, before she even knew who the bride was. As a result, we understand both Twilight's position and her friends'.

I don't think this is another Lesson Zero incident, either. Twilight is wrong to accuse her friends of being too caught up in the festivities. They're just in the dark and Twilight is not presenting the evidence in a believable way. Her fury with her brother is all she can communicate, and Applejack and Fluttershy try caringly to address her issues at several points. Her evident refusal to listen to reason has got to be perplexing for them, and from their perspective the way Twilight interrupts the dress rehearsal is outrageous. Did they all need to walk out on Twilight to "check on the Princess"? No. But can we understand them being "done" with her for the night? Absolutely.

Shining Armor is the perfect brother (except for the invitation issue, which he attributes to the heightened security), and Cadance is a big question mark in this episode but ends up getting strong positive treatment in all her appearances through season 3. The foalsitter flashback hints at a playfulness in Cadance that's a good starting point for distinguishing her from the other princesses. This couple hasn't been fleshed out enough to have real depth, but that's probably not a priority since, like Celestia and Luna, they are minor supporting characters on a show that keeps its focus very strongly on the Mane Six, Spike, and the CMC, which is as it should be.


Lesson: The thing is, Twilight was right, and the attentive viewer can see this is more than just Bridezilla syndrome. I was unconvinced that Cadance was truly evil, so my first time through this episode I was only wondering how deep a hole Twilight would dig herself into and how she would get out. Forgiveness would not come so easily this time since she had done serious damage to her relationships. But even with the twist at the end, I still think the lesson of this episode is the same. Twilight's jealousy biased her judgment and led her to spoil everyone's fun and make some really hurtful comments without a believable argument.

TV Tropes records a phenomenon called You Have To Believe Me, wherein a normally sane character discovers some secret that others might dismiss as crazy, and proceeds to announce her claims the way a crazy person would. Her audience is then justified in dismissing the claims because the character is acting so ridiculous. There's a bit of that with Twilight here, but it's largely because she sets herself up for it in the first act. The lesson in a nutshell here is that the things you say in the heat of anger may destroy your credibility later when it really counts.


Logic: One of the hints that something is truly wrong with Cadance is her sickly green magic glow, since it's blue in the flashback. Connections: Smarty Pants shows up at least once in the flashbacks.
Body Count: Shining Armor says his top priority is "staying focused on the task at hand."

 

Resonance: So at the end, Twilight, whose greatest fear has always been disappointing those she cares about, has lost her brother, again, perhaps irrevocably, and this time it's her fault. She's broken the heart of her other childhood friend, Cadance. At least she still has her Ponyville friends. No, they abandon her, as does Spike, the closest she has to a son. From Princess Celestia she receives only rough words in a tone we've only ever heard directed at Discord. On first viewing I was already numb by the time the reprise started up. Cadance showing her true colors in the final seconds was the scariest moment of the series to that point, but it also gave me a sense of relief as I realized this meant Twilight could possibly be vindicated, since she was right all along. I still had no idea what Part 2 had in store.

For all its drama, this episode has its share of fun as well. The most effective fun bits for me were the talking sandwich (storyboard artist Sibsy gets credit for that one) and Pinkie sneezing confetti. Spike's pony cake-toppers were a cute nod to the toy line as well, poking fun at the story's obviously merchandise-driven premise. A great easily-missed background moment is Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy flying around together in celebration at the end of the picnic scene. A couple other cute spots near the end are Rainbow and Rarity giggling during the rehearsal, and Shining Armor's eyes widening as Cadance enters. I adore all the happy flashbacks, and Shining Armor's city-wide force field is the most impressive magic we've seen from one unicorn in the first two seasons of the show. The fact that Applejack ice sculpts is also awesome.

 

Other Impressions and Final Assessment: I believe the writing for this episode is excellent, especially in its careful balance between Twilight's half-reasonable suspicions and her brother and friends' half-convincing justifications for Cadance's behavior. The only thing missing is a character who sees both sides enough to be unsure what to think. I would have liked to see Spike in that role, and have him pretty much pulled out of the room by the others at the end rather than walking out on Twilight himself.

What impresses me the most here is the show's serious presentation of real-life issues that will strike a chord with older viewers. Leaving close family out of the loop on major life decisions can create long-standing grudges regardless of whether they approve, and concerns about marrying the wrong person have wrecked many families permanently. For that reason, I expect viewers close to such situations might find this episode hard to watch. Kudos to the writers for the courage to keep MLP out of the sugar bowl and perhaps remind a few suffering souls that they're not alone.

Part One is superb on its own, but of course it's incomplete, and I like to judge two-parters together, so on to Part Two.

 

A Canterlot Wedding Parts 1 and 2 armor rating: Crystal Armor
Ranked 3rd and 4th of 26 season-two episodes
Ranked 22nd and 23rd of 147 stories overall

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Prev.: MMMystery on the Friendship Express A Canterlot Wedding Part 1 Next: A Canterlot Wedding Part 2