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

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Episode 2: "Friendship Is Magic, part 2"
(aka The Elements of Harmony)

Aired 10/22/2010, written by Lauren Faust (her second episode)
    Storyline:
  • Intro: Recap of part 1.
  • Act 1: Once Nightmare Moon turns into a mist and departs, Twilight's friends follow her to the library and learn about the Elements of Harmony. They all enter the Everfree Forest in search of them, but Nightmare Moon triggers a rock slide and a manticore attack, and gives the trees a haunting appearance.
  • Act 2: Pinkie laughs away the spell on the trees, and the party makes it past a sea serpent and the illusory Shadowbolts to find the Elements in a castle, but only five of the six Elements are present.
  • Act 3: Nightmare Moon shatters the Elemental orbs and warps Twilight to another building, but when her friends rejoin her, the spark of friendship causes all six Elements to appear and form around the ponies, who then return Nightmare Moon to her original form. Princess Celestia then appears and reconciles with her lost sister, Princess Luna. Celestia also assigns Twilight to study the magic of friendship in Ponyville.

Character: The story itself is a progression from one demonstration of "elemental" virtue to the next, conveniently spelled out for us in the library scene. Whereas Celestia was the unseen chessmaster of part one, her sister sets up the threats faced on the friends' journey, unwittingly planting the seeds of her own defeat by giving occasion for those virtues to come to light, so to speak. (Hmm...might Nightmare Moon have an underlying "Luna" nature that led her to do this on purpose? Food for thought.) In any case, the personal threats here are milder than what comes later naturally, since a series has to have room to build, but also arguably because Princess Luna must be kept redeemable, as opposed to truly evil villains introduced later.

Lesson: The value of friendship is demonstrated and felt long before it allows the Mane Six to literally save the day. The recitation of the elemental virtues at the end is a nice reinforcement of the secondary messages of the story. One of these secondary messages is loving those who at first sight are unlovable (Fluttershy and the manticore, Rarity and the sea serpent, perhaps the other ponies with Twilight given her wariness of friendship in part one) while still not letting down your guard (Rainbow and the Shadowbolts).

Logic: I've read some complaints that Twilight is a bit dense in her surprise that Luna is Celestia's sister, given last episode's legend of the two sisters. We can only surmise that Twilight does not initially understand the legend to be referring to Princess Celestia. (First-time viewers would also have no reason to suspect this; the events took place 1,000 years ago, after all.) This and other clues in the series suggest (1) that important facts of Equestria's history are unknown to most of the populace or distorted into myths, and (2) that important facts about Celestia are unknown to Twilight. I have my own theories about both these ideas. It will suffice here to point out that within the show, Celestia relates to Twilight as a teacher and mentor and not as a mother figure or close friend. It's also true that Celestia has had other students, though Twilight is her (current?) favorite. But stay tuned for inevitable new developments in season four.

I almost never point out animation errors since they're nearly always the result of time limitations and are rarely even noticeable to the casual viewer. But one shot in the Applejack flashback near the end has a badly off-model face (wrong eye style, long noselike muzzle, overly large mouth and chin). The original scene looks fine, so I'm not sure what happened here.

Connections: Establishes the "adventure" side of the show, gives us the Everfree Forest and the means for these "ordinary" ponies to face major villains, and gives us the character of Luna, who is unfortunately left untouched by the writers until the next season. In-universe, the events of this episode carry enormous weight as Equestria enters a new era with its return to a harmonic co-regency.

 

Resonance: There's a little less humor in this episode than in the last one as the plot turns more serious. I found myself warming to Applejack early as she demonstrates leadership on multiple occasions. The third act contains four moments that struck me as especially powerful: Twilight's despair the moment the elements are crushed; the "spark" moment when she hears her friends coming; the reconciliation of Luna; and Twilight's new assignment. The last of these would ordinarily be mundane and necessary exposition to set the premise for the rest of the series, but the way it's played between Twilight and Celestia raises it to the level of drama. I credit this to the turn in the music, the animation of Twilight's expressions, and the qualities of Celestia's voice.

Now that we're seeing the cast in action, there's a lot to cheer about as each pony showcases her Elemental strength. I love the whole concept of the Everfree Forest (elaborated on in Bridle Gossip), and its proximity to the regal sisters' former castle hints at an untold story. In a way it reminds me of the Dark Side cave on Dagobah and the stories it inspired in the Star Wars Expanded Universe. The manticore fight is another great moment in the show that gives the ponies a chance to show their courage; not one of them shrinks away. Twilight's pawing and charging at Nightmare Moon is also excellent, both in-universe and as an example of good animation and of the characters actually behaving like equines.

 

Other Impressions and Final Assessment: Part one: fun stroll through town, part two: exciting and dangerous quest with the promise of more to come. The build-up and satisfying conclusion leave us eager to share more time with these characters, so we're as thrilled as Twilight to hear that Ponyville is her new home.

Let's also not forget that these episodes were what blew viewers' minds and kicked off the brony phenomenon. The show definitely improves over time, but MLP:FiM hit the ground running and never looked back.

 

Friendship Is Magic, parts 1-2 armor rating: Diamond Vest
Ranked 3rd and 4th of 26 season-one episodes
Ranked 55th and 56th of 147 stories overall

Click HERE for Character Appearance List and Screentime.

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