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

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Episode 30: "Luna Eclipsed"

Aired 10/22/2011, written by M.A. Larson (his sixth episode)
Gotta get my old tuxedo pressed,
I gotta sew a button on my vest,
'Cause tonight I've gotta look my best:
Lulu's back in town.

You can tell the mailmare not to call,
'Cause I ain't comin' home until the fall,
And I might not get back home at all,
'Cause Lulu's back in town.
  • Intro: Twilight Sparkle wears a Star Swirl the Bearded costume to greet trick-or-treaters, but no one recognizes her outfit.
  • Act 1: Pinkie Pie leads the foals in search of candy for the traditional offering to Nightmare Moon as the mayor welcomes everyone to the Nightmare Night festival. Zecora tells a bogeyman-style legend about Nightmare Moon, and just then Princess Luna arrives for her first public appearance since her restoration.
  • Act 2: The town cowers in panic at Luna's welcome, but Twilight offers friendship, taking her to Fluttershy to learn a softer voice, and to Applejack to learn how to enjoy fun and games. But misunderstandings keep scaring the ponies away from Luna and she cancels Nightmare Night in anger.
  • Act 3: With the town in tears, Luna gives up until Twilight convinces her to reconcile with the easily startled Pinkie. When this too fails, Twilight has Luna accept the children's annual candy offering but in a spooky fashion, and the children's love of the "scary but fun" moment draws them back to her. As Luna enjoys the festivities with the town, Twilight reports the value of sharing friendship.

Character: It was a long time coming, but we finally got a Luna story. In fact, she's the first character outside the ten primaries to get the most screen time in an episode. Sadly, as of the end of season 3, this is still just about it in terms of solid development. (She has a significant role in Sleepless in Ponyville and a couple other appearances alongside Celestia.) And it's obvious from the reactions of the Mane Six that they've had no interaction with her since her restoration. Still, enough is done with her here and she's so transparent that we feel like we know her better than we know her sister. What we get is a vulnerability that's surprising for a pony so powerful. Her fragility stems from her desire to please and be appreciated, something Twilight can surely identify with. Her reaction to the other ponies' fear is certainly consistent with how she became Nightmare Moon in the first place. Whether she's close to a full relapse into Nightmare Moon here is up for debate, but without question a danger still exists with her temper. As for Twilight, the untiring care she demonstrates here reveals how far she's come and shows the positive side of her aggressive helping nature that we saw in the previous episode.

Wow, can Pinkie be unhelpful or what? But it's understandable here. She's gotten herself into the spirit of Nightmare Night, psyching herself up to be easily scared as one does when watching a late-night horror film. She has mastered this social event and is acting accordingly; if anything she's showing more social sensitivity than she did through most of the first season. And naturally the foals love her. Rainbow's pranking is also in keeping with the tone of the event, though her payback at Luna's hooves is delicious. Applejack and Fluttershy's reactions are just what we'd expect. (Rarity's scene was unfortunately cut.)

Pipsqueak, the Dickensian colt from Trottingham, is one of several colt ponies to stand out in supporting roles this season. We see a glimpse of him out of costume in Putting Your Hoof Down, but he doesn't come back into the foreground until Twilight Time in the fourth season. His accent raises interesting questions since we haven't encountered it elsewhere. Quite a few background ponies get attention here as well, as they oversee the games and other events. Finally, it's great to see Zecora is "our friend" in the mayor's words, to the point that she's entrusted with the town's children.

Lesson: The theme here is sharing friendship by helping someone else fit in. It's hard work but worth it. Making friends with the unfriendly is, I think, one of the most important friendship lessons one can learn, and both its difficulty and its reward are taught well here. How fitting that MLP would remind us that beauty, wisdom, and excellence can often be found where you least expect them. Twilight's later advancement to royalty makes her friendship with Luna all the more significant, and I think it's likely Celestia sent Luna to Ponyville precisely to gauge Twilight's determination in this area.

On a secondary note, Luna rightly observes that fear of a well-meaning person is insulting, and so if we feel intimidated by someone we ought to be getting along with, we need to consider whether that fear is rational and, if possible, work through it as we would any other relationship problem. I'm one of those awkward folks who comes across as intimidating when I don't mean to, even though I'm kind of timid myself, so I can definitely see where Luna's coming from.

The fact that kids can enjoy being scared in certain contexts is also a good lesson for parents and, let's face it, studio execs who deal in children's programming, who may be a tad overprotective.

Logic: Much has been said about Luna's change of appearance. (She looks to be an adolescent in The Elements of Harmony and is still not as big as Celestia.) It's obviously not natural growth, but our understanding of what's happening there depends at least partly on how mature she was when she was corrupted into Nightmare Moon. What she's been doing the past year is also open to speculation.

On a side note, the exaggerated tales of Nightmare Moon and everypony's failure to recognize Twilight's costume are consistent with the hints we've been given that most ponies don't get much education about history, and that events from a thousand years ago on back are shrouded in legend even though the reigning princesses were there. The ridiculously inaccurate stories of Nightmare Moon serve to justify Spike's comment in the premiere that the tale of NMM's banishment was "just an old pony's tale."


Resonance: Lots of everything in this episode. On the laughter side, we have Pinkie Pie's chicken antics, complete with vocalizations and, at one point, a laid egg. Derpy has a prominent cameo, and Fluttershy's catatonia is done perfectly. Luna's overly proper English makes a number of her lines delightful (e.g., "Thy backside is whole and ungobbled, thou ungrateful whelp!"). Just about all the costumes are great. I find something weirdly funny in ponies being dressed like other animals. Scootaloo's Big Bad Wolf is especially adorable, and Apple Bloom's elaborate Bride of Frankenstein is downright impressive. Rainbow Dash looks incredible as a Shadowbolt, too. I cheer at Zecora's power with illusions and the batwings of the Lunar Guard. The storyboard/layout team should get an award for all their contributions.

There's also a lot of drama here. The Celestia/Luna background story that opens the series is already mythic in its sadness. If you feel for Luna at all or have been in her predicament, it doesn't take much to push your emotions over the edge, and this episode gives the heartstrings quite a yank, especially on the bridge. The fact that Luna is more hurt than angry just makes it that much harder to take. That also makes the happy scenes at the end more uplifting. Pipsqueak proclaiming Luna his "favorite princess ever" may be the first time Luna's ever heard such a thing. Also, this episode pairs up Carrot Top with Derpy (once) and Dinky (twice), which is great for those like me who've worked the Derpy/Dinky/Sparkler/Carrot Top family into our headcanon.

Finally, there are jumps and creepy scenes appropriate for a children's Halloween-season story, helped along by Zecora. The spiders turned real are spooky enough that I know several people who can't watch that portion of this episode.


Other Impressions and Final Assessment: I have no idea why they couldn't have waited a week and aired this right before Halloween. Oh, well.

The Homestar Runner Flash animation series used to do annual Halloween specials with all its characters in costume. I suspect there was some influence here, and I'll say once again that the costumes we see are extremely well done. (I particularly like the Jaws shout-out.) Spike dressing as a green-and-purple dragon was also worth a chuckle or two.

Delivering both positive and negative reactions to Luna in a gloriously delightful way and combining Luna's frightening power and past with fragility, this manages to outdo the previous episode. It's hard to think a "she just wants to be loved" persona could work so well here, especially since it's been done poorly in other TV series and films. I find no flaws here, and the only thing this lacks is a song for Luna. (Note to Daniel Ingram: We need to hear her sing!) [Note: Wish fulfilled in the fourth season finale.] The best I can say here is that I'm not ranking this show so high because Luna is my favorite character. Rather, Luna is my favorite character because this episode and her next starring one do such a good job with her. Beyond superb.


Luna Eclipsed armor rating: Genji Armor
Ranked 2nd of 26 season-two episodes
Ranked 12th of 233 stories overall

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