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

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Episode 57: "Magic Duel"

Aired 12/1/2012, written by M.A. Larson (his eleventh episode)
    Storyline:
  • Intro: A magic shop sells a powerful amulet to a robed stranger.
  • Act 1: Twilight practices juggling Fluttershy's animals as entertainment for Princess Celestia's upcoming visit. She is interrupted when Trixie shows up and challenges Twilight to a duel. Using the amulet, she overpowers Twilight and exiles her from Ponyville.
  • Act 2: Trixie takes over the town while Twilight visits Zecora to learn more powerful magic. Twilight's friends send Fluttershy to her with information about the amulet. Knowing that magic won't be enough, Zecora suggests another method.
  • Act 3: Twilight returns to Ponyville for a rematch, wearing a second amulet. She performs impossible tricks to beat Trixie, who swaps amulets only to find that the rematch was a ruse and the second amulet is a fake. Freed from the amulet's corrupting power, Trixie apologizes and provides fireworks for Celestia's entertainment.

Character: The corruption element of the story is crucial for making Trixie a credible threat here. Twilight was already the stronger pony way back in season one, and her magic has grown by leaps and bounds since then. Furthermore, Trixie wasn't really evil, just a dishonest, melodramatic braggart, though all in the name of showmanship. (Showponyship?) Her motive for revenge is understandable given the story she helpfully illustrates for us, complete with a cameo of Pinkie's dad. (Yes, that's him, so it really was Pinkie's rock farm.) The amulet's effects turn her into a cartoonish villain and evidently compromise her sanity (e.g., not trusting wheels), but she still retains the core of her personality. It's still Trixie, just The Mean and Irrationally Capricious Trixie. Nor does the writer compromise Trixie's character at the end. Forgiveness and redemption are two different things, and while an apology is given and accepted, both sincerely I believe, that moment hasn't cured her of her deeper-seated attitude issues. If it had, then her pratfall at the end wouldn't be nearly as funny. If she ever returns, she'll be one to watch out for, but there's potential there and one could even imagine an uneasy alliance between her and Twilight if a situation forced them together.

Missed opportunity in this episode: a moment between Trixie and Princess Celestia at the end. Even a look would have been nice.

I imagine Zecora would appear more often if she weren't so hard to write dialogue for. Every line has to rhyme. (And that last sentence doesn't.) I'm in the process of writing a fanfic in which she appears at a dramatic moment and I struggle to give her a line that won't break the tension by sounding cutesy or forced. But in this episode she most closely resembles her original design, which according to Lauren Faust was serving as a local mentor to Twilight Sparkle. Their background in different kinds of magic (internal vs. potion-based) doesn't seem to inhibit Zecora's Yoda-like imparting of wisdom in the importance of concentration and the knowledge of when to seek alternative solutions.

We see another tender moment here between Applejack and Rarity, as the former transports the latter away from Trixie's abuse. That and Fluttershy's acknowledgement of her own fears' irrationality are further illustrations of the main cast's character development since the first season.


Lesson: From The Hobbit to Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon, knowing when to kill/fight/use magic, etc., and when not to is a popular lesson, but one that doesn't seem to show up too often on children's TV. Twilight's "magic of friendship" summation to Trixie, which apparently takes the place of a letter to the Princess, gives us our application: There is a point where you should stop trying to solve a problem on your own and turn to your friends for help. This is foreshadowed early on, when all of Twilight's friends step between her and Trixie in a valiant but futile effort to protect her.

Yes, it's the same lesson as Applebuck Season, but in a different context where it isn't immediately obvious how anypony but Twilight could possibly help defeat Trixie. It often takes creativity and resourcefulness to see how a friend might help in a difficult situation, but it's worth the time to think it through.


Logic: The almost-new-moon we see at the end is actually lit from the correct side and is apparently setting, which is natural and fits the early-evening schedule Princess Celestia probably requires, but it complicates the issue of how the sun and moon operate in Equestria. Though not stated on the show, most viewers assume Luna raises the moon at dusk and lowers it at dawn, since she is the Princess of the Night. The full moon we usually see is what we would always see if this were the case. Connections: Follow-up to the first season's Boast Busters, which introduced Trixie, Snips, and Snails, and was the first public demonstration in Ponyville of Twilight's magical abilities.

 

Resonance: The opening has a creepy vibe to it, and there's a sad moment when Twilight leaves, possibly a shout-out to the most famous scene from Star Trek II. Just about all the rest is fun. Zecora gets some of it as the victim of Twilight's clumsiness, and Fluttershy provides laughs by her nervousness with the juggling and her "dangerous mission," complete with bunny-eared outfit. There's a funny background moment with Lyra slurping casually on a hay shake during the rematch, and I personally consider "Saddle Arabia" the best punny place name in the world of MLP. This episode also has a brief moment of heartwarming as Spike comforts Fluttershy during the closing performance.

 

Other Impressions and Final Assessment: Trixie's long-awaited return demonstrates how much the show has improved since her introduction. This episode is truly excellent, but it left me wishing there'd been more to it. There's not enough potential here for a two-parter, but I'm guessing time constraints prevented a fuller exploration of Trixie's takeover of Ponyville. One other minor gripe I have is that Twilight has her epiphany when Zecora says to "use the six," by which we understand the Mane Six. However, besides her five friends she also uses Big Mac, Granny Smith, Apple Bloom, and Sweetie Belle. But I understand Zecora was trying to string a bunch of "-ix" words together and her devotion to rhyme has a cost in the precision of her words.

While there's some mild drama in this episode, it's mostly a fun romp through the woods that doesn't take itself too seriously. There are lots of little gags in the background, even during the more serious moments. It doesn't have the emotional impact of One Bad Apple or the over-the-top hilarity of Too Many Pinkie Pies, so it pales a bit in comparison but is strong enough on its own. In fact, as of the fourth season, I've begun thinking of Magic Duel as representing the new standard, marking the boundary between episodes that sort of impress and episodes that sort of disappoint.

 

Magic Duel armor rating: Iron Armor
Ranked 8th of 13 season-three episodes
Ranked 96th of 147 stories overall

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