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

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Episode 66: "Princess Twilight Sparkle Part 1"

Aired 11/23/2013, written by Meghan McCarthy (her twelfth episode)
  • Intro: Twilight Sparkle practices her flying moves.
  • Act 1: Twilight's friends head back to Ponyville while she stays in Canterlot for the Summer Sun Celebration. Princess Celestia insists Twilight go to bed from her studies, and Twilight awakens to find the sky half in daylight and half night.
  • Act 2: Celestia and Luna are reported missing, and magic-subverting vines from the Everfree Forest begin invading Ponyville. Twilight takes off for Ponyville with Spike as her friends battle the vines.
  • Act 3: Twilight arrives, and the friends use the Elements of Harmony to summon Discord. He denies any involvement, but Zecora arrives with a potion, which Twilight drinks only to witness Luna transforming into Nightmare Moon.

Character: After all the controversy over the third season finale, the newly crowned Princess Twilight is just what we hoped she would be: herself. She has a high regard for her duties as she always has, but she retains the humility and imperfection of a student who still has much to learn. She's also still prone to fits of nervousness, though she's immediately calmed by Celestia's presence. Her first test of office, the news that the two sisters have gone missing, is a familiar scene for anyone who remembers their first plunge into a leadership role: She's initially overwhelmed at the fact that others are looking to her to give the word what to do, but very quickly and confidently delivers the first obvious order. It's a nice character moment, and if this were a show on leadership instead of friendship, I believe the story would have dwelt on this aspect of the situation a little longer. As it is, the show spends its time on the Mane Six and how they relate to one another over the course of the episode.

Spike receives decent attention throughout this story, and a number of tweets from the series staff indicate they're being very deliberate in developing him alongside the other characters this season. Spike's duality is handled deftly in this episode: We see his calming influence early on in Twilight's quarters, since he's not the type to worry about Twilight's competence at things she's studied and practiced. But in the next scene as bad news is being delivered, he faints from shock three times in a row. He encourages Twilight to fly to Ponyville despite her misgivings, much to his regret once they arrive. The bottom line: Spike doesn't handle immediate and drastic shifts very well, but he recovers quickly and is in fact a bold optimist as long as he's able to keep up. I'd like to test that observation over the next few episodes to see if it sticks. In any case, he's a good counterpart for Twilight since he's usually on top of things whenever she's not.

The rest of the Mane Six have their moments here and there. I really like Rarity's material here, from her generosity in helping Twilight redecorate her Ponyville home to her apologetic tone when her horn goes haywire. It's always a good thing when a writer keeps Rarity likeable (as opposed to being whiny as she is in some of her other supporting roles). Applejack's still clearly the Team Mom when Twilight's not around, and her warmth and focus on friendship play pitch-perfect here, a good set-up for the resolution of Part 2. Fluttershy is just right in her approach to Discord here. Dash is doing what she does best, coaching Twilight and taking less than a second to rescue Fluttershy from a vine-grab. Pinkie is a delight as always, sliding down the vines one moment and angrily stomping them another. And I don't think I've mentioned it in my other reviews, but by her facial expressions Pinkie seems especially hostile to Discord, even compared to the others. Perhaps she sees in him a warped, amoral version of herself? Anyway, I applaud the return of both the Pinkie sense and the Pinkie promise.

Although Luna Eclipsed dealt with fanciful legends about Nightmare Moon, Luna's historical rebellion hasn't really been elaborated on since the premiere. Most of the better fan-created material I've seen regarding the sisters focuses on the guilt Celestia must have felt, and still feels, over what she had to do. I am extremely gratified to hear this expressed on the show as Celestia confides in Princess Twilight. Also, since many viewers of a show in its fourth season weren't around when it began, it's necessary to establish this history so that we can all properly understand these characters and their motivations. The memory of their battle thus occupies the beginning, center, and end of this two-parter, even as the main story focuses on Twilight and her Ponyville friends.

Lesson: Part ones don't generally get a moral all to themselves, but three little lessons stand out here. The first is the importance of encouragement within a friendship, specifically, how refreshing it is to be reminded of your friends' love. We get this in the form of a speech from Applejack in Canterlot Tower, but more touchingly from Pinkie in her letters to Twilight. The purple princess may say "It's not important," but just look at her!

Second, we see once again the need for leaders to show confidence. (This is becoming a running theme now.) It takes her a moment, but we have a positive demonstration as Twilight gives her first orders. Allowing Twilight to develop this mark of authority gradually is necessary for the sake of her established character, but as often as we can get it, it's a good example for the future leaders who are growing up with this show.

Discord presents us with the third learning opportunity. As he puts it, "I'm telling the truth, but you think I'm lying. What do friends like us do in a situation like this?" More precisely, Discord's being evasive; "I'm innocent" is the closest he comes to a direct lie in his scene. Taking Fluttershy's concerns into account, Twilight's answer is to ask for Discord's assistance, and he points them toward Zecora, someone they can trust. Granted, I learned this more as a leadership/management issue than a friendship one, but one of the best ways to deal with a potential opponent is to get them on your team doing something (anything) that gives them pleasure while furthering the team's goals. Maybe I'm reading too much into the scene, but cautious recruiting is better than either making an enemy or folding to opposition.

Resonance: I really like Twilight's "woo-hoo!" in the cold open; it's rare to see her really let go and enjoy herself. The refreshingly long scene between Twilight and Princess Celestia is heartening for its warmth, the moment of affection between them, and Celestia's transparency with her former student. On the awesome side of things, the animators show off their lighting and shading abilities in Canterlot Tower. It's amazing how the show's animation has advanced since the first season. This episode offers a lot of humor as well. The stand-out for me is Discord grabbing "Shutterfly" (i.e., Rainbow Dash), and Dash's resulting expression. But much of the humor comes from the sound effects, which seem to stand out more this season than previously: Twilight squeaking as she nods her head near the beginning, the sounds Pinkie makes as she pounces on a vine, the engine sputter as Twilight begins her flight to Ponyville, etc.


Other Impressions and Final Assessment: Credit goes to Jayson for the tweaks to the opening sequence. It's not a dramatic overhaul like some had expected, and I like the idea of making periodic changes to the opening as a series develops. The Cutie Mark Crusaders' inclusion is long overdue, since they're definitely part of the regular cast. As of this writing, I'm not sure how much we should read into it, but the changes seem to hint that the supporting characters will be getting more attention.

While most of the really exciting stuff is in Part 2, Part 1 is full of little moments as always. Twilight catching Spike with her wing as he falls off the bridge, Sweetie Belle's first display of (inadvertent) magic, and the Mane Six helping Zecora with her belongings are all nice subtleties that remind us that our appreciation of an MLP episode generally increases the more closely we scrutinize it.

The scene of Nightmare Moon's transformation, which continues several minutes into Part 2, serves many storytelling purposes: establishing the show's backstory for new viewers as noted above and letting long-time viewers see animated what was previously related only in storybook form, providing a decent cliffhanger that serves both as a red herring and as a way to establish the potion's effects without confusing young viewers by throwing them right into the Discord flashback. But what of its in-universe purpose? Why does the potion send Twilight back to NMM's banishment? I can think of several possibilities, but the most likely seems to be that the day/night disruption is the result of the vines messing with Celestia and Luna's magic just as they affected Rarity's. There's no indication how the potion "knows" what to show Twilight, but Luna's previous refusal to lower the moon seems like a logical first step for the investigation.

Could it have been better? I really only have one wish, related to the first mutual appearance of Discord and Zecora: an homage to the first Q/Guinan scene from the episode "Q Who?" on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Imagine Discord immediately tensing up as Zecora enters the scene and the two looking dangerously at each other. We learn that she's the only being Discord is truly afraid of, and he warns the Mane Six to have nothing to do with her. "So you're masquerading as a zebra now? Honestly, Twilight, you have no idea what she really is." A tense moment as the two continue to stare each other down, until the Mane Six break the tension by dismissing Discord's concerns.

Overall, this episode does what it needs to do: show us how Twilight's handling her new royal position, remind us her residence is still in Ponyville, illustrate her relationship to the other princesses and to her friends, and hint at how the rest of the Mane Six fare when she's absent. In the meantime, we get a new threat which gives the show's creators a precious chance to delve into the series' backstory at length and which kicks off a couple of changes to the show's format (as revealed in Part 2). I find this to be an exciting and thoroughly pleasant build-up to Part 2, similar to the first part of The Crystal Empire. It covers a lot of ground and never drags, yet it leaves us with the sense that we've gotten to spend a fair amount of time with all our favorite characters. Well, except Scootaloo, but she'll have her time in the spotlight a few episodes from now.


Princess Twilight Sparkle Parts 1 and 2 armor rating: Crystal Armor
Ranked 3rd and 4th of 26 season-four episodes
Ranked 32nd and 33rd of 233 stories overall

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