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

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Episode 67: "Princess Twilight Sparkle — Part 2"

Aired 11/23/2013, written by Meghan McCarthy (her thirteenth episode)
    Storyline:
  • Intro: Recap.
  • Act 1: As Princess Celestia gathers the crystalline Elements of Harmony, Twilight Sparkle surmises that she's witnessing the original rebellion of Nightmare Moon. Another sip from Zecora's potion brings a vision of Discord's earlier defeat, preceded by the two sisters' discovery of the Elements at the Tree of Harmony.
  • Act 2: The Mane Six enter the Everfree Forest to find the tree. A cragadile attack leads them to send Twilight back to Ponyville for her safety, but Discord's mockery drives her back into the forest. The friends find the tree wrapped in the menacing vines, and Twilight is gassed to sleep nearby.
  • Act 3: Spike alerts the others, who rescue Twilight. She determines that the tree can be restored by giving it back the Elements of Harmony. The Elements merge with the tree, which destroys the vines and frees Celestia and Luna. Discord reveals that the vines were an unintentionally delayed effect of seeds planted prior to his first defeat. Twilight's friends are present to watch her perform with Celestia and Luna at the Summer Sun Celebration.

Character: Based on the description of the sixth Element of Harmony in the first season opener, I say this in my write-up of Twilight Sparkle: "Her bearing of the sixth Element means that her purpose among the Mane Six is to keep the other five ponies bound together harmoniously so that they can reach their full potential. Twilight's role therefore, most precisely put, is that of peacemaker. Any of the others might take the lead in any given situation, but Twilight is the pony who corrals and reconciles the others." We see this role demonstrated in the negative as Twilight is driven back to Ponyville. The others find the Tree easily enough, but they start to turn against each other and act without any cohesive group strategy. Meanwhile, Twilight's an excellent problem-solver, but she's very vulnerable on her own. If the rest of the Mane Six want to protect her, they should realize she's safer with them in the Everfree Forest than she is in Ponyville alone.

Applejack gets a few scenes of leadership here, and whereas she's often been employed to rein in Rainbow Dash's brash charges into action, here we see Applejack exercising all kinds of initiative. She throws herself at the vines at the Tree of Harmony, is the first to reach Spike at the stairs, and is the first pony to rescue Twilight from the plants' jawlike flytraps. Also of note is the fact that Rarity is the first of the others to agree with Applejack's suggestion that Twilight return to Ponyville. Adding this to their rapport in The Crystal Empire and Magic Duel, these two are really becoming a team within a team. Fluttershy gets a show of bravery as she joins the others in luring vines away from Twilight, and Pinkie has several signature moments here and there. Rainbow had more to do in Part 1, but she's fine here and is just the right pony to challenge Applejack's decision to dismiss the new Princess.

I am VERY happy that Spike chooses to accompany Twilight back to Ponyville. This makes up for his failure to stay with her at the midpoint of A Canterlot Wedding. His word-salad cries of alarm are also a nice touch of continuity, going all the way back to A Dog and Pony Show.

As for the Celestia vs. Nightmare Moon scene, I believe the creators got the tone and attitudes exactly right. The end result is, of course, a combination of the writing, voice work, artwork, and music, so let's spread the credit around. But the most effective aspects of the confrontation for me are (1) the length of time Twilight is allowed to weep over her fallen mentor—the series tends to cut these moments a bit short; (2) the energy and regretful determination in Celestia's voice, and (3) the stream of tears running out of Celestia's eyes the moment she activates the Elements of Harmony. Besides being the flashback bronies everywhere had long dreamed of seeing, the scene adds real significance to Celestia's words in the final scene and their happiness as they perform together.


Lesson: The main lesson serves as a justification for giving up the Elements of Harmony: Despite what Applejack had thought, the unity of the Mane Six doesn't really derive from the Elements themselves. Though they were introduced to us as "the most powerful magic known to ponydom," the love the Elements depend on is the real power. Twilight and the others were bound together, and all demonstrated their representation of the Elements, before they got to the castle and its crystals. Twilight was able to activate the Elements' power in Equestria Girls without the physical objects. (Though unseen, the rest of the Mane Six were a few feet away, waiting and worrying on the other side of the portal.) And as far as Equestria's security is concerned, the kingdom is still defended by a powerful magician, a courageously protective beastmaster, the world's fastest flyer, an earth pony known for her strength and dependability, a resourceful unicorn skilled at lateral thinking and manipulation, and Pinkie Pie.

The secondary lesson is a natural candidate for disagreement, and I am impressed how fairly the two sides of the argument are presented. Given what we've seen of Celestia and Luna, it seems the conventional wisdom for Equestria is, to use a phrase from Star Trek: the captain's place is on the bridge. There are good reasons to operate this way, and good reasons not to. After all, even in our society we have generals who lead soldiers into battle and generals who oversee operations at the Pentagon. In other circumstances and with less of a need for all that Twilight brings to the team, Applejack and the others may have been able to get the job done without their leader. But as a general principle, a team is greater than the sum of its parts, and the safest place to be is among friends who would do anything to help you.


Connections: We see in this episode events that were previously given in exposition, storybook pages, and stained glass, in Friendship Is Magic, part 1 and The Return of Harmony Part 1. The Summer Sun Celebration, with Princess Celestia performing solo, was also seen in The Cutie Mark Chronicles.

 

Resonance: Lots of dark and potentially scary stuff in this episode, though not really any more extreme than the second parts of A Canterlot Wedding and The Crystal Empire. The cragadile is of note in that he lacks any of the cuteness that offset the menace of the manticore, the red dragon, and the hydra back in season one. The sad part of the episode goes without saying.

Discord provides most of the humor of the episode, bouncing plunder seeds off the heads of the two sisters, stealing Celestia's tail, and filing his nails with Gummy, to name the most memorable fun moments. The defense of Twilight near the end is an awesome display of teamwork, and I felt warm all over seeing the three-princess hug near the end and hearing the joy in Celestia's voice at the celebration.

 

Other Impressions and Final Assessment: There's...just so much to praise: the music, Sibsy's signature storyboarding, the emotion poured into just about every line of dialogue, the boldness of the creators to give up the show's major MacGuffin (the Elements), and the logical way the story progressed. I dare say, it would have made a great movie. The "Christmas Carol"-style flashbacks seem the perfect way to give both viewers and Twilight herself a more solid understanding of history. The keyhole box sets up a season-long story arc (as Meghan pointed out on Twitter at the end of the initial broadcast) and several months of rampant fan speculation about what's inside. On my third viewing I noticed the Tree appears to be saying something just before the box sprouts, as if through a vocoder or talkbox. That never went anywhere, but one can always speculate.

One other tidbit from this show: We get an intended hint at the overall timeline. Discord expected the seeds to sprout "thousands of moons" ago, presumably moments after they were planted. But whether a moon is a week or a month, Nightmare Moon's own banishment itself would have been thousands of moons before the present time, so that doesn't really get us anywhere. What is revealing, though, is that the sisters have their crowns already in the flashbacks, so they were in power before the rise of Discord.

After a year of controversies—Derpygate, reformed antagonists, alicorns, and high school humans—it's a relief to open the new season with something so unambiguously wonderful. While I miss those who aren't on the show's roster this season, Mitch Larson, Cindy Morrow, and of course the long-departed Lauren Faust, it's safe to say this series continues to be in good hooves.

 

Princess Twilight Sparkle — Parts 1 and 2 armor rating: Crystal Armor
Ranked 3rd and 4th of 26 season-four episodes
Ranked 17th and 18th of 147 stories overall

Click HERE for Character Appearance List and Screentime.

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