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

With just a couple exceptions, I consider all MLP episodes entertaining and a cut above most other animated series. By an objective rating, the vast majority could earn four out of five stars or better. But I think it's only fair to judge the stories by the standard of their own series, so I've scaled the episodes to create five groups of about-equal number, except for the shows at the very top. These form the Genji tier, which contains only the top one or two episodes per season. The Crystal tier designates the other real masterpieces of the series, the shows that have managed to outdo the series premiere. The Diamond tier are all great episodes without significant flaws; some are simply a bit lighter fare than the powerhouse Crystal episodes, but they're solid and entertaining (i.e, both strong and shiny). The Gold tier captures the middle group, still entertaining but a little softer, perhaps with significant minor issues or else simply outdone by many other episodes. The Iron tier contains episodes that, while still strong in certain ways, fall below the average for various reasons. The bottom Leather tier are of mixed quality or are weighed down by major issues, usually character and messaging problems.

AN EPISODE'S TIER MAY CHANGE when ranked alongside later episodes! If an episode is followed by ten episodes that rank above it and two that rank below, it will move down ten spots while the boundaries between tiers move upward to keep the same number of episodes in each non-Genji tier. That may cause the episode to fall into a lower tier than it previously had. For example, Keep Calm and Flutter On originally got a Golden Vest, but since 22 fourth-season episodes received a higher ranking, it's been pushed down into the Iron tier. My perception of the episode has not changed (if anything, it was enhanced by the fourth season's handling of Discord), but it's simply been outranked by the other stories. I can edit the text reviews to indicate the new ranking and armor, but the videos resist editing and so will still reflect the episode's tier at the time the video was created.

All Episodes Ranked

Season-by-Season Analysis

Episodes sorted by rank. Since the third season is only half the length of the others, I'm considering each half of the longer seasons separately. Stats on this scale show overall improvement over time.

Season 1a: 0 Genji/Crystal, 3 Diamond, 0 Gold, 6 Iron, 4 Leather. Mean rank=117.3 (median 126).
Friendship Is Magic; Winter Wrap Up; Swarm of the Century; Dragonshy; The Ticket Master; Griffon the Brush Off; Applebuck Season; Bridle Gossip; Call of the Cutie; Fall Weather Friends; Boast Busters; Look Before You Sleep.
Season 1b: 1 Genji/Crystal, 1 Diamond, 3 Gold, 3 Iron, 5 Leather. Mean rank=109.7 (median 117).
The Cutie Mark Chronicles; The Best Night Ever; Green Isn't Your Color; A Dog and Pony Show; Sonic Rainboom; Stare Master; Suited for Success; Party of One; Feeling Pinkie Keen; The Show Stoppers; Over a Barrel; Owl's Well that Ends Well; A Bird in the Hoof.
Season 2a: 4 Genji/Crystal, 0 Diamond, 3 Gold, 1 Iron, 5 Leather. Mean rank=93.5 (median 101).
Luna Eclipsed; Lesson Zero; The Return of Harmony; Sisterhooves Social; Sweet and Elite; May the Best Pet Win!; Secret of My Excess; The Cutie Pox; Hearth's Warming Eve; Family Appreciation Day; Baby Cakes; The Mysterious Mare Do Well.
Season 2b: 4 Genji/Crystal, 2 Diamond, 1 Gold, 1 Iron, 5 Leather. Mean rank=88.1 (median 95).
The Last Roundup; A Canterlot Wedding; Hurricane Fluttershy; MMMystery on the Friendship Express; It's About Time; A Friend in Deed; Read It and Weep; Ponyville Confidential; Hearts and Hooves Day; Dragon Quest; The Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000; Putting Your Hoof Down.
Season 3: 4 Genji/Crystal, 0 Diamond, 4 Gold, 3 Iron, 3 Leather. Mean rank=89.4 (median 99).
Sleepless in Ponyville; Magical Mystery Cure; The Crystal Empire; Equestria Girls; Too Many Pinkie Pies; Wonderbolts Academy; One Bad Apple; Magic Duel; Keep Calm and Flutter On; Apple Family Reunion; Games Ponies Play; Just for Sidekicks; Spike at Your Service.
Season 4a: 2 Genji/Crystal, 3 Diamond, 4 Gold, 4 Iron, 0 Leather. Mean rank=81.5 (median 90).
Princess Twilight Sparkle; Rarity Takes Manehattan; Pinkie Pride; Flight to the Finish; Daring Don't; Three's a Crowd; Pinkie Apple Pie; Simple Ways; Power Ponies; Castle Mane-ia; Bats!; Rainbow Falls.
Season 4b: 6 Genji/Crystal, 1 Diamond, 3 Gold, 3 Iron, 1 Leather. Mean rank=72.4 (median 69).
Twilight's Kingdom; For Whom the Sweetie Belle Toils; Filli Vanilli; Maud Pie; Testing Testing 1, 2, 3; Rainbow Rocks; Leap of Faith; Somepony to Watch Over Me; Twilight Time; Trade Ya!; Equestria Games; It Ain't Easy Being Breezies; Inspiration Manifestation.
Season 5a: 3 Genji/Crystal, 5 Diamond, 2 Gold, 0 Iron, 3 Leather. Mean rank=71.5 (median 60).
Amending Fences; Slice of Life; Tanks for the Memories; Castle Sweet Castle; Party Pooped; The Cutie Map; Do Princesses Dream of Magic Sheep?; Bloom & Gloom; Make New Friends but Keep Discord; The Lost Treasure of Griffinstone; Appleoosa's Most Wanted; Princess Spike.
Season 5b: 5 Genji/Crystal, 1 Diamond, 5 Gold, 3 Iron, 0 Leather. Mean rank=62.9 (median 73.5).
Crusaders of the Lost Mark; The Mane Attraction; Scare Master; The Cutie Re-Mark; Hearthbreakers; Friendship Games; The One Where Pinkie Pie Knows; The Hooffields and McColts; Canterlot Boutique; Made in Manehattan; Rarity Investigates!; What About Discord?; Brotherhooves Social
Season 6a: 4 Genji/Crystal, 4 Diamond, 1 Gold, 3 Iron, 0 Leather. Mean rank=64.5 (median 56.5).
Flutter Brutter; Gauntlet of Fire; No Second Prances; A Hearth's Warming Tail; The Crystalling; The Gift of the Maud Pie; The Saddle Row Review; Newbie Dash; Spice Up Your Life; Applejack's "Day" Off; On Your Marks
Season 6b: 5 Genji/Crystal, 4 Diamond, 3 Gold, 1 Iron, 2 Leather. Mean rank=63.1 (median 53)
To Where and Back Again; Top Bolt; The Times They Are a Changeling; Every Little Thing She Does; Dungeons & Discords; 28 Pranks Later; The Fault in Our Cutie Marks; Viva Las Pegasus; Buckball Season; Legend of Everfree; Where the Apple Lies; Stranger Than Fan Fiction; The Cart Before the Ponies; P.P.O.V. (Pony Point of View)
Season 7a: 5 Genji/Crystal, 4 Diamond, 2 Gold, 1 Iron, 1 Leather. Mean rank=55.5 (median 51)
The Perfect Pear; A Royal Problem; Parental Glideance; Celestial Advice; Rock Solid Friendship; Discordant Harmony; All Bottled Up; Not Asking for Trouble; A Flurry of Emotions; Fluttershy Leans In; Forever Filly; Honest Apple; Hard to Say Anything
Season-wide Numbers:
Season 1: Mean 113.50, Median 124
Season 2: Mean 90.81, Median 98
Season 3: Mean 89.36, Median 99
Season 4: Mean 76.78, Median 85
Season 5: Mean 67.00, Median 68
Season 6: Mean 63.74, Median 57
Season 7: Mean 55.54, Median 51