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

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Episode 76: "Three's a Crowd"

Aired 1/25/2014, written by Meghan McCarthy (her fifteenth episode) & Ed Valentine (his second)
    Storyline:
  • Intro: Twilight gets word that Princess Cadance is coming for a visit, and Fluttershy is invited away to visit the Breezies.
  • Act 1: The ponies see Fluttershy off at the train station and greet Cadance as she arrives. As Cadance and Twilight leave for their day out, Discord appears.
  • Act 2: Discord complains of blue flu, intent on one of the Mane Six looking after him. Rebuffed, he seeks out Cadance and Twilight, disrupting their plans and being generally insufferable.
  • Act 3: Discord leads Cadance and Twilight to a far-off flower whose petals can cure him. Moving the flower awakens a monster the princesses have to fight. Discord, revealed to have been faking his illness, is dismayed that his diversions have actually brought the girls closer together. He then catches a real illness from the monster.

Character: Twilight is her standard self here, but there are a couple subtle moments with her near the end that caught my attention. First, she repeatedly tries to interrupt Discord's explanation to protest the idea that she's important or superior. This reminds us that being a princess hasn't changed her, and that she's lost the occasional know-it-all attitude we saw in the first season (though, to be fair, she was pretty humble in Boast Busters), and it's a nice callback to his similar provocations in Princess Twilight Sparkle—Part 2. Second, when Cadance says "You didn't put a damper on our visit at all," both Twilight and Discord express surprise. While Discord is the obvious culprit, Twilight has nevertheless been silently blaming herself for the loss of their quality time. This fits perfectly with Twilight's still-present interpersonal anxieties.

I REALLY like what the writers do with Cadance here. Her enthusiasm about Star Swirl suggests that she might be the source of Twilight's love of history, and her enjoyment of surprise combat gives her an adventurous Princess Leia vibe that's a nice contrast to the more hooves-off disposition of Princess Celestia. I get the feeling we'll be seeing her in action again before too long. As for their teasingly solemn greeting instead of sunshine and ladybugs, I find it an appropriate indication that they've chosen to interact based on their present relationship rather than mere memories from years past. Also, as of this episode, Cadance now has more screen time than any supporting character other than Granny Smith, Princess Celestia, Discord, or Big Mac.

The writers have averted disaster by consistently showing us that Discord isn't truly reformed, just restrained. Forget what he says about his lesson-teaching motives at the end. His real intentions are obvious from the train station and his anger that Cadance and Twilight have bonded through the crisis he brought on them. As his name indicates, his MO is disrupting harmony, driving ponies apart. Having failed to separate the Mane Six, he's now working on the princesses, and he sees the lack of proximity between Cadance and Twilight as a likely weak spot.

A couple other character notes: Rainbow Dash's hilarious departure may appear disloyal to the other ponies, but she's consistently been the pony who has absolutely no tolerance for Discord at all. She sees where this is going, and while she has no reason to suspect actual danger, it's not going to be fun. As for Pinkie's mid-scene change of demeanor, her immediate launch into her life story tells me she plans to implement the weaponized talking she used so effectively on Applejack in The Last Roundup. In other words, she intends to out-annoy him. I take issue with her being so easily distracted in this episode since that's really not a normal trait of hers, but the rest of her behavior is spot-on.


Lesson: This episode's moral bears a close similarity to the lesson of The Best Night Ever, where the Mane Six suffered because they forsook one another to pursue their own interests but found that just being together could make "even the worst of times into something pretty great." We see that demonstrated here, but now there's a little bit more: Five times in this episode, the ponies mention "time together" as their priority, but neither the quality nor the quantity of time can decisively define a friendship. Friendship endures and is often strengthened through trial. Furthermore, relationships (and life in general) require contrast so that we can appreciate both the action and the quiet. There's an implied message here for Shining Armor, too, with regard to, er, predictability. I hope he picks up on it.

Logic: A castle restored after being in ruins for a millennium, and now Ponyvillians cosplaying at a traveling exhibit for Star Swirl, whom nopony recognized a couple years ago? My take is that Twilight has been busy educating Ponyville about the importance of history. Body Count: It's been a long time since we've seen a slip in the script, but here Discord says, "Could somebody find me a fainting couch?"

 

Resonance: My first real laugh in this episode comes as the ponies avert their gaze when Discord bends over in his backless hospital gown. The physical humor is well done, particularly the spaghetti drop and the shot of the sisters-in-law soaking wet at the end of the song. I normally don't care for characters giving deliberate shout-outs to things they should have no knowlege of, but the gags in Discord's song work because (1) he's Discord and (like Pinkie) may have some knowledge of other dimensions, and (2) the song draws heavily from the Genie's signature song from Disney's Aladdin, which uses similar devices. For the record, my favorite references are the ones to Star Wars, Flashdance, and (in a later scene) Risky Business.

Although I avoid pre-release clips, I knew Discord was coming from the episode synopsis. However, I was totally and gloriously blindsided by the Tatzlwurm scene. Had NO IDEA that was coming. Even with all the action we've had in recent episodes, this is the greatest awe I've felt all season. The three-sided mouth also gives the worm a hideous otherworldly feel, and its scariness is only slightly blunted by its bright colors.

There's no serious drama in this episode, but there is one heartwarming moment during the journal entry, when Twilight gives Spike a significant look as she says "when you're with a good friend," and Spike catches it. Aww.

 

Other Impressions and Final Assessment: Pacing is unusual in this episode: The second act is ten full minutes long, with five minutes on either side. Almost half the episode takes place at the train station, and the whole episode is pretty quiet until Discord shows up. This makes the rapid-fire cuts in his song immensely jarring, to delightful effect. The show has never been so chaotic. However, this makes the episode drag just a hair, but enough to fall short of the more evenly paced Daring Don't.

There's some nice foreshadowing with the "blue flu" that will go over the heads of children and many adult viewers. The term has been used to refer to call-in-sick campaigns used by police and other workers who aren't otherwise allowed to strike.

There's not much more to say about this episode that's not understood better by just watching it. In terms of entertainment quality, I put this on about the same level as Too Many Pinkie Pies and Pinkie Apple Pie, which had some serious moments to balance out the hilarity. An excellent episode.

 

Three's a Crowd armor rating: Gold Armor
Ranked 15th of 26 season-four episodes
Ranked 80th of 147 stories overall

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