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

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Episode 118: "The Crystalling Part 1"

Aired 3/26/2016, written by Josh Haber (his seventh episode)
  • Intro: Lost in Twilight's Castle, Starlight Glimmer finally locates the library, where she finds Twilight has amassed an enormous list of friendship lessons to teach her.
  • Act 1: Starlight joins the rest of the Mane Six as they discuss attending the Crystalling ceremony for Princess Cadance's new baby. Twilight suggests Starlight come along to reunite with Sunburst, who now resides in the Crystal Empire, but Starlight confides to Spike that she's nervous to admit her past to an old friend she's sure is now an important and successful wizard.
  • Act 2: On Spike's urging, Starlight confesses her fears to Twilight, who is undeterred on account of her preparations and sends Starlight off with Spike to visit Sunburst while she and the other ponies help Cadance and Shining Armor with the baby.
  • Act 3: After some stalling, Starlight goes to Sunburst's house, but neither is willing to move beyond nervous small talk. As ponies begin arriving for the Crystalling, the baby develops an attachment to Pinkie but is prone to powerful magical outbursts. When separated from Pinkie for a few seconds, the baby throws a tantrum that shatters the Crystal Heart and leaves the empire vulnerable to the stormy frozen north.

Character: Starlight Glimmer, newly added to our opening sequence, now resides in the castle as Twilight's pupil. Since she's so unfamiliar with the layout of her new home, and Twilight has yet to teach her her first lesson, I'm guessing this is only a matter of days after last season's finale. I've given some thought to what would be a reasonable path for her reformation to take, based on my own experiences with people around me who've undergone redemptions of their own. First, we can observe that Starlight came to her time of tyranny out of years of self-protection and a misguided desire to help other ponies by establishing a utopia. As villainous, deceptive, and soul-draining as her actions were, she felt justified and possibly even noble for her little project. She seems teachable enough to be steered away from her aberrant philosophy of equality in time; the more pressing issues for her are going to be getting past any residual resentment of Twilight Sparkle, and dealing with guilt and shame for the harm that she caused others and the years of her own life that she wasted.

For people leaving a wrong path and just starting down the right one, shame really is the first obstacle. Can I be open and honest about where I've been and what I've done, or will that cause the people whose help I need the most to turn away from me? And if I'm not going to dwell on the past, is going back to people in my past life even a wise thing to do? I believe the MLP creators are right on the money to focus on this as Starlight's first challenge. And for Starlight to employ a mild degree of deviousness and misdirection to avoid facing Sunburst is also in character for her specifically, given her background. We also see her naturally uncomfortable with Twilight's overt chumminess and positivity after such sharp enmity.

For Twilight's part, she came to know friendship by being forced into it, by Celestia's insistence and Spike's urging, and also through the pronounced pushiness of Applejack, Rarity, Fluttershy, and Pinkie Pie. And she's not truly dismissive here; she knows Starlight finds friendship daunting, but her solution is to be overly positive and reassuring. Twilight grounds her confidence in her organizational system and rigid, step-by-step process, which may have served her well in her studies. But she fails to approach Starlight's situation with empathy. What Starlight needs is for her and Twilight to bond over their similarities (Twilight was likewise nervous about what Celestia would think of her), and for somepony to acknowledge how difficult it is for her to take even the first steps, rather than overwhelm her with the huge array of tasks ahead of her, as Twilight keeps unwittingly doing. This is an in-character failing for Twilight, and thankfully she learns at least part of this lesson by the end of this adventure.

Spike is awesome in this episode as his talent of guidance has an opportunity to shine through. This is important since Starlight's obviously not used to having somepony to confide in but, as shown in last season's finale, has a compelling need for a confessor. Spike provides a far gentler listening ear than Twilight does, and his only major slip, rattling off a worst-case scenario on Sunburst's doorstep, is unfortunate but not uncommon for his character. Spike's strongest moments in Part 1 are telling Starlight right away that she ought to talk to Twilight about her concerns, giving her an additional cue to do so on the train, and twice keeping Starlight from avoiding Sunburst. Spike's persistence here actually ends up saving the Crystal Empire, and for the third time.

I'll talk more about Sunburst in the review for Part 2, but the flashback here foreshadows an important reveal and also sets up the contrast between himself and Starlight, that he's the magical brains to be paired with her magical "brawn"; she was always more powerful, but he's the one with the know-how.

Our other main ponies are sort of in the background here, but the baby's attachment to Pinkie Pie, the severing of which creates the crisis for this story, is a nice callback to Pinkie's experience with the Cake twins, who also introduced the concept of infants' sudden bursts of magic and flying ability. And on a minor note, I like how the animators position Fluttershy and Rarity next to each other at several moments here. Their scenes together are always fun, and it's about time we saw them paired up again for an episode.

Lesson: Unusually for MLP, this two-parter has an "A" plot and a "B" plot that don't connect until the climax of the story. The primary plotline uses humor to illustrate the challenge of being a parent, while also showing that both parents take pride and happiness in their child. Being a husband and father, or a wife and mother, may be the highest calling one can have, but it's also perhaps the most demanding because it's just so constant. The episode reflects all this very well. In setup for the B plot we see Spike shine more brightly than Twilight in guiding Starlight Glimmer toward a reunion with Sunburst. Twilight fails to realize the need to express empathy when addressing Starlight's anxiety, rather than just give simplistic reassurances, which can come across as prideful and dismissive.

That last point calls to mind one of the many strengths of MLP's lessons: One basic element of friendship that's especially challenging for kids to grasp, and that's distressingly lacking in many adults, is being mindful of how you come across to other people. Your good intentions don't matter if your words or actions are perceived to be demeaning, self-righteous, uncaring, or otherwise unfriendly. This series has several episodes that showcase this problem, and often calls it out explicitly. In all fairness to Twilight, this has also been an issue for Spike in the past, but here he catches himself soon enough to imply he's learning.

Resonance: There's plenty of funny here in part 1, from Spike's mirror posing (a call-back to season 1) to Shining Armor's frazzled misadventures and the baby's ultra-powerful magic surges. I also get a kick out of Rarity and Rainbow's reactions to Spike's awkwardly-timed boast. Cuteness abounds here as well, and not just from the baby. The wing reveal gets an adorable reaction from Rainbow Dash, and I love seeing Twilight so giddy at the crystalling invitation.

This two-parter is exceptionally light due to the absence of a villain, and so the serious moments are jarring by the contrast. The two that really caught my attention in part 1 are the buzzing when Starlight is momentarily lost in traumatic anxiety, and the wham moment when the Crystal Heart shatters into thousands of pieces.


Other Impressions and Final Assessment: On that note, one may wonder why the loss of the Crystal Heart causes a storm to approach immediately. We get the answer in part 2, where the mere presence of the Heart is sufficient to ward off bad weather. Essentially, the Heart does for the Empire what Cadance was doing in the third season premiere with her force field, maintaining its springlike atmosphere from the Frozen North within a magically domed city. Passing storms are probably common but normally wouldn't be a threat. Realistically, the temperature would plummet almost instantly, just as when you're in a heated house in the winter and someone opens the door outside a few feet away from you. So the rushing clouds at the cliffhanger make sense. The gradual onset of the freeze in part 2 is necessary to give time for the spell-search and Sunburst storylines to happen.

Minor observations: Starlight nicely acknowledges the oversized interior of Twilight's home, something fans noticed in Castle Sweet Castle. For anyone wondering, the library was established to be upstairs in Scare Master. I think Spike's urn scene gives a nice creative touch to the exposition, in addition to being a probable Disney reference.

With so many blockbuster premieres and finales, I'm happy to see a slice-of-life two-parter, one which just happens to be the median story of the season by my ranking. To those who would prefer the Crystalling and Sunburst reunion storylines to have been separate standalone episodes, I'd say you'd need something as important as the new baby to get Twilight away from Starlight and let her awkwardness with Sunburst play out, and the role of Crystaller gives Sunburst a potentially recurring place on the show while keeping him occupied away from Ponyville. Also, the two storylines are very well integrated and the Crystal Empire is the perfect place for Starlight to bond with her new housemate Spike. For reasons I'll discuss in my review for Part 2, I award The Crystalling a suit of Diamond Armor.


The Crystalling Parts 1 and 2 armor rating: Diamond Vest
Ranked 13th and 14th of 26 season-six episodes
Ranked 89th and 90th of 233 stories overall

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