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

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Episode 119: "The Crystalling Part 2"

Aired 3/26/2016, written by Josh Haber (his eighth episode)
    Storyline:
  • Intro: Recap.
  • Act 1: As snow begins falling in the Crystal Empire, Celestia and Luna fly off to fight the storm while Applejack, Fluttershy, and Rainbow Dash try to convince the ponies gathered for the Crystalling to seek shelter. Starlight gives up trying to befriend Sunburst and returns to the castle to find the royal baby going berserk in the library. One spellbook is located there that might repair the Crystal Heart, but the book is incinerated by a stray magic beam.
  • Act 2: Hearing that Sunburst is a wizard, Cadance sends Starlight to see if he knows a repair spell, while Shining Armor starts an evacuation. Backed into a corner, Sunburst finally confesses that he's not a wizard after all.
  • Act 3: Sunburst and Starlight Glimmer confess their failures to each other, and they send the evacuating ponies back to the castle. There, Sunburst has everypony combine the Crystalling with several other spells to restore the Crystal Heart, and the storm is dispelled. Sunburst is named the baby's Crystaller (godfather), and the baby meets her paternal grandparents and is named Flurry Heart. Twilight reflects on the fact that Starlight learned her first friendship lesson through circumstances much as Twilight herself did.

Character: As Starlight Glimmer's journey continues, I'll say that one of the most underrecognized necessities in successfully writing a character who goes from evil to good or vice-versa is to maintain a continuity of personality. Good Starlight Glimmer needs to be the same pony as evil Starlight Glimmer, only without the evil. This is, in my opinon, one of the greatest shortcomings of the Star Wars prequels. Search the role of Darth Vader for every nuance of personality, temperament, style, proclivities, strengths, weaknesses, and leanings toward virtues and vices. Keep all of that, but then replace the corruption in his heart with goodness or at least innocence, and you have a believable heroic young Anakin Skywalker. The Anakin we saw in the prequels was already halfway evil by his teens and bore no resemblance to the towering figure he supposedly became. So I'm watching Starlight's role closely to see whether the traits that made her distinct from other villains have been properly mapped onto her newly reforming self. The main weaknesses she displayed prior to her reform were her fear and defensivess, and her emotional volatility. It seems to me the creators have deliberately retained those to one degree or another. I especially like the fact that her anger gets to surface once or twice; it's an established element of her character that won't go away just because she's turned over a new leaf. What I'd also like to see going forward are a flair for the dramatic, which we saw repeatedly in the village and which VA Kelly Sheridan should have a ball with, and also some real difficulty accepting Rainbow Dash's superiority complex and egotistical outbursts. One other little show of continuity I like is Starlight choosing to sit with Fluttershy on the train on the way home.

Sunburst has epic facial hair. More importantly, his wizardly persona is introduced as an obvious facade, but the lack of backstory in his reveal, beyond the low power we already saw demonstrated in part 1's flashback, leaves us with one big, unanswered question: What is he doing in the Crystal Empire? Recall that the empire only returned two or three years ago. (We've seen two winters since then, with a third just around the corner.) My guess is that he relocated there unnoticed during the influx of visitors to the Equestria Games, possibly to study the unique form of magic the crystal ponies possess. We do see a few non-crystal background ponies in this episode, so he wouldn't necessarily appear too out-of-place.

However he got where he is, Sunburst's awkwardness is well captured by his facial expressions and vocal delivery. And it's natural to make comparisons between the reunion in this episode and last season's Moondancer/Twilight reconciliation. But while Moondancer and Sunburst both seek refuge in their books, the more precise parallel is between Moondancer and Starlight, each being a pony unwittingly hurt by a lost friend and reluctant to open up. But Twilight and Sunburst could not be more different, as Twi went to extremes to essentially force Moondancer to recognize her need for healing, while Sunburst is as furtive and anxious as Starlight is.

It's nice to see him return to his childhood confidence at the end when he acts as an instructor to the others. His comfort in teaching and his tenderness toward Flurry Heart suggest he'll do just fine in his godfather-like role as Crystaller. In fact, Starlight's great success in this episode is in awakening Sunburst to that opportunity to use his vast knowledge of magic rather than just continue absorbing it.

There's a cute moment with Pinkie Pie that's one of my favorite spots in the episode, simply because it draws so little attention to itself: As Sunburst builds up to announcing his remedy, Pinkie's wheels start turning, and she begins raising her hoof just as Twilight also figures out where Sunburst is going. It's just a little reminder from the animators that Pinkie can be just as on-the-ball as Twilight is when she's not just trying to be funny. All the princesses receive their due in this adventure, and I love seeing the royal sisters in action. I also appreciate the callback to Celestia's main strategy for teaching Twilight, giving her student challenges and leaving her to find solutions on her own instead of intervening herself. Celestia's power provided something of a safety net, as we saw in Lesson Zero, but Twilight has grown as a friend by discovering friendship, not just learning it by rote.


Lesson: That brings us to the lessons, the first of which is learned by Twilight: that she must not try to micromanage Starlight's training. Now, she already knows this in other contexts, such as letting Scootaloo do her own research. But she's so systematic in all her other studies that she forgets that's not how she learned the lessons she wants Starlight to master. Could it also be that she's overly protective of her pupil, not willing to risk letting her make mistakes? Time will tell, and these habits and attitudes of Twilight's are deeply ingrained enough that we shouldn't expect them to go away quickly.

Within the Starlight/Sunburst scenes, there's a second lesson revealed in what finally draws them together. The openness of confession plays a crucial role in any relationship. In order to love people for who they are, we need to know who they are, including their quirks, their eccentric interests, and how they got the way they are. That's not to say everyone needs to know everything about you, but a willingness for transparency builds trust and often brings to light common struggles and ways for one friend's strengths to stand in place of the other's weaknesses. In this case, both Starlight and Sunburst reacted to childhood disappointment by retreating into a world of their own, and their shared experience is an encouragement for each of them to rejoin the larger society, accepting who they are and where they came from.


Resonance: Flurry Heart's brief disappearance and echoing laughter evokes the nightmare sequence from Baby Cakes, but for the most part she provides us with some fun chase sequences. Most of the rest of the humor comes from the stubborn crystal ponies. If you ever worked retail, you've seen these difficult customers before. We have a couple cute moments: Spike hugging Starlight Glimmer, and Fluttershy patting Rainbow Dash on the head when the snow starts. Fluttershy has another nice moment picking up a fallen pony during the evacuation, and we get some awesome shots of characters fighting the storm. Also thrilling is the shot of Starlight and three princesses powering up the heart, and getting to see them and the others crystallized once again. The confession scene between Starlight and Sunburst is strongly touching without being too melodramatic, and I love the fact we get one set of grandparents here at the end, and in speaking roles at that.

 

Other Impressions and Final Assessment: I worry about the crystal ponies sometimes; they're like sheep without a shepherd. Really, you shouldn't need to tell ponies to go someplace warm when it starts snowing. Yet more book-shuffling in Crystal Empire libraries suggests the Dewey Decimal System would also come in handy up there.

My thanks to the creators for not trying to make every two-parter more over-the-top than the one before it. Last season ended with a character cliffhanger, and it's more important to follow up on Starlight than to introduce yet another kingdom-threatening villain after the Boss Rush we got in The Cutie Re-mark. There's plenty of story to fill out the time, and even though it defies physics for the storm to take so long to set in, I'm glad nothing is rushed here. The combination of storylines gives everypony something to do until all is well, which had to be a challenge with fourteen featured characters all thrown in together. With all things considered, I rank this two-parter just a notch or two above last season's premiere.

 

The Crystalling Parts 1 and 2 armor rating: Diamond Armor
Ranked 13th and 14th of 26 season-six episodes
Ranked 47th and 48th of 147 stories overall

Click HERE for Character Appearance List and Screentime.

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