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

Previous: Characters: Rarity Characters: Twilight Sparkle  

Character Analysis: Twilight Sparkle

The following is essentially a compilation of all that I say about Twilight Sparkle in these reviews. They are my own conclusions based on watching the episodes, and may not necessarily line up with creators' statements or other source material.

Chief Desire and Core Traits

What Twilight Sparkle wants most is to achieve a high standard of personal excellence, both knowing for herself that she's doing well and avoiding falling short of others' expectations of her, in about equal measure. For most of Twilight's life, excellence has meant being a good student under the tutelage of Princess Celestia. Since her coronation, excellence for Twilight now means being whatever a princess ought to be. The most recent MLP stories point to leadership as her new main area of concern.

Element of Harmony

Twilight Sparkle holds the sixth Element of Harmony. When the Mane Six first located the other five Elements, Twilight felt a spark inside her as she realized how much she cared about her new friends. That spark ignited the other Elements and created the sixth Element, which Twilight identified as the Element of Magic. According to the human Pinkie Pie, the sixth Element helps power up the other Elements, and while Twilight is in the world of Canterlot High, the physical Element is able to "unite with those who created it" to produce the magic of friendship.

Thus, whereas the other five Elements are identified as virtues or components of loving relationships, the sixth has the utilitarian purpose of uniting them to release their power. As demonstrated in The Return of Harmony Part 2, the Elements will not work if one is missing and the bearers despise one another. Projecting this onto Twilight, 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.

Personality Profile

In Myers-Briggs terms, Twilight Sparkle is an ISTJ. She's an introvert, naturally inclined to spend her free time alone, and social relationships are initially an alien thing to her. She's sensitive, preferring to rely on concrete evidence rather than hunches and intuition, to the point of being the occasional skeptic. She's a thinker, determined to act rationally and reasonably. She is also more inclined toward judgment than perception; she formulates plans quickly and early, wants to do everything by the book, and has strong opinions about most things that are important to her. Twilight's eye for detail, thirst for knowledge, and love of challenges are common for this personality type.

Twilight's background prior to moving to Ponyville has strengthened her in-born personality. She was raised by supportive parents whose children both pursued dreams with potential risks: Shining Armor becoming captain of the Royal Guard and Twilight studying to be a practitioner of powerful magic. Twilight's relationships with her brother and with her foalsitter Cadance were so close, fulfilling, and fun that she saw no need for any other friends.

In the first episode, Twilight begs off a birthday party invitation and is dismissive of Spike's intention to go to the party because "you know we don't have time for that sort of thing." We learn from Secret of My Excesss that she did not have birthday parties for Spike either; she would get him a book and he had never gotten presents from anypony else.

It is evident from the show that Twilight was raised by her parents and not directly by Princess Celestia, since she only ever speaks of or addresses Celestia as a teacher and authority figure, albeit a friendly one. The first two episodes reveal that important facts about Celestia were kept from Twilight: She does not recognize the sun-raising regal sister in the story of Nightmare Moon to be Celestia until Celestia addresses Princess Luna as "sister." Since the story mentioned that the events took place 1,000 years ago, Twilight must not have known that Celestia had been in power that long.

Because of her temperament and the fact that her magic studies keep her in academia long after other ponies her age have begun their careers, Twilight is bookish and socially naive, and (early on) comes across as something of a know-it-all. She does have genuine talents for organization, critical problem-solving, and analysis. She also places a high priority on punctuality. Twilight first applies these skills in a social context in Winter Wrap Up, and they allow her to solve the riddle of the Crystal Empire.

Twilight's academic nature may also be why her reaching out to others often takes the form of lectures. We see this as early as Applebuck Season and Griffon the Brush Off, and she directs her lectures to the Cutie Mark Crusaders in The Show Stoppers. Spike calls her out on her lecturing habit in It's About Time, though she's too busy at the moment to listen. She faces a challenge in Green Isn't Your Color, when she knows just what to say to Rarity and Fluttershy in their times of need but has been sworn to secrecy; several times she starts into a lecture and has to rein herself in.

In speaking with her friends, Twilight is very direct and frequently snarky, though almost never mocking or mean (Bridle Gossip being the only exception I've noticed). By the second season, she's much more diplomatic in her counsel (as seen in A Friend in Deed) and typically reserves her snark for comments about situations rather than putting down her friends' behavior.

Twilight tries to use her perceptive abilities to help her guide her team's friendships. However, her impressions have failed her on several occasions. In Griffon the Brush Off, she rightly diagnoses Pinkie Pie's tendency to focus on her own fun and her monopolizing of Rainbow Dash's time, but she wrongly thinks Pinkie is just being jealous of Gilda. In Lesson Zero, in her desperation to find friendship problems to solve, she erroneously assumes Rainbow Dash is having issues with Applejack. In later episodes, Twilight endeavors to give her friends the benefit of the doubt, as seen in Sweet and Elite, where she believes Rarity's party shenanigans are business-related. Her assumption in that instance is mostly wrong as well.

A Canterlot Wedding—Part 1 sees Twilight putting intuition and evidence together. She picks up on Cadance's out-of-character behavior but tests her hunches about her through observation. The context of a conflict with her brother about the wedding announcement and her poor presentation of her concerns keep her from being listened to, but she is ultimately proven correct. That may be why her approach to the next challenge (that of the Crystal Empire) consists solely of collecting information and drawing logical conclusions, though she still acts on a chancy epiphany in the end.

Twilight is not particularly introspective. She may talk to herself a lot, as most cartoon characters are wont to do, but we rarely see her working through her own internal issues. This may be why in Lesson Zero, when she needs to report to the Princess what she's learned about friendship, she seeks out friends to teach lessons to rather than trying to learn a lesson herself. This particular tendency hasn't really been addressed on the show, but when she does find herself in the wrong, she's quick to confess and is very contrite about it. She's right up there with Rarity when it comes to making heartfelt apologies.

As befits the leader she's destined to be, Twilight is marked by steadfast determination. This is one of her most remarkable qualities. Four examples stand out in the series: (1) her longsuffering toward her corrupted friends and her drawing them back together to defeat Discord, (2) her shepherding of Princess Luna to reintroduce her to pony society, (3) her efforts to rescue Cadance and defeat the Changelings even when Cadance is ready to give up hope, and (4) her facing down Sunset Shimmer, even risking the destruction of her only way home to prevent Sunset from using her Element of Harmony in the world of Canterlot High.

Related to her determination is a selflessness that is key to Twilight's capacity to lead and inspire other ponies. This self-sacrificial trait is on display as early as The Ticket Master, where she agonizes over a choice that will leave most of her friends disappointed and would prefer giving up her invitation to the Gala over leaving anypony out. In Fall Weather Friends, she's not interested at all in the competitive aspects of the Running of the Leaves, preferring to keep a steady, leisurely pace and enjoy the scenery. She's perfectly content with fifth place. We also see her lack of a competitive streak in Boast Busters. In It's About Time, Twilight's worry is not about her personal fate but the fate of Equestria. And of course, the resolution to The Crystal Empire—Part 2 requires her to sacrifice (she thinks) her opportunity to continue her studies with Princess Celestia and therefore face her greatest fear for the sake of the crystal ponies, only to find that self-sacrifice was the whole point of her test.

All these characteristics might seem to make Twilight Sparkle an overly serious pony, but she delights in having fun as much as anypony else. She dances alone or with a group at nearly every party she attends, hops around in circles when excited, and enjoys a nice bubble pipe now and then (as seen in MMMystery on the Friendship Express).

Cutie Mark Significance and Occupation

Twilight's entrance exam to Princess Celestia's magic school was interrupted by Rainbow Dash's distant sonic rainboom, whose effects brought out a surge of incredible magical power. Once calmed by Celestia, Twilight looked down to see a cutie mark consisting of a large six-pointed star with five smaller stars of the same shape orbiting around it.

Although her cutie mark is interpreted easily enough to refer either to her magical abilities or her astronomical interests, it is also prophetic as a picture of Twilight uniting the other five Elements of Harmony through her Element of Magic, which was on display in the form of raw potential at the time the cutie mark appeared.

Twilight indicates in Boast Busters that unicorns typically have magical abilities that are particularly relevant to their special talent, but she's unsure what that means for herself, since her special talent is magic. That episode shows that her capacity for levitation surpasses that of other unicorns (though Rarity's levitation abilities are also quite impressive), and we even see her self-levitate in The Crystal Empire. Her signature move is teleportation. One other special skill she has is the ability to mimic a spell once she's seen it performed. She uses this to her advantage in A Dog and Pony Show and later in The Crystal Empire—Part 2. In Magical Mystery Cure, she's said to have created new magic by completing a spell that Star Swirl the Bearded had never been able to finish due to his insufficient understanding of friendship.

As a professional student, Twilight presumably receives her pay as a stipend out of the royal treasury or perhaps the budget of Princess Celestia's magic school. Prior to Magical Mystery Cure, Twilight was presumably headed for a career as a magician or magic teacher, most likely as part of Princess Celestia's royal court or elsewhere in Canterlot. She is now an alicorn princess, and prior to season four, it is unclear what this means for her occupation.

Development and Lessons Learned

As the main character and the pony specifically assigned to study friendship and report her findings to Princess Celestia, Twilight Sparkle ought to be taking something from every episode. For the sake of brevity, I'll just focus on a few areas in which Twilight has shown growth over multiple stories.

The theme song gives us Twilight's experience in a nutshell: Friendship was a mystery to her prior to her move to Ponyville, and she discovered its wonders when the rest of the Mane Six extended friendship to her, each according to their gifts. Twilight's magic has brought her new friends' potential as Element bearers to fulfillment, initially in the original two-parter and in a restorative sense in both the second-season premiere story and the third-season finale.

Twilight spends most of Friendship Is Magic, part 1, rolling her eyes, groaning, and retreating from offers of friendship, believing it's a distraction from the all-important things she's given herself to do. She softens to her friends gradually over the course of part 2, but her real moment of discovery begins the climactic scene of the episode: In her moment of despair as all hope of saving the kingdom seems lost and she's alone with the villain, she hears her friends coming and calling out reassurances. This ignites the spark that transforms Twilight's attitude just as surely as the Elements transform Nightmare Moon.

The next three episodes in which she has a major role, The Ticket Master, Applebuck Season, and Boast Busters, demonstrate her immediate dedication to friendship. The first and last of these relate to an insecurity about her new friendships, worrying about disappointing her friends, showing favoritism, or giving the wrong impression. The middle episode shows her devotion to one friend in particular (Applejack) and the lengths to which she'll go to offer help. Twilight's anxiety and her determination show up again and again, sometimes together, throughout the series.

In early episodes, Twilight has some prejudicial opinons about magic that make her skeptical of others' abilities. In both Bridle Gossip and Feeling Pinkie Keen, she acknowledges only magic of the type she's studied, unicorn magic which is a matter of study, concentration, and deliberate direction. Ironically, the Elements of Harmony themselves do not work this way. The lessons she learns in these episodes are not to judge by appearances and to acknowledge that faith in her friends means being open to their knowledge and experience, even in matters she can't explain. These lessons prove important as she's forced to use lateral thinking and deal with obscure magic, magical riddles, and incomplete spells, and also when magic alone can't solve her problems (as in Magic Duel).

Despite having studied under Princess Celestia since she was a filly, Twilight is constantly worried about disappointing her teacher or appearing to be a bad student. She holds herself to much higher standards than anyone else does. This worry shows up in Swarm of the Century and A Bird in the Hoof, but most obviously in Lesson Zero, where the extremes to which she's carried earn her an off-screen dressing down from Celestia. Outside of that episode, we never see the Princess being anything other than warm and encouraging to Twilight, though always in a dignified manner. However, following this incident, Twilight seems more comfortable with her progress as a student until The Crystal Empire, where she suffers test anxiety and we see that her greatest fear is being expelled and rejected by her teacher. When she takes exactly that risk to save the empire, Celestia's praise leaves Twilight the happiest we've ever seen her, and her friends' celebration with her is just icing on the cake. Not long after, in Keep Calm and Flutter On, she's able to state with confidence that Celestia will trust her motives and understand whatever actions she needs to take in her assignment. Any latent fears about Celestia's view of her are surely laid to rest in Magical Mystery Cure as Celestia sings of her pride in her student and even bows before her as she pronounces Twilight a princess.

Twilight's more generalized anxieties receive attention in It's About Time and many other episodes, and they continue to plague her until she learns a calming technique from Princess Cadance in Games Ponies Play. Beyond the technique itself, her experiences in that episode impress on her the importance of remaining calm to be a good leader. It's interesting that Spike overhears this comment, since Spike is the one who brings her out of despair with his calm encouragement in Magical Mystery Cure and who settles her down several times in Equestria Girls. By the end of that adventure, Twilight is able to stand against a lethal threat with an almost scarily calm resolve.

The concept of harmony is one of the motifs of the show: not just diversity, but characters with diverse talents and traits working together as a whole that's more than the sum of its parts. Twilight realizes that her organizational skills equip her to turn Ponyville's populace into a force of harmony in Winter Wrap Up, and much later in Magic Duel, Zecora's counsel reminds her that she can't solve every problem on her own but can enlist her friends as well. (There's also something of this in The Crystal Empire.) This concept is the essence of her solution to Star Swirl the Bearded's unfinished spell; see my review of Magical Mystery Cure for my take on that.

Twilight also rallies the human counterparts of her pony friends through an inspiring focus on reconciliation and harmony. As she says in one song, "If we're different, yeah, I want you to be true to you." One major lesson of the series is that much can be accomplished when each exercises their own unique talents to help one another, rather than trying to "fit in" or adopt one another's abilities, and this harmonious approach is not only efficient but also creates and strengthens friendship.

Other Notes

Twilight's most important relationship on the show is with the baby dragon Spike, whom she most commonly calls her "number-one assistant." With a maturity level apparently ranging from early elementary to early teens depending on the writer, Spike himself is written inconsistently. But in his best moments he's level-headed and has a down-to-earth common sense that comes in handy when Twilight is absent-minded or overcome with worry. With the exception of a couple episodes, he's also extraordinarily capable at just about everything from cooking to cleaning to dictation.

Given Twilight's history of having hatched Spike and living with him since at least some time before the move to Ponyville, we might expect them to have a mother-and-son type of relationship. Instead, in most episodes he's more of a sidekick. Winter Wrap Up begins with a moment where Spike says "Mommy?" upon waking up, but seeing Twilight, he says, "You're not mommy" in an annoyed tone. The suggestion that he's thinking of Princess Celestia (who in Lauren Faust's notes initially raised him before giving him to Twilight) conflicts with the fact that he's never really spoken of the Princess with any special sort of affection on the show.

Nevertheless, Twilight does have some motherly moments toward Spike in a few episodes, most notably Owl's Well That Ends Well (though her performance in this episode is uneven at best, as I explain in the review), Secret of My Excess, and Dragon Quest. In any case, they are at least very close friends, and I look forward to more examination of their relationship in season four.

Prominent Episodes

My Little Pony: Equestria Girls2,260 seconds
It's About Time835 seconds
Feeling Pinkie Keen802 seconds
A Canterlot Wedding—Part 1784 seconds
Friendship Is Magic, part 1746 seconds
Magical Mystery Cure721 seconds
Lesson Zero713 seconds
The Return of Harmony Part 2686 seconds
Games Ponies Play614 seconds
The Ticket Master598 seconds
Bridle Gossip575 seconds
Winter Wrap Up570 seconds
Swarm of the Century556 seconds
The Crystal Empire—Part 1555 seconds
Friendship Is Magic, part 2553 seconds
Dragonshy499 seconds
The Crystal Empire—Part 2477 seconds
Luna Eclipsed458 seconds
Owl's Well That Ends Well451 seconds
A Canterlot Wedding—Part 2429 seconds
Magic Duel426 seconds

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