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

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Episode 113: "What About Discord?"

Aired 11/7/2015, written by Neal Dusedau (his second episode)
    Storyline:
  • Intro: Twilight Sparkle takes a three-day weekend to reorganize the castle library, with Spike's help.
  • Act 1: Twilight and Spike emerge from their weekend to find Rainbow Dash, Rarity, Applejack, and Pinkie Pie on surprisingly good terms with Discord. Along with Fluttershy, they all laugh at inside jokes Twilight can't comprehend. She denies Spike's suggestion that she's jealous, and she sets out to re-create the events of Discord's weekend as possibly holding the secret to friendship.
  • Act 2: Twilight has her friends and Discord try to explain their inside jokes and replicate a conversation outside the café, all to no avail. Twilight then decides her friends must be under one of Discord's spells.
  • Act 3: Zecora offers Twilight a spell-blocking potion, and she offers it to her friends, but they are offended by the implication that Discord would be so evil or that they would fail to notice it. Discord arrives and starts up the jokes again, and Twilight explodes at them, prompting her to admit her jealousy. Discord reveals he set up the whole weekend to teach her that princesses can still feel jealousy. Suddenly the friends don't find his jokes funny anymore, and they turn the tables on him by making jokes about the spell-blocking potion.

Character: While Twilight went through quite a lot in the middle of this season, for the most part she's just been hanging around the castle and seems to have adjusted by indulging her academic/organizational side. The idea of a booksort-cation is not a cartoonish exaggeration; I've taken one or two of those myself. And for anyone with a large collection of anything (e.g., movies, toys, video games), resetting the display is one way to appreciate what you have by giving attention to each little item as you give it its place. From a storytelling standpoint, the intro shows that however much Twilight has grown, her original personality is still intact. She's still Twilight.

MLP has given us a number of examples that ultra-powerful spells aren't something to play around with. We get something like an acknowledgement of that here, as Twilight is cautious about time travel spells, recalling Cadance's dismissal of the same last season. Her wariness also helps explain why she never resorted to it in her previous adventures.

However, more attention is given to Twilight's jealousy. But is it in character? Given how much she's come to value her friends, certainly. Her denial of that jealousy, which is the real main point of the episode is most certainly not in character. In the first and early second season Twilight could be a bit of a know it all, but since season three she's consistently understood she's no better than anypony else. If anything, she's too quick to blame herself. Her insistent, prideful dismissal of Spike's observations runs directly contrary to everything we've seen of Princess Twilight and almost confirms Discord's accusation in last season's premiere. I don't want to be too hard on the episode here, because power creates pride very easily, and the Map's apparent neglect of Twilight may be making her anxious about her role as princess. Also, real-life people often struggle with bad attitudes from their past resurfacing. But I would have liked an in-story explanation for the departure we see here.

On the plus side, we get an excellent Spike, the one we saw in stories like Bridle Gossip, Lesson Zero, and Equestria Girls. He strikes a good balance between gentleness and snark as he counsels his friend. I also appreciate Twilight's care for Spike's relaxation needs and her overall motherly tone toward him here.

Discord is our other featured character, finally getting his throne in the castle. His is the most natural character progression: It makes perfect sense that he, having recently learned about jealousy himself, would want to turn around and teach that lesson to somepony he thinks needs it. He's always had an eye for Twilight and enjoys needling her about her princess status, so I'm on board with his side of the story. I'm also happy to see the other ponies sincerely getting along with Discord. On first viewing, I was hoping he wasn't up to something, but on second thought, it's probably too early to take that duplicity away from him. His intentions are good, but he still doesn't have much of a conscience to guide him in pursuing those ends. We're also given some pretty clear hints of what he's up to; the ponies' laughter irritates Twilight, but it's Discord who keeps rubbing it in.

I do have to call out Twilight's friends for being insensitive here. We haven't seen this level of rudeness since Lesson Zero, and given the story parallels and Twilight's traits in that episode, I wonder if the writer used LZ as a baseline for the character interactions here. But if so, this story could have used the contrition we saw from the friends when they realized their error back then. Now, I am thrilled with the scene where the friends take offense to Twilight's spell fixation. It's a rare and realistic treat to see the characters noticing and objecting to the insulting implications of someone's off-base assumptions. Both Fluttershy's defense of Discord and Dash's anger at being thought oblivious are right on the nose. The moment is forgotten too quickly, but the scene nails one of the principal reasons a conspiratorial mindset is morally problematic.


Lesson: With two previous stories this season in which a character feels left out, which was also a running theme in Rainbow Rocks, I'm a bit dissatisfied with What About Discord's focus on jealousy. The added nuance that even princesses have to deal with such things doesn't quite make up for the repetition, given the character consistency issue it creates. In my opinion, this story would have worked better as a lesson on what forgiveness means: Discord not being up to anything, and Twilight having to apologize for her unjustified suspicion of him. Then What About Discord becomes a lesson on real and lasting forgiveness. Of course, given Discord's regression in his previous episode, you would need at least some metion of intervening good behavior to really sell his innocence.

But what we get here is still pretty decent. We see the pain, the obsession, and the suspicion that jealousy involves, the justified and unjustified feelings fairly mixed together. And we see how the friends' rudeness hurts Twilight, even though they're not explicitly called out on it. Also, good for Twilight for humbly taking in Discord's rebuke even though his moral compass is all messed up. One of the most important lessons to learn is, well, willingness to learn a lesson. Twilight needs teachability if she wants to continue to grow.


Resonance: Discord's trademark zaniness seems a little toned-down here. The inside jokes really aren't funny, and they're not supposed to be. The monotony helps us identify with Twilight, but those jokes are really driven into the ground. Oh, it grates, especially on repeat viewings. But in my assessment we get enough effective humor to make up for it. I don't plan to make a habit of listing top ten funny moments, but there just happen to be ten that tickle my funny bone this time: Quadruped Discord and his routine with Dash; Fluttershy as an orange; Spike getting annoyed when Discord addresses Rarity as "dearest," the Bob Ross shout-out; I could watch Twilight's boingy horn for hours; Pinkie's line, "I love important"; her Marty McFly outfit; Twilight insisting she "knows funny"; Applejack's fertilizer huffing reference; and Pinkie's out-of-nowhere drinking problem.

There are some heart-touching smiles in this episode from the friends as they bond with Discord, and Pinkie gets a cute moment hiding in the ticker tape. The climax of this episode turns serious, where we get some unexpected feels at Twilight's self-realization and confession, the story's best moment. The ending is also a heartwarming example of reconciliation through the last round of inside jokes and the tiny orange that serves as a peace offering, illustrating that sometimes apologies don't have to be explicit.

 

Other Impressions and Final Assessment: The second act works through some adult ideas. "You had to be there" is itself a concept I don't think I really contemplated before my teen years, and the lunch date reminds me of working through confounds in preparing a psychological experiment, including the problem of people knowing they're being observed, which inescapably alters their behavior. Everything's explained simply, though, so I don't think younger viewers will be lost. I'm happy to see Zecora get a speaking part again after a long absence.

I want to give this episode every benefit of the doubt, since the creators may be planting seeds here that won't sprout until season six. I do have that one significant concern about Twilight's newfound smugness, and I think her friends are a little out of character to be so insensitive, but otherwise it's a very good episode with a brilliantly executed final act. As such, I rank it below Rarity Investigates! but above Brotherhooves Social.

 

What About Discord? armor rating: Iron Armor
Ranked 22nd of 26 season-five episodes
Ranked 100th of 147 stories overall

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