Season 1, Episodes 1-2 of 26
Before I begin, I’m going to explain how these posts reviewing every episode of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic will be organized and scheduled. Hopefully this statement will make me come across as a bit less of a lunatic than if I just dived right in.
Organization: Each post will cover two to three episodes, depending on how much I have to say about the episodes covered. This division means that each season will be divided into anywhere between 9 and 13 posts, except for season 3 which is half as long as each of the others, and thus will take up about half as many posts.
Schedule: My current plan is for these posts to be weekly, coming out every Friday at 9:00 AM EST. Unlike with prior post series of mine, these will work under a scheduled queue system, allowing me to work on them at what should be a reasonable pace and perhaps even mitigating the lengthy pauses my creative projects tend to run into.
Now let’s begin!
Season 1 Episode 1: Friendship Is Magic, Part 1
(Yes, I know it’s capitalized “Friendship is Magic” in the title card, but I consider it proper formatting to capitalize all verbs in titles, even short ones like “is”. Despite this, I’m very much used to typing the show’s acronym as MLP:FiM with a lowercase i.)
In five words: A fairly typical first episode.
Premise: Twilight Sparkle, along with her sidekick Spike, is sent to Ponyville and meets the rest of the show’s main cast. You know, the usual first episode.
Once upon a time, in the magical land of Equestria…
My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic begins with a storybook sequence telling the story of the revered Princess Celestia and the banished Princess Luna, narrated and drawn like a classical fairy tale by an unnamed narrator whose voice transitions into that of the show’s protagonist, Twilight Sparkle. This intro is a charming way to establish the show’s lore, though it’s pretty standard for a little girls’ show.
The first episode is scored with music quite different from later seasons, but considering it’s the first episode, that’s not much of a surprise.
But then, not too long after the theme song (whose season 1 version is very weird to come back to after the updates it has experienced throughout the next eight seasons), the show reveals through a simple slapstick sequence shown above that unlike the prior My Little Pony shows, or at least my extremely loose and dismissive impression of the prior My Little Pony shows, it has quite a strong sense of humor. Twilight Sparkle opens the doors to the castle and they comically launch Spike backwards. I think it was this very moment when I first watched the show that made me quickly realize why people like MLP:FiM. The show is funny! And it’s many good things other than funny, but to tell you the truth, humor is probably the biggest factor that determines whether I get hooked on a work of media. A show or story can have a gripping plot and complex, resounding characters, but if it isn’t told with any sense of humor, I tend to dismiss it entirely. Such is also why I always try to put a sense of humor into my blog posts, especially those analyzing media.
Also… while we’re here, let’s talk about Spike. Fans of MLP are often critical of this little dragon, especially episodes where he is the lead focus, but I think many people overlook that if Spike wasn’t in the show’s main cast, then bronies probably wouldn’t be a thing. Do you know how much of a gigantic game-changer it is for one of the show’s main characters to be male? I imagine for a lot of the show’s male fans, he’s the character they can latch onto and relate to as the girls go on their crazy adventures—he certainly served that role for me when I first watched the show. Aside from being the resident male of the main cast, Spike has a fun snarky side and dynamic with Twilight Sparkle, plus his own flavor of heroism and proud moments. Spike may be the brunt of comic relief a bit too much, and he may be a little unfocused in role sometimes, but I think bronies owe a LOT to his existence. I don’t know about you, but I can never hate Spike.
Twilight’s colorless magic is definitely the most jarring of season 1’s oddities.
Twilight Sparkle puts together clues in her books and finds out that in two days, the imprisoned Princess Luna will finally return to Equestria as her evil alter-ego, Nightmare Moon. Spike is subjected to some more slapstick humor and presents us some humorous dialogue as Twilight Sparkle dictates a letter to send to Celestia:
Twilight Sparkle: My dearest teacher, my continuing studies of pony magic have led me to discover that we are on the precipice of disaster.
Spike: Hold on. Preci… preci…?
Twilight Sparkle: Threshold.
Twilight Sparkle: Uh… brink?
Twilight Sparkle: (groan-ish noise) That something really bad is about to happen!
This is far from the last time MLP uses words that kids aren’t likely to know, and in future occurrences of advanced vocabulary, the show isn’t going to spoonfeed viewers simpler synonyms. This is especially true with Rarity, who has an exquisite vocabulary with words whose definitions most young viewers can only guess from context. Scenes like this demonstrate how much this show was meant to appeal to more than just little girls, and we all know that turned out to be a complete failure and to this day the only people enjoying the show are girls at most a year or two into elementary school.
This scene has more of that eccentric music scoring that you’d only get in the first season. And by eccentric, I guess I mean not orchestral.
Spike sends Twilight Sparkle’s letter to Celestia and burps out a response letter, telling her to help set up the Summer Sun Celebration in Ponyville, where some friends are waiting for her. Twilight doubts that the “friends” part matters at all, which makes sense because this is the first episode of a show about friendship. This carriage ride shown above ends with the two white ponies making horse noises, which is again something that could only happen in the first episode.
Behold the second funniest character in MLP:FiM, behind the memetic Derpy Hooves.
And then Twilight Sparkle meets the other five members of the so-called “Mane 6”, one by one. Most of them get pretty standard introduction scenes, except for Pinkie Pie who gasps and storms off the moment Twilight says hi to her and properly introduces herself near the end of the episode. This surprise pattern breaking is such a perfect way to introduce Pinkie Pie’s character, since she’s all about toying with the narrative and experiencing hilariously exaggerated cartoon logic, not to mention she has quite a penchant for surprises.
As for the other four… like I said, they get pretty standard introduction scenes, showing us their general personalities and interests. Applejack’s introduction is subject to early installment weirdness, portraying her as much more enthusiastic and cheery (with a much more enthusiastic and cheery voice) than the down-to-earth pony we later know her as, but the other three—Rainbow Dash, Rarity, and Fluttershy—are introduced as unmistakably as ever. I’ll probably say more about the Mane 6 ponies besides Twilight Sparkle when I get to episodes focusing on each of them; for now, if you’re reading this post you probably know who they all are. I like how in Fluttershy’s introduction, the ice is broken when she chances upon Spike, after which she finally enunciates her name without being muffled by shyness and gets super excited to learn all there is to know about dragons. That scene goes to show how when meeting new people, all you need to do to break the awkward silence is incite the person you’re talking to to talk about an interest of theirs, after which it blossoms into a hearty conversation.
To the right of Spike, it’s HER. HER as in Derpy, I mean.
Twilight Sparkle and Spike enter their new residence, the Golden Oak Library. The place seems quiet at first until the lights turn on and they’re greeted with a surprise party. This scene serves as Pinkie Pie’s proper introduction, and what a perfect introduction it is. Pinkie is goofy and exuberant but also has a daunting knowledge of the community of Equestria and how to make ponies laugh and smile. As I had said earlier, this subversion of expectations is the best possible way to introduce Pinkie Pie. I should say at this point that Twilight Sparkle and Pinkie Pie are tied for my favorite member of the Mane 6, being a lovable bookworm archetype and an endless fountain of laughs respectively. Twilight Sparkle was my favorite by far during my old brony phase years ago because I found her the most relatable, with her frustration at what she considers not to make sense and her overall bookworminess, but since getting back into the show the others have all grown on me.
How high do you even have to be just to do something like that?
Twilight Sparkle sips a glass of an unfamiliar substance called “hot sauce”, comically bursts into flame, and then scampers upstairs. This moment goes to show how sheltered she must have been growing up in Canterlot, not being exposed to the commonalities of everyday life—an upbringing that continues to play a role in her portrayal, but not as extreme as this. Spike examines the same hot sauce but Pinkie Pie pours it onto a cupcake, which she gladly swallows in one gulp. This shameless defiance of logic helps strengthen this introduction to Pinkie Pie, because that’s just what she does. She doesn’t care about logic at all and I love it.
While the rest of the ponies are partying, Twilight secludes herself upstairs and claims all the other ponies in the town are crazy. Then she takes a moment to reflect on the Nightmare Moon lore and gathers with everyone else for the Summer Sun Celebration, and this happens:
The Mare in the Moon, free at last.
Nightmare Moon may seem scary to first-time viewers, but she’s nothing compared to the crazy villains the show later presents us—villains who absolutely terrorize Equestria, are unseen hands… er, unseen hooves behind troublesome events, or even disguise their villainous nature. All Nightmare Moon does is threaten to make the night last forever, without any enslaving or brainwashing innocent civilians, or any sort of impersonation shenanigans. I guess the show intended to play it safe with season premieres and finales at first, before later seasons decided to go ALL out in enthralling action. The episode ends with Twilight Sparkle watching in fear, followed by a “To be continued…” screen.
It’s the first episode and it does what it needs to. It’s very tame compared to the season premieres and finales that follow but does a decent job establishing the show’s characters and sense of humor. The show clearly hadn’t found its footing (hoofing?) at this point, and while that’s inevitable for any first episode, MLP:FiM is such a big departure from anything else in the My Little Pony franchise that its first episode comes off as especially dated compared to later ones.
Of course, this episode is the first half of the two-part season 1 premiere, but it still does a lot of common first episode things so I feel justified in judging this episode individually. I’m not sure if I’ll do the same split judging for other two-part episodes.
C is basically the neutral grade in the letter-grading system I’m doing for these episodes. A brief description of each grade:
- A: An excellent episode that has a strong story and message, one of the best of the season if not the entire show.
- B: A solid episode that has little to no significant flaws but doesn’t strike as hard as an episode graded A.
- C: A decent episode that is somewhat held back by flaws but is still enjoyable.
- D: A questionable episode that is considerably held back by flaws like muddled execution or contrivances.
- F: An indefensible episode that has a fundamentally flawed premise; probably won’t use this rating much if at all.
Any grade from A to C I would consider to be a good episode, so don’t get upset if your absolute favorite episode of the entire show gets a C.
- It’s worth noting that the group of ponies Twilight Sparkle sees near the start of the episode in Canterlot, one of whom is named Moondancer, are revisited in the season 5 episode “Amending Fences”. I think it’s more interesting if I talk about this revisitation when my posts get to that episode, whenever that may be.
- The season 9 episode “The Point of No Return” similarly revisits events of the first episode and feels like a throwback to the style of season 1, with Twilight Sparkle getting carried away with paranoia over something inconsequential.
- In her introduction scene, Applejack introduces a whole bunch of Apple family members, most of whom I’m pretty sure are never seen again except for her immediate family (Big Mac, Apple Bloom, Granny Smith). All the miscellaneous family members seen are females with the exact same design and body build as the Mane 6, which is typical of season 1. One of the Apple family relatives is named Golden Delicious, and I can only imagine how much confusion it brings when relatives mix her(?) up with the later-introduced Goldie Delicious.
- During Nightmare Moon’s grand entrance, the Cutie Mark Crusaders are huddled together in fear several episodes before the group is even founded. I don’t recall if this was a simple oversight or intentional foreshadowing, and honestly I don’t care either way. It’s more fun not to bother with what the creators of a work of media say they intended and instead analyze it in my own way. I interpret that scene as them coincidentally happening to bunch together because that’s the simplest explanation given they aren’t a group of friends yet.
Alright, now on to the second episode!
Season 1 Episode 2: Friendship Is Magic, Part 2
In five words: Elements of Harmony methodically demonstrated.
Premise: The Mane 6 set out on their first of many adventures where they must find items and defeat a looming villain—in this case, the items are the Elements of Harmony and the villain is Nightmare Moon.
A familiar image to any true MLP fan.
As with all second halves of two-part episodes, this one starts off with a recap of the first half. The recap is somewhat slow-paced and reminds me how much lower the show’s stakes were back then, with nowhere near the level of excitement that later first half recaps have. As I said throughout my recap of the first episode, early installment weirdness is impossible to avoid but fun to make observations about no less. I imagine months from now when I’m further along in this post series, I’ll look back on this post and find it weird how different the posts were back then (i.e. right now). But I’m getting a little off topic here, so let’s move on.
I don’t want to be too mean here, this is the first episode and all, but my god is Nightmare Moon a weak villain in retrospect.
As Nightmare Moon smugly laughs and casts a few small lightning bolts on some identical-looking royal guards before storming off, I can only think about how any other major villain in the show would laugh at her. I guess that was either before the show’s producers had the go-ahead to put in more intense action or before it even occurred to them to put in more intense action.
After this, the Mane 6 and Spike all meet up at the Golden Oak Library. Twilight Sparkle reminds us that the Elements of Harmony are a thing but doesn’t understand them at a deeper level than just mythic lore.
Pinkie Pie: “The Elements of Harmony: A Reference Guide.”
Twilight Sparkle: (pushes Pinkie Pie aside) How did you find that?
Pinkie Pie: (set to cheery music) It was under E!
I can’t help but notice that when Pinkie Pie finds a book about the Elements of Harmony, Twilight Sparkle doesn’t let Pinkie give the book to the other ponies, but rather pushes her aside so she can examine the book for herself. This is a demonstration of Twilight’s more distrustful and haughty side, which she especially exerts towards Pinkie Pie and Trixie. She doesn’t want Pinkie Pie to be the one who gets out the Elements of Harmony book for them all to share, because she feels entitled to it as the group’s resident bookworm. I kind of feel bad for Pinkie Pie in scenes like this; even though she’s not the type to hold any semblance of grudges, Twilight doesn’t respect her nearly as much as she should.
The ponies have no choice but to set out to the Everfree Forest and find the Elements of Harmony. Twilight Sparkle is reluctant not to do it alone, but she’s talked into going with her new friends.
And soon after, the ponies begin a series of trials instantiated by Nightmare Moon, with each of the Mane 6 ponies forced to demonstrate their respective elements of harmony.
First off is Applejack, the element of honesty. A cliff collapses and while Rarity and Pinkie Pie are carried down by the flying ponies, Twilight Sparkle is in Applejack’s clutches and Applejack must tell her to let go, promising there’s safety down below. This is a weird way to demonstrate honesty, but I suppose it’s a difficult trait to design an obstacle around. Honesty doesn’t become a strong defining trait of Applejack’s until several seasons later—in season 1, honesty seems like more of Rainbow Dash’s thing, with her many snide remarks and lack of hesitance to blurt out her true emotions. I guess that could be seen as Applejack eventually getting a better grasp of her supposed element of harmony, but it’s still a pretty weird assignment at first. That said, it’s great that the show eventually remedies this issue and adjusts Applejack’s and Rainbow Dash’s characters to be more accurate to their elements.
This image nicely symbolizes the concept of getting to the root of a problem.
Fluttershy’s trial in kindness involves a big scary screaming manticore. Most of the ponies’ instinct is to fight that beast, but Fluttershy confronts him using words and finds out the reason he’s so loud and aggressive: he got a little thorn stuck in his paw. She takes the thorn out and then embraces the manticore, who eagerly licks her face. Though this trial is supposed to demonstrate kindness, I find that it also works as a demonstration of getting to the root of a problem so you can fix it rather than try to combat it. The show has quite a few episodes where characters find the source of seemingly unsolvable predicaments and solve them, which isn’t just a thing Fluttershy does. The various friendship quest episodes in season 5 and 6, where two ponies team up to tackle an issue somewhere in Equestria, all focus on this method of problem solving, which is quite nice.
Nightmare Moon may not be the most fearsome villain ever, but her aesthetic of surreptitiously using magic to generate obstacles for the ponies is really cool.
Next up is Pinkie Pie’s trial in laughter. The ponies come across as a bunch of scary-looking trees, but Pinkie Pie sees them through a completely different lens and laughs at the trees, making a bunch of goofy faces and even segueing into a musical number, back when musical numbers were more of her thing than everyone’s thing. Pinkie Pie gets everyone else to join in on the laughter to get rid of the trees’ faces and I sure can’t blame any of them for doing so. Just look at that tree in the image above and tell me its expression isn’t absolutely side-splitting. The only reason such a tree would come off as scary is because of the darkness, which I suppose is why Nightmare Moon made it dark here. Pinkie’s trial is symbolic of not just laughter in general, but the concept of washing away pointless fears, making it another one with multiple layers of meaning.
Yes, I know this guy has a name. I’ll discuss it in the miscellaneous notes section so as not to get distracted here.
Rarity’s generosity trial is simple but very effective. The ponies are intercepted by a huge purple sea serpent who’s upset that he lost half of his mustache and is letting those feelings out by slamming the ponies with water and preventing them from crossing the river. Rarity solves this problem by cutting off most of her tail and letting him use it as his mustache. The fact that the fashion pony who stylizes herself so much and holds her carefully maintained mane in high regard would do such a thing is a perfect demonstration of the extreme measures Rarity will take to satisfy others. A common sentiment among fans is that Rarity’s episodes tend to be among the best, which I agree with. There’s just something about her episodes that makes her biggest strengths and pitfalls both shine bright, making for tons of memorable episodes focused on her generosity.
Twilight Sparkle: Oh, Rarity, your beautiful tail!
Rarity: Oh, it’s fine, my dear. Short tails are in the season. Besides, it’ll grow back.
Rainbow Dash: So would the mustache.
Rainbow Dash’s snide remark about the serpent’s mustache brings to light that Rarity didn’t need to do this, but did so anyway because that’s the kind of pony she is. In a way, this remark sets a precedent for what later episodes focusing on her will be like. The serpent decides to pay back Rarity’s favor and uses his body to help the ponies cross the river and proceed with their adventure, which is rather sweet. Again, he didn’t need to do that, but did so to prevent them from getting wet again.
The last trial before entering the castle is Rainbow Dash’s loyalty trial. Like Applejack’s trial, this is a weird one that I’m not sure is very well-executed or fitting. After Rainbow Dash repairs the bridge to join, she is out of nowhere faced with the decision to join these illusory versions of the Wonderbolts called Shadowbolts or stay with her friends. Again much like Applejack, Rainbow Dash’s character becomes more accurate to her element of harmony as episodes progress. Many of Rainbow Dash’s episodes focus on her sticking to a promise too much for her own good; either that or embarrassing herself through doing crazy things that she thinks are good ideas. She successfully resists the temptation here, but a lot of episodes give her a much harder time resisting.
And then the ponies finally obtain the Elements of Harmony, or at least five of them. Twilight Sparkle recounts the book about the elements, saying that “when the five are present, a sparkle will cause the sixth element to be revealed.” I never noticed until writing this post that the “sparkle” is referring to Twilight Sparkle herself—an early hint that the Mane 6 are fabled heroes in Equestrian mythology and folklore, a fact that Celestia knows very well and deliberately set up. These roles in mythology are considerably elaborated upon in later seasons, with all six of them even getting corresponding historical figures who become voiced characters.
At the castle, Twilight Sparkle undergoes her trial: using her magic to create the missing element of harmony, which is—you guessed it—magic. She uses a spark of not unicorn magic, but the internal magic of friendship, to finally complete the Elements of Harmony, giving a dramatic speech while doing so. I don’t have much to say about this defeat through friendship, other than that it sets the formula for much more grandiose villain defeats in later seasons. This is what the first two-part episode is all about: setting the formula for later material to come.
In the spirit of an epic anime battle, the ponies use their elements of harmony to generate stylish necklaces (and a crown for Twilight) based on their cutie marks and generate a rainbow beam that defeats Nightmare Moon. Again, this is setting the formula for battles in later two-part episodes.
Luna used to be TINY.
Celestia appears and congratulates Twilight Sparkle on the successful mission, then reunites with her long-lost younger sister Luna who is finally no longer evil. They all return to Ponyville, whose citizens welcome back Luna. Twilight Sparkle is bummed out at first that she seemingly has to go back to Canterlot now, but Celestia officially declares that she can stay in Ponyville to learn all there is to know about friendship. Twilight’s initial reaction is a good demonstration of the extreme trust she puts in Celestia and her extreme desire not to disappoint those she idolizes. It’s interesting how differently she acts with those she looks up to compared to those she looks down on; no denying she has a condescending side.
To answer Pinkie Pie’s question, yes, I am very excited to continue analyzing this wonderful show.
And then Pinkie Pie ends the episode with breaking the fourth wall, talking about how excited she is for the show to continue and briefly expanding the circle that closes in on her as the episode ends. It’s clear that the show’s creators were very excited to make and release more episodes, and boy did they have every reason to be excited. This is hardly the beginning of many more adventures to come.
Much like the first episode, this one pretty much does what it needs to. The Mane 6 ponies demonstrate their elements of harmony one by one, some executed very well like Rarity’s, and others not so much like Rainbow Dash’s. Those demonstrations are basically the bulk of the episode; we get a bit of action towards the end, not quite the same degree of action as in later two-part episodes but it works. The episode emphasizes that it’s only the first of many adventures to come, but I still find that it’s overshadowed by most of the other season premieres and finales.
This one serves its purpose but is held back by how methodical it is, going through each of the Mane 6’s strengths one at a time in a way that feels formulaic. It works to introduce the characters’ traits quite well, I’ll give it that.
- The sea serpent Rarity sacrificed her tail for has come to be known as Steven Magnet, first by fans then officially. This very bizarre name supposedly came from automated captions on a YouTube upload of this episode, back when YouTube captions were hilariously bad. The name’s origin story is something that could only have happened in 2010, after YouTube captions started being a thing but before YouTube captions were any good, and before YouTube started taking down uploads of MLP episodes. In a way, Steven Magnet’s name is a time capsule that reminds us of what the Internet was like when MLP:FiM began.
- On this topic, if there’s anything good that came out of YouTube’s increasing reliance on algorithms, it’s the massive improvement in the quality of captions. It’s a fantastic feature that greatly helps with accessibility. I just wish I could similarly praise anything else about how YouTube has changed.
- Princess Luna looks different here from how she does in later episodes, which goes to show that her character starts off as a total blank slate compared to Celestia. She’s completely shafted until the season 2 episode “Luna Eclipsed” which gives her a proper personality. Luna has become quite a fan favorite since then, starring in some very fun dream-oriented episodes and having an interesting dynamic with her older sister.
I hope you enjoyed reading my reviews of the first two episodes of MLP:FiM! I’m looking forward to reviewing more episodes at a laid-back and reasonable pace (at least by my standards) without letting it consume too much of my time. This post was originally supposed to come out a week ago, but I didn’t quite finish it in time so I decided to push it back and give some breathing room.