Cookie Fonster Reviews Every MLP Episode Part 11: The Return of Harmony, Part 1 + 2

Introduction

< Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12 >

Season 2, Episode 1-2

One season down, eight to go!!! Well, more like seven and a half seasons, because season 3 of MLP:FiM is half the length of other seasons.

Season 1 took me about two months to go through, which is pretty good by my standards! Season 2 will likely take a bit longer depending on how I split the episodes and if I procrastinate enough that I’ll have to miss a week. As for later seasons, we’ll just have to see what happens, but expect the level of detail to ramp up considerably once I get to season 5 and onwards… which is over half the show, but whatever.


Season 2 Episode 1: The Return of Harmony, Part 1

This review contains spoilers for season 3! Even those who haven’t seen MLP may know Discord is a recurring character after his debut, but they aren’t as likely to know what he does after this episode. So, um, read at your own discretion.

In five words: Introducing everyone’s favorite villain, Discord.

Premise: A new villain named Discord arises from his frozen state and steals the Elements of Harmony, playing all sorts of mind games on the Mane 6 in the process.

Detailed run-through:

The very beginning of season 2 of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic demonstrates that the show’s cast has solidified quite a bit over its first season. Cheerilee is taking the Cutie Mark Crusaders’ class on a field trip to the Canterlot sculpture garden, and the class now has a good eight members who are actual characters and not just generic extras: an inseparable trio, two inseparable duos, and Twist. As the show’s cast of named characters expands, so does the show’s attention to detail, and you know how much I love some good attention to detail.

This scene features the memetic line directed at Sweetie Belle, “what are you, a dictionary?”
Why is Sweetie Belle by far the smartest of the Cutie Mark Crusaders???

When Cheerilee presents the statue of Discord, the Cutie Mark Crusaders get into an argument and demonstrate (and had already been demonstrating) the concept of—you guessed it—discord. And let me tell you, between Discord the MLP character and Discord the chat client, it’s INCREDIBLY weird typing “discord” as a lowercase word. I suppose the Crusaders’ live demonstration was meant to teach viewers what “discord” means through example, which is especially useful for young viewers today who know Discord as the name of a chat client. This benign opening ends with the statue of Discord cracking and the draconequus himself deeply laughing, setting the stage for this two-part episode.

The theme song (which isn’t updated just yet, that’ll be a few episodes later) is immediately followed by a demonstration of why Discord is so popular among fans. Without even seeing Discord in person, we’re treated to a great deal of humor on his part with cotton candy clouds that rain chocolate milk and somehow manage to pop corn, which is dreadful to most of the Mane 6 but delightful to Pinkie Pie. Considering that Pinkie Pie revels in the outcomes of Discord’s antics, you’d think that she would be the one willing to give Discord a second chance, but nope, Fluttershy serves that role instead when season 3 rolls around. That said, Fluttershy being the one to befriend Discord is a great choice and adds a surprising amount of depth to her character, far more than if Pinkie Pie were to reconcile with him. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though.

Rarity then enters the scene sporting a hilariously fancy umbrella. I can’t explain why, but something about this one specific umbrella is downright side-splitting to me.

Oh yeah, forgot to mention that Discord greatly extended the length of Angel’s legs.

And just as side-splitting is Pinkie Pie’s enjoyment of all the delicious candy and popcorn while everyone else (led by Twilight Sparkle, naturally) is trying to fix the problem.

Fluttershy: Oh, dear. I hope that none of the animals see these delicious chocolate-filled cotton candy clouds. I’d hate to have to share them!
Pinkie Pie: You and me both, sister!
(animals come in and eat the cotton candy, knocking Pinkie aside)
Pinkie Pie: HEY!

Please appreciate once more how literal-minded Pinkie Pie is. Only she could take Fluttershy’s blatant reverse psychology so literally. Right when the Mane 6 seem to have dealt with the nonsense, Spike burps an urgent letter to Celestia…

… that leads to some exposition from the princess about Discord, accompanied by some stained glass portraits showing Discord’s tyrannical rule of Equestria and the princesses turning him to stone, which expired once control of the Elements of Harmony went from Celestia and Luna to the Mane 6. This castle hallway with all the heroic depictions shows up a lot in the season premieres and finales, and it’s fun seeing the portraits evolve to depict more and more of the ponies’ adventures. The Mane 6 themselves have already been honored in one of the portraits, specifically the one depicting Nightmare Moon’s defeat—an early demonstration of the increasingly obvious fact that they were always destined heroes in Equestrian folklore.

Celestia retrieves the safeguarded Elements of Harmony, but it turns out the elements have disappeared, which is a clever demonstration of how much of an omnipotent reality warper Discord is.

Celestia: That chamber is protected by a powerful spell that only I can break. This doesn’t make sense!
Discord: (laughs) Make sense? Oh, what fun is there in making sense?

With the very first line we hear from him, Discord seems like he would be right up Pinkie Pie’s alley—yet another way it’s surprising that Fluttershy, not Pinkie Pie, is the one who would later befriend him. Fluttershy and Discord’s friendship is a wonderful way to demonstrate that severely contrasting people can become close friends. Their friendship also cleverly subverts the obvious choice of Discord befriending Pinkie Pie, but I’m again getting ahead of myself.

Apparently laughter is Discord’s personal favorite element. Could the idea of Pinkie Pie befriending him get any more obvious?

Back to this episode, through the stained glass windows, Discord plays his trademark flavor of taunting through riddles and mind games, which he continues to do post-reformation—in this case, he jabs at Celestia for being straightforward and boring and then lists the Mane 6’s elements of harmony (I’m so inconsistent with capitalizing, sorry) I guess as a refresher for viewers.

The Mane 6 set out to find the Elements of Harmony in a labyrinth, and wait just a minute I think I’ve figured out the capitalization rule, or at least how I’ve been doing it. “Elements of Harmony” refers to the physical objects, while “elements of harmony” refers to the ponies’ personality traits. There, that’s settled. Anyway, Discord strips the pegasi of their wings and the unicorns of their horns, then generates barriers between the Mane 6 to prevent them from tackling this together.

Discord is operating these blobs of apples like puppets.

One by one, the ponies aside from Twilight Sparkle encounter objects resembling their cutie marks and follow them, leading Discord to corner then and corrupt them, washing away their colors and inverting their elements of harmony (the traits, not objects). In doing so, Discord presents them with a seeming downside of each pony’s element, like how hard the truth can sting or getting rudely laughed at. I don’t have a lot to say about this corruption Discord is doing, other than that the symbolism of each pony finding an object (or set of objects) resembling their cutie mark is really cool, as is his usage of downsides to wash away the ponies’ prime traits.

The “downside” part of Discord’s brainwashing is only done with Applejack and Pinkie Pie. Rarity’s brainwashing features an interesting use of warped character perspective. After turning colorless, Rarity mines what she perceives to be an colossal diamond, and we see it as a diamond from her perspective, but as an ordinary boulder from everyone else’s. Rarity’s love of gems is as strong as ever, but her generosity has been inverted to the point where she carries a rock that she thinks is a gem and keeps it all to herself.

I love Discord’s aggravated face.

Discord tries to brainwash Fluttershy with rude words to her, but she refuses to let any of those words hurt her, so he brainwashes Fluttershy manually in frustration. I don’t this scene comes off as weird in light of Fluttershy and Discord’s later friendship. Fluttershy’s resilience when dealing with such mischievous figures as Discord is an early hint at the friendship they later develop.

The final pony to be brainwashed is Rainbow Dash, who while under hypnosis is given a choice to get her wings back or continue prodding on aimlessly. She chooses the wings and flies out of the scene. I like how Rainbow Dash’s inversion of loyalty simply means she abandons everyone else and plays no part in their adventures or villainy; it logically fits but makes her inverted self quite an oddball. Discord played a clever gambit with Rainbow Dash getting her wings back. With her breaking the “no wings, no magic” rule, the maze challenge is over and the ponies are seemingly doomed.

And so, this episode ends similarly to Friendship Is Magic, Part 1: the villain gloating about his potential rule of Equestria and imminent doom followed by a “To be continued…” screen. This time around, the villain is a lot more threatening and we’ve seen much more of his mischief firsthand, which is a definite improvement over last time.

I won’t give overall thoughts or a grade for this episode. Instead, I’ll save those sections for the end of The Return of Harmony, Part 2, judging this two-part episode as a whole.

Miscellaneous notes:

  • Discord speaks in rhymes a few times in this episode, which is weird because rhyming is normally Zecora’s shtick. Or maybe it’s not that weird, because back then Discord was meant to be a one-off villain.
  • I’m obligated to mention that Derpy Hooves briefly appears in Rainbow Dash’s vision of Cloudsdale crumbling while she is brainwashed. Derpy makes more and more cameos throughout season 2, many of which are clearly intentional given her googly eyes, until her controversial speaking scene halfway through the season, shortly after which she’s tragically relegated to hardly noticeable appearances. I’ll never forget how loudly I screamed when Derpy returned to the spotlight in Rainbow Falls.

Season 2 Episode 2: The Return of Harmony, Part 2

As with part 1, this review will have spoilers for season 3, and arguably a spoiler for the season 5 premiere (well OK, not actually much of a spoiler). You have been warned!

In five words: Discord defeated through friendship powers.

Premise: Twilight Sparkle must bring her friends back to normal so they can save Equestria from Discord’s chaotic wrath.

Detailed run-through:

As with the second part of every two-part episode, this one starts with a recap of the first part, and it’s much more to the point and focused compared to Friendship Is Magic, Part 2. The recap is set to dramatic music that helps set the tone and efficiently reminds viewers of what happened before, and all the recaps from here on out are pretty much like that.

I imagine viewers who learned the meaning of the word “discord” through the last episode are thinking, oh, I SEE! Twilight Sparkle’s friends are demonstrating discord! Appropriately enough, Discord is watching in amusement, even munching on popcorn.

Twilight Sparkle: How are we supposed to find the Elements of Harmony when you took away the labyrinth before we could get to the end?
Discord: Oh. Wait. Did you… (laughs) How funny! You thought the elements were in the labyrinth?
(flashback)
Discord: Twists and turns are my master plan. Then, find the elements back where you began.
(end flashback)
Discord: I never said they were in the labyrinth.
Twilight Sparkle: But… but…

I went through the entirety of season 1 without once outright mentioning a certain webcomic. It is with a heavy heart that I must announce I will talk about that certain webcomic directly. That webcomic is called—bet you can’t guess—Homestuck. Here goes:

Discord’s deliberate misleading through exact words reminds me of Doc Scratch and Caliborn who are villains in Homestuck that lie through omission. Let’s be real, I was inevitably going to compare something in this show to Homestuck.

Alright, that’s it. I hope it wasn’t too painful. Now back to talking about MLP without diverting into tangents about Homestuck!

Twilight Sparkle realizes “back where you began” means Ponyville. As she and her corrupted friends walk there, Discord’s shenanigans invite tons of slapstick humor like the scene shown above, which makes it abundantly clear why Discord is such a fan favorite character.

I guess all the background ponies are in their homes huddling in fear because of all the chaos?

As Discord presents the new and improved Ponyville, I can only think that it might have been a better idea if Discord kept Pinkie Pie the same since she normally loves this cotton candy chocolate madness so much. The brainwashed Pinkie Pie says “this may look like fun, but it’s not” as she slides down a slippery soap road, which led me to make this observation.

I really enjoy how human names in MLP are few and far between, rather than absent entirely.

When Twilight Sparkle makes it to her house, her friends all become increasingly gray, indicating that the corruption has increased while retaining a sense of humor. Rarity has named her rock Tom, and Twilight has reluctantly accepted that Rarity won’t go in the house without her dear precious rock.

The humor continues when Twilight Sparkle struggles to retrieve the Guide to the Elements of Harmony with all her brainwashed friends getting in the way. While most of the show’s two-part episodes are enthralling and dramatic, this one is more on the humorous side (though it does have some dramatic scenes).

Only an especially hasty Twilight Sparkle would refer to a crown as a “big crown thingy”.

And then the humor reaches its peak when Twilight Sparkle hastily puts all the necklaces on her friends and the “big crown thingy” on herself, then declares Spike to be “the new Rainbow Dash”. For some reason, I find Spike being the new Rainbow Dash to be the funniest part of this entire two-part episode—not his worries about impersonating Rainbow Dash (though those are funny too), just Twilight Sparkle immediately having the brilliant idea to replace Rainbow Dash with Spike.

Spike: Me?! B-b-but, what if she finds out I’ve been impersonating her? (takes a breath) That won’t end well.
Twilight Sparkle: Too bad. You’re Rainbow Dash. Now let’s go defeat Discord so we don’t ever have to talk to each other again!

Although Discord didn’t brainwash Twilight Sparkle directly, perhaps because he takes amusement in seeing her struggle to keep her friends together, it’s clear that she has started to be disillusioned in the concept of friendship due to her friends’ brainwashing. Perhaps she thinks her friends are exerting all the worst parts of themselves, especially with all the one-word descriptions she gives them (liar, grouch, hoarder, brute).

With Twilight Sparkle expecting the villain’s defeat to go the same as last time, she and her friends fail to generate a magic rainbow beam and defeat Discord as he sarcastically claims to be terrified, and then Twilight turns gray just like all her other friends. The montage of her walking amidst the ruined chaotic Ponyville is probably either heartwrenching or humorous depending on the viewer, and I simply find it humorous because of all the wacky chaos going on. Nightmare Moon and Discord are both warm-ups for the much more threatening villains the show later has to offer.

Celestia could have totally delivered these letters directly and saved Spike all this pain.

In her bedroom, Twilight Sparkle finds that Spike has burped out all of the letters she has sent to Celestia since moving to Ponyville. It seems that Celestia sent all those letters to remind Twilight of all that she has learned about friendship in Ponyville, and so it dawns on her that Discord has been merely distracting the ponies from the power of friendship. With that, she returns to full color and gives a speech about how the fate of Equestria does indeed rest on their friendship, contrary to what she initially believed. She comes to realize one of the show’s main motifs: that there is no magical power greater than the power of friendship. It’s a cool motif if I say so myself.

Elsewhere in the farm, I just KNOW Winona is saying “eeyup”.

Twilight Sparkle saves her friends from corruption one by one, by presenting each of them visions of the memories they have together. The visions are shown directly with Applejack, and after that the show seems to go, “yeah you get the idea”, which means we don’t have a lot of time to see Discord’s effects on the inhabitants of Ponyville outside of the Mane 6. Big Macintosh behaving like a dog and Granny Smith gleefully dancing are both hilarious and I wish we saw more things like that… well, I actually don’t have to wish, because this episode is nowhere near the last we see of Discord. Discord’s logic-defying shenanigans never fail to make me laugh—he’s one of the funniest characters in the entire show, but not the funniest because Derpy Hooves exists.

And then the final challenge is to save Rainbow Dash, who is sitting alone on a cloud that she thinks is Cloudsdale.

Rarity: How in Equestria can she think that tiny patch of clouds is Cloudsdale?
Applejack: The same way he got you to to think that cheap rock was a bonafide diamond.
Rarity: I thought we agreed never to speak of that again.

Rarity’s insistence never to speak of her boulder delusion again can be interpreted in a few ways. Does she see that delusion as her worst inner desires channeled, like her love of jewels that an inner part of her wants all to herself? Or does she merely think that anyone hearing of that delusion will be the end of her? She doesn’t tend to take it well when others find out embarrassing things about her or secrets that make her seem like anything less than prim and proper, so it’s probably the latter.

The ponies must work as a team to catch Rainbow Dash and free her from her brainwashing, since Twilight Sparkle can’t fly… yet. It’s weird to consider that if this were after Twilight gained wings, she could have handled all this herself. You probably already know that her gaining wings led to controversy among fans, and while I think the hatred is overblown since she’s still the same old Twilight Sparkle, I won’t deny that the addition of wings makes her somewhat overpowered, as this scene shows.

Props to Applejack for being so handy (hoofy?) with ropes.

Anyway, Fluttershy struggles to keep up with Rainbow Dash until Twilight Sparkle reminds her what would happen if they let Rainbow Dash get away, after which Fluttershy considerably speeds up. This simple friendship motivation allows Fluttershy to override her gentle, soft-spoken personality, finally letting Applejack fling a rope and successfully catch Rainbow Dash. It’s awesome seeing the ponies work as a team to save their last friend, but it’s still weird to consider that a winged Twilight Sparkle could have done it on her own.

And with that, the ponies create a magical rainbow friendship beam that turns Discord back to stone and restores Ponyville. It’s basically a more dramatic reprise of Nightmare Moon’s defeat, and while it still pales in comparison to the action that later two-part episodes have to offer, it’s still undeniably awesome.

Poor Spike is left out of the action again. Not until season 3 will there be a two-part episode where he gets to be heroic.

The episode ends with a ceremony honoring the Mane 6 for defeating Discord, where Celestia gives a speech and unveils a stained glass portrait showing Discord’s second defeat. There isn’t much to say about the ceremony—no interesting details or notable characters in the audience, but I guess the show’s cast wasn’t that expansive yet. Still, this is a worthy celebration of the ponies’ accomplishments, the second grandiose villain defeat of many more to come. The end of this episode features a zoom out on the Mane 6 smiling in front of the camera, although Fluttershy looks nervous at first and takes a moment to break into a still nervous smile.

You know, we all should thank Lauren Faust for this show existing.
Also, I wish they had kept the custom credits font from the first few episodes.

This episode is the first one whose credits don’t use the standard instrumental theme song, but rather some triumphant orchestral music, which as far as I know is unnamed, celebrating our heroes’ accomplishments. Unique credits music is like a badge of honor to especially triumphant or emotional episodes, or episodes with a notable song. My favorite instance of unique credits music is probably The Perfect Pear, which, spoiler alert, is my favorite episode of the entire show because it’s so emotional.

Overall thoughts:

This two-part episode is a definite improvement over Friendship Is Magic, with a more actively threatening villain, more dramatic action, and all around higher stakes. Discord is an incredibly fun character, both has a villain and as an ally of the main characters, and I’m incredibly glad the show let him serve the latter role. Part of the improvement from Friendship Is Magic may be because there’s no need to spend time introducing the characters, instead allowing for more action and tension.

That said, this two-part episode still has some rough patches here and there. And by rough patches, I mostly mean it doesn’t have many cool background details, like with supporting characters or background scenery or what have you. This may sound like a small criticism, but background details are one of my favorite things about the show, and one of the biggest factors in my enjoyment of it. I suppose it’s only natural that such details become much more common as the show’s cast and locations are fleshed out.

Aside from the lack of background details, this episode is great overall and paves the way for the even better season premieres and finales that follow.

Grade: B

This grade applies to both part 1 and 2. The Return of Harmony doesn’t quite get an A from me because it’s still overshadowed by later two-part episodes, many of which are downright jaw-dropping.

Miscellaneous notes:

  • You may think Rarity is weird for naming her rock Tom, but wait until you see that Maud Pie has a pet rock named Boulder. Though that could just be Maud’s incredibly dry sense of humor.
  • While corrupted, Fluttershy dumps a bucket of water to wake up Spike, and this won’t be the last time Fluttershy dumps a bucket of water. I’m reminded of how she uses a bucket of water in The Cutie Map to reveal the truth about Starlight Glimmer; perhaps she learned that dumping buckets of water is a thing you can use to your advantage from her time spent corrupted?
    • I’ve noticed that in every episode review containing spoilers, I mention Starlight Glimmer at least once (unless you count my reviews of part 1 and 2 as separate reviews). She’s a great character with a lot of depth, I can’t believe some fans vehemently hate her.

That’s all for this week! I think I like giving each two-part episode a post all to itself. See you next week as I analyze one of the funniest episodes of the entire show, plus the episode that properly introduces Princess Luna.

>> Part 12: Lesson Zero + Luna Eclipsed

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