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Season 3, Episode 13
NOTE: This post was supposed to be released about an hour ago, but it looks like I forgot to schedule it. Sorry about that!
We’ve made it to the season 3 finale now! It’s a huge turning point for the series, as you probably know. Like season 1, this season’s finale is a single one-part episode. But this time, I’m giving the finale a post all to itself, making for my first MLP post that goes through only one episode. It turns out that was a good decision, since Magical Mystery Cure broke the record of my longest MLP episode review to date, surpassing The Best Night Ever by quite a lot! (Yes, I did a word count, not including words quoted from the show.)
Season 3 Episode 13: Magical Mystery Cure
In five words: Twilight gains wings; fans scream.
Premise: In an episode abound with musical numbers, Twilight Sparkle wakes up to find that all her friends’ cutie marks have been swapped. Only she can fix this, using, well you know, the power of friendship.
This episode starts with a joyful, triumphant musical number called “Morning in Ponyville”, where Twilight Sparkle wakes up and sings about how this is a perfect morning where nothing can ever go wrong. The fact that this episode immediately starts with this song already tells us that it’s going to be a little different from other episodes of this show; an episode where most things are told through music.
With its orchestral composition and bright lyrics, as well as the background ponies waving their hooves and dancing along, Morning in Ponyville is set up like the perfect opening song to a children’s animated movie…
… but in accordance with this show’s sense of humor, the song is interrupted with a bunch of water randomly dumped on Twilight Sparkle. This is a big part of what I love about this show: it will appear to play its events straight like any typical work of media aimed at children, but then it’ll subvert your expectations and go in a whole new direction. This happens again when Twilight Sparkle immediately assumes that the dump of water is Rainbow Dash’s doing and tells her that isn’t funny…
… but it turns out to be a mishap on Rarity’s part, and she now suddenly has Rainbow Dash’s cutie mark. This is a clever bait-and-switch that itself follows a clever bait-and-switch, and it’s a perfect leadup to this episode’s premise. The camera zooms in on Rarity’s wrong cutie mark, and Twilight Sparkle’s shocked reaction makes for a great cliffhanger before the theme song starts.
While the intro of this episode was a perfectly executed leadup to the big surprise, my feelings about the rest of the episode are much more mixed.
I’m not sure why the pegasi all look annoyed at Rarity instead of fixing the clouds’ layout by themselves.
Twilight Sparkle: What are you doing? What happened to your cutie mark?
Rarity: What ever do you mean, Twilight? I’m simply doing what I’ve done since the day it first appeared.
This scene gives us a lot of insight into the lore of cutie marks, specifically what happens when a pony’s cutie mark suddenly changes. It’s clear here that cutie marks dictate a pony’s special skills, and while they normally are made naturally through realization, when magic spells mess around with cutie marks, bad things start to happen. I think a problem with this episode’s attempts at conveying cutie mark lore is that we’ve already gotten to know the Mane 6 very well, so we aren’t really learning anything new about what their cutie marks mean. If the show wants to convey how cutie marks work, it’s much better done with new characters, or with existing ones who haven’t been as fleshed out. That way, we can get to know a new character while also getting demonstrations of what cutie marks really mean. This is especially common in the Cutie Mark Crusaders’ episodes in seasons 5 and 6, where they help others get their marks or understand what their mark means. The Mane 6 getting their marks swapped feels more like something that would make for good comedy, and this episode unfortunately doesn’t get a lot of time to show what happens when their marks are swapped.
The Cutie Map, season 5’s premiere, does many things that this episode could have done were it not so short.
Rarity’s actions with Rainbow Dash’s cutie mark are quite humorous and fit with her character nicely. She arranges the clouds in a checkerboard pattern, and when she’s met with negative reactions, she asks if the design is “too last season”. But with the other four Mane 6 members, all we get is them clumsily struggling to get their job done, only showing what they’re bad at without tying it in with what they’re good at. They’re all shown fumbling around in the episode’s second musical number, called “What My Cutie Mark Is Telling Me”. The song begins with the scene shown above, with Rainbow Dash struggling to take care of Fluttershy’s animals and then some; pretty much exactly what Spike did two episodes ago. It would have been cool to see Rainbow Dash try to use her commandeering personality or pegasus stunts to deal with these critters, but alas, only Rarity has her regular strengths shine through all these mishaps.
Fluttershy’s section of this song is even weirder to me. She tries to entertain an audience of ponies at Sugarcube Corner, but for some reason, everyone there finds her extremely unfunny. None of them laugh when she puts on beagle puss glasses, but they burst out laughing when Spike puts on the very same disguise and does a little dance. It’s weird because even though Fluttershy is mostly known for being kind and soft-spoken, her gentle mannerisms cause plenty of great humor—the “yay” scene in Sonic Rainboom is one such example. And she does have a snarky side; not as much as Twilight Sparkle or Rainbow Dash, but she can be snooty when she wants to be. This scene weirdly tries to convey that Fluttershy simply isn’t a very funny pony, which isn’t true. Personally, I find the dissonance between Fluttershy’s personality and the atmosphere of Sugarcube Corner very amusing; as I said before, this whole cutie mark swap would make great humor if it wasn’t so fast-paced.
Now with all that said, the composition of this song is very well-done and worth analyzing. Every character’s section of it is done in a different musical style befitting the character whose mark they wound up with. Rainbow Dash’s section has gentle orchestral music, and Fluttershy gets the upbeat style of music that we normally get in Pinkie Pie’s songs, except they both sound dissonant to indicate that something is off. These changes in musical styles remind me of At the Gala, the song from The Best Night Ever that is similarly split up between characters.
Pinkie Pie’s section, which is unsurprisingly done in a country music style, gives us something interesting. Specifically, her mane is completely straight, and she appears constantly grumpy and gloomy. This callback to The Cutie Mark Chronicles and Party of One serves an obvious purpose (showing that things aren’t right), but it also has some strange implications about the cutie mark mishap. Since Pinkie Pie’s mane only became poofy when she saw a rainbow that showed her happiness for the first time, her mane being straight here suggests that her memories were tampered with through this cutie mark change.
Pinkie Pie: ♫ I’ve got so many chores to do, it’s no fun being me ♫
♪ But it has to be my destiny ♪
♫ ‘Cause it’s what my cutie mark is telling me ♫
This passage of lyrics fits well with the melancholy nihilist that Pinkie Pie turns into in extreme cases such as this. Her bubbly personality is replaced with a depressive view on life, where she feels resigned to whatever terrible fate she’s given.
In contrast to all these huge paragraphs, I don’t have much to say about Applejack’s section other than that its instrumental features a more dissonant spin on Art of the Dress, which is a lovely musical callback.
Unicorns are overpowered, there’s just no two ways about it.
And finally, Rarity’s section of the song shows us that she’s caused some serious havoc with her weather patterns. It’s mind-boggling that while a huge team of pegasi works hard to keep Equestria’s weather flowing, a single unicorn is capable of causing something as disastrous as this. There were a few times in season 1 where I theorized that Rarity usually stays indoors while the rest of Ponyville works on weather events; knowing the crazy stuff she did here, that may well be for the best. This scene hints at a more peculiar side of Rarity, specifically what happens when she goes mad with power. I’ll revisit this topic when I get to Inspiration Manifestation in season 4!
(If you’re wondering why that last sentence ended with an exclamation point, it’s because I just had a cool idea for how I’d analyze that season 4 episode and got excited about it. You could almost say that I had… a manifestation of inspiration.)
It’s worth noting that Pinkie Pie and Rarity’s cutie marks have their mane colors in the background instead of their coat colors.
I’m guessing that was done to make this image look better.
And so, the second song of this episode ends with the memorable image shown above, which symbolizes the disastrous swap these ponies got into. This elegantly leads to an interlude between musical numbers, where Twilight Sparkle exposits on how this mishap came to be.
Back home with Spike, Twilight Sparkle gives us a flashback where she got a letter from Celestia, providing her with a secret unfinished magic spell from Star Swirl the Bearded and claiming that Twilight is the only pony who would be able to finish that spell. That’s where it’s revealed how her friends’ cutie marks swapped. Twilight read what was there of the spell:
Twilight Sparkle: From one to another, another to one. A mark of one’s destiny singled out alone fulfilled.
She didn’t understand the words and thought the spell didn’t do anything, but now she knows that it caused all her friends’ cutie marks to be swapped, reflected in the changed colors in the Elements of Harmony (besides her own):
And Twilight doesn’t take this well. While Spike suggests a bunch of ideas like Zecora’s cure for the Cutie Pox or how Twilight brought back her friends’ memories when Discord brainwashed them, she tells him those won’t work without even trying. Perhaps because she views Celestia’s tests as so serious and high-strung, Twilight might know on a meta level that she can’t just reuse the same solution to a prior predicament because that would be too easy.
Time for musical number number three! Um, I swear I didn’t intentionally use the word “number” twice in a row. This is a somber one, and it’s called “I’ve Got to Find a Way”. It’s a heavily piano-oriented song, presenting Twilight Sparkle’s despair over what she caused in a strikingly emotional way.
Now with all due respect, I am going to stomp all over the somber mood of this song and point out that this scene MAKES NO SENSE!!! Why would all the plants at Sweet Apple Acres already be dead after just one day? Big Macintosh, Granny Smith, and Apple Bloom exist too, you know! This episode ignores the show’s vibrant supporting cast (aside from I guess the earlier mention of Zecora), and while it’s probably too packed with material to feature characters outside the Mane 6 much, this scene still comes off as unrealistic. Unless Pinkie Pie used time travel powers to… nah, I’m not going to make stupid theories about Pinkie Pie this time.
With that said, I get the emotional impact of this musical number. Ponyville is in complete chaos yet again, and this time it’s not a villain’s doing, but Twilight Sparkle’s. All Twilight can do right now is watch in desolation at the mess she made. And look at poor Fluttershy—she somehow seems unable to do ANYTHING to stop making everyone around her grumpy, even though that makes no sense. Surely she could comfort at least some of them and show them a little kindness… oh wait, that’s not the point of this episode.
I like how the background music in this scene hints at the next song in this episode.
Twilight Sparkle snaps out of her despair soon when she realizes… dun dun dun… the power of FRIENDSHIP! Restoring her friends’ memories and using the Elements of Harmony to remind them of who they really are… where have we seen that before??? Maybe I’m being harsh, but this part of the episode feels like such a rehash of The Return of Harmony, only without Discord.
Fluttershy mentioning her plan to move back to Cloudsdale suggests that the Mane 6’s memories BEFORE they got their cutie marks were kept intact.
Twilight Sparkle: Fluttershy, wait.
Fluttershy: Oh… hey, Twilight.
Twilight Sparkle: Where are you going?
Fluttershy: I’m moving back to Cloudsdale. I don’t know what’s wrong, but… I can’t seem to make anypony laugh. (blows whoopie cushion)
This right here is the problem with the whole arc of Fluttershy being bad at entertaining others. The absurdity of her of all ponies blowing a whoopie cushion is, at least in my opinion, very humorous. The general concept of Fluttershy clumsily trying to be a joyful entertainer is too funny for its own good.
Twilight Sparkle: Before you go, I was wondering if you might be willing to help Rainbow Dash. She’s really struggling with her animals.
Fluttershy: But… I don’t really know anything about animals.
I know this is a very sudden mood switch, but CAN YOU PLEASE APPRECIATE HOW ADORABLE IT IS FOR FLUTTERSHY TO RUB HER HOOVES TOGETHER WHILE SHE CLAIMS SHE DOESN’T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT ANIMALS????? It is so adorable that my heart just wants to melt into pure goo. I know this show has plenty of large-scale heartfelt moments, but it’s often tiny things like this that truly make my heart explode.
Rainbow Dash has somehow been tangled up and trapped in a pot by a bunch of animals who apparently want to eat her alive. This is a dire situation, and Fluttershy reasonably suggests another way to fix it.
Fluttershy: Hurry, Twilight! Can’t you do some sort of spell to get her out?
Twilight Sparkle: No. Fluttershy, you’re the only one who can help.
Fluttershy acknowledges yet again here that unicorns are simply way too powerful. But Twilight is all like, nah you have to do it anyway because Plot Reasons™. To be fair though, if Twilight used a magic spell to get Rainbow Dash out, that would only be a temporary solution, and Fluttershy doing it is how she’s reminded of who she truly is.
Not shown: Fluttershy getting her regular cutie mark back.
And so begins a sequence where the Mane 6 each demonstrate their special talents and thus remember who they truly are. This honestly feels like treading the same ground as Friendship Is Magic, The Cutie Mark Chronicles, and The Return of Harmony, and we aren’t really learning anything new about these characters. It feels like a drawn-out way to bring these ponies back to normal. At least The Return of Harmony pretty much went “yeah, you get the idea” after Twilight Sparkle brought Applejack back to normal.
Also not shown: Twilight Sparkle and Fluttershy untying Rainbow Dash early in the song.
The rest of the Mane 6 get their cutie marks back in the fourth musical number of this episode, called “A True, True Friend”. The song is pretty much about how, and I quote, “a true, true friend helps a friend in need”. You know, like when your friends all have their cutie marks magically swapped. That’s surely happened to you before, right?
OK, maybe that was a little mean. I’m just saying it’s kind of weird that a song with such a simple and widely applicable theme plays during a scene that doesn’t match with anything that viewers could experience in real life.
During an instrumental break in the song:
Rainbow Dash: Uh… what just happened?
Twilight Sparkle: There’s no time to explain. But we need your help.
Twilight Sparkle: Applejack’s trying to make dresses!
Twilight Sparkle’s line “there’s no time to explain” feels to me like she’s breaking the fourth wall. This episode already squeezes a ton of material into 22 minutes, so plenty of dilly-dallying had to be sacrificed to make it work. And I know some people absolutely hate it when works of media have “filler”, but I think scenes where the ponies dilly-dally bring life to the show and make it easy to be invested in.
The visuals in Rarity’s section are a lot like Art of the Dress, but with a small difference: instead of looking eager and inspired as she makes her dresses, she looks determined and studious as she quickly relearns everything about sewing and dressmaking. As usual, Rarity gives us the coolest subtle details.
Hey wait a minute, it looks like Big Macintosh, Granny Smith, and Apple Bloom exist after all! They all help Applejack restore Sweet Apple Acres to its former glory at astounding speeds, which is at least more realistic than Pinkie Pie destroying the place because we have four ponies working on it instead of one.
After Pinkie Pie gets her cutie mark back, the background citizens of Ponyville all participate in the musical number somewhat like Morning in Ponyville, but this time it’s played straight without a surprise interruption. This serves as a relieving moment of triumph before the huge game changer that’s soon to follow.
Twilight Sparkle looks so confident here, and for good reason.
Twilight Sparkle takes any and all instructions from Celestia extra seriously, and while it often causes her to go through mishaps, here it comes to her advantage since she doesn’t simply call it a day once her friends’ cutie marks have been restored. She remembers the magic spell Celestia wanted her to complete and adds the following to it:
Twilight Sparkle: From all of us together, together we’re friends. With the marks of our destinies made one, there is magic without end.
And then something crazy happens.
Think about it for a second. From her friends’ perspective, it looks as though Twilight Sparkle is dead, and all that remains is a faint puff of smoke. This fakeout death was clearly done to make Twilight Sparkle’s imminent princess promotion as dramatic as possible.
… Oh boy. The pivotal moment is really coming, isn’t it? You better brace yourself for a huge wall of text soon.
Twilight Sparkle wasn’t killed after all, but instead transported to a wacky alternate dimension, just like John Egbert was after the first act of… wait, no. Come on, I need to stay focused here.
Twilight Sparkle wasn’t killed after all, but instead transported to an alternate dimension where she meets Celestia. This alternate dimension is a one-off that was obviously devised to dramatize her princess promotion, as well as provide backdrop to another musical number. But before the song starts, Celestia has the following to say:
Celestia: Congratulations, Twilight. I knew you could do it.
Twilight Sparkle: Princess! I don’t understand. What did I do?
Celestia: You did something today that’s never been done before. Something even a great unicorn like Star Swirl the Bearded was not able to do, because he did not understand friendship like you do.
Celestia: The lessons you’ve learned in Ponyville have taught you well. You have proven that you’re ready, Twilight.
Come to think of it… maybe it makes sense on a meta level that Twilight Sparkle solved the cutie mark swap so quickly, it’s like the problem was solved before it really began. It does show that Twilight Sparkle has gotten a very solid grasp on the workings of friendship and is ready for much greater challenges. Now, I’m not saying that this justifies the hasty pace of this episode, just that it makes some sense given what Celestia says about Twilight in the episode’s fifth musical number, called “Celestia’s Ballad”, which starts right about…
Celestia sings about how far Twilight Sparkle has come while showing a slideshow of the many adventures she’s been through in the first three seasons. While the montage is stunning for many first-time viewers, in retrospect it feels like only scratching the surface of all that this show has been through—we aren’t even a third of the way through it after all! There’s so many new characters and new settings we’re yet to meet, and it feels like after this episode is where the show REALLY begins. Still, it’s nice to recap what all Twilight has been through to lead up to the next big phase of her arc.
Goodbye, unicorn Twilight.
At the end of the musical number, a spark of magic twirls around Twilight Sparkle, and she lets out a huge explosion as she returns to the regular world no longer as a unicorn, but as an alicorn. You probably already know that this change was highly controversial among fans, and I feel it’s only right to go on a big wall of text about Twilight Sparkle having wings.
OK, so… back in one of my early Homestuck posts, I went on a random tangent about MLP that I feel was dismissive and blatantly tsundere in retrospect. In that tangent, I mentioned how controversial it was for Twilight Sparkle to become an alicorn, and I claimed that this sort of cheesy princess stuff is to be expected from a little girls’ show, which MLP:FiM supposedly never stopped being. But now I know that it isn’t quite as simple as that. Although the show by this point had a sizable adult audience, some of its events are still driven by merchandising decisions, and Twilight Sparkle gaining wings is a blatant example of this. It’s very obvious that the executives in the charge of the show’s merch realized that it would sell much better if Twilight Sparkle became a princess with wings, so that ended up having to be worked into the show. Naturally, many fans weren’t happy about this change for various reasons. One I remember hearing was that it broke the balance of two pegasi, two unicorns, and two earth ponies, and many other fans argued that this means Twilight Sparkle would outlive her friends by eons, which would obviously be tragic. But a lot of fans felt thrown off by this sudden change simply because it’s a change.
In retrospect, all those complaints come off as frivolous to me. Remember the existence of Shining Armor and Princess Cadance, or the existence of the Crystal Empire? As I said in my reviews of the two-part episodes where those started, these were also devised for the show’s merch, and its writers made the most out of these concepts by working them into the storyline and doing new fun things with the characters. And Twilight Sparkle becoming a princess isn’t the slightest bit an exception. Throughout season 4, the only season that I followed as it came out, I was really impressed with how the show handled Twilight becoming a princess. She expresses plenty of doubt and insecurity about her new grandiose role, and it ties in nicely with her humble nerdy personality. As the show progresses further, especially after Starlight Glimmer became a thing, it has plenty of episodes that teach viewers that change is inevitable, and they should embrace it instead of trying to fight it. I think embracing change is a valuable thing for viewers to learn, especially young adults starting to find their way through adult life (like me). So is Twilight Sparkle gaining wings really so bad after all? I don’t think it is.
Twilight’s friends react to her transformation with pride and excitement, plus quite a bit of surprise. Rainbow Dash is especially excited to have a new flying buddy. I’m not sure if her friends’ positive reaction dampens or increases the negative impact some viewers felt about this big change; probably depends on the viewer. In any case, Fluttershy says Twilight Sparkle looks just like a princess…
… leading Celestia to say that she is a princess.
As with the wings, it’s pretty blatant that turning Twilight Sparkle into Princess Twilight Sparkle was done for the sake of selling toys. From what I know, almost all of the show’s merch from here on out retroactively acts as though she’s always been an alicorn princess, which is off-putting to many fans. Though as I said in the huge wall of text a few paragraphs above, Twilight becoming a princess also invites the show to explore her character in fresh new ways, showing both her humble side and her inner haughty side. Twilight and her friends are all surprised and confused at this revelation, much like many fans (and perhaps some of the show’s staff) were.
Pinkie Pie knows on a narrative level that a spit take would be the perfect way to react to Twilight Sparkle being a princess, but since she doesn’t have any water in her mouth, she pulls a glass of water out of thin air, drinks it, and then spits it out. I’m sure that with her reality-bending powers, she would be able to conjure water to appear straight in her mouth, but perhaps she chose to conjure a glass of water to make her powers seem slightly less extreme. But I can see right through this act. I know that Pinkie Pie is the most powerful character in this entire show; it’s just that she’s so spacey and goofy that she doesn’t use her powers to wreak havoc.
Celestia: Since you’ve come to Ponyville, you’ve displayed the charity, compassion, devotion, integrity, optimism, and of course, the leadership of a true princess.
As Celestia gives fanciful synonyms for each of the Mane 6’s elements of harmony, the camera goes through each of the ponies as they make a little gesture befitting their character. This subtly tells viewers that even though Twilight is the only one of them with a princess title, the rest of her friends are all going to help her in her princess role, and she won’t do all her new fresh princess things alone. While Twilight Sparkle is Celestia’s pupil, her words of congratulation extend to her other five friends.
Twilight Sparkle: But… does this mean I won’t be your student anymore?
Celestia: Not in the same way as before.
Celestia: I’ll still be here to help and guide you, but we’re all your students now too.
Celestia: You are an inspiration to us all, Twilight.
(Celestia bows, as do the rest of the Mane 6 and Spike)
One reason I love this show as much as I do is because the characters change and grow as the show goes on, rather than keeping the same static setting and having them continuously fall back to the same weaknesses. This stance of mine became especially strong as I watched the late seasons for the first time and came to realize how far the show and its fanbase have come since I first watched it so long ago. It helps that as the show progresses, its characters develop more smoothly and seamlessly, and future development of the characters will feel far less forced and sudden than Twilight becoming a princess.
Yes, Twilight Sparkle becoming a princess still feels kind of forced to me even right now. But throughout season 4, this show makes do with the change imposed on it, redeeming the many issues I have with Magical Mystery Cure.
Twilight Sparkle: But… what do I do now? Is there a book about being a princess I should read?
Celestia: (laughs) There will be time for all of that later.
I feel like Twilight Sparkle represents first-time viewers who are worried that the bookworm pony they’ve come to love will be replaced with a fancy and frilly princess who has to princessy things all day—I know I was once worried about that. She feels unprepared for this role, as indicated by her silly question about reading books. Celestia then represents the show’s staff, promising viewers that even though Twilight Sparkle has wings now, the show will take it nice and steady with this new change, and the Twilight Sparkle we’ve come to love isn’t going away.
And so begins Twilight Sparkle’s—er, Princess Twilight Sparkle’s coronation ceremony. It starts with a speech from Celestia, then as the new princess walks in, we get the sixth musical number: “Behold, Princess Twilight Sparkle”. I feel like I need to analyze something about this scene… so how about the contrast between the diverse guests in the audience and the identical-looking royal guards and singers? Over the show’s first three seasons, the background cast has gotten more and more diverse, with an increasing portion of unique custom designs and less copy-pasting of existing ones. A few particularly popular background ponies, like Lyra and Bon Bon, even have some deliberate appearances. On the other hand, Canterlot’s royal guards are still portrayed as crowds of identical stallions, maybe to symbolize the unity of the group or something? I hesitate to say it’s out of laziness, because something feels natural about all those royal guards looking the same. As for the singers, I’m not sure why they all look like the same palette swap of Fluttershy, but they at least match with the quartet of identical royal guards.
Twilight Sparkle puts on her crown, then gives a meek and humble speech to a huge crowd about how much she’s learned about friendship since coming to Ponyville. Her expression throughout shows that she’s overwhelmed about suddenly being a princess, but still grateful for all the friends she’s made. This speech is played straight without any mishaps, and on a meta level, it feels like getting an obligation out of the way now that Twilight Sparkle is officially a princess.
Shining Armor: Twilight! I’m so proud of you.
Twilight Sparkle: Are you crying?
Shining Armor: Of course not. It’s… it’s liquid pride. Totally different thing.
(Twilight Sparkle and Shining Armor laugh and hug)
This is a nice funny moment to lighten up the mood after the played-straight princess speeches. Shining Armor’s denial that he’s crying comes off as endearing sibling banter to me, because I don’t think it took long for him to remember that he can’t fool his sister into thinking he isn’t crying. It’s also relatable to the many viewers who try to downplay how much they love this show.
Full size image (but not HD, sorry)
Now’s time for the seventh and final—WAIT JUST A MINUTE, I FOUND HER!!!!!! On the right side of the crowd, to the top-left of Bon Bon, you can see none other than Derpy Hooves herself! I was so worried I wouldn’t notice any of the sneaky appearances of her that in this episode that I remember reading about, but hey, at least I caught one. Derpy Hooves, we all miss you so much.
Anyway, the last song in this episode is called “Life in Equestria”, and it’s a triumphant reprise of Morning in Ponyville without any interruptions. Twilight Sparkle rides in a carriage reminiscent of the one she and Spike rode to Ponyville in the first episode, but this time far more grandiose, which is a nice way to go full circle.
Though Twilight Sparkle looked nervous at the coronation speech, when she hops out of the carriage and walks alongside her best friends, she looks proud and happy. This shows that even though she’s mostly a humble hero, there is a part of her who’s confident and excited to be at the top of the world. It’s just that this mindset of hers doesn’t come to light much unless she’s trying to one-up Trixie.
Twilight Sparkle flies for the first time, proudly saying that everything will be just fine in a way that shows she means it. She’s telling us that this show has a bright future ahead of it, or at least that’s how I view it, and it concludes season 3 on the most triumphant note yet.
(Oh yeah, the credits play a reprise of the last section of A True, True Friend.)
Oh boy, where do I begin here? Normally when my review of an episode is extremely long, that means I love the episode dearly and wanted to gush about it as intensely as possible, but this episode is different. In fact, never before have my feelings on an episode of MLP been anywhere near as polarizing as this one.
The pacing in this episode is extremely brisk, which means that unlike the show’s two-part episodes so far, the viewer isn’t give much time to absorb the big problem (in this case the cutie mark swap) or feel the hopeless horror that comes with it. Instead, the problem feels like it’s solved before we explore its full extent. And the way the problem is solved feels formulaic and repetitive without bringing much new to the table; no real insight in how the Mane 6 react to grave situations, just their memories getting wiped and then they’re back to normal like nothing ever happened. The methodical pace of the cutie mark swap portion of the episode makes it feel like Twilight Sparkle becoming a princess was pushed out as quickly as possible. And when Twilight becomes a princess, the ceremony doesn’t feel like much of a rewarding payoff like with the prior two-part episodes, again because we didn’t get much time to absorb the problems. All this goes to show that the show’s format of season finales works so much better as a two-part episode.
But wait, you may ask, wasn’t The Best Night Ever a one-part episode? Yes, and it’s not the same kind of episode as the other season finales. It’s the finale of the first season, and the first season of any show is inevitably going to be a little different from the rest. That’s just how TV shows work. Plus, The Best Night Ever is awesome, so it gets an exception to my prior statement about season finales.
While most of my problems with this episode are with its overall pacing and structure, most of what I like about this episode is subtle details and some specific scenes that I took time to point out in the detailed run-through, so I won’t repeat them here. Just know that like almost any episode of the show, this one has plenty of incredibly funny and sweet moments that prevent me from being too hard on it. And I think if this really has to be a one-part episode, then making it consist largely of musical numbers was a good decision. The many songs give this episode a unique flavor, setting it apart from the other season finales, and it’s fun to see this show experiment with different episode formats from its usual formula. This won’t be the last time the show does an episode centered around musical numbers: we also have Pinkie Pride and Crusaders of the Lost Mark, and I’m looking forward to comparing them to Magical Mystery Cure and analyzing what all they do better. I’m also looking forward to comparing this episode to the season 4 premiere and finale, looking at how those episodes handle Twilight Sparkle being a princess.
This time, C isn’t so much a “neutral grade” as it is a “conflicting grade”.
- For some reason, it really bothers me that we don’t get any explanation of how Gummy wound up in Fluttershy’s cottage during the cutie mark swap. How could a mindless alligator like him deliberately seek shelter in a place other than Sugarcube Corner? I really don’t get it.
- I’m obligated to mention that Celestia’s statement that Star Swirl the Bearded never understanding friendship is proven true firsthand in the season 7 finale. Amidst this episode’s densely packed plot, it’s interesting to get a brief line that’s followed up on four seasons later.
- If you don’t mind me speculating about Derpy’s near-complete absence from season 3, I’ll do so right now. Maybe since she destroyed the Ponyville town hall in The Last Roundup, Derpy became embarrassed to show her face in public and lived in the shadows, and Fluttershy had to use her encouraging kindness to pull Derpy back into the public eye during Rainbow Falls. Maybe she told Derpy that everyone really misses her, which would be completely true.
Recap of season 3
Season 3 of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is an oddball season, for an obvious reason and a less obvious reason. The obvious reason is because it’s half as long as all the others, making it the easiest one to recap as a whole. The less obvious reason is because while it deviates from the first two seasons’ formula of ending with a letter to Celestia more often than not, it also doesn’t have much of an overall arc to tie it together like later seasons, which may be an effect of the season being so short. This season is overall a mix of pivotal episodes, regular friendship lesson episodes, and “just for fun” episodes without much of a friendship lesson like Magic Duel or Just for Sidekicks, making it serve as a bridge between the formulaic first two seasons and the later seasons, which are more focused on broad character arcs. I suppose it kind of has an arc of preparing Twilight Sparkle for becoming a princess, but that’s not focused on much outside the premiere and finale.
Best episode and most emotional episode: Keep Calm and Flutter On. This one easily wins both prizes, and it’s a triumphant moment both for Fluttershy and the show’s fanbase.
Worst episode: Spike at Your Service. It’s much more tolerable than Putting Your Hoof Down from last season, but it’s still a mess of contrivances.
Funniest episode: Too Many Pinkie Pies. A bunch of Pinkie Pie clones run around like crazy and wreak havoc—what’s not to love?
Strongest character: Fluttershy. She wins this award entirely because of Keep Calm and Flutter On.
Weakest character: Rarity. She sadly doesn’t get any episodes to herself this season, and I’ve said before that Rarity’s character is at its strongest in her own episodes.
Wow, I really made it through season 3! As always, I’ll take a little break before starting season 4. The next season is special to me because it’s the only one I followed as it came out—after season 4 ended, I sadly let this show fall to the sidelines as I fell into the Homestuck rabbit hole. See you on March 11 as I start plowing through season 4, celebrating the first anniversary of this post series.