< Part 28 | Part 29 | Part 30 >
Season 4, Episodes 1-2
Time to begin analyzing season 4 of MLP:FiM! As I’ve said before, this is the only season that I followed live as it was happening, making it distinct from all the others in my mind. My reviews of these episodes therefore may read a little differently from the rest, with more commentary on how it felt watching them for the first time.
If you’re wondering how season 4 will be divided into posts, my tentative plan is to keep things simple and do two episodes per post all the way through, making part 41 the end of season 4. But it’s entirely possible that I’ll have enough to say about a certain episode that I’ll give it a post to itself, and in that case, I would also have to pick another episode to dedicate an entire post to, because there’s no way I’m squeezing three episodes into one post again. My episode reviews have become too detailed and thorough for that to be viable.
Season 4 Episode 1: Princess Twilight Sparkle, Part 1
This review discusses events up to early season 6—modest as far as spoilers go, but spoilers no less.
In five words: Twilight Sparkle adapts to change.
Premise: Now that the dust has settled, Twilight Sparkle must learn all the responsibilities that come with being a princess as a new threat closes in on Equestria.
Season 4 of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic immediately kicks off with showing a ramification of Twilight Sparkle becoming an alicorn princess that’s far less peachy and perfect than what we saw in the last few minutes of Magical Mystery Cure. Specifically, Twilight Sparkle clumsily practices flying with Rainbow Dash serving as her coach. This scene sets the tone for season 4’s overarching arc: the challenges Twilight Sparkle faces in her newfound princess role. It’s an arc whose handling thoroughly exceeded my expectations as I watched through season 4’s episodes week by week. I was so worried that the Twilight Sparkle we know and love would be overwritten with merch-driven princess shenanigans, but this opening scene already shows us this won’t be the case. Magical Mystery Cure is done and squared, so now we can go back to regular old MLP:FiM. And let me tell you, few things bring me more consistent joy and delight than regular old MLP:FiM.
To hammer in that this is still going to be the same show that bronies love so much, we get a silly little slapstick sequence where Twilight Sparkle flaps her wings too hard, loses control, and lands on a tree branch with googly eyes. This sequence serves a similar purpose to doors slamming Spike in the face shortly after the expository scene that opens the first episode: it tells viewers that this show will be far more than girly ponies doing girly pony things, and it’ll be filled with tons of slapstick and other such humor. In this case, the scene reinforces that the regular lighthearted tone of this show isn’t going anywhere, which was very reassuring to a random 14-year-old boy who was excitedly watching the premiere of the show’s fourth season and would later become the person who is writing the words you’re reading. And now here I am, not far off from turning 23 years old, analyzing the impact of this scene in far more depth than is probably necessary, all because this show is extremely super special and important to me.
But I probably shouldn’t waste too much time reflecting on memories that feel like a lifetime ago and then some. I probably sound like I’m clouded by childhood nostalgia here, but believe me, I love this show just as much as an adult as I did when I was a young teenager.
Somehow, I feel like I have every reason to take my sweet time here.
Applejack: Looking good up there, Princess Twilight!
Twilight Sparkle: Applejack, you know you don’t have to call me that.
Rarity: Why do you protest so? You’ve already given up wearing your crown all the time. The least you can do is embrace your new title.
Twilight Sparkle: If other ponies want to address me that way, I suppose it’s fine, but… not my friends. It just doesn’t feel right.
Twilight Sparkle becoming a princess is a surprising development for all of the Mane 6, not just Twilight. Can you blame them for being unsure how to react, or assuming that they should address their friend as “princess”? This new role was dropped on Twilight like an anvil from the sky, and now she and her friends are left to figure out how to deal with it. I feel like this parallels how fans (and perhaps the show’s staff) have had to deal with this change that was so blatantly imposed by executives. Fortunately, MLP:FiM is a very resilient show, and it won’t be ruined by whichever change is thrown upon it by merchandise next—at least, I sure don’t think so. Much like how Twilight becoming a princess adds new things to her arc and new friendship lessons to learn, the same goes for the humble Golden Oak Library being replaced with a huge, fancy castle. Twilight being forced to live in a place more appropriate for merch is itself turned into a friendship lesson in season 5’s Castle Sweet Castle, specifically about embracing that you’ll make new memories while remembering you won’t forget the old ones.
Twilight then mentions that the Summer Sun Celebration is coming soon, and that she needs to be prepared to fly during it. This mention of the Summer Sun Celebration is a nice way to send us back to the beginning, because the first episode took place leading up to last year’s celebration. And this episode does feel like a beginning to me. You see, my brain divides this show into three sections based on when and how I first watched them: seasons 1-3, which I caught up with many years ago; season 4, which I followed as it came out; and seasons 5-9, which I watched many years later after the show ended. With these divisions, this episode begins the second section, and it’s very appropriate for us to come full circle given how much of a new beginning this is.
… And here’s where it’s starting to sink in that yes, I really am on season 4 now. I’ve now dissected every single episode of the show that existed when I first watched it—some in enormous detail, others to more modest degrees—and now I’m on what part of me still views after all those years as “the new stuff”. I feel like Twilight Sparkle crash-landing after her rehearsal for the Summer Sun Celebration represents how her becoming a princess will need a lot of adjustment, for the show’s fans and staff alike.
Usually when MLP starts a new season, it comes alongside updates to the theme song, either right at the start or after the season premiere. The first change season 4 brings to the theme song is that Discord gets to be in it, which is pretty awesome if you ask me. His appearance in the theme song comes off like telling fans that they should look forward to seeing more of Discord as season 4 progresses. I think the fact that his appearance is easy to miss ties in with his popularity among adult fans, who tend to pick up on subtle details. Sometimes the details they pick up on are complete accidents, and hey, that’s how Derpy Hooves became a thing!
Zecora, Snips, and Snails are obscured by Photo Finish’s camera here. Sorry about that!
But the most notable change to the theme song is without a doubt the updated group photo of the show’s cast. Originally, the photo showed only the Mane 6 as Spike delivered it to Celestia. But now, the photo features various supporting characters, not to mention Spike who frankly deserved to be there to begin with. We also now get to see who is taking the photo, and I feel that this represents the show greatly increasing its attention to detail since season 1.
I also think it’s nice that Luna gets to be in the theme song now, standing next to Celestia. As with Discord, I feel like Luna’s presence is meant to tell viewers to look forward to seeing more of her, and that Celestia will now be seen alongside her sister far more often. The updates to the theme song tell a lot to viewers, and I remember noticing how cool it was that season 4 updated the theme song when it first came out. It’s why when I had the idea to make a video series reviewing every MLP episode, I wanted to start with the theme song; I wanted to analyze all the changes it had gone through, and I barely went anywhere with that. But now, it seems silly to start a full analysis of this show anywhere other than the first episode. And it’s frankly far more fun to write these reviews as text. If I were to make video reviews of each episode, I would have had to write up a script of each one beforehand anyway. Either that or blabber out the least cohesive improvisation the world has ever seen.
Alright, with the theme song done, I think it’s wise to pick up the pace now. Otherwise we’d be here all day!
This scene has some awesome shading work that feels like an intermediate between the show’s regular animation style and the movie’s style.
Rarity: You look amazing, darling. They’ve really captured your regality.
Now that I think about it… where do those stained glass portraits showcasing the Mane 6’s feats come from? I always imagined they came to existence through magic forces, but Rarity mentioning “they” suggests to me that a specific group of ponies made these portraits. Or it could be that Rarity is speculating and doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Who knows, really?
Twilight Sparkle: I suppose.
Rarity: Don’t be so modest. It’s everypony’s dream to someday wear a crown and have their coronation ceremony preserved in stain glass for all to see! (swoons)
Rainbow Dash: I don’t know if it’s everypony’s dream.
It’s pretty sad when you think about it. Rarity would have jumped at the opportunity to become a princess for the entire world to see, but here Twilight Sparkle is getting assigned that role instead, and she feels so much more insecure and unprepared. Now, if Rarity wasn’t so Rarity, she would get envious of Twilight Sparkle and do whatever it takes for the crown to be all hers. But since Rarity is an incredibly selfless pony, she never feels any form of envy or inferiority to Twilight for becoming the princess who she always dreamed of being—you remember her fantasy in The Ticket Master, don’t you?—but is instead genuinely happy and proud of her friend.
Twilight Sparkle also says it doesn’t feel right for her to stand alongside the other princesses in the Summer Sun Celebration instead of with her friends, especially since the celebration is what brought them all together. Some viewers might feel that the show is full-on acknowledging that it makes no sense for Twilight to suddenly be a princess and is reluctantly rolling with it, but I’m not so sure myself. Change is a part of life, and sometimes a change will happen that’s completely unprecedented and leaves you going “oh no oh no oh no what am I supposed to do now”. As the show’s seasons go on, it starts focusing on not just accepting change, but embracing it.
Applejack is playing the reassuring role once again like in A Canterlot Wedding, promising Twilight Sparkle that her newfound royal duties won’t get in the way of their friendship. But Twilight isn’t quite sold on this, especially because her friends get to go to Ponyville to prepare for the celebration while she has to stay in Canterlot.
On a lighter note, please appreciate this surprise hug from Pinkie Pie as Twilight’s friends (besides Spike of course) leave for Ponyville. I have nothing to say about it; I just want you to appreciate it.
The rest of the Mane 6 are brightly smiling on the train and eagerly promising that they’ll write to Twilight, but that just makes her feel more left out. Another scene that parallels A Canterlot Wedding, since Twilight Sparkle also felt left out there. Both episodes give a great look at her insecure and doubtful side.
Spike: The celebration isn’t until the day after tomorrow. We could still fit in a quick trip to Ponyville and be back in plenty of time to finish off these last few things before the main event!
Twilight Sparkle: (sighs) That would be nice, Spike. But what if something else came up while we were gone?
Twilight Sparkle: What if we were delayed getting back and I wasn’t able to finish everything on that list? What if we lost the list on the way to Ponyville and then couldn’t remember which things we’d done and which things we hadn’t done, and then spent so much time trying to figure out we hadn’t done what we had done that we ruin the entire celebration by not doing the one really important thing that we were supposed to do?!
(hits her head on the ceiling)
After having gone through a good portion of her checklist, Twilight Sparkle does something she’s well-known for doing: go into an insane slippery slope of worries only through pondering for a few seconds what could possibly go wrong. And it’s conveniently preventing her from making her way back to Ponyville, which heightens the tension throughout this episode.
Spike: Uh… so that’s a no, then?
Twilight Sparkle: These are the first royal duties Princess Celestia has given me. I can’t risk letting her down!
Celestia: And I’m sure you won’t.
Twilight Sparkle can never quite let go of her mindset of not disappointing Celestia, can she? She still views herself as Celestia’s loyal pupil, and it’s as heartwarming as it is naive of her. It probably feels wrong for her to imagine not having Celestia as an authority figure, and her character arc from season 4 onwards focuses on her spreading her wings (no pun intended) and doing things on her own. She eventually becomes better at this once Starlight Glimmer becomes her pupil, and that’s where her cocky side starts to shine.
Celestia: I must admit that it is wonderful to actually be looking forward to the Summer Sun Celebration.
Twilight Sparkle: What do you mean?
Celestia: For my subjects, it has always been a celebration of my defeat of Nightmare Moon… but for me, (sighs) it was just a terrible reminder that I’d had to banish my own sister.
The further Twilight Sparkle progresses in life, the more Celestia is willing to open up to her and tell about what Twilight’s experiences were like from her perspective. It’s much like a parent opening up more to their child as the two grow older. As Celestia starts viewing Twilight as more of an equal, her character is fleshed out, like right now when she talks about the somber side of the Summer Sun Celebration. Between this event and the Grand Galloping Gala, you may notice a pattern about Celestia: she often attends events that she hates or make her feel bummed out because she doesn’t want to let down the inhabitants of Equestria. And when Celestia tells this story, Twilight says she never thought of it that way, which is very believable considering that people tend to perceive the adults they grew up with as perfect and happy without ever feeling insecure, and only as they grow older do they get out of this mindset.
Celestia promises that she will always be there if Twilight needs her, and vice versa, but this heartfelt moment is interrupted with a letter to Twilight. But the letter is nothing more than a pack of confetti, which Twilight decides not to worry about as she and Spike go over the checklist one more time. We were led to believe the letter was something important and alarming…
… which makes it extra surprising when something important and alarming does happen. The letter turning out to be a joke is a clever way to lead to something surprising through an initial fakeout, except it’s used for dramatic effect instead of comedy. And then the scene goes full-out horrifying as the screen goes black and Celestia gasps in fear.
All signs suggest that this is the doing of a new villain.
But as it turns out, this is the first two-part episode that doesn’t introduce a new villain and instead works with the existing cast.
And the next day, Twilight Sparkle and Spike wake up to find the sun and the moon in the sky at the same time. Canterlot’s inhabitants immediately assume Twilight Sparkle knows what the deal is, because it’s all too tempting to believe that the authority figure has all the answers, and through the rest of the show Twilight must come to terms with being seen as an authority figure. Unfortunately, Twilight most certainly does not have all the answers, and two royal guards inform her that Celestia and Luna are gone.
Royal guard: We await your command.
Twilight Sparkle: My command?
Royal guard: We’re officers of the royal guard. We take our orders from royalty. With Princess Luna and Princess Celestia gone, and Princess Cadance overseeing the Crystal Empire now, that means we take our orders from you.
If Cadance were to be informed of a situation as dire as this, I’m sure she would be willing to drop whatever she’s doing and help. Her being busy overseeing the Crystal Empire is kind of a haphazard excuse, but it’s not too unreasonable for the royal guards to decide to follow Twilight Sparkle’s instruction. I don’t think they want to board a train to the Crystal Empire to get help from another princess, especially when Twilight Sparkle is right there. Being crowned a princess already suggests a high degree of authority to them.
If you don’t mind me sounding a little snarky about the show’s merchandising decisions, it kind of feels like they thought adding a new princess (namely Cadance) to the cast wasn’t enough, so they decided to make the protagonist of the show a princess in addition. Yep, the show now has twice as many alicorn princesses as it had when it started, and I know many fans find that grating. But there’s a reason the show’s increase in princesses didn’t drive me away from it. It’s because the show already does so many things well, and it can easily handle a few new princesses squeezed in.
Anyway, Twilight Sparkle commands the royal guards to keep searching for Celestia and Luna, which serves as her first royal order as a princess. She evidently won’t stop viewing the royal sisters as authority figures anytime soon.
Another royal guard informs Twilight Sparkle that the Everfree Forest is invading. Given that this episode takes place on the first anniversary of the Mane 6 starting their adventures together, it makes sense for this recurring location to make a return, this time in a context more terrifying than ever before. This leads to a series of scenes where the Mane 6 struggle to deal with these hazards as they close in on Ponyville.
I hope you’re not mad at me for skipping Applejack and Rainbow Dash’s reactions to the new hazards.
And as usual, Rarity’s reaction is the most interesting. Enclosed in her boutique, Rarity notices something strange about the sky (presumably the tough, spiky clouds that Rainbow Dash couldn’t bust), but she ignores it and keeps going about her business. I think this is another demonstration of Rarity’s subpar understanding and investment in how weather works. Just like I said in the last post, I like to imagine she usually prefers to stay inside while others work on weather events, and that’s why she shrugs off the anomaly in the sky.
The wacky shenanigans with the cup of tea behaving autonomously may bring memories of Keep Calm and Flutter On, foreshadowing who’s behind those nasty vines.
As the vines do strange things with Rarity’s horn and cause it to spill tea everywhere and then break the cup, Rarity demonstrates another endearing tic of hers, which is monologuing at Opalescence. She tries to assure her cat that she isn’t doing this on purpose because she so easily forgets Fluttershy is the only one of her friends who can properly talk to animals. But perhaps it’s also because she finds it much less weird to monologue at an animal than to monologue at no one, much like I talked about in Sweet and Elite.
Rarity: Ohh, Sweetie Belle! If this is some sort of prank you and your little crusader friends are pulling, I find very little humor in it.
I find Rarity’s presumption that Sweetie Belle is behind these bizarre shenanigans quite fascinating. Perhaps it’s a testament to how much extreme mischief the Cutie Mark Crusaders can cause if they work together, or to how Rarity very easily gets frustrated with her sister’s antics. This frustration tends to get in the way of her relationship with her sister, but I shouldn’t get too sidetracked here and instead patiently wait until I get to For Whom the Sweetie Belle Toils, where I can dump out all the huge tangents about Sweetie Belle that I’ve been holding back.
The frustration quickly transitions to horror as Sweetie Belle tells Rarity that there’s something wrong with her horn, then shrieks in pure terror as she runs from the curtain that’s soon to engulf her. This is an incredibly panic-inducing scene, especially since Sweetie Belle is a helpless child who still doesn’t have any command over magic. How is she supposed to defend herself? She can’t, and it greatly helps heighten the tension.
Twilight Sparkle decides to go back to Ponyville to help her friends, and Spike has to remind her that she can fly, leading to another round of amusingly clumsy flight antics. I feel like this entire episode so far has largely focused on adjusting to change, both from the viewers’ perspective and within the show.
Twilight Sparkle has reconvened with her friends in her house, which is, um… another way this episode feels like going full circle to the season 1 premiere, I guess. Man, why did I have to dissect the first two minutes of this episode in such enormous depth that I don’t have much analysis left for this part of the episode??? I suddenly just have nothing to say about anything now.
OK, here’s a random aside scene that I can easily go on a tangent about. While the rest of the Mane 6 try to come up with a plan to stop the plants from Everfree Forest, Pinkie Pie is distracted with a coloring book that is apparently from Twilight’s library. After tons of scenes poking at the show’s adult male fans, let me tell you it’s incredibly jarring to see a scene where one of the ponies acts like someone from the show’s original intended audience. Now that I think of it, why does Twilight Sparkle own any coloring books? Are those books that she kept around from when she was a filly? Nah, that’s probably not it. I imagine she’s the type of pony who already was neck-deep in advanced literature since a young age. Maybe it’s more likely that these coloring books were used by Spike in his early years, but he never got through much of them.
How appropriate for this guy to be singing Winter Wrap Up in the shower, one of the show’s most famous songs.
Twilight Sparkle easily puts the pieces together and realizes that these invasive vines must be Discord’s doing, so she and her friends do a rainbow magic beam thing to summon Discord. Discord denies the ponies’ accusations that he is behind the vines, and just like last time we heard from him, all of the Mane 6 are very impatient with this guy and regularly threaten to turn him back to stone except for Fluttershy.
Discord: Well, finally! Somepony willing to give me the benefit of the doubt. The rest of you could learn a lot about friendship from my dear friend Shutterfly here. (grabs Rainbow Dash)
Fluttershy: Um, it’s Fluttershy.
Discord: Oh, right, whatever.
Discord forgetting Fluttershy’s name shows that he’s still a complete novice to the nature of friendship. He only started having a friend four episodes ago, and even then he can’t quite get her name right. Much like Twilight Sparkle in the first season, do you really expect Discord to know everything about how friendship works right away? He has a long way to go when it comes to understanding friendship, and Fluttershy’s patience is the only thing preventing him from being turned back to stone. When pressed about who’s really behind the vines, Discord continues being difficult, then points the ponies to Zecora.
I find it mildly heartwarming that upon needing to escape the Everfree Forest, Zecora decides that the best place to go is without a doubt Ponyville. It shows that after her long period of being shunned by Ponyville’s inhabitants due to unfair presumptions, she’s now come to regard the place as a warm and friendly community home to some dependable ponies.
It’s both logical and convenient for Zecora to join the scene here, since she’s about to show us something cool with the help of Twilight Sparkle’s alicorn magic. Zecora provides her a purple potion, and Twilight uses her magic to turn it white, then drinks it…
… to enter a flashback sequence that gives us a closer look at Princess Luna’s banishment by her sister. This flashback sequence can be summed up in one word: awesome. To start off, here’s what Luna has to say in the flashback:
Luna: Did you really expect me to sit idly by while they all basked in your precious light?
Twilight Sparkle: Precious light?
Luna: There can only be one princess in Equestria! And that princess… WILL BE ME!!!
At the very beginning of the show, we got an exposition sequence telling the story of the two sisters who once ruled Equestria, until one grew jealous and had to be banished by the other. Back then, we didn’t really know anything about Celestia and Luna as characters. But now that we do, it’s fitting to go back and look at the scene in light of what we now know about these two. Celestia and Luna’s backstory now comes off as a tale of sibling jealousy reaching a boiling point, much like we had seen before in episodes focused on the Cutie Mark Crusaders.
Celestia and Luna aren’t just ordinary ponies, but rather powerful alicorns, so when Luna’s sibling inferiority reaches a boiling point, she wreaks some serious havoc. Her rampage begins with yet another counterpart to a rare natural phenomenon: a solar eclipse. I greatly enjoy this recurring theme of in-universe explanations for natural phenomena, and it’s a fitting way to lead to her transformation into Nightmare Moon. If you remember my review of Friendship Is Magic, I talked a lot about how Nightmare Moon isn’t all that scary compared to later villains. But now that the show has been fleshed out and more willing to up the ante, this flashback provides a great excuse for Nightmare Moon’s fear factor to reach its full potential, showing how scary she can truly be.
But Twilight Sparkle doesn’t know this is a flashback. From her perspective (and a first-time viewer’s), Nightmare Moon has returned scarier than ever before. This cliffhanger mirrors the end of Friendship Is Magic, Part 1, leading to—you’d never guess—a “To be continued…” screen.
- I mentioned Castle Sweet Castle in this review, and it feels so weird that I’m only 28 episodes away from it. When I watched that episode for the first time, it felt like resolving questions I had worried about six years ago then left to the sidelines. It’s going to feel SO WEIRD jumping from season 4 to season 5, and I can easily see myself taking a decently sized break between those seasons. Probably not a six-year break though. Probably.
- If I sounded emotional in this review, part of it is that analyzing this episode made me remember what my life was like when I first watched it. I was in my first year of high school, which was easily one of the roughest and most stressful times of my life. Everything felt so new and different and overwhelming, and I feel that may have been part of why I so easily connected with Twilight Sparkle. In retrospect, I think I really needed a comforting show like this back then; I don’t know how well I would have gotten through that school year without MLP.
- Wait, wait, disregard those sappy words above. I meant to say that I never actually cared for MLP that much and only thought liking it would make me seem cool and hip. Yep, that’s totally it, I say as I sweat and twiddle my fingers.
Season 4 Episode 2: Princess Twilight Sparkle, Part 2
Unlike part 1, there’s not really any spoilers in my review of this part.
In five words: Flashbacks lead to Discord’s twist.
Premise: The Mane 6 get to the root of the threat infesting Equestria, and Twilight Sparkle makes a difficult decision along the way—but not before experiencing a bunch of flashbacks that tell us more about the show’s villains.
For some reason, this image is colored a lot lighter than the last few times.
The obligatory recap of part 1 condenses the first half quite well, trimming out all of Twilight Sparkle’s princess insecurities and showing us just the major plot stuff. There are two interesting things I have to say about the recap. First is Discord saying “I’m reformed, remember?”, which I feel is indeed easy for viewers to forget. Second is that Zecora’s rhyming phrase about drinking the white potion to see why the sky is day and night is preserved without cutting anything out, so as not to break her pattern of speaking in rhymes.
(There, my commentary on the obligatory two-part episode recap was sort of interesting for once!)
Part 2 begins with Nightmare Moon smugly laughing just like the start of Friendship Is Magic, Part 2, but this time she quickly switches to a determined expression, showing that she means BUSINESS. And by business, I mean violently wrecking whatever’s in her path. Just look:
Not shown: Twilight Sparkle narrowly avoiding getting crushed.
This right here is Luna’s way of unleashing all her bitter jealousy of her goody-four-shoes big sister. Her frustration had bubbled up inside her long enough, and now all she can do is let out her rage in her new villainous form. As you can see, nasty things start to happen when two powerful alicorns reach the peak of sibling rivalry.
Celestia: Luna, I will not fight you. You must lower the moon. It is your duty!
Nightmare Moon: Luna? I am… Nightmare Moon.
Nightmare Moon: I have but one royal duty now… TO DESTROY YOU!
I imagine that towards the end of Celestia and Luna’s dual reign over Equestria, Luna felt bitter that the only thing she ever got to do as a princess was raise and lower the moon. She probably took the population of Equestria being awake and lively in the day but sleeping through the night to mean that they love Celestia but couldn’t care less for Luna. During that time, Luna probably started internally grumbling more and more every time she had to lower the moon to make way for daytime. And now that she’s turned into Nightmare Moon, she’s frustrated at Celestia thinking it’s even remotely in her place to tell her sister to lower the moon.
Nightmare Moon chases after Celestia with intent to destroy her, and after dodging several laser beams, Celestia gets hit right in the chest, making for an incredibly shocking scene. This is the most aggressive any villain in the show has been thus far, and this is the same villain who I felt was underwhelming in her debut! For Nightmare Moon, it surely feels amazing for her to have finally beaten her sister, like she’s given Celestia a taste of what it’s like to be trapped under her sister’s shadow.
The Elements of Harmony looking different is how Twilight Sparkle realizes this is a flashback.
Celestia really hates for it to come down to this, but knows no other way to deal with the wrath of Nightmare Moon—certainly not the power of friendship. As such, she gets out the Elements of Harmony, which back then were a bunch of gemstones distinguished only by their color with one exception: a purple six-pointed star. I don’t remember if we already saw the star looking like this when we first saw the elements in Friendship Is Magic, Part 2, but us seeing the star again cements that Twilight Sparkle has always been a “chosen one” so to speak. This means it now makes at least 20% more sense for her to become an alicorn princess, due to a little something called predestination.
Even boosted by the Elements of Harmony, Celestia only narrowly beats the rage of Nightmare Moon.
Obligatory mention that this is a MLP counterpart to the “man in the moon”.
(Yeah, you probably already know that.)
And that was how all that stuff happened.
This flashback wasn’t completely accurate to the storybook sequence, but honestly it would be weirder if it was 100% accurate.
That’s simply what happens when a story is passed down through generations.
From Twilight Sparkle’s perspective and from the viewer’s perspective, it must feel pretty incredible getting to see Nightmare Moon’s banishment in person, rather than in an in-universe picture book. It feels like a nice reward for the show having stuck around this long. In retrospect, I sort of regret that I didn’t analyze the storybook sequence from the first episode in more detail, but I’m not going to rewrite my old MLP posts because that energy would be far better spent on making new stuff. I learned that the hard way in, um… a different project of mine. Let’s leave it at that.
After a tiny, subtle lapse of humor where one of Twilight Sparkle’s eyes is briefly still pure white—a lapse subtle enough to not detract from the tension of the scene—followed by some less subtle lapses of humor like Discord showing an animated picture of Twilight Sparkle crying, Zecora tells Twilight Sparkle to take another sip from the bottle to go further back in time. This next flashback is going to be more relevant to this episode’s plot. The one with Nightmare Moon comes off more like fanservice to me, but I don’t mean this in a bad way.
Celestia and Luna look like they’ve been through a lot of fighting.
(Also they have cute saddlebags.)
This flashback features Celestia and Luna about to banish Discord once and for all, another villain defeat that we hadn’t previously seen firsthand. But if you pay attention to the seeds that bounce off Celestia and Luna, then you’d be wise to. I wonder if any viewers were eagle-eyed enough to deduce right here that this is where the vines came from? Perhaps this was a deliberate challenge for fans to keep their eyes out, imposed by the people who worked on this episode.
Discord laughs as Celestia and Luna present him the Elements of Harmony, thinking there’s no way they could defeat him. Compare this to The Return of Harmony, where he laughed as Twilight Sparkle thought she and her brainwashed friends could take him down. The reason he was scared when Mane 6 were about to defeat him for real is because he’s been victim to the power of the Elements of Harmony before, and these pesky ponies have now broken free from their neutralization.
Well, this explains why Discord’s statue looked like this when we first saw it.
This flashback shows that back in the olden days, Celestia and Luna were the brave heroes who took down any villain in their path. Through the entirety of the show, they very gradually pass the torch to Twilight and her friends, one step at a time. If there’s anything other than the power of friendship that I’d consider an overarching theme of the entire show, it’s probably the theme of passing the torch.
Interesting that we’re seeing the ancient adventures of Celestia and Luna in reverse order.
The lore of Equestria gets fleshed out even further in the third flashback, where Celestia and Luna discover the Tree of Harmony, which contains a set of gemstones that serve as the only way they can defeat Discord, and will prove to be a plot-relevant location throughout season 4. If it wasn’t obvious by now that the Mane 6 are following in the princesses’ footsteps, I mean hoofsteps, then now it is. Twilight Sparkle tells her friends that they must set off to the Everfree Forest and find the Tree of Harmony.
Good news, Spike isn’t left out this time!
Remember how scary the Everfree Forest seemed when the Mane 6 first traversed it? Now, it’s quite tame to these intrepid heroes, so the fear factor had to be increased by introducing these spiky plants. This scene is a good time to reflect on how far these ponies have come, and it would appear that they agree with me.
Rarity: Seems like only yesterday we were heading into these woods to find the Elements of Harmony.
Twilight Sparkle: Seems like only yesterday I was foolish enough to think I should go after them on my own.
Rarity and Twilight Sparkle are right: when you are about to visit a location you’ve been to before and do a task similar to what you’ve done before, the memories of the last time you did that task flood back, and become sharp and vivid to the point where it’s hard to believe how long ago it was. I know I for one am sharply remembering what it was like writing my review of Friendship Is Magic, Part 2, and that suddenly doesn’t feel very long ago either.
The Mane 6 start out strong and confident, but expectations are twisted with when a set of rocks over a lake turn out to be the scales of a crocodile. Twilight Sparkle’s leaderly confidence got the better of her, and it falls into the rest of her friends to save her and Spike from getting eaten head-on, then help tie up the crocodile. This is a nice moment of awesome that doubles as a moment of concern. As the group’s main voice of reason (that is, when Twilight isn’t being the voice of reason), Applejack expresses concern that Twilight hasn’t mastered using her wings, and that it may not be safe for her to continue. I feel like Applejack knows Twilight may be a little overconfident in her princess role, excessively eager to face a problem head-on and run into danger. Beneath her insecurities about being a princess, Twilight has a proud and confident side that thinks she is unstoppable.
Applejack: Maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea for Twilight to go back to Ponyville and let us look for the Tree of Harmony without her.
Twilight Sparkle: What? Why?
Applejack: For starters, you just about got eaten by a crocodilly.
Twilight Sparkle: We all did. He wasn’t after just me.
Applejack: Sure, but… well… the rest of us aren’t princesses.
Applejack’s concern for Twilight Sparkle’s safety is thoughtful if a bit naive. I feel like she corresponds with fans who worry that since Twilight Sparkle became a princess, her friendships with the other five ponies won’t be the same anymore, and she’s now “above” them or more important than then. Applejack thinks that Twilight becoming a princess means it’s not right for her to go on risky adventures anymore instead of being a fancy princess. Discord thoroughly mocks this mindset, as we’ll see a bit later. Applejack continues her reasoning by saying Equestria can’t risk losing another princess with Celestia and Luna missing, and the others all agree that Twilight should go back.
Twilight Sparkle: All of you feel this way? Feel like… I shouldn’t be here?
Fluttershy: It is probably for the best.
This scene bites hard, both for the viewer and for Twilight Sparkle. After a whole year of being in a tight-knit group of six friends, suddenly all her friends are telling her that they don’t need her anymore. They have only the best intentions, but Twilight still doesn’t take it well when they ask her to go back. Rainbow Dash even told her that she thinks Tree of Harmony will be very easy to recognize, which further comes off as dismissing the value of Twilight’s knowledge.
Twilight Sparkle goes back home with her head down, and after looking back and forth, Spike decides to remain a loyal sidekick and follow her. As we saw in The Crystal Empire, Spike would never leave Twilight behind after all she’s done for him, and the two remain an inseparable duo throughout the show.
Discord: No luck finding your tree?
Twilight Sparkle: We ran into some trouble. And my friends decided it would be best if I return to Ponyville while they continue the search.
Twilight Sparkle: Equestria will need me if Princess Celestia and Princess Luna don’t return.
Discord: I’m just surprised that you agreed to their plan. I never thought you’d be the kind of pony who would think she was better than everypony else.
Twilight Sparkle: I don’t think I’m better than anypony!
I love the way Discord taunts Twilight Sparkle and gets under her skin, exposing the inner part of her who’s full of herself and wants to stay out of harm’s way while her friends risk their lives. He’s helping the Mane 6 defeat the threat closing in on Equestria in an indirect, roundabout fashion, because you know Discord wouldn’t have it any other way. He could use his vast swath of powers to immediately undo just about any threat, but you know as well as he does that this wouldn’t make for a compelling story.
And then comes the meme part.
The best scene in this episode by far.
The Twilight Scepter, dubbed by some fans as the “Twilicane”, is fucking hilarious. It is so hilarious, in fact, that I needed to break my unwritten rule of avoiding profanity in these posts to express how side-splitting I find it. But why exactly is this silly little golden cane so funny? It is Discord’s way of parodying how self-absorbed it is for Twilight Sparkle to leave her friends behind by exaggerating the common mindset of kings and queens and princesses being mighty tyrants who plaster their face and name on everything. Now, a figure of royalty wielding a scepter modeled after their face is just plain absurd, so absurd that it stands out among the many other gags in this episode to enter the realm of memetic status, joining many other fandom memes that would later be referenced in Slice of Life.
It always throws me off that Twilight Sparkle throws her scepter aside a mere seven seconds after it first appears. The brevity of the scepter’s first appearance shows that the show’s staff did not expect it to become such a gigantic meme. It’s one of many memes in this show that came about by accident, which I find beautiful.
Twilight Sparkle and Spike go back through the forest and feel lost at first until Spike climbs a tree to get a better view and sees the rest of their friends on the way to the Tree of Harmony. This guy admirably knows the importance of having friends by your side, and he wouldn’t let Twilight Sparkle go back home entirely alone. His presence is especially important because Twilight has fallen headfirst into yet another hazard, perhaps again due to her newfound overconfidence.
When encountering the Tree of Harmony covered in tons of vines, the rest of the Mane 6 realize that they need Twilight Sparkle by their side after all. I like how while Applejack was the one who told Twilight she needed to go back, she’s also the first to play a part in rescuing her from these clouds of poisonous smoke or whatever they are. Twilight’s friends don’t hesitate to step to action, and it’s a spectacle to watch.
A heartfelt group hug leads to the plot-relevant climax of this episode. Twilight Sparkle flies towards the Tree of Harmony and remembers what Celestia said in the last flashback. She realizes that she and her friends must give up the Elements of Harmony to keep the tree fueled and alive. The rest of her friends are shocked at this, thinking those silly little gemstones are what keeps them together, but we all know that’s total nonsense—their friendship is what keeps them together. And you remember what this show is called, right? My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic? Do you really think this show would stop being true to its title? I sure don’t think so.
Ah, the good old obligatory huge rainbow explosion.
Stunning every time.
Since I view season 4 as the start of a new era for this show, it’s a very fitting time for the Mane 6 to relinquish the Elements of Harmony. They won’t have these physical objects anymore because they won’t need them anymore. From here on out, they’ll solve problems more and more using the power of friendship, and episodes will focus more on them solving problems in other places than merely learning lessons for themselves, especially in seasons 5 and 6.
And so, the Tree of Harmony has been restored in a new, fresh form, symbolizing the feats of two generations of heroes: Celestia and Luna, and Twilight Sparkle and her five pony friends. A flower blooms from the tree, revealing a locked chest:
Twilight Sparkle: What’s inside it? How am I supposed to open it?
Luna: Six locks, six keys.
Celestia: I do not know where they are. But I do know that it is a mystery you will not be solving alone.
It’s interesting to note that Celestia and Luna look as surprised as Twilight at the reveal of this chest. Their reaction to the chest shows that the authority figures don’t have all the answers either, and the Mane 6 now need to take such problems into their own hooves. It probably sounds goofy insisting on sticking to horse terminology in a passage like this, but if you’re as obsessed with this show as I am, you’re probably used to it.
Anyway, with the retirement of six plot-relevant objects, there’s now a new challenge for the Mane 6 to face: finding keys to open this chest, which introduces us to season 4’s overarching arc. Each of the Mane 6 has an episode in season 4 where they solve a pivotal friendship problem and take a special object home at the end, symbolizing what they just accomplished using their element of harmony. I’m looking forward to analyzing how this arc plays out, as well as its dramatic conclusion.
This episode twists the pattern of two-part episodes ending with a congratulatory ceremony for our heroes by having the first round of congratulations be from Discord, whose motives the Mane 6 insist on getting to the bottom of.
Discord: Bravo, ladies, bravo! How ever did you save the day this time? Bash the beastie with your magic necklaces, I presume?
Discord: Where are those little trinkets of yours? You know, the ones you used to send me back to my extremely uncomfortable stone prison.
Applejack: (sighs) Gone.
Discord: (excitedly) Gone?! Gone?
Fluttershy: But our friendship remains.
Fluttershy: And if you want to remain friends, you’ll stop thinking whatever it is you’re thinking, and help us clean up.
Much like the Mane 6, Discord initially has a misconception that without the Elements of Harmony, the Mane 6’s friendship powers will all fall apart, and he naturally gets excited about it due to his lingering villainous side. Even though he planned for all this to happen, he’s still surprised that the Mane 6 giving up their gemstones doesn’t affect their friendships (which is the important part) at all.
By giving Twilight Sparkle one last sip of the flashback potion, Discord reveals that there’s more to the seeds that bounced on Celestia and Luna: he planted them in an attempt to underhandedly capture the princesses, cleverly disguised as him being zany as usual. This is a lot like how he removed all the pages with reformation spells from Twilight’s books and got away with it by pretending he was eating paper for the sake of it. The Tree of Harmony prevented the seeds from growing above the ground… until now.
Twilight Sparkle: You realize this is information we could have used hours ago?!
Discord: And rob you of a valuable lesson about being princess? What kind of friend do you think I am? (pinches Twilight’s cheek)
Discord is right, he could destroy all the vines and save Equestria with a snap of his fingers… or he could teach the Mane 6 a valuable lesson about friendship, providing Twilight’s first major trial after being a princess. Now that I think of it, this isn’t unlike Celestia putting the Mane 6 up to challenges that she could probably deal with herself. The main difference is that while Celestia always encourages the Mane 6 that they have what it takes, Discord does it in far more convoluted ways. Discord may be reformed, but if he gave our heroes the answers they need in straightforward ways, then he wouldn’t be Discord anymore.
And to end this episode, we finally see the Summer Sun Celebration as it was always meant to be. Last time, the celebration was cut short by the return of Nightmare Moon, and now we get to see it in full view: not as a somber reminder of Nightmare Moon’s defeat, but as a proud celebration of Luna’s return. Seeing the celebration firsthand is the last of many ways this episode follows up on and improves from Friendship Is Magic.
After Twilight Sparkle struggled with flying so much, I imagine that she successfully made this giant star because she wouldn’t DARE let down Celestia.
After Twilight Sparkle accompanies the celebration with her counterpart to Rainbow Dash’s Sonic Rainboom, she steps back on stage and displays a meek smile characteristic of her, which ends the episode. I view this scene as reminding us that even though she’s now a celebrated princess, the Twilight Sparkle we know and love isn’t going anywhere.
This two-part episode handles the big game-changer of Twilight Sparkle being a princess very nicely from start to finish, and it thoroughly makes up for the many problems I have with Magical Mystery Cure. It acknowledges that this new role will need a lot of adjustment and presents Twilight and her friends with a whole new series of difficult decisions, all the while calling back to the show’s beginnings to show how far it’s come. The flashbacks are awesome too, and they tie in nicely with the twist at the end—a surprising twist that establishes the semi-heroic role Discord will play from here on out.
I simply can’t give a grade any lower to the episode that gifted the world with the Twilight Scepter.
- In the flashback with Nightmare Moon’s rampage, I wonder what would have happened if Twilight Sparkle was crushed by the building’s debris. Maybe she would have immediately snapped out of the flashback? That’s usually what happens when you’re killed in a dream, especially in fiction.
- I had been waiting for almost a year to describe the Twilight Scepter as “fucking hilarious”, and I made a point of having that be my first time using any profanity in this post series. It feels great finally having that done.
The next episode also has the Mane 6 explore an area that appears to be terrifying, but this time it’s quite by accident.
This review took me about two weeks total to write. I took my time with this because I’ve been preoccupied with other projects and rereading, er, a different work of media. See you next time—perhaps next week, perhaps not—as the Mane 6 unwittingly scare each other and then discover the truth about Rainbow Dash’s favorite book series.