Cookie Fonster Reviews Every MLP Episode Part 58: The Cutie Re-Mark, Part 1 + 2


< Part 57 | Part 58 | Part 59 >

Season 5, Episodes 25-26

We’ve finally made it to the season 5 finale! As excited as I am to analyze it, I am going to need a sizable break afterwards to focus both on other projects and real life stuff. My journey through the second half of season 5 has already been rather slow for both these reasons, which is why I want to begin analyzing season 6 with a refreshed mindset. I just figured I’d let you know.

Season 5 Episode 25: The Cutie Re-Mark, Part 1

In five words: Starlight Glimmer rampages across time.

Premise: Thirsty for revenge, Starlight Glimmer sends Twilight Sparkle and Spike on a chase through alternate timelines where villains took over Equestria—all by interfering with the day the Mane 6 got their cutie marks.

Detailed run-through:

This dramatic two-part episode starts off as innocuous as any season finale would: with Twilight Sparkle rehearsing a speech to Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns, while Spike jabs at her for perfectionism. As you should already know, this is all part of the setup.

The speech itself starts off as a recap of cutie mark lore, attended by a bunch of familiar faces, and… wait just a minute, Twilight Sparkle. That is not how Venn diagrams work! The intersections between two circles show common traits between whichever entities the circles represent. If you are to read this diagram logically, it tells us that Sweetie Belle has both her own cutie mark and Scootaloo’s, Scootaloo has hers and Apple Bloom’s, and Apple Bloom has hers and Sweetie Belle’s. The only correct part of this diagram is the tricolored shield in the center, which is something that all three Cutie Mark Crusaders’ marks share.

On a less nitpicky note, I like how Moondancer seems to be the only one in the audience taking notes. It might seem strange that she’s doing so when she already knows so much about magic, but it’s likely her notes focus more on the friendship part, since that’s a topic she’s been easing back into. Moondancer wakes Spike up so that he can move on to the next slide, causing a few minor mishaps before the presentation continues.

Yes, I know Spike’s egg is the wrong color. I’ll discuss it in the miscellaneous notes.

When Twilight Sparkle recaps how she and her friends got their cutie marks, I can tell all the pieces are coming together in Starlight Glimmer’s mind. In Amending Fences, she learned that someone with a nearly identical upbringing and personality to Twilight Sparkle would be friendless without being mentored under Celestia’s wing. In What About Discord?, she learned that time travel is real and can cause enormous differences with the slightest nudge. And now, she’s learning that the group of ponies who have saved Equestria multiple times hinge upon one event: Rainbow Dash’s rainboom. Twilight is kindly recapping all these important stories about important ponies to an audience that surely consists of well-meaning unicorns who would never do anything skeevy with this knowledge.

Let’s appreciate that the show has long stopped using the same generic background ponies every time a crowd needs to be filled.

Starlight Glimmer’s cameo in the audience is executed so perfectly. As the camera pans between her and a variety of other familiar faces, the viewer is meant to go “wait… was that Starlight?” and then get surprised when Twilight looks again, and she’s nowhere to be seen. Starlight Glimmer is very good at blending into crowds, especially a crowd that consists entirely of unicorns. Twilight Sparkle only notices Starlight when she makes a smug expression, and that’s Starlight’s cue to exit.

Twilight Sparkle falters through the rest of the speech, then she and Spike discuss Starlight Glimmer’s surprise appearance.

Spike: And now, she’s coming back for revenge.
Spike: Uh… or, she was just interested in your speech!
Twilight Sparkle:
Honestly, Spike, I’m not really sure what I saw.
Twilight Sparkle: But as long as I have my friends, I know everything will be all right.

“As long as I have my friends”. That’s the key phrase, and Starlight knows it. This is exactly the kind of sneaky exact wording you’ll only notice when rewatching. She enters her castle, and starts being convinced that Starlight was just her imagination until…

“Welcome home, Twilight.”

I love this shot so much. Starlight Glimmer looks so amazingly smug, both in expression and in pose, and Twilight Sparkle is completely floored. Is there any symbolism in the fact that she’s sitting in Fluttershy’s chair? Probably not, honestly. It’s just a random chair. Not everything has to mean something.

Starlight Glimmer goes on to perform an insanely cool-looking magic spell that sucks her into a mysterious time vortex and is impervious to Twilight’s magic. The spell is powered by the magic of the Cutie Map plus an ancient scroll from Star Swirl the Bearded that Starlight tosses aside once it’s not needed. When Twilight picks up the scroll, she and Spike are sucked into the portal.

It’s so easy to forget how big the castle is on the inside.

After Twilight and Spike leave, Pinkie Pie provides us a lapse of humor when she delivers a cake, realizes no one is there, and bites into it herself. Such lapses are exactly the right way to make the freaky parts even freakier.

In this scene, Twilight keeps having to rescue Spike from falling.
This disparity in flight ability lasts for just over half the show, before they’re back on par.

And so, Twilight Sparkle and Spike are sent back to the past—specifically, in Cloudsdale on the Mane 6’s fateful day. There’s not much dilly-dallying with gags like “haha, he looks so dorky as a kid” or “wait, is that seriously her?” because there doesn’t need to be—the exciting, jarring effect of characters time traveling is there either way. We’ve watched this scene before, and we’ll revisit it multiple times throughout this season finale.

When Fluttershy is knocked off the cloud, Twilight Sparkle instinctively tries to rescue her, and Spike holds her wings back as a reminder not to disrupt the timeline. It’s sweet that Twilight has her friends’ safety in mind, while it’s smart that Spike keeps her from doing something stupid—that’s exactly what a good sidekick does.

This super-powerful unicorn has no need for wings.

I really enjoy all the creative ways Starlight Glimmer stops Rainbow Dash’s sonic rainboom from happening. The first time, she freezes Rainbow Dash right when her rainboom is about to start. I assume Starlight did it at the last second so that Rainbow Dash would be as embarrassed as possible when a sports bully wins the race instead.

As each of the Mane 6 fails to earn their cutie mark, I’m going to speculate on what became of each of them in this timeline.

Rainbow Dash never lives this mishap down and spends the rest of flight camp picked on for it. She lives life as a petty, grumbling underdog and never surpasses the flight capabilities of the beloved future Wonderbolt, Lightning Dust. She starts doing skeevy things to reclaim her good name, making a bigger fool of herself each time.

The animals all running off from Fluttershy is so heartbreaking.

Fluttershy never discovers her skill in raising animals. Though a tragically lonely outcast at first, she soon gets back on her hooves and trains to become a badass swordfighter, because that’s a really common alternate timeline trope.

Applejack returns to Ponyville a year later, only to find that her parents are dead and what’s left of her family is impoverished. Apple Bloom is never born, and Applejack never forgives herself for abandoning her home.

Pinkie Pie remains at the rock farm, using her versatile reality bending powers solely for extremely serious rock-related matters. She makes Maud Pie seem goofy and excitable in comparison.

The rock must have been rather light if Rarity pushed it off so easily.
Makes sense, because she never knew it was filled with gems.

Rarity thinks reality pranked her by leading her all the way to a pointless rock, and she starts believing there is no beauty or reason in this world. This depressive mindset eventually sends her down a spiral of alcoholism.

Hey, Spike’s egg is back to the right color!
Or the wrong color, according to Spike’s memory in the first episode.

Twilight Sparkle is sent off to a low-class school filled with bullies, the guilt of not studying hard enough weighing over her head. Celestia realizes that she must not have picked the right “chosen one” and recruits Moondancer as her star student, though Moondancer doesn’t have a lively assortment of friends waiting for her in Ponyville.

Spike’s egg is returned to the dragon kingdom, and he’s raised as an ordinary rude and crass dragon boy. Dragons and ponies remain out of contact, each considering the other a made-up fairy tale species.

Twilight Sparkle and Spike get sucked into Starlight’s portal, and with that, the saga of alternate timelines begins. Twilight notices that on the Cutie Map, the Crystal Empire has taken over half of Equestria, which is not a good sign… except to viewers who were excited to see King Sombra again. All the buildings in Ponyville are abandoned and locked up…

… except for Sweet Apple Acres, which has transformed into a gritty factory. It looks to me like the farm has been repurposed to send off rationed food to all the soldiers abroad. The cans are all branded with Granny Smith’s face—perhaps in this timeline, she’s a fallen rebel of Ponyville, a symbol of the resistance.

I wonder why Applejack isn’t more surprised to see an alicorn she’s never met PLUS a young dragon? As I said earlier, it’s likely that ponies and dragons have zero contact in this timeline. Maybe Applejack has more important things to worry about and doesn’t want to waste time getting shocked at silly things. Or maybe it just doesn’t occur to the show’s writers for a character to say “wait, you’re an alicorn?!” every time.

Twilight Sparkle: Applejack?
Applejack: What can I do for you.
Twilight Sparkle: It’s so good to see you. We couldn’t find Pinkie or Rarity or Fluttershy or Rainbow Dash, but I just knew you’d still be here.
Applejack: Of course I am. This is my home.

Twilight Sparkle was right to guess that Applejack would still stick around at her home—even without the rainbow guiding her on a gloomy evening, Applejack would have found her way back to Ponyville.

Applejack: But who in tarnation is Pinkie-Bo and Flutterdash?
Applejack: Or you, for that matter?
Twilight Sparkle: You don’t know who I am?
Applejack: Nope. Honestly, the only name I recognize is Rarity, but she left for Manehattan years ago.
Spike: Probably to become a world famous fashion designer, I bet.

I can see why Rarity departed Ponyville so quickly in this timeline. Since Applejack stayed in Manehattan longer here than in the usual timeline, Rarity got to hear lots of stories about the glamour and sophistication of the city. Since Ponyville’s economy was falling apart due to Applejack’s absence from Sweet Apple Acres, Rarity decided she couldn’t make it as a fashion designer here and thus set out for Manehattan. And since Manehattan is a tough place to make friends in even in the good timeline, friendship was the last thing on Rarity’s mind when she left for the big city.

Applejack: Not that I know of. Last I heard, she went to help for the cause like everypony else.
Twilight Sparkle: The cause?
Applejack: The war against King Sombra and the Crystal Empire.

And there it is: the reveal that in this timeline, a villain who the Mane 6 had easily defeated is raging on. I’ll have a lot more to speculate about this timeline soon.

Twilight and Spike are surprised to learn of the war, and they drag Applejack over to show her the Cutie Map. Applejack looks gloomy when she learns they come from a timeline where the war didn’t happen, as if she felt the whole time it didn’t have to be this way.

These alternate timelines are such a badass way to bring back old villains.

Applejack reveals that when the Crystal Empire returned, King Sombra assembled an army out of the crystal ponies to fight for him against Equestria. This makes sense, because there was no Mane 6 to distract the crystal ponies and keep them out of their trauma, or rescue the crystal heart and do all that other stuff. It makes me wonder though… if King Sombra was the first villain to succeed in this timeline, then what happened with the other three? I have a few theories, which I’ll write without saying “maybe” or “presumably” or “I imagine that”.

In this timeline, on the thousandth anniversary of Nightmare Moon’s defeat, Moondancer set out on a journey all by herself to find Nightmare Moon. She traversed through the Everfree Forest, easily dealt with every hazard that faced her, and exerted all her power to freeze Nightmare Moon into a statue. When Discord’s statue unfroze, Moondancer teamed up with Celestia to freeze him back before he could cause much trouble, then put a protective force field around him. Queen Chrysalis still impersonated Cadance on her and Shining Armor’s wedding, though without the rest of the Mane 6 to doubt Twilight Sparkle’s suspicion, Chrysalis was caught more quickly and then escorted away. And when the Crystal Empire returned, well… this episode shows us what happened.

Celestia has barely appeared at all this season, but she’ll be more prevalent in the next two.

In the regular timeline, Celestia served as a mentor to Twilight Sparkle and her friends, giving them instructions because she knew they’d be able to defeat all the villains they faced. But here, Celestia is taking charge on her own, since all her prophecies about six ponies defeating villain after villain turned out to be lies. It’s admirable to see, and upsetting considering Luna is not by her side.

Remember when season 1 depicted war as a bunch of pie-in-the-face battles? We’re long past these days, and the alternate timelines we see now are the coolest and freakiest thing ever. They’re also great fanfic fuel, and you can see that I couldn’t resist doing some speculation myself.

The wing on Rainbow Dash’s other side is damaged too, but that doesn’t stop her from flying.

The fighting proceeds to reveal that Rainbow Dash lost a wing and part of an ear to this battle, which is quite terrifying. I’d like you to remember this is My Little Pony we’re talking about. This season finale stretches the definition of a show made for kids in all the best ways.

Both sisters have a bag of rocks, in case they need to kill someone from afar.
Boulder in this timeline is probably Maud’s most prized weapon.

This scene is absolutely insane too. Pinkie Pie and Maud Pie drill a rock apart together to save Rainbow Dash and getting crushed, then they salute her in a slight trace of the Mane 6’s strong friendships we know and love. It’s worth noting that we don’t see any of the Mane 6’s cutie marks in this timeline. In Pinkie Pie’s case, this is especially logical because it wouldn’t make sense for this version of her to have a balloon cutie mark, but it would raise the WILDEST implications about cutie mark lore if we saw alternate timelines give alternate cutie marks and completely distract from the point of this episode.

It’s subtly heartwarming that the Mane 6 are still working together in the resistance, just that they don’t know each other’s names. We see Fluttershy shaving some sheep, whose wool Rarity uses to make resilient battle outfits. The only Mane 6 member not seen in these timelines is Twilight Sparkle, perhaps so that viewers aren’t confused. I think the absence of alternate Twilights suggests that in every one of these timelines, she remained a reclusive shut-in.

After Applejack’s exposition ends, she says she hopes Twilight Sparkle can set things right. Though Twilight at first screams that she has no idea how to fix it, she realizes that she can use Star Swirl’s scroll combined with the map’s magic just like Starlight did and stop her nemesis from changing the past.

And when they arrive…

Twilight Sparkle: All we have to do now is find Starlight and—

This moment is such a delightful shocker. No villain has been shown to plan ahead anywhere near as much as Starlight.

Starlight Glimmer: Well, finding her will be easy. But stopping her’s gonna be harder than you think.
Starlight Glimmer: Sorry to disappoint you, but I created that spell to send myself back in time. So even when you cast it, I still get sent back here.
Starlight Glimmer: It wasn’t difficult to change Star Swirl’s spell. He’d already done the hard part. But figuring out I could use the map to go to any time or place and pull you along with me? Haha! I even impressed myself with that.
Starlight Glimmer: I knew you’d try to stop me. You’re sooo predictable. Why else would I leave the scroll behind? Touching it triggered the map to whisk you here, and watch you erase the one thing that linked you with your friends.

Starlight Glimmer thought of everything, didn’t she? As far as Mane 6 members go, it’s pretty easy to predict how Twilight Sparkle will react to a given situation. We saw this at the start of the episode, where she expects Spike to complete her sentence and he grudgingly says “perfect”. The speech also shows how heavily Starlight has been stalking the Mane 6—she carefully analyzed their strengths and weaknesses, and now she has them all cornered.

As the crystal sinks beneath the clouds, Starlight Glimmer has to pause and go below so she can keep ranting.

Starlight Glimmer: My village was a sanctuary of equality where nopony’s cutie mark allowed them to feel superior. It was a special place. And YOU and your FRIENDS took it away.
Starlight Glimmer: Now it’s my turn to take something special from you! Without the rainboom, you and your friends will never form your special cutie mark bond!
Starlight Glimmer: Cutie marks for cutie marks! Sounds like a fair trade to me.

The rest of Starlight’s villainous speech has some hints at where her fury originated: her childhood friend supposedly feeling haughty and superior after earning his cutie mark. How do you think she felt internally when attending Twilight Sparkle’s speech? Maybe she thought something along the lines of “ugh, these dorks think they’re SO special, bragging about their cutie marks just like Sunburst did. What if I took that away from them?”

Twilight Sparkle escapes the crystal with magic but forgets about Spike, and I don’t know if it’s OK that I find Spike screaming “TWILIGHT!” offscreen mildly funny. She rescues her sidekick from falling, then they go to the clouds so they can stop Starlight from stopping Rainbow Dash’s rainboom…

… except Starlight is a step ahead of them once again.

Starlight Glimmer: Just remember how you’d feel if someone said those things to you.
(Twilight and Spike enter the scene)
Twilight Sparkle: What’s going on here?
Starlight Glimmer: Oh, I was just reminding these two colts how hurtful teasing can be.
Twilight Sparkle: Well, don’t.
(colts and Fluttershy express confusion)

This would be such a sweet scene if it weren’t for Starlight’s ulterior motives, or the fact that she’s used the exact same teacher-like attitude to indoctrinate others into her cult. It makes me wonder, though… were there no adult supervisors at flight camp to prevent conflicts from brewing up? Or did the adults feel it was best for the kids to form bonds and learn to fly with minimal supervision? They were sort of wrong given the bullying Fluttershy was subject to, but given that the bullying led to Rainbow Dash’s grand heroic moment, they were also completely right.

Twilight Sparkle: I mean, you were?
Starlight Glimmer: Of course! In a world where everypony is unique, some are bound to feel more special than others. But that isn’t a license to be cruel, is it?
Twilight Sparkle: No… of course not.
Starlight Glimmer: Oh, isn’t it a shame we don’t live in a world where everypony is equal? No one would ever tease anyone there. Wouldn’t that be nice?
Colts and Fluttershy: Mhm.

This scene might seem like Starlight Glimmer has an ordinary understanding of friendship deep down, but her dialogue is heavily imbued with her ideology on equality. This shows that she has a lot to learn about friendship in later seasons, much like other post-reformation villains. I think in this timeline, Starlight Glimmer’s speech about equality left such a strong impression on the sports bullies and Fluttershy that later in their lives, they would rediscover Starlight and enter her cult. I forget whether Fluttershy appears in the future of this timeline—if she does, you can omit “and Fluttershy” from the last sentence and all is well.

Twilight Sparkle clumsily tries to get young Rainbow Dash to do her rainboom anyway, and it doesn’t work well.

Twilight Sparkle: Okay, listen. You don’t have to race me. I just need you to fly fast enough for a sonic rainboom.
Rainbow Dash: What? I can’t do that. Nopony can. It’s not even a real thing. It’s just an old mare’s tale.
Twilight Sparkle: But it’s not! I know it’s not. I’ve seen you do it. In the future!
Rainbow Dash: Okay. I’m gonna go now.

Twilight should know that Rainbow Dash isn’t motivated by random strangers telling her to do exactly as they say. She’s motivated by competition, and by a desire to stand up for her friends, factors that Starlight Glimmer had just neutralized. Then again, Twilight is desperate. It’s funny to imagine this from young Rainbow Dash’s perspective—she probably either thinks this random alicorn banged her head on a wall, or she’s having a really weird dream.

Starlight’s portal sends Twilight Sparkle and Spike to a future that’s even worse than the last. In what used to be Ponyville, they’re immediately met with spears from a few familiar faces, which makes King Sombra’s timeline seem tame in comparison.

Twilight Sparkle: Pinkie? Fluttershy?
Pinkie Pie: Silence, changeling.
Fluttershy: All servants of Queen Chrysalis found in these woods must be… destroyed!

Fluttershy was so obviously about to say “die” here. She probably just changed her mind because she saw a young dragon and thus settled for an alternative. If these ponies even know who Twilight Sparkle is, they think this must be an especially bad impersonator, since the real Twilight in this timeline almost certainly doesn’t have wings. Now imagine me doing a really cool and elegant transition to the obligatory mention of the obligatory “To be continued…” screen.

Miscellaneous notes:

  • The colors of Spike’s egg in Twilight Sparkle’s presentation are different both from how Spike describes it in the first episode and how it looks in The Cutie Mark Chronicles. But I want to try and figure out why this inconsistency happened. In the slide showing all the Mane 6 on the day they got their cutie marks, some pictures are reused shots from the flashback episode, while others (like Twilight’s) are clearly redrawn—presumably because there wasn’t a good shot to reuse directly. After the newly drawn storyboard was converted to animation, a coloring error must have slipped through the cracks.
  • I wonder if in at least one of these alternate timelines, Moondancer became an alicorn princess? The thought is weirdly hilarious to me, and I’m starting to really like the idea that in all these timelines, Moondancer came out of her shell and turned into a war hero.
  • I’m also curious how Pinkie Pie earned her cutie mark in Queen Chrysalis’s timeline, right at the end of part 1. Maybe Rainbow Dash eventually performed a sonic rainboom after all, but the only Mane 6 member it had any effect on was Pinkie Pie, since most of the others had the rainbow affect a specific moment in their day.

Season 5 Episode 26: The Cutie Re-Mark, Part 2

In five words: Starlight’s stalemate leads to reformation.

Premise: Starlight Glimmer has caught Twilight Sparkle and Spike into a cycle of increasingly apocalyptic alternate timelines, and there’s only one way for them to escape: by talking Starlight out of it.

Detailed run-through:

By this point, the show has perfected how to do two-part episodes’ recaps. We’re shown the most relevant clips from part 1, layered with the most important lines from part 1 and uneasy music to tie it all together, and it’s only 40 seconds long to allow plenty of dramatic content to follow.

In the timeline we left off at, Spike proves he’s not a changeling by coughing up a bit of fire, but Zecora emerges from the shadows and still has her doubts. One good thing that happened in this chaotic timeline is that the ponies didn’t succumb to an arbitrarily villainous image of Zecora but formed an alliance with her. These timelines are a cool way to put unexpected supporting characters into heroic roles; Zecora’s role is to spread a potion she devised that will identify changelings, akin to iodine ink that detects counterfeit money.

Counterfeit money detection is such an apt comparison. Why didn’t I think of it sooner?

When Zecora spreads the potion on Twilight Sparkle and Spike, it makes them glow.

Pinkie Pie: What does it mean?
Zecora: The meaning is far worse, I see. For it is we who should not be.
Twilight Sparkle: I think I can explain.
Zecora: I’m sure you can, but let’s not talk here. Chrysalis and her army will soon draw near.

So, let me get this straight. This potion can detect whether someone is a changeling and whether someone is from the wrong timeline? This sounds like a strange dual use, but maybe I can explain this. It could be that the potion doesn’t have magic changeling detection properties, but instead tastes irresistibly juicy to changelings and exposes their tongues and hissing noises. If that’s true, then the magic property is detecting who the “normal timeline” version of someone is, which raises all sorts of implications about how timelines work in this show.

Zecora confirms that in this timeline, the changelings recently took over Equestria, forcing the remaining ponies into hiding. Now I wonder, what was the difference that caused Queen Chrysalis to invade successfully? Let me come up with another theory.

In the regular timeline, let’s assume Shining Armor was appointed captain of the Canterlot royal guard in part because of his familial connection with Celestia’s star student. But in this timeline, Celestia didn’t have the same star student, meaning someone less competent was selected as captain. Without Shining Armor’s leadership and protective fields, the changelings invaded Canterlot far more easily. Cadance remains in the underground prison along with other princesses and elites, though with some creative use of magic spells, at least they’ve been able to eat and remain alive. Shining Armor remains brainwashed into serving Queen Chrysalis.

Twilight Sparkle is surprised that one small change caused so much peril, so Zecora provides us a cool visual metaphor for the enormous consequences of minor adjustments to a timeline. She seems to know a lot about alternate timelines, and this ability is not without precedence—remember when she fed Twilight Sparkle potions that showed her pieces of Celestia and Luna’s backstory? This zebra’s arcane knowledge is off the charts.

This forest town reminds me of the unicorn’s homeland in MLP: A New Generation.
If I remember right, it’s called Bridlewood.

Zecora reveals that hidden in the damp forests is a camp where residents of Ponyville have taken shelter. It almost looks like there’s some hope in this timeline, given that some of the familiar faces seem to be going about their regular days…

Queen Chrysalis disguised herself as Applejack, presumably to seem unassuming.

… until the other three Mane 6 members come in to reveal first that Ponyville is under attack, then that they are changelings in disguise. A foal from the village without body paint reveals herself to be a changeling too, showing that hiding from changelings is harder than you think. This does not spell good things for the real Applejack, Rarity, and Rainbow Dash. Given that the three of them were impersonated together, it seems like most of the Mane 6 still managed to find each other in this timeline—probably all except Twilight. I can easily guess why Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy eluded the changelings the longest. Fluttershy is good at staying quiet, and Pinkie Pie has a huge swath of cartoon powers. The other three probably tried facing the changelings head-on and quickly got captured.

As action-oriented as this season finale is, it still has to follow violence constraints for children’s programming. One way it does so is using silhouettes to suggest that Queen Chrysalis dealt Zecora a lethal blow. Twilight Sparkle and Spike run from the changelings and narrowly avoid getting bitten, then they teleport to the map and enter the past once more.

Back in the past, Twilight Sparkle and Starlight Glimmer have an epic anime duel, with a hype factor much like that of the last season finale, and the foals in the scene stop what they’re doing and watch in excitement.

I’m going to guess Rainbow Dash stole a bag from a nearby popcorn machine, which is meant only as a reward for a hard day’s work of flight camp.

Twilight Sparkle: What are you doing? You have to finish your race!
Rainbow Dash: No way! This is way more exciting.
Starlight Glimmer: See? You can’t stop me no matter what I do.
(Twilight Sparkle and Spike get sucked into the portal)
Rainbow Dash: Aw man.

It turns out the anime battle was a sly way for Starlight to stop Rainbow Dash’s rainboom, this time by distracting the filly. It looks like Rainbow Dash and the sports bullies found something they agree on: they both love to watch epic battles. Maybe in this timeline, the bullies started considering Rainbow Dash a friend, so they agreed to stop picking on Fluttershy.

In the third timeline, Twilight Sparkle and Spike notice something strange: it’s nighttime instead of daytime. Attentive viewers will see where this is going, as will viewers who obsessively memorized every detail of season 1 and don’t care about later seasons at all, which is sadly a major portion of fans.

The Castle of the Two Sisters contains many hints that Nightmare Moon overthrew Celestia, which serves partly to redeem a major issue with the series premiere: Nightmare Moon didn’t get much time to torment the citizens of Equestria or show what would happen under her rule. You know what this means: another round of timeline speculation!

In this timeline, none of the Mane 6 ever grew close as friends. Any pairs who had known each other, like Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy, or perhaps Applejack and Rarity, had their friendships collapse over bitter feuds. This meant that on the day of Nightmare Moon’s return, no one could stop her from taking over Equestria. From then on, Nightmare Moon developed a cult of personality, and she and her army easily defeated every villain who tried to take her throne.

For whatever reason, tied-up hair will always make a female character seem more serious and bossy.

Twilight Sparkle: Rarity?
Rarity: The castle isn’t open for viewing today. The tapestry’s only changing. Again.
Spike: Rarity! It’s me!
Rarity: I don’t socialize with dragons. I don’t know anypony who would.
Twilight Sparkle: Rarity, you have to listen to me. The future of Equestria is at stake!
Rarity: I don’t know how you know my name, but I am far too busy to entertain some tourist’s ridiculous fantasies.

Given how different Rarity’s personality is, there are clearly more differences in this timeline than just Nightmare Moon’s victory. Normally, Rarity only pretends to be above it all and is in fact adorably excitable—this is especially clear when she’s juxtaposed against the elites of Canterlot. But in this scene, she’s truly stuck up, not to mention xenophobic against dragons. In this timeline, I think Rarity became jaded to the beauty of the world and got increasingly haughty and unpleasant much like her rival Suri Polomare, who may well have become an earnest fashion designer and member of the resistance. If you haven’t noticed, I really enjoy the idea of Mane 6 members in alternate timelines swapping roles with their one-shot foils.

Rarity wasn’t the only Mane 6 member sucked into this personality cult. When Nightmare Moon reveals herself, a guard takes off her helmet and is revealed to be Rainbow Dash. Maybe in this timeline, after she got treated to a two-way laser beam battle, she became interested in nothing but fighting, which landed her into this royal guard position. But instead of bursting with excitement like she normally would, she sternly accepted this duty.

I never noticed before that the moon is shimmering with the colors of Celestia’s mane.

Nightmare Moon: (evil laugh) My sister has been imprisoned in the moon for years! But it is no less a fate than she sentenced me to.

Nightmare Moon has a point here. Thinking of her and Celestia’s backstory, they made TONS of mistakes and mistreated each other plenty in the past, and they could never repair their sibling rivalry on their own. It takes intervention from a specific group of six ponies to solve their problems, and without them, Celestia and Luna will just keep inflicting more and more pain on each other—fighting fire with fire, which does nothing but continue the cycle. And even in the main timeline, their sibling rivalry will still need some external interventions, like one from Starlight Glimmer in A Royal Problem.

Nightmare Moon demands to know the source of Twilight Sparkle’s time travel magic, and she holds Spike hostage to prevent Twilight from running off. If nothing else, Nightmare Moon recognizes that Spike is a valuable part of Twilight Sparkle’s life. She’s old enough to remember a time when ponies and dragons were friends, which had been completely forgotten in modern Equestria until Twilight gained a dragon pal. Wait, was it ever stated that ponies and dragons were on good terms ages ago? I’m kind of guessing here.

Not shown: Nightmare Moon blasting apart some Timberwolves.

Nightmare Moon: How does it work?
Twilight Sparkle: A pony from my time used a spell to travel back and change the past.
Nightmare Moon: And now you will give the spell to me.
Nightmare Moon: With it, I will ensure that the Elements of Harmony are never found, and my reign lasts forever!

Beneath her smug attitude, I sense a bit of insecurity from Nightmare Moon. She knows that the Elements of Harmony would banish her if they were found, and she’s scared that Celestia would resume being the superior sibling. This may also be why she hired so many security guards for the Castle of the Two Sisters: the Elements of Harmony are stored there, and protecting them is her top priority.

Twilight Sparkle takes this opportunity to zap out of here, taking Spike with her, and the last thing we hear from Nightmare Moon is once again a drawn-out “NO”.

I’m not sure whether Starlight Glimmer remembers every time Twilight Sparkle tried to stop her.
Did she zap back in time right when she sensed Twilight was about to come?

Every work of media involving time travel will have some head-scratching contradictions anyway.
It’s inevitable because time travel isn’t real.

Twilight Sparkle goes back to the past and traps Starlight in a crystal, but she blasts out of it and dooms the timeline again, this time by tripping Rainbow Dash. I imagine her insisting to the other kids that some purple unicorn appeared out of nowhere and tripped her, and the bullies respond with “likely story, Rainbow Crash”. This begins an incredibly tense sequence where Twilight Sparkle zaps to three more timelines in rapid succession.

The fourth timeline is lapse of horror as Tirek rampages across all of Equestria, seemingly unopposed. Knowing her powers are ordinarily unmatched by Tirek’s, Twilight Sparkle wastes no time and gets out of here fast.

Obligatory speculation paragraph: This timeline largely went the same as usual, with one main difference: Moondancer replaced Twilight’s role in the Mane 6, down to having hatched Spike’s egg, and she was considered the element of magic. She and the rest of the Mane 6 successfully defeated Nightmare Moon, Discord, and King Sombra, and Discord was later unfrozen and reformed. As for Queen Chrysalis, this timeline’s Mane 6 were invited to Shining Armor and Cadance’s wedding because Moondancer knew them as a filly, but Twilight Sparkle was still the one who thought Cadance was evil and rescued the real Cadance. The crucial difference is that due to predestination, Moondancer never became an alicorn princess. This means her horn couldn’t store enough magic to face Tirek head-on, and now he’s freely rampaging.

Here’s an unnerving thought: imagine young Rainbow Dash being frozen inside this crystal forever.

The next timeline is caused when Twilight Sparkle tries to shoot Starlight Glimmer, but she misses and instead freezes Rainbow Dash. I think Starlight Glimmer purposely aligned herself so that she’d be directly between Rainbow Dash’s position and where Twilight Sparkle would arrive, which is clever of her and shows how much she has Twilight cornered.

On the top right is the same loony background pony who briefly appeared in The Return of Harmony.

Timeline number five is a lapse of hilarity with Discord in charge, forcing Celestia and Luna to act as clowns… wait, Luna?

Yes, this is the only timeline where we see regular old Luna alive, which presents a conundrum for speculating how this timeline came to be. If Nightmare Moon was defeated and reformed using the Elements of Harmony, then why wasn’t Discord? Here’s an idea: in this timeline, Nightmare Moon was defeated a different way.

On the day Nightmare Moon returned, Celestia sensed that whichever Mane 6 members had teamed up to take on Nightmare Moon weren’t faring so well. So Celestia talked her sister out of jealous villainy until Nightmare Moon transformed back into Luna and apologized. Then when Discord’s statue unfroze, there was no crew of six ponies who could freeze him back, so he took over Equestria and tormented the princesses who had frozen him so long ago. No other villain bothered conquering this chaotic mess of a land, largely because they had no clue how to navigate it.

Speculation aside, this alternate timeline is an excellent lapse of humor to make the following scenes more shocking.

This scene, where Starlight Glimmer helps Fluttershy fly to stop her from getting bullied, is proof that unicorns are overpowered. If there was a powerful enough unicorn at flight camp, then the pegasi could learn to fly much more quickly than with guidance from other pegasi. Now I know most unicorns would fall right through clouds, but Starlight Glimmer can bypass that.

The sixth timeline is a lapse of surprise: since we’ve run out of major villains, the Flim Flam brothers show what they’d be capable of had history gone a little differently. In their first appearance, we saw that they’re miles ahead of other ponies in technological skills, and now they’re using their rare intellect to cause an industrial revolution and pollute the environment.

In this timeline, the Mane 6 once again didn’t become friends—none of them moved outside of their original homes, meaning Applejack and Rarity became friends but the rest didn’t. When the Flim Flam brothers challenged the Apples to a cider-making competition, they won fair and square and drove the Apple family out of business. They then became so rich that they could do whatever they wanted to the world, which is unfortunately a lot like what humans have done to Earth in reality.

I love that little snowball visual metaphor, created using clouds.

Back in the present, Twilight Sparkle confronts Starlight Glimmer about what she’s been doing, and they exchange beam attacks as they argue.

Twilight Sparkle: What you’re doing goes way beyond cutie marks. Everything we do here in the past, even the smallest change, can snowball into an avalanche of trouble for the future.
Starlight Glimmer: Oh. Next I suppose you’ll tell me that the fate of all of Equestria hangs in the balance.
Twilight Sparkle: It does!
Starlight Glimmer: Spare me your overblown ego. No group of friends, not even Princess Twilight’s, is that important.

It’s been a recurring theme in season 5 for a character to feel so disillusioned with friendship due to a prior falling out that they view the Mane 6 as smug doofuses who talk out of their asses. We saw it with Gilda, we saw it with Moondancer, and now we see it with Starlight Glimmer—each of them had much worse luck with friendship than our main cast did. Deep down, I sense that Starlight wants to be important and heroic too, and once she’s reformed, she will get that wish!

Starlight Glimmer meddles with the timeline at the last second by throwing Rainbow Dash off course with a laser beam. She almost forgot to disrupt events, but her smug attitude doesn’t break while she does so. She, Twilight, and Spike are sent to the future one last time…

The scenes of this timeline are not scored with any music—just windy noises in the background.
I appreciate that a lot.

… and the final timeline is the biggest shocker of all. Equestria has been reduced to a barren wasteland where everyone, and I do mean EVERYONE, is dead. It makes a perfect backdrop for Twilight and Starlight’s final confrontation, because it shows the extreme effects of Starlight’s thirst for revenge and the importance of the Mane 6’s teamwork. It’s difficult to imagine how this timeline came to be, but I’ll try anyway.

This timeline started the same as Nightmare Moon’s timeline, but with one difference: Rainbow Dash never made it into her army. This meant Nightmare Moon’s army couldn’t stop Discord from unleashing chaos when he unfroze. Nightmare Moon and Discord descended into war, which only got more hectic as more villains clamored for the throne—Queen Chrysalis, King Sombra, Tirek, and maybe even Starlight Glimmer herself. With Celestia banished to the moon, Equestria didn’t have many remaining defenses. As they fought over the throne, the villains mindlessly wrecked everything and everyone in sight, including each other. And with a few especially hapless explosions, all that’s left is a bunch of dust and rubble.

Twilight Sparkle: Like I said, everything in the past affects the future, even the tiniest act. And what you’re doing leads here.
Twilight Sparkle: I know I can’t stop you, but I thought showing you this might change your mind.
Starlight Glimmer: Change my mind? You don’t know anything about me. I was perfectly happy before you and your FRIENDS ruined what I built!
Twilight Sparkle: I don’t know what happened that led you to make your village without cutie marks. And I’m sorry my friends and I had to take it away.
Starlight Glimmer: You want to know what happened to me?! I’LL SHOW YOU!

Though exposure to this timeline doesn’t change Starlight Glimmer’s mind right away, it does show her the destructive effects of taking revenge. Her initial line of defense has crumbled, so her next step is to give a justification for why she’s been doing all this.

Starlight Glimmer takes Twilight Sparkle and Spike back to the past at her hometown, which much like the town she raised a cult in, is unnamed here. Thankfully, when this town is revisited in The Parent Map, its name is revealed to be Sire’s Hollow.

Young Starlight Glimmer looks adorable with those pigtails.

Starlight Glimmer: Sunburst and I did everything together. In fact, I don’t remember us ever being apart.
Starlight Glimmer: Until today.

It’s always going to be a contentious when a villain’s actions are explained with a tragic backstory. However, if you’ve been reading all these posts in order, you already know I am a staunch defendant of Starlight Glimmer’s character. I think backstory will make any villain more interesting, and that includes giving Starlight Glimmer a childhood friend who’s a fun character in his own right. It’s no accident I haven’t had much to say about Queen Chrysalis or King Sombra as characters—these two don’t really have their pasts explained, at least not in the show itself. Cozy Glow, who controversially lacks even the slightest backstory, will similarly be a predicament to analyze. In contrast, I’ve said plenty about Nightmare Moon due to her and Celestia’s backstory, and Tirek also has an interesting backstory to give him some depth. Discord is an odd case, because his persistent defiance of logic means it makes sense for him not to have much of a backstory.

(Bleh, there aren’t many good synonyms for “backstory”. I’ve typed the word so much in the above paragraph, it doesn’t seem like a word anymore.)

Jenga is a tired, overused metaphor for a situation that could fall apart with one misstep.
And yet, I’m still obligated to mention it here.

The number of books in this stack is REALLY inconsistent here.

Not shown: Sunburst running off to get praise from the rest of his town.

Here’s a hint at a compassionate side from present-day Starlight.

Starlight Glimmer: And just like that, my friend was gone.
Starlight Glimmer: His family recognized his magical talent and sent him off to Canterlot. I never saw him again.

As a foal, it’s clear Starlight Glimmer didn’t find it easy to make friends. She had a special connection with Sunburst, who like her was far more interested in studying magic than the wonders of the outside world. As such, it was pretty brutal of Sunburst’s family to ship him off to an elite magic school because they’re convinced he’s a supreme genius without thinking about his best friend at home. Much like Twilight Sparkle, Sunburst regularly gets hit with presumptions and an exaggerated image of his skills, which I can easily connect to, but I should revisit this topic in the season 6 premiere—that’s the first time we meet present-day Sunburst in person.

Spike: Why not?
Starlight Glimmer: Because of his cutie mark! He got his and I didn’t. He moved on and I didn’t! I stayed here and never made another friend because I was too afraid another cutie mark would take them away too!

Remember all the way back in my review of Call of the Cutie, where I remarked how strange it was that foals were taught about cutie marks after most of them had earned theirs? While we don’t know a ton about the education system of Sire’s Hollow, it sounds like they similarly do a shoddy job teaching what cutie marks are, if they even do it at all. Maybe cutie mark lore is an inherently muddy topic of pony psychology, and the Cutie Mark Crusaders are the only ones who can unravel it.

Back in the past, Twilight Sparkle and Starlight Glimmer have their grand final confrontation where Starlight nearly rips the magic spell in half to trap them in the past.

Twilight Sparkle: Starlight, you’re right. I don’t know what you went through. But I do know you can’t do this! I’ve seen where this leads, and so have you.
Starlight Glimmer: I only saw what you showed me. Who knows what’ll really happen?
Twilight Sparkle: I’ve seen it a dozen times. Things don’t turn out well in Equestria without my friends.
Starlight Glimmer: Ugh, what’s so special about your friends? How can a group of ponies that are so different be so important?!
Twilight Sparkle: The differences between me and my friends are the very things that make us strong.
Starlight Glimmer: I thought Sunburst and I were the same. But we turned out different, and it tore our friendship apart!

This conversation draws an important distinction between friendships built upon similarity and those built upon difference. Starlight Glimmer learns here that both are equally valid types of friendships. While the Mane 6 are filled with contrasting pairs, there are some pairings built more on similarity, most notably Applejack and Rainbow Dash. They have the most similar personalities out of any Mane 6 pair, and while Applejack has gotten some flack for being “redundant”, I don’t think it’s a problem that they share so many traits.

Twilight Sparkle: So try again! Make new friends. And if something that you can’t control happens that changes things, work through it together. That’s what friendship is.
Twilight Sparkle: And it’s not just my friendships that are important to Equestria. Everypony’s are. When yours ended, it led us here. But just imagine all the others that are out there waiting for you if you just give them a chance!
Starlight Glimmer: How do I know they won’t all end the same way?
Twilight Sparkle: I guess it’s up to you to make sure they don’t.

Despite the message about making friends who are different from you, I think Twilight Sparkle wouldn’t take any pity if she didn’t see herself in Starlight Glimmer. They both have antisocial childhoods, a strong passion in magic, a firebrand determination, similar appearances, and even names so similar that some get them confused. Given that Twilight has seen prior successful attempts at reforming villains, I find it completely logical that she considers Starlight Glimmer worthy of a second chance. Mentoring Starlight Glimmer is an excellent way to give Twilight Sparkle some new character development, showing her the difficulties of leadership as she prepares for more and more royal responsibilities. But be patient—I’ll talk about that more in season 6!

Starlight Glimmer has a change of heart, and the rainboom happens as it originally did. Then, back in the regular old present, the time travel scroll is sucked into Starlight’s portal, never to be seen again. Perhaps that was the purpose of the spell all along—once the regular timeline is restored, the spell is done away with, and whoever used it is taught that time travel is no joke.

Not shown: Starlight Glimmer nervously pacing around outside.

The rest of the Mane 6 arrive in surprise and aren’t happy to see Starlight Glimmer again, so Twilight Sparkle has to explain the whole situation to them.

Pinkie Pie: That Starlight must be pretty magical!
Twilight Sparkle: She obviously has more talent for magic than almost anypony I’ve seen.
Twilight Sparkle: My magic couldn’t stop her. I had to convince her to stop on her own. Once I realized that, everything fell into place.
Applejack: But… if she’s as powerful as all that, we can’t just send her on her way. Can we?
Twilight Sparkle: Actually, I kind of have something else in mind.

I see some parallels between Twilight Sparkle wanting to reform Starlight Glimmer and Celestia wanting to reform Discord. Twilight and Celestia both saw a villain who could use their powers for good if taught right, and Twilight is confident she can do this with Starlight.

When Starlight Glimmer returns to the scene, the Mane 6 accept her into their group of friends, making her seem like the seventh Mane 6 member. However, as seasons 6 and 7 progress, the show realizes Starlight Glimmer fits better in her own little entourage of supporting characters, who team up and have their own adventures while Starlight still regularly reports to the Mane 6. We’ve already met some of these supporting characters, but others will be brand new!

Anyway, as with many other season finales, this one ends with an upbeat song called Friends Are Always There for You. I have to admit that this song always gets me a little teary. Uh, it’s totally because I am salty that Starlight Glimmer was added to the main cast and mourn the early seasons which were so much better in every way. Not because it’s a heartfelt catharsis after all the crazy events that happened or anything!

The song features a cute little montage of Starlight doing activities with each of the Mane 6, giving a message that it’s never too late in life to start making friends—a similar message to what we’ve seen with Discord or Moondancer. While every villain reformation is a little controversial, by this point in the show, it had become enough of a pattern that when watching this episode for the first time, I didn’t mind at all. All these redemption arcs have a valuable message about giving others a second chance. It doesn’t always work, but when it does, the results are splendid.

In the song, Starlight Glimmer also reconciles with the former members of her equality cult. This again may seem strange to some, but I think they can tell their old leader sincerely regrets her actions. Starlight has now been exposed to friendship through differences, so she knows her old mindset was a bunch of nonsense.

And finally, season 5 closes with a lovely, fanservicey group picture of the show’s cast. I’ll never forget that when I watched this scene for the first time, I paused to name as many characters as I could, and I think I could name about half of them. If I had any remaining doubt that this show was something extremely special, this group picture wiped it all away.

Overall thoughts:

I picked apart this two-part episode so extensively that I don’t have many lingering thoughts for this part of the review. There are really two main things I can say about this episode. First, I love how each season finale outdoes the last by going even more insane and action-oriented. Second, Starlight Glimmer is a wonderful character who adds a lot of life into this show, and I highly appreciate that even after she’s reformed, she still sometimes lapses into her villainous side. I could say more about how full of hype this finale is, but man… after writing so many walls of text about how special and important this show is to me, I stop knowing what to say each time.

Grade: A

Some people might love everything about this two-part episode except that it reforms Starlight Glimmer. I love everything about this two-part episode, including that it reforms Starlight Glimmer.

Miscellaneous notes:

  • I find it unsurprising that Bon Bon is in the village of ponies who hid from the changelings. She’s masterful at looking unassuming, and probably managed to spy on some of the changelings’ meetings. Maybe she also wants revenge for the capture or murder of Lyra.
  • I’m obligated to mention that Discord in his timeline has his own counterpart to the Twilight Scepter, which is hilarious but also makes sense considering he was the one who made Twilight her scepter. This time, he’s using his scepter to sincerely express how good it feels to be king.
  • Come to think of it, Apple Bloom also experienced Starlight’s phenomenon of losing a friend to a cutie mark. Her friendship with Twist only lasted briefly before Twist earned hers, and while Apple Bloom was fortunate enough to meet the other two Crusaders in the same episode, she did still worry cutie mark acquisition would ruin their friendship.

Recap of Season 5

I’ve already said many times that season 5 is my favorite season of the entire show. It was the first season I watched through after my six-year break from the show, and I took my sweet time with it because almost every episode in it does something wild and surprising and I needed time to absorb each one as I eased my way back into the fanbase. Likewise, I took my sweet time reviewing every episode of this season, because many of them just had so much to unpack. With all the insane dream sequences, reformations of prior villains, throwbacks to the past, storms of fanservice, character pairings in cutie map missions, surprising media references, and especially the premiere and finale, this season is an unforgettable experience. I enjoy both the new additions to the show’s cast like Starlight Glimmer, Moondancer, and Pinkie Pie’s family (who were previously blank slates), and the expansions upon well-established characters like Gilda, Big Macintosh, and Diamond Tiara. This season knows how to think outside the box, and out of all the show’s seasons, it’s where the show’s staff seemed to have the most freedom to do what they wanted, not what executives wanted.

Best episode: Amending Fences. It faces some incredibly fierce competition, but this one features all the points that make season 5 episodes great to just the right degree. It perfectly balances humor and fanservice with heavy scenes, and it has an extremely valuable lesson about childhood friends.

Worst episode: Princess Spike. Though it tries to be a fun and off-the-wall season 5 episode, the sloppy story and the tired use of Spike as a punching bag make it fall flat.

Funniest episode: Slice of Life. Yes, I went for the obvious choice.

Most emotional episode: Brotherhooves Social. I almost went with Tanks for the Memories, but this one wins out because it hits me closer personally.

Strongest character: Rarity. This girl knocks it out of the park this season with her rich variety of episodes, both solo and paired. The more I review Rarity episodes, the more her character grows on me, and I’m tempted to say she’s becoming my favorite character in the entire show. She’s sharp-minded, she’s endearingly excitable, she shows her best self in her episodes, and most of all, she’s super cute.

Weakest character: Spike. He’s the one major character season 5 doesn’t do much with, except a handful of good moments with Twilight Sparkle. The next season is going to redeem that.

Whew! Now that I’m done with season 5, I seriously need a break from all this pony reviewing. In case you haven’t noticed, I put a LOT of energy into my season 5 reviews. I think a month or two will be enough time for me to recharge as I focus on other projects, pony-related and not, and sort out real-life affairs. See you in December or January as season 6 introduces a new baby for fans to argue about.

>> Part 59: The Crystalling, Part 1 + 2

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