Cookie Fonster Reviews Every MLP Episode Part 75: To Where and Back Again, Part 1 + 2

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Season 6, Episodes 25-26

I wanted to start my Eurovision blog post series so badly, but I had promised myself I would finish this little order of business first. It turned out to take, well… longer than expected. Because I wanted to start my Eurovision blog post series so badly! Still, I promise this review will be a fun one.

(As of this post’s publication, my first Eurovision review is out, but I wrote it after finishing this post.)

Season 6 Episode 25: To Where and Back Again, Part 1

In five words: Starlight faces changelings’ great revenge.

Premise: Starlight Glimmer has returned from a trip to her old village to find out changelings have kidnapped her friends, so she gathers an entourage of supporting characters to save the day.

Detailed run-through:

Typical of Starlight Glimmer episodes, we begin with a calm slice-of-life scene where she and Twilight Sparkle reflect on how far their relationship has come, plus some goofy Spike gags. Their calm reflections are broken when Spike notices something strange incoming:

Twilight, Spike, and Starlight are bowing down to our true lord and savior.

This is the entire purpose of the season 6 finale: for the queen of all things good in this world, Derpy Hooves, to crash into Twilight’s castle and deliver a letter to Starlight. Everything else is an irrelevant afterthought, including all the boxes of books she crashes into. Clearly, Derpy used this method of delivery to make sure the letter would end up in Starlight’s hooves, not Twilight’s. She knows Twilight can be self-absorbed and assume all letters are meant for her, and she knows a letter to Starlight might contain something extremely private. If all characters were as thoughtful and forward-thinking as Derpy Hooves… I would say that would be great, but it would make the show completely boring. There can only be one best pony, and her name is Derpy.

If you’re wondering why I need to write a huge paragraph of praise every time Derpy does anything, it’s not just because she’s the symbol of fans. She also makes me laugh louder and harder than any other character. For most characters, being the best pony is a subjective opinion, like my opinion that Coco Pommel is best pony. However, Derpy being best pony is an objective fact.

Starlight Glimmer: It’s… the ponies from my old village.
Twilight Sparkle: Are they in danger?
Spike: Are they upset with you?
Starlight Glimmer: No, it’s worse. They’ve invited me to the annual Sunset Festival.

Starlight returned to her town and reconciled with her old cult members in the musical number at the end of last season, so some fans find it strange she’s so nervous to come back. This is brought up in this episode, and a good justification is that her visit to the village was brief and under Twilight’s guidance. Either way, her fear of reconnecting with old friends she has regrets with is very real. Even if you’ve reconciled with one old friend, making up with others can still be terrifying.

I know this is a cliched topic for me, but when I got to the theme song in this review (which I never skip when writing these posts), I heard “My Little Pony, My Little Pony” and burst out laughing when I remembered I am unironically obsessed with My Little Pony. Like sure, for 30 years it was a franchise with hardly any appeal outside young girls, but now the phrase My Little Pony has shifted in common meaning to mean this wonderful show that means so much to me. How on earth did that shift happen?! Wait, I know the answer. It’s because Lauren Faust fought to make this show good.

Forgive me for getting sentimental again. It’s just that once I finish this season, I’ll take quite a long break to focus on a different project. So why not make this moment count?

Next comes a dream sequence that, as with most dreams in this show, doesn’t seem like one at first. In it, Starlight Glimmer nervously enters her old village and is met with some nasty ridicule:

Starlight Glimmer: Uh, hey there, everypony.
Party Favor: Uh… hey, Starlight. What are you doing here?
Starlight Glimmer: I… I was invited. To the Sunset Festival?
Double Diamond: Uh, yeah, but we didn’t think you’d actually show up.
Party Favor: You didn’t think we really wanted you here, did you?
Starlight Glimmer: But… I apologized. I thought everything was fine.
(the others start laughing)

If you think logically, it makes no sense that the formerly equal ponies would invite Starlight Glimmer to their party if they didn’t want her to come. The problem with spirals of worrying is that instead of thinking logically, your brain makes excuses for why these disastrous scenarios are plausible. This is especially true in dreams, where logic is the last thing on your mind.

Of course, no Luna dream sequence is complete without misty clouds.

Luna appears in the dream and gives some advice to Starlight, saying she can see some of herself in this unicorn. She tells Starlight to discuss her worries with her friends instead of bottling them in. It’s heartwarming that Luna so often advises supporting characters, since the last thing she wants is for anyone to fall down the same path she once did. It also shows Luna has learned some lessons about friendship and self-forgiveness.

Rainbow Dash: Trust me. You are a totally different pony now. I mean, you were pretty awful.
Applejack: Rainbow Dash!
Rainbow Dash: What? She was! It’s a compliment!

Applejack is the last pony who gets to tell off her friends for brutal honesty—she said the same about Rarity once in season 4. I love the little banter in this scene; Rainbow Dash doesn’t want to admit to Applejack she messed up, so instead she twists the narrative by claiming it was a compliment.

Twilight Sparkle is the most motherly character who isn’t a mother.

Twilight Sparkle: I understand how hard this is for you. Maybe if you took a friend along, it might make things easier. Somepony you trust who would look out for you?

You might think Twilight Sparkle’s suggestion is sweet and helpful, but Spike can see right through the act. She’s just being an overprotective pseudo-mom again. I wonder if Starlight Glimmer has ever accidentally called her “mom”?

Starlight Glimmer: Thanks so much for doing this, Trixie. When Twilight said I should bring a friend, you were the first pony I thought of.
Trixie: Great idea, Princess Twilight. Asking me, Starlight’s best friend, to help her on this difficult journey. Really shows how wise a princess you have become.
Twilight Sparkle: Thanks, Trixie. (I was talking about me.)
Starlight Glimmer: The festival lasts a whole week, but I’m sure we won’t stay that long.
Trixie: Oh, I don’t know, Starlight. Time really flies when you’re spending it with your best friend!

Twilight and Starlight really ARE like a mother and daughter. Starlight is the girl who misunderstands her mom’s instructions, and Twilight Sparkle is the mom who faces a dilemma with her daughter’s new friend. Twilight finds Trixie insufferable, but she can’t deny Trixie and Starlight are good for each other, which is half why her eye is twitching so much. The other half is because of her crush on Trixie.

Trixie: There it is! The town where you…
Starlight Glimmer: Magically stole everypony’s cutie mark, replaced them with equal signs, and forced them all to hide their natural talents? Yes.
Trixie: I was going to say where you came from. But yours is a more… emotionally traumatic answer.

Starlight Glimmer and Trixie have the absolute best banter throughout this two-parter, and it starts with this simple exchange. We get so much exploration of both their mischievous sides and regretful sides. I know some fans find it controversial that Starlight is the protagonist of this season finale, but you already know I’m a Starlight apologist. I think it’s awesome that this finale twists up the formula and doesn’t focus on the Mane 6 for once.

Starlight Glimmer gets a warm greeting from her former cult, and I’m not sure if they’ve come to enjoy the reformed Starlight for who she is, or if they just can’t begrudge their old leader because of residual worship. They start hounding her with questions about how to organize the festival, so I think there’s some remaining loyalty in them, and Starlight just can’t take it.

Trixie’s dust clouds follow the trope of using a power for something mundane to foreshadow using it for something cool.

Starlight so can’t take it that she knocks the others away with a magic bubble and flees using Trixie’s patented dust clouds. Then she and Trixie give us some more golden banter:

Starlight Glimmer: Ugh, I was horrible when I led that town. I was ready for them to not trust me, but… I wasn’t ready for them to put me in charge again!
Starlight Glimmer: With my past, I should never be in charge of anything.
Trixie: So you messed up. Big deal!
Trixie: Don’t you ever tell another pony I said this, but even Trixie’s made mistakes. I know. The trick is to just move on and pretend they never happened.
Starlight Glimmer: I feel like that’s almost good advice.

Trixie has a very, um… creative interpretation of friendship lessons. I think she purposely defies whatever goobery lessons Twilight likes to narrate and makes them into her own Trixie thing. Contrary to Twilight Sparkle’s worries, Trixie hasn’t pushed Starlight into becoming more self-absorbed—Twilight’s metaphorical daughter has enough self-awareness to retain her own values.

Back in Ponyville, something seems off about the Mane 6, and it’s shown with gradual buildup. “Pinkie Pie” is clueless about where Starlight went, “Applejack” and “Rarity” burst into laughter when she explains her escape from the festival, and “Fluttershy” and “Rainbow Dash” pull them aside for “friendship business”. These changelings were clearly trained to imitate the Mane 6’s tics, but not on how they’d respond to friendship problems. Fluttershy’s impersonator is especially unsure how to replicate her compassionate kindness, which may be why her only line is a whisper.

It’s a small detail, but it feels very Starlight of her to try forcing the door open before she knocks.

Did the castle door always have this hole? If so, Twilight never seemed to use it.

Starlight Glimmer: Twilight? Hello?
“Spike”: What do you want? Twilight’s very busy.
Starlight Glimmer: Spike, I really need to speak with her.
“Spike”: Make an appointment! She’s a princess, after all.

This isn’t the first time changelings assume princesses in Equestria are supposed to be haughty snobs. It looks like they hadn’t learned after the Cadance impersonation failed. Or maybe they’re basing it on the ways of their own ruler.

“Twilight Sparkle”: Sorry, he’s been acting off all day. I think he missed a meal or something.
Starlight Glimmer: He’s not the only one. Everypony’s been acting strange today.
“Twilight Sparkle”: Yes, it’s… definitely been one of those days! How are you?
Starlight Glimmer: Not great, actually. You’re probably wondering why I’m back from the village so early.
“Twilight Sparkle”: I didn’t want to bring it up, but yeah. It did seem strange. Did it not go well?
Starlight Glimmer: All the townsponies kept asking me things, like they expected me to be in charge again. But being a leader is the last thing I should ever be. So we left. Very suddenly. In a literal puff of smoke.
“Twilight Sparkle”: Wow, you should definitely never go back to that village.
Starlight Glimmer: What?
“Twilight Sparkle”: If you were worried about what they thought of you before, it’s probably way worse now. I’d cut my losses.

You have to give props to the changeling tasked with impersonating Twilight. Whoever it is, they know how to improvise and can cobble together friendship suggestions, even if they aren’t quite Twilight’s brand. Queen Chrysalis must have picked one of her most competent changelings for this role, whereas she picked some random cranky changeling for the role of Spike, which she considers least important.

Starlight Glimmer: That’s surprising advice coming from you.
“Twilight Sparkle”: Trust me. I’m the Princess of Friendship. You don’t need those ponies. You can always make more friends.

One thing this changeling got right about Twilight Sparkle is that when asked about a friendship problem, she always points out she’s the Princess of Friendship. The same goes for her nervous lying when she’s called away for a “friendship meeting”.

Starlight Glimmer provides us a second dream sequence, showing two of her biggest fears: the residents of her old village shunning her, and getting her mentor pissed off. Then the illusions disappear, and Luna barely has enough time to tell Starlight that the changelings have kidnapped her and Celestia. An important part of many season finales is to convey that Celestia and Luna are neutralized, and this dream sequence cleverly does this without needing a scene switch to Canterlot.

This gives us more time for what really matters: Starlight/Trixie banter. Trixie accidentally sets off fireworks in her wagon and wakes up tired.

Trixie: Starlight, what time is it?
Starlight Glimmer: It’s late. I think I figured out what’s wrong with my friends.
Trixie: (yawn) I have a whole list of things that are wrong with your friends. I can go over it in the morning.

I think Trixie really does have a physical, hornwritten* list of flaws with the Mane 6—she’d only admit it to anyone if she’s sleep deprived. However, the vast majority of entries in the list are about Twilight Sparkle, because she doesn’t have feelings for the other five.

* The term “hornwriting” is speciesist against non-unicorns, but it’s also used in the show. This makes it a perfect way to flex how much of this show I have memorized.

This shot is hilarious. Please stop to appreciate it.

Starlight Glimmer proves that this really is Trixie by making her say the secret from yesterday: even Trixie’s made mistakes, which she first mutters then screams. I find it cool that Starlight discovered a password system to detect changelings; we’ll get a lot more of that later in their adventure.

Starlight Glimmer: I just had to make sure you weren’t… (one of them.)
Trixie: (One of who?)
Starlight Glimmer: (A changeling!) I think they’ve taken Princess Celestia and Princess Luna!
Trixie: WHAT?! Are you sure? (I mean… what do we… We have to tell Twilight!)
Starlight Glimmer: If I’m right, then it’s too late for that.

When faced with panic, Trixie is forced to admit how much she admires Twilight Sparkle’s problem solving skills and Equestria’s dependence on her. That’s all part of her crush on Twilight: it’s a mix of petty annoyance and admiration, just like Twilight has towards Trixie.

The door to the castle was locked earlier, but here Starlight could enter it just fine.

I want to say this scene is meant as a parody of the show’s controversial pattern of Spike abuse—a pattern that this very season redeemed through two of its episodes. Here, the “Mane 6” are beating “Spike” around like a toy, perhaps because he’s the punching bag of this changeling crew.

I never noticed that the changelings bow down to their leader when her webcam appears.
(Is there a better word for this screen display? If so, I’d love to hear it.)

How convenient that the changelings left the door slightly open.

Upon Queen Chrysalis’s request, the “Mane 6 and Spike” transform into their true forms, which is a moment of shock every time. Starlight Glimmer immediately recognizes the queen, and I’m going to guess why. Between the season 5 premiere and finale, she probably slithered her way into one of Twilight’s presentations where she helpfully explained and showed pictures of every villain she and her friends have faced.

Queen Chrysalis reveals that kidnapping one princess wasn’t enough last time, and Celestia and Luna have also been replaced by changelings. It sounds like great fanfic material to see changelings struggle to play Celestia and Luna’s roles.

When they notice something outside the room, the changelings hiss, transform back, and search the castle. “Twilight Sparkle” almost detects Starlight and Trixie, but Starlight’s invisibility spell eludes the power of sniffing. Much like the real Twilight Sparkle, this changeling seems the most dutiful of all, very loyal to their species’ leader.

It’s so adorable how easily Trixie is freaked out—she’s the most easily scared of this two-part episode’s team. The rule is that the smugger a character normally is, the more cowardly they get when something genuinely scares them.

Starlight Glimmer: Queen Chrysalis only said they took Luna and Celestia. And obviously Twilight and the others. Maybe Cadance is still safe. Our best bet is to get to the Crystal Empire before the changelings do. That way, we—
Thorax: There’s no hope coming from the Crystal Empire.

How did Thorax get here? I’m obligated to take a stab as to why, so here’s my two guesses. Guess 1: he was in charge of impersonating another supporting character—let’s say Mayor Mare—but he wasn’t feeling up to it. Guess 2: he’s been in hiding since his visit to the Crystal Empire, which is far more likely and I should have thought of it first.

Anyway, a difficult part of two-part episodes is neutralizing Cadance, to round out all the princesses… er, all the adult princesses, that usually don’t include Twilight, but this episode is an exception. Clumsy technicalities aside, this episode handles this problem in a nice and quick way without dwelling on it. Compare this to the season 4 premiere, where the excuse was that Cadance was busy managing the Crystal Empire. This also implies that changelings are taking a second shot at impersonating Cadance. I think their Cadance imitation must be more convincing this time, and not just in personality. It’s likely they found a way to replicate her real magic color, like they did with Twilight.

One of Starlight’s favorite magic spells is what I call the “shut up bubble”, a name I just came up with. She probably used it when running Our Town to silence any thoughts opposing her cult ideology, and now she’s using it on Trixie. The spell traps a pony in perpetual inaudible screaming, but it’ll be worth it for a minute or two. It matches her habit of cutting to the chase using magic.

Her eye sharp as ever, Starlight Glimmer notices Thorax’s wings look more sparkly and shiny, and presses him about who he really is. He proves it by impersonating Twilight Sparkle and reciting her speech about him in the Crystal Empire almost verbatim (“I should set an example” instead of “I try to set an example”). This suggests that changelings have a knack for memorization, which makes sense because their ability to impersonate would be useless without it. It’s a small detail that Thorax gets one word wrong, but also a believable one. If you’ve ever looked up the lyrics to a song you’ve memorized, you’ll likely realize you got a word wrong this whole time.

Starlight Glimmer pops the bubble, and Trixie accepts that Thorax is on their side but is still scared of him. Thorax confirms the changelings have taken Cadance, Shining Armor, and Flurry Heart, which is nicer than impersonating only one or two of them. Imagine if Flurry Heart had to spend a day raised by skeevy creatures pretending to be her parents, or if Shining Armor had his wife replaced yet again.

And so, Starlight is faced with the same situation as in her village: multiple others asking her to lead them through troubles. The situation is much harder, but the people wanting her to lead are fewer: only two.

Starlight Glimmer: There has to be somepony else who can handle this.
Trixie: There is nopony else! Everypony with powerful magic is already gone!
Discord: You know, whenever ponies talk about powerful magic, they always leave me out. If I weren’t so evolved, I might decide to take it personally.
Discord: Well, isn’t this quite the combination of secondary characters?

Make that three.

Discord’s remark about secondary characters is a smart observation about this team, but it goes a little deeper than that. All four of these characters are, to some extent, reformed villains. Thorax is more of a reformed member of a villainous race, and Trixie was barely a villain, but the pattern is still there. Starlight and Discord are veterans in season finale participation, but for Trixie and Thorax, this role is new. Additionally, this is Discord’s first time partaking in a two-part episode where he isn’t pulling the strings.

I love the transformation of Trixie’s wagon into a plum.

Discord proves he’s real exactly in the way he would, then he yawns his way through Starlight Glimmer’s explanation of what went down. This makes sense because if he’s not pulling the strings in a two-parter, he usually just sits it out and lets Twilight and friends save Equestria.

When he the changelings took Fluttershy, Discord immediately snaps everything back and gets fierce. He’s like a fan of a TV show who doesn’t care about most of its cast but is completely obsessed with his favorite character. I know the Mane 6 are real ponies in-universe, but this analogy still fits because Discord likes to play with the fourth wall. I can respect that he cares about one pony above all else; this guy knows what he likes. I’m glad he’s not the kind of person who only likes one background pony from season 1 and doesn’t care for the show itself, because that annoys me so much.

This quartet is two girls and two boys, two ponies and two non-ponies.

This castle’s design is based on the body form of changelings themselves. Never noticed that!

In another move of efficient storytelling, Discord teleports the team to the changeling kingdom… or rather, right outside it, for reasons we’ll soon find out. All four are scared, especially Thorax who hoped to never see this place again. It’s exactly the right time for a “To be continued…” screen, splitting this two-parter between Ponyville and the changeling kingdom.

Miscellaneous notes:

  • To answer a question I proposed earlier: Yes, Starlight Glimmer has absolutely called Twilight “mom” before. She was so embarrassed about it that she didn’t go outside for the rest of the day. If we’re to assume from The Parent Map that Starlight Glimmer never knew her mom, then Twilight Sparkle is like the mother she could have had. I find that idea heartwarming.
  • I’m obligated to mention that Trixie muttering “peanut butter crackers” while sleeping is an Equestria Girls reference. It shows that it was possible all along to reference this spinoff series without distracting from everything else.
  • In the meeting room of Twilight’s castle, the changeling impersonating Applejack is briefly seen eating a pear. I can’t decide whether I think this is foreshadowing of The Perfect Pear, or just a coincidence based on rival fruits.

Season 6 Episode 26: To Where and Back Again, Part 2

In five words: With magic neutralized, friendship prevails.

Premise: With their magic powers disabled, Starlight Glimmer and her crew of supporting characters use wits to find their way to the center of the changeling hive and take on Queen Chrysalis.

Detailed run-through:

Let’s face it. “Previously on My Little Pony” is an inherently goofy sounding phrase.

The obligatory recap starting this episode is explicitly centered on Starlight Glimmer: all lines but the last two are hers. It embraces that Starlight Glimmer is the protagonist of this two-part episode, and while some are annoyed by season 6’s strong focus on her, I find it a perfect way to twist the formula. Plus, Starlight Glimmer is cool and lovable and I kind of want to hug her.

Discord: Oh, this is so strange. We’re here, and that’s there, and I clearly meant for us to be there and not here.
Thorax: Oh, uh, I can probably explain.
Discord: Oh, well. If at first you don’t succeed…
Starlight Glimmer: Maybe we should come up with a plan first?
Discord: A what?
Trixie: You know, figuring out the best way to do something before you actually do it?
Discord: (laughs) Oh, that’s adorable. But you see, unlike you, I can do anything.
Thorax: Uh, actually,
Discord: That’s all very nice, but really a waste of time. We have me, and what else could we possibly need?
Trixie: A draconequus with magic and half a brain might help.

This is where this season finale truly shapes up. We get some incredible banter between four characters who have never interacted with each other except for one pairing (Starlight and Trixie, who are SO cute together). There’s just something so fun about seeing these four characters bounce off each other, three demonstrating their fatal flaws: Trixie’s high scareability,* Thorax’s difficulty getting others to listen, and Discord’s tendency to act impulsive without thinking of consequences. Starlight Glimmer is the leader of the group who ties everyone together, and I like the pattern that she’s starting to lead her own gang of supporting characters—a gang that will expand as this show goes on.

* This is totally a real word, and even if it wasn’t, Trixie would insist it is anyway. She would also insist her scareability level is zero.

I love this adaptation of the idiom “when pigs fly”.

Ignoring Thorax’s attempts at explanation, Discord finds out the hard way that his magic doesn’t work in the changeling hive. For Discord, finding out through trying is easy while listening to others is hard, so I’m not sure the idiom stands, but you know what I mean. If Thorax had told him uninterrupted that only changeling magic works in this area, Discord would think his magic is an exception. He wouldn’t be Discord if he accepted those words without trying first.

To get to the hive, Discord realizes something truly horrifying: he has to walk there. He claims he hasn’t walked this far in a millennium—is it a figure of speech, or does this imply he was forced to walk at some point when Celestia and Luna first faced him, which like most historical events in this show was a thousand years ago? I am going to believe this possibly unintentional implication about a confrontation we only saw the end of.

After some more bickering, especially between Trixie and Discord, our four heroes agree to devise a secret code to make sure they aren’t duped* by any changelings. It turns out Trixie and Discord’s rivalry has come in handy: when Discord trips on a rock, Trixie suggests “klutzy draconequus” as a call and response, and that’s the password they settle on. It’s a memorable phrase indeed, likely to stick into viewers’ heads long after this episode.

* Both duped as in fooled, and duped as in duplicated. A nice double entendre if I say so myself.

Thorax flies into the changeling hive, and Discord forms a bridge to let the unicorns in. It turns out the structure of the hive is a chaotic, shape-shifting maze, though the Lord of Chaos has seen better.

Discord: I don’t suppose you brought any throne destroying tools along with these useless sideshow props.
Trixie: Ask the Lord of Chaos who can’t go for a walk without whining nonstop!
Discord: Yes, but when the throne is destroyed, I’ll be able to rip the very fabric of reality to save our friends, while you’ll still be a self-absorbed, below average illusionist.
Trixie: Self-absorbed?! Why, you—
Starlight Glimmer: Cut. It. OUT! I’m just barely keeping it together, and it would be wonderful if you two could actually try to help, instead of bickering like foals!
Discord: Okay.
Trixie: How can we help.

Starlight Glimmer really does have a knack for leadership; she’s just reluctant to admit it since her last experience with leadership was running a cult. Much like Twilight Sparkle, she’s discovering a skill in leadership through a trial where she can’t use magic. But while Twilight’s trial was to help in Winter Wrap Up with a rule against magic—Rarity even broke that rule and nobody minded—Starlight’s is much more intense, with all magic forced away.

Trixie: Oh, great. We might as well just sit here and wait for the changelings to soak up all of our love, or whatever gross thing it is that they do.
Trixie: How often do you all get hungry?
Thorax: Actually, I haven’t been since I met Spike. And changelings are always hungry. We can never get enough love.
Trixie: Well, that’s just super—
Starlight Glimmer: But… you aren’t hungry at all now?
Thorax: Huh. Once I made a few friends, I guess I just sort of… forgot about the whole feeding thing.
Starlight Glimmer: Is that about the same time your wings changed?
Thorax: I guess so.

I haven’t taken much time to analyze Thorax; let’s fix it here. His role in the group is the exposition guy, which is done with a bit of humor as he keeps getting interrupted, but otherwise played straight. This is a good example of this episode’s careful balance between humor and heroism. Thorax’s exposition explains a lot about how changelings operate, and if the changelings tasked with impersonating the main cast are any indication, they see each other as fellow minions rather than friends. This also explains why the fake Mane 6 hissed at Starlight when seeing her, but Thorax hasn’t hissed once in this episode.

Turns out the exception to magic being disabled isn’t chaos magic, but stage magic.

Here’s where Starlight does what she does best: thinking on the spot how to tackle a problem. She suggests that Trixie uses her smoke bombs to get past the changeling patrol, and it works like a charm! This lets Trixie experience how cool it is to be a hero and use her stage magic, and she cackles throughout. Smoke bombs also have the special power of making people cough, which deters them further.

This makes three characters Thorax has impersonated!
(The first was Spike.)

One might scratch their head as to how Trixie teleported so much, until you realize that Thorax was helping impersonate her. Either the real Trixie threw bombs at the right places, or she shared some of her bombs with Thorax. Is she more likely to share her magic props, or to throw a smoke bomb with high precision? I’ll leave you to decide.

Next up comes a lapse of humor in this crazy adventure, where our team needs a distaction… I mean a distraction from the changeling guards. Discord doubts he can be distracting without his magic powers, but Starlight encourages him to try anyway…

I’m guessing Trixie had a spare microphone lying around in her bags, because that would be funnier than Discord having one.

… and this is the result. His strange, cheesy stand-up comedy loops back to being hilarious when it’s used to distract a team of changelings, and Trixie even lampshades how weird it is that it worked.

I like using quotation marks to represent impostors in transcripts. Why don’t more people do that?

“Fluttershy”: Discord! I’m stuck!
Discord: You certainly are, and I should probably help you get free. But… oh ho ho.
“Fluttershy”: But what?
Discord: But you’re obviously not Fluttershy.
“Fluttershy”: Oh.
I mean, I’m separated from the group, and just happen to come across the one pony I care most about? I can smell the setup a mile away.

While the girls and Thorax made it through the door, Discord gets a distraction handed back to him. His reason to doubt this is Fluttershy leans on the fourth wall and shows his specialty in lampshading tropes.

If I was in this cave and saw tons of copies of Coco Pommel or Moondancer or another pony I’m unreasonably obsessed with, I’d do a double take too.

“Fluttershy”: We’re probably all changelings. You shouldn’t rescue any of us.
“Fluttershy”: Unless… you think maybe one of us might be the real Fluttershy. Oh, that certainly would be a nasty changeling trick, wouldn’t it?

While he isn’t fooled at first, Discord gets mind games handed back at him when he encounters a whole crowd of Fluttershies, several of which claim to be the real one. While the changelings don’t know much about the residents of Equestria, they did hear Discord screaming that he has a Fluttershy to save, so they know a way to hold him off.

Thorax: We can’t stay here. We gotta find the throne.
Ooh, I heard some of the changelings who were chasing me say that they know where it is.
Trixie: Klutzy?
“Discord”: Hm? Oh, yeah… I can be klutzy. Now, follow me.
Starlight Glimmer: (You know that’s not Discord, right?)
Trixie: (Obviously.)
“Discord”: This way! We’re almost there!
Thorax: I know this trick. If he says to go left, we should definitely go right. He’s leading us to a swarm waiting to attack.

Given the “klutzy draconequus” password, it’s inevitable that an impostor would fail to complete the phrase and be busted. What’s not as obvious, however, is the rest of the team pretending to believe him so they can trick the trickster who is impersonating a trickster, and that’s how the inevitable trope is played with. Also, how does Thorax know this changeling trick? Maybe he learned it from witnessing the changelings’ first invasion of Equestria, where only one princess was captured.

I always say Trixie was never a villain, and I still think that, but she didn’t do anything outright heroic before this episode. She’s truly redeemed when she encourages Starlight Glimmer to keep being a leader, then follows “Discord” into the changeling cave so that he doesn’t realize the others went the wrong way. She uses a magic trick to blow this changeling’s cover, then a whole bunch of them attack her. She doesn’t screech when the changelings are awakened; she only says a nervous “tada”. That’s a true heroic sacrifice, and a true moment of friendship.

Discord and Trixie are also captured on the ceiling.

Starlight Glimmer and Thorax enter separate caves, and then Starlight finally makes it to Queen Chrysalis’s throne… or is it really her?

Queen Chrysalis: Well, well, well. The Princess of Friendship’s sole pupil. Honestly, I didn’t think you were worth replacing with one of my drones.

Queen Chrysalis’s fatal flaw is that she underestimates supporting characters—or in Discord’s case, forgets they exist. Sure, Pinkie Pie is a reality warper, but Discord is an even bigger reality warper who can distract others just by being Discord and brought this crew of supporting characters here. The queen may think Starlight Glimmer wasn’t worth impersonating, but Thorax proves otherwise by doing exactly that. Then she uses a magic laser to blow “Starlight’s” cover and reveal Thorax, which is such a clever fakeout.

The real Starlight Glimmer is seen chipping at the throne with a rock, then she hops down and confronts the vengeful queen.

Starlight Glimmer: I know what it’s like to lead by fear and intimidation. And I know what it’s like to want everypony to do what you say. But I was wrong.
Starlight Glimmer: A real leader doesn’t force her subjects to deny who they are. She celebrates what makes them unique, and listens when one of them finds a better way.
Queen Chrysalis: The only thing Thorax has found is what happens to those who turn their back on the hive!

Starlight Glimmer has followed Twilight’s hoofsteps in many ways, and now she’s trying to echo what Twilight did a season ago: confront a villainous leader by telling her there’s a better way, and it’s called “friendship”. It doesn’t go the same way this time, since Queen Chrysalis doesn’t have a difficult backstory and is just a ruthless boss.

You know the drill: this is the part of the season finale with a huge explosion and a stunning outcome.

Queen Chrysalis starts draining all of Thorax’s changeling love, but upon Starlight’s command, he generates an explosion of love, sharing it with the changeling hive in a parallel to Chrysalis’s last defeat.

Thorax went from nearly invisible blip to ruler of a species all in one season.

After an insect-style metamorphosis, Thorax has gotten a new look befitting his leaderly role. I think changelings were always biologically meant to have this transformation, but some tragic event in changeling history made them all forget the circumstances needed to transform. Think of it like a timeline where ponies one day stopped getting new cutie marks, and the next generation of ponies remained blank flanks for life. I don’t recall whether we see baby changelings later in the show, but my guess is that changelings ordinarily transform early in life through a friendship realization. I have no idea what the fan consensus on changeling biology is, so I’m just speculating wildly. Hopefully it’s not far from how you think changelings work!

Thorax’s new design may seem jarring at first, but I got used to it fast because previously, all changelings except their queen had identical designs. And because it looks super cool. His new wings were obviously intended to foreshadow his transformation, but they also helped distinguish him from other changelings.

Not shown: Starlight shielding herself and Thorax, showing that her magic powers are restored.

Inspired by Thorax’s metamorphosis, all the other changelings generate a huge explosion, leading to the divisive part of the episode: the new design of changelings. As I discussed when Thorax transformed, I think this redesign was done largely out of necessity, because most changelings had previously looked identical. But there are some viewers who preferred the dark look of changelings, which some describe as “ugly cute” or an indication that dark isn’t necessarily evil. I got used to this new look very quickly, because it’s meant to symbolize that this season doesn’t end with one villain’s redemption arc, but with an entire species’ redemption arc. That’s an awesome surprise to end the middle seasons’ pattern of redemption arcs.

Of course, none of this would have been possible without Spike. He was the first resident of Equestria to befriend a changeling, and it paved the way for the other changelings to realize the power of friendship. Please spare a congratulatory thought for him before we move on with this episode.

Doesn’t every fan want to give their favorite pony an overwhelmingly tight hug?

It may seem like things are resolved once the imprisoned characters are freed, but we’re not quite done yet.

… because Queen Chrysalis wants revenge against all those who turned on her.

Starlight Glimmer: When Twilight and her friends defeated me, I chose to run away and seek revenge. You don’t have to. You can be the leader your subjects deserve.

Starlight Glimmer is trying to do what her pupil once did and give a villain another chance. It’s sweet of her, but short-sighted because the Mane 6 didn’t even consider reforming any major villains except one with a similar childhood and interests to Twilight Sparkle: Starlight herself. Still, for a moment, Queen Chrysalis looks like she’s genuinely considering changing her ways.

Queen Chrysalis: There is no revenge you could ever conceive of that would ever come close to what I will exact upon you one day, Starlight Glimmer!

But she doesn’t.

Most fans agree that making Queen Chrysalis reject redemption was the right choice. It’s a good subversion of patterns, not just that the villain of this episode isn’t reformed: the entire rest of her subjects are reformed, and she isn’t. This episode has shown what can be done by bringing reformed villains together, so I don’t think much would be added by reforming Queen Chrysalis.

I like the little detail that Starlight looks disappointed she couldn’t reform Queen Chrysalis until Twilight consoles her. Without needing words, you can tell Starlight hoped to impress her mentor by reforming a villain, but Twilight is proud either way.

Celestia says she hopes to build an alliance between ponies and changelings in the future, but for now wants to leave the changeling kingdom to the changelings, which is smart of her. We’re done with the era where ponies are portrayed as superior or better understanding friendship than other species.

Discord suggests taking everyone to Fluttershy’s place for tea, but Starlight has a better idea: bringing this episode where it started.

Party Favor: Uh… hey, Starlight. What are you doing here?
Double Diamond: You left in such a hurry before, we kind of thought you didn’t want to come.
Starlight Glimmer: Yeah, I guess after the way I used my magic on all of you, I wasn’t sure I was somepony who should be in charge of a baking contest. I was afraid I might go back to being the pony I used to be.
Starlight Glimmer: But… I realized that sometimes, you don’t have a choice. You have to step up. And… I have changed.
Starlight Glimmer: I can handle it. Whether that means saving Equestria, or helping friends with a sunset festival.

I love the parallel with Starlight’s nightmare, where her former subjects didn’t expect to see her. This time, she gives an honest speech about leadership, which it took an entire season for her to be willing to do again. It’s a nice way to wrap up her arc this season and provide a friendship lesson.

Thorax stayed behind in the changeling kingdom, but the rest of the crew is here.

Starlight reveals she brought more than just herself to the festival: also a whole fourteen other characters, who wouldn’t all be here if Queen Chrysalis hadn’t captured them. I can only imagine how exciting this is for the residents of her village.

Fluttershy probably thinks it’s adorable that Discord both made a new friend and invented a new type of pig.

Rainbow Dash: Somepony is really gonna have to catch us up on what we missed.

After some banter between Discord and Trixie and a “when pigs fly” joke, this silly line means that unlike any season before it, season 6 is resolved on a comedic note. I love that a lot.

Overall thoughts:

Everything about this season finale is beautifully executed, with the perfect balance between sadness, fear, comedy, and triumph. I’ve always loved the fundamental difference between this and other season finales: for once, the Mane 6 aren’t the ones saving Equestria. Instead, we get shining moments between four supporting characters. Starlight Glimmer is an obvious pick, since she’s a “new character with lots of screen time” done right. Discord is another obvious pick, but this is the first one where he fully teams up with the heroes. Thorax is the new guy, pivotal to the conclusion of reforming changelings. And finally, there’s the character whose strong role in this finale I still can’t get over: Trixie. When you put these four together, you get a rich variety of dynamics to play with and abilities to use, and this episode does so much with both. I’ll never forget how exciting it was watching this episode for the first time, and how surprised I was at the conclusion.

Grade: A

This is easily my favorite season finale I’ve reviewed so far, and my second favorite two-part episode so far behind The Cutie Map. I’m not sure if any other two-part episodes will surpass it.

Miscellaneous notes:

  • When Thorax completes the “klutzy draconequus” phrase disguised as Trixie, he says it in his normal voice, although he spoke in Trixie’s voice when chased by the changeling guards. This shows that a changeling can take the form of another while keeping their normal voice, which begs the question: can a changeling speak in someone else’s voice while in their normal form, or speak in one pony’s voice while impersonating another pony? They probably can, but I don’t see a reason other than amusement.
  • Thorax has impersonated a total of four characters so far in this show—Spike, Twilight Sparkle, Trixie, and Starlight Glimmer. I think he’s impersonated more characters than any other changeling has. As far as I can remember, even Queen Chrysalis has only impersonated Cadance (obviously), and Applejack in an alternate timeline plus a few impersonation-exclusive characters.

Recap of Season 6

I used to think of season 6 as season 5’s tough act to follow, and that the pace picked up again in season 7. But through rewatching and analyzing the entire season, I’ve come to enjoy it just as much as the last season, and in some ways more. It’s generally more subdued than season 5, trading crazy action and wild premises for slice-of-life stories and framing device episodes, and that gives us time to learn more about the characters we already know. We meet Fluttershy’s family and learn how she contrasts against them, we learn how Applejack and Big Macintosh were different in their youth, and two episodes explore Rainbow Dash’s new role in the Wonderbolts. Obviously, I can’t recap this season without discussing Starlight Glimmer, and you already know I’m a massive fan of her. The premiere and finale put her through challenges in friendship reparation and leadership respectively, and a few episodes in the middle test how well she can make friends. She’s also incredibly funny and snarky and cute and adds tons of life to this already delightful show. Some people think that MLP grew the beard (TV Tropes term for “improving in quality”) in season 2, and they are wrong. Season 6 is the true beard-growing point, and almost all its episodes are full of vibrant detail.

Best episode and funniest episode: The Saddle Row Review. I was going to list No Second Prances as the best episode, because I adore Starlight Glimmer and Trixie’s dynamic, but nothing can top this storm of hilarity with a heartwarming conclusion. It’s the second episode to win two prizes.

Worst episode: 28 Pranks Later. I prefer to think this episode never happened.

Most emotional episode: The Times They Are a Changeling. I had to think about it a little, since season 6 doesn’t have as many emotional episodes as season 5 or 7.

Another highlight that doesn’t win any prizes: Stranger Than Fan Fiction. A hilarious 22 minutes of fandom satire that never feels condescending. Stupid Saddle Row Review, hogging up all the prizes that other episodes could get.

Strongest character: Spike. He’s a lovable guy, and this season is his time to shine. He gets two episodes that throw him a bone and show what he does best: making friends with non-ponies and inspiring change in their entire races.

Weakest character: The Cutie Mark Crusaders. The first joint recipient of this “prize”, they’re put on the sidelines for most of this season, and their episodes here are mixed in quality. You just can’t give everyone lots of screen time.

I DID IT, I DID IT, I DID IT, I DID IT, I DID IT, I DID IT!!!!!! Wow, it feels incredible to be finished with season 6. This means I can finally take the break I badly wanted to and work on other projects, like my Eurovision blog post series! This break will probably last a few months, so see you in September or so as I begin a season filled with bombshell episodes. If you wanted to catch up on my episode reviews, now’s a good time.

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