» Commentary: Love Is Magic

Seeing a fresh new episode of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic live with friends is a whole different experience from seeing it on a computer screen or a phone in stolen furtive moments. It’s even more of a unique experience when it’s an episode as remarkable as A Canterlot Wedding.

If you don’t know better, you might come out of it thinking you’ve just been to the movie theater.

Whereas M.A. Larson’s “The Return of Harmony”—a perennial fan favorite and a defining moment of the show at its giddiest and most vibrant phase of growth—was packed with frenetic, non-stop humor like an overgrown weekly episode, “A Canterlot Wedding” is given to the show’s new helmsman going forward, Meghan McCarthy, whose touch with humor is less subversive and more immersive than Larson’s. What’s more, the script tacks in a new direction for the show, aiming for new kinds of scenes with new kinds of direction and staging. Scenes are introspective, intimate, and unrushed, and they aren’t afraid to spend a little time developing the tone of the narrative toward tension and foreboding, without being laced with humor or used as a bridge to more comedy. In short, this pair of episodes plays like a feature film—if the series began with magical-girl and Super Sentai tropes, and Discord made his appearance in a two-parter built around tongue-in-cheek satiric comedy, this towering finale is paced and shot like a Disney film from the 1990s. As this period was known as Disney’s “new golden age”, this is meant as high praise.

What follows is a disconnected set of thoughts and reactions gleaned from a rewatch of the episode following a couple of days spent digesting the intensity of the events that were revealed live in front of fans everywhere, introduced and commentated upon by an uncomfortable-looking Tori Spelling gamely trying to interact with pasted-in ponies. Without those awkward interstitials, the episodes take on even more cohesiveness; and viewed back-to-back without the “Previously…” retrospective, this effect is stronger still. In the end, what we’re left with is the thought that even if Friendship is Magic never does get a feature film, “A Canterlot Wedding” shows us pretty vividly what one would look like.

On with the show.

Friendship is Magic has seen some excellent cold-opens in recent weeks (“Dragon Quest” and “Hurricane Fluttershy” being particular standouts), and this one keeps up the trend. In fact, it’s one of the neatest pieces of writing and physical acting I’ve seen in the show to date. Spike’s body language and heaving breaths as he tries to regain his composure are particularly well executed, and the way the writing inverts the introduction of the wedding and the reveal that Twilight has A BROTHER is very well handled (by having the second letter pop out of Spike the moment he gets there, after he’s been running over hill and plain to bring them news of the first one, which he promptly forgets). The scene is also full of fascinating little visual gems, like Twilight’s confused but taking-it-in-stride “Well, sure, whatever” expression upon reading about the wedding, her nonchalantly repairing the damage to the cake and teapot wreaked by a cavorting Pinkie, and Rarity’s unbelievable reaction expressions. Yet for all that, the scene isn’t rushed, it’s shot with ambitious and interesting directorial choices (intercuts from the picnic to Spike’s frantic run), and it gives us a well-developed setup for the story through the millionth creative redesign of the same method of message delivery that we’ve been seeing in one form or another since the very first episode. It’s a lovely two minutes.

Reading the Letters

It’s followed by one of the biggest challenges the writing team must have yet faced: introducing two new and potentially universe-altering characters for the benefit of an afterthought toy marketing blitz. Not only does a new and previously unknown princess have to be grafted onto the (increasingly convoluted) cosmology of the show, but Twilight now has to be given a brother out of nowhere. Yet this is where it becomes clear what kind of episode this is going to be: they don’t lampshade the absurdity of the situation, nor do they fall all over themselves trying to explain why Twilight has never before now mentioned something as significant as her Captain-of-the-Royal-Guard brother. If this were a slapstick-comedy episode like The Return of Harmony, we’d have gotten a joke about how new princesses just seem to pop up all the time nowadays; “Oh my gosh, your brother is getting married?” would have been followed up with “Oh my gosh, you have a brother?!” But no: instead, Twilight’s friends take the news in stride. It’s clear this is the first time they’re hearing about Shining Armor, just as it is for us, and yet they react the way friends in real life would: by giving a mature and supportive response and letting their friend work through her emotions on her own terms. This scene could have been made a lot funnier than it is, but it wasn’t—and this conscious choice sets the mature, measured tone for the whole rest of this ambitiously theatrical-feeling episode.

That said, Twilight’s sandwich puppet is unbelievably inspired. It also provides a stylized foreshadowing of Shining Armor himself, just as Discord was first introduced not in person but as a series of stained-glass windows.

“Who in the hoof is that?” This, plus the snort, feel like gentle callbacks to the verbal texture of Season 1. It’s also unexpectedly rewarding to hear Applejack finally say “sugarcube” again, after a whole season without it. Speaking of callbacks, the show demonstrates right here that it doesn’t do them just out of sheer gratuitousness; sometimes they’ll studiously avoid doing one when it would be plainly obvious that one would fit. Rarity doesn’t pull her fainting couch out of hammerspace this time—Twilight just moves a pillow beneath.

Singing!

The “BBBFF” song is as delightfully cheesy as “Smile”, and just as irresistible. (The disembodied heads of Twilight’s friends during the chorus give it bouncy echoes of “The Perfect Stallion”, and it threatens to be just as hard to dislodge from the brain.) Some fans were hoping for flashback scenes of Shining Armor and Twilight having a more adversarial relationship as kids, but this—so harmonious as to be practically implausible—is really very heartwarming. Touches like having him see Twilight off on her move to Ponyville really pay off handsomely in painting a rich picture of their heretofore unmentioned familial bond.

Galloping!

Leave it to Celestia to figure out a way to get Rainbow Dash excited about a frou-frou event like a wedding. I think we all knew that the Sonic Rainboom would make another appearance at some point, and the finale seems like the appropriate place for it—it keeps it from becoming cheapened through overuse, or from being improved upon by some new upgraded version that makes the original seem tawdry by comparison. Here, we see it being casually built up off-screen all episode long, and the payoff at the end, while not as spectacular as the one in its namesake episode, is pretty amazing as a piece of a living fireworks display.

Twilight’s reaction upon going through the force field is interesting in retrospect—we know after the fact that it’s because she feels something familiar about it, but in the moment she just looks distant and confused—like the force field is as odd and off-putting as it apparently is to Rainbow Dash. Pinkie sneezing confetti is pretty amazing—and a great bit of foreshadowing to her weaponizing the Party Cannon (from a previous McCarthy episode, “Sweet and Elite”, incidentally).

Siblings Reunited!

“…And then give him a piece of my mind.” Twi, I know the guards all know you by sight and are willing to let you into restricted parts of the Royal Archives and everything, but don’t go making jokes about potential security threats as you walk through the checkpoint. Nobody likes getting “randomly selected” for enhanced screening procedures. Celestia looks down briefly from her balcony, notices Twilight, looks worried, and goes back to her telescoping – a nice touch.

I’m still not sure how I feel about “Twiley”. (I would have died on the spot if Shining Armor had called her “T-Sparx”.) I do like Shining Armor’s voice, though—it’s boyish and a little unsure of itself, which provides a neat counterpoint against the slightly stilted intonations about the burden of keeping Canterlot safe resting squarely on his shoulders, and by extension it adds a lot of richness to the nature of the Royal Guards as an institution, which we’ve never seen explored before. I also think “This you need to see” is a wonderful moment—another thing that paints this episode as feature-film-style storytelling.

“Best mare.” Equestria’s matriarchal society scores another subtle point. I do love how Twilight refuses to be derailed or mollified by Shining Armor’s explanations and peace offerings. She’s got a target in her sights and she’s not gonna lose focus so easily.

Cadance and Twilight: Friend or Foe?

Once again, the show proves that it knows how to keep from getting bogged down in details about the worldbuilding. Cadance is a “princess”, which is presented as being not so much a token of royalty as it is a marker for her combination of wings and a horn. It’s not dwelt on for the sake of the mechanics or the sociology or the structure of the royal family, but just as a way to develop her character and her relationship with “regular old unicorn” Twilight.

Smarty Pants!

Smarty Pants!

The argument between Sibsy’s OC pony and her boyfriend is hilarious: she’s insisting on getting a hooficure and he’s protesting that he’s already paid for three this month.

Grown-up Twilight suddenly turning ten years old again and doing the little nursery rhyme thing is so cute my teeth just fell out.

Cadance’s cut-downs of the Mane Six are quite interesting. Bite-sized apple fritters have the power to cheer up even a sulky Twilight. Applejack’s baking scene and Twilight’s checklist have distant echoes of the pilot episode, too—her very first proper introduction to a new friend in Ponyville. ”Make them a different color.” Sure, don’t say what color or anything. ”Perfect! … If we were celebrating a six-year-old’s birthday party.” That’s a savage burn against the target demographic! Good thing Pinkie takes it as a compliment. (Also, ahh, my old friend the Parasprite Polka. How I’ve missed you.)

Luna’s brief but memorable appearance is a pretty clear signal that the show is paying attention to the fans, and her first line especially—”As always, I will guard the night”—is as good as saying “Yep, I’ve been here this whole season, so take that, you obsessed weirdos”. But it’s a good-hearted gesture, and I could not be happier with how they did it.

Spike’s ongoing meta-narrative with the wedding-cake toppers, like Dark Helmet in Spaceballs, is a wonderful little detail—especially when Pinkie joins in. Ponies playing with plastic ponies is so adorably mischievous.

Every time Twilight says “Mi Amore Cadenza”, with sarcasm positively dripping from her voice, it just cracks me up.

She’s evil! EVIL!

The whole scene at the juice bar, where the friends all gather together after a long day of preparations to check in and relax with each other, is a really beautiful piece of atmospheric storytelling. It’s some of the most natural-feeling and unhurried dialogue this show has ever done; and the tall tumblers of unspecified drinkables are as sly a callout to adult sensibilities as were the frothy mugs of cider. Twilight walking away from the table after knocking over all the drinks uses a behind-on walk cycle we haven’t seen since the pilot. That’s an interesting choice.

Discussing things.

Not arguing, just discussing!

It would have been amazing to see Shining Armor in his Prince William lookalike outfit here for the first time, if the Hub hadn’t spoiled it weeks in advance. The argument Twilight overhears through the door—particularly the first few lines, before the camera shifts inside the room—is pretty amazingly well textured. Listen carefully to how the two of them talk over each other and jockey for position in the conversation. I don’t think I’ve ever heard more realistic-sounding repartée in any cartoon, even at feature grade. it goes by quickly, but (like the hooficure argument earlier) it’s an absolute gem of a piece of what’s probably ad-libbed dialogue. Similarly, the entire scene—because it is completely devoted to drama and has no comedy in it at all—is pure feature-film material and nothing like what would have shown up in the series anywhere to date.

“STAY INDOORS, TWILIGHT SPARKLE!” Luna is just the best. She’s so delightfully weird.

More wonderfully organic dialogue between Twilight’s friends over their new bridesmaid dresses. Applejack’s running gag of wearing her hat over her bridal headdress (and then deploying the ol’ guilty scrunchyface) is another lovely bit of evidence that the creators love the show just as much as the fans do, and for the same reasons. And Rainbow Dash complaining that her dress “doesn’t seem all that aerodynamic” is as persistently funny as “20% cooler”, at least to me.

There’s a soft clacking sound as the bride and groom touch horns. I really love the attention to detail in the sound design in this episode. I also can’t get over Twilight shoving Applejack’s hat over her face. That’s the style of humor this episode has: understated, sidelong, and if you blink you’ll miss it. But if you’re paying attention, it’s some of the most subtle and rich work this team has ever pulled off. Speaking of sound design, there’s this strange cat-noise thing that shows up here and also in the intro, to illustrate Rarity making one of her trademark faces.

It All Comes Crashing Down

“Making your eyes go all…” *demonstrates* —This is as inspired and well-executed as “Thhhbbt.” “Thhhbbt?” from “The Show Stoppers”.

Seeing all Twilight’s friends—and especially Celestia—turn on her and take Cadance’s side is absolutely shattering. Her devastated face as they all leave is like a dagger to the heart.

The end of the first half of the episode is some properly, properly well-done storytelling. The wistful song gives way to Cadance smashing the little cake-topper Twilight, so you know something’s up with her; but then you see her tender hoof on Twilight’s head, and you glance idly at the time and you wonder if it’s all about to somehow be shown to have been a misunderstanding and wrapped up in a sudden reconciliation. There’s still time, after all, for this episode to be completely devoid of supernatural elements and to be focused simply on adult interpersonal skills in difficult situations like losing a sibling to marriage.

Up till this point everything’s potentially normal, and all of Shining Armor’s explanations for Cadance’s behavior could be legit—a little far-fetched, but plausible. But then… “YOU WILL BE.” And the flames leap up, and you’re flung back into a gape-mouthed stare at what you have just witnessed as Twilight is sucked through the flaming floor.

Meghan McCarthy pointed out, in a Q&A session along with Tara Strong, that the original concept for the episode was indeed a one-parter that focused on the emotional maturity one needs to develop to deal with a situation like a beloved sibling starting a new life with a new partner and going beyond old ties and bonds with family and friends. At some point, though, the team recognized the potential of this story as an epic season-ender and gave it everything that comes next in the second half. The bait-and-switch that was foreshadowed early on and seemingly defused is shockingly renewed in the last minute of the first episode, and one can only imagine what it might have been like to have to wait a week for the resolution to that kind of cliffhanger.

Fortunately, in real life fans had only to wait three minutes or so.

The idea of the caverns under Canterlot once being where unicorns delved too greedily and too deep is a neat, unexpected piece of worldbuilding—and it feels oddly like something that might have come from any of various works of fan-fiction, unlike the things that no fan would ever have predicted (such as zap apples). The camera pans around the cave are really creatively staged, moving in all kinds of oblique arcs.

Cadance’s little reaction shots to Twilight’s dialogue are another piece of feature-film goodness: she repeatedly does this little thing where she purses her lips in gentle mock amusement for a beat before she starts talking. A regular episode probably wouldn’t waste the second or two it takes to give her that little mannerism; but as with so many of the show’s subtle little details, it adds a great deal to Cadance as a unique character with her own carefully designed and recognizable personality. (Her girlish giggle, blended with an evil cackle, is another big piece of what makes her so creepy.)

Shocked!

But which one is the REAL Cadance?

I’m not sure what that twinkle in the real Cadance’s eyes is supposed to be. It reflects something similar in the darkness as Evil Cadance retreats into the shadows, but I’m unsure what to read from it. It feels as though it’s trying to evoke the “spark” from the show’s very first epic boss battle, but I’m not at all sure how to interpret it.

Singing! (Part Deux)

“This Day Aria” breaks entirely new ground for the show, and it’s this song that gives the episode its unmistakably “Disney” feel: if the first episodes were Sailor Moon and “Return of Harmony” was The Emperor’s New Groove, this one is The Little Mermaid. That movie, old-school students of animation will recall, was as much of a revelation after years of bland and mediocre Disney features as FiM has been after a generation of My Little Pony being little more than a punchline in the eyes of serious critics. The lyrics and music of this song don’t quite reach the heights of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman at the peak of their joint career, but it achieves a level of plot-advancing, minor-keyed seriousness only hinted at in the show to date, and it makes “At the Gala” look downright hokey in comparison. Twilight gradually warming up to Cadance as she sings of her love for Shining Armor is beautifully handled.

I certainly have no complaints about the Cutie Mark Crusaders being flower girls for the wedding, but I wonder how that was justified in the unspoken backstory.

It’s interesting that Twilight can do plenty of magic that evidently is beyond Cadance: teleportation, telekinesis, even ranged weaponry. But making Cadance’s wings into a plot element (flying the two of them over a chasm) was a good decision. The dynamic that arises from the powers the two of them can harness together is handled entirely wordlessly, which is just the way it should be.

“What? But how did you escape my bridesmaids?” What a brilliantly funny line to take out of context. And of course the way they did escape—using a bouquet as irresistible bait—is funny in any context. Ingenious, and its humor is at its strongest for the adults in the audience.

Enter Chrysalis, Queen of the Changelings

The whole concept of Chrysalis (the Changeling Queen’s name, according to the script) and her army of changelings who feed on love that is more abundant in Equestria than anywhere else is a very well thought out piece of universe development; and the unsettling, insectoid design of the characters touches all kinds of nerves that probably would have put an episode like this far out of the reach of the much more gentle and innocent Season 1. It will be interesting to see whether the concept of mimicry—a trope that has been fundamental in sci-fi shows such as Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Battlestar Galactica—being applied to My Little Pony will evolve into any lasting plot elements. It’s a far-fetched idea, but considering that this very episode gives us a head-fake regarding the Elements of Harmony and prevents them from being trotted out yet again as a conflict-resolving talisman, perhaps there’s something to the idea that they’ll step up to that kind of challenge.

I, Chrysalis, the shapeshifting mistress of darkness, unleashed an unspeakable evil!

I, Chrysalis, the shapeshifting mistress of darkness, unleashed an unspeakable evil!

Two incredible and entirely unexpected major developments hit us in the space of ten seconds: Celestia steps up with an all-out attack against Chrysalis (even striking the first blow, not waiting for her foe to make the first move); and then she’s defeated. Even Chrysalis is taken aback by how she was able to overcome Celestia’s initial assault—apparently she hadn’t even realized just how much power there was in Shining Armor’s very tangible love. That’s an incredible amount of transformation that our perception of Pony world undergoes in a very brief few seconds of intense action.

Rarity delays her escape in order to catch the discarded dresses. She has the best worst priorities.

Fighting is Magic! Oh, wait…

The mass melee between the Mane 6 and their clone counterparts is a visual feast of all-out action and physicality. Particularly on first viewing it’s genuinely creepy to see the appearances of our familiar ponies masking what we know to be sinister imposters; it’s another take on the same kind of theme we saw in “The Return of Harmony”, but with a different twist and arguably just as unsettling an effect as seeing the ponies grayed-out and behaving like sick, subverted parodies of themselves. The scene here is necessarily much shorter than the one that began this season, and much less raucously funny than the by-now iconic Discorded library scene; but it makes up for its lack of screen time by adding some genuine gems of real heart-leaping fulfillment. Rainbow Dash’s rescue of Fluttershy, in particular, is a warm moment that seems to put a capstone on a season’s worth of hints at a long-term, intricately developing dynamic between the two Cloudsdale natives. This arc arguably began in Discord’s hedge maze with Fluttershy poignantly defending Rainbow Dash’s distressingly high standards for her; since then it’s been manifested with Rainbow’s recurring exasperated glares at Fluttershy during moments of trial and stress, and finally explored most deeply in “Hurricane Fluttershy”. But here, after that episode has in such recent memory finally drawn in detail for us what their dynamic looks like, we get to see just how much Rainbow Dash cares for her friend and will defend her to the death when the stakes are high. When it comes time for the Element of Loyalty to show its colors, Fluttershy gets the first cut.

We’re reminded that even in an episode that gives us an all-out battle like this one, comedy gets top billing above truly heavy action: the changeling-as-Fluttershy rolling her eyes and indulging Pinkie’s “Do me! Do me!” is a great gag that necessarily defuses a little bit of the tension, just as the comic freeze-frames (including the return of the Party Cannon!) do immediately afterward.

Evil will always win, because good is dumb!

Celestia waking up in a cocoon is one of the most disturbing images this show has ever given us.

Celestia waking up in a cocoon is one of the most disturbing images this show has ever given us.

Rainbow Dash always gets exceptional treatment in group shots. Here, as the changelings escort them all into the throne room, they’re carrying her by her arms and hovering in the air.

“Sorry, Twi. We shoulda listened to you.” Yes, well, I guess “Lesson Zero” didn’t really take, did it?

Canterlot under aerial bombardment is another image I don’t think I ever expected to see in this show.

I’m not too sure what to make of Chrysalis’ scoffing at Cadance’s attempt to restore Shining Armor’s power through her love. I mean, that’s exactly how she got her power, isn’t it? But then I guess maybe she didn’t realize it was apparently something even non-changelings could benefit from.

I love the physics of Shining Armor’s force field spell. It literally has tangible effect only on evil creatures (or whatever enemies its caster is trying to repel). So Twilight and her friends were able to enter the city more or less freely, and when the final burst expands through the city streets and blows the changelings out over the battlements, the regular ponies are immediately free and unmoved. (It’s interesting that Luna had to make a hole in the force field to get in, though…)

I can’t tell whether the climactic love-power effect is more Shrek or more Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

My Big Fat Equestrian Wedding

It’s such a brief sequence—just a few seconds—that takes the real Cadance through the same wedding-preparation scenes that the fake one had done earlier; but those few seconds, and the imagery they encompass, showing her making friends with Fluttershy’s birds and dancing along with Pinkie’s ridiculous cavorting, instantly and effortlessly win me over. She feels like “one of the girls” already.

Rarity and Applejack in the crowd both have moments of brief visual comic gold. I love that the writers consider AJ’s hat to be as much a source of potential comedy as the fans have done all along.

Horn-rings are nothing new; we first saw them in Rarity’s fantasy in “The Ticket Master”. (On that note, too, it’s no wonder Rarity cries at weddings. By this point it would take a heart of stone not to feel for her, after all she’s been through as the only pony in the main cast with any romantic aspirations at all.)

“I now declare you mare and colt”—I dunno about that. Wouldn’t “stallion” have worked better?

The music as Celestia gives Twilight’s instincts her vote of confidence is a re-arrangement of the end-credits theme from “The Return of Harmony” (which also is reused for this episode’s credits). How Celestia uses her (huge) wing for secrecy while giving Rainbow Dash her cue is great physical acting. I have to say that I think it’s the latent sports fan in Celestia that prompted the Sonic Rainboom performance to begin with, since she’s apparently the only one who really wanted to see it. Also, apparently that dress wasn’t very aerodynamic. Rainbow ditched it the moment she took off.

Love Is In Bloom

Considering that this episode was written well into the era of the active brony movement, it’s easy to read the entire ending sequence—from Luna’s trollish return cameo to DJ PON-3′s quite sincere one, from the photo of Rarity flirting with Fancy Pants to the one of Rainbow Dash dancing with a Soarin’ sporting his dress blues—as pure fanservice. It’s so pervasive that anyone in the audience watching that final scene without any knowledge of the show’s unexpected fan base must be left scratching its collective head and wondering what on earth is going on in all these oddly significant-looking freeze-frames. As part of that fan base, though, I simply can’t help but take it with the same unalloyed sense of gratitude that accompanied all the previous fan shoutouts in this season, from Luna’s return to the ill-fated insertion of Derpy. This show still loves us as much as it ever did, and the feeling is more than mutual.

I think the lesson we can draw from Rarity’s (inevitable) scene with the bouquet is that she should be kept away from weddings at all costs.

I wonder if any kid in the target demographic will have any idea what the “bachelor party” jokes are supposed to be about. Try as I might, I can’t bring myself to care.

When It’s All Said and Done…

What an utterly fantastic way to end an utterly fantastic season. It’s tricky to think what to make of the finale’s distinctly “un-Pony” feel, though; it strikes out in numerous new directions, both stylistically and thematically, and it’s as risky in doing so as it is ambitious. It definitely feels more like a scaled-down feature film than a scaled-up episode, and that is all to the good considering just how wonderfully the team pulled it off. If My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is destined to get a real feature film at some point, this dry-run should amply demonstrate to any skeptical parties just how well this team could handle the challenge. Jayson Thiessen in particular deserves a tremendous amount of credit for directing this episode to feature-film specs; it places a firm milestone on his artistic development that has seen him rise from a nearly unknown studio animator to one of the best-respected names in the business in two short years. There are undoubtedly great things in store for him in the near future.

What’s interesting from a thematic standpoint is how this finale goes beyond the show’s nominal “friendship” foundation and touches on some of the adjacent aspects of human emotion and social dynamics—namely love, both of the familial variety (couched here specifically as an extension of friendship, the way Twilight sees it) and the romantic. It’s been argued by many commentators in the fandom that love is fair game as a theme for this show to tackle, despite Lauren Faust’s seeming desire to keep it at arm’s length (perhaps out of backlash against prior Pony incarnations that refused to take any kind of progressive role in defining girls’ clichéd relationship with love in a piece of entertainment designed specifically for them). It seems that this episode, which was brought to fruition almost entirely without Faust’s oversight, has embraced the idea of going beyond mere friendship as a source for metaphorical and literal girl power and staking out a claim in territory previously defined by much more well-entrenched, much less empowering portrayals of love on kids’ television. It’s as close to a Disney movie as this show has ever gotten, and in so doing it’s taken the trite idea of the pining Disney princess into realms it never explored even in the salad days of the 1990s. It’s almost shocking to remember how forward-thinking those golden-age animated features seemed to be at the time, and all the more so in retrospect after having seen how much further My Little Pony has managed to carry those themes forward, twenty years on.

“The power of love” is nothing new, surely; but in this show, it’s almost wildly out of character, at least at first blush. But whether it’s talking about parents weeping at their child’s wedding vows, a sister coming to terms with an increasingly distant sibling and a threateningly overbearing sister-in-law-to-be, a pair of lifelong friends sharing a transcendent bond of common experience, a group of comrades coming together to accomplish a demanding task purely out of loyalty to their friend, or a young couple that’s so head over heels for each other that the bracingly unironic strength of that love can both be subverted to sustain a force of evil and be used to defeat it, all these manifestations share a common message, as simplistic as it might be. They’re all forms of love, and also they’re all forms of friendship—and as such it hardly makes sense to draw any arbitrary lines in the sand beyond which the show shouldn’t venture. It might not be advisable for the creative team to stretch the focus of the premise in this way too often. But if on the rare occasions that it does, it’s this spectacularly successful, who are we to argue? 

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