» The Long and Winding Road of Friendship

Today’s featured content is by a relatively new member, Kitty Kate!

On February 16th, 2013, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic’s third season ended with the airing of its thirteenth episode. Songs were sung, parties were thrown, and liquid pride was shed. Now, however, the finale has passed, and people have already begun speculating on where the show is headed. Before we get too caught up in arguing about the future, it might pay to slow down and take a more in-depth look at the past, especially in the wake of the last episode—”Magical Mystery Cure.”

“Magical Mystery Cure” is far from the standard that previous episodes have set. Even though a fourth season has already been confirmed, the episode still feels less like the show’s standard fare of episodic comedy and more like an ending. Complaints have been raised that the episode felt rushed, and opinions are divided on certain major changes to the show’s dynamic introduced by this episode. However, Magical Mystery Cure does more than end a season—it marks the end of a journey, a dawn of a new one, and a grand finale to everything we’ve seen before.

Come Together, Right Now, Over Me

Most of this show’s episodes lack solid continuity. A lot of episodes have some continuity, calling back to previous episodes, but they are typically self-contained adventures so that they can be viewed in any order. In contrast, Magical Mystery Cure relies heavily on previous episodes to make its point; though it has no explicit connections to any other episode, Magical Mystery Cure is not meant to be a standalone episode, but instead an ending to the show’s most persistent story – Twilight Sparkle.

Once upon a time, we had Twilight Sparkle reading a book. She learned of an ancient prophecy that foretold some very bad things, and, with some clever wording on Celestia’s part, Twilight Sparkle charged into the depths of the Everfree Forest, fought Nightmare Moon, and discovered the magic of friendship. Back then, Twilight was strong-willed and independent, willing to brave the Everfree Forest alone, armed with nothing more than her wits and her guts. But she didn’t have friendship then, and it took the end of the world and five friends saving her tail at every turn to teach her that friends are important. For the rest of season one, Twilight lived in the library, poking her nose out every once in a while to learn about her new friends, but she still remained distant; she was learning about Ponyville just as much as we were, and her status as an outsider looking in was a major part of her character, seen in events such as her participation in the Running of the Leaves in “Fall Weather Friends,” or her misadventures throughout “Winter Wrap-Up.”

Twilight Sparkle, This Is Your Life™! Twilight Sparkle, This Is Your Life™!

Even in the second and third seasons, despite her magical power and focus on friendship being two of her foremost traits, being an outsider and a loner remained an integral part of Twilight’s character. Through the twopart episodes – “Return of Harmony”, “A Canterlot Wedding”, and “The Crystal Empire” – Twilight’s distance from the rest of the cast becomes her fatal flaw. In “Return of Harmony”, Twilight is so obsessed with beating Discord that she ignores her friends turning against her. In “A Canterlot Wedding”, the mane cast can’t help Twilight deal with the disguised Chrysalis because Twilight never told them about Cadance in the first place. In “The Crystal Empire”, the eponymous empire nearly falls due to Twilight’s insistence on getting the Crystal Heart herself, to the point of forcing Spike to promise not to help her. Through each two-parter, Twilight always tries to solve her problems alone, and it’s only when she fails does she remember that her friends can help her.

Finally, Twilight’s current tale ends with “Magical Mystery Cure.” Like in most of the two-parters, a major problem occurs and only Twilight Sparkle can solve it; in this case, her friends all have their own problems due to their cutie marks being switched, and they’re too troubled by themselves to help Twilight sort it all out. This time, though, there are no major villains to defeat, no castles to defend, no evil to throw friendship at – the culprit is Twilight herself. Once again trying to do things alone, she was too ambitious and tried to do something that would affect her friends without their consent, and it backfired, leaving no one to blame but herself and forcing her to accept that she can’t do everything alone.

However, the episode is about more than just how Twilight Sparkle fails. It’s not about how strong Twilight is or how weak she is, but how friendship helps her overcome her failures, how friendship has changed her and those around her, how friendship has shown her that she is an amazing, brilliant pony surrounded by other ponies just as brilliant in their own ways. Twilight demonstrates her usual sharp wit and determination while saving the day, but with the addition of using the lessons she has learned from the previous seasons. Unlike in “The Crystal Empire,” Twilight brings her friends with her, including Spike, so that they can all use their talents. Unlike in “A Canterlot Wedding”, Twilight knows that her friends can accomplish things that her raw magical power can’t. In “Return of Harmony,” Twilight puts her friends first and the conflict second, realizing that keeping her friends is her first priority. But the most important part comes from Friendship is Magic; back then, when the show first started, we saw five ponies show Twilight Sparkle the magic of friendship by being themselves – now, in “Magical Mystery Cure,” Twilight Sparkle reminds them of the magic of friendship by letting them be themselves.

A true, true friend helps a friend in need. A true, true friend helps a friend in need.

“Magical Mystery Cure” shows just how far Twilight has come since the show began. It’s almost hard to imagine that the Twilight Sparkle who lived in an ivory tower full of books is the same mare who just became a princess. She has fought her battles, learned her lessons, and come out of it all stronger than she was before. After three seasons of studying friendship, Twilight has learned exactly how magical friendship is, and it has made her a better pony. This episode wasn’t about Twilight becoming a princess. It was about her earning it.

You’re Gonna Carry That Weight

Though the focus remains on our lovely lavender heroine, the rest of the mane cast also receive their fair share of attention in this episode. The swapped cutie marks provide a new viewpoint on the characters we’ve come to know and love, as the characters are all forced to perform jobs they’ve never done before due to their new cutie marks. By putting the ponies into situations they’re not suited for, the show explores them in a way it never has before.

By switching around their special talents, the characters have to confront their biggest flaws. Rarity, a lady of elegance, has to handle rough and wild weather; Rainbow Dash, a hotheaded fighter, has to be gentle and sensitive; Fluttershy, the most introverted of ponies, has to be outgoing and entertaining; Pinkie Pie, the crazy party animal, has to be strong, dependable, and tough; Applejack, the country girl, has to sew frilly dresses. And all of them fail. Miserably. The cutie mark switch allows the show to deconstruct these five ponies; all of them are specialized in only one field, and when they’re forced to do something else, their flaws are too great for them to accomplish even the smallest successes, and they all fail alone.

However, Twilight’s solution – inspiring them into becoming themselves again – reconstructs their identities, reintroducing the characters we’ve come to love. Whenever Twilight brings one of the mane cast to help another, they don’t do it because the plot or their cutie marks say so; they do it because it’s who they are. This episode reminds us that the ponies are more than mere objects in a cartoon – they have their own quirks and flaws, but also their own ambitions and talents that push them to overcome those flaws. It’s a reconstruction of who these ponies are; it shows us that they’re still just as flawed as they’ve been from the start, they’re still not perfect – but they are good at what they do and they’re very close friends. Friendship may have helped them grow, but they’re ultimately the same six ponies that we love watching.

Is this my destiny? Is this my destiny?

The cutie mark switch also provides more than just a look into the individual ponies, though; it also gives a new view on their relationships. Every pony has a cutie mark opposite their personality, which provides a convenient map for how the characters interact. Fluttershy is gentle where Rainbow Dash is rough; Rainbow Dash is wild where Rarity is refined; Rarity is elegant while Applejack is uncouth; Applejack is organized and tough while Pinkie Pie is scatterbrained and weak; and Pinkie Pie is loud where Fluttershy is quiet. Though the show focuses on all of these characters at once, most of the individual episodes will focus on one or two, maybe even three characters at a time – the interactions might have been somewhat short, but it’s very rare for an episode to present so many interactions between the whole mane cast.

The whole cutie mark swapping plot is a great big reconstruction of the show’s character dynamics; the ponies just act like themselves, doing what they feel like doing and playing off of each other for both jokes and drama. The day was saved not through some epic plot, but by having the characters doing exactly what they’ve always done simply because they love to do so. It’s one last affirmation of who these characters are in terms of themselves and in terms of each other, and it’s heartwarming to see that, after all the troubles and adventures they’ve been through, they’re still the same ponies that we’ve always loved.

With A Little Help From My Friends

What makes this episode so great isn’t what it does alone—it’s what it does for the whole show. “Magical Mystery Cure” reconstructs the show’s central characters and themes that we’ve seen before, all for one massive, spectacular ending. But there’s a bigger context that this episode has to be viewed through, beyond the television screen: “Magical Mystery Cure” is one giant celebration of the show and all that’s been put into it.

A couple of years ago, a woman named Lauren Faust made My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. She hoped that she could tell girls that it was okay to be a girl and it was okay to be yourself; she hoped that her creativity and passion for her work could make the world a better place. Lots of wonderful people – writers, storyboard artists, voice actors, animators, and anyone else I might have missed – joined in and helped make her dream come true. The show has become something amazing, but they never quite forgot that it was Lauren Faust’s vision that made the show so brilliant; even when she left after season 2, what she envisioned for the show has always been the goal.

I can’t speak for Lauren Faust, of course, because I’m not her, but Magical Mystery Cure, more than any other episode in season 3, seems to embody what Lauren Faust wanted. It’s about six ponies, all trying to be the best they can; at first they fail because they’re doing what they’re told, but they succeed when they realize how to be themselves. And throughout the episode, all six of them remain supportive of each other and insist that they are important, no matter how different they are. It’s all in line with Lauren Faust’s original message – there are many ways to be a girl, and none of them are wrong, so just pick the one that fits you. Maybe you’ll be a princess, and that’s fine; maybe you won’t, and that’s fine too, because being you is the most important thing of all. It’s what the show is, has been, and always will be about: being yourself.

You say goodbye... but I say hello. You say goodbye… but I say hello.

The Love You Take…

A long time ago, we had just a pony and a dragon in a tower full of books; we’ve come a long way since then now that we have a princess, her wonderful friends, and a massive country full of love and hope. But all the same, we’ve still got the same ponies that we’ve adored, and we know they’ll continue to live their lives, practicing their virtues of harmony, knowing every day that life is good and they can make it even better. They’ll do what they’ve done every day, and we don’t need more episodes to know that their loyalty, honesty, generosity, kindness, laughter, and friendship will always save the day. We could say goodbye without regret, knowing that, even if we were to never these girls again, we’ve all learned so much that we can only be thankful for it. Maybe this episode could have been the end of My Little Pony—but we’d know that Friendship is still Magic. Even if the team didn’t get the now confirmed season four, they would have gone out head held high.

This episode wasn’t simply to give the season some closure, but to take a step back, look back at everything that has happened, and revel in how brilliant it all was—and it has been very, very brilliant. From Lauren Faust’s doodles in her pitch bible to the credits song of “Magical Mystery Cure,” this show has never stopped being brilliant. From the epic adventures in the Crystal Empire to the most humble of picnics and tea parties, this show has always done its best to be brilliant. It always pushed us further and further – it showed us what creative, passionate people could do, if given the freedom to be creative and passionate; it showed us things that some might not have cared for, like dresses and slumber parties and pretty pony princess weddings, and showed us how fantastic they could be if we gave them a chance. It showed us a world where everything was simply better, and challenged us to make our world the same just because we can. The show has had its ups and downs, of course, but it has never stopped being brilliant, and we can thank a whole lot of people for that. 

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  1. Amazing and touching article. It makes my heart sink thinking how this almost seems like a series finale, but I also get that good kind of nostalgic, emotional response from all the looking back that happened in this episode. I think they were telling us though that the past is the past, and that the show is far from over. We still have an exciting future to look forward to.

  2. For me the episode is forewarning of things to come. Firstly, the episode sure smelled like a series finale than a season finale. This lends the idea that Season 4 might be quite different.

    Speculation:

    ‘Equestria Girls’ is a new IP/spin-off that will start soon. Shows are expensive, both in terms of production and getting it out on the screen. To maximise the impact of both properties, the two shows will be targeted differently:

    1. Make MLP:FiM more targeted at young children.
    2. ‘Equestria Girls’ for the older demographic.

    The result: This formula will change the humour and characterisation of MLP:FiM in ways that I think a lot of Bronies will have issues with.

      • Perhaps it’s clearer if I highlight one word:

        1. Make MLP:FiM [b]more[/b] targeted at young children.

        Again, pure speculation (and I hope it isn’t true). I don’t have any more privileged information than anyone else.

        • Long as the current writers are still writing it i’m sure they’ll take a good run at it

  3. Last night I read through sun_tzu’s recaps on RPG.net and it struck me how varied the episodes are. If nothing else has been accomplished, even if you take the most pessimistic, cynical view, MLP:FiM has still crammed a hell of a lot into its run. Sure there’ve been stinkers and missteps, but we’ve had: sleepovers, epic adventures, psychological breakdowns, fate-of-the-world dealies, fighting, poison, love poison, hate, revenge, bad ponies, good ponies, snakes, spiders, beasts of all natures and descriptions, pain, death, brave ponies, coward ponies, strongest ponies, chases, escapes, lies, truths, passion, miracles… sorry, got away from me there.

    Point is… was there a point? Let’s find one. FiM has matched and then surpassed the old series, despite being under the spotlight like no other cartoon. It’s the Animaniacs to G1′s Tiny Toon Adventures. Even Avatar: The Last Airbender or Invader Zim never grew a fandom this fast or this desperately, and it’s… not thrived, but weathered the storm of metastasising fans well.

  4. Fragile balance of Mane6 was obliterated with Twilight’s ascension. She is superior to her friends in terms of power, physical appereance and social status. In place of pack of 6 average pony friends we got Princess Twilight and her five loyal minions.
    If she’s going to act like a plain old Twilight, i’m going to ask. Why bother making her a princess in the first place? It doesn’t make sense and I don’t like this change.

    Shows about princesses aren’t appealing to me. I’m pretty sure young girls aren’t interested in being princess anymore. I have a younger sister, she thinks the same.
    I hope it’s going to change in Season 4, and Twilight resign to reunite with her friends.

    I can’t relate to the character anymore. It’s like playing poorly developed RPG game. It’s good fun when your character is weak and all you have to to is explore, level up and improve your equipment. Once your character becomes powerful, uses powerful weapons and skills, it ain’t fun no more. You mow through enemies like a combine harvester, everything is easy.
    Show reached this moment. Twilight became overpowered. She can fly now, perform powerful magic, and she’s a princess.

    What have you become, my sweet Twilight.
    The unicorn I know, no longer in my sight.
    And now you have some wings, sprung up from the dirt.
    You have let me down, you have made me hurt.

    Damn people. It hurts

    • Your analogy is flawed because the show is not an RPG and almost none of the problems in the show can be solved by throwing magic at it or using flight. This is character-driven, not monster-driven, so Twilight is not OP because OP means nothing here. The conflicts are more about how they develop as characters and deal with the ups and downs of everyday life, and you can’t throw magic at that and expect it to work. Heck, every time Twilight tries her own magic to do something, it fails miserably: Swarm of the Century, Magic Duel, Lesson Zero, It’s About Time, Return of Harmony with that “failsafe” spell… the only time the magic was ever even remotely useful in accomplishing a goal was during the changeling invasion, and even then it didn’t work out because there were just too many of them. And flight? Please, Twilight might be able to fly now, but Rainbow is SO much better at it, so if flight’s needed all that badly, they’ll have Rainbow do it. It is a little suspicious that she learned to fly so quickly, but I suppose it’s possible that some time passed between her ascension and the coronation.

      If you’re truly worried about her being OP, I’d have expected you to be more upset about Discord’s conversion because now if any threat shows up, it’ll either have to surpass him in power or get finger-snapped into a potato. Or just conveniently ignore his existence. Then again, you might be upset about that, I wouldn’t know. (Goodness knows I certainly am, way more so than Twilicorn.)

      The point of making her a princess is to show her progress, as the article says. She’s come a long way. And who knows, perhaps Season 4 becomes her efforts to get her friends to alicornhood as well. You can’t really judge this event until we know what the new status quo will be.

      That being said, I can respect that princesses are no longer relatable to you and your sister, but I don’t think you represent a majority. Tangled sold extremely well, and it had a princess. The next Disney movie will have a princess IIRC. Royalty tends to sell: King Arthur is ingrained in our society’s culture, Evil Queens are a recognized trope ( http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/GodSaveUsFromTheQueen ), and Disney has made princesses incredibly iconic. I can admit that you’re free to dislike this change if you like, but aside from not liking it, none of the reasons you put forward for this being bad actually make any sense.

    • Quick question:

      When was Twilight NOT superior to her friends in terms of power and social status?

      • Power, yes, and she got over that when they accepted it. Social status? Twilight & her friends didn’t mention it much and she never lorded it over them. I accepted this because I thought of Twi as a kindred nerd: social skills somewhat stunted; typically reluctant to wield power and authority for fear of losing friends. There’s no proof, but I also suspect that she tried to play down being ‘Celestia’s personal student’ when she was in Canterlot because people tried to exploit that.
        My worry is that becoming a Princess involves a further change of roles, new duties and a raise in status, one that can’t be handwaved or ignored – because it shouldn’t. In stories, we expect this to happen, often at the end of a story as a reward for all the hard work; if someone did become a princess or prince and no-one mentioned it, nothing changed apart from wearing a crown/getting wings/becoming a summoner/etc., I’d call foul.
        Secondly, there are new stories that can be told about becoming a royal, but Princesses are set apart from commoners almost by default; I fear the imposition of the old tropes and loss of the ensemble, one of FiM’s charms.

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