We’re almost three weeks removed from “Magical Mystery Cure,” and we’re still talking about it. Sure, the discussion’s not as impassioned as the initial weekend, but it continues. That’s great. We have many months, maybe even a year (!) to speculate about Season 4. So let’s talk about this episode a bit more. It’s funny, all the hype surrounding the episode became suffocating to the point that some wished that the episode would just air already so people would just shut up. If only they knew.
Many reflected on their time with the show, from the first day Twilight landed in Ponyville to her graduation from her studies. It’s been quite an adventure for fans. Here’s just one of those journeys. Apologies if this gets a bit indulgent.
Going to Canterlot With An Achin’ In My Heart
This is probably the last long, hard look I’ll give ponies in a while. It’s nothing against the show. I’ve just generally lost interest over the past few weeks. The spark is gone. But that’s not a bad thing. Sometimes your love of a show/band/sports team is so strong that you ride it to the bitter end. Others fall in love with something, and then fall out of love for inexplicable reasons. It’s all part of the natural ebb and flow of being a fan.
I treated “Magical Mystery Cure” as if it were the series finale. For the entirety of season three, so many loose ends were tied up. Everything the fans wanted, the fans got. Applejack and Celestia both got a song. Scootaloo got her own episode. Dash gets to train with the Wonderbolts. And most importantly, Twilight completed her studies. That’s great! Closure is a beautiful thing. But my thoughts on the plot summary were still “Let’s see how they can jam Twilight becoming a princess and a cutie mark switch episode into 22 minutes!” I was prepared for lots of magic and sparkles, some pacing issues, and probably something epic. But in retrospect, I definitely wasn’t prepared for that.
Still, after I watched the episode, I felt pretty neutral. The songs were cute, and the plot was fine. Twilight solving the cutie mark problem with friendship was a nice way to remind the audience how strong the bond of the Mane 6 is. Celestia’s Ballad was pretty, and the walk through the hall of memories was a nice touch. But nothing hit me hard. Even her coronation didn’t really choke me up. I didn’t feel anything. I refused to feel anything.
For a long time I’ve rallied against “forced feels.” These are moments in shows where the creators put together scenes specifically to make the audience cry. It usually involves tropes mined from the Big Book of Dramatic Scenes and can come off feeling hollow to the more cynical of us viewers. Someone is leaving? Play dramatic music that swells as the character walks slowly into the sunset. Someone is dying? Have someone hold the dying person in their arms as they recount the many happy times they shared. Something changes? Let’s recap how far we’ve come.
On my first watch, this episode set off my “forced feel” alarms left and right. So I held it in. Yet, the days after I watched Magical Mystery Cure, I had a knot in my stomach and a lump in my throat. There was still something there. I just didn’t know what.
Memories. It’s the memories that linger. There’s the moment in “Bridle Gossip” with Flutterguy singing Evil Enchantress. There’s the introduction of Discord. There’s the surprise ending in “Sisterhooves Social.” There’s the moment when you know who your favorite pony is. There’s the moment when the staff goes above and beyond your expectations. And there’s that moment of waiting for a new episode to premiere, sitting on the edge of your seat.
This is what happens when you get deep into something. It consumes your thought. You join a forum to talk about the show. You make some friends. You discuss the tiniest details. You memorize whole episodes. The show is part of your life, whether you like it or not.
And so, as many have stated, that retrospective during Celestia’s Ballad is as much of a nostalgia trip of us fans as it was for Twilight. We’ve come a very long way, haven’t we? What a surreal ride it’s been. For many there will be more episodes to analyze under a magnifying glass. But for others, that whole scene is their journey, beginning to end. And it’s feels bittersweet.
Let’s step out of the guise of ponies for a bit, and just reduce this episode to its core. It’s more than a finale. It’s the end of an era, for better or for worse. As Kitty Kate mentioned, it’s the culmination of Twilight’s studies, the final period at the end of her chapter, and it’s something we rarely encounter: continuity. This is not an episode you show to someone as their first episode of ponies. The plot, the emotional trip, and the payoff at the end is something only fans can experience. And it’s all wrapped up in one nice, albeit rushed, package.
“Magical Mystery Cure” is not an episode filled with forced feels. That’s not how this staff works. We’ve seen time and again that they’re more than open to shirking conventions in children’s tv, and they’re not ashamed of it at all. Perhaps Todd VanDerWerff said it best in his review of A Canterlot Wedding:
Sincerity is a dying art in our culture. It’s really hard to do a story where, say, the power of love saves everybody’s lives, because that’s the sort of thing that’s just not done anymore. We’re past that. We’re beyond cynical and well into jaded. We stopped believing in the sorts of good, old-fashioned, hyper-earnest values so much of our entertainment used to be based on somewhere in the 1960s and probably even earlier than that. That’s probably good. Love doesn’t really last forever, and you can’t change the world simply by trying to be a good person, and everybody’s going to die, whether we like it or not. Approaching the world with just a touch of jaded cynicism is recommended for all.
But what’s wrong with wanting to believe all of the above things are lies? What’s wrong with telling our kids that there’s nothing more wonderful than the moment when someone says they’ll love you forever, even if that’s an impossibility, given who we are? What’s wrong with telling them that doing good things is something that will have impact far beyond yourself and your immediate friends and neighbors? And what’s wrong with believing in these things just a little bit yourself?
We know these facts of FiM to be self-evident, so shouldn’t we have seen all of this coming? Did we have any doubt that Twilight would solve the cutie mark crisis by the end of the episode? There was obviously going to be a happy ending. Yet the show defied expectations again. The creative team made an episode that was all heart but didn’t devolve into schmaltz. They dramatically changed the main character in a surprisingly natural way. And they pulled at people’s heartstrings with unabashed sincerity, because they don’t know how to tell a story any other way. The writing style has always been heart-on-sleeve honest, and it’s something to celebrate. There’s no way the team would resort to obvious pleas for emotion. Not with something as weighty as a finale they planned from the series’ inception. They pulled out all the stops, punching every point home, just in case you didn’t know how magical friendship could be.
Bring It On Home
For those moving on, this will do. Our local wordmancer Headless Horse noted that Magical Mystery Cure could act as an “escape hatch” for those who wish to end on a high note. Many will stay until the show’s finale, whether it’s another cathartic sendoff or a slow descent into oblivion. If you’re reading this article, most likely you’re in for the long haul, but let’s look at it from the perspective of someone who’s done.
Is there something inherently wrong with choosing a specific point to get off the pony train? Well, let’s look at this pony journey as if it were a literal trip aboard the Friendship Express. The majority of passengers have been on this train for years, and the ride, while fun, is exhausting. Sure, you’ve met some people and had some fun experiences together, but after being on the road for months, coming to a full stop is welcome. The train pulls into Magical Mystery Cure junction, and we’re all getting off the train to stretch our legs and take a break. But do you want to get back on? Okay, so many of you will say yes. But some might have had enough. We’ve been on this train for a long time, and we don’t even know where it’s going! The ride’s been fun, and there’s no shame in wanting to get off the train. Better than, say, jumping off the train as we’re in the middle of speeding through Season 4. Stopping here is an overwhelmingly satisfying way to end what was a crazy, unexpected voyage.
That final line, “Yes, everything’s going to be just fine” is the cherry on top on the Friendship is Magic sundae. It’s perhaps the most simple, yet indicative line of what FiM is. It’s a reassurance that things are better than they ever were. Through all the ups and downs that people have had in life, with friends, and with enemies, that it all trends to something better. For those who are feeling down, it’s a mantra to repeat. Time heals all wounds, and things have a way of working themselves out.
It’s in these moments that the show really shines. For those of us stuck in a rut, looking for a pick me up, Friendship is Magic is the best medicine. The world is not a cold, dead place. There is inherent good in others. Maybe the power of love and friendship will guide the way. The show, at its best, instills a sense of hope that feels missing in so many people’s lives. And it’s with this unbridled optimism that sends fans sprinting into the future with big, dumb smiles on their faces.
I’ll say it again. We’ve come to an end. Through it all we’ve seen a creative team devoted to a show that’s as honest as can be, something that garnered a staggeringly loyal audience. They’ve created a show that truly believes in both the power of kindness and laughter, a rarity in this cynical world. To paraphrase Bill Watterson’s final comic of Calvin and Hobbes, “It’s a magical world. Let’s go exploring!” So perhaps in the end, there is no end. Just new beginnings. ■