» Chaos Theory: A Study in Discord

Today’s featured content is by first time contributor and forum member Mic Roe Pony!

Discord: The self-proclaimed “Spirit of Chaos and Dis-Harmony’” a character beloved throughout the Pony fandom, but why? What is it about this sociopathic chimera that draws so many to him? Is it his intriguing design, his Devil-may-care attitude, or perhaps his inspired taste in warping reality? Much like the many parts that make up his physical appearance, these are all parts of a greater whole.

With his recent reformation, Discord may prove to be more than the sum of these parts however; can you truly reform a force of nature? Or is Discord perhaps not as static in nature as we’d like to think? Read behind the cut to find out!

What fun is there in making sense?

Ever-shifting and ever-changing, to try to understand Discord is to try to understand chaos itself. However, this isn’t quite so monumental an obstacle as it might seem. Though it may (rather fittingly) vary depending on who you ask, defining concepts such as discord and chaos is possible; the real problem is (once again, rather ironically) trying to come up with a definition everyone can agree on.

The word discord is most commonly defined as: “1. A lack of harmony”, and “2. A disagreement between people (or ponies, as the case may very well be).” Meanwhile, the word chaos is most commonly defined as “A Condition or Place of great disorder or confusion”. Yet these simple explanations do not even begin to describe the greater nuances of their respective concepts, nor to expand upon their nature.

The first definition of discord however, does touch on a key element of chaos: It cannot truly be sustained without ceasing to be. Without discord, there is no harmony, for both it and chaos refer to the disruption of the status quo, and if such a thing as Discord’s first reign had not been ended by the Royal Sisters, it would have ceased to be chaotic; it would have become the new status quo. In fact, given that Discord’s first reign lasted for 1,000 years, it could be assumed that for some of the poor foals that lived during that dark time, Discord’s rule did become rather routine; for as the old saying goes: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Discord's Reign Thousands of years ago, before the dawn of mares as we knew them….

Could this inability to truly cause un-ending chaos have contributed to his mounting insanity in his earlier years? We almost certainly will never truly know, but if we were to even begin to speculate upon the subject we would have to know: What does Discord perceive as chaos, and furthermore, how does he perceive himself?

Through the Eyes of a Madman

Though Discord has only appeared in a meager three episodes of Friendship is Magic, his actions in them tell us quite a bit about who he is and how he thinks. Though his level of maturity and intelligence are somewhat debatable depending on what you perceive as Discord letting slip his mask of lunacy and what you perceive as merely an act, what is clear is that he does possess some cunning. This is made quite apparent in his first appearance in “The Return of Harmony Part 1”, where he quickly and precisely cripples the psyches of each of the Mane Six through a mixture of Hypnotic Suggestion, Psychological warfare, and a mere touch of magic, except in the case of Fluttershy.

Discord’s inability to turn Fluttershy, as well as being a harbinger of things to come, shows us that Discord does not, in fact, like chaos when it is as such that it interferes with his plans. It’s clear that, although he may well be a God-Like figure, and quite fond of chaos, he takes his role by choice, not out of necessity or some mental compulsion. If he really wanted to, he could take his toys and go home.

It’s also one of the very few times we see behind the persona Discord seems to have built around himself as the “Spirit of Chaos.” He drops all pretenses of deviously twisting Fluttershy’s mind in a subtle fashion, and simply uses the brunt of his powers to force out her normal personality, replacing it with his idea of how the exact opposite of the Element of Kindness would act. The façade of amiable lunacy falls away, and reveals a frustrated mad-man, Hell-bent on his version of the world being realized.

Discord and Fluttershy Arrivederci!

Yet, at the same time, if he possesses this much power, why not simply turn all the Mane Six in this fashion from the start? Why not go after Celestia and Luna directly with these powers? Simple: that wouldn’t be as fun. Discord clearly enjoys every moment of his little “game” with the new bearers of the Elements, finding much amusement in twisting them into dark reflections of their former selves. Discord’s main objective is simply to have fun; his problem is that his definition of “fun” involves warping the very fabric of reality, as well as its inhabitants.

But he doesn’t care who he inconveniences; after all: it’s not chaos if people aren’t upset by it in some measure. People often compare Discord to the archetypical ‘internet troll’, and while I can see that, I think there are more apt comparisons. Chief amongst these, is that Discord is simply a spoiled brat, or given his age, a spoiled man-child, but given the powers of a God. He is immature, caring little for those around him, and solely interested in his own entertainment. He’s overconfident, impatient, and set in his ways.

But then why do we like him so much? Could it be that some of us see pieces of ourselves in him? Perhaps, but that is not the main reason; after all, there are tens of thousands of Bronies out there, and not all of them are going to see themselves in Discord. What, then, is the appeal to them? It’s a concept for which I have no name, but that I have seen with other such fictitious character like The Joker from Batman. Discord’s Devil-may-care attitude and disregard for others appeals to the darker sides of our psyches; the side that emerges after a particularly nasty day at school or work, that wishes harm on others, that craves mayhem and destruction of the world around us.

Discord carries out a version of our darkest daydreams in his first appearance, turning the world upside-down and warping reality to his will, something that most of us have wished we could do at one time or another. At the same time however, unlike the Joker, whose powers are usually quite limited, Discord has the powers of a God, and is fairly light-hearted and immature in his manifestations of chaos.

Unlike the Joker, who spreads chaos through Death and Torture, Discord makes it rain chocolate milk, turns buildings upside-down, puts buffalos in tutus; simple, nonsensical mischief, and as such, we can enjoy it without feeling as bad as we might when watching characters like the Joker. This, combined with John DeLancie’s brilliant performance, make Discord a thoroughly enjoyable character. But wait, how will this work now that he’s reformed?

Organized Chaos

In “Keep Calm and Flutter On,” the tenth episode of season three of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, Discord finally returned, to the delight of many. However, by the episode’s end, the fandom found itself with divided opinions. Discord had been reformed, vowing to serve good rather than evil “…most of the time.” Some were outraged, claiming Discord’s character to be ruined, and the show to be beyond redemption; the usual whargarbling the fandom does when something this major happens.

However, unlike most times, there were some reasonable complaints and arguments within the ranting vocal minorities. So is Discord’s character forever tarnished? Let’s look at this logically, shall we? From the very moment he’s released, Discord makes it clear that he has no intention of cooperating with the Mane Six, only deigning to restrain himself just enough that he won’t get immediately re-imprisoned. Although whether or not he had a plan to make himself virtually free once again from the start or not is arguable, but it’s clear he was determined to be as much of a nuisance as possible, once again supporting the interpretation of his character as a spoiled child.

Discord and the Mane Six How delightfully absurd.

So far, it seems that all is more or less as it should be: Discord is still an inconsiderate jerk, the Mane Six are still quite hostile towards him, there doesn’t seem to be a problem. Of course, Discord does seem to have done something to the local beavers, so maybe he’s got something up his sleeve, but that’s not out of the ordinary either. So, after generally be a nuisance and taking advantage of Fluttershy’s good nature, Fluttershy has the idea of showing the other Mane Five how much Discord has “improved” by throwing a dinner party.

A bit silly, but certainly not in a bad way. Discord continues to play it as safe as he’s willing at the dinner party, messing with the Mane Six ever-so-slightly and blaming it on the objects he himself is bringing to life. Whether or not they actually have any sentience outside of Discord’s control is arguable, but Discord is clearly enjoying himself, as usual. Then, it happens: after playing it dumb, the other Mane Six begin to tire of Discord’s games, but Fluttershy, in a show of kindness, still defends Discord, claiming that that’s what friends do.

Discord is surprised by this, doubtless having suspected that Fluttershy would have given up long ago, but much like their first meeting, Discord is caught off-guard by the sheer magnitude of her good nature. In that moment, something inside Discord awakens, as he directly questions Fluttershy’s trust in him. Discord feels a strange sensation as he realizes that, for the first time in his eons of existence, he has someone who voluntarily tolerates and respects him. Although the actual phrasing of this realization in the show is a bit more cliché, looking at the underlying psychology of it helps it somewhat.

Discord has a realization Doubt starts seeping in to Discord’s otherwise confident demeanor.

However, this is interrupted as Angel Bunny reveals that Discord’s secret plan has come to fruition; under Discord’s influence, the native beavers have built dams in such a way as to completely flood Sweet Apple Acres. At the same time, Fluttershy reveals that she was, in fact, aware that Discord was taking advantage of her kindness, having let him do so in an attempt to actually gain his trust, or at least some degree of tolerance. Showing a surprising amount of courage, Fluttershy calls Discord on his stunt and demands he put things back to normal.

Discord feels guilty for the briefest of moments before pulling out his trump card: he’ll put things back to normal, if Fluttershy promises to never use her Element of Harmony against him. Against the judgments of her friends, Fluttershy puts all her chips on the table and agrees in a last ditch effort to try and find some good in Discord. Delighted, Discord finally drops the act, warping the flooded farmland into his own personal Ice Rink. The King of Chaos is back!

Once again showing an uncharacteristic level of courage, Fluttershy scolds Discord for his trickery and demands he put things back. No longer concerned with playing it nice, Discord simply ignores her pleas and offers Fluttershy to skate with him, have some fun! Now, although the events that follow this are important, I’d like to take a moment to stop and analyze this. Discord, of his own free will, after having effectively made himself free forever, doesn’t immediately turn on Fluttershy and the Mane Six as he may have in “Return of Harmony,” but offers Fluttershy a chance to join in the fun.

Could it be that Discord has actually grown to enjoy the company of others? That he wants to see if he can have the best of both worlds? Fluttershy’s friendship and his vision for the world? Whatever the case may be, it’s clear that something has changed. After making it clear that she’ll keep her promise to Discord whatever the case may be, the Devious Draconequus drops all pretense of niceties and gloats to the other Mane Five in victory. He is at last truly free, and it’s all thanks to the magic of friendship, an irony not lost on him.

Fluttershy Chooses Skating A deal’s a deal, even with a dirty dealer.

This, however, is where Fluttershy draws the line. Throwing the skates to the ground, she makes it clear that they are not friends if Discord thinks this is how he’ll treat others. Discord however, makes light of this; what does he care? He can do whatever he wants! He’s The Spirit of Chaos! A God amongst equines, what does one mare matter to him?! Who cares if he’ll be completely alone in his conquest, without a friendly face to share in his victory! Who cares if he’ll lose the closest thing he’s ever had to any kind of companion.

It is at this moment, that Discord’s entire world changes. In a moment of epiphany, Discord realizes that…he cares. Some way, somehow, Fluttershy has managed to make him value her company, to value something so harmonious as, bleeeugh, “Friendship”. “Well played, Fluttershy…well played.” He muses as he sits solemnly on a nearby tree, and sets about righting the wrongs he’s enforced upon the world. As the Mane Six, minus Fluttershy, all look on in pleasant surprise, Discord, clearly a bit embarrassed an unsure of himself, figures that he can’t always have things his way if he wants to be tolerated by others.

Things begin to draw to a close, as, for the first time in millennia, Discord meets Princess Celestia face to face, and vows to use his powers for good, “…most of the time.” Going so far as to take a bow to make a good impression. Celestia is impressed, but not entirely convinced, leaving the Elements of Harmony with Twilight for good measure—as well as, perhaps, part of her plan, but that’s merely speculation. As a show of good will, Discord deigns, mostly thanks to Fluttershy’s insistence, to utter three words he’d never thought he’d say: “Friendship is Magic.”

A Little Chaos is a Beautiful Thing

And so, Discord’s journey from antagonist to protagonist was complete, and many people were quite upset. I’ll admit, although I wasn’t upset, I did, at first, firmly believe that Discord was playing the Mane Six like a cheap fiddle, simply buying himself some time to come up with another plan to be truly free. Over time, however, I’ve come to accept that, perhaps, Discord can change. As I mentioned earlier, it’s clear that although Discord may be a God-Like entity, every action he takes is by choice, not necessity.

It all comes back to the spoiled child interpretation; perhaps Discord is finally beginning to realize that if he wants others to like him, if he wants friends, he can’t act like he has been for the last several centuries, if he wants the other kids on the playground to play with him, he has to follow their rules. Having seen some of myself in Discord’s stubbornness and unwillingness to change, I actually rather like that he’s reformed. If there’s any show that has the right to convey the moral that even people like Discord can change, it’s this one, and I, for one, find hope for myself in Discord’s redemption.

Discord may be smart, but that’s not to say he’s infallible. As much as we’d like to think he’s an unstoppable maelstrom of chaos and destruction, in reality, he’s a thinking, breathing being; one with the ability to choose his path in life. I don’t think Discord’s character is ruined at all, it’s simply changed, begun to grow. With John DeLancie having all but outright said that Discord will be making a return in the future, I for one look forward to seeing where our favorite Draconequus goes from here. The road to settling into some semblance of a normal life certainly won’t be easy, but I look forward to every moment of the chaos that will no doubt unfold as a result. 

Share your thoughts

  1. Discord is more like Pinkie Pie than most people acknowledge at first. He must’ve been a former bearer of the Element of Laughter, or at the very least amongst the top candidates.

    If you pay attention to his first 2 episodes, there are some moments where it’s made clear he does what he does because he believes people will enjoy it, and he is surprised when he finally realizes they don’t.

    And of course, who else is known to have reality distorting abilities stumping even the most magicly skilled unicorn in all of Equestria?

  2. I feel like this change will allow a little more of Q’s personality to come out in Discord. Q always helped in some way, even though he did so in the worst possible way. He’s the kinda guy that will put you through the worst hell imaginable all to teach you a lesson. I feel like the new Discord can do that now too- he can help, but he’ll do it his way and his way will really leave you wishing somebody else was helping instead.

  3. To be honest, I’m happy that Discord has changed side. Only because it’s not a villain anymore doesn’t mean that he won’t be a funny character anymore. Take Iago from Aladdin from example, after Genie is my second favorite character of the movie. In the sequel he got redeemed but in the animated series he still shows the traits of his character that I loved when he was a bad guy. If Discord will be like this, I can be only more happy.

  4. A bit thing really is taste really. Everybody has their own head-canon on ideas about Discord, is origins, and what interpretation suits him best. I can completely sympathize with those who like the image of him being this ancient god-like being who is completely malevolent and incorrigible, and that reforming him just spoils that. After all, if there is any one true villain of My Little Pony, a show that doesn’t really *have* villains in the first place, it’s got to be him.

    On the other hand, his reformation also opens up new routes and, if nothing else, at least indicates strongly that we’ll see him again (and we will). They went the route of him simply being this mischievous Grinch-like character who is not so much pure evil and is instead mean in a childish way, and some people will like that more than others. I can see the appeal either way, but as before, this way at least sets up his later re-appearances and that’s what we all want right?