» TRS Round Table 023: Princess Twilight Sparkle

With the season four premiere behind us, it’s time again for something we haven’t done in almost nine months—an episode Round Table discussion! The TRS Round Table is a group panel discussion about episodes, comics, the fandom, and more. Joining me at the Round Table today are Headless Horse, Opposing Farce, Doodlesplat, Perpetual Lurker, Dexanth, Mr. Big, and ComradeCosmobot. We’re taking an in-depth look at the long awaited season four premiere. You can read our thoughts after the cut.

KefkaFloyd: The long ponyless most-of-the-year is finally behind us. The moment is here, the ponies are back in town. Were you on board the hype train?

Headless Horse: I’m always pretty hyped. But then, I try to keep a healthy level of perspective about this show and the reason why I got into it in the first place: it’s simply fun to watch. It’s a genuinely enjoyable experience. I mean, I knew there were bound to be some flashbacks and some major movement on the worldbuilding that fans have taken for granted all this time, and that’s always fraught with danger since it threatens to invalidate people’s personal visions of how things went down; plus it shuts the door on future speculation on those kinds of events. And that’s part of the reason why I’ve never invested myself too deeply in any particular thoughts about things we haven’t seen. So… yes, I was excited to see how they proposed to handle things they’ve only hinted at till now, and how they intended to deal with Twilight’s new Princess role.

Opposing Farce: I actually wasn’t following the hype all that closely this time around. Hiatuses have a tendency to be a bit of a momentum-killer, and the extra-long gap between seasons definitely had a dampening effect on my overall engagement. In a way, though, I think that was probably for the better, since it let me get a bit of distance and do other things with my time instead of gritting my teeth and slowly dying on the inside for nine months.

Doodlesplat: My own hype train plowed out of the season three finale station full steam ahead. But, as the initial rush from Magical Mystery Cure wore off, I settled into a less-excited state, my imagination having all but exhausted the energy drawn from the show itself. The excitement surrounding Equestria Girls was a nice diversion, but I’ve always held that in a separate space in my mind—that train ran on a different track. The animatic clip from SDCC was probably the last bit of genuine hype for me. In general, I prefer to avoid spoilers, so after that teaser I stayed away from all that and was basically waiting patiently, hype-free, for all the months that followed. Without even noticing it, I may have even gotten off the hype train somewhere along the way.

All Aboard The Friendship Express All aboard the hype train! Toot toot!

Perpetual Lurker: As an avid consumer of the comics, my pony drought wasn’t nearly as bad as most people’s. However, there’s still nothing quite like seeing ponies animated and voiced, so I jumped right on the hype train and devoured all of the tiny details outside of outright ending spoilers.

Dexanth: It was a long, long wait, but I am glad it was over, and I was definitely hyped for Season 4 from the moment it was confirmed happening. It was like hibernating, though, eventually one just sort of…let time pass. And now the wait is over, and that’s cool!

Mr. Big: For those keeping track, the year 2013 will only have eleven episodes airing, compared to 24 episodes in 2012 and 26 in 2011. So yeah, this is the year with the fewest Pony episodes (not including the debut year, also 11 episodes). Thankfully, we had the comics to tide us over, and I know that there were some people who enjoyed Equestria Girls, in spite of the mixed reviews it has gotten. I’m pretty excited for season 4, so hopefully the long wait was worth it in the end.

* * *

KefkaFloyd: There were a lot of expectations for Twilight’s character in the wake of Magical Mystery Cure. How do you feel Meghan McCarthy and the creative team handled her transition into the role of princess?

Headless Horse: On the one hand, it was exactly as we expected—she’s unsure about it, she’s not changing who she is as a character, but she still desperately wants to please Celestia even though they’re ostensibly peers now. But really, I don’t know that I expected them to go quite so far in making the episode purely about exploring her psychological growth in the matter.

Dexanth: I think they really wanted to hammer home ‘Here is the same Twilight, just be-winged’. The scene with the checklist where she starts freaking out is what really seems meant to push that point. The most interesting point for me is when Twilight is sent home by her friends. It’s the classic ‘We need to preserve the chain of command, you are now too vital to lose’ – Twilight is now Laura Roslin, or whichever Secretary is up each year during the State of the Union.

ComradeCosmobot: [For those who don’t know, during every major presidential address to the United States Congress and every inauguration of a new president, one Cabinet member is appointed to not attend so as to act as the designated survivor.]

Headless Horse: I can’t overstate my appreciation for that scene. True, it’s not particularly well foreshadowed, and feels pretty abrupt and even out of character; but it’s perhaps the most grown-up event I’ve ever seen in this show, and it’s crucially important to the episode’s structure and to the show in general. This isn’t just some facile lesson about not being jealous of your friend who gets to wear a crown, or not lording it over your peers just because you got a reward, which they could have easily done. No—this turned into a story about making wrenching tactical decisions on par with ordering your chief engineer to his death in a radiation-soaked Jeffries tube. It makes every viewer ask himself or herself which is more important—friendship, or duty? (It’s an extra twist of lemon that in this show, the two are tightly interlinked anyway.)

Twilight is Worried Not every problem can be solved with a checklist, Twilight Sparkle.

Dexanth: The one area this falls flat to me is that her friends go off ‘Well, we’ll be fine without you!’ when there’s never been any evidence for it. They aren’t just sending away their only leader, they’re also sending away the pony best equipped to solve the problem with nobody anywhere near her level of competence, and so I think the scene stumbles somewhat as a result.

ComradeCosmobot: That actually strikes at something that bothered me a bit in the second episode. I mean, Twilight has always been the lynchpin of the group and basically has consistently served as a sort of Twilight ex machina, but I don’t think it had ever been spelled out so overtly by basically having the others admit that they’re basically helpless without her. It’s a small complaint, given how well the show has done at demonstrating the vitality and independence of the other ponies in other episodes, and it’s not like “Magical Mystery Cure” did anything other than say the same thing in so many words (it is Twilight’s story, after all), but it’s still a little disappointing to see the rest of the Mane Six so readily admit their complete and utter helplessness in these situations, as true as that might be.

Dexanth: Well, Twilight is the member of the group who specializes in magic & other old weird things. It’d be like SG-1 without Daniel Jackson; they aren’t going to be translating any crazy ancient languages. Ultimately, the jury is still out on the transition; I think the final verdict won’t come until we really start seeing slice of life episodes once more.

Headless Horse: Fortunately it seems to me that the team is consciously trying to get the show back to its roots. This episode is kind of a stark reminder of how much time we’ve spent in recent marquee episodes exploring the Crystal Empire and Princess Cadance/Shining Armor. It feels really good to be talking about Everfree Forests and Nightmare Moons again.

Opposing Farce: Going in I think we all had a pretty good idea what the basic beats would be like: Twilight learns to use her wings, adjusts to new powers and responsibilities, worries that her position will overpower or disrupt her friendships. A lot of the ideas being covered here are the ones implied by basic storytelling and character logic, and while you could argue that’s predictable or lazy I think this show’s willingness to play things straight is one of its strengths. We’ve spent enough time learning just who Twilight Sparkle is that if we couldn’t guess her reaction to something like this it’d either be a ludicrous mischaracterization or a masterstroke of deception.

Doodlesplat: I felt that they handled it very well overall, despite it feeling like Twilight’s character growth got kicked into high gear for the past three episodes. Like everyone has said so far, many of the expected major aspects of Twilight’s transition—her new wings, her new title, the (non-)changes to her friendships—have already been touched on heavily in these episodes. The writers had her grow, yet still be herself, and all with a very natural feel. I only hope they’ve left her enough room to grow into for the next twenty-four episodes and beyond. I find it really great that this initially-episodic television series/toy commercial is now regularly including large, meaningful character developments.

Perpetual Lurker: Yeah, Twilight still being Twilight was more or less a given at this point. The real treat was seeing how everyone else handled her transition. The actions and behaviors of the rest of Twilight’s friends towards her shifted in ways ranging from not much at all (Fluttershy), to excitement (Rainbow Dash, Rarity) and encouragement (Pinkie Pie), to massively increased reverence, respect, and concern (Applejack). Applejack in particular goes through a lot of adjustments this episode, as she ended up with some hefty misconceptions about her friendships and her role as Twilight’s friend in particular.

Mr. Big: Twilight was always shown to have a good leadership skills (hell, that was the moral of Winter Wrap-Up), and I liked how level-headed she was when she gave orders to the guard when the Royal Sisters went missing, even though you know that she’s panicking in her brains. That pretty much sums up Twilight, actually. Awkward, but when things gets rough, she’ll do whatever shit needs to be done.

KefkaFloyd: A lot of questions were answered in this episode thanks to Zecora’s mystery potion. How do you think the team handled these long-standing mysteries in the buildup to the Tree of Harmony?

Drink up, Twilight! At least it doesn’t say “Drink me” on it.

Dexanth: I think it was done in a way that gave us a glimpse without really answering many questions. We knew Celestia banished Nightmare Moon, we knew the Princesses defeated Discord, and now we see how they did that. But we are left without any of the buildup to those moments – Celestia and Luna are covered in scratches when they arrive at the Tree of Harmony, and we have no idea what journey they have just undergone to get there. Indeed, the only truly new piece of information is the Tree itself and the fact that the Elements come from it. One mystery – the origin of the Elements – is replaced with another in the origin of the tree.

ComradeCosmobot: Nevermind that mysterious lockbox that we’ll obviously be revisiting later on in the season.

Dexanth: A few questions are answered like why the old castle was abandoned, but we are left with tons of new ones to ask. Headless often talks about how he loves that sense of mystery, and I think the show did a great job in not just retaining but expanding upon that mystery.

Headless Horse: Yeah. These writers seldom close one door without opening another, and that’s to their great credit. I’d hate to see this show’s universe “diminished” by flashbacks and prequel-type scenes the way the Star Wars universe was. And I think they did about as good a job as they could have in this case, even if the highly concentrated glimpses into the past give the impression that events like Luna’s rebellion were over in a matter of minutes.

Opposing Farce: Honestly, the flashbacks were part of the episode that felt a little underwhelming to me precisely because ⅔ of them really just told us what we already knew. It was nice to be shown Discord’s initial defeat and Luna/NMM getting banished to the moon when before we were just told they happened, but it’s not like any of the flashbacks introduced some kind of new plot element or detail that radically changed our perception of those events– even the Tree of Harmony bit is basically just elaborating on a question that I personally never considered particularly important. I’m not saying there needed to be some kind of big twist that recontextualizes the entire backstory– this isn’t that kind of show, and sometimes banishing your sister is just banishing your sister– but I guess ultimately I’m just not much of a mythos guy and getting confirmation that these things played out pretty much the way I would’ve assumed doesn’t do much for me.

ComradeCosmobot: I’m going to have to agree with that. The flashbacks were interesting in so far as they helped to provide a bit of context for the episode, but they were largely uninformative. But given what the plot of the episode was, I can hardly fault them for those choices. I mean, what are you going to do? Just have someone reiterate the stories to the viewer? Given the classic creative adage “show, don’t tell,” I think they were quite appropriate to include in the episode.

Dexanth: I feel like they left the door open for themselves to take a longer look at it in the future. Revealing too much now would have limited their options for revisiting the past in a fuller form. This way lets us have a taste without requiring them to commit to delivering a full meal just yet.

Luna Gets Mad There can be only ONE!

Opposing Farce: I suppose, but at the end of the day that’s really not what I’m here for. I’d still be interested in seeing, say, a more thorough exploration of Celestia and Luna’s pre-NMM adventures, but that’s because I think it would be cool to see those characters interacting with each other in a very different context from their current role of omnipotent god-princesses/mentors/rulers of the state. The actual history part of it I could take or leave (and at this point I’d be just as happy to see a ‘present day’ Celestia/Luna episode, because they seem like they would have a really interesting dynamic and so far the show hasn’t done much to explore their relationship at all). I guess ultimately that’s my biggest disappointment with the flashbacks, because for all of this history we’ve now seen I don’t really feel like I know anything more about Celestia and Luna than I did before.

Doodlesplat: Incidentally, Twilight now being peers with the other Princesses has provided a way to learn more about them. We see one of these character explorations when Celestia confides her feelings regarding the Summer Sun Celebration to Twilight. Shifting the other alicorns into a less godly role within the narrative has given them a chance to reveal more of their ”pony” side to Twilight and, by extension, to us.

Perpetual Lurker: As Luna had very little direct involvement this episode, were really were just left with the few glimpses of Celestia, particularly her emotional vulnerability when it comes to Luna. Most people probably don’t remember it, but outside of the now revealed banishment of Luna, the only other time in the entirety of the show when Celestia has actually cried was when she was reunited with her sister at the end of the pilot. She seems so stoic most of the time, merely becoming determined when confronted with a threat, and always gentle and comforting when talking to her subjects. The emotions that her sister is able to evoke from her really drive home just how painful Luna’s banishment must have been for her, especially since she had to live with it being shoved in her face and celebrated every year for a millennium.

KefkaFloyd: As an animated series, we have to look at not just the acting and the story, but also the visuals. The show wasn’t redesigned, of course, but things felt like they had a bit more glitz; a bit more refinement.

Mr. Big: In the first scene after the theme song, I was impressed with the lightning they gave when they were in the castle hall. They wouldn’t have done that in season 1, 2, or even 3. Nice to see that they’re willing to push themselves in terms of color styling and art direction.

ComradeCosmobot: You know, I was going to say the same thing. The lighting really stood out to me as a bit of that extra effort that makes FiM shine. The other bit that caught me was the animation of Twilight folding her wings down at the end of the first episode. Not only did they manage to make it realistic, but the actual parallax they used to convey the movement of the “camera,” so to speak, was actually quite impressive. More so than the cell-shaded 3D Elements of Harmony at any rate.

Soft lighting enhances the look of castle scenes. Soft lighting enhances the look of castle scenes.

Headless Horse: I know I was blown away by the action in the battle scenes, both in the Luna/Celestia flashback and in the fight with the vines in the Everfree. Tons of depth-of-field, lots of clever staging, and it was all tense as hell. Look at those moves Applejack pulls off in the vine battle. Cartoon battles can easily look cheesy or flaccid, but they’ve really figured out how to make their system sing and dance, and Jayson Thiessen sure has developed into a top-notch director with remarkable versatility.

Doodlesplat: I was similarly enthralled by how the visuals of this season’s opener seem to have been taken to the next level, much like Twilight’s character. Lighting effects and cinematography that were previously just a minor experiment in previous episodes are now being used as part of their standard library of visual tools. On rewatching the first flashback scene, where the storytelling was primarily visual and inspired by filmmaking, I found myself wondering more than once whether, in that brief moment, this show has stepped outside its genre of children’s television entertainment into something grander and more dramatic. I doubt we’ll regularly see such moments in the episodes that will fill the meat of the season. Nevertheless, it is still alluring from a film enthusiast perspective to know that the production is now pushing those boundaries more than ever.

Opposing Farce: This isn’t anything new to this season, but some of my favorite things about this show are the little off-the-cuff visual gags and bits of cartoon acting that seem like they could’ve been something clever slipped in by the storyboard artist as easily as something baked into the script. Twilight’s little panicky flubbed landing right after Spike’s “extremely competent assistant” line is a great one-off character bit. (Her tube-body a few moments later when she’s freaking out about what she might forget looks a little wonky in the way those things always have, though.)

Dexanth: The show has really come into its own, in that just as S3 managed to turn something simple – Twilight’s hair blowing in the wind during The Failure Song – into something impressive because they really upped their animation effort, so S4 appears to be doing with motion & action so far.

Which makes sense; thanks to Flash assets, with every passing season, they have more then can re-use and subsequently more time to actually improve detail & add in awesomeness within the same time frame. We’re really seeing the groundwork of S1 & S2 paying dividends now.

KefkaFloyd: I’m not sure how many people here saw the animatics back at San Diego Comic Con, but the bit we got was a storyboard animatic of the scene where Luna turns into Nightmare Moon. This is one case of “not knowing what could have been” for me, personally, would have been better. The expressions in the animatic, which revealed a lot of character from Luna, were mostly absent. While the scene was still quite powerful, and Tabitha’s acting was perfect, I still miss the little smarmy “precious light” face and Luna’s fear over what she had unleashed when being possessed by the Nightmare.

Headless Horse: I still don’t know how to read that expression that’s on Luna’s face just as the darkness takes over. It’s either really complex, or… really blank.

Dexanth: I too was looking for that look of ‘What have I done?!’ that I think perfectly captured Luna suddenly realizing that she’d made a Faustian bargain and the price was far worse than she’d ever expected, but it was too late to undo. The expression is now more…equine, in some ways, but that also makes it more alien and hard to read.

Headless Horse: Heh heh. Faustian bargain.

Dexanth: I’m just showing off how clever I can be. The Smug and Powerful Trixie

Opposing Farce: For as well as this show utilizes Flash, it’ll never quite match the flexibility and expressiveness we see in the storyboards and animatics that get posted from time to time. Usually I think they manage to create kind of a happy medium that takes advantage of the slick, on-model look you can get from computer animation without completely losing the cartoonier, more free-form nature of the storyboards, but there are times when the finished product definitely loses something. I think it’s probably rare to see something that changes the reading of the scene as dramatically as Luna’s expression in the animatic missing from the final product, though, which makes me wonder if it wasn’t a deliberate cut.

Mr. Big: This really does underpoint the limitation of Flash cut-outs vs. traditional drawn animation. I know the show’s crew knows the limitations, and they compensate by over-exaggerating the storyboards, and the show does still look good in spite of the limitation. That said, from the glimpse of the storyboards we’ve seen, I’m longing for a piece of Pony animation that’s traditionally animated, and they take advantage of the medium. I know I’ve always been a traditionalist as far as what I consider “good animation”, but there you go.

Headless Horse: We saw that in Equestria Girls in particular. Remember that one storyboard drawing we saw, and how lifelike and fun it looked compared to the final stick-figure screenshot?

Equestria Girls Storyboard

Equestria Girls Snippet

Doodlesplat: The expressiveness in that Luna shot is certainly defined more clearly in the animatic. The drawings depict well Luna’s horror as the darkness engulfs her. With the final product, it seems the visual language of that shot was slightly tweaked, for better or worse. Instead of a reaction that we can read in her eyes and body, we see her essentially frozen up until she’s swallowed. Her body goes rigid mid-flight; her mouth hangs agape; her pupils dilate and stare into the abyss; she’s utterly paralyzed. In that swirling mass of nightmare, she may be seeing something we aren’t seeing that would explain her shocked state. Granted, this is only an interpretation in hindsight—it isn’t necessarily clear that this is the true account of events given those Flash-generated frames.

Dexanth: The animatic does support that interpretation, though.

KefkaFloyd: With this two-parter, the tone was considerably different than the prior two, ACW and TCE. Yes, the fate of Equestria hung in the balance, but it felt different, more personal. Normally the “save the world” bit does not toy with changing the fundamental equation in the friendship of the Mane Six, because the fundamental friendship takes a back seat to spectacle (or Hasbro mandates).

Doodlesplat: The difference in tone and story significance took me by surprise. My expectations of perhaps at least a song and considerably more comedic moments were never met. The prior two season premieres as well as the recent season finale had set me up to expect more of that style of storytelling. That this wasn’t the case left me with an initial impression that wasn’t too enthusiastic. However, in retrospect, the current style is actually the better outcome. This was the adventure epic that I had always hoped the show would return to for its two-parters ever since the show’s premiere: a world-building, fantasy-filled, rainbow-blasting, princess-jeopardizing whirl of a tale that fires the imagination and evokes a sense of wonder yet at its core is the tale of a pony’s personal journey. The myriad similarities of this latest journey vis-à-vis the pony friends’ very first outing into the Everfree are surely not a coincidence. That the first two episodes—after the series had been renewed following a 65-episode run, the last of which could have worn the mantle of series finale—are a figurative reincarnation of the original two episodes couldn’t have been by chance. The fundamental equation did change here—again! This was not just another episodic moment in their universe: these events mattered in a profound way. This premiere marks the rebirth of Twilight Sparkle’s discovery of her place in the world, the friendships she shares with her pony and dragon friends, and of the show itself. The weight of this pivotal step in her journey through life draws from all those that came before it—all those experiences she had forged in friendship. And, for us, it is the beginning of a fresh new chapter in whatever wild journey this MLP:FiM boat is taking us on.

Headless Horse: It also had no songs. Which Discord actually lampshaded, much to my delight.

Headless Horse: When I first heard that the plot would center around the Everfree Forest “expanding”, it told me that the team was actively trying to do what they might have thought Lauren had had in mind—she’s been quoted as having envisioned the Everfree as being constantly “encroaching” on the borders of Equestria. I was pretty excited to see that… though it turned out that it really wasn’t quite what she must have had in mind.

Headless Horse: Specifically, Lauren’s quote sounded to me more like she’d envisioned the ponies’ magic as a tenuous force keeping the forest at bay, and maybe a lapse in that magical protection would result in the forest gaining the upper hand. But maybe that felt a bit too much like a retread after, you know, Sombra in The Crystal Empire.

Opposing Farce: I have to admit, the overt, immediate conflict in this one didn’t do too much for me. CRYSTALLLLZ didn’t exactly make for the most compelling antagonist, but at least Sombra had a face; there just isn’t anything all that interesting or engaging about anonymous evil vines. Of course, the episode’s real conflict was between Twilight and her friends and her duties as a princess, but the most literal level of “here’s the problem/here’s how we solve it” was just about putting the things in the other thing and without a strong villain to give the conflict a face the whole epic adventure side of the episode felt a little superfluous and lacking in payoff, even moreso than the usual “okay I guess now we blast ‘em” solution. I do like that they retroactively make Discord seem like less of a chump for letting himself get stoned (twice), though; dude always had a contingency, even if we didn’t know it.

Applejack, Twilight, and Discord There WAS quite a bit of hoof pointing, here…

Perpetual Lurker: If there’s one word I can use to describe what makes the tone of these episodes so different from the past two-parters, it’s “smart”. It wasn’t any darker than the pilot, it wasn’t any goofier than Return of Harmony, and it wasn’t any more sweeping and epic than The Crystal Empire. Instead, the writing in these episodes seems to be pushing as hard as it can to cover all of its bases. Each character reacts appropriately to Twilight’s new situation, Twilight’s capabilities are laid out right in the beginning to show what she can and can’t do, and just about any sort of common sense contingency is accounted for. We’re never left wondering about Cadance because we’re reminded that she’s far away at the moment, and we only ever ask “why doesn’t Twilight just fly?” just before someone else asks the same question.

Opposing Farce: That was actually the exact thing I was thinking when Discord first appeared during my initial watch; it’s only natural he would be the first draconequus the ponies would think to blame, and though he ultimately ended up playing a bigger role in the story at the time it felt like “oh, they’re willing to pull de Lancie in just because it makes sense Discord would show up here, that’s a good sign.”

Mr. Big: Yeah, I agree with the “smart” remark. I think this two-parter is about, well, growing up. Twilight now has responsibilities that can affect the world around her. She knows she has to be more serious, it’s her job now. It’s exemplified in the beginning when Twilight watches her friends leave home. I’m not the one who cares about what messages cartoons give to children, but I think this was handled well: kids have to grow up eventually, and that’s what happened to Twilight.

Dexanth: I’d agree that there’s a strong theme of transition. In previous openers, there was always Celestia giving Twilight a nudge forward; this is the first time that she’s just gone-gone before Twilight even realizes there is a conflict. The show is showing itself to be maturing, and so far it’s succeeding. One thing I especially want to give kudos to is that the pacing worked far better than many episodes in Season 3, and I hope that continues forward, because it would show that the team has gotten over its growing pains post-Faust/Renzetti.

ComradeCosmobot: Gosh yes, the pacing was much better than pretty much any episode in season 3 (never mind the lets-put-two-episodes-in-one Magical Mystery Cure). I’m crossing my fingers that the rest of the season keeps up the good work because it makes for much better watching.

Headless Horse: Discord is at his best when he’s poking fun at the tropes of the show, lampshading its cherished set-dressing, and parodying things right after they happened “straight”. It’s chapter-and-verse Q, like the whole “John Luck Pickerd” thing. And here, you get Discord worming his way through Twilight’s ears and goading her about the wonderful bonding experience her friends are all sharing, the adventure and perils they’re facing together, and playing on her lingering fears that by sitting it out she’ll be creating a rift in the group which will last for all time. He’s the voice of the smirking analyst who sees over the fourth-wall of the show, who sarcastically asks whether it’s going to “go there” or whether it’s going to pull its punches. And by doing that, he implicitly allows the show to explore psychological complexities that would otherwise be out of reach.

Twilight and Discord Discord knows how to push all the characters’ buttons.

KefkaFloyd: John de Lancie returns as Discord, and many were wondering how he would be portrayed after his “reformation.” His role is quickly settled in the post-KCAFO dynamic. He’s a devilish trickster, but he’s not going to turn the world upside down either.

Dexanth: I very much like him this way. He’s on the side of ‘good’, yet Discord’s definition of good is far different than that of the ponies. He has no problems letting things go crazy for a day or two and doesn’t feel compelled to simply solve the problem – yet everything he does subtly guides the characters to resolving the issue. He’s ultimately helping, but he’s doing so in his way. It’s very much channeling Q – in the end, his agenda is for the good of the ponies, but they’re going to have to endure a lot of grief to get there.

Headless Horse: He’s even more Q than before, in fact—now that he seems to be actively invested in guiding Twilight and her friends toward their goals. He’ll be supercilious and speak in riddles, for sure, but he seems to have made his peace with the idea that he can still have fun in a world where he has to answer to the higher authority of Friendship.

Doodlesplat: Though Q is one of the great characters of fiction, I’m a little reluctant to celebrate that Discord’s character and role seems to be sliding more and more into that groove. It certainly adds a great dynamic into the cast, but I can’t help but wonder where else they could have taken him if they didn’t subconsciously have Q in their minds while writing him. That said, it’s way better to have Discord integrated into the story this way than not at all, because his interactions with the ponies and especially Fluttershy are always fascinating and fun to watch.

ComradeCosmobot: In a sense, these episodes helped to redeem Discord for me after his uncharacteristic “redemption” that I griped about in a previous round table. Although he’s obviously not returned to being any sort of nominal threat at this point. As you’ve all pointed out above, it’s more that he’s taken a mischievous guiding role than antagonist.

Opposing Farce: Like with Princess Twilight, I think Discord as trickster-mentor is the natural conclusion of his reformation in KCAFO, so seeing him fill that role was a nice confirmation that everybody’s on the same wavelength here. He pulls it off with aplomb, too, and I spent a good chunk of the episode thinking that it would really bite if he turned out to be the culprit and got sent back away because he was, as always, a ton of fun to watch in action. In the end he really was behind it, of course (though not quite in the way I expected), but he still gets to stick around so here’s hoping for more Discord in the rest of season 4.

Perpetual Lurker: The thing about Discord vs. Q comparisons is that there were many flavors of Q throughout Star Trek. He was malevolent and spiteful at some points, silly and whimsical at others, and even infuriatingly dumb at times (I’m looking at you, Voyager). Discord, on the other hand, is ironically much more consistent. Just saying that he’s “like Q” isn’t really saying much, due to the range that Q covered. The trickster mentor angle definitely parallels Q in episodes like Tapestry and All Good Things, but there’s a certain element of sinister ambiguity to Discord’s actions this episode that really makes me wonder just how sincere he is at any given time, and just how long of a game he may or may not be playing. After all, the end result of this episode was that his ancient gambit paid off and the Elements are no longer a threat to him. I’m definitely looking forward to more of him, since there’s still a lot of different directions he could go in.

Doodlesplat: You’re right that Discord’s character has been rather consistent in that all his appearances so far prominently features deception and subversion. He is never not plotting to take control. Could this mean that a hypothetical future episode where he is, for example, just being plain silly feel a little “not himself”?

ComradeCosmobot: It’d be the same way that making Pinkie Pie a gag character ruins her characterization.

Mr. Big: I was very satisfied with how Discord was handled in the two-parter. He really did help Twilight, even if it was in a cynical, passive-aggressive way, but it was really effective. I’m glad that he’s going to be a recurring character now. It’s nice to have someone in the show who, while he can be helpful, is still a dick who just doesn’t give a crap. It’s a nice balance with the rest of the cast.

Dexanth: I really am trying to come up with a good parallel beyond Q here; Loki is what most leaps to mind, at least when Loki is actually plotting to help Asgard and not just spread misery like with Baldr.

KefkaFloyd: Obviously the big question is “What’s in the box?”

PC, Luna, Twilight, and the Box I know what’s in the box! Oh, I’ve been as dumb as Fry!

Opposing Farce: An embarrassing photo of Discord at the Hearth’s Warming Eve pageant.

Dexanth: I want to make a joke about Brad Pitt here, but nothing is coming.

Opposing Farce: Or Justin Timberlake, but that’s probably crossing a line.

Perpetual Lurker: As a serious answer, I honestly have no idea. I think that it’s fantastic how absolutely clueless we are with this mystery. The obvious answer would be “new Elements of Harmony” or [Insert new magical super-weapon here], but those are too obvious. So much so that I wouldn’t ever bet on them, outside of some really creative variation on the ideas that opens up even more possibilities.

Dexanth: Though having it be a new Rainbow-Laser would feel a bit…I don’t know. I suppose it would feel very anime-inspired in the sense of ‘Well, our old lockets/coins/monsters are inadequate, it’s time for a powering up/evolution sequence!’. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I am hoping what’s inside is a bit more clever than that. Really, as long as there’s an actual plan for the box, and not simply BSG-style hurling things together because they never actually plotted it out, I think we’ll be set.

Doodlesplat: With six objects to acquire before opening, that locked box represents a significant investment of ‘story slots’. Unless episodes beyond season four can be guaranteed, for the sake of closure, they would almost surely have had to plan for the reveal to occur during or before this season’s finale. For it to feel significant, the character development that the search for these keys would entail ought to exceed the typical amount found in a slice-of-life episode. Even if several key-finding stories are combined into one episode, that’s still a considerable number of the remaining twenty-four episodes dedicated to meaningful growth. There’s no world-shattering conclusion here; but I think it’s worth pointing out that this presumed change to how they lay out the stories over a season may indeed be the reason Meghan had chosen “ambitious” as the single word to describe season four.

Perpetual Lurker: I do like the idea of more important character episodes. Not that they aren’t normally important, but these keys provide more concrete stakes than we’re used to, and I always find that character development is at its best when said characters are pushed the hardest.

KefkaFloyd: With the premiere out of the way, what are everyone’s expectations for Season Four? With the summaries and glimpses of upcoming episodes well on their way, the team appears to be handling a broad range of plots and subjects.

Dexanth: This is the first season that I think the team truly knows what they are working with and has the freedom to go crazy. Season 1 had E/I; Season 2, the show was still maturing and realizing just what it was, and Season 3 was both cut short and dealing with its own growing pains. Season 4 is where everything has converged – the team knows how special their creation is, and it looks like Hasbro may as well, given some of the awesome stuff we’ve been privileged to glimpse.

PC Gets Her Tail Stolen To Princess Celestia, I issue this challenge: Look at your butt!

Doodlesplat: Many months ago, when Twilight was freshly coronated, I had hopes that her new status as Princess would allow the show to take on new subjects beyond the now familiar friendship ones. In particular, I had liked to see them have her learn about duties and adult responsibilities, the complexities of rulership, as well as other, more mature themes fitting for a ruler to learn. Little did I know that they would tackle these so soon and so head-on. As for the other ponies, hopefully they’ll get to expand their horizons too.

In a different line of thought, with a new season means many more opportunities for new material in general. Like Dexanth said, the creative team runs differently now—matured, sleek—and with that I am excited for what they have in store for us. I won’t pretend to know how exactly they’ll one-up themselves this time, in spite of all the awesomeness they’ve already put out, because they always surprise us, somehow.

Opposing Farce: Characters, characters, characters. Now that we’re back to a 26-episode season the show should have plenty of time to more fully explore the cast, and that’s what I’m really looking for here. I want to see these ponies in new situations, I want the show to explore new dynamics, I want to spend more time with the extended cast and I want to learn things I never knew but that make perfect sense in hindsight. I’m especially looking forward to what the show might do with the Dash/Scootaloo mentorship set up in Sleepless in Ponyville, because there’s a ton of promise there and I’d love to see it made good on. Oh, and this is just a pipe dream, but I’m also hoping to see a Spike episode that he doesn’t spend smashing stuff or getting character assassinated.

ComradeCosmobot: Here here. Last season had characterization, but fell short in some respects. In particular, I think I speak for a lot of people when I say I’m looking forward to an end to the two-year drought of Rarity episodes. Also, while I know we’ll never get it, I will forever hold out hope for “22 Short Films About Ponyville.”

Perpetual Lurker: We have a unique opportunity this season with the “find the keys” arc, which is a perfect excuse to explore and revisit interesting locales from all over Equestria, and possibly beyond. It’s a big world out there, and I can’t wait to see the ponies explore it.

Mr. Big: I guess I want to see new challenges being made to the characters and settings. I have no idea if season 5 is coming or not, but it’d be nice to give the characters something new to tackle. We already got Twilight’s out of the way, but what about Rainbow Dash, for example. Will her dream of becoming a Wonderbolt get close to be fulfilled? Will Rarity get a new opportunity for her business? These are just examples. Basically, new things for the characters to tackle. Another thing is that, while an occasional adventure episode is OK, I hope they won’t give up slice-of-life episodes. I always regard those as the best episodes.

Headless Horse: With this episode we got a couple of genuinely “adult” pieces of drama—Applejack’s gently but devastatingly calling Twilight out as a liability to the team, and Discord’s spelling out the social consequences of her allowing herself to be raised above her peers. That right there sets a remarkable precedent, one that has got me super-psyched to see what else they might do with this level of self-awareness throughout the rest of the season. This show has never really been what we might strictly call a traditional “kids’ show”, given the quality of its writing and the age-universal appeal of many of its lessons. But I think it’s crossed a fresh line now into something even more interesting, and without sacrificing its appeal to kids—I would love to think it’s making the target audience think hard about what is going through Twilight’s mind, and to really understand some of these hard lessons about adulthood far ahead of schedule. The show is in a rather unique position to give kids unique and advanced tools for their developing social skills, and it’s always taken extreme advantage of them, but now it looks like the team is taking that role more seriously than ever. I love it.

Mr. Big: Good point about the “adult” drama. Like I said, I think this is the point that the characters are starting to grow up. Let’s see how it goes by the end of season.

Doodlesplat: What’s perhaps also interesting is that kids who are growing up alongside this show will get to revisit it when they’re older and see it from that other angle. Those moments when their childhood memories and adult insights click together ought to be something really precious. Ponies has definitely crossed the line into something new. Though it was clear from the start that the creative talent and ambition had the potential to carry the show in fantastic directions, I would’ve never imagined that the owners would’ve let them transform it to the degree that it has. I do wonder whether the official target demographic notices these changes and how they feel about it.

Mr. Big: I won’t lie, I’m kinda excited to see how the show will be remembered years after it’s cancelled (hopefully the show will continue running for a while, though!)

Dexanth: #SixSeasonsAndAMovie

KefkaFloyd: Guys and gals, thanks for stopping by for this edition of TRS Round Table! Join us next time for more thoughts on new episodes and more. 

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  1. Every time you refer to Luna’s transformation as her being “possessed by the nightmare” I die a little inside. I know you’re in love with the comics but please don’t confuse them for show-canon. The idea that Luna was just being possessed by an evil entity of evilness really cheapens her character and destroys her growth. I dearly hope the writers still have enough respect for Lauren’s vision to avoid doing that to her.

    • I do not think Luna ceased to exist when she was Nightmare Moon, nor that she lost her will or agency. NMM is a dark, twisted version of herself consumed with darkness. Perhaps “unleashed the Nightmare” is a better way to think about it. The Nightmare gave her what she wanted—the ability to bring eternal night and match her sister with power. She was 100% on board with it until the moment where she realizes (in the animatic) that she might have gone too far, but by then it’s too late.

      There’s darkness in all of us, and I like to think that the Nightmare just augments that darkness. Even speaking of Lauren’s vision, she herself had mentioned a dark magic or power that Luna decided to collaborate with way back in the S1 DA comments days. I could go on at length about the problems with the Nightmarity arc (which, in retrospect, was flawed in a lot of ways even though it was still very fun).

    • You’re totally free to pick and choose what you do and don’t consider canon. Every part of the franchise is equally fictional, after all. However, it’s kind of silly to try and dictate what [i]other people[/i] consider canon, so just because you see the comics as non-canonical doesn’t mean they “actually” are (nothing is “actually” canon or non-canon since, again, works of fiction here*) and it doesn’t invalidate the analysis of someone else who does view them as canon. Also unless you actually are Lauren Faust and/or have established some kind of psychic mind link with her you really shouldn’t presume to know what “her vision” is or was.

      *This is why the entire concept of “canon”** is kind of absurd in the first place.
      **Canon canon canon, man I’m typing this word a lot.

      • 1) That’s why I didn’t say canon. I specified “show-canon”, which means anything that’s been in the show. As far as show-canon is concerned, there has been no statement indicating she was possessed and several statements suggesting (without outright stating) she was not, so while it remains an open question it currently leans heavily in the “she probably wasn’t possessed by anything” direction.
        2) Regarding Lauren’s vision: I remember reading a comment from Lauren on her DA stating that she felt Luna had not been possessed by any kind of external force, but I can’t find it anymore so take that as you will.

      • “it doesn’t invalidate the analysis of someone else who does view them as canon”

        That is the exact opposite of what canon is. By definition, canon is a definitive list of what ‘counts’ from an authority on the matter. It specifically excludes lay opinions.

          • ‘Death of the author’ is a trend in academia, not a universally valid schema, and, frankly, it’s one that I find insulting to artists and the whole of art in general.

    • Sorry ton just because you don’t like something doesn’t change the fact it happened. The comics are cannon weather the fans like it or not until the show runners say otherwise.

      • The comics are on a lower level. While the show did not contradict the comics, the show will always supersede them if a conflict arises.

        In either case, worrying about what is and is not canon is a fruitless exercise devoid of fun.

  2. Pingback: “Princess Twilight Sparkle” Episode Guide – Derpy News My Little Pony

  3. Oh no, it’s that ridiculous EqG storyboard/screenshot comparison again. A single storyboard represents a series of actions, all the characters did the expressions depicted in the storyboard, *just not at the same time*. Also they are supposed to be more exagerated for clarity. Not everyone likes Ren and Stimpy kind of animation where every frame is exagerated.

  4. Because of this episode, I’ve realized that I can’t help but to like the other 2 parters much better, because of the intensity of the third act, due to the self contained nature of the story. This one sees its actual climax at the end of part 1, and instead of ramp up again going towards the end of part 2, it seems to regress into a 2nd second act. This is all because the episode serves to set the stage for an arc, and therefore couldn’t have had any resolution with a definite sense of finality to it, like the defeat of an enemy, but at the same time because of this, in my mind it suffers, even though I can appreciate what they’re going for here.

    As much as I love characters like Rarity, RD, Fluttershy, Pinkie, and AJ, there’s just something about Twilight I find to be different. When it comes to her, I feel a different, special kind of pride for her accomplishments. I can imagine it must be similar to what a father would feel, which would explain why I simply burst with pride when watching the transformation in MMC, and the final scene of this episode, when Twilight successfully pulls off her aerial stunt. Her smile at the end brings a smile to me, and despite any gripes or lack of excitement for the man story, it’s moments like that which I love the most.