Today’s featured content comes from longtime forum member The Ghost of Ember!
There have been many posits about the about the theme of the Princess Twilight Sparkle duology. Predominate above them is that this is an episode about Twilight growing up and accepting her new responsibilities and the difficulties that comes with it. There is some of this, on the surface level, but it’s not the real theme of the story.
This is a story about betrayal. Read more to find out.
We begin with the preparation of the Summer Sun Celebration. Twilight frets about her wings, her new station, and most of all her place amongst her friends.
The Summer Sun Celebration, as we later learn, is now a celebration of the reconciliation of Luna and Celestia. Reconciliation is another important theme of this episode, but for the moment let us focuses on the betrayal aspect. Twilight is not just concerned about missing out, to paraphrase discord, on bonding experiences. She feels she is actively letting down her friends by choosing to attend the Celebration. She fears she is betraying them.
Twilight isn’t boxed into the decision, and in fact, she really hasn’t made a decision. Celestia encouraged Twilight’s friendships, and I doubt she would begrudge the pony of her anniversary of those very friendships. Twilight’s friends, hereby predominately represented by Applejack throughout the episode, are also extremely understanding about Twilight’s new duties. Despite this, she thinks either action will result in the decay of the friendship between either herself and her mentor or her and her friends. To Twilight, friendships are fragile things that shatter at the littlest disappointment, the smallest betrayal.
Applejack reassures her that the symbol of the Elements of Harmony will keep them together. Applejack is wrong, as the episode is keen point out. The elements in this case are symbolic friendship bracelets, as worthless as and fragile the beads used to make them. Real friendship is made of sterner stuff. We see this when Celestia comes to regale Twilight with her own story of betrayal and reconciliation.
While Celestia reassures Twilight from her freak out, the story fails to make an impression. Note that the thing that triggers her freak out is the same decision she’s been avoiding all along. The choice she believes she must make between her mentor and her friends. While even Spike realizes that it isn’t a real choice, Twilight does not. She fails to learn the lesson, and instead she’s calmed by Celestia’s serene presence and the admiration Twilight so craves from her mentor.
Because Twilight cannot grow with her mentor calming her and preventing her from learning her lesson, and for other reasons we will go into later, McCarthy whisks Celestia and Luna away. Without her mentor to calm her, Twilight’s indecision between her duty and her friends reaches its peak. With Twilight being the only remaining princess, the responsibilities of the world fall at her hooves. As such, the world becomes an extension of her indecision.
The sky itself can’t decide between day and night, because like Luna before her, Twilight doesn’t realize it isn’t a one or the other decision. Unlike Luna, instead of deciding to please only herself with her night, Twilight wants to be everything to everybody. She wants to be both day and night.
This brings us to why I reject this episode as an episode about growing up and accepting your responsibilities. Even in her doubt, Twilight repeatedly chooses her duty over her friends. Here she accepts her responsibility without much hesitation. Twilight isn’t afraid she won’t measure up; she does what she has to without muss or complaint. Twilight knows how to take charge and how to be a leader. In fact, she is probably more comfortable as a leader than as a friend.
Unfortunately, it is not as a leader or as a princess that she must grow. She needs to grow as a friend.
Let’s take a break from Twilight and talk about the vines, shall we? They start out as plunder seeds, planted in the moments before Discord’s first defeat. They’re a representation of Discord’s past a despot and a plunderer. As a creation of their namesake, they seem to promote both discord and betrayal. We’re shown the state of ponyville as they escape their dormant state and spread across equestria.
The animals flee the forests that are their home, hiding in Fluttershy’s home instead. The fields rise up against the earth ponies that tend them. Applejack and her family, experts in the tending of trees and the pulling of weeds are absolutely flummoxed at this new plant. The clouds themselves turn unruly, and the Pegasus are helpless to return them to their natural order. If we had sea pony characters, we’d likely have been shown them getting caught up in strange tides. The very thing the cast have come to rely upon for their livelihoods has betrayed them.
Of particular interest is the scene with Rarity. While we the viewer are privy to the cause of her distress, she herself never figures it out. What follows is a flurry of perceived betrayals. Rarity’s magic disobeys her at the whims of the vines, the magic attacks Opal, who in turn blames Rarity. Rarity, ignorant of the vines, blames Sweetie Belle and her friends, because most of the chaos in her life comes from them, why not this?
Rarity is incorrect, and Sweetie Belle has similar magical problems. The vines are never indicted for their crime, and blame is never placed. Who is to blame? Who would’ve Rarity and Sweetie Belle indicted for their problems once they realized one another are not to blame? What damage could they have done to other relationships before they came to the true conclusion? The simple answer is that Discord is to blame, but the episode is ambiguous about the blame for the problem.
Discord himself is interesting. The cast assume he is the antagonist, and he is to some degree responsible for the current predicament. The characters fumbling about trying to figure out what kind of story they are in is a hallmark of McCarthy episodes. Advertisements for the episode presented it as a Man vs Nature epic, Twilight versus the everfree. Twilight and company assume it is Man vs Man, herself versus Discord, before deciding it is Man vs Nature.
Discord may seem to be the antagonist, but he is not. He may be responsible, but since his plunder seeds never bloomed, he probably just wrote them off. After his reformation, he never intended for them to sprout. He may be responsible and careless, but he is certainly not entirely to blame. Chance and circumstance caused the buried past to come roaring back in an unintended betrayal.
Despite being interrupted in the shower, Discord is initially jovial and would’ve helped. The sudden accusations and mud flinging changes his mind, as he realizes Twilight believes betrayals sever friendship. It is an immature assumption, and Discord calls Twilight out on it.
After Twilight makes it clear she isn’t interested in listening, Discord doesn’t inform them of his part in events. Why should he? If he told them what he knew, they’d likely betray him in turn, assuming the worst of him and turning him to stone. His innocence is debatable, but from his perspective, he is innocent. The wrongdoing is unintentional.
With the ponies outright denying his reliability, Discord instead decides to take up the mantle of trickster mentor. He brings in a proxy in the form of Zecora to make the point for him. He literally points the arrow to her, and then later brings out her potion at a whim. As much as I like Zecora, she is a nonentity in the story. Little more than a plot device through which Discord can try to show Twilight the error of her ways.
When Twilight pops the potion, the result is rather incongruous. Since she is scrying for the cause of the current crisis, you’d think she’d see Discord’s imprisonment first. Instead she is whisked to the old palace of the pony sisters.
This doesn’t make since until you think of two things. One is the lesson Discord is trying to teach her, about betrayal and reconciliation. The other is her question right beforehand: why is the sky day half day and half night? The vines are not the cause of the disturbed sky. It is a reflection of Twilight’s mood. The vision of the palace proves both points marvelously.
The palace has an excellent symbolic design. Two Thrones, with a bridge between them
Luna takes her place on the bridge, and it becomes a podium. She’s presented with an almost dictator-esque image here.
Luna then shatters the bridge between the day and the night, cementing her betrayal.
And the sky reflects her hatred and hurt, just as Twilight’s sky reflects her indecision and her desire to be everything to everyone.
I’d also like to add that the reason Twilight is physically present and seemingly interacting in this scene, where she is a nonentity in the other flashbacks is simple. She’s an emotive proxy for Celestia. Celestia is the type of character who needs to be presented as stable and to some degree stoic for the children audience.
While adults crave a more complex character, archetypes like Optimus Prime and Celestia, bastions of pure paternalism are comforting for children. I was shocked we got any tears from her. Twilight is there so we can feel Celestia’s betrayal through her, without distracting from Celestia’s stability.
Luna’s betrayal is the central act in the story and the element that ties the three acts together. We are shown three types of betrayal in this story, one per act. Discords betrayal is one of past wrongs and present carelessness that causes them to boil back to the surface, but we don’t learn of the betrayal until the ending. Luna’s betrayal is in the middle act, and is a betrayal of emotional hurt and jealousy. The third act comes with its own betrayal, a betrayal of misplaced good intentions.
While Luna’s betrayal is the central act, but Applejack’s betrayal is the most important point in the story. Twilight has spent too much time waffling in her desire to be all things to all people. Finally, Applejack does what she feels is necessary and decides for her. The responsibilities come first, Applejack decides, and Twilight needs to be safe. As she fails to realize the elements of harmony are a worthless symbol, she fails as Twilight does to realize this is not an either/or concept.
Twilight, confronted with her worst fear, the notion that she no longer belongs, flees. Likely she believes it is her station that is the problem, and Discord being a trickster mentor zing her about that specifically. It never was the problem though, since Applejack soon comes to realize her choice was a mistake, and that she needs Twilight, that she was wrong to betray her, to cast her out in order to protect her.
Twilight’s station is the impetus for the betrayal, but it is Twilight’s and Applejack’s misinterpretation of what that station means that causes the rift. Just it is her misinterpretation of the elements worth that causes Applejack to hesitate to bring them back.
I’m sorry. Did I say this was a story about betrayal?
This is a story about reconciliation.
It is only after Twilight herself has experienced betrayed that she can experience reconciliation and realize that betrayal needn’t end friendships. This is the turning point for Twilight’s character. Thought Celestia tried to teach her about reconciliation, and Discord tried to offer his reconciliation, it is only through her friends that she learns the power of reconciliation, and its meaning.
The three betrayals that cement the story together all end in reconciliation, although not in order. Luna’s betrayal in the second act is reconciled before the story even begins, and the summer sun celebration is a celebration of the act of reconciliation. Applejack’s betrayal is reconciled before the plot is even finished with its third act. Discord’s reconciliation comes either when he decides to play Trickster-Mentor, or when he admits to being partially to blame and agrees to help clean up his mess.
But really, who is to blame for this whole mess? Discord clearly didn’t expect the plunder seeds to spawn after his first gambit. Celestia and Luna were caught by surprise, and never expected the tree to lose its power.
Well, for the answer, let’s look at the tree itself:
The tree is Twilight, symbolically. Her cutie marks the center. Celestia’s and Luna’s mark the base, indicating the role they would have in her growth. The branches reach out to the other elements of harmony, her friends. Discord calls it her tree in the episode. The structure is crystalline, but it could be mistaken for glass. As easily Twilight mistakes the strength of true friendship for a fragile communion that breaks at the slightest betrayal.
It’s only Twilight’s doubts that the roots of friendship run deeper than the vines of betrayal that only now weakens the tree enough for the vines to start strangling the life out of her friendships.
We’re not in a story about Man vs. Man, Discord vs Twilight, nor are we in a story about Twilight fighting back nature, or Twilight fighting the pressures of her princesses-hood. We’re in a story about Twilight versus herself, Twilight versus her own doubts. It is only when Twilight experiences betrayal and reconciliation for herself that she realizes that betrayal, no matter how large or how small, can be reconciled. That her fears of betraying her mentor or her friends are absurd, since even if they did, they would forgive her and reconcile.
It is only after the realization that she is ready to give up the needless symbols of friendship, the meaningless security blanket that are the elements of harmony.