I did promise a Where I Watch of Season 4. Here it is. WARNING – SPOILERS. PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK.
I don’t know if it’s everypony’s dream… – Rainbow Dash
The Mane 6 are back, and they’re just as scatter-brained as ever. People were worried that Twilight Sparkle’s new royal status would spoil the plot, but the first few minutes of the episode suggest that Lauren Faust’s dream is still alive and kicking. Twilight is nervous about the ceremonies and duties that are keeping her in Canterlot, while the rest of the Mane 6 have gone back to Ponyville, and has a hard choice – stay in Canterlot or go back and risk the inevitable problems of travel. She chooses to stay and face up to what her job depends on.
However, with Celestia being her usual rather manipulative self, there’s definitely a spanner in the works here somewhere. The expression ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ springs to mind. Given this is a two-parter, there’s a mystical evil lurking somewhere. And of course Twilight is the go-to pony to explain everything about the sudden disappearance of Princess Luna and Princess Celestia.
After Tia’s nostalgic speech about the Summer Sun festival, that seems pretty inevitable. (Gee, guys, this season premieres in November. Can you rub it in a little bit more, please? My SAD is kicking in something chronic and you just drop the hint that it’s midsummer…)
And Twily is in a position of political and administrative power. Meanwhile the Everfree Forest has …escaped and is smothering Ponyville with malicious tentacly roots. I’m liking this a lot, because most programmes of this sort are a bashful princess relinquishing power because she wants to be with her friends. Twilight actually has some authority in the situation, and a responsibility to many more ponies than just her friends, and she can wield it without the long agonising speeches about a difference in status from her friends. She earned her promotion, and after a montage of the Mane 5 and CMC dealing with the encroaching tentacles, I’m sure we’ll see her leaping into action with her Checklist of Rainbow Might and Elements of Bureaucracy.
And her wings. INCOMING!!!
If only it were that simple. If all what was needed was to use the Elements of Harmony, summon Discord, accuse him of the ponynapping and the chaos of the Everfree forest, and get him to put things right. But we’ve still got half an hour to go. And Discord is protesting his innocence, and of course although there’s a problem trusting him, there’s a method to this madness. Fluttershy insists he’s innocent. So, after a bit of a lesson in ‘giving the people who claim to have reformed the benefit of the doubt’ it’s off to Zecora.
Zecora gives Twilight Sparkle a tip – only alicorn magic can put things to rights. Of course :D. (Plot hole number one – where’s Cadance?) Twily is given a potion to show her what she needs to do.
What follows is…well, spoilers. In a trance, Twilight confronts Luna. Unfortunately, it seems the moon princess has gone into a bit of a huff about Twilight’s promotion and is reverting to her old ways. In the process, she turns back into Nightmare Moon.
Well, I didn’t see that coming.
(Round about here we start Episode 2, though I’m watching a continuous stream on YouTube.)
Luna/NM has elevated the moon. Tia won’t fight her – hence the sad speech earlier on – and there’s a bit of pew-pew which actually makes me a little more comfortable about this series in general being less ‘let’s all sit around and harp on about Twilight becoming a princess’ and more ‘let’s get out there and add a few things to our collective Weapons of Mass Befriending arsenal’. Suddenly we’re confronted by an ornery Luna seemingly angry with Twilight Sparkle and attacking Celestia; the scene ends with the vengeance of Tia and the raising of a past form of the Elements of Harmony, which sends Nightmare Moon catapulted towards the moon with indecent haste.
Twilight has been in a trance and has just had a vision of Celestia originally banishing Luna/NM to the moon; however, it doesn’t seem to have given her any insight into the current situation. Then in another vision, Luna and Tia are there to confront Discord themselves. So that’s one problem solved. Twily also sees the original petrification of Discord.
Essentially this is a history lesson – understanding the Elements of Harmony, hanging from the Tree of Harmony. It’s this tree which seems to be in danger.
This is quite a confusing part of the episode. Nevertheless, Twilight has learned she needs to face things alongside her friends. There are very few let-ups in the comedy of the animation, and it’s never forgotten that Twilight is still not comfortable with her wings.
‘Eventually’ isn’t soon enough – and her friends are chafing. Twilight is encouraged to go home to protect her royal status, because with Tia and Luna gone, Equestria needs a ruler. She argues that she’s the only pony who knows what the ToH looks like, but it’s the others who say they can find it just on the strength of her description.
Discord begs to differ. His sarcastic silver tongue makes a few good points. Why should she keep herself safe? Spike holds the devil’s advocate ball here, asking whether she could trust Discord, which I guess is done so that Twilight can vocalise and defend her decision to return to Everfree Forest, but makes Spike look like a chump, distrusting Discord just because he’s Discord, not because his insistence that she returns to her friends actually makes sense and is, ethically speaking, the right thing to do. (This is where I started to wonder who had actually done this, because if Discord was really behind it all, as the plot seems to be intimating despite Fluttershy’s spirited defence of him, he’d be trying to keep the ponies apart.)
Meanwhile, the ponies are a bit cynical about the chances of finding the ToH. Having tumbled down some stairs, they find it entangled in a thorn bush. It seems the Mane 5 can’t function without Twilight, and are not exactly bonding over this – they’re falling out with each other. Meanwhile Twilight is lost and despondent herself, and lucky for her, her friends manage to rescue her from the tentacles which engulf her as she succumbs to her own ill-humour.
To be honest, the episode really feels a little contrived for a story of daring do against evil. Firstly the evil isn’t really defined until the closing stages of the episode, and when it is pinned on Discord, there’s an interesting explanation. As odd as it sounds, maybe that’s a reasonable choice. After all, some problems aren’t always rooted in a specific person. Some things are systemic, or they’re the result of natural phenomena, and get blamed on people like Discord who have previously been scapegoats. As it turns out, Discord did sow the seeds of the tentacles, but he did it while he was bad Discord, at the very beginning of his imprisonment, not since his reformation. And he was part of a gambit to teach Twilight lessons the hard way – as part of friendship. (Hmmm. Interesting idea. It seems a little bit like a cop-out explanation. But then again, Tia and Luna are both known by fandom to be manipulative of Twilight in order to get her to learn. Now they are all collaborating to assist Twilight take on a public persona of her own and work through her issues and dilemmas regarding her new status.
The Elements of Harmony, taken from the Tree, have to be returned to it to save it. It can’t be done with brute force. Twilight and Applejack converse, and work out that their friendship isn’t dependent on the magic of the Elements – it’s to do with their non-magical bond with each other. So they relinquish the artifacts that have previously kept evil at bay all over Equestria – and therefore put their trust fully in each other. I didn’t see that coming, but I guess the show has to keep things fresh and find different ways to combat the evil which occasionally engulfs Equestria.
Considering the overall message of this two-parter, one of the nice things is that TS isn’t just a princess who lives in a castle and wears pink dresses and sits around all day. She’s a working princess with responsibilities and a definite role in Equestria. And she’ll be hanging out with the other ponies from now on while taking on that responsibility. For all people complained about her taking on the monarchical title of Princess, it’s obvious that this is to some degree an appointed/elected monarchy rather than an hereditary one. I like what they’ve done with Princess Twilight – and it’s true to the values of the show that little girls are being told to aim for public responsibility and purposeful activity alongside wealth and glamour. Twilight can do all that by accepting a position of leadership and rising to the occasion presented to her rather than the sort of humility one sometimes sees in children’s media where in order to be accepted by her friends the princess has to all but renounce her status. When you earn it, you don’t have to be afraid of using it in the public good. I’m not knocking the ‘Don’t call me Ma’am’ school of storywriting, as it has its place, particularly when the status comes from birth rather than achievement. But I think it would have been a cop-out if Twily had insisted on going back to her library and curling up with a book. People – and ponies – grow and develop and sometimes have to take on new responsibility. And Twilight doesn’t actually run and hide from it; her friends’ dilemma regarding her safety is quite appropriate to the situation, which is what makes it a genuine discussion rather than a presentation of a right and wrong answer. Sometimes there are no right/wrong answers; sometimes we have to live with the consequences of an equivocal decision.
I’m going to give it 7 1/2 out of 10. I enjoyed the story, but it was a bit convoluted and there were times when the episode could have been paced a bit better. Tia and Luna’s disappearance isn’t well-explained. Much of the problem with it is the story-telling rather than the actual plot, and the vague notion of evil, although I’ve already explained why I’m happy to see something that is not immediately ascribable to one particular person, and that came about because of prior misconduct rather than the immediate depredation of an all-new one-shot villain like King Sombra. But I think MLP:FIM has managed to keep its unique sense of humour and empowering logic for little girls (and little boys) in this new series, and I think we’re in for a treat with the rest of the season. It’s not overly preachy – which is something I dislike in stories in general, because real life is complicated and full of nuance and intersectionality, and creating absolutist black-and-white morality is not a good idea in general. However, it has a clear message that the series is refreshing itself and can cope with the new parameters thrust upon it by the ending of season 3. With a bit more technical thought put into how the stories are told, I think this will be quite an exciting ride.