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Submitted on
November 23, 2013


2 (who?)

I am having a sense of deja vu going on here. One year ago I was an Engineering student sitting down about to watch the opening to season 3 and to then having to write my rather disappointed review. Today I am a graduate sitting in my own place with my gf (and cat) by my side about to watch the opening to season 4 and then having to write my rather begrudging review. Actually come to think of it,  some things have changed quite a lot.

Well enough dilly dallying. Let's break down my reaction and explanations for my reactions to these two episodes. (Oh spoiler warnings by the way)

My gut feeling about this episode is that the story has a very stilted feel to it. The way the story was handled felt distant and impersonal (I do go into episodes blind, so I have no prior bias or expectation on what the story will be).

First off this episode feels like a clumsy hybrid. It is both a history episode *and* an action story. A large-ish portion of its time is spent in flashbacks recounting the history of the alicorn sisters and the elements of harmony. Whereas the rest of the plot revolves around dark plants and clouds invading ponyville and the disappearance of the alicorn sisters. The two types of story being told come together with an audible clunk. The encroaching disaster is depicted as something that everyone wants to solve but, only a small part of the flashbacks play a role in identifying the issue. Whilst the history segments reflect none of that prior agency, with Twilight merely watching and commenting on what is going on whilst everyone just watches her trance without any risk.

The episode also felt so distant because of how it handled the variables of the story. This story, like Canterlot Wedding (with Chrysalis) has a great important mystery to be revealed, which in this case was the “Tree of harmony”.

To start with, before this mystery is resolved, the plants start attacking and the plot just spends all its time reuniting the M6 after just splitting them apart. There are very few rules of engagement being established and no end in sight once they all get back together. This ,along with the mundane and mostly unrelated opening, constitute the whole first episode.

After Zecora -happens- to have the right potion that -happens- to be usable by only Twilight in a scenario where she can be in a trance for ages with no risk. The flashbacks are then eventually used to reveal the trees existence to the audience and that it will (probably) save the day. The reenactment on priorly established lore is mostly superfluous to the main story and only serves to distract from the main story.

With the mystery explained (such as it is) the rest does finally click more into place. We finally have an objective and aim, though I still don’t really know any of the rules, other than how we can win. It means there’s nothing much complex at stake other than our characters well being and actually finally reaching the final drop off point correctly. It reduced our final resolution to be rather binary, they either will win or lose with no middle or ambivalent ground in between.

I also felt very estranged from the characters. The M5 all come across as a single entity with 5 faces. But the M5 often act with one mind, and when the story does separate them, their stories often don’t matter for the greater plot, like when Rarity couldn’t use magic or AppleJack was complaining about the weeds. It brushes over their input and involvement by making them all take the same roles in the plot, such as when they all wish for Twilight to leave (more on that later). They felt less like characters and more like hangers on. Twilight takes the spotlight this episode, but her actions and emotions feel like those of the everyman. Her competence with spells and ability to think on her feet are rather absent, making her a bit of a simple minded pushover who can’t fly very well yet. As with the plot, Twilight’s role as a princess isn’t explained in much detail, we still don’t understand what she rules or has authority over and because of this we can’t really identify with her problems on any level. This all comes to a head in the 2nd part where the main 6 all tell Twilight to go back because she’s a princess. Here Twilight is a walkover to the herd mentality for a reason we cannot judge given our lack of understanding. It feels contrived and hollow, creating drama to pad out the plot.

On the topic of Twilight having to leave; this episode repeats the same mistakes as EG did.

That of creating short term issues and instantly resolving them. Twilight leaves the group and next scene turns around. The group split up and then have to reunite. There is a dangerous Rockodile (as I named it) and then they caught it. Twilight got her friends and now need to find a solution, a bottle with the means to solve it appears. But the bottle can only be used by an alicorn, but she is one! The issue with this again, is the lack of impact to many of the stories plot points. Most issues are raised and dropped on a dime, excluding the main storyline. There’s little sense of permanence to this story.

All in all. The above is why this story feels so empty and contrived for me. The fun of the story trickled away with the awkward structure, distant variables, bland characters and quick resolutions.

I do have a few more minor nitpicks that confused me:

  • Twilight is missing her wings in the start of the intro sequence (though they might be showing her change).

  • Snips & Snails are used in the pic of ponyvillans.... why give them prominent position?

  • Luna is clunkily added into the intro sequence.

  • The lighting in the stained glass room is very bright for some reason.

  • The M6 are away from Canterlot after MMC established the town as very dysfunctional.

  • If the princesses are captured. Why did the Sun rise? Since the Celebration requires Celestia to raise it. Why is the moon at the same height?

  • Why is AJ/Apple Family just trying to uproot the weeds with her mouth? She should have knowledge and tools to removing pesky weeds.

  • Why did Rarity's magic thing not play into anything later?

  • The clouds are never really explained as to their origin.

  • Why did AJ move to the town centre/hall?

  • Fluttershy left her cottage full of frightened animals, for no stated reason. I think she would’ve looked after them.

  • Ponyville is very barren. No townsfolk at all. Why did only the M5 stay around and be surprised by this incursion. Also Discord has two later on... from somewhere.

  • How did they know, or choose to teleport Discord to them?

  • The potion could only be opened with alicorn magic. But Twilight used what looked like Sombra’s dark magic. But that magic has been used by two unicorns, Twilight and Sombra.

  • Why are the group completely safe when they watch Twilight hallucinate?

  • Luna is fully grown in the flashback to start with and she originally ‘refused to lower the moon’ rather than form an eclipse.

  • NMM was only around for a few mins and is feared for centuries.

  • The element of magic was a complete mystery but is clearly used several times by Celestia & Luna. Why did this element get forgotten?

  • All the dialogue in the flashbacks are a bit too conveniently expository.

  • There’s a lot of convenient ropes that the M5 are pretty good at using to subdue their foes.

  • Why did they ask to separate if they knew they needed the elements? Why not take the elements with them?

  • How come they found the cave entrance so easily? And the stairs?

  • How did Twi fall so easily into the plants attacks? Are they local or parts of the dark seeds?

  • Why is everyone else so casual about defeating the plants?

  • Why did Luna/Celestia get freed last? They are closest and first to be abducted. Shouldn’t they be freed first?

  • Random box is random. Pretty contrived or given no reason to expect it.

  • Twilight's wings are inconsistently reliable. She can make a Sonic Twi Boom. She takes flight without noticing when anxious. But has difficulty remembering she can fly or even teleport great distances... also what is a SonicTwiBoom?

  • Why ,after this is over, didn’t they just take the elements back?

  • And if they know about the seeds, why not ask Discord to remove them? Why not remove them themselves? Did the placing of the elements destroy the seeds or not?

  • The M5 were needed by the Mayor, but they attend Canterlot at the end, despite Ponyville being in a state where they are probably needed more than ever.

These are just off the top of my head really.

In conclusion then.

These opening episodes seem to want to do two things at once, give us a history lesson and have a thrilling action story. But as they currently stand these two very different feeling parts of the story don’t mix.

The episode treats its context lazily, giving us just the information we need right when it needs it. It makes the whole experience feel kind of hollow rather than deep as any turn can be rationalized away by the plot due to how loose and unengaging the setting is.

I guess, in a way, this episode lives up to its namesake. Princess Twilight is still an enigma just like this story. The title and actions are supposed to be meaningful, but they are hollow and pretend.

To clarify things; I do not personally hate this episode. I can see it’s many flaws and failings, but honestly my response to this episode is ‘meh’. It failed to engage me and I can see many reasons why. I do not care for the story, setting or characters here. I feel apathy rather than direct dislike.
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rune36232 Featured By Owner Dec 5, 2013
Byter, do you happen to like any episode after season 2? The show has not declined in quality, but from what I read here, you seem to hate every single episode. Heck, I'm actually starting to think that you wanted to do this, that you were planning from the very beginning to start reviewing all episodes past season 2 to show off your hatred towards something that I just can't quite put my finger on. No offense, but after all this criticism, you sound to be incredibly biased, you literally think that season 1 and 2 are perfect, I bet you are willing to defend any episode from those two seasons just to prove your point
byter75 Featured By Owner Dec 6, 2013
I think you are projecting a little too hard there dude, if you tried any harder you could show off power point presentations at the office.

I am a critic, I critique things by being critical. Just because I see many flaws with S3-4 thus far, doesn't mean I think prior seasons are "perfect" or that I am biased. I have enjoyed some episodes post CW, I have disliked some episodes prior to CW.

This is all 'to the person' though (aka ad hominem). Instead of just looking at my character, perhaps you can look at what I have to say? Perhaps I have a few valid points about the show and we are getting hung up on what final conclusion I get from everything...?
Nightmare060 Featured By Owner Dec 1, 2013
This felt less like a review and more a list of all the negatives that didn't sit right with you. I can understand and even agree that the story structure was a little disjointed and there were a few plot contrivences here and there. Those are valid critiques. But as part of the bigger picture this is setting up allot of world building, had great character moments and set up the potential for a season wide story arc. There is allot to this episode and it feels like you scratched the surface to focus on the negatives.
byter75 Featured By Owner Dec 1, 2013
Could you explain the positives in a little more detail? World building isn't always a good thing, it depends on what purpose it is used. Good character moments? Sure tell me of them. Though how far does any one good moment go? Potential for future arcs is something that depends heavily on how it'll be actually implemented, potential means nothing if it is never used, and currently we don't know how well future arcs will play out.

Why do you think I've only scratched the surface? I cover the characters, story structure and contrivances, big issues in my book. Why does (currently unspecified) world building or potential count for so much, or small character moments so important compared to the work as a whole?

Nightmare060 Featured By Owner Dec 1, 2013
I'll upload the script to my review to my DA soon and link it to you. I'd share my video, but WMM made the quality shit so I'd rather not share that.

Biggest positives I can say off the top of my head is Discord. Showing subtle character development while still keeping him as his chaotic self. Not to mention Twilight's character not abruptly changing post Alicorn ascension, the weight to Celestia's emotions over her sister and the potential for a creation myth in future episodes via the tree of harmony.
byter75 Featured By Owner Dec 1, 2013
To keep the quality for WMM, go to 'save movie' and then 'save for high definition display' (for W7).  Sure, link me when they go up.

Hmm, I always say that  'character development' is a very complex claim. One needs to show what the character was, has gone through and how they have changed and then establish what this means. Discord still is an unreadable character for me, his chaotic & lying nature makes his actual nature and meaning always suspect, which makes, making claims about him even harder.

What does Twilight not being changed (after MMC makes it seem like a big deal) a good thing? Isn't that inconsistent? Meh.

What do you mean by weight? Her personal weight, the impact it imparts via the story? Just having unspecified weight doesn't mean anything to me.

Again. What does the potential mean? Potential isn't automatically a good thing. We need to establish what the nature of the potential 'is' and 'will' be used. Before we can jump to conclusions about what that potential means.
Nightmare060 Featured By Owner Dec 1, 2013 Here is my review BTW. Not edited much so it still reads like a video script.
Nightmare060 Featured By Owner Dec 1, 2013
I always saw Discord as someone who was not evil, more Chaotic Neutral. He caused chaos for his own amusement, rather than any personal malice. I see him as developing more towards Chaotic Good post Keep Calm and Flutter on. I'm seeing his sarcastic, under handed comments on Twilight's status as a princess as being subtle in encoraging her to return to her friends (The scene was very rushed, I do agree). It's still early days, but it's worth considering that for Discord to be true to his base character, he can't COMPLETELY abandon his chaotic nature. He is the embodyment of chaos in a single being. It's more how he goes about that chaos and the results of his actions.

It's not inconsistant to suddenly change a character's personality out of left field. Her change is that she is now taking on the challenges of a princess and trying to live up to that title, while still connecting with her friends. He's a marker for character development, but she hasn't become a Mary Sue like many feared. THAT is the good thing.

What I mean by weight is that we have evidence to validate Celestia's emotions. Show don't tell, after all. Despite the contrived nature of getting there, we still had a vision of Celestia's battle with Nightmare Moon. We see her current relief and pride in her sister's reformation and we see her heart break in banishing Luna to the Moon, using the elements of harmony. We've seen through the voice acting, animation and story events more of Celestia's emotions and character beliefs.

Potential means we have a good foundation for expansion. It's also showing that magic is not only open to manipulation, but there are varying degreese of magical power and that magic has it's limitations. Without the elements, the magic in the tree of harmony was a limited resource. Now we have a great set up for a season wide story arc and a mystery of what can become.

The foundation is good. Will the rest be good? Can't say. But it doesn't make this a bad start.
byter75 Featured By Owner Dec 2, 2013
This whole episode is Discord playing the M6 for chumps with some batman gambit. If that's the case, perhaps his 'reformation' is just another batman gambit for future gambits such as this one? Your perspective is very similar to that of the M6's, but they are the very people he is going to try (and has) fooled.
I as a proper skeptic see his machinations as very suspect, his 'reformation' is still weak source. Discord's plans can be anything the writers want and as long as he can continue to fool the M6, he can fool the audience into thinking he's changed at all. I can see your angle, but also think you could also be fooling yourself into his plans.

Erm what?
Inconsistent: adj: not staying the same throughout.
"It's not inconsistent to suddenly change a character's personality out of left field."
How isn't a "sudden change" not inconsistent? A "change" is the opposite of "the same" which thus should for fill the "not staying the same" condition.

I agree that her not being a Mary Sue is a good thing, but it doesn't make the episode good. It was also good that she wasn't turned into a pizza. The lack of terrible ideas or plot directions doesn't qualify something as being objectively good.

Except that Celestia "told" us her emotions at the start, her emotions in the flashback with NMM was already known, from before and from the prior episode. So it showed us a thing it's already told us twice. Again, how does this emotion validate the episode? Her emotions aren't important for this story arc, because the story isn't about her but the M6, or have you forgotten?

You again, haven't explained why anyone should care about this apparent foundation. There's a difference between explaining your logic, and explaining what you think in universe could happen. A foundation is an easy thing to do, anything that changes things up could be called a foundation. That still doesn't effect the quality of the episode, or tell us anything about things to come for certain.

To go back to a prior point. You say that I've only scratched the surface by talking about plot, characters, story and tone.
But all your points seem trivial, them not sucking at certain things, them changing things (even a little) and characters doing things or feeling an emotion once. They all don't seem to be stuck on the surface details and irrelevant pattern spotting.
I can see the plot, character story and tone being important to people watching the episode. But minor details and pattern spotting seems to be things that aren't often how people gauge quality. I cannot help but notice the irony in your claim, those things might be important to you, but it is you who is scratching the surface in breaking down how media can effect us...
Nightmare060 Featured By Owner Dec 2, 2013
Lets be clear; I said Discord is STARTING to show his reformation. It's subtle, it's not clear. But there are hints which I see being developed later on. See this is where I don't get your logic. His reformation was too rushed in Keep Calm and Flutter on, but at the same time it's still weak now that it's being done more garduly and with subtlety?

I think I may have made a typo in that sentence because even I don't understand that sentence. It WOULD BE inconsistant to suddenly change Twilight out of left field. Her character is REAMAINING Consistent while still being developed. She is not a Mary Sue because she still shows the character flaws she did before, just in a rejuvinated context. That's the strength of the show's writing; She's learning to take up her position as a princess and take command where needed, but still does not want to be seen as superior to her friends. Essentially, everything that people were worried about in Magical Mystery cure has not come true.

Celestia's emotions may not be relevent to the wider story in it's entirety, but why is it bad to still get character development and world building? This is a huge send off to a very important piece of magic in the show and we are still fleshing out Celestia's character as a whole. It would be bad if she only told us how she felt about Luna with nothing to show for it, but since we SAW it happen it has much more weight to it. Not only that, the flashbacks firmly establish what a risk the Mane 6 are taking and are setting up plot devices to be used in future. This is good world building because it's adding more intrigue and mechanics to the world as a whole.

Like I said in my review (albeit a bit hastily), I use the Caverns of Time as a comparison from the Warcraft universe, since it establishes it as an existing and timeless part of the world. Unlike the Alicorn potion, it isn't a contrivance to send players back to Warcraft's past. It's something that is explained enough so that we can accept it as an important part of the world and establish more drama.

It should be obvious why we should care about this foundation. The Mane 6 are, in the words of a good friend of mine, loosing their eqivilent of a Nuclear deterant. If something BIG comes along like Discord or Nightmare Moon, they are going to need more inventive ways or new magic to be established to deal with these threats. They can't just take out the elements of harmony again because it would upset a magical balance in the world, allowing a chaotic magic to take over. As we saw throughout the episode! We should care because it's doing what a good set up to a story arc should ALWAYS do; Give us a reason to keep watching through conflict and mystery. This is such a central part to any good piece of fiction, not just fantasy fiction, that it baffles me how you missed it.

My whole point in commenting here is that you didn't so much as fairly critique the episode as dig up mud to throw at it. You didn't explain what worked alongside what didn't work and you've missed some key aspects of basic story telling which should contribute to the value judgement as a whole.

Dragon Quest is one of my least favorite episodes because it never used any of the potential that could have become of the premise of that episode. We learn nothing about dragons beyond "Yeah, teenagers are jerks" (see my Warcraft analogy earlier for an example of how to set up a dragon mythos properly). The set up was fairly generic but at least it gave us a reason to keep watching; we want to find out more about Dragons. If following episodes do not carry on the set up of Princess Twilight Sparkle, then I will be one of the first people to call bullshit. But can't we accept the positive merits of the set up for an entire story arc on it's own terms rather than focus entirely on the nitpicks?
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