Twilight’s Kingdom... It’s not as bad as the Crystal Empire or Princess Twilight Sparkle. I wouldn't say it’s good, it’s still a rickety story like all of Meghan’s longer episodes/movies, but it is a step in the right direction. Between S2 and 3 for some reason Meghan dropped the ball (it happens), The Crystal Empire (in comparison to Canterlot Wedding) had many gimmicks (Mainly being the Fair (jousting) and Castle (stairs, door)), “jokes” (Rarity obsessing over crystal ponies, flugelhorn, Pinkie Spy...) and instant resolutions (We need information, oh we need the heart. Where Sombra hide the heart? Oh here’s the path. Oh no there’s a door! I got past it.). Slowly over time, Meghan has been picking up the pieces, Twilight’s kingdom mostly avoids narrow sighted gimmick driven stories filled with dumb jokes, which is the best praise I can personally give it really.
My first impressions of this episode, was that it was... boring, simple, generic. I tried it with my byter-patented “can it work as an audio play?” test and it passed fairly well.
One of the biggest problems this episode has, is that the majority of it is just standing and talking, if we just look past what they are talking about, what did the characters actually do? The main 5 just followed Twilight around for while, then she runs off and they just sit around in ponyville until they are captured and stuff.The princesses just went to Canterlot and then sat around doing next to nothing until they were captured and sent to Tartarus. Discord just meets with the M6, meets the big bad, hangs around with him and gets betrayed/captured at the end. Tirak is just running around separate from the rest of the cast (except Discord and the princesses at one point) until he challenges Twilight and it all gets wrapped up. Twilight just goes from place to place, she gets all the magic and then just messed around with it until the big fight.
Basically the majority of what “happens” is done by people talking about or through the plot. How does Twilight express her pointless princess position? She talks/sings about it. How does Discord get convinced to be bad again? He talks about it. How do we learn what the villain has done? Celestia tells Twilight about it. How or why do they choose to trust Discord or put all the magic to Twilight? They talk it over. This property, like the rest of the kid exposition this/last season, makes this episode a fair radio drama out the gate, because the majority of the episode is given to us aurally, not visually. This to not say ALL of it is talking, the battle, Twilight controlling her super magic-ness and Tirek bashing down the door are times where (for the most part) the characters don’t feel the need to explain what is going on and what they are doing.
So whilst most of what ‘happens’ is just exposition/talking... what about the plot and characters?
Well as I have established before, I am rather disappointed that once again the rest of the main cast serve no purpose beyond being magical beakers from which to distill “friendship magic”. This show keeps talking about friendship, but I think it’s pretty clear that they only care about Twilight and her magical friendship destiny nonsense more than they care about actually having their friendship manifest in a real/meaningful way. I guess at least, compared to all the rest of the cast, be it the CMC, the cakes or even Mayor Mare... at least the M6 get a little recognition (rather than absolutely none at all).
Ok. let’s be frank, this story is about Princesses (all 4 alicorns) and powerful magical beasts (Discord/Tirak), it’s going for big scale, all the self entitled alicorn magic up against all the magic of all the people absorbed by a giant magic vampire, before friendship comes in at the end to save the day...
The three princesses just move around as a single unit, like a three headed hydra that has even less diversity than the M5 hydra. They weren't that good in my opinion, in the start they just tell Twilight it’s all alright... which means nothing really. They make a lot of the important decisions of the show, making them have all the agency over the story... As I said this story is simple... so the only rational presented is what is going to happen. It actually looks like the Princesses are rather impulsive, as soon as one of them propose something, that’s the plan. Despite being rulers of the whole of Equestria with many diplomatic ties to other nations, the princesses seem to have only two cards in their hand. 1. Send Discord. 2. Hide all the magic in Twilight and just deny total victory. It’s patently just a shallow ploy to have the story be on the level of Twilight and magic vs magic. I mean is there nothing that you couldn't throw at the bad guy apart from Discord? Like arrows, or non magical creatures, or whatever you did last time to arrest and imprison him last time? Eh. The princess's plans weren't that good, it was obvious that Discord was going to betray them. The plan to rely on anonymity of Twilight is also dumb... Discord knows ALL the princesses and he is with the big bad. I don’t think not telling the M5 will change anything because Tirak isn't exactly interrogating everyone, he’s just steamrolling around sucking everything, it’s obviously just another impulsively chosen order that makes no sense because the plot says so. Also, why would he know about Cadence? She is a new princess of love who has a different race of ponies (in a kingdom) who he hasn't prayed upon (and might not know about). At least smash or cover up the Windows or references to Twilight if you are choosing this plan, an escape plan isn't much of an escape if you leave the important details just lying around. So yeah, the princesses are dumb, control all the decisions and don’t even do that much, though they do sure like talking, so at least no one will be left behind on their dumb and simple plans.
This is trying to be Twilight’s story, but well written it is not.
She is not playing to her strengths at all during this episode. Twilight of the Nightmare Moon or Discord arc was an interesting protagonist because she has always been a driven person, who could motivate the others to come along with her to try to save the world, you know, a leader. It seems though that ironically becoming a princess has undone these traits more than it has let them shine. It starts by her being complacent about being a new figurehead, but it also makes her really passive about it. We common folk have to work hard to get our education/skills and to ply our little jobs... It is hard to relate to someone who has had everything handed to her on a silver platter just whine about it this late in the game.. You are supposed to be a leader, you should try to take charge of something, like you have already done so in the past (winter wrap up), because now you don’t need anyone to order you around, you can set your own goals.
This is a real problem in regards to Princess Twilight in general. Despite her title, she lacks initiative (she needs Discord to basically highlight the answer in their diary) and drive (she just does whatever the other princesses decide, she doesn’t have any plans of her own). She is just a passive puppet who does what she is told, more a drone than a leader. This story, like “Princess Twilight Sparkle” doesn’t really explore her leadership and just displays the issue at the start before dropping it for big events going on in the story. Ironically Twilight is the least fit leader than she has ever been in this story, it is only her ability to use Deus Ex machina things with her magical beakers that really save the day. She shouldn’t get her own kingdom at the end of this, because she acted in a way that almost got the whole of Equestria stomped on by two monsters who were also her fault.
To use an analogy, she is the plucky peasant who defeated the scary dragon using a supporting team of casters who buffed her to OP levels. The kingdom appointed her a knight, but without a dragon to fight she just sat inside eating pies. When another different dragon shows up (one which grew on all the crusts she left on the messy floor), she got slowly out of her chair and tried to defeat it single handedly, but only after the kingdom had thrown all their remaining money at her to save them. She trades all the kingdom’s remaining money for those casters, who quickly find a convenient chest of wands to buff her up again to save the day again, hooray! Not only that the wands gave her a new palace and the king says to the old lord of the place (assuming that Twi now owns ponyville) “she has a castle here now...so I guess you don’t control these lands now I guess... lol”.
So yeah. Twilight no longer really fits the role of protagonist like she used to. Her story isn’t that great, she basically just acts as a person around which the plot is made, rather than one who seems to be forcing the plot forward. In most stories we follow a ‘hero’ someone who has the drive and ability to change the world... in this story we follow almost the opposite of that, a princess with great abilities, waste them. She is supercharged to crazy levels but she hides from the problem until confrontation is the only real course and in the end she gives up everything for a pathetic short term goal. I am not saying that strictly speaking her actions don’t make sense... only that the tone of the story and who she is doesn't seem to jive very well together into a cohesive story that people would actually want to watch. I mean it’s still Twilight, it’s still equestria about to be doomed... but ehhh. The people of his place aren't that important and Twilight doesn't do things because she wants to, she does them because she’s ordered too... I just don’t get why watching someone follow orders and make choices that “have” to end in a happy ending is a good story...
Then we come onto Tirak. I don’t really have much to say about him. He is a bad guy who gets crazy powerful and threatening... He doesn't actually crossover with the other characters much. He seems to just be on a vacation tour around Equestria reaving the snot out of everyone. Tirak mostly only plays into Discord’s story and the big fight at the end. Which in the end, is still better than Sombra, both might just be distant, implied danger to the main cast, but at least Tirak did stuff and he was intimidating. I still prefer villains who have chemistry with the rest of the cast, but sometimes you can have just a simple bad guy and have him do bad guy stuff... Simple but not too bad.
So lastly we come onto Discord, I liked his arc the most of all the ‘reformed’ key people. It wasn’t very complex, he’s tempted with power, helps out a bit and eventually gets betrayed. It’s simple... he is a bit dumb, but at least it is more cohesive than Twilight’s figurehead position arc or erm... taking orders? Discord doesn't really have the charm he once did, only really teleporting about and doing silly stuff at the start. Even when he has full reign he just stands around watching Tirek. Discord is not an interesting character because he is dumb and boring. He loved chaos, a free spirit, now he loves being bossed around, lovely. I don’t have much to say on his arc really. It was simple and forced... why did Tirak give him the necklace (if you are about to betray someone you don’t really need to care if you are in their good books)? Well because the plot says so. Why didn’t Discord just freelance around causing his own kind of mischief? Or expect the inevitable power struggle? Because he’s dumb and the plot says so.
Lastly... I guess I should cover what I missed.
The songs were pretty generic... not even catchy. Just sung conversations or morals. I didn't really care for either really. Just singing something randomly doesn’t really change how it feels to me. I actually don’t like the one at the start because singing takes a while and took a whole lot longer to say what would have been said anyway via the Princesses interacting normally. I would actually prefer if they had just tried to make the interaction more complex rather than more flashy. The ending song was ok, mostly just token platitudes like the “success song”. I will only say that the metaphor for rainbows are kinda funny when you think how rare and short lived rainbows typically are. Sure they are colourful, but they are also immaterial illusions, it’s funny mlp wants to use rainbows (beyond toys) as a metaphor for what they are going for.
The fight scene was... a lot of flashy effects. It didn't really focus much on how the characters feel, because it was just goodie vs baddie. It was flashy but lacking substance. Both of them were mostly invulnerable, making each blow... uneventful until (if they ever did, at the writer's discretion) it finally does matter.
The rainbow power and build up to it was clunky. I don’t really care for it. The scene where Twilight just goes through what happened before is pretty underwhelming. The context of a safe room far from trouble or other people doesn't really help with communicating these friendship stories and the pattern between them. Twilight: “Your element is generosity” *reads script* “and you still were that after she was mean” Rarity: “yup”. Eh, fulfilling the box doesn't mean that much implicitly to me, it's just an arbitrary rule set that gives huge powers. Again, making friends means you can rely on them, that's a real chance of friendship manifesting in a real/meaningful way. Reaching 200 friends on facebook is sort of the same (200 people had to accept your friend requests after all), but gaining superpowers from that is just arbitrary.
The dignitaries were kinda forgotten... or not important. It could’ve been better, played a bit into Equestria's foreign ties and allies in times of need.
The loss of the library wasn’t played up very well.. It feels a bit of shame to blast it and not really have the characters say much about its loss... because... OMG another crystal palace has appeared in it’s place! ehhh... it’s just shiny and colourful. It’s just trying to accommodate for something.
All in all, this finale reminded me a lot of the star wars prequels. Both have either: 1. Big flashy battles, which have a lot of work put into them, but not much emotional stakes in them. 2. Dialogue scenes that mostly are just people standing and talking. Both have plots that don’t make much sense beyond their own internal childish logic. Both have great problems with assigning a proper protagonist This episode is mostly just about big amounts of magic flowing around our boring princesses and beasts, our two main characters (Discord & Twilight) are just walkovers, bland everymen who do what the plot needs them to do. If we subjugate our characters to the plinkett test (tell me about the characters without saying what they do, what they look like and what their job is), when using this finale as the only source material, I think you would be hard pressed to come up with anything. Let’s see.. erm.. Tirek is a erm.. a cold calculating egoist? Twilight is erm.. a princess? No wait that’s her job. Erm. She is very obedient and passive? Celestia is very, erm, she erm, likes the throne room?
As I have always said, friendship was best shown in the slice of life stories, where the stories were between people on a common grounded level. “Friendship is magic” has always been a shallow lie when the magic aspect comes in. Friendship is the relationship between two characters, not just a tool to unlock ultimate power via dues ex machina. I have never cared for the elements of harmony or the keys and having stepped the game to this level, how are they going to top that next season? Ironically of all the ‘saving the world’ stories, Dragonshy is still one of the most grounded in actual friendship of all of them. It’s not the greatest episode, but without the elements, the ending was way more meaningful because it spoke more to me about Fluttershy’s solidarity for her friends than the biggest dumbest rainbow powers you can throw at me.
In the end, this finale is one of the biggest (in scale) ‘saving the world’ two parters, its sights are set on handling all the ponies magic vs all the alicorn’s magic, the only players are the Princesses, Tirek and Discord. The common pony, aka the rest of the cast, are just pawns in this giant chess game, if they remembered at all. This show wants to talk about friendship, but it is so engrossed in making Twilight a person who has all the superpowers and not a Mary Sue (by being passive and awkward about her powers), that she comes across as a Mary Sue who has no right to her powers, which is ironically one of the least likable Mary Sues out there.