Due to the success of my Too Many Pinkie Pies video, I’m skipping straight to video with further analysis for the time being. This episode was too much fun!
If you really want a written version though, here’s my script:
Magic Duel is the most meta-tacular episode of My Little Pony, and was mind-blowing for me, after all the analysis of the series I’ve been doing. Sadly I haven’t had a chance to make a video for Boast Busters yet, but I wrote an analysis of it a week ago which you can find linked in the description. My reaction to that episode has a lot to do with why I appreciated Magic Duel, and I’ll be exploring this connection in a bit.
Magic Duel was written by M. A. Larson, who is arguably one of the biggest driving forces towards a unified narrative in the show. He previously wrote Sonic Rainboom and the Cutie Mark Chronicles, which were one of the big continuity threads in the first season. He also wrote Luna Eclipsed, which was a huge piece of continuity in that it finally reintroduced Luna to the series as a mainstay character. Larson seems to enjoy taking minor characters and expanding on them, which he did for Diamond Tiara in Ponyville Confidential, and does again here with The Great and Powerful Trixie (who had also been name-dropped in Ponyville Confidential).
My theory as to why this episode exists is that Larson wanted to make up for Boast Busters, which is one of the worst episodes of the entire show. The only good things that came out of Boast Busters were some light exploration of how Twilight’s magic works, and the introduction of the most lovably obnoxious side character, Trixie. Besides those things, Boast Busters portrays the characters horribly, is paced like a hard shit, and has one of the most lazy and poorly handled lessons in the show. It’s bad, which is something that can’t be said about many MLP episodes. Magic Duel takes all that failure and uplifts it.
Larson’s love of continuity is a constant presence throughout the episode. For starters, it deals with Twilight’s progress in magic, which is the general theme of this whole season. When Twilight was practicing magic at the start of Too Many Pinkie Pies, I wasn’t sure if it was directly connected to the fact that she’s supposed to be training post-Crystal Empire, but now that there’s another episode of her training, and this time throughout the whole episode, it really feels like a major point of the season. There was no better time for Trixie to make a return, since her presence has always been for Twilight to learn more about her magic. In this case, she actually learns when to not use it.
So. Why am I so sure that M. A. Larson was trying to fix Boast Busters? After all, Trixie hasn’t changed much since her last appearance. Larson certainly hasn’t transformed her and given her new life the way he did with Luna in Luna Eclipsed. He does, however, throw in some key phrases that help to define what kind of character she always was.
The important lines are: “she’s less high-and-mighty, and more mean and nasty!”
and: “I liked it better when she was just a fraud”
One of the reasons I hated Boast Busters is that the ponies had been so quick to vilify Trixie, who was just trying to put on a show. They drove her out of town because they found her obnoxious, which isn’t in character for them, and certainly isn’t in character for Twilight, who just sort of lets everything happen and doesn’t chastise her friends for the way they acted.
In the new episode, Trixie is a bully; however, this isn’t a natural part of her character, and Twilight recognizes this. She’s surprised to see Trixie acting this way, because she remembers Trixie as a pain in the ass, but not a villain. Anyone who remembers Boast Busters well would know this, and Larson shows that he cares about her character and who she really was by representing her evil nature as the influence of the Alicorn pendant. It would’ve been too easy to show Trixie as a vengeful bitch and ignore that she was never really threatening in the first place.
The big moment is at the end, when Trixie finally gets the chance to apologize with Twilight and help her to put on a show for the delegates from Saddle Arabia. She finally reconciles with Twilight, and shows that even though she’s still obnoxiously narcissistic, she was never a bad pony. She just made a bad decision.
Okay, let’s talk about cool stuff now.
The opening scene sets the mood beautifully, showing a dark town that we’ve never seen before.
CALLBACK NUMBER ONE: Spike mentions how Twilight once rolled him and Applejack up in a giant snowball, which happened in Winter Wrap Up.
Fluttershy chews off a bunch of her marshmallow hooves. I don’t even–
CALLBACK NUMBER TWO: Trixie mentions working on a rock farm, which is clearly run by Pinkie Pie’s dad. This is corroborated by Pinkie being the one to comment about it. Remember that Larson was the one who wrote Pinkie’s backstory, and this is the first time we’ve been given evidence that Pinkie wasn’t lying about it before. Trixie responds by taking apart Pinkie’s Flash symbol—a fitting piece of fourth-wall-breaking magic for the pony who defies physics.
CALLBACK NUMBER THREE: Twilight summons a parasprite to eat Trixie’s pies, and it even spawns a copy before Twilight gets rid of them.
CALLBACK NUMBER FOUR: Twilight gives Trixie a mustache, which is the spell that Twilight had just learned in Boast Busters. Notice that Trixie snips it off with scissors, and these seem to remind her of Snips and Snails, whom she then calls over.
All sorts of minor characters make appearances. Zecora gets to play a big role again, which has been a good while, and the baby Cakes are there, too. And Lyra drinks the fuck out of some soda.
Twilight with wet hair is ultra adorable.
I love the way this episode made consistent use of Fluttershy, whose powers aren’t often helpful in big action situations like this one. And it does this without making her super badass like often happens, but lets her be her usual scaredy self and still have a good presence, which I appreciate a lot.
I noticed that Twilight’s voice was a little funny (and adorable) at the part where she challenges and battles Trixie for the second time. Then I realized it was because Twilight was trying to brag and lie, and I wondered if she was supposed to be imitating the way Trixie sounds. Tara Strong, y u so brilliant??
Twilight’s gambit makes great use of the supporting cast, and I think that’s a good time to mention just how much this episode relies on the viewer to have seen a lot of it to understand what’s going on. There’s no way you could watch this as your first episode of MLP and know what’s happening.
CALLBACK NUMBER FIVE: Pinkie Pie plays ten instruments like in Swarm of the Century, which is actually being utilized in Twilight’s gambit. M. A. Larson also wrote that episode, by the way.
Finally, at the very end, not only does Pinkie use her famous fourth wall-breaking powers, but Twilight joins her for the last scene. I love that Twilight actually opens a door into the fourth wall zone to meet Pinkie there.
That’s all I’ve got to say about this one. I’ll be putting out a video for One Bad Apple next—I was working on it already, but when I saw Magic Duel, I just couldn’t resist talking about it. Many thanks to everyone who watched, liked, and commented on my Too Many Pinkie Pies video, and to all of my new subscribers. I’ve been overwhelmed by how much attention the video got in so little time, since none of my videos on my other channel have ever been so successful. I hope you’ll continue to support my channel and tell all your friends about it! Next week we finally get a Scootaloo episode! I’m excited!