Every time you state an opinion about something, you are making a highly informed decision. You are choosing to believe a certain thing, which will become your truth. Truth is not an inherent property after all—it’s something that you create through belief. So when you say that an episode is “good,” it’s not that the episode is inherently good, it’s that you’ve chosen to believe that it’s good. And if an episode is incongruent with what you have decided is good, then you may wish to decide that that episode is bad.
Here are some decisions that I’ve made.
I’ve decided that I like The Crystal Empire. I could have decided that I hated it, because the plot is a jumbled mess, and no one gives a shit about Sombra or the crystal ponies, and the representations of the mane characters are extremely basic. If I wanted to, I could decide that those things matter to me, and I could focus on those things. However, I’ve decided that those things aren’t that big a deal. What is a big deal to me, though, is Rainbow Dash eating corn. And Rainbow Dash being a bully. And Applejack’s head tilt. Because of those things, I’ve decided to have a sort of ambivalent positive feeling towards the episode.
I’ve decided that I don’t like Games Ponies Play. I could have decided that I liked it, because Pinkie Pie has a cinnamon bun, and Rainbow Dash crashes into the ceiling. These things matter to me, but I also can’t get over how utterly inept the episode’s storytelling is, and how much I didn’t care about the incidental characters. Even though I’d ideally like to love every episode of MLP, I’m comfortable enough with not doing so that when a mediocre episode like this comes along, I can feel a very satisfying dislike for it. The satisfaction comes from defining the dislike so well that I fully understand what disliking it means about me.
But before I continue to talk about season three’s episodes, let’s talk about the structure.
Unless you’re a big fan of this season more so than you are of the other seasons, and I have met some people like that, Season Three was always going to be the worst season by virtue of being only thirteen episodes. I’ve chosen to believe that Season Three has the same density of quality episodes that seasons one and two had, but having half as many episodes necessarily means that it isn’t as good.
That said, I think this is the only manner in which the season is not as good. In my opinion, the first thirteen episodes of season one contained one amazing episode, three or four great episodes, six or seven good episodes, three or four mediocre episodes, and one bad episode. Comparitively, I think that season three contained one amazing episode, four great episodes, four or five good episodes, four or five mediocre episodes, and one or two maybe bad episodes.
Obviously these counts will vary heavily from person to person, but I want to ask that you actually go and MAKE those counts. Before you claim that season three was generally weaker, go back and pick a thirteen-episode stretch from season one, and compare notes. I DO think that the first thirteen episodes of Season Two were much better than either of these thirteen-episode stretches, but my point is simply that I don’t think season three is sub-par for the course.
Now, a lot of you are probably still wondering, why WAS season three only thirteen episodes? And why has Hasbro been pulling the episodes from youtube, and taking down a ton of fanworks with them? What’s going ON?!
From what information I’ve been able to gather, the most likely answer is that Hasbro is preparing MLP for syndication. What this means is that Hasbro will start selling broadcast rights to other networks, so that they can air the show. 65 episodes is the industry standard package size for selling rights to kids’ shows, and after season three, MLP now has that many episodes, making it a clean three-season package.
If this is why season three was thirteen episodes, it would also explain the takedowns. You may have heard the rumor that Hasbro was trying to sell the show’s broadcast rights to China, but that the Chinese networks had said that they wouldn’t pay for what could be had for free online. I’ve still never seen the source of this rumor, and it sounds pretty batty to begin with, but if you replace “China” with something like “Cartoon Network,” it’s a very reasonable idea. Why would a network want to pay to air reruns of a show which are easily available on youtube? Considering that the majority of the blocked videos are blocked solely in the United States, this makes way more sense than the whole China explanation.
The brony stuff on youtube is just caught in the crossfire. The mechanism youtube uses to remove copyright material is automated, and removes whatever it detects as infringement. Fair Use and the definition of derivative works is too unclear and youtube doesn’t have the time or interest in arguing with it. It doesn’t particularly matter to them that the content is gone if it means the problem is off of their hands. More than being a problem with Hasbro or youtube, this is a problem with the shitty, inefficient modern copyright laws.
Moving along, let’s talk about the artistic differences in this season:
Some viewers have felt that season three was a massive departure from previous seasons. That its fundamental goals, and the driving force behind it, are different. Many have cited the fact that series creator Lauren Faust is no longer around as the reason things feel different. I have my doubts about how different the season really is, and which things would or wouldn’t have happened if Faust were still around.
Trying to read creative intent into an animated series is incredibly difficult. I would know, because I’ve been doing it obsessively for six years. As an anime blogger, my specialty was keeping track of who contributed what to different works, and trying to figure out what stuff came from what minds in the production. It’s very possible that whatever Lauren contributed, that is the one thing which is truly missing, and it’s possible that this one thing resonated with you. While I have an appreciation for all of the things contributed to this series, it’s possible that if your greatest appreciation was for that one thing, and that thing no longer exists, then you might hate this season altogether.
But for me, again, I’m in love with every part of this series. I love all of the things that have remained all consistent across the seasons, which is the bulk of the show, and I also love the new things that have become a part of the show. I perceive this subtle difference in the show’s nature, and I enjoy both natures equally.
Okay! Now that I’ve basically set the stage for the season, let’s go ahead and talk about it, shall we?
For starters, the episodes that I’ve decided I don’t really care about.
Games Ponies Play is, for me, the most forgettable episode of the season. The plot is altogether uninteresting and unengaging, and there’s nothing in there that makes me feel like I need to go back and see it again.
Spike At Your Service and Just For Sidekicks are also episodes that I’ll probably forget about before long. In Spike at Your Service’s case, it’s an episode with a weak structure and plot that isn’t quite saved by the good ideas that it does have. It’s a “gems in shit” kind of episode, whereas Just For Sidekicks is more of a flatline episode. That is to say that it’s entertaining, but it’s also so difficult to really give a shit about that I can’t say I’ll go back to it much. Neither is a bad episode, they just don’t make me care, which is true of every Spike episode.
Apple Family Reunion is just depressing for me. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the episode, but it failed to engage me on any level whatsoever, and this is distressing for me because it’s an Applejack episode, and I want to be engaged with her.
And last of this section is Keep Calm and Flutter On, which is probably the most confusing episode of the season. It’s a great concept with botched execution, simultaneously having ideas so good that I wrote a positive review of it, but also with things that were so detestable that I didn’t disagree with Strebiskunk’s downright scathing review of it either. When it comes right down to it, I personally am not invested enough in Discord as a character to care much about what this episode’s failures, and while I’m interested in the way it portrays Fluttershy, so much of it was what I read into the episode that I don’t feel the need to actually watch it.
Now, some episodes that I’ve decided I liked.
The Crystal Empire appeals to me for some reason. Maybe it’s the feeling of adventure, seeing places like the inside of Sombra’s castle. Maybe it’s just that the individual character moments are so fun and ultimately valuable in a capacity outside of how they relate to the actual story. With or without Sombra and the crystal ponies, there’s something in this episode that engaged me and makes me enjoy rewatching it, as I’ve done a number of times. Plus the failure success song might have the stuck in my head record for the season.
One Bad Apple meanwhile is an episode that I didn’t like nearly as much at first as I do now. The episode is a barrel of fun and has a meaningfully engaging storyline, alongside brilliant visuals, and an addicting song. Did I really say I didn’t care for that song in my initial video? The other day, when I heard it come on while watching in a livestream, I just about lost my shit. One Bad Apple is never going to be one of my favorite episodes, but it’s rock solid and easy to rewatch again and again.
So now let’s move into my favorite episodes of season three!
Too Many Pinkie Pies is an absolute joy. The concept is awesome, the execution is flawless, it’s funny the whole time, and marks a moment where the show’s animation reached a new level of quality. It’s an episode packed with fun stuff, and was the inspiration I needed to get back into MLP analysis, leading eventually to this video series.
Ditto everything I just said for Magic Duel, but add in that it has TRIXIE. You know, I’d almost forgotten just how valuable that is until I watched the episode on TV the other day and I went HOLY SHIT TRIXIE IS AMAZING. This can’t be understated.
Sleepless In Ponyville is probably the fan favorite of the season, and stands out as feeling particularly out there for an MLP episode. It’s the debut of writer Corey Powell, and possibly the first time an episode of MLP has evoked real feelings of terror. For me, it’s a bit of a thrill ride, watching what Scootaloo goes through all by herself, and then being so unsure about how this whole thing will work out. For the feelings of fascination that I had with the idea that Rainbow may or may not be a good older sister, this ep gave me a lot to think about.
Wonderbolts Academy is possibly one of the most serious episodes in terms of how it presents its leading character, and provides Rainbow Dash with a crowning moment of awesome more effective than any other such moment in the show. But besides that, the animation is just utterly unbelievable. Between this episode and the finale was some of the most appealing animation that I’ve ever witnessed in any cartoon, and I’ve seen thousands of them.
And of course, that leaves us with Magical Mystery Cure, which is kind of like the last episode of Madoka or Gurren Lagann or something in terms of presentation, but has the distinction of NOT being the actual finale. This was for me, the most satisfying piece of animation that I’ve seen in years, and currently my favorite episode of My Little Pony. Some time in the near future, I’m going to livestream a shot-by-shot analysis of this episode, so look forward to that announcement.
For those who want an actual ranked list of the season’s episodes from me, pause the video now.
1. Magical Mystery Cure
2. Wonderbolts Academy
3. Too Many Pinkie Pies
4. Magic Duel
5. Sleepless In Ponyville
6. One Bad Apple
7. The Crystal Empire
8. Keep Calm and Flutter On
9. Spike At Your Service
10. Just For Sidekicks
11. Apple Family Reunion
12. Games Ponies Play
Overarching statements about the season: it had a lot of big, satisfying moments. Twilight’s ascension, Rainbow’s moment, Trixie’s redemption, and for many, Scootaloo’s finding a sister. The animation quality continued on season two’s line of improvement, and many of the episodes easily belong on a list of the show’s best (which I’ll probably make sometime).
Ultimately, looking back on this season leaves a good taste in my mouth. I enjoyed more than I didn’t, and I’ve always been pretty good at just forgetting about episodes I don’t like (except Boast Busters, which I am damned to never, ever forget). I can safely say that I’m extremely pumped for season four, especially since it’s going to return to the twenty-six episode structure.
In the interim between seasons, you can expect me to continue my steady stream of video releases. In fact, right now I’m announcing my new bonus channel, Digibrony After Dark. On this channel, I’ll be talking about some of the more strange and expressive aspects of the fandom, as well as making my own fan works and posting them there. It’s just a way of keeping that stuff out of the main channel so those of you who are only interested in analysis of the actual show don’t have to see it. If you’re interested in stuff like fanmade songs, possible fanfic readings, and analysis of things like the pony hypnosis project, you should definitely subscribe to the new channel. So far I’ve uploaded one video, which is my retelling of Luna Eclipsed in rap form.
I hope that all of you will continue to enjoy and support my videos as we move into the off-season, and rest assured that I’ll still be here to cover season four when the time comes.