Analyzing “Princess Twilight Sparkle”

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S4 is here!!! Go check out Tommy Oliver’s channel, he was half of this video!

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Digi: Omygoshomygoshomygoshomygosh

Tom: Omygoshomygoshohmygosh

Digi: Did you see the part where Luna was like

Tom: And Discord’s all like

Digi: And Celestia’s like PRINCESS TWILIGHT

Tom: And then– and then–!!! AAAAGH

Digi: HNNNNGGG!!!!

Tom: (out of breath) okay… glad we got that out of our systems.

Digi: Let’s do this thing!

Digi: Right off the bat, I’m gonna call this the second-best two-part episode in the show, right after the Return of Harmony. In terms of concept and execution, it stands high above most of the show’s plot and adventure-centric arcs. This is the first time MLP seems to be sure-handedly setting out to deliver a narrative and establish a firm continuity.

Tom: It does so through a number of surprisingly welcome ret-cons, showing that the writers may have recognized some of the plot incongruencies of the previous seasons, and sought to more firmly establish the core narrative moving forward. I know a lot of us were hoping that Twilight’s flight scene at the end of Magical Mystery Cure was some kind of weird fluke, as Equestria Girls seemed to establish. The writers have delivered on tying Twilight’s wings into her new character arc of learning to become a proper ruler.

Digi: There’s also a sense of subtly rebooting the Discord redemption arc from its original rushed form into a more broad take towards proper reformation. If we subbed out the end of Keep Calm and Flutter On where Discord seems to have made a full change of heart and imagine a more subtle attempt to play along, his attitude in the new season is closer to what would result. He still seems to be tricky and mysterious, with a sense that he’s not reformed at heart, but has the potential to be. Letting him off of the Elements of Harmony leash will mean a much more interesting character arc, and he might even get to be reformed as a recurring character, EXACTLY as I said should have been done in the first place. If they deliver on the Discord narrative I always wanted, I’m going to be fucking ecstatic.

Tom: The plot developments surrounding the journey for the six keys also suggests a lot more adventure to come out of this season. We’ll probably be seeing many new locations across Equestria. Moreover, the six keys storyline suggests that each pony will have their own little adventure to get their key. This is great because historically, the show’s adventure arcs tend to focus on Twilight Sparkle, so now each pony should get their own adventure in the limelight. Say it with me folks: Full. Season. Story. Arc. I’m actually kind of surprised at how hype I am for this concept, since I usually am not a fan of the adventure arcs, but thats usually due to pacing. If they can keep a continuing narrative going the entire season though, time constraints should no longer be an issue. I’m hopeful that they’ll be able to pull this off.

Digi: The premiere episodes altogether carried this big sense of fresh beginnings. These retcons and story structure setups lay the groundwork of a stronger season-long narrative. The whole episode deals with looking back both on what’s happened before in the series, and even looking back into the history of Equestria, as if the the show were setting its past affairs in place so that it could cast off into new territory. The arc of learning the magic of friendship is over, Twilight is an alicorn now. So the questions are, how does friendship persist? What happens when friends begin to change and grow into their adult roles? In this episode, we see the first signs of Twilight stepping into her role as a princess, as well as the first glimpses and worries about how this could effect the group dynamic.

Altogether, this premiere has laid an amazing groundwork for the season to come, along with being a superb episode in its own right! Don’t you agree, Tom?

Tom: Yeah! (sort of falters at the end)

Digi: …Tom?

Tom: Hm?

Digi: I feel like there’s something you’re not telling me…

Tom: No, it’s nothing! The episode is great! I’m really excited about season 4.

Digi: ….Tooooom….

Tom: *sigh* Up until they entered the Everfree Forest, the pacing was the best it’s ever been in a My Little Pony story episode… and then, it…

Digi: It’s okay, Tom. You can say it. This is a safe place.

Tom: THE PACING WENT TO SHIT. Friendship is Magic has a long history of dropping the ball in the third act when it comes to these multi-part stories, and while the issue is less distracting here than it was in the Mane 6’s last foray into the Everfree, it does still stumble a bit. I think the problem for me stems from an emotional disconnect due to, yet again, poor pacing. The entire first episode subtly leads up to this confrontation that happens in the Everfree, with the Remane 5 continually showing that they still haven’t come to terms with Twilight being a Princess, and are still trying to figure out how to handle her new position. When shit gets real, they no longer see her as just their friend, but now an important asset to all of Equestria, and begin weighing this aspect into their decision-making, hence their suggestion for Twi to stay in Ponyville, lest something happen to her as well. Dejected, Twilight takes off, but Discord of all characters convinces her to reunite with her friends.

The problem is that this series of events in the episode barely takes longer to play out than my quick summary. We go from confrontation, to sadness, to rekindled vigor in the span of two minutes, and as a result, none of these emotional states have any time to establish themselves and resonate with the viewer. So this entire segment, thats supposed to be the emotional crux of this story arc, completely falls flat and carries very little weight. *SOBBING*

Digi: It’s okay, Tom. It’s okay. No episode is perfect. Except Applebuck Season.

Tom: And Suited For Success.

Digi: That one too.

Tom: You saw it too, right? Surely you recognized some flaws!

Digi: But of course. The episode’s emotional climax happens way too quickly and has almost no kick. The overprotectiveness and increased regard for Twilight is established early on, but it doesn’t pay off in a meaningful way. Twilight’s friends had a legitimate point with their argument in the forest, but it wasn’t explored with any depth. If there’s a lesson in this episode, I didn’t learn it, and all the callbacks to season one, while cool, didn’t amount to much emotionally.

I also thought the magical plot device potion was straight out of nowhere. There could’ve at least been some form of subtle foreshadowing of Zecora’s appearance, or even of the potion itself. You’d think Twilight would worry about her secondary mentor’s safety considering her home is in danger. However, as you said during our simultaneous livetweet extravaganza, the contrivance was worth it for the plot developments.

Tom: And let’s touch on those badass plot elements for sure!

Digi: Holy balls, he’s alive again!

Tom: This arc was jam packed with tons of worldbuilding and fleshed out a lot of the lore that the series has referenced and touched upon over the last three seasons, but never really got around to going into. The most obvious instances of this are the flashbacks that Twilight was privy to as a result of the Plot Device Potion. Getting a glimpse at Everfree in its prime, seeing the battle of Nightmare Moon vs Celestia (with a DBZ-style energy wave clash no less), and even a look at Discord’s downfall and the beginning of the Celestial Sister’s reign were all awesome bits of lore that finally have some legitimate grounding from the show itself. However, I think by far the most interesting point on display was the Tree of Harmony.

My mind just started going in a billion different directions with this thing. The fact that the Elements weren’t just an ancient artifact that The Celestial Sisters discovered without consequence just makes the Elements themselves so much more interesting. Their retrieval was a conscious act of desperation; they were the only weapons powerful enough to take on Discord, and yet, it seems that Celestia and Luna knew that removing them from the Tree was a risk, knowing that it would be weakened as a result.  The duo intentionally chose long term consequence in order to provide short term results. The Elements were a gambit, not just mere objects of inconsequential salvation. This episode began answering a question I didn’t think the show would ever even bother addressing: The source of magic in Equestria. The Tree of Harmony is, by all accounts, the most powerful living thing in the world of My Little Pony. It’s not only what keeps the magic of the Everfree Forest at bay, but also what produced the Elements of Harmony themselves, up to this point unconquerable magical artifacts. The existence of the Tree goes a long way to humble the Celestial Sisters, and Alicorns in general, as they are much smaller in scale than what we may have first expected. Celestia and Luna had nothing to do with the creation or the unlocking of the Elements, they were merely borrowing the power of a superior force.

Another interesting question to consider: If Discord, the reigning creature at the time of this occurrence, is the Spirit of Chaos, is the Tree the Spirit of Harmony, and thus Discord’s opposite? MLP seems to imply that the two forces in it’s universe are Chaos and Harmony. Discord obviously is the representation of Chaos, and up until this point it seemed that Celestia and Luna were Harmony, and then the Mane 6 once the Elements passed to them. However, the Tree itself is stronger than all of these characters combined. The cast that we’ve been following for the past 3 seasons aren’t the embodiments of Harmony, merely it’s right hand.  If this is the case, then it may also explain why the Elements of Harmony were effective against Discord when nothing else was; the Ruling Sisters took the Tree of Harmony’s “fruit” and used their power against its inverse. Discord, the spirit of Chaos.

Digi: Cool Story, bro. You know what I really loved about this ep? The presentation!

Tom: You would. Not that I disagree.

Digi: Friendship Is Magic has looked great from day one, but there’s been a marked progression of quality as it goes along. The season 4 premiere has been polished to a mirror shine that could contend with some of the best-looking hand-drawn shows on TV. The Celestia and Luna models seem to have been subtly touched-up, and there’s a very grand sense of framing that pervades even more of the episode than usual. The effects are totally badass, with scene after scene of unique and atmospheric lighting. These are easily the most visually tonal episodes of the show.

And can I reiterate that up until the unfortunate Everfree Forest scenes, the episode has this amazingly natural flow like nothing the series has ever achieved. One of the show’s strong points has always been to contain very fast jokes and character moments that don’t break the flow of the episode, often happening on the other part of the screen from whoever’s talking. There’s this scene in front of the town hall in part one that shows all the characters interacting so naturally that I have to take a step back and remember that this is a thing which a team of people made, and not just an organically occurring situation.

Tom: Mmm. Indeed. Hey, you know what I love? I love how Applejack and Rarity get the most support dialog in this episode. You know, the roles they’ve always been best to fill.

Digi: You know what I love? How all the dudes in this episode sound like they eat gravel for breakfast and lunch.

Tom: You know what I love? How spike has slowly turned into the deadpan version of Pinkie Pie, with his fourth wall breaks and access to hammerspace.

Digi: You know what I love? I love how Twilight’s freakouts now have altitude!

Tom: You know what I love? My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic!

Digi: You know what I love? (turn to audience)  All of you. Thanks for watching, and stay tuned for more weekly videos on both of our channels, as we analyze MLP:FiM Season 4!

*roll credits*

6 thoughts on “Analyzing “Princess Twilight Sparkle”

  1. A very neat video. Quite nicely paced, I find. Nothing but positive feelings stirred in me after seeing this.

    To me, the way how the Sisters treated the Tree of Harmony reveals a discontinuity, like which we have never seen before, between the ponies and their natural enviroment. Before this episode we were led to believe that equestria was pretty much engineered to accommodate the pony society, a bit like in the book Globalia.

    But this convenient symbiosis is tilted by the Sisters to fight off an external enemy. And the nature turned against them because of this.

    How should we interpret the ponie’s relationship with their enviroment now? Are the ponies part of the harmonuous Equestria or is the harmony itself forced on the world by the ponies? If Discord is the opposite of the Tree of Harmony, is this dichotomy itself opposed to the ponies in the sense that they favour the latter over the former, thereby breaking the ultimate balance that defines Equestria?

    Indeed, lots of questions were raised by this episode. Hopefully the rest of the season is about answering them. On second thought, no, I think it’s better that the show keeps on throwing questons to which the fandom can then answer though fanfiction. Now that’s harmony.

    • The concept of ponies imposing order unnaturally upon the world is one of my favorite (very unnerving) concepts. See my comment below; you may find it pertains to what you’re talking about here.

  2. I really enjoyed this video and agree with a lot of the points you made, especially to do with the pacing in the second half. You are absolutely right that kicking out Twilight didn’t hold the emotional punch that it really needed because there wasn’t enough time given to it.

    I actually thought the fact that it was Discord who sent her back was very interesting though. We see at the end of the episodes that he was in fact the cause of their troubles, but that is was past Discord and not present Discord who planted those seeds. The question that rises then, is what Discord was thinking through these two episodes. Even though he didn’t give them the answers, he guided them the whole time towards the solution, sending them to Zecora and making sure Twilight went back to the forest. But was he trying to help is his own way or was he scheming the whole time to get rid of the elements so that he would be ‘free’. Was it intentional on his part or an unexpected result. As I was watching the episode I thought it was the former, that Discord was genuinely helping, but by the end there were major doubts. Or maybe Discord’s real plans are obvious to everyone and I’m giving him way too much credit :P

    The whole set-up also struck me as the writers realizing they needed to get rid of the elements, which is probably for the best over all, and they certainly did it in style.

    One thing I was hoping you would mention is that Twilight seemed to be using black magic when she turned the potion plot device white. None of the other ponies seemed to notice, but it ties in with another odd thing about the episode – Rarity’s magic. The first episode spends a good minute or two establishing that Rarity’s (and Sweetie Belle’s for what it’s worth) magic wasn’t working. Why? The whole scene with the tea pot seems a waste looking back since Rarity was never in a position later where she needed to use magic and it didn’t seem to have affected Twilight’s magic since she was still able to teleport into the library. Why spend all that time showing us that Rarity’s magic wasn’t working if it was never relevant? If it was if fact the reason Twilight needed to use black magic on the potion and couldn’t defend herself from the gas plants, it was never properly established or explained. Any thoughts on this?

    @JR, with regards to your point, it wasn’t really nature turning against them, it was Discord’s plant alone that was causing the problems. Nature was actually trying to fight off this force and finally lost.

  3. I’m commenting here because I refuse to use my full name on Youtube, and also because my thought might not be washed away. I don’t think that this episode diminishes Celestia and Luna at all. My headcanon is that the sisters created Equestria in a pocket dimension, or possibly took an existing (post-apocalyptic human) world and made it into one. This explains their ability to move and control celestial bodies, as well as their apparent presence since the beginning of Equestria (A Hearthswarming Eve was all lies). When they created the world they created the Elements of Harmony with it, sort of as a failsafe. The Tree of Harmony is just sort of the overly-elaborate box they put them in. It may, however, serve it’s own purpose. Perhaps it is the center or heart of the world, which would explain the magical disruptions and Discords focus on it. I can’t think of a more hollowed place to put the most significant object in the world. Maybe they created the tree with the intent that it would grow (what?) the EoH. Anyway, you get the idea. The tree doesn’t diminish the sisters because the sisters created the tree. What do you think?

    • I don’t think that the Sisters created the ToH. First of all, in the scene where it is first introduced, Luna seems to have no idea what they’re dealing with. It’s hard to say the extent to which the power of the sisters reaches (are they causa sui creators or something less fancy). I think it could be argued that the ToH created the Sister and not the other way around.

      Clearly the ponies are imposing some sort of and order to their world, an order they call Harmony. This is what every biological lifeform does – they trey to adapt into their enviroment and by doing so they might happen to change their enviroment. Being self-conscious like humans, the ponies can take this “imposing” to a larger scale, but basically they are still only doing what is “natural” for them, I find.

      The problem with this, and the reason why I said that it was really the Nature that attacked Equestria in episodes 1-2 of S4, is that it’s not certain whether the ponies see themselves as just another piece in the machine called Harmony, or have they elevated themselves as the embodiments of it. To say it differently, are the ponies of Equestria succumbing to some sort of “equinecentric” worldview? Humans have proved that having self-consiousness carries such a risk. Seen from this perspective, it could be argued that Discord was actually figthing against the ponies with the nature and as its advocate, because the ponies had broken the Harmony by trying to force their view of it into the world. And this, I find, is the way how they (involuntarily) created Discord, who is a reaction of the Harmony itself they seeked to conquer.

      • Having re-watched the episodes, I must agree with you. Twice the Elements are referred to as being “discovered.” I feel my headcanon approaching imminent destruction; it’s not a good feeling. Why can’t they just read my mind and write their show my way?! *sigh* I just hope they fill the empty parts of the story with something good.

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