Analyzing “Twilight’s Kingdom”

Text version and links:

My OC is designed by Mizuki Takashima:

The S4 Diary Finale audio:

We’re finally here. The end of season 4, and the last weekly episodic MLP analysis that you’ll likely see on this channel. Yes, I’ve still got a few more episodes to cover here and there, but for the most part, I’m ready to move on. The S4 Diary is already over; I wrote and recorded a giant memoir post for it but it was 20 minutes long and I never got around to making a video for it, so you can find a link to the audio in the description if you’re interested. But for now, let’s move along and talk about this beast of a finale.

My feeling towards this episode is one of ambivalence, and in this video, I’ll basically approach it from both the angle of thinking it’s a fantastic way to end season four, but also from the angle that I didn’t really enjoy it. On my first viewing I treated it as a stand-alone episode which I kept mentally comparing to the previous season finales, and as a result I completely disliked it. However, once I thought of it more as the resolution to all the loose ends of season four, I found a lot to like.

Getting right to the core of this episode, the conclusion to Discord’s arc is the biggest point of interest. All throughout season four, Discord has been characterized as an is-he-or-isn’t-he good guy, leading audience members to expect some kind of possible betrayal from him along the line. The betrayal does happen, but not as a result of Discord relapsing on his development–he’s actually swayed to the dark side by the new villain Tirek–and only after he’s double-crossed by Tirek does he realize not only how much he’s actually changed, but how much it sucks to be had by someone you considered a friend.

It’s a powerful and brilliant way to resolve Discord’s character arc, so long as you can suspend your disbelief to the fact that Discord changed so much, he no longer expects other villains to double-cross him. Tirek’s involvement in the storyline is mostly interesting for the effect that it has on Discord, and the decision to have Discord not only provide Twilight with the final key to the magic seed box, but even to figure out the secret of the keys himself, was a stroke of brilliance. Discord’s arc alone is enough to make this one of the better episodes of the season, and certainly puts it above the likes of The Crystal Empire as far as adventure arcs go.

However, the narrative which bothered me across these episodes was that of Twilight Sparkle. I appreciate that the episode actually addresses how useless Twilight’s been as a princess so far, but I can’t help feeling like we’re treading old ground here. It seems like every time Twilight’s character is in focus, she’s feeling really down about her ability to be useful, only to be given some kind of ridiculous world-saving task which helps her gain her confidence again. You could argue that in real life, people tend to go into slumps any time they aren’t challenged, but I don’t feel like the show is mindfully recreating that feeling, and it comes off as repetitive.

Moreover, the way that this issue is addressed is pretty much to restate the exact same shit that Twilight learned in not only the season premiere, but in the series premiere as well: that friendship is what will see her through and ultimately provide purpose in her life.

(Lucas: again, it’s like poetry, every stanza sort of rhymes)

Maybe this is a case of me having thought faster than the show. I remember calling Twilight the princess of friendship as early as the season three finale, and when you’re watching the themes unfold in the show as you go along, they appear to be plain as day; but I guess there’s nothing wrong with outright stating the point here in the finale. It just feels repetitive for those of us who have been paying attention all along. And by “paying attention,” I mean dedicating large chunks of our lives to meticulously analyzing the shit out of everything.

But what bothered me more than anything is that I didn’t feel like Twilight actually earned the final key from Discord. Each member of the main six received their key at a time when staying true to their element taught another pony a lesson, and that pony repaid their gratitude with an item. Twilight doesn’t actually teach a lesson to Discord, though. He learns his lesson on his own when Tirek betrays him, and he even attributes his realization of friendship’s importance to Fluttershy, rather than Twilight.

The weirdest thing about this is how easy it would’ve been to handle better. Twilight asks for Discord to be released from the bubble as one of her friends. All it would’ve taken is for Discord to realize the magic of friendship in this moment instead of a few moments earlier, and it would totally change the context of the scene. I don’t think Discord giving Twilight the key anyways breaks the episode–it’s still evident that Discord and Twilight want to consider one-another friends, and that one way or another, Discord has learned the lesson that Twilight preaches. I just think that thematically, it was a huge missed opportunity that Twilight gets her key from someone who totally attributes his lesson to Fluttershy.

I did think that the idea to give Twilight a round table with all of her friends instead of an individual throne room was fantastic. It’s a shame that the two sisters’ castle didn’t amount to much in the end, but there’s a great thematic parallel to be drawn with the way that castle embraced the balance of night and day, while this one embraces the harmony of friendship. At some point next season, I’d love it if Celestia and Luna moved back into that castle, and if the Crystal Empire was somehow retconned into having a second throne for Shining Armor, just for the sake of thematic consistency.

While we’re on the subject of Twilight’s castle, let’s dive into my biggest overall gripe with this episode: that it’s arguably among the most visually displeasurable episodes in the entire series. And I don’t just mean because of the Rainbow Power, which I actually didn’t mind as much as most people did because it’s only on-screen for like five total seconds.

Twilight’s treehouse was fucking iconic. It was one of the coolest and most imaginative structural designs in cartoons, and I’ve always wanted to own a playset of it. It’s just so fucking cool to look at and it really embodied what Ponyville was all about. It had this homey, old-timey feel to it, with a vast library, a cozy loft, a cool basement area, and all these neat little balconies and details. This treehouse symbolized what Ponyville is, and what Twilight is, perfectly.

And they blew it up.

Then they replaced it with what is easily the shittiest structural design in the entire series. It looks uneven, unbalanced, and unnatural. The aesthetic seems to be borrowed from the Crystal Empire for some reason, and it looks completely out of place in Ponyville. The rigid, rocky surfaces and uncomfortable stone thrones don’t have an ounce of hominess to them, and even though it’s supposed to be a castle, the interior lacks any of the pomp and circumstance that the other castles bear. It looks like a dark little cave build into a weird crystal tree. Living or working in this place would be a constant source of stress and paranoia because it feels like you’re in a fucking dungeon. I can’t overstate how much I hate this fucking castle. It is possibly the single worst asset that has ever been put into the show, and I never want to see it again.

The pacing was really great though. Easily the best pacing of any of the show’s two-part episodes. Everything felt very measured and complete. I heard some people saying that something or other was rushed, but I couldn’t even tell which part they might be talking about except maybe the part where they used the Rainbow Power, which I’m pretty sure we all wanted to be rushed, so I don’t see a problem there. Altogether this is the first time when an MLP two-parter has felt structurally sound.

And it comes really, really close to also being the first two-parter with a completely solid and comprehensible narrative. But then a long stream of bullshit comes out of Celestia’s mouth and the whole thing turns into a Dragon Ball Z episode. Wait, what’s going on?

Alright, so in the middle of this two-part finale, Discord and Tirek have teamed up and are re-enacting MAGIC.MOV all over Equestria. Around this time, Celestia says that with their powers combined, the four alicorns won’t be able to stop Tirek without him eating their magic, because he’s got Discord at his side. Fair enough, I don’t know how she’s getting these ideas, but then again she learned about Tirek’s return through random-ass night vision, so it’s safe to say that she just knows shit. Celestia’s master plan to avoid Tirek eating their power is to give all that power to Twilight, whom Tirek doesn’t know about yet, and have her… hide?

Question one: what the fuck do the princesses expect Twilight to do? If she’s not powerful enough to take on Tirek even with the power of four princesses, then is she just meant to sit around idly while Tirek takes over Equestria? Twilight doesn’t seem to know what to do either, and all we get are some scenes of her trying to manage her magical overdose before Tirek inevitably finds her.

Did the princesses really think Tirek was never going to find out about Twilight? I mean they just said that he’s working with Discord, and Discord knows about Twilight, so he was obviously going to tell Tirek at some point. And when Tirek does find her and blows up her treehouse, Twilight forgoes the whole plan to hide anyways and starts confronting him head-on, even though she’s not supposed to be able to beat him with her level of power.

But here’s where it really falls apart: Twilight battles Tirek to a STALEMATE. Meaning that with her current level of power, Twilight is simply on-par with Tirek. But mind you that at this point, Tirek has not only eaten the immense power of Discord, meaning that fighting him is no different from fighting him and Discord together, but he’s also gained a considerable amount of power from eating the Mane Six, along with anyone else that he devoured in-between Twilight gaining the power of the other alicorns and the big showdown.

In other words, the combined strength of Tirek and Discord is only NOW on-par with the combined strength of four alicorn princesses. Had Celestia never come up with this ridiculous plan to have Twilight gain everyone’s magic, and the four princesses had just gang-rushed Tirek before he grew more powerful, they probably would’ve kicked his ass. I guess prophetic visions and random assumptions don’t account for much after all.

So if all this is true, then why the hell is Celestia’s ploy even included in the episode to begin with? Why shoehorn in such a convoluted and broken plot element that totally didn’t even need to be there? Could it be that the writers wanted an excuse for Twilight to become stupidly powerful so that she could have a gigantic over-the-top beamspam fight with Tirek?

Ever since writing for the fourth season was completed, Meghan McCarthy has been bragging about how “epic” the season was going to be. She’s been hyping this season finale like crazy and even talked about how they had to write out certain things that Hasbro thought was taking it too far. It’s obvious to me that Meghan McCarthy was making a point to outdo herself by having the most bombastic finale humanly imaginable to occur in a pony show. And I’m sure that’s going to be just fine with a lot of people. Giant laser beams shooting multi-colored lights can be a lot of fun, and they’ve certainly worked for no shortage of anime series.

However, personally, I just don’t see the fucking point of putting this gigantic battle into the middle of a pony episode. My friend Neal X made the case that the fight is thematically interesting because it shows how violence wasn’t able to defeat the enemy, but the power of friendship was. That’s a fair enough statement, but it doesn’t really have anything to do with the narrative of this particular episode, which is about teaching a friendship lesson to Discord, and making Twilight remember that she’s the princess of friendship. Maybe if there was any dialog in the episode whatsoever about how overpowering an enemy is not the way to handle it, I’d be more ready to accept this reasoning for why the fight is in the episode.

As it stands, it just seems like a gigantic waste of time for a spectacle that I could get literally anywhere else. I’ve seen a lot of people praising the visuals of this fight scene a lot, and I think that’s a huge overreaction to what is basically just pulsating lights and colors, with almost-static flash objects darting across the screen. Now, I will admit that I’m very particular about action scenes in movies and shows. I’m of the opinion that if you’re going to have a fight scene just for the hell of it, that fight scene had better be seriously fucking impressive, either in terms of visuals or choreography, because otherwise I have no reason to care when I can just be watching a better fight show instead.

MLP’s fight scene isn’t bad at all, and could’ve been much worse. The colored beams do look pretty appealing, there’s a good use of space, and I mean it’s Twilight Sparkle shooting Marisa Kirisame’s Master Spark out of her horn. But it’s nothing more than a series of big laser beams, and rocks and ponies getting tossed around for a few minutes, ending in a stalemate. This could just as easily have been Twilight blasting Tirec with her biggest laser, realizing that she hasn’t done shit to him, and then Tirec doing the same in return, and it would’ve conveyed an equal amount of information. Yes, the battle of attrition has a little more weight to it, and I’ll admit I don’t hate this fight scene as much as I’m making it sound like I do, but the reason I’m being so harsh on it is that I can’t help but see the possibilities of what could be done if this fight scene hadn’t been there.

First of all, if Twilight never confronted Tirec directly, then we never would’ve learned how fucking pointless and contrived Celestia’s plan had actually been. Secondly, if we had those extra couple of minutes back, we could have fleshed out the interconnection between Twilight and Discord’s narratives. Instead of this battle ever occurring, Tirec could’ve offered the deal for Twilight’s friends right from the beginning. Discord could’ve learned about forgiveness from Twilight setting him free, and the two of them could have shared a moment together where they affirmed themselves as true friends once and for all. THEN, when Discord handed Twilight the amulet, it would’ve felt earned, and then Twilight and friends could’ve done the whole super saiyan thing and fired a giant laser beam at Tirec anyways. Just by removing this one time-wasting fight and adding in a few lines between Discord and Twilight, the majority of the problems that I had with this episode narratively could be cleaned up in one fell swoop.

What leaves me feeling so ambivalent about this finale is that it comes so close to being just right, but it never quite makes it there. The things that make it interesting are undercut by design elements that are stupid and boring. For example, let’s have a look at Tirec.

This guy has a pretty cool Satanic character design. His voice acting in the first part of the episode is really fantastic, though he pretty much loses all semblance of personality once he turns giant. His motivations are really generic and straightforward, but that’s okay because his purpose is really to progress the character arc of Discord, which he does exceptionally well.

Tirec’s biggest strength as a character is that he’s probably the most legitimately threatening villain that the series has ever had, but in terms of screen presence, he’s completely boring as a villain. Any time he’s not bantering with Discord, he’s just standing there, eating magic and gloating. And maybe it’s just me, but I thought the magic eating looked really stupid. Remember how Discord was this really active villain that moved all around the frame and did all kinds of crazy stuff? He was super-memorable even before he made a return appearance. Remember how Chrysalis was like this shape-shifting bug lady who sings an epic song while trashing a bunch of wedding attire? That was totally memorable. Tirec spends most of his screentime either standing still or walking, and talking about how powerful he’s going to be. He’s a boring and unmemorable villain in his own right and I just don’t care about him.

A lot of people had a problem with the recapping that happens towards the end of the first part, to remind us how all the mane six got their objects. Personally, I thought it was kept to an appropriate length, only actually showing us two scenes from past episodes, both mercifully short and with voice-over. While we as viewers have known for a long time that the objects were most likely the keys to the box, the mane six are figuring it out for the first time, so discussing how they got the keys doesn’t feel forced. Plus, by reminding us about all their exploits over the course of the season, it feels even more impactful when we see the ponies whose lives they changed at the end of part two.

What I consider to be the single worst scene in the entire two-part episode is actually the first song, You’ll Play Your Part. Not only does this scene add nothing to the plot of the episode, but it’s also one of the worst songs in the entire show, as well as possible THE most visually boring scene to ever occur in this series.

Thematically, the song is meant to convey Twilight’s discomfort with her uselessness as a princess, which we already understand by now because she’s told us about it several times. It is also an attempt on the part of the other princesses to make Twilight cheer up, which completely fails because she still feels useless up until the point that they actually give her something to do.

Most of the songs in MLP either convey something about the storyline, and are longer or more thematically relevant, or are short and to the point, existing to make a montage more interesting or convey an emotion instantly. The song at the end of the finale falls into the latter category, and while it’s not one of the better songs in the show, it’s still got a catchy hook and a lot going on visually throughout.

You’ll Play Your Part is completely irrelevant. The lyrics are not catchy or interesting in any way, and the melody meanders through a track that’s longer than it needs to be. Lyrics like –    I want to have a purpose

Want to do all that I can

I want to make a contribution

I want to be a part of the plan

feel stiff, awkward, and directionless. As my friend Julian Moon said, “these aren’t lyrics, it’s a shopping list that rhymes.”

But perhaps the biggest sin that this scene commits is taking place on a bland-ass balcony while the princesses stand and walk around in circles singing at one-another. Aside from the weirdly accurate lip-synching, nothing has been done to make this scene visually engaging whatsoever. You know what? I take back everything I said about the fight scene. Leave it in, it’s fine, just take this fucking scene out and do the Discord thing I mentioned instead.

Moreover, I can’t tell you how sick I am of the princesses just standing around. I feel like every time the princesses are there, we get an excessive amount of frames where all of them are standing around together, and it does not look right. I’m sure a big part of it is how these three tall ponies are standing over Twilight and staring at her, which is creepy in itself. But more than that, it’s that all three of them have very different and very busy designs that don’t mesh well together. It’s okay for Celestia to have a regal and highly detailed appearance because when she’s alone with regular ponies, it makes her look dominating and glorious. But when you stuff her in a frame with two other ponies who look like that, it just makes everything look cluttered and messy.

But at this point I’m down to the nitty-gritty. I feel like every time I find something to like about this episode, it’s quickly followed by something to hate. Rarity takes this really clever jab at Rainbow Dash early in the episode for groaning at Spike’s boasts, but then Applejack has lines like “AS IN, DISCORD DISCORD?” and, “I think REFORMED Discord is even more obnoxious than NOT-REFORMED Discord,” and I return my face to my palm.

It saddens me a little to end my weekly analysis of this series on such a bittersweet note, but I guess it really captures my overall experience with season four pretty well. For every Maud Pie, Pinkie Pride, Rarity Takes Manehattan, and Bats! to get me really pumped about the show again, there was a Three’s a Crowd, Simple Ways, or Equestria Games to sour me all over again. Twenty-six weeks of episodic reviews has been a truly wild ride, and so much has happened in my life over that period that it’s kind of baffling to look back on. But I can say without a doubt that I’m happy to be moving on now and trying my hands at new and exciting things. I really hope you’ll stick around and see what I’ve got in store in the future, as I’ve been working on a number of experimental styles and breaching several new mediums in the videos that are soon to come. And don’t worry–even if my pony content slows down, and even if I don’t come back for season five, I will ALWAYS consider myself a brony and look back on this experience with a fondness in my heart.

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