When the team reaches the labyrinth, Discord takes away their horns and wings to “prevent cheating”. It’s a lovely continuity nod, since he leers at Applejack rather than one of the pegasuses (pegasii?) as he says it. Scary, to think he knows about their antics from as far back in the series as “Fallweather Friends”. The real reason for taking their abilities away, of course, is that both magic (Twilight’s teleportation) and wings (flying over the hedge walls) would defeat his essential strategy of divide and conquer.
Then our villain appears for the first time in the flesh, accompanied by ominous lightning and evil laughter. Well, it starts off evil and then changes to simply uproarious. It’s unsettling the way Discord goes from seeming truly terrifying to comedic in the space of a breath. To be expected of the living embodiment of chaos, I suppose. He’s got just a little bit of the Joker in him, which makes him both frightening and entertaining to watch.
Having separated the team, and prevented them from regrouping, he then proceeds to “Discord” them in various ways. For Applejack and Pinkie Pie, he appears to turn them by making their Element into something painful for them. In the case of Pinkie, it’s particularly heart-wrenching considering what “Party of One” revealed about her insecurities.
For Rarity, rather than getting her to view generosity as something bad or painful, Discord instead appeals to her greedy side. Here we see Rarity put up more of a fight against Discord’s influence than any of the others so far. As we saw earlier, the “Discording” has two stages. One stage is the hypnosis stage, where the pony gets Mind Control Eyes, then the altered personality stage, where the pony gets grayed out slightly, and acts the opposite of their Element. Rarity managed to shake off stage one, and even started walking away. But then she glances back, and it’s over. Mythology has many examples of the Fatal Backward Glance, such as Lot’s wife in the Bible, or Orpheus from Greek mythology. Of course, the diamond she thinks she sees is just a worthless rock, but she apparently likes to talk to it in romantic terms. Rarity, the geosexual.
Now comes Fluttershy. In contrast to Rarity, who fought his influence for a while before succumbing, Discord finds he simply can’t get any kind of hold on Fluttershy at all. I’m not sure how praiseworthy I find this to be. At any rate, Discord loses patience and has to brute-force her corruption. Which means he could have done it to any of them, at any time. That’s right, he’s doing this the long way around because it’s more enjoyable for him that way. His palpable sense of glee in mind-raping the heroines qualifies him as evil in my opinion, no matter what spin later episodes put on it.
Lastly, Rainbow has her turn to be Discorded. Again, Discord shows how devious a few simple words can be. He gives her a choice, and states that if she chooses wrong, “the foundations of home will crumble" for her. He then gives her a pretty disturbing vision (both in and out universe) of Cloudsdale being destroyed. True to form, this isn’t the home he was talking about. Her choice to take her wings back, thereby breaking the first rule of Discord’s game, (not the second rule as some people think, Discord even outright says “somepony broke the No-Wings-No-Magic Rule!”) actually causes the foundations of Ponyville, now her true home, to crumble. Since the game is over, Discord announces his victory, and the first half of the episode ends with him seemingly triumphant.
In the second half, as Twilight’s friends continue to fight each other, Discord shows her how thoroughly he has duped her. He feigns surprise that she misunderstood him, but as I mentioned in the last entry, it’s pretty clear he knew and intended her to misunderstand. Just more devilish deviousness designed by dear Discord.
Once he leaves, Twilight cottons on to the second part of his original riddle, and leads the gang towards home, despite constant interference from Discord’s magic and her friends alike. Eventually, Twilight gets hold of the Elements. This is a small nitpick, but how does Spike suddenly know the situation? “Now you can defeat Discord!” No one told him about Discord, Twilight even refusing to discuss it, twice. Also, “why does everyone look so gray?” is a rather confusing line, since Twilight didn't comment on it previously, and no one except Spike and later Pinkie ever comments on it either.
At any rate, the Discorded ponies and honorary Rainbow Dash are not able to activate the Elements. Discord proceeds to taunt Twilight before skating away. Another small annoyance, but why do people think Discord’s footsteps are making funny sounds when it’s pretty clearly his clapping that is doing so? They start when he starts clapping, and end when he stops clapping, and he was walking both before and after without any funny sounds. It’s a minor gripe, but these things annoy me, damn it.
With her friends all abandoning her, Twilight finally breaks down herself. As the Element that was revealed by uniting the other Elements in the Mane 6, it’s very fitting that she is defeated by Discord dividing them instead. Good symmetry there, which makes the pilot and this episode seem like bookends, further reinforcing the impression that this episode should have been the finale of Season I.
Discord again appears, and it seems as if he might actually be having second thoughts. However, it’s just him being devious again, since he is obviously delighted to find that he has succeeded in destroying Twilight and breaking up the Mane 6. Remind me again why people are so eager to find reasons to say that he isn't all that evil?
Well, I think this is a good stopping point for today. Look forward to the next entry, which will close out this review.
Until then (say it with me) keep chasing those rainbows!
What’s that, you say? Where is my review of “The Best Night Ever”? I skipped it, for three reasons.
1. It’s my blog, by Celestia’s Royal Rump.
2. I want to watch BronyCurious' critique of the episode, but that might affect my own perceptions, so I want to get this one done soonest.
3. I personally consider "Return of Harmony" to be the end of Season I, not the beginning of Season II, no matter what the back covers of my DVDs or indeed the universe at large may claim. Why? Because the opening credits, and the way the glow of a unicorn’s horn is visually represented is the same as Season I episodes, that's why. (I do have to put season 2 in the tags, though)
Also, TBNE doesn't really fit in with the others. It has no real villain or even a particularly serious situation for the Mane 6 to overcome. It deals mostly with their disappointment at having their own expectations dashed. Fluttershy goes temporarily insane. The moral is "Wanting is better than having." There, I did end up reviewing after all.
"Lesson Zero" is what I consider the start of Season II. While it shares many elements with TNBE that I stated above, it at least had the effect of doing away with the "only Twilight sends letters" and the "each episode ends with a letter to Celestia" clauses that had been implicit until that point. (Yes, there were exceptions, like the CMC episodes, but they were exceptions, not the rule) The fact that it shook up the status quo qualifies it for Season opener status. At least, in my eyes it does. Now, onto the episode at hand:
It starts with a rather light-hearted scene featuring the CMC fighting over the meaning of the appearance of Discord (the irony) which apparently empowers him to escape his prison of stone. The dark heartbeat, the ominous crack in the statue, and the evil chuckle all serve to create a good sense of tension.
Cut to the Mane 6, having to deal with the first effects of Discord's chaotic magic. This scene shows off all the Mane 6 again, and reaffirms their teamwork. I particularly like Rarity here (What? Inconceivable!) She states that she isn't willing to come out from under her umbrella, yet passes it over to Twilight without a second thought when she thinks it will help her in her pondering. After solving the problem, they are summoned by Celestia.
This scene is important for many reasons. It gives a great deal of exposition regarding the EoH, adds more historical information concerning Equestria's past, and even serves as a reminder of the events of the pilot. Celestia also wastes no time bringing out the Elements and telling her task team to take down their foe at once. Serious business indeed, when the usually unflappable, extremely powerful and generally artful ruler gives you the weapon and points you in the direction of your enemy in such straightforward terms. Or would give you the weapon, if she had it to give. Dun dun DUN! The Elements are gone, leaving even Celestia with her jaw dropping.
And now the villain makes his entrance, in possibly the most unsettling way he can, by sliding around the stained glass windows. Discord, the mischievous spirit of chaos and disharmony. John de Lancie's performance as Discord is definitely one of the strongest points for this episode. Of course, he's had a lot of practice as Q.
Again, the way Celestia responds to him shows just how much of threat she considers him to be. Her expression, as Discord puts it, is indeed grim. Discord also shows that he is fully aware of each of the Mane 6 and their Element, all of which serve to make him even scarier. There is little worse than having an enemy who is not only powerful, but also knowledgeable about you. This leads to a problem down the line, however, which I will discuss more later.
Having given them his riddle, Discord departs. It's quite amazing how deep his simple few words are when you examine them carefully. "Twists and turns are my master plan. Then find the Elements back where you began..." His master plan was to essentially "twist" the personalities of each of the Mane 6 sans Twilight, and to "turn" them against each other. This so that even when they do regain the Elements, they will be in no shape to wield their power against him. This figurative level is masked by the more literal meaning, which Discord was clearly counting on Twilight to focus on, she being a literal sort of character, and it leads them directly into his trap. Well played, Discord... well played.
Another delightful bit of irony is the fact that right after Discord delivers his message, Fluttershy actually gives the correct answer, when she asks "Can we go home now?" Had Twilight listened to her, they could have gotten hold of the Elements without falling into Discord's trap, and defeated him rather painlessly. I'm sure that Discord, devious as he is, allowed them that possibility, just so that he could later laugh at them for not seeing it. In fact, his laugh as the Mane 6 head towards the labyrinth seems to be mocking them for that very reason.
My goodness, all these words, and I've only covered the first 10 minutes of the episode. I think it would be a good idea to pause briefly here.
More about this episode next time.
Until then, keep chasing those rainbows!
Welcome back to the Bookend Diaries. This entry will handle the second half of the pilot.
The wheels seem to fall off a little bit here. First of all, Nightmare Moon, who seemed like such a badass, ends up being totally ineffectual. You can control lightning! Fry those foals who dare to stand against you!
NNM flies off, and then seems to fly straight back again to spy on Twilight. How did she know to keep an eye on Twilight in any case? Sure, Twilight was the only one who knew who she was, but she never mentioned the Elements of Harmony. And even if she could find them, Nightmare Moon can fly faster than Rainbow, and turn into mist or even mimic other ponies, like she does with the Shadowbolts. She’s immortal, has apparently trapped or somehow disabled the only pony who is as powerful as herself, and had she just kept away from Twilight, it wouldn’t have mattered if she did find the Elements. All she had to do was not provide a target. Unless she subconsciously wanted to be stopped so that she could become Luna again and rejoin her sister, which I guess is possible, but it’s not made very clear.
The second issue is the clumsy foreshadowing in this episode. As Twilight reads out each Element, not only is each relevant pony focused on in turn, but they each blink with an audible sound effect as the Element is named. It would have been perfectly obvious without going to such lengths.
Then there’s the journey through the Everfree Forest, where each pony gets to demonstrate their personality trait. First, Applejack tells Twilight to let go of the cliff and she’ll be safe. One sentence, “The others are waiting to catch you!” would be enough to let Twilight know the situation. And I thought Applejack was meant to be one of the straight-talkers of the show.
Next the Manticore. Fluttershy’s kindness is great, but where is the giant thorn earlier in the fight? Its size should have made it clearly visible when the Manticore spread its paws, or scratched at the ground, or ran on all four legs after the ponies. A much better way to handle it would be to show the Manticore favouring its one paw, or limping slightly or something. It would serve just as well to demonstrate Fluttershy's kindness for her to be the only one to notice the thorn while the others were only able to see the threat the Manticore posed, instead of a pretty saccharine line like "Sometimes we all just need to be shown a little kindness". And it would show off her motherly traits better too.
The next scene brings us the very first song in the series, delightfully lampshaded by Twilight and Rarity. ("Tell me she's not..." "She is.") It's not a great song, especially compared with some from later episodes, but not too bad either, and has a rather good message for the target demographic... how to deal with imaginary fears. I think Rainbow should have been a bit braver than that, though. She loses a lot of street cred here.
I blush to admit I can't really find any fault with the generosity scene. I hope it's not just because Rarity is my favourite character, but I don't see a single thing wrong here. It was pretty generous of Rarity to cut off her tail to gift it to the River Serpent, especially since she couldn't have known it would grow back when she took up her Element. The fakeout of Rarity seemingly killing the Serpent was a little bit strange, and perhaps unnecessary, though. I am so balanced!
Now a scene I really do have a problem with. It's meant to highlight Rainbow's trait of Loyalty. But if you think about it, Rainbow Dash’s loyalty isn’t really being tested. It would have been if Nightmare Moon had appeared to her as the actual Wonderbolts, and not a unconvincing knockoff. Her design for the Shadowbolts is close enough to imply that she knew what they look like, and it would have been much more of a temptation for Rainbow. Or why not tell her she could tie the bridge, but then take her away from the rest, leaving them one Element short? Rainbow had already agreed to go with them after tying the line. Or I don't know, Nightmare Moon, how about destroying the bridge with freaking lightning!? It all just seems a little bit contrived, mainly because it is.
Now we come to the showdown with Nightmare Moon. The fight itself is pretty cool, and you really feel Twilight's total loss of hope when it seems Nightmare Moon has shattered the Elements. Then Twilight's friends come in, she realises they are the Elements of Harmony, lies (in some cases) about how they all showed their Element traits. This part is a little sappy, but...
Well whup my withers, Full Spectrum! Isn't that just like a boy? Can't handle the least bit of sentiment!
Applejack? Why are you in my blog?
I just came to give ya'll a piece of my mind! What's all this talk about sappy? This is what all this excitement has bin leadin' up to! It's the heart of this entire show that ya'll been claimin' to like.
Okay, okay, I'm sorry I said it was sappy. But don't worry, I'll acknowledge the really cool bits too. Case in point, the Elements being triggered! The gigantic rainbow, levitating ponies, Twilight's white-out eyes... this whole scene is perfect.
So Nightmare Moon is revealed to be Luna, everyone is really surprised, except that Twilight shouldn't be, having read about the Royal sisters in the first half; Princess Celestia returns to congratulate the newly formed Mane 6 on their victory and reconnect with her little sister, and Pinkie cries with sappinesshappiness for a bit and then seemingly transports everypony back to Ponyville for a party. Twilight is of course given new instructions to stay in Ponyville, and the adventure continues.
Overall, the pilot has its flaws, which keep it from being brilliant, but it is still a very passable start to a phenomenal series. The biggest minus I can point out is that the villain was shown to be a little less of a threat than they seemed to be originally, and at several points was forced to pick up the Villain Ball. And run with it. And score an own goal with it. Sadly, this is going to become a trend, as I will discuss in later entries.
Pluses: Nightmare Moon's defeat looks absolutely awesome. We get more insight into the characters of our heroines.
Minuses: A rather self-defeating villain. Some scenes raise too many questions. The foreshadowing is as subtle as a sledgehammer. Some rather diabeeetus-inducing parts (Gets hit with an apple on the head. Ow!)
So that's my thoughts on the pilot. As before, leave sundry complaints, compliments or death threats (okay, maybe not that last one) below in the comments. Or just tiptoe quietly away, you know, whatever makes you happy.
Until next time, keep chasing those rainbows!
Hey everybody, and welcome to my blog, Running the Gamut. I have finally resolved to quit procrastinating and to actually post something here. I had originally intended to start with a review of each Season so far, episode by episode, and give my thoughts on them. With further consideration, that seemed impractical, so I have now decided to restrict my reviews to the bookends, by which I mean the opening and closing episodes of each Season. So join me, dear friends, enemies, frenemies, and people who happened upon this page by accident, as we delve into the distant past of 2011 with The Elements of Harmony.
It must be said: the pilot is not all that good. In fact, it seems a little odd in retrospect that this launched such a phenomenon as it did. I will admit that most of the problems stem from the second half of the pilot, but the first half also has its fair share.
The first half of the pilot introduces us to the Mane cast. After the beautifully animated prologue, which can best be described as a storybook brought to life, we are introduced to our heroine and her beleaguered assistant.
There are a few question marks here with regard to their characters. In Twilight’s case, for a pony that likes everything to be orderly and organised, she’s quite happy to have the books just fall on the floor. Spike is another example, since this is the first and last time that he seems unable to spell simple words like “brink”; and thank goodness for that. This is understandable, since the writers are still trying to define the characters, so not a big problem.
This scene establishes the plot for the rest of the pilot, and also has the famous early glance at Nightmare Moon through the hour glass, which is a great touch. Sadly, it’s the last time we’ll see any such subtlety in foreshadowing for a while. I’ll comment more about that at a later time.
Having her attempt at warning her teacher about the upcoming Apocalypse apparently rebuffed, Twilight is sent to Ponyville to set up a celebration and to make some friends. Here the rest of the cast is introduced.
After a brief encounter with Pinkie, Twilight’s first real stop is at Sweet Apple Acres, and leads to the introduction of Applejack and kin. Good old fashioned Southern hospitality! Special mention must be made of Apple Bloom. She’s just adorable with her big eyes, pout and “Aren’tcha gonna stay for brunch?”
Next in line is Rainbow Dash. Just watch Twilight when Rainbow happens to her.
Fat stomach + Rainbow Crash = thin stomach. Did Twilight just throw up all the food she ate earlier, when Rainbow Dash ploughed into her? We also have the first of many overused RD memes with the ten seconds flat scene.
Then there is Rarity, the total knockout, as Spike later puts it. Even those who aren’t her fans tend to admit that she has the best design, with that intricately shaded mane, apart from those who favour Rainbow Dash's multicoloured magnificence. Although, that horn... later episodes blended it into her forehead, but the distinct outline makes it look pretty terrible here. This scene is an early hint to her generosity... she instantly realises that Twilight's hairdo does not suit her, and goes to great lengths to fix it, before even knowing she is from Canterlot.
Next up is Fluttershy and her bird choir. She is the only one to comment on Spike, hinting at her kindness right there. Just one thing bothers me. I know Spike is a baby dragon and therefore cute, but there is not a single sliver of hesitance from dragon-phobic Fluttershy. I don’t know many arachnophobes who still love baby spiders.
After getting away from Fluttershy, Twilight finds herself in the middle of PARTY TIME! All of Ponyville is here, courtesy of Pinkamena GAAASP! Pie, including soon-to-be phenomenon Derpy Hooves. Then we have Pinkie’s propensity for hot sauce, which is referenced once in Sonic Rainboom and then never again.
Now that the cast is introduced, the climax can begin. Just when they thought they would get to see their Princess raise the sun, Nightmare Moon returns and announces eternal night! The reveal of NNM is the best part of this episode. Her design, her voice (regal and threatening at the same time), her laugh, it’s terrific. As is appropriate, (for what could follow?) this scene ends the first episode on a cliffhanger.
Pluses – Introduced the characters and launched the brony fandom. Nightmare Moon’s reappearance is wonderful to behold.
Minuses – Some character traits seems contradicted by later episodes, and there are a few animation errors, such as Twilight being fed a green apple and spitting out a red one. Unless AJ just rammed it so hard into her mouth that it cuts her gums or something.
So that concludes Part 1 of the pilot and Part 1 of this series of blog entries. Being my first one, I’m sure there is plenty of room to improve so you’re welcome to comment below and tell me how, or just comment on the review in general. Part 2 is going to deal with the second half of the pilot, which is where most the problems I have will be discussed. Until then... <<insert catchy sign-off phrase here>>