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A Royal Problem - a wordy review

[Pre-Disclaimer: Wow, I did not expect that to turn into such a textwall. But hey, I am a rambler. Also, repost into my blog {is this my blog? I've never used it so far} from the Royal Problem thread]

Disclaimer: if I've ever written an episode review before, it was long enough ago that I don't remember. So, bear with me]

I suppose the most surprising thing is how perfectly everyone is cast for their role.

I'll get to that in a minute, though. Eh, make that ten. Right now, I need to spend about five of them squealing in glee that not only, after six and a half seasons, we finally have an episode focused around the royal sisters. It's a good thing that I'm mature enough that it doesn't bother me that, despite several episodes focused around Luna specifically, Celestia had to share her with Twilight or her sister. There's no problem at all.

Just kidding. Well, just... kidding about not kidding? Which was actually kidding? Let's just drop this would-be plot point, it's getting too recursive. Besides, we have enough to cram into twenty-two minutes as it is and we have no screen time to spare. Because, although the issue between the two princesses is the Big Thing driving the episode, there's three different plots going on throughout the whole thing. At least, anyway. The first is, as mentioned, the problem between Celestia and Luna. On the other hand, there's also the issue of Twilight constantly hovering over Starlight and finally, Starlight's doubts about the whole cutie-mark-switcharoo... yeah, let's call it a decision. Snap decisions are decisions nevertheless.

Which kinda makes me wonder, was this episode written, more or less, for a while now but the writing staff had to wait until they had the right cast together? Yep, going back to the first sentence - that didn't take long, after all. See, after I came out of my initial Celestifanboy trance, I realized, not only did the episode pull off all three threads together without taking anyone out of character, but actually used some of their defining traits to tie all three subthreads together.

Twilight was there as a facilitator to the crisis - not only would her well-established mentor worship make it impossible for her to step out of line and force a decision on the princesses, but the cognitive dissonance she experiences just considering the possibility that Celestia might be anything short of flawless just fuels the panic of Starlight being responsible for fixing it - something that pushes Starlight even more into second-guessing herself since Twilight makes it painfully obvious that she still has some pretty huge trust issues, even if she does make an effort to put them aside.

Starlight, on the other hand, manages to build on her character development and tries the direct approach with the Princesses to get them talking to each other - which is likewise still on par with her personality so far, as she's shown time and time again that, when there's a task to complete, her first solution tends to be a straight line from point A to point B and if that fails, brute-force the obstacles and - maybe - ask for forgiveness later, but it's also backfired enough times that she was aware - if not really in a state to think - how much of a gamble it was. But doing so took a strongly iconoclastic personality, which none of the other characters in the entire show, save possibly Discord, have.

And finally, there's the princesses. To be perfectly honest, I actually found the writers constantly reminding us how Luna tends to feel underappreciated for her work a little tiring and making her a fewer-dimensional character, but to be fair, all we've seen of her was either a} working in the dream realm or b} dealing with her personal crises, so some slack can easily be given there. As for Celestia, well, it was nice to see some development to her beyond being the wise and kind ruler and slash or mentor, so seeing her at her, shall we say, less regal went miles towards further humanizing what was, up to this point, really mostly an archetype.

Once all the pieces are laid out and the plot gets underway, everything does tend to go more or less as you'd expect - despite each princess' expectation of how easy their day is going to be, turns out it's actually pretty exhausting. But the unexpected thing is that the writers show us more than that - that Celestia's job is actually physically exhausting to the point that she can probably hammer nails with her cheek muscles, and when things don't go as planned, she rarely has a chance for a do-over - just move on to the next thing on the to-do list. Luna, on the other hand, gets no company, no support network and rather than having a list of tasks to check off, she has to deal with each unique dream crisis on the fly and using only her own personal strength.

And boy, when we do get to the dreams, we're really in for a wild ride. The dreambubbles alone are going to fuel fanon like crazy - is that dream Cadence's or Flurry's? Why is the Doctor lurking around the maze? Are those Applejack's parents? Will ever Princess Derpy?!

Ayhem. Let's get back to Starlight.

I've mentioned before that, from where I'm standing, the relationship between Twilight Sparkle and Sunset Shimmer seemed less like one between two friends and more like a recovering addict and their rehabilitation officer, and rightfully so. For her entire life, Starlight had been using magic as a shortcut and, if you look closely, when her first attempt to get the princesses talking to each other fails, the impetus for her brute forcing yet another problem doesn't seem to be desperation as much as frustration and moments later she becomes aware of the gravity of her actions. Hilariously enough, even through all of the terror, she manages to keep her direct honesty. And while she definitely had more avenues to force Celestia and Luna to talk to each other, whether calling on the fact that the Map sent her to them, or even cashing in on the fact that she saved them from Chrysalis, talking is not her strong point. All her life, she'd specialized in leadership and magic, and when pushed into a situation where she can't command attention, let alone authority, she reflexively reached for the hammer.

So, after her Twilight helpfully pushes her along the road to a full blown neurosis, seeing her nightmare is kind of a given. And since Luna barely made it through Celestia's day, it's natural that Celestia would be hilariously unprepared for a night in Luna's shoes. And once the nightmare starts rolling, there's not much to do than sit back, grab some popcorn and enjoy the ride. And what a ride it is - nevermind just the appearance of Daybreaker, hearing Nicole Oliver cut loose and ham it up to eleven was a cherry on a cake.

But another surprising thing is that, instead of taking two of the most common tropes for stopping the dream entities - reaching out to Starlight or working together with Luna, it reminded us that there will be problems that we need to solve without relying on anyone else, and that encouragement from someone we trust and respect can help us find the strength we need to achieve what seems like an unreachable goal.

So, in the end, I think we've had a total of three, make that four morals. First, that when dealing with hard work yourself, it's easy to fall into the trap of believing that someone else has it much easier than you, and it often helps to talk to them about it - not only to keep it from bottling up, but to get their perspective as well. Then, there's the reminder that no tool is inherently good or bad by itself, but rather, how it's used. Starlight using magic to switch their cutie marks was a right call - not the right call, as there may have been others - but after several harsh lessons where trying to magic others into doing what you say, it's easy to see how she'd start associating it with Something She Should Never Do, and it's a good thing to be reminded that, when all you have is a hammer, sometimes a problem really is a nail. Third, that it's a good thing to be able to self-reliant - sometimes you don't have friends or family to help you, and there's nothing left but give up or step up to the challenge. And finally... no matter how interested you are, no matter how much of an emotional stake you have in a situation, if someone {or something, in this case}  wiser and better informed puts a person in charge of solving it, it's often a good idea to step off, especially when they make it clear you're not helping.

But I don't think Twilight got that one just yet.

  • Brohoof 1


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