Hard on the heels of Season II’s music-heavy two-part is another music-heavy two-parter, “The Crystal Empire”. In four episodes and two stories we’ve had something like five or six songs. Not that the songs are bad, but there are just such a lot of them. The episode opens with a report that the titular Empire has returned from a thousand year displacement curse, inducing Princess Celestia to send newly-weds Cadence and Shining Armor there. Although it is not outright stated, my belief is that the return of the Empire was caused by the wedding. The timing is just too convenient. Lending strength to this theory is the observation that Candence’s cutie mark contains the Crystal Heart, and that one of the crystal ponies indeed calls her “The Crystal Princess”. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Celestia also sends for Twilight, telling her that she is going to have to take a test.
Even your assistant is embarrassed for you.
Twilight, predictably, gets herself into an absolute state at the news. Celestia really needs to learn to clarify when she writes those letters of hers. Despite Luna offering to go to the Empire too, Celestia insists on Twilight being sent, saying that it will let them know whether or not she is ready for what will be coming later in the Season.
After informing Twilight about the Empire, and the true nature of her test, she reaffirms her belief that Twilight will succeed, despite stern, sceptical looks from Luna. Celestia also makes it clear that Twilight must do it all on her own. Although if Twilight is supposed to be doing this alone, why did Celestia send the rest of the Mane 6 as well? Does your manipulation know no limits, your Majesty?
The first song of the episode follows. I’m not sure of the official title of the song (anyone out there who knows is welcome to inform me) so I’ll just call it “Prepared for This”. It’s a very beautifully animated sequence, with Twilight wondering if she is up to the challenge. And Spike sings, too, which is a nice touch. His voice isn’t great, but then he is supposed to be a child, so I’m going to forgive him.
As Celestia promised, her friends are waiting at Ponyville Station for her. Twilight gets them up to speed, and they soon arrive in the Arctic North of Equestria to meet Shining Armor. Here we are also introduced to the villain, King Sombra, who curses Shining Armor’s horn when the latter turns back to buy the Mane 6 time to reach the Empire… which turns out to be not an empire. They really should call it The Crystal City. The more you think about it, the more you wonder why it was called an Empire at all. And if Cadence and Shining Armor are rulers of an empire, doesn’t that technically make them an emperor and empress? Do they now outrank Luna and Celestia?
Rarity is in her element… the metaphorical one, not the “of Harmony” one. She loves gems and she’s in a city made of the stuff. Rarity’s reaction to hearing about the existence of Crystal Ponies is one of the highlights of this episode for me. I know, shocking, right? These sorts of scenes are why I don’t feel too bad about Rarity not getting a focus episode in this Season.
The team goes out to get more information about protecting the Empire, but the crystal ponies seem really out of it, and are of no use at all. Pinkie Pie is in rare form, particularly the scene where “Fluttershy” walks up to Twilight, only to turn out to be Pinkie in a Fluttershy costume. FS herself is understandably confused. Rarity being too caught up in imaging herself as a crystal unicorn to even ask any questions is also pretty funny, and typical. It serves as a call back to Dragonshy, too.
They finally manage to find a library, with a really confused librarian, whom Pinkie likes for some inscrutable reason. After searching, they find a book about the history of the crystal ponies, leading to the second song of the episode. “The Ballad of the Crystal Ponies” will do for a title, although I don’t know the official name of this one either. I really like this song, and it sets up for the Crystal Fair. The centerpiece of this is “the Crystal Heart”, which Twilight has made.
This has the effect of perking up the crystal ponies, which returns their mane-styles and colors to normal, although it doesn’t restore their shininess (insert Pokemon joke here). It also reminds them about the existence of the Crystal Heart. It turns out the Crystal Heart is a very specific relic and treasure, which Sombra has locked away and apparently removed any mention of. How odd that OCD Twilight did not notice the obviously torn out last page of the book. Yeah, good one, Twilie.
Even your brother is embarrassed for you.
Cadence takes the opportunity to swoon, and without her light and love barring his way, Sombra begins moving in on the now-defenseless Empire…