This might be a good juncture to say, "I told you so". Yes, it's immature of me, but I so seldom get this much vindication, I'm taking the opportunity to gloat.
The first part of the second episode shows us the confrontation between Princess Celestia, and the newly minted Nightmare Moon, who is seeking to destroy her. This is probably the most intense action scene in the series so far, and seriously would not look out of place in most animés... except maybe for this shot...
Celestia seems either unwilling or unable to return fire with her own Solar Beam, and despite managing to dodge for a while, takes a full on hit from Nightmare Moon's magic, and plummets senseless to the ground. Twilight, for the first time ever, drops the title when she cries out in concern. Yes, folks, not "Princess Celestia!", just "Celestia!"
Twilight, still unaware that she is watching a vision of the past, believes Celestia to be dead. Her mane seems to stop flowing when she's unconscious, but it restarts when she gets up, to Twilight's relief. The horseshoe finally drops for Twilight when Celestia, having no choice but to take it to the next level, DBZ style, reveals the Elements of Harmony, still in their Hyrule form.
The Elements, when activated, start to spin around Celestia, and man, does it look amazing... not to mention badass. It does, however, strongly remind me of the finale to Avatar: The Last Airbender... I wonder if that was intentional.
Despite tears streaming down her face (the most emotion Celestia has ever shown), she proceeds to smack a mare up with what could only loosely be described as a beam'o'war, since it's so very one-sided. Nightmare Moon is banished, and the vision ends.
The next scene gives us a bit of comic relief after all the emotion, with Discord taking palpable glee in mocking how Twilight was behaving while in her trance. He also hangs a neat little lampshade on the distinct lack of musical accompaniment in this two-parter (thank Celestia for that) with "I do hope she breaks into a song this time!"
Time for flashback, take two! The architecture here is interesting, with brick walls and thatched roofs, not seen since "Hearth's Warming Eve". It appears as if Discord took over not very long after Equestria was founded. More and more gaps in the history of Equestria are being plugged, and I for one couldn't be happier. I love backstory. Celestia and Luna face down Discord, using the Elements of Harmony in tandem, and turn him to stone. The very next instant, the vision shifts to show Twilight how they actually found the Elements on the Tree of Harmony. Of course, now we have to wonder exactly where the Tree came from, but I'm sure later episodes will shed more light on that. Looks like Season 4 is going to have an arc. Wonderful! All we know is that the Tree is somehow acting as a limiter on the Everfree Forest, and it appears as if that limiter has been removed.
Finally making some progress, the Mane 6 head off into the Everfree Forest once more, to find the Tree. They almost immediately run into a crocodile, (which could be pronounced "Crackodile", it's pretty hard to decide) which despite being huge, is rather easily defeated. Disappointing, really. However, this scare is enough to make "team mom" Applejack concerned about risking Princess Twilight, and she convinces the group that Twilight should head back to Ponyville and stay safe, just in case Luna and Celestia are never found. This is despite the fact that a mere minute earlier, they all agreed happily when Twilight said, "Whatever happens, we'll face it together." In fact, this is one of the few things I didn't like in this episode. Sending Twilight back, only to have her come find them a few scenes later anyway. It just seems unnecessarily dramatic to me, although I guess what Applejack says is true enough in its own right.
Ah, well, it gives us more Discord antics to enjoy, so I suppose it's alright. Not to mention the newest meme we're all going to be tired of seeing within a month couple of days: Twilight's golden scepter.
Twilight, needled sufficiently, heads back to find her friends, (how is Spike keeping up with her galloping...? Strange...) who have just managed to locate the Tree, and Pinkie in particular has located some stairs... methinks Sombra was here... he likes stairs, apparently.
While Twilight is being attacked by spindly soporific scent spitting spores, Rainbow and AJ are having plant troubles of their own:
Unable to figure out how to help the Tree, they start to argue over sending Twilight away, until Spike arrives and in typical Spike fashion, can only communicate that someone is in danger with one word sentences. However, it's enough for them to find and rescue Twilight from the evil vines. Then they all say what we've known all along... the Mane 6 need to stay together, no matter what.
Back at the Tree, Twilight realizes that the Elements need to be returned to it. Of course, this defeats the invading vine army, much to Discord's annoyance, and releases the two Princesses, who have been trapped here the whole time. The Tree also provides this Season's mysterious McGuffin... a box with six locks. Celestia seems to know something about it, but even she is unaware of where the keys are to be found.
On their return to Ponyville, Discord outs himself as the one responsible for the vine attack... which raises a question. If he knew about the Tree of Harmony and planted the seeds hoping to drain its magic, why didn't he know about the Elements and that they had the power to turn him into stone? Is he just being Discord, or is there a more nefarious plan in play here? I hope answers will be forthcoming later in Season 4.
At any rate, the Summer Sun Celebration goes forward, Luna lowers the moon, Celestia raises the sun, and Twilight does her big finish that she mentioned at the start of the premiere. Notably, she flies exactly between the moon and the sun as she uses her magic to create a starburst (it's not a Sonic Rainboom, so RD fans, you can stop crying foul ) The symbolism is unmistakable.
And that was the premiere. Not a perfect episode, but near enough to it. The animation was beautiful, with plenty of shading, camera effects such as blurring and soft focus (I don't know the technical terms, but I do know it looks lovely). The actions scenes were detailed and enthralling. The characters, especially Twilight and Discord, were exactly as they should be. And last but not least, the removal of the Elements and the mystery of the Box set up the rest of the Season very nicely.
5 – Celestia Rank: A great episode. It will be re-watched frequently.
4 – Luna Rank: A good episode, but with one or two problems that prevent it from being great.
3 – Spike Rank: An average episode. Positives and negatives are balanced.
2 – Discord Rank: Worth watching once. After that, turn it to stone and put it in the garden.
1 – Nightmare Moon Rank: Send it to the moon!
My friends, I am no longer worried about the future of Friendship is Magic. Season 4 looks like it's going to be a doozy. And you can count on your friendly neighborhood Sunny Fox to be there as the journey continues.
Stay sunny side up, folks!