Monday, November 25, 2013

Episode Talk: S4E1-2, Princess Twilight Sparkle

Hey, remember that show that all these fanfics are based on?  Apparently they're still making new episodes!  Who knew?

Anyway, I went ahead and checked out the premier of the fourth season and, finding I had some things to say about it, decided to say them.  Click down below the break for my thoughts.

P.S.  Since it's been a while since the last one of these, a reminder: this isn't intended as a summary of the episode itself, nor is it in any way comprehensive.  It's just a few of my thoughts after watching the new episode and having a day or two to digest it.  Expect nothing more nor less.

-----I won't lie: coming into these episodes was the least excited I've been for more pony since I started watching.  Magical Mystery Cure left a sour taste in my mouth, and that dampened my enthusiasm for (and optimism about) the show's future installments.  Also, the expansion of canon and canon-ish storylines into places I either haven't followed (the comics) or didn't want to (Equestria Girls) has, I've found, made it harder for me to feel connected to the show.  I've never considered myself any sort of hardcore, die-hard fan (said the man who's been blogging about the show's fanfiction for more than two years), but the fact that I haven't been following the show-derivatives has somehow made following the show itself feel that much less like something that matters to me.  Heck, I haven't even been keeping up with spoilers and sneak-peeks--not out of a desire to view the episode "unspoiled," but out of apathy.

What I'm getting at is that I didn't even bother to get up for a livestream, instead eventually getting around to checking out a youtube rip late on Saturday afternoon.  And as I sat down to watch, what I felt wasn't really excitement, the way it had been for even the episodes I'd been most trepidatious about before this season.  Mostly, I was just resigned: resigned to the fact that I probably wasn't going to enjoy what I was about to see, and not even about to get mad if it lived down to my worst expectations.

Just a bundle of cheer, I was.

-----The first few minutes of the episode did absolutely nothing to break me from my tired-old-man-funk.  The ponies are reduced to caricatures (especially Pinkie), such "humor" as there is mostly derives from said caricaturizations (especially Pinkie) or from overdone, drawn-out animation jokes (Twilight's freak-out right before Celestia came in was a dead ringer, to me, for the worst excesses of the fan-animation Double Rainboom), and nothing seems to happen but a bunch of standing around and talking (not a problem by itself, but when coupled with complaint #1...).

-----Once we got to Ponyville, though, things picked up quite a bit for me.  Discord is orders of magnitude more interesting than I could have hoped he would be after his reformation, for starters.  Hopefully they decide to keep this "I've decided that there are better ways to cause chaos than to be an implacable foe, such as by being 'helpful'" thing he seems to now have going.

-----Hey, and those history segments were amazing!  Well, that's probably saying too much, but the Nightmare Moon battle definitely blew my expectations out of the water.

Okay, so my expectations were "will cause me to shed a single tear, a la that Indian from the old Keep America Beautiful commercial, as any shreds of commonality between this episode and the hints of worldbuilding in the first three seasons are cast away like extra leeches at the end of a fishing trip."

The point is, I liked them way more than I expected to.  And even more than that, I, well, liked them.  That was pleasant; liking the things you watch for fun is nice.

-----Side note: was it just me, or did Rarity sound like she was high as a kite all through the episode?  The voice was giving me a definite Carrie-Fisher-in-The-Star-Wars-Holiday-Special vibe.  Eh, it was probably just me.

-----Another side note: for one brief moment, shortly after they went into the Everfree Forest, I hoped we were going to get a repeat appearance by Steven Magnet.  Instead, all we got was a rock-crocodile that somehow wasn't named a rockodile.  Seriously, was the name trademarked or something?  There's gotta be a way around it, if so.  That pun's too obvious to pass up.

-----Yet another side note, this one from earlier on but I'm doing side notes now so why not: those royal guards must have gone to the BRIAN BLESSED school of character voicing.  They may have flunked out of "volume," but at least they got passing marks in "dramatic pauses," "dramatic emphasis of unimportant words," "dramatic gasps," and "being a large ham (dramatically)."

-----I didn't really have a problem with the idea that Twilight would be sent away from the group because she was a princess, then would realize that being friends is more important than being a princess and come back to them.  It's a good moral, after all.  But... the way they did it didn't make any sense to me at all.  What, exactly, were the other five ponies hoping to accomplish without Twilight around?  If they've somehow decided that this isn't an Elements of Harmony issue (?), then what exactly are they planning to do sans their "indispensable" princess?

-----I was actually happy to see the Elements of Harmony go; they've been used enough that I feel they've lost their effectiveness as a "now things are serious" story device, and they were dangerously close to becoming a crutch for the show writers (if they weren't already).  That said, this six-lock box isn't something I'm feeling to positive about; if nothing else, it tells me that we're going to get a lot more adventure/overarching storyline episodes, and on the whole my favorites have almost all been the slice-of-life/problem of the week ones.

-----On the whole, I was very, very pleasantly surprised by this premier.  Now, it's true that I had low expectations and came into this episode basically waiting to be disappointed, but that doesn't change the fact that I really, really enjoyed watching this.  That's pretty much what I want out of an episode of My Little Pony, and Princess Twilight Sparkle delivered on that count.  I don't know where the season's going to go from here vis-a-vis my entertainment level, but this start at least has me feeling optimistic again.


  1. I was feeling pretty apathetic until the week leading up to the premiere. Then I started getting pretty hyped, and it was great watching the show via livestream again (though I'm still confused as to why they didn't play Hardware Store). I thought the episodes were great, especially in comparison to Equestria Girls, which I finally watched last week. Honestly, this should've been the movie, in part due to the removal of the Elements.

    Given what little we've seen of future episodes, I think (hope) the writers might play a little loose with the overarching storyline. Of the remaining twenty-four episodes, they should have five dealing with the location of a new key. These could be independent adventures with the key being the hook. Then, the season could wrap up with a two-parter about the location of the final key and unlocking the box. That still leaves us with seventeen unrelated slice-of-life episodes

    1. Forgot to mention earlier that I also thought that thing should've been called a rockadile, and even thought I'd simply misheard them because what else could it possibly be? Well, except for cragadile (my second choice), which it apparently is

      I also forgot to add that I, too, noticed a difference in Rarity's voice, though I didn't think she sounded high. I should go back and check on that

  2. Speaking as someone who keeps up with the comics, perhaps not as much as he'd like to, they've only made me look less favorably upon the show. The comic writers can get away with so much more and the Cook/Price team is an unstoppable powerhouse of awesome.

    Much as I hate to admit it -- I'm kind of tired of John DeLancie's involvement in the show at large, despite liking him as an actor and person -- I really did like Discord's role, for the reasons you mention.

    And liking things you watch for fun? Preposterous! Watching things for fun is supposed to involve a lot of bellyaching and overanalyzing until it's no longer fun at all. Enjoyment? Pah!

  3. -I guess I'll trust that the writers have a plan here. It really adds an element (heh) of haphazardness to suggest that the princesses just happened upon the Elements this way back then, and that Discord was either unaware of their existence or potential.

    -I was initially tickled to see Discord singing Winter Wrap Up when he first appeared, but then soured on it a bit after realizing how meta it was.

    -Didn't notice a problem with Rarity's voice, but I was dismayed to see her use the "darling" term of endearment twice within a couple minutes, which may serve to enervate fanfic authors who think she utters it every other sentence in stark contrast to (erstwhile) canon.

    -The reason for the five friends to suggest Twilight return to town was certainly plausible, but it wasn't brought up in a believable fashion. That whole part felt forced.

    -I don't mind so much the hint at an overarching plot, since I doubt it will pervade every episode, or even a majority of them, and even those are likely to be more along the lines of stories of self-discovery, I'd think, which are the hallmark of a lot of the slice-of-life episodes anyway.

    -Celestia and Luna sure have a way of being unavailable (S1 & S2 openers, Luna in S2 finale), ineffective (S4 opener, Celestia in S2 finale), or unwilling (S3 opener) when the shit hits the fan.

    -I found Twilight adorable as the somewhat inept flier, and I hope they keep that up for a while for the entertainment value, the realism that she wouldn't master it right away, and at least postponing (heh) her continued Mary Sue-ness.

    -I was also very happy to see the way they address her relationship with her friends. her decision not to wear the crown and preference that they not call her by her title was a step in the right direction. I hope they continue to mine that interaction, since they really swept it under the rug at the end of S3, but I've already ranted about that.

    -While I understand that it fit more with the theme of the episode to have everyone defeat that... cragodile? Whatever... with teamwork, you'd think Fluttershy alone would have been able to handle it. It's an animal, after all... Though I guess she didn't do anything about the hydra or Ursa Minor, either... I dunno.

    -When Twilight gave up the Elements, I fully expected it would revert her to a unicorn. I think that could have been a more powerful outcome, though I can't say I blame the writers for going the way they did, wasting all that build-up and merchandising in the process...

    -All told, I enjoyed the new eps, at least up until the second half of part 2, which delved a bit too much into Plot Convenience Theatre.

    1. Oh, and Zecora's involvement was entirely too convenient. She just happens to have this potion around that she can't use, and she doesn't know what it does, but she's just sure it's what the situation calls for, and, lo and behold, it is! They were also pretty lazy with her dialogue in this one, which is even worse since there wasn't that much of it. I realize it takes extra work to give her good rhymes and proper rhythm, but they created that, and now they have to live with it.

    2. It makes me sad when the show writers write bad Zecora--not only because it's, well, bad, but because it encourages fanfic authors to think that they too can half-ass rhymes and rhythms without anyone objecting. This is a big enough problem without the show exacerbating it!

  4. So even without the elements, the tree of harmony will have enough power to control the land.

    Tree of harmony...


    Anyone else see a bit of an oxymoron here?

    I'd consider writing something suitably epic, but I have serious reservations about writing anything post-Princess Sue. Seriously, I could roll with it if it weren't for Cadence screwing with the possibilities. Still a dumber move than Princess Sue! Why couldn't Cadence stay a unicorn...


    1. How are "harmony" and "control" oxymoronic? Control is basically just the desire for perfect harmony gone insane.

    2. Do you not see that your statement itself is self-defeating? If control is harmony gone insane (and I'm not sure I agree with that in the slightest) then the tree of harmony is said to be doing something fundamentally antithetical to harmony.

      Honestly, I'm a little stunned that it isn't more obvious.

    3. Not "fundamentally antithetical" - that's what Discord used to be about - but "driven to the extreme". What happens when a desire for harmony goes too far? You end up in a state of perfect, enforced equality and conformity, where no one is ever allowed to really be themselves for fear of disturbing the peace. That's why I say harmony and control aren't antithetical. Mutually exclusive, very likely, since a state of excessive control isn't what harmony (in the show sense) is about, but not antithetical.

    4. I don't understand. You give an example of how they are antithetical and then declare it's your reason for thinking they aren't. Mutually exclusive is one definition of antithetical. Control and harmony are opposite ends of the spectrum. You can have order through control, but it is impossible to have harmony through control--they're incompatible.

    5. Musically speaking:

      Harmony is all about control. If you want to play a "C major seventh" chord, you have to hit the notes C, E, G, and B with all the control you can. 'Cause if you miss even one of those targets by so much as a quarter-tone in either direction, the result will be dissonance rather than the harmony you're looking for.

      Ornette Coleman style "free jazz" is many interesting things, but harmonic is very rarely one of them... :)


  5. Actually, "rockadile" was apparently trademarked, I read somewhere on EqD...

  6. Replies
    1. Maybe I'm doing something wrong, but your hyperlink ain't workin'.

    2. Not working for me either. Go here:

    3. Agreed on the shading being a distraction. The fandom keeps praising the studio for stuff like that, though, so expect more of it

  7. As far as two-parters go, it was probably the best, but that's like saying "This turd doesn't stink so much as this steaming pile of dung". Too many plot holes, too much Dues-Ex Potiona, and the best part besides Discord, that being Nightmare's (embarrassingly short ) rise, was completely and totally tangential to the actual plot. This sucks in two ways: we lost a good five minutes to something that doesn't matter, and we most likely lost a proper full episode or even two-parter dedicated to Nightmare Moon's reign just so a mediocre slice of fan service could be served on a tarnished bronze platter.

    The fight itself, while certainly a step up by the show's standards, barely registers as a 1.5 blip on the scale of 10 when compared to a proper fight scene. Compare to this *mid-season* battle of the beautifully flash-animated French series Wakfu ( ), which features far more dynamic camera angles, excellent choreography, some picture-perfect reaction shot expressions, and transformation sequences that don't look like a bunch of awkward symbol tweaks (ponies trying to do a rising-to-power angle just don't look right). People who call Nightmare's battle with Celestia "epic" are those with either low standards or have yet to experience the joy that is Wakfu or Avatar.

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  9. One day, I will be able to type something that isn't 50% typos…

    Chris! Chris! Do you understand just how much it pained me that those things were not called rockodiles? My jaw hit the floor. That waste of a pun killed me.

    The 'send Twilight back to town' thing was so abrupt that I actually thought AJ must be under a spell or something for a second. I couldn't see the logic in their decision, and it really brought the episode down a notch for me. I really liked it overall, but that part was just ridiculous.

  10. >That said, this six-lock box isn't something I'm feeling to positive about; if nothing else, it tells me that we're going to get a lot more adventure/overarching storyline episodes, and on the whole my favorites have almost all been the slice-of-life/problem of the week ones.

    I agree entirely, only more emphatically. MLP is bad at adventure and they should stop trying to do it. Season 1 episode 1 was great fun establishing the characters, but other than that, every minute of every adventure episode has been painful.

    I'm thrilled with S4E1 just because they managed to do a two-parter, AND add backstory, without introducing any painful characters, contradictions, or stupidities.

    As always, pacing in the second half was off. What were they thinking with that whole "Go back to town, Princess" "arc"? Wait, I'll tell you: That's the kind of thing that looks good on a storyboard, because you assume the animators will fill in the gaps with interesting business, but that you couldn't get away with in a written script because the emptiness of it all would be obvious.

    I also thought Applejack was being mind-controlled. The fight scene made me shout "Her power is OVER 9000!"

    1. I'm convinced:

      That the "go back to town, then turn around" scenes could've been very powerful with another run through the word processor to sharpen the focus. These should've been the scenes where Twilight chooses to define herself as a different sort of princess from Celestia and Luna, which is to say the sort of princess who doesn't get other ponies to do her dirty work for her.

      A little additional dialogue would've done it, Applejack assuring Twilight that they'll send Dash flying back to town to fetch her if it turns out they need the Elements after they actually find the tree, for instance: I talk a little more about my other dialogue fixes over here. Good scenes, I call them, but only partially realized due to time crunches during production.


  11. Feel this was a good episode and great season opener.

    As for the direction the show is going in, I'll just repost a reply to kits:

    Personally I feel like the main draw of the show for me when I started was also the main focus of the show, both in terms of plot and objective (selling toys) which was the characters.

    Which is why I love fics. They tell stories I enjoy with the characters I love.

    But midway through S2 I guess they felt that their characterization work was pretty thorough (the only new character development since then has been for the CMC) Everyone loved the characters and bought their toys, so it was time to play around with some storytelling to keep the show fresh and utilize those characters.

    Of course this is where things got messy, especially for the FiMFiction demographic. Because "THEY TOOK OUR JOBS!" and, well... honestly aren't as good at it as we are.

    But that is because we write (and by we I mean you) for adults and young adults. They write for small children so their storytelling will never be truly as good as ours.