The girls are having a normal day in Ponyville when random “chaotic” things start to happen, such as cotton candy clouds pouring down chocolate milk rain. No sooner do they stop some of the chaotic events when they get a scroll summoning them to Canterlot to meet with Princess Celestia. On doing so, she reveals her old enemy and the former ruler of Equestria, a spirit of disharmony with near omnipotence named Discord, has returned. While she and Princess Luna defeated him by turning him into stone a thousand years ago using the Elements of Harmony, because they’re no longer the “bearers”, the “new” bearers, the Mane Six, have to seal him away again. Celestia goes to get the girls the Elements only to find they’re gone. Soon after, Discord manifests himself and gives the girls a riddle to find where he’s hidden them. Twilight Sparkle thinks its means the labyrinth in Canterlot and she leads the six there. Once there, Discord appears and tells them the two rules of his “game”: no flying or magic, and no “leaving the game early”, or he wins and turns Equestria back into chaos. The girls go in to get the Elements of Harmony, but soon after stepping inside Discord separates them all and goes about corrupting each one. He turns Applejack into a liar, Pinkie Pie into a sourpuss, Rarity into a miser, and Fluttershy into a bully. As each one meets up with Twilight Sparkle again, she’s stunned at their new behavior. Finally, Discord goes to Rainbow Dash and gives her a fake vision of Cloudsdale falling apart and offers her her wings back to go and save it, but she must abandon the others. This corrupts her into being a traitor, she takes the wings and abandons her friends. At once, the labyrinth collapses and Discord declares himself the winner.
As the corrupted girls start fighting amongst each other, Twilight Sparkle accuses Discord of cheating by removing the labyrinth before they could find the Elements inside. However, Discord reveals she misinterpreted the riddle all along. Twilight thinks a bit more and realizes he meant the Elements were in the book she read about them way back in the pilot episode. She forcefully drags the girls back and, after a great deal of fighting during which Twilight grows more and more hostile to her friends, she finds the Elements…but they’re short Rainbow Dash. No longer caring about friendship, Twilight gives her Element to Spike and tries to use them against Discord, but it fails as a result. The rest of the corrupted girls storm off, Twilight declares their friendship over, and becomes corrupted as well. She returns to the library to pack up and leave Equestria to Discord, only to find that Spike has gotten every single letter she has sent Celestia since arriving in Ponyville sent back to her. On reading them, Twilight remembers the power of the Mane Six’s friendship and is purified. She quickly goes about through town purifying the others by hitting them with a memory spell that makes them remember their true selves, and once the five girls are gathered, they manage to catch Rainbow Dash and purify her too. The girls reassemble and face off against Discord again, with Twilight Sparkle proclaiming the “lesson”: friendship isn’t always easy, but it’s worth fighting for. The girls use the Elements of Harmony to turn Discord back into stone, undoing his chaos, and are heralded once again as heroes of Equestria by an assembly in Canterlot.
Wow. Just…wow. It’s hard to know where to begin with this episode. It’s just…something that is completely “knocked out of the park” compared to Season One. It started things off with the biggest bang possible.
It’s so big and incredible and has so much great stuff…it manages to overshadow its many, many flaws.
Let’s start with the good stuff…which means Discord. This was the episode that introduced him, who is debatably the most popular recurring character to appear in the series. Between his creepy appearance, his voice performance by John DeLancie, and the way he dominates this episode both character-wise as well as with his presence, he rules the Season Two opener so much that he pretty much overshadows every other character in this episode. He’s both a lot of fun as well as genuinely, unsettlingly malevolent…exuding evil far more than Nightmare Moon was able to do.
In fact, he might have been “too” evil in this first appearance. It wouldn’t be until later episodes that Discord would really start appearing to be the more “Q-like” character who was equal parts fun and mischief. In this one…he comes off as genuinely evil. So much so that a lot of fans weren’t able to reconcile him with his Season Three and Season Four appearances. Even when he “goes evil” again in Season Four’s finale, he doesn’t seem nearly as vile and malevolent as he does in this episode.
Nevertheless, the writers knew that they were basing Discord off of Q when they wrote him, and I believed right from this episode that he would eventually have a role like Q on the show…a prediction that started to come true in Season Three. So even in this episode, I see a few glimpses of Discord not truly being “pure evil” but being more like a “spoiled child”. There’s one moment, in the particular, toward the middle of the episode where after Twilight Sparkle gets corrupted that Discord comes up to her to show the latest chaos he’s wrought…and he honestly seems confused as to why Twilight isn’t “enjoying it” as much as he is. Also, for all of Discord’s trolling and apparent “knowledge” of what’s going on, he shows his naiivity a few times in this episode as well…particularly toward the end as he fails to realize that the girls have “made up” and can use the Elements of Harmony again.
There’s one big thing about this episode that a lot of fans miss…this is the closest Princess Celestia, who has the reputation for being a do-nothing “troll”, ever came in the series to “saving the day” herself. Twilight Sparkle had already given up and was ready to leave Equestria, but it ended up being Princess Celestia resending her letters back to her that undid her corruption and led her to rally the rest of the group. It was a “nudge in the right direction”, sort of like how Gandalf the Grey may have done in “The Hobbit” to Bilbo Baggins, but it was a nudge that Twilight needed or she couldn’t have “come back”. I sort of wish, at the minimum, Princess Celestia would have more “moments” like that. It would help mitigate her bad reputation.
Last, but not least, this episode was so much more “heavier” than anything in Season One. Nightmare Moon appeared in the Season One opener, but neither the Elements of Harmony nor any real “threats” were mentioned ever again. The show, while entertaining and appealing to its growing adult fan base, was honestly remaining firmly locked in “Y-rated material”. This one…was something else. The music is honestly creepy in a lot of spots, Discord’s antics are often rather disturbing looking, and a much “darker” and more “serious” atmosphere hangs over the whole episode.
Now…the bad…and yes, this episode does have quite a bit of bad in spite of how overshadowed it is by the good.
This episode is a bit too serious, for starters. At least, it is for me. Almost all of the intended humor is supposed to be derived from the corrupted girls, and it goes on for quite a bit with that in mind. But the writers, in my opinion, made a mistake. They had already cast Discord as a rather “heavy” and “serious” villain…even one more destructive, terrible, and evil than Nightmare Moon. So trying to derive some fun from the antics wasn’t a very good idea when there was something that serious “lurking in the background”. More importantly, however, I don’t find the corrupted girls “funny”. Some do…but I never found “people being jerks” humorous. And I know that’s prevalent. A lot of shows like “Family Guy” and comics like “Pearls Before Swine” sell themselves on the idea that “being an a-hole to people is hilarious”. It’s not…it really isn’t. So seeing the girls at each other’s throats doesn’t really “do it” for me. More like it’s unsettling. Even when the episode “tries” to be funny, I feel it fails at it. Case in point…one of the big gags for the first part of this episode is when Discord attempts to corrupt Fluttershy but her kindness proves to be impossible to goad, so he simply corrupts her by force. I don’t find that funny…I find it disturbing. (Not to mention a plot hole. If Discord can instantly make anyone do whatever he wants, why all the pomp and circumstance? I’m assuming this might also indicate the “spoiled child” nature of Discord…that he doesn’t even think about his own power…or perhaps he just likes being so chaotic he acts out in ways that “defeat himself”.)
Second, the episode relies a LOT on “everyone being stupid”. Twilight Sparkle really doesn’t notice the girls turning gray or thinking something is up when they start acting the opposite of their true selves. I know Twilight is supposed to be “a bit clueless”, but this is ridiculous. She so stupidly doesn’t realize Discord did something to the other girls in spite of all the signs and indications that it’s a bit surprising she manages to “put it together” just by reading the letters to Celestia. As I mentioned before, the villain appears to be clever one moment and idiotic the next. True, his “master plan” seems to take a lot into account, but toward the end how he didn’t notice the girls were friends again and could use the Elements of Harmony and didn’t try to stop them before they could is a bit ridiculous. Again, one could argue Discord was either overconfident, didn’t realize the nature of how the Elements of Harmony worked, didn’t realize that friendship couldn’t be “rebuilt” after being broken (that part seems possible, considering how little he knows about friendship in “Keep Calm and Flutter On” in Season Three), or was just simply so chaotic he let himself be defeated.
The pacing of the episode is wrong to me as well. The first part is good…but the second? Too much time was devoted to the girl’s arguing…such that the “main point” of the episode, the girls getting back together, was sort of “summed up”. Did everyone really think the “selling point” of this episode was going to be the girls at each other’s throats?
Last but not least…the overall “theme” for this episode is the pilot episode rehashed, more or less. It’s a “parody” of it in some ways by the girls being tempted to do the opposite of their “virtues”, but it boils down to Twilight Sparkle once again learning that “friendship is magic”. However, it seems a bit silly that she has to “relearn” that episode after the incident with Nightmare Moon. Once again, she’s so obsessed with “stopping the evil” that she forgets completely about her friends and taking care of them “first”.
In spite of the many weaknesses, the episode’s strengths overshadow and surpass most of them. It’s genuinely a great episode and one of the best of the entire series…but it feels very “off” compared to the nature of the rest of the series. Season Two was debatably the best season of the entire show so far, but it seemed to “lose the spirit” a lot in the opener and finale. It keeps this great episode from being the best overall.
Discord, obviously, is so inspired by Q from “Star Trek: The Next Generation” that he’s effectively Q “transplanted” into MLP. In addition for liking to troll individuals and have them play his twisted games, he has Q’s signature “move” of snapping his fingers and causing a flash of light whenever he changes reality. Yet the biggest Q knockoff is that Discord is actually voiced by John DeLancie, who played Q on ST:TNG. This is the only episode where he’s officially declared as a “draconequis”, a fictional creature that is an amalgamation of various body parts. The fact that he has a species name indicates there’s more than one of him, though. In later episodes, Discord would take up spontaneously going into different costumes and personas, much like Q did in later episodes as well.
One of the few episodes where Applejack is growing something besides apples. Did Discord do that? 😛 Seems it was only there for a “popcorn” gag.
The chocolate milk rain might be a reference to the Internet viral video for “Chocolate Rain”.
Princess Celestia mentions Princess Luna in this episode…the first mention she’s even gotten since the pilot episode, let alone appearance. However, the scene she mentioned of her and Luna versus Discord wouldn’t be seen until the Season Four premiere.
This episode allows you to see what all six girls look like as earth ponies.
Applejack’s vision in the lake is ironically true, even if it doesn’t “go down” quite that way.
Discord’s “hypno eyes” are similar to those of Kaa in Disney’s “The Jungle Book”. Also, in a more creepy allusion, the fact that the girls are enchanted into thinking worthless things are things they love might be a nod to how the Devil operates in Stephen King’s “Needful Things”.
This is one of the last episodes where Canterlot appears to be in “walking distance”. In future episodes, the girls would usually take the train.
One of the few parts of this episode that I think is actually funny is when Twilight Sparkle calls her element “big crown thingee”.
It may seem a bit odd how “magic” can “get corrupted”…but remember the title of the show is “Friendship is Magic”, so it was Twilight rejecting her friends that did it.
There’s a crazy-looking pony who just flies by at random shortly after Twilight gets corrupted. The fandom made that one the pony daughter of Discord.
There’s a lot more than 24 scrolls in that pile in Twilight’s room. 😛
Pinkie Pie’s “purification” is never seen or even alluded to, but there’s a bit of a plot hole. When she’s laughing about having turned “gray”…that implies that there was a physical change that Twilight Sparkle should have seen before, only making her look more foolish in this episode. It also makes Discord look foolish at the end as it should have been a clear sign the Mane Six were “purified”, but based on Discord’s reactions both here and in Season Four’s premiere, it seems as if he never fully “understood” how the Elements of Harmony worked.
Some fans takes this episode as proof that Fluttershy can be just as fast as Rainbow Dash if she “needs” to be (although Rainbow Dash was slowed by two ponies, so was Fluttershy), nullifying what was in “Hurricane Fluttershy” later this season. However…Twilight Sparkle was able to pin down Applejack while she was corrupted single-handedly earlier, and yet fans don’t routinely say Twilight Sparkle is as strong as Applejack. Also recall that Rainbow Dash was never able to do the Sonic Rainboom again until she did it to save a friend. The girls get their strength from their friendship. With Rainbow Dash acting the opposite of her true self, she couldn’t go as fast as she could normally.
Even in this episode, Discord wasn’t as “omnipotent” as most fans thought he was. Twilight was able to negate his power a bit by herself at the end.
The end of this episode is a big parody of the end of “Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope”. The music itself is similar to the music from the scene where Luke Skywalker and Han Solo march before a victorious Rebel Alliance, Spike is in a similar position as C-3PO and R2-D2, and, to top it all off, the episode doesn’t “fade out” like normally, but does a “closing iris” to the credits.
4 Stars out of 5