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Synopsis:

Following a summit where she found her only duty was unfurling a banner, Princess Twilight Sparkle is beginning to wonder why she’s a princess at all when she seems to be irrelevant to Equestria, and is despondent in spite of Celestia, Luna, and Cadance’s encouragement. That night, Princess Celestia has a vision of a shriveled, withered demon ambushing a unicorn and absorbing his magic, partially regenerating as a result. She calls the other princesses together and announces that this is “Lord Tirek”, a demon who came to Equestria with his brother Scorpan in search of magic power to devour and grow strong off of. Yet Scorpan ended up befriending the ponies and siding with them, helping Celestia and Luna strip Tirek of his power and lock him in Tartarus. However, he’s now escaped and regained enough power to start absorbing it from unicorns to rebuild his full strength. While Cadance suggests Twilight deal with it, Celestia disagrees and sends Discord, much to her shock as well as that of the Mane Six. Before leaving, Discord mentions the locked diamond chest and suggests they take a second look at the diary. On doing so, Twilight realizes all of the girls have experienced points where their “virtue” was put to the test, succeeded, demonstrated that to another, and received something in return (all the rainbow-shimmering objects). The girls take these objects to the chest and they turn into the Keys of Harmony, each one to a lock…but Twilight’s is still missing. Soon after, Celestia summons Twilight again, this time to Canterlot, and reveals that Tirek has appealed to Discord’s desire for the freedom to do as he pleases and has gotten him to renounce his new friendship and instead join him in becoming stronger so he can spread chaos once again over Equestria. Now Tirek is absorbing the power of pegasi and earth ponies as well so that only he’ll be able to control the weather and make things grow. Realizing all that’s left is to take alicorn magic and become all-powerful, the princesses announce they have to give it up.

While Twilight is ready to give up her power with the others, it turns out she’s the “ace in the hole” as Tirek isn’t aware of the existence of a fourth alicorn. The other princesses give up all their power to Twilight Sparkle and send her away. As Twilight struggles to gain control over the god-like power she now possesses, Tirek and Discord storm into Canterlot and, on being unable to absorb any alicorn magic from the three drained princesses, the former throws them into Tartarus as revenge. Soon after, Tirek presents Discord with a medallion from Scorpan as a symbol of their partnership and Tirek’s loyalty. As it turns out, Discord (still longing a bit for friendship) waited until he got such a sign before spilling his guts about the fourth alicorn princess. While Twilight is away practicing her new power, Discord returns to Ponyville and betrays the rest of the Mane Six, imprisoning them and having Tirek drain their power. Yet immediately after that, Tirek announces he’s strong enough to have no more use for Discord and drains his power as well, and the medallion he gave him was meaningless to him all along…causing Discord to finally feel the pain of being “betrayed by a friend” firsthand. Tirek soon tracks down Twilight and engages in a battle with her, destroying the treehouse library in the process, but, in spite of all the power he’s gained, Twilight’s combined alicorn power makes her an even match and the fight is a stalemate. Instead, Tirek offers Twilight’s friends’ lives in exchange for the alicorn magic. Twilight hesitates, but ends up agreeing on the condition he release “all” her friends…including Discord. The deal is made and Twilight loses all of her power while Tirek grows to monstrous size and begins to destroy Equestria. Discord sorrowfully apologizes to Fluttershy and the others, saying he was a fool for thinking Tirek could have offered him something “better than friendship”, and he gives the medallion to Twilight as a sign of his sincerity. Thinking this might be the final key, the group runs to the chest and uses it, and it works…opening the chest and transforming the Mane Six into their Rainbow Power forms. Tirek tries to destroy them only to discover even with his new power he can’t even leave a mark, and they, in turn, blast him with their combined strength to drain him of all the power he stole and seal him back in Tartarus. The god-like Mane Six travel through Equestria restoring everything Tirek absorbed before returning to Ponyville and reverting to their true forms, only to see the chest “plant itself” in the midst of Ponyville and grow into a castle “themed” like the Elements of Harmony. The three other princesses are freed from Tartarus and arrive, and announce that Princess Twilight Sparkle, as well as her friends, now have a “purpose”: Twilight is the Princess of Friendship and she and the girls are to spread it throughout Equestria. The girls enter their new “throne room” which bears six thrones of equal size and stature for each of them, Discord is fully welcomed as “part of the group” and even presents Celestia with a bouquet of flowers (with no tricks attached), and the season ends with the citizens of Ponyville rejoicing and a picture of the Mane Six taken.

Review:

I want to give this 5 stars out of 5. I really want to, especially after the second viewing. But…damnit, I can’t. The mistake is just too big to ignore.

Alright, let’s do this.

Before this episode, every time I saw that Megan McCarthy wrote a two-parter, I’d groan and do an eye-roll. “A Canterlot Wedding” was riddled with plot holes, “The Crystal Empire” was painfully dull, “Equestria Girls” was…better than I thought it would be but still not wonderful, and “Princess Twilight Sparkle” was just plain bad. So when I heard she was going to close out this otherwise very good season after how pathetic it had started…I was sick to my stomach.

Ms. McCarthy, if you’re out there, I take back everything I said about you. Because that was honestly the most epic two-parter since “The Return of Harmony”.

While it’s not “completely great”, this two-parter just has greatness after greatness. It’s been a while since the writers were able to convey a “sense of doom”…an episode where at parts, even knowing this is a kid’s show and everything always has to turn out alright, I, as an adult, sit there and ask myself: “…How can they get out of this?” This is the most “serious” the series has ever been. Even when the girls were dealing with Discord, their corruption was meant to be humorous. When fighting the Changeling swarm, there was plenty of humor on the side for comic relief. Parts started to try and get “purely serious” for the Crystal Empire…but it failed there. Here it “hits” and hits hard. Aside from Twilight’s few attempts to master her new power, and a couple comments by Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie, there’s nothing “funny” about this episode.

I mentioned earlier in Season Three that the episodes “Magical Mystery Cure” and “Keep Calm and Flutter On” (and “Games Ponies Play”, to a lesser extent) were really the “true first episodes of Season Four”. And, in reality, they were. Twilight Sparkle ended the third season asking: “What now?”, and she didn’t get the answer. Princess Celestia told her it would come in time…and it came here, way at the end of Season Four.

It’s unfair to call Lord Tirek a “Knight of Cerberus” trope because the fact of the matter is Discord and Chrysalis were already that…but he takes things to a whole new level. Discord had lots of comic relief. Chrysalis…while pretty nasty when she revealed herself…was humorous at times when still impersonating Cadance. And Sombre? …I have a feeling Tirek is everything Sombre was supposed to be but never got expressed. Pretty much a villain with all the “shadow” that Sombre cast and all the “substance” Chrysalis had to make a villain who just plain stands out. For the most part, he’s still able to “fit”…but there’s a few parts of this episode where I sit there and wonder: “…Am I still watching ‘My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic’? Because this guy’s a bit too ‘heavy’ for it.” His design isn’t quite as “fearsome” as the chimera but there’s nothing “cartoony” about him. In terms of motivation and schtick…he’s really nothing new at all. Generic villain going around wanting ultimate power. Been there, done that. His methods, however, are a bit better. This is a Y-rated show so they aren’t going to be killing anybody, but the closest they can do…the closest they can come to conveying the idea that “this character is gone and can’t come back”…is what they ended up doing: having an opponent who can drain friends and loved ones and throw their bodies into Tartarus.

Yet “having a really cool villain” is just part of this episode. While Twilight Sparkle is still the main focus and, once again, the rest of the Mane Six is mostly a “unit”, it does have that point in the first half where it recalls what the girls did in previous episodes to try and “remind” the audience that each of them have had their chance to shine. In a sense, that reminds you this may be the season finale, but it’s also a “Key of Harmony” episode…meaning Twilight should be the one “shining” in this one.

And on that note…Discord.

As I mentioned earlier, fans were very “split” over “Keep Calm and Flutter On”. The ones who hated it didn’t buy it one bit. The ones who liked it thought it seemed a bit “rushed” and “forced”. There was a descrepency that Discord hadn’t really “reformed” or, if he had, to what extent, but people did wish that episode had taken more time. Many fans commented while they didn’t believe him at all in that episode.

However…most fans did believe him here, even ones who hated “Keep Calm and Flutter On”. I’m not sure if they had this episode in mind all along or if this was just a master-stroke of writing…but few people “doubt” Discord in this episode. Speaking personally, on the second watch of this episode, seeing how he acted in the first parts…I wanted to say: “I’m not going to believe him later. Not after all he’s done.” And then came the part toward the end and…yeah, I “bought it”. I really did. In spite of the fact that he betrayed Fluttershy completely and did the equivalent of spitting in her face…I believed he was truly, genuinely sorry.

Now…I didn’t feel bad for him at all, because this was pain he not only deserved to feel but needed to feel. Discord is still treating friendship and the feelings of others like a game. He’s still a “spoiled child” who thinks there’s no real consequences to anything other than his own happiness or unhappiness. And, ironically, he needed a villain like Tirek and a situation that happened in this episode. The fact is Discord had enough “experience” with friendship now that he wasn’t siding with Tirek simply for freedom…he was doing it because he thought he could “replace” Fluttershy’s friendship with his. He still thought friendship was some sort of “physical commodity” with which you could do stuff like that. Yet when Tirek turned on him, he learned what it meant to have someone you thought was a friend backstab you. He realized what it meant not only to have none of the power he prided himself so much on…but to have his feelings “stomped on”. And my guess is he not only saw in that moment not only that he had done the same thing to the Mane Six…but possibly every event of chaos he had ever done, even what it must have meant way back in the Season Two opener when he corrupted the Mane Six into turning on each other. He finally learned something that’s the biggest component of friendship: empathy. The ability to actually care about how other individuals feel besides himself.

Yet Twilight does one better. The single biggest part of this episode, to me…and the reason Twilight embodies and exemplifies magic (because, remember, as in the title…friendship IS magic), is when Tirek frees Spike and the girls…and she says: “ALL my friends.” She shows to Discord and the audience that friendship is neither something that can be thrown away and lost like an object cast in the ocean, nor is it something that can form an unbreakable contract and obligation that nothing can budge…but a choice. Tirek was right; she “owed” Discord nothing whatsover…but she chose to forgive him regardless because “that’s what friends do”. And so, as a result, in an ironic twist that I certainly didn’t see coming and I don’t think many did either, Twilight was the one who “taught Discord the value of friendship”. And now…I think most fans will say: “Yeah…he’s really ‘reformed’.”

I question this decision a bit because it was supposed to be Fluttershy-Discord who had the relationship. Twilight pretty much is always annoyed at Discord and gritting her teeth around him and his trolling. But…well, first of all, there’s enough Fluttershy-Discord moments in this episode for me to feel that dynamic was never “lost”. Second…that might be the point.

“You’re annoying, a troll, obnoxious, and you drive me nuts sometimes…but you’re still my friend.”

Like I said before…I REALLY want to give this episode 5 for 5, but…

The first song is worthless. It shouldn’t even be in the episode. The lyrics are the laziest things I’ve ever heard come out of the show. All of those lines could have been spoken. Seriously, compare this song to “Winter Wrap Up”, “The Super Speedy Cider Squeezie 6000”, and “This Day Aria”…then look me in the eye and tell me Ingram was “trying” with that one as opposed to making something to pad the first part of the episode (which is sad because, really, this episode is pretty jam-packed and runs at a good pace and doesn’t seem stretched in any other spot). The second song is…better, but it’s something we’ve heard before. Pretty much all songs that “end an episode” since the Season Two finale sound identical. I wouldn’t mind an ending similar to “The Return of Harmony” or even “Friendship is Magic” for a change.

Second…sigh…the entire “midpoint conflict” is contrived. No other way to put it. Celestia goes on and on about the need to keep it a secret that Twilight Sparkle even exists, let alone has the alicorn magic…when she knows Discord is helping Tirek. Discord knows about Twilight…so…plot point useless. Worse yet is that dialog indicates Twilight Sparkle relayed what Tirek was doing with Discord (hence the boarding-up of Ponyville)…and she didn’t tell them Discord had betrayed them. Good lord…how thick can you get?! And I’m sorry…that plot hole is one of the worst ever conceived on the show. I get the sensation McCarthy knew about it all along, realized it while crafting the overall (and otherwise fantastic) plot, saw no way around it, and then hoped people “wouldn’t notice”. And truth be told…I was so engaged in the plot the first time I didn’t notice…but now that I’ve seen it I can’t “stop noticing” it. And considering how much of the plot hinged on Celestia making that rather derp “flub”…I’m sorry, it’s unforgivable.

It’s so bad that even if you don’t buy into “Trollestia” at this point Celestia is looking like an “epic fail” as a princess. I’d actually love nothing more in Season Five than an episode where she does “save the day”. I don’t care if it’s a regular episode, a flashback…just something to give everyone in Equestria (and the audience) an answer to: “Why do we follow this moron again?”

The only other thing to say is I hate the Rainbow Power Forms. Considering the great artwork and design in this season…WTF? They’re gaudy and ugly. And the fact that all of their manes grew huge, both in length as well as volume, actually makes them look like weird fillies…

But that aside…fantastic character, fantastic villain, fantastic morals, fantastic action, and…pretty great story. No wonder this is now an episode that tops the “best” list. Whereas before in Season Three’s finale I and the rest of the fans felt in “limbo” and that the future of the show was in jeopardy and doubt…I ended this season saying to myself the same thing Twilight Sparkle did in Season Three:

“Everything’s going to be just fine.”

Fun Facts:

Flash Sentry appears in this episode and actually has lines this time, although he has no other importance.

In this episode, the two dignitary ponies from the last episode are revealed to be the Duke and Duchess of Maretonia.

Oh joy…another “Twilight is unhappy” song. Those go over so well with fans. This song is thoroughly, thoroughly “phoned-in” and irrelevant except to pad the episode…but I’ll give it credit for the first time Princess Celestia and Princess Luna have sung.

Tirek is only the second G1 character ever to appear on the show (Spike being the first). He’s known as quite possibly the most “out of place villain” of all time for the original series. In a cartoon known for ponies laughing and playing and such, he was a genuine monster. His modus operandi in his original form was actually similar to Nightmare Moon, while his method of working was corruption. He had actually killed characters, including Spike’s parents. Scorpan (who is only mentioned in the episode and seen in artwork) in G1 was a prince he had corrupted into a servant. Strange as it may seem, the MLP:FIM version of Tirek is somewhat tamer. At any rate, Tirek in both versions is a bona-fide demon, combining centaur-like aspects with a demon goat.

Tirek’s new incarnation (possibly as a result of McCarthy’s seeming-otaku-influence) also shares a bit in common with “Dragonball Z” villains Cell and Majin Buu, not just due to the infamous “fight sequence” but also due to the fact that, like Cell and Buu, he has the ability to absorb the powers of others to add to his own power and attains “new forms” the stronger he gets. I personally think of him more as Cell in actions and personality…but more like Buu in appearance (especially the eyes).

Finally, Tirek’s final form bears a great deal of resemblance to the cartoon version of Trigon, one of the main villains from “Teen Titans”. In that series, Trigon was the archnemesis and father of Raven…who was voiced by Tara Strong, the same voice actor for Twilight Sparkle.

The “young pony wizard” Scorpan befriends in the pictures was Starswirl the Bearded.

Celestia mentions that Tirek escaped when Cerberus temporarily left the gates of Tartarus. First of all, Tartarus was the place for the worst offenders in Greek Mythology. Calling it “Hell” would be a bit of a stretch, but not much of one. Second…this event took place all the way back in Season Two’s “It’s About Time”; 44 episodes ago. I guess future Twilight did have something important to tell past Twilight that she ended up missing anyway. 😛

When Discord appears, he’s imitating Mary Poppins. Soon after, he imitates General Patton.

Although Discord “turns evil again” in this episode…ironically he also helps save the day not just because of the key but also by bookmarking the pages of the diary referring to the first five keys.

When Discord opens the “door in reality”, the other side is padded, implying a rubber room (insanity).

When Tirek tries blasting Discord in the head, it separates to dodge and then reforms, similar to the T-1000 from “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”.

When Discord “hauls in” a group of earth ponies, he has the likeness of the shark hunter in “Jaws”.

On the stained glass picture that Discord is messing with, he’s changed the three generic ponies on it into Celestia, Luna, and Cadance.

I made fun of the fact earlier that Tirek could negate the power of the Crystal Heart, but…actually, I realize on the second viewing that claim is never put to the test. He never goes to the Crystal Empire or after crystal ponies. It potentially could have worked.

After Discord himself gets betrayed, Applejack throws his own words back in his face: “Surely you saw this was coming?” My guess is these lines were probably originally supposed to be more “biting” and “sardonic”…but either the director or the voice actor decided to play things “softer”.

I’m not sure if it was intentional, especially since McCarthy seems to be heavily anime-inspired…but the comments started rolling in immediately that the fight (and yes…a real actually-epic fight on a Y-rated show that barely skimmed around the censors…) reminded people of “Dragonball Z”. The biggest part is the “beam struggles”…but it’s really all over the place with either opponent smashing each other into and through landscape, leaving huge rifts on the ground just from throwing their weight around, and even “painting the sky red” through the chaos. It even “ends” similar to the Cell Game fight from “Dragonball Z”, as Gohan has to get a near-critical injury jumping in to save Vegeta, who was never really a “friend” to begin with. To top it off…the Rainbow Power forms of the Mane Six remind one of Super Saiyan-Jin 3, especially the blond streaks in the manes and the increase in mane size.

At one point, the storyboards for this episode (which are available in “The Art of Equestria”) reveal Twilight Sparkle was supposed to punch Tirek in the face.

The second episode this season that didn’t end with the normal ending song.

Rating:

4.5 Stars out of 5

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