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Synopsis:

Twilight Sparkle is called to Celestia’s School of Magic to give a lecture on simultaneous gaining of Cutie Marks, or “Cutie Mark Magic”, such as what happened with her and the Mane Six when Rainbow Dash performed her first Sonic Rainboom. On returning home, she discovers Starlight Glimmer waiting for her, who uses a strange spell with the Cutie Map to open a portal. On Spike touching it, both he and Twilight are drawn through the portal as well, and end up going back in time to the very moment Rainbow Dash was able to perform the first Sonic Rainboom. Twilight realizes Starlight is so advanced at magic she was able to actually improve on one of Starswirl the Bearded’s time travel spells and perfect it. Soon after the realization, they find Starlight Glimmer is in the past and uses a freezing spell on filly Rainbow Dash to immobilize her, causing her to never perform the Sonic Rainboom. Twilight and Spike are drawn back to the present and discover, as a result of the girls never forming their bond of friendship from that moment, Equestria is now in a constant state of war against the King Sombra-ruled Crystal Empire. All of society has been altered so that no pony in Equestria does anything but contribute to the war effort, and yet the best Equestria is doing is holding on. Spike, however, still has the spell scroll, and the Cutie Map, which is tied to the Tree of Harmony, still exists in the timeline, so Twilight uses the spell to go back earlier to try and stop Starlight. Unfortunately, she soon discovers that since Starlight wrote the spell, she also made it so that the spell will always send her back earlier than Twilight. She reveals her goal is to ruin Twilight’s bond of friendship with the Mane Six in retribution for causing the end of her commune. What more, rather than try to stop Rainbow Dash the same way as before, thereby letting Twilight get the jump on her, she stops it this time by convincing the bullies to apologize to filly Fluttershy and cancel the race. After unsuccessfully trying to convince filly Rainbow Dash to do the Sonic Rainboom, Twilight and Spike are thrown back in the present again…only now they’re surrounded by refugee ponies in the Everfree Forest accusing them of being Changelings.

It turns out the ponies are led by Zecora, who discovers not only are Twilight and Spike not Changelings but are from the “proper” timeline. Twilight wonders why this universe is even worse than before, and Zecora suggests that she’s experiencing a “butterfly effect”: that even tiny changes in the future are leading to vastly different outcomes, such as this universe where Chrysalis and the Changelings conquered Canterlot and almost all of Equestria. When the monsters attack, Zecora sacrifices herself to let Twilight and Spike use the spell and go back again. This time, Twilight immediately gets into a fight; only to discover that Starlight is actually better than her at magic, and the resulting clash still stops the Sonic Rainboom by distracting filly Rainbow Dash. Again Twilight and Spike are sent back in time, this time arriving in a universe dominated by Nightmare Moon in which Celestia is trapped in the moon and eternal night reigns. She tricks Moon into getting her back to the Cutie Map to reactivate the spell, and soon begins a series of unsuccessful attempts to stop Starlight that only end up in the future growing worse and worse. Eventually she realizes she can’t stop Starlight, but also realizes Starlight is willing to do this for the rest of eternity so long as it ruins Twilight’s friendship. Instead, she seizes Starlight and drags her into the present with her, revealing that, at this point, nothing is left of Equestria but a wasteland. Yet even seeing the future ruined doesn’t stop Starlight, and she takes Twilight back in time to her hometown to reveal her only friend, Sunburst, was taken away from her when she was a filly as a result of getting a Cutie Mark in magical proficiency before she got her own. The incident warped her into believing Cutie Marks destroyed friendships and she refused to ever make another friend as a result, and now reveals her intent to destroy the spell scroll after ruining the Sonic Rainboom one last time so that Twilight will “learn the pain of losing a friend because of a Cutie Mark”. However, Twilight manages to talk her into risking making new friends; citing how if one destroyed friendship led them to this point and one other destroyed friendship caused the fall of Equestria, then each new friendship is valuable. Finally, Starlight backs down and lets Rainbow Dash perform the Sonic Rainboom, and she, Twilight, and Spike return to the Castle of Friendship; where the spell scroll is sucked into the portal and vanishes. The Mane Six meet and decide what to do about Starlight Glimmer, and in the end, on seeing how powerful she is and the effect of one friendship, Twilight decides that she could be useful to Equestria and takes her on as a student. The episode ends with Starlight joining the Mane Six and making them the Mane Seven.

Review:

(Uses Twilight’s method of relaxation) I’ve put it off as long as I can. (Puts on helmet and buckles in) Let’s do this.

To hopefully better separate the good out from the bad in this episode, I’m going to actually split my discussion into two parts. The first is going to be over everything in this episode except the last eight minutes or so. The second is going to be over the extremely controversial ending/resolution.

This is likely the darkest the show has ever been, even stacked against “Twilight’s Kingdom”. There’s only one song at the end and it’s rather short. Most of the episode is raw build-up to the finale. The tension keeps rising throughout it and even though the adults at home know everything had to turn out alright at the end it definitely does keep you on the edge of your seat. Very plot-thick and dialogue thick.

Whether you like or hate the ending, the big highlight of this episode is the alternate universes. Many of them are rather imaginative, not to mention the “darkest” the show has ever been. Many fans had been awaiting a return of Chrysalis. This episode…didn’t give it to us, and I hope it didn’t get the closest we’ll ever see, but it did give a callback performance which was nice. Nightmare Moon was back as well and doing her best impression of Maleficent. 🙂 Even King Sombra finally lived up to his Sauron persona.

“Twilight’s Kingdom” did a good job of conveying a sense of fear and dread, and this episode managed to do a bit better. In a show that’s bloodless and can’t explicitly call out violence, it presented an idea of dystopia, ruin, fear, and misery. There are incredibly few jokes in this episode. Even Pinkie Pie only gets two real gags: the cake in the Castle of Friendship and getting singed by Spike in Chrysalis’ universe.

Starlight Glimmer was elevated to the position of the greatest villain. Where before she was cunning, manipulative, domineering, cruel, and clever, in this episode she was escalated to all new heights of villainy. Not only did she have a foolproof plan she spent months obsessing and designing, but she revealed herself to also be adept at magic. She was ruthless, obsessed, determined, and dangerous; and planned so well she was able to carry out all her evil plans with a smugness and vile confidence about her at all times.

Even people who disliked this episode will likely praise the first part and the bulk of it for the tension as well as the darkness involved, not to mention the little nods here and there and the various versions of the Mane Six.

However, even here, the episode has flaws early on. Spike is there for one reason; to give Twilight someone to play lines off of so she doesn’t spend the whole episode talking to herself and leave it silent. Starlight Glimmer was a good villain…too good. We suddenly have a unicorn who is more powerful than an alicorn whose special talent is magic itself and who has the magic of friendship on her side. And Twilight, who normally is the brains and smarts of the group, is suddenly totally outwitted by this new opponent in every way. There’s a great villain…and then there comes the point where the villain starts becoming Villain Sue. As the episode wore on, I started to realize Twilight wasn’t going to be able to stop her herself; she was going to have to get her to stop somehow. More on that in a second…but suffice to say for now when the episode starts becoming a case of “Only the Author Can Save Them Now”, that’s trouble.

Finally, for all the love the alternate futures get, one commenter on Deviant Art summed it up in two words: fanfiction fodder. There was no point to any of those universes except to stretch the episode. It would have been one thing if they had settled on one future where all the villains were attacking at once. It would have been a better thing if Twilight had to somehow save that future to get to go back and stop Starlight in the past. But no…they were pointless. There was really no reason after the first one why Twilight didn’t immediately use the spell each time to go back. (Eventually she did start doing that, but only to blow through timelines they didn’t have time for in the episode. :()

But that said, the first part had goodness in it. The episode was a solid 3 Stars at this point for me and it might have gained a bit more…

(Another deep breath) And now, the fated hour. The second part.

Some people may argue about it, but they’ll never change my mind and a lot of other fans will back me up. The episode falls apart completely when it has about eight minutes left, as soon as Starlight screams: “I’LL SHOW YOU!”

Until this point, I was getting more excited. Here we have her: the most demented, cruel, warped, psychotic villain the show had ever presented. All others before her were either monsters or had something in their background. Here was have a pony who went through something so jarring and traumatic, something so unique and terrible, something that none of us have ever witnessed before that had to have driven her off the deep end. It was going to be like seeing how the Joker really came into existence. It was like seeing what happened to Anakin Skywalker to make him Darth Vader (er…before we actually saw what turned him into Darth Vader…). I was bracing for the most powerful, emotional, feels-laden scene ever that I had been waiting on pins and needles for…

And we got her friend got a Cutie Mark before her and moved away.

I think I audibly screamed: “That’s IT?!” when the episode premiered.

I have heard people try to excuse this, try to explain it, try to justify it and say how it was secretly wonderful…I’m sorry, you will never convince me it wasn’t. You will never convince me it wasn’t the laziest, most pathetic thing I had ever seen come out of the show. You will never convince me this is the one time in which the show stopped being great and decided to be “just a kid’s show” like I took it for before I became a fan. The bottom line isn’t just that this is some of the weakest justification ever; it’s that the show actually outright stated it wasn’t good justification.

How, you ask?

“Amending Fences”. Starlight Glimmer’s story is only slightly different from Moondancer’s. In essence, it’s the same thing. Only Moondancer became a bookworm recluse and Starlight Glimmer became a deranged sociopath.

And everything gets worse from there.

Honestly, I have rewatched the scene where Starlight backs down several times and I still don’t see exactly why she did. Twilight looks almost like she’s desperately trying to talk a suicide bomber down by saying anything that gets her to take her hand off the trigger (which is pretty close to the truth). But everything is just so damn “pat” after that. There’s no more motivation or character after that moment. Everything just happens because “we need a happy ending”. When you have to rewatch the same scene multiple times to try and figure out why the characters did something…guess what that means? It means there was no motivation in the plot for it to happen. It just happened because…REASONS!

I know why they did what they did: the writers had seen that the “Mane Seven” in the Equestria Girls universe was a big hit. Within the span of 45 minutes of show time, Sunset Shimmer had gone from being a bland, witchy, stuck-up snob of a villain to suddenly being one of the favorite characters of the whole series. By the time we got to “Friendship Games”, Sunset Shimmer is now the co-main character and one can argue the Equestria Girls universe is more about her than Twilight. So they wanted to do the same thing in the main series and they brought in Starlight Glimmer. But it doesn’t work, and here’s why:

  • Sunset Shimmer was a weak villain, and that’s part of the reason her redemption worked. She was seen as an arrogant snob who used gossip to poison others against each other so she could get ahead. While that’s nasty, it’s nothing too monumental. Plus, she got zapped by the Elements of Harmony, and it’s somewhat understood that if someone’s thinking is dominated in being cruel or heartless, the Elements kind of act like a “splash of ice water in the face to wake them up”.
  • Starlight Glimmer, on the other hand, has been elaborately molded and sculpted into the ultimate demented and cruel villain. People say to me: “Oh, you’re just pulling that out of your rear end.” No, I’m not. Look at her episodes again. Every time she is about to subject somepony to punishment or torment, she smiles. Some people try to argue that in her warped little mind she was doing what she thought was right back in the commune. I’m not buying. Anyone who saw Nurse Ratched in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” would agree with me. Watch “The Cutie Map” in the scene after she drags out the Mane Six after the second day of brainwashing and all of them silently refuse to join her community. Listen and watch her as she says: “Aw, pity. Well, let’s try this again tomorrow.” and tell me she wasn’t getting joy out of making them suffer. You can’t make a character this demented and cruel and expect her to so easily turnaround. Frankly, I believed Discord more than her, and a lot of fans didn’t buy his initial redemption at all.
  • Sunset Shimmer didn’t immediately become a beacon of friendship after crawling out of the Elements crater. She spent the bulk of “Rainbow Rocks” continuing to be hated and shunned by her fellow students. She had to make a conscious effort to reach out to them, as well as continuously be rejected and scorned. She had to suffer a bit for the consequences of her own actions, and she finally had to step out and do something to show she had really changed before others finally were receptive to her. So people who say Sunset abruptly got redeemed only have it half right, and it was the work she put into turning around that endeared the audience to her.
  • Starlight Glimmer, on the other hand, pretty much had the Writer Fairy wave a magic wand over her, say “poof, you’re a member of the Mane Six now”, and everypony immediately loved her. For goodness sakes, her former cultists forgive her instantly! Again, that’s baloney and the show already stated it was baloney because Twilight Sparkle spent the bulk of an episode trying to get Moondancer to forgive her for missing a birthday party! Starlight actually tortured and manipulated these ponies, nearly destroyed them before Twilight jumped in to protect them, and yeah…they just instantly forgive her!

The worst part is that if they wanted to make a former villain the new member of the Mane Six, they could have done it very well. They had the perfect character for it. Her name is Sunset Shimmer. But because there’s some sort of rule or legal precedent that no one from Equestria Girls can transition into the main series, we got this pale, hacked-together, deus ex machina imitation. It’s perfectly understandable that the season premiere and the season finale were written by two different authors, because I don’t think they communicated nearly well enough.

When you make a villain out to be the greatest villain in the series, yet give her justification that would be weak at best in one of the “after-school special” episodes and have her heel-turn-face so quickly it’s hard to even pin down why, you’re left with only one reasonable conclusion that isn’t bad writing: she’s psychotic. She’s totally demented. At that point, the only excuse to really keep her around is because the Mane Six are scared to death that she’ll go nuts if they don’t keep an eye on her. But even that makes things worse because you’re left with the sense that they have a ticking time bomb with them. When the pony you’re with will pretty much only be punished by whatever they decide to let you do to them…where does that leave you?

I could go on for hours and it’s late. So I’ll just throw one more thing in there. You’ll notice in my “fun facts” section, I have what is reportedly, based on IMDb, how the resolution of the episode was originally supposed to play out. I advise you to go there and read it before I continue.

If they had gone with that, I would have swallowed it. The episode still would have been highly flawed, but they would have upgraded enough to start overlooking them. In that scenario, we would have seen more. Starlight does have a reasonable side. Starlight did have to suffer for her crime. Starlight did manage to actually redeem herself by ironically helping Twilight stop herself. It even would have made the justification for her actions a bit better, because it would have shown Starlight Glimmer wasn’t necessarily consciously aware of why she was destroying the future, and it would have eliminated the rather insane moment she had where, even after seeing the future was a wasteland, she still wanted to ruin the future if it meant ruining Twilight. Heck, I might have even smiled a bit at seeing her with the Mane Six in the end.

But they didn’t. In a season full of mature nods, the one bit of maturity the show needed was left on the editing room floor. Just as one broken friendship doomed Equestria, one edited scene doomed this episode.

Some people claim this episode was A+ material, but that doesn’t change the fact many found this episode so bad it caused them to abandon the fandom. I refuse to because as horrendous as this episode was to me, Season Five, as a whole, was phenomenal.

Yet for better or for worse, Starlight Glimmer is now a cast fixture. Whether she’ll eventually be able to energize the series past Season Six or will prove to be a “Cousin Oliver” and the first nail in the coffin remains to be seen.

Fun Facts:

THE ORIGINAL ENDING: Similar to “Friendship Games”, it’s rumored that this episode was supposed to be resolved differently. It was supposed to be the same until Twilight Sparkle and Spike went to the “wasteland” future. Rather than drag Starlight Glimmer along, they went alone and found everything dead. There was only one individual still alive in this timeline: Starlight Glimmer herself. She begged for forgiveness, realizing too late she was destroying the future. At that point, I believe she was supposed to show Twilight her background so that when she went back again, she’d know what to say to her past self to get her to stop. This ending, while I feel (if true) was far more fitting, served to redeem Starlight a bit, and would have raised my rating of the episode considerably, was considered “too dark” and was edited out.

The plotline here has often been compared to DC Comics’ “FlashPoint” arc, in which the plot concerned a single individual causing a dystopian future out of a selfish desire to change one event in the past.

The past events of this episode originally took place in flashback in “The Cutie Mark Chronicles”.

One of the biggest flaws of this episode is that the conclusion doesn’t necessarily follow the premise. All of the Mane Six still have their Cutie Marks in the alternate timelines, implying that stopping the Sonic Rainboom merely delayed the inevitable. The real thing it should have ruined was their friendships forming, but even then the conclusion doesn’t necessarily follow as the girls didn’t become friends as a result of the Sonic Rainboom. The real thing the timeline change ruined was Twilight Sparkle becoming Celestia’s pupil, which was the real chrono trigger. That or an example of the “butterfly effect”, in which changing one event changed everything.

Rumor has it that every single non-Equestria Girls character that has ever appeared in the series appears in this episode.

“Celestia’s School of Magic”. Apparently the lawyers slammed them for “Princess Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns”. 😛

Why would Spike even include that picture in with the slides? At any rate, that’s the most well-behaved audience in the world that not one unicorn snickered.

In one last Starlight Glimmer spying appearance, she was in the audience. This one was fairly obvious, though.

Ironically, this episode brought back one of Lauren Faust’s original concepts: that unicorns would get around as easily as pegasi by using levitation spells.

A bit of irony in this episode is that it’s implied that the alternate timelines were alternate universes that Starlight Glimmer was creating as opposed to actually altering the original timeline. This is somewhat analogous to why Mirai Trunks could never change the future in “Dragonball Z”, and is reflected in that Twilight Sparkle is never erased from existence or physically altered. The end result implies if Spike had never grabbed that scroll, nothing would have happened: their timeline would remain intact. 😛

Sugarcube Corner is still open in King Sombra’s timeline, but only serves bread.

Sweet Apple Acres in King Sombra’s timeline is an apple processing plant now, but has Granny Smith’s image still printed on the cans. Since I doubt this dystopian future would have much love for “style”, I take that as implying she died and the cans are continuing to be produced in her memory.

The mind-controlling masks are similar to masks worn by brain-eaten minions in “The Beastmaster”.

King Sombra has a reputation for being the biggest “joke” of a villain in the entire series among the fandom. However, one of the crew, Ishi Ruddell, was quoted in the book version of “The Elements of Harmony” as saying he was seriously underestimated and could have done real damage to Equestria. Now we get to see that. 😛

The only time we’ve ever seen the Wonderbolts in a combat role. Naturally, they wear flight helmets similar to those used by real life fighter pilots. In a show of irony, Rainbow Dash became a full Wonderbolt in this timeline. 🙂

Ironically, Starlight Glimmer provides most of the few bits of humor in this episode, such as with her faux clapping and her monologue going on so long she doesn’t realize Twilight and Spike already sank below cloud cover.

Zecora’s style in the Chrysalis timeline resembles Storm of the X-Men’s infamous mohawk in the 1980s.

Trixie has no lines in “Equestria Girls: Friendship Games”. That means Kathleen Barr was only brought in this entire season to give Chrysalis’ three or four lines. However, one goof was still made. Chrysalis originally had a voice modulation to make her sound more insect-like. Here her voice is normal.

I always thought it was interesting that Zecora is the only character Twilight encounters who can think “4th Dimensionally”. Although the timeline with Chrysalis was all she had ever known, she was still willing to sacrifice herself and her community for the chance that Twilight could erase that entire universe out of existence.

Starlight and Twilight’s “death beams” fire similar to the phasers on the U.S.S. Enterprise-D in “Star Trek: The Next Generation”.

Nightmare Moon’s design was always problematic for the animators. She was originally created from taking parts out of six other rejected designs for her total concept, but the problem was, even having serpentine pupils, she was never really “scary looking”. Season Two gave her sharp teeth as well, but the biggest impact that improved her look was pronounced in this episode: shrinking her pupils and irises considerably.

Another goof in this episode is that it seems to forget that the longest any of these villains could have been running loose is less than two years. This is especially clear when Nightmare Moon shouts: “My sister has been imprisoned in the moon for years!”

Nightmare Moon is the only villain that Twilight purposely shouts out that she will erase their reign from existence.

One of the odd little complaints made about this episode is that, supposedly, the future is supposed to be getting worse with each new timeline. And yet…the Flim-Flam Brothers’ timeline is the last one to be shown before the wasteland future. 😐 Yeah…deforestation is way worse than those others. (Eye roll)

Anyone else find it ironic that Starlight accuses Twilight of being superfluous about friendship when she’s the one who founded a brainwashing cult devoted to ridding the world of Cutie Marks and was ready to repeat the time loop for all eternity over her own friendship? (Double eye roll)

Has anyone ever wondered why Twilight didn’t just annihilate filly Starlight Glimmer when Starlight was dumb enough to take her back in time? 😛

Sunburst and Starlight Glimmer is, shockingly enough, one of the few heterosexual pony friendships that ever appeared on the show. O_o At any rate, along with Troubleshoes Clyde, Sunburst is the only other pony who has face painting.

In the scene where filly Starlight Glimmer is watching filly Sunburst go away with his parents, pony versions of Usagi, Makoto, and Rei from “Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon” are in the background. Lots of Sailor Moon this season…and Wilhelm screams.

“That’s ridiculous! A Cutie Mark can’t take your friends away!” The writers should have listened to Twilight. She just summed up what was wrong with the backstory that was supposed to make us feel sympathy for Starlight. 😦

In yet another weak plot item, Twilight basically restates her same lesson from “The Cutie Map” to Starlight about how the differences between her and her friends make her strong. Starlight decides to listen this time because the writers told her to.

There’s no real justification for the conflict being resolved in the timeline either. The plot already proved the butterfly effect would ruin the future even if the Sonic Rainboom happened. Merely being in the past should have ruined it.

A few final bits of fanservice were inserted into this episode.

  • In the “King Sombra” timeline, Rainbow Dash’s appearance is very similar to how she appears in the fanfiction “Fallout: Equestria”.
  • In “A Canterlot Wedding”, Chrysalis was referred to as “Queen of the Changelings”. In a classic mass-misheard title, at no point was she ever referred to as Queen Chrysalis. However, most of the fandom immediately started calling her “Queen Chrysalis” after the episode and now it’s more common to call her that rather than her name. This episode made it canon that she goes by that title as well.

Similar to “Magical Mystery Cure”, this episode serves as the lead-in to the next season opener, “The Crystalling”.

“Friends are Always There for You” I actually find is a really nice song. It reminds me of something from “Katamari Damacy”.

Rating:

1 Star out of 5

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