Starlight Glimmer unexpectedly gets an invitation from the residents of her old commune to come back to the village for the Sunset Festival. At first, her shame at her past misdeeds makes her fearful of going back, but after Princess Luna appears to her in a dream telling her to trust the Mane Six, and they in turn encourage her to go, she eventually decides to attend with Trixie Lulamoon. On arrival, rather than being rejected, she’s shocked to see that the town wants her back in a position of leadership for the festivities, and, as her former “leadership” experience drags up even more bad memories and feelings, she ends up fleeing town with Trixie and returning to Ponyville. Once back, she immediately notices that Twilight Sparkle and the rest of the Mane Six are acting extremely odd and uncharacteristic. When she lies down that night, Luna again briefly enters her dreams but is struggling with an unseen force. Before being overpowered by it, she manages to tell Starlight that in the waking world the Changelings have returned and already captured her and Celestia, and tells her to get help. After waking up, Starlight quickly gets Trixie and eavesdrops on the Mane Six and Spike, who reveal themselves to be Changeling imposters who have already captured the ones they’ve replaced. The two manage to evade them and think of going to the Crystal Empire to get help from Princess Cadance, only to get a surprise visitor, Thorax, who reveals that Shining Armor, Princess Cadance, and Princess Flurry Heart have also already been captured…leaving Equestria without any princesses. When Starlight laments that they have no one else with powerful magic, Discord, taking umbridge at that, suddenly appears. On hearing that Fluttershy is in danger, however, he immediately teleports himself and the three others to what he believes is her location. Instead of arriving there, however, they land right at the boundaries of the Changeling hive.
Thorax soon explains that Chrysalis’ throne absorbs all magic save Changeling magic, so the only way to save the others is to somehow break in and destroy it without the aid of magic. As he leads them through the metamorphic hive, he explains how Changelings are always starving and always need to feed on love, yet since he made friends in the Crystal Empire his own hunger has not only subsided, but his wings have taken on an odd appearance. While Starlight is nervous herself, she finds that, with no one else around, she is forced to take a position of leadership, and by directing Trixie to use her own illusionist tricks and Discord’s own annoying tendencies, as well as Thorax’s ability to turn into any of them to confuse the Changelings, she manages to finally reach the throne room but at the price of the others in her group getting captured. Queen Chrysalis herself confronts her and mocks her attempts to save the others, proclaiming how by replacing the most beloved figures in Equestria the hive will steal enough love to sustain them for generations. When Starlight tries to explain how Thorax has been able to live without being hungry all the time by sharing love instead of stealing it and that the other Changelings could do the same, Chrysalis grows angry at both her and him for daring to counteract her authority; causing Starlight to further edify that a true leader doesn’t just order around her minions but listens to them when they find better ways. Ignoring this, Chrysalis moves on Thorax to devour the love he’s obtained for himself, but Starlight shouts at him to share it with Chrysalis instead. He does so and, by doing so, he undergoes a metamorphosis and emerges as a mature “King Changeling”. The other Changelings, eager to be free of their own endless hunger, do the same thing; not only maturing into far more pleasant and good-natured forms but destroying the Changeling hive and Chrysalis’ throne in the process. Soon everyone is freed and only one Changeling is still a monster: Chrysalis herself. Starlight offers her the chance to be a better leader and not make the same mistake she did in seeking revenge, but Chrysalis literally slaps it away and vows revenge on her before escaping. With Discord’s own power restored, he teleports them all to Starlight’s old commune to participate in the Sunset Festival, with Starlight having learned that you can’t let your personal fears stop you from stepping up when you need to. As for the Mane Six, they settle into the party and wonder what happened.
A little story before I begin…
Way back in 2009, I went to see “Dragonball: Evolution” in theaters. I was a fan of Dragonball at the time, having seen a lot of episodes and bought every manga, so even though I knew it wasn’t going to be like the series I knew and loved, I thought I’d give it a whirl. That movie, of course, is now infamous for all the wrong reasons. It’s considered one of the worst live-action adaptations of all time; handling the source material poorly and flimsily…or simply not handling it at all. It not only destroyed everything likable about the franchise but it failed to replace it with anything marketable or good of its own accord. It’s hated by people who aren’t fans of Dragonball as a terrible movie and despised insanely by people who are fans of Dragonball for being such a grotesque tragedy.
Yet the funny part? I honestly didn’t think it was that bad when I first saw it. Oh, there were plenty of reasons to hate it. Plenty of reasons to feel it was an insult to my own fandom. Plenty of failures it made left and right. Yet, somehow, I didn’t think it was as terrible as I would years later. Why was that? Well…to be honest, I had lowered my expectations to be practically nothing when I saw it. The previews looked so discouraging that I expected something worse than a still shot of a rock with the word “Goku” written on it for 90 minutes. The fact that there were a fistful of moments that had the barest shred of semblance toward the source material at all was so unexpected to me that I essentially gave the movie more credit than it deserved. I basically thought it was passable simply because it wasn’t “The Room”-level garbage–that, bad as it was, it wasn’t as bad as it could have possibly been if it had tried harder toward being terrible.
What does that have to do with my opinion on this episode? Let’s begin and we’ll see…
To start off with, my personal verdict? Worst episode of Season Six hands down. That’s my personal opinion, and in my experience it’s shared by a number of other fans. As divisive as “The Cutie Re-Mark” was, those who did love it, and Starlight Glimmer, loved it a lot. By comparison, even the individuals who are Starlight Glimmer fans seemed rather ambivalent to this episode.
I pointed out how “A Canterlot Wedding” had flaws. I pointed out how “The Cutie Re-Mark” had even more flaws. But this? This combines the flaws of both. There’s no way to sugarcoat it…no way to dance around it…no way to excuse it…this episode was an utterly shameless attempt to make Starlight Glimmer look better and more positive by having her save Equestria more-or-less alone. And how did they do it? By relying on the Paradox of Starlight Glimmer. In order to make Starlight Glimmer look like this great and wonderful character, they made not one, not two, not six, but TWELVE different characters look bad compared to her.
It is never explained in the slightest how Chrysalis somehow managed to capture every other main protagonist in the series. Just like in “A Canterlot Wedding”, she’s a powerful and cunning villain by virtue of the fact that she does all of her main villainy “off screen”. Changelings may be powerful in a swarm but we saw in “A Canterlot Wedding” that it would take several of them to a character to be able to subdue them, and that was with the normal Mane Six. Somehow they did the same to the alicorns, and seemed to be able to waltz right past the magic of the Crystal Heart which supposedly protects the Crystal Empire from evil. To make it even more convenient, the Mane Six don’t even remember being captured in the first place…just waking up in the remains of Chrysalis’ hive.
Even if you like Starlight Glimmer, no one wanted the rest of the cast artificially placed by the plot fairy in a situation where she would have to rescue them. Because just because a fan likes Starlight Glimmer, that doesn’t mean they dislike every other character. Most season finales and season premieres do a bad job of taking the bulk of the cast and making them glorified background characters while Twilight Sparkle does all the work. Yet this episode not only did worse than that by making all the other characters we know and love get taken out so easily that no one noticed and they weren’t able to do the slightest thing about it, but they went ahead and lumped Twilight Sparkle into the mix.
And just like in “The Cutie Re-Mark”, Starlight Glimmer is a broken character, only she’s now regarded as a Mary Sue rather than Villain Sue. Whereas “Every Little Thing She Does” had some care to place some reference to her original character and build off of that in a logical way, this episode, similar to “The Crystalling”, simply makes her “Twilight Sparkle 2”. While she may not perform as many acts trumping other characters, right from the get-go everything goes her way. All of the Mane Six compliment her and seem to practically love her in this episode. Her old commune members have gone up from forgiving her instantly as they did in “The Cutie Re-Mark” to actually wanting her back in a position of leadership. Even when she saves the day, the other characters don’t regard it as something too monumental for her personally as more of her “overcoming her own self doubt”, as if they knew their good ol’ Mary Sue could do it all along and never doubted her for a second.
In doing this, they’ve made Starlight Glimmer a more problematic character than ever, and it’s sad because Josh Haber wrote for both this episode and “The Crystalling” as well as “The Cutie Re-Mark”. If anyone should have a consistent view on Starlight Glimmer, it should be him. Yet now her character is effectively that of a Changeling itself: reshaping itself to fit whatever situation is needed. Is she the greatest villain ever? Done. Does she need to become a student of friendship now? Done. Does she need to be dutiful and attentive yet insecure like Twilight was? Done. Now does she need to be more antisocial and clinging to her old magic proficiency for a sense of worth? Done. Oh wait, does she need to become dutiful and attentive yet insecure like Twilight was once again? Done.
I’ve seen this before. It’s the main reason I gave up on “Sword Art Online” even earlier than most people. The main leads simply became whatever anime trope they needed to be for a situation and changed accordingly when they needed to be appealing in a different situation. In many ways, that is the true mark of a Mary Sue more than the natural ability to get out of any difficulty. If they had stuck with just one character shift and then left Starlight Glimmer’s character alone at that point it would have eventually been overlooked. The fact that they keep changing it because some writers have a better understanding of her character than others is keeping her locked in the “tolerable” state for me personally rather than advancing her to a point where she can become “likable”.
I always knew an episode like this was coming. There was no way they were going to make someone like Starlight Glimmer a member of the cast at the end of Season Five and not have it coming: a situation where she saves everyone. But it was too soon and handled poorly. This is an episode that would have made more sense at the end of Season Seven for me. Coming so soon on the heels of “The Cutie Re-Mark” just makes it look like whoever is in charge at DHX Media has a strange obsession with making Starlight Glimmer the best character in what I can only assume is an attempt to give Tara Strong an excuse to leave the show and take Twilight Sparkle with her.
Even Chrysalis’ vileness as a villain seems somewhat subdued in this episode. Perhaps it’s the IDW Comic or just too much time, but…she’s not as impressive in this one as she was in “A Canterlot Wedding”. Possibly because she didn’t keep outdoing attempts to stop her like she did in that episode…instead automatically “starting on top” in this one.
Last but not least, there’s an awkward two-to-three minutes where this episode suddenly stops being one of the drama-based episodes and becomes a lesson about becoming a good leader. The Changelings, who were previously more giant bugs and subsentient monsters, including through the bulk of this episode, suddenly pause when Starlight starts giving her speech to Chrysalis and looked more hesitant about following her. While it’s not as abruptly as Starlight Glimmer’s own turnaround for a reason that boiled down to “try out making new friends”, the Changelings do take to listening to her and revolting against their queen rather easily. On top of that, their new design was about as well-received by the fandom as the Rainbow Power forms…which ironically only appeared one more time and that was in a nightmare.
With all this in mind, I should probably rate this as the worst episode in the series overall. Oddly enough…I don’t. Why?
Well, I’m not really sure if there was “good” in this episode to offset all of this, but the fact is, for something that you knew exactly what it was when it came on screen and exactly where it was going, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.
Starlight Glimmer is treated as a Mary Sue in this episode, but she doesn’t act so much like one. The plot device of Chrysalis’ throne kept her from using any magic for a lot of this episode, thereby removing most of her potency. She no longer had the power to save everyone single-hoofedly but had to rely on others. In fact, technically she doesn’t do a whole lot to save the day. Although the emphasis is that “her leadership” saved all of Equestria, her own contributions outside of that were small. It would have been easy/lazy to have Starlight Glimmer just apply her own talent at everything to get through this, but she didn’t have that option.
The denizens of Starlight’s commune so easily embracing her is…disturbingly understandable. Obviously all of the individuals living there were either weak-willed or codependent to begin with, which is why they so easily become Starlight’s minions in the first place even when she abused them physically as well as mentally and emotionally. That’s not something that can be undone in a person in one day or by one apology. It’s a bit creepy, but it’s more than likely that many of them still long for her to be “in charge” over them from the result of psychological scarring.
While Chrysalis doesn’t quite have the punch she had in her first appearance, the ultimate saccharine sweet ending would have been if she had accepted Starlight’s offer. It would have been even more unbelievable than Starlight’s own heel-turn-face. Luckily, the writers decided not to do that…although if it was simply because they wanted a villain for later is up for debate. The fact that she angrily slapped Starlight’s offer away and vowed revenge maintained not only her character but was believable. More than that, we learned that Changelings are always starving. They’re always “in pain”, which means Chrysalis has to be the same way. It was apparently bad enough that the Changelings were willing to revolt against her and “become nice” if they could finally be rid of their hunger. Yet Chrysalis refused. She would rather live a life of pain and misery than give up her position and power and have relief from her own hunger. That officially makes her the most “sinfully prideful” villain of the series to me, and is actually another mark in her villainy belt.
The Mane Six might be about as useful as Princess Celestia after a hangover in this episode, but the “secondary characters”, as Discord calls them, are all spot on and share quite a lot of the spotlight with Starlight Glimmer rather than making it all about her. Thorax is still good-natured and meek, agreeing with most of Trixie and Starlight’s complaints but used to just humbling going along quietly with things. Discord is still in character and written to not be too obnoxious even with complaining. And, just as in “No Second Prances”, Trixie and Starlight play off one another very well. A cynical person might say that the only reason Trixie got brought back was to take an older “fun” character like her and make her friends with Starlight to have an excuse to put her in episodes, but the truth is there’s an odd connection/chemistry between her and Starlight on screen. They’re the only characters who ironically seem to embrace each other with all the faults and failings; thereby really “understanding” each other. Even Twilight doesn’t seem to have as good of a connection with Starlight…which may or may not be perfectly understandable depending on who you are.
Last but not least, the friendship lesson that was shoehorned in is a valid one that hasn’t been touched on before: there comes a point where you have to face your personal fears to do something that needs to be done…where you have to decide whether you’ll be so selfish to only think of yourself or to do what has to be done. It’s so good, in fact, that if you watch this episode…and somehow you can train your brain to ignore the weight of the situation and the drama and what’s at stake…boil it down just to Trixie’s interactions with Starlight, her general situation and predicament from a personal level, and focus not on the Changelings and Equestria but simply on the lesson…then this episode might fail as a drama but works amazingly well as an “after-school special” episode.
Does that mean I find this episode good? Definitely not. Does it mean that this episode is better than it could have been? Definitely yes.
The question is…is the fact that an episode is not as bad as it could have been to me personally make it “good”?
That’s a hard question to answer. I keep thinking back to “Dragonball: Evolution”…
At any rate, with this episode over, we have a setup for the next season. Starlight Glimmer now has a new mortal enemy and future interactions with Trixie and Discord could be on the horizon, although its debatable if we’ll ever see the new and improved Changelings again. After being absent for three seasons, there’s a good chance we won’t see Chrysalis again for a very long time. And this coming season has an interesting dilemma on its hands, as it will no doubt be setting up the upcoming feature film in October, yet since it began production back prior to Season Five it likely omitted anything from the past two seasons such as Starlight Glimmer. Whatever comes next should be interesting.
…Provided it isn’t more episodes like this one.
The title of this episode is a knockoff of “There and Back Again”, which is an alternate title for “The Hobbit”. While this episode is a far cry from being a parody of “The Hobbit”, there are several things in common with it. It features a main character suffering from self-doubt needing to rely on wits and luck to deal with a powerful antagonist. The idea of the rest of the main characters imprisoned in chrysalises could be a knockoff of the incident in the book with the Mirkwood spiders, while Starlight Glimmer’s dialogue with Queen Chrysalis could be a knockoff of Bilbo Baggins and Smaug.
It’s been fancanon for years (and incorporated into the IDW Comic) that Derpy is a mailpony…albeit not a very good one. When she crashes into the Castle of Friendship, rather than having her eyes going googly, they’re “knocked normal” for a moment. She shakes her head to get them walleyed again.
Trixie Lulamoon is infamous from an artistic standpoint of being drawn with only one watermark in her eyes, whereas almost all other adult ponies have two. However, in this episode, the artists switched to depicting her with two. It might have gotten too confusing to keep track of when animating.
Trixie is clearly still getting joy out of “beating Twilight”. Not very fair as Twilight apparently lets her set up her wagon right outside her castle.
This was probably more appropriate back in Season Five, but kudos to Rebecca Shoichet for managing to make Sugar Belle and Night Glider sound different and neither of them sound like Sunset Shimmer. Too bad she didn’t get more voices this season…
In all fairness, the Changelings replacing the Mane Six do a much better job than Chrysalis did replacing Cadance all the way back in Season Two’s “A Canterlot Wedding”. It’s actually a bit interesting. When “pretending to be ponies”, the Changelings seem to be intelligent and normal. Yet in their native forms, they’re usually subsentient monsters.
On a personal note, it seems a bit odd to me that the Changelings didn’t just capture and replace Starlight Glimmer as soon as she showed up but instead elected to try and pretend to be the true article for her. The only explanation for this
plot hole turn of events is Queen Chrysalis saying she didn’t think she was worth replacing.
Changelings can apparently invade dreams now.
Apparently, Twilight Sparkle at one point talked about the first Changeling invasion to Starlight Glimmer, because her obliviousness to the current state of Equestria way back in “The Cutie Map” indicated she had little idea of what had been going on in most of the nation while she was in her commune.
I mentioned back in the alternate universe in “The Cutie Re-Mark” that the show makers took away Chrysalis’ “voice modulation” that she had in her original appearance. Here it’s a rather bad change, because now Chrysalis sounds rather similar to Trixie (both are voiced by Kathleen Barr).
This is more of a “Lord of the Rings” nod than a “Hobbit” one, but when Trixie and Starlight are hiding using an invisibility spell, one of the Changelings tries to smell them out; similar to when the Nazgul were trying to smell out Frodo with the Ring.
Discord practically opens with breaking the fourth wall. “Well isn’t this quite the combination of secondary characters.”
On another personal note, Discord only cares that Fluttershy was captured…not, you know, Spike after supposedly befriending him or Twilight Sparkle after, you know, the whole sacrificing herself for him after he had backstabbed her thing at the end of Season Four.
These two episodes probably set a record for most voice actors in any episode of the series.
Credit Typo: At the end of the first half, Double Diamond is listed in the credits as “Diouble Diamond”.
I’ll admit, Discord pulling Trixie’s head out of her hat and both that head plus her own head looking at him with annoyed glares is pretty funny. 🙂
The outside guards of the Changeling hive really stink at their job. 😛
As another scene that’s more of a knockoff of “Lord of the Rings” than “Hobbit”, Discord lets out a loud shout that brings the Changeling swarm down on them, somewhat like how Pippin’s stone down the well brought the goblins on the Fellowship.
Plot hole…how did the Changelings know Fluttershy was the only individual Discord cared about?
Princess Celestia has become such a useless character at this point that next time Chrysalis shows up she should just “pre-cocoon” herself to save time. 😦
The only character who was not cocooned was Princess Flurry Heart. If they had done that, it would have depicted a baby in distress, which would have been an automatic Y7 rating. But now I kind of wonder if somewhere in the hive a bit like “Dance Magic Dance” from Labyrinth went off at one point. …That would have actually been awesome.
While normally the way to get a Changeling to “give itself away” is to test it with a question only the real individual would know, this episode pointed out another way is to watch the eyes. In “A Canterlot Wedding”, fake Cadance’s eyes periodically turned green and serpentine like Chrysalis’. Similarly, Thorax accidentally gives himself away when his eyes shimmer and reveal the normal Changeling “orbs” instead.
As with “A Canterlot Wedding”, Chrysalis only loses purely due to overconfidence.
The Changelings “sharing love” looks suspiciously like the old 1980s “Care Bear Stare”. On a side note, another amusing part from this episode is the rather dumbfounded look on Chrysalis’ face when all the Changelings share their love.
Biggest plot hole this episode…every princess plus Discord plus Starlight Glimmer, who is more powerful than any of them save Discord is present…and no one does anything as Chrysalis escapes. “Don’t just do something! STAND THERE!”
1.5 Stars out of 5