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Synopsis:

Twilight Sparkle, Starlight Glimmer, and Spike are headed to the Crystal Empire to pay a visit to the royal family and Princess Flurry Heart, but find the entire empire in a panic when they get there. It turns out that a Changeling has been spotted in the empire and, after their own disastrous encounter with Changelings, Shining Armor and Princess Cadance have the empire on high alert until he’s found. Spike, soaking in his celebrity status, elects to join the royal guard in searching for him, and while patrolling an ice cave alone suddenly finds himself running right into the Changeling himself. He gets a shock a moment later, however, when the surprise of seeing him nearly makes him fall into a crevasse, only for the Changeling to rescue him. The Changeling reveals his name is Thorax and, unlike the rest of his kind, he was born with a desire to make friends with others. While he was ordered to attack Canterlot with the rest of his kind, he was unable to attack others, and on seeing the Mane Six show off their own friendship for one another was no longer able to live with his kind either. Now he hoped to make a friend in the Crystal Empire, also hoping that the love they shared would be enough to staunch his hunger so he wouldn’t need to feed off of the love of others. Spike returns to the Crystal Empire attempting to say that he made friends with the Changeling, but due to their notions of Changelings, his claim is dismissed as a bad joke. Spike gets a second idea where Thorax changes into the form of a crystal pony named Crystal Hoof and tries to introduce him like that. Although Thorax is skeptical of the idea of staying in a disguised form forever, the citizens of the Crystal Empire, including Princess Cadance, welcome him readily on assuming he’s a “normal” crystal pony. Unfortunately, on introducing him to Princess Flurry Heart, the love of the empire surrounding her is so strong is causes the starving Thorax to uncontrollably revert into his true form, and Spike, nervous about going against the opinion of the citizens who admire him so much, balks and doesn’t immediately leap to his defense, causing him to run off in tears. Realizing what he’s done, Spike runs after Thorax and, after apologizing for his behavior, manages to bring him back to the Crystal Empire; this time in his true form. While everyone else treats him with hostility at first, Spike sticks by him this time; going against the popular opinion and insisting Thorax is different even if it ruins his own reputation. Twilight accepts Spike’s explanation and moves to befriend Thorax as well, causing the other members of the empire to believe him too. Thorax is welcomed as the newest member of the Crystal Empire, he shares his hope that he might be able to one day change the rest of the Changeling hive society by introducing concepts of love and friendship, and Twilight points out to Starlight that friendship lessons can happen anywhere.

Review:

This is yet another episode this season that I am rather stunned got so poorly received. Can a couple minutes of one episode really do all that?

In many ways, this episode has shadows of rehashing Season One’s “Bridle Gossip”, but that’s fine with me. Racism and stereotyping is still a prevalent thing in society and, over the past few years, it’s gotten worse in American culture. It makes sense to do more than one episode highlighting it. This one isn’t quite as cut-and-dry as “Bridle Gossip”, however. It’s worth noting that the Crystal Ponies were still sealed away during the events of Season Two’s “A Canterlot Wedding”. There’s a good chance they only know about the Changelings by reputation. Yet even if they didn’t, the only thing we’ve ever seen of Changelings (“Slice of Life” notwithstanding) is that they are barely sentient, vile monsters. The fact that even a “nice” Changeling still needs to feed on love to survive doesn’t help either. So, really…the stereotyping element is here in this episode, but it’s not as strong as it was in “Bridle Gossip”.

Most Spike episodes highlight a negative quality about him, as I pointed out. However, unlike with Rainbow Dash in the past two episodes, this one is more forgivable and understandable. Spike doesn’t usually just highlight his negative qualities, but gets dominated by them throughout his episodes. In this one, it’s more of slip-up on his part. And I’ll go ahead and say that until you try to make a stand for something that you believe is right when you’re surrounded by people, many of them family and friends, who are going to say the opposite and you know will get angry and perhaps even insulting and condemning of you personally, don’t judge Spike too harshly for balking once at a critical moment.

Aside from that, I actually like Thorax. Many people are ambivalent to him and his new design at the end of Season Six hasn’t been that well-received, but I like more male characters. Yet I also like that he’s one of the first real “sympathetic” characters on the show. Thorax needs to feed to live. It’s nothing personal. It’s not something he’s proud of or wants to do. But he’s forced to live that way. And the show does point out that, so long as he “looks like everypony else”, no one shuns him at all. They actually like his good-natured personality. It’s only when they see his true self that they all immediately hate him innately.

I actually think this was one of the best Spike-themed episodes in the entire series. It had a good plot, good dialogue, moves at a pretty even pace, has some nice visuals and artwork… True, it has slight flaws here and there, but considering the audience of the show and the time frame that’s all forgivable. I have a feeling most people would agree with me for most of the episode.

The part that most people balk at is the resolution. Considering the fact this episode was done by three different writers, it’s kind of understandable that none of them really knew how to bring the Crystal Empire from the point where everyone hated and distrusted Thorax to everyone accepted and loved him, especially when they hadn’t really trusted Spike earlier when he said he made friends with him.

There’s really no way to sugarcoat it…the dilemma of this episode is resolved through “the magic of song”, at which point we have a pretty much universally happy ending in which everyone does a 180 in their opinion of Thorax…including Princess Cadance and Shining Armor, the two who it would be perfectly understandable if they were never willing to trust a Changeling for the rest of their lives. It didn’t help that “A Changeling Can Change” is considered the worst song of Season Six. The first two times I watched this episode I groaned when the song started and rolled my eyes through it.

Yet, to be honest, on watching it for this review? It’s…not that bad.

Oh, it has parts that are pat, to be sure, like Spike’s similes of snowflakes. And nothing really happens animation-wise in the song but Spike standing there soloing. Yet there’s actually a couple good lines in there. One of the lines draws attention to the fact that the ponies of the Crystal Empire say they love and admire Spike, yet when he said something they didn’t agree with they didn’t believe him. Yet Thorax forgave him even when he “backstabbed” him. Essentially he pointed out how Thorax appreciates Spike more than the empire that idolizes him. That’s a fairly good point. I think there could have been more good points made, such as the fact that the Crystal Empire loved “Crystal Hoof” and didn’t think anything bad against him until he was revealed to be Thorax, at which point they were so prejudgmental that they believed Crystal Hoof had been replaced by Thorax. And while it may indeed be a down part of the episode, it’s important to note that the song doesn’t change everyone’s opinion of Thorax. It only impacts Starlight Glimmer (who is still standoffish nevertheless) and Twilight Sparkle. It’s when Twilight accepts Thorax that the others fall in line. It’s still convenient but…not as convenient as it could have been. I noted on this viewing that, in spite of what happened to her, even Cadance was having misgivings about how they were reacting (possibly overreacting) to the presence of a Changeling before Spike’s reveal at the end, which is another point in favor of her character as a whole.

So while the song is definitely the weakest part of the episode, it still teaches a good lesson about cognitive dissonance, which is part of the epidemic of stereotypes and racism to begin with. How the desire to fit in and be accepted personally is enough to make us all start subscribing to things we know aren’t true…possibly even immoral. And that’s a pretty good lesson that builds off of “Bridle Gossip”. Add to the fact there’s some nice scenes and callbacks in here, the fact that I find Thorax to be an enjoyable addition to the cast, and a few good character points all around in spite of their negatives, and I actually think this was one of the season’s better episodes.

Fun Facts:

The title of this episode is a knockoff of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are a Changin'”.

I have to do my regular “headdesk” moment every time some character says Spike saved the Crystal Empire twice. :/

Spike’s (kinda creepy) Rarity doll makes another appearance.

Back in Season Three’s “The Crystal Empire”, I suggested that the little nursery rhyme Twilight and Cadance do might actually be a way of IDing themselves to each other now. It turns out that suggestion came true at least for this episode.

Kyle Rideout provides the voice of Thorax. While he has a filmography in a number of different things, the biggest reason he was chosen is likely because he provides the voice of Vinnie Terrio from “Littlest Pet Shop”, another show put out by DHX Media that airs on Discovery Family Network, and shares many voice actors with “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic”.

Contrary to what one might think, the Changeling in Season Five’s “Slice of Life” is not Thorax. Among other slight differences, the eye and wing cover color is different.

Thorax actually does have pupils. They’re colored white instead of black, and they’re faded in with the rest of his eyes, which makes them hard to be noticeable. But there’s a couple scenes in this episode where it adds to his body language if you can pick up on them.

This episode along with the season finale really expanded on Changeling culture and their life cycle. As it turns out, Queen Chrysalis truly does operate in semi-hive culture, with all other Changelings being her offspring and needing to metamorphose into adults from larval forms. Based on the flashback, it was likely she sired him and the bulk of the other Changelings specifically to conquer Canterlot in Season Two. It also established that Changelings can’t “choose” not to feed (at least, not until the revelation in the Season Finale)…that they’re in pain and will possibly die if they don’t.

Spike once again reveals his propensity for making up bad names on the spot as he did in “Gauntlet of Fire”, when he uses the first two nouns he sees to come up with “Crystal Hoof”. Spike is like a bad online pony name generator. 😛

I love how Thorax’s eyes go all wonky when he and Spike nervously laugh.

Early in the episode, Spike accuses a rock of being the Changeling. Ironically enough, later in the episode, Thorax does indeed disguise himself as a rock.

One of the Crystal Pony Guards checks behind a stand up picture frame for Thorax. …Seriously?

Starlight Glimmer has a personal reaction to Spike’s song, for obvious reasons. While I thought her presence in this episode was a sign that she was going to start becoming a more “regular” character as opposed to one that needed to stand out in every appearance, it turns out she was likely in this episode only so she could have a pre-established relationship with Thorax prior to “To Where and Back Again”.

Rating:

3.5 Stars out of 5

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