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Synopsis:

Starlight Glimmer gets a surprise when the Cutie Map not only summons her, sending her right to the Royal Palace of Canterlot itself, but her alone. On arriving at Canterlot, she immediately picks up on trouble between the two sisters; noticing that both of them are inadvertently hurting the feelings of the other by not acknowledging the hard work they do. She confronts them both one morning to have them explain how they feel about that, but this only prompts the sisters to get into a heated argument in which they both believe their own job is extremely difficult while the other one has it “so easy”. Eventually, going with a gut decision, Starlight casts a spell to switch their Cutie Marks so that both will be forced to spend a day in the other one’s shoes to see what it’s like. Both sisters, believing themselves to be the one in the right, end up agreeing with it. Princess Luna expects an easy day where all she has to do is smile and be admired; yet learns the hard way about how emotionally exhausting it is to go the entire day being empathetic, understanding, and warm toward everypony without a moment to rest and ends up accidentally ruining a field trip fund raiser and scaring locals fearing Timberwolf attacks. She goes to bed physically exhausted and tormented by nightmares about her mistakes. Princess Celestia expects an easy night of simply watching Equestria and making ponies have “lovely dreams”, but gets struck by the isolation and loneliness of the position. When she ventures into the Dream Realm to try and help ponies with their nightmares, she ends up needing to help Starlight herself who is desperately fearful that failing to aid the two sisters will lead to the return of Nightmare Moon. Celestia moves to confront her; only to be shocked when she finds Starlight is also dreaming about an evil version of her named Daybreaker, the mere sight of whom leaves Celestia emotionally paralyzed. Feeling alone and anxious, Celestia draws the sleeping Luna into the same dream for assistance, but when she reveals she can’t as Celestia alone has her special dream magic, the older sister flies into fear and despair at how she’s not as brave or strong as Luna. In response, Luna reassures her that after seeing what she had to go through all day she knows she’s strong enough to defeat Daybreaker, and, emboldened by her sister’s confidence, Celestia is able to destroy her and Nightmare Moon and end the nightmare. The two sisters awaken the next day with new appreciation for the all the work the other does and are now closer than ever. Starlight Glimmer’s flank glows, showing her job is done, only for Twilight Sparkle to teleport in and demand the entire story out of her. Luna quickly mutters that Celestia needs to fix the messes she made with the field trip and the Timberwolves before heading to bed for the morning.

Review:

Pull up a chair for this one because I’m going to go on for a while.

While, for me and many others, “The Perfect Pear” ultimately ended up being the best episode of Season Seven, this one has my pick for my favorite episode of this season. This is the sort of episode I’ve been wanting to see for years. One that finally gets into Princess Celestia’s character. Ultimately, I think that was one of the hallmarks of this season and one of the edges that the newer writers have over the older ones. The first generation writers treated the princesses of Equestria as plot devices and Worf Effects. The second generation writers treat them as normal individuals. Before we get into them, though, let’s start with the episode as a whole.

As a Cutie Map episode, it’s one of the best. I will admit that I did groan a bit that Starlight Glimmer got the first “solo” Cutie Map assignment. However, I understand why she did it. She really was the only character fitting for this episode, as her lack of tact and her notions that she believes she knows best were what was needed. Only she would have been bold enough to not treat the two royal sisters as, well, “royalty” and to actually switch their Cutie Marks in the first place. And while she does have several moments where her less sociable and less tactful nature comes out (“I can’t! Even if I wanted to!” “Good choice! Heh, not that you had one.”), she does quickly realize those are the wrong things to say. And in spite of those moments, you do get the sense that, at her heart, Starlight really has “mastered friendship” enough to where she really does want to help the two sisters rather than just treat the whole thing as some achievement or notch on her belt. She does have empathy in this one; she just hasn’t learned how to express it or suppress her old habits yet.

And it’s not like she gets through the episode “pain-free” either. Thanks again to Kelly Sheridan’s voice acting, the part where she breaks down in tears in her nightmare is very genuine and makes even stubborn-Starlight-fans like myself feel some sympathy for her.

However, similar to “Top Bolt”, this is one episode where the characters being helped outshine the pony responsible for fixing the friendship problem: namely Princess Luna and Princess Celestia. As I said before, we learn a lot about Princess Celestia’s character in this one, but I’ll start with Princess Luna.

From episodes like “Luna Eclipsed” and “Do Princesses Dream of Magic Sheep?”, we’ve learned about Luna, but she’s still apparently vague enough to be somewhat of an enigma in the series. Most fan views of her contrast sharply with views from the IDW comic, for example. It’s possible to get the viewpoint that, of the two princesses, Luna is the one who is more aloof, separate, thinks of herself as “above” the common ponies, and acts the most mysterious and godlike.  One can get the sense that she’s really all about herself as a princess, and that’s easy to see as she was once Nightmare Moon; a villain who selfishly only cared about being treated as a queen and was heartless and cruel in all other regards.

This episode shows that Luna does care; it’s just she doesn’t show it in the same way. Luna isn’t sociable or able to deal with large groups in grand displays or public occasions, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t care about her subjects. She’s just not that sort of individual. There are people like that in the world who do have friends and loved ones, but prefer to be in small groups or one-on-one rather than big events surrounded by strangers. She doesn’t like talking about her feelings but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t feel for others. Rather, Luna shows she cares through overt actions. When she sees a pony with a problem, her answer is to jump in and take care of it herself (which will contrast to Celestia in a moment…). When she deals with individuals, she wants to do it head on rather than just talk to them about their feelings. She also does want to be seen as a symbol of power and control, but that’s because how she feels she does best. She doesn’t see her royalty as something so much to be lorded over other ponies as a symbol of status and power that they can feel safe under. Lastly, Luna is both strong and intelligent enough to deal with problems as they need to be dealt with, but only at her own pace. Only after she has had time to think about them. Note that in her earlier episodes with the Cutie Mark Crusaders, she never “jumps in at the first nightmare”. It’s only after a little while has passed that Luna interjects and then presents them with the proper solution. It’s quite possible Luna was observing them for a while before she got the heart of the problem. (Especially in “Sleepless in Ponyville”, as Luna was present in Scootaloo’s first nightmare but didn’t actually intervene until the second night.)

And it’s for these reasons that Luna was always ideally suited to rule the night. As the only one awake at night, she holds the position of guardian of Equestria, and that’s fine with her because she’s not afraid to use her own power offensively. She’s alone except when she enters dreams, and that’s also fine with her because now she has quiet and peace while she thinks about how to fix problems ponies have. And yes, she would also work all night hard because she’s literally fighting nightmares from dusk until dawn. While she would definitely prefer to get a bit more acknowledgement for all that she does, ultimately the “job” that Celestia holds is not for her and never was for her, which is something she failed to realize as Nightmare Moon. While she may have been displeased with her task due to lack of praise, ultimately the role she plays is what’s best for her…what “her Cutie Mark is telling her”.

Now, for Princess Celestia…

The years have not been kind to Celestia. She still gets regular calls of being a character who can only tell others to do things and is unwilling and/or powerless to do anything herself or “Trollestia”–a character who purposely makes the lives of her subjects miserable for her own amusement. All of this stemming from the fact she never takes a more active role like Luna does or deals with problems directly, or that she simply doesn’t care.

This episode helps clarify things for me. First and foremost is that Celestia does care as well, just not in the same way Luna does. Luna is against being open and social and believes in demonstrating her power to fix problems directly. Celestia, as hinted at in “Celestial Advice” and throughout the series, on the other hand, doesn’t so much as shirk her duty as a princess as believes that most ponies don’t need her as a princess. To her, she believes ponies can solve their own problems if they pause to think about it or, perhaps, “get a slight nudge in the right direction”. She’s showed this throughout the series. Celestia gave very little advice in “Celestial Advice”. Instead, she let Twilight talk about everything that was bothering her and let her know that she didn’t have to worry. She never actually told Twilight what to do; Twilight decided that on her own. In the pilot episode, all she did was send Twilight to Ponyville knowing that the rest of the girls would be just what she needed and let Twilight go from there. In “The Return of Harmony”, rather than try to help stop Discord herself, she just sent Twilight the letters and the girls were able to go from there.

But does that mean that just because ponies can fix their own problems that they will fix their own problems? Of course not, and that’s why Celestia acts the way she does. She believes in the power of her position as well, but in a different way than Luna sees it. She knows other ponies see her as someone powerful and glorious and that to even be acknowledged by her or in her presence makes them feel important and good about themselves. That’s why it’s so important to her that she make all of her public appearances and shows ponies that “she cares”. Celestia barely knows Starlight other than by reputation (and, in fact, the night they were supposed to meet she got stood up by her), but in this episode she goes out of her way to make her breakfast herself every morning, gives her a royal suite while she’s staying at the palace, and puts her to bed herself when she falls asleep assisting her in starting her work for the evening. And even when she and Luna are disagreeing with each other, she does make more of an effort than Luna to try and do something for her (note after Luna picks up a pineapple the first day and skips the pancakes, the next day Celestia puts pineapple on the pancakes). Celestia may be, at least in modern Equestria, more of a figurehead ruler than anything, but she realizes her importance as one and that’s why she goes out of her way to continuously make everypony believe their time and concerns are important to her. And yes, that can be very emotionally draining. To always be “smiling”, showing concern and empathy for every individual and making them feel they’re valued, that’s not something everyone can do.

Yet Celestia doesn’t mind it because she’s naturally a social individual. She doesn’t just handle being around lots of other individuals; she likes being around others. She’s not at her most effective without the company of other ponies. Just like Luna may be a natural loner, she’s a natural social butterfly. Does she want quiet and solitude at times? Yes. Does keeping things up for a crowd get to be too much some times and stress her out? Yes. But ultimately, she prefers being surrounded by others because making them happy makes her happy. It’s being alone and being forced to deal with threats all alone that makes her uncomfortable. Note that in this episode she says about Luna “even when we were apart I knew I needed her”. And that’s true. Ever notice that Celestia’s “glory days” of defeating things with her own power stopped after Luna’s banishment? Or that she goes for Luna in help with Starlight’s nightmare? Even if Celestia does have power, she needs support to use the full measure of it. (More on this in a little while…)

Finally, the scene-stealing mare…

While this episode might have been a great Celestia/Luna episode, and even a good episode for Starlight Glimmer, the one who stole the show was who became for a time the series’ “best villain”: Daybreaker. After years of speculating on what an Evil Celestia would look among the fandom, we were treated to this character. And really, she’s a scream. Her design is genuinely intimidating and appropriate, but her personality is what’s even more striking. While Nightmare Moon is smug, arrogant, and prideful, Daybreaker is insane, vicious, and vain. Whereas Nightmare Moon laughed evilly before, it was always from a position of pride and haughtiness. Daybreaker does it because she’s crazy and gleefully loves venting her power. I love how she has little bits like where when she says: “the better, prettier, and more powerful version of you“, she actually preens herself just a tad on saying “prettier”. Also I love how she claps her own hooves in delight. You can tell Nicole Oliver had a lot of fun voicing her after six seasons of needing to do the motherly voices of Celestia and Cheerilee.

Fans loved her, but she nevertheless kicked off a bit of controversy. Just how “real” was Daybreaker? Was she never anything more than a bad dream Starlight was having with no more substance than that? Was she a very tangible threat who stood a chance of becoming as real as Nightmare Moon did? Was she somewhere in the middle?

All sorts of arguments were taken for all sides. I don’t think the evidence is there for either extreme myself…although I will say this in favor of the worst case scenario. The exact nature of Nightmare Moon is still poorly understood, as I stated in earlier reviews. It’s unclear (seemingly even to the writers) as to whether or not she was something external to Luna that took her over or if she’s Luna herself consumed by her own jealousy. One thing the second half of this season did, and especially the season finale, was start to make it lore and canon that there is an external negative “force” (which Stygian would later simply call “the darkness”) somehow over Equestria that seems naturally opposed to the same force that gives things like Cutie Marks, the Pillars, and the Elements of Harmony. A sort of religious mythos that we get glimpses of from time to time. Perhaps it’s nothing more than negative feelings, but by latching onto negative feelings it can manifest itself through Equestrian magic as reality. As demonstrated in “Do Princesses Dream of Magic Sheep?”, Luna’s own power is a tall responsibility because it works two-ways. On one hand, it allows her to go into the dreams of ponies and see their darkest and most negative fears and sides. Yet on the other, it allows those same fears and dark sides, if they get out of control, to use her as a gateway into the real world. The Tantabus nearly did that, and after this episode it’s starting to look as if Nightmare Moon was her own nightmare that grew beyond her power to control and manifested itself through her. (No wonder Luna looks so tired every morning…she’s got to work hard to put all this stuff down every night.)

But that said, I don’t think that possibility was present here. It’s clear neither Celestia nor Luna were afraid that Daybreaker would somehow escape into the real world. Luna’s sole concern was that Starlight would have psychological damage from the out-of-control nightmare. Nevertheless, Daybreaker was more than just some dark possibility in Starlight’s mind. Whether by accident that Starlight’s fears ended up being so spot on, or by intentional in that somehow Starlight’s nightmare fed off of Celestia and began to become her nightmare as well, it’s clear that there was some “truth” in Daybreaker. Celestia is clearly uncomfortable when she’s defending against Daybreaker’s accusations. If they were all together false, she could have denied them outright. The fact Celestia didn’t fear Nightmare Moon at all but feared Daybreaker indicates she knew Nightmare Moon was just an illusion with no substance (because she knows Luna won’t go back to being her again), but that Daybreaker is a possibility she’s actually scared of coming true. One way or another, even if it’s such a small possibility that it’s effectively impossible, Celestia is scared that Daybreaker could become real.

And that, as a result, addresses the biggest concern people have with Celestia’s character: the notion that she’s too weak and incompetent to do anything to help her subjects and always has to rely on others. How I personally understand it, the truth is…she is powerful enough to deal with everything on her own. She’s strong enough to “have it all” just like Daybreaker said. But she doesn’t want to. She’s scared of her own power. She’s scared she’ll become a bloodthirsty maniac of a tyrant like Daybreaker is. So, similar to Superman, she constantly holds herself back both consciously and subconsciously. Daybreaker indicated it herself; other ponies “stand in her way”. She’s too afraid of hurting those she cares about to use her full power so she doesn’t. And since she genuinely cares about everypony, that means she can’t do much more than be the figurehead goddess. She can’t even bring out some of her full power unless she has Luna at her side.

From that viewpoint, this episode not only addresses Celestia’s character but also answers one of the most long-standing criticisms of the series. And that makes this episode even better to me.

As much as I wanted to give “Twilight’s Kingdom” 5 Stars, I wanted to give this one 5 Stars so much more… But…ugh…

The old “Paradox of Starlight Glimmer” rears its ugly head once again, and this time it’s a real shame because I don’t think it needed it except to pad out the episode. Starlight would have been fine mostly on her own in this episode. Yet…Twilight Sparkle constantly interjects, and in this episode she not only fails to do anything to help but clearly is the reason everything gets so bad. Starlight is perfectly calm and composed about helping Celestia and Luna, but Twilight keeps bringing up reasons for her to be nervous until she does get nervous. She’s the one who brings up the idea that Celestia and Luna could reignite their old feud, which is why Starlight has the nightmare. Being neurotic is nothing new for Twilight, but to actually drive other ponies to be neurotic as well is a mark against her. While I thought Celestia, Luna, and Starlight were great in this episode, I didn’t like how Twilight, similar to “No Second Prances”, was once again made out to be “an obstacle to Starlight’s greatness”.

But the other plot hole is far harder to overlook.

The idea of Princess Luna spending a day in Princess Celestia’s shoes was actually done once already in the IDW Comics. In that one, it was more than clear that Celestia had the harder job and that Luna was served a (humorous) slice of humble pie as a result of it, and it was capped off with Celestia being something of a troll. This one did it much better and was far more appropriate, officially making that comic non-canon, showing that it’s not so much the respective difficulty of their jobs so much as to what the two are ideally suited to, just like any other ponies with their Cutie Marks. (I’m sure Rainbow Dash would find Twilight Sparkle’s job of “being an egghead” boring and frustrating while Twilight would have no idea how to be as athletic or “awesome” as Dash and both would conclude the other had the harder job, for example.) But one thing it did point out as a result was the fact that Celestia already knows what it’s like to “be Luna”. She has to: she did it for a thousand years while Luna was banished to the moon.

Now, one can make the argument that all Celestia did was raise the sun and the moon…although they did goof on that as well when Celestia remarked that raising the moon was easier than raising the sun. Especially since Luna points out only her magic has the ability to enter and manipulate dreams (it was Celestia that connected Luna to Starlight’s dream, not Luna’s own actions). Yet that, of course, raises another question: did ponies just have really bad nightmares for a thousand years? My own headcanon is that somehow becoming “the Mare in the Moon” allowed Luna’s influence to continue to help mitigate the effects of bad dreams for a thousand years through her image if not her direct action, but there’s no support for that. It’s a rather glaring error, but…one I can blot out of my head if I focus on headcanon.

Aside from that, it’s a fantastic episode. We finally get into Celestia’s character, we get more into Luna’s character and her relationship with Celestia, it’s an episode that makes good use of Starlight’s positive and negative qualities, it’s entertaining as well as dramatic, and it gave us possibly the most entertaining villain of the series even if she wasn’t a “real” villain. To me, this was where I started to realize just how great Season Seven was going to end up being.

Unfortunately, the next episode would be a major step down with everyone’s “favorite” characters… (groans like Starlight)

Fun Facts:

This episode established that the Cutie Map can dispatch individuals other than the Mane Six. I hate to point out yet another incidence of ‘Mare-y Sue’, but…Starlight Glimmer is the first character who can solve a friendship problem all on her own. :/

It’s worth noting when this episode begins, Luna stands alongside the throne at a slightly lower position. By the time “Shadow Play” would hit, the throne would be enlarged so that both sisters could sit on it simultaneously (possibly as a result of this episode). As pointed out in an earlier review, the movie featured two thrones of equal stature for either princess.

Needless to say, Music Box Ballerina Twilight Sparkle was quite popular after this episode…although nothing could top You-Know-Who. 🙂

An interesting animation detail. The first day Starlight stays at the Royal Palace, Celestia offers Luna pancakes but she ignores them and just grabs a pineapple from the fruit basket. The second day, Celestia has put pineapple on the pancakes. It’s a sign that although the two sisters are both at fault for not appreciating each other, Celestia is at least “trying a little”. By comparison, Luna, the less sociable of the two, has absolutely no problem physically/magically shoving Starlight to one side a couple times in this episode.

Another minor animation goof. In Season Four’s “Twilight’s Kingdom”, when Luna had her Cutie Mark removed she retained the blackness behind it, leading many fans to think she had a birthmark and just the moon was her Cutie Mark. Yet in this episode, when Starlight switches their Cutie Marks, the blackness goes with the moon onto Celestia.

Another interesting animation detail. When the sisters switch Cutie Marks, their magic auras (gold for Celestia; light blue for Luna) switch as well.

Nicole Oliver gets to have all sorts of fun voice acting in this episode, especially as Daybreaker, but I think the prize for best line goes to: “What.”

Among the dreams that pass by Celestia are a tiny Fluttershy riding a giant Angel Bunny (likely Fluttershy “being the pet” again as she was in “Do Princesses Dream of Magic Sheep?”), Cadance rocking out to a DJ Flurry Heart (I honestly don’t know which one is having the dream…), Discord and the Smooze having a (one-sided) pillow fight, the Flim-Flam Brothers striking it rich, Queen Derpy (with the Twilicane, no less), and Doctor Whooves dodging the pony version of a Weeping Angel (O_o). One of the surprising dreams, however, is an unseen pony rocking baby Applejack. The coat color doesn’t correspond to Bright Macintosh or Pear Butter…

Ever since Season One, the idea of a “Nightmare Moon Version” of Princess Celestia was extremely popular among the fandom. Probably the version that became the most popular and went the most viral was a fanmade character called “Solar Flare”. Eventually, Hasbro included an “evil Celestia” version in their collectible card game officially known as “Nightmare Star”, likely because going with Solar Flare would have introduced copyright issues that would be impossible to resolve as no one knows which fan originally came up with Solar Flare at this point. Finally, this episode made an evil Celestia officially canon in the form of “Daybreaker”, who is distinct from both other renditions. Among her numerous art details, probably the most stunning is how her eyes are flaming embers. Unlike Nightmare Moon, her wing coverlets are armored as well. Unlike Celestia, she has a red outline.

“Starlight’s” toothbrush is clearly Spike’s. 😛

Rating:

4.5 Stars out of 5