EPISODE REVIEW: Friendship is Magic: The Return of Harmony, Part One
It's been a long four months (and eleven days) since a new episode of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic aired, but today we got the first episode of the second season. Join me after the jump for my review of The Return of Harmony, Part One.
The Cutie Mark Crusaders are on a class trip to a sculpture garden when they come to blows over how to describe a statue of creature made of mismatched parts. They are told that it represents 'discord.' As they leave, the statue cracks.
After literally wrestling with chaotic weather (including chocolate rain) the Mane Six are summoned by Princess Celestia. She explains that the previously entombed Discord has made escaped, due to the transfer of the Elements of Harmony from her and her sister to them (as seen, although not understood in those terms, in the original pilot.) They resolve to restore the situation, only to find the Elements gone.
Discord taunts the ponies and Twilight deduces that the 'twists and turns' he mentions refers to the palace's hedge maze. (Little thought is given to the 'find the Elements back where you began' part.) Upon approaching the maze they are stripped of any wings or horns. Discord manifests for the first time and gives them his rules: no flying or magic, and everypony must play. Otherwise, he wins. They enter the maze but are immediately split up by changing hedges. They resolve to meet in the center but each pony (excepting Twilight) is distracted by some manifestation of her cutie mark before she can find the others.
Discord is seen to be manipulating each encounter, and preys upon the fears of Applejack and Pinkie, the greed of Rarity, and Fluttershy's... well, he can't subvert Fluttershy by deceit, so he just taps her head instead. As each pony succumbs, her colors are shown to be desaturated.
Rainbow Dash is presented with a dilema. Her home town, Cloudsdale, is endangered and she is given the option to take her wings to render aid. When she does, Discord disperses the maze and declares that he has won by forfeit.
Today's episode was originally produced as part of the first season's run. It's not clear why it was moved from the end of previous season to the beginning of this one, but it probably works better in this position. It reminds viewers of the Elements that each of the Mane Six are supposed to embody. Twilight, Fluttershy, and Pinkie Pie are easy to peg as Magic, Kindness, and Laughter. However, Applejack, Rainbow Dash, and Rarity are less obvious as Honesty, Loyalty, and Generosity (many fans think the first two should be reversed and some have doubts about how well the last actually suits her role.)
This is an interesting revisit of the premise of the pilot. We get more backstory on the Elements of Harmony and their place in the cosmology of Equestria. Some of the most interesting stuff is merely implied. For example, the necessity of Twilight and her friends being the ones to find and embody them in the first place might be due to the fact that both Celestia and Nightmare Moon were the former wielders, and unable to leverege them against each other. I really like the idea that the problem of the second season's lead off is due to unforseen consequences of the triumph in the pilot, and by extension that problem came about because of limitations imposed by a still earlier triumph.
It also an open question as to whether the Cutie Mark Crusader's fracas was caused by, or contributed to, Discord's impending escape.
I'm waiting for someone to remark that the series skews toward male villians, but really who would be better suited for Discord than Q? John de Lancie does a superb job, and the animators even put in "Q-flashes" for him. Also, we get to add chimera (OK, a 'Draconiquis' variant) to the list of "D&D Monster Manual creatures that have appeared on My Little Pony."
The events in the Maze are curious. The strong implication is that Discord is using the ponies weaknesses (literally embodying their cutie marks) to prey upon them, but he drops the facade in frustration when confronted by Fluttershy's unflappable kindness and just subverts her directly. Rarity almost resists, but gives in to the promise of gems, which is odd since she can find them at will (the callback to "My destiny is a rock?!" may have been too good to pass up.) Dash's choice to save the apparently endangered Cloudsdale isn't turning her into the opposite of what she is (as with the others) but redirecting (misdirecting?) it.
Even Discord's endgame is curious. Wings and horns are restored, but the ponies don't regain their coloring. It'll be interesting to see what, if any, of this is an actual plot point when the story concludes.
Brony Notes: Derpy shows up once at about 20:10 into the show (excluding commercials) when images of the threatened Cloudsdale are shown. Memetic potential is high, with Discord Dancing (as above, by Reddit's Orschmann) and Chocolate Rain references already making the rounds. The desaturated ponies are also likely image macro fodder, especially shifty Applejack.
You can watch Friendship is Magic Saturdays on The Hub's cable TV channel and on Hubworld.
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