EPISODE REVIEW: Friendship is Magic: The Return of Harmony, Part One

Church
Church's picture

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.

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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.

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You can watch Friendship is Magic Saturdays on The Hub's cable TV channel and on Hubworld.

You can tell Church why he's wrong at church@republibot.com

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Comments

One thing spoiled it for me

kelloggs2066's picture

Hello Church,

I expect the loss of coloration reflects the point that they are still under the influence of Dischord's subversion.

I agree with your assessment as you've written it.

However, unfortunately, one thing spoiled the show for me, and it's not the fault of the creators, the writers or animators. It's purely my own personal taste.

I didn't like Trelane, and I can't stand that Trelane ripoff. One of the reasons I don't care for Star Trek TNG was that they made Q a recurring character, and proceeded to put him into every other show. But, that's purely my distaste, and has nothing to do with the show.

However, I will say that a Trickster God like Dischord dovetails far more neatly into a universe like "My Little Pony" than it does in "Star Trek".

Additionally, the fact that the character of Dischord succeeded in annoying me demonstrates the power of the writing of the show. I look forward to the conclusion.

21st Century Fox
The Future's So Bright You Gotta Wear Shades
http://techfox.comicgenesis.com/

Fair enough

Church's picture

However, I will say that a Trickster God like Dischord dovetails far more neatly into a universe like "My Little Pony" than it does in "Star Trek".

I thought it worked in Trek precisely because it didn't slot in as neatly. But, yes, it is much more at home in a fantastic setting. I would really like to see Discord become a recurring villain, but I suspect it'll be wrapped up next week.

Trickster

Republibot 3.0's picture

>>I thought it worked in Trek precisely because it didn't slot in as neatly. <<

Really? What about Trelane, or George Murdoch pretending to be God in "ST V" or Apollo, or the Platonians? Or the aliens from "Catspaw?" Or the Organians? Or the Rock Aliens from "Savage Curtain?" OR the condescending alien god-boy from the end of the Gorn episode?

Trek has *ALWAYS* been full of capricious gods and/or godish things. Q was just another in a long line of these.

The Artist Formerly Known As Republibot 3.0

What you say is true. It does

kelloggs2066's picture

What you say is true.

It does not, however, make Q any less annoying. ;)

Perhaps, it's a testament to the character. He was supposed to be annoying. John De Lancie and the writers certainly succeeded in making him so. Exceptionally so.

Dischord, Trelane and Q represent villians that I despise.

R3: You made the obervation (elsewhere) that Star Trek has an appeal to aspergery type persons. I submit to you that part of that appeal is the harmonious nature of the crew and the way they get along. In my opinion, the My Little Pony cast has a similar dynamic, and hence a similar appeal to these persons.

Dischord and Q (and to a lesser extent, Trelane) worked by turning people against each other, mainly for his own entertainment. Thus, to the fan base, these represent villians that strike to the heart of the fan.

I don't know if they hit on that deliberately or accidentally, but my hat goes off to the writers for creating a villian I hate.

On the subject of the actual story:
Some time ago, I remember reading something that the creators of the show said that Princess Luna was posessed by something in order to become Nightmare Moon. I wonder if it was Dischord's influence?

21st Century Fox
The Future's So Bright You Gotta Wear Shades
http://techfox.comicgenesis.com/

Nyx

Church's picture

Interesting angle on the villains, although strictly speaking that wouldn't be part of Aspergers. But your point stands.

Re: Nightmare Moon, I think I remember hearing something like that myself. I do know that there's a fan-created character, Nyx, that functions like that. I don't think Discord fills that role, though, since the Nightmare Moon events would have to have taken place while he was imprisoned.

Annoying

Republibot 3.0's picture

>>It does not, however, make Q any less annoying. ;)

Perhaps, it's a testament to the character. He was supposed to be annoying. John De Lancie and the writers certainly succeeded in making him so. Exceptionally so.<<<

About half the time. Half the time he was great, half the time (Such as his 2nd 1st season appearance, of that one with the Q girl who thought she was human) he's just kind of wasted. I generally liked him, though, as he was a very nice contrast to the stolid acting and kinda' bland cast.

>>>R3: You made the obervation (elsewhere) that Star Trek has an appeal to aspergery type persons. I submit to you that part of that appeal is the harmonious nature of the crew and the way they get along.<<<

Hm. I shall have to think on that. Interesting theory.

The Artist Formerly Known As Republibot 3.0

>>>> R3: You made the

>>>>
R3: You made the obervation (elsewhere) that Star Trek has an appeal to aspergery type persons. I submit to you that part of that appeal is the harmonious nature of the crew and the way they get along. In my opinion, the My Little Pony cast has a similar dynamic, and hence a similar appeal to these persons.

Dischord and Q (and to a lesser extent, Trelane) worked by turning people against each other, mainly for his own entertainment. Thus, to the fan base, these represent villians that strike to the heart of the fan.
>>>>

As an Aspie myself, I can confirm the dislike of boat-rockers, shit-stirrers, harmony-breakers, and general trolls. If you want to know why so many online communities fall into chaos, it's because people like this instigate argument after argument and drive a wedge into the middle of the population. Nothing causes a person with Asperger tendencies to rage harder than being trolled, and the unfortunate truth is that it's especially hard for them to repress the desire to respond, which -- however diplomatically and rationally the response may be worded -- only perpetuates the problem.

I'm on the spectrum...

Republibot 3.0's picture

I'm on the spectrum myself, though only marginally, and, yeah, when you put it like that, yeah, I can see it. In fact, right at this very moment I'm using great effort to walk away from a pointless argument on another site that is just sticking in my craw. (I suspect the other person is probably also on the spectrum, but probably doesn't know it). Definitely, when people needle my son w/ Aspergers, it's far more traumatic for him than it would be for a more neurologically stereotypical kid.

I hadn't really put it in those terms until you actually pointed it out, though.

When I refer to Trek appealing to Aspergery types, I'm referring to the inevitable outsider (Spock, Data, Odo, Etc) who finds all human stuff as bewildering and imponderable despite continued contact. Many folks w/ Aspergers see the world in pretty much those exact terms, so it's natural that they'd identify with someone similar. Add to this the general absence of things like religion, money, art, love, romance, families, sex, politics, crime, dirt, or anything that is also rather off-putting to folks with Aspergers, and the daydream of a bunch of atractive, smart people who like spock or data for who he is, and, well, the appeal is pretty obvious.

By the same coin, I think shows that tackle things like Religion and politics and money and crime and the mundane aspects of life (Both Galacticas, B5, Firefly) tend to probably drive off the exact very same people that Trek attracts, and for the very same reasons. This might explain some of the lingering passionate hatred a lot of Trekies have for B5, I dunno.

Stargate, I think, tended to hit the sweet spot between the two extremes for most of its run, and it actually got an unreasonable ammount of mileage simply from jumping back and forth between the sides. One could argue that SGU picked a side, and that was the end of everything. Ah well. I digress.

The Artist Formerly Known As Republibot 3.0

Most people are

10000li's picture

In discussing "The Spectrum" with an educator friend of mine, she made that case that nearly everyone shows signs of Asperger* Syndrome, mostly because what counts as AS is so vaguely defined.

I'm pursuing an education as a Biomedical Technician these days, and I've been interacting with some folks who are clearly on "The Spectrum." After watching those folks for a while. I see the same behaviors manifest to nearly the same degree in people who are labeled "normal." So I learn how the AS people deal with the world to better understand how to work with the people who think they are normal.

Also remember: Crazy people who are rich are called "eccentric."

* I've just finished a medical terminology class and learned there that the use of the possessive for the names of syndromes and conditions is being phased out.
http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2288/9/18

Political not medical

neorandomizer's picture

I see things in a sociological not a medical way Star Trek TNG was the future that soccer mom's dream of. Clean antiseptic worlds that are not to dangerous so little John will be safe. Star Fleet like the Roman Legions fought on the frontiers so people in Rome (Earth)could enjoy the Pax.

DS9 showed the bleeding edge of the Federation while TOS was before they sold there souls for peace.

Harmony? nah...

My two oldest sons have begun watching, and although my oldest is probably 'on the spectrum', son #2 is not. They really enjoy this show, so I've seen bits and pieces of a few episodes.

I saw most of this episode, and though I didn't really get most of the backstory, I liked it. 'Chocolate Rain' made me laugh so hard that I missed a bit of exposition, though.

I don't think I 'get' it to the extent of the Bronies, but it's a good show.

(Mind you, son #3 (High School QB, etc, ad nauseum) teases his brothers relentlessly over this show...)

Vague

Republibot 3.0's picture

>>In discussing "The Spectrum" with an educator friend of mine, she made that case that nearly everyone shows signs of Asperger* Syndrome, mostly because what counts as AS is so vaguely defined.<<

Yes. It's true. In fact, "Aspergers" as a definition is being phased out in favor of "High Functioning Autism." It's the same thing, but it used to be that all neurological oddities used to be classified "Pervasive Development Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified," which is a diagnostic terra incognita. Aspergers itself wasn't an accepted diagnosis until 1996, and it absorbed a lot of PDDNOS stuff, but it's still fairly vague. It's always been the same as HFA, too, but for a variety of reasons, "Aspergers" was favored for a while as a means of distinguishing it so as to better treat it. The wheel has turned, however, and in a lot of places you can get treatment for Autism through the state, but not Aspergers or what have you. And there's not much point in having two names for the same diagnosis, so it's being phased out. (I've got a musician friend who got diagnosed with HFA recently, and had no idea it was the same thing as Aspergers, for instance).

As to whether or not everyones' got a bit of it - eh, not terribly useful - everyone's got a little bit of pink in their skin, but that doesn't make everyone an albino. The point is that if you've got *enough* of these attributes that it's difficult or impossible for you to function, then it counts. There's a huge difference between being humorously neurotic like Woody Allen and sitting in a corner rocking and flapping your hands because you saw three blue cars in the same morning.

I say I'm marginally on the spectrum because I'm only marginally on it. I have many of the attributes, and I was pretty nonfuctional at an early age, but around the middle of higschool I started to crack the code everyone was using around me, and I figured out how to spin some of my attributes to my advantage, suppress some others. By my mid-20s, I was the erudite, charming, rakishly handsome, fun-at-parties raconteur you see before you now. It still requires effort, though, and sometimes I find myself losing it for the silliest of reasons. ("The phone rang, and I'm not expecting a call." "I can't stop thinking about that time when I was 7" "You stacked the dishes improperly!" "Who the hell moved my Terran Trade Authority books?" "Gah! His arguments are illogical, and betray a complete lack of knowledge of practical psychology. I'm going to rip him up into itsy bitsy little pieces and bury him alive! Oh, no wait, that's too far." "Cant...Stop...Talking...About....Spaghetti...Weterns!" Etc.) I don't have the full-blown version, but there ain't no doubt who my kid got it from.

The Artist Formerly Known As Republibot 3.0

A Clean, Well-Lighted Place

Republibot 3.0's picture

>>I see things in a sociological not a medical way Star Trek TNG was the future that soccer mom's dream of. Clean antiseptic worlds that are not to dangerous so little John will be safe.<<

I'm sure there's an element of that. "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" has a certain safety in a meaningless world. http://www.mrbauld.com/hemclean.html (Really the only Hemingway story I like, apart from the part where he makes fun of The Lord's Prayer. That's too far.)

I think the real attraction, though, is that the Federation is generally absent of all the things that make the real world so confusing and distasteful, and it's got an evangelical sense of purpose, which real life doesn't. Issues and life are dealt with only in their most abstracted forms, it's a world revolving almost entirely around platonic ideals, and not dock worker's strikes and foot shortages among refugees. (To cite two specific examples from two different shows) It's like Aspergers flypaper. Certainly, that's why I loved it as a kid. It's also why - I suspect - I started to grow away from it as I started to get a better handle on life.

Understand I'm not ragging on Trek. It's not my bag anymore, but I fully remember what it was like to love it. I just think it tends to appeal VERY STRONGLY to one kind of person, and somewhat less strongly to other kinds. I think this was pretty much accidental.

The Artist Formerly Known As Republibot 3.0

@R3

neorandomizer's picture

Two unrelated points one TOS was good old fashion space opera nothing more nothing less. All the other stuff got added by the fans of my generation and Gene to exploit those people.

The 70's was a crappy decade (with some great music) the economy sucked, politics sucked gas prices sucked disco SUCKED, it just sucked all around. So TOS was a welcome relief to teens that have been bombarded since birth with the cold war (we had air raid drills in primary school), Vietnam which the networks sometimes treated like it was a reality TV show (it was much more graphic than the coverage now) and the lost expectations of being told we where the generation going to the stars only to have that cut out from under us.

Now for two and I my be talking through my hat on this since I do not have children do not know any one with autism. But in the 90's it seemed that a few kids were medicated or diagnosed with something or another when in reality they where just socially awkward kids (mostly boys.)

In the late 60's early 70's learning disabilities became a hot issue so someone like me who had trouble reading or even speaking to a room full of people was diagnosed with a learning disability and placed into a remedial reading class. At the time I was reading War of the World, Planet of the Apes and Star Guard by Andre Norton (one of my fav). I wasted a hold year and even got placed into a math class a step to low. It took hard work and a lot of meetings with teachers to get them to admit that they were partially wrong. (I do have a slight form of dyslexia). So it may have been over diagnosing by schools because it had become a semi-political issue. Some parents went along with this because they would not admit that have there kids raised by video games and TV (per-internet) was not getting the grades that they wanted little John to get. There was even talk that 90% of all children had a form of autism so from my stand point it seemed a little excessive.

On The Spectrum

kelloggs2066's picture

My story sounds similar to R3s.

But, when it comes to the Spectrum, I'm more like a
Lt. Green than say, a Colonel White, or a Captain Scarlet...

21st Century Fox
The Future's So Bright You Gotta Wear Shades
http://techfox.comicgenesis.com/