The show establishes two new recurring characters, and Proto-Derpy is nowhere to be found.
Episode 9: "Bridle Gossip"
It's a beautiful day in Ponyville, largely because Rainbow Dash has actually done her cloud-wrangling job on time for once, but Twilight Sparkle and Spike are surprised to find everypony is hiding. Spike reaches the same conclusion that the rest of us would.
Twilight considers the proposition of a Zombie Pony Apocalypse to be unlikely at best -- though *aisu-isme's My Little Zombie series on deviantART suggests it would be awesome -- but things only get more mysterious as Pinkie Pie implores them join in with the hiding.
The citizens of Ponyville are terrified by the presence of an odd-looking pony by the name of Zecora. The fact that she lives in the Everfree Forest is cause enough for alarm, but worse, she comes to town, lurks around the storefronts, and then digs at the ground -- all of which is spooky, sinister behavior.
Because Twilight Sparkle is an indoctrinated snob who reads books that teach her things she would not otherwise know, she calmly identifies Zecora as a zebra, not a pony.
This does not assuage the fears of the others. Pinkie Pie even has a work-in-progress song about Zecora.
Pinkie's labored panting at the end is her best character moment so far in the series. It's a little detail, but the show's genius lies in those little details.
Twilight fails to talk sense into the others -- all except for Applejack's younger sister Apple Bloom, who first appeared briefly in the pilot. She's the only other pony who isn't afraid, so she sets out to talk to Zecora.
The others continue to argue about all the ways that Zecora is evil -- like the fact that she eats hay. Sure, they all eat hay, but Zecora does it all eeeevilly.
They stop arguing long enough to realize that Apple Bloom has snuck out. When they find Apple Bloom and Zecora in the Everfree Forest, the latter warns them in rhyming verse (and with the voice of Brenda Crichlow) to maybe be careful about those I Know Who Killed Me-blue plants they're soaking in.
Of course, they take it as a threat, rather than a somewhat oblique warning to not stand in those blue plants -- and, except for Apple Bloom, they spend quite a lot of time rustling around in said plants.
The ponies are convinced that Zecora put a curse on them, and they don't believe Twilight Sparkle's dumb boring insistence that there's no such thing as curses.
Or is there? The ponies wake up the next morning to find themselves, well, cursed. Twilight's never-phallic horn is now floppy and splotchy; Rarity's hair is even worse than the times it was green or wet; Rainbow Dash can't fly straight; Pinkie Pie can't speak; Fluttershy now speaks with the deep, sonorous tones of veteran voice actor Blu Mankuma; and Applejack becomes very ... small. A tiny thing.
Desperate to find a cure for what she's sure must be an allergy or an illness but definitely not a curse, Twilight refuses on principle to look in a book called Supernaturals.
Twilight finally concedes that maybe Zecora really did curse them, and they return to the Everfree Forest to confront Zecora -- and to find Apple Bloom, who's gone off on her own yet again.
Peeking in the window of Zecora's evilllly decorated house, they see her making what sure looks like a big tasty pony stew -- which leads to a reprise of Pinkie Pie's song, this time sung by a reluctant Fluttershy with in a slow-jazz style with a walking bass line that's even tastier than the stew.
It would be meaningless to someone who hasn't been watching the show, but for me this was the tipping point, the moment that I was finally and truly sold on My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.
No, it's not the best show ever made, it's not for everyone, and I suspect the media saturation -- particularly the recent "Is Derpy Offensive?" brouhaha -- has made the show all the more alienating to potential new viewers, and that's saying a lot, especially because most grownups would never deign to watch a show about cartoon ponies in the first place.
But My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic has what I consider to be one of the most important qualities of great storytelling: You don't know where it's going next.
Sure, maybe you can guess how it's going to end: Zecora's not evil; the broth she was making was to cure to the ponies of the prankish effects of the blue Poison Joke plant they were standing in earlier; she lurks outside the stores in Ponyville because they're always mysteriously closed when she arrives; the remedy was in the book that Twilight refused to open (the full title of which is Supernaturals: Natural Remedies and Cure-alls That Are Simply Super); and in the Shoehorn, Twilight Sparkle actually uses the words "Never judge a book by its cover."
But it's all about how you get to the end, and how it works with what we've learned about the characters so far. That even makes the Everybody Laughs Ending okay.