Season 2 of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic picks up where the pilot episode left off, with equally mixed results.
Season 2, Episode 1: "The Return of Harmony, Part 1"
We open on schoolteacher Cheerilee taking her students (including Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle, and Scootaloo, who are just as obsessed with getting their cutie marks as ever) on a field trip through the Canterlot sculpture garden, which includes statues representing such values as Friendship and Victory. The latter, sadly, is not of Sylvester Stallone playing soccer.
Also in the garden is a statue that Cheerilee taxonomizes as species draconequus, specific name Discord ... the representation of pony disharmony.
It's a disharmony the Cutie Mark Crusaders represent quite often, given their tendency to fight over every little thing -- including whether Discord represents confusion, evil, or chaos -- and which may or may not be responsible for the statue coming to life behind them.
What I love about this pre-credits opening is that the exposition is delivered by established characters who have nothing to do with the rest of the episode. It assumes the viewers are up to speed on the relationships, and while it's stated outright that it's a class on a field trip, a newbie would probably deduce that the Cutie Mark Crusaders are the stars of the show, since they even get called "my little ponies." Nope! We won't see them again until the third episode.
An unspecified amount of time later, but definitely after the credits, things are getting weird elsewhere in Equestria. Clouds are turning into cotton candy and raining chocolate milk over Ponyville, Cloudsdale is experiencing a cola-storm (as a Mission hipster, I hope it's delicious Mexican Coke!) ...
... Applejack's apples are super-sizing while her heretofore unseen corn crops are popping, Fluttershy's rabbits are spontaneously mutating into hideous long-legged beasts ...
... and in spite of putting on a swell light show, Twilight's magic fails to fix things.
After a group effort that seems to solve the problem, the Mane Six are called to Canterlot Tower by Princess Celestia. She exposits that Discord once ruled Equestria, until she and Princess Luna discovered the Elements of Harmony and rebelled against him.
But since Celestia and the conspicuously absent Luna haven't controlled the Elements since at least a thousand years before the pilot episode, it's up to the Mane Six, whose defeat of Nightmare Moon using said Elements has been granted stained-glass immortality. Not that their fame did them any good at the Grand Galloping Gala.
Can they do it again? They're all willing, though Pinkie Pie is reluctant, given the unfortunate tradeoff. (More like a Tay Zonday-off, amirite?)
One other problem: The Elements are missing.
Enter Discord! In stained glass form, anyway. After taunting the Mane Six with his knowledge of which Element they each represent, he tells them how to find the Elements: Something to do with twists and turns.
.This is a good time to mention that Discord is voiced by John de Lancie, more commonly known as Q from Star Trek: The Next Generation. (His best episodes were when he worked with Kate Mulgrew on Star Trek: Voyager, but that's another article entirely). So, Discord is basically Q, which makes perfect sense. Enjoy his voice!
Twilight deduces that "twists and turns" must mean the Elements are hidden in the palace Labyrinth. Discord neither confirms nor denies this, though he does remove the unicorns' horns and pegasi's wings in accordance with his made-up rules.
The other rule of Discordball: Everypony has to play, and they have to travel separately whether they want to or not. And Fluttershy really does not.
Having successfully divided the ponies, Discord stoops to conquer. He use his illusions to convince/hypnotize Applejack (Element of Harmony: Honesty) into becoming a liar, and she desaturates.
Pinkie Pie (Element: Laughter) is hypnofooled into believing that her friends are laughing at her, not with her, and she similarly desaturates, though her descent into crankiness feels anticlimactic after her disillusionment in "Party of One."
Rarity (Element: Generosity), who actually puts up more of a fight than Applejack or Pinkie Pie, is hypnofooled into seeing a boulder as a diamond, desaturates from white to ... well, from #dfe2e7 to #e3e1e3, at least on my laptop.
Fluttershy (Element: Kindness) proves too good-natured and self-aware to fall for Discord's illusions, so he takes the direct approach, making her (to use the old sfgoth.com parlance) MEAN: Not Nice.
When they regroup, Twilight notes the change in their behavior -- and Fluttershy's is the only one with any dramatic heft -- but not the change in their coloring, not just yet.
Elsewhere in the Labyrinth, Discord shows a Rainbow Dash (Element: Loyalty) a vision of the destruction of Cloudsdale, which is also Season 2's first Derpywatch.
Rainbow chooses (well, "chooses") to get her wings back so she can save Cloudsdale, but not before desaturating.
With Rainbow Dash gone, the game is forfeited. Discord removes the Labyrinth entirely (revealing no Elements of Harmony) and predicts a big change in the weather ...
... one that's a lot more likely to happen than that winter Ned Stark kept prattling on about.