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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Season 2, Episodes 1 & 2

Posted By on Wed, May 16, 2012 at 8:30 AM

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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"

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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.

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Also in the garden is a statue that Cheerilee taxonomizes as species draconequus, specific name Discord ... the representation of pony disharmony.

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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.

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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!) ...

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... 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 ...

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... and in spite of putting on a swell light show, Twilight's magic fails to fix things.

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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.

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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.

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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?)

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One other problem: The Elements are missing.

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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.

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.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.

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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.

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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.

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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."

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Rainbow chooses (well, "chooses") to get her wings back so she can save Cloudsdale, but not before desaturating.

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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 ...

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... one that's a lot more likely to happen than that winter Ned Stark kept prattling on about.

Season 2, Episode 2: "The Return of Harmony, Part 2"

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As the Mane Six bicker among each other about everything and nothing, Twilight complains to Discord that it's hardly fair of him to expect the ponies to find the Elements at the end of the Labyrinth when he's taken away the Labyrinth before they can find the Elements at the end of said Labyrinth.

Discord points out the fundamental flaw in Twilight's logic regarding the connection between the Elements and the Labyrinth, in that she totally made that part up herself.

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Discord leaves her to use the magic of friendship (bwahaha!) to sort things out, which is tricky when her friends have turned into bigger nozzles than Rainbow Dash, who isn't even there.

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Twilight concludes (correctly, for a change) that the Elements must be back in Ponyville, which Discord is quickly turning into the Chaos Capital of the World

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As the Nozzle Four reluctantly go into Twilight's library, they each desaturate further, right into Grayscale. Pinkie Pie also expresses my feelings about libraries.

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(That joke is much funnier if you know I just finished my first year of library school. You may now laugh!)

Oh, and before she goes inside and turns gets Grayscaled, Rarity reveals that her diamond-what's-actually-a-boulder is named Tom.

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For his part, Spike is the first to acknowledge the change in the ponies' color, which means the script and animation have finally caught up with each other.

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Despite the best efforts of the Gray Nozzle Four, Twilight and Spike manage to get The Elements of Harmony: A Reference of Harmony, last seen in the pilot.

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The Elements themselves are conveniently waiting for her in the book. Unfortunately, between using a reluctant Spike as a stand-in for Rainbow Dash -- "But what if she finds out I've been impersonating her? That won't end well" -- and the utter disinterest of the Gray Nozzle Four, they fail to vanquish Discord.

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The ponies disband for good ...

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... Twilight Grayscales ...

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... and Discord gloats.

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Y'know who gloats as awesomely as John de Lancie in Q-mode? Nobody, that's who.

Twilight decides that she and Spike are going to leave Ponyville, but Spike is in no condition to move, due to deep gastrointestinal pain from a flurry of letters from Princess Celestia. (Cathy Weseluck's voice work as Spike is heartbreaking -- the poor little dragon's hurting, bad.)

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The letters are all the Shoehorns from the first season, which remind Twilight of how great friendship is -- and that their collective friendship (enhanced and enlarged by the Elements) can defeat Discord, just like it defeated Nightmare Moon.

Twilight regains her color and sets about resaturating the others. Rainbow Dash requires a high-speed chase through the clouds, while Pinkie Pie treats the whole ordeal with the respect it deserves.

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They successfully defeat Discord, and not only does it involve an Akira-esque explosion, the denouement takes a hard left into an homage to the ending of the original Star Wars, complete with an Iris Out into an orchestral theme over the credits. Great character moment, though: As the others are soaking in the accolades, Fluttershy is just looking at the floor, wishing she was anywhere but there.

Though "The Return of Harmony" opens Season 2, it's more a (not wholly necessary) second finale to Season 1. The Graying of the ponies doesn't quite connect the way it should, possibly because we've seen already seen the characters break down from the inside, and that's always more powerful than when it's from an external force.

Their transformations in this episode are also based on their associations to the Elements of Harmony, and as I've observed before, the Elements are tangential at best to who the ponies have developed into as characters. That said, the Elements do make for an interesting narrative fake-out in the Season 2 finale ... but we're just getting started.

Next Time: The show shifts gears as Season 2 begins for real in "Lesson Zero," and Princess Celestia's sister and ostensible co-monarch finally resurfaces in "Luna Eclipsed."

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Sherilyn Connelly is a San Francisco-based writer. She also curates and hosts Bad Movie Night at The Dark Room, every Sunday at 8pm.

Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF (follow Sherilyn Connelly on Twitter at @sherilyn) and like us on Facebook.

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