Sunday, 17 February 2013

Review: "Magical Mystery Cure" (S3E13)

Twilight and Fluttershy in 'Shy's cottage
Twilight Sparkle does her celebrated impression of the Sphinx
Well now. Well now. Well now. Season 3 of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic has come to an end. This time around, as I suppose you'd expect from a 13-episode season, the finale was a one-parter, written by the one and only MA Larson. As all but the most superhuman spoiler-avoiders will know, something about the storyline of this final instalment had caused an enormous amount of discussion and controversy within the fandom. Was this season finale going to be a mess, a work of genius or somewhere in between. After the jump, I'll give you my opinion.

I have to admit it: I loved this episode. MA Larson pulled something special out of the bag, and — frankly, rather to my surprise — the Twilicorn thing actually turned out to make sense. It was noticeable that there wasn't really any obvious clue as to what would happen to start S4: quite possibly because Hasbro didn't originally expect the show to justify four seasons. But for example, will Princess Twilight live in Ponyville with her friends, or in Canterlot in the Royal Castle? And if the latter, how will her relationship with the rest of the Mane Six fare?

Anyway, back to "Magical Mystery Cure" — and, as should perhaps have been expected once we'd seen the Beatles-inspired episode title, this was the long-rumoured and (by some, at least) long-awaited musical number. S3 has been a little light on songs compared with S2, and now we know why! Depending on how generous you are with counting the very short songs and reprises, there were as many as seven songs in this episode, which absolutely smashes out of sight the previous record of four from "A Friend In Deed".

Rarity with Rainbow Dash's cutie mark
Rarity demonstrates to Twilight how a princess should greet commoners
The songs were good, too. The one that had surfaced prior to the episode's broadcast, "A True, True Friend", was a very solid piece and the bookend "Morning In Ponyville/Life In Equestria" tracks gave the episode a nice balance. The biggest surprise was probably Celestia's solo piece. But my own favourite has to be "What My Cutie Mark Is Telling Me". It wasn't quite perfect, in that it would have been improved by a Twilight solo to go with the other five ponies', but it was one of those songs that felt right the moment you heard it. Sounded like the cider song just a little, though, didn't it?

The actual plot for the episode was fairly slight, and was really a culmination of the season-long story arc for Twilight rather than a full story in itself. Twi proved herself a more accomplished student of friendship than Star Swirl the Bearded, finished the olden pony's spell (no, Scoots, not that Olden Pony) and was raised to princesshood by Celestia. I'm not sure what part Luna played in all that; as with the S2 finale, she didn't appear in the main part of the episode. Still, I suppose it's been inevitable ever since that scene with the stars in "The Crystal Empire, part 1".

The "mixed up cutie marks" part of the episode was one place where the finale's single-episode nature rather counted against it. This did feel just a little rushed, and it would have been nice to have included a bit more of the Mane Five's attempts to get themselves sorted out. Pinkie's Pinkamena mane (and, indeed, southern accent) were naturally the centre of attention in all this, but my favourite part was that, cutie mark failure or not, it was still Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy who formed the first example of a close bond of friendship. This series has repeatedly played on that link.

Derpy during the final parade scene
One of That Pony's multiple appearances in the finale

MA Larson, the writer who teased us with his use of the word "alicorn" in "Magic Duel", finally left us in no doubt that it is now canon to refer to a winged unicorn princess by that name. He also stuffed the episode with references, and not just the brief clips of previous episodes that zoom past the recovering ponies' eyes and either side of the ascending Twilight. Look, there's Vinyl Scratch! Hey, isn't that Lyra next to Bon Bon? Ooh, there's the "Fifth Doctor Whooves" from the S1 finale! Rainbow Dash takes ten seconds flat to clear the clouds. Quills and sofas. Pinkie urging ponies to "smile".

All in all, this was far, far better than I could have dared hope, and takes its place as one of my favourite episodes of Friendship is Magic as a whole, not just of S3. It vies with "Sleepless in Ponyville" for the title of best episode from this season, but it's hard to compare the two as they're very different animals. "Sleepless" could have been from S1, with its gentle pace and domestic-centred plotlines. This finale was very much the work of a team going all-out to make something memorable. I think they can all be pretty proud of what they achieved. This will be a fan favourite, of that I am sure.

Twilight flies at the camera in the final shot
The final shot of Season 3: Twilight's destiny achieved
So, how does it stack up against other My Little Pony episodes? In the end, good as it is, I don't think I can give "Magical Mystery Cure" a perfect ten, not least because it does suffer slightly from the one-episode running time. (And yes, I know Meghan McCarthy considers it part one of a three-episode story. But for now, it's a one-parter.) I'm still unsure how I feel about what happens to Twilight. It is, nevertheless, a fine episode, and I have no hesitation in awarding it a high score. The last few episodes of S3 have reassured me that we're still watching something special, not "just another cartoon". Never mind the spin-offs, here's respect, Ponies!

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