Sunday, 11 May 2014

Episode review: "Twilight's Kingdom" (S4E25 & S4E26)

Tirek and Scorpan
Evil creatures from Tartarus in a dead and blasted landscape of doom? TV-Y it is, then
Well, here we are at last. Season 4 of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic has come to an end, and while we now know for sure that it isn't the end of the show as a whole, it's still quite a milestone. With "Twilight's Kingdom", Meghan McCarthy gave us only the second two-part season finale, following on from "A Canterlot Wedding" (also her work) back in S2. There was a lot of hype for this episode, and as usual Hub Network was annoyingly free with its spoilers. But was the hype justified?

For the most part, yes, it was. In many ways, this was perhaps the most memorable episode yet. I wouldn't want every episode of the show to be like this, since I think the more "domestic" eps remain a vital part of what this series is about. (Think "Pinkie Apple Pie" or "Filli Vanilli".) This should never be a show aimed first and foremost at us, the bronies. If it becomes that, it will lose its soul and its heart. However, for this particular episode, there's no denying that it was a veritable feast for the senses.

It was excellent and fitting that the story revolved around Twilight's struggle to find a place for herself as a Princess. There were (surely deliberate) echoes of her struggle, right at the start of S1, to find a place for herself in Ponyville itself. Even here, we had some surprises: it's not the Castle of the Two Sisters that will become Twilight's new home (so what will it be used for?) but the brand new tree-like castle that sprang up in Ponyville itself after the Tree of Harmony's chest was opened.

Discord tries on a Princess style
Oi! Larson! I know you're hiding here somewhere!
I don't imagine there was anyone much left who hadn't worked out how the "rainbowed" items the ponies had been collecting all season related to that box. I did think we might see an actual artefact of some sort inside, but instead it was simply the... er, Rainbow of Friendship? Or something. *hoofwaves* That did lead to one downside of the episode: the mildly cringeworthy "Rainbowfied" ponies. Those things absolutely screamed "marketing gimmick" so I'm glad that those forms didn't persist.

I'll take a moment now to note how pleased I was by something that happened right at the end of the double episode: we saw cameo appearances from ponies like Cheese Sandwich and Coco Pommel. Ponies, in fact, who were the catalysts for the Mane Six to get their "rainbow gifts" in the first place. There were also some other nice little touches, such as Derpy flying with the Wonderbolts (as in "Hurricane Fluttershy") and Lyra and Bon Bon standing together in a crowd scene near the end. Excellent stuff.

I wish I'd not been spoiled as to the identity of the villain, since bringing back G1 bad guy Tirek was something I really hadn't expected.  He was perhaps not quite as sinister as in his G1 appearance – where he openly talks about beheading Spike – but he was still pretty dark. I was also very pleased to see Tartarus referenced again: it transpires that Tirek escaped while Cerberus was away during the events of S2's "It's About Time" – so Twilight's concern back then, that a disaster was about to fall Equestria, was in fact entirely correct!

Tirek talks to his new ally... Discord
"But watch it, Discord. I hate chocolate milk, you heard me?"
And it could have been an even greater disaster this time, with Tirek ending up as (I suppose) a sort of super-Sombra with everypony as his powerless slave. (Not sure why he'd want that, but I'll roll with it.) Twilight, having accepted the deep responsibility of taking on all the other alicorns' magic, still had to work very hard indeed to fight him. That did, however, give us a truly spectacular battle scene which showed how far the show's animation has come. Can we leave off the Dragonball Z references now, though? Please?

I'm really, really torn in terms of what I think about Discord's behaviour in this episode. Part of me would much have preferred him to be playing double agent with Tirek and only pretending to betray the ponies. What actually happened was much harsher: it must have been absolutely devastating for Fluttershy in particular to find out that Discord had changed sides. Maybe S5's going to centre on whether or not he can be truly redeemed... though actually, I hope not. I think he was slightly overused even in S4, and I don't want him to start being in 15 episodes a season.

We were expecting songs in a big season finale, and we got them. Only two, which did mean no villain song, but I doubt Tirek has a great voice anyway! The end song, "Let the Rainbow Remind You", was pretty good but – as with another finale end song, "Love is in Bloom" I didn't think it was a classic. However, the earlier "You'll Play Your Part" was wonderful, a real Disney-style extravaganza with all four Princesses singing – and also genuinely advancing the story in the process. Bravo, Mr Ingram! You've had a very good season.

The Mane Six are rainbowfied
"Also, no-one is going to sell toys of you to little kids, Tirek. Take that!"
Even though this was an action-focused episode, there was still time for the odd amusing moment. Early on, we had Rainbow Dash being put in her place over boasting, while unsurprisingly it was Discord who took centre stage later on – I really liked the Mary Poppins reference, particularly. The alicorn princess joke was a bit of a blatant fanservice thing, but it was funny. Once. Late on still, Twilight gave us some quiet amusement with her struggles to raise the sun and her awkwardness in not telling her friends about her extra powers.

Even though Twilight and her friends won through against evil, this was a surprisingly bittersweet episode in some ways. (And no, I don't just mean Flash "Oh, he's not canon" Sentry speaking!) Why? Because we saw the complete destruction of Twilight's beloved library, her home since the very first episode of FiM. Maybe the storyline didn't result in the killing off any ponies, but I still feel just a little bereft. It was fitting, though, that it was this act that first roused Twilight to really intense fury.

And so, what's next for our heroes? They now have a castle to meet in, including some sort of throne/council room that looks remarkably similar to the one in the Crystal Empire; I don't think that's an accident. A particularly heart-warming touch was the small throne for Spike at Twilight's right hoof. This episode most certainly deserved the word "epic" that McCarthy used in advance. No, it wasn't perfect – what is? – but it was enormously enjoyable: a fitting way to round off a generally excellent season.

The charred remains of Twilight's home
In memoriam: the Golden Oak Library, 2010-2014
Favourite quote: Tirek: "I can assure you... I am no friend. I am Lord Tirek..."

  • An impressively dark and genuinely powerful villain
  • The return of Tartarus – and what Cerberus was doing in S2E20!
  • Excellent, striking animation throughout, in varied styles
  • An absolutely epic battle scene between Twi and Tirek
  • "You'll Play Your Part", which should become a classic song
  • All those little cameos, especially near the end
  • Twilight's journey of self-discovery culminates... but a new start awaits
  • Reaffirmation that Twi cannot succeed without her friends
  • The "death" of Twilight's library
  • The Rainbowfied ponies looked a bit ridiculous
  • No villain song!

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