Thursday, August 16, 2012

My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Season 2 Finale and Wrap Up

http://blogs.sfweekly.com/exhibitionist/2012/08/my_little_pony_season_2_finale_and_wrap_up_part2.php

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The second season ends with multiple bangs. (Relevant self-pimpage: I'll be doing a panel-presentation-thingy called "Deconstructing Equestria" at Everfree Northwest in Seattle this Friday morning. Come say hi!)
Season 2, Episode 26: "A Canterlot Wedding, Part 2"

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It looked like Twilight Sparkle was sucked down in to a freaky green hell at the end of "A Canterlot Wedding, Part 1," but when she lumoses with her horn, we learn she's in a purple cavern, one with reflect-y crystal walls. Foreshadowing! (Foreflecting?)
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Cadance appears in the crystals to confirm that Twilight is under Canterlot, in caves that were once used by gem-hoarding unicorns but have since been long abandoned, and thus are perfect for burying her enemies alive.
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Speaking vaguely of her plans for Shining Armor, she goads Twilight into shooting at her -- the first time we've seen Twilight use her horn for offensive purposes, I think, and also perhaps not Twilight's smartest decision, given the way her (potentially lethal) red zap-beams bounce around the crystals.
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But she keeps on shooting in a rage, finally destroying a certain wall behind which sits ... Cadance?
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Twilight tackles this scuffed and battered Cadance, who's quite reasonably worried that Twilight will hurt her, or worse.
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But this is the Real, non-Evil Cadance, imprisoned by the imposter just like Twilight. More importantly, she remembersTwilight.
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And of course the Real Cadance would, but still, even with everything else that's happened, all the damage that Evil Cadance has done, I honestly believe that the pain of being forgotten has been propelling Twilight more than anything else. Even in its biggest, most expensive, action-packed, and heavily-promoted episode ever, My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is still a show about its characters and how they react under emotional stress.

And it's because I've become so heavily invested in the characters over the past 50 episodes that Twilight's joy at being remembered gives me goosebumps, even now, even when I'm watching it in fits and starts for recapping purposes. Indeed, I've watched this episode several times now, and every time, I get chills at all the right moments -- and a lump in my throat at others. I don't know what the experience was like for people who were watching the show for the first time (and judging from Hasbro's press release from April 24, 2012, a whole heck of a lot of new people were watching) but for this faithful viewer, it worked.

As Twilight Sparkle and Real Cadance try to escape the caverns, Evil Cadance prepares for the wedding, both Cadances duet in the episode's showstopping number, "This Day." I don't know the exact term for this kind of song in the musical theater context, the second-act finale where the characters all sing a song together while being in different places, but for me it brings to mind "La Resistance" from South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut, and "Walk Through the Fire" from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer musical episode. In good ways, obviously.
(As an aside, I can't help but wonder how flower girls Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle, and Scootaloo would feel if they got their cutie marks for that. It would have to be a bit of a letdown.)

The marriage of Evil Cadance and a hypnotized, green-glass-eyed Shining Armor is about to be completed by the unobservant Princess Celestia ...

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... when Twilight Sparkle makes yet another melodramatic entrance, this time accompanied by Real, Not-Evil Cadance.
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After the rest of the Mane Six Plus Spike get over the momentary (but still heartbreaking) disappointment in Twilight and realize that something weird is going on, it's up to Applejack to ask the pertinent question of "Wait, what?"
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Real Cadance explains that Evil Cadance is a changeling, a shapeshifter that feeds off others' love. And since Real Cadance had to go and say that, Evil Cadance reverts in a burst of freaky green fire back to her true changeling self.
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The Changeling Queen explains that the love-heavy Equestria is basically an endless smorgasbord for changelings, but Cadance is sure that Shining Armor's force field will protect them. The Queen doubts that, and -- oh, hi, Derpy! Final Derpywatch of the season, six o'clock.
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Unconsummated marriage or not, the Queen says Shining Armor is under her total control, though not quite total enough to get him to stop making the force field. But it's getting weaker, and the changeling hordes are slamming away at it.
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Well, that settles that, then. The Changelings will take over Canterlot, then all of Equestria, and then --
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Hi, Princess Celestia! You kinda disappeared when the going got rough. Got called away to another one of those emergency meetings with the Ponyville Mayor, I'm guessing? Or maybe you stepped out to guard the day? Anyway, good to have you back.
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Celestia says that even though the Queen has prevented Shining Armor from making the force field (give or take the fact that the force field is clearly still there), she is still determined to protect her subjects. Celestia and the Queen duke it out, Egg Shen vs. Lo Pan style ...
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... but Celestia gets knocked out of her crown and flat on the ground, her horn burnt, another violent, unsettling image in an episode full of them. But this isn't the first time Celestia has been unable to defeat an enemy, hence the Mane Six being called into service in "Friendship Is Magic, Parts 1 & 2" and "The Return of Harmony, Part 1 & 2." And like those prior two-parters, Celestia charges them with retrieving the Elements of Harmony, her solution to everything.
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No problem! They start making their way to (I'm guessing) Canterlot Tower to get the Elements, but unfortunately, the changelings have finally managed to destroy the force field that Shining Armor hasn't been able to make for a while now. (And as a matter of fact, I am an expert on unicorn-generated force fields.)
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As though it weren't bad enough that there's now a swarm of changelings in Canterlot, they're changelings that can change into other things, as is their wont. Being changelings and all. Among the other things they can turn into include Rainbow Dash ...
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...and Pinkie Pie and Rarity and Applejack and Fluttershy and ... Fluttershy? Oh, you did not.
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Rumble! The smoke clears, and ... the non-changeling Mane Six has won the battle! And Fluttershy hated every second of it.
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But our heroes are nowhere close to winning the war, since there are plenty more changelings where those came from, and they got to Canterlot Tower first.
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The Mane Six are taken to the Chapel, where Shining Armor is still a green-eyed zombie, Cadance is stuck to the floor by a freaky green goo, and a still-alive Celestia is imprisoned in a freaky green cocoon-y thing (presumably filled with said freaky green goo, ick). Since Twilight Sparkle is too classy to say "I told you so!" re: the whole Evil Cadance thing, the Queen says it on her behalf.
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In a brief reprise of "This Day," the Queen gloats as she looks down at the now war-torn Canterlot.
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As the Queen is distracted, Twilight frees Cadance from the goo, and Cadance uses her love-horn to free Shining Armor from the Queen's spell. See? I told you it would pay off! Granted, as a story point would work just as well if Cadance wasn't able to use it on complete strangers, if it was purely love for Shining Armor that set him free and not a pre-established superpower ... but it still gets me gooey inside every time, as does the combined power of their love defeating the changelings.
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It's reminiscent of the climaxes of the previous epic two-parters, what with the levitation and glowiness and a shockwave of magic vanquishing the villain (though the changelings aren't "vanquished" so much as "scattered across Equestria"), but this is the first time the big glurge feels organic to the story, and the music is just breathtaking. It's also worth noting that neither the Elements of Harmony nor the Battle of Canterlot had anything to do with the victory. The Battle was a thrilling scene and I adored it (Pinkie Pie using Twilight Sparkle as a gun notwithstanding), but ultimately it was nonviolence and love that saved the day.

The final third of the episode is concerned with the wedding in the title. It goes much better this time around. Notable cameos include the forever-marginalized Princess Luna ...
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... and fan-favorite DJ Pon-3!
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Also of note: Spike and Sweetie Belle (younger sister of Spike's perma-crush Rarity) dancing together.
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Oh, I do hope that goes somewhere next season. Speaking of which ...


Season 2 Wrap Up

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So that was the second season of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. If the first season was all about exploring the primary characters, this season was more about exploring the minutiae of Equestrian society (with a recurring emphasis on economics), as well as exploring different kinds of storytelling.
For example, does every episode necessarily have to be involve the Mane Six, or even include primary protagonist Twilight Sparkle? Would that be like doing an original Star Trek episode without Captain Kirk? That actually did happen once, in the Kirk-free Star Trek: The Animated Series episode "The Slaver Weapon," and Twilight Sparkle is also absent from "Family Appreciation Day." Similarly, she appears for less than a minute in "Hearts and Hooves Day," and none of the other Mane Six show up at all -- and that was the highest-rated episode of the series until the season finale.

How about the Mane Six acting in play for the bulk of an episode? Sure, "Hearth's Warming Eve." Or how about much of the episode taking place in a character's imagination? "Read It and Weep," you betcha. Throw in an increased use of stylized flashbacks and elaborate, story-driven songs and you've got a remarkably experimental and expressionistic season.

I'm not suggesting this is the first series to ever do such things -- examples can be found in sitcoms dating back to the 1970s -- but for a pony cartoon whose primary raison d'ĂȘtre is to sell merchandise,  
My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic never stops kicking at its envelope to see what it can get away with, nor does it ever underestimate the intelligence of its audience.

I don't have the foggiest idea what's coming in Season 3, other than Princess Cadance becoming a recurring character (poor marginalized Luna!), and as always, that's part of what makes the show so satisfying. I don't know where it's going, but getting there is always worth the trip.

Season 2 is available in its entirety on iTunes and Netflix, but if you just want to skim the highlights for now, here's my recommended lineup:
Episode 3: "Lesson Zero"
Episode 4: "Luna Eclipsed"
Episode 11: "Hearth's Warming Eve"
Episode 12: "Family Appreciation Day"
Episode 15: "The Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000"
Episode 16: "Read It and Weep"
Episode 19: "Putting Your Hoof Down"
Episode 20: "It's About Time"
Episode 22: "Hurricane Fluttershy"
Episode 24: "MMMystery on the Friendship Express"
Episodes 25: "A Canterlot Wedding, Part 1"
Episodes 26: "A Canterlot Wedding, Part 2"
While recapping Season 2, I watched the first three seasons of Justified. It's a great show and worth checking out, particularly since we're about to be without new episodes of Breaking Bad for another year. And while you're at it, give Cougar Town a shot. The series doesn't really find its voice until halfway through the first season, but if you stick with it, you'll discover that in spite of the horribly off-putting title, it's a remarkably complex, emotionally satisfying, and always entertaining and well-written show -- just like My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic.

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