MLP rewatch and analysis

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MLP rewatch and analysis

Post  TheCavalry on Thu Aug 14, 2014 6:52 pm

So... This is a thing I started doing somewhere. Figure I may as well post it on the actual MLP site I visit, too.

So far I've finished the two pilot episodes, and am watching ticket master to get a fix in what to say about it.
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Re: MLP rewatch and analysis

Post  TheCavalry on Thu Aug 14, 2014 6:52 pm

Friendship is Magic: Part One

"Once upon a time, in the magical land of Equestria..."

Friendship is Magic begins with a series of fairytale-like illustrations, accompanied by a narration by Princess Celestia. The prologue provides the audience with the backstory for the episode, as the voice slowly morphs into Twilight Sparkle, with the reveal that the legend of the Mare in the Moon is a story from a book she's been reading. Twilight concludes the narration by musing about the McGuffin the story introduced: "The Elements of Harmony... I know I've heard of that somewhere before", before the theme song for the show kicks off.

It's a short, effective introduction, packed with information. A lot of viewers- certainly the older audience attracted by the show- will find themselves in the same situation as Twilight, with the whole thing having a sense of familiarity to it. While it may not have (at least pre-FiM) the same merchandising and marketing giants as Transformers and G.I Joe, My Little Pony is still a familiar brand name for a lot of people. The soft, lilting tones of the theme song echo that recognition, with the familiar My Little Pony jingle, before tearing it apart and going in a completely new direction with the song. The theme alone puts the audience in Twilights (horse)shoes; we'veheard this music before somewhere, but never reinvented, and as energetic, as this.

The prologue also plays with expectations in a similar way. Friendship is Magic is a contemporary of the Avatar series, so the concept of living in Harmony was already present in pop consciousness; it's an awareness which justifies the existence of elements of Harmony. The prologue also mixes a few different cultural touchstones; the fairy tale opening words, the yin-yang symbol the illustrated Celestia-and-Luna form, the epic myth of the Sun defeating the Moon and restoring balance. It's not a "girly" opening; it's a creation myth to match that of most epic fantasies.
In fact, I'd argue that epic fantasy of the Way of Kings, Lord of the Rings and Wheel of Time constitutes a decent strand of FiM's DNA, a point that I'm going to cover whenever it's relevant. For now, the important thing is that in the first five minutes, the show has broken out of the pre-conceived notions of what it's going to be "about" by embracing cultural and genre from across the world. It really is a well-done opening.

After the opening, we rejoin Twilight in mid-gallop, another point that separates her from the previous generation of ponies. Our heroine is doing things, rather than just waiting for things to happen to her. She also isn't a "perfect" character; one of the ponies she brushes off comments disparagingly that Twilight is more interested in books than friends. It isn't a shaming of nerd culture- since literature is important both as part of the show and within the show itself- but it is the first hint at Twilights flaws. As the first season goes on, she never loses her love of reading and books, but she does learn to better balance her private life with a social one.

Which is something she desperately needs; whenever she crashes into the library, she not only bulldozes over Spike without apology, she ruins his present to Moondancer in the process. Twilight is our hero, and she's a "good" pony... but it's alsready pretty obvious that she's also a flawed character.

(And as an aside... Spike getting a present for Moondancer is interesting to me, and just screams of fanfic potential. The only pony he really lavishes such gifts on in the series proper is Rarity, making me rather curious about what kind of history he might have had with Moondancer).

Creating the letter has a series of childish humour (like Spike not knowing how to spell), but it also establishes the stakes and the roles of Twilight and Celestia. It also has my favourite blink-and-you-miss moment in the pilot as Twilight, discussing the threat of Nightmare Moon, walks in front of an hourglass... and the statue of a unicorn behind her is transformed into Nightmare Moon. It's a rather nice piece of animation, and, along the mare-in-the-moon motiff that reappears later, helps make Nightmare Moon a more concrete threat; it isn't just Twilights ramblings, it's a real terror, one which permeates all of Equestria.

Celestia's response is to send Twilight to Ponyville, with the purpose of making friends. Again, there is a moment which may seem like a criticism of nerd culture- "you really must get out of those dusty old books"- but given how the second episode (and later ones) play out, I'm inclined to dismiss that as just a bad line, albeit it one which establishes something else about Twilight personality. She isn't just a reader; she a connoisseur of literature, delving into works that other characters have forgotten about or dismiss.
It's a comment that will actually become more important in the second season and beyond, since one of those "dusty old books" was most likely written by Starswirl the Bearded, making this the earliest hint at the arc that will appear in the later seasons.

For now, though, Twilight has to meet the rest of the cast. It's a pretty stock plot line; Twilight goes to one place, meets someone, moves to the next. It's simple and predictable... which makes the fact that she meets Pinkie Pie first all the more hilarious. Because Pinkie Pie will demonstrate cartoon physics as the series goes on, and break the fourth wall on multiple occasions; she's the Deadpool of the MLP-universe. So, naturally, her first response to seeing a stock plot is to break it, by saying nothing and running off-stage.

It's a sign that ends up running through the other meetings with the rest of the mane cast.

Applejack's sequance highlights her emphasis on family (with the extended Apple family), and her simpler "rustic" values by banging on the triangle. As a meta-point... AJ will end up being the least developed of the mane six, to the extent that "Applejack is my favorite background pony" is a fandom joke. It obviously isn't intentional- no one creates a character to be superfluous- but in the wake of Pinkies reality warping, it's amusing to consider that AJ's first appearance features her as part of a background crowd of characters.

After AJ, it's Rainbow Dash, a meeting which is caused by Rainbow shoving Twilight in the mud and showing off. We get a little more about Equestrian society with the mention of the Wonderbolts (and Rainbows desire to be one) which leads to Rainbow's meme-generating boast: "I can clear the sky in ten seconds flat". She not only does it, but she does it accompanied with a guitar sting totally unlike any other piece of music in the episode to date; Rainbow Dash doesn't just have an unconventional personality for a "girls" show, she breaks the score and replaces it with her own, awesome "guy" music.

Of all the ponies introduced so far, it's Rarity who is the most "girly", with an introduction decorating the town hall, and dressing up Twilight. Like Rainbow, Rarity's introduction plants the seeds for her story arc over the series, her fascination with Canterlot: "The glamour! The sophistication! I've always dreamed of living there!". The first episode sets Rarity up as a very superficial character, and even a tad flightly, as evidenced when she presents a dress then leaves to switch it out a moment later, asking herself what she was thinking, but the second part of the pilot (and the rest of the series as whole) will dig into who I consider to be the most complicated character on the show.

Fluttershy's introduction is something of an extended punchline, with her mumbled responses of her name as contrasted to her enthusiastic talking with Spike. She's clearly a character who is more comfortable with animals than with people- she even has a choir made up of songbirds- and while her ambitions aren't as clearly stated as Rainbow and Rarity, we again see the course her character arc will take; growing more confident around her friends and strangers over the course of the series... though again it's not something which is particular developed here.

The cast is rounded out with Pinkie, who, in another sign of her fourth-wall awareness, has managed to fit an entire party inside Twilgihts house... the house she had no way of knowing belonged to Twilight. And the memebrs of this party not only include a lot of background ponies who will go on to have their own sizable fandoms (hey there, Derpy!), it also includes the other ponies who make up the mane six... including Fluttershy who, literally seconds ago, was locked out of the house by Twilight. Pinkie Pie explains her motivations, concluding by saying that this way, Twilight can have lots of friends, a statement which is obviously directed at the mane six rather than the town as a whole. Pinkie Pie's fourth wall awareness lets her pick out the main characters of the show and lump them together already.

The interesting thing about all this is how, despite the friendly overtures the others make, the audiences sympathy is always directed at Twilight. In a more traditional show, the other characters may be shown to be kind to Twilights dismissive attitude, generally winning her over. Here, Twilight is stuffed with food (to the point of pain), shoved in mud, rainblow dried, dressed like a doll against her will, enduring Fluttershy's (clearly uninteresting) conversation, and tops it off by setting herself on fire.
The rest of the cast don't come across as jerks, but Twilight maintains sympathy from the audience. She has her priorities, and while we know, from a meta-sense, that friendship is going to be important to saving the day, it's impossible not to empathize with her, trying to save the world while being bothered by everyone.

Spike tries to get Twilight to relax, reminding her that the Mare in the Moon is just an old ponies tale, and that she should be enjoying the party... which Twilight refuses. She can't stop herself from staring at the mare shaped blotch on the moon, a reminder of the looming danger of Nightmare Moon, and a hint for viewers at Twilight's personality. She's an anxious person; it's a trait which will reoccur throughout the series.

Everything comes to a head at the SUmmer Solstice celebration, when Princess Celestia goes missing. In her place rises a dark smoke which takes the form of a dark pony in armour with an etheral mane. Once again, Pinkie's fourth wall awareness drives her to undermine the situation by guessing names for the new arrival, but this time she is silenced by Applejack. There's a time and a place for Pinkie's antics, but this, the showcase moment of the pilot, isn't it, and the narrative intervenes to stop her from derailing things completely.

And I call it the showcase moment, because Nightmare Moon makes one hell of an entrance. She has the voice and mannerisms of a supervillain, including the great supervillain laugh right at the end; she's grand, dramatic and threatening. She's the first alicorn we see in the series, and she looms over the other characters, giving her an aura of danger. At the same time, her initial moments are closer to that of a bully, flicking Rainbows muzzle to get a response, and her dialogue speaks to the tragedy established in the prologue. Her dialogue- "Is my crown not royal enough for you?"- speaks to that isolation that drove her to become Nightmare Moon in the first place. There's even a degree of satisfaction in her tones when Twilight says she recognizes her. That recognition is going to play a minor part in the next episode, and it forms an important part of Luna's personality as the series goes on.

The episode ends at the height of the drama; Nightmare Moons mane grows into a rising vortex, and she makes her villainous proclamation, that the night will last forever; cue 'To Be Continued' sign.

Conclusion:
I love this episode. I really do think it's a great piece, both as an episode in it's own right, and as the starting of the series. It introduces the characters (bar Celestia), kicks off the character and story arcs which are going to be carried for the rest of the series... and I think that it does a good job of drawing in new audiences. There is a real feeling that the creators are trying to convinced you that this version of MLP is something new and exciting, and I genuinely believe that the set up for this is every bit as epic a fantasy as the sources I mentioned above. As it turns out, I don't think the concluding part of the pilot really lived up to it's expectations- but it was ambitious ina way that no one could really have xpected a show based on plastic pony toys would be.
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Re: MLP rewatch and analysis

Post  TheCavalry on Thu Aug 14, 2014 6:53 pm

Friendship is Magic: Part Two

We begin right where the previous episode left off, with Nightmare Moon's villainous laugh. The comparison to her as a supervillain continues when she swats away the royal guards while quipping "Back you foals!"- and whether that's a cheesy line or one which makes sense (giving the equestrian setting) basically comes down to personal opinion. Of course, like any good supervillain, Nightmare Moon follows up her evil plans by running away, and giving the heroes the opportunity to stop her...
Though even there, the motives might be a little more complicated. The prologue from last episode, Nightmare Moons comments about her subjects remembering her, and Luna's later appearances suggest that even after a thousand years of banishment, Nightmare Moon isn't motivated by random destruction for the sake of evil.

Twilight returns to the library, and after putting Spike to bed explains the situation to the others. She relays what little she knows about Nightmare Moon (and in a call back to the Mare motif from the first half, she looks up at the moon, now without it's horse-head shaped blotch), admitting that she has no idea what the elements of harmony are. Pinkie Pie finds the information containing the elements because... of course she does. She's Pinkie Pie; her explanation of how she discovered it is even somewhat nonsensical since one would think that 'E' would be the second place Twilight would look (after 'Harmony, Elements of') and we get a moment which spoils the entire rest of the episode.

I didn't talk the theme song in my last post because it was more relevant here. Honestly, I have mixed feelings about it; from an artistic standpoint, I love it. The beginning of Twilight and Spike floating in a balloon to the familiar melody of My Little Pony is a nice nostalgic kick, as well as setting up Rainbow Dash's interruption; because once Rainbow bursts through the clouds, the song gets faster, Twilight ditches the balloon, and there is an implication that this series is not going to be like the earlier ones.
The music and visuals of the opening would actually get a bit of a revamp from the second season on though the lyrics would remain unchanged. And the lyrics are... not bad. They actually set up each of the individual characters well, with each ponies line of song telling us something about their personality, and demonstrating the differences between them. The opening also does a good job of keeping things unspoiled, particularly with regards the elements of harmony; the only ponies who mention them in the song are Fluttershy ("Sharing kindness") and Twilight ("Magic makes it all complete")- and even then there isn't really any reason to connect them with the elements, since that's a plot point not mentioned in the music.

So... the camera pan and ringing noises as Twilight rattles off the elements, mapping each one onto her friends, is kind of jarring. It's one of the bigger problems of this episode, which I'll get to below. Later episodes of the series will generally trust the audience a little better than this; but this moment, coupled with certain lines of dialogue later on, really hammer the point about the elements and the element bearers home far too much.

Fortunately, there is a much neater piece of subtle foreshadowing in the form of the Everfree Forest, which is also where we get some more of the (unfortunately minimal) worldbuilding of Equestria. The prologue described unicorn magic being used to raise the sun and the moon, and Rainbow Dash was responsible for clearing the skies of ponyville. AJ explains that the Everfree forest is considered unnatural because the things which ponies are responsible for- crafting weather, growing things, the seasons- happen on their own. It's a moment that's a little similar to Rysn's reaction to Shinovar grass, and doubles as a comedy moment for the audience; what the ponies are scared of is how things in our human world work.
A problem with the core concept of Friendship is Magic is the Romanticism of the concept, the idea of how perfect and good pony society is. The ponies fear of untamed nature actually bites back against that a little; the show isn't "Romantic" in the classical meaning of the word of closeness with nature. Yes, there are nature elements, and characters who prefer the outdoors, but it isn't a show which extols the virtues of nature and condemns industry.
The Everfree Forest will be explored (a little) in later episodes, but the ponies fear of it is important. They have to enter the forest because the ruins of the Royal Pony Sisters Castle is within; given that Celestia and Luna have already been established as solar and lunar deities, that means the castle can be considered the throne of gods; it may not map onto the story, but the gist of travelling through "hell" to reach heaven and the possibility of salvation (via the EoH) means this narrative almost echoes Dante's Divine Comedy- a comparison that might even be a little more obvious in reference to Rarity and Rainbow Dash later.

The Forest, it's Inhabitants and the Castle also serve as an example of the theme running in this episode, the difference between what something is on the surface, and what it actually is- something which is going to end up being important to resolving the Nightmare Moon situation.

As with the first part, once Twilight enters a new place, it's followed by a sequence where each character introduces and proves themselves to her; unlike the Ponyville trials though, where each introduction ended with her being hurt in some way, this time each meeting ends up enriching her.

First is AJ. The Apples effectively forced Twilight into staying with them during Applejacks introduction by guilting her into it. This time, with Twilight desperate to stay with her friends, AJ has to convince her to let go. It's one of those theater exercises they use to build trust, letting go and believing that your partner will catch you. The problem is that Twilight doesn't trust the other ponies; they forced their company on her in the Everfree, just like they did in Ponyville. Twilight closing her eyes, and trusting that AJ is telling "the honest truth" is her first step towards making friends. The way she stares at AJ while being airlifted down makes the point clear; she really didn't trust the other ponies and was taking their word on blind faith.

AJ being honest with her, basically saving her life, plays into the blocking the second trial. When Twilight prepares to charge at the manticore, we see AJ in the background behind her. Considering how everypony else manages to be alone when they take it on, the fact that Twilight is shown as part of a group is rather significant; it indicates that she's beginning to open up to the others.
The manticore trial also comments on what I said before, about the difference between how characters see things and how they really are. For everypony, the manticore is a monster who is attacking them for no reason; Fluttershy sees him as "a big kitten" and helps him. Removing a thorn from a lion's paw is another example of the show blending cultures, since such an event appears in Aesop's The Lion and the Mouse, and has religious connections to Saint Jerome. After the "violence" of the first act, with Nightmare Moons invasion and the ponies nearly being killed, Fluttershy's quote that "Sometimes we all just need to be shown a little kindness" shows that violence isn't always the answer, as well as setting up the ending.

Then it's the reality warper, Pinkie Pie.
And I call her a reality warper because, considering this is Pinkie, it is entirely possible that the Laughter Song is an example of actual reality warping in progress.

For a start, the visuals of the possessed trees are actually kind of neat; glowing tree sap, making images appear where there aren't any, is actually a cool look. The effectiveness of it is a little undermined by the fact that the background is never fully blacked out, making the reality of the situation obvious from the start. Though, since this is Pinkie "What's a Fourth Wall?" Pie, that might be pretty intentional.; during her song, it's not outside the realm of possibility that she really is turning gaping knot holes into solid tree trunks. Pinkie Pie will prove to be capable of doing more impressive things.

"Giggle at the Ghosties" also helps bond Twilight and the others. Whenever Pinkie begins singing, the remane five are generally unimpressed, with Twilight in particular begging the others that Pinkie isn't about to start singing. The song ends with everyone taking part in banishing their fear with laughter, however, and in future episodes not only will the entire cast engage in songs (solo and together), none of them, including Twilight, will criticize Pinkie's songs in the future (well, her 'real' music at least).

As for the song itself... it's okay. A decent lesson for children, and catchy enough, but the how will provide much better examples of music in the future.

Still being led by Pinkie, the group reaches a river, one which has been thrashed and turned into a frothy, impassable mess by a sea serpent. The serpent is distraught because part of his mustache was ruined by a wisp of smoke that the viewers now associate with Nightmare Moon. To the cast, his tantrum is exasperating, but Rarity takes it personally. She comments on the serpents appearance with a critical eye (indicating she knows what she is talking about when it comes to style), and concludes that she cannot "let such a crime against fabulosity go uncorrected!" She rips a scale from the dragons and swings it, the camera cutting away at a moment (and showing reactions) to give the impression that she sliced the serpents belly and killed him.
To reiterate; the childrens show about ponies has a moment in the pilot in which they play a lead character as a murderer.
Of course, the reveal happens that Rarity just cut off her tail, but coupled with everything else that's happened in the pilot so far, it's another moment that seeks to try and stress that this isn't the same type of show as the "classic" MLP.
The importance of this act for Rarity and Twilight is major as well. Twilight and the others clearly treat the serpents pain as an overreaction, just as Twilight treated Rarity's dressing her up in the pilot as a bother. And yet, to the serpent, the pain was real, and for Rarity it was "real" enough that she felt compelled to do something to help him. Her sacrifice may seem shallow or inconsequential to the others -Rainbow Dash points out that the mustache would grow back, making the sacrifice unnecessary- but that doesn't change the fact that Rarity made a decision which clearly upset her for the good of others. Rarity may match the stereotype of fashion-obsessed characters at this point, but this incident shows that she isn't shallow, and that an interest in dresses doesn't mean someone has to be a shallow character.

Rainbow Dash's trial begins by bookending with AJ's, by having her save Twilight from falling off a cliff. Her scene with the Shadowbolts is a pretty standard temptation moment, with her turning them down in favor of her friends (along with the fake out "You. Thank you, I mean," moment), but is interesting to consider it in terms of RD's previous characterization as well as how the character will be written in the future. Rainbow Dash has already boasted about being able to clear the sky in "Ten seconds flat", and she'll boast about her flying abilities going ahead... so it's interesting that it's the Shadowbolts who first bring up the the comment about her being "the best flier in Equestria". When Nightmare Moon fled at the beginning, Rainbow chased after her, leading to a small moment where she sadly- and uncertainly- considered the implications of it being "Night time?... Forever?", following it up by aggressively chasing Twilight and accusing her of being a spy.

We see a similar moment here; separated from her friends, Rainbow Dash suddenly has to be "reminded" of her status as the best flier, and has to take a moment to debate whether to join the Shadowbolts... and then follows it up by assuring Twilight that "I never leave my friends hanging". It's the same words that she used to describe her attitude to Ponyville. We can see here that there are almost two Rainbow Dashes, the one she presents to her friends and the one she actually is, which ends up being a source of conflict for her in later episodes.

Inside the castle, the ponies find the elements of harmony as stone orbs. When trying to activate them, Twilight and the elements are stolen by Nightmare Moon. Twilight tries to activate the elements but fails, leading to Nightmare Moon smashing them to pieces, reminding Twilight that now "The Night Will Last Forever!" It's the nadir of Twilights whole journey. When they entered the forest, she told the rest of the cast that she wanted to do things on her own, and they left her alone to try and figure out what the spark that would activate the elements was. Facing Nightmare Moon, the shards of broken elements between them, Twilight Sparkle got her wish; she's all alone. She failed.

And then she hears her friends calling out to her, and her eyes light up.

Again, the following sequence comes down in part to taste. Personally, I have to admit to disliking it; after the bells confirming who each was in the opening, and the name dropping in the challenges themselves, having Twilight narrate each pony and how they map onto each element seems like a bit of unnecessary exposition. Nightmare Moon's reaction, however, is perfect. After all, she is Princess Luna; in the past, her and Celestia both were the bearers of the elements. The look on Nightmare Moon's face and her strained tones tell the whole story, one which amounts to: "Oh rust". Her objection that Twilight doesn't have the sixth element, or the spark, is a pretty pathetic one, one that even she knows isn't true. It's the last defense of a bully, trying to hide behind technicalities to escape punishment.

I commented that Avatar was in the public conscience when these episodes first aired, and I think that's clear from the expression on Twilights face when the elements are activated; her glowing white eyes seem almost deliberately evocative of the Avatar State, a comparison made more clear when the ponies strip Nightmare Moons abilities from her.

And when you take away a bullies power and menace, you get Luna. Someone small, barely any bigger than the rest of the mane six, and too weak to do anything. Her appearance doesn't match up with what will become Luna's character model later, but it serves an important point here. Beneath her bluster, Nightmare Moon was a tragic character, one who was lonely. When Celestia arrives- descending, wings spread in a beam of light like an angel- the contrast between the two is made more extreme. Celestia is intimidating, dominant, the one in control... and rather than exert that control by having Luna imprisoned or banished, she wants to restore harmony between them and rule together.
And Luna, instead of a supervillain rejection, breaks into tears and tells her sister how much she missed her. And Celestia, not being a stoic paragon, begins to cry as well, in a moment that will inspire hundreds of fan fiction. Like Fluttershy said, sometimes everyone needs to be shown some kindness, and it is in showing kindness to Luna, by accepting her back despite what she did, which leads to Harmony being restored.

Conclusion:
I actually said a lot more about this episode than I thought I would, which might make my reaction a bit surprising. I don't like it that much.
It's not a bad episode, but I don't think it quite matches up to the quality of the first one. The pacing seems a little off, beginning with Twilight diversion to put Spike to bed. It explains why he isn't present later, but it slows down what had been a pretty fast paced episode. And while the mirroring of the challenges with the ponies introductions might work, they didn't feel like they were building up enough from one challenge to the next.

Still, as an overall pilot? It's really not bad. We're introduced to our main characters and to the premise of the show; Twilight will be studying "the magic of friendship" and sending reports to Celestia on it, setting up the structure for the rest of this season. It does what it needed to to get the series started, even if the episode has moments of characters being dumb in order to make it work, such as Twilights surprise at Nightmare Moon being Celestias sister (despite that being the whole point of the opening story), or the identity of the element bearers.

is that a bit too negative? Maybe. Nightmare Moon and Princess Luna are fascinating concepts - one which unfortunately won't be explored again until season 2. But for a children show, and especially one which people had no expectations for, this opening was surprisingly good and, yes, "epic" as a piece of fantasy.
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Re: MLP rewatch and analysis

Post  TheCavalry on Mon Aug 18, 2014 7:31 pm

The Ticket Master

Applejack and Twilight are gathering an apple harvest. It's a significant break from most "girls" shows (or boys show for that matter); not only are the protagonists doing work, they do so cheerfully, without it being treated as a chore to be endured, or without preaching morals about the joys of labor. It helps sell the fictional world FiM is constructing; there is a functional world beyond what we see, a world where seasons turn, and where everything isn't fun and games all the times. Not only does it establish differences between this iteration of MLP and earlier ones, it helps Equestria to feel more like a functional society.
It also means that, when Twilight receives tickets to the Grand Galloping Gala- the most important social event in Equestria- the characters delight feels more earned.

AJ explains her reasons for wanting to attend the Gala; she see's it less as a social gathering, and more as a business venture, a way for her to "drum up business" for the farm and make repairs. That Sweet Apples Acres can be damaged and needs repair establishes how "real" and grounded the world is, while Applejacks reasons for going contrast the "stereotypical" "girly" excitement of attending a ball with practical reasoning. It also stands in contrast to Spikes 'masculine' rejection of "that girly frou-frou nonsense"- which is a major point. Not only is Applejacks reasons for attending the Gala not particularly "girly", she's the one who will later call out Spike on his attitude in the library.
Besides the gender subversion though, Applejacks fantasy of what will happen also enforces the theme of subjectivity vs objectivity from the pilot episode. She describes the farm as in need of repairs, replacing the saggy old roof, plough and hip about it... but the images she imagines, of Sweet Apple Acres crumbling, Big Mac struggling to till the earth, and Granny Smith barely walking in a stroller never bear out in the series proper. AJ is loyal to her family- she wants to make things better for them- but the problems she see's about the farm are, at best, magnified ones of how things really are.

Applejacks fantasy is interrupted by Rainbow Dash, who objects that Twilight should give her the ticket; the Wonderbolts perform at the Gala, and this could be Rainbows chance- her only chance- to impress them. Rainbows fantasy is ridiculous, focusing on herself (as usual); her entrance is framed like a hero arriving, she performs all her signature moves flawlessly, and it ends, not only with a cartoonish jaw-drop from the Wonderbolts, but in Rainbow spontaneously being made a member of the team.
Like Applejack, there is obviously a degree of fantasy wish fulfillment in Rainbows situation. She imagines pulling off her tricks flawlessly, but Rainbow Dash crashing into the buildings of Ponyville will become a "thing" in later episodes. Rainbow Dash says the Wonderbolts perform at the Gala, but the set-up she presents never really pays off in the finale, meaning she is wrong about that as well.

When her and AJ begin debating the reasons why they should go, however, Twilight can only back down and say that they both have very good reasons. While the fantasies themselves may be over the top- both in Rainbows success and the amount of bits AJ would make- both are passionate and sincere in their beliefs... and they really are a good set of reasons. It's interesting to see AJ's more responsible attitude set alongside Rainbow Dash's ambition; practicality vs "living the dream".

It's interesting, since this is the first time we see two of Twilights friends interact with one another... and it establishes that, while they might be friends with her, the group isn't friends with each other. AJ and Rainbow Dash will develop an athletic rivalry later in the series, including a moment that echoes this one, but where that is a friendly rivalry, the expressions on their faces- and their willingness to jump back to it once Twilight leaves- shows there is a lot of antagonism between the two at this point.

Twilight puts off the responsibility of making a decisions for the moment and runs into town, where she bumps into Pinkie Pie. Pinkie's introduction is already typical for the character, literally launching herself from off-stage into the action, reaching mad conclusions ("Bats! On my face!") and expressing them through music.
"Pinkie's Gala Fantasy Song" is a quick piece, but the fact that no one interrupts, comments or snarks about it-unlike the Laughter Song- begins to highlight the transition to full musical numbers in later episodes. It has the boundless energy viewers have come to expect from Pinkie Pie, jumping from one distraction to another. Unlike the Laughter Song, there isn't any real attempt to feed this one into the actions before hand- Pinkie see's the tickets, so she starts singing. There's also no explanation for the visuals, since they clearly aren't Ponyville, or even Canterlot. Where the other characters have mental head spaces grounded in realities, Pinkie's is solely constructed of her imagination, so the bizarre elements- the solar pinata, the pin-the-tail game or the mirror waving at her- make some semblance of sense.

Rarity arrives, expressing dismay at Twilight taking Pinkie instead of her. She's designed clothes for the Gala everywhere, but never actually been; her comments about the Gala's glamour echo her introduction about the sophistication of Canterlot in the pilot, and she explains that one of the reasons she wants to attend is because it will give her the chance to meet her one true love- Celestia's nephew, the Prince.
Rarity is... problematic. Her actions here (and later in the episode) paint her as being rather shallow. Unlike the others, she wants to attend because of a stereotype; she believes she will meet her prince charming, and live happily ever after. In that sense, it's significant that "Celestia's nephew" isn't named here- he doesn't have an identity beyond the character. And unlike the others, Rarity's fantasy isn't animated, and has a mist crowding the edges of it. Of all the fantasy sequences, it's the most nebulous; the only thing with any certainty in it is Rarity herself, who has a moment of expression when she accepts her Princes offer of marriage.
I say problematic, because this fantasy seems to paint Rarity as a shallow character, one who wants to live up to the fairy tale ending. While her later characterization will add depth to this- that she is and can be a romantic and want the fairy tale ending without being weak- it could be considered... unpleasant. Still, the fact that she is the only member of the mane six who wants to attend in search of romance goes a long way to making it palatable, as it shows that it is a situation unique to her. Not every girl has to want to be a princess, and it's just as worthwhile to want other things.

There is a minor interruption by rainbow and Applejack, again indicating that the characters aren't friends yet. Rainbow Dash is borderline insulting, calling Twilight a "goodie fourshoes", while AJ shows no trust (or affection) for Rainbow by admitting that she was following "this one", rather than naming her. When Fluttershy arrives and speaks up, Rarity's response is incredulous and disbelieving.

Fluttershy's fantasy is another which is unbelievably romanticized, but it again reflects the enthusiasm she showed in the pilot when speaking to Spike. As the images go on, her voice becomes slightly louder, and her words come quicker, highlighting how comfortable she is with nature as opposed to other ponies. It also has some moments of funny word play, such as the buzz-ards line, or the "oh my!" punctuating the colors of the birds.

The entire thing devolves into the remane five arguing with one another while Twilight cowers. We see a scene of each pony as talking heads, blocked off from one another crowding Twilight, once again enforcing the fact that, as of yet, the cast really aren't friends with one another. Twilight is the only link between them, as the only pony who isn't kept in her own box.

It's a realization she almost has when she goes away to get her food. She refers to the remane five as "my best friends", a phrase she'll repeat later in the episode and throughout the series, while plucking petals from a flower. Like her friends, each petal leaf is separated from one another; the only thing they all have in common, the only thing that keeps them together, is a mutual friendship with Twilight, a fact that makes her slump on the table in depression.

Just when she is about to begin eating, however, it begins raining, a fact that Twilight- and the viewers- don't immediately notice, since Rainbow Dash has opened a hole in the cloud to keep her dry. There's a nice moment of framing, when Rainbow's head against the sun, forming an angelic halo, one which is plainly contradicted by her actions. Twilight comments that Rainbow is only being nice to curry favor for the ticket, which Rainbow refuses... while other ponies run around in the rain getting drenched. Rainbow Dashes hypocrisy is obvious, to Twilight and the viewers, and when she finally consents to seal up the rain hole, her voice loses that sugary sweet quality she had been affecting.

Rarity rescues Twilight from the downpour, and as with Rainbow, the viewers can immediately see how hypocritical she is being. Like Rainbow, her voice is over-the-top and sugary sweet when she reassures Twilight for soaking her mane: "After all, we are the best of friends!" She instantly gives Twilight and Spike make overs, casually commenting how she just so happens to have a matching outfit, one which will leave her and Twilight as the center of attention at the Gala. Twilight finally picks up on her "friends" intentions, by which point Rarity has forgotten Twilight's existence, ranting about how everyone will know that the most sophisticated pony in Equestria is Rarity... before belatedly realizing she's given herself away and including Twilight, petting her on the head like a pet. It's another moment which paints Rarity as being a shallow social climber.

Upon leaving the boutique, Twilight is accosted by Applejack, who offers her dozens of apple-based food. Rarity just tried bribing Twilight with possessions, now AJ is bribing her with food... so unsurprisingly Twilight snaps and runs away, angrily turning down the offer. Applejacks response, however, "That's a maybe?", shows that she doesn't value Twilights decision-making anymore than Rarity or "that one" did.

When Twilight arrives home, Fluttershy is in full Disney Princess mode, humming the theme song while her animal critters help her tide up the house. This episode is where we were introduced to Angel Bunny; earlier, he retrieved the tickets to the Gala for Fluttershy and prompted her into asking if she could attend. Now, he takes the lead again, correcting her when she denies doing this cleaning to gain points. It's a funny moment, one which shows Fluttershy being led by the nose, but Angels role will become more pronounced in later episodes.

The characters have been increasingly obvious in why they are doing things, so naturally, after Fluttershy says "Yes, I am just doing this for the ticket" we have Pinkie Pie, who delivers a quick 'Ticket Song' which flat out says her plan- she'll flatter her, throw a party, and Twilight will give the ticket to her. Twilight points out how unsubtle this is, and since this is Pinkie Pie, pointing out something (like WIll. E Coyote looking down) makes the situation worse- as instead of her friends trying to buy her favors, she suddenly has the entire town chasing her.

The ensuing scene is a homage to Benny Hill chases, with the music playing in the background, and the non-sequitur escapes that Twilight and Spike manage; hiding under a bridge, in a carriage, in disguise. It's an example of how the show can appeal to both child audiences, who focus on the action and the silly music, and an adult one, which "gets" the reference being made.

Finally Twilight escapes by teleporting herself and Spike into the library, a moment which has an interesting moment of dialogue; Twilight admits she had no idea that that was going to happen. We saw Twilight teleport in the pilot, and she'll do so again in later episodes; the Cutie Mark Chronicles will show Twilights uncontrollable magical power as a filly, and her studying spells and learning to control her magic is a theme which runs throughout the entirety of the series. Twilights sudden magical burst might be a quick note for comedy and a plot device, but it's also the first hint of her magical potential, which will be important in the season 3 finale.

Of course, Twilight boards up her house... only to find herself locked inside with the remane five, each of whom is smiling at her in expectation like a stepford wife. It's what finally prompts her breakdown, as she confronts them with the fact that she doesn't want to disappoint any of them. Each of the cast then gets a redemptive moment when they tell Twilight, one by one, that they don't want to ticket if it is going to make her upset- and the fact that it starts with Applejack not only re-enforces the points I made in the pilots (about AJ as Twilights "first" friend), it helps fix the lack of respect she shows during her bribery scene. After a joke where Rainbow Dash is the last friend standing, they send the tickets back to Celestia, along with the first report on the magic of friendship; a moment later, they get a reply offering a ticket for each of them.

For some, this is where Celestia's "troll" status starts. She met the mane six in the last episode, and yet deliberately sent only two tickets, as if she wanted Twilight and her friends to fight over it. Her follow-up letter was also delivered exceptionally quickly.
Later episodes, particular the third series finale, would suggest that this would ordeal was a deliberate test for Twilight and her friends. Celestia's role as solar god- and her seeming to respond to Spike when he asks for a ticket- would suggest a greater awareness of what it is going on than she presents. We know from that finale that she watched the lessons Twilight went through; it seems as if sending the mane six only two tickets was one of those tests, to see how they would respond. And while the relationships between the mane six will continue to be developed in the coming episodes, at the end of this episode the cast is much closer together than they had been at the start. Twilight is still the thing tying them together- she's the one everypony else is treating to dinner after all- but the shared experience and giving up their ticket has brought them at least a little closer together.

Conclusion
This episode follows the same structure as the previous two, by having Twilight run into her friends one by one. Unlike Friendship is Magic, however, the dynamics for getting from one pony to another feel a lot more natural this time around, each one feeding into the other in an organic style, rather than a checklist. Furthermore, we're introduced to the character foibles, pretty important since the previous episodes were spent focusing on their strengths; Applejack is Honest but Stubborn, Rainbow Dash is Loyal but Arrogant, Pinkie Pie is Happy but Oblivious. Rarity's moments paint her in a fairly negative light, focusing on the fashion and the cliche of a society girl, while Fluttershy spends the episode doing what her rabbit tells her.

I like the episode. I think Rarity gets a lot of pay off for how she is depicted here, and Spike's reaction to the ticket feels very natural; growing up, I could certainly understand the conflict between "guy" and "girl" things, and having to maintain an image. It's good to see our characters flaws; just as the world of Equestria gets a little depth by presenting the work that has to be done, seeing the flaws our characters have helps them seem like more rounded characters.` Seeing them interact with one another, rather than just with Twilight, is another great point, and one which will be developed throughout the rest of this season.
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