I’ve been meaning to do more episode reviews since old episodes are gonna be my main source of serious content during the summer. Sorry things have been a bit quiet here lately! I’d say I’ve been busy but that would be a lie, mostly I’ve just been unmotivated. Let’s fix that with a favorite early season two episode of mine!
So like two seconds in I already have something I want to talk about. I really, really love the visual style of Canterlot. The white-purple-yellow color scheme is really visually interesting and contrastive. And those colors create exactly the right feeling for the capital, with purple being a royal color of course and the yellow probably representing gold. The fact that these colors are arranged in a variety of striped or swirling patterns on every tower of the castle makes it even better.
Oh, and it’s just a good shot to start the episode with. We don’t really need much of an establishing shot when we’re starting an episode in Ponyville, since if we’re not informed otherwise we as the viewers will likely assume the episode is set in Ponyville, but since we’re elsewhere here it makes sense to show us that. This shot is also a good emotional setup for this episode. Seeing this view of the castle while the majestic music plays in the background does a good job of creating a level of seriousness and grandeur that remains throughout what is in most ways a purely comedic episode. It’s a mood that seems especially appropriate for Rarity. She is at all times very serious, but she is often very serious about very silly things.
The Ticket Master is sort of the first “normal” episode of the series. While we had two episodes prior to this, most of the series is more like this episode than the pilot, and so in some ways this could be seen as the real introduction to the series (though for reasons I’ve discussed before, I am glad the series started on such an epic note). So I wanted to look back on it and see how it sets up some of the common tropes of the series, and perhaps how the series has changed since then.
The episode starts off with Twilight helping out Applejack with her chores and we get a brief scene of everyday Ponyville life before they’re interrupted by Princess Celestia’s letter. This is already a fundamentally different structure from the pilot, which starts with the history about Nightmare Moon and provides a goal for Twilight from the very beginning by making her curious about the Elements of Harmony. This episode could’ve started off similarly, but I think it’s good that it didn’t. If it had begun with the letter from the Princess as the first thing we see, then I think it would set a different tone for the series. Based on that, I would expect the series to be “every week, Twilight gets a quest/problem/quandary from the Princess and the episode centers on resolving that.” As it is, instead we see everyday life, which is sometimes interrupted by stuff from the Princess. Which is a pretty accurate reflection of what most of the series is about.
Or, it used to be! One way the series seems to have changed between the two seasons is that Princess Celestia is much less personally important now than she used to be. She doesn’t show up as often (so far only in The Return of Harmony, Lesson Zero, Sweet and Elite, and in the flashback in Family Appreciation Day) and she doesn’t seem to have any quests for Twilight these days. Compare that to season one, where she appears on screen in nine episodes and doesn’t appear but is still important in some others like this one and Dragonshy. I’m unsure how I feel about this change. I like Princess Celestia and I’d like to see more of her relationship with Twilight. But I also understand that we’ve had plenty of episodes about “Twilight frets about Princess Celestia in some manner” and I can understand not wanting to retread that ground too much. It also might simply be a reflection of Twilight herself being much less important in season two. Even though everypony writes to Celestia now, they don’t have the same connection to her, and it makes sense that as Twilight’s role diminishes, so too does Celestia’s.
If several months ago you had asked me to give you a list of the most memorable season one episodes, I’m not sure this one would be on it. But recently when I was watching through the series with my boyfriend this episode really stuck out to me as being a notably solid one. It doesn’t have the same emotional punch as Sonic Rainboom or Cutie Mark Chronicles or Secret of My Excess, but it’s a well-made episode that deserves a second look.
I like the kind of shot this episode starts with, where you have Sweetie Bell at the center of the screen and Rarity running around like mad in front of her. It establishes Sweetie Bell as the focus by keeping the shot on her, and also shows how rushed and worried Rarity is by showing her running back and forth like that without actually needing to show anything she’s doing. If this episode were focusing on Rarity or the main six in general it would make sense to keep the camera on her as she rushed about, and have Sweetie Bell constantly popping in from the side to interrupt her and ask to help, but since this is a CMC episode we’re given a different point of view.
I don’t always enjoy seeing characters catastrophically mess up like this or in Sisterhooves Social, I must admit. It’s probably made worse here by the fact that we’re already identifying with Sweetie Bell due to the way it’s shot, but seeing something like this makes me feel embarrassed for her. But it’s interesting that we get sort of a parallel shot during the chaos, where the focus is on Rarity standing still and stuff is flying about all around her. This is continued after the title sequence, where our first shot is of Rarity cleaning up the mess. I think this is to let us identify with her anger enough to make it understandable that she’s so short with Sweetie Bell, even as we also identify with Sweetie Bell’s embarrassment and desire to make things right. I think this is one of the strengths of the show in general (and a thematically appropriate one), that it juggles our point of view from character to character so we sympathize with all sides.
Luna Eclipsed is doubtless one of my favorite episodes of season 2 so far. It had just the right combination of humor and drama that I like so much, it had lots of good cultural information about the setting and callbacks to earlier episodes (the pilot, namely), and finally getting to see Luna in action was amazing.
I do wish we’d see more of Luna, but I think I understand why we don’t. She doesn’t really have a role in the story. Celestia is Twilight’s teacher and she has a well-established role where she’s the receptacle for lessons learned and an advisor in times of need. Now, as a writer my instinct is to make a role in the story for her rather than just leave her hanging, but I’m not sure what that role would be. Perhaps I’ll come to some ideas while watching the episode.
The little melody we hear at the start of the episode sounds a bit like Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King.” I always loved that song so that’s a fun thing to hear, and it feels appropriate for Nightmare Night.
I love Spike’s and Twilight’s costumes both. Spike is essentially dressed as a racial caricature of his own species, while Twilight is a crossdressing hipster who bemoans how everypony is simply too plebeian to understand her costume. Both costumes feel perfectly in-character to me. I can’t imagine what Twilight would dress as if not as a historical figure nopony has ever heard of. And the fact that we actually hear about Starswirl later in Hearth’s Warming Eve is great. I love the fact that Clover the Clever can mention his name and I can say “Oh! That must mean this is the Pre-Classical era!”
I’ve been wanting to do another episode review, so I decided to pick one from the top ten list I just posted: Lesson Zero! I love this episode but that wasn’t always the case. When I first saw it I remember thinking that something about it just felt noticeably different from the first season in some ineffable way. Something about it felt off.
I remember at first while watching the season two premiere I was looking at everything through the lens of “is this different from season one?” And I realized pretty quickly into the episode that I need to stop thinking about that because no matter what the answer is there’s no way that kind of thinking is going to make me enjoy the show more. Once I stopped that I enjoyed the rest of the premiere just fine, but I must’ve slipped back into that while watching Lesson Zero because the whole thing made me feel uneasy. But then when I tried watching it again later this feeling disappeared entirely, and I still don’t know what specifically caused it.
My best guess is that the new title sequence was partly to blame. My feeling is that if you’re going to change something, it’s actually less disruptive to change it in a significant way. Changing something in a few subtle ways but leaving it almost identical otherwise tends to put it in the uncanny valley, where it’s so close that all you can notice are the tiny differences.
In any case, on to the actual content. Twilight’s obsession with organization and checklists is an aspect of her character I really appreciate. I like the fact that learning the importance of friendship and moving to Ponyville didn’t erase her personality. We see how she’s changed, but we also see how she might’ve become a nerdy recluse in the first place. And it really helps show the viewer how it was her reclusiveness that was a problem she grew out of, while her nerdiness and organization can be an asset (Winter Wrap Up, Fall Weather Friends) or a liability (this episode) depending on the circumstances.
For those that don’t know, in TV series “growing the beard” is the opposite of “jumping the shark.” It’s a reference to Star Trek: The Next Generation, where the character Commander Riker grew a beard relatively early in the series, and it refers to the turning point where a decent series comes into its own and becomes something great, something better than it once was, while jumping the shark is when a good series goes bad.
I enjoyed FiM ever since the first episode, but I do feel like the series generally became stronger over time. And I think Look Before You Sleep was its “growing the beard” moment. This episode has pretty much all of the things I love about the series and to me set the standard for episodes going in-depth into a particular relationship (Pinkie and Dash had one such episode prior to this in Griffon the Brush-Off, but that episode was also notable for being the first one I actually disliked).
I like the way the stage is set here. I always like seeing the setting in action, and the way Rarity and Applejack are working to prepare for a storm they know is coming creates a more interesting and rational setup than if they had been out there for some other reason and suddenly a plot-convenient storm boomed into existence. It also gives them something to argue about, which is pretty important for this episode in particular.
Looking back at another episode today. Heh, next time I’ll do a non-CMC episode, but this one had some stuff I wanted to talk about and I just felt like doing it.
I like the way they handle the exposition on how cutie marks work. Normally there’s sort of a rule in writing that just having a character lecture the audience on facts about the world isn’t the best way to go. But setting it in a classroom like this is a good way to provide an in-character reason for Cheerilee to be lecturing like this, and I can’t help but think they’re intentionally playing with this rule by literally putting us in a classroom to teach us about the world of the show. The scene also does a good job of introducing us to the important characters of this episode: Applebloom, Twist, Silver Spoon, Diamond Tiara, and Cheerilee. We’d already met Applebloom of course, but only as a minor character and this opening was a good way of establishing the fact that she’s the main character for this episode.
So I want to spend some time on this blog going over specific episodes. I’ve been pretty theoretical for most of what I’ve written here and I think it’s important to look at the show concretely too, not just the tendencies it has but specific scenes and stories that I felt were effective.
Cutie Mark Chronicles is one of my favorite season one episodes. This is despite the fact that it doesn’t have much of a story (in the present of the episode) and that the lesson at the end was pretty much nonsense. Given Spike’s reaction I can infer that the writers were aware of this, but felt they had to include the lesson as it’s part of the structure of the show. I wonder if this episode would’ve been improved in this regard if it were post-Lesson Zero, but to me it’s a minor flaw and I even think it’s kind of cute that some of Twilight’s letters to Celestia are fluffy like this.