• "The Crystal Empire", Parts 1 and 2: Episode Followup

    It's good to be back.

    Season three is officially upon us after months of waiting, and we begin thirteen new episodes of pony with a pretty solid two-parter about the emergence of the Crystal Empire and its former ruler, King Sombra. The two-part episodes of Friendship is Magic tend to be the stronger ones, and this was no exception despite some minor issues.

    For those unaware of what a followup tends to be, at least the way I do them- it is meant as a recap of the episode's highlights as well as a little bit of talking from myself about particular points from it that I think could be addressed. While it contains reviews of particularly interesting segments, it is not meant as a comprehensive review, nor will it devolve into one.

    They're also playfully snarky, but you should expect that from me by now.

    Ready? Let's talk crystal ponies.

    Dat mane.

    In what must be one of the shortest opening sequences we've had in a good long while, incidental guard pony number seventeen comes to inform Celestia of the reappearance of the Crystal Empire. Man, if only we'd had such diligent surveillance last time, we might have avoided Princess Cheeselegs' scheming. Maybe they only installed telescopes after that incident. Who knows.

    Nevertheless, it's a good intro. It gets all the relevant information across quickly and just works.

    Don't overwork yourself, there, Celestia.

    Twilight had a lot of good faces in this sequence. More than that, her freakout fits the situation- perhaps a little better than it did in Lesson Zero. I think I'd overreact to a letter that brief and vague from my lifelong mentor, too.

    We also got more Luna, which was a particularly welcome sight after her notable absence throughout season two (with the exception of her dedicated episode, of course). As many have pointed out, though, she doesn't seem to be particularly happy with Twilight when she shows up right after Celestia explains what her plan is.

    See above: death glare.

    There are many possible reasons for this animosity, but it's not explained in the episode. Luna seemed fine with Twilight during Luna Eclipsed, so I'm a little baffled myself. Maybe she's jealous. I have absolutely no idea. It doesn't break this sequence, though.

    Speaking of this sequence...

    And then there's this asshole.

    This is all I'll say about King Sombra, because he's a divisive topic.

    From a purely character-based standpoint, there's nothing wrong with this guy as a villain. He comes in, enslaves the Crystal Empire, and that's it. We honestly don't need any more than that, because he does his job and gets out of the way. Sets up the conflict and leaves.

    That's nice and all, but it does leave us wanting. I have absolutely no doubts that, given more time, this character could have been fleshed out into something more real and meaningful. The fact is, though, that he wasn't. Not even a little bit. We don't get a whiff of a hint for his motivations, personality, background, or his relationships to any of the other ponies. It can be argued that, even in the episode, he wasn't that threatening because of the way he was chosen to appear- as a shadow and more of a vague 'threat' than something we could grasp onto as viewers.

    That's why I choose to believe, having faith in the writers, that King Sombra was never meant as a deep character. He was, instead of a villain like Discord, chosen to be a representation. What exactly that representation is depends on who you ask, but it could be any number of things, even something as simple as just plain 'evil'. I have absolutely no solid evidence for this line of thinking, but I think it explains his role pretty well.

    The bottom line is that the story isn't about him. It's not even about what he was chosen to represent. It's about Twilight and her friends, and in storytelling you tend to spend the most time on the important stuff, which is what this episode did. And I think it was a smart choice.

    On an unrelated note, holy crap Celestia is awesome. Best princess.

    I listened to this song through again while I was writing this. I think it's a perfectly solid song, and have since it was revealed at New York Comic-Con some time ago. It's no Smile, Smile, Smile, but it has its moments. It's also perfectly Twilight.

    Also, flowy manes. Can't beat that.

    I dunno if I've mentioned this before, but I really like Rarity. As our resident Rarity fan, I'm happy to report that she was really in top form this episode. She had a few rough spots in season two, but she's now firmly back in my number one slot. More than she was before, that is.

    If you didn't catch the Star Wars reference here, you need to rewatch Empire Strikes Back. Actually, go watch it even if you did catch it. Great movie. I'm glad they only made three.

    See above: the only time Shining Armor does anything in this episode.

    I guess apparently horn rot is a real thing. If you'll excuse me, I'm going to brush my horn. A lot.

    This is also the second time in as many episodes that Shining Armor has been personally subdued by the villain. I'm glad he makes a crack about it at the end of the episode, or I was totally gonna.

    See above: the only time Cadance does anything in this episode.
    I'm kidding, pitchforks down.

    In reality, this works rather well. They needed a way to protect the city that's apparently a large source of happiness and harmony, and we have an alicorn on hand whose special talent is spreading happiness and harmony. Win-win. Cadance's appearance is justified without any reaching.

    It's also a great excuse to have Rarity make this face.

    Likewise, the actual crystal ponies are well-designed. There are no duplicates of existing mane styles here- they're all custom and there are a lot of them. Kudos to DHX for taking the time and effort to avoid the sorts of pony duplication we saw in season one.

    We appreciate it, trust us.

    A little aggressive, there, Dash?

    Man, I dunno what's been up with Rainbow Dash lately, but she's just gotten more and more aggressive over time. Is that just me? I dunno. She just seems really pushy and abrasive at points in this episode.

    Hey how -Oh these pretzels suck- So how's your day been buddy? We haven't talked much since I left you for dead. Hey, you think you'll freeze to death out there? Nah, probably not. The bandits'll get you first. My day? It's been pretty good. I just bought a pony made of diamonds, yeah, because I'm rich. So, you know, that's cool. Kay bye!

    Did anyone not laugh hysterically at this part? I had to rewind and watch it again because I was in hysterics. It was such a small thing, but, wow.

    Everyone but Pinkie doing a smile wrong.

    Again, not the best song ever in the world forever, but I really dug the tune that Daniel made here. It also has the distinct advantage of being a song that every one of the mane six got to sing in, which is a rarity. If you'll pardon the intentional pun. I didn't make it first, Applejack did.

    Shipping fuel. Gallons and gallons of unrefined shipping fuel.

    "Why, this here's a plot device, Twilight!"

    There's just something amusing about a clearly depressed pony carrying a green balloon. Also, that corn doesn't really look edible. At all. I don't think that's something butter can fix.

    No, the snow's coming in! Also, an evil shadow. That too.

    Man, someone get Cantdance some coffee. Er, Excuse me, Cadance. Shining Armoire, why don't you get her something to drink? Er- oh man, I'm messing up everyone's names today.

    I have a developing feeling that Applejack just really likes to pull on Dash's tail.

    Also, more of Dash being far too aggressive for the situation at hand. Hoof?

    What are the implications for Twilight being able to perform what's essentially dark magic like this so casually? I know she addressed it later by saying she saw Celestia do it, but I was really expecting something so momentous to have more of an impact than simply allowing her to open doors and stuff. Why didn't she use that magic to escape the tower at the end of the episode? Is this ever going to show up again?

    Nitpicking, I'm sure, but you have to admit it's kind of weird.

    If there was one truly terrifying and disturbing element to this episode, it was the door. A portal to a place that shows you your most terrifying nightmare? That legitimately makes me scared of that door- more so than King Somber.

    I think both Twilight's and Spike's nightmares were handled with a fair amount of grace, and I was even expecting Spike's to be something trivial at first. Instead, we get to see what the dragon truly fears, and we end with a heartwarming sentence from Twilight saying how she'll never send him away.

    This scene was fantastic on all levels. I loved it. Full stop. Well done, DHX.

    Get Cantdance a Tylenol while you're at it, dude.

    You're drunk, Berry. Go home.

    Wait, why is Berry Punch here? And, more to the point, what is that crystal pony up there in the top row looking up at that's so scary? She looks freaked out.

    These are important questions, guys.

    And then Twilight reveals that she knows how to reverse gravity. Seriously, is there anything she can't do? How many times did she level up in between seasons?

    I would just like to point out that King Sombrero left the key piece of the crystal pony's only power against him in a place that any passing pegasus could have seen it easily. And, no, it's not hidden from everyone, because Spike can clearly descend the tower a few scenes later.

    Just sayin'.

    "Oh, horsefeathers, I left the oven on."

    So, uh.

    When in doubt, throw your wife.


    Glad he didn't miss.

    Now here's something interesting.

    A crystal pony clearly calls her 'the crystal princess' during the scene. This is an interesting thing to call her, because we can say with some amount of accuracy that Cadance was not alive a thousand years ago when the Crystal Empire vanished, because we see her much younger when she was babysitting Twilight.

    Does this make her a descendent of a previous Crystal Empire king? That seems to be the only option here, because there's no other way for the crystal ponies to identify her so quickly.

    I'm not sure. It's never explained or brought up again.

    "Hey, check out this book I found." "Shouldn't you be asleep?"

    There's also the subtext that we've been hearing throughout the episode as a whole, which sort of concludes with this scene. A keen-eared reader named Pinkydash sent us a list of things that pertain to this and his thoughts (which mirror mine), so I'll simply copy it here:

    "She WILL succeed at her task, and when she does, we'll know she's that much closer to being ready." - Celestia: 2:25

    The symbols behind the Princesses and Twilight: 5:15

    "Behold, the Crystal Princess!" - random crystal pony: 37:07

    Cadence's Cutie mark IS the Crystal Heart. (This pretty much confirms that Cadence is the descendant of the last ruler of the Crystal Empire before the Evil King showed up. Also begs the question if the throne holder truly remains the same, or if they pass on their rule once in a while.)

    The book that Luna's holding in the end: 40:58

    The writers and animators are most definitely not getting lazy, in fact this kind of subplot is rarely seen even in more "mature" shows.

    Could it be that this was planned the entire series? That her lessons on friendship, her missions to save Equestria with little to no help from the princesses, could this all be one giant story-arch to being ready for "it"?

    All valid points. We can only speculate, since, again, these elements are never explained. All we can do is watch and see what DHX does throughout this season. Somehow, I think we're going to have our answers at the end. It's a short season, so there's more of a chance to weave a coherent subplot in without it unraveling.

    At the very least, I certainly hope this is the case.

    You've got us excited, guys. Keep going, and we'll follow wherever you want us to go. Impress me!

    This concludes my thoughts on the episode. As a last thought, have an image from one of our readers:

    And something silly that a friend of mine made:

    Ciao, ponies.