• Themes of Season 5: Depression

    Depression and sadness is a harsh truth of life, one that comedic shows don’t often want to address. We usually think a character is sad in our headcanon, but the last season appears to be experimenting with the theme of depression with a few characters, both old and new. Let’s talk about depression and how it was conveyed in Season 5 after the break.

    Usually in cartoons, a character who is depressed or sad isn’t affected by it for long. We even have examples in previous seasons of MLP. “Party of One” focused on Pinkie’s mental disconnection for the latter half of the episode, while “Pinkie Pride” also dealt with the existential sadness that came with being challenged at what you feel is your talent. In a way, we’ve had these thoughts about certain characters brewing in the background for some time, as fan and headcanon answered questions that seemed to be lost to time or Hasbro’s desires. But nothing broke this idea more than “Do Princesses Dream of Magic Sheep”.

    As I’ve said in my past editorial on Princess Luna, the canon around her was shrouded in mystery because the backstory and pain that came with her banishment and culture shock upon coming back is hard to address for the target audience. “Luna Eclipsed” scratched the surface when it came to the Princess’ depression, but focused more on her reputation, which hadn’t been changed even though Luna had been reformed for a while. It makes sense that while Luna made some friends in Ponyville, it wasn’t enough to drag her out of the pit.

    “Magic Sheep” didn’t need to focus its entire episode on the creation of the Tantabus or the nightmares that take place within Luna’s mind. The mere revelation that Luna has been slowly poisoning herself with the Tantabus is a dark thought. Not only was Princess Luna depressed, but she was doing this damage to herself due to her guilt over something that was out of her control. While it can be hard to empathize with a character who takes the fall for something that wasn’t her fault, that’s part of the allure and confusing aspects of depression: it isn’t logical. A logical pony would reach out to her friends or sister for help or emotional guidance, or consult a therapist to try to get on the path of self-acceptance and forgiveness. Creating a Tantabus is something that a depressed (or character suffering from depression) would do.

    My second example is Moondancer in “Amending Fences”. Her predicament is indicative of the emotional trauma that could come with having your hopes and dreams shattered at a young age. Much like Starlight Glimmer, Moondancer was so scarred by Twilight missing her birthday, that it sent her on a self-destructive path for a few (canon) years as friendship became paltry to her. She ignored her mane, avoided simple improvements to her life by disconnecting from her friends, and even grew emotionally “numb” until she yelled at Twilight in Act 3.

    While Starlight’s path became destructive to Equestria, Moondancer’s life became a cycle of boredom and mediocrity. She read books but didn’t seem to know why, other than to learn. The beauty of life and living it is the fact that anything can happen, especially when you are more outgoing and have the desire to reach out to others. By going to a club or park with a friend, you could end up meeting your future lover, or a different friend that you could have for life (much like Twilight did with the Main 6). Instead, Moondancer pulled herself away from those chances. While she wasn’t in a downward spiral, her life was linear and wouldn’t improve without Twilight’s help.

    Finally, "Appleoosa’s Most Wanted" aimed at addressing a different symptom of depression: a lack of self-esteem. While the episode isn’t going to receive an Emmy anytime soon, Troubleshoes giving up on finding out the true meaning of his cutie mark can be a gripping and emotional 22 minutes. The fact that he gave up and instead believed that he was the talentless epitome of bad luck is a problem that depressed people can relate to. Far too often do I see my friends quit on art or writing because of low self-esteem. Life kept pushing Troubleshoes down, and he had no desire to get back up. After the Cutie Mark Crusaders showed him how to apply his talent in the right ways, his self-esteem came back and he accepted his clumsiness as something he had to work on. Instead of thinking that life was out to get him, he realized that he could follow his dreams even if he wasn’t the best clown in Equestria. Those who write and are dyslexic or paint while being colorblind can relate to his struggle.

    We don’t expect these stories to be the sole focus of a narrative, even if “Amending Fences” happened to perfectly convey Moondancer’s heartbreak and Twilight’s uncomfortable position of being the Princess of Friendship that lost a friend. We expect a character’s sadness and depression to be brushed over or fixed once the credits roll, but each ending is not so cut-and-dry. My Little Pony walks a very tight rope by having each character’s problem seem finished by the end, but reliant upon Moondancer or Princess Luna to better themselves when the “camera” isn’t on them. Much like how Princess Twilight has grown over the years, she didn’t suddenly become a mare or mature once she got her cutie mark or wings. I could argue that she isn’t fully mature, and not because there’s another season coming. We never stop learning, and I’m sure Princess Twilight would agree.

    I want to make it clear that I do not know or claim to know everything (or even anything) about depression or sadness. Both of those words are broad and often misapplied. We all get sad or depressed at times, but the cyclical slog and self-destructive behavior of Moondancer or Princess Luna is beyond what we would call “a bad day”. Season 5 has learned how to tell these stories over the years by remaining subtle or ambitious, whatever the episode calls for. "My Little Pony" has turned from a show where a shooting star as a sign for Applejack’s parents is the deepest they could go, to connecting a character’s depression to the main character that caused it. These are ideas and concepts that are way harder to convey to both the target audience and us bronies, those that might not have a glimpse into what depression or long-term sadness could be. For all intents and purposes, the writers succeeded in telling these stories. I can’t wait to see what themes they will be playing with this year.

    What do you guys think? Do you think that some of these characters have a form of depression? Are there some examples of depression in Season 5 or before that I missed? Leave them in the comments. Thanks for reading and I’ll see you all next week.