• Let's Review: The Chaos Theory Arc

    MLP ssues 48–50 have been a wild ride. There's been plenty of frights, some comedy, and much debate.

    Let's take a look back from start to finish.

    If you haven't read this series yet, be aware that there's lots of spoilers within!

    Three issues, but a lot of content. It featured no less than ten main characters across three issues. Eleven if you count Discord and Accord as separate beings. As such, it's intimidating to try and address each characters role in the story and how it worked or struggled.

    Far better, I think, to break it down into large topics. Let's start with the artwork.

    Andy Price Scares Me
    And I love it! Price remains my favorite artist. A large part of it is the character's appearances and actions. Price understand physical humor and makes solid use of background references. One can easily re-read these comics and make a game of finding little snippets lost on the first round. He seems to be the main artist who understand the cartoon aspect of these stories. While Jay Fosgitt creates a "hyper-toon" look with his style, Price expresses the cartoonish nature through physicality.

    Yet Price truly stands out with shading and atmosphere. It used to be that Chrysalis was his go-to fright-fest, but I think he's created an equally frightening creature with Accord. The images of Accord imposing his will on ponies, or usurping their identity, is truly frightening. Plus the image of Equestria's heroines all sporting the same rigor mortis grin is chilling.

    Though for all the delightfully frightening imagery, the part of this story that both chills me and intrigues me is the concept of...

    The Death of the Self
    I still want to do an editorial on the concept of mind control, but for this story the chief threat is that Equestria's residents will be wiped out. Not in the biological sense, but their individual personalities will be all but dead. Part 2 of this arc showed Discord's remnant locked away deep within Accord's monochrome mentality. I wonder if every pony had a part of them locked up deep within, a prisoner of their own mind. Could they see what Accord was forcing them to do? I can't imagine a more powerless feeling. Props to Ted Anderson for creating a frightening idea.

    It's because of this fright that I think Accord is a more frightening villain than some we've seen on the show. Many of them represented a physical threat, but Accord attacks the mind. The ponies are not just fighting for physical freedom, but to keep themselves from becoming prisoners in their own mind like Discord.

    The fact that Accord is zealot only makes it worse. A villain who is only out for their own benefit is easier to predict and possibly manipulate. A zealot is so devoted to a cause that it's harder to anticipate their next move or limit.

    However, the fear of the death of self also leads to two of the comic's stumbling points. The first is when Accord first reveals himself, he states that a celestial alignments magic changed Discord. Although Accord has all his memories, Discord himself is gone. Instead of responding with alarm and immediately seeking a cure, the ponies accept this change because it's convenient. Even Fluttershy, though mopey, doesn't bring up the option restoring Discord. This really cuts out their moral foundation. Though Accord never called them out on it, the ponies seemed fine with this forced change rather than respecting Discord's individuality.

    Fast forward to Starlight Glimmer's persuasion for Accord to stand down. Rather than release everyone and accept a more moderate stance, Accord decides to end his own mentality and restore Discord. Thus Accord himself is his last victim. Why did he decide to change back? Starlight did make the case that friends need some chaotic diversity, but I don't think it follows that Accord must wipe himself from existence. It's a hurried end and perhaps darker than intended.

    These two points present the ponies is a less than favorable light, and lot of that comes down to:

    Sympathy for the Downtrodden 
    I stated in my review of Part 3 that we as the audience tend to connect with those who lose, because we know how that feels. Though we might daydream of being powerhouses that can overpower an obstacle, I think the reality is that we all know how it feels to lose and perhaps fall short. Physical or emotional, pain can be a connector between people.

    It's because of this connection I don't blame Discord for unleashing Accord. After all, we saw his sense of rejection in parts 1 and 2. This was a nice bit of continuity in itself as it follows up on ideas presented in both Friends Forever 5 and 20.

    This empathy through loss is also why Part 3's depiction of Celestia's doubt and downfall becomes so frustrating. Though she only briefly featured in Part 1, Celestia seemed to be suspicious of Accord's intentions from the start.

    Yet aside from a shield spell, her sole role in this series is to be Accord's victim. Part 2 featured her entire world coming apart as friends, family, and her charges are all taken from her. Many of the audience ended up rooting for her more than any other character, and thus her defeat becomes more embittering than tense.

    Similarly I can forgive Twilight for some earlier transgressions when she realizes her mistake. It's also why I'd hope Applejack would come clean to Accord and acknowledge her own mistake since she was the most vocal critic. She does come clean but that is after the conflict is resolved. Why should this be important? Because of a question another fan asked.

    Is it impossible to have [Starlight] deal the final blow to a villain?
    This will probably be the most contested part of the comic, especially with To Where and Back Again still fresh in everyone's minds. The short answer is no, it is far from impossible. Yet we should appreciate both the weight and momentum to that blow.

    The weight is the simple fact that the pony who strikes the final blow is going to look flipping awesome. Starlight Glimmer just saved all of Equestria and likely the world after ever other pony had fallen. And she did it without relying on magic, her default solution. She effectively argued the need for an unstable element to make friendships and got Accord to stand down. If the goal is to make Starlight accomplish something grand, the comic technically succeeded.

    But what about the power behind the blow? The momentum to the "final blow" is the journey taken to reach that point and the collective efforts of the group. I'd celebrate Starlight's success more if I felt she were channeling the group's efforts, but sadly she feels cut off from the rest.

    Consider Twilight and Luna's journey into Accord's mind. It was the most proactive plotline in Part 2 while the rest of the cast retreated, but what did it accomplish? For the audience it gave an explanation for why Discord changed and how the ponies could restore him. Yet Twilight and Luna never escaped or found a way to convey this information to the group. It's only coincidence that Starlight figured out how to best Accord in a verbal debate. In terms of storytelling, Twilight and Luna's efforts were pointless aside from turning them into Accord's puppets.

    The Remane 5 and Celestia had no words to offer Starlight. In fact, they hardly interact until the train ride away from Canterlot. Starlight's chief guiding thought is her own time as a dictator in her equality town. She mentions this in both parts 1 and 3. Though this makes her an interesting foil to Accord, it also means she has nothing to learn from the other ponies.

    In To Where and Back Again, Starlight was able to reach the end goal thanks to the efforts and sacrifice of her unlikely companions. She had a guiding motive because of her friendship with the Mane Six. In this comic, her guilt is her main motivator, and so she never has to rely on the others. Even Celestia's shield spell in Part 1 is devalued by the fact that Starlight blocked an even more powerful force with her own shield in Part 3.

    How to Rejoin the Herd
    It's funny to write a topic like that when so much of this story is about defending the freedom of the individual. Yet I think groups are at their best and healthiest when they combine the collective effort of individuals rather than impose a mindset. Starlight needed to gather strength and wisdom from her friends.

    I think there is a small change that could have helped blend Starlight with the cast. Rather than having Applejack serve as spokespony for the group's frustration, that should have been Starlight. It would make sense for her to want a social gathering with her new friends to go smoothly and be frustrated by Discord's interruption. Twilight and Co. could still serve as a spectrum of reactions, but from the start we would see that Starlight needs to learn some flexibility.

    Follow that up with Celestia affirming why Accord has to be resisted. She's been in this fight longer and has had time to question and affirm her beliefs. Let her strength of character guide Starlight. That way, when Starlight becomes freedom's advocate, we see her journey become complete thanks to the other's input and her own reflection. She can still be awesome and save the day, but it's a victory created by Starlight and her friends.

    Chaos Theory started off strong with an impressive villain, steadily rising tension, some important questions and assertions, and beautifully scary art. Where it lost its strength comes from not respecting the group's ability to enhance the individual.

    My hope is that Starlight will get to participate in future arcs as part of the group rather than a key guest-star. There's potential there as her view of the world is heavier than the rest of the cast. If she can work with the others towards a solution, I'll see her a welcome new addition.

    I'm Silver Quill. Thanks for reading!

    Twitter: Silver Quill