• Overanalyze This: Starlight Glimmer and the Art of Redemption

    If there's one lesson that this show has hammered home again and again, it's that even the foulest of enemies can be made into allies through the power of friendship (unless you happen to be a literal soul-devouring demon or a particularly ill-behaved schoolchild).  Friendship is Magic's cast has a laundry list of friends who used to be foes, but few of these face turns have had as large or as lasting of an impact as that of Starlight Glimmer.

    So for Starlight Day let's take a look back and unpack Starlight's transformation from Orwellian cult leader to beloved guidance counselor as an example of what is, in my own personal opinion, the best written and best executed redemption of the entire show.  Get with the Glim Glam after the break!

    First and foremost, I realize that there are some elements in here that are taken from episodes written well after her reformation, and there's no way for us to know how much of this was in mind beforehand and how much was added later.  But while it may not all have necessarily been planned this way from the start, it's all still the same canon and can be used to help inform what we know.  Just want to get ahead of all the "Well, technically" guys in the comment section.

    Cram it, Marty Monologue.

    We all know how her story begins:  Back when Starlight was a filly, her best friend Sunburst got his cutie mark and was promptly shipped off to magic school, leaving her destitute at being left behind.  Her father Firelight to his credit tried his best to help her through it, but rather than helping her cope with her feelings he tried to simply pretend that nothing was wrong at all, smothering her with over-the-top affection to try and make her happy again. 

    Childhood trauma never looked so cute.

    Seeing everyone else in her town treating this event like it was such a great thing and having nobody even acknowledge how it made her feel caused Starlight to become withdrawn; bitter and resentful at a society that was so quick to celebrate something that was causing her so much pain. This is what caused her to go and found her village and begin her plan to eradicate all cutie marks.

    Don't forget that this is the headspace she was in when she set out to teach the world a lesson.  Explains a lot.

    It's important to understand Starlight's motivations here:  Although the actual episode had her turn up the 'mwahaha' factor to make sure the folks in the back caught that she wasn't on the level, she wasn't necessarily "evil" as other villains in the show have been.  Yes, her methods and her ideologies were completely twisted and wrong, but her motivations were at their very core altruistic ones.  She genuinely believed she was doing right by the ponies in her town by robbing them of their cutie marks and indoctrinating them with her ideas about equality.

    Although, all things being equal she did have some darn catchy propaganda.

    Then Twilight and her friends come barreling into town to ruin everything.  Starlight's behavior here is very telling; She definitely leans in for the hard sell on her manifesto, but throughout the entire story she remains calm and cordial.  Even when she steals the Mane 6's cutie marks and locks them up for reconditioning she remains polite and friendly, convinced she'll be able to eventually win them over.  Starlight genuinely feels that she's acting for the greater good and her mental state reflects that.  It's only when her grip starts to loosen and the ponies in her town start asking the questions she's afraid to answer that she starts to snap.

    Remember this.  This is gonna be important in a minute.

    So Starlight quite literally heads for the hills, getting away without so much as a lecture about Friendship.  Having faced exactly zero consequences for her actions, Starlight bides her time plotting her revenge against Twilight whom she clearly sees as the evil one in this dichotomy, having undone all of the "good" Starlight had dedicated her life to doing.

    You were expecting your friend, but it was I, Starlight!

    Again, her behavior and the way she carries herself here speak volumes.  Still believing herself to be completely in the right, Starlight remains cool and confident.  Even as she's zapped back in time again and again, fighting against Twilight over and over, she stays as smug and self-assured as ever.  She's fully convinced herself that what she's doing is just, and that history will see her vindicated once Twilight has been stopped from interfering with her.  That's when it happens:  Twilight realizes that she'll never be able to simply overpower Starlight and tries a new tactic.  She says "I give up.  You win Starlight, but first I'm going to show you what winning actually looks like."

    Look, everyone's equal!  Equally dead.

    This scene right here.  This is the big one.  Going on nine seasons now, and this scene still hits me as one the most emotionally powerful ones.  I have to give credit to the entire crew for this episode - writers, artists, and actors, - because this scene came togther so perfectly that I still feel compelled to gush about it like this years after the fact.


    Upon being brought back to the new future she's created, all of Starlight's earlier self-confidence just melts away.  That smug, self-satisfied grin she's carried the entire episode is replaced with an expression of real concern, fear, and a growing horror.  "Where are we?" she asks, terrified that she already knows the answer.  Remember that for everything that she'd done up until now, Starlight never intended to actually harm anypony.  She really was trying to help ponies in her own twisted way.  So when Twilight tells her that this scorched, lifeless wasteland is the end result of all her efforts, what happens?

    Let's just say anger management is not her strong suit.

    Just like the last time she had to confront uncomfortable truths, Starlight lashes out.  She's forced to make an impossible choice - either admit that everything she'd spent her entire life working towards was wrong or commit an atrocity beyond all comprehension - and it completely breaks her.  With nothing left to live for she prepares to take the rest of the world down with her, and all that's left is for Twilight to talk her back down from the edge.  Unlike so many other former villains, Starlight wasn't reformed with some magic laser blast or a stern tongue-lashing, but with a heartfelt apology and a promise to help.  Starlight wasn't merely forced to stop being evil, she was convinced to want to become better.  I truly do feel it's one of the most beautiful character moments this show has to offer.

    You stop causing the apocalypse, and we'll let you be in the theme song.  Deal?  Deal.

    Also unlike most of the show's other redemptions stories, Starlight's redemption wasn't a one-and-done either.  There was no sudden 90 degree turn into Happy Times Town like say, Discord, Trixie, or Diamond Tiara.  Even Luna got over her whole deal in the span of one episode.  Starlight's scars ran deep, and became a key part of her character development.  Going forward, she remained haunted by her villainous past and the horrors that she very nearly caused.  She spent the entirety of the next season learning how to forgive herself, to convince herself that she had really changed, that she was worthy of being trusted and having real friends, and beginning to take the next steps towards becoming a better person.  It was a very slow boil for character progression that's seldom seen in a show like this, where status quo usually needs to be cemented as quickly as possible.

    And now it's all come a full 180 for Starlight.  Having broken down the last of the walls she put up around herself, Starlight has escaped the shadow of her past and found a new purpose as the guidance counselor for Twilight's School of Friendship.  The sad, angry filly who once raged against the dangers of differences and individuality now finds her place in the world guiding the next generation of children to carve out their own unique futures.  Not a half bad way to end up, when all is said and done.

    Now who wants some empathy cocoa?

    I've made no secret of how much I've grown to love Starlight as a character over the years, and that's in no small part due to the effort and care that was put into make her such a complex and compelling character.  In a series that usually tends to have a rather black and white depiction of what is "good" and what is "evil," to have a character like Starlight come in - as a villain who truly believes they're doing something good, to slowly come to realize the harm they've caused by their actions, and to come around on their own accord and resolve to make up for things they've done - definitely sticks out among the crowd.  To my mind, the arc of Starlight Glimmer's redemption was, and still remains, some of the best long-form storytelling this show has ever had.

    ~ The Skullivan