My Little Pony: Friendhip is Magic: Season 3 Review and Episode Guide

Again, these reviews will contain spoilers and bad jokes. Beware, beware!
Again, these reviews will contain spoilers and bad jokes. Beware, beware!

Ok, so I have to get something off my chest before we start here. I did not like season 3. Perhaps it just comes across as a let-down after how great Season 2 was, but I think it was also because I don't understand why we, the fans, only got 13 episodes this go-round. When you wait and anticipate the season for a long time, only to have fewer episodes, and most of the episodes turn out just average/ok, it's kind of a let-down. However, Season 3's finale episode, Magical Mystery Cure, had a lot of the staples of good MLP storytelling: character development, outstanding music, emotional impact on the viewer, and a new development in the overall story that ties previous episodes together into one overlying narrative structure.

And yet, having one good episode as the finale (even though Twilight becoming an alicorn is a little strange and raises a lot of questions about what an alicorn is) doesn't stop the fact that I think overall the season 3 episodes were somehow less interesting and memorable as a whole. Is MLP jumping the shark, or did I just lose interest in the show as a concept? I'm really excited for Season 4, but at the same time I feel like this series has become just as easy to screw up as it is to get right, especially knowing how rabid the fan community can be.

I guess that the late 2nd season was when I started being caught up, having seen all the previous episodes, and I was actually watching new episodes pretty much when they came out. I think that's why I expected more from Season 3 than I got, because my anticipation was now being built up for a week before I got to see each episode.

But the truth is, I didn't really like the Crystal Empire story arc, and I don't think it compares favorably to other epic story arcs like Nightmare Moon and Discord's arcs. So let's examine that episode first. (Well ok, it is the first episode, so that makes sense.)

Episodes 1 and 2: The Crystal Empire

Summary

My Little Pony: Friendship is magic, has a certain formula that should be apparent by now to anyone who's watched it up to this point. They start each season with an epic episode, usually something dramatic and suspenseful involving the conquest of an evil foe. They also frequently end the seasons with such episodes. Then in between, while I wouldn't say filler, the show shifts toward a more comedic, slice of life show with character-based everyday events, such as Pinkie Pie trying to babysit baby twins, or Fluttershy taking an assertiveness seminar, or what have you. That is, the slice of life episodes usually don't have events that have big consequences for ponies who aren't directly involved in the story.

The Crystal Empire saga introduces a place called, well, the Crystal Empire, where all the ponies have been asleep for a thousand years or whatever because it's always a thousand years with these sorts of things. Twilight and pals are tasked with saving the Crystal Empire from letting their old dictator, King Sombra, re-take it. Shining Armor and Princess Cadence are in the Empire, which is basically just a city (I'll rant about that fact later), using their magic to protect it. But, when he is out escorting the mane six into the city, he kind of foolishly exits Cadence's magical barrier that's protecting the city, causing Sombra to curse his horn and render him useless. Males, right?

So, with Cadence alone being the only one capable of protecting the city, Twilight and friends are tasked with finding out more about the history of the Crystal Empire. The problem is, all of the ponies in the Empire seem to have collective amnesia, being unable to remember anything that happened, as South Park would put it, in the before time.

This means that Twilight has to save the day by doing historical research in the library. They find out that getting them to remember is as easy as holding a special festival to celebrate the historical cultural activities of the Crystal Empire. Saving the day means having a Renaissance Fair, basically. The ponies get to work, using their individual talents to create the fair. The problem is, somehow Sombra or whatever evil forces ripped one page out of the history book Twilight was referencing, that explain that the most important thing about this Crystal festival was a magical artifact called the Crystal Heart.

The Crystal Heart represents the unity and good cheer of the Crystal Empire, and the festival was supposed to inspire the elevated spirit necessary for all of the crystal ponies to power the heart. Twilight gallops off alone, leaving Apple Jack, Rainbow Dash, and the others to keep the festival going with a fake Crystal Heart in its place, and they are instructed to keep the thing under wraps so that none of the crystal ponies suspect that they don't have the actual heart.

Spike insists on accompanying Twilight, but because of what Celestia told her about how it had to be her and her alone that saved the Crystal Empire, he has to promise not to help her. So she explores Sombra's castle, facing lots of stairs... and a door that leads to your worst fear... and then some more stairs. When finally she says "screw this I'm doing a gravity reversing spell" and just falls up the stairs to reach the top of a tall tower where Sombra's hid the crystal heart. Sombra then gets into the city, as Cadence's powers are becoming weaker at that moment, and he traps Twilight in a circle of black spikey spikes of doom. And then she has to hand off the crystal heart to Spike, who falls off the edge of the tower, and then Shining Armor throws Cadence to save him and get the crystal heart. They use the heart to generate enough happys for Sombra to be defeated.

The Good

I liked the song about saving the crystal ponies with their history. And, if you think about it, the lesson of this episode has more to do with the importance of history and staying true to one's culture than with the ending lesson Celestia gives about caring more about others than oneself. I would say it's also an episode about how everyone matters, not just a designated main character.

The Bad

The plot seemed like an ass pull. All of the sudden there's an entire magical empire, that no pony's heard about? And while Celestia says that even her knowledge of it is even limited, she proceeds to explain about it in a lot of detail. Plus, the existence of an empire outside the boundaries of Equestria, outside of Celestia's realm. I think that's a load of bull: Celestia and Luna raise the sun and moon, they should have power over the entire world. It seemed like a huge blow for me when I found out that Celestia and Luna were not the rulers over everything. Like, if I found out there were real-life gods controlling the sun and the moon, it doesn't make sense for them to be not in charge of everything on this planet, since all life on the planet depends on the work they do.

But setting that aside, that is not the only thing that makes no sense about the Crystal Empire saga. It's referred to as an empire. An empire is a territory that is vast and supposed to be constantly expanding and at war with neighboring countries. The so-called Crystal "Empire" is really only a city and the surrounding countryside. It should be called the Crystal Principality. Also, why then is it King Sombra and not Emperor Sombra? What the hell, Equestria?

So, that brings me to another huge, glaring flaw of this story arc. Sombra. Sombra isn't a character, he's basically just a rhinoceros tromping around going "grr evil things!" "I'm BAD" "GRRR". He gets hardly any dialogue. He barely interacts with the mane six. Even though he has a magic door lying around that shows every pony/dragon their worst fear coming true, he doesn't consciously activate it. He doesn't engage with Twilight or try to play mind games with her, he just... makes black spike thingies appear. Because that's what he does. And not to kill her, which he should be able to do with ease, but he uses them instead to imprison her while Spike escapes with the Crystal Heart. Out of all the villains, Sombra receives the least amount of background detail. Nothing is given from his perspective, not who he was before becoming evil, like with Nightmare Moon, and his motivation and purpose are not explored or explained either. Its just, here's this bad guy who looks sort of evil, go fight him.

It seems like they pulled the idea of the Crystal Empire from nowhere to give Cadence a back story and to add relevance to Cadence and Shining Armor as characters, to remind the audience that they weren't just one-off characters made to sell little girls PINK PRINCESS PINK PRINCESS OOH SHINY PINK PRINCESS toys. Except that they totally were, and having them involved in these episodes just drives home the question of where the hell were they when Nightmare Moon and Discord attacked? Having an engagement party? Getting hooficures? And why is Cadence's cutie mark a crystal heart? I could picture her telling her cutie mark story, "I knew on that day that I would one day use my powers to save a society I'd never heard of and knew nothing about!" Yeah.

There's also a major Trollestia moment here. Celestia told Twilight going into this that it would have to be "you and you alone" who defeats Sombra. But she can't do it alone, she needed help not only from Spike but could never have done it without Cadence, Shining Armor, her friends, and the crystal ponies' magic. Celestia had to have known that it wouldn't possibly be just Twilight, so why tell her that? It almost cost her the mission when she wasted precious seconds wondering whether or not to allow Spike to be the one to take the heart back to the festival. That deliberation alone might have given a more clever villain an opportunity to snatch the heart. And then of course, it turns out that what Celestia wanted out of Twilight was self-sacrifice. She knew she wouldn't be able to defeat Sombra alone, but wanted her to try anyway... because Celestia's evil and wanted her to fail? I'm not sure how to interpret this act of giving Twilight bad advice. And you still deal with the fact that Celestia and Luna both refrain from dealing with threats to Equestria directly.

But also, is Sombra even a threat to Equestria at all, or just a threat to that one empire? Is Equestria attacking them to try to impose their morality on another country? Is this like America's role in Iraq?

Episode 3: Too Many Pinkie Pies

Summary

Pinkie Pie encounters a magical spring that creates duplicates of whoever dips in it while saying a certain magical incantation. She uses it to create copies of herself, originally just one, so she can hang out with friends who want to do different things at the same time. But the impulse to keep using the spring is strong in her duplicates, so Ponyville gets eventually overrun with, well, too many Pinkie Pies.

Twilight and the others come up with a way to test them to see which one is the true Pinkie Pie; watching paint dry. The Pinkie Pie that values being called the true Pinkie Pie so much that she can handle mild boredom and resist distractions is seen as the true Pinkie Pie.

The Good

I think this episode is really funny, playing up Pinkie's Looney Toons style antics. It's also interesting to see Pinkie Pie's emotional complexity, what makes her not a mindless joke character, but a real person/pony with feelings. All the copies of her are mindless and do whatever random funny thing pops into their heads. I think that sometimes this is how Pinkie Pie is written. This episode is really showing that there are other dimensions to the real Pinkie Pie's personality; loyalty, courage, determination, that make her something special and not just another silly comic relief character. It's saying that while there are a lot of fictional characters like Pinkie Pie, there's only one Pinkie Pie, which makes this episode pretty darn meta, which a lot of mlp fans are into.

The Bad

That having been said, since I am a person with a serious personality, I usually find Pinkie Pie very annoying. It also shows that she's too immature to understand that sometimes different friends will want to do things at the same time, and you just have to pick one and deal with it. However, this only shows how kind-hearted Pinkie Pie is for this to be a challenge for her, because she doesn't want to make any of her friends feel left out, and I think that shows sensitivity to the feelings of others, which is something Pinkie Pie is genuinely very good at.

Episode 4: One Bad Apple

Summary

Apple Bloom has a cousin visiting her from Manehattan. Since Babs Seed doesn't have her cutie mark yet either, the Cutie Mark Crusaders think she'll be a perfect fourth member. But Babs ends up being mean to the CMC's in order to impress Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon, whom she becomes friends with while tormenting the Crusaders.

The Crusaders plan to sabotage Babs with a run-away parade float, but when they find out from Apple Jack that Babs was only acting up because she was bullied back in Manehattan for not having a cutie mark yet, they feel bad for her. Yet it's too late to stop the float from crashing into the mud. They save her, and end up spilling the beans about their plans.

Apple Bloom and the CMC's make up with Babs and she joins the Crusaders, and she stands up to them when Silver Spoon and Diamond Tiara come back.

The Good

I liked how this episode handled the issue of bullying. See, a lot of children's cartoons handle this issue as if the bullies are another species of sub-standard intelligence who express themselves with their fists only. However, in MLP, the issue is explored as much from the perspective of the bully as from the perspective of the victims, and I think this balanced look at the issue gives it more depth. I mean, sure, Silver Spoon and Diamond Tiara are still generic, one-dimensional bully characters who look down their noses at anyone they think of as beneath them due to their upper-class upbringing. I've known girls like that.

But Babs Seed is not treated like they are. She's a more complex character, who is revealed as someone who bullies others to deflect attention from her own failings and to distance herself from a common target who appears weak. This really gets into what I think the majority of kids who bully are actually doing in the real world. By bullying, they can earn a place at the top of the social hierarchy and also keep themselves protected from being targeted.

This episode also has some clever humor and a good song. All in all, one of my favorite Cutie Mark Crusader episodes. (I also thought Babs' Brooklyn accent was sort of adorable.)

The Bad

At times it feels a bit after-school special-ish, but that's only because the writers are trying to make this show classify as educational. And sometimes doing that means being just a little bit cliché at times.

Episode 5: Magic Duel

Trixie spends a lot of money in a stereotypical spooky curiosity shop for a magical artifact called the Alicorn Amulet.

Meanwhile, Twilight is practicing a levitation spell on Fluttershy's animals. But then Trixie shows up and starts doing all sorts of magic. She also has a black cloak and a red glow around her eyes, which in cartoon land means evil. And she gets more evil as the episode progresses, due to the nature of the dark powers of the Amulet.

Anyway, she challenges Twilight to the titular magic duel, and the stakes are pretty damn high, the loser will have to leave Ponyville, forever. It turns out Trixie has been pretty pissed ever since we saw her in Boast Busters, because she's been a laughingstock all over Equestria ever since, and, unable to make money at her traveling magic show, has had to do menial, degrading, earth pony work. On a rock farm. So naturally, her desire for revenge against Twilight is pretty strong to begin with, plus it's being amplified by an evil amulet.

So, the first time they magic-off, Twilight is baffled by Trixie's ability to change the ages of Snips and Snails. Twilight is defeated, unable to change them back, and Trixie gets to do an evil laugh and chew some scenery.

Exiled from Ponyville, Twilight turns to Zecora for guidance. They do some typical Zenyogameditation shit like you'd see in any movie where a character needs meditation and spirituality as a key to power. While she's training with Zecora, the others are ransacking the library, aka Twilight's house, in order to find a book that can explain Trixie's evil powers. They luckily stumble upon a book about the Alicorn Amulet. They find out that the amulet is powerful, that it corrupts the user, turning them evil, and that only the pony wearing it can take it off. They're all too stupid or inept to think of a way to use this information so they decide to send Fluttershy off to tell it to Twilight. She hides in a log that makes it across the jar-like barrier around Ponyville, and for some reason she's wearing blue bunny ears.

Anyway, Fluttershy makes it to Zecora's and the information she gives them causes Zecora to say something cryptic about "using the six".
Twilight comes up with a plan to make a fake magical amulet that she can make Trixie covet so much she'll take off the Alicorn Amulet. So she gets Trixie to agree to a second duel.

Twilight used trickery to fake things like age spells and a sex-change spell, which succeeds in making Trixie take off the Alicorn Amulet to snatch Zecora's fake amulet. So Trixie is defeated and publicly humiliated again. Yay.

The Good

This was a good episode I thought, especially in terms of what's at stake. It's probably one of the most difficult challenges Twilight's ever faced in a regular episode, and it fits thematically into the rest of the show nicely by reminding us that her friends are as crucial to her success as her actual magic.

I also thought it was interesting that they brought back Trixie and gave her more of a story, since she was positively viewed by a lot of the fans.

The Bad

I wouldn't say Trixie is such a bad pony. I mean, she did take away Pinkie Pie's mouth. I think that at least was a good improvement.


Episode 6: Sleepless in Ponyville

Summary

This episode features a camping trip involving the cutie mark crusaders, Rarity, Apple Jack, and Rainbow Dash, although the focus of the episode is on Scootaloo. Since Rainbow dash complimented Scootaloo on her scooter moves in the beginning of this episode, Scootaloo becomes almost obsessive about wanting Rainbow Dash to take her under her wing and be like a big sister to her. Scootaloo is very much an admirer of Rainbow Dash, but whether Rainbow realizes the extent of her obsessive affection is undetermined.

So, Rainbow tells a really scary story before the two pairs of sisters and one obsessive stalker and her obsessee go to their tents to sleep. Scootaloo is trying to be brave, to pretend that the story didn't scare her, to impress Rainbow Dash, even though she really is.

So she goes to sleep and has a nightmare about the "Olden pony" from Rainbow's story. In the first nightmare, she glimpses Princess Luna, just before waking up with a start. The episode flashes to the morning, when it becomes obvious that Scootaloo didn't sleep very well, if at all. However, she will go to any lengths to not tell anyone about her lack of sleep or nightmares. Then, to make things worse, the next night they're going to take shelter in a creepy cave, and Rainbow Dash tells a different scary story.

I think the problem here is that Scootaloo has no one to go to with her fears, since Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle have their sisters to whom they can confide their fears. However, Scootaloo is in a position where she's trying to impress Rainbow Dash, and that means she doesn't want to admit to the fear, but that also means she doesn't get a "there there" from a big sister figure. Poor Scootaloo.

So then Scootaloo falls asleep in the cave, and of course, has another nightmare. However, Princess Luna decides to intervene in the middle of the nightmare (apparently, she can do that). She tells her that to stop the nightmares, she has to confront her real, actual fear; that Rainbow Dash won't think she's tough.

Of course, the episode ends with Rainbow Dash accepting Scootaloo when she confesses everything. In what's probably a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming, given that we know that season 4 includes an episode about Scootaloo being tormented by her inability to fly, Rainbow Dash holds her aloft while flying so she can sort of pretend to fly.


The Good

Oh, my God, I love this episode. I mean, this show is at it's best when it centers around interpersonal bonding between characters, since that's kind of the whole point of the show to begin with. This is also something I think a lot of people can relate to, especially when they think back to childhood and remember the times when they were afraid of something but also afraid to tell an adult, because they wanted to appear brave.

And, since I'm not hiding my adoration of Princess Luna, this episode is a stellar one in terms of showcasing her ability to advise and guide young ponies. And, this in this episode Luna's role as a mentor and teacher is very similar to the way Celestia gives sage advice to Twilight Sparkle.

This episode is basically awesome in that it manages to show a friendship lesson that reminds us that friendship isn't always easy, but it is always worthwhile to pursue.

The Bad

Rarity's idea of packing for a camping trip is not only insanely superfluous, but she makes Sweetie Belle pull a wagon loaded with all of her stuff. Come on now, Rarity, if you want to bring that stuff, fine, but why not carry it yourself? Does Equestria have child labor laws?

Episode 7: Wonderbolts Academy

Summary

Rainbow Dash goes to the Wonderbolts Academy, which apparently trains young flyers from all over Equestria who, like Rainbow Dash, hope to become a Wonderbolt. This brings up the question of why this wasn't mentioned before, like in Best Night Ever, but, whatever.

Of course, Rainbow Dash thinks the whole thing is going to be a breeze and that once the Wonderbolts see how awesome she is, she'll become a Wonderbolt right away.

She quickly befriends another pegasus called Lightning Dust, and the pair of them excel far beyond the level of most of the other cadets. Meanwhile, back in Ponyville, Pinkie Pie is obsessively waiting for a letter from Rainbow Dash to a level that I'd say, in my headcanon, a Pinkie Dash ship is almost an actual thing in the show.

Anyway, the problem is that they divided everyone into pairs, but they made Rainbow Dash wing pony and Lightning Dust the lead pony. Rainbow Dash is of course taken aback, because she's a main character, damn it.

And Lightning Dust, as it turns out, has a reckless disregard for the safety of her fellow cadets. This culminates in Lightning Dust creating a tornado she can't control that knocks into Rainbow Dash's friends' hot air balloon, as they apparently picked the exact wrong moment to show up.

She rescues them, of course, but Lightning Dust still insists that she did nothing wrong. Rainbow Dash goes up to her trainer and says that, if being reckless is what's rewarded by her, she's going to quit. She's rewarded though, by being made a leader instead of Lightening Dust.

The Good

Another of my favorite Season 3 episodes, possibly because I'm something of a Rainbow Dash fan, and also a fan of military... um, things (and by things I mean men).

Just an enjoyable episode with a lot of personal obstacles for Rainbow Dash and an important lesson at the end.

Also, I really love the dizzy-tron. I guess it's the kid in me, but it just seems like a really fun carnival ride and I can't help wishing it were real (with parachutes or something maybe, considering that humans can't fly).

The Bad

Hey fanfic writers, have fun with images like this:

Episode 8: Just for Sidekicks

Summary

When the mane six are going to the Crystal Empire for a day, Spike agrees to pet-sit all of their adorable animals. But he's only doing it to get gems for a recipe he wants to make. Since he's agreeing to pet-sit six animals without caring about all the responsibility involved, of course it ends up a disaster. This is one of those episodes that teaches a typical kid's fiction lesson; animals are fun, but caring for them can be hard work.

The Good

Though this isn't a particularly impressive or interesting episode in my opinion, it was still very entertaining and has several good comedic moments.

One interesting thing is that Zecora makes a brief appearance in this episode to warn him against "dragon greed". I think that it's interesting to see Zecora pop up, and it's a reminder to Spike about the bad things that happened in "Secret of My Excess" when he became a greed-monster. So, it's a callback to another episode and it shows the guru-like importance of Zecora as a character.

The Bad

Spike was really a bad friend in this episode. I mean, I get that the point of the episode is that he learns a lesson about being more altruistic and responsible, but you just can't feel bad for him when things go awry, because he didn't listen to the mane six's pet-sitting instructions at all when they were leaving. Really, it just felt like they wanted to have a Spike episode involving the pets and the Cutie Mark Crusaders, and it was just ok at best.

Another thing. This episode is linked to a later episode in this season called "Games Ponies Play". Basically, this is the events of that episode from Spike's perspective, and later, we get to see what's happening from the perspective of the mane six.

That's a clever idea, but, by the time I got to see that episode, there had already been three episodes in between, and I really think the two episodes should have been released consecutively. It makes this episode seem weird and out of place.

Episode 9: Apple Family Reunion

Summary

Applejack decides to take over planning her family reunion from Grannie Smith, who's planned Apple family reunions for forever in the past. Apple Bloom is stoked about seeing her cousin, and Grannie Smith is excited about reliving her memories of past reunions.

The problem is, since Applejack is nervous about making sure that the party is a spectacular event, she gets herself worked up in details. She also seems to want to make the reunion about producing quantifiable output, like having a painfully long "seven-legged race" and getting sewing machines to help the old mares finish this quilt that they never thought they'd finish. She sets every pony at the reunion to working so hard and so fast, in fact, that they all don't get time to do what reunions are really for, which is hanging out and talking with people you don't often get to see.

When her Twilight Sparkle-like pushing for perfection leads to the family barn being wrecked, she knows she's got to change her approach. So she sings a rousing song while her family works to raise the barn, and they get to take a picture in front of it as a family like she wanted. Applejack learned that reunions are about fun and spending quality time together, not about what they get done.

The Good

It was great to see an Applejack episode where she gets a song, and the audience is also treated to the antics and diverse personalities of a lot of her relatives. What's interesting is that there are some Apple relatives we know that show up, like Rayburn and Babs Seed, but it's also nice that we get to meet a lot of new ones, like Grannie Smith's cousin.

This episode is probably the best Applejack-centered episode. I liked the song and the feeling of warmth and togetherness embodied by the Apple family. This episode leaves you feeling warm and fuzzy.

The Bad

This episode doesn't really teach the audience something new about Applejack and she isn't exactly out of character or facing an unexpected challenge. I talk about why that's bad more here where I discussed the flaws in most Applejack-centered stories.

The lesson learned here is also kind of obvious, to the point where it seems like a pony as otherwise down-to-earth and commonsense in nature would have realized it much sooner. Applejack is normally really in tune with other ponies' feelings, so when it seems like she doesn't notice that the grand-mares are having trouble talking over the sewing machines or that Apple Bloom and Babs aren't having fun because the race is too long, for example, make her seem unusually insensitive. It's also weird that she wants to make recreational activities into work, as if she doesn't know how to relax or have fun. Maybe that's why her friendship with Pinkie Pie is important, because all work and all play types often compliment each other.

Episode 10: Spike at your Service

Summary

I put off finishing this project because I didn't want to review this one. Seriously. Can we skip it? No? Fine...

Twilight is given some heavy assigned reading for a weekend, so she gives Spike the day off. He promptly gets into mischief and ends up in the Everfree Forest, and gets attacked by ferocious creatures called Timber Wolves which are, well, wolves made of wood.

Applejack saves him, so, just like f***ing Jar Jar Binks, Spike decides he now has to be Applejack's servant out of some hitherto unheard of "dragon code of honor". It becomes clear pretty quickly though that, as Spike is trained as Twilight's assistant, farm chores are not his strong suit.

He tells Applejack anyway that he is obligated to serve her for the rest of his life. He goes to break the news to Twilight, whose response is basically "mmhmm yeah whatever go away I'm reading". Applejack has a heck of a time trying to find stuff for him to do that he won't make a mess of, and is very uncomfortable, as one would expect, at the idea of having Spike as a servant for life.

When they visit Rarity's house and AJ asks for some advice, Rarity's response is the typical snob answer of "Oh, I would love to have a slave!" Ugh... And then Rainbow Dash shows up and suggests that the best way to be rid of Spike is to set him to a task that's so hard that he'll give up. Ethical smethical.

So, of course, he completes that task without complaining, building a big rock tower for RD to knock over. So then Applejack goes back to Twilight, who of course has the only idea that will work. Which is that Applejack has to be in danger and have Spike save her. The mane six all get involved in trying to create a fake timber wolf, animated by Twilight's magic, to convince Spike that he's saving Applejack.

He isn't fooled because he says a real timber wolf has a distinct odor, its breath. However, Rainbow Dash's overacting when it came to the fake timber wolf's roar alerts real timber wolves. This gives Spike a not contrived at all (sarcasm) way to really and truly save Applejack's life. So then he goes back to mistress Sparkle like he belongs. (Why did you make me write such a messed up sentence, Hasbro?)

The Good

Ok, before I get to the many things I disliked about this episode, I should at least note that it also has positive aspects, since even the worst episodes of MLP are still pretty cool.The timber wolves are an interesting creature, since they appear as inanimate pieces of wood animated by some kind of sinister magical force, the nature of which is not yet explained by the show. These monsters are truly terrifying, and the scenes that they show up in are really cool as far as action scenes go.

Another good thing about this show is the comedic timing. Pinkie Pie has some cute side gags about her desire to wear a fake mustache, but her comedic presence doesn't get in the way of the seriousness of the main plot the way it can be overdone in some other episodes. Spike's mishaps as Applejack's servant are also pretty funny.

Also, this episode really shows how nice the mane six are. I think it kind of serves as a setup for Keep Calm and Flutter On, by showing that, if they weren't at the beginning, the mane six have by now come to a point where they are compassionate, understanding, forgiving, sympathetic, nurturing, etc., and all that is exactly what makes a situation like this difficult. Applejack is so afraid to hurt Spike's feelings she doesn't have the heart to tell him that his "help" isn't very helpful, and that he messes things up more often than he fixes them.

This episode also showcases the strengths of the mane six's individual personalities rather well, and some of their faults, such as Twilight's obliviousness when studying and lack of attention to Spike's feelings. Good thing she doesn't forget that lesson... oh wait, Castle-mania.

The Bad

I don't like when a character seems to have happiness in a condition of slavery. In Spike's case, you get the sense that he really isn't happy unless he's helping someone. I guess that he likes being industrious. But it comes across of him being, through experiences like what he went through in Dragone Baby Gone and Secret of My Excess, that he's actually afraid of his own dragon nature and uses his made-up honor code to repress it. Humans make honor codes for very much the same reason; there comes to be a part of our nature we despise and that we seek to repress or control with some kind of system of loyalty to an external power. It's the foundation of Bushido, the Confucian ideas it was based on, and so on and so forth.

The one thing that's problematic possibly here is that Spike is one of the only male main characters, and he's the one who is only happy in a place of servitude and the one who has to repress his brutish natural tendencies. This seems like a disapproval of masculinity. (You see this in Keep Calm and Flutter On too, which I'll get to talk about next since it's, well, the next episode.)

I just feel like in general, there hasn't been much appeal to a Spike episode. He's more or less an accessory that tags along with Twilight, and he's much too incompetent to be independent, and his servility makes him an uninteresting character. He's cute, he has his comedic moments, but give him his own episode and yawn.

Episode 11: Keep Calm and Flutter On

Summary

Celestia gets possibly the most what-the-fuck idea she's had in the series thus far; dumping Discord into the hooves of the mane six in the hope that they can reform him, getting him to use his powers for good.

They hold onto their Elements of Harmony, and since Celestia had said that she thought Fluttershy would be the key to reforming him, he goes off to stay with her. The other five don't trust Discord at all and don't really treat him with much respect, but Fluttershy proves that by treating him with some hospitality, kindness, and giving him some freedom to be himself, she is able to gain his friendship, which does become the key to reforming him.

Fluttershy really shines in this episode, by showing Twilight and the others that giving Discord the benefit of the doubt and tolerating his strange behavior doesn't make her gullible and weak. Indeed, this episode is by far the best in terms of showing Fluttershy's true capabilities.

The Good

The idea of this episode was shocking to me, and it was a bold move for the writers to try unleashing Discord from his stone prison and bringing him back as a character. I loved this episode for its high stakes, dramatic tension, uncertainty/unpredictability, and also because some of the comedy in it was excellent.

The development of Fluttershy and Discord's friendship also doesn't seem rushed or forced, either. They spend a lot of time building it up. It really shows the power of Fluttershy's element, Kindness, and how it can be used even to counter an obstinately subversive individual. I love the idea of bringing Discord back, and can't wait to see how he evolves and what he has to teach the mane six.

To me, this episode was among the most meaningful and heartfelt because it was about the importance of forgiveness and compassion. While it's easy to be compassionate to someone you think of as good or worthy, what's difficult is when you are asked to be kind to someone you think is evil, manipulative, or otherwise undeserving. And right now, the world could definitely use more compassion.

The Bad

I never really liked the way the other five were mean to Discord, but then again, fear can do a lot to a pony's sense of morality and kindness. They just simply didn't trust him, which is a bit understandable. But nothing Discord actually does in this episode seemed so terrible until he flooded Sweet Apple Acres, and maybe the others could learn to be more tolerant and less uptight and judgmental, which is how they acted most of the time except for Fluttershy, and it was a little annoying.

Episode 12: Games Ponies Play

Summary

This shows what the girls were doing in the Crystal Empire when Spike was busy totally sucking at pet-sitting. See, the Crystal Empire is fighting for their chance to host the Equestria Games, and to do that they have to please a games inspector with a reputation for toughness, Miss Harshwhinny.

The mane six arrive in the Crystal Empire and visit Princess Cadence in a spa, and it's explained that Cadence has to wear a specific royal headdress and that the six are... for reasons unknown, the only members assigned to be Harshwhinny's welcome committee. And they're only given the vague instructions "look for the pony with the flower-print luggage".

When Harshwhinny arrives ahead of time, Cadence's headdress isn't ready, and her stylist has the flu. So Rarity, who knows nothing about how to do Crystal Empire royal headdresses, steps up and decides to help.

Of course, you don't have to be a rocket scientist to see that neither welcoming Harshwhinny nor fixing the Princess' headdress will go very well. First of all, the mane six give their welcome to the wrong pony, except that she's not really a pony as much as a collection of country stereotypes. It takes them a painfully long time before they figure out that they got the wrong mare. And in the meantime, Rarity can't get the headdress right, which is no big shock, seeing as how she doesn't have any knowledge or experience in this area whatsoever.

However, while the non-Harshwhinny is being treated to a spa treatment, she brags about how nice the ponies who welcomed her have been, and who should be listening but the real Miss Harshwhinny. So, when they find the real Harshwhinny, she is moved by hearing about how great the welcome someone else received was. She liked that, because normally, all she hears are rehearsed presentations, and the bumpkin lady had a lot of nice things to say that were truly unprepared about the Crystal Empire. So the Crystal Empire win the right to host the Equestria Games.

The Good

Well, Cadence had said in a previous episode something to the effect of "we must get together sometime when the fate of Equestria isn't in jeopardy", and this is a time when, while there is a problem to solve and a goal to accomplish, there isn't a major world-altering abomination they have to fight.

Overall, my favorite parts of this episode were the scenes with Princess Cadence and Shining Armor. You get a nice little slice of life peek at how they've lived in the year or so since becoming the rulers of the Crystal Empire. They're becoming more used to the culture of the place, more familiar with their customs, and are still growing strong as a couple even though their duties often keep them apart. (But hey, that is better than them suffocating each other, as newlyweds often do, in my opinion.) In a way, this is showing love in the more mature, sophisticated way that people sometimes get mad at fairy tale movies and such for not showing. It's showing that, although they love each other very much, Shining Armor and Princess Cadence don't have to cling to each other, and aren't such shallowly done characters that their only motivation and personality revolves around wanting to please their partner. In this episode, you get to see them as more fully developed characters.

See, previous episodes with the pair were all about the magical power of their love for one another, which twice they used to defeat evil. But now that things are good, you get to see what they're like as separate, individual ponies whose characterization isn't so much tied to love alone. I really liked the parts with them in this episode.

The Bad

Oh Celestia, did I hate almost everything else about this episode though. Ok, first of all, this episode is Just For Sidekicks from a new perspective, and that's great, but why the hell aren't they consecutive then? I like to think that each episode happens in the order the writers tell us they happen, and this screws up the sequential order of the show. It messes with my brain's need for logic.

Secondly, the not-the-real-Miss-Harshwhinny is super annoying, and the scenes she's in feel like an eternity because the "mistaken identity" gag goes on way longer than I thought made sense, and the whole thing just drags. Also, we never learn this pony's name or why she seems to be afraid of being inside, once she's discovered to not be the real Harshwhinny, she's tossed aside like an old dishrag. And she seems more like an exaggerated stereotype of hicks than an actual pony, much like this one character from Sweet and Elite. However, that character worked because he had one short scene, his crazy redneck ways didn't end up taking up most of the episode in a really drawn-out, painful sort of way like with this character.

Also, I wonder if Sombra ever wore the traditional headdress when visiting with important dignitaries. We don't learn much about his background or much about the Crystal Empire in general in this episode, which is kind of disappointing. Why is the Crystal Heart Cadence's cutie mark when she clearly got her cutie mark before she even knew what the Crystal Empire was? Cutie marks, how do they work?

Overall, this episode, while it has some decent moments, is mostly comedic filler and isn't even the best comedic episode.

Episode 13: Magical Mystery Cure

Summary

This episode is almost entirely a musical. Princess Twilight accidentally does a powerful spell that switches her five friends' cutie marks around. That is, they all believe it is their destiny and purpose in life to do something one of their friends normally does. Rarity is trying control the weather, Rainbow Dash is trying to control the animals, Fluttershy is trying to make ponies laugh, Pinkie Pie is trying to work the apple farm, and Applejack is trying to make dresses in Rarity's shop. And they're all failing.

At first, Twilight is hopeless, unable to think of a solution. But not a whole lot of time passes before she does. She realizes that what has to be done is that her friends have to remember who they are truly meant to be. So she's able to fix her friends and complete a spell that not even Starswirl the Bearded, an ancient unicorn wizard, was able to complete.

As a reward, Celestia zaps Twilight into an alternate dimension, congratulates her, and then, when she zaps back to Ponyville, she becomes an alicorn, and the episode ends with them inaugurating her as a princess.

The Good

I mostly really loved this episode. Yeah, the pacing felt rushed, but I really liked the songs and I felt a really strong emotional impact from the events of the story. I think it's cool that the finale didn't need a big, scary villain or an elaborate plot. It's really just about Twilight becoming more sure of herself and more capable. It's also about her being more sure that she understands the true essences of her friends' personalities. It's talking about the magic of friendship, not in an infantile way, but in a very mature way, in that it's about deep compassion and understanding. I like this from a Buddhist perspective too, the idea that enlightenment, achieved through wisdom which comes from helping others, helps one ascend to a higher level of being. (I know there's no explicit Buddhism in the show, like you might find in some anime, but this is pretty close and I find it interesting.)

Since it was a major change in the status quo, the idea of Twilight Sparkle becoming an alicorn and a princess was met with passionate responses from fans, both positive and negative. I side with the positive. I think it's wonderful that, even though the system of government in Equestria is not a democracy, the ruler is willing to share power with anyone who, through study, proves themselves to be her equal and indeed, is the one training Twilight for that chance. I think it says a lot about Princess Celestia's maturity that she's willing to train someone to ascend to princess-hood, when some rulers might jealously cling to their own power and feel threatened by that idea.

I mostly just really liked the concept of a meritocratic monarchy, wherein, like with King Arthur, the correct ruler really is chosen by benevolent magical forces who pick the best not just in terms of strength and skill, but in terms of morality and having a good heart. Wouldn't that make society a bit easier?

The Bad

A lot of gripes with this episode I have are minor nitpicks, since I don't have a problem with the episode as a whole and I think it's one of the better episodes of Season 3. But then again, I was not expecting episode 13 to be a finale. Why do I feel short-changed by this season? I hope they get to at least 20 episodes in Season 4.

Again, I also didn't like the pacing in this one. It really rushes through Twilight learning how to fix the spell, for the sake of perhaps fitting this story all into one episode when maybe it could have been a two-parter, giving Twilight more signs that she was really struggling with this nigh-impossible task, the accomplishment of which was enough to earn her the title of Princess. I mean, if doing this thing is such a big deal to the story, why does it happen so fast? I would have liked to see more time devoted to Twilight and the other characters' struggle in their alternate-world lives. Instead, this is basically how the plot of this episode gets resolved:

Twilight: I'm sad, Spike, because I messed up all my friends' lives!

Spike: Suggestion one?

Twilight: That's stupid.

Spike: Suggestion two?

Twilight: No, what does a dumb little dragon like you know anyway?

Twilight: OMG I just figured it out, let's go SING A SONG!

It took her longer to decide what to do about the parasprites, for Celestia's sake!

Conclusion and Episode Ratings:

Ok, so this isn't my favorite season. It's not bad, but mostly seems to fail to live up to some of the genius of seasons one and two. I'm not sure why, maybe they made a lot of changes because of fan demands, I'm not sure. There are a few good episodes in this season, but it isn't really my favorite season, and I'm sure hoping that season 4, in progress as I'm writing this, will surpass it. Not a bad season, but not My Little Pony's best. To be fair, I'm only comparing these episodes to other MLP episodes, and MLP is still a show that surpasses most programming on the air, even in a bad episode.

So here's how I rated every episode in this season, our of 10:

1 and 2: The Crystal Empire: 8

3: Too Many Pinkie Pies: 7

4: One Bad Apple: 10

5: Magic Duel: 9

6: Sleepless in Ponyville: 10

7: Wonderbolts Academy: 10

8: Just For Sidekicks: 4

9: Apple Family Reunion: 6

10: Spike at your Service: 3

11: Keep Calm and Flutter On: 10

12: Games Ponies Play: 5

13: Magical Mystery Cure: 9


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