One of the things I love about My Little Pony is the world building. There’s a lot to the land of Equestria. The locations, the mythology, and the political systems feel quite fleshed out and developed. So much so that Hasbro actually released a full map of Equestria. A map that’s full of inconsistencies.
I bring this up because the fact that it can be full of inconsistencies just proves my point. Equestria has been so fleshed out that we all have a pretty common and complete vision of how the land of Equestria is structured, headcanon notwithstanding. And almost every episode has only made it fuller.
…at least, it did in the first two seasons.
For season three, the world building simply hasn’t been as interesting or well done. It’s still there, but it feels half-assed. For starters, there was The Crystal Empire, which was probably the most boring episode, featuring the most boring villain in the entire series: Sombra. It just felt like it’s been done before, especially the ending, where the big challenge for Twilight was: walk down a bunch of stairs, then walk up even more stairs. That’s right, when I think pulse-pumping action, I think stairs. No deceptive puzzles, no complex moral tests, just stairs.
For the rest of the series, we got no major extension to the land of Equestria. Or at least none that were interesting.
But at least none of the world building has been bad this season, just boring. If nothing else, boring is better than bad or contradictory or completely ridiculous, which they’ve thankfully avoided this season… UNTIL NOW!!!
You see, on this week’s episode, the girls are called upon to welcome the inspector for the Equestria Games to the Crystal Empire. The Equestria Games likely being their answer to the Olympics… only confined to Equestria which I’m pretty sure is only one nation. I don’t think this is entirely unusual. I know there are national competitions for various sports all the time, unaffiliated with the Olympics. So, whatever. I forgot where I was going with this.
But considering it’s merely a national competition, I don’t understand why everypony thinks it’s such a big deal. In the opening scenes we see a quick flashback of Rainbow watching a huge announcement in Cloudsdale, saying that the Equestria Games were going to be hosted by Fillydelphia. So basically someone from the EGC (Equestria Games Committee), came all the way out to Cloudsdale to say, “Fuck you, you ain’t gettin’ it!”
Anyway, Rainbow takes that very hard, but to me, I don’t see what the big deal would have been. If it was the Olympics, an international competition, I would understand. But it’s just a national thing.
Besides, if you did hold it in Cloudsdale, two-thirds of the competitors would’ve fallen to their deaths.
Perhaps I don’t understand because I’m not a sports nerd.
Anyway, I’d like to point out that my theory from two weeks ago, that this episode would run concurrently with the last, was pretty damn accurate. We open with a shot-for-shot retread of a scene from Just for Sidekicks. I was hoping it wouldn’t be shot-for-shot, because last time they did that, it sorta pissed me off. But in this case, it kinda works.
Like last time, the moment Spike closes the door, all hell breaks loose. Twilight does hear it, but she doesn’t intercept because Rainbow pulls her away. Good thing too, otherwise, the episodes might interact too much and create a paradox!
They’re about to leave, but first discuss how important this whole thing is. Rainbow saying that after being pulled out of time for a thousand years, they’ve had enough bad news. Yeah, I don’t think hosting a major sporting event will balance that out.
Twilight seems more animated than usual and I don’t think that’s a good thing… at least not in this context.
It ends with Pinkie screaming in anguish and-OH MY GOD THAT POSE! Please, Pinkie, don’t ever do that again! You’re not wearing pants!
So they proceed to the Crystal Empire, and we get our first good look at the place since the premiere, when it wasn’t in the best of shape. Seems the station is just outside the city proper, and the Empire is a bright and sunny oasis in the middle of a harsh tundra. I guess the crystals also generate energy, keeping the place warm. Because the heat wouldn’t come from the sun.
On the way there, the team practices their welcoming routine. Twilight mentions that they will be held to a high standard, and cannot mess it up. She also demonstrates her extraordinary balancing abilities.
Upon arrival, they get a good look at the Empire and it’s citizenry, and… oh… my god. I don’t believe this.
I guess it didn’t last very long in the first episode, so I didn’t notice it. But the Crystal Ponies. They’re unsightly.
I’m sorry, they are, they’re just hideous.
We get a lot of bloom shining off them, and I personally can’t stand it.
It might also be because it’s not just the ponies. Applejack mentions that everypony is likely cleaning and polishing the buildings, making them nice and shiny, and that might be part of the problem.
The shininess, I just find abrasive.
So it appears everyone’s very excited for this. They’re excited for the possibility they might host a major sporting event.
Yeah, I’m sorry, I just don’t get it.
The girls minus Twilight hold back a bit, as Rainbow singles out a young filly, saying she doesn’t want to see her get disappointed
when if they don’t get approved. Yeah, disappointment can suck, that’s why I never get excited.
Twilight gets impatient and levitates the gang towards her. Fucking show-off.
They arrive at the local spa and meet up with Cadance, who’s getting her hair done up with crystals. She invites them to take part in whatever services that are available, since it’s all on the house for the welcoming committee.
Pinkie Pie decides to take a cannon ball in a gelatinous mud bath and Twilight is about to freak out, before Cadance stops her, and we learn that apparently, the Princess had been teaching Twilight some breathing exercises to calm her down.
Alright, I like it. I mean if anyone needs to learn how to chill out, it’s Twilight and… wait… Oh, I see where they’re going with this.
Fine, whatever, I’ll deal with that next week.
So back to Cadance’s hair. Turns out it’s tradition for rulers of the Crystal Empire to weave crystals into their hair when meeting with dignitaries.
Hold on. What does that have to do with Cadance?
Wait… Are you serious!?
Yes, we come to my biggest pet peeve about this episode, and that is how little we actually see of the Crystal Ponies. Earlier comments on their appearances notwithstanding, it’s their fucking empire, they should have had a bigger role!
But specifically, let’s talk about Cadance. She’s not a Crystal Pony. She’s most certainly a standard Equestrian pony. Alicorn sure, but Equestrian.
She’s not crystalline. Not crystalline at all. Why would she rule the empire!? Why would they choose her? Or more appropriately: why would they be okay with a foreigner ruling over them?
I guess it’s not entirely ridiculous. I mean Austrian bodybuilder, Arnold Schwarzenegger, was Governor of California for a time. But by that point, he had already earned his reputation after being in the country for decades. The Crystal Empire had only been back for a year at most, and Cadance is ruling it? I find this highly questionable.
At most, she should act as Celestia’s viceroy. Assuming the Empire is part of Equestria. Actually, that part is never explained. Are they independent?
Whatever, doesn’t matter, my point is this: Cadance shouldn’t rule the Empire. She should be a viceroy at most.
Actually, maybe she is a viceroy. In Canada, our viceroy (the Governor General) is our de-facto head of state. But he has no real power. Perhaps it’s the same in the Crystal Empire. Cadance isn’t really their leader, but their ‘leader.’ Officially holding the position, but she can’t actually do anything with it, and their elected head of government is a Crystal Pony.
However here, our Queen doesn’t have any power either, and that’s not the case in Equestria, so I have no idea what’s going on.
At this moment, a messenger bursts in explaining that the pony responsible for the headdress is sick with the flu. See, this is why the flu shot exists, people.
Cadance asks the other stylists if any of them know how to make the headdress, and they all shake their head in the negative.
So, Cadance decides to forgo the headdress, but Rainbow realizes how important the little things might be to the inspector.
So, Rarity volunteers to ‘give it a shot.’ Wait… WHAT!?
Honestly, I did expect this, but it doesn’t make it any less stupid.
Rarity is a fashion designer, not a hair dresser, to start. Second, she most certainly doesn’t know how to do the traditional headdress. True, she could learn, but so could any of the other ponies who actually style hair as a career. Or to say it in pony: have hair styling as their ‘special talent.’ It also doesn’t help that the list of instructions is really freaking long. Yet they let an amateur take the job.
I could buy this scene if it was followed with all the professional hair stylists, inspired by Rarity’s declaration, stepping forward and saying they will assist in any way they could. As a group they could certainly learn the procedure and pull it off. But we don’t get that.
I guess they don’t want to give the crystal ponies any lines or anything. I mean it’s not like it’s their kingdom.
Yes, this is seriously bugging me, in their second major appearance, the Crystal Ponies are taking a back seat. At least in their last appearance, a few of them had pretty major roles, there was the librarian, and… um… some ponies talking… Here we have the messenger, and that’s stretching it.
I know they’re not the main characters, but that doesn’t mean they should be completely invisible.
I’m a little upset about Twilight’s calm demeanor. It just doesn’t feel like the Twilight we know and love. True, people (and ponies) grow and change over time, but not this drastically, and not without others mentioning it.
Rainbow: Hey Twilight, you’re unusually calm for such a high-pressure situation.
Twilight: What do you mean?
Rainbow: Well, last time you were here you ran around like a chicken with its head stuck in a pot. What’s up?
Twilight: Rainbow, relax, I’m just thinking this through calmly.
Rainbow: You sure you’re just not taking this seriously!?
Twilight: What!? Of course I am!
Rainbow: [skeptical] Mmmmmhmmmm…
Twilight: [sigh] Look, I realized there’s no point in panicking, it’ll just make things harder in the long run.
Rainbow: Yeah, but it’ll get things done.
Twilight: Would it shut you up if I told you I converted to Buddhism?
Twilight: Then I converted to Buddhism.
True story. It’s how I dealt with my anger back in high school.
Anyway, we also find out that the inspector for the Games, Ms. Harshwhinny, is arriving in 15 minutes. They were expecting her in a few hours.
Hold on! The team just got off the train. How frequently do trains go through this place!?
Twilight calmly takes charge, and tells Rarity to get Cadance ready as soon as possible, and to meet them at the palace when she’s done.
They go to the station looking for a mare with floral-print luggage. The plan is to keep her busy as long as possible until Cadance is ready.
So they find their target, a fully jaded yellow mare with floral-print luggage. She is initially very rude and skeptical of the gang, but quickly 180s and is extremely glad to see them. Since she didn’t expect such a warm welcome. She also didn’t expect the Princess to be behind it.
This is our first clue that something is up. She didn’t expect to be greeted and for the Princess to be behind it? If she was the inspector she probably would have expected it, especially since she did call ahead.
Oh, by the way, she’s not the inspector. Turns out the inspector is still on the platform as they leave. And since the gang never asks the mare for her name, they never figure it out.
You see, this sorta bugs me. I know the characters should often be dumber than the audience, just so we feel smarter. But this is ridiculous. Twilight, or at least Rainbow, should have been able to figure out that the pony they were greeting was way too easily impressed to be an inspector for the Equestria Games. It wouldn’t have been that uncouth to ask for, or at least address her by, her name. You do that, and you’ll know for certain.
Actually, I’d buy this whole thing if they didn’t know her name, but they did. It was Ms. Harshwhinny.
Back at the spa, Rarity majorly fucked-up Cadance’s hair. See, wouldn’t it have been helpful to have a professional hair stylist do the job!? Or at least assist her!?
Oh, no! That would’ve been too logical!!!
But you know, it’s not that bad, I kinda like it. She’d look great at an 80’s disco.
So back with the delegation, they have arrived at the Crystal Castle.
You may be wondering where the rest of the welcoming committee is. Well, turns out, it’s only the main six.
That’s right, the Crystal Empire is being represented by six out-of-towners… seven if you include Cadance.
I’m not saying they had to cut out any of the six. But they could have been backed up by two locals.
Wouldn’t that have been nice? Two new characters! Crystal Ponies! Bring them out of the background with names, and constant voices. They’re a pretty significant demographic in this area, so I don’t understand why you wouldn’t.
In previous road trip episodes, we’ve gotten a chance to get to know some local characters. Sonic Rainboom introduced the local bullies. In A Dog and Pony Show, we met the Diamond Dogs. Over a Barrel showed us Little Strongheart, Chief Thunderhooves, Braeburn and Sheriff Silverstar.
The Best Night Ever, Sweet and Elite, Hearth’s Warming Eve (sorta), The Last Roundup, Dragon Quest, MMMystery on the Friendship Express, the last appearance of the Crystal Ponies, and even Wonderbolts Academy all featured the appearance of at least one new local character with a speaking role.
Okay, not MMMystery on the Friendship Express and Wonderbolts Academy, but those took place on a train and at a school, respectively. There were no locals, not really, but they still introduced new characters.
We have a significant population of ponies who could be used as auxiliary characters that could be halfway interesting, but we don’t get that. Instead, we just get the main six taking charge like they do every episode, even though they have no real right to.
Okay, Cadance asked them to, but where does Cadance get off filling the welcoming committee with foreigners!? That is a moronic decision!!!
We learn that the not-inspector has a severe case of claustrophobia. Even being in the cavernous atrium of the Crystal Castle is too confining for her. Strange.
They then begin their welcome dance. But first Twilight explains that because they’re foreigners, there’s no one better to tell them how welcoming the Empire could be.
Yes, the empire’s very welcoming. After all the citizens were so excited about welcoming you, that they outsourced the job.
Yes they’re so welcoming that you won’t see them for a while.
Who better to show you how welcoming the Crystal Ponies are, than six not-crystal ponies?
Yeah, I don’t buy that. Sorry. That’s a stupid fucking reason.
Also, can we get a better sound editor here!? They’re singing very loudly, and it all runs together. I don’t know if it’s typical or unavoidable, but I can’t hear a word they’re singing.
Anyway, after that… erm… performance, the mare applauds and says she’s surprised the Princess even knows about her.
This is hint number two Twilight… Hint number two.
You know, I’m thinking stressed-out panicky Twilight would have picked up on this sooner.
Rainbow offers the mare a tour of the castle, and Twilight mentions they don’t know where anything is in there. Yeah, I know. If only you had a local or two on the team representing the Crystal Empire.
Yes, I’m going to keep bringing this up.
So they give the tour, and Twilight decides to check on Cadance.
On her way out she passes the real inspector, and says “hello.”
She responds with, “Hello yourself… first ‘hello’ of the day.”
You ever see Ocean’s Thirteen? One of the plotlines involves the hotel owned by Al Pacino being reviewed for the ‘Five Diamond Award’ which each of his other hotels already won in the past. As part of the heist, the heroes get one of their own to subtlety pass themselves off as the reviewer, and he gets VIP, world-class service. Meanwhile the actual reviewer gets shit treatment and the bum’s rush. As a result, Pacino doesn’t win the award.
So far, this actual inspector has gotten an actual impression of the citizenry of the Crystal Empire, and it’s not good. Apparently it’s like a stereotype of New York City. I guess we now know why they didn’t want any locals on the welcoming committee.
Twilight is told they’re going to need much more time to fix Cadance’s hair.
She makes her way back to the castle, where Pinkie is acting like an idiot. The tourist says she’s getting restless, so Rainbow takes over and leads her down to the nearby stadium while imitating the annoying tour guide from that alt-timeline episode of Stargate SG-1.
Twilight arrives first and asks Shining Armor, who’s now a running coach for some reason, to help with the tour. He accepts and tells her not to worry.
She replies that she’s not worried, and that makes her very happy. Yes, I’m sure that makes you very happy, but because of your aloofness the whole thing turns into a disaster!!!
The rest of the group arrives and the random mare is so excited to be ‘outside’ (technically she’s under a glass dome) that she starts running like a madmare, knocking other ponies over and eventually, a pot lands on her head. She panics and runs straight out-of-town.
Rainbow catches up with her, pulling the pot off her head, and she slows to a stop. Shining Armor catches up with them, and introduces himself. The mare is in awe, since she never met royalty before. Which surprises Shining, given her line of work.
Then she says she’s just an ordinary mustang from Mustangia. Mustangia? Really? Are you even trying anymore?
So, it’s then they finally realize they’ve been leading the wrong mare around town.
So-PINKIE! WHAT’D I TELL YOU ABOUT THAT POSE!? So they rush over to the train station, hoping the inspector is still around. She’s not.
They rush to the spa, hoping she’s not there, because if she is, it’s game over.
Back at the spa, the inspector is getting a hooficure, as Ms. Mustangia is getting a back massage. The inspector talks about how shit the place is, which tells me they’re not getting the games. But the other one talks about how she got a first-class welcome to the city.
The gang arrives, and Rarity introduced Cadance, all dressed up. Meh, I preferred the 80’s hair she had earlier.
But the moment the inspector hears the Princess’ name, she get’s up and confronts her over the lack of pomp.
Wow, how far up your own ass do you have to be?
Rainbow explains that they gave their welcome to the wrong pony, and explains she really wanted to make sure the Empire got the games because she didn’t want them to feel the disappointment she felt as a child.
Wait… was Rainbow Dash the central character this entire time? Did I miss something? You think she would have gotten more lines in that case.
But the inspector explains that after hearing what kind of welcome the crazy pony got, she decides to give them the games.
Um… so you’re gonna base your decision on a purposefully artificial view of the city, when your more authentic view involved being ignored and splashed with water multiple times?
If it is anything like the Olympics, the Equestria Games will feature ponies arriving from all across the nation, resulting in millions of bits in tourism flowing in. Therefore, these ponies will also be given the same treatment you just did, as average citizens. What exactly did they ever do to you!?
Unless… she didn’t know that that was the pony who was given the tour in her stead. In that case, she’s just thick.
So despite the fact that they shouldn’t have gotten to host the games, they’re allowed to host the games.
I just want, for once, to see an episode end with the characters failing epically, and not have everything work out in the end. Sometimes you fail. That just means you learn. It’s not that big a deal.
So it’s time to leave. The group arrives at the train station, and we get two shots and a lot of dialogue recycled from the last episode.
But after they get on the train, there’s a slight continuity error. As Twilight is explaining last week’s Aesop, her movements are drastically different. This is when they should have just recycled a scene. Instead they only do it during an establishing shot, and when Spike throws a gem that knocks over a cart of luggage.
Then there are a few issues with timing, but whatever, time is always in flux on these shows.
The episode ends with a shot of Spike, the animals, and the Crusaders, hiding under the seats, exactly like the last episode.
But honestly, I think they made a crucial error here. This episode should have aired before the last episode. Because the ending would have given us one hell of a mystery for next week as we scream: “What the hell happened!? How’d he get there!?”
Since we already know what happened, that shot feels kinda stupid. Especially with the dramatic sting that accompanies it.
However, if they did do that, the opening of this episode would have made a lot less sense.
So, that was… an episode. I guess it’s not bad. Certainly enjoyable, if a bit frustrating.
I find it perplexing that we see so little of the Crystal Ponies, especially given the reason for their existence.
I’m of course referring to executive meddling. The higher-ups at Hasbro mandated the inclusion of the Crystal Ponies for the purposes of toy marketing and honestly, I kinda like the idea.
Say what you want about the individual episodes. (The first one had a boring villain and a boring ending and this one was just stupid.) But the idea in and of itself is not bad. I kinda like it.
If there was some indication of why Cadance is in charge of the empire I’d like it even more. But alas, we don’t get that.
But here’s my point: Given that the executives mandated the creation of the Crystal Empire, why didn’t they also mandate the inclusion of more Crystal Ponies with speaking roles? That way they could market those characters as new toys.
I’d love to look at their detailed sales stats to confirm this. But right now, I’m willing to bet that the most popular toys are actually those who are also characters on the show. The main gang, the Crusaders, Cheerilee, Trixie, Shining Armor and the three princesses are the only characters on the show who also have toys; and I’m bettin’ those toys are their top sellers. I’ll even include Heartstrings in that, with the mention that she’s also been in the background of several episodes, and has one hell of a fan following. So why are they not including the Crystal Ponies as part of the marketing machine?
And, you know, I’m not even talking about the bronies! When I was a kid, I was a bit of a Batman fan. I wanted to get a Batman toy, but I honestly couldn’t find one. Or to be more specific, I couldn’t find a toy of the real Batman.
From what I remember he always wore some type of super armor, was red, or had some super backpack that was molded on. I just wanted fucking Batman! So I never bought any of that spin-off crap, because it wasn’t Batman. So why would the little kids waste their time buying Diamond Rose, when there is no Diamond Rose on the show?
Maybe some will. But I wouldn’t have.
Oh, and apparently they don’t actually sell any of the Crystal Ponies as toys at the same scale as the main line. They only sell Crystal Ponies at the scale of those tiny blind bag things. I’m not gonna try to understand that.
It probably has something to do with the type of plastic.
Anyway, my point is, I don’t understand why the execs didn’t mandate the inclusion of Crystal Ponies as major characters. I would have liked that, it would have been a smart move.
In contrast, the mandates that are actually sent down are pretty fucking stupid. Which I’ve already talked about, and I’ll delve deeper into it, next week.