Time for your review of the Season Finale via reviewer Ryan C. All after the page break.
This is a VERY lengthy synopsis/review. It has been split into sections for the readers’ convenience.
Well, that went by quick, didn’t it? It seems just a few weeks ago we were all eagerly anticipating the start of a new season, and now here we are viewing the end of it. Season three, though, has been rather tumultuous. It has had, in my opinion, the very best and very worst of what “Friendship is Magic” has to offer rolled into a single 13-episode run. From outstanding episodes like “Sleepless in Ponyville” that offer a nearly unheard of look at intrapersonal reflection in a children’s cartoon to “Spike At Your Service” which is a veritable train wreck of overdone tropes and clichés that even children yawn at, this season of “Friendship is Magic” has been rife with ups and downs that would make a roller coaster jealous. Still, after this waiting and plodding and wishing, we finally come to the grand finale with anticipation.
Yet this finale is a bit different than you, I, or anyone else might have expected. This is the finale that had a “twist” that we were already told about. This is the finale in which Twilight Sparkle, after years of tutorship and study under Princess Celestia, finally fulfills her destiny. This is the finale where Twilight, a talented unicorn, amazing friend, loyal student, and beloved member of the Mane Six, fulfills her destiny and becomes a Princess herself. Fans already knew about the “what” of “Magical Mystery Cure”. The only thing the episode had to show us was the “hows” and “whys”. In the end though, what we’re left with is more “whys” than anything else.
I’ll get this out of the way right now: I am not a fan of Twilight turning into an alicorn or a princess. I’ll spare you the soapbox since this is a review and not an editorial, but I have my own issues with it that extend beyond just arbitrarily disliking it. I did, however, go into this episode with as much of an open mind as I possibly could and tried my best to shove aside any preconceptions I might have had. I’ll do my best to give my opinion on everything as it was presented in the episode itself while disregarding conjecture and promotional material attached to the show.
“Magical Mystery Cure”, written by M.A. Larson, is the season three finale to “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic”. The story, at least in the beginning of the episode, involves Twilight accidentally casting an unfinished spell by Starswirl the Bearded that causes her friends, the current Elements of Harmony, to have their cutie marks – and therefore their destinies – switched.. Rarity inherits Rainbow Dash’s cutie mark and believes that she is supposed to control weather, Pinkie Pie inherits Applejack’s cutie mark and tries to run Sweet Apple Acres, and so on. This is the show’s answer to the fabled “body swap” episode that some had anticipated. Oh, and by the way, it’s a fully-fledged musical.
A Pony Musical
“Magical Mystery Cure” has, in total, six completely different songs and a reprise in its 22-minute run. It’s the first musical of the series and they went all-out in driving that point home. The episode begins with a song, the major plot points are done in musical montages, and even Twilight’s transformation is done after a song. Daniel Ingram and the musical crew at DHX have truly outdone themselves this time in terms of the sheer number of tracks in this single episode. As a point of fact, it has more songs than any other single episode of “Friendship is Magic” and more in this single episode than the rest of season three combined.
The first thing that will be noticed after a viewing of “Cure” is that everything happens very quickly. The first part of the episode, the “Switched Cutie Marks” half, is introduced and resolved almost entirely in song and the entirety of that plotline takes place in only about 15 minutes. The rest of the episode is Twilight’s transformation and much-advertised coronation, which in itself begins and ends extremely abruptly. Little has been done to hide the fact that this episode was a musical because it’s much more time-efficient to give a montage of events in a song rather than take time to have conversations and explanations. That’s not to say that it’s a bad thing necessarily, but it does seem to be the case.
As for the songs themselves, they are, for the most part, quite good and certainly the most redeeming portions of the episode. Twilight’s “I’ve Got to Find a Way” song has an eclectic yet moving mix of high-power vocals with an almost old school R&B-esque musical track. It’s without a doubt the most depressing song in the series and the accompanying scene is certainly deserving of it. “What My Cutie Mark is Telling Me” is a well-done montage displaying the Mane Six’s switched destinies. The music and vocals are nothing special, but it’s at least very effective in its purpose – it tells which cutie marks have switched and the struggles they’re having adjusting to their new “lives”. Its resolution song, “A True, True Friend” is a much more upbeat track in the same vein as the “Smile Song”. Like “What My Cutie Mark is Telling Me”, it does have a bit of a generic sound to it, but like said song it is also very effective in showing how the girls use their friendship to fix their cutie mark problem.
Without a doubt, the most impressive track in the episode is “Celestia’s Ballad”. This song is sung exclusively by Princess Celestia herself, and it marks the first time that any princess has had any singing roles. The song and its accompanying scene are superbly emotionally powerful and at least soften the blow going into the rushed second half of the episode. The song is moving, relatable, and downright impressively presented. The lyrics in particular are so powerful because they don’t sound like a teacher rewarding her student – they sound like a mother allowing their child to blossom into an adult. Through Twilight’s own personal journeys and her careful teaching, Celestia shows her student that she is destined for much greater things and she is willing to let her become an adult and grow past her tutelage. It’s something that the older audience of “Friendship is Magic” will most certainly appreciate, and I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if it hit so close to some viewers that they got a bit choked up by its end.
The remaining songs, “Morning in Ponyville”, its episode-ending reprise, and “Behold, Princess Twilight Sparkle” are much less impressive. “Morning in Ponyville” seems almost comically cheery and upbeat while “Behold, Princess Twilight Sparkle” seems like something out of the worst portion of a Sunday Mass. “Behold” in particular is almost offensively self-serving. It comes off not as a grand coronation for a new princess, but like a procession for a Messiah returning from the dead. I don’t exaggerate when I say I shook my head in disgust when I heard this short hymn.
The ‘Swapped Five’
One big takeaway from this episode, coronation aside, is the new information we gained about cutie marks and just exactly how they work. We learned much more about how cutie marks are intrinsically tied to a pony’s destiny instead of just an outward display of the pony’s inherent special talents. Switching the cutie marks even seemed to directly affect the Mane Six’s memories about their true selves – Rarity remarks to Twilight that she’s always had her cutie mark, despite the fact that she is utterly inept at controlling the weather. It seems that Twilight’s friends are miserable because they are forced to do what their cutie marks tell them rather than what they know (or used to know) they were proficient at.
This actually presents a rather frightening scenario wherein a pony could conceivably receive a cutie mark at something they were not good at or disinterested in, thereby forcing them to perform this task, seemingly impulsively, while failing at every attempt. This does, however, happen to contradict Apple Bloom’s reaction to the Cutie Pox in a season two episode where she becomes extremely proficient at every talent her cutie mark gives her. This can probably be hand-waved as a side-effect of the pox, though.
Behold, Princess Twilight Sparkle
So, with the Cutie Swap Chronicles and the musical stylings out of the way, now I suppose I have to talk about the elephant in the room: Twilight Sparkle’s ascension to an Alicorn Princess. It’s worth mentioning that the term ‘alicorn’ is now show-canon as of “Magical Mystery Cure” to directly refer to winged unicorns. It had previously been mentioned in “Magic Duel” with the Alicorn Amulet, but in the finale Rarity uses the term specifically to reference Twilight’s transformation. This is a nice, canon-centric nod to the fandom and pop culture in general, as the term “winged unicorn”, “pegacorn”, or “pegasus unicorn” had previously been used to describe what type of pony the Princesses are.
As per the multitudes of advertisements, promotional material, and toy line announcements, it is indeed true that Twilight Sparkle ascends to Princesshood in “Magical Mystery Cure”. After helping her friends fix their cutie mark crisis and return to normal, Twilight has an epiphany and realizes how to complete the incomplete spell of Starswirl’s she cast at the beginning of the episode. That realization is, of course, the magic of friendship. After completing the spell (with a rhyme, of course) and casting it, her friends’ Elements of Harmony necklaces glow with power and simultaneously blast Twilight literally into oblivion – the only thing left after the explosion is a black mark on the floor of her library in the shape of her star-spangled cutie mark.
This leads into the “Hall of Memories” scene in which Celestia appears in what seems to be an incorporeal form and sings “Celestia’s Ballad” to explain to Twilight that the princess had been keeping an eye on her all of this time to see just what exactly Twilight would do or become during her time in Ponyville. After Celestia’s final note, Twilight is lifted into the air, magic swirling around her, and deposited back into Ponyville, wings in tow, to meet her friends. The exact method by which the transformation happens – either by Twilight’s own power or the interference of Princess Celestia – is still left mostly unclear even after we witness it firsthand.
There are a few rather large bugbears I have with these scenes. The first and most glaring is that, for being her apparent ultimate destiny, Twilight is utterly oblivious to her coming transformation and even seems frightened and reluctant during and after the process. It appears almost as if it was something that was forced upon her rather than a change she actively was working toward. The argument could be made that Twilight was “rewarded” with something she did not consent to and may not have necessarily wanted. What if she didn’t want the responsibility and power? What if she just wanted to be a filly that studied under her teacher and grew with her friends? The option for Twilight to reject becoming an alicorn is not one she is given. The fact that she accepts it so readily also completely caught me off-guard. This is a pony who questions everything – why would she be so quick to accept her own ascension to princesshood and a new pair of wings growing out of her back?
The other issue I have is her friends’ reactions. They just watched Twilight be vaporized into thin air and reappear out of the sky from apparently nowhere. Yet, after her landing and spreading of her wings, not once do any of them say “Are you okay?” or “Do you need any help?” or “What happened to you?” or inquire in any way, shape, or form about their friend’s well-being. No, instead the first thing they do is shout how wonderful her new change is, praise her becoming an alicorn, and Rainbow Dash simply exclaims how happy she is to have a new “flying buddy”. Even Fluttershy seems utterly unconcerned.
While, of course, everything turned out to be safe, it seems wholly out-of-character for each and every one of her friends to be completely laissez-faire about Twilight’s transformation. It’s never attempted to be explained and it’s never questioned. In fact, Twilight’s only line of questioning to Celestia is what to do with her newfound princess status, not how or why it happened. This scene is a complete face-heel turn from the personalities of these characters and seems meant to drive home only one thing: This is what happened, whether you like it or not. Twilight is an alicorn now, everyone is happy, and everything is normal. Twilight is crowned a princess, all of Equestria’s citizens are ecstatic with the news, peace and prosperity reign, and everything is “going to be just fine”.
All of these things beg the $6,000,000 question, though: Why? There was no effort whatsoever made to explain the ‘whys’, ‘hows’, and ‘whats’ of her transformation. Why did Twilight need to become a princess? How does this improve her as a character? What does she gain from becoming an alicorn and receiving a pair of wings? Was it really necessary to change such a beloved character in such a drastic way? What does this say about the rarity of alicorns or the power they supposedly wield? None of these are answered and I fear some of them never shall be. If they aren’t, though, Twilight Sparkle as a character is in danger of becoming completely unrelatable to the viewership after previously being the most-liked precisely because she was like so many of us.
Rarity and Sweetie Belle reignite their sisterly love after an argument, Rainbow Dash learns the importance of self-control and humility after her hubris puts others in danger, Fluttershy learns how to stand up for herself while still being kind and compassionate, Applejack comes to understand that sometimes pride needs to be set aside and it’s okay to ask for help, and Pinkie Pie learns that your friends are always your friends even if it may not seem like it sometimes. These life lessons are the small rewards that “Friendship is Magic” teaches us are the most important. The fellowship of those you love and the learning of an important truth are the real rewards – that is what has made this show so touching, so relatable, and so important. Twilight Sparkle has learned, through her life in Ponyville, the Magic of Friendship, and that in itself is its greatest reward.
However, all of this seems to be utterly disregarded in “Magical Mystery Cure”. Twilight, for being the great friend she is and for being so important to the lives of so many ponies in Equestria, is rewarded with godlike powers and a new status of royalty. It’s a nice dream, but that’s all it is. She is given a tangible reward for doing what she should always be doing in the first place: being a good friend. It may simply be foolish conjecture on my part, but I feel as though Twilight would have been just as happy and perhaps even more so if her only reward for curing her friends’ cutie mark ailments was their eternal gratitude and happiness. Twilight, as I and many others have come to known her, is not a pony that has ever had aspirations of being royalty. Of being a deity. Of being anything more than a studious, simple pony that loves her friends. But this new status is is the role that has been thrust upon her, and it seems we simply have to accept it.
As for general comments about the episode itself, there is a very nagging feeling in the back of my head that “Magical Mystery Cure” was initially to be a series send-off and not a season send-off. From my own bits of research and with new information coming to light, it seems that Hasbro was still using the “65 episode rule” mindset in ordering Friendship is Magic, where the show would have normally been cancelled after 65 episodes to run a full-year syndication, but its extreme popularity caused Hasbro to reconsider. This would help to explain why the end of this episode had such a feeling of finality to it, despite the fact that another season is well on its way. In fact, according to Meghan McCarthy’s Twitter, “Magical Mystery Cure” is the first of what is essentially a three-parter. The unfortunate part is, we have to conceivably wait until season four this fall to see its conclusion.
We are left with entirely too many questions about the future. I don’t know what’s in store, but I can at least say that it’ll be interesting. We’ll just have to wait and see what season four and beyond has in store for Princess Twilight Sparkle, but is everything going to be “just fine”?
I have my doubts.