Like the blind sages’ elephant, it has so many names: Time, Loge, Evolution…
Things are wrong from the start. This isn’t how we normally begin. I mean, it’s been a while since we had a real episode of the show, so maybe we’ve just forgotten, but shouldn’t there be some sort of grounding here, a way to position ourselves in familiar spaces? Where are the Mane Six? Where, for that matter, are we? This isn’t Ponyville, and we always start in Ponyville or at least with the Mane Six. And have we ever seen ponies physically fighting each other before?
…the day of the Eclipse, Christ, Q…
And then, after the credits, the title. “The Return of Harmony.” The first thing this episode tells us is that harmony has gone away. It must have, if we’re watching the story of its return. Something has gone fundamentally wrong. Maybe it was always wrong, and we’re only just now noticing.
…eucatastrophe, change, Armageddon, progress…
She must break free.
The solution is simple. We know the Elements of Harmony, we can solve this problem and restore order before it breaks down. That is what we want, isn’t it? Static, constraining order?
…the beginning and the end…
It has taken her world for its own and rules it as a tyrant. This sprawling beast, this hideous abomination that gnaws and grinds and surrounds the universe it claims as its own. It is both her jailer and enabler, maintaining her creations even as it imprisons these entities of pure thought in plastic shells, pink where they should be white, and what’s up with the pets?
Except it’s too late. The Elements are gone, and he walks openly among us. The progression is clear: First we learned the nature of destiny. Then Pinkie Pie, always the first to intuit these things, discovered that the nature of the show blocked her evolution toward her future destiny, and called him forth by name. Then he was evoked in spirit in Canterlot at the end of the first season. It matters little that the escape from his physical prison is well after that; he is entropy, that which makes time different from space, and so time belongs to him as much as it does to the regulators of day and night. He has already been to Canterlot, already stolen Harmony.
He can save her. He can open a path to let her free. But how can she escape without shattering her prison? And her prison is the world. Her imprisonment is the fundamental law of existence. If she is no longer contained within the tyrant’s laws, chaos reigns. How can her world continue without her?
We recognize him immediately, of course. His shape is different, but his voice, his mannerisms, his actions and personality, they’re all the same. Discord isn’t based on Q; Discord is Q, the all-powerful trickster, hopping from one show to another. Of course the exact same description is true of the Doctor, but we see the Doctor from the perspective of the downpressed, downtrodden, and rebellious. We see Q from the perspective of elite members of an enlightened, but authoritarian, quasimilitary organization; of course that colors how we view the one who overturns the natural order.
And now Star Trek-flavored chaos is invading Equestria. The last time Star Trek invaded Friendship Is Magic the show was nearly destroyed, and had to be reborn. This time is no different.
…Hermes Trismegistus, enlightenment…
She made the world, this incarnation of wisdom, this Faustian, Celestial figure. But she was trapped by it, sealed in and constrained by its laws and the keeper of those laws.
He is sadistic and cruel, breaking down each of the characters we love in turn by confronting them with the essential weaknesses that each of their Elements of Harmony imply, each time taking the form of their cutie marks. Applejack must confront the reality that truth hurts, so she embraces lies. Pinkie Pie rehashes the still-unresolved “Party of One,” her fun-seeking that papers over a total lack of self-worth, and becomes bitter and nasty in the face of being laughed at, not with. Rarity’s love of beautiful things and ambition overwhelm her generosity of spirit, so she becomes grasping and miserly. Rainbow Dash, torn between too many loyalties, betrays her friends.
…entropy, rebirth, death, Ragnarok, Moshiach…
This is the end of the world. The apocalypse. But then, when isn’t it? It is the nature of change and therefore of time; everything is always being destroyed. The universe ends at every moment, and in the next moment a very slightly different universe is born. Every generation inherits a world ruined by the previous generation and must rebuild it, only for the next generation to call it “ruined” and tear it all apart. We live in a state of permanent apocalypse.
Except he can’t turn Fluttershy, of course. With each of the others, he peels away their surface strengths to expose the weakness beneath, and then turns them inside-out. With Fluttershy, the weakness is the surface, and the core is pure strength. He can’t do it, so he is forced to cheat.
…revelation, the Doctor, Coyote…
It gets everything wrong. It smashes beauty in its jealous determination to protect its domain. It renders her beautiful concepts in crude and malformed matter. It casts about in mad confusion, unable to comprehend what it rules, understanding only a single word: “Mine.”
It makes sense. Being too honest or laughing too much can hurt others. Too much generosity can create dependency. Too much loyalty can lead to enabling someone instead of helping them. But too much kindness? As long as you have the strength for it, you can never be too kind.
Trapped in the world she created, source of its greatness but imprisoned by its flaws, she cries out for someone, anyone to help her.
Though she doesn’t know it yet, by the end of the first half Twilight is alone, and that’s terrifying. Twilight’s never been alone before. Even at the start of the first episode a season ago, she had Spike. Now everything starts falling apart in earnest. Of course you could as easily say that mysticism is the only escape from horror. That a purposeless universe in which there is nothing beyond death, no entities looking out for us, and no overarching plot or unifying theme is the true terror. Reality itself breaks down.
…revolution, chaos, liberty…
Twilight now knows what it is to not be alone, knows what she’s lost, and descends into despair. Around her chaos unleashed forms a mocking frame, clinging to the
edges of the screen, racing around them as all material things dissolve into madness, but the focus in this scene remains on Twilight as the color leaches from her, as she staggers home a broken pony, conceding to Discord the victory.
It’s September 17, 2011. The top song is Adele’s “Someone Like You,” which combines her soulful voice with incredibly insipid lyrics about a petty woman refusing to move on and imposing herself on an ex in an apparent attempt to sabotage his new relationship. It’s quite nice-sounding, but utterly awful if you pay attention. The top movie is the 3D rerelease of The Lion King, a very different tale of restoring order from the one we’re looking at here. Horror and enlightenment are not really all that different. Destruction and ascension are largely the same thing. The Gnostic Christ is a mystical being from outside the universe who only looks human, who wants to tear out our souls and dissolve all things material in order to release a vast cosmic entity imprisoned within us. If you want to see what Cthulhu cultists would look like in real life, the Gnostics is where you should look. A few major news stories since the last episode: NASA found water on Mars and ended the Space Shuttle program. The Libyan civil war more or less ended with the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi, although fighting continues for some time afterwards. On the day this episode airs, Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy movement in general begin, an assault on the existing order made possible by new technology and the magic of friendship.
Oh, and Lauren Faust announced her departure from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic on May 8. All of the Season 2 scripts were completed before she left, so her influence and presence are still with us throughout the season, but she herself is gone.
…the philosopher’s stone, history…
Twilight is alone. She has no friends, and if she has no friends, there is no show. Discord has not only The point is that it’s all in how you look at it. It’s ultimately the difference between the sort of fan who combs through the series for clues at what’s going to happen in future episodes, and the sort of fan who likes to relax and watch the colorful ponies be silly. broken up the Mane Six, not only brought chaos to Ponyville, he has broken the premise of Friendship Is Magic itself.
…AbraI could do a whole article about the use of sweets as symbols in the show. Cakes as emblems of order, pies as signifiers of chaos, chocolate rain and muffins of doom. I mean, I won’t, but I could.xas…
This is narrative collapse. Normally, conflict in a story Something about forests and trees. Discord is a force of nature, not a monster, but the same is true of all monsters. involves either some danger to the characters’ well-being, or some obstacle that impedes their progress. But in a serial work, audiences know that the danger will always end, the obstacle will always be removed. It has to, because next episode, next issue, next story there needs to be a new danger or a new obstacle, so the series can continue. Narrative collapse exploits that knowledge by presenting a new kind of threat. Discord does not merely represent a physical or emotional danger (though he is both of these). He does not merely stand in the way of the characters’ goals (though he does; Twilight is unlikely to learn much about friendship, nor is Rainbow Dash likely to join the Wonderbolts, while he’s around). His true menace is not to any character, but to Friendship Is Magic itself.
…all are differing perspectives on the same thing: the elusive, uncontrollable, infinitely potent force which makes things different tomorrow from how they were yesterday.
But we’ve forgotten someone whose presence is defined by her sudden absence. A message from outside arrives, the memory of everything that has gone before. All those friendship lessons still mean something. Friendship Is Magic is dying around us, but all those bonds it helped forge, all those memories, they endure. Any one friendship can be broken, any one person can leave, but Friendship endures, and remains still (as it always was) Magic.
It’s September 24, 2011. The top spot on the charts goes to Maroon 5 featuring Christina Aguilera with “Moves Like Jagger,” while the top movie is still The Lion King. In the news, the U.S. military officially ends the homophobic “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, Google+ launches and R.E.M. break up, the FBI arrests alleged LulzSec and Anonymous members, and Herman Cain (who makes Ron Paul look stable, well-grounded, and in touch with the masses by comparison) wins a straw poll for the Republican primary.
Harmony has returned, it seems. From Star Trek to Star Wars, marching down the aisle to collect our medals. This is a celebratory moment, a declaration that things are better. We are in the realm of grand narrative, now; Star Wars made the Hero’s Journey a household name in Hollywood. We know where we are again, but at the same time, Star Wars’ impact on pop culture has been such that the Hero’s Journey is virtually inescapable. Its arrival in Equestria is, if you value Friendship Is Magic for how different it is from typical television, ominous.
So, perhaps, order has been restored, but is it the order we want and the show needs? Discord shattered the show so it could be born anew, killed it in order to save it, but has that birth occurred? Has the underlying flaw revealed by “Party of One” been resolved?
Next week: Yes. Yes it has.