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  • 1 week
    Dragonfall, chapter 17

    Coldsteel clears his throat.

    "I count myself among the resurrected, sir, and I believe that under the circumstances I have weathered the situation fairly well. Yellowbelly, also, does not seem any more notably useless now than he usually is. But Sergeant Rictus is..."

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  • 20 weeks
    Courier's Journal, chapter 12

    "Heading into the city proper, we came to a memorial to the soldiers who died in the Battle of Hoover Dam, and an off-duty trooper named Kowalski paying his respects. Nearby, there was a bar being operated by one of Boulder City's few remaining residents, who told us about how dead it is around here. And of course there was also the massive pile of rubble and ruins that used to be the

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  • 27 weeks
    I Went to the Other Side, and All I Saw Were Stars

    Season's greetings, seasoned veterans of the DannyJ Experience. Hope you're all having a merry Christmas. As we head into 2022 for the next chapter of this progressively worsening nightmare that we all live in, I wanted to touch base with you all so that you know what to expect from me going forwards (in terms of writing, I mean; I remain an unpredictable force of nature otherwise).

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  • 30 weeks
    Just Dodge! reading

    I've received a few dramatic readings of my stories over the years, but for the most part, they've always been for my shorter stories, with Jacob M. Keene's Agent Redwood reading being the longest one-and-done I've received until today, at half an hour long. Rest in Chaos in particular had at least four readings that I know of

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DANNYJ REVIEWS: MLP SEASON 9 PART 1 · 8:36pm Dec 23rd, 2020


Merry Christmas, ya filthy animals.

Yes, it's time for the seasonal review again, this time season nine! This is the final instalment in a trilogy of reviews in which I examine the many failings of the final three seasons of Friendship is Magic, an era of the show which I have variously come to term "G4.5," "nu-MLP," or sometimes just "late-series MLP" (though since the advent of Pony Life, I feel as if "G4.5" is taken now, so we'll stick with the latter for this review). Over the course of these reviews, I have contended that these seasons were plagued by poor characterisation and continuity, absurd premises and world-building, and general illogical happenings and plot-holes, sufficient enough and distinct enough from the earlier seasons that I felt the need to draw such a line to separate them. I believe these flaws to be endemic to this period of the show as a whole as a result of their production process, the staff involved, and other external factors.

In this series, I examine the seasons episode by episode to break down their failings in detail. This is partly to entertain you guys, but if I'm being honest, it's mostly for my own catharsis. I did not enjoy nu-MLP, and I did not enjoy season nine, and this is my way of making peace with that disappointment. In this review, as always, I will try to make my criticisms entertaining and informative, rather than just a long rant, but be forewarned, my reviewing style is still rather sweary and angry-sounding in text, and I'm still gonna sound harsh at times. If you loved season nine, and you don't want to see me tearing it apart for the next seventy thousand words (no joke), then that's fine, and I don't blame you. So this is your chance to back out.

All that said, let's get on with the show. Hope you're in this for the long haul.

Naturally this is all just my opinion, and should not affect your enjoyment of the show, blah, blah, blah...


I think that I already made a pretty good case last time for why season eight was a fucking disaster. Between its need to weld the movie's canon onto the show's, its failure to follow up on season seven, and a season arc that was exceptionally fucking stupid even by the lowered standards of late-series MLP, it had a lot riding against it, and the fact that it was largely written and edited by complete newbies didn't help. For these and other reasons, I know that a lot of people consider season eight to be the all-time lowest point of this show, but they are wrong, because it's actually season nine. That may sound like a controversial statement right now, but stick around, kids. You'll understand where I'm coming from in due time.

There are many reasons why season nine was bad, but much like season eight, a lot of it had to do with the fact that it was hobbled by its obligations to the seasons that came before it.

According to leaked internal emails circa 2016 or so, the movie was supposed to come out between seasons six and seven and set up the stupid School of Friendship idea, and season seven would've been a kind of pseudo-reboot focusing on a "new mane six" led by Starlight Glimmer, who would've also filled the narrative role of the student six. Season six (and to a lesser extent, season seven) thus focused on propping up Starlight as the replacement main character, while having the mane six "fulfill their destinies," because their stories were supposed to be officially over. This is why we had developments such as Sweetfeather Sanctuary and Dash finally joining the Wonderbolts in seasons six and seven.

I discussed in the introduction of my season eight review how the writers kept trying to replace the mane six, first with Starlight, and then later with the student six. If ever you doubted me about that at any point, look no further than the leaks for proof. It was always Josh Haber's intention to replace the mane six to make way for his own new characters, an ambition that I believe he shared with Michael Vogel, a former Hasbro executive who previously wrote several season six episodes, and co-wrote the season six finale with Haber. But unfortunately for them (and perhaps more fortunately for us), it seems that bad luck and Hasbro's larger plans put a stop to this.

The movie ended up not coming out until 2017, releasing in the middle of season seven, and plans changed so that setting up the School of Friendship fell to season eight instead. Michael Vogel was pulled away to work on the movie with Meghan McCarthy, and was unavailable for season seven. And at the same time, for reasons that I'm not quite sure of, Josh Haber was also temporarily replaced as story editor by Joanna Lewis and Kristine Songco.

Thus, the two main driving forces for the Starlight replacement plan had a lesser impact on season seven, which was instead led by Lewis and Songco for the first half, who seemed to be markedly less keen on this idea. Although Lewis and Songco's season seven did follow through with some of Haber and Vogel's plans, such as Sweetfeather Sanctuary, for the most part, it abandoned the replacement angle. Whether this was due to orders from on high, cold feet, or they just thought that it was a bad idea and fought against it, I can't say for sure, but as I said in my season seven review, I do think that this was to the season's betterment, and made Starlight a more tolerable character. So as it turns out, for all of season seven's faults, it really could've been a lot worse.

To think, all along we were watching the good version of season seven.

The good times couldn't last forever, though. Although Vogel had no impact on season seven as far as I'm aware, Josh Haber returned and resumed writing and story editing duties in the latter half of the season. Initially he shared the role with Lewis and Songco, but they were gone by the final four episodes, for which Haber seemed to handle the story editing alone, and they did not return for season eight. This is also where Nicole Dubuc first enters the picture, co-writing the season finale, Shadow Play, with Haber. Despite this being her first writing credit for the show, Dubuc immediately went on to assume the roles of executive producer and story editor for season eight, both of which she shared with Haber, while Michael Vogel also returned to writing.

As you can see, this constant shifting of creative control behind the scenes was rather chaotic, and probably contributed something to why seasons seven and eight were so bad. Take for example the Pillars arc. I do not know whose idea it was, Haber's or the duo's, as it came in the latter half of the season when Haber was already back, but to me, the Pillars arc seems like another victim of Haber's vision. Sure, the Pillars may well have been another of Haber's attempts to replace the mane six, but in hindsight, the fact that nothing like them was ever mentioned in his leaked Starlight plans, as well as the way that their storyline was abruptly dropped in season eight and never followed up on, suggests to me that they might have been a Lewis and Songco creation. Doesn't it seem like quite the coincidence that the Pillars were introduced in their season, derailing Haber's plans, and then were completely dropped after they both left and he came back?

Of course, we may never know for sure, but much like the J.J. Abrahms/Rian Johnson fiasco in Disney's Star Wars sequels, the lack of a solid plan or a singular creative vision, however unappealing that vision may be, also resulted in a lack of story cohesion, only further harming the overall quality of the series. As a result, the final four seasons feel extremely disjointed and unfocused, as competing creative visions were fighting for supremacy on rapidly shrinking ground.

And what do I mean by shrinking ground? Well, as far back as 2017, Hasbro were making it known that they wanted the show wrapped up soon. Plans were already being drawn up for G5, with Meghan McCarthy at the helm, trying to just barely hold everything together despite immense corporate pressure and an unreasonable timetable. And Hasbro's intentions for G5 seemed to be the other major factor in disrupting Haber and Vogel's plans. After Lewis and Songco's seeming derailment of the Starlight replacement plan in season seven, the unholy trinity of Haber, Dubuc, and Vogel tried to right the ship in season eight by going ahead with the School of Friendship arc, only now with six brand new characters instead of the intended "Starlight six." Only, by then, the end of the show itself was looming, and it was too late for that.

Thus we come to season nine, a monument to failed ambitions. I'm sure that back when they began, Haber and Vogel were hoping that the mane six would've stepped into the background by season nine, and that they would've fully established Friendship is Magic as the Starlight Glimmer Show by then, or perhaps the Student Six Show. But they didn't. Despite all the character derailment, and all the attempts to conclude their stories, and despite two separate seasons blatantly setting up for new main characters to take over, complete with finales sidelining the mane six, it never happened. By the time season nine rolled around, the mane six were still the main characters, not Haber and Vogel's favoured children, and thus they were still as obligated as ever to actually focus on them for once and properly wrap up their storylines. Their storylines which Haber and Vogel had already been trying to wrap up ever since season six. Oops.

Had they not already spent the entire latter half of the series trying and failing to push their own characters while attempting to retire or ruin the mane six, the Haber-Vogel-Dubuc triumvirate might've had an easier time of making a satisfying conclusion out of season nine. And to be as absolutely fair as possible, they could've done a lot worse, but season nine still suffers in many ways because of what came before it.

All of this fuckery bloated the show with too many characters and plotlines for one season to resolve. All of the previous attempts to write out the mane six undermined any attempts to now give satisfying conclusions to their individual character arcs. And of course, all of the same issues with characterisation, continuity, and general sloppy writing persist from the previous seasons, because the production process remains the same, the story editors are still incompetent, and even on the final season of the show, major, important episodes were still being entrusted to new and inexperienced writers.

Basically, what I'm getting at is that no matter how hard they tried, season nine was never going to be good. Much like season eight, it didn't stand a chance, because it was built upon a foundation of bullshit. You can try to smooth it over. You can try to prop it up. You can try to make it look pretty and hope that nobody notices. But no matter what you do... it's still gonna smell like shit.

Episodes 1 & 2 - The Beginning of the End:

The worst of the aforementioned shit begins with the premiere, The Beginning of the End, the only contribution to the season from Joanna Lewis & Kristine Songco after their long absence. The major arcs running throughout season nine begin here, most notably the princesses retiring and Grogar's little Legion of Doom. I don't think that we ever get an official name for the villain team-up, so I'm just gonna go with that for now. I'll have a lot more to say about all the various subplots and concepts which are introduced here later, but for now, I'm going to try to keep our focus on the failings of the episode itself.

We begin with this long intro sequence where the mane six are running to the palace because they received an urgent summons from the princesses. They talk like they're expecting some new horrible disaster that they have to solve, but surprise! The princesses are actually just retiring, and they want Twilight to take over right now.

So yeah, a horrible disaster that they have to solve.

Well, okay, they actually say in a few days, but in government time, that's basically immediate. It takes months to plan a wedding, but apparently less than a week for a country that's been run by the same ruler for over a thousand years to transition to a new monarch, who didn't even know herself ahead of time that this was happening.

There are many, many problems with the retirement arc that I'll dig into later, but for now, the one that jumps out at me the most is just how sudden and slapdash this whole plot is, not only from a writing perspective, but in-universe as well. The princesses retiring comes out of nowhere. Oh yeah, sure, fucking Horse Play of all things foreshadowed it in the form of a joke, but nobody aside from the princesses themselves knew that this was coming until they suddenly sprang it on everyone here, and said that it had to be right now.

So what's the rush here? Why the urgent summons? Why a timeframe of mere days? Why did they have to surprise Twilight with this? Celestia says that all of the villains that she defeated over the years and all of the challenges that she faced were tests preparing her for this, but do you know what would have prepared her even better? Actually fucking telling Twilight at any prior point that she'd be expected to govern one day. If this was ever in the cards, then Celestia should've been preparing her for this from day one. At minimum, she should've been informed that this was a possibility after she ascended back in season three, but Celestia controlled Twilight's entire education for most of her life, so she easily could've taught her the basics of politics, economics, and governance by now to set her up for this.

But no, for whatever reason, Twilight has to be told right now, and she has to take over right now, and to top it all off, the princesses don't even have any reference material for her to study and prepare. They just say that her friendship journal should be enough. You know, that friendship journal that they published back in season seven, which inspired all those fanponies to riot and harass Twilight and her friends in the street? Yeah, that one. Sounds about right. I'm sure that the entry about Daring Do's true identity will be extremely helpful for getting Pony Congress to pass Twilight's tax reforms.

Taken together, this is all extremely suspicious to me. Celestia talks like this was always the plan, but it's blatantly obvious that they did zero actual preparation for this, especially because by the end of the episode they walk back on the urgency and decide that there's no real rush after all. This really does come off like a spur of the moment decision on the princesses' part, like Celestia just turned to Luna one day and said, "Hey, what if we just dump our jobs on Twilight and blow this joint?" If I were Twilight right here, the first question I'd be asking is, "Wait, what did you guys do that you both need to suddenly and immediately abdicate and put someone else in charge? Are Cozy Glow's parents suing the government? Am I your fall guy?"

But no. There's nothing really going on behind the scenes here, at least that we see. The true answer, as always, is just that the princesses are huge fucking idiots, and seriously thought that a week's notice would be enough time for a new monarch with zero preparation to take over, and for the rest of the country to adjust accordingly. Christ.

This shit just breaks you after a while.

As far as their actual reasoning goes, all we get from the princesses about why they're retiring now is that everything is supposedly "perfect," and Equestria is going through its "longest period of harmony in recent years" thanks to Twilight and her friends.

Ummm... no? What the fuck do you mean everything's "perfect," Luna? Perfect by what fucking metric? "Longest period of harmony?" What does that even mean in this context? It sure as shit doesn't mean that the kingdom's at peace. Ever since Twilight moved to Ponyville, it's been a fucking boss rush of ancient evils crawling out of the woodwork. As far as I can tell, Equestria has seen more chaos and upheaval in the past five years than it did in the entire thousand years of Celestia's solo reign, and another villain rises from the grave and conquers Equestria in this very episode. Yeah, sounds like a real golden age.

About the only interpretation of this line that makes sense to me is that Equestria is more friendly than ever thanks to Twilight. That I could actually believe, because late-series MLP has consistently depicted ponies as being absolutely terrible at international diplomacy until Twilight came along. Under Celestia's leadership, Equestria completely fell out of contact with entire nations on at least three occasions (Griffonstone, Yakyakistan, and Mount Aris), while Twilight and her friends have been travelling to other lands and befriending foreign leaders for years now. So that's something, I guess, but even this interpretation is laughable, considering that Twilight's school last season almost brought all of those kingdoms to the brink of war.

So then Discord shows up. Now, including Discord is always a surefire way to get me to like an episode more, and when divorced from the context of everything else he does this season, I do actually like his role in this episode. He's doing the trickster mentor thing, helping out while making it look like he's not actually helping (except when he is), and I think that the later scene of him holding off Sombra was pretty cool.

But in hindsight, learning that everything going on here was all Discord's fault in the first place does kind of ruin it, and on a rewatch, I find myself enjoying these scenes a lot less. And not just because of the Grogar twist, either. Some of Discord's scenes are just really awkward in general, like the way he jumps in front of an attack which he had already demonstrated he could harmlessly deflect by magic. It's an intentional fake-out on his part, sure, but with how little sense it makes, it shouldn't have been convincing to anybody. Not to mention Discord's overly sappy speech, which is just full of awkward forced dialogue which doesn't sound natural coming from him at all.

Then we have a few scenes with Twilight to show how woefully unprepared she is for her new responsibilities. The episode tries to be cute about it by describing her panic attacks as "Twilighting" and having all the characters act really blasé about it, but it's actually just painful to watch. I'll have to talk more about this later, but suffice to say, I really disagree about Twilight being the best choice for this job, and I hate absolutely everything about this sequence.


Finally we come to the Legion of Doom's introduction, where "Grogar" assembles all of Equestria's most powerful villains, and also Cozy Glow for some reason. We join them all pretty much where we last left them. Chrysalis is still talking to herself in the woods like a crazy person, Tirek and Cozy are in Tartarus, and Sombra is dead until he's not. I gotta wonder why Cozy seemed so happy to be in Tartarus at the end of season eight if she never actually had a plan for being there, and only breaks out because Discord was fucking around, but whatever. School Raze was terrible either way, so it's not like this makes much difference.

So first I want to talk about Grogar. I know that the Grogar that we see in season nine is just a disguise of Discord's, but the episode still makes it clear that there was a real Grogar at some point, and Discord is just impersonating him, so everything that the other characters say about him we can still take as fact. Given that, let's evaluate what we know of Grogar, and why it's all bullshit.

The first and only mention of Grogar in G4 until now was in A Flurry of Emotions back in season seven, where Twilight was reading to a group of foals, telling them the story of how he was defeated by Gusty the Great. At the time, we were led to believe that it was just that, a story. It certainly wasn't treated with any kind of gravitas. But of course, nothing in Equestria is allowed to remain fictional, and every story and legend is eventually proven true, because fuck world-building through in-universe fiction, I guess. So now Grogar really is a big powerful villain, the biggest and most powerfulest and eeeeevilest of aaaaaaaaaaall time, and we're supposed to take at face value that he really was defeated by some random pegasus stealing his magic bell. Yeah, sure, whatever you say, Beginning of the End.

But we really are supposed to take Grogar seriously as a threat at this stage, because he lords the weight of his reputation over the Legion of Doom. Sombra, Tirek, and Chrysalis are all powerful and intimidating villains in their own rights, yet all of them are impressed by Grogar and sometimes even act afraid of him. They call him the Father of Monsters, and say that he was the first emperor of this land long before Equestria even formed, though I have no idea how that's supposed to work, considering that Cloudsdale was involved in his defeat, and the Three Tribes migrated to this land the same year that Equestria was founded. He even casually powers up Tirek by giving away some of his magic. Not sure how that works either, considering that Grogar is supposed to be Discord in disguise; Discord's magic was rather distinctive the last time Tirek ate it, and in the season finale, they make a big deal about how different it is from regular magic.

I dislike this introduction for these reasons. I'll admit to being a little interested by Grogar before the reveal, but honestly, most of this just feels like an amateur fanfic writer trying too hard to make their edgy OC sound cool. It'd be one thing if Grogar had been the real deal, and actually did something badass during the season to earn his villain cred, but as it is, we're just told that Grogar is a big deal and never actually see it, breaking the fundamental story-telling rule of "show don't tell." Worse than that, it undercuts the threat of the series' actual established villains to have them be openly intimidated by this new guy who ends up not even doing anything, and all just for a fake-out reveal. It wasn't worth it.

So Discord-as-Grogar tries to rile the Legion of Doom into teaming up by saying that they've all been repeatedly humiliated by the mane six, and their failures were because they were all alone before, while the mane six worked together. Objectively untrue in Chrysalis's case, since she had her own army of loyal followers, but whatever.

Now, Discord later claims that this is all supposed to be a big test for Twilight's benefit, so I want to credit this to him actively trying to misdirect the villains' resentment onto her, but in reality, I think that these are just continuity mistakes. Prior to this point, Pinkie Pie and Chrysalis both had lines referring to the mane six being the ones to defeat her, and that's simply not accurate. Chrysalis was defeated primarily by Shining Armor and Cadance the first time, and by Starlight and Thorax the second. And while we're on that, Sombra's defeat was mostly credited to Spike, and Cozy's plans were foiled by the student six. Really, when you think about it, Tirek is the only one here who actually got his ass kicked by the mane six, but the episode doesn't seem to remember any of this.

Anyway, the Legion of Doom will figure more into later episodes, but The Beginning of the End is really more about Sombra than any of the rest of them. He declines Grogar's offer to join forces and decides to strike out on his own, and the rest of the two-parter is kind of just a last hurrah for him, because he never comes back after this. I mean, Grogar says that he can come back if he submits, but that never happens, so...

"Banished to the darkness," my ass.

But despite this episode's attempt to bring back Sombra as a serious villain one last time, he was actually super lame here, and this story was stupid as hell.

I've heard people praise how this episode made Sombra into a legitimate threat, but the thing is, Sombra was always a legitimate threat. That was never his problem. Crystal Empire almost treated him more as a force of nature than a traditional villain. He was an advancing wall of darkness constantly bearing down on the characters throughout the episode. The way that they talked about him, if he even reached them, it was game over. That was actually far more intimidating than what we got here. Sombra's true weakness as a villain was always a lack of solid characterisation, and Jeremy Whitley already fixed that years ago in FIENDship is Magic. Season nine's Sombra is actually a step back from that. Now he's just a generic bad guy again, now with added silly voice.

Actually, let's stop and expand on that for a moment, because Sombra's voice is a much bigger problem than I think any of you understand. In his first appearance, his presentation was what made Sombra intimidating, and his voice was a big part of that. He growled more than he spoke, almost like an animal, but when he did speak, it was in this deep, rumbling voice that oozed with menace. Listen to the way he says "crystal slaves" at 1:55 here:


That voice was pretty much all that Sombra had going for him character-wise in his debut episode, and it comes to us from none other than Jim Miller himself, storyboard supervisor during season three, and later supervising director of the entire series. Alvin Sanders was the season nine voice of Sombra, and his portrayal was like the polar opposite of this. Sombra in this episode, despite his inexplicable hyper-competence, had a goofy over-the-top voice and generally acted like a buffoon. Now, I'm not blaming Sanders for this; I'm sure that he did the best he could with the direction that he was given. But he was a bad choice for this character, especially since Jim Miller was still on staff during season nine. There is no excuse for how badly they butchered Sombra's voice here.

And that's not even getting started on what he actually does in this episode. Sombra is so absurdly powerful here compared to his previous appearances that it becomes ridiculous, which is ironic considering that this is the least intimidating he's ever been. Six years ago, I wrote one of my most highly rated fics to date to answer the question of why Discord didn't just dodge the Elements of Harmony back in his first appearance. But according to season nine, what I really should've been asking was why didn't he just tank the hit, come back from it, and kill the Tree of Harmony in one shot. Because apparently that's something that you can just do?

We're in the endgame now.

The episode frames Discord as being significantly more powerful than Sombra, but even Discord was beaten by the Elements. Not Sombra, though. No, Sombra's just fine after that. And this is the same guy who was destroyed by the Crystal Heart last time we saw him. But that doesn't have any effect on him either this time! For no reason! All of this doesn't make Sombra an impressive villain. It just makes the writing bad. Why does he even bother killing the Tree of Harmony if the Elements aren't even a threat to him?

It's not just his inexplicable resistance to friendship blasts, though. There's also the shocking ease with which he takes over. In his first appearance, Sombra's attempt to seize control of the Crystal Empire was a protracted battle that he eventually lost, but here, he just casually walks in and does it, and Shining Armor and Cadance put up barely any resistance to him, despite being heroes in their own rights who played key roles in defeating both him and Chrysalis previously. He even gets right past all of their guards to steal Flurry Heart. Shouldn't someone have been watching the infant princess? Where the hell is Sunburst during all of this? Isn't that his entire job as her Crystaller?

But the mind control is even worse. Here and there we see Sombra putting these helmets on people, which he used to control his army in the alternate timeline from season five. But as a reminder, in that timeline, all of his slaves were controlled by these helmets, and he was using them to wage an actual war on Equestria. But I guess that the whole war thing was all just for shits and giggles, because apparently Sombra could've just walked into Canterlot by himself at any point and just started casting mind control spells until he won. He didn't even need the helmets. Those are just for aesthetics, because he can mind control entire cities just fine without them, and even his regular mind control is so strong that it works on other mind magic experts like Starlight Glimmer, and is totally unbreakable even by an alicorn. This is such utter bullshit that it defies explanation.

Yet despite how absurdly overpowered Sombra is, and how easily he takes over everything, the episode somehow makes his defeats just as ridiculous and anti-climactic as his victories. His first defeat at the Crystal Empire is just as sudden and unsatisfying as his takeover. We don't even get to see how the mane six made it all the way to the throne room past all of his other slaves. Then later, for his defeat in Canterlot, we do get a whole scene of them trying to fight their way into the city, but then Twilight just gives up and teleports them all past the guards and straight into the castle anyway, rendering the entire preceding action scene utterly pointless.

Then despite the Elements of Harmony being gone, they pull a whole new equivalent power out of their asses at the last second, which is somehow more powerful than what they had before, because even though Sombra already took a direct hit from the Elements of Harmony and came back without a scratch, this time his defeat sticks. I'll have to talk more about this in the finale, but this is probably the worst example of deus ex machina I've seen in a series already rife with it.

I also don't understand how a character who can easily conquer entire cities can be so incompetent at restraining the main characters. He's an expert at mind magic, yet he doesn't use it to stop the most direct threats to him, and instead just puts them in these horribly ineffectual cages. I mean, sure, he kinda has a sadistic excuse for not putting Twilight and her friends under a spell, but why not Shining and Cadance? He has three different alicorns at his mercy throughout this episode, but he never thinks to enslave any of them? Why not? Wouldn't an alicorn be the most useful slave he could possibly have?

But if Sombra does specifically want to imprison them rather than enslave them, don't you think that he'd at least want to put them in more secure restraints? The crystal cages don't even have tops on them! About half the characters that he sticks in these cages could literally just fly out of them if they weren't all brain-dead! And the mane six dug their way out of theirs! How the fuck do you make a cage that it's possible to dig your way out of when your power is to make crystals grow from the ground? This whole cage scene extraordinarily dumb.

"Normally, I wouldn't dream of digging!" says the character who has her own personalised mining helmet.

After this horribly contrived prison break, the mane six return to Ponyville, and suddenly the episode veers off into this completely unrelated subplot where the Everfree Forest is now suddenly growing out of control with the Tree of Harmony dead. What the hell were they thinking here? Were the writers really so devoid of ideas that we had to go back to this again? This is the third time that the franchise has done the "Everfree growing out of control" plot. But at least the previous two times, there were reasons for it. In Princess Twilight Sparkle, it was because of the Plundervines. In Root of the Problem, it was because Aspen was making it happen. The Everfree doesn't just grow like this on its own. It sure didn't back in season one, and the Tree wasn't controlling things back then. Yes, the Everfree used to be wild and dangerous before season four, but it wasn't like this.

This then leads to an extremely stupid sequence where the mane six prioritise fighting off the plants, for several hours, with gardening tools, while a dictator enslaves their entire kingdom and the skies tint apocalyptic orange. I guess we know where their priorities lie. And the princesses also chip in, having abandoned their city and the seat of power in the midst of a siege, because they too recognise that the real problem is this small village being overgrown with vines for a third time. Call me crazy, but I think if Ponyville was alright after the Plundervines, it can probably survive this too.

We also get a brief appearance from Star Swirl here (but not the rest of the Pillars, because who cares about them, right?) and he helps the princesses in fighting back the forest. Apparently he used to do this by himself before the Tree did? What? How does a single unicorn keep this whole forest under control when even an alicorn princess can't? How did he hold it back for so long if the forest growing out of control is a constant and continuous process like it is in this scene? Didn't he ever need to sleep, or stop to take a shit? And who controlled the forest before him? Or, wait, who did he intend to control the forest after him? The Tree of Harmony's growth was a surprise to the Pillars, wasn't it? So when they all sacrificed themselves to stop the Pony of Shadows, did they go into Limbo expecting the forest to just swallow the land in their absence? Yeesh.

So Twilight points out to the princesses that their kingdom is currently falling apart, which I guess they somehow didn't notice with how terrible this gardening situation is, because Luna suddenly exclaims, "We've left Canterlot defenceless!" I guess that the Royal Guard don't count as a defence in her opinion? I mean, I agree; I'm just surprised to hear the princesses acknowledge it. And this of course then leads into the pointless action scene, and then Discord's fake-out, and then Sombra's defeat by deus ex machina, all of which I've already talked about, so fuck it. You already know that this is a bad episode.

On a final note, I would also be remiss if I didn't mention that a big chunk of this plot was ripped off from the comics, specifically Jeremy Whitley's Siege of the Crystal Empire. The show steals ideas from the comics all the time, but it's particularly egregious in this case, since they managed to somehow make a worse version of an already bad comic. For a short list of things that this episode "borrowed" from Siege, there's:

  • Resurrected Sombra.
  • Several villains including Chrysalis teaming up under the direction of a new character.
  • Sombra briefly working for and then betraying an even more ancient evil.
  • A character being referred to in a patriarchal role toward monsters (Grogar the Father of Monsters vs. Sombra the King of Monsters)
  • Sombra putting the mane six in a cage to taunt them.
  • Discord excusing himself from helping to defeat Sombra by going to take a shower instead.
  • The story being actual garbage.

And so on.

Sombra did look metal as fuck in that comic, though.

Episode 3 - Uprooted:

As is (occasional) tradition for this show, the third episode of the season deals with status quo change, in this case the recent "death" of the Tree of Harmony. In many ways, Uprooted hearkens back to Castle Sweet Castle, which is a nicer way of saying that it's another massive rehash episode. Both of them deal with the recent loss of an important and iconic tree, replace said tree with a gaudier and more marketable playset version, have the main characters trying to move on from it but fighting over the best way to do so, and have them come together at the end to "honour" the old tree in an extremely questionable fashion while singing a mediocre song. But there are a few differences here, most notably that this is a student six episode, not a mane six one.

Now, considering that season eight was trying to push these guys as the new main characters, and considering that they had a whole episode with the Tree of Harmony, this makes sense to a degree. The student six would have had to learn about what happened to the Tree at some point, and it's better that the writers dealt with that here in a separate episode rather than cramming the student six into the premiere where they didn't belong. It's also only natural that we'd have an episode to decompress after what happened, and to actually explore the implications and consequences of this change.

My problem with it, aside from the unoriginal plot, comes from the fact that the student six are the only ones who seem to care about this. The mane six had a relationship with the Tree of Harmony long before these guys did, but they never thought to make a memorial, even though they basically made one for Twilight's library, which wasn't even a sentient being. They even left the broken Elements of Harmony on the ground in the cave. Twilight's too busy worrying about her school's fucking highlighter supply to worry about a little thing like that.

But at least a member of the mane six appears in this episode, even if only one of them. The Pillars don't even get that much. They're barely even mentioned, despite being the ones who created the damn thing. Sure, we had a very brief appearance from Star Swirl in the premiere shortly after it actually died, but that's all that we get. Nothing from Rockhoof or the others. Why did they go out of their way to introduce these guys and make them integral to the Tree of Harmony's backstory if they're not even going to be relevant when major things happen to the Tree?

The real missed opportunity of this episode, and of the whole past two seasons, is that the show set up these three contrasting groups of friends, all associated with the Elements of Harmony, and then never had them meaningfully interact with each other outside of isolated incidents. They all just stay in their own little bubbles. Sure, the mane six have tangential interactions with both, either teaching the student six or saving the world with the Pillars that one time, but beyond that, we get almost nothing.

Uprooted could've been an episode about the Pillars, the mane six, and the student six coming together for this memorial. Imagine if, instead of the student six fighting each other over their stupid ideas of what kind of memorial to build, it had been about these three groups trying to find a compromise, perhaps with Rockhoof, Yona, and Applejack acting as the voices of reason. Maybe the Pillars want some kind of low-key monument because they're a bunch of stoic old grandpas who do things the old-fashioned way, the mane six want a museum to remember the history because they're teachers now and that's kinda their thing, and the student six are the ones who suggest building a treehouse out of its corpse, because kids today don't give a fuck.

Whenever zoomers start talking to me about TikTok or Fortnite, I feel my bones beginning to creak.

But this is really a problem with the whole series, when you think about it. The Pillars were simply never relevant again after they were introduced, except for that one episode with Rockhoof last season. And that episode's existence is a particularly damning indictment of this, because for as short a scene as it was, the fact that Rockhoof formed that bond with Yona at the end of that episode showed that there were real possibilities for the Pillars.

Now just to reiterate my stance, I have no interest in the Pillars in general. I find them an utterly useless addition to the world. Their characters are not interesting, their legends/backstories are not interesting, and their involvement with Star Swirl is not interesting. Star Swirl is interesting enough on his own, but the existence of the Pillars did nothing more than dilute Star Swirl and spread out his known achievements and potential screentime among more characters. Shadow Play would have been an infinitely better story if the rest of the Pillars did not exist, and it had just been about Star Swirl and Stygian. The rest of the Pillars only had about twenty lines between them anyway, because the only reason they even exist is to justify the show's Tree of Harmony backstory.

So I was more than fine with not having any more Pillar episodes, but the way that season seven built them up as being so important only for the rest of the series to then ignore them is bad writing. Even though I unironically like the student six more than the Pillars, more Pillar episodes in season eight still would've been preferable to the School of Friendship nonsense. But since we got the School of Friendship anyway, why didn't we have more episodes like Rockhoof and a Hard Place, where they actually got to mentor their successors? Sure, the episode was bad, but it's a good proof of concept that the two groups of characters could have coexisted.

Anyway, let's talk more about the student six, since they're the actual focus here. This episode opens on the Tree summoning them from what initially appears to be a shared dream, but which then becomes a shared nightmare. It's basically one giant callback to What Lies Beneath, which I kinda don't like. Silverstream's initial dream of becoming a Wonderbolt is new information which teaches us something about her character, but the others with their nightmares are just showing the same old fears that they had before. Fears which they supposedly conquered in that episode, I should add. I guess that the Tree is just a sadist that really likes putting these kids through their worst fears. And of course, Sandbar is still not allowed to have an interesting fear, because his whole character is being The Boring One.

So the Tree summons them, while referring to itself in the third person for some reason, and they come and learn what happened. Twilight tells them that the Tree is gone, and that the Elements of Harmony are gone, and they all just seem to accept this? I'm not sure why any of them believe this to be the case, considering that the Tree of Harmony was just talking to them in their dreams. And then there's that harmony blast from nowhere that the mane six summoned in the previous episode, which should be further evidence of the Tree still being alive. Twilight still acts like they did that all themselves and that it wasn't the Elements of Harmony, but let's be real here, it acted exactly like the Elements, and the mane six have called on the Tree of Harmony's power without the physical gems before. Rainbow Power, anyone?

But no, the Tree is totally dead, you guys, even though it can still talk, so it's memorial time.

"You're not fooling anycreature, you know."

But first we have a montage of the student six getting permission from all their guardians to stick around in Ponyville and do this. This sequence does go on for a little long, and it does kind of feel like filler, but honestly, I'm glad that they thought to address this, considering the massive international incident that these guys sparked the last time they ran off together. It's one of the few things that this episode actually does right. So yeah, good job there.

Then we get the sequence of the student six fighting over their ideas. Sandbar continues to be the worst by clearing away the remains of the Tree without asking anyone or letting them know what he did with it, but aside from that, it's all pretty standard. Each of the characters has their own ideas for the memorial, and most are at least reasonable. I find Gallus's idea the most questionable, since he wants to set up a museum for the Tree to preserve its history, and yet he doesn't care about getting the history right, so I don't understand the point unless it's all a huge scam. I mean, griffons are supposed to be greedy, so maybe that's it, but we don't see him charging for entrance, and Gallus was never characterised that way before, so it's just weird instead.

This conflict also feels very artificial, like the writer is forcing it just to make the episode more like Castle Sweet Castle. Gallus wants his museum, and tries to keep Smolder out when she tries to take her monument into the cave, but there's no reason why a monument wouldn't fit in with a museum. And Silverstream gets annoyed with Ocellus because she accidentally spills some water, but her art installation project and Ocellus's meditation garden idea are also pretty compatible. And everyone gets annoyed with Sandbar for planting a new tree, but it's fucking tiny. His idea is the least intrusive of all, and should work fine with any of the others. Yet they're all still having these stupid arguments until Yona brings them around. What's even the point of going to a friendship school if you're still bad at friendship at the end of it?

So Gallus makes a racist comment about yaks, and then we get a painfully average song while they all build a treehouse.

This is my other central problem with the episode – the Treehouse of Harmony. This is again a general concept borrowed from Castle Sweet Castle, where the main six hung the burnt remains of the Golden Oaks library from the ceiling of Twilight's new throne room. Now I never had much of a problem with that, but even back then, it was a strange idea to me. I guess that it's a nice sentiment, and at least Twilight appreciated it, but having the burnt-out ruins of your old home constantly in sight of your new one seems like it might just bring back bad memories for some people, and I know that there were plenty of fans at the time who didn't like this idea and complained loudly about it.

But at least Golden Oaks was just a home to Twilight. The Tree of Harmony is not a home; it's a character now, since the writers decided to give it a face and a voice. Yes, it's not really dead, and it wanted the student six to do this, but everyone treats it like it's dead in this episode. And how do they decide to honour the dead? By using its corpse to build a playhouse for their own amusement. There's no reverence to any of this, and the student six only ever think of the Tree of Harmony in context of their own relationships to it, when their relationship with the Tree was the shallowest of any of them. They're not even that sad about the Tree's death throughout the episode. The irony is that Twilight was far more downbeat and mournful in Castle Sweet Castle, despite nobody even dying, than the student six are while supposedly mourning a dead friend.

Of course, as we know, the Tree isn't really dead, which everyone is surprised by for some reason, and it basically comes back to life just to redo the student six's shitty design. It even starts calling itself the Spirit of the Treehouse, which I find both cringeworthy and deeply hilarious. Then it promptly skedaddles again just before Twilight shows up, so that it doesn't have to explain to her why it appropriated her image. Twilight theorises that the Tree needed the student six to reconstitute itself like this because their friendship is powerful or... something. Not sure why it couldn't have called on the mane six in that case, but then again, the mane six have been kinda shitty friends for the past few seasons. Maybe the Tree is onto something here?

So now we have a big crystal treehouse for the student six, just like Twilight has her big crystal castle. Now what?

Well, nothing. The Treehouse of Harmony is never important again after this. It shows up here and there throughout the rest of the season, but this plot point never goes anywhere. It doesn't play a role in the finale, or even in any future student six episodes, because there aren't any student six episodes after this, at least not for the whole group. Just one about Yona, and another kind of about Smolder, and that's about it. For as hard as the writers were pushing them in season eight, the last ever student six group episode just ended up being a whole lot of nothing. And as for the Treehouse of Harmony, it basically just amounted to one last intrusive toy commercial before the show ended.

Really, aside from selling a new playset, destroying the Tree of Harmony turned out to be pretty pointless, didn't it? It didn't get rid of the deus ex machina friendship blasts, and it didn't actually kill off the Tree as a character, so what did it accomplish? It just made the mane six sad for a couple minutes, and made Sombra look even more ridiculously overpowered. I'm not even sure how he managed to shatter the Tree in the first place; when Chrysalis's stick-clones stepped up to this thing, it fucking ate them. Maybe it was just holding back because there were witnesses this time?

"Hey, Tree of Harmony, what are you doing to Sombra there— OH JESUS, OH GOD!"

Actually, in a grander sense, I guess that everything that the final three seasons did with the Tree of Harmony was pointless, wasn't it? Season seven gave it a stupid contradictory backstory involving the Pillars, only for the Pillars to never be important again. Season eight gave it a face, a voice, and a mentor relationship with the student six, only for it to communicate with them a grand total of twice in the series before going silent again, and for the student six to then never be important again. And then season nine killed it off, except not really, which changed nothing other than turning it into a treehouse playset, which was then, say it with me now, never important again. Really, if the show had just left the Tree of Harmony alone, would we have lost anything?

No. No, we wouldn't have.

Episode 4 - Sparkle's Seven:

Sparkle's Seven was the milestone two hundredth episode of the series, so much like Slice of Life in season five, the writers did something different to celebrate. In this case, they got input from the voice actresses about what sort of stories they wanted to tell with their characters, so this episode's core ideas actually come to us from Tara Strong, Andrea Libman, Ashleigh Ball, Tabitha St. Germain, and Cathy Weseluck. So was it any good? Well... no... but that's mostly not their fault.

See, the thing about actors is that while they are creative people, and can often bring some good ideas to the story or some insight into the characters that they play, they're not necessarily writers. You don't have to be good at storytelling to be an actor. You don't even necessarily need to be smart to be an actor, and it shows, because there are some real dumbass actors out there. Don't believe me? Listen to what legendary actor Sir Anthony Hopkins had to say on the subject:

And that's why you shouldn't look to celebrities to validate your opinions... Wait... FUCK!

Now, all kidding aside, the main voice actresses have been with this show for far longer than any of its writers have. So if you had asked me prior to seeing this episode if I thought that they would know how to write their characters better than any of season nine's actual writing staff, then I'd have said "yes, absolutely." But again, just because they're talented people, that doesn't mean that every idea that they come up with is going to be gold.

Tabitha was the one who came up with the idea of Rarity organising a heist, which is what a lot of the plot is built around, and it's a pretty fun concept that fits her character well, given Rarity's flair for the dramatic. Likewise, Libman's idea for Pinkie to go into space is appropriately zany for her, but her other idea for Fluttershy to be a super-spy is funnier for playing against type, just like making her into the Hulk, making her into a vampire, making her into an authoritative older sister, making her into a raging bitch on three different occasions... Fluttershy gets played against type so often that I'm not even sure what her type is anymore. Nothing inherently wrong with this idea, just that it sorta feels like it's been done, and doesn't wow me as much.

Ashleigh Ball's ideas were more of a mixed bag. Having Rainbow Dash interact more with Zephyr Breeze is a fun character-based idea, because they had a pretty unique relationship in his previous appearance, but Applejack having a secret past as a country singer is... problematic? I think that it could've worked, but sadly, both of Ashleigh's ideas were not rendered very well in this script.

Now, Weseluck probably had the best idea for her character, because she wanted to see Spike's exact relationship with Twilight acknowledged and developed. The fandom has interpreted them as everything from mother and son to master and slave, because the show kept dancing around the issue for eight whole seasons and never actually defined anything. Father Knows Beast seemed to finally settle on a parental relationship when they confirmed that Spike was raised by Twilight (even though he explicitly said that she wasn't his mom in season one) but personally, I always thought that a sibling one was what made the most sense for them. So Weseluck's idea is a good example of a creative voice actor having insight into her character that the writers were obviously missing.

In contrast, I think that Tara Strong's idea for Twilight and Shining Armor to have this strong sibling rivalry was one of the worst ones. Far from understanding her character better than the writers, Tara's idea is an inherent contradiction of Twilight and Shining's established relationship. Sure, they say that they kept it friendly, but the evidence doesn't bear that out. Multiple times in this episode we see Twilight visibly frustrated with Shining. He taunts her through letters and in person, he stole the Sibling Supreme crown when he moved away, and Twilight apparently holds a grudge over this.

This is all a pretty far cry from "we never had a single fight," like Twilight claimed back in A Canterlot Wedding. Sure, maybe Tara's idea could have been written well if the writers had really tried, but that's a pretty big ask from the dynamic duo of Josh Haber and Nicole Dubuc, don't you think? And sadly, this ended up being just as core to the plot as Tabitha's heist idea, so there's no getting around this part.

But the actual biggest problems of the episode aren't the voice actresses' fault. I would argue that the single biggest flaw of this story is the central premise and inciting incident: just as they're getting ready to abdicate their thrones, the princesses finally start giving a shit about security, and true to character, they implement a system that is somehow both completely ineffective and way overboard.

Let's start with the obvious here. Celestia decides to step up security in response to the recent attack by Sombra, but why did it take this long? Sombra's return was the fourth all-out attack on Canterlot in just the last few years, and that's not even counting lower-key stuff like Chrysalis kidnapping everyone or Discord's Plundervines. Was the changeling invasion not already enough of a wake-up call? Or Tirek? Or the Storm King? Apparently not, because Equestria's security just keeps getting worse and worse, despite them recruiting more and more powerhouse allies every year.

Back when they only had three alicorn princesses, the Elements, and nothing else, Canterlot defeated Chrysalis, and they didn't even need the Elements for that. Now they've got four active alicorns, Discord, Starlight, Tempest, the Pillars, and all their foreign allies, but the capital just got taken down by Sombra with a bunch of mind-controlled civilians, and Tempest kicked everyone's asses in the movie pretty much by herself too. Even Luna this season thought that the Royal Guard wasn't worth shit.

Did standards really drop that badly after Shining Armor left as Captain of the Guard? Apparently they must have, because we can actually observe in objective terms just how much worse Equestria has gotten in the last few years. Circa season five, in an alternate timeline, Sombra waged an all-out war on Equestria, and they successfully fought back against him, even without the mane six or the Elements. Circa season nine, he can conquer the nation in an afternoon.

"Princess Celestia, listen to me. DO NOT LET MARES IN THE GUARD."

But the worst part is that after all the shit that Equestria went through, this latest attack by Sombra finally inspires the princesses to become more security conscious, so then they implement a brand new security system... which wouldn't have stopped Sombra! Security doors that require a badge to get through? Useless against mind control. Bricking off the tunnels? The dude's magic revolved around crystals, and the castle is built over a gem mine. A trap door in front of the throne? A third of Equestria's population can fly. This is all absolutely laughable. Maybe if some of these measures had been implemented after the changelings revealed themselves as a threat, the princesses could've at least saved themselves from getting kidnapped in season six, but Haber hadn't thought of this episode yet at the time, so nope.

And the few measures that Shining implemented here which aren't a complete joke are such overkill that it becomes ridiculous.

Giant fans all over the castle to stop an approach by air? Well, yeah, sure, I guess that those might repel an aerial attack, but they'll also repel the castle's own guards. If they can't fly out properly, then Canterlot won't be able to deploy its pegasi quickly if the rest of the city needs defending, so I hope that that's a sacrifice that they're willing to make. It'll also pulp any birds that happen to be flying by, which I doubt that Fluttershy will be okay with. And I hope that those fans can deflect cannonballs too, because otherwise this whole elaborate system isn't gonna stand up to a Storm King airship bombardment.

Then there's the shards of Chrysalis's throne, conveniently still working after the throne itself was smashed, and conveniently reconfigured by Star Swirl to block all magic now, presumably including changeling magic. Not sure how he did that, considering that we see him using a spell on them, and his magic shouldn't work in their vicinity. But if we just accept that he did this, and that it works how Shining says, then does this mean that magic just doesn't work in Canterlot Castle now? Don't you think that it would be a little inconvenient for Equestria's centre of government to be a magical dead zone? That's another third of your primary defence force that you just handicapped right out the gate. Better hope that the castle never gets stormed by a mob of earth ponies. And that's to say nothing of whatever else this may have fucked up.

Say goodbye to raising the sun from the comfort of your balcony, Celestia! Now you have to trek off of castle grounds every morning to do the deed! And remember, you can't fly there, otherwise you'll get mutilated by one of those giant blenders that you installed on every rooftop!

This is why Luna became Nightmare Moon.

So maybe I should start talking about the plot. Twilight is in her school doing school things when she gets a letter from Shining Armor offering her a chance to win back the crown declaring who their parents' favourite child is. She gets there, and learns about how Celestia commissioned Shining Armor to beef up their security. Not sure why the current Captain of the Guard didn't get this assignment, but whatever, because now Twilight is challenged to pull off a heist to test this new security.

As I said, I don't like any of this setup, but from there, the episode actually takes kind of an uptick in quality as we start getting around to some of the other voice actress ideas. Naturally, some of them are outrageous enough that a single plot can't accommodate all of them, so a few are just done in an imagination sequence here, which is a fine compromise; you can't really do justice to Pinkie Pie going into space otherwise without centering the episode around it. So I like most of this, especially Rarity's Shadow Spade scene, since those are always fun.

Applejack's secret backstory as a country singer named Apple Chord is the only one which really trips me up here. She tells us this whole tale, but it's never made clear whether it's meant to be real or fictional, and both possibilities are pretty eyebrow-raising to me. If it's fictional, then Applejack is telling a hell of a lie here, and her role in this episode in general is that she's deceiving the guards, all of which is pretty out of character for the supposed Element of Honesty. But if it's real, then it just raises the question of how it never came up until now, especially given that Applejack was already childhood friends with Countess Coloratura, who became a massive popstar. Seriously, where does "Rara" fit into this tale if any of it's meant to be true?

Then we get to the actual heist, where most of the voice actresses' ideas are rendered in a more realistic way for the characters. Fluttershy infiltrates the castle, but is typically Fluttershy about it, Pinkie Pie tries to go into space but can't, etc. And of course, Applejack plays her show to distract the guards and steals one of the Royal Guard medals.

I like this, although Applejack's part gives me pause, because all of this somehow actually works. Celestia and Shining Armor are putting all of this emphasis on security, and the castle is on high alert in preparation for this heist, and yet the Royal Guard still abandon their posts to gawk at random shenanigans? This happens again with Pinkie Pie later in the episode, and Rarity also later dismisses a guard by just wearing a uniform and telling him to go in a deep voice. Doesn't Shining know that all of these new security measures won't do dick if the guards are still incompetent?

Speaking of incompetence, Zephyr Breeze is a guard now for absolutely no reason, which is how Ashleigh's idea for Dash is worked into the plot. I really do not like this. I mean, okay, I like Dash's humiliating dress and the way that she flirts with him through clenched teeth; that's pretty funny. But I don't like the Zephyr thing in general.

When last we left him in season six, Zephyr was turning his life around, finally pursuing his dream to go work as a hairdresser, and Dash had more or less come to terms with his continued existence, and was even encouraging to him. Now she's back to hating him again, and Zephyr is back to getting fired from random jobs and having zero self-awareness, and to top it all off, we later learn that he was only ever here in the first place as part of a plan by Luna and Spike because he was expected to be a fuck-up. Ouch. For a character that I liked for how realistic and well-written he was, seeing him get hit by this much character regression at once really burns.

And the worst part is that he never even interacts with Fluttershy anywhere here, despite sibling relationships being a central theme of the episode. This is a prime example of a good idea from a voice actress that Haber and Dubuc totally fumbled on implementing. Character derailment and missed opportunities all in one. Why not just have the Zephyr and Rainbow Dash interaction be a flashback from Fluttershy? There's already a perfect place for it in the script, when she's trapped in the tunnels with Spike and talking about siblings with him. That way we could have had more sibling interaction in the episode, and still kept the tone of Rainbow Dash and Zephyr's scene while not breaking his character development.

Well, the initial heist fails, so they try again, this time with Twilight planning it, and the second run has a few more moments that I like, such as Maud's cameo and Rarity's guard outfit. Then they make it to the throne room, where Shining steps out from behind the throne and declares that she's lost, only for Spike to reveal that he's actually the winner, because he conspired with Luna after noticing how she was getting snippy with Celestia earlier. I'm going to have to come back to Celestia and Luna's relationship when we talk about Between Dark and Dawn, because this is all part of a larger problem that I have with their characters, so for now I'll just say that I didn't like this part either, just like I did not like this episode.

In conclusion, fuck you, Shining. Your security measures were garbage, and I'm glad that you're not the Captain anymore.

"Princess Celestia, listen to me. DO NOT LET STALLIONS BE IN CHARGE OF THINGS."

Episode 5 - The Point of No Return:

So this is an episode about Twilight trying to return a forgotten library book, and—



There were eight of these shorts around season nine, three of them associated with the Best Gift Ever holiday special, and the other five coming after. G.M. Berrow wrote three of those five, another writer called Kim Beyer-Johnson wrote another, and the last was written by someone called Katherine Chilson, whose only other writing credits in the franchise are for Equestria Girls shorts and Pony Life. The Best Gift Ever shorts were mostly fine, but the later five were absolutely terrible, primarily because despite being less than three minutes each, most of them still managed to cram in massive glaring continuity errors. Going purely by ratio of story fuck-ups to screentime, some of these are strong contenders for the worst "episodes" of the series.

Of course, that's not really a good measure to judge by. Let's be real, they're hardly offensive; they don't even crack the top twenty for the actual worst. But I'm not kidding about them being garbage, so we'll do a lightning round for them.

Rarity's Biggest Fan is a short in which Rarity tries to make her mane move constantly, just like Celestia's and Luna's do, including recruiting Starlight's help to use magic on it, despite previously having a whole episode establishing that manes are bizarrely immune to magic. She eventually figures out that the solution is abusing Spike's infinite well of patience, as it often is.

Ail-icorn is about Twilight getting sick with some alicorn allergy and casting random magic with every sneeze. Pinkie eventually arrives with a potion from Zecora, who of course just happens to know how to cure a rare illness which only affects alicorns. It also turns Twilight back into a foal. In other words, one of the most difficult magical feats possible in the setting according to Magic Duel is a casual side effect of Zecora's potions now. Uh-huh.

Teacher of the Month is a giant call-back and doubling down on one of the most bafflingly horrible continuity errors of season eight. Fluttershy's eight consecutive Teacher of the Month awards have now become seventeen, so that confirms that we are indeed already well into year two of the student six's schooling before season nine even starts. So Twilight must have been preparing for year three in Uprooted, then. What are you even learning in your third year of friendship school?

Starlight the Hypnotist is about Twilight going to Starlight for counselling to deal with one of her worst fears, because Starlight is a guidance counsellor, remember? Starlight suggests hypnotism, and of course, Twilight immediately trusts the suggestion of the mare who has a long history of abusing mind magic. But you have to understand, Twilight's phobia of ladybugs is a real problem. It's so bad that any time she sees one, she becomes so terrified that she runs away and— OH WAIT, NO SHE FUCKING DOESN'T.


Finally, Sundae, Sundae, Sundae is about Pinkie failing to keep ice cream cool in hot weather because she talks for too long. It's basically okay. Rather an anticlimax after all the others.

Uh, yeah, so these sucked? I'm pretty sure that they sucked. And like I said, Berrow wrote most of these, including the ladybug and Rarity ones. I bring this up because this is somewhat of an endemic problem with Berrow's writing. She's been with the franchise for a long time, possibly even longer than Haber, and has written a lot for it, including the only official backstory that we ever got for Cadance. In that time, she's often been praised for "knowing the lore" of the series. I remember an old Horse News interview with M.A. Larson where he talked about this, basically saying that Berrow knew much more about the series' continuity than anyone else did. So if that were true, you would think that she'd be my favourite writer, but I never actually got that impression from her, and it's because of shit like this.

I mean, I could forgive a writer forgetting that Twilight shared a few seconds of screentime with a ladybug back in season four if the contradiction was just some random throwaway line, but you've got to admit that this is a pretty embarrassing mistake to make when you're centering a story around it. Giving an already established character a hitherto unrevealed deep personal fear is a pretty big characterisation change that a writer should probably do research for, and in this case, it was entirely unnecessary, because Twilight already had a comedic phobia of quesadillas that would've worked just fine for this short. In fairness, Berrow did in fact try to use that instead before Nicole Dubuc stopped her and asked her to change Twilight's fear because quesadillas were "too random," which should tell you everything that you need to know about Dubuc's skills as a story editor, but I'm still not letting Berrow off the hook for choosing ladybugs as the alternative.

The truth is, I'm not sure that Berrow really "knows the lore" much better than any other writer. Maybe she did back in Larson's time, but by season nine, not so much. Sure, she references a lot of old episodes, so I'm pretty sure that she either watches the show or at least reads the episode scripts, which is a lot more than we can say for some other season nine writers. But I don't think that she always pays attention to those episodes that she's referencing, because she gets a lot wrong anyway. Her continuity errors generally aren't as obvious, grand, or ruinous as the likes of Haber's or Dubuc's, but she does still make them, and they can still be pretty baffling sometimes.

Case in point, The Point of No Return obviously takes a lot of cues from Amending Fences, even down to Moondancer making a cameo, and yet the inciting incident of the plot is built around a continuity error with that episode. Celestia clears out Twilight's "old room at the castle," and Twilight finds an overdue library book that she left in her tower all the way back in the pilot episode, which we see in a flashback. Only her tower from the pilot episode wasn't a room at the castle; it was her own apartment, and she gave it to Moondancer back in Amending Fences. So did the tower move onto castle grounds? Is Moondancer going to come back from lunch to find her locks changed and an eviction notice from Celestia on the door? What the fuck is going on here?

Celestia isn't even Moondancer's landlord. She's just using her royal authority to fuck with her for fun.

So no, what actually sets Berrow apart from other writers is not that she understands Equestria's world as a whole. Rather it's that she has her own consistent vision of Equestria that she adheres to, but which is not necessarily any more accurate than Haber's or Dubuc's, as it extends from Berrow's work on the chapter books, which were written with a much more juvenile audience in mind. Every Berrow episode is generally consistent with every other Berrow episode, and also with all of her own books, but this "Berrowverse" still readily ignores other sources to push its own interpretation of canon.

For an example, this episode also references Mooncurve, an author or wizard or something from one of Berrow's books who writes about time magic. Continuity! But everything about Mooncurve and his writing suggests that time magic is a matter of public knowledge, and not some banned or secret art, which it almost certainly was back in the first five seasons, when all knowledge on time travel was contained within the most secure wing of the Canterlot Archives. Continuity mistake.

Let's also not forget that this is the woman who gave us The End in Friend; I'm not sure how anyone can watch both Sonic Rainboom and Rarity Investigates! and conclude that Rarity and Rainbow Dash have a really strained friendship and nothing in common, but Berrow apparently did. This is why I can't really praise her for her knowledge of continuity. I'm sure that she's a perfectly nice lady, but knowing more about the show than the other writers doesn't really mean much if she's just going to ignore it all and keep writing horrible stories anyway.

But Point of No Return isn't really anything special apart from that one egregious plot hole. It's pretty much just a poor man's version of Amending Fences, much like Uprooted is a poor man's Castle Sweet Castle. It tries to do the same plot of Twilight realising that she made a mistake all the way back in the pilot episode and desperately trying to make up for it, only this time it's lacking all the emotional weight and impact, because it's about returning a fucking library book instead of winning back an estranged friend. Like I said, Berrow writes primarily with the younger audience in mind, so you aren't gonna get much emotional complexity from her episodes like you would with Larson or Confalone.

This is also one of those episodes with lots of little things that don't make sense. Like how did Twilight turning in a book late reflect badly on Dusty's record as a librarian in any way? Sure, she wasn't actually fired over it like Twilight thought, as we learn at the end, but Dusty still says that it ruined her perfect record, and everyone in the episode talks like firing a librarian because a customer didn't return a book is a reasonable thing to do. What the fuck is going on here? And how did Dusty not know that it was Twilight who had the late book? How would she have even known that a book was missing without checking the records and seeing which book it was and who had last checked it out?

And what about how the late fees are calculated? Again, at the end of the episode, we learn that Twilight was worrying for nothing because the late fees cap at a month, but the capped fee is twenty-eight bits, while throughout the rest of the episode she and Spike talk as if the fees build by the hour at a much faster rate than that. Assuming that Twilight didn't pull the number out of her ass, and walking around Restaurant Row for an hour really would be worth another seventeen bits in fees without the cap, then yeah, wouldn't her late fees after a month be something like twelve thousand bits? A cap of twenty-eight bits implies that the late fee is actually less than one bit a day. So where did Twilight and Spike get their bogus numbers from?

Also, I'm aware that this is a huge nitpick, but it bothers me to an unreasonable degree that unicorn Twilight's magic was animated in the season one style in the flashback. Yes, it's consistent with the clip from the pilot, but it doesn't make any sense. They should've just bit the bullet and reanimated that fifteen seconds in the tower if they wanted consistency. Twilight's magic didn't change colour when she became an alicorn or something. It changed between seasons one and two because they were refining the animation. Every other newly animated flashback from season two onwards gave Twilight pink magic, because this was a style change, not a story development. Drawing attention to the difference this way just confuses the matter by implying a story element where none existed.

Hell, if they were going to bring this back, then why not go the whole hog and have four Lyras in the background as well? Hey, it'd be accurate to season one!

So suffice to say, I didn't like Point of No Return. It's not the worst episode that I've ever seen. Not by a long shot. But it still did a lot wrong, and its positive points were few and far between. I guess that it has a few funny gags here and there, like the jester nose guy, and the Grossly Overdue Book Office for Ponies Who Should Know Better. And its moral about perfection being an impossible standard to strive for is okay I guess. Still, I wanted more out of this episode. As a follow-up to Amending Fences, it was really lacking, and I say this as someone who wasn't even a huge fan of Amending Fences in the first place.

Yeah, yeah, throw your stones. Like none of you have a popular episode that you think is overrated.

Anyway, next up we have... Ah, fuck...

Episode 6 - Common Ground:

Guess I have to talk about the Quibble episode now. So let's do that.

As the final season of the show, season nine had a lot of work to do. According to statements from the staff, it was meant to be a season of looking back, tying up loose ends, and concluding every major plot thread and character arc that they could, which they definitely tried to. The problem is that in a show this long and with a cast this large, that's no easy task, especially when half your writers barely know anything about the show that they're writing for. Ideally, you'd want a last hurrah for all of your main characters, and a spotlight episode for each of them. But between the mane six, Spike, the Crusaders, the princesses, Starlight, and the student six, plus the season arc to consider, that's already most of those slots gone. So with only a few episodes left, you really need to carefully pick what to focus on.

And what did they choose to focus on? Did we revisit neglected old side characters like Gilda, Zecora, or Diamond Tiara? Finally reform the Flim Flam brothers for good, the show's most recurring minor antagonists? Actually do something with Tempest Shadow or the Pillars? Another big musical episode? One last Cutie Map mission? An Equestria Girls crossover? No, no, no, fuck all of that. What we really need is two different buckball episodes, and a whole spotlight episode for Quibble Pants, separate from the Daring Do episode we're going to do later in the season.

Common Ground is just one big Patton Oswalt vehicle, and I find it a tremendous waste of time. As I understand it, the whole plot is a metaphor for Oswalt's life and was written specifically for him, and I just don't care about any of it. I don't have anything particularly against Patton Oswalt, but I don't follow his work, I don't know much about him, and from a non-fan's perspective, this episode is just a boring mess. It's a real tonal shift from Stranger Than Fan Fiction, and a complete left turn for Quibble as a character. As a follow-up to Oswalt's only previous appearance on the show, it does nothing for me. This is like if they did a follow-up to Perfect Pear, only instead of having anything to do with the Apple parents, the whole episode was actually all about Grand Pear's acting career as a sci-fi star after leaving Ponyville, and they let William Shatner write and direct it.

By my count, it would be his sixth or maybe seventh autobiography.

So we've established that I don't care about Patton Oswalt. We're off to a good start already.

Then we have the actual plot, which centres around Quibble trying to make his new stepdaughter Wind Sprint like him by pretending to share her interests in sports, while Wind Sprint doesn't like Quibble because she doesn't get him and feels like he's trying to replace her dad. And for some reason, even though "just be yourself" is one of the most basic morality lessons that there is, and is one which this show has done a hundred times before, Rainbow Dash still indulges this idiotic idea right up until the final five minutes, and keeps trying to make Quibble a "sporty pony" well past the point where it's clear that this isn't going to work.

That scene where Dash makes him play buckball against the Ponyville team was so awkward that it gave me Equestria Games flashbacks. I can't for the life of me understand why she thought that this would be a good idea, considering that Quibble by that point had already proven how comically bad he was at everything even remotely physical. Quibble himself clearly knew that it was a bad idea, and tried to warn her, but she somehow convinced him anyway. I liked that it subverted the cliché of the nerd proving himself to the jocks through rules lawyering, but it was pretty terrible otherwise.

The thing is, though, the larger theme of a stepfather trying to fit in with his new family is a decent idea, and given Oswalt's apparent life experience, I can see the logic of connecting his character to this episode. I just really don't like the result. I think that Quibble was the wrong character to tell this story with, and while I appreciate the sentiment of basing Clear Skies and Wind Sprint off Oswalt's real life wife and daughter, I don't like them as characters. Clear Skies gets barely any lines in this episode, and doesn't show much if any personality, which is a problem considering that she's the driving motivator for all of Quibble's actions. Wind Sprint at least is a little better in that regard, but I also think that her voice acting is really weak. And yes, I'm aware that I'm criticising the voice acting of a ten-year-old there, but it's true.

I also support letting poor people starve and dumping nuclear waste in public parks.

Look, if this were just another Make-A-Wish kid voicing her own OC for a thirty second cameo, I wouldn't be bringing this up. But Wind Sprint is a big part of this episode and gets a lot of lines, so we hear her speaking a lot, and I'm sorry, but I personally found her delivery distracting. I'm not saying that it's the kid's fault; she's a kid. But this is a good reason why Haber shouldn't have written a whole episode around Patton Oswalt and his family just because he's Patton Oswalt.

Like I said, I don't have a problem with the general stepfamily theme that they were going for here. I liked when the show did complicated family dynamics in other episodes. Starlight and Sunburst's rocky relationships with their parents in The Parent Map were great, and Terramar's apparently divorced parents were one of the most interesting parts of Surf and/or Turf to me, even if I was iffy on the episode as a whole. If they had done a story about Silverstream and Terramar getting a new stepdad instead, I probably would've liked that a lot more. But Quibble Pants?

Quibble doesn't fit in this grounded emotional story about family, because that's not what his character exists for. Stranger Than Fan Fiction was a meta episode about this show and its fandom. Quibble was a stand-in for a particular kind of more critical fan that dislikes particular entries in a series that they otherwise enjoy. People like me, basically. The episode examined the mindset of fans like Quibble vs. less critical fans like Dash, and used it to teach a lesson about compromise and about how we can all enjoy things for different reasons, just like I'm sure there are people who genuinely enjoy season nine in spite of my bitching. The episode was clunky in places, but it worked, while also advancing the overall Daring Do subplot.

Common Ground has nothing to do with any of that. Daring Do is referenced a couple times in the episode, but otherwise, there's nothing that connects this script to Stranger Than Fan Fiction, and nothing that calls specifically for Quibble in this role. You could replace him with any of a dozen other characters and still tell basically the same story. In fact, it probably would've been better if they had. Like what if it had been Zephyr Breeze awkwardly trying to fit into a new family with Dash's coaching? It preserves all the same story beats, and fits his established characterisation as an awkward fuck-up. It would also develop his character linearly, from an immature wannabe playboy who hits on mares that obviously aren't into him, to a stallion who's moved on from those days and is learning how to maintain an actual relationship. I would've preferred that over what we got in Sparkle's Seven.

And sure, character development is a thing, and characters can outgrow their initial story roles, so there's no rule saying that you have to do a meta story with Daring Do if you're going to bring back Quibble. But his role as a fandom stand-in was pretty much the only interesting thing about him in Stranger Than Fan Fiction other than his famous voice actor. So why bring him back at all if you're not interested in doing another meta episode in the same mold? Well, apparently, to do an episode about said famous voice actor instead. I think that we're focusing on the wrong things here, guys.

It's not just a bad fit for his character thematically, either. This left turn into stepfamily drama raises questions about Quibble's character as well. Like how old is he? When I watched Stranger Than Fan Fiction and saw the way that he and Rainbow Dash horsed around, I assumed that they were meant to be around the same age. They just had that sort of chemistry, you know? But Rainbow Dash is meant to be in her early twenties during the series, while in this episode, Quibble is now comfortably dating an apparent widow with a ten-year-old daughter of her own. So is he actually meant to be as old as Patton Oswalt is? Boy, that puts a rather different spin on things, doesn't it?

Rainbow Dash casually tackles a fifty-year-old man she just met into a ball pit.

I mean, maybe Quibble's just into older women? Or maybe the age gap isn't as big as I'm picturing, like Clear Skies had her daughter really young, or Quibble's only five years older than Dash and Clear Skies is five years older than him? But I don't know. This really messed with my perceptions of all these characters' apparent ages. I don't think it helps that I'm getting older myself and starting to lose my ability to distinguish age in others. I met a fifty-year-old woman the other day, and I was sure that she was in her early thirties at most.

But okay, fine. Enough about Quibble and the ponified Oswalt clan. What about the rest of the episode? What about the buckball?

Honestly, I can't believe they were able to turn such a simple concept into such a confusing mess. I mean, sure, I think that buckball as a game never made much sense; it's a little weird that it racially segregates roles that any kind of pony should be able to perform competently, especially in a game supposedly invented by a family of earth pony farmers. But Buckball Season was still a fairly decent episode for season six. It had a good message about pressure affecting performance. It gave Dash and AJ chances to show their maturity by readily admitting that Pinkie and Fluttershy were the better players, instead of getting jealous and competitive and having a big fight like they would've if it were a season nine episode. It even made Snails of all characters cool.

But then we get to Common Ground, and now buckball has somehow become this huge thing. Admittedly the game was growing in popularity during the original episode, going from a game played exclusively by the Apples and maybe other farmers to a community event between two towns, but it's still quite a leap to go from that to a nationally popular sport, especially given that it barely came up at all during the three season gap between these episodes.

Now suddenly there's a tournament, a dedicated stadium, a Buckball Hall of Fame, and someone wrote a door-stopper of an almanac about it at some point, recording all these detailed statistics about the game. Where did all of this shit come from? This sport as Equestria knows it is only like three or four years old at most. How do they have enough information on it to fill a museum and a giant almanac about it already? Is the Hall of Fame just another Apple family vanity project? Did Twilight write the almanac as a marketing scheme? I don't know!

How many games of buckball have there even been over the past couple years? There's gotta be more teams than just Appleloosa and Ponyville by now if this sport is really as popular as the episode makes out. And yet Ponyville are still the champions? I mean, Ponyville won the Equestria Games, so I'm not saying that it's that unlikely, but this episode generally acts like they and Appleloosa are the only teams around. Like Snips gets the idea to start selling autographs from Snails to profit from his fame, but if Ponyville are the reigning champions in a sport big enough for someone to be building stadiums and museums for it, wouldn't they have already monetised by now? Shouldn't they have official sponsors or a manager who'd be pissed off at Snips cutting into their profits? I feel like this episode can't decide just how popular buckball is meant to be.

Ah, who cares at this point? Let's just get to the fucking yak episode already.

Continued in part two.

Comments ( 24 )

Whoa, I was expecting to wait, like, a year or more before you posted this. That keen to cleanse thyself, huh? :rainbowlaugh:

OK, reading now.


Merry Christmas.

PoshYesterday at 5:50 PM
you'll have to make sure it's expandababble in the Fimfic version
DannyJYesterday at 5:56 PM
It won't need to be. It'll appear at its actual file size on FimFic.
I told you last time, the version you see on Google docs is scaled down to fit on the narrow page.
It's not representative of actual size.
PoshYesterday at 5:57 PM
yes, but I don't actually pay attention to you, ever.

Oh heck. I haven't finished Season 9 myself yet, so I can't properly enjoy these. You've caught me unprepared, man :raritycry:


But learning about these episodes second-hand through reading some guy's review on the internet is clearly the superior way to experience season nine.

Celestia says that all of the villains that she defeated over the years and all of the challenges that she faced were tests preparing her for this, but do you know what would have prepared her even better?

As we have seen from many world leaders over the centuries, being successful in battle DOES NOT equal success in governance.

Twilight has NEVER run anything for a significant amount of time... other than a LIBRARY.

MAYOR MARE is vastly more suited for rule than Twilight, as she at least has enormous experience putting Ponyville back together again and balancing the budget in spite of the frequent devastation!

So now Grogar really is a big powerful villain, the biggest and most powerfulest and eeeeevilest of aaaaaaaaaaall time, and we're supposed to take at face value that he really was defeated by some random pegasus stealing his magic bell. Yeah, sure, whatever you say, Beginning of the End.

Yep, and this illustrates the whole SHOW DON'T TELL standard. We're never SHOWN why losing this bell is so devastating to Grogar, since at the time (before we know Dick-cord is F'ing with all of us), we see that Grogar is insanely powerful without it! So, why didn't Grogar just MURDER this random pegasus and get the bell back? How did it end up atop a mountain under such powerful magical protection? WHO MADE THE SHIELD?!

They call him the Father of Monsters, and say that he was the first emperor of this land long before Equestria even formed, though I have no idea how that's supposed to work, considering that Cloudsdale was involved in his defeat, and the Three Tribes migrated to this land the same year that Equestria was founded.

This was the point where the writers just crumpled up the timeline and set it on fire. It was a sloppy mess before, but this just broke causality.

Nothing is EVER explained in the least, and we have no reason to buy any of it, since none of it makes sense.


This was the point where the writers just crumpled up the timeline and set it on fire.

Nah. The timeline was already unsalvageable by Shadow Play.

Author Interviewer

All that background on the seasons... Fucking hell, it really was a shitshow. Explains why so much garbage happened!

"Normally, I wouldn't dream of digging!" says the character who has her own personalised mining helmet.

Excuse you, she is gem collecting, and that is a very different activity. :V

Yeah, yeah, throw your stones. Like none of you have a popular episode that you think is overrated.

Well, guilty. :B

If they had done a story about Silverstream and Terramar getting a new stepdad instead, I probably would've liked that a lot more.

I hate how right you are about this. D:

Berrow did in fact try to use that instead before Nicole Dubuc stopped her and asked her to change Twilight's fear because quesadillas were "too random," which should tell you everything that you need to know about Dubuc's skills as a story editor, but I'm still not letting Berrow off the hook for choosing ladybugs as the alternative.

Twilight was also terrified of snakes. "Winter Roundup" was a thing.

See? I remembered that despite having an awful recall memory AND having just finished an entire bottle of wine.

I hear you saying "Parrrrrt twooooooo.." in Harry S. Plinkett's mumbling, old, drug-addled voice.


As someone who has just now had this experience, I must agree: reading this raw > watching an entire season of nu-pone.


Sometimes I forget that you're still following me. Did you ever read my previous season reviews? Did I make you proud, sensei?

Hope you're having a nice Christmas, by the way.

Twilight theorises that the Tree needed the student six to reconstitute itself like this because their friendship is powerful or… something.

In a world with more established species, their friendship is more politically correct.

And as for the Treehouse of Harmony, it basically just amounted to one last intrusive toy commercial before the show ended.

Ironically, most times this happened, the actual toy never materializes.

No, I don’t know why either, it’s like the show crew has a contractual obligation to pitch toy ideas at the manufacturer, but aren’t allowed to actually talk to them.

Actually, I will poke at this a little bit, because I might as well get this frustration out of my system.

According to leaked internal emails circa 2016 or so,

Just for the record, do we have any easily available sources for those leaks? I don't believe you're wrong or anything like that (it makes a lot of sense of Season Six's blatant Starlight-shilling, for one thing), but official confirmation would be very welcome, and I'm not confident that a simple Google search would yield them.

To think, all along we were watching the good version of season seven.

Given my views on the matter, I'm still amazed that many people apparently think Season Seven was an improvement on Season Six (say what you will about Starlight in Six, but she was much better integrated into the canon prior to the season finale than the Pillars ever were). But then the popularity of Starlight mystifies me as well.

Had they not already spent the entire latter half of the series trying and failing to push their own characters while attempting to retire or ruin the mane six, the Haber-Vogel-Dubuc triumvirate might've had an easier time of making a satisfying conclusion out of season nine. And to be as absolutely fair as possible, they could've done a lot worse, but season nine still suffers in many ways because of what came before it.

The annoying thing is that so much of this character-heaped continuity mess could have been solved simply by hitting the reset button as soon as Season Five ended. Instead of trying to transition an existing show into a completely different cast and context, just start over like you're doing a new version of Batman, with your own independent continuity and your own style. It'd benefit the former canon, because it wouldn't be contaminated, and it'd benefit the new canon, because it could stand more strongly on its own two feet. Trying to weld both at the same time compromises both visions.

It's a drum I've been banging for a long time, and it'd solve so many headaches.

Needless to say, I was not a fan of the opening two-parter.

but Celestia controlled Twilight's entire education for most of her life, so she easily could've taught her the basics of politics, economics, and governance by now to set her up for this.

Especially annoying, since Season Five seemed poised to go in that direction with episodes like "Princess Spike" and "Party Pooped" getting Twilight more involved in Equestrian politics. And then nothing further came of it until she suddenly gets the whole caboodle dumped on her here. The idea is now utterly forced as a result.

I mean, you do have to wonder what Equestria's system of justice alone looks like.

It's also redundant at this point to say that "the princesses retire" is one of those ideas that's a take-it-or-leave-it fanfic concept, not something that should be dropped in canon so clumsily. In fact, shoving fanfic spin-off ideas into canon sums up a lot of my objections to the last few seasons, so take it as read from this point on.

But of course, nothing in Equestria is allowed to remain fictional, and every story and legend is eventually proven true, because fuck world-building through in-universe fiction, I guess.

A pet peeve of mine, as it happens, and one of the reasons "Daring Do is real" was a premise I disliked from the start. The idea not only introduced a tangled mess of continuity problems, but removed an even better world-building conceit: that the ponies themselves had created their own fictional stories. Plus it's such a common trope for in-universe myths to turn out to be true that it really needs to be shot down for the obsolete plot device it is, alongside prophecies and chosen ones.

So now Grogar really is a big powerful villain, the biggest and most powerfulest and eeeeevilest of aaaaaaaaaaall time, and we're supposed to take at face value that he really was defeated by some random pegasus stealing his magic bell. Yeah, sure, whatever you say, Beginning of the End.

Thing is, I prefer the idea of Grogar being a new, unknown threat like Chrysalis was in Season Two, especially since it'd fit his long-term patience. The "sealed evil in a can" idea was getting old as early as Sombra, and just raises contrivance-exposing questions like why they weren't decisively defeated the first time around.

Plus, as much as I like the idea that a relatively normal pegasus could defeat Grogar through tactical theft rather than blunt magical force, it's still a stretch. Plus, 5421065's point about how he's still a powerhouse without it, so how does that work?

It'd be one thing if Grogar had been the real deal, and actually did something badass during the season to earn his villain cred

I have to confess I might be more warmly inclined towards G4's presentation of Grogar solely because I still see this potential in him throughout these earlier episodes. OTT shilling, yes, but he had a mastermind's style, and the raw, threatening power to back it up.

Really, when you think about it, Tirek is the only one here who actually got his ass kicked by the mane six, but the episode doesn't seem to remember any of this.

A very good point.

The Beginning of the End is really more about Sombra than any of the rest of them. He declines Grogar's offer to join forces and decides to strike out on his own, and the rest of the two-parter is kind of just a last hurrah for him, because he never comes back after this.

Sombra in this two-parter was a massive disappointment. He wasn't even competent (definitely not consistently so): just arbitrarily overpowered and tactically confused for the sake of the plot.

What bugged me about Sombra striking out on his own is that he himself should see why it's a tremendously bad idea. Disrespecting the guy who just revived him is suicidal stupidity; he should be immensely suspicious of the fact that Grogar doesn't immediately blow him up for it. Plus, it should be obvious to Sombra that, even if he does succeed, he's at Grogar's mercy the entire time (Seriously, what does he think Grogar will do? Give him a gold star? Because Grogar killing him and hopping into the resultant power vacuum seems far more likely to me).

Sucking up to Grogar at least makes tactical sense. But no: Sombra behaves like an arrogant twit, proving that adding a personality does not make a character better. If it's not clear, I thought his one-note presentation in "The Crystal Empire" was indeed presented as a good legitimate threat - total agreement there - and at least had a lot of style and potential going for it; that Jim Miller voice was a great reason why.

I haven't read the comic that introduced his umbrum backstory, but it sounds a helluva lot better than this two-parter.

Don't have a lot to say for some of these episodes, so I'm gonna start skipping.

Applejack having a secret past as a country singer is... problematic? I think that it could've worked, but sadly, both of Ashleigh's ideas were not rendered very well in this script.

Haven't seen "Sparkle's Seven" yet, but I was told it was pretty good, so I might make an exception for it at some point down the road. I do like the idea of Applejack being a country singer, if only locally. The "secret past" part is where it doesn't make a lot of sense to me.

Also, Equestria's security being bad is a long-standing problem with the series, because it seems too obviously to be a plot-convenience issue. Even in mundane episodes like "Rarity Investigates!", they're so bad at their jobs that it's just sad to watch (to be fair, it's a good episode and certainly not alone in this, but it's an obvious example of what I'm talking about).

Starlight the Hypnotist

Twilight's phobia of ladybugs

Suddenly very glad I never watched those shorts, because what? This is just insubstantial, low-intelligence embarrassment at this point, and it's not even stupid-fun. I felt my expectations drop like a stone just reading the synopses.

Like how did Twilight turning in a book late reflect badly on Dusty's record as a librarian in any way?

It doesn't. This is just braindead. If I fail to hand in a library book on time, I get fined because I'm the one in the wrong. End of. It's nothing to do with the librarians, and everything to do with the customer.

and I say this as someone who wasn't even a huge fan of Amending Fences in the first place.

Interessant. While I liked it fine, I find myself mystified by the idea that it's a candidate for the Best Episode of the Series. Not least of all because it's another case of Twilight thinking nigh everything revolves around her (hence my favourite scene is Minuette, Twinkleshine, and Lemon Hearts laughing off her heartfelt speech of sorrow, because seriously, Twilight, get some perspective). Plus Moondancer is kind of a jerk, to be frank, and not the fun kind like Discord.

So consider me a tentative candidate for fellow-feeling there.

Quibble was a stand-in for a particular kind of more critical fan that dislikes particular entries in a series that they otherwise enjoy.

I knew there was something I liked about him! :pinkiehappy:

Like what if it had been Zephyr Breeze awkwardly trying to fit into a new family with Dash's coaching? It preserves all the same story beats, and fits his established characterisation as an awkward fuck-up. It would also develop his character linearly, from an immature wannabe playboy who hits on mares that obviously aren't into him, to a stallion who's moved on from those days and is learning how to maintain an actual relationship. I would've preferred that over what we got in Sparkle's Seven.

This would have been so good.

I mean, sure, I think that buckball as a game never made much sense; it's a little weird that it racially segregates roles that any kind of pony should be able to perform competently, especially in a game supposedly invented by a family of earth pony farmers.

I thought it was rather clever, in some respects (the unicorns being reduced to mobile goalposts is the least convincing part), and the fact that it can be played six-player, with two of each tribe plus possibly a referee, suggests (headcanon incoming) it could have been cooked up with the Main Six and Spike specifically in mind.

Or else Braeburn invented it while drunk on doughnuts and Applejack got his mocking challenge and was all like: "Oh, it is on."

Basically, it makes a lot more sense as a silly informal game between duelling cousins than as some kind of national sport.

late-series MLP

I'd go with late-stage MLP, because late-stage capitalism and the implications thereof.


Just for the record, do we have any easily available sources for those leaks?

Not convenient ones. I personally had to go digging through old 4chan archives to find most of what I did read. The original leak source was long since taken down by Hasbro as far as I can tell, so all I had to mine were what anons posted in the old email leak threads. Give me a while, and I'll see if I can compile and post what I saved.

I have to confess I might be more warmly inclined towards G4's presentation of Grogar solely because I still see this potential in him throughout these earlier episodes.

I probably also would've been more forgiving of Grogar if any of his potential had been realised, but sadly, what's left just leaves me cold.

I haven't read the comic that introduced his umbrum backstory, but it sounds a helluva lot better than this two-parter.

FIENDship is Magic #1 was indeed a significantly better story. Highly recommended.

Siege of the Crystal Empire was bad, but still much better than Beginning of the End.

So consider me a tentative candidate for fellow-feeling there.

Personally, I'm way more bothered by the fact that it was one of the earliest episodes to outright contradict the comics, which had their own version of Moondancer. Naive young DannyJ who still hoped that FiM could have one big coherent cross-medium universe was severely disappointed.

Basically, it makes a lot more sense as a silly informal game between duelling cousins than as some kind of national sport.



Right, so here's what I got from the leaks. You may have to click on these to see the full versions, because I know FimFic will downscale these.

Starting off simple, here's the full versions of all the cheat sheets (I just posted the most damningly embarassing ones for the review):

Here's the document of Haber's Starlight plans, edited by some anon for empthasis:

Email of Meghan McCarthy struggling to keep G5 on track despite everyone else's massive incompetence:

Original plans for Discord's arc:

The season nine episode springboards, detailing this arc:

Season nine premier breakdown:

Nicole Dubuc's "brand brainstorm," possibly the cringiest shit in this collection:

Some of Dubuc's work on the shorts, including her directions to Berrow:

Josh Haber's season finale discussions:

More season finale discussions:

Even more season finale discussions, including the fight to exclude Sunset:

This is out of context, but was from another email, though I don't remember which off the top of my head:

Aaaaaaand just for a kick, here's another out of context snippet where someone was editorially mandating that Fame and Misfortune be more mean-spirited:

Sorry I don't have the original sources handy, but I hope these are at least convincing enough that you can trust that this isn't all a huge practical joke, much as I wish it were.


Thank you very much. I've just had a look at some of these, and have to admit they don't make for cheery viewing (the McCarthy one in particular seems very frustrated, and frustrating, to read). Definitely clarifies a lot of points.


Yeah, I've gotten a kick out of your season reviews. Merry Christmas, and a(n early) happy New Year!

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