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Discord, wielder of chaos and wanton destruction, is the new villain in town in Episode 1 and 2 of  the second season of "Friendship is Magic", and, after being unsealed from the statue that has kept him at bay for hundreds of years, it is once again up to Twilight Sparkle and her many friends to deal with the incoming threat. Of course, after amassing such an enormous fan-base of unprecedented fans of all ages, there was a lot of concern amongst fans about what Season 2 might be like, given the high quality of the first season. With expectations to live up to, the show would have to pull something excellent out of the bag for these first two episodes, as they herald the future of a show that has become a beloved aspect of people's daily lives.

The various Livestreams were at the ready, and an enormous amount of people tuned in across the globe to see the ponies the moment that they aired. In the history of animation, I can think of no other example where individuals have proudly woken up early, interrupted their work shifts and cancelled other plans just to see the show air live. There is a great sense of pride as we wait in the internet ether, chuckling at unfortunate adverts for other shows aired on The Hub: nothing that we remotely care about, but necessary boundaries between us and the episode that we have been waiting months to see. And when that episode finally airs, there is a hushed sense of wonder amongst those watching, as all hang on bated breath in expectation for what is about to come. It should come as no surprise that Episode 1 and 2 of Season 2 of "Friendship is Magic" sets the bar very high for the upcoming episodes. If they are as expertly crafted as this two-part creation, then we have a lot of exciting episodes to look forward to that could easily top the first season in quality.

Let me get one thing out of the way: I do not personally view the two-part episodes as being especially canonical. The Pilot, and, indeed, the existence of the Elements of Harmony in general, are so detached from the core episodes of the show that they seem to be more akin to a straight-to-DVD movie rather than episodes within the lore of the world. It is easy to accept this, seeing as some of the standards set in the original Pilot "Mare of the Moon" episodes are somewhat challenged during the actual episodes. It comes across that the Elements of Harmony are plot devices made for the Pilot when the future of the show was uncertain: to have each character represent a specific element is potentially lazy story-telling. If Applejack's Element is Honesty, that implies that no other pony within the mane six is honest, despite the fact that none of them are liars. The same can be applied to the other ponies; it just comes across that the Elements of Harmony are a reductionist plot-device that over-simplifies the characters. Their existence makes sense, as Lauren Faust wrote the Pilot episodes under different circumstances to the rest of the season, and thus certain aspects of it could be forgotten should the show prove popular. This is precisely what happened: the absence of the Elements of Harmony throughout the rest of Season 1 was testament to the fact that these were only semi-canon narrative devices.

When it was revealed that the Elements of Harmony would be returning during the premiere of Season 2, I was a little sceptical. Season 1 did such a good job of fleshing out these characters – particularly episodes such as "Sonic Rainboom" and "Party of One", both of which scooped up these established characters and then emotionally tore them apart before our very eyes – that it left  a period of doubt in my mind that the Elements might weaken the characters after such development. Season 1 didn't entirely eliminate the need for the Elements of Harmony, but if they had never returned again it would not have been a weakness to the show. Having them return confirmed their position within the canon a little more, but it is still quite possible to take "The Return of Harmony" as being, like the Pilot, its own creation rather than a part of a greater season plan: I make the prediction now that neither the Elements of Harmony nor Discord will even be mentioned during the rest of the season; if I am wrong, you have permission to hunt me down and hang me from the nearest tree.

All of this said and done, getting over the fact that the Elements of Harmony have once again been used as a springboard for storyline ideas, it is surprising that the first lines of dialogue in Part 1 come from Cheerilee, a relatively minor pony in this particular Generation. It is interesting that the writers chose to allow Cheerilee to explain to her class who Discord is and what he has done in the past in order to be sealed in a statue. I found it humbling that the way the class are having the story explained to them puts the audience in the position of one of Cheerilee's students, as we are as uninformed as the little ponies on the field trip. Unfortunately, the presence of the Cutie Mark Crusaders during this introduction seemed a little off: whilst Cheerilee's story was a great idea, the Cutie Mark Crusaders seemed unnecessarily aggressive to one another and somewhat out of character. Perhaps being in Discord's presence caused this, but as none of the other ponies got involved in the fighting it seems unlikely. Instead, it just seems odd that the Cutie Mark Crusaders were on the playful offensive to one another. At first it seemed to hint that the Cutie Mark Crusaders were responsible for releasing Discord, and although this isn't likely true – it is later revealed that the fact that the Elements are now in the possession of new ponies is the cause for Discord's return – it still puts the Cutie Mark Crusaders into an awkward position. That they are not seen again across both episodes makes their inclusion somewhat more unusual.

That said, the mane six are summoned by Princess Celestia in the wake of Discord's escape after Ponyville is thrust into chaos, and they soon find that the Elements of Harmony are missing. The episodes incorporate some particularly interesting new graphical ideas to the show, one of which sees Discord appearing on the stained-glass windows in Celestia's throne room, which is a great way of introducing his character as an enigmatic and shadowy figure. The ponies deduce that Discord has hidden the Elements in the palace maze and they decide to go and hunt them down, after being knighted by Celestia's mighty horn. Discord shows himself to the group and then splits them all up, making it his task to slowly make the ponies turn on one another. A lot of fans have fallen in love with Discord as a villain, mainly because the voice actor, John de Lancie, played Q in Star Trek, who had a similar personality to that of Discord, making him the perfect man for the job. Sadly for fans of Star Trek, I'm not going to make any great comparisons between the two, as I cannot elevate Discord to a God-like position simply because of the fanfare surrounding his voice actor. As a villain Discord is amusing: a jester-like figure who thrives on manipulation and dark humour, as opposed to Nightmare Moon's more conventionally evil behaviour.

In Episode 1, Discord did not impress me any more than I would expect an animated villain to do. Of course, his script was sharper than most, but this is to be expected of "Friendship is Magic". What I found interesting about this episode is the rift that it created in my mind: whilst recalling "Alice in Wonderland" with its Queen-of-Hearts hedge-maze, I felt divided in how this episode portrayed the characters. I was particularly displeased with how Applejack was handled, and I did not appreciate how quickly she was made to lie: I saw little correlation between the image that she was shown within the pool and the need  to lie. Similarly, after episodes such as "Party of One", which tackled some of Pinkie Pie's more insecure emotional bugbears, it seemed odd to me how quickly she was affected by others laughing at her. Nevertheless, the episode handled Rarity very well; her desire for the diamond did not seem out of character at all, and, as usual, the little moments of harshness in her voice when a particularly strong desire comes her way are very much appreciated and increase my adoration for her character every time. The star of the episode, however, was Fluttershy: from screaming when she's divided from the other ponies, to hiding in a hedge when the butterflies touch her, to being almost entirely immune to Discord's belittlement, she stole the show and proved to be hilarious. In contrast, Rainbow Dash, unfortunately, was somewhat under-represented in both episodes, although granted her nonchalance whilst relaxing on a cloud in Part 2 raised a smile.

At the end of Episode 1 we are left on the cliff-hanger that chaos is to reign supreme after Rainbow Dash flees the maze. I was curious how the writers would handle the second episode in light of this. I speculated for the entire week over what satisfying conclusion could come from Episode 2. And, having now watched the episode, I can say that it is two things: both superior to Episode 1 and an absolute grower. What I mean by this is that watching it live showed the episode to be good, but watching it three more times just made the episode shine in so many more ways. Whilst I was glad when it finished that it had wrapped up the Discord story-arc, I was also incredibly excited for the upcoming episodes, because this one set the standard so high. Let's start with the humour: this episode is really big on the laughs. To list off just a few, we see Fluttershy slam a bucket on Twilight's head with a, "Your face!" comment, Twilight freaking out and becoming ultra-possessive of her Elements of Harmony book, Spike being made to impersonate Rainbow Dash, Rarity nicknaming her boulder 'Tom', Twilight kicking said boulder out of her home with the lament, "Here comes Tom!" before it crashes through her wall, Pinkie Pie gulping down chocolate milk whilst she's supposed to be fighting Discord and an army of buffalo prancing around in synchronised dancing. There are many more moments that raised a smile, and I can honestly say that this episode probably contained the most genuine laughs from the entire show thus far.

On top of this, there were some great moments for the characters, and, as the characters are the primary drive behind the show, this is always a good thing. At first their deliberately out-of-character-due-to-Discord behaviour is amusing, such as when Fluttershy says, ''Mama's so proud of you," when Angel runs Twilight down in a moment of pure callousness and Rarity's hoarding of all things shiny with a passionate "MINE!", but it is the in-character moments that truly shine. Particularly the parts where Twilight Sparkle realises the importance of friendship, which creates some truly emotional moments. When she pounces Applejack and we see scenes from her past, proving that she's a good friend, it creates a sentimental resonance of more potency than one would expect. When Applejack realises what she's done and hides behind her hat whilst asking for Twilight's forgiveness it is, quite frankly, adorable, and confirms why I love her character so much. But it is Twilight who really excels in this episode: in particular when she lovingly abuses Spike by throwing him around the room, only to grasp him in a caring embrace moments later. Poor Spike gets a lot of abuse in this episode, but the interaction between him and Twilight Sparkle is thankfully incredibly well done and supports episodes such as "Owl's Well That Ends Well" that the two will always be best friends. On top of this, the balloon-chasing scene where the ponies unite in catching Rainbow Dash sets a new standard for getting the heart pumping in "Friendship is Magic"; in particular Fluttershy's innocent, "Um, I'm just wondering if I can hold you down against your will for a little bit?" paving the way for her begging-for-a-Sparta-remix, "That. Big. Dumb. MEANIE!". This entire scene is brilliantly done and shows the ponies working in harmony, climaxing in a big group-hug that cannot help but raise a smile.

The focus on high-emotions doesn't end with the script, either. It is the way in which the script is delivered that truly blew me away. This episode had the voice actresses demonstrate much broader parts of their vocal ranges than I have seen before: in particular characters such as Fluttershy and Twilight raise their voices to new and exciting highs during the more heated moments of the episode. There is a lot of shouting and conflict, and it's interesting to see these characters brought to life through voice acting that has, in my mind due to the subject matter of the episode, improved in every way over the previous season. In addition, the music has also taken a step-up. I'm not talking about songs here: the absence of any singing is a necessary sacrifice in getting these episodes into a 40-minute-or-so period. Instead, the background music, something that is often unfairly overlooked, is excellent in this entire episode. Three moments stood out to me as being of particular note: go back and listen to the melancholic music that plays when Twilight is 'discorded' after the ponies fail to seal Discord away the first time. Then, listen to the nostalgic and eerie chords playing when Twilight pins Applejack down and delves deep into her memory. Finally, the ending in the palace, with its great, bombastic celebration sounds fully orchestrated and wonderful. Oh, and speaking of that final scene...

Yes, yes; there is a Star Wars reference there, especially with the circular fade-out at the very end zooming into the camera. It is a stroke of absolute directorial genius, and the individual responsible for such a decision should be rewarded. I half expected Pinkie Pie to turn towards the camera and make a Chewbacca growl. It's just so well done, blending together the contemporary with the nostalgic; younger fans would not recognise this reference at all, but it gives the older fans something to latch onto and hold close to their hearts. The way that these references are so subtle and smoothly executed is fantastic: Pinkie's 'chocolate rain' comment in Episode 1, if not a direct allusion to the popular meme, has certainly boosted its popularity and thrown it back into the public consciousness once again, such is the power of this wondrous show.

Honestly, Episode 1 was good, but Episode 2 has thrown the show into a different league altogether. Yes, there are the usual complaints that there was no Princess Luna, but this is an argument that I am beginning to grow more and more tired of: Luna will be coming, this has been confirmed, so people need to stop trying to force something in there. Luna wasn't integral to the episode and wouldn't have added anything, other than giving the adoring fans something to scream about. The decision of the directors and writers to not include her is something that I can support. The greater grievance people seem to have is that the second episode felt rushed, and although I can appreciate that this is, to an extent, true, I did not feel sad that it had to end. I think the story was rounded up well, even if Discord did meet a rather untimely demise; although some people have expressed a wish that Discord should have been a villain throughout the entire season, this would have become stale, and, quite frankly, it is possible in this case to have too much of a good thing.

Discord served his purpose well as the manipulative Machiavellian villain who thrives on making others suffer, and he will always be remembered for the legendary voice actor who portrayed him. But similarly, just because he won't return, it doesn't mean that other antagonistic forces won't also make their appearance in the season and steal an audience's heart. Just look at Trixie or Gilda in Season 1: Season 2 will have its fair share of loveable bastards, just wait and see. In the mean-time, we can be content that, when taken together, "The Return of Harmony" story-arc is an incredibly well-done feat of topsy-turvy chaos, confirming the position of "Friendship is Magic" as being something truly without comparison. Every reference was apparent, every joke hit the spot, every decision just...worked.

A job well done.
My thoughts and feelings about both of the "Return of Harmony" episodes. Obviously there will be spoilers, so if you haven't yet checked out both episodes what are you waiting for?

Not sure if I'll be reviewing every episode, but these two deserved the critical perspective due to their position as the second season's premiere.

Do they live up to the high standards set by Season 1?
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:iconpmurphy90s:
PMurphy90s Featured By Owner Jun 3, 2012
In my eyes, I think the reason why so many fans were flabbergasted with Luna being left out was that like her big sister, Discord was her enemy too. Like Celestia explain to the girls, it took the combined effort of herself and her little sister to use the elements of harmony to turn the manifestation of chaos into an overgrown lawn ornament. Because of this, it struck many as odd as to why the other current ruler of Equestria was left out, even if the script for this one was completed during the first season. Even so, I was just happy that Luna was even mentioned, showing us that Celestia acknowledged that she exists. I personally wish she and the citizens of Ponyville would bring her up more often, but that's just me.
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:iconolihmajor:
olihmajor Featured By Owner Dec 17, 2011
Great :)
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:iconthejboy88:
Thejboy88 Featured By Owner Dec 16, 2011
Very nice review.

You did a much better job of reviewing these episodes than I did. You said more with fewer words. Well done.
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:icon404compliant:
404compliant Featured By Owner Oct 8, 2011
Very good review, as usual.

As for the humorous little gems of the episode, one of my favorites is the glass of chocolate milk Discord drinks, at the end of episode 2: When Discord holds the glass into the chocolate rain, it fills up from top to bottom, then at several times the chocolate refuses to run out of the glass, and finally Discord drinks the glass, throws away the chocolate, that finally explodes off-screen. A wonderful sequence of things happening the unpredictable Discord way.

For me, these side jokes are a wonderful reminiscence to the old WB Looney Tunes, where characters like Wile E. Coyote often suffer from things not happening the way physics would suggest.
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:iconberlioz-ii:
Berlioz-II Featured By Owner Sep 27, 2011
Let's try this again after an unfortunate blackout deleted everything I'd written...

I must admit that the second part kinda disappointed me the first time I saw it, and it was again mostly because of the issues that had bothered me the most in the first part: namely time constraints. The story itself was good and all, but to cram it all into 44 minutes unfortunately was at times way too noticeable. I'd have liked if there would have been another 5-10 minutes of extra stretching between the two episodes to flesh out certain moments, like Discord's conversion of some of the ponies, their eventual resurrection, and the final defeat of Discord. Maybe by just dropping off one of the gazillion commercial breaks American TV seems to love (seriously, were there like three or four breaks in 22 minutes!?).

However, what helped mitigate these issues somewhat (if not completely make them disappear) was to simply watch both episodes consequtively back-to-back as a single lengthy episode. I find this is the only way you can truly experience the full impact of the story, and as a result the plot's progression also felt much smoother on the whole. So my overall impression still remains very positive, and the writers at least kept a logical progression to the episodes so as to not write themselves into a plothole bag... though the CMCs in the beginning still feel rather incongruously inserted into the beginning when they really didn't need to be there to make the plot work.

I did love Fluttershy being just a total bitch at every turn she got that even I was getting annoyed with her, which just shows that her twisted personality worked exceptionally well here. And Rarity's "Tom" was just hilarious at taking the rock to a point I was not expecting it to go: actually making Rarity assign a name to it as if to a boyfriend. And Twilight's annoyance was really palpable to make her growing frustrations throughout the second part truly resonate in things like her trying to get the book, her manic possessiveness when she finally got it, her flat rallying speech "Here's your effin gems, now let's go defeat Discord so we don't ever have to talk to each other again" followed by her just making Spike the new Rainbow Dash since she really couldn't bother trying to find the real one, and then her failure at initially defeating Discord was quite emotional.

The third act (or I guess sixth) kinda paled in comparison to this due to the reasons I already outlined above, though the chase for RD was really excellently done (one of the few moments where I felt the pacing really was perfect). The Elements still feel borderline deus ex machina fodder, but on the second hand I was also pleased that they were actually brought back this one time so as to not be complete plot contrivances for the original Pilot episodes. Though the downside, of course, is that they also as a consequence feel like a lazy excuse now that the same shit is seen being repeated again as with NMM, only less effectively since we already know how the blasted things work, so there's no surprise element (totally not a pun intended) involved here.

Discord... I though was a fine enough villain character. Maybe not the most remarkable in the history of villains, but fun enough for his intent as a manipulative jokester. And I admit, the geek side of me was quite amused to have John de Lancie in the voice role simply because I've always loved Q in TNG, so it was fun to get the reference through a fairly similar character here. And the Star Wars finale was a nice touch as well. As for people moaning about the absence of Luna? Well, I can somewhat understand why some would be a little upset in her not making a single appearance here, particularly at the end since you'd have expected to at least having her been present. She's supposed to be the second ruler of Equestria, and her not participating in a big royal ceremonial event, particularly one celebrating the very ponies who had freed her earlier, seems odd from an in-universe point-of-view. But I'm sure the writers will explain her general absence when ever she finally DOES make her return appearance. And what it comes to the music, I'm personally partial to the Discord Theme, with its elusive chromatic lines giving an eerie, yet playful, edge. It's really amazing the quality of the music Will Anderson can come up with on such a short production schedule.

Also as a funny sidenote, when I saw Chaosville, I was immediately reminded of an episode of the old Ghostbusters cartoon where the Sandman made the whole of New York City fall asleep, and their dreams to start wandering around the streets in a surreal world of chaos, with the other Ghostbusters eventually being ambused until only Winston was left to defeat the Sandman on his own. Left me feeling a bit nostalgic actually. And thus Season One is finally concluded! Next up, I'm anxiously waiting to see whatever Season Two will bring with it. There's promises that it'll be even better than S1, so I'm sure it'll be fun times ahead.
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:iconsorbetberry:
SorbetBerry Featured By Owner Sep 26, 2011  Hobbyist
hm, fair review.
I agree completely with you, except in your criticizings of Ep. 1; you said the ponies were tricked too easily, and you were wondering why they were affected. the reason is not really because of Discord's delusions (well that helped) but because he hypnotized them.

Also, in my opinion, the CMC were acting out of character because of Discord's influence (like you mentioned)
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:iconcuddlepug:
Cuddlepug Featured By Owner Sep 27, 2011
The involvement of the Cutie Mark Crusaders at all was what threw me. As an example of Discord's chaotic nature it made sense that they'd be fighting, potentially, but I did wonder if they were really necessary to the episode, especially as they soon disappeared from the narrative after the theme tune.

In terms of Episode 1, I fully understand that Discord pushed the characters over the edge, making them demonstrate behaviour that they would not normally demonstrate. That doesn't change the fact, however, that after going into a creepy maze, Applejack, for example, should have known not to trust some strange apple creatures that were quite clearly evil. Of course it fits the narrative for her to do so, and I didn't mind Episode 1 at all; it had some good bits, such as the aforementioned Fluttershy parts. It was Episode 2, in my mind, that really delivered with the laughs and memorable moments, however.

Thanks for the comment :3
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:iconsorbetberry:
SorbetBerry Featured By Owner Sep 27, 2011  Hobbyist
I see :meow:
maybe, maybe, they were there to purposely threw the watcher off, so that they wouldn't expect what came next... and to show some of the background characters more.. *speculating*

you're welcome, I agree episode 2 was awesome.
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:iconcrossover4:
crossover4 Featured By Owner Sep 26, 2011
I'm sorry, I really am but I just could not like the 2nd part of this episode at all; Twilight, the smartest character of the bunch, the leader of the bunch, and the main "Anchor" of the friendship in my opinion doesn't even find it odd that her friends are acting in a personality 360 just after finding them in a maze where they were seperated by a god chaos, and is in fact annoyed by here friends behaviour and afterwords, not wanting to have anything to do with them REALLY struck me as a MAJOR OOC moment for her, so much so that I could not laugh at any of the jokes the nega-ponies made at her expense. I really hope that the rest of the season improves because this pissed me off a little

5/10 for The Return of Harmony.
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:iconcuddlepug:
Cuddlepug Featured By Owner Sep 26, 2011
I think Twilight's ignorance to the out-of-character behaviour of her friends was because she wanted to believe that they could defeat Discord and stay together. Whilst she acknowledged that something was happening to her friends, she wasn't entirely sure what Discord had done to them. Whilst it is surprising that it takes Twilight a long time to work out why her friends are acting like jerks, I think it's sad that it ruined the episode for you. Honestly it didn't bother me all that much: I'm not entirely sure why some faults, in your mind, with Twilight would detract from some of the jokes in the episode coming from the other ponies.
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