Monday, November 30, 2015

In Which I Have Strong Feelings About the MLP Season Ender

Earlier this year, Salem took a page from my playbook and talked about the Season 5 opener of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. This two-part episode was a remarkable thing, as it effectively took social justice warriors seeking enforced equality of outcome and cast them into a talking cartoon pony version of the East German Stasi.

I mean, just watch this video and shudder at such lyrics as You can't have a nightmare/ If you never dream.

You know... for kids!

As it turns out, the Glorious Leader of Our Town and villain of the episode -- one Starlight Glimmer* -- has been showing up in the backgrounds of various episodes this season, and so it comes as no surprise that she should re-appear as the Big Bad for the season ender as well. So far, all is good.

(I will spare you the synopsis and assume that if you're reading this then you saw the episode. However, if you haven't but want to know what I'm talking about, go here and start reading.)

What was not so good is how the ending just sort of... happened. As The_Jack wrote on my Facebook,
I liked the time travel and how it showed all the alt-ponies and the ways the present could have gone wrong. But man... that reform was too neat and tacked on.
Now lest you think I am expecting too much from a cartoon aimed at preteen girls and meant to drive toy sales, I first direct you to watch the aforementioned season opener again and marvel at how the story, while accessible by children, carries a message that is meaningful and relevant to adults.

Then I ask you to look at this summation of alternate dystopian timelines as a result of Bitchicorn Starlight Glimmer mucking around with causality:
What you are seeing here are dystopias. Kid-friendly dystopias, to be sure, but the fact remains that each and every one of them are great examples of places you wouldn't want to live. These are mature concepts made accessible by cartoon sensibilities. Fairly heady stuff, and one of the reasons I'm a big fan of the show.

The ending, however, was basically... this:

Yeah... that doesn't track with me, especially since Starlight Glimmer's end goal was this:

So with that in mind, here is my big rant on why I didn't like the too-tidy ending, how it was broken, and how it should have gone.

First of all, Starlight Glimmer has some sort of pathology -- sociopath, psychopath, I don't know for certain, but anyone who 1) is incapable of making friends without emotionally manipulating them and 2) basically says "I don't care about the future, I just want to hurt you" is some version of insane, callous, or other severe dysfunction.

Second, I have issues with the whole "Every time Twilight goes back in time, so does Starlight in order to thwart her" because it raises the logical question of "Where does Starlight go when Twilight is sent to the new timeline?" There are various possibly handwave-y answers to this, but they seem to reduce to either "Starlight Glimmer is willing to permanently strand herself in the past in order to keep enacting her revenge, which means she's psychotically crazy" or "Starlight Glimmer also returns to the new timeline but is unable or unwilling to see the consequences of her actions, which means she's delusionally crazy."

Third, Twilight is the Princess of Friendship. In this universe, it has been proven empirically that Friendship is literally Magic, which means that she's Princess of Magic as well. I have a really hard time accepting that mere unicorn Starlight Glimmer (with some undefined cutie mark) could out-magic the Alicorn Princess of Magic (who also has a magic cutie mark). That's akin to saying "This unicorn over here with a sun-shaped cutie mark is better at raising the sun than Celestia, the Alicorn Princess of the Sun." I'm sorry, but NO.

Fourth, here is how it should have ended: Twilight, realizing that Starlight Glimmer is pathological, decides that she needs to go back in time and prevent the childhood trauma from happening (basically, a pony version of Let's Kill Baby Hitler). So Twilight uses her special talent in magic -- remember, she was promoted to princess when she fixed a spell that Starswirl the Gandalf Bearded couldn't do -- to modify this other Starswirl spell and goes back to Starlight Glimmer's past. There, Twilight shows her how to make new friends, and halts the creation of the nascent sociopath.** Starlight Glimmer makes new friends and understands that friendship is the most powerful magic of all. Bam, problem solved in a proper pony manner and it makes sense.

Finally, let's say the writers really wanted that ending. OK, that still isn't a problem: just replace Starlight Glimmer with The Great And Powerful Trixie. This actually makes narrative sense, you see, as Trixie has a longstanding magical feud with Twilight (see Boast Busters  and Magic Duel), and she's demonstrated both an ability and willingness to find things which give her a magical edge (like the Alicorn Amulet).

If they'd used her instead of Starlight Glimmer, it would have changed the thrust of the episode from a stalkerish "I hate you and will do everything I can to ruin you" to "I'm going to prove once and for all that Trixie is the greatest!"

Which would mean the end conditions would change: all Twilight would have to do is admit that yes, Trixie beat her this time and Trixie is indeed both Great and Powerful, but The Great And Powerful Trixie's ego is turning the future of Equestria into a horrifying uninhabitable wasteland, so would she please stop screwing around with time? And Trixie, because she isn't an utter sociopath, accepts.

Either of these endings would have been preferable to the one we saw on screen. This matters to me because I have this terrible sneaking fear, given the final scenes of this season and the fact that the girls have been a unicorn short ever since Twilight was alicorned, that Starlight Glimmer will join the cast next season.

If it were Trixie, I'd be okay with it. The fans like her -- I like her -- and while she has an ego the size of an Ursa Major, she's not a bad pony and can easily be redeemed by the Avatars of Harmony. 

Starlight Glimmer, though -- is she actually redeemed? Or has she just been temporarily mollified by having been given what she wants, which is unconditional love? I think it's the latter, because I haven't seen any evidence that  she truly learned her lesson and has turned her back on her mandate of Enforced Equality For All. 

She's a ticking time bomb. And if she sticks around, Twilight and the others better keep not turn their backs on her.

* As Dustbury said back in the spring, "If you're a unicorn with a name based on a time of day, you're probably overpowered."

** It was asked "How come Starlight Glimmer's parents -- I assume she didn't arrive via parthenogenesis -- never saw this little ball of resentment growing? Unless they just didn't give a flip." Based on her actions and sense of entitlement, I'm guessing that their special snowflake could do no wrong in their eyes, and was likely an only child.

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