My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and all the images you see in this recap are owned by Hasbro.
Episode directed by Denny Lu and Tim Stuby
Ugh… we’ve got two lousy episodes in a row following the return of the season which actually managed to kick off with a good episode, but it all went downhill from there. Maybe it’s just me, but episodes about pranks and go kart racing just don’t hold much appeal in a fantasy world with dragons, champions of good, and colorful villains who should be the focus of every episode rather than every once in a while. Hopefully this episode will mix things up as it has two of the best things the series has going for it; the Crystal Empire and Changelings! Can this episode turn the tide on the post hiatus episodes, or are we doomed for mediocrity no matter what they try? Let’s find out!!
The episode begins with Twilight and Starlight getting the hell out of Ponyville to visit Cadence and Shining Armor in the Crystal Empire; a move I whole heartedly endorse because since we got back from our mid-season hiatus, the only episode worth a damn was decidedly OUTISDE of Ponyville. This also gives us a chance to catch up with Starlight who’s been missing in action since we got back and is still the most interesting aspect of this new season (though only half as interesting since she’s not with Trixie). So what’s the story for this episode? Well… I can only guess at this point, but Twilight has a VERY specific line that, when combined with the title of the episode, gives me an idea as to what’s about to happen. During the train ride, she offhandedly mentions that Baby Flurry Heart might have grown so much that she won’t even recognize her. Hmm…
So if we’re to take that line as foreshadowing, that would mean that Flurry Heart has been replaced by a Changeling and, more than likely, Twilight will be the only one who can tell the difference. That’s actually kind of brilliant considering that the original myths about Changelings were about them taking the place of the babies of noble families so that they have a fast track to power and wealth. It’d kind of be a repeat of A Canterlot Wedding, but considering how underused Queen Chrysalis has been since she premiered in season two, I’d be more than happy if that was the case here. Anyway, Twilight and Starlight, along with Spike, arrive at the Crystal Empire to find it abandoned of all life. Aw… did we miss the invasion? Well it could be that… OR MAYBE IT’S AN INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS STORY!! YES!! The show is FINALLY taking cues from the comic books! It took them long enough! No, not really. It turns out that everypony is afraid to leave their houses because a rumor is spreading about a Changeling having invaded their kingdom which is a problem because they haven’t developed the Voight-Kampff test yet; or should I say… the Voight-CLOPff test!? Since the Crystaling of Flurry Heart, the Crystal Empire has seen a surplus in love, affection, and more than likely some unpleasant forms of nationalism (so just like England after THEIR Royal Baby) which makes the Kingdom, and ESPECIALLY Flurry Heart, prime targets for a Changeling attack (if Flurry Heat isn’t a Changeling already). Needless to say that the denizens of the Crystal Empire are more so on edge than usual; even when their hero shows up to bask in their affection.
So what’s the plan to oust this Changeling from the Kingdom? Well for some reason the Palace Guards decide they want to take Spike out to the frozen mountain ranges surrounding the Crystal Empire to search for the Changeling. Um… are we sure the GUARDS aren’t the Changeling, because this seems like a REALLY stupid plan. I mean sure, Spike WAS the runner up to rule over all the Dragon’s in Equestria, but I still don’t think that qualifies him to search for enemy combatants in ice caves. After ordering the Guards to split up, Spike IMMEDIATELY falls down a hole that leads right to the Changeling’s lair. Who’s the bigger fool; the one giving the foolish orders to split up (ENSURING that one of them is going to come back a Changeling) or the fools who ACTUALLY listened to the baby dragon? Spike eventually comes face to face with the creature, though at first not realizing it as we’ve got some classic Looney Tunes shtick to go through first.
The Changeling’s name is Thorax (it’s that like a human being named Elbow?) and apparently he’s the ONE nice Changeling to have ever existed and we see his backstory; starting with his birth that he can APPARENTLY remember and we can see that the OTHER Changeling’s come out of their eggs snarling and biting while he came out meek and unassuming. This kind of story telling is convenient enough when you only have a few minutes to tell a character’s backstory, but it doesn’t help make the Changeling’s any more compelling that they’re BORN evil rather than conditioned to be that way through their malevolent Queen. All I’m saying is that John Locke had a few good points about the Nature VS Nurture debate!! So anyway, it looks like my initial guess of this being a False Baby conspiracy masterminded by Queen Chrysalis is not gonna be the story here, and instead we’re getting a Spike episode about ponies getting over their prejudices. Unfortunately, this also means that we only get Chrysalis very briefly in one of the flashbacks and she doesn’t say anything.
So Thorax was there during the invasion of Canterlot; not doing anything and probably getting in the way of both sides. It’s there that he saw true friendship for the first time as the Mane6 started beating the hell out of his comrades and family. This revelation that there’s more to life than sucking out the souls of ponies gave him the courage to venture out on his own, but by NOT sucking the souls out of ponies he’s now getting much weaker and is probably going to starve to death soon. It’s the vampire paradox that was so elegantly explored in Thirst, but so conveniently avoided in Twilight. Thorax by the way is a big ol’ sad sack whose voice I can’t really place (maybe Bobcat Goltdhwait without the screechiness?) but has the tone and delivery of Droopy Dog. Clearly the only threat this guy poses is to himself and possibly a good party (he could probably deflate Pinkie Pie with his sorry attitude) so Spike has decided to take the guy under his wing and get him some of that excess love that’s radiating off the Crystal Empire! First though, he has to make sure things are cool with the citizens of the Crystal Empire; or at least convince the Royal Guards to not stab him on sight. Let’s see how that goes.
Yeah, not only are the Guards dopey enough to think he’s goofing with them (what part of this HIGHLY DANGEROUS SITUATION makes them think he’d make these kinds of jokes!?), but Shining Armor makes it clear that this joke is not funny as ALL CHANGELINGS ARE EVIL. I mean… he’s probably still dealing with a lot of trauma from his wedding day, but still. Spike goes back to Thorax to deliver the bad news, but there is still a pretty good plan B they can use. After all, HE’S A CHANGELING!! JUST CHANGE INTO A PONY! We’ve established that they have no way of identifying a Changeling, so this should be a piece of cake! Hell, once Thorax settles on a new body, which Spike helpfully names Crystal Hooves, the two can seemingly go in and out of the Crystal Palace with ease! You know what? Everypony SHOULD be afraid if this is how shoddy their national security is!!
And with that, we begin a montage of Spike and Crystal Hooves walking around the city and meeting lots of ponies! You know; the city that’s on lock down and where everypony is afraid to go outside? DID WE ALL JUST FORGET THAT THAT WAS A THING!? Oh well. They’re montage of fun and autograph signings eventually leads them back to the Castle and into the royal courtroom where Crystal Hooves comes face to face with the Little Baby Flurry Heart. The amount of love radiating off this infant is too much for him to handle however, and he transforms back into Thorax right in front of the Royal Family and about a dozen guards. It also doesn’t help that his Changeling instincts kick in as he starts hissing at everypony which certainly isn’t helping what meager case Spike is bring up in his defense.
Actually, that’s a bit of lie right there because Spike ends up hanging Thorax out to dry in front of them all; not willing to speak up before he gets chased out of the palace. Sigh… alright. How long until Spike realizes his mistake? I timed it, and it’s exactly two minutes between Spike abandoning his friend and him risking everything for him. In those two minutes, Thorax escapes, Spike finds him at his lair in the mountains, and the two make up after Thorax gets super pissed at Spike but saves his life when he almost falls down a cliff. From there they go back to the palace and Spike sings a song about the lesson he learned… in the last two minutes.
I don’t get why they decided to steer the episode in this direction and make the moral of the story all about Spike instead of something much more substantive. Spike singing about the lesson he learned is as long, if not longer, than the time it took for him to actually learn it! And what is that lesson? To stick up for your friends. Well WHOOP DE DOO to you! That’s hardly the most pressing issue here! He’s trying to convince the Crystal Empire to accept Changelings as worthy of existing which is not easy considering the history the Monarchy has with them! Isn’t that a more important character arc to examine? Both Cadence and Shining Armor not only have a really bad experience with the Changelings, but also have something at stake; namely their child. I don’t see how a song with such inane lyrics as “If day can turn to night and the darkness turn to light, then why can’t we imagine a Changeling can change?” is going to convince them of anything. Hell, it doesn’t even look like it works at first considering everypony’s still giving him the stink eye after the song ends, but then Twilight says how proud she is of Spike and then I guess everything’s okay now.
It just feels odd that the focus shifted so dramatically at the tail end of the episode, and then having everything work out so easily for all the characters. I guess good ol’ Thorax is going to be a permanent fixture of the Crystal Empire! That or he’ll be forgotten after this episode. Whichever is easiest! And so the episode ends; not with the uniting of two species into what may be the road to peace between the Changelings and Equestria (and the possible ousting or reformation of Queen Chrysalis), but with Starlight Glimmer reminding us that she was in this episode and probably should have gotten a bit more screen time!
I actually liked this episode a whole lot, but it’s hard to get past how swiftly and neatly they wrap everything up at the end. Thorax is an interesting character to throw in here as he raises questions about how to treat a creature whose biology is straight up parasitic to ponies and how its best to deal with that kind of situation; not to mention that his sad dopey demeanor was kinda charming and fun to watch as he the most unassuming threat that the Crystal Empire has ever had to face. Unfortunately, it’s Spike that ends up dragging the episodes down as he works well at first as the one character trying to help Thorax, but then the episode shifts its focus entirely onto him instead of on the more interesting hurdles of trying to convince others not to hate Thorax sight on seen. Still, what it gets right is way more than what it gets wrong, so it’s a definite step up from what we’ve gotten so far with the post hiatus episodes. Let’s just hope that they keep it up and get even better as we get closer and closer to the season finale.