"A Canterlot Wedding, Part 1"
An Overthought Review of MLP:FIM Season 2, Episode 25.
Note: Blah blah blah opinion, you should know this by now. Also spoilers.
This is just for the first episode; the rest should be up later this week.
0:00-1:57: "Hey Booboo, what do you think is in that pic-a-nic basket?"
The much-anticipated Royal Wedding kicks off with a picnic with the entire main cast just chilling when Spike shows up with a pair of letters. This scene is largely a springboard for a number of rather important themes that make up pretty much all the relevant character-related bits of the rest of the episode (and the subsequent episode). The main thing is simply establishing that a wedding is going to take place, and that the main cast is going to be basically running it. It could easily be a purely expository scene, but the writers are better than that and they mix it up a bit by having Spike pull out the wrong letter first.
Now, I know and you (probably) know exactly who's getting married because we've seen all the preview clips and whatnot, but if you're going into the episode blind, you have no clue what's going on here and are in exactly the same boat as Twilight at the end of the scene. You wouldn't know why the cast is suddenly getting put in charge of a wedding. The fact that the "twist" of the scene, that it's Twilight's brother that's getting married, much more of an actual twist. It gives the scene a bit more of a punch than just telling us that the cast is planning a wedding. It flips from exposition to "wait, Twilight has a brother?" so quickly that it makes the scene a good deal more interesting to watch. As if the little gags like Spike getting the wrong letter out or Rarity's reaction to getting to make the dresses weren't entertaining enough.
1:57-2:35: Title Sequence
2:35-5:35: Someone must have accidentally left her name off the list.
This scene is largely more setup for Twilight's character arc over the course of this episode; a recurring theme is the fact that Twilight feels very close to her brother, and feels like she's in danger of losing him due to him directing his affection to Cadence instead. This scene subtly introduces that latent jealousy; she automatically interprets his failure to inform her about the wedding as a clue that he doesn't care about her as much because of the wedding. It's this tendency to be somewhat bitter about the wedding that eventually drives a wedge between herself and the rest of the cast when she tries to convince them that there's something wrong with Cadence; they think she's just being jealous of the fact that her brother isn't paying much attention to her.
That said, the show certainly does its part in justifying Twilight's reaction; if her brother was basically the only pony she interacted with in a friendly capacity before she came to Ponyville, it only makes sense that she'd have a special affection for him and feel betrayed when he leaves her out of the loop on something so important.
The song is basically built to drive that connection home, and it does so really well. Apart from finally giving Twilight a solo song, it really does a great job of showing exactly why Twilight was so close to her brother. It's a great deal more effective to give us a (really adorable) flashback sequence to illustrate her fond memories of Shining Armor than it would have been to just take her word for it. It's really quite sweet to see how they interact and it lets us get a feel for what Shining Armor is like. Or at least a feel for how Twilight sees him. It also does a really great job of driving home the emotions that Twilight is feeling; aside from the song doing a great job of summing up the relationship, the animation is incredibly emotive, especially the tail end when she starts tearing up. There's even a bit of additional feeling shoved in there in retrospect; she can see the bubble around Canterlot and is almost certainly aware that her brother is involved. It's a visual indication of his presence, which probably only enhances her memories.
However, while Twilight's affection for her brother is very strongly attested to here, it also brings up a bit of an issue: If Twilight's brother was basically her best friend for the majority of her life, and is incredibly important to her why the heck was he not mentioned once in the first 50 episodes of the series? It just seems incredibly odd that someone who was apparently one of the ponies who's most important to Twilight outside of Celestia didn't even get mentioned before now. Granted, if you take the episode on it's own it isn't a problem, but in the large context it's a bit weird. The same goes for Cadence, to a lesser extent. We never find out what she's princess of, or what relation she is to the other princesses. She just sort of appears out of nowhere.
Anyway, this scene also introduces the idea that the rest of the cast doesn't quite get Twilight's feelings. They can tell that she's broken up over it, but they don't quite comprehend why. And that makes sense as well. That we know of, only AJ, Pinkie, and Rarity have siblings. AJ has lived with Big Mac her whole life, and doesn't really get the separation anxiety part of it, Rarity never really had an older sibling to look up to so she likely doesn't understand that aspect of Twilight's issues either, and Pinkie doesn't seem to be in regular contact with her sisters, and like Rarity she's the oldest and doesn't look up to anyone, so it's a different dynamic. It's a good middle ground; they're sympathetic, but they can't really get it because they've never really been in that situation.
5:35-6:26: Ponies on a Train
This scene basically just builds up the divide between Twilight and everyone else; every other cast member is basically stoking themselves up for the wedding. It's also pretty much established that Spike has no idea how bachelor parties work. Twilight just keeps kind of stewing. It's a nice little character moment when Applejack approaches her and tries to give her some comfort. It's fitting, given that if any member of the cast would know about family, it's AJ. The scene doesn't really have a whole lot else going on, but it's nice to see Twilight's friends trying to console her.
The heightened security in Canterlot is our second clue that something is up (the first being the massive forcefield). It also establishes that ponies can pass through the barrier with little trouble, which will become important later. And while we're at it, the fact that Pinkie somehow sneezes confetti is great. At first it looks like Rarity's assessment is correct and the security is due to the wedding, but becomes evident that this isn't quite the case in the next scene.
7:07-10:57: Sibling issues and fond memories
The first shot of this scene is Celestia surveying her kingdom through a telescope, which is another sign that something is amiss. One of the good things about this episode is that it fosters a feeling that something is wrong, but is really vague about the specifics of the issue. This racthets up the tension by an enormous amount. It manifests really strongly in how Cadence is handled, but we'll get to that later.
In any case, we finally get a proper introduction to Shining Armor. His voice starts off a bit odd; he sounds a bit...bro-ish. I'm not quite sure what it is about his voice, but he just sounds younger than I had expected. You just kind of expect the captain of the guard to have a stronger voice. Then again, I only really noticed that in this scene, so it's not too big of a deal.
There's some really nice interplay between Twilight and SA here; you can tell that Twilight is frustrated, but at the same time you can tell that SA isn't trying to make up excuses. It was an honest mistake that Twilight didn't get informed, and he's generally sorry about it. Even so, there's still a bit of tension between them, which makes his reaction to Twilight's explosion at the end of the episode more understandable. Twilight understands, but she's clearly reluctant about it. And SA does his best to make it up to her by giving her a position of honor in the wedding. This scene also shows that he's got some pretty sweet skills; even Twilight would be hard pressed to pull off something like that massive shield that he can pull off.
But most importantly, this scene introduces us to Cadence. The whole flashback sequence is awesome, and gives us a pretty good idea of the type of pony Cadence is before we actually meet her. It also establishes that she was another important pony in Twilight's life; Cadence is basically one of Twilight's only other friends apart from her brother. It also shows that Twilight remembers her as a really nice pony, who really enjoyed bringing ponies together. (For the note, the scene where she uses her magic to solve a fight between the two ponies has raised some questions. I really don't think she's exactly causing them to fall in love there; I think it's more a question of reconciliation and rebuilding a relationship that was already there. It fits more with the theme of the character. Also the female pony is pretty obviously a cameo; that design is really similar to Wild Fire, an OC pony designed by Sibsy, one of the show's artists. You can look her up on Deviantart.) Now that we know what Twilight expects of Cadence, Cadence's actual appearance is much more striking.
As soon as Cadence actually shows up, you can just tell that something's different about her. She sounds mildly annoyed by Twilight's presence, blows her off, and generally acts like she's totally indifferent to Twilight. It's a good example of that vague "offness"; there's something weird with Cadence, but the show leaves the exact nature of it unsure. We don't know whether Cadence is just having a bad day, or if she's just changed over the years, or if Twilight just remembered wrong or what. All we know is that her current personality is a lot more harsh than how Twilight remembers her, and we have no idea why. Most of this first episode consists of Twilight trying to figure out what happened.
I love how this scene opens; it's quite clear that Twilight is pretty heavily affected by the whole deal, and it contrasts really nicely with Applejacks enthusiasm and energy. Given that Twilight is the one who usually gets worked up over checklists and such, the fact that she's so stoic here gives a bit of a glimpse into her head. Not to mention that it's sweet when she perks up after sampling AJ's cooking. Same thing with the little moment of Spike messing around with the cake toppers. He doesn't get a lot of time in this episode, so it's nice to just see him around.
Cadence is a really tricky character in this bit of the episode. Following from the previous scene, you just know that something is up, but the exact nature of it is unknown. There are any number of possibilities that explain why she's acting like such a jerk, and no real clue to what caused it. The only real hint is the color of her magic, which is different from the color in the flashback. But that's not explained either, so all it really is is a cue that something weird is going on. It could be magic, it could just be stress from the preparations. The viewers can be suspicious, but there isn't really any evidence for anything other than Cadence being a bridezilla. We're basically right with Twilight on it, there's something fishy, but nothing really concrete enough to raise a real concern.
This scene also does an excellent job of driving a wedge between Twilight and the rest of the cast; she's the only one who really notices the oddness (probably because she's the only pony out of her friends who's met Cadence before), and when she tries to raise those complaints everyone attributes it to her jealousy over losing her brother. They simply don't see the sum total of Cadence's attitude in the same way that Twilight (and the audience) does. There's also a subtle build-up in Twilight's suspicions. In the first bit of the scene, with AJ, Twilight is just doing her job, and the fact that she sees Cadence is just a coincidence. In the part with Rarity, it's still coincidental, but Cadence is part of the reason that Twilight is present to see what's going on. In the final section, Twilight is basically just spying on Cadence to find out how she treats Pinkie Pie.
13:29-15:23: Spike is having way too much fun with those cake toppers
And we have a Luna cameo. Awesome. It's good to see that the show is still at least acknowledging her existence. Something as massive as this wedding would just be weird if she didn't get acknowledged somehow.
This episode is quite clever in the way it treats Twilight's suspicion of Cadence. It's quite specifically set up so that Twilight's dislike of the princess is easily misinterpreted by her friends. It's basically the driving force of this episode that Twilight believes something is wrong with Cadence, while all of her friends believe that there's something wrong with her. The big kerfuffle over her brother at the beginning of the episode colors the cast's perceptions of her actions to the degree that Twilight starts to look like the bad guy.
It's especially notable in that all the other ponies seem to be somewhat aware of Cadence's attitude, but they're all assume that it's justified because of the stress of the situation, and because her criticisms are actually valid. It has the dual purpose of keeping the rest of the cast from seeming too oblivious, as well as throwing out a bit of a red herring for the audience that Cadence might have had a reason for acting like she did. The real strength of this scene is that both sides of the argument have a point; Twilight is right that Cadence has attitude problems, but the rest of the cast's reaction is entirely appropriate given how Twilight is acting. Twilight has a point, but she's really going overboard with the accusations (which probably is related to jealousy, to a degree), and it's hard to argue that even if she has a point, she's going about solving the problem in the wrong way. It also gives the cast members a bit more screentime, especially Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash, who didn't get their own sections.
15:23-17:34: Her magic is green! Of course she's evil!
This is a really good interaction scene; it pretty much validates Twilight's assumptions about Cadence, at least when one views the scene from her perspective. We see Cadence acting ornery again, and when Shining Armor disagrees with her, she seemingly brainwashes him. There's really no denying that it looks incredibly suspicious, and to a degree, it really makes Twilight's little freakout justified. It also starts to hint at the fact that Cadence may be making an active effort to split Twilight off from the group. She's obviously quite aware that Twilight is keeping an eye on her, and seems to positively enjoy the idea.
Then there's the fact that she's essentially sucking up to Twilight's friends by making them bridesmaids; she's basically making herself look good to the group, while allowing Twilight to catch her off guard. It makes it feel like she's deliberately playing Twilight against her friends. Which given the revelation in the next episode, is actually entirely possible. It makes Twilight feel alone. It's actually kind of similar to how Discord turned everyone against her in the season premiere, but in this case it's much more subtle, and it's done naturally rather than via brainwashing. And again, it's entirely justified on both sides. Twilight's assumptions about Cadence are quite reasonable given what she's seen. And on the other side, her friends haven't seen all of nasty stuff Cadence had done and assume that Twilight's issues are jealousy based, which given how big of a deal she made about Shining Armor at the beginning of the episode really isn't a bad assumption to make. The fact that both sides have good points is what makes the following scene work as well as it does.
17:34-21:25: Sooo...the rehearsal dinner is off, then?
It speaks a lot to the quality of the show that they managed to incorporate the wedding rehearsal into the show and make it work. But anyway, this is the climax of the episode; all the character material involving Twilight's jealousy and suspicions of Cadence basically reach their peak. Basically the entire thing has been building up to this point. It's very much emotionally charged, and the motivation of pretty much everyone in this scene is believeable. Twilight's wild accusations do have a decent basis (which we've seen), and given how much she cares about her brother, it's somewhat logical that she'd want to keep him from marrying somebody nasty.
On the other hand, she's pretty much entirely thrown any form of tact to the wind here. Not only is she making her allegations with absolutely zero actual proof, but she's basically picked the worst possible way to bring it up. Given that precisely nobody else is aware of what she's talking about and they're well aware that she feels a bit possessive of her brother, it isn't exactly odd that they react the way that they do. All they see is a jealous sister busting into the rehearsal and badmouthing the bride for absolutely no reason.
That's when the show shifts from the tension between Twilight and the other ponies to basically running Twilight through the wringer. Shining Armor's explanations of Cadence's behavior, while a bit suspect to a knowing audience, are perfectly believable in the context of the show. The other ponies have no real reason to assume that he's wrong. And the fact that Cadence basically ran out in tears doesn't exactly help Twilight's case (in retrospect, it's a rather brilliant ruse by the fake Cadence).
The entire sequence is building towards one thing: making Twilight feel terrible. Her actions had basically the exact opposite result of what she intended. She wanted to help her brother and ended up hurting and alienating him and the rest of her friends in the process. Aside from the fact that she probably feels like crap over raising such a fuss, her brother boots her from the wedding, which was the whole reason she had felt terrible at the start of the episode. In her mind, she was going to bust in and save him from making a terrible mistake, only for everything to completely fall apart. Her brother is in no mood to even talk to her, her friends believe that she's trying to sabotage the wedding out of possessive jealousy, and Celestia is most likely shocked and appalled that her personal protege (who's supposed to be learning social skills) would do something like that. And all of these reactions are completely justified, which is probably the most painful part of the whole thing.
This abandonment is the emotional climax of the episode; Twilight is basically broken after being abandoned by her brother, friends, and mentor. There's some really great animation here; you can practically feel Twilight breaking down as Celestia walks off in a huff. For that moment, she doesn't have a friend in the world, and she thinks it's all her own fault. The reprise of BBBFF and the accompanying animation really hammers it in; she's abjectly miserable over everything. Even the Discord episodes didn't manage to go that far; even then Discord's brainwashing was behind a lot of it, and Twilight still had Spike and Celestia on her side, even if everything else was falling apart. Here, she's completely alone because of her own actions. And then it gets worse.
The fact that Cadence basically stomps on and smashes the little imaginary Twilight pretty much sums up her character. Before we even hear her speak, we pretty much know that she fully intended to screw Twilight over. It casts pretty much the entire episode in a different light once you know that Cadence's actions were designed to drive Twilight away from everyone else. Even though we still don't know exactly what the deal is with Cadence, we know that she's a really good manipulator; possibly even better than Discord given the lack of a need for brainwashing (yeah, she brainwashes SA, but I don't think that has anything to do with how Twilight gets treated by everypony). And then the way Cadence starts stroking Twilight's mane comes across as more mocking than anything. When Twilight starts to apologize, you can tell that she really believes that she screwed up, and that she potentially ruined her brother's wedding. It's absolutely heartbreaking.
And then Cadence proves all of Twilight's suspicions correct by...engulfing her in flames and sending her down to pony-hell!? What the crap? Is this really a My Little Pony cartoon? But seriously, this pretty much entirely confirms that Cadence (or whoever is pretending to be Cadence) is evil. I mean, come on, she even does an evil laugh. As I said before, this casts the entire episode in a different light when you realize that she was totally playing everyone the whole way through. What's also really interesting is that at this point, we still don't know what the crap is going on with Cadence. It's entirely possible at this point that this really is Cadence, and she really is evil; Twilight's memories are a facade. It's also possible that it's an imposter, or under mind control herself, or whatever.
And of course, it's completely evil that they cut the episode off here. It tells us just enough (Cadence is EEEEVVVVIILLLL) to hook us, and then doesn't tell us anything else. We have no idea where Twilight is, and no idea what Cadence is planning to do to Shining Armor or any other pony. It's also incredibly impressive that even Celestia is totally unaware of whatever is going on. So basically, Cadence is evil, powerful, and the only pony who knows it is...we have no idea. Classic cliffhanger. If we had had to wait an entire week for the next episode, I'm pretty sure the bronies would have mounted an attack on Studio B and straight up taken the second half of the episode as spoils of war. Because seriously, what the heck happened to Twilight?
I could go on for a while about how well this episode played up Twilight's jealousy for her brother to basically screw her over at the end of the episode, but I've already said a lot about how all the character material was handled, so I'll just leave it at that I think they did a really good job in playing both sides of the issue so that everypony sounds reasonable at the end of the episode.
Other than that, I should point out that this is easily the more character based of the two episodes. All the tension in this episode derives from social interactions and emotion, as opposed to the second half of the episode, which is much more action oriented. The conflict is entirely between Twilight's perception of Cadence and everyone else's perception. There isn't much action in this episode, but that's okay because there's a nice contrast between them that keeps it from getting boring.
There aren't really any substantial issues with this episode. Everything is introduced well, and I never felt like any of the time in the episode was wasted. And the song was awesome and the reprise used really really well. So in the end there are only two minor gripes I have, neither of which really have much of an effect on the episode's overall quality.
The first is the oddity of the fact that neither Shining Armor or Cadence have been mentioned in the first 50 episodes of the show when they apparently had a very large influence on Twilight. Cadence's sudden appearance is especially problematic, as the show has implied on several occasions that there aren't any alicorns or princesses other than Celestia and Luna, which makes it really weird to suddenly have her appear out of nowhere and have nopony blink an eye at it. Then again, this episode does a very very good job of characterizing them and showing how important they are to Twilight, so it's not like the sudden introduction really detracted from their character, and if you take the episode as self-contained it really doesn't matter. But it's still a bit jarring if you take the season as a whole.
The other issue is that this is a very Twilight-centric episode. This, in and of itself, is not a bad thing, and if it were just a regular episode I probably wouldn't even mention it. The thing is, this is the season finale, and as a season finale, it would have been nice to see a bit more of the rest of the mane cast. They're certainly present, but given that this is the last we'll see of them until season 3, it's odd that we don't see them a little more. It isn't bad that it's Twilight-centered, it's just weird that the other characters act almost as a unit rather than individuals; there's Twilight, and there's everypony else. They do have their moments, but individually, none of them have a good deal of influence. Again, a really minor issue at worst, but it's just strange for a season-ender.
But really, none of the flaws are bad enough to make the episode anything less than great. It builds up more tension than any episode so far, and if you don't want to find out what's going to happen next when the cliffhanger kicks in, you're a robot, and you must be destroyed before Skynet comes online. So yeah, really great episode.
- Cadence and Shining Armor are handled really well for characters who have never appeared before
- The interplay between Twilight's perceptions of Cadence and everyone else's perceptions are very very good, and they play out really well in the end
- The song is amazing, and the reprise is used brilliantly
- As usual, the animation is awesomely expressive
- The building of tension in this episode is great
- Cadence and Shining Armor sort of appear out of nowhere
- The non-Twilight portion of the mane cast get surprisingly little screentime for a season finale