EPISODE REVIEW: Friendship is Magic: Lesson Zero

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Well, Season Two proper kicked off with a (nuclear) bang. Discord may be safely contained, but there's plenty of craziness remaining in Ponyville.

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Twilight is organizing her day with Spike's help. Her lengthy checklist of the things she needs in order to make a checklist of the things to do is a sign of things to come.

We finally get the new opening title sequence. The most noticable change is a train, with an engine instead of a team of ponies, running through Ponyville when Twilight's balloon touches down. Derpy occupies a suspiciously muffin-shaped car.

In town, Twilight and Spike pick up an order of cupcakes for a picnic. Concerned that somepony might feel slighted she whittles down the frosting on each to an equal (and very small) portion. Once home they complete Twilight's checklist (last item: triple-check the checklist) and Spike remarks that he's glad that he doesn't have to take a letter to the Princess. Twilight proceeds to freak out, since she's supposed to write a letter detailing her lessons in friendship every week and she's terrified of being tardy with an assignment for the first time in her life. She imagines increasingly terrible consequences for tardiness, ending with her being sent all the way back to "magic kindergarten." Desperate to find a problem to solve before the day is out, she hits up Spike (he's got nothing) and then sets out to find someone else in need of help.

Out in the street she hears shrieking. Barging into the boutique, she finds Rarity inconsolable. She has lost the diamond-encrusted ribbon she needs to finish her newest creation. This is "the worst possible thing" that could happen to Rarity, and she summons a fainting couch to wail upon. As Twilight is vowing to help her, Rarity finds the ribbon and quietly resumes her work, crisis averted.

Moving on, Twilight comes across Rainbow Dash destroying Applejack's barn. Delighted at such an conflict, Twilight stops Dash and tries to resolve her issues with Applejack. Dash is confused since AJ had asked her to demolish the barn to make way for a new one. Applejack confirms this, and Dash completes the job with a massively destructive version of her Sonic Rainboom.

Twilight then decides to try her luck with Fluttershy, since she always has "some fear that she's trying to get over." When she finds her, though, Fluttershy is beating the heck out of a massive bear. Exasperated, Twilight heads off (and we learn that Fluttershy has an extreme form of chiropractic in her friend-of-animals skill set.)

Twilight grows increasingly desperate, to the point of berating herself in a Gollum/Smeagol fashion. Spike arrives with the cupcakes and reminds her about the picnic. Twilight runs to her gathered friends and explains her problem, only to have them crack up at the pettiness of it.

Desparate, and increasingly unhinged, Twi decides to create a friendship problem that she can then solve. She finds the Cutie Mark Crusaders and presents them with her old doll, hoping they will fight over it. When they're less than impressed with it, she enchants it with a "want it, need it" spell. This works, but too well. The Crusaders can't stop fighting over it, and they fend off her attempts to intervene. She enlists Big Macintosh to get it away from them, which he does easily, but then he falls under its spell as well and runs off with it. Soon the entire town is chasing after the irresistable doll.

Twilight finds her friends, but the day is over. Princess Celestia arrives, dismisses the enchantment, and sternly summons Twilight to the library. Twi bids her friends goodbye, convinced that she will be sent back to Canterlot.

In the library, Twilight tells Celestia that she's a bad student. Her friends burst in and take responsibility for the whole thing, reasoning that they hadn't taken Twi seriously when she had asked for their help. The Princess agrees to withold any punishment and ammends her instructions to Twilight. All of the Mane Six are now all responsible for reporting their lessons in friendship, but only when they discover any.

This marks the beginning of the episodes planned for Season Two, the previous Discord episodes having been produced as part of Season One. We have a new opening which is largely the same, but introduces a train with an engine running through Ponyville. I suspect this marks the beginning of the waning influence of Lauren Faust, since she kept technology minimal whenever possible. The only train we've seen previously, in Over a Barrel, was pulled by ponies. I hope this isn't a sign of encroaching product tie-ins. (Seriously Hasbro, if you're going to do that, make the toy people take their cue from the show people, and not the other way around.)

This episode has the same writer, Meghan McCarthy, as Party of One. She apparently took Twilight's declaration upon arriving in Ponyville, "All the ponies in this town are crazy!" quite literally. Twi's intensity is dialed up to eleven, and she outdoes even Pinkie Pie in desparate insanity. Interestingly, Twilight remains logical in her thinking, unlike Pinkie. Instead, it's her moral compass that falls apart.

I have to wonder how this episode will play with the target demographic of young girls. Twilight is the default POV character, and she remains so even as she decends into her madness. It's somewhat disturbing even for adults to watch. Similarly, Fluttershy's initially unexplained aggressiveness is something of a shock, and I wonder if many children will be familiar with deep-tissue massage. Then again, cartoons is where kids learn about a lot of these things, after a fashion (think Warner Brothers and alum powder.)

The Princess' amended instructions to the Mane Six are interesting. The writers gave themselves the opportunity to have the appropriate pony express the lesson learned (as opposed to having Twilight voice it for them) and even to ditch the letter altogether if they desire. I suspect that this may have been the genesis for the enter episode.

The animation is feeling a lot more loose lately, and the animators seem to be willing to go off-model more often. I'm liking it so far, but occasionally there are glitches. Celsestia appeared to have a different vanishing point than Twilight in one scene, for example.

The color of unicorn 'magic' has changed. Previously it was usually a shade of the body color, but now it's depicted in one of the complimentary cutie mark colors. I think it works better, since it's usually seen around the horn, which is the same color as the body.

There's a handful of other changes as well. Spike has apprently been studying with Pinkie, as he is now able to interact directly with the not-previously-in-show backgrounds. Twilight is now teleporting several times an episode, versus the two or three times in the entire first season.

Brony Notes: Derpy Hooves appears a few times at the end, most visibly after Celestia arrives, at about the 18:00 mark (sans commercials.)

A lot of bronies are seeing an analogy between Big Mac and the adult fandom in this episode. It's probably not a coincidence that, even after the "want it, need it" enchantment is dispelled from Twilight's old doll, it's Big Mac who fondly retrieves it. Expect to see them both showing up in a lot of fan works (such as the above video by YouTube's MrPoniator.) Dash's sunglasses and Tactical Rainboom are already showing up, as is OCD Twilight's Kricfalusi-esque expressions.

Next week marks the first appearance of Luna since her brief introduction in the pilot. Incidently, if you're ever wondering if there's a new MLP due on any particular week you can just check this pithy website.

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