I Used to Wonder What Friendship Could Be: My Thoughts on the Friendship is Magic Series Finale

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My first experience with the fourth generation of the My Little Pony series began right around the time that the episode “Super Cider Squeezy 6000” had aired. Having seen various GIFs, images, and stories about the series and the “brony” fandom – as well as just being a fan of animation in general – I decided to give the series a try.

Several years later it’s 8:00 PM on a Saturday night and I’m watching the series finale with a mixture of nostalgia, excitement, and maybe just a tinge of sadness. In between that first watching and the finale, I had watched the series, started up an analysis site (that, well, you can see how the activity on that has been), ran a successful forum roleplay site for several years, have a fanfiction that I’m still writing, and even had a ponysona.

I think you can say I became quite a big fan of the series.

Granted, that fan has waxed and waned over time. As can be expected of any series that has lasted over a decade, things changed: I’m not actively doing analysis pieces (though still comment on stuff on social media), the friends I made from roleplaying eventually moved on (and are often befuddled by the live commentary I’ve had while watching the series), and that fanfic kind of had a two year dead period before I got back to it. In short, I drifted off from the series, but at the end of the day it still had an impact on my life, and while I can’t say for certain how much will remain as the decades linger on, I think it is safe to say at least a little bit of it will stick around in my heart.

In that sense, then, the series finale story – one of Twilight telling her own student a story of how even as things change and friends separate they can always be together in their hearts – serves as an appropriate end for this decade long journey the show has taken. While I have been particularly rough on the series at times, I will ultimately miss it, and I would be lying if I said that the ending didn’t hit me emotionally either.

Like any friend, however, I’d also be lying if I didn’t admit that I do have a few critiques to make on this series finale. So, I’m going to give this finale the send-off the most love I can give in the best way I know how: by analyzing it, both the good and the not so good.

Specifically, there’s about three things from the finale that I’m going to focus on in particular, representing things that I’ve sort of had my eye on since the finale initially leaked (but I didn’t get a chance to watch) and, honestly, speak to a few things I’ve had to say about the show as a whole:

  • Discord’s character
  • The final fate of Chrysalis, Tirek, and Cozy Glow
  • Representation

So, let’s get started.

Please note, though, this piece contains spoilers for Friendship is Magic, Steven Universe (and the movie), and Undertale and deltarune.

“You have made a grave misjudgment, Discord.”: Discord and “Testing” Friends

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Discord and I have had a…complicated relationship in this show. As a villain, Discord’s two-parter opening “The Return of Harmony” in season two remains probably one of, if not the best, opening two-parter in the entire series. As Jen A. Blue wrote in her piece on it back in 2013, Discord’s role as a villain was to essentially destroy the series as it had been established by twisting the characters (except Fluttershy, who he has to cheat), and when combined with “Lesson Zero” (one of my personal favorite episodes) served as a way to refresh the series after it’s initial season through narrative collapse. Plus, you know, he was just fun to watch.

Bringing him back into the series to be reformed, however, was a much more mixed result. Considering I ended up writing a two-part (Part 1 : Part 2) piece on his reformation, however, I think it’s safe to say at the time I was all gung-ho about it. In particular, his betrayal by Tirek seemed to have set the stage for him to learn about what real friendship was about, instead of his more perverse definition throughout the season that seemed think that friendship was about tolerating how much of a pain in the butt he could be. His treatment of Princess Cadance and Twilight while faking sick in “Three’s a Crowd”, in particular, annoyed me quite a bit, particularly the fact he tried to act as if he was “testing” Twilight.

Unfortunately, the series after that point kind of got into a rut with him, with his own appearances often either him continuing to “test” Twilight or essentially amounted to him throwing a temper tantrum for not getting his way. Even the worse, the show never really punishes him for it, but in fact often had the characters apologize to him for it. The result was it felt like there was a cycle of Discord escalating his antics to get what he wants and the characters apologizing for it, thereby stunting Discord’s character growth.

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Basically, Starlight did nothing wrong banishing Discord in “A Matter of Principals” once he started endangering students.

So when Grogar brought back Sombra and Discord, again, starts going on about helping Twilight learn to be confident as a princess, I was rolling my eyes. Imagine my surprise, then, when it turned out Grogar was actually Discord in yet another scheme to “help” Twilight.

And imagine my surprise when the rest of the cast called him out on it.

Yes, the finale called out Discord for his constant desire to “help” and “test” Twilight with increasingly dangerous schemes and plans, with this one almost leading to the entire destruction of Equestria itself. While not quite making up for the temper tantrum episodes, it did feel nice to get some vindication that the show writers also recognized the harm Discord was doing with these types of stunts and actually had him get some comeuppance for it. With the end of the show, of course, we can’t see how much this develops his character, but it is appreciated none the less.

If there is one complaint I can make, it’s the show sort of went for the wrong reasons why it’s bad by focusing on “this meant Twilight’s successes weren’t real” and hurting her confidence. There is a reason “Honesty” is one of the virtues for friendship, after all: constantly putting your friends in “secret tests”, no matter how good intentioned, is not a healthy friendship. But, at the same time, that applies more to the “tests” in episodes like “Three’s a Crowd” than this episode, so it’s also understandable. Like I said, I appreciate that it was addressed at all, so I’ll take what I can get.

“Together forever. I can’t think of anything that they would want less!”: The Fate of Chrysalis, Tirek, and Cozy Glow

Villains

One big piece of discourse I sat on a few months back was the ending of Steven Universe in the episode “Change Your Mind.” In that episode, Steven and the Crystal Gems confronted White Diamond, the sort of matriarch of the Diamond Authority and rulers of the Gem Homeworld. As Homeworld had been presented as an imperialist caste-system that repressed the individuality of Gems – particularly the banning of fusion for anything other practical reasons, where fusing is a metaphor for relationships of all kinds (familial, romantic, etc.) – there were many fans who did not like the idea that the Diamonds were not shattered (destroyed) but were “Forgiven”. Some of this was later relaxed in Steven Universe: The Movie, where Steven made it clear that his remaining a part of the Diamond’s family (being the son of the now gone Pink Diamond) was at least conditioned on them dismantling their empire and reforming Homeworld. It wasn’t absolution for their crimes he gave them, it was the chance to change for the better and work to right the wrongs they had committed.

In fact, that theme of “change” was central to Steven Universe: The Movie, particularly in regards to how “happily ever after”s are never truly permanent, but are themselves part of the changing nature of life (I recommend Sam Keeper’s piece on the nature of change and narratives). All the characters have been hurt, have dealt with trauma, and have learned to grow from it. Even the movie’s antagonist, Spinel, was ultimately another Gem dealing with immense pain and trauma but was given the chance to change and learn to love again.

For anyone who did want the Diamond’s shattered, however, the series finale of Friendship is Magic has you covered. The villainous trio of former Queen Chrysalis, Lord Tirek, and Cozy Glow – all having been behind some of the show’s largest and most dangerous plots (invasions, rampages, and almost destroying all magic)  – are all defeated by the combined forces of Equestria and trapped as a stone statue for all eternity.

Now, before getting to that, I do want to say one thing positive. As a fan of the Student Main 6 and the Friendship School in general, I was glad to see that they were able to contribute to the defeat of the villains by rallying the entire world behind the Mane 6 in what was basically a friendship laser Spirit Bomb. As I discussed in one of my earliest analysis pieces (and god it is such a mess in retrospect), the magic of friendship was connections, not literal magic, something Twilight herself needed a reminder of. Her speech, which I’ve copied below, is one of my favorite of the series:

Speech

ENOUGH! Because of you, I almost lost my way! But everycreature here has reminded me of the true power of friendship! There will always be darkness in the world, but there will also always be those who find the light! The Pillars knew this! That’s why they created the Elements of Harmony! The Elements showed me and my friends how strong our friendship could be! Together we worked to bring harmony to Equestria! But there will always be more to do! Which is why we teach others about the Magic of Friendship! Others who will continue our mission after we are gone! Now I truly understand! The Elements were just symbols! The real magic has always been right here! And the more who understand how powerful friendship is, the stronger we will all be! Together!

Like Steven Universe, Friendship is Magic has routinely emphasized the power of friendship to grow exponentially, and that the acts of kindness that we do for others can have effects beyond what we might know in that moment. It is the connections we build, not the power we have, that ultimately grants us happiness and the ability to face the troubles of the world.

And then they shove the villains in a statue and move on their merry way.

Look, I get it: in real life there will be people you can never be friends with, who for one reason or another simply can and won’t change. That might be because the bitterness of trauma has become impossible to break (as Spinel almost was in the movie), or because they are ultimately someone who just let’s hate define who they are and how they relate to the world. Even Steven Universe has it’s share of characters who never are quite redeemed (ex: Kevin, Aquamarine, Jasper, though we do have another season so who knows). And learning how to manage this is a useful skill: “Griffon the Brush Off”, “Boast Busters”, “Wonderbolt Academy”, and other episodes presented many characters who the Mane 6 couldn’t quite be friends with.

In the last few seasons of the show, however, redemption became a common theme of the show: Gilda finally reconciled with Rainbow Dash, Trixie became friends with Starlight Glimmer over their mutual history as antagonist, Lightning Dust found her place as an extreme stunts pony. Plus, you know, Discord, Tempest Storm, Sunset Shimmer (who is one of the best characters of the series in my opinion), etc. etc. Much of this, of course, is the show catering to fans by bringing back fan favorites, and many didn’t quite turn out “redeemed” (The Flim Flam Bros. are still flimflamming, but as basically Las Vegas casino and hotel owners so it’s ‘legal’ now), but it set a pattern.

To complain that a show like Steven Universe and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic “need” characters who cannot be redeemed, however, misses at least part of the show’s appeal: they are a  power fantasy, where the power is the power to change others through love and empathy. The best point of comparison I can make is the videogame Undertale, where – or at least I would argue – the most emotionally satisfying conclusion to the game is the Pacifist approach. Through refusing to fight and instead show the monsters of the game love, compassion, and understanding, the player is able to free the monsters from their imprisonment underground and bring comfort to the soul of a lost child who misses their friend and grant them some closure.

Asriel

This goatboy can fit in so many feels (Asriel, Undertale)

Undertale, of course, recognizes that such an approach. In a post-final battle dialogue, the player can talk with Asriel – said lost child – about how the world is filled with “Floweys” (a major antagonist of the game who is presented as a sadistic monster who believes the world is “Killed or Be Killed”) and that not everything can be solved by being nice. The related game deltarune has a similar comment made by Susie after defeating the final boss who, after the character Ralsei healed him out of kindness, had attacked again. Ralsei, being upset at being tricked, is told by Susie that “Yeah, sometime’s there’s people you just gotta fight. But if you  NEVER let your guard down, then…you might just…hurt someone you care about.”

In short, a common theme across these series is a recognition that of course there are people who might take advantage of your kindness, but it is worth being kind and reaching out to others anyway. That is a major part of Fluttershy’s character, for example, and it is the strength that being kind to others can offer that made her the only one to resist Discord (who had to cheat to corrupt her).

Coming back to the question of Chrysalis, Tirek, and Cozy Glow, the show had at times sort of set up a potential redemption, particularly in the episode where they do work together and succeed. Sure, they rejected friendship at the same time, rationalizing it as truce of sorts, but the seeds were set. In fact, when Discord first mentioned bringing them together was his idea, I had thought that perhaps this had been a misguided plan of sorts to help them like he had been helped (his actual reason, of course, being a “test”). That, honestly, sounds like a more interesting result: Discord, wanting to try his own hand at friendship lessons, brings the worst villains of Equestria together, encourages them to work together, and in doing so learn some actual value of friendship. It backfires, however, but having once again been defeated, perhaps some level of recognition that maybe they are wrong, and the Mane 6 and Discord offer to help them. The previous episode to this – “The Big Mac Question” – would have even provided a set up, having noted that sometimes the mistakes you make can lead to something better than you had planned.

Instead, we get “welp, these guys will never learn, so put them in prison forever.” Having written a piece on how such an attitude feels counter-productive to the show before – which has always had a tinge of the restorative justice feel to it – it feels almost a let down to have ended that way. It’s not, perhaps, inherently wrong, but it doesn’t quite sit right with me either, to have the final villains of the show ended in such a way.

“Oh. Sorry. We’re not the last ones, are we?”:  Representation in MLP

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Hey, you know what’s fun? Shipping discourse.

But let’s come back to that, because I want to start with something more positive, and one I had kind of wanted to get to but didn’t get a chance to write separate article.

One of my most controversial takes back when I was doing more regular episode reactions/commentary was my view on the episode “Flight to the Finish”. Long story short, I  had an issue with the episode appearing to be about Scootaloo coming to grips with her disability and inability to fly, but the show backing out at the last second with a “maybe you will, maybe you won’t” comment by Rainbow Dash. Basically, I didn’t like the show using a narrative that felt very tied to disability but leaving the door open for “Oh, never mind, she can fly now”

Anyway, I wanted to comment that I appreciate that since then the show has apparently stuck with it, even coming back to the question in the episode “The Washouts” where Scootaloo explicitly states that she cannot fly and how that strains the relationship between Rainbow Dash and her and why she looked up to Lightning Dust’s methods of stunts, which would allow her to still be “awesome” without flying ability. So, yeah, I’ll give credit to the show for sticking with what they did in “Flight to the Finish”.

Scootaloo

Young adult Scootaloo, “The Last Problem”.

Returning to the shipping discourse comment…

Heterosexual romance has been a central part of the show ever since Spike immediately began having a crush on Rarity in season one. As I documented about two years ago, the show has had a lot of heterosexual romance throughout its run, often at the center of an episode’s plot. This isn’t to say that these episodes are bad, of course. The episode detailing how Applejack and Apple Bloom’s parents met is a favorite of mine, and having Big Mac and Sugar Belle propose and marry under the tree his parents planted was a touching moment. It was also the third episode in the series that centered around a wedding where the couple was a stallion and mare. Let’s not even get started on all the other explicitly stated crushes, couples, and ship teases the show had: Spike and Rarity, Twilight and Flash Sentry, EQG World’s Twilight and Timber Spruce, Rarity and Blueblood, Rarity and Trenderhoof, Trenderhoof and Applejack, Maud and Mud Briar, and apparently Pinkie Pie and Cheese Sandwich.

The representation of LGBT+ character, meanwhile, is a bit more…sparse.

As I wrote on the 100th episode reaction, I really didn’t like that the showrunners took the fan favorite couple of Bon Bon and Lyra and used it as a source of “gal pal” jokes, especially since at that time they, you know, didn’t have any LGBT+ characters on the show unless you want to rely on stereotyping to assume Steven Magnet was, which is not a great thing to do.

Since then, we have Scootaloo’s aunts making an appearance on the show. While the show never states they are married (and married couples on the show don’t wear anything like rings to signify it), I’m going to give it. I’ve seen debate on to what extent should a romance be “obvious” enough that anyone could see or it can’t be censored, but that often means allowing LGBT+ rep to be defined by the lowest common denominator of people who will basically never get it through their skulls or, like, the Russian and Chinese markets. Sure, there’s a time and place for being that “in-your-face” (Ruby and Sapphire’s wedding in Steven Universe comes to mind), but not every appearance of an LGBT+ character needs to be at 11 in their appearance. Just letting Scootaloo’s aunts be living their life is fine.

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Just living that best “raising my sibling’s kid for them” life

That said, there is also a difference between “they exist” vs “they are an active part of the narrative”: after having so many plot lines dealing with crushes, dates, marriages, childbirth, and attractions, not a single one ever revolved around a non-heteronormative pair. You can’t really have the staff go on Twitter saying “it was pretty obvious” Sunset Shimmer was bi when the only plot lines that dealt with attraction in Equestria Girls had were Equestria’s Twilight Sparkle being into Flash Sentry and the EQG world’s native Twilight Sparkle being into Timber Spruce.

From that perspective, then, having Bon Bon and Lyra hook up and get married in the background of the main plots was…nice? But why don’t they get an episode or maybe a scene in a montage instead of just a “blink and you’ll miss it” announcement in a newspaper Twilight is flipping through? If it was just left to this, the ultimate balance the show would have presented is that lesbian or gay characters can exist (I don’t recall anything about a transgender character in the show), but their stories are incidental to the narrative.

And then Rainbow Dash and Applejack walk in arguing about chores.

Rainbow Dash: Maybe we could get to places on time if you let me do some of the chores instead of always doing everything yourself.

Applejack: Maybe I would if you did them the right way. Oh. Sorry. We’re not the last ones, are we?

The setup here does seem to be suggesting that during the time skip that occurred between “The Ending of the End” and “The Last Problem”, Rainbow Dash and Applejack have moved in together or perhaps even married. The show never clarifies what the situation is, and that is kind of annoying. It’d have been easy enough: the whole episode was about how friendships change overtime. The focus, being a finale, was on how they can stay strong even when apart, but just dropping a line of something like “and sometimes they change into something else” while the two look into each other’s eyes would have helped (note: don’t ask me to write a romance).

In short, at best we got ourselves a Korra/Asami situation here, and in terms of children’s television the Korra/Asami relationship was important in the development of LGB relationships being allowed. And who knows, perhaps like them Applejack and Rainbow Dash’s relationship will get expanded upon in the comics. It’s just, you know, maybe a little something stronger would have been nice, especially to balance out “The Big Mac Question” and the revelation that Pinkie Pie had a child with Weird Al’s ponysona.

So, yeah, the show could have been a lot better about allowing LGBT to be given the same level of limelight as the myriad of heteronormative relationships in the show, but it’s also a show that has been on for over a decade. Considering that opinion on same-sex marriage and LGBT+ rights has been some of the fastest change of public opinion in the last decade or so, I can’t blame the show for falling behind either. So I think I can give at least a little credit for at least trying at the very end, conditioned on the next generation being better.

Author Edit: So, in response to community questions, Big Jim has stated that in regards to ships: “It’s up to the individual viewer to decide what those two are to each other. Gotta leave you with some things to debate!”

I will grant that shipping discourse is among some of the worst discourse in a fandom, so I do understand the desire for ambiguity to some degree. On the other hand, that does mean the ship is not even Korra/Asami level rep (where creators explicitly stated they were together post show Q&A), and feels somewhat contradictory when they also had Pinkie Pie have a kid with Weird Al’s ponysona.

I added the edit in at this point since it does related to the section, but wanted to leave the original text as it was as well as I think the overall point is still good.

“How the Magic of Friendship grows”: Final Thoughts

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As I said at the start, my experiences with Friendship is Magic have, ultimately, been pretty positive. A lot of that is I’ve been lucky in terms of the group of people I ended up sharing the experience with, even if many of them ultimately dropped the show at various points in time. Which, of course, is fine. Like “The Last Problem” emphasizes, friendships change, but if you put the work into it, that doesn’t have to meant that they end either.

Similarly, I’m not going to end this with some lament about how I’m going to miss the show, either. For all the problems that come with fandoms – and oh boy is that discourse always a fruitful source for topics – if there is at least one positive that comes out of it it’s the ability of fan creativity to bring new life to a show. Every piece of fanart, fanfic, webcomic, ask blog, fan music, animatic, or whatever media it’s made in allows the show to thrive beyond the confines of the “canon” material, bringing new potential for friends and connections to be made. Sure, the worst parts of fandom means being careful about how you participate and cultivate that involvement, but the existence of abusive people and evil doesn’t mean you should avoid trying to be and enjoying the good.

So, like I said, I’m going to keep enjoying the art, writing my Trixie and Starlight fanfics (note: Starlight was great in the finale), and not let the end of the show be the actual end.

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Seriously, just all the Starlght/Trixie fanfics.

 

 

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