Once again, this review will contain spoilers. Those of you who have not watched the episode yet, you have been warned.
So the episode starts with a scene from last week's episode, wherein Twilight and the other ponies leave Spike to care for their pets while they leave to catch the train to the Crystal Empire. After that, we find that the ponies of the Empire are excited because their nation is set to be chosen for the Equestria games, a major sporting event. Rainbow vows to help them get their nomination, having been there when her own home town of Cloudsdale was not chosen to host the games when she was a child. , leading into the title sequence.
After the title credits we find that the six ponies are practicing some of the dances and song needed to impress the upcoming inspectors when their train arrives at the Empire. Looking around, it's clear that all of the Empire's citizens are excited and working hard to make sure their home is chosen for the games, making Dash even more determined to help them. The six arrive at the local spa where they meet up with Cadence. After she and Twilight give their "usual greeting", the former shows them around the place, which will be used for the arriving inspectors. She then informs them that, as ruler of the Empire, she's to bear a traditional headdress in order to impress said inspectors.
One of Cadence's attendants then informs her that the usual stylist is unavailable, and so they have no-one to perform the traditional headdress for her. Rarity offers to take up the task, but is somewhat worried over the sheer number of details needed for it. The situation becomes even worse when the attendant informs them all that the inspector will be arriving earlier than expected. Shocked by this news, Twilight tells Rarity to get to work on Cadence while the others keep a look-out for the inspector. Rainbow theorises that this inspector must be doing this to try and catch them out, so suggests that they try and keep an eye out for any tricks she may pull.
They arrive at the train station as the inspector's scheduled train arrives and they meet up with a mare to greet her. She seems pleased at this, especially when they escort her into the city. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to the ponies, the REAL inspector is still waiting at the station. Things don't het much better on rarity's end as she's having some difficulty with the headdress, making Cadence look less than presentable as a result. Back with Twilight and the others, they bring the fake inspector to the caste and show her around, all the while with Rainbow suspecting that her "nice" persona is all an act. They perform their stunts from earlier to impress her, and it succeeds, gaining her appreciation.
They inform her that she will meet Cadence soon, but she seems to need to go outside as she stays in the castle longer. Rainbow suggests another tour, which she agrees to. During all this, the real inspector is having an unpleasant time, wit every pony around her acting dismissive of her. Twilight goes to see how Cadence's headdress is coming along, but Rarity tries to stop her, saying that Cadence's mane hasn't gone well. Back with the tour, the ponies try to impress the "inspector" with the large rooms of the castle, but their efforts don't seem to work. When Twilight discovers this, she decides to visit her brother, Shining Armour, to see if he can help.
She goes to the Empire's sport arena, where Shining is looking over some of the area's athletes. He says he'll be able to help her with the tour they have going, just as the fake inspector get's taken by accident to that same arena. She seems ecstatic to be there, running the racing course, much to the chagrin of the other runners there. During this, she gets a pot stuck n her head and gets distressed over it, charging out of the area and into the city, with the others in pursuit. After a brief chase, Rainbow gets the pot off her head and she stops. She says how impressed she is with the area, and is even surprised that the Princes, Shining, is there to greet her. After a few comments, Twilight becomes suspicious and asks her who she is. It's here that they discover that she's not the actually inspector, much to everyone's horror.
They rush to the train station to find the real inspector, but she's nowhere to be found. Pinkie mentions how bad it would be if the inspector happened to go to th spa where Cadence is, leading to the others realising that that's where she must be. At the spa, the inspector, by coincidence, is chatting with the mare that had been mistaken for her. When the five ponies arrive, Rarity informs them that Cadence is ready, which alerts the inspector to her presence. She informs the Princess that she has had a terrible visit to the Empire. When Cadence asks what's going on, Rainbow explains everything, much to her shock. rainbow then tells her that because of her home town's failure of hosting the past games, she wanted to help the Empire, but was unable to do so.
However, the inspector tells them that, because of the glowing description of the Empire given to her by the mistaken inspector, the Empire will indeed be host to the games, much to everyone's joy. They make their way back to the train station and start their trip back to Ponyville, unaware that, as shown last week, Spike, the CMC and their pets are hiding under their train seats.
So then, how does the third season's penultimate episode fare?
Well, in terms of the overall story there's plenty of interesting things for me to talk about. The overall plot of this episode, that of a region trying to become worthy of hosting a major gaming event, is very reminiscent of the real-world efforts of nations to try and host similar events, such as the Olympics. Coming from the country that held the most recent games (the UK), I know fully well how hard it is for any place to be considered good enough to hold a prestigious events. As such I have first hand experience with the kind of passion and drive many people have in trying to prove their homeland worthy of such things.
However, the problem with this is that I myself have never been much of a sports enthusiast. Even when big events like this were happening right in my own country, I was never that thrilled about it. As such, this episode was somewhat handicapped by the fact that it was centred around a concept that I didn't have much interest in. But, having said that, it's always nice for me to see characters I like try their hardest in pursuing a goal they consider worthy of their time and efforts. As such, though I may not have cared for the Equestria Games themselves, I was at least invested in seeing the main characters succeed in their aims in this episode, which is a plus in it's favour.
As I said in the previous review a couple of weeks ago, this episode and the last seem to be sharing roughly the same time frame. Remember, the previous episode featured the main six leaving for the Crystal Empire and then returning. As I suspected last time, this episode seems to take place in between their departure and return. This is a very interesting and unique way for the show to write it's episodes, and not something I've seen in any other kid's shows, at least not the ones I've seen. While it may not particularly add anything to the quality of the episode, it did provide it with a novelty that makes it stand out amongst it's peers.
And speaking of the last episode, there's an issue that I've been meaning to talk about, and that's Spike's lack on an invitation. Last time it was said outright that he was not invited to participate in whatever it was that Cadence invited Twilight and the others for. This strikes me as odd that they wouldn't want him to go there as, in the season premiere, he practically saved their country. I know It could be argued that Cadence needed people she knew could get the Equestria games to pick the Empire as their location, and that Spike might not have the skills needed for that, but still, I'd imagine they'd want him to visit, out of gratitude if nothing else.
The idea of a mistaken identity on a special event is not a new idea in kid's shows, as I've seen such a plot many times before. But this one is executed very well. If I had one gripe with it, it would be that the episode let's the audience in on the mistake very early on. If they'd perhaps made it a surprise to the audience at the same time as the ponies, it might have had more of an impact. But regardless, the overall story was well told and allowed for a lot of good character moments.
The main cast all do their jobs well and have some great interactions with each other. Twilight's constant attempt to keep calm despite the stress she must be feeling was very relatable, at least to me. Although there was one aspect of her character I must question, and that's the fact that she never once actually asked the mare they met whether or not she was the inspector. I know she had the same luggage the inspector was supposed to have, but still, for a character who's supposed to be smart, it was a very foolish thing for Twilight to at least try for a proper exchange of names at their first meeting. Other than that, she did fine here.
Rainbow Dash' heartfelt mission to help the crystal ponies because of her own past disappointment was a nice moment for her, as you don't often see her go out opf her way to help so many ponies like this. Rarity, as befits her role as the generous one, was good to offer her services to Cadence when the usual stylist was unavailable. Although I question her decision to try something that she'd never done before on such a critical occasion. Still, it worked out for the best at least. But, as usual with her, her inherent competitiveness shined through, so at least sh never came across as being completely selfless. As for the rest of the cast they all did their jobs well and each had some good moments.
As for the non-main cast, I think they did a good job on Cadence and Shining Armour. Both seem to be fitting in with their roles as leader well without changing their personalities. For example, Cadence is just as nice and welcoming as she's always been, even in the face of all the stress she must have been going through. Andas for Shining Armour, I liked that thery had him act in a rill-sergeant sort of way with the athletes, given his background as a member of the Equestrian military. Both characters did well, despite their brief appearances.
As for the two new character, the inspector and the mare mistaken for her, I found myself liking both. It was hard not to sympathise with what the inspector was going through during her visit, given that she was basically ignored throughout the episode. And even though I'm unsure whether one person's positive report would be enough to change the mind of a real inspector like that, her decision to changer her mind like that showed she was a good person at least. As for the mistaken one, I liked her throughout the episode. She was funny, she seemed like a nice person to get to know, and she seemed genuinely happy with the way she was treated and appreciative towards Twilight and the others, which is good. However, throughout the episode, there were moments when she would behave in an odd way, like how she went crazy with the pot on her head or that looking up at the palace ceiling made her want to go outside. I don't know if this was meant to indicate some sort of issue she had, but whatever it was, the episode never addressed it.
As this episode is set in the Crystal Empire, there are a couple of things that have been on my mind when watching this episode that I need to talk about. Firstly, I find it incredibly odd the Empire and the ponies inhabiting it are not in the slightest way traumatised about the events of the season three premiere. Remember, this was a society that was vanished for a thousand years, only to pop up again out of nowhere. And yet the ponies here don't seem all that bothered. I know it's a kids show and we need to suspend out disbelief somewhat, but this really bothers me. Something like this would require a lot of getting used to.
And it's made even worse by the fact that adjusting to modern times is in fact something the show has done once before. Back in season two, the episode "Luna Eclipsed" was entirely about the character of Princess Luna having to re-adjust to Equestrian life after having been gone for a thousand years. Now, an entire nation has returned from a similar absence and not one person seems to have any difficulty just accepting what's happened to them. They even accept Princess Cadence as their leader despite probably never having seen her before the season three premiere.
And while we're on that subject, how is it exactly that Cadence became their leader in the first place. The ponies of the Empire just immediately recognised her as "the crystal princess". But when you consider that we've seen flashbacks of her as a younger pony playing with twilight, it simply isn't possible that she was around for the crystal ponies to have any idea who she is. And even if, after all that, they somehow just recognised her as a princess, how could she just waltz in there and start leading them? I know I've rambled on about this for some length now, but these types of questions are honestly what run through my head when I see things like this. Make of that what you will.
No song this week so I won't be talking about one., unless you count that brief little stunt by the main six, but for my money it's a bit too short to really count.
As for the humour, this episode features a great deal of humour of all types, from awkward to physical, to subtle. There were many great expressions and comedic poses by the main cast, especially Pinkie Pie, many of which I'm sure will keep the show's fa-artists happy for ages. Like many past episode, the humour features things going wrong at a time when things shouldn't. And I know it makes me sound like a horrible person for saying so, but if executed right, it can be very funny. If I had to pick a funny moment, it would be when Pinkie offered a cake to Cadence after the big misunderstanding had been uncovered. That had me rolling for five minutes straight, no joke.
Usually I'd talk about the moral of the episode, but this week I was hard pressed to actually find one. The only thing I can think of was Twilight's monologue about Spike at the end, and how if he keeps his head, things won't go wrong. That could be seen as a lesson she herself has learned from the events of this episode, but if it isn't then this episode has no real message to say, apart from "make sure you meet the right pony".
Overall I say that this episode was a massive step in the right direction after the disappointing episode we had last episode. The story, while certainly not a new one, was well told and allowed for many great moments from every member of the cast. The humour worked very well and it was nice to see the show try something new with the way it combined the timelines of this and the last episode. While it may not be the best I've seen this season, it's definitely up there as one of the better ones and highly recommended.
Join me next week when we come to the end of the third season in "Magical mystery cure".