Once again, this review will contain spoilers. Those of you who haven't watched the episode yet, you have been warned.
So our episode begins with a mysterious hooded figure rummaging around some trinkets in an old house in the night. The shopkeeper arrives and ask what the figure wants, and the latter points to an object on the shelf known as the "alicorn amulet", one of the most powerful magical charms in Equestria. At first he refuses to sell, but one bag of gold soon changes his mind, leading to the opening credits.
Afterwards, we find Twilight and Spike are at Fluttershy's, practicing her magic by levitating the animals. After that, it's revealed that this was in preparation for an upcoming visit by Celestia and a few diplomats, when Rainbow Dash comes crashing in, telling Twilight that she's needed in town. They arrive to find that the hooded figure is using magic on Rarity, much to the latter's dismay. Twilight demands to know what's going on and the hooded figure reveals herself to be Trixie the unicorn, last seen in season one's episode "Boast Busters". When asked why she's here, Trixie informs Twilight that the two of them have unfinished business and that her magic has become more powerful since they last met, as she shows with a display on some of the crowd. She then challenges Twilight to a magi duel, winner stays in Ponyville, and the loser banished forever.
When asked why she's doing this, Trixie explains that after her previous appearance, she was made a laughing stock, never able to gain an audience after her failure in Ponyville. Because of this, she wants revenge against Twilight, and threatens to use her magic against Ponyville and it's citizens until she accepts. Seeing the problems she's caused already, Twilight accepts.
With the terms accepted, the duel begins. Trixie casts a number of spells that would have caused great harm to Twilight and those around her, but Twilight is able to counter almost all of them. Twilight becomes shocked when Trixie starts performing spells that are only used for the best of magic users, but continues to try and counter her. Unfortunately, Twilight is unable to undo the final spell. Trixie declares herself the winner and orders Twilight to leave. Twilight's friends try to defend her, but Trixie uses her magic to force Twilight out of Ponyville. With that done, Trixie conjures a barrier, not only to keep Twilight out, but to keep the ponies of Poyville in.
Twilight promises to figure a way out of this problem and leaves. However, despite her efforts to improve her magic, Twilight realises that her best option is to find someone who knows more about other kinds of magic. To this end, she visits Zecora the Zebra. There, Zecora vows to train Twilight in magic for a rematch with Trixie. Back in Ponyville, Trixie has turned the place into her own private dictatorship, using her magic on anyone who refuses to do as she says. Twilight's training proves difficult as her defeat by Trixie has her troubled and unable to focus.
Meanwhile, Twilight friends are trying to do research on how to fight Trixie, and eventually, Fluttershy finds a book which tells them of the amulet she's using. They then learn that in addition to bestowing great power. the amulet also corrupts it's wearer, explaining Trixie's unusually aggressive behaviour, and that only she can remove it. They come up with a plan for Fluttershy to move past the barrier and find Twilight to let her know about this. They trick Trixie into opening the barrier to let some animals out and Fluttershy sneaks out while she does so.
Once at Zecora's, Fluttershy explains the whole thing to Twilight. A word of advice from Zecora gives Twilight an idea on how to fight back against the power of Trixie's amulet. Twilight returns to the border of Ponyville and informs Trixie that she knows all about the amulet. In addition, she shows off her own amulet which she claims to have been given from Zecora which will improve her own powers. Twilight challenges Trixie to another duel and she accepts. As the duel begins, Trixie is shocked to see Twilight perform the same advanced magic which won her the first duel. After some more displays of Twilight's magic, Trixie uses her own power to steal Twilight's amulet, claiming that she will now rule Equestria with it.
She removes the alicorn amulet in order to wear the new one, but Rainbow Dash takes the alicorn amulet once she does so. When Trixie tries to use her powers on Rainbow, she finds that she's not as powerful as before. It's then revealed that Twilight tricked Trixie, and that the amulet she boasted about was a fake the whole time, and that all the advanced magic she performed before were merely illusions with the help from her friends.
Later that day, Twilight performs her magic to the arriving diplomats and Celestia. To Twilight's surprise, Trixie helps out with the celebrations, asking for forgiveness, which Twilight gives, ending the episode.
So then, how did the episode fare?
Well, in terms of the overall plot, I must say that this is a new one for me. Having the show's central character driven out of her home by a returning villain is not something I ever expected this show to do, so kudos on coming up with an original story. On top of that, I felt that this story allowed for many great dramatic moment for Twilight. Having to be exiled from her home and from her friends is a devastating thing, not only for her to go through, but for us the audience to sit there and watch. That's not a bad thing however as that kind of drama makes the ultimate victory at the end all the more satisfying, and thankfully the episode never made things too depressing.
In many ways, this episode reminds me of virtually every single fan-fiction and fan-theory regarding the character of Trixie. That's not an insult to the fans or anything, but it is odd how uncanny the resemblance between this and some of the stuff the fans have come up with is. They've often portrayed Trixie as being down on her luck after the "Boast Busters" incident, and holding Twilight in contempt for that. If I didn't know better, I'd say one of the show's writers must have got a hold of one of those fan-fics and made an official episode out of it, which I'm sure will make the fans happy to no end.
Although the story manages to stay fairly original in terms of it's basic premise, in many ways it reminds me of the season two premiere, "Return of Harmony". In that episode, a villain causes utter chaos in Ponyville and brings Twilight to a low point, nearly driving her from her friends and home. We have a very similar situation here, but that's no criticism against the episode as it handles that story very well, providing just the right mix of character-driven story and a legitimate challenge for our heroine to overcome.
However, there was one big issue with the story that I must address, and that's Trixie's actions were not challenged by any authority figure. Whenever some threat has come to Ponyville like this in the past, we've had some response by celestia or other leaders. Here, Trixie goes completely unchallenged by those in power. I never understood that. Are there really no police officers or anything to stop disruptive members of Equestrian society? Is this land so harmonious that they feel there's no need for such enforcement? That can't possibly be the case or else they wouldn't have any military.
In addition to that, one of the big mis-steps of the episode for me was the very end where Trixie apologises to Twilight for what she did. I have nothing against that scene and indeed think it was very big of Twilight to accept the apology. But the whole scene felt very rushed, barely a minute. It felt as though the writers had run out of time to do a proper length apology scene so shortened it at the last minute, and it shows.
Aside from the return of Trixie, this episode mostly focuses on Twilight, and I must say her character does very well here. Tara Strong delivers a particularly good voice performance here, showing just how much Twilight is going through. In addition to that, we see just how much her character has changed and grown since the first time Trixie showed up. In "Boast Busters" Trixie's challenge to Twilight was met with meek decline from the latter, with Twilight afraid of appearing like a show-off in front of her friends, even though Trixie was inflicting humiliation on them.
Here, after all the real dangers and challenges she's overcome in the episodes in-between, she's grown far more confident. So when Trixie threatens her home and friends, she accepts the challenge, no longer afraid of how she'll look in the eyes of her friends. It's a subtle change in her character, one that I did not notice on the first viewing, but it shows that over the last few years of this show, Twilight has grown considerably in terms of her confidence and her willingness to stand up to others.
But of course the big thing fans will be talking about here is the return of Trixie. Much like many other minor characters in this show, like Princess Luna or Derpy, Trixie is one of those ponies that fans have been clamouring for a return. I won't go into the reasons why, but suffice to say that like the previously mentioned two characters, this return for Trixie feels very much like a way for Hasbro to keep it's fans happy. And while I can understand and even appreciate the fact that they listen to the fanbase, I have similar worries that she was brought back for their sake rather than any real desire among the writers for her return.
As for her character, before I go into too much detail I think it's worth pointing out here that because of this episode, Trixie is now the show's first official recurring antagonist. And I must say that out of all the villains we've had so far, this was not one I expected to make a comeback. Still, I suppose it's nice to see a character who makes a claim of "I will be back" to actually go ahead and do it as opposed to just saying it and then we never hear from them again. Plus, she the first real villain we've had who's a regular pony, which is a nice change of pace. And before anyone mentions it, I don't count the Flim Flam brothers or King Sombra. The former because they were just too silly for me to classify them as villains, and the latter because he never seemed like a regular pony to me.
Her motivations, both for returning and for challenging Twilight are a mixed bag for me. On the one hand she was indeed humiliated in her previous appearance by being shown up in front of town to not have the skills she claimed to have. But on the other hand, Twilight was not responsible for that. She merely cleaned up the mess made by other characters. Not one did she ever directly challenge Trixie or go out of her way to make her feel bad. In fact, the one time Trixie directly spoke to her before that, Twilight backed down immediately. So while I can understand Trixie's need to feel better about her previous visit to Ponyville, placing all of the blame on Twilight is just ludicrous.
Also I feel the need to make a confession regarding her behaviour and actions here. In my review of "Boast Busters", I defender her behaviour in that episode and her boasting by making the argument that her profession as a magician, and therefore being a public entertainer, meant that she was justified in her attempts to make her achievements sound more amazing than they really were. It was her job so I did not begrudge her for it. Here though I find it impossible to defend her actions or behaviour. Like I said I feel her anger towards Twilight is unjustified and her actions towards her and the others is done out of sheer spite, which I cannot in all good conscience argue for.
Now many people at this point will be pointing out that Trixie's actions were not her own, rather that it was caused by the amulet making her more aggressive and corrupt. While I'm sympathetic to that opinion to a point, I still feel that she deserves the blame here. The reason being is that while she may not have been in control of her actions while wearing the amulet, it was still her initial decision to wear it in the first place. So all of the negative things she did in the episode stemmed from a conscious decision she made in order to get back at Twilight, which is why I still find her actions unforgiveable.
I liked the inclusion of many of the other characters here, especially Zecora. All of Twilight's friends contributed to the quality of the episode for me, which is unusual for most episodic MLP stories which tend to have the regular cast merely playing bit parts. But like I said I liked Zecora's return here, and I think it's rather interesting to have a minor protagonist of season one ultimately help in bring down a minor antagonist introduced in the same season. I don't know if that was the intention, but it intrigued me.
No song this week, so I won't be talking about one.
Onto the humour now and this week we have something of a mixed bag for me. On the one hand I know that there's plenty in here that was probably supposed to be funny, but considering that it was all caused in order to make our heroines miserable, I found it hard to even crack a smile at it. Rarity's over-the-top reactions were always amusing to watch but overall the humour seems to take a backseat to the drama of the episode. Also, I felt that the "Saddle Arabia" joke didn't work for me, although that's no surprise considering how I usually feel about the show's horse puns. At the very least though it wasn't quite as bad as the last horse pun we had in a Trixie episode.
As for the moral, I honestly have no idea what to think. There doesn't seem to even be a real lesson here. Twilight's victory came about by her lesson to "not use magic" and instead rely on the "magic of friendship". Now I'm not saying that friendship is a bad thing to encourage, but the entire show has been about that lesson right from the start, so devoting an episode to it makes little sense to me.
Overall I'd say that this was a good episode. Aside from the original (to me at least) story, we got plenty of drama, humour and a chance for some real growth on the part of our main heroine. In addition to those points, this episode, having now shown that recurring antagonists are a possibility, has effectively opened the doors for other older antagonists to return. Though I very much hope that such a possibility is handled delicately by the writers. There were many positive elements to the story and although I had a few nitpicks here and there this was ultimately my favourite of the season three episodes so far. Definitely worth a watch.
Join me next week when Scootaloo has some bad dreams in "Sleepless in Ponyville".