"The Root of the Problem". Or as it might as well be called, "Captain Twilight and the Equestriateers". Have your peaceful protest picket signs ready -- this one's a doozy. (Warning: Spoilers ahead!)
Living vines from the Everfree Forest are taking over Ponyville! ...Wait. Where have I seen this before? Yeah, if you've seen the season four premiere, this might sound like familiar territory. Rest assured, the reason for the Everfree's encroachment this time around is much different and much stupider. While Princess Celestia deals with the problem in Canterlot (a proactive change of pace), she tells our pony heroes to seek out the "Heart of the Forest" for help.
But as we've learned time and again, one does not simply walk into Everfree. One mad forest dash later, we're introduced to Prince Bramble of the Elves-- I mean, deer. Our heroes have to cross a ravine to reach the Heart of the Forest. What does Twilight do? Make a bridge out of a tree. What does Bramble do? This.
And thus we come to the first major (or minor, depending on your point of view) problem with this story arc: the message of environmentalism. I'll touch more on this later, as it isn't as bad here but gets worse as the story progresses.
Let me be clear though: the deer characters are a very interesting addition. They have their own nature-based magic, and their forest home of Thicket is gorgeous. Plus, with how expansive the Everfree Forest is, it's not much of a stretch of the imagination (for me at least) that this city has gone unnoticed until now.
Anyway... So what exactly is it that's causing the Everfree to spread across Equestria? It's... the deer. Oh. Okay. Then why are they doing it? Because a corporate business minotaur is tearing down forest trees to make way for an amusement park.
Yeah, returning to this story arc's first problem mentioned above, it's all about protecting the environment and nature and the animals... You get the picture. It's easy to draw comparisons between this and other shows with heavy-handed environmentalist messages like Captain Planet.
And it's very black-and-white in its conflict approach too. Well-to-Do and his cohorts are very much the villains of this story -- no two ways about it, no room for interpretation.
The problem is that the deer don't come out looking very sympathetic either, at least in Part 1.
Well-to-Do is the one tearing down forestation with his bulldozers. So why are Ponyville and the rest of Equestria the targets of King Aspen's retaliation? Plus, having Bramble chew Twilight out for "evicting animals from their home" and following it up with this only makes the deer come off as hypocritical -- they're doing the exact same thing with their vines.
And once again, being royalty is treated as an afterthought, as Well-to-Do makes sure that King Aspen's messages to Celestia don't reach her, and he flat out ignores Twilight's demands. What's worse is that, like The Good, the Bad and the Ponies, it treats the villains' actions as completely lawful.
What kind of legal system is this?! Ugh.
Anyway, by the time Part 2 starts, at least we're given some semblance of logic on Aspen's part as Well-to-Do is effectively killing whatever ground he bulldozes, so the deer's magic can't make plants grow. The ponies toss different ideas around, like giving the deer some Ponyville land, peaceful protests, boycotting... These go about as well as you'd expect. At this point, Aspen abandons all pretense of negotiating and is about ready to declare war.
But wouldn't you know it? Those healthy, organic smoothies that Well-to-Do plans to sell when the amusement park opens? They can make plants grow! That's... overly convenient.
But oh, no! Well-to-Do's captured Bramble! And he'll only let him go if Aspen basically signs himself over into Well-to-Do's servitude. Like I said, black-and-white. If there were any redeeming qualities about Well-to-Do (before this point, he was still a bit of a clown), this part effectively kills it.
So the ponies and deer are like, "You know what? Nuts to this. Let's just start throwing punches."
And I'm not gonna lie: this is where the story finally gets entertaining. The ponies and deer amass an army of animals and monstrous creatures and lead an assault on Well-to-Do's compound. And it... is... amazing. (For about two pages, but still.) They knock over barrels of Well-to-Do's organic smoothie mix, the plants grow back, the construction site is destroyed, and Well-to-Do is thwarted. Yaaaaay.
Oh, yeah, and this happens.
(Don't worry, he's fine.)
And how do we wrap up this adventure in environmentalism? A mediocre joke. Appropriate.
This story arc is very much a mixed bag, but overall an improvement over the previous one. There's certainly some entertainment to be had -- characterization is an improvement, and the deer are an interesting bunch -- but a lot of it relies on questionable Equestrian legality and the occasional toss-around of the idiot ball. I feel that if the conflict wasn't presented so matter-of-factly (if both sides had equally understandable viewpoints and issues), it would've been a much more compelling and enjoyable story.
Final Score: 7/10