This was "eh". It ties with Princess Twilight Sparkle as my least favorite season opener. It has more things that I like about it, but it also has more things that I don't like, so it cancels it out. Most of the problems that I have with it are minor and/or nitpicks. THE BAD:
1. I kind of don't like how it wasn't on a massive scale like almost all the other season premieres. It felt like a slow burn to me and was kinda boring because of it.
2. I had a bad first impression of this episode. I thought that Starlight Glimmer's spell just took away their cutie marks and passions, so when it got to the part where they were all locked in the house, I kept asking myself "Why won't Twilight break a hole in the wall? Why won't she teleport them out? Why won't she phase them through the walls? Why won't they fight back? Why would they just let themselves get locked up like that?" I got very annoyed because it came off as the writers literally not letting them think of that because then there wouldn't be an episode, like how they won't let the characters think to use the time travel spell in seemingly hopeless situations or just use Discord to solve everything. Then, towards the end, I was like "Ooooh, the spell weakened them! That's why they weren't doing anything!" They should've explained that better in the beginning. Even though I know it's not bad writing now, because I thought it was when I first saw it, I can't shake that feeling. The damage is done. First impressions are everything. All they would've had to do to fix this was in that scene where Sugar Belle said "I know I'm not a very good baker", have Sugar Belle say something like "Sometimes I wish I could bake like I used to", just something that would make it clear that they actually lost their abilities. And some of those don't even make sense if it's just cutie mark related, like Applejack, Rainbow Dash, and Twilight Sparkle. Applejack's cutie mark doesn't mean that she's really strong, and her strength comes from years of hard labor, so if she got her cutie mark taken away, she should logically still have all her muscle strength, and the same thing goes for Rainbow Dash; if you train to get really buff, having your cutie mark taken away shouldn't make you lose muscle mass. Most of the time, being strong isn't a talent. With Twilight Sparkle, she trained to make her magic strong, and everyone who got their cutie marks should logically still know how to do the things they used to like. I could see Twilight being much worse at magic than she used to be and not being able to use a lot of her spells, but she still should've been able to knock the door down with her mind. So the spell isn't just taking away the cutie marks and passions, it's actually stripping you of your abilities and knowledge. But that wasn't explained very well.
3. The part where Pinkie Pie gave away that some of the ponies wanted their cutie marks back was lazy writing, and it makes Pinkie Pie look bad. That's a trope that I've seen a lot in TV: there will be a character who's hiding something from another character, and the writer needs that character to find out about it, so they'll have a character (usually the idiot comic relief character) literally just blurt it out. And the writing tries to justify it by saying that they are literally that stupid. We saw it before in Somepony to Watch Over Me. Scott Sonneborn needed Applejack to find out that Apple Bloom left, so he made Scootaloo accidentally blurt from her hiding spot that Apple Bloom had left. It's lazy writing. Here, it also offends me because it's saying that Pinkie Pie is literally so stupid that she can't tell that she's supposed to protect innocent people by hiding things from the people who want to hurt them. It's extreme stupidity. The thought that other people were trusting her did not even occur to her when she did that. How would you feel if instead of Tirek finding out about Twilight from Discord, Twilight told her friends about the Princesses' plan and then Tirek found them and Pinkie Pie just blurted it out? That's what this is. That trope needs to die. It's also betrayal because those ponies trusted her with their secret, and then she just thoughtlessly blurted it out in from of the person they didn't want to know about it. It means she's untrustworthy, and this and the sheer stupidity of it make her a bad person. I also dislike it because it's character assassination. Pinkie Pie isn't stupid, despite the fact that the writers seem to think she is at times. I mean, she is stupid, but in a different way. There are different types of intelligence, and there are different forms of stupidity. I'm fine with Pinkie Pie being stupid as long as it doesn't drive the plot, is only used for comic relief, and doesn't go on for too long as anything longer than a moment gets grating. For example, her going insane in Party of One, throwing glitter on Applejack, and doing a rap video are hilarious, but her in Wonderbolts Academy, Filli Vanilli, and Trade Ya are different. Whenever you keep increasing a character trait, it's going to eventually reach a point where it starts hurting the character and by extension, the show. It's going to start consuming the character's personality and intelligence, and reaching the point where that character is a bad person. When their extreme stupidity effects the plot I have to take it seriously, and it creates a bad plot and bad characters. The whole point of idiot comic relief characters is simply to get the audience to laugh. Their routines were never meant to be taken seriously. Exacerbating Pinkie Pie's stupidity and then having it drive the plots of episodes while in this case not even doing it as a joke shows a fundamental misunderstanding of idiot comic relief characters. I can tell that this was Scott Sonneborn's idea.
4. I thought that the lyrics for the song about equality were ham-fisted at times. I also found the equal sign imagery where at the end of the first part, the shot fades into an equal sign to be ham-fisted and unnecessary. It was like "Okay, we get it". Not only that, but why would they stand like that? Having an opening at the end gives the Mane 6 a chance to run away.
5. Speaking of symbolism, I thought it was cool the Rod Of Sameness looked like an equal sign. But then it turned out that the rod wasn't real, so why did it just happen to look like that? I'm sure that Scott Sonneborn was the one who designed it.
6. Why did Twilight and the others take so long to getting around to asking how you could even remove a pony's cutie mark. That should be impossible, so it should've shocked them and made them ask that immediately. It's not realistic that they wouldn't ask that instantly, let alone, for so long. If I were them that would be the first thing I would've asked.
7. I don't like the name "Starlight Glimmer". It is also ham-fisted, and it sounds like something Hasbro came up with, and I think that the writers could've come up with a better name. I also keep getting confused and typing out "Sunset Shimmer".
8. When the townspeople are hitting the glass to get their cutie marks, it won't break, but throwing a stick into it is enough to break it?
9. When Sunset Glimmer said "I created harmony!" and "I gave these ponies REAL friendships!", I thought Twilight was going to really mad at that because the first statement is blasphemous, and the second statement is telling Twilight that everything she's been through isn't real, doesn't count, and is inferior. I thought those would've been cool moments, but she didn't respond to it for some reason. Those were missed opportunities.
10. When Sunset Glimmer said "I gave these ponies real friendships they never could've had otherwise!", to which Double Diamond replied "How do you know that?! You never even gave us a chance!" That reply makes no sense. She totally did give them their friendships; if it wasn't for her, none of them would've met or lived in that town. And if she didn't make everyone the same, then they never would've all fallen in love with each other. Taking away their cutie marks didn't take away their chance for them to become friends; it is the only reason it happened. She is literally the reason why their lives are the way they are.
11. I don't like the parts where that one pony made binoculars out of balloons, and they actually worked, and where he made a bridge out of balloons to get across a gorge, and it actually worked. Remember that thing I was talking about about how you shouldn't mix ridiculous things with the plot? If you do, I have to take it seriously, and you can't take that seriously, but the episode wants you to take it seriously, so it hurts the story because it means a part of the story makes no sense. The characters can't physically do make something that fast. How did he make it that fast? How did the bridge support the weight of everyone? I only saw him blow one balloon. The bridge wasn't tied to anything. Where did he get the balloons? Since everyone gave up their cutie marks, that means that there shouldn't be anything in the village that the ponies could use for their special talents. Where was he keeping them? Why would he bring those with him? The whole thing was spur-of-the-moment, and one knew about the secret passage, so he had no way of knowing that they'd leave the village and go into the mountains. It would be like if instead of using Discord to find Tirek, they just had Pinkie Pie use her 4th wall powers. I can tell that that was Scott Sonneborn's idea because his writing is standard kids' show mediocrity, and he likes mixing ridiculousness with the plot.
12. I don't like how they actually pointed out that Applejack uses country-themed expressions. This show is grounded, realistic, and serious because it tries to tell grounded, realistic, and serious stories with characters that act like real people. It isn't like a show like Fairly Oddparents, Johnny Test, or Spongebob Squarepants, as those are cartoonish "comedies" where one would expect this type of behavior. When a show tries to have real characters that act like real people, pointing out a character has a cartoon routine that they do breaks the forth wall in a bad way. It would be like if you were watching King of the Hill, and one of the characters was like "Hey, Hank! You know how your thing this that you really like propane?" It's like the joke is talking more to the audience than it is to Applejack. It makes sense to the audience, but in-universe, it doesn't because it's like "why would they say that?" I can also tell that this was Scott Sonneborn's idea.
13. The song wasn't great. It wasn't awful, but it wasn't particularly good. I want the songs to be great songs, so every time we get a song that's mediocre, it hurts the show. Even if a song is mediocre, it's still a song that I won't want to go back to. I don't want to listen to okay music; I want to listen to music that's fantastic. If it's not fantastic, it's bad.
14. We see Starlight Glimmer escape by teleportation. But she charges up a spell that creates this giant expanding magical field that starts going towards Twilight's group, and Twilight doesn't bring up a barrier to defend her and the others. She just puts up a wing to shield her eyes. It's like "Good thing that happened to be a teleportation spell and not an attack". Not only that, but it doesn't look the way the normal teleportation looks. It looks different, and there's no reason for it. When I first saw it, I thought that Starlight was charging up her spell to take their cutie marks again. It looks like what it would look like if one of the characters was charging up an attack. How did Twilight know that it was teleportation and not an attack? Did she know, or did she just assume that Starlight Glimmer wasn't going to hurt them? What would've happened if that had been an attack?
15. I don't like that the castle is sentient. Having the castle drive the plots of the episodes and tell them what to do and actually give the Mane 6 missions to spread friendship sounds like something you would see in a stereotypical little girls' show. It sounds like something Hasbro would come up with. I don't know if I like it being able to do that. It also sounds like the show is trying really hard to justify Twilight's getting that castle. This also seems like it would highly inconvenience all of the Mane 6 except Twilight, as this is her job. Especially Rainbow Dash and Rarity. They're all going to have to stop what they're doing every time the castle detects a friendship problem. Rainbow Dash and Rarity have life ambitions: Rainbow Dash wants to be a Wonderbolt, and Rarity wants to be a fashion icon. How are they supposed to pursue and live their dreams if they keep having to stop, go back to Ponyville, and then travel all over the world to fix problems. Are we just supposed to hope that these friendship problems are few and far between and don't come up at horribly inconvenient times? How are Twilight's friends going to carry out these missions in their old age? Who's going to carry them out after they all die, and if they can't find any new Elements of Harmony?
16. The part when the townspeople find out Starlight Glimmer's secret and rebel against her doesn't make sense. She didn't cast the spell on herself because she was a hypocrite, she didn't cast it on herself because it would've made it so that she wouldn't be able to cast it anymore, which would end their ability to spread, which would essentially end their community. When she said that, the townspeople should've been like "Oh, okay! You actually had a good reason!", but instead kept right on acting like she was a bad person who was just trying to hoard everything for herself for the sake of plot progression. I don't get it. That's not how real people would've acted in that situation. All they would've had to do fix that would be to actually have the staff be the thing that's casting the spell and have it be a think that any unicorn or any pony could use. But then they wouldn't've been able to have the scene where everyone turns against Starlight Glimmer...so I see why they did that. It's like they couldn't think of any other way to have the ponies go against Starlight Glimmer...but still. It doesn't make sense.
17. Not only that, but why would they rebel? Yeah, their leader "was a hypocrite", but that doesn't disprove her message, and they loved living the way they were. Why would Starlight Glimmer "being a hypocrite" convince/make them give that up?
18. The reason why differences lead to strife in real life is because of things like politics, religion, people not fitting into societal norms, income inequality, and the fact that some people are inferior to others, but the show turned it into this thing where everyone having their own talents causes misery? That's totally not how that works, which makes the story unrelatable. Now, the first 4 have no place in this show, but the last one would totally apply to this universe: resentment over people being better than you, jealousy, feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy, having to face the fact that you're untalented and unintelligent. If the gene pool can breed people who are talented, then it can breed people who aren't. In order for there to be winners, there have to be losers. The episode touched on that a little, but for the most part, they kept it in this weird place of "being talented is bad!" that totally does not happen in real life, and they ended it by saying that everyone is talented in their own way, which is also a lie. Why wouldn't someone who's mentally inferior to someone else want this? Why wouldn't someone who isn't good at anything and is therefore unable to achieve anything want this? It sounds like everything in this society would be better for them. The episode didn't try to explain to them why they're wrong or why the other way is better. I'm not sure that it is wrong or that the other way is better. I don't have an answer for that. And neither do the writers, apparently. It's like they didn't want to focus on that because it's way too real and depressing for a kids' show. I mean, without the winners, society wouldn't be nearly as good as it is with them as they make society a much better place as well as create all art, which is an answer to that, but the episode somewhat brought this up instead of having it be the point, and again, the townsfolk were happy living that way, so it obviously has its own advantages, like a love and camaraderie for one another that you can't get in normal life. Never having to be alone again sounds pretty good. The episode failed to disprove this, meaning that it is a viable alternative.
1. I like how this episode picks up where the last one left off.
2. I like how this episode actually gives Twilight Sparkle a role.
3. I like the townsfolk. They were enjoyable to watch.
4. Starlight Glimmer was a very interesting villain and character.
5. I thought that the story they were trying to tell was very interesting, and the conflict was engaging, and the characters, for the most part, acted like real people, and I always like it when that happens.
6. For the most part, I thought that the equal sign imagery was cleverly implemented.
7. I like how they actually had a cult in this episode. I've never seen that in a kids' show before. I love how this show is able to have mature themes sometimes, like how they had an episode about bullying, an episode about being physically handicapped where Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon made fun of Scootaloo for being disabled, and episode with an autistic character, and the whole Twilight vs Tirek fight.
8. I like the message that they kind of had about how everyone's talents and passions make the world a beautiful place.
9. I like how at the end, other ponies were being competent and saving Twilight and her friends for once.
10. With the exception of that one thing, I like the way Pinkie Pie was characterized in the episode. I like how she of all characters could tell when a pony's happiness wasn't right. It makes her look intelligent and like she has a full range of emotions, like a real person.